The hunter showed up. He was dressed in a leather shirt this time, and on his shoulder sat a huge bird. It was a hawk. The raptor did not have on his head the little cap I remembered falconers use to cover its eyes. Instead, it observed the room, turning its head slightly back and forth. Then our eyes met. For a second, it stared at me, but then it spread its wings and was on me in a flash. I was petrified and could not move. A huge claw closed on me.
“No! Stop!” I heard Jakub’s shout. The hawk did not release its grip, but instead it watched me carefully. It looked…puzzled. Can birds be puzzled? Does not puzzlement require a certain level of intelligence?
“Let him go,” Jakub ordered. The hawk released its grip and flapped its wings. It landed again in Jakub’s shoulder.
“If he is not good for anything else, we could always use him to feed Arrow,” Kelley observed.
“What did you wish from me, Milord?” Jakub asked.
“So how is Arrow these days?” Kelley answered with a question.
“He is in great shape, Milord,” Jakub said enthusiastically. “Why, even yesterday, he hunted down a fox.”
“Glad to hear that,” Kelley mumbled, clearly thinking already about something else. “Does he still remember the Way?”
“He made it there and back again only two years ago, Milord,” Jakub said. “I would wage he remembers it just fine.”
“I have a new package for him,” Kelley said and nodded toward me.
“Him, Milord?” Jakub asked hesitantly. “Do you wish that little thing to get there dead or alive?”
“Alive, of course,” Kelley said. “What is the problem? Are you afraid Arrow will eat our Homunculus on the way?”
“Not only that, Milord,” Jakub said with refreshing honesty. “Arrow flies fast and high. That little thing may not be able to take it.”
“Nonsense,” Kelley said. “We just wrap tie him up well and he will be fine. It takes only several days, doesn’t it?”
“Who knows, Milord,” Jakub shrugged. “Arrow will not tell me.” Kelley tuned to me.
“You will fly on the wings of a hawk,” he observed. “Is not it a mankind’s dream?”
“Not mine,” I said and continued since I did not have a choice, did I:
“Where do you want me to fly?”
“To the Holy land,” he answered. “To Jerusalem.”
“But why?” I asked.
“Jakub bring the harness,” Kelley turned to his servant. “Also, bring some food for him and tell Marie to come.” He waited until the door closed after Jakub and then he turned to me:
“You will visit my friend, Rabbi Loew. Those Mohammedans still let Jews live in Jerusalem. You will bring him my greetings and bring something back to me. Don’t come back without it. I will not let you go back to your time unless you bring it.”
“Bring what?” I asked.
“The Seal of Solomon,” he said and waited for an effect. When he saw my blank look, he sighed.
“You are not big on Bible, are you,” he said conversationally.
“I know of Solomon,” I objected. “Do you mean that Jewish King?”
“Yes, that one,” Kelley shook his head. “I think I may have to refresh your memory. I am not sure if it is still in the Bible anyway. Solomon built the Temple, right?”
“Right,” I agreed.
“When he did it, he used the help of Demons,” Kelley continued. “To command them, he had a ring. Like this.” He rose from his chair and stumbled over to a bookshelf. I guessed he has been drinking since he woke up. He caught the bookshelf and muttering to himself, pulled off a book. He dropped it on the table, missing me by an inch, and opened the heavy parchment pages.
“Here,” he said triumphantly. I ambled over. The book was thick and reached up to my waist even when opened in the middle. I pulled myself up.
“You are about as big as the big letters,” Kelley observed. Indeed. Some of the colorful letters were pretty big.
“Look here.” I walked over to where Kelley laid his dirty finger. There was a drawing. It looked a lot like a Star of David.
“This is the Seal of Solomon,” Kelley said reverently. “If you have it, or if you even seal something with a wax and push it into it, you can lock a Demon away.”
“So you know how it looks like,” I said. “Why don’t you make your own?” Kelley frowned.
“You are not as stupid as you look.” Thanks for the compliment, I thought to myself.
“I tried to make it, but it did not work. There must be some charm on the original seal. It cannot be just the picture.”
“You could just send a letter,” I said. “You don’t need me to go there.”
“I could,” Kelley agreed, “but I figure that it will be better if I send you. For one thing, you can plead my case. The Rabbi’s weakness is that he is too soft. He will be more inclined to listen to you since you really want to go home. For another thing, he is a great scholar. He is not as good alchemist as me though, and he will be impressed when he sees you. Now, where are my lazy servants?”
Marie was the first of the “lazy servants” to show up.
“Can I have him back?” She asked when she entered the room.
“We are having a party. I want him to dance with Elizabeth.”
“Your doll party can wait,” Kelley said. Her face fell.
“You can have him back,“ he said, when he saw it, “but first I need to play him a hero…yes, hero, that’s it.”
