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A children's book. Schoolboy, Michael, meets Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, 725 years ago!

Reluctantly Robert left the gallery and Michael, seated at the bottom of the jar settled down to wait for the closing down noises to begin.

Because the interior of the jar was stuffy and warm, Michael began to feel drowsy and was soon nodding off to sleep.

Michael awoke with a start when he heard what he thought was a door being shut. His first instinct was that the interior of the jar had suddenly become damp and a strong, a fruity smell filled his nostrils. Glancing up he became aware of a glimmer of light outside the jar, 'Crikey!' he thought, 'It's morning, and I've slept all night.' Easing himself to his feet, he peered cautiously over the rim of the jar. His eyes blinked furiously.

The hall was huge, but the British Museum it most certainly was not, with a high, vaulted ceiling, its lofty roof—vermilion, yellow, green, and blue—shone like crystal and was supported by at least two dozen gilded columns carved in the shapes of animals — dragons, lions, goats, tortoises, serpents, and phoenixes — all keeping careful watch over the vastness of the interior. The windows were narrow and set high in the walls and dust motes danced like snow flurries in the arching shafts of muted sunlight. The air was thick with a haze of incense and smoke from the oil lamps, bathing the entire room in a burnished glow of perpetual sunset.

Yet, even in the dim light, it was possible for him to see that every inch of wall and floor space was magnificently and lavishly decorated. There were filigrees embellished with semi precious stones, panels covered with splendid frescoes and everywhere, enamelled mosaics that shimmered like finely detailed cloisonné and heavy yellow carpets that covered the floor.

The predominant colours were saffron and scarlet; topaz and ruby, gold, bronze and copperplate, and the effect was, to Michael, not merely exotic but otherworldly.

"Madre del dio! Che cosa li hanno qui?"

Still dazzled and bemused by the sights around him, Michael was slow to turn his head, but when he did he found himself staring up at a gentleman wearing the unmistakable doublet and hose of a bygone age. Over the doublet he wore a thick, highly embroidered jacket tied with a blue sash around the waist.

All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium
is prohibited without the express written permission of Frederick Covins.
All photographs and illustrations © Frederick Covins