Ring Of Solomon
tablet on which the message was impressed, and read it swiftly. As he did so, his shadow, as was its wont, was stretched out long on the ground behind him, though the sun was almost at its height. The magician nodded, tucked the tablet in a belt-pouch and proceeded on his way; the imp, with the aimless vapidity of its kind, meandered off in the opposite direction, picking its nose the while. In so doing it passed the shadow; all in an instant there was a blur of movement, a single sharp snapping noise, and the imp was gone. The shadow flowed away after the magician; just as it disappeared from view, its trailing head turned to look at me, and in that moment it didn’t seem the least bit human.
    With slightly shaking hands, I completed my measurements and descended stiffly from the porch. All things considered, it was probably best to keep away from the magician Khaba. I would lie low, do my jobs effectively, and above all not draw attention to myself. That would be the best way to keep out of trouble.
    I managed it for four whole days. Then disaster struck.

    24 By his account, Faquarl’s first summoning was in Jericho, 3015 BC, approximately five years before my initial appearance in Ur. This made him, allegedly, the ‘senior’ djinni in our partnership. However, since Faquarl also swore blind he’d invented hieroglyphs by ‘doodling with a stick in the Nile river-mud’
and
claimed to have devised the abacus by impaling two dozen imps along the branches of an Asiatic cedar, I regarded all his stories with a certain scepticism.
    25 In my view the people of Babylonia were the tastiest, owing to the rich goat’s milk in their diet. Faquarl preferred a good Indian.
    26 Or snouts. Or trunks. Or tentacles, filaments, palpi or antennae, depending which guise we were in.
    27 To be fair, a few of them were all right. Nimshik had spent a good while in Canaan and had interesting points to make about the local tribal politics; Menes, a youngish djinni, listened attentively to my words of wisdom; even Chosroes grilled a mean imp. But the rest were sorry wastes of essence, Beyzer being boastful, Tivoc sarcastic and Xoxen full of false modesty, which in my humble opinion are three immensely tiresome traits.
    28 He preferred to keep to his tent and let foliots in the shape of Scythian slave boys wave palms above his head and feed him sweetmeats and iced fruit. Which I suppose is fair enough.
    29
Strigoï
: a disreputable sub-class of djinni, pallid and nocturnal, with a predilection for drinking the blood of the living. Think succubus, but without the curves.
    30 Not always. Just sometimes.
Your
mother is absolutely fine, for instance. Probably.

10

    The port of Eilat came as a surprise to Asmira, whose experience of cities was limited to Marib and its sister town of Sirwah thirty miles away across the fields. Crowded as they often were, especially on festival days, they maintained at all times a certain
order
. The priestesses wore their golden kirtles, the townsfolk their simple tunics of white and blue. If men from the hill-tribes were present, their longer robes of red and brown made them easily identifiable from the guard posts. With the single cast of an eye a guard could appraise a crowd, and assess the dangers within.
    In Eilat, it was not so simple.
    Its streets were broad and the buildings never higher than two storeys. To Asmira, used to the calm, cool shadows of Sheba’s towers, this made the city oddly formless, a hot and sprawling mass of low whitewashed walls that merged disconcertingly with the ceaseless tide of people that passed among them. Richly garbed Egyptians stalked along, amulets gleaming upon their breasts; behind came slaves carrying boxes, chests, scowling imps in swinging cages. Wiry men of Punt, bright-eyed, diminutive, with sacks of resin teetering on their backs, wound their way past stalls where Kushite merchants offered silver djinn-guards and spirit-charmers to the wary traveller. Black-eyed

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