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Man's Best Friend

The Healer's Price

Baltezar and Darius

Man's Best Friend

It's a warm June day and we're in the car with the windows down.

"Let me drive."

"No."

"Why?"

"We've talked about this before."

"But I want to."

"We've talked about this nine times before."

"But I want to."

"I don't care. You're not driving my car."

"But why?" Bob whined.

"For the tenth time: because you're a dog."

"What's that got to do with it?"

"You need a license to drive a car."

"But I've got a license. You bought it for me this afternoon."

"That's a dog license. It means you have a license to be a dog."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that if a dog catcher finds you and you've got that license on then he'll know you're a dog and he'll bring you home. But if you don't wear that license, he'll think you're a cat and you'll go to the Pound."

Bob gave me that look.

"You're kidding."

"Nope."

"You mean he won't just see that I'm a dog if I'm not wearing this stupid metal thing?"

"Nope. And if he takes you to the pound, you'll have to get a lawyer for when you go in front of a judge to find out if they're gonna snip your balls off."

Bob crossed his legs.

"You wouldn't lie to me, would you?"

"Not me. I'm your friend."

"But won't the judge see that I'm a dog?"

"Nope. He won't know you're a dog unless you have your license on."

"You're kidding."

"Nope."

"But why won't he just look at me and see that I'm a dog."

"He's a judge. They're like that."

"Are they born that way?"

"No. The go to school for it."

Bob whistled. Sort of.

"But why can't I drive?"

I sighed.

"Because you don't have a driver's license. You need to have a driver's license to drive a car. That way, all the other drivers know you're a driver too and the police won't arrest you for pretending to be a driver when you aren't one."

"But I'd make a good driver. I like to go fast."

"You like to drink out of the toilet, too, but that doesn't make you a good plumber."

"Do they have to have a license?"

"Yes. And they have to have a license if they want to drive a car."

"This is very complicated, isn't it?"

"You get used to it. Anyway, your feet don't reach the pedals yet."

"Yes they do. Look."

Bob stretched up in his seat so that his back legs touched the floor. They could almost reach where a break and gas pedal would be. I had to admit that he was close.

"Well, I suppose I could cut some wooden blocks for you and you could put them on the pedals."

"Will you cut them now?"

"No, Bob. We're still in the car."

We passed a big crowd outside the courthouse.

"What are those people doing?"

"Voting."

"What's that?"

"It's where you stick pieces of colored paper with someone's name on it in a box and then the person who has the most pieces of paper with his name on it wins. Sometimes you have a big machine with numbers and switches on it instead of paper."

"That sounds like fun. Let's stop and play with them."

"We can't."

"Why?"

"You're only allowed to vote every hundred years and I already did and you don't have a license to vote."

Bob started to sulk.

"I don't get to do anything fun."

"You humped Rev. Henley's leg Tuesday."

"Yeah, but you stopped me just as I was getting the rhythm."

"Sorry."

We drove on for a few blocks.

"You barked at the postman today."

"Yeah, but he's no fun anymore. He just squirts that icky stuff at me and runs away. He used to fall down."

We drove on for a few more blocks.

"Can I drive yet?"

"No."

"Can I drive yet?"

"No."

"Can I drive yet?"

"No."

"I have to go."

"But you went before we started."

"I have to go again. I just saw a tree. I want to check for mail and I wanted to leave something for Zenobia."

"Can't it wait?"

"If I were driving, I could stop whenever I wanted to."

I pulled over near the parking lot of a supermarket. Bob got out and leisurely walked up to each car in the lot, inspecting all four tires and checking for keys in each ignition.

"I thought you were interested in the tree."

"What kind of car is this?"

"It's a Jag."

"What's that?"

"It's a very big cat that makes very expensive cars."

"It doesn't smell like a cat."

"This is a cat that takes baths like you do."

Bob had to think that one over. He walked to the tree, sniffed it carefully and growled.

"Zenobia hasn't answered my last note. Sometimes I wonder why I bother."

Bob heisted his leg.

"Because you had a nice, long drink at the doctor's office."

"Why did you leave me there last night?"

"Because I had a hot date and I didn't want to have you humping her leg."

"Who was it?"

"Cheryl."

"She didn't seem to mind the last time she was over."

"I know. That's why I didn't want you there last night."

"You could've said something. She's really not my type."

"Well, the vet had some things he needed to do. How are you feeling?"

