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Fabulous Fairy Tales for children and adults. From our vast collection of old traditional fairy tales and fables.

The Shepherd's Story Of The Bond Of Friendship

THE little dwelling in which we lived was of clay, but the
door-posts were columns of fluted marble, found near the spot
on which it stood. The roof sloped nearly to the ground. It
was at this time dark, brown, and ugly, but had originally
been formed of blooming olive and laurel branches, brought
from beyond the mountains. The house was situated in a narrow
gorge, whose rocky walls rose to a perpendicular height, naked
and black, while round their summits clouds often hung,
looking like white living figures. Not a singing bird was ever
heard there, neither did men dance to the sound of the pipe.
The spot was one sacred to olden times; even its name recalled
a memory of the days when it was called 'Delphi.' Then the
summits of the dark, sacred mountains were covered with snow,
and the highest, mount Parnassus, glowed longest in the red
evening light. The brook which rolled from it near our house,
was also sacred. How well I can remember every spot in that
deep, sacred solitude! A fire had been kindled in the midst of
the hut, and while the hot ashes lay there red and glowing,
the bread was baked in them. At times the snow would be piled
so high around our hut as almost to hide it, and then my
mother appeared most cheerful. She would hold my head between
her hands, and sing the songs she never sang at other times,
for the Turks, our masters, would not allow it. She sang,-

'On the summit of mount Olympus, in a forest of dwarf
firs, lay an old stag. His eyes were heavy with tears, and
glittering with colors like dewdrops; and there came by a
roebuck, and said, 'What ailest thee, that thou weepest blue
and red tears?' And the stag answered, 'The Turk has come to
our city; he has wild dogs for the chase, a goodly pack.' 'I
will drive them away across the islands!' cried the young
roebuck; 'I will drive them away across the islands into the
deep sea.' But before evening the roebuck was slain, and
before night the hunted stag was dead.'

And when my mother sang thus, her eyes would become moist;
and on the long eyelashes were tears, but she concealed them
and watched the black bread baking in the ashes. Then I would
clench my fist, and cry, 'We will kill these Turks!' But she
repeated the words of the song, 'I will drive them across the
islands to the deep sea; but before evening came the roebuck
was slain, and before the night the hunted stag was dead.'

We had been lonely in our hut for several days and nights
when my father came home. I knew he would bring me some shells
from the gulf of Lepanto, or perhaps a knife with a shining
blade. This time he brought, under his sheep-skin cloak, a
little child, a little half-naked girl. She was wrapped in a
fur; but when this was taken off, and she lay in my mother's
lap, three silver coins were found fastened in her dark hair;
they were all her possessions. My father told us that the
child's parents had been killed by the Turks, and he talked so
much about them that I dreamed of Turks all night. He himself
had been wounded, and my mother bound up his arm. It was a
deep wound, and the thick sheep-skin cloak was stiff with
congealed blood. The little maiden was to be my sister. How
pretty and bright she looked: even my mother's eyes were not
more gentle than hers. Anastasia, as she was called, was to be
my sister, because her father had been united to mine by an
old custom, which we still follow. They had sworn brotherhood
in their youth, and the most beautiful and virtuous maiden in
the neighborhood was chosen to perform the act of consecration
upon this bond of friendship. So now this little girl was my
sister. She sat in my lap, and I brought her flowers, and
feathers from the birds of the mountain. We drank together of
the waters of Parnassus, and dwelt for many years beneath the
laurel roof of the hut, while, winter after winter, my mother
sang her song of the stag who shed red tears. But as yet I did
not understand that the sorrows of my own countrymen were
mirrored in those tears.

One day there came to our hut Franks, men from a far
country, whose dress was different to ours. They had tents and
beds with them, carried by horses; and they were accompanied
by more than twenty Turks, all armed with swords and muskets.
These Franks were friends of the Pacha, and had letters from
him, commanding an escort for them. They only came to see our
mountain, to ascend Parnassus amid the snow and clouds, and to
look at the strange black rocks which raised their steep sides
near our hut. They could not find room in the hut, nor endure
the smoke that rolled along the ceiling till it found its way
out at the low door; so they pitched their tents on a small
space outside our dwelling. Roasted lambs and birds were
brought forth, and strong, sweet wine, of which the Turks are
forbidden to partake.

When they departed, I accompanied them for some distance,
carrying my little sister Anastasia, wrapped in a goat-skin,
on my back. One of the Frankish gentlemen made me stand in
front of a rock, and drew us both as we stood there, so that
we looked like one creature. I did not think of it then, but
Anastasia and I were really one. She was always sitting on my
lap, or riding in the goat-skin on my back; and in my dreams
she always appeared to me.

