Desert Rose (Chapter 10)

Scent Notes: Blooming red roses and black jasmine perfume the salty desert air, all mingling with black and red musks.

Once upon a time, Princess Ariana, freshly 18 years old, was to be courted for suitors. This already defied convention, as most young royalty are courted starting from the age of 14. Ariana, however, had vehemently refused this idea, and her father acquiesced … until now. But make no mistake, Ariana still did not want to get married, yet she had no choice, as she was a young woman and therefore had no agency. Plus, she was royalty, meaning she had even less agency until she was married. Her royal status meant that everything in her life was strictly controlled: her clothing, her friends, her hobbies, her day-to-day activities (or lack thereof), how much of the palace grounds she was allowed to even walk through alone or accompanied by security … the list seemed to grow with every passing day. Instead of growing up and experiencing freedom, Ariana felt more and more stifled. And now, this. Marriage. Arranged marriage, between her and someone her father found suitable. She knew that, unlike other rulers, her father loved her enough to listen to her if she vehemently objected to a suitor. She also knew that, despite any objection she may have, it was ultimately her father’s decision (stupid fairy tale law), and he could be swayed by gold and gems far easier than she could. Large clusters of rare jewels in the shape of fruit were beautiful, of course, but they didn’t mean that the man who possessed them was worthy of her love just because he could afford them. 

Just that morning, she’d had to endure a procession of possible suitors, almost all of them men more than twice her age with graying hair and pronounced wrinkles. One of them was older than her father by many years, and proudly proclaimed that he had crossed the desert to find her and make her the lucky seventh wife in his wifely harem. Ariana had nearly thrown her tea in his face, but thankfully, her father was offended enough to have the man forcibly removed before the fine porcelain cup could be hefted at the man. “My daughter will be no seventh wife!” her father had announced. “She is to be the first, and hopefully only, wife.” Then he muttered just to himself, “Or, perhaps, the second wife to a man with twice the amount of riches that you have.” as his guards grabbed the man and swiftly removed him. “Really? A second wife? You’d put me in a wifely harem so you could buy more fancy pants?” Ariana asked, ready to throw that hot tea on her father now. “Relax, honey, I would never do that! It was a stream of consciousness reply; it doesn’t mean anything. But perhaps we should stop for the day, I’m getting a little worried about you launching that fine cup as a projectile.” With that, her father stood, clapped his hands, and dismissed the line of suitors who had already waited all day, sending them to go back across the desert and into the nearby town until the next morning. For this, at least, she was grateful, and thanked her father as she stood up and headed towards her wing of the palace. Her father huffed at her back when she was a safe distance away, “Hmmph. Fancy pants. I have plenty of fancy pants; I need new fancy shirts to GO WITH the pants, I thank you.” He continued his muttering as he went to meet with his grand vizier, Jamal, for their discussion of civil and military affairs. Jamal had just returned after some “personal time off” that he would not discuss with anyone, and he had many important topics to catch Jamal up on. Being the king wasn’t just wearing fancy pants, geeze, Ariana; there was actual political work involved!

But Ariana knew far more about the important work the kingdom did than her father. Her beloved grandmother, Layla, who had passed away about three years ago, had been the one to really raise her after Ariana’s mother died when she was very small. Layla was also the person who had actually run the kingdom after her mom passed, with her father merely serving as a figurehead. He thought, of course, that he was in charge and awesome the whole time, but Ariana knew better. Her grandmother’s favorite flowers were roses, and she’d had a huge rose garden planted when Ariana was born that was now perennially flowering with huge, beautiful roses of all colors. It was Ariana’s favorite place to study and get away when she could. Layla had been a lawyer, one of the first women to be that in the entire kingdom, and she was a fierce, loyal woman who had held an inherent skepticism towards all men adjacent to power. “Never trust a grand vizier,” she’d said to Ariana on more than one occasion. “Especially one with a goatee.” Young Ariana had just nodded, but as she grew up, she began to absorb all of her grandmother’s lessons. Layla taught her about fairy tale law, accounting, how to change a tire, and all kinds of other practical life lessons. She’d also warned Ariana, once she was a teenager, that she’d need to know these things because her father, while loving and a generally good person, was not a good king, and did not understand how to rule an entire kingdom. He put all his trust into the people he paid to work for him without a second thought, which Layla had never approved of. “You can trust people, Ariana,” she’d told her not long before she passed, “But always verify, too. And never, ever trust a grand vizier. I know I say that a lot, but that’s because it’s the truth.”

