Asklepios lay on Tim’s settee with the blanket pulled up to his chin and a glass of water on the carpet beside him. He mournfully rubbed his stomach. ‘I believe I have a small indigestion.’ He sipped water and suppressed a quiet belch. ‘I hope to recover shortly.’
‘You ate all the marmalade?’
‘Just one pot.’
Tim wondered if his life was already beyond his ability to impose control.
Asklepios groaned and pulled the blanket over his head. ‘I do apologise.’
‘Forget it.’ Tim knew Asklepios to be a man driven by passion rather than foresight. It explained both his stomach ache and how he ended up in Brighton.
Tim went to his desk, took out the handkerchief with the MK monogram and spread it on the desk.
Suddenly Asklepios flung back the blanket and sat up. His complexion was pale, pasty and tinged with green. Tim pointed mutely to the bathroom, Asklepios lurched to his feet and staggered away with his arms wrapped round his belly.
Feeling entirely unsympathetic, Tim waited for him to return. ‘Feeling better?’
‘Yes, thank you. I am sorry to be such a nuisance.’
Tim needed some space, some peace and quiet. ‘Why don’t you go for a walk? Fresh air will do you good.’
Asklepios was immediately enthusiastic. ‘Oh yes indeed. I would like to see the wonders of your city very much.’
Tim gave him the free map, showed Asklepios his own street and circled it with his pen.
‘Giving every alley and street its own name is a remarkable idea but for me it would only confuse.’ Asklepios touched his enamelled pendant and pushed away the map. ‘I can understand the spoken word, not the written. Do not be concerned, I have an excellent sense of direction. I shall walk to the sea and return before sunset.’
Tim gave Asklepios some coins from his pocket, a ten pound note from his wallet and explained their relative values.
Out on the pavement Asklepios took a deep, satisfied breath and looked around. ‘I will see you later.’
To Asklepios the city was very fine. The streets were broad, the houses elegant and well-proportioned. He was even getting used to the strange vehicles these people rode in. Apart from the bitter smell they gave off they were marvellous things, rolling effortlessly along as fast as a galloping camel.
And the people. More specifically, the women. Some of them wore hardly anything at all, tops with no backs, skirts with no bottoms. Bare arms, yes, but bare legs too! Yet everyone appeared to accept their dress without comment and he quickly realised his stares drew hostile looks.
Lowering his gaze Asklepios determined to behave with more dignity. This was their way, he was the visitor and it was his responsibility to act according to the norms. He made his way downhill into a region of narrower streets packed with pedestrians and found himself in a kind of bazaar.
All the races were here. Mainly pale skinned, but also the brown black and yellow peoples. Everyone mingled together harmoniously, it was impossible to tell rich from poor. There were no grand processions, no ostentation, and only a few beggars.
This was further proof he was in the most ancient past. He had been brought to one of the great cities before the fall, when magic was commonplace and all men lived without rancour.
It just wasn’t quite how he had imagined it.
These people were so wealthy and content they had no need to display their riches, no need to assert their station. It was confusing. The women wore earrings and necklaces of silver, the men bands and chains of gold, black beads or silver crosses, but they also seemed happy to dress in the simplest clothes, even torn and ragged ones.
A sudden pulse of happiness filled him. This was the time before the great rivalries, before jealousy and discontent threw mankind down and so much had been lost. It was the Golden Age, and he was part of it.
‘Greetings,’ Asklepios accosted a young man in a flowing black coat, long black hair and eye shadow.
‘Hi, man.’ The stranger walked on by.
‘Hi, man,’ Asklepios said to a broad-shouldered man with a black goatee and ponytail, wearing baggy trousers and a sleeveless striped vest.
‘How’s it hanging, ancient dude?’
The man raised his palm. Hesitantly Asklepios did the same. The man slapped his hand against Asklepios’ palm and walked on.
Laughing with happiness, Asklepios walked through the lanes.
Out of the crowds emerged a young woman with fair skin, golden hair and eyes of green. A band of freckles dappled her cheeks. She was the most beautiful woman Asklepios had ever seen. He couldn’t help himself. ‘Blessings be upon thee, oh golden one.’
Before he could even squeak she had him pinned against a wall. ‘Poseidon’s hairy arse. How is it you know my tongue?’
Asklepios’ smile slid off his face. ‘Forgive me, golden one. I was enchanted by your beauty, I–’
The woman’s green eyes burned with emotions closer to panic than anger. ‘Don’t talk to me like that. Answer my question. How can you speak my language?’
Instinctively Asklepios reached up to touch his pendant.
The woman grasped his fist, enfolding his hand and the pendant. ‘This? What is it?’
‘Let go!’ Asklepios wrenched his hand free along with the pendant. The cord round his neck snapped. Desperate, he held the pendant tight.
A crowd quickly gathered around.
‘What’s the problem?’ It was the bearded man who had earlier slapped Asklepios’ palm in greeting.
‘A misunderstanding, I–’
The man glowered at the two ends of the cord hanging from Asklepios’ fist. ‘What’s that?’
‘It’s mine. I found it.’
The man was strong, he forced Asklepios’ fist open and pulled the pendant from his grasp. He held Asklepios against the wall and showed the pendant to the woman. ‘Is this yours?’
She gave Asklepios a quick look of guilt tinged with fear. ‘I– Yes.’
He dropped it in her hand and she hurried away.
‘No, it is mine!‘ Asklepios struggled helplessly in the man’s grip. ‘Please–’
The bearded man clenched his fist. ‘You’re lucky I don’t–‘
The pendant’s magic faded, the rest of his speech was gibberish. All around the crowd babbled excitedly. Several people held up small multi-coloured tablets. Something distracted the beaded man and he loosened his hold. Asklepios took his chance, twisted free and fled through the crowd.
A narrow alley opened nearby, he dodged into it, ran through another busy lane, turned left and right, sometimes uphill, sometimes down. The angry shouts behind him faded. All around came words he did not understand, and hands pushing and clutching. Weeping with fear and the injustice of his treatment, he ran on.
To be continued…