Crossing 'Urdunn
(Love & Human Remains)

These were the sins of Xavier's past
Hung like jewels in the forest of veils

- Dead Can Dance


To the land of Canaan: to the Vilayets of Syria and Hejaz. This is a country of countries – a territory once divided by the sacred river Nahr al-Urdun. Now, in part due to Balfour's ignominy, and with the compliance of the then League of Nations, divided forever; the western regions forming Israel and the eastern half no longer able to satisfy the epithet of Transjordan. It is one of the few countries whose borders can be drawn with a ruler: politics has shaped its geography more than natural features. Westward the river delineates the State of Israel from the Hashemite Kingdom. Eastwards cartographic precision spreads fanlike to Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Not too long ago I stood astride the oriental boundary and gazed towards her land from the autocratic splendour of the Peacock Throne. That too has passed into memory.

My minder is a short Kabardian, white smocked and bearded (dyed red) who amuses me by reciting poems in his native tongue: a strange language with a score of distinct fricatives. Later in the margin of my journal I incorporate a small ink drawing of him literally spitting out songs. He has planned every stop along the way with the surgical neatness of a military campaign: the roads we traverse at night, the dark recesses of caves, of shuttered hostels, for the burning day. Such needs as I have are met in advance, unquestioned, and I have fed heartily these past days to the point of gluttony. That he has prepared for two travellers and finds me a solitary figure he takes in his stride: I am grateful for his silent acceptance of this for I have no wish to explain my sudden change in plans to anyone.

The fertile crescent, they called it – a tripartite sprawl encompassing Ancient Egypt, the Levant and Mesopotamia. It is not an easy image to cling to at night when the potholes in the road are in darkness and the moon creeps behind the mountains. Murat is an excellent driver in these wild back roads, bounding along the sand tracks with an unholy glee, crimson beard glinting slyly in the fickle moonlight. Levant, Levantine. In these parts a term best left unspoken. It has connotations of mixed race offspring and Europeans 'going native'. Even now in the twenty first century the old colonial pejorative still has a faint foothold, a scar left from previous overlords. But Murat is Circassian by heritage and reserves his spite not for the British but for the Russians. Communism may have long since run its course in Europe yet the lifting of the iron curtain has barely touched his own tiny corner of the globe. He regales me with stories of his grandfather escaping from the Soviet Union to come here to the semi-barren plains of Jordan. I listen intently until he mentions Lenin and my thoughts scatter elsewhere.


Berne, Switzerland. More than half a human life ago. I was in a hedonistic phase, taking in the theatres, the concert halls, the public lectures – callous as it may seem now when most of Europe was in the grip of war fever. I had had enough of the squabbles of Paris, of the bourgeois attitudes prevalent in her arrondissements. I sought the serenity of neutrality come-what-may, and Mr Hitler be damned. The grey apartment blocks (not all cities are nocturnally grey) sheltered me from the surrounding storm. By turns I took in talks on psychoanalysis, the latest compositions in Sprechstimme, the newest theories on the rise of Sargon of Akkad, translated from the cuneiform by a young scholar from the University who, alas, proved intractable in his viewpoint but pleasantly malleable in body.

Almost by chance I fell upon an old rival on Kramgasse not far from where Einstein once resided. I would have passed by without a second glance if it had not been for the frightened lamb clinging to his arm. She hid her terror well though to us her racing heart was a thunderous host. It was with evident distaste that he acknowledged me and introduced his fellow journeyman. Her name was Hannah; a senior nurse from a local sanatorium. How he had 'acquired' her was never made clear. As I shook her hand in the customary fashion her gloved flesh trembled in my grasp. She avoided eye contact whether through humility or whether at some level she discerned my basic nature I knew not. For an unfathomable reason I introduced myself as a doctor of medicine, a specialist in the disorders of the blood. My rival's countenance was the epitome of cloaked rage. In the gloom of the flickering streetlamp I discerned briefly on her face the ghost of a smile. It occurred to me that she was enjoying the effect I had on him, and this of course encouraged the raconteur in me all the more.

Sensing an opportunity to twist the knife I suggested, quite reasonably, that perhaps the lady would prefer us to talk over drinks in the warmth of a café. A look of faint hope lifted the darkness in her eyes and she gave a perceptible nod.

"As you are new to the city, may I suggest a suitable venue?" The voice: a stiletto sheathed in purple velvet. Such a patrician tone once killed Caesar. "It is possibly a little too refined for your tastes but Hannah has come to adore it."

