Water, waves, and a raging storm surrounded me. A feeling of being engulfed by the floods was the first thing that reached my numb senses.
I knew it was just a dream. But that did not change the threat from the mass of water that seemed to come down on me from all sides. Blurrily,I saw myself floating on the ocean, slowly but surely sinking into the black depths. My whole body feeling like it was filled with water, an infinite heaviness, that pulled me faster and faster towards the bottom of the sea. It was so cold, I appeared to be freezing. Although I couldn't tell, because I didn't actually feel anything anymore. I noticed, at the edge of my consciousness, I hit the ground gently.
Suddenly, a jolt tore through the floor. A tremendous shockwaveviolently washed away the layers of water weighing on me. The quake continued! It permeated my body, forcing me spluttering and choking to spew out all the liquid I had collected inside of me.
The first real feeling that reached my still clouded senses was nausea. Not the kind caused by time travel, but a much more tangible sensation. I opened my eyes to take in my surroundings. However, before I could classify the vague impression of blue being part of the sky, I had to turn my head to the right and throw up. The sumptuous breakfast at the home of Manu's mother-in-law now became my undoing.
Exhausted, I let my head fall back on - yes on what actually? It felt hard.
As a precaution, I closed my eyes again, trying to assess the situation. Myimmediate position was clear: I was lying on my back. In terms of what the world around me looked like, well I didn’t dare speculate. One thing was certain, I was alive. And that was, after all, reassuring.
With the nausea fading to a bearable level, I listened to my body. There was nothing noticeablelike the stabbing and pulling I had felt after my arrival in Egypt. However, my limbs felt leaden and my head was spinning - not to mention the countless other painful spots.
I decidedI ought to complain less and instead find out what it was like around me. So I opened my eyes to try again and this time I managed to catch more than a glimpse of the sky. I straightened up a little and leaned on my elbows.
What the heck? I was expecting all sorts of things, but not this. I was on a ship! Shocked, I let myself fall back once more. How could something like that have come about? Had I been unconscious for so long that they had found me and wanted to ship me off for some reason? No, that was a stupid idea.
Only now did I notice a dampness under the blankets I was wrapped in. Was my strange dream perhaps not so unrealistic as I thought,had Ireappeared in the water? Or did I materialize directly on board?
“Elisa, are you there?”
No response. Of course, the battery of my electronic companion was exhausted due to the time jump. Since it was apparently not yet recharged, my appearance here could not have been too long ago.
Well, if I couldn't find out anything from Elisa, I had to take matters into my own hands. I straightened up completely and concentrated on my immediate surroundings. Three people stood not far from me at the railing, looking out toward the sea. As I followed their gaze, I noticed land in the distance, which we were probably heading for.
The three figures were men. They were dressed in weatherproof hooded coats. I estimated them to bein their mid-twenties, a little older than me perhaps. Given the harsh living conditions of earlier times, it was hard to be certain.
Otherwise, there was not much to see on deck. The ship,about twenty-five meters long, had a mast with sails. My experience with ships was limited. Therefore, its construction unfortunately did not allow me to draw any conclusions about the place or time.
One of the men turned around and noticing me, he hurried to get the others' attention. They all came running, hovering over me in a semicircle. The first one, recognizable by his pointed beard, said something to me, but I did not understand a single word. It sounded like a question, though. Probably "who are you?" – or something along those lines.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to answer him, nor could I guess the true meaning of his words. Although I was sure that I did not know his language, it somehow seemed familiar to me. If only the TTEK would start up again... Nevertheless, the man uttered a few more sentences until my uncomprehending face made him understand that his attempts were in vain. Now, they engaged in a lively discussion among themselves. Probably thinking about what to do next.
The second guy, who stood opposite the first one on my left, gestured for the others to be silent. He knelt down beside me, his colleagues following suit. Then he started talking to me as well. This time he used a different language though, which seemed much more familiar to me, even though it was no longer spoken in our time. He spoke in Latin.