"Fine, but I'd feel better if I could drive."

"No."

Bob sulked a little more.

We were back in the car and pulling onto the Parkway before he spoke again.

"The doctor stuck something in me yesterday and I slept for a long time. Do you know what it was?"

"It was probably a needle. They're long and thin and shiny."

"It looked like that. It hurt too. A little."

"Did you have any dreams?"

"I was in a field, chasing rabbits."

"You don't like rabbit, remember?"

"I know, but I was chasing them anyway. Can I drive yet?"

"No."

"Why did the doctor make me sleep."

"Because he didn't want you to see what he was doing."

"Why?"

"Because it's a surprise."

"Is it a driver's license?"

"No."

"Is it a plumber's license?"

"Sort of. Different kind of plumbing. He snipped a couple of places in your gonads so you couldn't make any puppies with Zenobia."

Bob didn't say anything at first.

"You're kidding."

I turned left onto Mulholland.

"Nope. Snip-snip, all done."

Bob bent down and licked himself.

"It doesn't feel any different."

"Well, he didn't take anything out. He just cut a couple of things and tied them up out of the way. Are you a little sore?"

Bob growled.

"No, I mean, does it hurt to move?"

"No."

We drove for a few more blocks.

"No more puppy-making?"

"Only for practice."

"Why did he do that?"

"It was my idea."

Bob looked at me.

"You're kidding."

"Nope."

"Why did you have him do that to me? I thought we were friends?"

"We are friends. I figured you were getting pretty serious about Zenobia and this car will only hold so many of us. I just wanted to make sure there'd be enough room."

Bob looked out the window the other way. He didn't say anything for seven blocks.

"Bob?"

No answer.

"Bob?"

"I'm not talking to you."

"Why?"

"Because."

"Aw, c'mon Bob, it's not like you'll really miss anything."

"A lot you'd know about it. I haven't seen you hump anything at all lately. Not even Rev. Henley's leg."

"He's not my type."

"Well, I'm mad and when we get home I'm going to chew up the sofa and piss all over the living room. Until then, I'm not speaking to you."

We drove on. After ten more blocks, I made a decision.

I'd had enough of this.

"Hey! You, yeah, you, the one with the doggie breath. Listen up and listen good."

Bob turned to face me.

"Do I drink out of your water bowl?"

"No."

"Do I steal food out of your dish?"

"No."

"Do I heist my leg on your cedar-chip filled mattress?"

"Well, not lately."

"Fine. The I do not want to hear any more of your whining about your gonads. You weren't really using them for anything important anyway, so you didn't really need them. Case closed."

We drove on for a few more blocks.

"Can I drive now?"

I sighed and pulled over.

"Yes, but only from here home."





The Healer's Price

An urgent pounding shook the old man's door.

"Healer! Healer, wake up! You must come; he needs you. You must come now!"

Luke struggled with his blankets. The chill from all his many winters clawed into his bones and his joints crackled like new ice breaking as he forced himself off the bed and across the room to the shuttered window.

"What do you want? Why do you wake an old man?"

The voice below answered him with words that smoked in the full moon's hard light.

"I am come from the bishop. The king's madness has returned and the court physician can do nothing. The bishop says he will grant an indulgence for you to attempt a healing. If you are successful, he will write Rome and seek a full pardon. But you must come now. The king's madness grows and the bishop fears he will be lost forever if he is not healed soon. What is your answer? Will you come?"

Hidden by night shadows and dim to worn eyes, Luke could see little of the messenger's face, but he could plainly hear the fear in the man's voice. Will I come? he thought. Cursed and driven from his old place at court by a young bishop eager for power, why should he risk frail old bones on a bitter winter's night? But, even as he savored those thoughts, Luck shrugged into a worn doublet and pulled a heavy woolen cloak around his shoulders. Leather half boots and a well-told rosary awaited him at the chamber door.

In the yard below, the bishop's messenger held a restive stallion for him. Mounting carefully, Luke settled into the saddle, wary of any sudden movement which might cause the skittish beast to bolt. The messenger's sense of haste urged both horses to a speed greater than an old man's liking. Gritting his teeth, Luke wound the reins tightly around his gloved hands and held on.