I smiled, showing my teeth. "Lay on, Macduff." Certain that I would make no move on him in public he turned his back on me, and holding his woman close led onward through the still-busy streets. Presently, and to my suspicions, he made two left turns and doubled back upon our earlier route. As I was about to cry foul he stopped at a large gilt door. Light spilled out from a nearby trompe l'oeil casting a strange jaundiced tone on the cobbled pavement in front of it. In rather florid script a plaque on the opposite wall exclaimed "Le Bon Mirage". The interior was equally as unappealing. Every swirling surface was covered in a thick golden impasto. On the ceiling two grasping Isoldes reached out to an insipid Tristan. At least that was my reading of the fresco, given that the painter had given one of the women literally white hands.

An all-too-knowing waiter showed us to a dim booth at the far end of the building. Hannah was helped into her seat. She sat gracefully, eyes downcast to the white linen tablecloth. In the light from the gleaming chandelier she was dark skinned and elegant: high cheekbones and full lips, wearing something currently fashionable but not vulgar. I doubted her wardrobe was affordable on a nurse's wage and glanced slyly at her master. He returned my stare impassively, dully shining pate, boomerang moustache, pointed goatee as immaculate as his dark suit. I had the sudden urge to discuss Bolshevism with him, ask him if he really died of the 'Polish' disease as the Russians called it. He was currently styling himself the Prince Maxilimian Gressenov, an exile from Bulgaria, though how he ever hoped to pass himself off as Slav royalty eluded me. The man had a pathological inability to hid his plebeian origins: would swear like a stevedore if the mood took him. But to give him credit he had an ear for accents and an uncanny ability to mimic. For thirty minutes we discussed generalities. How Hannah's father had been expelled from Formosa by the Japanese. A disagreement over treatment of railroad workers I was led to believe. He had fled initially to Manchuria (a lack of foresight on his part) then returned reluctantly to Paris with his only daughter in tow. I tiptoed through the maze of pleasantries and braggadocio that followed layering my own falsehoods on top of his intricacies. I laughed, I projected, I demurred. By inches he dropped his guard, not totally for he knew me too well to completely relax in my presence, but enough to leave his intriguing companion alone with me whilst he argued appellations with the house sommelier.

As expected a delicate gloved hand hesitatingly covered mine. "M'sieur. He is a beast. Protect me from him and I will show my gratitude." A line perhaps only marginally less sensational than one from Shelley's gothic romances. For my part I merely raised an eyebrow and gently removed my hand. "My lady need part with no favours." A waiter hovered by. I smiled sweetly at him until he grew nervous and flew speedily away. Hannah found this amusing. She looked snakishly at me for a moment. "Perhaps there is something else I can procure for the Professor." Procure, indeed. "A morsel more to his taste?" A strange woman, wanting to swap one monstrosity for another, but of course I wanted to learn more. Lenin returned, his eyes hooded. The sommelier I noticed trying badly to conceal a smirk. The evening was over. At the door a quick low murmur "The sanatorium. Tomorrow after dusk. Around eight." I vanished quietly into the shadows, perturbed at my eagerness to become involved again in his assignations. Later I returned, a nocturnal Zastrozzi, and fastened my smile again upon the waiter. This time he did not have a chance to flee.


In the desert a wind: blowing out of the south like a mad djinn; whipping sand into our eyes through the open windows of the truck, making him cough. I would have been faster travelling alone but in this unknown land of the burning sun I fear to end up exposed when the dawn comes and ends the frigidity of night. Murat knows this, understands how much trust I have placed in him for my safety. He is a good companion: he entertains me through the long arduous routes through the razor sharp crags, into valleys untouched by habitation. He does not pry. Questions are not in his nature. Under foot, when we stop occasionally so he can relieve himself, the road changes from hard sand to a substance resembling crushed flint. It is a miracle our tires do not shred. He notices my concern and laughs it off. This path is commonplace to him. He has driven it a hundred times for others, always the guide, always the chauffeur. Lawrence once tread a similar road on camel. Thelul. (I too have been influenced by Doughty though his incipient racism is grating on my sensibilities). A place of many masters, Jordan…

I move effortlessly to the top of the nearest crag. In the shining moonlight the sky is awash with stars. I can name every constellation in English, in Greek, in Assyrian. The desert stretches in front of me almost without end. It is dangerously comforting. Too easy to lose oneself to its bleak beauty and were I to succumb to its charm there would remain not a trace of me come daybreak. No, not even bones…


The sanatorium was easy to find. A place for the terminally rich to end their days surrounded by the hopelessness of modern medicine. I forget its actual name – christened after one of lesser Germanic saints if memory serves, but precisely which one eludes me now. It was an impressive establishment of stone and conifer a few miles outside the city boundary. Quiet, secluded, yet close enough to civilization for the more fitter of the inmates to leave the densely wooded grounds for the beckoning nightlife across the river. A small brick building hidden at the rear of the property I found housed a small crematorium. That evening the embers were warm. I drew an old Zoroastrian curse in the grey flakes as I waited for the bells to chime eight.

