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Lights, camera... Ch. 12 &13.

ity?"

"Yes, but I didn't like it much," I admitted cautiously. "And that was a long time ago."

"It probably wasn't any good. This is the real McCoy, as you say." He dropped the resin into the burn cup and closed the top of the hookah.

"I don't think so," I said, trying to hand the pipe back to him.

"Just a puff or two," he suggested. "The poet Rumi wrote, 'Allah has put into the form of hashish a power to deliver the taster from self-consciousness,' and it's quite true. A puff or two won't turn you into a dope-fiend, you know, just relax you a little."

A tiny wisp of smoke escaped the pipe and it certainly didn't smell like the skunkweed my roommate had. It smelled mysterious, almost perfumed.

"Are you going to smoke, too?" I asked.

"No, I'm going to stay perfectly sober so I can take care of you and keep you safe," he said, very seriously. He lifted the mouthpiece to my lips and they opened almost automatically. He must have me hypnotized, I thought. That can't be good. Under his tutelage, I took a couple puffs and felt nothing but the urge to clear my throat.

"I don't think it's working," I said.

"Perhaps not, but let's walk about a bit more and see how you feel."

He helped me adjust my veils and drapes and we took our leave of the caf__. The heat outside was really oppressive by then, so we walked very slowly. Adrian led me to the Street of potters and showed me the stall run by the grandson of the artist who'd made the tiles for the Palace hammam. The potter brought out tray after tray of lovely tiles, intricate designs in thick, glossy glazes, which I touched with reverent fingers.

After that, we walked a bit farther. We seemed to be on the edges of the souk when Adrian asked me how I felt.

"A bit floaty," I admitted. "I guess it's working after all, though I don't feel very high."

"I don't want you stoned, darling, just relaxed. Relaxed enough to

visit my friend?"

"I don't know about that!"

"Not even for the plans?"

"Is that for both sets, or just the old palace?" I asked.

Adrian looked down at me from the corner of his eye, lips curling in that sardonic half-smile I was beginning to love. "Hmmm, you'd have to be very, very good to get both sets."

"I can do that."

"Can you obey as though you really are a slave, not speak unless you're told to, and submit to a full appraisal?"

I drew a rather shaky breath. "Of course."

"I'll wager you can't," he said, laughing.

"Put your money where your mouth is," I said, offended.

"I'd rather put my mouth where my money is, but you're on! Shake?"

We shook hands solemnly, much to the amused consternation of the attendants. "So, where are we going?"

"Right here-that's his house at the end of the street."

I followed Adrian, mumbling about sneaky bastards under my breath. My steps began to lag a little as we approached the door and, sensing that, Adrian gripped me by the back of the neck, steering me firmly forward.

"Don't fret," he said. "Pretend you're a slave girl. You have no choice, so don't worry about it."

An elderly lady answered the door and ushered us in. She wore voluminous bloomers of green velvet, heavily embroidered with stylized flowers in gold, under a medium length tunic of diaphanous linen. Over the tunic belted a wide sash of striped silk fringed in gold. A short vest, covered with needlework and appliqu__ topped off her outfit. She wore no veil and her long, loose hair was improbably black, given that her face was deeply creased. Even so, her eyes were large and dark, alive in their nest of wrinkles, and her penciled brows were high arched and met over the bridge of her nose in the true antique ideal of beauty.

"This is Abal, whose name means 'wild rose'," Adrian said, bowing to the old lady. "She was a real odalisque, a harem slave, of the old Pasha's. The odalisques ranked below concubines and wives, but were also chosen for their beauty. She's rather famous and acts as Hadad's chief assistant. "

I bobbed a little bow myself, and left my slippers where she indicated, once again following in bare feet.

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