Their horses' hooves pounded the snow into a packed, grey track on the old Roman highway. Luke's eyes watered in the frozen air, his tears tracing sluggish streams down his face. The wind had swept snow against the high banks of the road, leaving bare wheat stubble in the fields that flew past them. Stars peeped through the firmament and the moon threw their likenesses back at them from the smooth, sparkling surface of the snow drifts. They left the level fields, tended with agonizing care throughout three seasons of the year only to be abandoned in the fourth, and headed for the dense shadows of the forest. Luke could feel himself ease into his mount's rhythm. The years between this ride and his last fell further behind with every mile as he gave himself over to the old, familiar joy of riding. Joining with his horse, partners in the same dance, he allowed his thoughts to flow outward, touching the animal's consciousness. Luke could feel his muscles relax into old, familiar patterns. He could sense his own heartbeat, its comfortable ebb and flow surging through his body, his being. He reached outward to his mount, seeking that same smooth swell, but he found, instead, an arrhythmia, a catch, a stumbling, ragged edge in what should have been a musically uniform flow. Eyes closed, his brow knit in concentration, Luke traced the discordance in his mind, following it back through artery and capillary until he found a portion of scarred, damaged muscle. Stroking behind the stallion's front shoulder, he could almost feel the stiff, injured flesh through his gloves. This would be his mount's last run unless he did something. Unless he did something. The biting wind carried his sigh of resignation beyond his cracked lips, lost in the woods behind him. Luke let go his hold on his own consciousness and plunged deep within himself. His hand warmed inside the glove. The heat carried out through flesh and leather, through hair, skin, bone and cartilage and into scarred tissue. That tissue, warmed by the heat of the healer's hand, softened. The stallion faltered, shook his head, champing the bit and then settled back into his pace. Luke felt the steady beat of the stallion's heart with a quiet sense of satisfaction that was soon lost in the shrill elation of running.

They rode on through the night.

A winter's dawn is a wan, sallow creature, scarcely strong enough to separate night from day; a shrunken sun climbing into the sky with feeble, tottering steps. The horses dragged along as hesitant as the sunrise. Luke could see his summoner's fatigue in the slump of the man's shoulders. He could feel his mount's exhaustion like a dim echo of his own. The sight of the king's high castle, rising against the pale sky, filled him with the hope of hot food and a soft bed.

After hailing the watch they entered the postern gate and crossed the yard to the stables and smithy. The Master of Horse, a kindly man who could enjoy the taste of new air without begrudging his young stable hands the warmth of their beds, strode out of the stables to meet them. He saluted the messenger with a broad grin and a friendly slap on the back. The greeting Luke received was considerably more reserved: a quick look of surprised recognition; a short, curt bow and a sudden preoccupation with the needs of their exhausted mounts.

Never mind, thought Luke. You always were a little afraid of me, not that you ever had reason. Of all the souls in this fief, I never knew one more concerned for the welfare of others than you, my friend. Go in peace.

Following his guide, Luke entered the castle.

They made their way through the back passages and servants' halls. The winter chill was everywhere, even in the castle's deepest recesses. The huge blocks of stone exhaled a breath piercing cold that mocked the bright flames in the castle's many fireplaces, defying them to warm the air. Maids and serving boys wore as many clothes within those walls as the king's guard did upon them. They also wore the same look of expectant worry. Even the kitchen, which was the castle's heart and usually full of contented bustle and noise, was oddly quiet.

As they passed by an open door, Luke saw fresh, hot loaves cooling on the tables. Their aroma nearly stopped him in his tracks, but the bishop's messenger never slowed and Luke reluctantly followed, contenting himself with thoughts of rest and food after his work was completed.

They came, at last, to the bishop's private apartments. That worthy stood impatiently by his door.

"Is this the best time you could make? The king weakens by the hour."

The messenger started, "Good my lord, we rode without pause or rest and I fear for the welfare of the horses . . . "

"You should rather fear for the life of your king and the welfare of his realm. Do you know what will befall if he dies without an heir?"

"Aye, my lord bishop, all too well, but we could not . . . "

"Enough. I will deal with you later. If I discover that you have dawdled, you will feel my displeasure. If the king does not recover, it will be the worse for you. Now, healer, can you and your magic succeed where the best efforts of our physician and my own prayers have failed?"

The bishop's words were drenched in bitter condescension and loathing. Luke knew that only the extreme gravity of the situation had forced the bishop to send for him.

"Such talents as I have, my lord, are always ready to serve my king. I can only pray God and His most merciful mother that I shall succeed."