She had prepared the ground well had the nurse. The doorkeeper took my cape and hat deferentially and I was ushered into a private office bedecked with photographs of an earlier Berlin, before the War brought its excesses to the Weimar Republic. Beneath the bay window in its bell jar a telegraph key sat like a well-oiled spider awaiting its prey. The only colour of any note in the room was a Grosz watercolour entitled 'Methuselum', with its head of broken wooden boards and large knife for a sash. Quite what impression the patients were supposed to draw from this surreal work was lost on me.

Tea was produced which I declined with an imperious wave of the hand. A tour then. I graciously acquiesced. The duty doctor that evening was old school, a dark green eye patch adding a slightly comical air to his appearance. He fawned in the manner of one expecting to come into money at any time. The more obsequious he became the frostier my reception of him. Hannah who by this time had slipped unobtrusively into our entourage fostered my distain by telling the good Herr Doktor of my stupendous accomplishments in the New World in treating Puri-Puri and Melabussee Fever. Of my patented 'Marconiscope' which physicians in New York were now beginning to adopt in their study of blood-borne parasites. I began to wonder if I should turn and run. I am a great believer in underplaying characters; sometimes silence lends a greater verisimilitude than opprobrium…

We took in the canteen; a large rectangular area of no particular interest to me. With growing tedium I listened to the nutritional challenges the patients posed. How the Institute was at the forefront of testing reaction to various foodstuffs and tailoring diets accordingly. Next was the library. No works of fiction save Goethe and Shakespeare. Newspapers were permitted, even encouraged. Then came the gymnasium. Even at this late hour there came the sounds of exertion from beyond the doors. A trio of anaemic-looking thin young men in tight-fitting white garments vaulted horses and traversed bars. None of them showed any interest in me. I reciprocated politely. Chalk-faced whelps to a boy.

To the main stair (a bust of the founder); first floor (another) and the theatre. Here my love of weaponry took over. I lingered over the instruments as my host explained his personal favourites, the modifications he had made to the shape of blades, the best angle of serrations only found through empirical observation. It stank of carbolic acid and formaldehyde. My knowing eye took in the dark imperfections in the wood where blood had splashed and been perfunctorily cleaned. After a while Hannah urged us on.

I stopped in the corridor abruptly. Ahead of us a lone figure in a long shapeless dressing gown was leaning on the wall for support. He was obviously not local, his looks were vaguely Arabic, North African. Hannah hurried ahead and began to fuss professionally over him; how he should be resting in his bed. He took her arm gratefully for support. His hands were bronze, dark haired. When he smiled his teeth were whiter than the walls. Eyes mahogany descending to ebony in the shadows from the harsh electric lights. Lips rose madder segueing into purple. Transfixed I stared, I soaked in his beauty, his elegant exoticism.

She glanced back at me, held my eyes for a second. Sub rosa. Our pact was made.


Murat has been given new instructions. He scowls, all his efforts now gone to waste. I can see by his twisted mouth he bites down hard on his questions. He had swallowed my solitude with forbearance for that necessitated no change in prepared accommodations.  Now he finds even his carefully memorised routes have no validity. And he is tired this evening. My presence is draining his natural exuberance, presaging a reorientation of his mood. A feeling akin to compassion slips into my shrunken conscience, stifled quickly. This short rough servant has the blood of many on his hands, would gut his own child should the urchin turn on me. We breed loyalty into our human followers though such loyalty forces out their very humanity. Our hypocrisy made flesh, if I may venture a rare self-criticism.

We halt briefly by a crumbling well. Murat hoists up the slimy water and with evident distaste tries to swallow a mouthful. It is brackish, foul. He spits harshly onto the bedrock beside the low wall to clear his palate. In our haste to depart at sundown he had forgotten to load his water canister. A rare failing, but noticeable. He says nothing but is cognisant of my thoughts.

