Petrov was a good Caliph, protecting the people of his town from the dangers of magic, marauding hordes and especially out of control genies. There was one particular genie causing him issue. His people complained of cattle, riches and food disappearing from their silos, barns and homes. A mischievous imp by the name of Nikolai had begun to roam their fair province. The fathers in the village were upset that their daughters might fall under the influence of such a creature. Many young girl and wife spoke of how handsome the genie was which made the men under Petrov's protection angry when they found things missing or their wives and daughters seemingly entranced by the creature. Nikolai was unduly influencing the women so that they did not notice him taking things. But Petrov had a plan, one young woman the apple of the genie's eye and seemingly special. Her name was Katarina, a blue eyed beauty who seemed immune to the wiles of the genie and was maybe why he loved her so much. Perhaps she would be the perfect bait. Petrov had a plan.
"We will watch Katarina day and night. Her father has approved of such a measure if it means we catch this genie, once and for all. Nikolai must be stopped at all costs!"
His men agreed, taking up residence in the home of Katarina and her father as servants and staff. Petrov himself talked to the young woman but she was strangely stand offish to him which surprised the Caliph.
"He's not a bad genie, your eminence. He just wants to be free and he knows that I wish to do the same."
Her words seemed haunted by something, blue eyes wistful of some past injury or hurt and it made Petrov all the more determined to figure out the mystery of how these two were involved.
"I will catch him, Katarina. While my father was unable to do so, I will make sure I succeed where he and past Caliphs failed."
His words made her blink in surprise, a hint of worry there but she dismissed him despite his rank and he let her be for the moment. Petrov had to make sure they had cooperation from her as well as her father. The man was elusive but he had sent word they could enter his home and capture the genie if necessary. Katarina seemed indifferent at best, hiding her intentions. Nikolai liked her and Petrov was wondering why when he heard a noise, a horse neighing below then quieting. Soon there was a dog barking and it quieted quickly before he saw what was going on. He peeked out the window and saw that the horses, cattle and dog were all sleeping as were the guards and everyone else in the village. Standing near the entrance to the home was a man in dark clothes, walking slowly forward. Petrov went to call on his men inside but found them all sleeping too, including the staff for the home and only he and Kate seemed to be awake. This was turning out to be an odd occurrence, the Caliph giving a yawn but fighting the effects as he moved back towards Katarina's room.
"You're here… I didn't think…"
Katarina spoke quietly, breathily as if she were truly happy to see him. Petrov fought another yawn, moving closer to the entrance and peering inside. Nikolai hovered at the window sill outside, smiling at the young woman and seemingly unaware that he was there.
"You called me and I answered. I would never harm you. Did you like the bracelet I brought you? It belonged to a spoiled princess. She will not miss it once she wakes up. Her father can buy her more."
The genie's voice was gentle, his love for the woman evident while her manner seemed a bit more aloof. Petrov watched in interest curious if he could capture the genie by himself.
Katarina's voice was hesitant, something in the manner she spoke indicating something was about to be revealed. Petrov listened in interest.
"I sense an exception in your tone, my love. Why the hesitation? Have I not brought you what I promised? I just want to see you happy as I am."
Nikolai looked as if he was uncertain what to do, obvious that he wished to please Katarina who was still unhappy. Petrov remembered his plan, going to grab the item that would capture the genie as he tried to rouse a few of his men. With the creature distracted, two of his men woke, following him with the means to capture it.
"I've done everything for you, my love. Are you still so unhappy? Have I not given you what I promised that day we met?"
The genie's voice was petulant but he obviously loved the young woman as Petrov came around on the outer balcony, quietly. His men knew what to do and he was sure this would be the end of the genie's reign.
"You've done everything but I…"
Katarina paused, mens voice obvious as Petrov waited within reach of the floating menace. Nikolai didn't know he was there as he came within inches of him.
"What treachery is this. Should I cast another sleeping spell on you fools? I won't be…"
Nikolai's words paused, his blue eyes sparkling brightly as Petrov touched an ornate bottle to the genie's bare arm and something happened. He said the magic words to make it so, the look on Nikolai's face going from surprised to almost calm. It made little sense to the Caliph except that the genie knew he was caught.
"Go forth into the bottle genie! Be slave to the vessel and do my bidding!"