"Pray, rather, to Belial or Astaroth or whatever demon you serve. If there were any other way to save the kingdom from certain war, I'd see your head on the battlements before I trusted the king's life to your faithless hands."

"I do not traffic with the Evil One, my lord. He is as much my enemy as he is yours. Perhaps even more so."

"Do not mock me, healer, or the only wounds you work upon today will be your own."

"What then shall I say? good my lord. You doubt my word, deny my faith, excoriate me without cause and still you require me to save our king. As I told you many years ago, my love for our Master and Savior is no less than your own. I honor Him in my thoughts, praise Him with my voice, love Him in my heart and obey him with my talents, using them even as He gives me strength to do so. How, then, am I less His servant than you?"

"Blaspheme no more! I will not listen to another of your lies. You are banned from this place by order of His Holiness and, if it were not for the king's foolishness, I should have had you banished from these lands long ago. I suspect the spell you have entangled him within has finally run its evil course but I shall give you one chance to undo your damage before it is too late. Then, when the king is once more in his right mind, I shall deal with you. But if he dies, there will be no one to protect you healer. Then the just wrath of God shall fall upon you for touching his anointed, even as David slew the Amalekite."

Luke's voice was soft, yet, as he spoke, each word was filled with a terrible intensity that charged the frigid air as though a summer thunderstorm threatened. "Then you will leave me, my lord, to do my work without your interference. If I meant the king harm, nothing you could do would prevent me. Only I can journey within the king's madness and only I can bring him back from it. If I chose to crush his mind, nothing that you could say or do could prevent me. But I am a healer and, if you are quite finished, I should like to see His Majesty before there is nothing left to heal."

Luke spun about, leaving the bishop to his own thoughts. He strode purposefully to the door without a word for the guards posted there and entered his monarch's room without knocking.

Although the king's chamber was the warmest in the castle, Luke noticed shards of ice in the pitcher of water near the king's bed. Still, winter's keenest teeth were blunted here. Heavy draperies on the walls muffled the stone's sharp breath. A brazier filled with dimly glowing coals stood near, casting a feeble circle of warmth that included the royal bed. The king lay, fitfully, feebly pulling at his covers from time to time. He seemed asleep and dreaming, his mouth in constant motion, but producing nothing more than a thin spittle and a few meaningless fragments of words.

Luke drew a low chair near the edge of the bed. He took off his right glove and felt beneath the mound of covers for the king's right hand. It comes to this, he thought. It all comes to this. If only I had stayed here. Perhaps I could have prevented it from being this bad. His father struggled with the black dreaming for most of his rule. And his father's father. I knew the day must come when he would face it as well. Now, I, too, must sink beneath those waves. God have mercy on us both.

Luke closed his eyes and willed himself to be calm. Letting go of his hold on this reality, he slipped out of his own being and fell into the mind of the king.

Madness ruled there.

Fear pounded against his mind, washing over him in an endless, inarticulate wave. There were no dream images attached to the emotion, just the emotion itself, stripped of any connection to the world beyond. The knowledge that he was seated at the king's side in the center of the kingdom's power held no potency over the frenzy which tore at his mind. It took all of his will to resist the urge to run headlong from the room. He struggled to remember his purpose for being here, his purpose for being. The hard boundaries between illusion and reality blurred, melted, disappeared and all of Luke's own hidden, secret fears screamed into freedom carrying him into new pools and eddies of terror.

With a convulsive shudder, Luke wrenched his mind out of the king's madness.

I'm too old, he thought. Too old, too weak. Even if I were younger, stronger, I might not succeed. And the risk. If I were strong, this would tax me to the limit. A weak old man could spend all of his strength and still lose his patient as well as his own life. Why should I risk what little I have left now? Almost without a thought, Luke shifted on his chair, about to rise and leave. His gaze fell to the king's face.

That face was pale, drawn. His body had become oddly still, belying the struggle he fought within. The only other visible signs of the king's torment were an occasional moan and a few beads of sweat on his forehead, but Luke knew his heart would soon tire. Fear made a man's heart beat fast and when there was no relief from it, fear could make a man's heart pound until it burst like an old wine skin filled with new wine. As Luke watched, he did not see the ruler of a kingdom. He did not see the only man who stood between his subjects and certain chaos, destruction, war and famine. He did not see the boy who had been his student, commanding him to shorten their lesson so he could go learn how to ride and hunt. He did not even see the eager young man who had been his friend, shielding him from as many of his courtly enemies as he could until he was no longer able to protect him; the man who had sent him into a comfortable exile in a small, distant village, filled with simple people who would respect his gift and protect his life. When Luke looked down at the form beneath him, he saw only a man, pale and worn with disease. A man whose mind was ravaged by a plague which would cause it to destroy his body.