I consult the stars as they slowly wheel overhead. They have moved since last I visited these parts and I make allowances for their fickleness. Do you dream, I ask inanely. He looks at me wild-eyed as if I am insane. I let the question drop. I want to mention my trip to New Zealand, the glacial lakes glimmering in the midnight frost, the smell of loam underfoot, the touch of tree bark, the greenness of stones. I wish to confess, to bare my shredded soul to this unworthy father-confessor. Yet he could not comprehend the intensity of my feelings. These things are alien to his mummified existence in the dry desert air. They are almost alien to me too, now…


Wadi Hummela. A blank-eyed cul-de-sac of weathered sandstone. Once in an earlier aeon, even before my time, a river ran through here. In a dark recess of an eye socket unreachable by sunlight or torches an inscription high above the old river bed: "I was the All-Father. Remember me." As I translate the ancient cuts and grooves Murat falls to his knees and mutters a fervent prayer in his strange tongue. He knows why I am here now and fears the end. My hand follows an invisible line from the inscription to a small hollow in the adjacent wall. Empty. As I knew it had to be. I brush the sand from the ledge. Beneath my sensitive fingertips there is another inscription, again in cuneiform. How long must the scribe have laboured to transmute his familiar clay alphabet into alien chisel marks on stone. "Here rests the heart of the grandfather. Remember him." And next to that, a third line of text in a more recent hand. Murat is openly weeping now. I can taste the salt from his tears evaporating into the dry air. He moans as I drag my guide to his feet, expecting me to kill him. Foolish mortal. Our journey is far from over. I carry him back to the truck and throw him into the driver's seat. "Move!"


"Take me to the Rose Garden." His face glistens moistly in the moonlight, but I no longer care.

We cross a blank expanse of sand guided by Murat's expertise and my knowledge of the constellations. Five hours crossing the forbidding plain. In the daylight this would be foolhardy even with the best of jeeps. Now we race against the falling moon to be undercover before daybreak. A wrong move and our vehicle will overturn killing us both, eventually. Red lines snake out over the desert before us like rusted veins: we chase a ruddy serpent to the far Jebel Warda. The noise of the tires on the compacted ground an insistent throbbing heartbeat. If Murat understands the symbolism of this place he fails to let it distract him. His eyes are feverish, bloodshot, scraped by the moonlight and the eternal wind-borne sands.

The lunar crescent sinks further. We are no nearer shelter. I urge him on, wondering if I should abandon him to his ponderous vehicle and expend my remaining energies running the gauntlet of the stars to our destination. He would understand. My needs are paramount. Except — except to attempt the leagues on my own would require sustenance… And I have not fed for days. Have not had the urge to feed. My guide would be a poor meal. He takes his eyes off the path for a second and sees me looking at his neck. A strangled laugh, and his foot presses harder onto the accelerator. We fly. We fly.


Alexandria I have had, in both senses of the word. I have drunk in her laughter and supped nectar from the cave of her lily. A dark-eyed enchantress whose ragged boys wait at every corner to bring the unwary traveller to her bedside embrace. She squats like Ariadne in her web, spinning and cutting the threads of life that attempt to pass through her with all the harsh subtlety of an unforgiving Atropos. I lost myself here, once, to the grubby lure of the urchin and the less restrained glares of her basilisk whores.

He reminded me of my vulnerabilities with his Coptic good looks and shy glances towards Hannah. If truth be told he only had eyes for her — and this she ffound most terrifying of all: that in prostituting her knowledge to free herself from the claws of one monstrosity she had unwittingly raised the ire of another. She needed have no fear of me. The failing was his alone — or mine — and I had some shreds of honour clinging to my name. A pact is a pact below the rose.

I stared obliquely into his eyes, the most dense of eyelashes, long and silken. I had sourced a ring for him, gauged the delicate maleness of his fingers with accuracy. It was not engraved in a language he would have recognised but the translation was commonplace: render unto Cæsar. My desire completed the quotation. Given or lent his life was mine now, and I intend to take my pleasures where they lay. I had not said from whom I obtained the ring. There remained of him only the lightest of ashes. He had originally intended it for Hannah. I smiled at the irony.

I placed it in his hand whilst he was in conversation with Hannah. He looked startled, shocked. I mouthed "in friendship" to him and he turned to her for acknowledgement. She nodded, gave a professional smile. He said thank you to me and stared at his only piece of jewellery. A perfect fit — yet only in illness when his natural tendency to a slight filling had burned away with the fevers. I was suddenly caught in a moment like a rudderless boat. The way ahead so clear for centuries muddied, the channels dogged with the weed of excess baggage, the eddies not to my liking either.

