Chapter 1. One Jump Ahead of the Lawman
I pulled my hood down lower, trying to hide as much of my face as possible. No one could recognize me. I shuddered to think of the consequences if someone did. The streets were noisy, even this early in the morning. The stalls were set up along the dirt roadways, the venders calling out their wares.
“Sugar dates and beans, sugar dates and pistachios!” One man called out singsong like and I found myself suppressing my laughter.
This was so different from what I’d imagined. But for so long I’d only had the view from my window and the pictures in books. Being amongst the people, my people, was an experience like non other. As discreetly as I could I took in the sights and smells around me. Children in rags ran underfoot while adults rushed from stall to stall, haggling and bartering causing the voices to rise filling the market with sound.
As I walked my blue slippers grew dingier with the dirt off the street and I felt a sense of pride welling in me. I was walking the streets of my city. The city I was born and raised to rule but never to enter. Feeling more secure I let my hood settle back farther so I could see more of the sights around me. Everything was enchanting!
My eyes settled on a little boy, no more than four. He was dirty, barely clothed and far too skinny. Where were his parents? Pity welled up in me as I walked over to the boy and crouched down to his level.
“Where are your parents?” I asked softly, not wanting to startle him.
He shrugged sadly, “My moms out trying to find work and she said my dads probably lost in a brothel.” I was taken aback to hear such candor from someone so small. My chest felt tight with emotion as I gazed into his sad brown eyes. He turned from me to look longingly at a vendor across the way. Piled high on the cart were delicious, shiny, red apples. I turned back to the boy.
“Are you hungry?”
He nodded enthusiastically. With a small smile I stood and strolled across the street. With confidence I reached out and plucked a large apple from the stall and held it out to the boy with a tilt of my head. His eyes widened in disbelief before he scurried over and snatched the apple from my hand.
“Thanks miss,” he called over his shoulder as he ran down the street. I smiled as I watched, feeling happy that I could take away some of his sadness, even if only for a little while. With a content sigh I took a step forward only to be stopped abruptly by a thick hand on my shoulder.
“And how does the little lady intend to pay for her generousity?” A thunderous voice asked from behind me. My eyes widened in fear. I hadn’t even thought about payment.
I turned to face the man slowly, his hand still resting heavily on my arm. His eyes narrowed as he grinned menacingly at me. “Pay?” I stuttered out. The market seemed to grow quiet around us as all eyes took in the situation.
“You take my product, you have to pay. Unless you’d like to pay the penalty for stealing?”
“I gave food to a starving boy, that hardly constitutes stealing!” I jerked my arm, trying to free myself from his grasp.
“Taking things that aren’t yours is stealing, street rat!” He shook me roughly and I winced.
“I need to get money. From the palace,” I said looking over my shoulder. All eyes were on the scene we had created. My mouth felt dry as I looked around, hoping someone could help. The man scoffed.
“Looks like I’ll have to teach the street rat a lesson!” He cried. I watched as he reached behind him and pulled out a scimitar. The light bounced off of it as he held it high above his head. Gasps reverberated around the now silent market. “Everyone knows the penalty for stealing!” He pinned my arm to the edge of his wooden cart.
“No, please!” I heard myself yell. Everything felt like it was going on slow motion as I watched the sun glint off the scimitar as it descended toward my outstretched hand. I was helpless to do anything and my fathers words filled my head.
“But baba, how can I rule over a people I know nothing about?!” I’d cried out, anger roiling through me as my face flushed.
“It will be up to your husband. Agrabah is dangerous for a young women. Especially one of your blood.”
“I’ll take my soldiers and handmaids! I’ll ride in the pallaquin the whole time. Just let me out!” I’d stomped my foot like a petulanct child and could see my fathers resolve hardening.
“My decision is final, Jasmine. You will stay in the palace where you belong and I will hear no more of this. There are theives, murderers, and vagabonds outside those gates and I refuse to put my daughter at their mercy!” My fathers voice rang out, bouncing off the intricate floors and walls. My chest heaved , my breath coming as if I’d been running. Why did he still treat me like a child?
“Mother wouldn’t want me to be trapped here.”
“You have no idea what your mother would want.”
“Baba, please. There is so much I need to know. You can’t keep me sheltered here forever!”
The wind stirred near me as I felt someone pushed me out of the way. I snapped out of my reverie as I fell backwards, using the cart to keep myself upright. Before me was a man, holding the arm of the vendor.
“Oh sir, thank you so much for finding her. I should have known she’d get herself into a spot of trouble,” the man who had jumped in front of me spoke calmly and quickly. My heart was racing in my chest, fear of what could have happened making my legs shake.
“You know this girl?” The vendor said gruffly, pulling his arm away from my savior.
