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UNCLE KOSTAS, as everyone called him, had once been a prisoner of the fairies. He would sit stiffly down upon a stone and lean upon the tall, shepherd’s staff which he always carried, to recount his story.

“Look,” he would begin. “Do you see those hills yonder? They are the Hills of the Dragons. Many, many years ago

Kostas was resting at noon beside a spring under the shadow of a pine in one of the Dragonorahes, Dragon Hills, after eating his bread and cheese. He closed his eyes for a little while and when he opened them, there were fairies dancing all around him in the air. He knew that he was handsome, handsome enough to tempt them to carry him away, but since he had his gun with him he thought himself safe.

Some of the fairies were singing, others were playing their flutes, and all would pause now and then to ask Kostas to play his flute and dance with them. Pointing to his gun, he shook his head and even though they were angry they dared not harm him. Suddenly the music and the dancing ceased. The fairies whispered together a moment and then disappeared like a cob web that is brushed away.

Kostas was about to go back to his sheep, grazing lower down on the hillside, but he was unable to move, even to stretch out his hand. Then the fairies were back again and this time their queen was with them, riding on a great white horse. Around her were a thousand fairies on white horses and others kept coming and coming until the Dragonorahe was covered with them.

Kostas tried to stand up, he tried to reach his gun, but he could do nothing except gaze at the beautiful queen, with her shining, silken hair and her shimmering white garments, as she sat upon her proud horse. There was a great murmuring around him. After a while he understood that all the fairies were talking about him.

“Does he please you?” one asked the queen.

“Will you have him?” asked another.

“He is powerless now,” said a third. “Shall we take him?”

The queen looked down at him thoughtfully for a long time. Then she smiled, lifted her wand and cried, “I shall have him! He is beautiful! Let us bring him with us!”

Servant fairies caught up Kostas and darted away with him as fast as an eagle flies. The queen with the thousand fairies on horseback followed and after them came the thousands and thousands of others, all in white, all dancing around and around as they swept forward. They took him up to the highest peak of the mountain Kyllene, where there is snow nearly all the year. A yawning, black opening admitted to a long dark passage, ending in a golden gate. Beyond lay the gardens of the fairies, where the sweet, warm air of summer always dwelt.

“Here you must stay
For a year and a day,
And never, oh never,
Will you wish to go away.”

sang the queen to her new prisoner and all the fairies echoed softly,

“And never, oh never,
Will you wish to go away.”

Looking about him, Kostas saw that he was in a paradise. There were gardens everywhere, each with flowers of a different color. One garden was white, one yellow, one purple, then green, rose and blue, with many shades of each, so that they all blended together like the bars of a magnificent rainbow. In the center was a lake, mirror-like, upon which an island appeared to float. So clear was the water that one could see to the bottom which was studded with emeralds. Upon the surface, like great bubbles, diamonds, rubies and sapphires moved with the slow current.

On the island many youths, stolen by the fairies, were playing with flower-wreaths, chains of precious stones, and fine gold and silver-like sand. Kostas was taken to the island, given fairy clothes such as the other youths wore, and shown trees from which he could gather as much fruit as he wished.

There were as many kinds of fruit trees on the island as there were flower gardens around the lake. Figs, pears and olives, peaches and plums, as well as grapes heavy upon their vines, hung in tempting profusion. The fruit would fall to the ground when it was ripe and if no one ate it, it would harden into a jewel of the shape and color of the fruit.

Peacocks strutted about and birds of bright plumage flitted through the trees. In the lake one saw mermaids with fairy faces, graceful swans, and fish such as are not found in any other sea. All the time, for there never is any night there, fairies danced in the flower gardens, gazed at their reflections in the lake, sang or made music on their flutes, while youths played on their beautiful island, and the queen appeared happiest of all, watching the others being happy.

But Kostas, alone of all those thousands, was not happy. He enjoyed living in that paradise, but he could never forget his home and his sweetheart Christena, and he longed to go back. Then he would think of the queen. He thought she cared a great deal for him, more, perhaps, than for any of the other youths. He remembered her song:

“Here you must stay
For a year and a day,
And never, oh never,
Will you wish to go away.”

In the lake one saw mermaids with fairy faces.

“I must wait,” he told himself again and again. “I must wait for a year and a day.”

