Jasmine and the Genie were just catching up to where Aladdin and Amal were attempting to mount his horse, when Amal let out a shriek and jumped from the horse's back onto the sand.
"It's one of those monkeys!" She yelled in surprise, and they saw Aladdin extend his arm balancing Abu down toward Amal.
"You betcha," Aladdin grinned. "The expensive ones."
Abu jumped onto Amal's shoulder, chittering as he crossed from one brown sleeve to the other. Amal took a jerky step backward as Abu did so, and squealed as he balanced on her arms.
"The ones they used to sell in the market? How on earth did you find one and train it like this?"
Aladdin clicked his tongue to beckon Abu back onto the horse, and held out his hand to assist Amal in remounting. "Abu is a he, and I didn't need to train him. He just found me so sweet that he, um, ran away from the nasty owner and stuck with me." Abu collaborated the sentimentality of the story by cooing at Aladdin's side.
Amal laughed and slapped Aladdin on the shoulder when she finally settled on the horse's rough blanket saddle. "How could you take a poor monkey and force him to live in your dirty tower in the middle of the city?"
The two continued arguing about Abu as they started riding ahead of Jasmine and the Genie, who remained at their rear by the royals guards. Jasmine kept a distance from Aladdin's horse while she addressed the Genie. "Why was he asking about tattoos? She can't even afford jewelry."
The Genie eyed Amal's back carefully from where they were riding. "I don't know how much traditions have changed in these parts, but last I heard it was typical for women in the countryside to tattoo their faces and necks once they got hitched. He was probably asking whether this one was married or not."
Jasmine wrinkled her brow. "Well, what's she doing traveling alone from the countryside? How would Aladdin know someone from so far away?"
"I don't know the life story, princess," the Genie smirked. "You have plenty of time to figure it out on the ride back to the city, and your man's right there."
Jasmine rolled her eyes at the light attitude the Genie was taking toward someone who was very well acting like an intruder. How could Aladdin expect someone who had not even been properly introduced to her to ride in her company back to the palace? She rode quietly beside the Genie for quite some time to gather her thoughts, and then kicked her horse to catch up with Aladdin and the strange girl.
She caught some mention of Jafar in their conversation. "...And so while he was still keeping up the facade of a loyal vizier, he told the sultan that I, as Prince Ali, I mean, had run away from the palace in the night—"
"No!" Amal interjected, with her hands gripping Aladdin's shoulders.
"Yes, it was insane! And then, Jasmine had the great idea to bring me out in front of— oh, Jasmine, you can tell her about this part!" Both Aladdin and Amal turned to watch Jasmine trot toward them.
Jasmine put on a tight smile, and agreed to recount as much as she could about what happened three months ago.
After enough time passed that the company of horses were nearly at the gates to the city, Aladdin was finally done explaining every scene of his time as Prince Ali, master of the golden lamp's genie. Jasmine had contributed up until the retelling of the Genie's release from the lamp, and she was gritting her teeth to change the subject of conversation, and begin asking questions of her own about Amal.
But Jasmine had to bit her lip against what now felt like a surging curiosity, because the Genie had now ridden up within speaking distance, and Amal had even more questions for him.
When the Genie interjected to ask what they were talking about, Amal smiled at him with her eyes wide. "And you're...you really were a genie? I truly never would have imagined that you had powers that were more than human."
"Well, I have plenty of human powers too, there's only so much credit I can give to the lamp," the Genie winked and clicked his tongue.
Amal and Aladdin laughed, while Jasmine tried not to roll her eyes too visibly. Thankfully, the sand wasn't as fluid this close to the city, so the difficulty of maneuvering her horse on the terrain wasn't adding as much to her frustrations.
Amal breathed heavily and wrapped her hood tighter around her hair. "I can't even think about all at once, Aladdin. I've never seen any magic in all the years I've been alive, but I can't deny it when I see that your clothes are new, and that you have horses that bring you to caravans and command the gifts of rich merchants. And at least that story gives me something to explain why you, of all people, are now engaged to the princess."
Amal laughed after she said these last words, and Aladdin offered what sounded like an embarrassed chuckle. The silence, seconds later, was palpable.
Jasmine took the pause as an opportunity to finally address the topic she was interested in. "So, Amal, what impulsed you to journey out to these parts? Surely the caravan has been traveling for at least a week since it left the border towns?"
Amal wasn't laughing, or even smiling, when Jasmine tried to get a closer look at her. It was a moment before she turned to look at Jasmine.
"It's strange, I know, for others to see me traveling alone," she explained. "But it was time for me to leave the countryside, and I saw that the farthest means of travel is through the merchants' caravan." Here, she smiled again.
