This was not home. Aghast, Asklepios looked about him. Filling the sky, a titanic stepped ziggurat of stone and brick rose three hundred feet into the air. Between it and himself a massive brick archway spanned a paved street wide enough to march an army. Enormous statues of five-legged lions with eagle wings and bearded human heads flanked the archway.
Trumpets blared, a squad of spear-men emerged from the archway. Bare-chested, in knee length pleated linen kilts and leather sandals, each carried a bronze tipped spear. Behind them a man with plaited black beard and dressed in a robe of quilted gold rode a gilded chariot pulled by two asses. He wielded a golden staff, a heavy scimitar hung at his hip, a dozen javelins stood in a rack beside him.
A young woman with a babe in arms looked Asklepios up and down and moved away. His blue jeans and t-shirt attracted unwelcome attention. A man carrying a rush basket full of dates confronted him, questioning and suspicious in a language Asklepios had never heard before.
Terrified, smiling blandly, Asklepios backed away on quaking knees. The man repeated his question and raised his voice.
Down the street came a great shout. As one the spear-men slammed the buts of their spears on the ground. The warrior in the chariot pointed his gilded staff directly at Asklepios.
The thronged street fell silent.
Moaning with fear Asklepios tottered backwards. The date seller reached for him. Terror gave Asklepios strength. He knocked the man’s hand away, turned, and ran for his life.
Shouts came behind him, the sound of many running feet. Asklepios took a side turn to the left, another to the right. He burst out into a broad way lined with stalls of date and oil merchants, basket-weavers, cloth-sellers, bakers and jewellers. Another alley beckoned across the way. Asklepios dodged into it.
Washing hung on lines above his head. Asklepios snatched down a white linen sheet, hurried around a corner and found himself in a dead end with a solid wooden door set into the wall
His left hand hurt abominably. He still had the stolen measuring instruments and clutched them so ferociously tight the bevelled edges had cut his palm. He relaxed his grip, a little blood flowed and he fought down a mad giggle of hysterical laughter.
A tumult of excited voices swelled in the market. Asklepios froze, paralyzed with fear. The voices died away, Asklepios carefully put the instruments aside and rubbed his face with trembling hands He had a moment to himself, he must not waste it.
Hastily he kicked off his trainers, rolled up his trouser legs and stripped off the t-shirt. Then he folded the linen sheet he had stolen into rough pleats and tied it around his waist, a simple version of the garment many of the local men wore. None of the men he had seen were bare-headed. He bit through the seams of the t-shirt with his teeth, tore it into strips and folded and tied a rough turban.
His skin was as dark as the city folk. His crude disguise would have to do. He picked up the instruments and took a shuddering lonely breath. He would learn, he would survive. He calmed his breath and returned down the alley barefoot into the marketplace.
He found a place to sit, far enough away from the stalls that the owners would not think him a thief, close enough to watch and learn. Everything about this city was deeply strange, from the gigantic stepped temples and mud-brick walls, where each brick was stamped with identical insignia, to the mannered way people walked and the warrior in the golden chariot. Only the earthy human aromas of the market were familiar.
He had been so close! Master Tim had found him with his dream-magic and carried him home. He had smelled the orange blossom and almost been able to touch the pink plaster walls. Almost. Then some evil force had cast them aside, perhaps the work of some great djinn he had crossed. If only he had never tried summoning them. He was cursed and would never find his way home. Despondency filled him and he wept.
To be continued…