“A hero?” Marie repeated. My little George will be a hero?” She clapped her hands. “This will be wonderful.” She picked me up lovingly.
“You will be a hero, Georgie. It is just like you.”
It was exactly not like me.
“His name is Alex,” Kelley said. “But never mind. I would like George to go do something for me, something like slaying a dragon. I don’t want him to be cold. Do you have some clothes he could wear?”
“Of course,” Marie said happily. “We will have a dress up party, Georgie, won’t we?”
“Sure,” I said. This just could not get more embarrassing.
Marie kept her word and before I knew it, I was dressed up in a long furry coat. It reached all way to my knees. If nothing else, her dolls had a great wardrobe. Jakub meantime showed up, was sent away again, and soon I was tied up in a harness on Arrows back. The bird tolerates it well.
“I thought you use pigeons to carry messages,” I told Kelley. “I heard they do it in the East,” he agreed. “That’s why I trained the falcon. If pigeons can do it, why not big birds?” “
Did you give him some food” He asked Jakub. “I gave him a bag of meat and bread crumbs, Milord,” Jakub said and patted a little bag that was tied next to me. It must have been originally used to carry coins.
“Are any peasants still out there?” Kelley asked. “No? Let’s release Arrow, then.”
Jakub carried me to the tower of the castle. I looked down at the forest below. It looked far away and I hoped Arrow did not fly any higher than that.
“Forward!” Jakub barked. The mighty wings spread and the trees below fell away. I turned my head and saw rapidly diminishing figures of Kelley and Jakub. Arrow rose in circles and finally turned to South to where I guessed lay the Holy Land. We were off.
Arrow rose and rose. The air became cold and wind slashed at my face. My eyes teared up. How am I going to make it all the way to Jerusalem? I snuggled into Arrow’s feathers. The hawk was huge and its wings spanned at least two feet. We must have stayed high in the air for hours. Then I felt Arrow slowing down. I dared to look up from my nest. He turned to the left and started to circle down. What was it looking for? I looked down. There was a forest still, but now I recognized a clearing here and there. We were going down. Then Arrow turned its head down and fell like a rock. I held on for dear life. What was it doing? We sped down toward the mighty trees which never met an axe of a lumberjack nor human beings at all. Arrow slashed through the branches and just when I thought we are going to die, it spread its wings to slow down the fall, and I saw something brown down in the clearing. It moved fast, turning left and right, but Arrow was faster. Its claws caught the furry back of the creature and the mighty beak struck and struck again. I sported the long ears and realized we caught a rabbit. It screamed briefly and stopped to struggle. Arrow settled down and started to tear it apart with its beak. Blood splashed over me, pushing away any idea that it was time to have dinner.
Arrow happily engorged himself completely ignoring his sickened cargo (I have decided to call Arrow HE at this point due to his table manners). Then the spectacle was finally over and Arrow flapped his wings and settled on a branch of an ancient pine. I waited until he fell asleep and then I quietly loosened my harness. I needed to eat something. I almost woke up Arrow and stopped myself from cursing loudly by sheer power of will. My bag was empty! It got loose at one point or another and all my food fell out. I slipped off the Arrow’s back. I remembered distinctly that that I saw some berries down there. I climbed down the tree which reminded me of a mountain and found raspberries at its bottom. They were huge, each one was the size of two watermelons. Or perhaps it was the other way down and I was a bit small? No matter. I buried myself inside one of them. They were sweet and grant. I sighed in satisfaction, just when a claw squeezed me. Arrow found me. I turned my head in terror. What was he going to do here when he didn’t have a falconer to control him? His grip loosened and I crawled from under his claw. I tried to move away, and he leaned forward and screeched.
“Nice birdie,” I tried. That did not seem to mollify him. I moved toward him. He did not mind that. I touched his feathers – nothing. I tried to climb on his back. He was fine with it. So that was it? He was going to deliver me to Jerusalem whether I liked it or not. I turned back under his watchful eye, picked up one rather heavy raspberry and put it into my pack. That should be good enough for another day at least. Arrow waited until I settled down and then he took off again. It was going to be a long flight.
We stayed over the forest for another day, but it slowly gave way to fields. Arrow liked to fly during the day, sleep during the night, and hunted in the morning. He circled a few times today, looking for food, but the fields seemed strangely empty. It was spring and one would think that farmers would be about and mice would look for seeds farmers thoughtfully provided. Instead, the fields were desolate. Arrow apparently decided that no breakfast was running about here and continued south. Before long I saw a vast blue expanse, sparkling in the sun. Sea! But which one? I guessed we must have reached Mediterranean. There was even a town. No, not a town. It was a large city built on the sea shore. In fact the sea reached in, winding among the houses while forming sea lanes and streets. I realized it must be Venice.