Two years later after Layla’s passing, so not quite a year ago now, their long-serving, lovely grand vizier had passed away under mysterious circumstances. He had been so kind to Ariana, so trusting of her projects and ideas. He’d almost been like a second father in some ways, and Ariana adored him. Jamal showed up merely hours after the death had occurred, claiming to be the previous vizier’s best friend, business partner, and antiques specialist. Her father had hired him as grand vizier out of desperation, scared of spending one day doing any kind of financial work himself, and not believing that Ariana had the necessary accounting skills to get the job done  She’d never liked nor trusted this man and his creepy goatee, and the sudden death of their previous grand vizier still stung, although her grandmother had never trusted him, either. Ariana discovered a financial mess they’d gotten into recently, so she’d been intercepting bills, paying past-due notices, and trying to keep everything afloat while still running the good-works programs the kingdom supported. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stop the strange leakage of funds out of all of the royal accounts, which had only gotten worse since Jamal had shown up. Jamal didn’t seem to actually do any work except gossip with her father about everything/nothing and accompany him on antiquing trips around the kingdom, as he “knew everyone worth knowing in the antiques world.” Ariana had tried to convince her father many times that, actually, she was quite capable! But he was more concerned with the basics of fairy tale law that he understood, and marrying off his only child instead of seeing the potential she had to be something far more than just a princess and wife. He also should have been far more upset about the missing funds, the fact that most of their assets were tied up and not currently liquid, but he had no real financial knowledge besides the price and value of antiques and fancy pants.

Back in her apartments, Ariana dismissed her servants and threw herself onto her gigantic, silk-covered bed. The princess was many things, but neat was not one of them. The room was cluttered; books and papers strewn around the floor, empty tea cups mingling on piles of dirty clothes. Various boxes of treats and sweets lay half-empty on the bed. A giant bouquet of fresh red roses from her grandmother’s garden stood on one of the nightstands, perfuming the air, mixing with the desert sand just outside the open window. “THIS IS SO UNFAIIIIIIIIIIIR,” she wailed into her pile of pillows. Her cat, Cleo, mewled and clawed her way out of the pile; the princess had just missed squashing the kitty, who’d been sleeping under a particularly fluffy pillow. “Sorry, Cleo,” she sniffed, picking up the cat and shoving her face into Cleo’s fur. “It’s just so ridiculous. I hate fairy tale law. I wish I never had to get married! At least, not until I’m ready, and not until I find the person that I want to marry. I know I am very fortunate; I am a princess, after all. I live a luxurious life. But I’m still a teenager with ambitions. I want to be a lawyer like Layla was; I want to travel; I want to experience life beyond just being a princess and then just becoming somebody’s wife.” Cleo whimpered, and Ariana moved her face away and set the kitten on her lap. Cleo purred and the two girls sat there for a moment, Cleo in a state of utmost content, while Ariana stewed in how unfair this situation was. She’d already spent hours poring over Layla’s fairy tale law books she’d smuggled in from the palace’s grand library to no avail. She picked up the closest book and started re-reading as Cleo started snoring in Ariana’s lap. She read, trying to find any way out of her situation, and her eyelids started to grow heavy when she heard a knock at her door. 

“No, father, I don’t want to be the second or third wife, no matter how many riches are involved, thank you,” she said to the opening door. To her great surprise, it was Jamal. “May I come in, princess?” he asked with a slight sneer before barging in. “So, this is what you’ve done with the place. Looks … lived-in,” he said. Ariana was stunned into silence by this boldness for just a moment. Cleo woke up, looked at him, and started growling. “And what, exactly, does the grand family brassiere want with me?” Now it was his turn to look stunned, but he recovered quickly. “Clever girl,” he said with a slight nod. “You’ve broken your father’s heart with your unwillingness to submit and be married, you know.” She just continued to glare at him. “Your father has had many suitors interested in coming to see you, and this will not end until you are married and continuing the family’s wealth. You know times have been difficult lately, and your family fortune is not what it once was.” “Whose fault is that?” she countered. “We seem to have a history of not-so-grand viziers in this family, and if my father had taken my advice, you wouldn’t even be here right now. And we’d have far less antiques cluttering up this place. If you’re here to intimidate me, it won’t work.” If she could have actually spit daggers in his face, she would have. He just smirked at her. “Believe whatever you want, princess, but once you are married and on your year-long touring honeymoon, you won’t be here to intimidate or object to anything I do.” He stood up and walked towards the door. “The suitors begin arriving at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning. Wear something nice, put on a little makeup. You need to look like the trophy you are.” Ariana let out an ear-piercing scream and threw a book at the door just as it closed. She got up, Cleo flying and landing on a soft pillow, opened the door and shouted to his retreating back, “I AM NOT A TROPHY TO BE WON! GO APOLOGIZE TO THE TREE THAT GAVE ITS LIFE TO GIVE YOU THE OXYGEN TO SAY THAT TO ME!” He turned around in the distance and waved. She did an un-princess-like gesture and slammed the door behind her. 