It took a load off my mind. Although I did not speak Latin fluently - if one could say such a thing about a dead language at all - I had had to acquire quite a bit in the course of my history studies. And so I also understood his question about my name, which he now repeated for the second time.
I thought about my name for a second. I mean the name I would want to bear if I was in fact in the Roman Empire. Well, it couldn't hurt to stick with the truth for now. An undertaking that I would have to give up soon enough.
"Nomen mihi est Phillip." - My name is Phillip.
A three-part "Ohh!" and "Aww!" accompanied my first linguistic attempt in this time. The other two men congratulated their colleague on his success. Then they also introduced themselves. The one with the pointed beard on my left was named Alexios. On my right was Thalis and Gregory was sitting at my feet.
Good. We were able to communicate and an immediate danger did not seem to emanate from these guys either. After all, they had wrapped me in a blanket and now we were talking to each other. Right after this initial success, however, they started to bombard me with questions in Latin. I didn’t even try to understand what they were asking. I raised both hands, gesturing them to slow down. They laughed, apparently at their own impatience, and talked to each other again, falling back into the other language. I was just as curious about them as they were about me so I asked what language they were using.
“Greek,” they said. Alexios took my question as an opportunity to tell me a little bit about himself and his companions, which was of course very welcome. Firstly, I learned something about my situation and secondly, I did not have to answer unpleasant questions myself.
I didn't understand everything, but enough. They were Greeks who had taken this ship on their way to Rome. Not bad! Maybe I had been lucky. At least the deviation in space wasn’t that huge. On the other hand, it should have been only a few feet.
Before the three of them came up with a counter-question, I asked them the one thing nagging at me since I woke up. Namely, how I had gotten onto this ship. As they told me, I gasped. The answer was very disturbing indeed. They had seen me floating on the water and Thalis, who was a good swimmer, had pulled me out. A shiver ran down my back as I imagined what a pitiful death I might have met.
"The test went well" - were those not the words of my friend and boss Lisa Bolzano? Well, once again, it didn't work out quite as it was supposed to. And this time I barely escaped with my life. I sure hoped they would do better next time! Before I could worry about that, though, I had to deal with the current situation. My fellow passengers had meanwhile agreed on another question for me.
"How is it that I had to fish you out of the water?" Thalis, the one who rescued me, asked.
Sooner than I had imagined we reached the point where telling the truth wouldn’t work anymore. I had to fabricate something. What though? I decided to take the obvious route.
"I was traveling by boat, too, but mine sank in the storm."
They exchanged knowing looks with each other.
"Yes, here near Rome the water can be treacherous at times," Gregory said. He hadn’t spoken to me before. Perhaps it was because his Latin wasn’t as fluent as the others'?
"And where did your ship come from?" Thalis asked.
Since I really didn't know the answer, I simply made a gesture that was supposed to express ‘from far away’. That seemed to satisfy them for now.
Since I finally wanted to know for certain, I simply decided to ask straight out.
"Quis annus est?" - What year is it?
Alexios looked at me, puzzled. He furrowed his brow but proceeded to tell me that it was the year 954 after the foundation of Rome. Great… and when was that? I had learned a lot about antiquity, but I wasn’t good at remembering dates. Still, it was good news. If the calendar here was based on the foundation of Rome, then at least I had arrived at some time during the Roman Empire.
Gregory tilted his head. "Maybe the water has washed out his skull?"
Thalis nodded thoughtfully. "That's an interesting thesis, brother. If he wasn't alive, I'd peek inside.”
I was still sitting on the floor but instinctively crawled backward a little. What was that all about?
Thalis noticed my bewilderment. He laughed. "Don't worry, I don't intend to do it. We're doctors, you see. The rich people in Rome pay well for our services. That's why we want to take over the practice of our uncle there, who died recently."
