Curiosity began to get the better of Merrin, and he wondered what the scent in the bottle smelled like. If it smelled really nice, he thought, he could charge even more. He inspected the brilliant blue wax that sealed the stopper; it would be easy enough to melt the wax in the candle flame and reseal it - no one would know. He stabbed at the seal with a grimy thumbnail and began to scrape it away. Soon most of the wax lay in grubby curls in his lap and the smooth silver that had been hidden under the wax was shining in the candlelight. Merrin took the little stopper between his finger and thumb and pulled. It came out with a small sigh.
Merrin raised the gold bottle to his nose and sniffed. It didn't smell very nice. In fact, it smelled distinctly un nice. However, he was not to know that jinn are not known for smelling sweet - and many of them make a point of smelling fairly disgusting. In fact, the jinnee that dwelled in the gold bottle clutched in Merrin's sticky hand did not smell too bad, as jinn go - a subtle mixture of burned pumpkin mixed with a touch of cow dung. But Merrin felt disappointed in his scent bottle. Just to make sure it really did smell so bad, he put the bottle right up to his left nostril and sniffed hard - and the jinnee was sucked up his nose. It was not a good moment for either of them. The jinnee probably had the worst of it. It had waited in its bottle for many hundreds of years, dreaming of the magnificent moment when it would be released. It had dreamed of the sweet, cool air of a spring morning on a mountainside, just like the last time it had been released by an unsuspecting shepherd, not long before some scheming no-good witch had tricked it into the smallest bottle in which it was possible to fit a jinnee. Since it had been Awakened by Aunt Zelda, the jinnee had been in a frenzy of anticipation, imagining an endless variety of fantastic release scenarios. Probably the only one it had not imagined was being sucked up Merrin Meredith's nose.
It wasn't nice up Merrin's nose. Without going into too many unpleasant details, it was dark, damp and there was not a lot of space for a jinnee longing to expand. And the noise was atrocious - even in the center of an enchanted whirlwind, the jinnee had never heard anything like the howls that filled the tiny cave it had been dragged into. But suddenly, to the accompanying sound of the most enormous sneeze, the jinnee was let out, propelled from the cave like a bullet from a gun. With a scream of exhilaration it hit the open air and shot across the tiny room in a flash of yellow light, where it bounced off the wall and was hurled deep into a pile of ancient dust. Merrin stared in absolute amazement and not a little pride - he had never seen a booger like that. Merrin's pride quickly evaporated and his amazement turned to fear as a large, glowing yellow splodge emerged from the pile of dust - the booger in the dust was growing. A squeak of terror escaped him as the mass spread and, like a pan of milk boiling and bubbling, began rising up and up. Now the mass began to spin, pulling itself upward as it swirled and grew, glowing ever brighter, drowning the warm candlelight and filling the tiny chamber with a dazzling yellow light.
By now Merrin was cowering in the corner, whimpering. At first he had thought that one of the Manuscriptorium scribes had somehow stuck an Expanding Booger Spell (an old Manuscriptorium favorite) on him when he wasn't looking. But now - even with his eyes shut tight - Merrin knew it was worse than that. He knew that inside the chamber was another Being - a Being much bigger, older and scarier than he was. And something told him that the Being was not particularly happy just then. Merrin was right - the jinnee was not happy at all. It had been longing for wide-open spaces and here it was boxed into a tiny cupboard, full of ancient dust and with the Great One Who Had Released It cowering and sniveling in the corner. Of course, all jinn were used to a bit of terror at their appearance - many went out of their way to cultivate it - but there was something about this jinnee's Great One that it did not take to. The hunched-up, miserable-looking human had an unpleasant air about it and was most definitely not the kind of Great One that the Awakening song had led the jinnee to expect. It didn't even look right. Annoyed at being tricked once again, the jinnee heaved an irritable sigh. The sigh howled around the chamber like a banshee. Merrin threw himself to the ground and covered his ears with his hands. The jinnee spread itself across the ceiling and regarded Merrin's prone, sniveling figure with distaste. But if the jinnee wanted to stay out of the bottle, the next step had to be taken fast. It had to receive a command and obey it. In this way, it would once again become part of the world and could adopt human form - not that that was a great advantage, thought the jinnee, looking at the pathetic figure below. The next thing Merrin heard - despite sticking his fingers into his ears - was a voice that felt as though it was deep inside his head, saying, "Be you Septimus Heap?"