Jasmine nodded to urge her to continue. She saw that Aladdin, from his seated position in front of Amal, was periodically turning his head toward the girl to face her better.
"I was part of a household in Accradh, the southern part of the border against Sherebad," she said, and shook Aladdin's shoulder where she was still gripping. "I was a servant for a long time for one of the spice merchants there, and I was until he died a month ago."
Aladdin turned his head toward Amal more fully this time, clearly animated. "I can't believe it, you were so lucky! Why did those men let you go to be a servant?"
Jasmine interjected. "What men?"
Amal looked at her again. "The last time Aladdin and I saw each other in Agrabah, I was seized by some traders who usually take poor girls from the city to sell as wives to desperate men in the countryside, desperate for whatever reason."
Jasmine was shocked by this information, but neither Aladdin nor the Genie seemed surprised, and Amal continued. "Aladdin, I think they mistook me for another girl who had escaped a company of indentured servants that same day. That's why they took me, I tried to piece it together and that's what I could come up with from the gossip that the other people that the traders had seized told me."
Aladdin looked as serious as Jasmine had ever seen him now. "Those bastards," he declared. "I never forgot what they looked like." Amal gripped his shoulder again and kept speaking.
"And when we got to the marketplace in Accradh a week later, I was confused because I had never seen it before, but the other girls the traders were transporting with me said that this was the season that rural men bidded on wives. You know how scared I must have been at that time, Aladdin! But because of the scars on my arms no one offered the traders anything for me right away, and I bless Allah that the first offer for my sale came from a local woman who was looking to add a servant to her household."
Jasmine had never heard of anything this horrible happening in tangible, real life before. The most she had heard about sales for human beings came from dusty historical records of surrounding kingdoms in her father's library, and she felt terribly ashamed to hear that such transactions had begun in her own city.
But Amal seemed unperturbed by her story. "So the lead trader, the one who first grabbed me, if you remember, Aladdin, he let the woman buy me." Aladdin nodded sharply. "She was not very mean, and I was blessed that she kept me on as one of her servants for these past seven years. But my greatest blessing was when the master, her husband, died a few weeks ago. He was terribly in debt to money loaners in Sherebad, so the mistress panicked and fled the house, and because there was no one left to take responsibility for us, all the servants were left to go free."
When she had stopped talking, Jasmine saw Amal close her eyes and make a prayer motion with her hand. It was humbling to Jasmine that anyone could consider those events as any kind of blessing to be thankful for.
"How did you pay the caravan to take you back here?" Aladdin asked.
Here, Amal smiled slowly and raised her shoulders. "A bit of saffron from the master's underground stores was enough to convince the tapestry weavers' wagon in Accradh. But they sure didn't let it pay for a comfortable living space!"
Aladdin laughed at this, and Abu chittered his approval. Jasmine glanced at the Genie, who crossed his fingers in a gesture toward her, and she knew that Amal and Aladdin were both cut from the same cloth.
They had all passed through the city gates by now, and the streets of Agrabah were almost entirely empty and lit by only the oil lamps spilling shadowy light from the clay windows of residents' homes. This was not usual for the city— the marketplace was almost always fully active through the night with streetside bakers and entertainment spectacles. However, the royal guards were leading Jasmine and her company through one of the outermost segments of the city in order to reach the palace, so that the princess would not draw attention to herself among any crowds.
Out of the dust of the desert and in the quiet light of the street, Jasmine could see Amal's face and clothing more clearly. What she had initially thought was beige linen was, best she could tell, a brown cotton. Jasmine could also see Amal's unique features more clearly, and she could see that she looked very different from Jasmine. The girl's skin was solidly tanned, and Jasmine knew that if she touched Amal's cheek that the texture would not be as soft as her own. She also could see that Amal had much tighter curls than Jasmine did, though most of it with tightly tucked away under her hood that acted as a headscarf. Amal's lips were not as pink or small as Jasmine's, nor were her eyebrows as sharp and narrow. As disparate as their features seemed, Jasmine could not help but think that she would appear much more similar to Amal if she did not have her creams and her oils and her shawls for shade awaiting her in the palace.
The girl was smiling and gazing sharply in all directions. "Is this really Agrabah? How little it's changed. I'm so happy to be back, Aladdin, and just as I imagined, with you."
"Wait till you see the tower, Amal, it's even better than it was when you left." Aladdin answered, and Jasmine assumed that he was talking about his home before he earned a room in the palace.
Jasmine cleared her throat. "When we arrive at the palace, we must all eat together, Amal. And talk about what you'll be doing in the city now that you've returned."