4. The Bone Demon and The Ruby-eyed Snake

A great weariness seized the little bone demon as he lay by the side of the ruby-eyed snake. For any artefact, auctions can be trying, but for the bone demon they were agonising beyond measure.

You see – he’d been through far too many auctions. He’d seen far too many markets. In fact, at 5000 years of age, he’d now been bought and sold more times than he could remember.

Worse still, with every auction, he feared that he might lose the ruby-eyed snake forever.

The bone demon and his little ruby-eyed silver snake ring had been together for over two generations – in fact, since the reign of Edward VII, at the height of the British Empire, when curiosities were being looted from all over the world, and somehow finding their way to England.

So far, in a dozen auctions, he and his ruby-eyed love had managed to stay together. For the first six auctions in a row they’d been sold in the same lot, and bought by the same buyer. For the last six they’d been returned to the vendor, who had unreasonable price expectations on both. Back they went, both of them, to the same old and established London collection.

Tonight, however, was different. Tonight they’d been placed in separate lots – for the first time ever. He was in lot 89, with a bunch of other bone fragments, mostly of middle eastern origin just like him. And she was in lot 90, with a chipped mediterranean bowl and a carnelian intaglio of Roman lineage.

Of course, from an antiquarian perspective, that made absolute sense, but it also made the horror of separation virtually inevitable, unless the unlikely came to pass – and one buyer bought both lots. However, that was just too much to hope for. Not for the first time both artefacts felt the noose of circumstance tightening around their necks.

The bone demon, who’d been carved by hands older than history, felt weary to the…well, to the bone. Even the relatively young ruby-eyed snake, said to be Parthian, and not quite old enough to remember the Late Bronze Age, was still more than ready to settle down to the quiet life with her little bone demon in the bottom drawer of their little walnut filing cabinet in their cramped Soho apartment.

Millennia before, she had been invested with real power, and great magic. She’d been no mere accoutrement back then. Even a casual collector of antiquities might deduce that she’d once had real juju. But old age can make you vulnerable, and now she too was just a curiosity, appreciated only for her novelty value, and the crudity of her manufacture.

“Lot 89,” the auctioneer called out, “a collection of bone idols from Assyria, Babylonia, Uruk, Palmyra and Elam.”


“Do I hear 190 pounds?”


“Do I hear 180?”


“Ladies and gentleman, 170 pounds. Come on! This lot features some quite remarkable antiquities, including a little bone demon thought to hail from Mesopotamia, and conservatively dated to about 5,000 years old.”


“Okay, no sale. This will be returned to the vendor. Moving on. Lot 90 – three delightful classical antiquities, including a bowl of Mediterranean manufacture, a carnelian intaglio with an erotic scene, and the most delightful silver snake ring. The eyes are rubies, ladies and gents – not glass, genuine rubies. The silver, however, is likely to be electrum, or silver of a relatively low grade. Still, a wonderful and elegant piece, with obvious votive significance, in a wonderful lot. So, do I hear eight hundred pounds?”


“700 pounds?”


“600 pounds, ladies and gentleman. It’s a steal?”


“Okay, no sale. It will be returned to the vendor. Moving on. Lot 91 – a collection of Levantine fishing hooks. Very rare, ladies and gentleman. Do I hear 100 pounds?”

The bone demon heaved a sigh of relief. The little snake ring with the ruby eyes seemed to uncoil for a second, as if freed of a great burden.

Artefacts are bought and sold endlessly over the course of their lives. Most collectors get bored with an object, or run out of money, or switch from one collecting hobby to another, from Middle Eastern antiquities to South American art, from Napoleonic militaria to old maps from the Age of Exploration, always searching for the promise of some new rarity, always seduced by some new bauble with the promise of great collectability, but holding onto it only till they’ve sucked the life from it, like vampires feeding on the past.

And so it is rare for a bond to develop like the one that had formed between the bone demon and the ruby-eyed snake.

Whatever their divergent origins, way back in the folds of time, they had a common past, even if it was recent – in relative terms. They no longer saw themselves as being from a particular archaeological site, or epoch. Like all immigrants, they were now naturalised citizens.

They were British – not Parthian, not from Jericho or Ur.

For years they’d sat in the same museum storage facility, in adjacent boxes, listening to one another breath. By some curious chance, they had both been subject to the same deaccession, and sold on to a collector without much money – a collector shaking with collector cold turkey, in desperate need to buy something, anything.

Sooner or later, it was inevitable that fate would tear them apart.

Sooner or later, the law of impermanence would prevail on them, as it prevails on all things.

Sooner or later, like every artefact, and every sentient being, and all manner of entities living and dead, and conscious creatures and inanimate things like rocks and stones and ancient flints and arrowheads, in fact like all conditioned items subject to causes and conditions, the bone demon and the ruby-eyed snake would have to endure the suffering that comes with being separated. You see, unfortunately, things just become attached to other things, quite inexplicably, without even knowing why.

Fortunately, there’d be no separation today.

Today, they’d be returned to the same old and established London collection.









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