I averted my eyes and stepped around what remained of Father Angelico. Bo was waiting not far away.
“Ready to take me home?” I asked.
“If your home is Jerusalem,” he responded.
I climbed on his back.
“Go for it, You are the number one horse in the universe.”
He made a line straight for the river. He didn’t even try to slow down and plunged in. The ride back to the Holy City was uneventful since this time ghouls didn’t show any interest in us. Bo was not edible as far as they were concerned and I was too small to notice. He stopped when the gates of Jerusalem came into our sight, and sat down. I slid down. He watched me quizzically.
After a period of awkward silence, I mumbled: ”Thank you.”
How do you say goodbye forever to a friend? I leaned ahead and wrapped my arms around his neck.
“Happy Hunt.” He licked my nose, or rather the whole face, and disappeared among the rocks of the desert. I turned with a heavy heart and started my long march to the town. It took me the whole day, but I finally reached its Gate. It was easy to sneak in at night, and I made my way toward the Rabbi’s house.
It was a small town, Jerusalem at that time. The robbers were busy though, and I avoided them and the guards alike by diving into the holes in the house walls. It seemed nothing changed since the time of Christ, only the decay made the town convenient for creatures like me. I avoided a few rats, which were thinking of me as a potential dinner, and finally arrived. I climbed the wall, again not a very difficult feat for someone like me, and made it to a window. I poked my head over the edge and ducked when a shoe flew past me.
I looked in again and yelled: “It is me, Alex!” A large body stirred in the room and got out of the bed. The Rabbi sat up as I pulled myself up on the windowsill and lighted up a candle. Then he went over, gently picked me up and lowered me on a table.
“I apologize,” he said, “I thought it is the …bird”. Then he stopped.
“It is your bird, is not he?” He said guiltily.
“What did he do?” I asked as he pulled up a chair to the table.
“He got rid of all the pigeons in the neighborhood,” he said and the corners of his mouth twitched. “That was a good thing. The problem is he is very proud of himself and insists of showing me his prey when it is still warm. He does not take no for an answer either, the stubborn thing.”
I realized I missed Arrow.
“Is he coming back?” I asked eagerly.
“Don’t worry,” the Rabbi said, “he will be back soon. He always sneaks in when I am asleep and he usually likes to sleep there,” he nodded to his writing desk. “Every day I have to clean away his droppings.”
You would not be patiently cleaning it away if you actually did not like him to be around, I thought. Instead I said loudly:
“Everything else alright?”
“Yes,” he nodded, “but tell me, how have you been, my boy?”
“I made it to Babylon.” I said. “Did you know there are Jinns?” He nodded his head.
“So those all tales are true. I have never seen a Jinn in my life.” He stopped.
“Did you get what you want?” He finally asked.
“I did,” I said. I fished in my bag and pulled out the ring and handed it to him. He held it reverently between two fingers.
“The Seal. Perhaps, if I use it, we can bring Israel back.” He abruptly pushed it back at me.
“Keep it.” He commanded. I took it back and put it where it came from.
“You could use it to do what you just said,” I said. “Why don’t you?” He shook his head.
“Nothing good can come from it.” “It did not make Solomon happy, you remember? It threw him into slavery until the Jinn got tired of it. Imagine what it could do to the whole nation.” He stood up.
“Let’s have some sleep. I will take you to your room. Tomorrow, after we feed you a bit, you can start the journey home. That is, if I meantime don’t kill your damned bird.”
The damned bird showed in the morning landing at the table where we had breakfast and proudly placed a dead rat in front of the rabbi. He observed the rat thoughtfully, then he picked it up by the tail and placed it on the windowsill. Arrow observed him and said:
“It is good food. I will bring pigeons if you like them better.”
“He prefers his people food,” I told him. His head jerked in surprise. I remembered he did not know I could understand him.
“I learned your language when I was away,” I told him.
“So you are back,” he said, recovering quickly. “Are we going back home? It is too hot here and the old man is difficult to feed.”
“Right after I finish my breakfast, if you want,” I said. In response, he walked over and nibbled my ear.
“I take it as yes,” I said and winced.
I adjusted my bags as we flew over the sea. The Rabbi provided for us well. Neither I nor Arrow were going to starve, but if our heavy load slipped, it may drag us straight into the sea under us. Arrow circled as he was trying to use the air currents to carry us toward Greece. We landed there in the evening, in the middle of ancient ruins. Ruins were good as far as I was concerned. The less people, the better.
The next morning we started on our trip above the forests of Balkans toward Bohemia. If I had any doubts Arrow will be able to find Kelley’s castle, he dispelled them pretty quickly. In the afternoon of the second day since we left Greece, we began to descend toward the courtyard of Kelley’s hideout. I watched for Father Angelico’s spies, but didn’t see any. Either they were taking a break away in town or they left. There was a person standing there, but it was neither a spy, nor Kelley. The leather tunic was unmistakable. Arrow landed on Jakub’s shoulder like he never made a long flight from Asia. Jakub beamed. Then he carefully carried us to the stables, chattering all the time to Arrow in Bohemian. I noticed my new language skills extended to human languages. Arrow hopped from Jakub’s shoulder to another perch and accepted a large dish of meat. Jakub finally paid attention to me.