Merrin opened one eye and looked up fearfully. The yellowish splodge on the ceiling hovered menacingly. Merrin managed a small squeak. "Yes. I be - well, once I been. I mean was."
The jinnee sighed and a great howl of wind whistled through the little box of a room. How could its Awakening have been so wrong? This sniveling brat had said he was Septimus Heap, and yet the figure cowering in the dust was nothing like the glowing description of the Magykal boy Aunt Zelda had given the jinnee. The portrayal of Septimus Heap had been such that even the jaded jinnee had been almost looking forward to seeing its new Master, but now it was clear - yet another double-crossing witch had deceived it. It had no choice but to continue with the Second Question.
"What Do You Will, Oh Great One?" Just for fun the jinnee made its voice the scariest it possibly could. Merrin stuffed his fingers back in his ears and shook with terror.
The voice repeated its question impatiently. "What Do You Will, Oh Great One?"
"What?" said Merrin, covering his face with his hands and peering out through his fingers.
The jinnee sighed again. This was a really stupid one. It repeated its question yet again, very slowly, and began to slide down the wall.
"What...do? I...will?" Merrin echoed like a scared parrot.
The jinnee decided it must have chosen the wrong language. For the better part of the next five minutes it ran through all available languages while it wandered aimlessly around the chamber, watched with horror by Merrin. It had no success. As it reached the very last language it knew - a dialect from an undiscovered river valley in the Snow Plains of the East - the jinnee was in a state of panic. If the stupid Great One didn't answer the question soon, it would be right back in that awful little bottle and then what?
It had to get an answer - now.
Merrin by now had gathered enough courage to sit up. "Wha - what are you?" he stammered as the blob settled itself on the floor. The jinnee's panic lessened a little - the Great One was finally talking some sense, and it now knew which language to use. But time was short. It was beginning to feel the pull of the little gold bottle, which the Great One still clutched in his hand. It knew it must appear patient and friendly - that was its only hope. Slowly it answered Merrin's question.
"I am a jinnee," it replied.
Oh merciful spirits, this was a truly stupid one. "A jinnee," said the yellow blob, very, very slowly. "Jin... nee."
Merrin's nose was blocked, his eyes were still watering from the jinnee incursion, and his ears were still buzzing from the whistling sigh. He could hardly hear.
"You're Jim Knee?" he asked.
The jinnee gave up. "Yes," it agreed. "If you wish it, Great One, I am Jim Knee. But first you must answer my second question: What Do You Will, Oh Great One?"
"Do? I will do what?"
The jinnee lost its temper. "Will!" it screamed. "Will! What - do - you - will, Oh Great One? It means what do you want me to do, stupid!"
"Don't call me stupid!" Merrin screamed back.
The jinnee stared at Merrin in amazement. "Is that your answer - don't call you stupid?"
"No! Yes, yes - go away, go away!" Merrin threw himself on the ground and had his first tantrum since the last time his nurse had locked him in the closet. The jinnee could not believe its luck. What a turnaround! Heady with celebration, the jinnee took on human form in a more extravagant manner than it might have done had it been less euphoric. Soon the secret chamber was no longer full of an amorphous yellow blob but occupied by an exotic figure wearing a yellow cloak, jerkin and breeches, all topped off by a hat - the jinnee liked hats - that looked remarkably like a pile of ever-shrinking bright yellow doughnuts balanced on its head. The outfit was set off by what the jinnee considered to be a most becoming mustache - it had always fancied a bit of facial hair - and a set of long, curling fingernails. It had a slight squint, but some things could not be helped.