Author's Note: I am very, very sorry for the long delay in posting these chapters, and I apologise to you readers. I didn't mean to leave you hanging. As I explained to some of you who sent me emails, I recently had to deal with some troublesome uninvited houseguests. Between getting rid of them and cleaning up the mess they left, I haven't had a great deal of free time to relax infront of the computer and keep typing.
So without further ado, I give you the next two chapters of Raider and the Lost Lamp. I hope you enjoy...
Shortly after re-materialising inside the lamp chamber, Clara realised that she had been re-dressed in the pink harem costume. She let out an irritated sigh and wasted no time in calling on her magic to change her apparel into a white blouse and track pants. After quickly looking her new outfit over, she walked over to the volume of Zhiasa's journal that she'd been reading earlier. It was still sitting open on the floor by the bed. The hi-fi that Clara had conjured into the room earlier sat silent. Clara waved her finger at it, silently commanding it to play a collection of her favourite REM songs, as her magic raised the book to a height where she could grab it without bending down. She layed down on the bed, and continued to delve into the journal.
Clara discovered that within two weeks of the night that they first made love, Zhiasa and Hal'hadin were wed. The journal contained detailed accounts of a few more sexual encounters, especially the events of the wedding night, although none were as graphic as the account of Zhiasa losing her virginity. Clara was severely tempted to slip her hand down her trousers and have a little fun while reading the spicy entries, but resolved to behave herself, fearing a repeat of her last embarrassing exit.
It seemed that after the wedding, Zhiasa didn't return to the lamp very often at all, as the journal was only sparsely written in from that point onward. The remainder of the journal indicated that Zhiasa and Hal'hadin lived together very comfortably in the grand palace for many years and remained very much in love. A few years into the marriage, Zhiasa bore Hal'hadin his first son. The couple went on to have three sons in total and twin girls, who would later turn out to be identical. As far as Clara could tell, the children bought both Zhiasa and Hal'hadin much joy - there didn't seem to be any black sheep in the family. "...Apart from aunt Tukanni" Clara thought to herself.
Then the journal's tone became somewhat sombre. Some time after all the children had grown up, Zhiasa and Hal'hadin began to face the fact that Hal'hadin would not live forever. He was already beginning to show signs of age. Upon her master's death, Zhiasa would have been instantly pulled back into the lamp, to await summoning by her next master. Her sad, lonely life of servitude would begin all over again. Hal'hadin remembered the tales she had told him of this life, and dreaded such a fate ever being revisited on his beloved wife. He made his third wish, for Zhiasa to be free of her imprisonment, but to the surprise of both Hal'hadin and Zhiasa, the wish could not be granted. It seemed that Tukanni still had some nasty surprises for her sister, even after all these millennia. The enslavement spell had a clause built into it that prevented anyone from being able to wish Zhiasa free.
After the gravity of the situation had sunk in, Hal'hadin and Zhiasa realised that they would have to go to more drastic measures to end the princess's imprisonment. Even though they speculated it would probably kill Zhiasa, the couple made the difficult decision to destroy the lamp. Zhiasa wrote about how bravely her husband concealed his breaking heart, on the day that she asked him to destroy the lamp, as she could not bear to return to her old life. But destroying the lamp proved to be easier said than done, as the couple tried many ways of accomplishing the task but never succeeded. The strongest men in the lands could not even dent it with a mallet. The greatest elephants in the land could not crush it beneath their feet. The finest blacksmith in the lands could not stoke a forge hot enough to melt it. The wisest alchemists in the land could not concoct an acid strong enough to dissolve it. Many times the couple said tearful last goodbyes to each other, only to fall asleep that same night, holding each other tightly. Clara got the feeling that even though Zhiasa was becoming increasingly worried about the likelihood of eternal imprisonment, she was more even more grateful for the extra time she got to spend with her husband.
The journal was unclear about how long it was before the couple abandoned the idea of destroying the lamp. But one entry was penned with such heartfelt despair that it even bought a tear to Clara's eye. Zhiasa had lost all hope. She tried to comfort herself with the notion that she probably had many more years to enjoy with her husband, but ultimately, she was certain that an eternity of countless cold masters awaited her. The next entry however, was much less melancholy. Zhiasa had remembered once thinking that her sister's amulet might have had the power to release her. The cryptic message on the wall of the chamber implied that some kind of key was required for her release, and the amulet was just the right shape to fit in the opening below the message. Zhiasa knew that it was a long shot, tracking down a piece of jewellery from eight thousand years ago, but at least it was a shot. As her sister died childless, Zhiasa believed that the amulet should have been entombed with her. Hal'hadin immediately summoned the most learned scholars in the land to his palace. He paid them almost insane commissions to track down the whereabouts of the ancient queen's tomb. At this point the journal became frustratingly vague. It was clear that several years passed by, with many promising leads that would turn out to be dead ends, but Zhiasa hadn't included any details about the search, or the scholars' discoveries in her entries.
