On the stairway he is buffeted by ghosts. Their dry hands stroke his hide, their twittering fills his ears. For an instant he thinks he understands them: he hears his name, and then they are gone.

He has been climbing these stairs for months. Every thirty steps there is a landing; every hundred there is a door. Inside he sees poisoner’s banquets, masquerades, long rows of books and strange creature floating in formaldehyde. He passes by, driven by some unformed instinct, searching for some truer life. The voices within fall silent, stilled by the echo of his hooves.

Once he finds a garden in a solarium, citrus trees and pepper trees bathed in golden light. He shoulders his rude way through the lianas to the glass walls and looks down and down through the clouds to the sands below. His eyes are weak like his mother’s, and the sun drives him back into the cool depths of the stairwell.

But for weeks he dreams of that sunset light and the scent of peppers, curled in uneasy sleep upon the landings.