“You good, little guy?” He asked. Then he started to untie me.
“Master is in his study as usual. I will take you there. We will see if he is awake.” He sighed.
“Recently he starts drinking in the morning as he is asleep most of the day. He says he wants to avoid nights, but then I hear him screaming when he falls asleep even during the day.”
Kelley was awake sitting in his favorite chair and glumly observed what else, a bottle at the table. It was almost empty. It was as if I never left. He turned his bleary eyes to Jakub. “What do you want?” He asked querulously and then he spotted me sitting on Jakub’s shoulder. He stared at me for a moment and then he averted his eyes.
“I cannot see well in this light,” he said as the sun poured in through a window.
“Is it your hawk on your shoulder Jakub?” He asked offhandedly. Aha, so now he thinks he sees ghosts.
“It is your Homunculus, Milord,” Jakub said calmly.
Kelley pulled himself up from the chair, staggered for a moment, then he steadied himself and lurched toward us. He grabbed after me and missed falling onto Jakub. He caught Kelley and steered him back to the chair.
“Here Master,” he dropped him there and placed me at the table.
“You are back,” Kelley leaned ahead, sobering up quickly. “Did you get it?”
“I did,” I said.
“Leave us alone,” Kelley ordered Jakub. He waited until the door closed behind his servant, and asked eagerly:
“Where is it?”
“Here,” I said and fished it out of my back.
He reached for the ring.
“You are going to send me home now, right?” I asked, with a knot in my stomach.
“I will try it out first,” He said, not really listening. He put the Ring on his finger.
“Now, how did it go?”
“אני המלך,” he stated. I am the King, I translated quietly. For a moment nothing happened. Then the light shimmered in the middle of the room. A golden whirlwind commenced there and then, in a fraction of second it stopped. In its place stood a figure, towering above Kelley, its head reaching all way to the ceiling. It was familiar.
“You are not the King,” said Marduk menacingly as he stared down at Kelley.
“I have the Ring, thus I am the King,” said Kelley and stood up looking up. I had to give it to him. He was not cowed by the Babylonian God of Gods.
“What do you wish?” Marduk asked. Then he noticed me.
“I should have squashed you in the Gardens, you worm,” he said bitterly.
“Show me your power,” Kelley demanded.
“Wait, no. I take it back. Give me gold!”
Marduk laughed. The walls around us transformed. Everything changed. I surveyed the golden twilight around us. The walls shimmered and shone as they were made of pure gold. So were the table and the chair. Even the bottle changed from glass to the precious metal.
“I am rich,” Kelley laughed uncertainly, seemingly awed by Marduk’s power. Then he turned to him again.
“Get rid of the demons!” He demanded.
“What demons?” Marduk asked.
“Those that come at night,” Kelley screamed. “They don’t let me sleep anymore. Make them leave.”
“I cannot do it,” Marduk said calmly.
“You are that weak?” Kelley asked in a voice in which mixed anxiety and contempt. “You cannot stop other demons?”
“I can,” Marduk said, “but nobody can stop your imagination. Those are only in your head.”
“You are useless,” Kelley screamed. “Useless fraud. “
“Is that so?” Marduk asked. “Then you don’t need me?”
“No,” Kelley said. “What good are you?”
“In this case, I am permitted to do this,” Marduk said and reached down. He picked up squirming Kelley and lifted him to the ceiling. I thought he is going to throttle him, but instead he pulled Solomon’s Ring off his finger. Then he was gone.
Kelley lay splat on the floor, but was still moving. Petr who must have been listening behind the door, burst in and ran to him.
“I will help you, Master,” he said and carried Kelley to his chair. “That little devil did it, Master. May I kill him now?”
Kelley moaned again and vaguely waved his hand. I had no idea what it meant and Kelley may not know either, but Petr was sure. He turned to me and bared his teeth in a wicked smile.
“Now I will give you what you deserve.” He picked up a poker and swung it at me. I did not wait and ran for the door, which was mercifully left open. Petr cursed and went after me. I dodged another of his blows and spotted a hole that mice use to travel around the castle. I did not hesitate and dived in. Petr’s shoe blocked the exit, but I was temporarily safe. I sighed.
I hope they don’t have any ancient spiders here. I went in. It was dark, but the tunnel did not branch out and soon I saw light at the end of it. I was near a kitchen. That was another place I was not welcome in, I remembered. I sat, then I lay down. More importantly, I will never be able to get back, I remembered with a sinking feeling. There was not a chance that Kelley will tell me the formula. I frowned and tried to remember. How did it go? Guardian…I sighed. I could not remember. Besides, it was in Egyptian, and I don’t have a computer to translate…I can do it now! I sat up with a jolt. I speak all the languages now, don’t I? If I can understand all languages, I should be able to understand Egyptian. I may even be able to read directly the Dee’s code. I don’t need a computer. You still need the manuscript or the spell said another voice in my head. I considered the situation. Kelley must have it. How else would he know? Where does he keep his books? I looked out of my hole. My nose caught a whiff of roasting beef. I was hungry. Now, if I can only get some food.
