The tale opens as Shahzara dances with her sisters and several other ladies, the mysterious dark-haired human woman sits in the corner. She answers Shahzara’s question as to the truth of the stories she is telling with, “I can attest to some personally, the others I have heard as true, but I must say she’s not as young as you’ve led the Sultan to believe, nor is she “pretty” as he’d see it.” Shahzara replies that she knows her audience, and that a little embellishment to keep his interest isn’t unfair given the circumstances.
The Sultan then bursts into the room in a rage, he roars about a noble-woman’s betrayal of her house and Him and how he must now destroy one of the noble Efreeti Houses of the City of Brass weakening his entire Realm. He tells Shahzara that as the perfidy of women is proven she can go to the headsman’s axe now, and damn her tales of Sioned and the Merchant’s Son. Shahzara prostrates herself and says she will of course obey, she says that she only regrets that she cannot now bear the Sultan his third son, that she is pregnant with even now. The Sultan’s mood changes in a moment from rage to celebration. When the room settles, and most of the women depart, Shahzara says that not all women are so faithless, and she tells the Sultan to remember the tale of Prince Balaam and his Five Wives.
“Yes, it is true,” the Sultan admits, “They kept faith for thousands of years. Since the times of the Dawn War they have waited faithfully for him.” The Sultan pauses, “But has the Prince not escaped? Was he not just recently freed, and his wives’s faithfulness rewarded?” Shahzara dips her eyes from his gaze and replies, “Does my Lord wish to tell the tale, or does he wish to hear it?” With that she launches into her story . . .
After restoring the honor of Hakim’s family, and rewarding them with vast riches in recompense for his Vizier’s actions the Caliph decided to reward Sioned for her part in revealing the Vizier’s plans. Along with his Chief Eunuch he dispatched her, and her companions, to the Isle of the Worlds in the company of a Royal Fleet. There the Chief Eunuch was to replenish the Caliph’s treasury from his ancestor’s hoard, and Sioned was to be rewarded with “Gold and Jewels equal in weight to my Chief Eunuch,” in the words of the Caliph Al Raschaid. (the Chief Eunuch is a “man” most notable for his vast and profound mass) But the Caliph warned Sioned, “Let no true man set foot upon the Isle of the Worlds, for it is accursed and no living man may land there but he dies.” He lastly recommends her to Ayla, the Mistress of the Isle, who will grant them access to the treasure.
Approaching the Isle the group decides that Pieter must stay aboard, rather than landing. It is also decided that Rook shall risk a landing, as he is dead, and Sim will go ashore provided he changes into a female form. As the ships exit the straight and approach the Isle they enter an otherworldly (in it’s most literal sense) fog. Eventually the fog clears and before them is revealed a low rocky island with a low hill at it’s center, there is a magnificent stone castle near a bay, and a massive stone quay juts forth into the bay. As the ships enter the bay the weather begins to turn foul. Approaching the quay is difficult as winds whip up, driving the ships away, and a funnel cloud descends towards the castle from the sky. As Rook and Sioned leap to the quay to tie up the ship the winds scream down upon them blowing sand and debris before it, the funnel cloud comes with it, and as everyone’s vision clears when the winds begin to die they see a giant woman before them.
Mirya is a huge Djinni, she is dressed as an Amazon in armor and gear for war, she is armed with a massive bow. In a booming voice she demands to know who seeks their death by daring to approach the Isle of the Winds. At Sioned’s reply that they serve the Caliph she screams in rage and attacks. With blurring hands she draws and fires a slew of arrows in a heartbeat, all but one are near perfectly aimed. Sim is grazed by an arrow-head as it passes by his neck to feather the mast behind him. Everyone else on the ship and quay finds an arrow within inches of themselves. Rook reveals that Mirya has left, and is likely atop the castle walls watching them, Sioned and Alruna calm the terrified crew, then Alruna and Sim scout the shore.
Climbing up a path to the castle they are stopped at the gates by a Djinni woman in fine, though sturdy, garb. She bears a great sword upon her back, and says she is Lakiyaa, the Gatekeeper. She says that she will admit the group to see her sister Ayla, the Mistress of the Isle, but that she will be greatly vexed at the interruption. Ayla resents the Caliph’s impositions, so if Sioned seeks her goodwill she should think of something to help calm her feelings. Lakiyaa tells them, when asked, that if Sioned helps with some wreckage that has washed up on the north shore of the island Ayla would surely be more happy with her. Lakiyaa, after being pressed on it, will grant that the “wreckage” in this case was a vessel from the Far Realms that storms forced onto the rocks of the Isle’s coasts, she knows there are survivors, but if the four can slay them the situation will resolve itself. Sioned agrees.