Finally the time passed. Kostas went to the queen, bowed very humbly and said:

“Here did I stay
For a year and a day,
But always and always
I’ve wished to go away.”

Then he told her how, even though she was so beautiful and everything was so lovely, he desired above all to go home to his sweetheart Christena. The queen did not answer immediately, and he waited in anguish on his knees with his head bowed to the ground.

“Kostas,” she said at last, “will you do anything I ask you?”

“Anything!” he cried, starting up eagerly.

“Then listen. I have lost a gold vase set with turquoise and lined with golden hair. Find the vase for me by noon to-day. Be sure of the lining of golden hair, for that is important. Go!”

Hopefully Kostas began his search in the gardens, but though he looked carefully among all the vari-colored flower beds, he found nothing. Going to the island, he searched anxiously beneath all the fruit trees and even scanned their branches, but the vase was not there. It was now almost noon. He walked to the shore and stood looking hopelessly into the water, thinking how far he was from his desire. A strange fish, all gold and blue, appeared swimming toward him. But no, it was not a fish. It was a vase, gold set with turquoise!

Kostas seized it and held it up joyfully. The lining! He was almost afraid to look. There it was, the fine gold hair, and there was something else, more precious to him than hair or jewels or gold. It was the shepherd’s clothes that he had worn when the fairies carried him away. He knew then that the queen meant to let him go. Quickly exchanging the fairy garments for the old loose cloak and short, full skirt of the shepherd, he returned to the queen and laid the vase before her, just as the sun reached the meridian.

The queen smiled and touched Kostas with her wand.

“You may go back to your home and your sweetheart,” she said, “and you may take with you a strand of the hair lining the vase. It is my hair, and if you should ever wish to return to the fairy gardens, you have only to show it to the fairies and they will bring you back.”

Kostas thanked her many times and arose. There was a beautiful white horse with a golden tail and mane and a human face, to carry him, and three fairy princesses with red caps, to show him the way. Through the golden gate, through the long, dark passage, through the snow-fringed opening in the mountain and over the hills they flew until they reached the spring on the Dragonorahe. There the fairies left him, just where he had been a year and a day before.

But the strand of golden hair Kostas lost out of his selahe as they came swiftly over the hills. Afterward he searched for it tirelessly, climbing all of the Dragon Hills as high as he could go, but he never found it.

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I HAD never heard of fairies until one autumn evening in our summer home on the highlands of Petsa, which, eagle-like, watches over olive groves, raisin fields and the blue Corinthian Gulf. Laughter and voices raised in greeting woke me from my early sleep and told me that my Grandmother Adamis was being welcomed to the group of neighbor women who had gathered in our garden to tell stories in the moonlight.

“Is it about the Fairy Wife you are going to tell us tonight, Grandmother Adamis?” I heard someone ask.

“Or the Fairy Ring? I thought it was the Fairy Ring!” cried another voice.

“Oh, the fairies’ palace, Grandmother! You promised to tell us about their palace!”

Grandmother Adamis laughed. Rising on my elbow, I could see the younger women hurrying to make a place for her and pass her wine, nuts and cheese. In the center of the group a fire glowed red, in contrast to the clear, silver light of the full moon above. During the autumn months, after the corn is gathered, the grapes crushed and the barrels filled with wine, the villagers spend the evenings out of doors. The older women talk while the girls knit and sing. Now, on Grandmother’s arrival, the girls dropped their work and all grew silent to listen. Grandmother knew more paramythia, myths, than any woman in Eurostena, and she was a born story-teller.

In wonder and a breathless, ecstatic fear, I strained my ears to catch what snatches I could. As the strange stories followed one another, forms, pentamorphes, five times beautiful, seemed to glide before me: maidens in white with flowing, golden hair, handsome youths on horseback, chariots of cloud, seas shimmering with jewels, palaces light as foam and lovely as dew in sunshine. Oh, if I could see these things which Grandmother Adamis described! If I could hear the flute-like voices and silvery music which she said rang through the Fairy Hills!

But the fairies, it seemed, had some terrible, mysterious power. One must beware. One must not venture alone too high among the mountain tops. The fairies might–Grandmother’s voice would sink to a whisper and the circle of heads draw closer about her. I could learn only that all places are safe for him who carries a loaded gun, the highest hills and even the palaces of the fairies. With this thought, as the moon paled and the dawn came and the group in the garden dispersed, I slept.

