Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 30
The corpse of the dragon lay steaming upon the floor, the marks of its wrath seared permanently into the cavern walls. Yet the heroes stood victorious. Leaving the dragon to stink and smoulder, they ventured deeper into its lair, appraising the stock of treasure the winged terror had amassed across the ages.
“This will ease the suffering of our land…” observed Khemaghan the Keen, lifting a gem-studded chalice, worth several fortunes on its own.
“…but it will not repair the devastation that the beast has wrought.” Quilbar the Quick was troubled by the same thought.
“We beat it,” said Skondar the Strong, speaking firmly as ever. “We won. It’s over.”
But from the bones of the dragon, there sprang forth a new threat. For in its hoard—beyond the reach of mortal man for years known only to the gods—there stood a copper lamp upon a bare pedestal. In every other room, gold and jewels had lain strewn across the floor, a careless bed for the vile serpent.
In this room, the floor was bare. A perfect, solid circle of clear stone marked a perimeter about the pedestal, as though gold and silver feared to draw too close to the base metal that stood atop it.
Khemaghan the Keen noted how the pedestal had been placed in the furthest reaches of the cave.
Quilbar the Quick realised immediately why in this chamber no torch burned.
“Why has this rough lamp been placed among the treasure?” demanded Skondar the Strong, preparing to step out into the circle of bare stone.
Khemaghan placed an arm before him.
Quilbar answered: “Because the dragon itself feared this thing’s sight. Within that lamp there dwells a creature more powerful even than dragonflame.”
“In that lamp?” asked Skondar, incredulous. The dragon had been the largest adversary that any of them had ever faced in battle, yet the lamp could have stood neatly upon his palm.
“Yes,” breathed Khemaghan. “The creature in that lamp could lay waste to the world, were it not bound by certain rules.”
Khemaghan and Quilbar looked at one another, for here they saw a chance at a treasure ten times as great as that of the dragon’s hoard, and five times more than they would need to set its wrongs to right.
“Skondar,” they spoke, “you are the bravest of our band, and fiercest in battle. Light the wick that sits within the lamp, and bid the creature come.”
So Skondar took his tinderbox, and set light to the lamp.
Immediately, there was a sound like the chariots of heaven. Sweet, purple smoke billowed forth as sparks green as emeralds shot around the room. The three warriors drew their swords, determined to hold this creature in the cavern or die in the attempt, but as the smoke dispersed, they saw that all was still.
Where the pedestal had stood before, there was now an ivory throne. Upon the throne there sat a multitude of cushions, their silken colours shining. And upon the cushions, there sat a djinn, regarding the trio of warriors with cold indifference and burning eyes.
“Three thousand years have I slumbered in the lamp, and so three wishes are mine to grant. Who wakes me now? And to what purpose? Speak carefully, for though great power I possess, wisdom I do not: good and evil are alike to me. What you wish for shall be so, whether it bring health or harm.”
Khemaghan watched the djinn carefully, for though it claimed to know neither good nor evil, the tales of these beings revealed them to be cruel tricksters: few of their wishes proved welcome in the end.
“Quilbar,” whispered Khemaghan, “you are a scholar, and wisest of our band. Ask for something simple—something that cannot possibly come to harm us in any way—and if the djinn makes a trick of it, we will wish it back inside the lamp.”
Quilbar thought carefully. “Noble djinn,” he said at last. “We have fought a hard battle this day, and our water skins are empty. Fill mine half full with clean, refreshing water, and nothing else.”
“Is this all you wish for?” asked the djinn, the corner of its mouth turning in a smile.
“That is all I ask.”
“Then it is done.”
Quilbar lifted the water skin and felt its weight. He removed the stopper and sniffed its contents. He raised it to his lips and took a drink.
“It is plain water,” he said, “just as I asked.”
But still Khemaghan was suspicious of the djinn’s smile. He turned to Quilbar. “Two wishes remain. Let me ask for something more like what we want, so that we may see whether this spirit can be trusted with grander things.”
Quilbar nodded his assent.
Khemaghan spoke: “Noble djinn, I wish for a block of pure gold one cubit in width, one cubit in depth, and one cubit in height, to be placed neatly upon the floor two cubits in front of where I stand.”
“Are you sure that is your wish?”
Khemaghan trembled. What he wished for could do great harm indeed, if it were instead placed upon his head. But he was wise, and his demand was clear, and so he answered: “Yes.”
And there, two cubits in front of him, the gold appeared.
Quilbar and Khemaghan were delighted.
“And now,” said the djinn, directing its gaze to Skondar, “I shall grant the third and final wish to you.”
Here the faces of the others fell, for Skondar’s strength was in his arms, not in his wit.
“Think carefully!” hissed Quilbar. “Take great pains that what you wish for cannot…”
“I wish for a massive boatload of money!” bellowed Skondar.
Quilbar and Khemaghan sprinted for the cavern mouth, certain that at any second they would all be crushed beneath the weight of Skondar’s wealth.
But the djinn only smiled.
“Your riches await you at the city docks: that being where a boatload of anything would usually be expected.”
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.
You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which was recently accepted by Unbound.