Those words left his lips and he watched Nikolai nod, a sad glint to those eyes before he turned to smoke and vanished into the bottle in Petrov's hands. He quickly corked the bottle, Kate looking on with an expression that gave no hint if she was upset or angry with them. She was impassioned at best, frowning slightly to show her unhappiness with the situation but nothing more. He bowed to her, his men doing the same as they went to wake the rest of the house and leave her in peace.
Three Years Later…
The kingdom of Petrov had prospered. He and his lovely wife Eliza were happily engaged in the business of their castle. Petrov was performing his usual tasks, law and order a must in the land. His men had been in pursuit of a rogue who stole and ravaged many a treasure. The man had no name at present, his identity unknown but for his trademark of disappearing like a genie when any law arrived. He was like a ghost, faking parchments and stealing goods and treasures. Petrov was determined to find the man now that this ghost was in his kingdom.
"Caliph, there is news…"
A young woman, one of his most trusted advisers and a daughter of a trusted ally spoke to him. She bowed her head but there was an obvious frown on her face. Petrov summoned her forward, her manner urgent as she leaned towards him.
"Diana, I hope it is about my current case. This ghost eludes everyone even with eyewitnesses."
He was frustrated by lack of knowledge on the man who stole at will like a genie but who was obviously flesh and blood. What manner of thief worked as this one did without chance of being caught? He noticed the look in her eyes, Petrov curious now.
"This is about Nikolai, my lord Caliph. He's escaped."
Earlier that same day...
Nikolai languished in the bottle, never being allowed out into the world but for the occasional task when the Caliph allowed it. It was menial work at best and not to his creative tendencies. His only happiness was that he was able to visit with Katarina, the young woman visiting him weekly in the palace with Petrov's permission. She was a rare flower of the desert, one he hoped to set roots with if he were ever free again. They would disappear to the farthest reaches where no man would make him a slave again and he would do right for her.
"How is your father, dearest Katarina?"
Nikolai was allowed a few minutes from the bottle when Katarina visited but it was under supervision of the Caliph's men. She frowned, something troubling the young woman as she paced near him.
"I was happy before but now… you're a prisoner. It's not the same, Nikolai. I can't… I can't see you anymore."
She was distraught but there were other indications something was wrong. Nikolai tried to embrace her but the bottle kept him at arms length from her. The Caliph had made it impossible for him to touch another person so long as the bottle kept him prisoner.
She moved out of his reach, a shuttered look to her face as she apologized then left. Nikolai tried to follow but his tie to the bottle kept him from moving far, the Caliph's men watching him with a cautious eye before he could no more than just go back into the vessel he was attached to and sulk. She was gone, the one person he would give up his freedom for willingly had left him and he had no idea why. He wanted to cry, tossing what little stuff he was allowed in luxuries around the home inside the bottle… no the cell he was allowed. He didn't blame the Caliph for his woes but his own hubris. He had thought himself invincible in his careless pursuit to see if he could do what he liked when he liked. Now he was paying the price for that foolishness, collapsing to the pile of pillows by a false fireplace in his prison. It was nice, beautiful even but it wasn't real. Nothing in this place was real, only set up to make him comfortable while he was imprisoned and it irked him to no end.
Time passed and he was given privileges beyond what he did before for the Caliph. These were by his ministers, using the genie as you might a servant but he listened and waited for someone to give him more freedom than he was supposed to have. Someone would make an error and he would be ready.
"Genie… take water from the river and put it in his Caliph's well. I will leave you to it, Genie."
This man wasn't so nice as the others but he was lazy, making Nikolai do some of the more mundane tasks and not paying any attention to who or what he was dealing with. The man's wife passed, glancing at him curiously as her husband walked away to tend to another matter a few feet away. Nikolai smiled coyly at her and she giggled and smiled back, drawing closer as he did as he was told. Water was flowing from above down to the well beside him. His bottle was nearby out of reach in a bag the minister had brought with him.
"It is a hard job of a genie to do the wishes of men who do not appreciate him."
He muttered the phrase tiredly, the minister's wife moving closer. She looked sympathetic, offering him some water from the well as it filled and he took it gladly. He was unable to touch her but he could adjust the wind to brush her face and make her smile.
"Such a handsome genie should not be working but you were stealing from us. I am sorry for your imprisonment. What can I do short of freeing you, dearest genie?"
She was under his spell, as had so many other women in the village as he smiled and finished the water.