Back in her room, fuming, she picked up the book she’d thrown. It was much farther into the book now, in a small section she hadn’t seen before about magic. Apparently, magic could override almost all forms of fairy tale law if used properly. “Now we’re talking,” she said, scooping up Cleo with her other hand and setting her on the bed. Ariana kept on studying, reading about possible ways to make actual magic happen. She knew she didn’t possess any magical abilities herself. Inspired by one of the options, she began writing in a journal, seeing if it would change her reality as she wrote, and therefore, she could write her way out of this place. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. “Dammit,” she mumbled to herself. “Worth a shot, though, I guess.” Then she read about djinns and genies, and a spark of recognition flew through her. Cleo was now asleep on a pillow next to the princess, and she awoke with a startled mew when the princess shouted. “That’s it! We have many old, ugly antiques in this palace. One of them has to hold a magical creature.” She looked at Cleo. “We can do this.” The sun had long ago set, and she knew that soon she could patrol around the palace quickly and quietly, checking all the weird valuables to see which ones might contain a way out of this nightmare. 

A few hours later, just after midnight, she snuck out. She slipped quietly from room to room, rubbing every piece of furniture and art she encountered, trying magic words at the same time. Nothing happened. No matter how many lamps, urns, vases, and various vessels whose names she didn’t know she touched, nothing happened. But the princess was undeterred. The palace was enormous, and half of it or more was much older than her father, so there had to be something, somewhere. She heard a clock chime 3 o’clock in the morning when she finally gave up and decided to get at least a little sleep before the parade of bros started up again. “I will find you,” she murmured ominously to the darkness, before getting back to her bedroom and into her soft, silky bed beside the tiny, snoring Cleo.

Ariana was hurriedly awoken just before 8 o’clock. “My dear, you have to get up!” she heard her father yelling. “What?” she mumbled, half asleep. “Let me go back to bed; I’m too tired for this nonsense.” “Absolutely NOT!” her father said, throwing off the sheets, Cleo hanging on to the bed by her tiny claws. Ariana sat up with a giant yawn, wiping sleep out of her eyes. “I had a long night, and I think I should be exempt from this weird matchmaking enterprise today. I have law school applications to fill out, money to account for, and plans for a new girl’s school to approve later, so if you don’t mind.” She tried to lie back down. Instead, her father leaned down and caught her, forcing her to sit up and get out of bed. “As you know, this is not a choice you have anymore. Now put on something pretty and meet me out in the grand courtyard. There’s already a line of at least ten suitors beyond the gates!” With that he turned and left the room, nearly slamming the door behind him. Ariana made some uncouth noises with her mouth and walked to her closet. If she had to go through with this, she could at least look gorgeous. She picked out a ruby red, gauzy-yet-silky two piece set of a cropped shirt and voluminous pants with gold fringe trim, specifically because she knew that it looked amazing on her and that her dad absolutely hated it. She wrapped a matching scarf around herself as well; she didn’t want Jamal and his goatee ogling her as she walked through the palace. After brushing her hair and doing some quick makeup, she headed out of her room and across the palace to the grand courtyard to start her long day of finding new ways to say “Absolutely not” to every single suitor that came to see her. She arrived at the courtyard a few minutes later and found her father already absorbed in breakfast and conversation with the first suitor. “The princess Ariana!” one of her father’s court announced as she coolly crossed the courtyard to take her seat next to her father. Everyone stood to attention … except the suitor. Her father didn’t notice this at first, as he was staring daggers at her outfit. Ariana had to motion with her head for her father to look and see the suitor start to stumble to his feet to pay his respects. “You did not instantly arise for my daughter! GET OUT!” he cried, and the suitor was quickly grabbed by guards and shown forcibly out the door. Before Ariana finished saying a cool “hello” to her father, the next suitor was already being sat at the place of the one before. This suitor, at least, had the decency to set before her a huge bouquet of jasmine. She thanked him and tucked one bloom behind her ear before turning to her notes. There was a massive amount of bookkeeping that needed seeing to, and she wasn’t going to let this farce keep her from taking care of her kingdom. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Jamal standing at attention, dutifully writing down extensive notes. She squinted, her curiosity getting the better of her, before her father forced her to participate in conversation with this next suitor.