A gun! That was my first idea on waking. I must have a gun. I intended to see fairies and visit fairy palaces, but where to find the gun? Then I remembered. As soon as I had learned to write at school, an old lady who lived in the neighborhood asked me to write letters for her to her son in America, because she could not write. The first time I went to her house, I noticed a huge, old-fashioned gun hanging on the wall. It had been used, she told me, by her grandfather in the War of 1821, and was called a Karabena. It was very clumsy and had grown rusty, but now as I pictured it, it seemed the most priceless of treasures. There remained only the question of how to make it mine.

For months, whenever I was in the old lady’s house, I gazed longingly at the Karabena every moment that I was not writing, and wondered how I could approach the subject. Then one day the following spring, the lady told me that I had been very good and that she wished to give me something in return for what I had done.

“Will you give me that gun?” I burst out.

“Oh, not that,” she said. “You don’t know how to use it. You would hurt yourself.”

I replied that I knew a great deal about guns from having read about them ever since the autumn. Besides, I said, I would accept nothing else from her, so at last she consented. The Karabena was mine.

It remained hidden for days among the barrels in our cellar, while I cleaned and polished it a little at a time, and collected powder and shot. Finally the gun was loaded and ready, and very proudly did I set out with it across my shoulder. From the stories of Grandmother Adamis, I understood that the fairies often appeared just at noon, but I started early since it was some distance to the top of the Neraidorahe, Fairy Hill, where the entrances to fairy palaces were said to be found. I was congratulating myself on getting away unseen, when my mother’s voice called from the doorway.

“Theodorake [*1], come back. Where did you get that gun?”

When I told her, she asked what I was about to do with it. My answer was sufficiently evasive.

“Well,” she said, “don’t try to shoot and whatever you do, don’t go up to the Neraidorahe! Evil will come to you!”

After waiting till she had returned to her work, I hurried through the village and started up the mountain.

“Ho, Theodorake!” rang out above me. The old shepherd known to everyone as Uncle Kostas was making his way down the slope toward me. Since I was in no mood for further interruption, I pressed on as if I had not heard.

“Ho there!” came the call again. “I know you, son of Perikles. Where are you going with that Karabena?”

“To the Neraidorahe to hunt fairies,” I replied casually.

“Stop!” He was directly above me now and he planted himself in my way. The picture of him, in his great, loose shepherd’s cloak, with its pointed hood thrown back, his short, full skirt and his brown shoes with a fluffy red ball on each pointed tip, is still vivid in my mind. “See those hills yonder,” he cried, his right hand extended in a dramatic gesture, his white hair blowing in the wind. “On one of those hills the fairies overpowered me. You do not know what they can do. Listen to me. I was older than you are and I had a better gun than your Karabena. A gun cannot save you. The fairies carried me away and kept me for a year and a day, and it was only by a miracle that I escaped from them. They can take you as they took me, but you may never get away. Listen to one who has lived in their palace and learned their ways and been their prisoner!”

Old Uncle Kostas with the help of his staff settled himself heavily on a stone in order to relate his adventure. This was my chance.

“The fairies will not scare me,” I told him. “I will fire at them and chase them back into their caves.”

I darted past him and went on up the mountain side. When I glanced back and saw him plodding slowly downward shaking his head, I laughed to myself. I would show them all.

In the steep, rocky slope above me were several great, black holes like yawning cavern mouths. Perhaps, I thought, these opened on moonlight-flooded gardens and shining palaces and all the beautiful things Grandmother had described. If I could frighten the fairies, I could enter unharmed and see for myself. Carefully I approached the holes, lay down behind a pine tree and made my Karabena ready to shoot at the first fairy that should appear.

Soon I heard the whistle of the noon train and I watched it far below as it hurried along the southern shore of the Gulf. The time had come. For a moment everything was still. Then the gently stirring air brought me a soft, whirring sound that grew louder and louder. The air itself, moving faster and faster, became a wind from the north, and at the same time in front of one opening something white went whirling around and around just above the ground.

A wild fear rushed upon me. The unknown terrors that were whispered of in the garden and the weird power that had seized Uncle Kostas, seemed to grip my heart. Clutching my gun I turned and tore down the mountain side like one mad. I slipped and stumbled, struck my feet against stones and scratched my arms on tree trunks, but nothing stopped me until I reached home and fell into the kitchen in front of my mother. I accepted her scolding humbly and never again did I go fairy-hunting.

