The Fairy Mother

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AT THE foot of the Pseloretes on the island of Crete, there once grew up a youth called Kapetanakis, because his father, whose death made him an orphan, had been a kapetan or leader. Kapetanakis was a beautiful boy and he could bring forth such sweet sounds from his lyre that the flowers on the hillside smiled and danced.

From the time that Kapetanakis was quite young, he would climb to the highest hill of the Pseloretes, named Thanatorahe or Death’s Hill, where he would sit for hours playing his lyre under the deep-blue Cretan sky and gazing down at the gray-blue sea that gives to Crete its name of the Blue Island. Sometimes the maidens of the village would leave their work to listen to his music which filled all the lands of Crete. The villagers might have supposed him an eagle, so high would he sit on the Thanatorahe, but they all knew him and gave him not a moment’s thought.

Kapetanakis was always lonely. He felt that there was no one and nothing to love him except the hills of the Pseloretes. Often he would gaze far out to the Mediterranean as though he heard, above the sound of his playing, something calling him from the silent waters.

One noon in autumn while he was lying half asleep in the dark shadows of the fir trees near the Onerovreshe, Spring of Dreams, he heard singing, the music of flutes and the throbbing of a drum from somewhere among the hills. He sat up. “Perhaps,” he thought, “someone is coming to me at last and I shall not be lonely any more.” The sounds drew nearer and he saw to his amazement three strange maidens, with long veils that sparkled with gems. Their dresses were of some silvery, silken fabric and their golden sandals were adorned with jewels whose gleam seemed to flash to the opposite shore.

The maidens approached, two playing flutes and the third singing and gently beating a drum. They danced around the Onerovreshe without appearing to see him, passed on from hill to hill, from spring to spring, circling like flower petals eddied by a light wind, flitted over Mount Ida, and skimmed across the Mediterranean to vanish on the horizon.

As a breeze, sighing among the mountains, leaves only a murmur behind it, so they passed, leaving in his soul only the echo of their music and the memory of their bright, shimmering garments.

The next day at the same hour, Kapetanakis took his place again at the Onerovreshe and played on his three-stringed lyre, trying to catch the silver, bell-like beauty of those melodies. Sounds of unearthly sweetness floated up to him and he saw again the three strange maidens dancing over the Aerorahe, Hill of the Winds, and coming toward him. He held his breath; the lyre fell from his hands. Nearer and nearer danced the maidens till he breathed the perfume of their garments and felt the air stirred by their swift movements. Wild with joy he leaped up to dance with them, only to see them flit lightly away, circle about the Thanatorahe, and pass far beyond, growing smaller and smaller, till they disappeared where sky and Mediterranean meet.

“What are they?” he asked of the spring. “Why do they come?” he asked of the fir trees. “They do not even see me! Oh, if they would stay, if they would speak to me!” He looked about at the rocks and hills and sky, but silence was everywhere.

On the third day at noon Kapetanakis waited again at the spring with anxious eyes and pounding heart. Faint on the softly stirring air came the elfin music of the flutes. Kapetanakis scarcely breathed. Then he saw the glint of gems and the swirl of airy garments. The music swelled to a wave of sound that seemed to engulf the whole mountain.

Now the three veiled maidens were on the Hill of the Winds, now on the Hill of Death. Kapetanakis stood up as they drew near and held out his hands to them. He cried out to them to stop, but they did not notice him and his voice was drowned in the harmony of sweet sound. Once more they circled about him, scattering their perfume on the air and their mysterious radiance on his soul, and once more they started away.

He could not let them go. Madly he plunged after them and seized the veil of the one nearest. There was a shriek. The two others darted with the speed of a kite straight to the sea and vanished, while the third swayed, her face unveiled, gazing after them in terror and dismay.

Kapetanakis stood amazed. He saw before him a maiden whose beauty rivaled that of Aphrodite. What was she? What were the two who had fled? He wanted to ask, but he feared his voice would make her fly away after the others. At the end of a long moment she turned slowly toward him and the look in her eyes was of such hopeless sadness that he instinctively dropped to his knees.

“Oh, do not be sad,” he begged. “Only stay with me and I shall make you happy!”