Two nights after this, other men, armed with knives and
muskets, came into our tent. They were Albanians, brave men,
my mother told me. They only stayed a short time. My sister
Anastasia sat on the knee of one of them; and when they were
gone, she had not three, but two silver coins in her hair- one
had disappeared. They wrapped tobacco in strips of paper, and
smoked it; and I remember they were uncertain as to the road
they ought to take. But they were obliged to go at last, and
my father went with them. Soon after, we heard the sound of
firing. The noise continued, and presently soldiers rushed
into our hut, and took my mother and myself and Anastasia
prisoners. They declared that we had entertained robbers, and
that my father had acted as their guide, and therefore we must
now go with them. The corpses of the robbers, and my father's
corpse, were brought into the hut. I saw my poor dead father,
and cried till I fell asleep. When I awoke, I found myself in
a prison; but the room was not worse than our own in the hut.
They gave me onions and musty wine from a tarred cask; but we
were not accustomed to much better fare at home. How long we
were kept in prison, I do not know; but many days and nights
passed by. We were set free about Easter-time. I carried
Anastasia on my back, and we walked very slowly; for my mother
was very weak, and it is a long way to the sea, to the Gulf of
Lepanto.

On our arrival, we entered a church, in which there were
beautiful pictures in golden frames. They were pictures of
angels, fair and bright; and yet our little Anastasia looked
equally beautiful, as it seemed to me. In the centre of the
floor stood a coffin filled with roses. My mother told me it
was the Lord Jesus Christ who was represented by these roses.
Then the priest announced, 'Christ is risen,' and all the
people greeted each other. Each one carried a burning taper in
his hand, and one was given to me, as well as to little
Anastasia. The music sounded, and the people left the church
hand-in-hand, with joy and gladness. Outside, the women were
roasting the paschal lamb. We were invited to partake; and as
I sat by the fire, a boy, older than myself, put his arms
round my neck, and kissed me, and said, 'Christ is risen.' And
thus it was that for the first time I met Aphtanides.

My mother could make fishermen's nets, for which there was
a great demand here in the bay; and we lived a long time by
the side of the sea, the beautiful sea, that had a taste like
tears, and in its colors reminded me of the stag that wept red
tears; for sometimes its waters were red, and sometimes green
or blue. Aphtanides knew how to manage our boat, and I often
sat in it, with my little Anastasia, while it glided on
through the water, swift as a bird flying through the air.
Then, when the sun set, how beautifully, deeply blue, would be
the tint on the mountains, one rising above the other in the
far distance, and the summit of mount Parnassus rising above
them all like a glorious crown. Its top glittered in the
evening rays like molten gold, and it seemed as if the light
came from within it; for long after the sun had sunk beneath
the horizon, the mountain-top would glow in the clear, blue
sky. The white aquatic birds skimmed the surface of the water
in their flight, and all was calm and still as amid the black
rocks at Delphi. I lay on my back in the boat, Anastasia
leaned against me, while the stars above us glittered more
brightly than the lamps in our church. They were the same
stars, and in the same position over me as when I used to sit
in front of our hut at Delphi, and I had almost begun to fancy
I was still there, when suddenly there was a splash in the
water- Anastasia had fallen in; but in a moment Aphtanides has
sprung in after her, and was now holding her up to me. We
dried her clothes as well as we were able, and remained on the
water till they were dry; for we did not wish it to be known
what a fright we had had, nor the danger which our little
adopted sister had incurred, in whose life Aphtanides had now
a part.

The summer came, and the burning heat of the sun tinted
the leaves of the trees with lines of gold. I thought of our
cool mountain-home, and the fresh water that flowed near it;
my mother, too, longed for if, and one evening we wandered
towards home. How peaceful and silent it was as we walked on
through the thick, wild thyme, still fragrant, though the sun
had scorched the leaves. Not a single herdsman did we meet,
not a solitary hut did we pass; everything appeared lonely and
deserted- only a shooting star showed that in the heavens
there was yet life. I know not whether the clear, blue
atmosphere gleamed with its own light, or if the radiance came
from the stars; but we could distinguish quite plainly the
outline of the mountains. My mother lighted a fire, and
roasted some roots she had brought with her, and I and my
little sister slept among the bushes, without fear of the ugly
smidraki, from whose throat issues fire, or of the wolf and
the jackal; for my mother sat by us, and I considered her
presence sufficient protection.

We reached our old home; but the cottage was in ruins, and
we had to build a new one. With the aid of some neighbors,
chiefly women, the walls were in a few days erected, and very
soon covered with a roof of olive-branches. My mother obtained
a living by making bottle-cases of bark and skins, and I kept
the sheep belonging to the priests, who were sometimes
peasants, while I had for my playfellows Anastasia and the
turtles.

Once our beloved Aphtanides paid us a visit. He said he
had been longing to see us so much; and he remained with us
two whole happy days. A month afterwards he came again to wish
us good-bye, and brought with him a large fish for my mother.
He told us he was going in a ship to Corfu and Patras, and
could relate a great many stories, not only about the
fishermen who lived near the gulf of Lepanto, but also of
kings and heroes who had once possessed Greece, just as the
Turks possess it now.

I have seen a bud on a rose-bush gradually, in the course
of a few weeks, unfold its leaves till it became a rose in all
its beauty; and, before I was aware of it, I beheld it
blooming in rosy loveliness. The same thing had happened to
Anastasia. Unnoticed by me, she had gradually become a
beautiful maiden, and I was now also a stout, strong youth.
The wolf-skins that covered the bed in which my mother and
Anastasia slept, had been taken from wolves which I had myself
shot.