He sighed dramatically. “Yes, she’s my sister. I’m sorry, I was supposed to be watching her. She gets these delusions, can’t really be left alone.”
“She stole my apple!”
The man who’d saved me turned to look at me and I felt my breath catch. Black hair hung low over his forehead, framing deep brown eyes rimmed in gold. Instant warmth radiated from them. He smirked slightly before sending me a wink. He reached into his tattered red vest and pulled out a pearl necklace.
“Will this do for your troubles?” He asked innocently. The vendor man licked his lips as his eyes gleamed with greed. He reached out and snatched the necklace.
“Teach your sister a thing or two about the laws boy. Lest she come home a limb short!” The vendor turned and resumed fussing about with his cart.
The man who had come to my aide turned and held out his hand. “Come with me, quickly,” he said, so quietly only I could hear him. I hesitated as I looked from his eyes to his outstretched hand. Sure he had saved me from loosing my hand but maybe my father was right. I’d been sheltered from birth and clearly was out of my element.
“Trust me,” the man said quietly, a small smile on his lips as he continued to wait for me to take his hand. As if on its own my hand reached forward and slid into his. He quickly pulled my behind him and rapidly weaved through the market. “We need to be far away when he realizes...”
“Realizes what?” I asked hoarsely.
“Scoundrel! Stop them! Thief!”
“That the necklace was a fake. Run!” I could hear laughter in the handsome strangers voice as he broke into a run, dragging me closely behind him. Above us I heard a chittering sound and the man looked up quickly. “Which way?” He called out. I creased my eyebrows in confusion. He was taking to the sky and suddenly I felt fear slithering up my legs and settling in my belly. Obviously this man was unstable.
I twisted my wrist slightly, trying to pull myself free. His grip was tight as we continued our run across the market. I could hear footsteps chasing after us and my eyes widened as I turned back to see a set of guards hot on our tails. “In here!” The man called out, ducking quickly into a darkened door. He pulled me toward him and as our chests collided I let out a little squeak. His hand flew up to cover my mouth.
My eyes widened as I realized we were almost nose to nose. I looked into the strangers eyes. They crinkled slightly in the corners as if he were smiling. His tanned skin was smooth and clear. I realized then he was actually quite handsome but I was still worried about his mental stability.
To our left I heard chittering again and looked over to see a small monkey. He had a small purple turban on his head and was bouncing around. “Think we can lose them Abu?” The man asked quietly. Now he was talking to a monkey? I really needed to get away.
“Come through the back here. I know a short cut to a place we’ll be safe.” He walked toward the back of the small shop, finally letting go of my wrist. I rubbed it gently, my feet refusing to move.
“Thank you for what you did, I’ll see myself to safety from here,” I said, my voice surprisingly sturdy.
“Lady, there are guards out there looking for you. And I know Raheem is probably dying to detach your hand from your arm. Especially after that trick I just pulled.” The man smiled slightly and ran his hand through his thick black hair. I felt a smile tug at my lips despite myself.
“I appreciate your assistance but I could have handled it on my own.”
“Oh, it looked like you were handling it. Look, just... come with me and I’ll make sure you get to safety.”
I took a step closer to the stranger, my robe swishing around my legs. I suddenly felt hot and held down by the fabric. “You expect me to go somewhere with a complete stranger? After what just nearly happened? Obviously, you are a trickster.” I gestured toward the monkey. “To be honest I’m afraid to ask.”
The man crossed his arms over his exposed chest. The red vest did little to cover the golden, muscled expanse and I found my resolve faltering. “I’ll explain everything, just please. Let me get you somewhere safe til all this dies down.”
I gently bit my bottom lip. I looked between the man, the monkey, and the small doorway we had ducked into. My fear was slowly being replaced by curiosity. I wanted to know who this handsome, kind, maybe slightly crazy stranger was. He’d just saved me and he was a true citizen of Agrabah. He could show me the city I was so desperate to know.
I cleared my throat. “Can I at least know the name of my mysterious rescuer?” I asked quietly. I hadn’t been sure it was possible, but the grin on his face stretched wider. Making him seem younger.
“It’s Aladdin. And this is Abu. Satisfied?” He asked holding out his hand again, palm up. I looked at him and slowly slid my hand into his.
“Don’t you want to know my name?”
He glanced over his shoulder as he pulled me toward a small door at the back. He leaned his head out, looking both ways down the small alley before tugging me behind him. “I’m sure we’ll have time...”
“Stop, thief!” Rang clear behind us. I turned and spotted two guards at the end of the alley, pointing our way.
“The introductions will have to continue later! This might be harder than I thought!” Aladdin yelled out as we started another mad dash down the alley. I reached up to keep my hood in place and despite myself I felt my smile brighten. This was the most excitement I’d ever had in my life and I intended to savor every moment like it was my last.