King or commoner, friend, foe or stranger, Luke knew the duty his Master required of him was the same. He expects a lot from us, Luke thought, with a trace of frustration.

Clearing his mind a second time, he again entered the maelstrom.

Fear.

Imagine fear as a living thing. It has no face. It takes no form. It rears up from behind, driving cold daggers into your back. It cleaves the tongue to the roof of your mouth, curls the body in against itself. It spans the horizon, horribly beckoning. Imagine a sea of living fear filled with rage, roaring its hatred with a thousand strident voices. Imagine a sentience whose only desire is the destruction of anything which is not itself. Imagine confusion as a living thing with dead eyes and blunt, bruising teeth, swimming in a sea of fear, relentlessly dragging its victims beneath those black waves to drown. Look up for the sky and find nothing but foam and fear. Sitting quietly on his chair, Luke's heart hammered in his chest as he pitched through that sea, searching for the king. He fought his own need to escape, clinging to a prayer and the rosary around his neck. Down, down, ever down he went, searching for the center, the deepest depth. In an eternity that lasted three heartbeats, he found it.

The king lay curled like a child, hiding his face from the fear which was both within and without. Luke forced his body to straighten. He gently opened eyelids squeezed shut and firmly held the king's head until those eyes focused upon his face.

Come, let us leave this place, Luke thought.

The king shook his head. No. I'm too frightened. I can't get away. I'll never get away.

We will leave this place now. We will leave and never return to it. Luke's thoughts rang sweet against fear's tumult, gentle, insistent, unyielding. We will leave now.

Before the king could answer, Luke took his hand and began. The king's madness ebbed and returned, tearing at Luke's grip even as the king struggled in his grasp, but Luke forged ahead. His right hand held the king; his left told each bead of the rosary. Ignoring everything except his upward course, Luke struggled onward, forcing himself through layer after layer of fear. Kicking against a sea of emotion which had its existence only within the king's mind, Luke struggled to keep that emotion from overwhelming him. Every labored breath took its toll upon his strength. Every moment within taxed his will, but still he fought. No danger of a physical death lurked in these waters, but Luke knew he could lose his life here, nonetheless. Like the real ocean, this flood had no landmarks to guide him. He could only grope blindly toward those areas where the current seemed less powerful, the waves less deep, and pray God he was on the right track. As his own strength ebbed, any mistake would cost both their lives.

Deep black, dark grey and cold. Unbridled cacophony then sudden calm and soft light.

Luke felt the chair's back against his own. He felt the glow of the brazier. He opened his eyes. No fear. No confusion. Just the king's chamber and a weakness he had never known before. He slumped back into the chair for a moment.

The door shuddered under the bishop's pounding and his shout rang down the hallway.

"Healer! Open this door immediately."

In a voice hushed with exhaustion Luke said, "The door is not bolted, my lord. Pray enter when you will."

The bishop burst into the room, the king's guards, swords drawn, by his side.

"Guards, seize him. You will pay for your treachery now, old man. What have you done to the king?"

"I have done as I told you I would do, my lord. I have done my best. The king is healed."

The bishop, glaring, approached the bed. He looked at the tranquil face of his liege, listened to the steady, rhythmic breathing, noted the color returning to his face.

"He may sleep a while longer, my lord, but he should soon awake. He will be very hungry for he has come a long journey with me this morning, but it is a journey he need never make again. The king is healed."

At a nod from the bishop, the guards released Luke and returned to their stations. The bishop, perhaps convinced of the miracle, considered Luke from across the room.

"I will not believe this fully until the king wakes, but I do see a change in him which seems for the better. Very well, in the event that our lord does awaken, let us discuss your price. I will write His Holiness upon your behalf, and, if he permits, I am prepared to return to you some of the lands taken when you were exiled. The Church will not, however, permit one such as yourself to return to the place you held hitherto. You also must needs promise to restrict the use of your 'talent' and heal only with my permission. Is that understood?"

Luke lifted his eyes from the now peaceful face of the king and gathered the remnants of his strength to stand and face the bishop.

