Cult, holy, myth, legend, history
The walks around our house were narrow. Walls of rock rose steeply up, bare and black in color. On top of them, clouds often hung like white living beings. I never heard a bird sing here, and never did the men dance here to the sound of the bagpipe; but the place was sacred from olden times. Its very name reminded of that, for it was called Delphi. The dark, solemn mountains were all covered with snow. The brightest, which gleamed in the red evening sun the longest, was Parnassus. The brook close by our house rushed down from it, and was also sacred, long ago. Now the donkey makes it muddy with its feet, but the current rolls on and becomes clear again.
How well I remember every spot and its deep sacred solitude!
In the middle of the hut a fire was lit, and when the hot ashes lay high and glowing, the bread was baked in it. If the snow was piled up high round our hut and almost covered it, then my mother seemed to be her brightest. She would hold my head between her hands, kiss my forehead, and sing the songs she never sang at other times, for our masters, the Turks, did not like them. And she sang: "On the summit of Olympus, in the fir tree forest lived an old stag; (...)
Parnassus is part of a massif in central Greece, approx. 110 km northwest of Athens. It was sanctified for Apollon and the nine muses. The oracle in Delphi on the southern part of the mountain was the most important oracle in the antique period, in which the oracle had great political influence. In ancient literature Delphi's two lords, the gods Apollon and Dionysus, went about there with respectively the muses and the maenads.
Olympus, the highest mountain of Greece, is the home of the olympic Gods.
For several days and nights we had been alone in our hut, and then my father came home. I knew he would bring me sea shells from the Gulf of Lepanto, or maybe even a sharp gleaming knife. But this time he brought us a child, a naked little girl whom he had carried under his sheepskin coat. She was wrapped in a fur, but when this was taken off and she lay in my mother's lap all that she possessed was three silver coins fastened in her dark hair. And father explained to us that the Turks had killed her parents, and told us so much about it that I dreamed about it all night. Father himself had been wounded, and my mother dressed his arm. His wound was deep, and the thick sheepskin was stiff with blood.
The little girl was to be my sister! She was so beautiful, with clear, shining eyes; even my mother's eyes were not gentler than hers. Yes, Anastasia, as they called her, was to be my sister, for her father was united to mine, united in accordance with an old custom we still keep. They had sworn brotherhood in their youth, and had chosen the most beautiful and virtuous girl in the whole country to consecrate their bond of friendship. I had often heard of the queer and beautiful custom.
So now the little girl was my sister. She sat in my lap; I brought her flowers and feathers of the field birds. We drank together of the waters of Parnassus and slept head to head beneath the laurel roof of the hut, while many a winter my mother sang of the red, the green, and the light-blue tears. But still I didn't understand it was my own countrymen whose thousandfold sorrows were reflected in those tears.
One day, three Frankish men came, dressed differently than we were. They had their tents and beds packed on horses; and more than twenty Turks, armed with swords and muskets, accompanied them, for they were friends of the pasha, and carried letters from him. They only came to view our mountains, to climb Parnassus through snow and clouds, and to see the strange, steep black rocks surrounding our hut.
Aphtanides knew how to guide a boat, and I often sat in it with Anastasia while it glided through the water, like a cloud over the sky. Then, as the sun set and the mountains turned a deeper and deeper blue, one range seemed to rise behind the other, and behind all of them was Parnassus, covered with snow. Its summit gleamed in the evening rays like glowing iron, and it seemed as though the light shone from within it; for long after the sun had set the mountaintop still glittered in the clear, blue shimmering air. The white sea birds touched the water's surface with their wings, and indeed everything here was as calm as among the black rocks at Delphi.
I was lying on my back in the boat while Anastasia leaned against my chest, and the stars above shone more brightly than our church lamps. They were the same stars, and they were in exactly the same position above me, as when I had sat outside our hut at Delphi, and at last I imagined I was still there.
Then one evening Aphtanides returned, strong, brown, and slender as a reed. He kissed us all, and had many stories to tell of the great ocean, the fortifications of Malta, and the strange tombs of Egypt. It all sounded wonderful, like a priestly legend, and I looked at him with a kind of awe.
"How much you know!" I said. "How well you can tell about it!"
"But after all, you once told me about the most wonderful thing," he said. "You told me something that has never been out of my thoughts-the grand old custom of the bond of friendship, a custom I want very much to follow. Brother, let us go to church, as your and Anastasia's fathers did before us. Your sister is the most beautiful and innocent of girls; she shall consecrate us! No nation has such beautiful old customs as we Greeks."
Anastasia blushed like a fresh rose, and my mother kissed Aphtanides.
An hour's walk from our house, where loose earth lies on the rocks, and a few scattered trees give shade, stood the little church, a silver lamp hanging before its altar.
I wore my best clothes. The white fustanella fell in rich folds over my hips, the red jacket fitted tight and snug, the tassel on my fez was silver, and in my girdle gleamed my knife and pistols. Aphtanides wore the blue costume of the Greek sailors; on his chest hung a silver medallion with a figure of the Virgin Mary, and his scarf was as costly as those worn by rich men. Everyone could see that we two were going to some ceremony.
We entered the little empty church, where the evening sunlight, streaming through the door, gleamed on the burning lamp and the colored pictures on the golden background. We knelt on the altar steps, and Anastasia stood before us. A long white garment hung loosely and lightly over her graceful figure; on her white neck and bosom a chain of old and new coins formed a large collar. Her black hair was fastened in a single knot and held together by a small cap fashioned of gold and silver coins that had been found in the old temples. No Greek girl had more beautiful ornaments than she. Her face beamed, and her eyes were bright as two stars.
The three of us prayed silently, and then she asked us, "Will you be friends in life and in death?"
"Yes", we replied.
"Will each of you, whatever may happen, remember: my brother is a part of me! My secrets are his secrets; my happiness is his happiness! Self-sacrifice, patience, every virtue in me, belongs to him as well as to me!"
Then she placed our hands together and kissed each of us on the forehead, and again we prayed silently. Then the priest came through the door behind the altar and blessed the three of us; the singing voices of other holy men sounded from behind the altar screen. The bond of eternal friendship was completed. When we arose I saw that my mother standing by the church door was weeping tenderly.
How cheerful it was now in our little hut by the springs of Delphi!