Robbed, humiliated and threatened Asklepios wandered through Brighton heedless of direction. His fists involuntarily clenched and unclenched, impotent anger burned his insides. That woman had seen the pendant for what it was. Somehow she had manipulated events so he looked like a thief. He replayed the encounter in his mind again and again but could not work out where things had slid out of control. For some reason the young man had believed the golden-haired woman in preference to Asklepios.
Asklepios sighed deeply and his anger drained from him. Of course the man would believe a pretty woman in preference to a scrawny old man. He would have done the same himself because in most cases he would have been right to do so.
He had always thought of himself as a lucky man and he realised with bone-dry amusement that he was lucky now. In his own time he would have been fortunate to keep his hand.
His flight had brought him to a broad plaza, a rich merchants quarter. The shops were grander than those in the narrow bazaar he had fled, the goods looked expensive and the people around him were better dressed.
Gulls wheeled and cried overhead. The far end of the plaza was open, the sky clear and blue. Asklepios realised the sea was only a few hundred paces away.
In the opposite direction a short street ended in a high white wall and an intriguing white onion dome. The architecture was elaborate but the style was familiar. A small crowd milled by the entrance, Asklepios’ heart surged, it must be a temple or the palace of a local caliph. He could ask for help.
A shaven-headed man sat behind a kiosk, most probably a palace eunuch. The people ahead of him paid the eunuch a donation, Asklepios dug in his pocket for the money Tim had given him and offered it all. The eunuch made some questioning comment. Asklepios grinned and offered his hand again. A sly look came into the eunuch’s eyes, he divided the money between a compartmented box and his own pocket and waved Asklepios on.
An hour later Asklepios emerged from another door dazzled and amazed. Even the caliphs from his own time would be hard pressed to match such magnificence. Delicate stone columns supported fluted, onion-dome minarets, friezes of perforated stone flanked magnificent doors. Each room was more incredible than the rest and culminated in the awe-inspiring opulence of the dragon room.
Back out on the street Asklepios wandered towards the sea in a daze. The building was a pavilion fit for a prince or a god, but there was no lord and no deity. As far as he could determine the palace had been built for no other reason than that it could be built. His head spun, he simply did not understand. These people had wealth yet some dressed in rags, thieves were allowed to run away, and they built with such magnificence. What kind of people were they?
He was penniless and completely lost. Crowds thronged around him. Strange traffic flowed along the road. He had never felt so alone.
To be continued…