So, I was sharing a vessel with three ancient quacks. Well, as long as they weren’t starting to experiment on me, I should be fine.
"I better examine you again," Alexios said. He seemed to be the elder and in charge.
Wait a moment, what did ‘again’ mean? Had he felt me up before?
It's a good thing syringes weren't invented yet, were they? Let's hope not.
I was lucky though and the examination turned out to be harmless. Alexios just took a closer look at my head. He probably looked for bruises or some other head injury after my supposed loss of memory.
"Is this your ship?" I asked.
The three laughed. "Of course not, I'm afraid we couldn't afford that. It's a cargo ship. And for giving us passage, we paid the captain a small remuneration."
"So you are not by any chance a citizen of Rome?" Alexios now asked me.
"No, unfortunately not."
"What a pity." The three of them exchanged a few glances. "We had hoped you might be. At least that way we'd have someone who knew the place and could support us."
"We had also hoped that you were very wealthy," Gregory added, "and that you would pay us well for your rescue."
I understood. Of course they had an ulterior motive in pulling me out of the ocean. Hippocratic oath notwithstanding.
"Unfortunately, I can't help you with that either. All my possessions went down with my ship. And I don’t know anyone in Rome."
Their faces showed disappointment. It was only Gregory, though, who uttered a demonstrative sigh of regret.
"Why were you going to Rome anyway? Or were you on your way back?" Thalis pursued.
"No, I was on my way there. Trading and business, the usual."
I hoped their interest in such topics was now satisfied.
Thalis pondered for a while. "I think there's still something you can do for us. If what you say is true and you don't know anyone in Rome, I'm sure you'll be glad to have a few friends there."
At the same time, he pointed at his brothers.
"You could help us move our belongings from the ship to my uncle's dwelling."
I thought for a moment. Sure, I could do that. It certainly wouldn't take much time and Thalis was quite right in what he said. So I agreed. The others nodded, somewhat satisfied, as they still received something in return for their rescue mission. Even though it was not as big, and above all not as golden, as they would have liked.
I tried to get on my feet. I was still a little wobbly, but I managed to stand up. How long had I been awake now? Fifteen minutes, maybe?
"When did you find me?"
Alexios thought for a moment. "It must have been about five hours ago."
What!? I was supposed to have been unconscious on deck for five fucking hours? That couldn't be true. The battery of the TTEK should have been recharged long ago! Then again, why would he lie to me?
I started to feel sick. Had the damn electronics been damaged by the water? I tried to remember if the device was constructed to be waterproof. I didn’t know, though.
Take a deep breath. Don't panic!There must have been a plausible explanation. One that had nothing to do with short circuits.
Restlessly brooding, I walked up and down the ship. I couldn’t care less about the three friends throwing worried glances at each other. Let them think I wasn’t quite right in the head. In my situation, it was alwaysbetter to be underestimated.
Okay. Let's assume the electronics were intact. Then there's only one reason the device wasn't working. It's because there was no power. However, the battery should have been... wait a second. That was it! What should have been the normal course of my little trip through space and time? Exactly, outward journey, a few hours' stay at most, and then back again. Back to base, where the TTEK would be extensively maintained.
What had I done, though? Several weeks of stay and then a second time jump, which had discharged the battery again. No wonder the TTEK was crapping out on me now. It wasn’t designed for that.
However, Lisa would have known that, right? She wouldn't have sent me on a second one-way trip, would she? On the other hand, we had no choice. After all, this alien monster from a parallel world had been after me - as unreal as it seemed in retrospect. I never believed in monsters. Well, maybe when I was five. And I certainly didn't believe in aliens. That I would meet both of them one day, and together in one person - if you could call the Kerlock that - I would never have dreamed it up. Even now, the thought of it made me uneasy. I was digressing again, though.
I stopped abruptly at the ship’s bow, staring out at the approaching mainland. I wonder if this would not only be the destination of this cruise, but also my grave? It seemed inevitable to me that I would be lost without help in this strange city and time.