In her final entry, Zhiasa stated that one of the scholars in Hal'hadin's employ had sent word that he'd discovered an ancient stela, buried in the region of her old kingdom. It was worn and damaged, but there were writings on it that claimed a queen, who could well have been Tukanni, had been entombed on "the peak where two suns join as one". As cryptic as this message seemed, the scholar seemed confidant that he knew where the ancient tablet was referring to. The lead seemed so promising that Hal'hadin and Zhiasa made immediate preparations to travel to the suspected site of the tomb and oversee the final leg of the search in person. They planned to meet up with the scholar en route, and then he would guide them the rest of the way.
Clara sighed as she quickly thumbed through the final blank pages of the book. She could only assume that the old scholar's theory had paid off, and they had found the amulet. Zhiasa would have been too ecstatic upon obtaining the key to her freedom to pen a final entry in her journal. One thing that was obvious was that she had definitely managed to free herself, and it was almost certainly with the amulet. The amulet... at least now, Clara knew what she needed in order to free herself. She couldn't recall any pieces like it being discovered in Hal'hadin's tomb, but then, she had disappeared well before the expedition there had been completed. It was possible that the amulet had been discovered after she disappeared. She would have to ask Jeff about that the next time he summoned her.
Clara spent the next several hours sitting at the desk, re-reading some of Zhiasa's earliest journal scrolls. She had a gut feeling that she might need all the information she could get about Zhiasa's kingdom. While deeply engrossed in a scroll (as she had been for much of the night), she felt a familiar tingling in her toes. She looked down at her feet to see the smoky cloud swirling around them. Not nearly as freaked out by it as she had been last time, Clara casually turned her attention back to the scroll and finished reading the sentence she'd been on. Within a few seconds she found herself standing in Jeff's presence, once again in Roft Manor. Jeff was wearing nothing more than white cotton briefs.
"Warwick's down the hall, knocking on your door. You'd better get back to your room if you don't want him to start wondering where you are." he said.
"Yes, I'd better. Thank you, Jeff." Clara replied as she began to walk towards the wall.
"... and you might want to change your pyjamas to something a little more english, if you don't want to get any weird looks." Jeff said. Clara looked down over her body, realising she was once again clothed in the harem outfit.
"Oh blast!" she complained, "It did this to me when I went back in, I think it must reset the wardrobe to default every time I move in and out of the lamp." Her magic transformed the costume into a set of full-body, cream-coloured silk pyjamas. Clara even had the sense to give her hair the untidy appearance it would normally have after a rough night's sleep. "How do I look?" she asked, spinning around to give Jeff a 360 degree view.
"Not bad" he responded.
"Thank you." Clara smiled, taking one last look at Jeff wearing nothing but his underwear, "See you at breakfast." She turned around and walked through the wall, into her own bedroom, chuckling to herself. She couldn't help but enjoy the poetic justice she'd just enjoyed; Yesterday she was the one that had been caught half-naked.
The three Rofts and Jeff sat down to breakfast together in the sitting room. The meal wasn't as formal or grand as dinner the night before, but it still came with full service. After breakfast, Clara changed into a sports bra and track pants and went for a run around the manor grounds, as she often did when she was home. She still wasn't sure how she was going to explain her disappearance to her parents, but she knew that she could not put the issue off any longer. Her main concern was her mother. The elder Lady Roft tended to worry about her only child, always running off to the most remote locations on the globe. Clara had always tried to spare her mother's nerves by not telling her about the perils she faced on her adventures. But this time Clara had fallen into a trap that she could not stay silent about.
One thing she was not prepared to do was lie about her absence. Growing up, Clara had spent much of her life globe-trotting, staying with her parents at the sites of her father's archaeological digs. She spent very little of her childhood in schools, certainly not enough time to make any real friends. The people she did spend a fair bit of her childhood with, the local men Lord Roft would hire (for generous wages) to work his dig sites, would often turn out to be rather unscrupulous characters. Clara learned at a young age that she could not leave a valuable unattended at a dig camp and expect it to be there when she returned. On more than one expedition, the family stepped out of their tent one morning to discover that their entire crew, and most of their equipment, had disappeared during the night. Consequently, Clara was a person who did not readily trust others and there was only a handful of people in the world whom she did completely trust, her parents being two of them. The trust she did have with these people was of the utmost importance to her, and that is why she would not lie to her parents about what had happened to her in Kazakhstan.
Clara was surprised, when she'd returned to the manor, to find that she'd shaved thirteen minutes off her previous record for the run. She realised that she must've been running at super-human speed, and was now quite grateful that she hadn't run into anyone on the way.
