By Poul Anderson
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The palace, gaudily painted brick, stood on a wide platform with several lesser buildings. The captain himself sprang down, gestured curtly, and strode up a marble staircase. Everard followed, hemmed in by warriors who had taken the light battle axes from their saddlebows for his benefit. The party went among household slaves, robed and turbaned and flat on their faces, through a red and yellow colonnade, down a mosaic hall whose beauty Everard was in no mood to appreciate, and so past a squad of guards into a room where slender columns upheld a peacock dome and the fragrance of lateblooming roses entered through arched windows.
The Persian which he had learned in an hour under hypno flowed readily off his tongue. " "May your days be many," said the guard. Everard remembered that he must not offer baksheesh: these Persians of Cyrus's own clans were a proud hardy folk, hunters, herdsmen, and warriors. All spoke with the dignified politeness common to their type throughout history. "I serve Croesus the Lydian, servant of the Great King. He will not refuse his roof to—" "Meander from Athens," supplied Everard. It was an alias which would explain his large bones, light complexion, and short hair.
High over the walls floated the mountains, haunted by wolf, lion, boar and demon. It was too alien a place. Everard had thought himself hardened to otherness, but now he wanted suddenly to run and hide, up to his own century and his own people and a forgetting. He said in a careful voice, "Let me consult a few associates. We can check the whole period in detail. There might be some kind of switch point where … I'm not competent to handle this alone, Keith. Let me go back upstairs and get some advice.