The situation would be even worse than Egypt. Actually, it wasn’t even a legitimate comparison, because in Manu's country I was doing really well - except for the first day! And most importantly, I was always able to get help from my digital assistant, Elisa, or even from Base.
I took a deep breath in and out. More optimism, Phillip!
I didn't know how long I had been standing at the railing, pondering. At some point, Thalis had carefully patted me on the shoulder, asking if everything was okay.
"Yes, I’m fine, Thalis," I reassured him.
"You don't look like it, to be honest."
"It's just... about my ship. I have lost… everything", I replied and spoke the truth, at least in the second sentence.
Thalis nodded understandingly. Then he asked me something which I did not understand at first. I asked him to repeat it, which he did. Often I found the pronunciation a bit unfamiliar, but I slowly got used to it.
"Were your wife and kids on it?" was his question.
"Uh, no. I don't have either a wife or children."
He nodded, but my answer seemed to have confused him a little. Suddenly it struck me that I had not yet thanked him. After all, he had saved my life. Should I just hug him? For the first time, I consciously looked him over. He had short frizzy black hair and equally dark eyes. His facial hair was well-trimmed. But no, hugging strangers was probably not customary here. Lifesaver or not.
"I want to thank you, Thalis. For saving me from certain death."
He lowered his gaze, a little embarrassed, which was quite sweet to watch. "You're welcome," he murmured. What a funny guy.
"Come join the others," he said, "we'll play the Triangle game."
They’ll play what? Oh, for fuck's sake! Elisa would've known for sure. My gaze clouded over again, wandering off into the distance.
Thalis noticed and put his hand on my shoulder. "Come on, Phillip. This will cheer you up. We've got something to drink too."
I sighed. He was right. And I could indeed use a good sip of something strong - as long as it wasn't saltwater. Besides, I should finally stop being pessimistic. Nothing was certain yet. Maybe the battery would simply take a little longer to recharge.
Even though I couldn't completely suppress the bad feeling nagging at me, I followed Thalis and joinedthe others.
The Triangle game was doing its name justice. The playing field consisted of a cloth laid out on the ground, on which a triangle was drawn. Thiswas divided into ten areas by horizontal lines. According to its trigonometric nature, the area enclosing the peak was the smallest, the sizes increasing towards the bottom. The areas were marked with the Roman numerals fromI to X, meaning one to ten, ascending from the base to the top.
After I confessed to Thalis that I did not know how to play the game, which surprised him, he willingly explained it to me. The goal was to stand three meters away from the cloth target and launch a nut so that it landed on the triangle.The score for the throw was based on the numerical value of the section of triangle on which the nut came to rest.
What sounded quite simple, wasn’t in practice. The swaying of the ship often made it difficult to hit the cloth at all. Alexios and Gregory, however, showed considerable skill in adapting their throws to the inclination of the barge, scoring good hits against the odds.
In the beginning, I did not do so well, but it didn't take long until I got the hang of it. Thalis seemed to have the same fate. He even had to put up with a mocking remark by Gregory who asked whether Thalis’ arms had shrunk while swimming. It seemed strange to me, too, since he must have had a lot of practice during the long journey. I wondered if he did this on purpose... "but no, Phillip," I thought. "You're imagining again!"
After a few dozen rounds of the game, another phenomenon came to light. The throws became less precise, until finally it was a rarity and cause for loud cheering if one of us scored a point at all. What happened? The hit rate had decreased as the alcohol level, fed by constant intake from the ship's cargo hold, increased. The wine, of which there seemed to be an almost inexhaustible supply below deck, had been served and drunk by the gallon,since the game started.
It was soon clear to me that I couldn’t take much more. The provisions the three brothers kindly shared with me only soaked up so much. I should have known this beforehand, given that in my time I only ever drank during occasional company parties. This abstinence had been part of my training program. Earlier though, when I was a student, things had been quite different. However, the stamina I had back then was long a thing of the past.