Although she could have magically changed into another outfit, Clara decided to do things the old-fashioned way. She stripped out of her running gear and had a long, hot shower, in the small bathroom near the pool. She dried herself and changed into a blouse and long pants that she'd left in the bathroom earlier. Having lived in a house tended by Warwick all her life, Clara knew his routine off by heart. It didn't take her long to find him and ask him to summon her parents and Jeff into her father's study, where she would await them.
Jeff was the last to be escorted to the study by the old butler. Once he had entered the room, Warwick closed the double doors of the study from the outside, and marched off to inform the rest of the staff that the Rofts and their guest were not to be disturbed. Then, with calm and deliberate speech, Clara explained the incredible situation to her parents, remaining truthful the entire time. She began by giving them the personal history of princess Zhiasa. Then she explained how, two years ago, she had found the exact same lamp that had kept the ancient princess imprisoned for all those millennia, and made the mistake of rubbing it. She went on to explain the events of the previous day, how Jeff had rubbed the lamp himself, summoning her out of the lamp and into his service. As Clara spoke, Lord and Lady Roft repeatedly turned to each other, with looks of disbelief. Jeff stood silently against the back wall, letting Clara handle the matter as she thought best. When Clara had finished her detailed monologue, a tense silence descended on the room. Lord Roft held his wife comfortingly as they both gazed at no particular point in the room. Their expressions laying somewhere between confusion and distress, as they processed the remarkable story their daughter had just told them, and the idea of her being enslaved by some nine thousand year old boobytrap.
"Now I know what you're probably thinking..." Jeff said, breaking the silence after a few seconds, "...and if you're gonna go calling the nut house, I suggest you book two rooms, because I saw all of what she just told you with my own two eyes, and I can assure you that she's fair dinkum." Lord and Lady Roft looked at each other in bewilderment, then at Clara.
"...He agrees with me." Clara translated for her parents. Jeff wondered why Clara had just repeated what he'd just said, but said nothing.
"This..." the lord began, after a much lengthier silence, "This is unbelievable. I mean I was prepared to accept that Alladin actually existed, but the genie as well? It boggles the mind..."
"You've said it yourself, father, all legends have a basis in fact. The problem is figuring out how loose that basis is...", Clara responded.
"Not loose enough in this case, it would seem..." Lord Roft lamented. Clara nodded.
"Clara, what's to become of you, now that you've been... imprisoned?" Lady Roft asked.
"I remain Jeff's... slave" Clara stated, again through clenched teeth, "...until he makes his third wish, or until he... dies, whichever comes first."
"Hopefully the former." Jeff added.
"My god..." the lady said, horrified.
"Just a moment... Earlier, you said that Alladin managed to free the princess from the lamp, now how did he manage to do that?" Lord Roft asked.
"With the amulet.", Clara answered, "The same amulet that Tukanni used to keep Zhiasa in perpetual service to her can be used to open the symbolic 'doorway to freedom' inside the lamp. At least, that's what I assume..."
"You assume?" Jeff asked.
"The journal becomes very vague towards the end... Zhiasa was only speculating that the amulet might have the power to free her. It says that Hal'hadin sent numerous expeditions out to track down the location of Tukanni's tomb...."
"A ninth century persian noble went out looking for an ancient mesopotamian tomb?" Lord Roft asked, surprised.
"That's right." Clara responded.
"...Man after my own heart." his Lordship smiled.
"He was in love." Jeff said.
"He was indeed." Clara agreed, "In the final journal entry, Zhiasa claimed that they had found a promising lead, and they were going off to where they thought the tomb was."
"And where was that?" Lord Roft asked.
"'On the peak where the two suns join as one'" Clara said, quoting the journal. Her answer was responded to with a room-full of puzzled expressions. "...I told you, the journal was very vague. But one thing we can be certain of is the Zhiasa DID manage to secure her freedom somehow, and it seems most likely that she did it using the amulet."
"...And what became of the amulet?" Lady Roft asked tentatively, fearing she would get the answer she expected.
"I don't know..." Clara answered.
"After eleven hundred years? It could be anywhere!" Lord Roft said despondently.
"Actually, I wanted to ask you about it..." Clara said to Jeff, "I don't suppose they recovered it from Hal'hadin's tomb after I went missing?"
"I think they recovered several pieces of jewellery, maybe some amulets, what did you say it looked like again?" Jeff said in an unsure tone.
"A lotus flower, with two buds on the stem."
"Nah... Doesn't ring a bell." Jeff said. Clara looked disappointed. "...but that's not to say they didn't find it." Jeff continued, "They haven't published a complete inventory of all the things they found there, and there's been very little disclosed about the last objects they removed from the tomb. So far, they've only been releasing details on the objects as they complete their lab tests on them."
