We have reached the ruins, at last. The journey has gone fast, but I no longer know precisely where we are or what regions we have been traversing. The landscapes look the same – brown dusty hills, stunted acacia trees and thorny bushes in the crevices of the rock, a barren, nightmare land. My companion guides me deftly, and each night we make love before falling asleep.
My compass and maps are gone, however. I haven’t seen them since that night with the bandits when she threw off the veil. It seems to me that we have come further than we should have in so short a time. I am drugged by her, every sense of my body cries out for her like sweet water on parched earth – as if it could never be slaked.
At night, I dream of libraries and art galleries of strange images, conversations with curators and connoisseurs, but their world seems already stranger than the one I am crossing. Can I really take her back with me? I fear there may be no turning back from the regions I am approaching now.
The first sight of them was undramatic. We were crossing another stony valley of dried-up braids, relics of a long-gone river system, when I looked up to see a suspiciously regular mound.
It was not far from us, perhaps a mile or two, and not much out of our way. We walked to it, and, as I toiled up the hill, the first tiny shards of pottery, leached down by millennia of rain, began to appear in the friable soil.
It was a tell, of course, and quite an impressive one, but then they are hardly unusual in this cross-roads of debatable land.
My companion, as so often during the day, said nothing, but (seeing my interest) tethered the horses and began to prepare camp. I was already scurrying around, looking at fragments of brick and old, exposed walls – trying to fit the indications I could see into my archaeological map of the area. Just one datable artefact can be enough to give one an approximate timeframe for such a site, but it can take much time and work to find it. In any case, it was the promised ancient libraries of the silk route which were my goal. Why was I halting at the first untouched site we stumbled across?
At length, as the shadows of evening began to steal across the rough dirt I had been piling up in my enthusiasm, my companion made her way towards me across the hill. She looked at the crude beginnings of my dig, smiled