She — at once my divining rod and my rival — was the only thing standing between my Alexandrian consort and myself. I could not cast her aside for he would find the pillars of his frail temple pushed asunder, would plunge him headlong into the ninth circle; a Judecca of my construction. He had suffered so very much. Those lips so sweet in joy had seen long moments twisted in pain, in despair. What could I offer him in return for love? Unending days of youthful beauty, the never-ending concert of solitude broken only by brief interludes into the dull ache of temporary relationships. I stared, and stared, and stared.

Doctor Quisling was a fool. Hannah had contacted some friends and they in turn had activated a familial communication net. The result — the good Herr Doktor proudly held letters of introduction from the Central Institute in Ecuador. They sang from the same hymn sheet my accomplice sang those long weeks ago. Occasionally he attempted to siphon off my astounding knowledge of phlebology. I prevaricated, he persisted. I muttered silently about the Nobel Institute and peer-group plagiarism. He fell over himself apologising for his crude manner, the way he meant no disrespect.

I was there every night now, ostensibly to view the general treatment of patients. My interest in one in particular had raised his suspicions but greed will out as they say and Hannah had been feeding him ideas I was looking for a new place to set up my studies with all the inherent investment my great reputation brought. As I said, a fool.

But I was a fool too. Perhaps a greater one as I understand only too well where my feelings were taking me. The pyre awaited again. My auto da fé. Knowing that we are acting in a foolhardy manner only intensifies the agony. Does not lessen the urges that drive us. I watched the beast that could slay me intently. Followed his progress from ward to treatment room to library. We conversed about New York, the strange politics of this land, the encroaching war. Yet I would not talk of his birthplace with him for either way he would never return. I brought him books from the local market, small antiquarian wonders, passed to him via Hannah to avoid Quisling's arched brow.

He talked often of her those evenings as we sat apart from his fellow patients. He looked of place in those drab surroundings, too exotic an animal. Perhaps that was part of the attraction. The rarity of a possession. But as his conversations turn towards her the confessions and plebiscites of my heart fell away, I buried my loves and desires in the depths of my soul.


The sybarite veldt: on the horizon the lone mass of a prostrate gazelle. The shape is dark against the grey canopy of low cloud. As I approach timidly I see its body quivering in deep slumber, perhaps dreaming of the chase. Its form intrigues me, the dichotomy of its mass and its vulnerability here away from the herd. Why is it here? Ostracised through some rudimentary failure of instinct? It is not old, a young adult by the heavy colour and size. I find its deep breathing enchanting, the brief pauses where I wonder if my approach has been noticed are alarming. I want to run my hands over its hide and transmute its elementalism into something more readily transported, packaged and labelled as significant memory.

The rest of the plain is almost silent save for the far distant cries of the hyæna and the precise chirruping of crickets. The moon is large here at the equator. Its blessed light bathes the landscape in shades of mercury as disparate as the rainbow to me. I have hours left before my retainer returns, enough time to make for the more distant of shelter before daybreak comes to chase away the silver. Enough time to drink in the beauty of a singular animal.

But my judgement has failed me on this occasion. A rise in the wind brings the unmistakeable tang of blood to my nostrils. My favoured creature is not sleeping, it has been badly wounded. As I change direction the dark black of its life force is still wet on the grass. I am listening to the last heartbeats of beauty, the dying spasms of bestial masculinity.

The human world is little different.


And by night I reaped my liquid rewards. Before her horrified eyes I feasted. The flowers of our love, in scarlet blossom, parallel blooms in scarlet bud. The rivers flowed, rich against darkling skin. A feeble hand raised in impotent protest. Nothing could halt me, keep me from my fulfilment. I pushed the arm away (so weak, so fragile) and heard the bones snapping in protest. We were one now, for the eternal moment. His heartbeat slowed to match my silent one.

His heat drained into me, a sibilant coolness followed. Breath once strong and hale became shallow, rasping. Another arm came up as if to ward me off even in death. Carelessly I passed my hand through his abdomen feeling the wet moistness of his insides spilling out over the table top. Hannah was screaming hoarsely now but I could not hear her through our quietude. I was too far removed into myself to notice. His face was loose, less attractive in death now I had soaked up his life. Eyes dulled to walnut. His lips once rose were pallid now.

It had ended.

I stepped aside and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, tasting the bitterness of his spleen on my flesh.