Footnotes

^24:1 Little Theodore.

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TO the question, “Does any fragment of ancient Greek mythology survive?” the answer is, “Yes, the nymphs.” For among the hills and across the fields and streams of Greece, where the gods were born and dwelt, fairies now dance and play and radiate a subtle charm. Fairies are none other than the modern forms of the dryads, oreads, naiads, nerejds, fates, furies, graces and muses of the ancient myths. They are the nymphs that sang and played with Pan and Hermes, Apollo and the satyrs, but now they play and dance and sing with common shepherds, fishermen and hunters. Their very name is as old as Pontus, their father, and Doris, their mother. Nereida or Neraida and Numfe, vernacular Nufe, have the same meaning, which we may translate “fairy” or “nymph.”

Fairies are the virgin divinities of the earth. They know no heaven, for they take the place of the lower, earth-dwelling gods of the ancient mythology. They were never born; they never grow old; yet they are not immortal. Their beauty is everlasting and their dance eternal. They were created out of the earth and always live upon it, the anthropomorphic spirits of hills, streams, trees and ocean.

The Greek’s conception of fairies springs from his worship of nature, to which he is bound by his constant love of beauty. To his mind they are beautiful maidens, endowed with mysterious power, who inhabit palaces in the clouds, in caves on remote mountain peaks, along wild, rocky shores, or at the bottom of the sea. At noon on sunlit days and moonlit nights they visit the haunts of mortals, often choosing a tall pine tree, a cave or a spring. Sometimes they come singing, playing violins or flutes, or gently beating drums; sometimes they steal silently over hills and fields, seeking beautiful children or youths or maidens to carry away to their palaces for purposes of pleasure.

The fairy world is higher than that of mortals. Its creatures are not subject to the same laws of nature as are binding upon us. Nevertheless, they are not goddesses and their power is not unlimited. They can be frightened and driven away by the firing of a gun. They dare not touch the mortal who wears a felahtare, bag of incense, such as many Greeks have suspended about their necks. The cross, a sign of the cross, and prayer, are protections against them. If a mortal seizes a fairy’s handkerchief or veil, a strand of hair or a bit of clothing, the fairy becomes a helpless mortal woman, bound to serve the human being who thus captured her. If the fairy article returns to the possession of its rightful owner, the woman regains her fairy attributes and power, but should the article be burned to ashes, communication between her and the fairy world ceases and she is doomed to die a mortal’s death.

Music, laughter and song, play, dancing and love are associated with fairies, but at times these creatures can be cunning and cruel and, when thwarted, revengeful. Occasionally, as in the case of the water fairies, they offer gifts to their prospective captives. By accepting these gifts, mortals place themselves under the fairies’ dominion, from which escape is possible only by burning the gifts. Fairies have destroyed the happiness or wrecked the life of many a youth who, having seen them, cannot put the memory of them from his mind, or who, having possessed one of them, has lost her forever. The springs from which fairies drink are called magemenes, bewitched. The mortal who drinks from such a spring becomes magemenos, fairy-possessed, and, forgetting home and family, wanders aimlessly like one mad.

The mediator between the fairy and the mortal worlds is the sorcerer or the sorceress. The sorceress is the more common. She is usually an old woman with a practical knowledge of healing and much supernatural lore. She not only cures physical ills, but she ministers also to the troubled mind. By conjuring, murmuring mystic words, and applying magic herbs, she can release a magemenon, bewitched mortal, from evil spirits. The sight of an old sorceress with her bag of magics, wandering over lonely hills in search of herbs, is familiar to every villager in Greece. These awesome women live a hermit’s life, seeking the unfrequented ways, speaking little, mingling with their fellow beings only when summoned to aid.

The relation of Christianity to this last remnant of mythology is an interesting field of study. As a sacred Christian symbol serves to frustrate the power of a present-day fairy, so has Christianity, adopted as the state religion, dethroned and driven out the ancient gods. In the revolution, the new religion borrowed much from the old worship in church customs and seasonal festivities. It can be truly said that the Greeks are scarcely yet Christians, for in their hearts linger fragments of pagan nature worship and superstitious awe of the anthropomorphic creatures that are a part of nature.

