Dead Man Walking
by Charlotte Langtree
There was a time, long past, when humans and Djinn worked side by side, building their world together. In truth, however, they lived apart, separated by ancient laws and deep-held superstitions. Distrust and wariness ran rampant throughout their civilization.
It is possible to pinpoint one exact moment that changed their fate, improving relations between the two peoples forever. That moment lives in stories, passed down through generations and celebrated on its anniversary each year. Families gather at firesides, sharing bread and wine as night falls. When stomachs are full, then the tale is told in a voice that booms like thunder, for it always begins with a storm …
Lightning flashed in the darkness, illuminating a clearing below. Thunder boomed. Although rain fell in heavy torrents, the clearing was dry. A small group of Djinn, gathered in a swirling cloud, held the storm at bay.
On one side of the clearing stood a small crowd of humans, shaking with cold and rage. On the other, a number of Djinn muttered and glared at the pair of figures huddled between the two groups.
Their trial was immediate, and the punishment would be just as swift.
Despite the disapproval on the surrounding faces, they held hands and stood defiantly before their accusers.
The woman, small amidst the storm of fury directed her way, was drenched, her long blonde hair clinging to her back. At her side, the man folded his arms across his chest and glowered. His black hair curled in the rain water.
Two humans arrived with a snarling wolf restrained with ropes between them. The crowd of Djinn hissed and stepped back.
“We won’t let it near you,” one man promised.
As the wolf approached the couple in the centre, the black-haired man clenched his jaw and shifted his weight. His skin moved, like the ripples of a pebble thrown into a pond, until his whole body writhed and rolled in waves of flickering fire. He screamed, surrendering to the flames. The woman reached for him, and recoiled from the heat.
“He’s Djinn!” a voice thundered, and the crowd gasped.
“Please, stop!” the woman begged.
The wolf was taken away, and the fiery creature settled back into the shape of a man.
One of the Djinn moved forward and met the red-bearded, scar-faced leader of the humans in the center of the clearing. Red-beard offered his hand to the human-shaped lavender mist before him, and it shifted into the form of a tall, raven-haired woman whose beauty was wild as the lighting knifing through the sky; stunning, mesmerizing, dangerous. Scaled wings rose from her shoulders, glowing with a deep sunset light that matched the blazing hue of her eyes.
She turned to the black-haired man and said, “You have dishonored us, Daras. We have lived in peace with the humans for decades; now your actions endanger us all.”
Daras averted his gaze.
“You wear the form of one of our men,” the red-bearded man boomed. “Leza’s husband, Jesh. I can only assume that Jesh is dead. Did you kill him?”
The Djinna spread her wings and hissed, “Do not lie! If this man were alive, you would not be able to take his shape.”
Daras dropped to his knees, and bowed his head. “He is dead but I did not kill him. I swear it on my life.”
An angry murmur rose from the gathered crowd on both sides. Leza turned to face the two leaders.
“I killed Jesh,” she admitted in a shaking voice.
The collective gasp rose above the crash of thunder.
“Daras had nothing to do with it,” she continued. “Please, leave him alone. Jesh wasn’t a good man. He hurt me. He …”
Leza swallowed her words, and looked away. Her eyes shone with tears.
“A few weeks ago, he attacked me while I was cooking, and I … I fought him off with the knife in my hand. I didn’t mean to kill him.”
Daras rose to offer comfort as she spoke, running his hand up and down her back, and kissing her brow.
“Leza, why didn’t you seek help?” Red-beard asked.
“I was scared. Jesh had a lot of friends, and a mean temper.”
“I don’t see how Daras fits in with this,” the winged Djinna interrupted.
Leza smiled. “I met Daras at the market in Midtown; we often traded goods, and sent customers to each other. We became friends. I … I needed a friend.”
She choked on a sob, and Daras continued the tale. “Leza confided in me about her husband. I wanted to report him but she begged me to wait. We were going to approach the elders to ask for a separation. I would have given evidence to support her. But then …”
A crease appeared in Red-beard’s brow. “Why did you pretend to be Jesh? The law prohibits Djinn from appearing as specific humans. We must be able to trust each other!”
Daras closed his eyes. “I fell in love with her.”
“It was my idea!” Leza interjected. “I love him too, and I knew our relationship would never be allowed. If he was Jesh, then we could be together.”
A hush fell over the clearing. For a moment, no longer than a flash of lightning, the rain fell freely as the Djinn lost their concentration. It washed away the shock of their words, and cleansed the air.
“You are in love?” The Djinna tilted her head.
They nodded, and linked their arms together.
The red-bearded man turned to face the bright-winged Djinna. The rain intensified, and petrichor filled the air.
“Maybe it’s time to change the old laws,” he suggested. “Perhaps humans and Djinn can enjoy an even stronger relationship going forward.”
“What of the dead man?”
They both glanced at the couple. The Djinna summoned Daras closer, and he inched forward.
“I need the truth,” she said.
A cerulean aura pulsed around her body. Within moments, she vanished into a swirling azure mist that flickered and coiled around Daras. Seconds later, she reformed, and stretched out her wings with a moan.
“They speak the truth,” she told the waiting crowd. “The human’s husband was a cruel man; his death was accidental.”
There was a strained silence as the two leaders turned to each other. Red-beard once again offered his hand to his Djinn counterpart. They shook, and smiled.
“Perhaps Leza and Daras can perform some service as punishment for their lies?” Red-beard said. “It seems a little harsh to remove their heads … or however you do it with Djinn.”
“Agreed. The punishment must fit the crime. Perhaps the two of them could take responsibility for establishing a new community where Djinn and humans may live together in true peace.”
Cheers rang out on both sides of the clearing. Leza let out a cry of joy and leapt into Daras’ waiting arms. The celebrations went on for a week, and humans and Djinn rejoiced.
Thus, a new world was created. Leza and Daras became the first of many couples blending human and Djinn, and our civilization grew stronger with each passing year. Now, there is true harmony, and a future filled with possibility – and magic!
Charlotte Langtree is an author and poet from the North of England. Her work has appeared in the Inner Circle Writers’ Magazine, and is due to be featured in upcoming anthologies by Eerie River Publishing, Black Hare Press, Iron Faerie Publishing, and Paper Djinn Press. You can find her online here.