Hannah had slumped against the door, mouth moving slackly but wordlessly. Her gaze was everywhere but on him as if to keep his memory intact. Out of some misplaced sense of compassion I removed the ring from his hand and gave it to her. She started as if the item were on fire. With a small sound it fell from her numb fingers onto the tiles. Carefully I placed it on her finger. It fitted. She shuddered.

"Our transaction has completed," I said to give her focus. And I was Zastrozzi again, the blackest of cads, the great betrayer. To her credit she nodded and, the instinct of the professional medic taking over in place of panic, she began to gather up his torn flesh and clean the splatters.

I left. The great soundproofed door to the theatre banged behind me like a war drum.


A single petal falls onto the ground. A Zen moment, quintessentially. My awareness coalesces around the crimson fragment. It lies like a frozen gem of blood on the rough sand. I am taken by the demanding memory, the moment that comes of and for itself and carries us away through the ages to earlier times. I am back by the lake again. The starlight shimmering on its surface, the lunar stare fragmented by shallow waves on an oily blackness.

I can smell pine, the scent of deer. A distant wisp of diesel from the highway over the hills. He stands with his back to an old lime tree. The whites of his eyes glare into the middle distance after the silhouette of a rabbit. He is saying something in Maori and I have yet to grasp even a thousandth of his vocabulary. I catch the word for love, perhaps the word for blood. He is still watching the rabbit. I fail to understand its significance for us but I have no wish to break into his reverie and spoil his thoughts.

We have been here seven blissful weeks. I feel I have finally come home, finally found something worth the endless unchanging nights. In him my love is absolute: he can do no wrong. I find joy in his introspective silences, ecstasy in the timbre of his voice. All of my days have brought me here, given me this one chance of meaning. Words are insufficient to the task at hand. He knows this of me.

But I am not deluded.


We are here.

The morning gusts sweep the sand from the outside desert along the plain corridor. Once, a long, long time ago, this was the epicentre of an empire, ruled over by a king whose name had been lost for over four millennia. Old even before the Pharaohs had risen to power and spread their incestuous influence eastwards from Thebes. Out of the stillness of the desert came scribes, philosophers and artists. Great men paying homage to their king's vision.

In courtyards formed by the prehistoric flow of rivers they hammered and chiselled the soft stone into the semblance of gods and monsters. Playthings for the royal blood in evenings cooled by the scent of frankincense and myrrh. But time is a jealous lover and she takes her revenge in the passing winds. Where once were serpents and warriors there now lay the sandstone flowers of abstraction.

The Rose Garden.

It lies out of reach to me, lit by the first embers of dawn. Soon the sun will beat down on the courtyards and rough-hewn walls.

Through the miasmal dust clouds that follow us into the darkened hallways I can hear Murat's heartbeat pounding beside me. The smell of fear and anticipation is feral. Our footsteps disturb the dust of centuries as we pass deeper into the complex.

This place is tapu to Murat's people, those of them who still remember the old trade routes, who still venture out into the deep desert away from the primal lure of towns and bodies. Like Ozymandias the falling empire stained the soil in superstition, warranting history with tales of doom should anyone fail to take heed of pride and avarice. Heaven itself, they said, cast down the walls of the treasury smiting the king in a golden tomb.

The reality is less lurid. A plague-bearer, as innocent in his mien as Typhoid Mary, his caravan lost in the shifting sands, happened upon the smoke from the royal bakery and fell upon them begging alms. A lack of twenty-first century sanitation and a little-inbreeding put paid to the glory of the empire in a single month. This version of the tale is known to Murat. My certainty of the facts unnerves him for he knows my kind reckon their longevity in hundreds not thousands of years. He knows I cannot possibly have seen the event. Knows too that the desert leaves no book for later travellers to read. Perhaps he thinks there lies an Ayesha in the audience chamber, chained to her pool of light waiting for Kallikrates to return and join her in the eternal twilight of the ruins. Romantic poppycock: love does not last a hundred years. Boredom and the chance for younger game drive the hunt.

I have been the rower and the oar; the ship and the current. In my belt I keep a stiletto from Damascus. The blade is layered in darkness for I am enough of a pragmatist to reject wiping it clean. Murat's life force may yet add to the patina.

The halls are filled with the scent of hyacinths and chrysanthemums. Beneath our boots dried leaves crisp and flake. The air itself is thicker, almost viscid. Murat tries to pick up a leaf and examine it but the illusion does not support touch and the leaf wafts out of reach of his numb fingers. He knows now that the he is in the presence of something fantastically powerful.

