He spent the night sleeping under the protection of spreading trees, with odd, small fruit of green and black, They were strangely bitter and oily, not at all to his taste, but he collected a small handful out of curiosity. The next morning he walked onwards, until the valley opened out to reveal a huge set of buildings set into the hillside, surrounded by Cyprus trees. He could see people queuing to get in, being questioned by older men standing on the lower steps and then directed to different buildings.
He joined the end of one of the lines, and waited until the man on the steps beckoned him forward. Unlike most of the people he wore black robes with gold patterning and carried a staff with what looked like a snake wound round it. He had golden curly hair and a big bushy beard, and there was something about him that reminded Tepic of the Emperor. He was asked the nature of his medical problem, and when he explained about his tail he was directed to the building that would diagnose his condition more thoroughly. Before he went up he handed the chap the parcel from the bee lady, explaining it was a gift for the healers.
Inside he was ushered into a small room with a couch in it, and several man dressed like the one on the stairs asked him lots of questions and examined both his tail stump and the remains of his tail. Once they had finished poking and prodding they all gathered in a huddle and spoke in whispers, occasionally glancing in his direction. Finally, one of them was pushed forward by the others, and Tepic leaned forward to hear what he had to say.
“Right young ma.. err.. fox, after due examination and consultation, my colleagues and I can conclusively diagnose that you tail has been cut off, that is to say, severed from connection with the rest of your body.”
The boy looked up at the smug faces in dismay, this was the finest medical help in the world?
“Now lad, head up to the treatment level, they will help sort you out now we know what is up with you.”
Ah, he thought, so this is where I get my tail back, and joyfully bounded up the stairs to the next level. To either side were temples to the Greek gods of healing, with people going in and out, leaving offerings to help with their cures. All around, there were people talking to the priests and healers, telling them about their diagnosis and listening to the treatment plans to cure their ailments. He spotted a healer standing by himself and went over to ask his help.
“A traumatic amputation you say?” the man asked, then continued as Tepic nodded, “You have come to the right person then, I have helped many people come to terms with their loss, and in your case it should be easy, after all, you still have all your arms and legs!”
“But Sir, aren’t you going to sew my tail back on?”
“Of course not, no one can do that, young ma..errr… fox, you will just have to come to terms with it, and we can certainly help you with that.”
“But… but…. a fox without a tail…. well… he aren’t really a fox is he, yer might as well snuff it as ter try an live without…”
“Nonsense, silly boy, you are definatly alive, and with our help….. errrr….. you are not expecting to die are you, because if you are, I’m afraid you must go, no one is allowed to die in the hospital, that would be sacrilege, not to mention unsanitary!”
“Ain’t there no one as could help me get my tail back?” the boy asked plaintively.
“No here, certainly, we deal in realities, not miracles, though of course the gods are a law unto themselves. You could try that chap who set up the medical school at the end of the island, just to the East of here, he claims to be able to help where we know the case is impossible, but remember to come back when it does not work!”
Tepic descended the steps glumly, never even visiting the top level, where those who had been treated rested and recovered before journeying home. His last chance was the man the priest healer had mentioned, and the man whom he had come on this quest to find, if he couldn’t help, what then?