I heard loud laughter as Thalis messed up his throw so badly that the nut went overboard.
Gregory laughed. "Maybe you should jump in and save it?"
"I think…" he continued with a heavy tongue, but then faltered.
"You’re thinking, ohh. That's new," Alexios said.
"Yes, I think. I think we should go to bed now."
Alexios nodded. "For once you are right, brother. We're going to be in port tomorrow morning and we better be sober by then."
Rather unwillingly the others agreed. The game was over, the day had come to an end. Now I staggered to the railing and leaned on it. I wondered what time it was? A hint of melancholy struck me, albeit diluted by the alcohol. Elisa could have told me. The wristwatch had not yet been invented, that much was clear enough lookingat the wrists of my fellow travelers. The Romans counted the hours differently anyway, but I could not remember how.
I was startled by Thalis talking behind me. I hadn't heard him coming. "Don't fall in the water. I couldn't save you now," he said.
Was that humor, the musings of a drunk, or serious concern? Be it how it may. My scrambled brain needed rest.
"Yes, let's go to sleep. But where?" I replied.
"On deck, of course. The hold is full of cargo. Over there are some mattresses." He nodded in the direction. Then stepped next to me and proceeded to relieve himself over the side of the ship.
I see, that's how it's done here. Quite logical I suppose. I didn't think long and followed suit.
A moment later, we walked over to the spot he had indicated. There was a stack of mattresses piled next to some barrels, from which the others had already helped themselves. We took one each and lay down. There was even a pillow.
"Good night, everybody," Alexios said. "Tomorrow we will be ashore!"
I wished them good night and tried to get comfortable on my bed. The mattress seemed to be filled with straw. I would have found it quite uncomfortable under normal circumstances, but the alcohol did its job. I was used tothe abstinence from comfortable beds, something I already had to endure in Egypt. I fell asleep in no time at all.
"Puteoli! Puteoli! All rise, port ahead!"
The booming voice of the captain woke us up.
Bleary eyed, I sat up and inspected the beds next to me. Gregory was rubbing his eyes and Thalis seemed to be still asleep. Only Alexios was nowhere to be seen. Looking around with tired eyes, I discovered him standing at the bow. He was talking to the captain, whoI had barely seen before. He didn't seem to care much for his guests.
"Fucking wine," Thalis muttered next to me.
He was right, my head was throbbing too. I had to get up, though. Besides, I was dying to know what was ahead. When I stepped up to the bow next to Alexios, I saw it. A huge harbor was spread out before us.
The most impressive thing was a sort of stone footbridge we were about to pass. It led from the shore several hundred feet out into the sea and was more than thirty feet wide. The massive pillars supporting the path were connected by round arches, similar to many modern bridges. Though that wasn’t all. The footbridge was also populated with columns, statues, and triumphal arches, as well as by people walking on it. What was the point of this structure? I didn't see any landing stages. It had to have some purpose besides beautifying the landscape. I asked Alexios about it.
"It's a breakwater. To protect the harbor from the waves, because of the dangerous southerly winds."
So that was it. Surely we had something like that in the future as well, just without all the adornment. In my time, such splendor would be too costly and perceived as decadent. They clearly had different standards here.
The deeper we went into the harbor, the better I could see the dimensions of the whole city. Somehow, what I saw there seemed strange to me. Certainly it was home to a large assortment of ships, harbor buildings, and further back what looked like residential housing. Even an amphitheater was visible, but it did not look like a huge city. I had imagined Rome differently.
However, that didn’t have to mean anything. I still didn't know what time periodI was in - not even what time I should have been in if the time jump had gone correctly. After all, everything had to go pretty damn fast during my hasty escape. I sighed. Elisa would've known.
Once again a touch of hopelessness overcame me. What could I do? Images floated into my mind; Lisa Bolzano, those happy hours I had spent with my boss and best friend, my colleagues at CERN, and my family, who must be worried now.