So the day went on, suitors coming in, suitors going out (either on their own two feet or, occasionally, thrown out of the gate head first) while she not-so-discreetly worked through some accounting. She got more work done than she’d expected to, but that made sense because she was barely paying attention and didn’t try to hide it. Ariana managed to end the charade parade early by feigning the most horrible migraine she’d ever had, practically throwing herself across the courtyard and back into her apartments where she could finally have some peace and quiet. After a quick nap she awoke, had dinner, then started reading every book she could find in their library on antiques, including catalogs of her father’s personal collections. “My father has a shopping problem,” she murmured to herself on more than one occasion. “I bet he even has a record of all his fancy pants, too.” She kept notes of anything that seemed interesting, particularly lamps. After everyone had gone to bed, she snuck back into and out of the various rooms housing all of the collectibles and artifacts. There was one old oil lamp in particular that she was looking for, a rather plain-looking lamp with one giant ruby set into the lid. Her instincts just told her that one was special, but as she went into the room where it was supposed to be stored, she couldn’t find it. It wasn’t anywhere else in that room or any other room. It had vanished. Ariana was troubled by this, and made a note to ask her father about the lamp tomorrow. “Jamal probably stole it, or pawned it for money already,” she said as she walked out of the last room and started heading back towards her quarters. She was going to find that lamp, dammit. She got back to her room, into her lavish bed, snuggled Cleo, and settled in for at least a few hours of sleep, determined to solve this mystery and end this quest for a husband tomorrow. 

The next morning, surprising everyone, Ariana was up, ready, and waiting for her father, Jamal, and the suitors outside in the courtyard. She’d dressed more modestly today in a plain black dress, her eyes rimmed with dark lines of kohl, and she had already finished her breakfast and her second cup of tea before her father even showed up. “Well! It looks like you’re finally taking this seriously,” Jamal said as he walked into the room. “As serious as stolen antiques, absolutely,” she said, toasting him with her cup of tea. His eyes flashed for a moment before he settled himself back down. “I don’t know that expression, I’m afraid,” he said. He did sit quite far away from her, though, which was enough of an admission of guilt for Ariana to know that he was somehow behind the missing lamp. For now, she quietly sipped her tea and waited for the suitors to start coming in to try and impress her. The morning passed with fewer suitors than the last few days, worrying her father tremendously. “Soon there will be no one, and you will remain unmarried and be an old maid!” Ariana rolled her eyes. “Yes, sure, an old maid at 18. Very progressive of you, dad.” Jamal was opening his mouth to say something, when there was the sound of trumpets in the distance. It was not unusual for some of the more flamboyant suitors to announce their arrival with trumpets or some kind of music, but this was different. They could see through the gates a far-off group of people, but even from this distance, they could see it was an extraordinarily large group, led by a band of musicians. As the group progressed, they could all feel the ground shaking from the drums. There were also trumpets, finger cymbals, guitars, and a full-fledged dance troupe. When they got close enough, they could tell the song was about the greatness of the prince who was coming to court Ariana, and the prince himself was riding an elephant. There were large groups of exotic animals; people carrying huge trays of jewels, riches, and food; and the dancers were dancing in more elaborate and complex moves the closer they got. “This is absolutely absurd,” Ariana said, but nobody could hear her over the commotion. She could see her father’s eyes, though: They had grown huge and shiny. He was clearly already impressed and excited. Jamal had the biggest smirk she’d ever seen on his face, and that was saying something as the man’s expression more often than not looked smug and punchable. “What the fuck,” she murmured to herself, though there was no way anyone would have heard even if she’d yelled it, as the group was now into the courtyard. The whole palace seemed to be shaking; her own body was vibrating unpleasantly to the music while her father and Jamal danced along. At the very end of the song, the prince did a series of acrobatic flips and slid down the elephant’s trunk to land directly in front of Ariana. All around her she saw the destruction that this had caused: the trampled flower beds; the broken fence and gate; the lingering smell and aftermath of that many animals and people walking for miles and then through their courtyard. “Holy piles of shit,” she mumbled to herself. Ariana knew it was not going to be cheap to fix all of that.

Before she could react, he’d taken her hand and kissed it. In the deafening silence that followed the all-encompassing music that had finally ended, his words rang out like a bell. “The beautiful princess Ariana, my future wife. I’m so honored to meet you.” He kissed her hand again and knelt down so far his face was nearly in the sand at her feet. “You’re hired!” her father yelled out. He faked a quick coughing fit before correcting himself. “I mean, very impressive! Who are you, sir?” “My name is Omar,” he said to the sand. Nobody could hear him except Ariana, as the sand seemed to swallow his voice. It was clear he was committed to this bit, so Ariana finally said, “You can stand up and let go of my hand now.” He stood and delicately let go of her hand. She had to admit he was cute, at least, but the ego just seemed to pour off of him, which made him far less attractive to her. The grand vizier piped in. “Prince Omar! Please, tell us about yourself.” Omar began a long, rambling story about himself, his wealth, his greatness, his wealth, how he’d heard about the beauty of Ariana and how he was determined to marry her, and also his wealth. “You’re perfect,” her father said. “I pronounce you my daughter’s fiance! The wedding will happen tomorrow!” “WONDERFUL NEWS!” Jamal shouted. “Wait wait wait HOLD ON, I do not agree to this!” Ariana cried out. “Too bad! The time for you to get married, princess, is now.” Jamal shouted this with a laugh as he went to clap Omar on the back and then envelop him into a hug. Ariana started to cry and tried to run, but was stopped by the guards. Her father came up to her, his eyes glinting oddly, almost like there was gold in them. He didn’t look like himself. “It’s bad luck for him to see you before the wedding! We’re going to secure you into your chambers while we prepare for tomorrow. I’ll send in your dressmaker; she’ll work all night to make you a beautiful gown. Don’t worry, my love. This is going to be wonderful!” “Father, what’s wrong with you? I don’t want to marry him!” He cocked his head to the side, confused. “But you want to get married! He is wonderful! You’re just nervous. Guards! Take her to her apartments!” With that, he turned his back to her and went to where Omar and Jamal were chatting in hushed tones. “Bring in all the riches; all of his group may camp out in our courtyard and outer grounds tonight. Tomorrow, we celebrate this union!” Omar wasn’t even looking at Ariana as she was dragged back inside the palace. “This is bullshit!” Ariana yelled, struggling against the guards. 

