Ja’far leaned back, studying the young prince. “Your kingdom is in danger of being swallowed up. And your first words to me are not to ask for help, but to warn my own king away from here?”
“Yes.” The word sounded like it’d been dragged out of Alibaba with iron tongs. “The Seven Seas Alliance might be able to stop the Empire, if they’ve got Sinbad. And they have to be stopped.”
Ja’far folded his hands in his sleeves. “Why?”
“I want to know, too,” Aladdin said somberly. “I met Princess Hakuei. She was trying to save lives by getting the Kouga Tribe to join the Empire. What’s so bad about that?”
Alibaba blinked at him, and winced. “Did she tell you what happens to people after they join the Empire?”
“They… go along with everyone else?” Aladdin guessed.
Oh. Oh no, Alibaba looked sad, and angry. And his friend Jahan looked even angrier. “What… what happens to them, then?” Aladdin asked.
Alibaba took a deep breath. “I haven’t been there. We’re getting this second and third-hand, from merchants who have. The ones who have gotten away with their own minds.” He folded one hand over the other, as if he were trying not to reach for his knife. “First – people who join the Empire, don’t get a say. In anything. The Kou are on top. They decide who gets to live, who gets to work, what people get to do for a living. Doesn’t matter what they want to do. And any job that takes thinking – like, say, being a tutor, or a merchant, or an officer in the army – only the Kou get to do those jobs. Everybody else has to let the Kou tell them what to do.”
Aladdin felt like he’d been punched in the gut. “But – Princess Hakuei was trying to save people….”
“Saving people isn’t just keeping them alive,” Alibaba said grimly.