Bo snorted and sped up.
“Slow down,” I growled, holding for dear life. “You are not a race horse.” I could almost feel him grin.
“Didn’t I say I want to be one?” He threw over his shoulder.
I grimly continued to hold and prayed for the ride to be over. I didn’t have to wait long. The dark line grew up tall, and gained a blue color as it became an impossibly tall wall. As we approached, I recognized pictures of animals and chariots, decorating the Walls of Babylon as far as I could see. Bo unexpectedly slowed down to a trot.
“What are you going to do about this?” He asked conversationally?”
“This sea,” He said shortly.
“What sea – oh.” I saw it. It was not a sea, although it may appear so to Bo. Between us and Babylon flew a mighty river, strangely contrasting with the surrounding desert. There were some stunted trees and unhappy patches of grass near it, but overall the desert seemed to win the battle and reached and squeezed the river in its bed. The river was wide, though, and there was no way I could swim across it.
“Stop here,” I told Bo. “I will figure it out in the morning.”
When I woke up, the sun was high and the heat reached the hole we slept in. I crawled out. Bo continued to sleep, which is something he liked to do throughout every day. I squeezed my eyes to keep out the impossible brightness of surroundings. When I opened them, Babylon towered in front of me. The famous walls were dusty, but still stood proud after many centuries. I made my way to the river edge. How am I going to get across?
I searched the bank, going back and forth. There was no sign of a bridge. Then I spotted a dot on the river, which quickly became a boat. Two men in it were pulling up nets. Surely they didn’t live near the haunted city, but they came to fish since it must be plentiful here, far from human settlements. I contemplated asking them for a ride, but then I remembered my size: if they would not run away in terror, they would probably kill me. How was I going to get across? A screech above me turned my head. A bird was descending toward me. He looked just like Arrow, except for its beige color. I remembered I could talk to him.
“Can you help me across the river?” I called. He continued toward me and sped up. Another screech, this one I could understand:
“Prepare to die!”
I dived behind a rock. He was going to kill me! Falcons are birds of prey, I should have known. I ran amongst the piles of bricks and mud that lettered the ground. An angry shout announced that the falcon missed me, but was not giving up. He rose into the air and made a circle above me.
“Here, amigo!” hissed somebody. I jumped into a hole near me and rolled into a little tunnel, just big enough for someone my size. When I got up, I looked into yellow eyes of a black snake.
“Welcome!” it hissed. I retreated.
“Don’t be afraid,” it hissed again. “I am not hungry. Besides, an enemy of that flying monster is my friend.”
“That’s good,” I said, unsure what to do.
“What are you?” it asked curiously. “You look like a little human.”
“I am,” I said tiredly.
“What are you doing here?”
“I want to get across river,” I said.
“To that place humans avoid?”
“I need something there.”
“I get it. You are looking for the shiny stuff humans like,” it said.
“Something like that,” I admitted.
“You cannot get across river,” it observed.
“Right,” I agreed.
“I will help you,” it said unexpectedly. “Since you are new Ssiassu’s friend.” “You are Ssiassu?” I asked.
“That’s right,” he agreed. “I can swim. If you just hold me, I will take you over.”
Hm. Seems like knowing languages does bring you new friends. I stopped at Bo’s hole and told him to wait. He yawned:
“Have fun. Wake me up when you are back.”
I mounted Ssiassu and we entered the river. He swam fast and quietly. I held my head above the water and let my legs float, holding its neck with both hands. When we landed, we were still at least a few hundred feet from the Walls, but they seemed to reach all way to heaven. Were they one of the Wonders of the Ancient World? I slipped off the Ssiassu’s back.
“Thanks,” I said gratefully. It regarded me curiously.
“Where are you going to look?” It turned to the city.
“First, I need to find a gate,” I said.
Once Ssiassu left swimming back across the Euphrates, I began to walk along the Walls. Winged lions and Bearded men hovered above me appearing ready to step out and resume their life. The silence of ages enveloped me. I determinedly stumbled on until I was rewarded: between two semicircular bastions was, or rather used to be a gate. Its wooden remnants did nothing to prevent me from getting inside Babylon.
I walked the paved road still smooth after so many centuries, and before me lay Babylon. I observed the mounds of mud and bricks, the remnants of old walls, the missing roofs and a feeling of desperation hit me. I was never going to find the Seal in these vast ruins. Rabbi said to look for the six-pointed star. He said I should know then I was in the Jewish quarter and then I should try to look for a temple. Where was I going to start?
With a heavy heart, I walked in. Rabbi mentioned Jews lived near the river, so I tried to keep near the Walls. By evening I was exhausted and there was no sign I was getting any closer. There were rather tall mounds however and I decided to climb one of them to look from above. Perhaps I will have more luck this way. I climbed the debris that littered the mount. Fortunately, there were not big steps I had to negotiate, not any more, anyway, and I made it to the top in one hour. I stopped. I was tired. I lay down in a lengthening shadow and decided to take a break. Then I will search some more.
When I woke up, I kept my eyes closed. The sound of women’s laughter and an unearthly music still filled my head. What was the dream I had that left behind this beautiful residue? I could not remember. I sighed and decided to get up. The laughter did not disappear. What was going on? I opened my eyes. A woman’s face leaned over me.
“Look at how small and beautiful he is!” The sound of her voice bypassed my ears and directly entered my brain.
“He is soo cute!” Said another one. “Can I have him?”