"You have never really understood, have you, Your Grace? Twenty years of your life spent mouthing the words over and over, dressing them in your surplice and stole, perfuming them with your censure and drowning them in your holy water and you've never really known what our Master meant. My price has nothing to do with wealth or power. Your offers of reinstatement have no meaning or value to me. The position you hold, the position you hold so dear has become its own end for you. Unlike you, when I held that office, I never wanted anything more but to help bear the awful burden that lies upon this man's shoulders. My gift, or my burden, is to heal any who come to me in need. I cannot turn one away because you forbid it. My price, Your Grace. You ask me to name my price? It is the same as our Master's, the same one He paid."

And Luke crumpled to the floor, dead.





Baltezar and Darius

Baltezar was a djinn. He was a very young djinn, as djinns go; he was only two hundred years old and his life should have been carefree, but Baltezar had a very large problem: Someone had knocked his lamp over and broken it! Now, when a djinn loses his lamp, he also loses his master, and a djinn without a master has no home. He has to wander along on any wind that happens to blow by until someone sees him and gives him a new home.

Baltezar's old master didn't believe that he existed. He thought that djinns and genies were just silly stories mothers made up at night to tell to their children so they would go to sleep. He had found Baltezar's lamp in the bazaar and bought it because it was very beautiful. He was a very wealthy man who loved beautiful things and liked to have as many of them in his house as he could find.

Baltezar had loved his old master's house and he used to spend hours exploring its long, winding corridors. It was a huge house made of stone that was polished so smoothly it felt like silk. The patterns in it looked like rivers flowing up and down the columns and across the floors. In the center of the house was a huge open garden where Baltezar liked to sit in the cool of the early evening and watch the shadows fall across the walls and trees while the nightbirds sang. Oh! how he missed that garden. Since his master did not believe in djinns, Baltezar had very little to do all day. When he was not sitting in the garden, he liked to wander through the house or out into the streets of the city. He often went to the bazaar. He liked the sound of all the people and the brightly colored clothing of the men and the black dresses and veils the women wore. He would watch the merchants haggle over the price of their goods with their customers. He laughed at the faces that they made while they tried to convince a housewife or another merchant that their vegetables were so fresh, or that their pottery was so well-made, or that their rugs were so beautiful that they were a thousand times more than the trifle being asked. Of course, the housewives and other merchants would answer that these vegetables were stale, or the pottery cracked, or the rugs unraveling and weren't worth even half so much . . . and so it would go.

Now, all that Baltezar could do was sigh as the wind pushed him out into the hot desert. There was nothing to see but sand for miles and miles and it was hot all the day long, so hot that Baltezar could barely catch his breath. Sometimes he would fly over a caravan, a group of camels and their drivers, traveling the desert between the cities. Sometimes he would pass over an oasis, a little spot of green where a tiny pond would form when a spring broke through the sands. There were often tall fig palms and ferns growing around the water and the wind seemed to like playing among their leaves so that Baltezar got a chance to rest a little, but the wind always seemed to be in a hurry to move on again. It never stayed in one place for long and it always took Baltezar along with it.

Finally, after blowing around the desert for many days, the wind decided to blow into another city, a city Baltezar had never heard of before. Of course, the wind did not ask Baltezar if he wanted to be blown into that city and Baltezar thought it very rude of the wind not to ask him, but the wind didn't care, and that was an end to that.

This city was even bigger than the one where Baltezar's old master lived. Its minarets soared into the air and its mosques were huge and stately. Baltezar knew all about minarets and mosques because his old master had been a very religious man who prayed seven times a day and went to the mosque every time he was able. Baltezar did not know what he did when he went to the mosque; he did not know what his master did when he prayed, but he knew that it was very important to his master and that was enough for him.

This city had walls, just like his master's city, but these walls were much higher and they had men who walked along the top of them and carried long sharp spears and wore hats made of polished steel. Baltezar was very impressed.

The wind strolled into a series of side streets that led into some shops. One of the shops made rugs. There were all sorts of rugs there. There big rugs and small rugs and in-between rugs; bright rugs and dark rugs; there were so many rugs that Baltezar could not imagine what anyone could possibly do with all of them. But the one thing that caught Baltezar's eye was the lamp setting on one of the tables. It reminded him of his old home and, quick as a flash, Baltezar flew through the room and dived down into the lamp's spout. Splash! Imagine his surprise when Baltezar dived into the lamp and found it was full of oil! He pulled himself out of the lamp and spluttered and splashed and coughed and spit until the wind stirred and blew him back out of the shop, where the warm afternoon sun soon dried him. Baltezar was very sad. He had hoped he could hide in the lamp from the wind and then, perhaps, one of the men in the shop would find him and take him home.