When she got back into her bedroom, she collapsed on the floor, weeping. Cleo came over and started kneading little biscuits on Ariana’s back while mewing softly, trying to comfort her. “This is absolutely unfair and insane,” she cried, ruining her excellent eyeliner. “How did this even happen? I thought I had time to find this lamp and undo this, but now I’m being forced into marrying the man with the biggest ego on the planet not even 24 hours after he shows up! I’ve never even heard of him!” Just then there was a knock on the door, and her dressmaker came in, looking furious. Ariana was glad someone was on her side, just for a moment, but that went away the moment the dressmaker opened her mouth. “How could your father demand that I make you a wedding dress in under a day? This is absurd! Even with my full team working, this is an outrageous demand!” She wasn’t mad for Ariana; she was just mad at the request to spend her whole day and night working. As such, the fitting was horrible: Ariana couldn’t stop crying; the seamstress stabbed her with pins multiple times on “accident,” and since Ariana couldn’t speak about anything she might want, the seamstress took control over the look of the gown. It was not at all Ariana’s style, but since she didn’t want to get married anyway, maybe that was appropriate? She kept crying as the seamstress kept venting. “And that grand vizier is a piece of work, too!” she said as she stuck Ariana with another pin. “He basically told me I should have had this dress done already and that he wanted me to make an outfit for Prince Omar as well since he didn’t have anything to wear, and when I told him where he could shove it, he threw an old oil lamp at my head! If the ruby on that had hit me, I could’ve been knocked out! But Omar does seem nice. He picked up that lamp and went to have a talk with Jamal; they were whispering angrily at each other. Omar said he was going to keep that lamp with him tonight. At least you’re marrying the only nice one here, who sticks up for women.” The seamstress kept talking as Ariana had a quiet revelation. 

It all made sense now. The old oil lamp with the ruby on top: Jamal had convinced her father to buy it; he knew what it was. He must have purposefully been taking her father to antiques dealers he knew, having them overcharge her father, and Jamal would split the difference with the dealers. He convinced her father to buy this lamp because he knew he’d then have access to it and the genie inside. And then she remembered that Omar had initially mumbled his name into the ground so no one could hear it, and Jamal had called him by name a moment later. Her father hadn’t noticed because he was under some kind of spell. And the strange paperwork and accounting errors she’d been chasing. Ariana didn’t understand why until recently: While the old grand vizier had been kind and wonderful to Ariana, behind the backs of everyone, he had slowly started to use the kingdom’s vast, ancient riches as collateral for improvements within the kingdom without permission, including the school for girls she had been planning. Jamal had to have been involved in his disappearance, and was slowly bleeding the kingdom dry. Of course! This whole thing was a plot against her, her father, and the people of her kingdom, and she wasn’t going to stand idly by and let it happen. She was going to fix this. Tonight. 

“I will need large pockets,” Ariana suddenly blurted out over the seamstress’s mumbling. “I am the bride to be, and I. Need. Pockets.” The seamstress had no choice but to acquiesce, even as she continued to be outraged by the demands. The seamstress left a silent Ariana a few minutes later, still muttering and fuming to herself about how she would be up all night sewing. It was almost funny, and if she hadn’t stabbed Ariana so many times with the pins, Ariana might have told her there was no need to make the dress at all. But as the plan formed in her head, she knew she did, indeed, need the unflattering dress with the giant pockets to make her dreams come true. 