"I only ask that you put my bottle in a cooler place. Your husband doesn't care that I live in such a vessel and that the sun make it uncomfortable for me."
He wiped dramatically at his brow as if to hint that he was overheated. The woman nodded, moving closer to her husband's bag as she pulled the bottle out and gave it a look. It was bejeweled and decorated with ornate gold leaf which was the curse that kept the genie bound.
"Such a beautiful bottle. I bet you would steal it if you were not bound to it."
She had barely said such words when her husband turned, dark eyes boring into both of them.
"Wife! What are you doing with that bottle? Put it back!"
The minister yelled at her but it only startled the woman, the bottle slipping from her fingers and shattering into a million pieces on the ground before her. In a moment Nikolai felt his power return, freedom was his as he finished his task, kissed her hand and promptly disappeared. He would find Katarina and convince her of his love now. He was free again...
Petrov sighed, wondering how his ministers had messed this up. Yosef admitted his wife had been involved and apologized profusely for her mistake. The genie was wiley and had lured her to pick up the bottle under the pretense he was too hot. She had dropped the bottle and freed him without realizing her wrong doing. The Caliph sighed, wondering how the man had allowed his wife access to their genie. Nikolai would wreck havoc now as he nodded to his men to follow him. They would scour the kingdom for the rogue and make sure he was put back in a new bottle. His alchemist was making one as they headed out. If he were a genie…
"Katarina… of course! When was the last time she visited?"
One of his guards who had been in charge of the bottle shrugged.
"It's been about a month since her last visit my lord. He was not the same after that but he performed the duties you asked us to have him do as needed."
The guard seemed unperturbed by the fact that Katarina might be the reason for Nikolai's escape. The young woman had charmed the genie although if their feelings were mutual, Petrov could not tell.
"Then we go to see Katarina. Send every guard to her home and have my alchemist bring the bottle when it is done."
Nikolai roamed the empty halls of the small manor, no signs of his beloved anywhere within it's silent walls. It wasn't until he went to her room, the one that overlooked the river that he saw a sign. It had been a joke but more a promise that he would always be hers. He lifted the item up, no curse upon its gilded colorful sides as he sighed and sat with the bottle upon his lap. This was what he had promised to her… to be her genie forever without fear he would leave. The bottle had been that promise for better things and that if he could chain himself to anyone, it would have been to her own hand.
"Is that your new home?"
He glanced up to see that someone was there. The Caliph stood at the doorway, walking closer but just out of reach as if cautious of him. He was not a violent genie like some and chose more to play tricks and take things that he liked than to hurt people.
"It could have been. It was a promise to Katarina… but she's gone now."
He was deflated, his heart broken and he didn't know why she had left him. They had been in love… or so he thought. The Caliph coughed, his attention brought from his misery to the man who had imprisoned him. There was something about the tunic… that cape… Nikolai stifled a laugh uncertain if he would or could insult this man. They were equals.
"Something the matter? I have my men waiting to capture you and some from another kingdom who want restitution if you aren't caught by me."
Petrov was friendly but firm and Nikolai rose, smiling at him.
"That is the same tunic you wore the last time I was captured. For a ruler, you must have more clothes than this to lead your kingdom."
He was only mildly teasing the man but the Caliph shrugged, looking down at his clothes and smiling.
"I like this tunic and the tailor who made it retired some years ago. I liked his style despite what everyone else might say."
Footsteps interrupted their chat, Nikolai no longer willing to run when he had no idea where Katarina was. Maybe imprisonment had softened him but his eyes caught something on the fingers of the Caliph. Something that interested him greatly.
"You were looking at forgeries…"
The Caliph stiffened at his words, glancing at Nikolai curiously until the genie pointed at his fingers.
"The smudged ink. I can smell the hint of parchment but it is newer paper made to seem old. What would you say if I could help you find this… man?"
Suddenly the image of the papers he had been looking at appeared in the air like a ghost, showing something that the Caliph and his ministers hadn't been able to see. The genie pointed at a particular part of the image and smiled.
"I can tell you who did this… what it means if you visit me. It gets lonely in a bottle."
Nikolai held up his hands, men taking him into chains marked so that he couldn't escape but he let himself be taken without force. He could see the look on the Caliph's face was confusion and wonder as he repeated his offer.
"Come talk to me in my bottle. All may be revealed, sire."
Author's Note: A work in progress that came to me. Must be watching too much "once upon a time."