The maiden was silent.

“Speak!” he pleaded. “Speak to me and tell me that you will stay and be happy!”

Still the maiden did not answer. For three days it continued, his pleading and her silence. Finally she looked at him, her eyes full of grief and reproach, and said, “Why did you do this?”

Kapetanakis had never heard a voice so angelic. The love that had been stirred by her beauty at the first moment he saw it was now awakened into life.

“Speak again!” he cried. “I am happy only when I hear your voice. I love you, Agnoste. I want you for my wife.”

She whom he called Agnoste, Unknown One, was thoughtfully silent for a time. Then she said, “I shall marry you on one condition.”

“Only one!” he exclaimed joyously. “What is it?”

“I am a fairy. You have me in your power. The condition is that I shall never speak again.”

Kapetanakis tried to hide his disappointment. “I would accept any condition,” he answered solemnly.

They were married. Three years passed. They built a little home at the foot of a hill and an elf-like child was born to them. Kapetanakis had hoped from the beginning that his love would melt the seal on that heavenly voice and that he would hear it in song and laughter and words of love. But all these three years Agnoste’s silence had hung like a shadow upon his soul. She only followed him about, gazing at him with a fixed expression.

Even to the child, Agnoste never spoke. But this fairy child, with her great far-seeing eyes and her strangely quiet, graceful ways, seemed not wounded by her mother’s cold silence, as was Kapetanakis.

“It cannot last,” he said to himself as he looked back over the three long years. He must find some way to make Agnoste forget the condition she had imposed upon him. Perhaps if she once broke her silence—

He had heard that in great crises or stress of great emotion one did unexpected, almost unbelievable, things. He reasoned that what rouses a mother most is danger to her child and that, of all elements, fire is the most terrible. Then his idea came. It was desperate, but another day of this silence, he thought, would madden him. Still he would try pleading once more.

That evening he sat at Agnoste’s feet as she worked in the candle light, and with all the fervor of his soul he sang his song of entreaty.

“Oh, speak to me, dear one;
Lonely has been my life.
I long for the music of words,
For the voice of my wife.
“Long years for love I waited,
Lonely my life and sad.
Long years for gladness I waited:
You spoke and I was glad.

“My joy lived only a moment.
For my joy, long gone, I cry.
Let me hear your voice, beloved;
Speak to me or I die.”

Agnoste, smiling faintly, shook her head in silence. His plea had been useless.

It was autumn again. The next morning was fine and clear. Kapetanakis left the house early, taking a rocky path up the Thanatorahe. There was suppressed excitement in every movement, though he said no word. When he looked back he saw, as he expected, Agnoste following with the child in her arms.

They reached the top of the hill. It was partly wooded and on the north side among some fallen trees were dry, dead leaves leaped by the wind. He set to work furiously, gathering branches and leaves to make a pile on the rocky, wind-swept south side. Not knowing his intention, Agnoste laid the child down and helped him. Kapetanakis set fire to the heap and together they watched the flames leap half way to the sky.

Then Kapetanakis went to the spot where his child lay sleeping and took it in his arms.

“Surely, surely,” he thought, “she must speak when she thinks I am about to cast our child into the flames!” He approached the pile, lifted the child high, gave a swinging movement with his body and arms, as though he were ready to hurl it into the fire.

Like an angel with wings invisible, Agnoste leaped into the air, caught the child from him, darted straight through the flames and without a sound flew over the hills and was lost on the gray-blue horizon of the Mediterranean. Weird sounds of tumult came from the fire which, like a snuffed candle, the instant Kapetanakis turned to it, died out. For hours he stood motionless before its ashes. Then with a violent waking of all his forces, he set out on a wild search for his wife and child.

Kapetanakis was not seen sitting eagle-like on the Thanatorahe, nor his lyre heard among the hills. He climbed mountain peaks; he wandered through woods and fields; he followed the sunset, seeking the palace of the fairies in the sea.

One noon after many years the people of the island saw once again Kapetanakis high on the Hill of Death. The notes of his lyre were sweet as in the old days, but sad, with despairing, heart-breaking sadness. When the villagers reached the rock on which he had been sitting, he was gone. They did not see him again.

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