Historical fiction novel, by Dimitris Apergis. Exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS in 36 weekly episodes, in English and Greek languages.
Synopsis: London, 1824. The boss of London's Crime Syndicate, Wilbur Barnaby, assigns two men to travel to the -revolting against the Ottomans- country of Greece and locate the renowned poet Lord Byron in order to obtain a gambling debt of his to the underworld. One of the two men is Welsh Bugs Hamhaduke, the so-called "neckwringer." The other is the enigmatic Lord Greywood. The two men will embark on an adventurous journey to the Greek city of Missolonghi via Paris. None of those involved, however, is aware of Lord Greywood's terrible secret: That he actually belongs to the Order of Strigoi Morti, the oldest and most dangerous generation of vampires.
ISBN : 978-618-00-1549-2
PRELUDE : Guilá Naquitz (1 chapter)
PART ONE : London (4 chapters)
PART TWO : Paris (10 chapters)
PART THREE : Vampires (10 chapters)
PART FOUR : Missolonghi (10 chapters)
EPILOGUE : Los Angeles (1 chapter)
[ep. 27 of 36]
PART FOUR : Missolonghi
Father Lambros' hands trembled as they held the gospel. This was of course somewhat natural since Father Lambros was reaching eighty years of age. But in this case, old age was not the cause of this trembling. Something else concerned the old man's mind during the wedding ceremony.
Even his voice had changed from that secret concern that girded his rationales. Father Lambros, in his eighties, was a man who spoke only when necessary and said only the things that needed to be told. Consequently, he remained silent for most of the time, even when he was in the taverns where discussions were raging among the elderly Missolonghians. Ruminant, with his slim face buried beneath the long white beard, he patiently listened to the rest for a long time, and, if he had any view, he stated it, always in a laconic manner. Otherwise he would continue to sink in those enigmatic silences, counting his prayer beads in his hand.
But now, forced as he was to read the gospel in front of the bride and groom's young couple, his voice was in danger of betraying the devastating concern that was eating him. And in each of the devotional's passages he tended to discard the last syllable as if he were to deny the blessing to the couple. Of course he had a serious reason for this, Father Lambros was no lunatic.
Yagos Vochoritis - the groom - sailed in a sea of bliss, the smile beneath his thick moustache brighter than the silver cross-necked adornment covering his entire chest, over the ornamented vest. Just as happy were his parents from behind, dressed in their formal silver-festooned attires. However, the bride, Daphne Mastrodimos, did not share the happiness of the groom and the parents-in-law.
Her eyes lowered patiently under the gold-plated headband. And when sneaking out of their melancholy, they wandered wearied to the freshly polished candelabras of lit candles and to the icons of the saints, and in particular the image of St. Paraskevi to whose favour this church was dedicated. Just as the Great Martyr Saint Paraskevi stood sullen in her hagiography, so did Daphne's lips not smile. Her body looked like it was struggling under the heavy wedding dress of gold-plated amulets and velvet rose-veils. Daphne was sad. And Father Lambros, with the experience of his eighty years, could perceive it.
The chanters had finished the initial doxologies and the deacon had finished his prayers to God. And now it was Father Lambros' turn to read aloud the Blessing to the couple. His patience, however, had dried up.
"O God most pure, and author of all creation, who for the love of mankind didst transform a rib of our forefather Adam into a woman, and blessing them Thou didst say, Be fruitful and multiply, and subdue the earth;..." he said and his voice was abruptly cut. His old eyes remained frowned under the thick eyebrows, looking at the gospel.
"What is the matter, Father? Are you feeling unwell? Shall we bring you a glass of water?" Yagos' mother said worryingly, being proud of her son up until then, dressed in her cotton kaftan with the shiny necklace of florins on her breast.