Would I ever see them again? About a day had passed since my arrival without the slightest sign of life from the TTEK. How much longer could I keep hoping?
"Look, Phillip!" Thalis had apparently got up as well because he was now standing next to us. I blinked, trying to shed the moisture from my eyes.
Probably not fast enough, because Thalis noticed. "Is everything all right with you?"
"Yeah, sure. It's just the wind."
I didn't know if he believed me. He didn’t press me though.
"Look how beautiful and splendid everything is here. What will it be like in Rome!"
Wait a moment. Let me get this straight. "This is not Rome?"
Thalis laughed. Alexios, who had listened to our conversation, laughed as well.
"Of course not," he told me. "This here is Puteoli. One of the largest ports in the Empire. It is still quite a way to Rome, but we must continue our journey on land."
This of course explained why my image of Rome did not fit with this city.
"How far is it from here?"
"About 140 miles. Only a few days' travel on the Via Appia."
Whew… days! This reminded me of my last, week-long boat trip on the Nile. And it reminded me that not much had changed in terms of speed of travel in the last thousand years.
The street name Via Appia sounded familiar though. It was that masterpiece of Roman paving art that stretched from Rome all the way to the far south of the Italian boot. Some sections were a mile-long and dead straight.
"Get your luggage together and bring up our cargo," Alexios ordered. "And you, Phillip, help. When we dock, everything should be in one place, otherwise the customs check will take longer than necessary."
Thalis grumbled, but set to work. I followed him, helping to carry their luggage. Physical exertion was always a good distraction.
Fifty boxes later I saw that in a slightly different light.
"Oh, boy! What's in there? I hope that's everything.“
"Don't worry," Thalis reassured me, "this one will probably be the last. And in terms of the contents, well it's clothes, a few souvenirs from home and of course our medical arsenal."
Knowing what I was carrying didn't make the work any easier. Fortunately though, it was done. Groaning, I put down the last crate. The ship meanwhile had reached its berth and the ropes were tied off. The captain jumped ashore, where he was welcomed by a small committee consisting of three port employees. For the less agile among us, a plank was laid down.
Alexios beckoned me over. "Listen, Phillip, here's what we're gonna do. If the officials ask, we'll pass you off as our slave. It may sound undignified, but it avoids unnecessary questions."
"Sure. Do it the way you think is best," I replied.
Even though it was the right thing for me to remain as unnoticed as possible, a slight feeling of déjà vu came over me. Followed by a painful memory of Manu. Understandable, considering I had last seen him a few hours ago... yet he had been dead for over a thousand years. Did he have a good life?
One should differentiate though, because the Manu of the world I was in now had never met me. This world corresponded to the original past again, based on my home time. I wonder if he had had a happier life without meeting me. Before I could rack my brains about the confusing interrelations of time, I had to lug crates again. This time from the ship onto a wagon.
While Thalis, Gregory, and I started to carry the luggage, Alexios talked to one of the men from the harbor. Probably the customs officer he spoke of. I was just passing them, listening in on their conversation, as the officer stepped forward.
"Stop! Not so fast! Before these crates are loaded, all contents must be declared."
Seeking help, I looked to Alexios. He proceeded to talk to the rather small, chubby-cheeked representative.
"But my dear Pontius, is this really necessary? We really do have a lot of boxes - trivial things, incidentally, of purely personal value - and we don't want to take up too much of your valuable time."
The little man blinked, torn between duty and Alexios flattery. The Greek noticed his hesitation and immediately followed up.
"Look over there, dear friend. Another freighter about to dock."
Alexios gaze wandered demonstratively from the cargo ship to the sky, his face an expression of sympathy. With a gentle, understanding tone he continued his monologue.
"Consider all your work. If you have to handle this ship too, you won't get home before sundown. I'd be really embarrassed to put you through that."
