I got it in Leptis Magna, a ruined Roman city on the coast of Libya. There was still a military ruler in the country, even though history tells us that the Emperors were long gone.
I wasn’t there for the burgeoning conflict, or the buildings, or mosaics, or even the archaeology, though that’s my usual line of work. I was there for honey. Mad honey. Made from the pollen of the rhododendron tree.
I first came across it in Turkey, and then heard darker rumours of terrible deeds on a tiny island that belonged to Greece. Deli bal. It had a long history of both pleasure and pain. A honey that had been used to drive people mad.
No one was willing to sell me a jar or even give me a taste. Too bitter, they said. Too terrifying, they meant. Too much, you’re a lady, too much, I don’t think so, no, sorry, too much of everything, too risk.
I tried other places, buzzed bee keeper chat rooms, flitted between different apiaries across the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and back to Turkey again. There were hints here and there. People with hushed stories of demented bee-wranglers in the hills, over keen on their own golden combs fleeced from wild bees. And there were adventures. But. No actual jar of liquid dreams.
Eventually I heard about some men guarding the ruins at Leptis Magna, keeping bees amongst the fallen stone and statuary. It took a year to get a visa. A year. But I was invested. I waited. Filled in the forms. Got my passport and visa and permits translated into Arabic. Bought maps. Had the relevant vaccinations. Sting after sting after sting. I thought the bees would appreciate the sacrifice.
On my third day in Libya I travelled west from Tripoli with a genial colleague from the museum. He thought this was crazy, but I’m persuasive when in pursuit of a goal. And, after a certain amount of wrangling with some surprised bee keeping security guards, some lira, and a map that showed the men everywhere I had travelled to try and find this gold, I was given a jar of mad honey.
It was rock solid, and the honey had to be chipped out in flakes. You’re not supposed to eat more than a teaspoon at a time, and maybe it’s best diluted in hot milk or tea. So, I was careful. Just a tiny amount, a crumb or two, just enough for what one of my friends called a natural buzz. And that would be it. End of story. Deli bal. Mad honey. Except.
Except for the burglar who broke in while I was away chasing another honey rumour. He drank all the alcohol in the flat. He ate all the food. He put his feet up on the sofa and read several books. He left before I arrived home. But, along with a surprising number of unexpected items, he took all my jars of honey. And that was his undoing.
He was caught a week later, staggering round his neighbourhood, half dressed and raving, clutching his head and ranting about giant flowers and trees. He was taken to a local hospital where it took him almost a week to come down off the hallucinatory high.
No one believed him about the honey, and I got my probably highly illegal jar back. I was astonished he wasn’t dead, he’d eaten almost half of the jar of deli bal. I admit I quietly thanked those bees, for having the real sting in the tail.
E. E. Rhodes is an archaeologist who accidentally lives in a small castle in Worcestershire in England. She writes flash, cnf, and other short prose. Recent work can be read in Fictive Dream, Janus Literary, Versification, and Twin Pies Literary.