Father Lambros took some time to speak. Until he abruptly closed the gospel with his veined hands and looked at the crowd of the congregated Missolonghians inside the stone church. These people were in a crazy mood for celebration and this wedding was the best reason for them to roister. And who could blame them really? The twenty days that the Provisional Administration of Greece had set for Lord Byron's mourning were over. So what better event could one imagine to offset the gloom of those days than Yagos' marriage to Missolonghi's most beautiful daughter?
"The ceremony shall not be made. Go to your homes." said Father Lambros sharply, and the Missologhians broke into mad exclamations and moans of discontent. One ought to sympathise with them as they had all spent an entire afternoon supplementing their loaded formal attires for this wedding, the fezes of the long tassels and the gold-threaded decorations on their waistcoats and their fine all-white fustanellas with the silver-beaded belts and the shiny swords with their precious diamond stones.
"What are you saying, Father? Why not make the ceremony?" asked Yagos' mother stunned.
"What's the matter with you, Father Lambros? Have you lost your mind? Or did you get drunk with the Holy Communion?" barked Yagos with a resounding voice.
A natural born Missolonghian, Yagos was getting mad with the slightest little thing and the old man's nerve had by far exceeded his limits. But Father Lambros was a very straightforward man, among other things, and this verbal hint of Yagos was too impertinent to disregard with mere stoicism.
"This marriage is not blessed by God. And if God does not bless it, I shall not bless it either." said the old man with eyes that glared their anger upon Yagos.
"What a disgrace, Father! We'll be ridiculed in the entire world! How will I be able to see people in the eyes from now on!" said Yagos's mother burying her face in her hands.
Noises and murmurs prevailed in the church. The guests remained puzzled by the priest's behavior. What did Father Lambros know that they didn't? Even Daphne's parents, Mastrodimos and his wife were astounded by this mysterious perseverance.
"Father Lambros, put your senses back into your head and proceed with the ceremony. Otherwise I'm not far from pulling my pistol out and shoot you." grunted Yagos and grasped the gold-plated pistola that protruded from his belt, strapped under the folded fustanella.
"No! That's a sin, Yagos! Don't ever say or do such a thing! The Church is the House of God!" the crowd shouted at Yagos in order to calm down his youthful hormones that'd by now raging not caring one bit about logic.
"I will do it, and I will wed myself alone! What do I need this old turd for?" counterattacked Yagos with his hand constantly on the pistol's handle.
"You can hit me if that's what you will. You can even kill me if that makes you happy. But you shall never get my blessing. God Himself denies it to you, and I am only accountable to God." replied Father Lambros in a stern voice, so free from hesitation that it made Yagos' eyes twinkle with anger.
"Tell us at least the reason, Father. Why doesn't God bless this marriage?" asked Yagos' mother in a desperate attempt to put things in place.
Father Lambros stood silent for a while, uncertain as to whether he should speak or not. He owed some explanations to the crowd now hanging on his words. He was encouraged when he thought of God and the truth that doesn't consider fear when it is spoken clearly.
"The girl doesn't want this marriage. Her heart is given elsewhere." he said whisperingly under the thick white beard. Interjections of surprise and awe from the crowd.
"What the hell is this old fool talking about? Talk to him, you wretched woman! Tell him he's talking nonsense!" said Yagos to Daphne. She turned around and stared at him, but she couldn't utter a single word.
"Don't force her to respond!" interrupted Father Lambros. "In the same way that you force responses from people, you forced the yes to this marriage. And here's your undoing!"
"Why don't you talk, you wretched woman? Tell this old fart he's wrong! Go on then! Speak!" barked Yagos.
Daphne did not dare to speak. She looked at her mother for a moment and then at her old man Mastrodimos who stood with faces delivered in agony. She finally decided to behave as a brave Missolonghian woman and break her silence:
"Forgive me, Yagos. Everything was done in a hurry. I was not given time to think or speak my mind. If I am to blame for my diffidence, then let me be punished first by God and then by men. But marriage is a serious matter and it requires reflection. And as everything was done so hastily, there was no time for reflection. But I ask you in all honesty to forgive me."