Arrow did not seem to be eager to make friends with citizens on La Serenissima, and instead made a beeline for a dead horse which lay right before the gates. He landed on the body and the smell almost suffocated me. I coughed.
“Why did you do it?” I asked my feathered friend querulously, but of course it was pointless. He was hungry and that was it. I climbed down deciding to wait nearby for Arrow to finish his breakfast. I was stopped by another body; this time it was a human. I looked it over carefully. The horse had an arrow in him, but the man did not seem to be hurt. Instead he had a blackened face and a protruding tongue. My heart jumped when I realized the truth. He was killed by plague and the horse was shot to prevent him from entering the city and spreading the disease.
“La Diablo!” I heard a scream behind me. I turned around and cursed. There was a cart approaching, protected by several armed soldiers. A black-clothed person rose in the cart and I recognized a priest. His smooth-shaven face contorted in terror and hatred and he screamed again. A spear hit the ground near me. I did not wait. I ran toward Arrow, but he already took off in an alarm. I panicked. If I can only make it to the forest, I would be safe. There was something on the horizon to my left. I just needed to cross the road. I darted across the dusty line, but I forgot my size. A soldier took a few steps and a hand closed around me. I was lifted up and brought to the priest. He made a sign of the cross over me. That made no difference, of course. He leaned his face to me:
“Cosa sei?” He asked.
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Inglese!” the priest exclaimed, looking surprised. “Giovanni!” He turned to a soldier.
After a short exchange, another soldier was brought out of the retinue. He looked at me fearfully. I was still held by my original captor. Nobody seemed very eager to take over.
“Father Angelico wants to know what are you,” he said. There was an accent…where did I hear it before?
“I am a homunculus,” I explained. “Not a Devil. An alchemist made me. He wanted me to go to Jerusalem to bring a holy relic.” I decided to keep it simple.
“I am John,” he said.
“How did you get here?” I asked.
“I had to leave once the English turned to the Devil,” he spat out. “I am a good Christian. Obey Pope.” “Oh. I recalled that the English Church just split from the Catholic Church.
“Are you a heretic?” He asked.
“No,” I said.
He turned to the priest, jabbering quickly in what must have been Latin or Italian.
“A homunculus,” Father Angelico repeated thoughtfully. Then he asked something.
“Monsignor wants to know if you speak another language.”
“Arabic,” I said and instantly regretted it. This cannot go over well at this time and age.
“Surprisingly,” the priest said, “so do I.” He reached for me.
“We will talk, you and I. You can be useful. You will be useful,” he said and squeezed me. “You will be my tool to the Pope’s throne. If you help, I will let you go. If not, I will have you burnt at stake like the Devil you likely are. Understood?”
“Yes,” I agreed.
“Nobody can understand us, so here is what you will do,” he said and climbed back on his cart. He barked an order and we moved on. “You will go to Rome and give Pope a gift from me. Do you agree?”
“I do,” I said. He released his grip a bit. That was all I needed. I bent down and bit his thumb. He yelped and dropped me. I landed well, jumped off the cart and I ran into the field. I have to find some hiding place. There! I spotted a mouse hole. Or perhaps rabbit? I jumped in. I heard steps moving around. They were looking for me. Finally, the noise of pursuit and loud argument receded. I decided to wait.
Arrow did not return the whole day. I was hungry and there was a city nearby. I had to get some food. If you can avoid the plague, a little voice whispered in my head. I walked through the night. By morning I finally made it inside. I sneaked past the streets moving toward the center. Where could I get some food? At last morning came and with it carts of the street vendors. The noise of the morning Venice was overwhelming. So was the bustle, but I easily hid in the many holes in the facades of Venetian palazzos. My small size had some advantages.
Finally, I spotted a fruit stand. The vendor was dressed in tatters, in contrast to his gleaming peaches and oranges. It was early spring. Where did he get them? There must be a lot of trade between Venice and South. The thought of food pushed everything else out of my head. I crept to the stand which required passing a few feet of pavement between the wall and the water on whose edge the stand rested. I negotiated the obstacle successfully, stealthy and unseen, and sidled toward a pile of peaches. I could not resist and bit into one right there. I could not carry it away anyway, could I?
The taste was heavenly. I stuffed myself for a few moments never noticing the face above. Then I was lifted into the air and placed on a little table.
“Cosa sei?” Said the vendor, whose dirty face with a stubble leaned toward me.
“I don’t understand,” I said. This was getting repetitive.
“Huh?” He scratched his head.
“Homunculus,” I offered, looking for an exit.
“Homunculus,” he brightened in understanding.
“Homunculus, venite a guardare,” he screamed.