The rest of the day passed much as Ariana expected it would: She was stuck in her apartments in the palace (allowed to only move between her sitting room and her bedroom, as there was to be no chance of her running into Prince Omar before their betrothal, not even to ask him questions like, “Hey, what’s your last name?” Or “How do you feel about getting married to someone you have barely said ten words to?” Asking those hard-hitting questions would clearly spell doom, and her father could not abide by that. Ariana did see her father a few times, in fact, and he still had that odd, golden glint in his eyes. “Definitely some kind of enchantment or curse,” she murmured to herself while people bombarded her with information about the next day, when she was to be married against her will. Thankfully, there were very few questions to be answered. People were mostly just telling her what would happen and not giving her a say in the matter. If it were her actual wedding, she’d be pretty pissed about that fact. As it was a farce she was going to end, she just played along and smiled and nodded at everyone who approached her. “Yes, terrific,” and “Sounds wonderful,” were said more times that afternoon than she could have ever anticipated. When going over the final details of the ceremony itself, she requested only one thing from the planner: “My betrothed has a beautiful, simple oil lamp with a ruby on the top. I need it brought to me tomorrow; I would like to use it in the ceremony. But please keep it a secret. You will bring the lamp to me tomorrow before the ceremony; come straight here with a guard once you’ve taken it. Hide it in a bag so no one sees you took it. It is to be a complete surprise, do you understand? I would take it myself, but I do not want to possibly ruin the whole day by seeing my…. ” Her voice drifted off, as she could not say “future husband.” The planner nodded, confused, but as Ariana had made no other demands or requests of her, she agreed readily. If the hardest part of her job tomorrow was grabbing an old lamp from the groom-to-be’s room in the morning, she would have a very easy day indeed. Soon enough, all plans were made, and the rest of the palace’s workers and every person not part of the royal family went to work to make the festivities a reality on such short notice.

There was no time for a rehearsal dinner, and besides, Ariana had no desire to pretend to want to see anyone else that night anyway. Dinner was served to her in her bed, Cleo cuddled in her lap, as she re-read the passages in the fairy tale law books about magic getting her out of this marriage. “We can do this,” she whispered to Cleo, who was curled up and emitting tiny-but-mighty snores in the princess’s lap. “We can do this,” she said to herself as she picked at her dinner and committed passages to memory. “If this lamp is not the correct lamp, we shall flee in the morning, Cleo. One way or another, we will absolutely, positively not be getting married tomorrow.” Cleo yawned and turned over in her sleep, purring for just a moment before the snores came back. Ariana laughed. “How a tiny baby kitten can make such noise, I’ll never understand it, but I do love you.” Ariana could feel her eyes growing tired, the stress of the day finally overtaking her. She set her dinner tray down on the ground and lay back, moving Cleo to cuddle in her arms, and she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep in seconds.

The princess was awoken just after dawn by her father, his eyes glinting gold. “My dear! The day is here! In just a few hours, you shall be married!” Ariana sat up, yawning and stiff. Her sleep had been so deep she hadn’t moved an inch, and her whole body felt rigid. “Right. Good morning, father. Can you please have my breakfast sent in and then go take Prince Omar to his customary groom activities for the morning? We want to keep him busy so he doesn’t run away, don’t we?” Her father’s eyes shone even brighter. “Quite right, my brilliant daughter! I won’t let him out of my sight this morning!” With that, he turned and practically sprinted out of the room. “Excellent,” Ariana said, and fell back asleep until her breakfast was brought in half an hour later. To her great delight, it was her planner who had brought in breakfast, and on the tray was the old lamp with the ruby on its lid. “I could kiss you,” she said to the planner. “But I do ask that I have my breakfast in peace. Please do not let anyone enter my chambers until I open the door again. Even if that horrible seamstress has my dress ready early. I am not to be disturbed. Understood?” “Yes, your highness,” the planner said with a bow. She backed out of the room and shut the door. Ariana immediately grabbed the lamp and rubbed it three times. She waited. Nothing happened. So she did it again, and waited. Once again, nothing happened. “Nononono,” she mumbled, rubbing it three times once more. Still, nothing. “Well, I guess we’re running away,” she said to Cleo, and stood up to start packing. She put the lamp down, and Cleo rubbed her little face on the ruby at the top. Suddenly, the room filled with a violet smoke, and a voice thundered out from nowhere: “WHO DARES DISTURB THE GENIE OF THE LAMP?” “CLEO YOU DID IT!” Ariana said, scooping up her kitten and giving her a million little kisses before answering. “I did, genie. I am Princess Ariana, and I believe you have been used to try to get me wed before I wish to be, to a man I do not know, and now I need your help.” The swirling smoke settled into a ghostly form of a man, floating before Ariana and Cleo. He stared at them, hard, for so long that Ariana started to get scared that he was going to decline her request. “Oh yeah girl, sure, let’s chat! Spill the tea!” said a much calmer, higher-pitched voice than before issued out of the genie. Ariana sighed with relief, and the two began to have a long, involved chat as she filled in the genie on what had been happening, what her suspicions were, and how they could get her out of this whole situation. The genie was so cool about the whole situation, filling her in on what she’d suspected: Jamal had stolen the lamp from her father’s collection. He’d pored through the same antiques archive she had and had suspected a genie was inside. He hadn’t told the genie why, but had wished for Omar, who was merely a worker on Jamal’s cousin’s small estate, to appear as a super wealthy prince that would be guaranteed to wed Princess Ariana. The genie also placed a spell upon her father. After this had all been done, the genie had heard Omar and Jamal fighting, as Omar saw this as a way out of poverty, and Jamal was planning to steal all the riches and abscond that very night, after the wedding, leaving Omar with a mere pittance and a young wife who would likely hate him since she was being married off against her will. “So, I just want you to know that now that I realize what’s been happening, I absolutely do not want to be a part of it, and I can undo all of this right now. I’m so sorry. I’m usually bound to just do what someone tells me when they discover me but, sweetie, this is so gross. Ugh. Men can be the worst!” The genie was about to undo their magic, but Ariana halted that. “I have a much better idea.”