"O what a ridicule! Why, dear God, did you plan such shame for me?" moaned Yagos' mother and covered her face with the latticed shawl to hide her disgrace.
"People are not animals." intervened Father Lambros. "People do not mate according to the likings of the shepherd. People have reason and heart and feelings and will. And people choose. It is choice that brings man closer to God. It is all that which you should all keep in mind before you sleeping at night, not the celebrations and the feasting you missed."
Thus spoke Father Lambros to the people that stared at him with eyes wide open. And then he lifted the folds of his black robe with his hand and stepped down from the podium.
"And now go. This marriage is cancelled." he said with his eyes beneath the dense eyebrows and the crowd began to move toward the church's exit.
The people could not sleep in Missolonghi that night. It was not just because of the general confusion about this unfortunate circumstance. It was also because of the noise. Yagos had gulped a demijohn of wine and, drunk as he was, he stood in the village square with his brothers and cousins and shot in the air with his pistol to unleash the rage that decimated him. He was allegedly shooting at the moon but, with so much drunkenness, his bullets were swallowed by the black night. Not even Deligheorgis, Missolonghi's castellan, dared to reprimand him and send him home. He understood the man's distress and pretended to be deaf. The night wanderers roaming the streets of Messolonghi were hearing the gunshots and were saying among themselves:
"What the hell? Who is shooting his gun at this hour of the night?"
"It's Yagos, the son of Vochoritis. Tonight he was supposed to get married, and the bride denied him and the marriage was cancelled."
"What are you saying, o friend? Is she so cruel to have committed such a trickery to him?"
"Oh, his poor mother! She always wanted to see her son married…”
"It's his mother you worry about? What about his poor cock?"
The gunshots were heard by Kutahi's Turks from a distance, from the cantonments they had camped their tents. Smoking their hookahs, they muttered among themselves under the fur capes:
"Crazy Giaours ... Your asses need some beating..."
But even at Mastrodimos' house things weren't any calmer. And how could there really be tension inside Mastrodimos' little house that was poor but made with courtesy, with wefts on the walls and coverlets on the floor, all colourful because of the spring time.
Lady Assimo, the wife of Mastrodimos and Daphne's mother, had lit the oil lamp with the elongated cylindrical glass-hat and placed it on the wooden table. This was time for an emergency family council after the latest (outrageous) developments. She had also worn her purple kerchief on her head, so tightly that it made her baggy eyes protruding from her face.
Mastrodimos seemed somewhat neutral towards the whole situation. He had taken off his pointed shoes - his good ones, made of cattle skin - and polished them with balsam oil. It was rather a spontaneous move of his to take his mind off tonight's thrills. Mastrodimos was a man of modest disposition. Even when he swore or cursed, he seemed more likely to pretend being angry. Shaved head, no moustache, with wiry hands testifying to his life-long profession of shoemaker.
Whatever they both felt about the unpleasant turn of the night, the two parents were undoubtedly relieved that Father Lambros dag out the brutal truth from under the veils and the jewellery and that Daphne had finally confessed her heart. What they both didn't want in all certainty was to see their daughter having an unhappy marriage. Of course, they sympathised with Yagos and his unfortunate mother for their sorrow (the father Vochoritis did not want this marriage anyway), but they preferred things as such rather than the other version of them.
"Damn you, daughter ..." said Mastrodimos, wiping the shoes. “Why didn't you speak earlier? Why didn't you say no from the beginning since you didn't want him?"
"Forgive me, papa. I pondered the money. You always wanted me to have a rich wedding. It is you I was thinking of." replied Daphne apologetically. Yagos' family, the Vochorites, were squirearchy with a large fortune and many properties and much livestock.
"What am I going to do with the money if you're miserable? You've made quite a mess. And who's listening to old Vohoritis now ...! He'll issue a decree in all taverns and no one will be talking to me again...” complained Mastrodimos.