Years had gone by when, one evening, Aphtanides came in.
He had grown tall and slender as a reed, with strong limbs,
and a dark, brown skin. He kissed us all, and had so much to
tell of what he had seen of the great ocean, of the
fortifications at Malta, and of the marvellous sepulchres of
Egypt, that I looked up to him with a kind of veneration. His
stories were as strange as the legends of the priests of olden
times.

'How much you know!' I exclaimed, 'and what wonders you
can relate?'

'I think what you once told me, the finest of all,' he
replied; 'you told me of a thing that has never been out of my
thoughts- of the good old custom of 'the bond of friendship,'-
a custom I should like to follow. Brother, let you and I go to
church, as your father and Anastasia's father once did. Your
sister Anastasia is the most beautiful and most innocent of
maidens, and she shall consecrate the deed. No people have
such grand old customs as we Greeks.'

Anastasia blushed like a young rose, and my mother kissed
Aphtanides.

At about two miles from our cottage, where the earth on
the hill is sheltered by a few scattered trees, stood the
little church, with a silver lamp hanging before the altar. I
put on my best clothes, and the white tunic fell in graceful
folds over my hips. The red jacket fitted tight and close, the
tassel on my Fez cap was of silver, and in my girdle glittered
a knife and my pistols. Aphtanides was clad in the blue dress
worn by the Greek sailors; on his breast hung a silver medal
with the figure of the Virgin Mary, and his scarf was as
costly as those worn by rich lords. Every one could see that
we were about to perform a solemn ceremony. When we entered
the little, unpretending church, the evening sunlight streamed
through the open door on the burning lamp, and glittered on
the golden picture frames. We knelt down together on the altar
steps, and Anastasia drew near and stood beside us. A long,
white garment fell in graceful folds over her delicate form,
and on her white neck and bosom hung a chain entwined with old
and new coins, forming a kind of collar. Her black hair was
fastened into a knot, and confined by a headdress formed of
gold and silver coins which had been found in an ancient
temple. No Greek girl had more beautiful ornaments than these.
Her countenance glowed, and her eyes were like two stars. We
all three offered a silent prayer, and then she said to us,
'Will you be friends in life and in death?'

'Yes,' we replied.

'Will you each remember to say, whatever may happen, 'My
brother is a part of myself; his secret is my secret, my
happiness is his; self-sacrifice, patience, everything belongs
to me as they do to him?''

And we again answered, 'Yes.' Then she joined out hands
and kissed us on the forehead, and we again prayed silently.
After this a priest came through a door near the altar, and
blessed us all three. Then a song was sung by other holy men
behind the altar-screen, and the bond of eternal friendship
was confirmed. When we arose, I saw my mother standing by the
church door, weeping.

How cheerful everything seemed now in our little cottage
by the Delphian springs! On the evening before his departure,
Aphtanides sat thoughtfully beside me on the slopes of the
mountain. His arm was flung around me, and mine was round his
neck. We spoke of the sorrows of Greece, and of the men of the
country who could be trusted. Every thought of our souls lay
clear before us. Presently I seized his hand: 'Aphtanides,' I
exclaimed, 'there is one thing still that you must know,- one
thing that till now has been a secret between myself and
Heaven. My whole soul is filled with love,- with a love
stronger than the love I bear to my mother and to thee.

'And whom do you love?' asked Aphtanides. And his face and
neck grew red as fire.

'I love Anastasia,' I replied.

Then his hand trembled in mine, and he became pale as a
corpse. I saw it, I understood the cause, and I believe my
hand trembled too. I bent towards him, I kissed his forehead,
and whispered, 'I have never spoken of this to her, and
perhaps she does not love me. Brother, think of this; I have
seen her daily, she has grown up beside me, and has become a
part of my soul.'

'And she shall be thine,' he exclaimed; 'thine! I may not
wrong thee, nor will I do so. I also love her, but tomorrow I
depart. In a year we will see each other again, but then you
will be married; shall it not be so? I have a little gold of
my own, it shall be yours. You must and shall take it.'

We wandered silently homeward across the mountains. It was
late in the evening when we reached my mother's door.
Anastasia held the lamp as we entered; my mother was not
there. She looked at Aphtanides with a sweet but mournful
expression on her face. 'To-morrow you are going to leave us,'
she said. 'I am very sorry.'

'Sorry!' he exclaimed, and his voice was troubled with a
grief as deep as my own. I could not speak; but he seized her
hand and said, 'Our brother yonder loves you, and is he not
dear to you? His very silence now proves his affection.'

Anastasia trembled, and burst into tears. Then I saw no
one, thought of none, but her. I threw my arms round her, and
pressed my lips to hers. As she flung her arms round my neck,
the lamp fell to the ground, and we were in darkness, dark as
the heart of poor Aphtanides.

Before daybreak he rose, kissed us all, and said
'Farewell,' and went away. He had given all his money to my
mother for us. Anastasia was betrothed to me, and in a few
days afterwards she became my wife.



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