A stampede answered. A gaggle of Venetians, excited and gesticulating, surrounded me. There were ladies dressed as peacocks and wore beautiful masks. There were black clad nobles, also wearing masks. Was it time for the Venice Festival? And, of course, commoners whose faces were mercifully all human. Multitude of faces and masks leaned over me.
“Cedere,” I heard an authoritative voice. The crowd split. Walking toward me, I saw to my horror the priest I encountered in the morning. Our eyes met. For a second he looked stunned, and then he screamed.
I ran. I ran among the legs stumbling over some and finally being kicked by one of them. I sailed through the air passing over a smelly strip of water and before I had time to think, landed on a gondola. Its cargo consisted of bales of cloth and I landed safely. The owner, a grubby looking guy with bulging muscles made a grab for me. I dived between the bales and scrambled away toward the front of the boat. The screams from the bank continued. The gondola turned toward them. I realized he is going to land! I had to get off before the crowd and the priest arrived. I scrambled onto the tip of the bow and looked for the dry land. It was only a few feet away, but to me in the homunculus shape it looked like a mile of water to cross. Should I try to jump regardless? I know I can move relatively fast for the size of my body and perhaps could make it. The gondola moved closer, perhaps only four feet from the bank. I jumped. Still in the air, I realized I was not going to make. Just then, something grabbed the back of my shirt, and I quickly rose up away from the water and the mad mob. I turned my head slightly. The Arrow’s beak firmly held onto me and it carried me away from the danger towards the land outside the city.
We continued our trip for two more days. This time, I was glad Arrow avoided the vicinity of cities. I had no wish for my “Diablo” reputation to follow me. We skirted the Adriatic coast, until the vast vista of Meditteranean opened in front of us. Arrow flied straight to the south. It took many hours before I saw a hazy shore of an island. There were small harbors, filled with boats and ships of all sizes. A few times I spotted a large ship with rows of oars periodically rising and falling at her sides. I fished in my memory – these must be galleys, the principal fighting ships of late Middle ages. I saw something else, too. Their flags sported the familiar half moon emblem. We have crossed into the realm of the Ottoman Empire. The island we ultimately landed on thus must be Cyprus, the land of Aphrodite.
We were getting close. Arrow landed on a secluded beach and I checked my bag. There were still some berries I picked up during the last time we stopped in a forest. I also had some meat, which was a courtesy of a careless merchant who decided to stop for a night in a roadside inn near our night camp and forgot to tie up the bag with his lunch. Come to think of it, it would not help if he tied it up anyway. I became rather adept at getting into places I was not wanted in. Necessity is a great teacher.
When I had my lunch, Arrow went away to get his own. I settled down. The Holy Land is just across a stretch of sea. Once Arrow finds the Rabbi’s house, I am going to plead my case. We just have to be careful on the way back and avoid cities.
Arrow returned with his belly full. I mounted my faithful steed and we took off. The sun was high and the air ambrosial. I felt I could sing. We flew for hours. I figured we will be there soon. Then, deep down, I saw a ship. It sported a flag I saw in Venice. Curiosity seized me. Were they merchants? I patted Arrow on his neck. At this time, we developed an understanding, which meant he listened to my signals whenever he pleased. He did this time and descended toward the ship. I saw men spotted us and gesticulated toward us. That was strange. So much attention to a single bird? Did they see me on the Arrow’s back? I saw a priest pointing toward us. Another one? There was an awful lot of priests in Venice for my comfort. I decided that prudency was the best policy and urged Arrow forward. He did not need my encouragement and his strong wings flapped fast. However, it was too late, and a dozen of arrows raced toward us. Did they see me or did they do it for sport? Perhaps they regarded the hawk to be a bad omen? Arrow banked to the right and then resumed southwest course. Suddenly, he shuddered and we fell down a hundred feet. He then flapped his wings again, but with a visible struggle. I leaned cautiously and looked down – there was an arrow hanging from his right thigh. It did not go deep and the falcon struggled on. I loosened my belt and climbed down to his leg. I hesitated for a moment, then I tore away a piece of my shirt and gripped with my other hand the arrow’s neck. I held with all my strength on the belt which held me on the bird with my legs and then I pulled on the arrow. It came out. I dropped it, transferred the piece of my shirt from my other hand and stuffed it into the wound. It stained red. Arrow rose up as the loss of the arrowhead clearly relieved him. He was losing blood, though. I scanned the horizon, and to my relief, I saw a dark strip of land in front of us. The bird saw it too. It glided toward it until we were over the rocky and sandy shore. He continued farther inland, carried by winds, until in front of us loomed dark, forbidding walls. He flapped one more time and made it just past it. Then he landed with a thud beyond the wall of a ruined but mighty castle. I got off. Arrow sat down, his eyes closed. We were in the Holy Land. Were we going to die here?