This time I waited until the cook took a break and left the kitchen before I sneaked out and filled my pockets with whatever I could get my hands on. They will not be able to tell anyway, given my size. I don’t need that much. Then I thought it over. The library must be near Kelley’s room, that’s for sure. He needs it nearby. I have to wait until Petr gets tired of waiting.
I went back to the other end of my hideout. Petr’s shoe was gone. I looked out cautiously and jumped back just in time to avoid being decapitated by a mouse trap Petr placed right there. OK, that was smart of him, I admitted, as I studied the lethal contraption. Lethal for the things my size that is. I looked out again. He was not there. I hugged the wall as I cautiously moved around the corridor. I examined the row of doors on the left. A library should have a large entrance. After all, it used to be a place of pride in those times, wasn’t it?
Finally, I decided on a double door, which was a third one from the Kelley’s room. Unfortunately, it was closed. Fortunately, it was not closed very tight since there was a space below it like with so many other doors at the castle. I sneaked in under it. It WAS the library and a big one. I surveyed the stacks which seemed to reach all the way to heaven or at least to the painted ceiling which was made to resemble an ancient Greek heaven with Hermes in his chariot and angels beaming beatifically on the mortals below. OK, so the angels were a later addition, but you get my drift. I scanned the titles near me. They were in many languages, but I could understand them all. Still, reading all that, and going up and down those ladders that were here and there attached to the shelves was not going to be fun.
I worked the rest of the day before the darkness stopped me, and started again in the morning. Nobody came in. Kelley must have been really sick and none of his crew looked like a bibliophile. In the afternoon I gave up. I was covered in dust, but the manuscript was not here. Either Kelley hid it somewhere or he simply did not have it.
If he did not, then what? I was thinking as I stepped off the ladder. That was a mistake, there were still two shelves to go before I was near the ground. My carelessness landed me in a wicker basket. At least I was not hurt, as I picked my way out from between some scrolls. I stopped. That thing, that code – it was originally written in Egypt before Dee copied it and coded it, was not it? What if Kelley got the original version, in addition to the Dee’s coded one? After all, Dee had both, naturally. My heart started to beat faster. I pushed with all my might some of the scrolls out of the basket. Latin here – Egyptian here! I unrolled them, breaking some in the process. I guessed that became brittle after a few millennia. Here! My heart almost stopped. The code: …the Gate’s Guardian,…I coughed and started loudly: “ …” I waited and waited some more. Nothing. I sat down heavily. I was going to be stuck here. Forever. How did Kelley do it? How did I do it? I tried to remember retracing my steps. Of course. The ankh. Where did Kelley put it? It must be on his person. I fell on my back. I have to go back. But first I need some sleep.
When I woke up, it was dark. Only a line of dim light from underneath the door illuminated the room. I crawled out. Petr or someone lighted up the corridor with few torches. That was helpful. Now, if I could only get to Kelley’s room. I listened beyond the door. Two voices talking. Kelley and Petr. That gave me an idea. I started to push one of the mouse traps Petr left so thoughtfully for me to die in toward the door. Then I scratched the hard wood. Petr did not leave me waiting for long. The door opened almost flattening me behind it, and Petr ran out scanning the corridor for signs or mice or preferably me dead or alive in the mouse trap. Unfortunately for him, he did not wear shoes. His scream of pain could wake up dead. He stumbled ahead cursing mice, me and life in general.
I sneaked behind his back before he could figure out it was not him who put the trap there. Kelley was eating and did not notice me. I dived under his armchair and waited.
It took dinner and two bottles of wine before I heard the familiar snoring. Petr removed the remnants of food and hobbled out, quietly cursing under his breath. I waited until I was sure he must be in the kitchen and then I climbed up Kelley’s chair. I studied the sleeping alchemist: where could he hide the ankh, if any? He cannot be sitting on it, that would not be comfortable. I took a deep breath and dived under his robe. He must have a pocket somewhere. I climbed in that stuffy smell toward his waist trying to touch only the chair and not Kelley. He had pockets, alright. The whole inside of his robe was covered by dozens of them. I guessed he used conjuror’s skills in addition to magic to impress the multitudes. I explored them one by one trying to breathe only with my mouth. Finally! My hands touched something cold and hard. I pushed on the fabric until I saw the shape of the ankh. My heart leaped. It may work yet. I climbed into the pocket, sat on the ankh and opened my mouth. A hand squeezed around me.
“I got you,” Kelley growled. “Do you think I don’t notice someone in my clothes?”
He tried to pull me out. I held on the ankh and felt it slipping out of my grip.
“,…,” I screamed in desperation. Then I fell.