The wind sauntered down the street and in through the door of another shop. This was the shop of a copper-smith. He and his apprentices were scattered about on the floor, sitting cross-legged on rugs and mats while they worked on urns and bottles and little brass boxes to store jewels in and bracelets and all sorts of things. Baltezar saw an urn setting on one of the apprentices tables and he drifted over to look at it. It was tall and slender, with graceful, flowing curves. The urn's lid, which was already finished and covered with gemstones, was off and laying beside it on the table, so Baltezar floated down to look at it. He hovered around the top and then carefully sank down into the open urn. Inside it was cool and dark and much nicer than being blown all around the hot, dusty desert, where the sun was so bright that Baltezar had a headache almost all the time. It was so cool and comfortable in the urn that he cuddled down and took a little nap.

Tap, tap, tap, tap. At first, the tap, tap, tapping was so soft that Baltezar barely noticed it, but it got louder and louder until the whole urn was ringing like a bell and Baltezar's head was ringing like a bell too. This was not his favorite way to wake up from a nap. Then the urn started turning back and forth and Baltezar rolled along the inside of it until he was very dizzy. He fanally staggered up to his feet and flew out of the urn to see what was happening.

When he got outside, Baltezar saw that the apprentice had come back to his table and was using a very sharp chisel to carve some letters into the urn. His bright hammer flashed in the sun, tap, tap tap. Baltezar was trying to think of a way to get back into the urn without the tap, tap, tapping driving him crazy, when the wind blew by, saw him and carried him away again.

The sun was setting and soon the wind would get stronger. Baltezar was afraid that it would want to blow him back out into the awful desert again. The desert was even colder at night than it was hot in the day and Baltezar did not want to go back there anyway. It was just too miserable and lonely, but he knew that the wind did not care if he wanted to go or not. It would just take him along. Baltezar was getting a little desperate, so when the wind blew through the window of a potter's shop, Baltezar looked around frantically for some place to hide.

He found a little lamp the potter had just finished making for his son. It was a pretty thing, bright blue and yellow and green. The potter was not a master of his craft, and although his bottles and jars and lamps were all well made, none of them were ever quite what he wanted them to be. But this one lamp, which he had made for his son and made with all of the love he had for his little boy, was as close to being perfect as anything he had ever made. Of course, Baltezar did not know this. All he knew was that he needed a place to hide from the wind before it wanted to go back into the desert. He hurried over to the lamp and, after making sure that he would not get another bath in oil, he slipped inside it and fell asleep.

Darius was very excited when his father brought him his new lamp. Darius was a very young boy. He was seven years old. He tried to help his father in the shop, but he was too little to mix the clay or throw it on the wheel. He wasn't big enough to paint the pots or fire the kiln that cured them. The only thing that Darius was old enough to do was clean up the pieces of broken potter that littered the shop floor. He did this a lot. But then, sometimes he was the one who made the pieces of broken pottery, so it was alright. Darius tried to help his mother too, but she knew that, even though he tried as hard as he could, he usually made more work than he got done, so she sent him to the shop to help his father.

Darius loved his mother and father and they loved him. He was a good boy. He ate of his bood on his plate, even his carrots. (Well, most of the time he ate his carrots.) He was always polite to his parents' friends and he was hardly ever silly. The only thing that Darius was that he didn't want to be was afraid of the dark. Darius was just sure that something awful would happen to him in the dark. He didn't know what that awful thing was. He didn't know if a great big green terrible monster would eat him up hair and all. He didn't know if some wicked wizard would turn him into a lizard, or a wart, or a pile of sand that his mother would sweep out the door because she didn't know that it was him. He didn't know what he was afraid of, he was just afraid of the dark. That's why Darius' father made the lamp. Now Darius could fill it with oil and light it and not be afraid.