"I have some contacts that should be able to help us out there. Although I'll need to figure out what to tell them about where I've been for the past two and a half years..." Clara said, already working on her story.
"Just tell them you needed to take some time off to go and find yourself!" Jeff smiled.
"Very well, Jeff." Clara said in an oddly indifferent tone.
"Oh shit! I didn't mean that as an order!", Jeff said, suddenly flustered, "You don't have to tell them that, if you don't want to..."
"Thank you, Jeff. I believe I shan't..." Clara responded, sounding relieved.
"I think we can do without the humour, Master Rourke." Lord Roft said in a disapproving tone, shooting Jeff an intimidating glare from behind his spectacles.
"No, Father, it's all right. I think we're all still adjusting to the unusual situation..." Clara said, flashing Jeff a reassuring smile.
"Oh, Clara... This is simply terrible! We must get you back to normal as soon as possible!" Lady Roft said, clearly distressed by the recent display of her daughter's captivity.
"We will, Mother." Clara replied, with no false confidence, "We will."
Clara sat down in front of the 21-inch flat panel monitor on her desk. She used her magic to press the power button of the computer, which sat beside the monitor, and waited patiently for the system to boot up. The original purpose of the room she was in had been lost in time, but in recent years, Clara had converted it into her own personal study. It wasn't as grand as her father's was, but Clara still liked it. It gave her some space to spread out her research, being on the top floor gave it a great view of the estate grounds and, most conveniently, it happened to be connected to her bedroom via a secret passage.
When the computer had properly booted up, Clara opened her browser and logged in to her internet account. One of the perks of being on the premium plan was that they never shut down your account, even after two and a half years of inactivity. Clara chuckled as she noticed that she had 4106 new emails, almost all of which appeared to be spam. She clicked on the only email in her visible inbox that had come from a familiar source.
"Knock Knock!" Jeff said as he actually performed the action on the open door to the study, "Not looking at anything R-rated, are you?"
"Only photos of unwrapped mummies." Clara replied facetiously.
"Oh. I heard that they'd opened up a site like that! Just goes to show, there are some jobs that you can never be too old for..." Jeff said as he strolled in to the room. Clara smiled. "Any luck?" Jeff asked in a more serious, but still cheery tone.
"I don't know..." Clara said as she turned her attention back to the screen. "I just got off the phone with one of my old colleagues from the dig. He said he'd email me a complete inventory of everything they found there."
"What did you tell him about where you'd been for the last couple of years?"
"Well, two and a half years ago, I was found unconscious on a mountain trail in the himalayas by a pair of sherpas." Clara explained as she continued to scroll through the long, detailed list, "Apparently I'd had a mishap while climbing. Anyway, they carried me back to their village, where I awoke a couple of days later with absolutely no recollection of who I was or where I'd come from. I lived with the people there until about a fortnight ago, when I finally remembered where my home was. I made my way to the nearest settlement with a phone, and arrived back at Roft Manor only yesterday. Incidentally, I never want to see another jug of goat's milk as long as I live."
"Pretty convincing..." Jeff said, "Except what were you doing in the himalayas?"
"I don't remember." Clara replied with a sly smirk. She continued scanning the email, becoming less and less hopeful as the scrollbar descended further and further down the screen. "Blast!" She cursed as the bar hit the bottom, "There's nothing on there that sounds even remotely similar!"
"Is there any chance he might have missed something?" Jeff asked, after a brief solemn silence.
"No. Dimitri is nothing if not meticulous." Clara sighed, clicking on the 'Log out' link. She turned off the monitor and rose out of the chair. "Zhiasa and Hal'hadin must have passed the amulet on to their children, and possibly they to their children... meaning it could have been buried in any number of medieval persian tombs that may or may not have been discovered, and that's assuming that it wasn't sold or stolen from the family. Father was right: it could be anywhere..." Clara said, with a false smile.
"Hate to play devil's advocate here, but are we even sure that the amulet still exists?" Jeff asked, treading softly.
"No. But Tukanni's spell made the lamp indestructible, so that bodes well for the amulet." Clara replied with optimism. She looked over her shoulder at the quietly humming computer. "Our best bet now is to search through every recorded object recovered from medieval persian digs, and every recovered object of mesopotamian origin." She said, "This could take a while..."
"I get the feeling that you could use a hand. Do you have another computer somewhere around here?" Jeff asked.
With her right hand, Clara made a pushing motion towards the wall adjoining the one the desk sat against. Instantaneously an exact clone of the existing desk appeared there, complete with chair and computer set. The new computer was even on, just like it's twin. "I do now." Clara beamed.