He turns to me and mutters something in his odd home tongue. At first I think it is another poem but after a moment the cadence betrays it as a prayer.

There is laughter in the hallway before us. It is a sound of dead branches breaking, a distant gale raging over rooftops. I stop and bow my head briefly in respect.

"As predictable as a sunrise, farmer. And Murat: servant of my servant. Be welcome in my house of prophets."

My guide looks around wildly for the source of the voice. He does not yet understand. "Show yourself."

I order him to keep quiet, then addressing the vortex: "You know why I have come."

"Are you so tired of your existence that you would end it?" Angry now. "You always were my best student and my most disappointingly human."

"Is there no other way?" I ask, already hearing the answer.

"For you, no."

"Who are you?" whispers Murat, a hand slipping quietly beneath his tunic for the dagger I know he carries.

The phantom leaves blow around us in a furious hurricane. "I am the All-Father. I hold dominion over the Twilight."


Angra Mainyu.

"Never lie to Murat and he will serve you faithfully." And though I did not understand why this debased creature above all others deserved my honesty so I always told him the truth, or nothing. In turn I was served faithfully. No hesitations, no deviations from instructions. He was my will made manifest. But now, in the rose garden with its twisted sandstone outcrops, when he is cowering in the corner with blazing eyes I am tempted to dissemble. To give him cause to rally his strength and aid me in the time to come. Yet of all the things that have been ingrained into my mind this was my Teacher's most repeated exhortation.

The voice said: "I was in Qumran before the Essenes, I was in Nag Hamadi before the Pachomians, I was in Jerusalem before the Nazarene."

"You are the Father of Lies" cries Murat, the very picture of an Old Testament prophet himself with flowing beard and billowing cassock.

"I am the Father of Psychology." said the voice with a hint of smugness, stirring the grit at our feet.

"I will destroy you and save the world" says Murat. I have no idea what he intends to do.

The voice laughs. "You will feed the vultures on your tower of silence first."

Angra Mainyu: the serpent of lies.

In my fanaticism I had failed to note Murat's own. I had been too intent on my goal: the culmination of the hunt, the destruction of the prey, the cleaving of the heart's ties. From beneath his cassock I saw again the brass glint of a small statuette. A bearded man with outstretched wings. Ahura Mazda. The mirror of the daeva's will.

I saw too, like a single road of dominoes, the hand of my Teacher reaching out through families and branches; pruning as a gardener weeds his beds; guiding and manipulating the seedlings into a human topiary of his choosing. It was as monstrous as it was breathtaking. But I could not see this as the end, merely another fork in the long road. Murat could do nothing against this whirlwind of power, this ancient behemoth of the mind.

And I was as much his son as Murat. That lesson I could not fail to learn. I too had been shaped and tooled beneath His hand since I had first turned my back on the golden rays of the sun and sought the wisdom of the moon. But unlike Murat's forbearers I had no religion for him to twist and corrupt.

"Arhiman," says Murat, repeating the name like a mantra. "Arhiman the worm. Arhiman the old." He throws himself at the untouchable vortex provoking a gust of cruel laughter.

"You make an ineffectual Tahmurasp."

My companion of the road sobs brokenly in the dust, all energy spent. For a hundred generations the tribes in this region had had their beliefs twisted and bent far from their divine origin. The All-Father spoke correctly when he said he was the progenitor of psychology: this was his greatest achievement — taking that which was holy and sacred and turning it imperceptibly slowly by human terms, into a force he could aim.

"Shall I kill him?" I ask, not caring what the answer was.

"I have other servants. But there will be need of witness to the coming dawn."

"Is there no other way?" I had to be sure.

"No!" The voice rushes past me along the corridor and the audience is at an end.

Roughly I pull Murat to his feet. "You still have a few hours of usefulness left to me."

For a second time he feels my physical strength and does not resist.


I found him in the King's chambers throwing chipped stones out of the window. A month ago his sad smile would have broken my resolve, had me melt into his arms with the softness of tears, drown in the dark earthiness of his gaze.There were scuff marks on the floor where he had dragged his box seat around to avoid the light cast by the window. From the length of the tracks I guessed he had been there several hours.

The canisters he had brought with him on his sojourn were scattered around the corner shadows as if they too were hiding from the solar winds. Of his helpers there was no sign. I wondered if He had frightened them away in a maelstrom of imaginary terrors.

"You came."

"I came," I said. No other words were necessary. No apologies, no excuses. Summoned by the memory of a desire I could be nowhere else.