Soon enough, the seamstress was banging on the door. “I need to make sure this dress fits you NOW, princess, or your father will literally kill me.” Ariana opened the door calmly and let in the seamstress and the giant, ugly dress. “Does it have the pockets I requested?” “Yes, now put the damn thing on!” the seamstress yelled. Ariana just smiled and took the dress into her closet to change. It was huge, with an absurdly long train and gigantic puffy skirt, but it did, indeed, have pockets large enough to hide a lamp. She patted the pocket and was actually thankful for the tremendously poofy skirt, as it hid the lump of the lamp fabulously. When she came out and showed off the dress, the seamstress burst into tears. “I did it! I can’t believe I did it!” Ariana thought she looked horrible, but the seamstress seemed pleased, so she let it go. Ariana then sat while a group of women did her makeup and hair and gave her directions for how the wedding ceremony would take place that day. She just smiled and nodded, and her attitude had improved so much that even the seamstress commented on it. “You seem much happier today, princess. Did you have a change of heart?” Ariana looked her in the eye and smiled wider. “Not at all.” The seamstress looked perplexed and decided to leave and take a well-deserved nap. Soon enough, the ceremonial music started in the courtyard. Ariana was handed a beautiful, gigantic bouquet of her grandmother’s roses and jasmine. It was truly gorgeous and comically large, but Ariana couldn’t stop herself from taking a big whiff because it just smelled so amazing. She looked at herself in the mirror, and though the dress was not her favorite, even she had to admit that she looked beautiful. “At least I look good while I blow this shit up,” she said, and turned to walk out of her bedroom and into, hopefully, freedom.

Ariana walked deliberately through the palace, out into the courtyard where her father awaited. He immediately started crying at the sight of her. “You look so beautiful, my darling,” he said as he bent down to kiss her cheek. “I love this marriage so much. Soon, we will be even richer, and you, my wonderful daughter, will be so happy, I just know it.” Ariana smiled beatifically. “Well, you’re mostly right, I think.” Her father’s glinty eyes sparkled as he hooked his arm through hers, and together they turned and walked down the aisle. It was, truly, a beautiful ceremony. The entire courtyard seemed to be covered in her grandmother’s roses and rose petals, and the entire kingdom seemed to have turned up, even on such short notice. The aisle was lined with the plushest carpet she’d ever stepped upon, and garlands made of actual gold were strung upon vines, chairs, anything that wasn’t covered in roses, really. It was beautiful. At the end of the aisle stood Omar, who was wearing a gold suit so shiny it was nearly blinding in the direct sunlight. It looked like it was spun from pure gold, and didn’t look as though it could be made by human hands, though Ariana knew that was because it hadn’t been. It was all smoke and mirrors, all magic, all deception meant to wed her to a fraud so Jamal could take the kingdom’s fortune and run. Making their way to the end of the aisle, she kissed her father on the cheek. He shook Omar’s hand and decided to stand next to Ariana, as she had no bridesmaid anyway, so why not her father? At that moment, Jamal stepped out from out of nowhere, between Omar and Ariana. “What are you doing up here?” she hissed at him under her breath. Jamal smiled at her and pronounced loudly to everyone assembled, “I know you’re all wondering why I’m up here. I got ordained especially for this occasion. It was not an opportunity I wanted to miss.” Everyone laughed, except for Ariana. Of course he was the officiant. It was just part of the plan. 