On the North shore of the Isle the group sees a rocky beach. Upon it lies the wreckage of a vast nautiloid “ship”, the vessel was clearly a living creature. Working on the wreckage, trying to heal it, are a grell and a pair of gricks under it’s command. The group watches for a bit, then crests the dunes leading down to the beach and attacks. The grell is nasty, grabbing and biting Alruna, Sim, and Sioned, and the gricks are no easy prey either. But in the end the three abominations can’t stand against the four heroes.
Returning to the castle they find the gates are now open. Entering, the four pass through the courtyard and into a vast throne-room. Not upon the throne, but upon pillows at it’s feet, lounges a magnificently beautiful woman. The Djinni is dressed in flowing silks and veils, with jewels dripping from her, an exquisite perfume fills the air around as invisible servants fan her.
Ayla and Sioned speak for a bit. Ayla is grateful for their help and tells the tale of her husband the great Djinni general, Prince Balaam, and her sisters to them all revealing how he was imprisoned by the gods during the Dawn War, and how his wives, the Five Sisters, were also imprisoned in objects in the castle until he was released, only one at a time able to act. Ayla tells of how much she misses her husband, and her sisters. She says that until her husband is freed they can never be free themselves.
“She is beautiful,” the Sultan says. “I courted her once, but not even my charms could win a kind glance from her, much less a kiss. Her four sisters likewise. Each forever faithful to their lost husband.” Shahzara quietly responds, “Indeed their lot was cruel and their heartache great.” She brightens, “But this day was their salvation, for unknown to them Sioned had orders from her Master to steal the Bone Splinter, thus setting Prince Balaam free.”
Sioned expresses sympathy and, claiming to be moved, says she and her companions will endeavor to free Balaam if only Ayla will tell them how. Ayla says that if they can but take a magic item called the Bone Splinter from Prince Balaam’s care he will be freed, but that the task is impossible. The Splinter is warded by three sets of guards; wolves with eyes the size of eggs, wolves with eyes the size of saucers, and wolves with eyes the size of wagon wheels. Even if Sioned could pass the guards there are magic wards the gods and their servants have put in place to guard the Splinter. Lastly the Splinter itself is lethally powerful, it has slain all who attempt to take it, lying in wait ”. . . until The Three shall need it again, when it is fated to return to them.”
Sioned presses that she will attempt it, and gets the rest of the party to help convince Ayla to let them try. Ayla finally relents and says that she will do what she can. She can not help them in the cave itself, and Prince Balaam is forbidden from helping them as well, but her sister Zahura may be able to help them with the guards. She can make a sesame cake so fine that after eating it any creature will nap for a time, and no creature can refuse them either, as their scent is irresistable.
Departing the throne room the three women, and the dead man, approach the castle’s kitchens. Within the vast, cavernous, kitchen everything seems in motion. Beasts on spits turn without help, utensils cook on their own, even the bread kneads itself. After a moment of standing and watching the group sees the Fourth Sister enter, Zahura is shorter than the other sisters, but heavier, she sports some seriously “dangerous curves.” Zahura dresses practically, for the kitchen.
Zahura says that she wishes Sioned would not choose to die by attempting to steal the Splinter, for she has no more of the sesame seeds she needs to make the cakes. Though she does not doubt the four’s courage, she does doubt they can defeat the largest of the wolves that guard the splinter. On being asked if more sesame could be acquired she says it can not, “Such seeds of power have not grown since the Dawn Times, and the last of my stores were stolen by the ants which have come to the castle.”
Thinking, correctly, that perhaps the ants would be large enough to leave holes the group could travel they offer to attempt to retrieve some of Zahura’s sesame seeds from the ant-nest. Descending into the hive the group fights waves of workers as they advance. Eventually they enter the heart of the nest, and fight more waves of workers, this time supplemented by warriors and soldiers. Soon enough the Queen herself advances into the fray.
“The fight turned nasty, both Rook and Sim used their greatest magical spells, and Alruna nearly gave her life protecting them as best she could,” Shahzara relates to the Sultan. “Everyone was bloodied, and for a time the outcome of the battle was in doubt. But in the end the Queen fell.” The Sultan looks up from his wine as dawn breaks, “Did they find the sesame seed then? And what of the reinforcements they heard climbing down the nest’s tunnels towards them?”
Shahzara smiles, a light of victory in her eyes for she knows she has won yet another day, “Oh most Magnificent One, Lord of the Lambent Fires, Master of the Brazen Peoples, it is nearly dawn, and your tasks are almost upon you. And so I fear that the tale’s end must wait for another day. Shall I send for the headsman now my Lord,” she taunts, knowing the inevitable answer.
“No oh wife. Not today. Perhaps I will have you executed tomorrow, but I think we can both await the end of This Tale,” the Sultan says and chuckles as he recognizes his now-inevitable defeat.