The castle walls blocked out the sun. We were in a corner of what was once a courtyard. I checked Arrow. His breathing was fast and shallow. He needed water. I looked around me. The walls were dark and contrasted with the yellow desert sand. There should be a well somewhere. After a moment of hesitation, I decided to climb the huge tower across the courtyard. Its top was missing, but it was still the highest point of the castle.
The stairs in the tower were crumbling which as usual was an advantage in my current diminutive from. As I climbed, I saw carved crosses in every wall and niche. I frowned. We were in the lands of the prophet, Ottomans and Islam. This castle must be from the time of Crusades. Finally, I reached the top. There! I found the well! It was in a second courtyard behind a wall. However, I could get there if I exited the tower at its opposite side. I got down as quickly as I could because Arrow must have been getting worse. I reached the well, but how was I going to get the water out? Was there water? I picked a stone and tossed it in. It landed with a thud. Dismayed, I turned away. What are we going to do?
I raced back to Arrow. He was still breathing with his eyes closed. I leaned against him and awkwardly patted his head. He did not respond. The night descended.
Did I close my eyes? I did not think so. Yet, perhaps after one hour, the darkness suddenly metamorphosed in to a day. A roar penetrated the silence. I was surrounded by a gaggle of knights, resplendent in their white cloaks with a red cross, fielding huge swords. They fought something outside my sight. I rose and peered between their legs. I spotted the white robes of the desert warriors whose faces reddened as they fought the heavily armed Crusaders.
The battle rolled around me. The waves of white robes came and broke on the heavy crusader armor. I cautiously rose and shuffled out of the way, close to the wall. This was all the more necessary since I was back to my normal size. The swords rung when they met each other and muffled cries announced deaths of the attackers. The knights were holding out for a long time, but they too fell, one by one. I made it past a corner and almost stumbled on a fallen Crusader. He laid down, his white robe stained red, around him bodies of his enemies. He watched me through the narrow slit in his helmet and asked:
“Who are you?”
“I am Alex,” I said, startled.
“You are not Death?”
“No, why should you think so?”
“I can see the wall behind you through your body.” Oh.
“I think perhaps we do not come from the same time,” I said. “Perhaps I am dreaming of you.”
“I am dying and I am not dreaming. I don't see how you could dream of me,” he said and fell silent for a minute.
“What are you doing here? You can not beat the Saracens. I tried, but there are just too many of them. You will follow me and die.”
“I don't want to beat them. I don't know how I can see you, but I really come from a different time. I came here by an accident and just want to go home.”
“A good idea,” he said and smiled weakly. “I would like to ask you something. Do you know where Chartres is?”
“ I do.”
He reached to his neck and pulled at a chain around it. From behind his armor came a diminutive cross who wore next to his skin. He kissed it. My wife gave it to me. My name is Geoffrey de Chartres. Can you take it back to Chartres and give it to her?” He frowned.
“Did you say you are from a different time?”
“The 21st century,” I confirmed.
“In this case, please burry it at the grave of my wife and children. Please?”
“Of course,” I said, choking back my tears. He slid his chain off his neck. I reached for it. The moment I touched it, the world changed. I stood in a dusty corridor in a ruined castle, was six inches tall, and I realized I must have been sleepwalking.
I turned and stumbled over something. I looked down. At my feet lay a skeleton of a man, half-encased in an ancient armor. There were remnants of a cloak too and without much difficulty, I recognized the Crusader. Did I imagine in my sleep that I talked to him? He was surrounded by other skeletons, unarmored and having in their bony hands and under their bodies ancient sabres. Just like my dream.
I nervously squeezed the cross – wait – what? I held the Crusader’s cross that he gave me. He wanted me to give it to his wife, I remembered. I placed it gently in my pocket. Then I recalled Arrow. Was he still alive? I must check on him. I turned to leave when I caught a glimpse of metal among the dead bones of one of the Islamic warriors. I bent down and picked a brass long-necked bottle. So he took something to drink with him into the battle? Would there be something after all those centuries? What a silly idea, I told myself. You must be losing it, I kept arguing, as I went ahead and opened the bottle. I turned it upside down. Nothing. What did you expect? Then the air in front of me moved. It was still transparent, but somehow it changed and twisted the shape of bricks behind it like a mirror in a funhouse. I closed my eyes to make it go away. When I opened them, the air…thing was still there, but now it grew a pair of eyes. They were human-like, if I discount their yellow color. I suppressed a shudder and an urge to pee. Yet I could not move away. I stood absolutely still, as if I encountered a wild tiger. Will it go away? Perhaps I have just gone mad?
“You know the rules,” it spoke in Arabic which happened to be my mother tongue.
“What rules?” My teeth chattered. I hoped it did not notice.
“Your teeth chatter,” it observed. “That’s not part of the rules, although I notice humans do that in my presence. The rules are as follows: You release a Jinn and have three wishes. Except I am a lazy Jinn and I was locked up only for a few hundred years, so you get only one wish.”
“What kind of wish?” I asked. The eyes rolled up.
“Whatever you most desire at this moment.”
“Water for my hawk?” I croaked.
“Is that so? Usually people wish riches or something.”
“Water for my hawk,” I repeated.
“Why?” it asked.
“It is hurt and it would help.”
“How about I fix it?” It offered. “Water could be a bonus. It is really easy.”
“OK,” I agreed.
“You know, you are very small,” observed the Jinn critically, apparently unwilling to let go an opportunity to have a chat after the time spent in his bottle.
“I am a homunculus,” I explained. “If I bring back to the alchemist who made me the Seal of Solomon, he will let me go back to my time and grow to my old size.”
“Nasty,” the Jinn clucked his tongue or whatever it had in place of his tongue. “The Seal of Solomon? That’s some demand. I think it will be a bit easier on you if I give you the ability to see more of the spirits of the desert.”
“I would like to know why it would make it easier?” I asked. “This question amounts to a fourth wish,” the Jinn said and I had a distinct feeling he grinned. “I think I already fulfilled three wishes and I only promised one. I think I am getting soft in my old age. If you want to make the spirits disappear, though, just say ‘Enlil’.”
A screech startled me.
“I think your mighty steed is here,” the Jinn said. I spun around. Behind me stood Arrow with spread wings and screeched more threats at the Jinn.
“He does not mean it,” I turned back to Jinn, but there was only more air, this time of the untwisted type. I sighed.
“How are you feeling?” I asked Arrow and carefully checked him out. Where was the wound was only an unbroken glossy feather coat, and he jumped around on the wounded leg as if it never got attention from a bunch of pirates.
“You are fine,” I told him. How about the water the Jinn promised? I mounted him and patted him trying to get back to his old resting site. Perhaps something was left there? Instead, he made a line for the old empty well. Even from the distance,I heard the sound of bubbling water. It spilled over the well’s edge and watered the arid sand. I fell to my knees and stuck my head under its surface. The life was good. Then I remembered who I was. Still a homunculus. Jerusalem should be close, though. I climbed on Arrow’s back.
“Shall we go?”