“To hell with Vochoritis! I never liked him and his family." interrupted lady-Assimo, and then turned to Daphne. "But tell us blessed girl, why did Father Lambros say that your heart was given elsewhere? That old devil understood something which I didn't even notice. So tell us, is your heart given to anyone? And if so, to whom?"
Daphne lowered her gaze from embarrassment, leaving her bronze-coloured curls hide little of her beautiful face. Her eyes flashed that vibrant green colour she inherited from her mother, lady-Assimo. Not only was her heart actually given to someone as Father Lambros had diagnosed it, but now she was afraid that her response would anger lady-Assimo too. And that's because it was customary for the mothers and daughters of Missolonghi to share everything with each other and not to keep any secrets between them. In addition, lady-Assimo always thought of herself as overly perceptive in such matters and therefore her pride would be irreparably damaged if it was proved that an eighty-year-old priest had understood something she had not even suspected. No matter what, Daphne now ought to speak.
"I love ..." she began, and stopped before finishing her phrase. The word love seemed to her somewhat clumsy in this regard and she proceeded to replace it with another one, more appropriate. "I have feelings for Petros. Petros Mousouris. "
"Alas, blessed girl ...!" moaned lady-Assimo grabbing her head.
"Damn your minds, you silly women!" said Mastrodimos spitting on his shoes.
The reaction of the two was not unjustified. It was not just that Petros was poor and had no place to lay his head as the Evangelists Matthew and Luke would accurately put it. Petros Mousouris belonged to a group of armatoles (=militiamen), led by legendary chieftain Georgios Karaiskakis. In the general spirit of discord that plagued the Greeks during that time, Karaiskakis came into rupture with politician Alexander Mavrokordatos in Missolongi and took his men from there and left. Mavrokordatos retaliated by issuing a proclamation through the Greek Provisional Administration in which he condemned Karaiskakis as "guilty of treason."
In conclusion, Petros was required to follow Karaiskakis in this case and with pain he left Daphne. Before leaving immediately, he assured her that all these quarrels among the high-ranking officials were temporary and that he would return quickly to Missolonghi and find the courage to ask for her hand from old-Mastrodimos.
Time went by but Daphne never forgot Petro's promise. But these were times of war, and noble love like this corresponded only to silent echoes in the roar of noise and hatred. As Kutahi moved down to Central Greece and captured it, Daphne hadn't but only to hope that Petros was still alive. There was no communication between them, though, and she was wise enough to accept the worst. So when Yagos came to the Mastrodimos' house and asked her hand from her old father, Daphne contemplated with fear her parents who were in an advanced age and who would like to see their daughter having a wealthy marriage before they die. So she half-heartedly accepted Yagos' proposal thinking that Petros would be either dead or hooked on some other woman's love.
The preparations for the wedding were made with extreme precipitation as Yagos was rushing to establish himself as a wedded man in the town of Missolonghi, and so did his mother who longed to see him married with family. The irony of the hapless fate was, however, unspeakable, and on the day of the wedding, legendary chieftain Kitsos Tzavelas arrived at the city to procure munitions. Tzavelas cooperated with Karaiskakis in the various attacks on the Turks and therefore knew about Petros' fate.
Tzavelas found Daphne and, being embarrassed as he had learned that Daphne was now a future bride, handed her over Petros' letter as he was bound to do so. The letter was written in a crude manner as Petros was of deficient education. But in spite of its ridiculous illiteracy, the letter was not lacking at all in passion or honesty. And Daphne's heart, which by that time seemed silent in her bowels, shivered again its happy beats as she learned that Petros was alive and had not forgotten her. The wedding with Yagos, however, was now arranged and agreed upon. The dilemma was terrible, but it was finally resolved in the clumsy manner in which it was resolved. But there were other obstacles too.
After the invasion of Kutahi in Central Greece, Petros and a group of armatoles found refuge in the small mountain monastery of Panagia Filotheos, on the hill of Lefka, and remained trapped there. This old monastery was about thirty kilometres away from Missolonghi. The two lovers were now parted by a goat track surrounded by willows and poplars and ash trees and mountains. And - of course - by the hordes of Turks who had camped around. Daphne's happiness was simultaneously close enough and infinitely far away.