The ceremony started. Jamal went on a very long spiel about love and commitment, but mostly about what a wealthy union this would be. Omar smiled at her and looked happy. Ariana grinned back, genuinely excited for what was about to happen. It was actually pretty perfect to have Jamal up at the front; everyone would get a great view of what was about to happen. Eventually, they hit the moment just before the vows, the moment she’d been waiting for, as written in the fairy tale law books. Jamal quickly said, “If anyone has any objections to this marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace,” but it came out as almost one whole word. “I do,” Ariana said loudly. Omar laughed. “Honey, not yet; we say that at the end!” The whole courtyard erupted into laughter, Jamal’s sounding rather forced as he tried to continue on. Ariana reached into her pocket and rubbed the top of the lamp. “No, I mean: I have some serious objections to this wedding.” As she spoke, purple smoke swirled out of her dress and up into a tornado around her. At first, the guests thought this was just a special magical effect for the big day, but Jamal and Omar knew differently. Omar’s eyes grew wide with fear as he realized what was happening. Jamal tried to tackle the princess, but her father saw what was happening and clung onto him. “Do not interrupt! The wedding must go on!” he said to a struggling Jamal. At that moment, the booming voice of the genie echoed through the courtyard like thunder: “This wedding is a sham! It will not be happening today.” The smoke cleared and formed into the massive purple genie floating between Ariana and Omar, who was now wearing his peasant clothing again, the golden suit in threads at his feet. Jamal threw the king off of him and stood up to attack Ariana, but the genie clapped its hands and Jamal found himself bound from his neck to his feet, unable to move. “FOOLS!” Jamal yelled. “This wedding must happen! I need this wedding to happen!” The genie clapped its hands again, and Ariana saw the gold glint leave her father’s eyes. His eyes no longer blazed gold, and instead looked like her loving father’s again.“What’s happening?” he said, absolutely confused. “You’re getting married? You can’t marry a PEASANT! Guards!” But before the guards could storm down the aisle, the princess held up her hand. “Father, your grand vizier tricked you. He stole an old oil lamp containing a genie and used the genie’s magic to make over one of his young, poor cousins into a fake prince. When the wedding was over, he was going to abscond with all of our riches and the riches from the genie, leaving the kingdom destitute and me married to this random man. He put some kind of spell on you to do all of this, too.” Omar and her father both looked horrified. Omar turned to Jamal and said, “You told me we were partners, that I would get a hot wife and riches and be totally set, bro! How dare you?” “How dare HE? How dare you both! I’m not going to marry you!” “FOOLS!” Jamal yelled again. “This was supposed to all be mine! I deserve all of this! I killed my friend to take his job to do this! The king spends all of his money on fancy pants and antiques! It was easy to line my pockets this way. Girls don’t deserve their own school!” Ariana rolled her eyes. “We also provide homeless outreach and services, take care of invaders with our royal army, and keep our kingdom running smoothly and efficiently, with a plethora of other services to help our communities, thank you. I don’t think we’ll be needing your services any longer, Jamal.” She nodded at the genie, who used their magic to pick up Jamal and shove him into the old oil lamp. “We’ll keep him safe in this lamp in one of our many rooms,” Ariana said, putting the lamp back into her pocket. “Or we’ll bury it deep into the soil. Whatever he wants. Either way. Goodbye, Jamal!” 

Her father seemed to finally fully snap out of the spell and come to. “What? We just … have a genie now?” “Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about fairy tale law. Since Jamal used the genie for ill-gotten gains and I found out about it, I talked to the genie and they agreed to reverse everything and just hang out with us for a while. We get along really well, and the genie gives amazing advice. I still want to be a lawyer.” “But my dear girl, you’re supposed to get married!” “According to you, but you know, we don’t have to do things that way just because that’s how it’s been done before.” Her father looked so surprised. “We … don’t?” “No! I can go to law school and marry someone later on, maybe, or not. I’m a teenager! We have time! And a genie and a new member of our staff!” Her father considered this for a moment before saying, “Well, I guess I was so concerned that I allowed myself to be used by a terrible man who literally put a curse on me, so perhaps you’re right and we should back off of this wedding stuff for a while.” “Thank you, father!” Ariana started crying as she hugged her father tight. They stayed that way for minutes, until finally someone interrupted.

“Uh, excuse me?” a voice called out. They broke apart and turned. One of the guests, a friend of her father’s, had stood up. “So, uh, no wedding now? Should we all just go home then?” “No, we’re going to stay here and have the reception just … without the wedding beforehand!” The guests all cheered and stood up to head inside to the dinner, which would be followed by much dancing and merriment until the wee hours of the morning. The one exception was the seamstress, who cried about the pointlessness of all the work she’d done, and went to go cry and sleep in her quarters. And so, Princess Ariana remained unmarried, sent in applications to law school, continued to keep track of the accounts and finally got everything running smoothly again, and made the most of her life in the palace with her father after he finally agreed to ease up on the restrictions he’d imposed on her. She also made her father curb his spending on fancy pants and antiques, which he was eager to do after he found out how Jamal had been able to trick him so easily into overpaying for things he swore were ancient artifacts but were mostly just junk. She had a new genie best friend (whom she offered to set free but who honestly kind of enjoyed just hanging out in the palace and not being crammed into that tiny old oil lamp all the time), and her small but mighty kitten, Cleo. And she lived happily ever after.

Scent Notes: Blooming red roses and black jasmine perfume the salty desert air, all mingling with black and red musks.