One can see most clearly the mingling of Christianity and paganism in the felahtare. Grandmother Adamis’ bag, described in “The Fairies’ Theft,” page <page 89>, “contained incense from Mount Levanos, a bit of candle that had burned on Easter before the portrait of the Virgin, a leaf from a hundred-petaled rose and an amethyst stone. The bag had been hung about her neck by her godfather on the day of her baptism, to protect her from all evil.”

My personal experience with fairies, which is recounted in “The Fairy-Hunter,” began and ended in that one venture. But I was to be associated with many who claimed first-hand knowledge of fairies and with many more whose relatives or acquaintances or ancestors said they had been given glimpses of the fairy world or contact with its inhabitants.

In “The Fairies’ Theft” is found the story that my Grandmother Adamis related as her own. It was she who told me “The Fairy Ring,” “A Fairy Wedding,” and “The Fairy Wife.” She had heard the latter from the lips of Demetros’ mother who went about half mad through Loutro, telling the sad tale after her son’s disappearance. Uncle Kostas, “uncle” to the whole village, loved nothing better than to narrate, to anyone who would listen, the story we give in “Fairy Gardens.”

Many summer afternoons when I was tired swimming, diving or pulling up traps for fish, I would walk a little way along the Gulf shore to find an old fisherman called Gero Nassos. He was almost sure to be sitting at the water’s edge where his fishing boat was fastened, waiting till sundown to cast his nets. Gero Nassos was always barefooted and hatless, with flowing white hair and beard. Like an ancient god of the sea he sat, cynical yet beneficent, and to him came his worshippers, village folk and children, to listen to his violin music or his stories. He was called alafroiskeotos, one who is a seer.

“Ho, Theodorake!” he would cry out, on seeing me. “Run up to the fields and bring me some grapes.”

Swiftly I would dart up to the vineyards with their green or purple fruit, for I knew well that the reward would be a sea story. Sometimes it was about sea monsters or sea ghosts that Gero Nassos told, but the story I liked best was of sea fairies, because he said it had happened to him.

He always began with his early life on the beautiful island of Psara, one of the cluster of emeralds that gleam in the Aegean Sea. His father owned many trading ships and was very rich. But after his death the ships one by one slipped out of the family’s control. At the age of eighteen, Nassos became owner and captain of the last one and was never happy again, he said, except for one moment. His story is related in “The Haunted Ship.”

With two of the tales I was indirectly connected, “The Fairies’ Theft” and “The Wonder of Skoupa.” I was playing in the fields of Petsa with other children, while our parents were threshing wheat, when the shepherds brought Tasoula, fainting, down from the hills. I knew Tasoula, I had often played with her, and I can never forget how white and still she looked as she was laid on her bed. I remember the difference of opinion from the onlookers. Some thought she was dead, others that her spirit was in the possession of the fairies. After she was restored, it was agreed in Petsa that many prayers and offerings had been needed to free her soul from the fairies’ evil power and that if she had been more beautiful, her body would have been stolen too and we should never have seen her again.

On the Saint Nikolaos Day that the shepherd boy, Nikolas, disappeared at the Stavrodromos, I was visiting my cousin Nikolas in the village of Skoupa. The old field watchman, Vasilis, burst in upon our festivities to ask breathlessly whether any of us had seen the fairy shepherd on that day. My uncle Kristophoros went out to join him and the other villagers in their fruitless search.

During my years in America, I have listened to many narratives about fairies told by my countrymen from all parts of Greece. These tales can be found in any section, from Thrace to the Peloponnesus and from the Aegean Sea to the Ionian, with variations in names, perhaps, and details. They came to me in fragments which have had to be pieced together.

Fashions in fairy tales differ as much from section to section as do customs and dialect. There are, however, certain universal fairy characteristics of which every Greek has heard and which are never disputed. These are the supernatural beauty of fairies; their love of the beautiful which makes them seek to carry away beautiful youths and maidens; their power over mortals; and their transition to a human, powerless state when an article belonging to them is in the possession of a mortal. The authors have tried to catch these universals and clothe them in characteristic form.

It is not at all times that a Greek will speak of fairies.

The mood of the unreal, of the idealistic, the mood of poetry and of dreams, must be evoked before he can unveil his soul and talk of the mysterious, elusive beings that are part of his native land, almost of his religion. It is in some such mood as this, forgetting the world of logic, of material things and of everyday thinking, that I hope our readers will enter our world of Faery.

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