The light from the window was a beckoning apocalypse. Three steps within; nine feet. Hell's weft... So easy a path, so final an end.

In the greyness of the gloom his eyes were dark and shining with a intent I hadn't seen in them for many a year. There was a sharpness to his features as if he had not fed properly for days. I felt bloated beside him, engorged with excess. This creature: cultivated in the private rooms of public hotels, fed and nurtured in the crumbling masonry of old farmhouses, blossomed in the argent light of antipodean plains. Soil of the world that shaped my soul.

Here were we, shepherded by the All Father, into a house of many rooms, a doorless palace of the desiccated rich. Emboldened by grief, pierced by the knowledge that all fruit must decay, all trees wither, all branches rot, I found myself moving towards him arms outstretched for a final embrace.


His handlers had done well. I unscrewed the top of the final canister and read the halting English the Japanese team had written. So simple a concept. So difficult an execution. It took barely twenty minutes to carry out the instructions. When I was finished I avoided looking at my reflection in the burnished lid.


I hesitated, not because my will was failing but because such enterprises must be carried out with due reverence to ceremony.

"It will be daylight soon." He sounded almost eager. "Please…" He put an arm around my neck and rested his dark hair on my shoulder. "I don't blame you for anything."

Slowly we walked out of the treasury antechamber and through the nightmare flowers of the rose garden. Along the way he removed his shirt and placed it carefully on a crumbling outcrop. He was still as magnificent as the first time I'd seen him five hundred moons ago. For all the loves in my life, all the hurried couplings and long lunar discourses, his body remained the most capable of arousing me.

But the body is not the soul. The physical is merely a shell for mental processes. Lust could sustain nothing more substantial than the transient flight of a butterfly. Though I ached for his easy musculature I yearned for more deeper companionship. And he too had tired of the endless game. Wearied of the chase, the hunt, and the lingering fulfillment of its climax. Wearied of the unending silver night.

And I too had begun to weary with him.


He picks a soft patch of ground. Kicks the sinuous ripples with a foot then sits cross legged like an Indian fakir. The sand has stuck to the hairs on his chest and makes him look in character.

Already the stars have fled. The sky is begining to show the first glimmers of azure. I become uneasy, not sure whether I wish to subvert his choice or whether I distrust the loyalty of our Japanese brethern.

He pats the ground beside him and grins up at me. It's a smile I have rarely been capable of resisting and mindful of his return to youthful excitement I join him on the desert floor. After a moment I found we have automatically linked hands. His fingers are slender, the hairs on his knuckles curling darkly on his cinnamon skin. "Remember me."

"Always," I whisper as yellow slivers pierce the horizon and race towards us. "I have loved you as I have loved no other."

"And I you," he says, tighening his grip. The yellow lines converge and deepen to gold. "But I miss the sunlight. I used to run on the beach and feel its warmth on my skin drying the sea water."

Suddenly there is an explosion of light in my retinas. Eyes which have been accustomed to nocturnal shades are momentarily blinded by the glare. Even shielded by the contact membranes my eyes feel the brunt of the glare like a physical blow.

"It's beautiful," he says and stands, pulling me up beside him.

I can't see properly. There is immense heat beside me and my hand hurts strangely. My ears hear a rushing and for moment my dislocation makes me think the All-Father is with us.

Colour by colour my sight returns as the pain in my now-empty hand increases. I stand amists a circle of black glass beads where the sand has fused. My hand is charred, but the plastic skin has remained intact, saving me from the same fate as my lost love.

When they have cooled enough I pick up a few of the globules and put them carefully into a pocket. One day I will take them back to his beach and bury them at the high water mark.


Murat is sleeping in the garden as I return. He has used my friend's discarded jacket as a sunshade, his red beard poking out from under the bottom hem.

I rip the shirt from his head and watch as he blinks my silhouette into focus. His countenance is a thing of wonder: every human emotion passes across his face as he realises I stand tall in the rays of sun.


"The moon of the All-Father has set," I tell him.

The stories he remembers, passed down through his family for generations upon generations. Of Sato Zim, the tenth hundred winter when the earth will be made barren and the sky will rain evil creatures. Of the age of iron when Wrath, the progeny of demons, will claim sovereignty over the land. "Angra Mainyu has gone," he says with a voice of wonder.

"Spenta Mainyu," he prays, taking my good hand in his and kissing the fake skin fervently. "Command me." And in an instant I am transformed in his eyes to a creature of the light.

Such are the fickle nature of mortals.