Darius carried his new lamp over to the large stone jar that his mother kept their oil in. He was too excited to wait for her to finish helping his father in the shop, so hed decided to fill his new lamp all by himself. He took one of his cups, filled it with oil and carefully poured the oil into the new lamp. Suddenly, he heard someone splutter. Then he heard someone splash. Then he heard someone sneeze. Darius backed away from the lamp. He was just about to call out for his mother when he saw something that looked like smoke come from the spout of his lamp. It was a small grey mist that rose into the air. Darius was very afraid.

Baltezar didn't know what had happened to him. He had been peacefully sleeping in the blue and green and yellow lamp. He had been dreaming about his old home when a flood of oil poured over him. He was so flustered that he didn't even take time to sneak out of the lamp but he had, instead, billowed out in a cloud of smoke. When he was all the way out, he stood on the floor and dripped oil. It dripped off his fingers. It dripped off his toes. It ran down his face and dripped off his nose. He blinked his eyes and looked around him. There, in front of him, stood a little boy—a boy not much larger than Baltezar himself. The little boy looked very frightened. Baltezar was a little frightened too, but he was a djinn. Djinns don't usually get as frightened as little boys, even if the djinn is only two hundred years old. Baltezar smiled.

“Hello little boy. I am Baltezar.”

The little boy didn't say anything.

“ I am a djinn.”

The little boy didn't say anything.

“I was taking a little nap inside the lamp.”

The little boy still didn't say anything.

“Actually, I was hiding from the wind. You see, my old lamp, the one I used to live in, got broken and the wind has been blowing me around ever since. It blew me out of my old city and through the hot desert and around the oasis and past the caravans and through the gates of this city and all around the streets and I am afraid that it will want to blow me back into the desert and the desert is so cold and lonely at night and so hot and dusty in the day time that I was hiding in this nice lamp so the wind could not find me.”

The little boy still didn't say anything.

“Don't you know how to talk little boy?”

Then the little boy said something. He said it very loud. He said,

“MOTHER!”

Now it was Baltezar's turn to be frightened.

“Please, little boy, please do not call your mother. She will see me and make me go and the wind will find me and carry me back into the desert. All I want to do is live in your lamp. I will not be any trouble. I don't eat very much and I don't take up very much room and I am very quiet and I could help you with your chores. I know that I am just a little djinn, but I will try very hard. Please be my master and let me stay in your lamp.”

Darius thought very hard. He thought harder than he had ever thought before. He knew that Baltezar was right. His mother would never let him have his own djinn. He didn't know why, but somehow parents always seemed to say 'no' to things that were lots of fun. And Baltezar looked like he might be a lot of fun to play with. Darius made up his mind.

“Alright. You can stay.'

Baltezar kicked up his heels for joy.

“Oh, thankyou, thankyou, thankyou master. I will serve you always and always and always. I will make your bed and do your chores and watch over you while you sleep at night. Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou!”

“Shh! Not so loud, djinn! If Mother and Father hear you, they will find you and make you leave.”

Baltezar quit singing and dancing around the room and became very quiet, but his eyes still shone with happiness.

“Yes, master. Now, how may I serve you?”

“Just get back inside the lamp and don't make any more noise.”

“Yes, master. But master, it is still full of oil. I can't stay in a lamp that is full of oil!”

Darius had a terrible thought.

“But how will I light the lamp it it has no oil in it? My father made this lamp for me so that I could light it at night and not be afraid of the dark. If I do not light it, he will know something is wrong. What are we going to do?”

Baltezar looked thoughtful for a moment. Then his face broke into a smile.

“Pour the oil out of the lamp for me, master. I will take care of the rest.”

Darius hesitated for a moment. Then he heard his mother's and father's voices. There were coming. Quickly, he picked up the lamp and poured the oil back into the large stone jar. He took his sleeve and dried the inside of the lamp and handed it back to Baltezar.

“Watch, master!”

Baltezar started to glow, and, as he did, he got smaller and smaller and smaller until he was about the size of a candle flame, but brighter. Then he leaped high into the air and landed on the lip of the lamp's spout. He started dancing on the edge of the wick just as Darius' parents came through the door.

“Darius, were you calling me?”

Darius thought quickly.

“Yes, Mother, I was. My new lamp it lit. Isn't it wonderful, Mother? Look at how brightly it shines!”

His mother looked at the lamp, then at Darius' father, and smiled.

“Yes, son. It is a very nice lamp. You won't be afraid of the darkness any more, will you?”

Darius looked at the lamp and saw Baltezar wink at him.

“No, Mother. I'll never be afraid of the dark again.”