“I will keep him,” said the first woman. I felt a hand picking me up, but was too stunned to object. I stared into an oval face with large black eyes. Her nose was small and delicate and her full lips were painted bright red. On her head she wore an elaborate crown consisting of interwoven golden leaves. My eyes traveled over her emerald green dress generously cut at the top and flaring into a long skirt at the bottom.
“Who are you?” She asked again. Her lips moved, but I again felt her voice directly in my head.
“I am Alex,” I said. “Who are you?”
“He wants to know who I am,” she turned to her retinue of young women, which fluttered around like beautiful colorful birds.
“You must be from far,” she told me kindly, ”if you don’t recognize the Queen Semiramis. You are in my palace and these are my gardens.”
I turned my head back and forth. Where were the ruins of yesterday? There was a river like before, but it was far and below us. Multiple rows of terraces raised above the one we stood on. They carried trees and blooming flowers that I have never seen before. Blossoming creepers crawled from one terrace to another twinning around tall white marble columns that supported the whole structure. Fountains splurged clean sparkling water, pushing away the heat of Mesopotamian Desert. Where was the desert, actually? I could not see any. Right beyond the river instead rose a tall step pyramid – a ziggurat, I corrected myself. They did not build pyramids in Babylon, they build ziggurats as temples to their gods. There was a long line of ant-sized people, which moved along the walls of ziggurat climbing all way to the top.
“Are we still in Babylon?” I asked.
“We are in the real Babylon,” the Queen said and laughed. “You are lucky you walked right in and since you are so special, we allowed you to see it.” I recalled the Kobu’s words.
“Are you Jinns?” I asked bluntly.
“We are people, don’t you see,” said Semiramis, sounding upset. “We may have been jinns once, but we have recreated the one and true Babylon and in the process we became people.”
Perhaps, I thought to myself. Instead I said loudly:
“If you were Jinns and you are not any more, perhaps you can help me. I am looking for something.”
“Why don’t you come to play with us instead,” Semiramis said. “Is not it beautiful around here?” She turned and tossed me to another woman. I gasped when I was caught firmly in another hand.
“I am not a toy,” I protested.
“He is no fun,” said my new owner reproachfully and dropped me. I landed at a soft meadow which fortunately softened my fall. Semiramis squatted next to me and spread her skirts around.
“What is it you want, little one?” she asked exasperatedly. I carefully weighed my words.
“I would like to go back to my home,” I explained. “I used to be a normal size too. A sorcerer shrank me and send me here. He will let me go home only if I bring him back something he calls a Seal of Solomon. It is a Jewish relic…,”
Semiramis raised her hands in horror.
“Please don’t say the name loud,” she whispered. “Whoever uses the Ring would destroy us.”
“I thought you are people now?” I could not resist.
“Almost,” she sniffed. “We are as long as no mortal gets the Ring.” There it was again. So it is a ring.
“Where is it?” I asked.
“It is well protected,” she said. “No human can get it, a little creature like you has no chance.”
“So you can tell me about it so I don’t try,” I proposed. Surely she will not fall for this cheap trick?
“It is protected by Gone,” she whispered triumphantly. Vanity, your name is …Semiramis.
“He is a demon even our Lord Marduk cannot defeat. Gone protects the Seal and will devour anybody who tries to get it.”
“Really?” I asked trying to sound appropriately awed. Now, how do I get her tell me the place?
“Traitor,” thundered another voice. My head jerked to the right to follow the sound. About thirty feet away in that direction, the earth opened in a fountain of soil and out of it emerged a human like figure, at least fifteen feet high and clad in shiny silvery armor. Its head ended in a golden snout, which it pointed toward us.
“Traitor,” it barked again in a deep voice. Semiramis dropped on her face.
“Please forgive me, O Mighty Marduk,” she cried. “I have not done anything wrong.”
“You have told this little worm about the Seal,” Marduk growled deeply and the columns that supported the garden vibrated.
“I have not told him where it is,” Semiramis whimpered covering her head.
“He will never get the Ring, but if he even tries and Gone gets it, he will try to rule us all,” Marduk continued ignoring Semiramis’ protestations.
“I will take care of this dwarf myself,” he concluded and pointed his snout toward me. Little eyes behind the golden mask mercilessly observed me.
“You will pay the price later, Semiramis.” He raised one foot, and the huge iron shoe hovered above me. I waited for no more. I fled to the nearest shrub. Its thorns tore at me and I rolled on my belly to get under its branches. A thud next to my head and the giant boot that appeared there announced that Marduk saw me. I got up and ran, bent forward, almost on my knees zigzagging among the roots of the ornamental rose shrubs that decorated the Hanging Gardens of Semiramis. I escaped the boot again, but it was relentless.
“A sword,” I heard Marduk. A swoosh removed my cover as Marduk cut through the vegetation. He stomped again missing me by inches. The power of his muscles was such that the ground broke. The supporting structure of the terrace gave way and beneath me opened a hole and I fell through a shower of soil. The terrace above me tilted and then it came right after me. I desperately tried to escape the avalanche and ran toward the edge of the terrace I stood on. It shook under the impact of falling mountain of stones and dirt and I realized it is not going to hold. I desperately caught a liana hanging from one of the columns that supported the terrace I stood on and quickly slid down. the columns started to twist, however, and I pushed myself away, searching for a place to land. Before I could find any, the gravity got its way, and the gardens tumbled all down. I was tossed up and down and finally catapulted high into air, only to fall down toward the earth. I spotted below me a sand circle and then I knew no more.