The customs officer seemed relieved, as his mind could easily solve this problem.
"Just don't worry about it, my colleague over there is in charge of that ship. So if we start right away, we'll be through before dark."
This was not the reaction Alexios had hoped for. His face twitched before he made another move.
"Dear Pontius, how long is it now since I last came here to visit my uncle? More than a year if I remember correctly. And to my amazement, I must now see that a man like you, yes such a man I say, has not yet been appointed harbour manager. To me, I must say, a complete mystery."
A brief convulsion ran over Alexios' face and it almost seemed as if the Holy Spirit itself had enlightened him with an idea. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was in a theater performance. Alexios was a good actor, no doubt. Except that his goal was not to entertain the audience, but to circumvent the freight control.
"I have an idea, dear Pontius. When I arrive in Rome, I shall tell my uncle about your outstanding merits. As a respected doctor, he knows many high ranking citizens."
He was pushing his luck, given his uncle had long since passed away. Why was he so determined to avoid the inspection? The officer ran his hand over his baldhead.
"But Alexios, haven’t I heard about your uncle's funeral?"
Uh – oh. This was going downhill fast. Alexios acted surprised while he feverishly searched for a way out. Meanwhile, the others stood behind me, curiously following the conversation.
"He screwed up again," Gregory whispered to Thalis.
Since he was under pressure to move, Alexios put on an obliging smile and began.
"Well, most gracious Pontius, it is -"
Suddenly a penetrating sound interrupted him. "Beep! Beep! Beep!"
Three distinct beeps. Actually, it was too regular for it to be of natural origin. It didn't come from the micro-speaker in my ear though, because the others had heard it too. I was still holding the crate in my hands, but the real source could only be the TTEK. Whether it was a good sign, I did not know yet. But at least it was a sign!
"Elisa?" I asked silently.
Hopefully, she would react again! But she remained silent. The customs officer, however, did not.
"What was that noise?" he said, looking in my direction.
His expression hardened and he seemed to have come to a decision.
"Dead or alive uncle, it doesn't matter. In these boxes though, there is something alive. You're not importing illegal animals, are you?"
"Well then, open all the crates! All contents must be declared before loading."
The Greek surrendered. He gave us a signal to comply with the officer's request.
I put down the box, which I had held in my hands for far too long, and lifted the lid. A collection of different vials was inside.
"Ahh!" exclaimed Pontius, "what do we have here?"
"Merely our modest supply of medicinal tinctures. Certainly not animals" Alexios explained, resignation in the tone of his voice.
"Medicine, that is. Dutiable! All dutiable!"
Filled with zeal, he pulled out a sheet of paper on which various goods and the assigned import duties were listed.
"Are there any more of these?"
Alexios rolled his eyes. "A few."
We resumed the transport of the boxes again, lifting the lid halfway and subjecting the contents to a thorough examination by the eyes of the little man. Clearly satisfied, he expressed his pleasure by humming and hissing in various pitches. ‘I knew it!’ was written all over his face. In the end, Alexios' ‘a few’ turned out to be ‘almost all boxes’. Whereupon the customs officer told him a figure that apparently let the Greek age by several years on the spot.
"Have you double-checked that sum?", Alexios asked, hoping that it might be a mistake.
"Of course. It's all correct."
Gregory and Thalis, who had just stowed the last box in the cart, threw worried looks at each other.
"My good Pontius," Alexios began in a hesitant tone and added somewhat more firmly, "let's go for a walk. I have something to talk to you about."
As they walked along the quay, my two other travel companions stepped next to me.
"Gregory, what is he doing?"
"I don't know, Thalis. How should I know? Maybe he wants to get rid of him by sending him to jointhe fish."
"I hope not. There are about a dozen guards in this place."
True, the area was well guarded. There was an armed man at every harbor building and landing place. So I hardly believed that Alexios was up to something like that. It looked like he had a plan, though.