Petros had been wounded in the leg by a Turkish bullet in an embroilment. He was bedridden but in good health. He was treated by the monks of the monastery and his companions.
She confessed everything to her parents. Old-Mastrodimos did not speak but leaned his side on the recliner of the living room and covered himself with the woollen blanket. Lady-Assimo grabbed the distaff and started wrapping the cotton around it. It was all too obvious, however, from her nervous movements that her thoughts were anywhere but on spinning.
"Reckless girl! You bring nothing but concerns to our minds! As if your sister wasn't enough for us, we have you too now...” she mumbled from between her teeth.
Daphne did not respond. She entered her room silently and closed the door. She paused at the window and gazed at the crescent moon, the crescent moon that lit the monastery where Petros was staying, the crescent moon that Yagos was constantly firing with his pistol bestirring the entire Missolonghi.
Lady-Assimo could not bother herself too much with the distaff and the cotton. She set them aside and moved on to the other room, to the room where lied that presence of the house which wasn't concerned with weddings or celebrations or worries or family councils. That was the presence of Myrto, the younger daughter of the Mastrodimoses. Lady-Doxoula, the elderly neighbour who watched Myrto while the Mastrodimoses were absent, had already gone home.
Myrto was lying on her bed. She wasn't sleeping. Her eyes were open. The palm of her left hand clenched as ever, closed, fist, refusing to open its fingers. Lady-Assimo had made countless efforts in the past to open this clenched handful. Hell, she even came to a point where she was biting her fist. In vain. Even when that fist was somewhat loosened with a thousand tries, it didn't take long for it to close tight again.
"Will you eat?" asked Lady-Assimo.
She received no response of course. Myrto hasn't been talking for a long time now. She stood silent and motionless, her melancholic face always pale behind the black braids of her hair. Complete inactivity. Indifference. Confinement. Apathy.
"If you don't eat anything by tomorrow, I shall bring Doctor Agiomavritis to give you opium. And then I'll make you swallow the food by force. I'll feed you through your nose if needed." said Lady-Assimo said, but no response. She came out closing the door.
Myrto had been unfed for two days now. This was usual in her case, at times. What Myrto suffered from, modern doctors would refer to as catatonia. A state of psychogenic immobility and behavioural disorder manifested in the form of lethargy. Myrto felt a deep disillusionment about everything in life since her teen years, and that disillusionment gradually developed into her horrible constant lethargy. Her sleeps were usually haunted by dreadful nightmares.
Her condition had shown signs of a major recovery during the time when Lord Byron was in Missolonghi. Poor Myrto had been infatuated with the handsome poet and would often go to his house to keep him company. She even proceeded to improve her english at the Palamaean Academy of Missolonghi in order to conduct her discussions with the Lord.
Unfortunately, however, Lord Byron died. And Myrto returned to her former stupor in a much worse way.
[to be continued next Friday, 17 July 2020, exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS]
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A few words about the author
Dimitris Apergis was born in Larisa, Greece, in 1978. He graduated in BA (Hons) Film Studies in the UK. He lives in Greece.
His books are published in both English and Greek languages, by the OKYPUS PUBLISHING. https://en.okypus.com/okypus-publisher
Dimitris Apergis has received several awards for his literary work.
In 2018 he received the First Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his novel Gerard & the father. Additionally, in 2018 his novel Gerard & the father also received the First Literature Award at the 8th International Literature Contest held by E.P.O.C. (Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus) under the aegis of UNESCO.
In 2017 his novel ‘At the Whiskey County’ received the First Literature Award at the 7th International Literature Contest held by the Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus under the aegis of UNESCO.
In 2015 his novella ‘Jazz Room’ received the Second Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers.
In 2013 he received a Praise from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his short story Labyrinth.
In 2012 he received the First Literature Award from the MONITOR Press for his short story Acid Rain.