Read YANNIS (Cretan Saga Book 1) Online

Authors: Beryl Darby

Tags: #Fiction

YANNIS (Cretan Saga Book 1) (2 page)

BOOK: YANNIS (Cretan Saga Book 1)
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‘Anna, come here, my little one.’

Anna scrambled up to her mother’s outstretched arms, nestling down in their security. ‘Can I hold Stelios today, please, Mamma?’

Maria smiled. ‘I’m sure you can. After the Widow has been.’

Anna was content. She slipped off the bed and returned to her room. Maria was dressed and preparing to go downstairs, Yiorgo and Yannis still slept. It was unusual for Yannis to sleep late; maybe everyone else was early. She pulled on her clothes and returned to the lower floor.

‘Is Yannis awake?’ asked her father as she entered.

‘Not yet.’

Yannis senior rose to his feet and climbed the stairs. His wife had told him Yannis had been up in the night and not appeared at all well. He was tired. The villagers had drunk his health and that of his baby son until four in the morning and he had slept in the hard chair with his head resting on the table rather than disturb his wife. He looked down at the flushed face of the sleeping boy. He was obviously ill.

‘Yannis.’

Yannis opened his eyes, tried to move his head on the pillow and emitted a low groan. ‘A drink,’ he croaked.

Yannis senior returned to his wife. ‘He has a fever. Will the Widow look at him when she comes to see you?’

‘Of course she will. I’ll have a look at him myself.’ Cautiously Maria swung her legs over the side of the bed and slowly mounted the stairs. She knelt beside the mattress and took Yannis’s hand. ‘Do you hurt anywhere?’

‘My throat and ears.’ Tears welled up in Yannis’s eyes. He felt so ill.

She smiled at him to allay his fears. ‘I expect you have a chill. A day in bed and you’ll be better. I’ll ask the Widow to have a look at you when she comes.’ She kissed his forehead and returned to her own bed.

The day passed in a haze of faces for Yannis. The Widow diagnosed mumps, probably caught from Nicolas and Louisa and warned Maria to keep him away from the baby. Stelios cried intermittently for attention and whilst their mother was occupied Maria and Anna took turns to take their brother a drink, often interrupting his feverish dreams.

It was a week before he was well enough to leave his bed. His attack of mumps had been quite severe and a chill had hampered his recovery. It was a pale, thin little boy who joined the family for a meal on Sunday evening. As he recuperated he helped his mother around the house, and although his brother and sisters caught mumps they were hardly ill and needed no looking after. Baby Stelios thrived and Maria regained her strength and energy.

The winter was particularly wet, they frequently returned to the house soaked to the skin. Maria had clothes drying continually before the fire and soup became the regular evening meal to warm them through. Yannis began to think of the summer and would look eagerly each morning for blue sky. Almost overnight winter disappeared and spring was with them. He was able to remove his pullover when he worked in the fields with his father at the weekends and the work seemed less arduous as the weather improved.

Yannis pulled off the tight fitting jumper that he had worn most of the winter. Soon it would have to go to Maria as he had grown considerably during the last few months.

‘Here, let me look. What’s that? Can’t be mumps again.’ His father touched the small swelling gently. ‘Does it hurt?’

Yannis shook his head. The lump had been there since the onset of mumps and now he accepted it as he did his crooked tooth. Yannis senior frowned. He would mention it to Maria.

Maria made Yannis remove his shirt and she examined him carefully. The lump showed white against the brown of his skin. Maria shrugged. It was probably nothing. She would ask the Widow after church tomorrow.

The Widow was comforting. It was probably a blocked gland. She eyed Maria suspiciously. Was this concern over Yannis the prelude to asking for another attendance in a few months time? Maria’s body, thickened by childbearing, showed no visible signs of pregnancy.

‘How are you keeping, Maria?’

‘I’m feeling fine. Now the children are growing up they’re able to help me. I’ve even started to embroider again.’

The Widow calculated rapidly. Maria’s embroidery was good.

‘I know a woman who has a small shop, no promises, but she might be willing to take some from you, for a small commission, of course.’

‘Of course.’ Maria smiled. She knew the commission would be shared between the woman and the Widow, but it would be a start. She took her leave, contented with life. She would light two candles next Sunday; one for her healthy family, and the other for her good fortune in being offered an outlet for her embroidery.

Yannis was happy. He had easily caught up with the work he had missed at school whilst he was ill and his father spoke of him with pride to his friends. He wished he could go to a proper school, not one that was taught by the village priest. He did not dislike being up in the fields working with his father, but he would prefer to sit at the kitchen table and read a book the priest had lent to him or complete an exercise.

The days he did not have to attend school his sisters and Yiorgo went to the fields with him, leaving just Stelios at home with his mother. Maria was enjoying her newfound leisure and spent long hours sitting at her embroidery. She was saving hard. A second donkey was needed as Aga was getting old, and she wanted to surprise her husband with the purchase money. Easter was only three days away and she must make the bread and cakes, that was more important than earning an extra lepta.

An hour later, to Maria’s surprise, she heard her family returning from the fields. Yannis was dragging his feet and had given the honour of leading the donkey to Maria so he could lean on his father’s arm. Maria left her baking.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Yannis isn’t well. His breath won’t come.’

‘Into bed,’ commanded Maria.

Yannis did not argue. The attack of breathlessness had not only frightened him, but also left him feeling weak and exhausted. His legs were a little unsteady as he climbed the stairs. He did not undress, but lay on his mattress fully clothed, he was so tired. He must have slept, as the next thing he knew was his mother shaking him.

‘Yannis, wake up. The Widow is here to see you.’

Yannis brushed the sleep from his eyes. ‘The Widow? Why?’ He struggled into a sitting position and his mother pulled his jumper off over his head.

‘He looks fit enough,’ declared the Widow. ‘What’s this lump?’ She ran her fingers over the slight swelling.

‘The blocked gland,’ explained Maria.

The Widow frowned. ‘Maybe it sticks out inside and is hindering his breathing,’ she suggested. ‘Maybe a doctor could say.’

Maria smiled. As usual the Widow had reassured her. They had talked of a trip to Aghios Nikolaos and a visit to a doctor would be an added excuse for the journey.

As they entered the small town Yannis’s eyes widened. He had never seen so many people bustling around, intent upon their business. So many fishing boats in the harbour, men mending their nets, vendors crying their wares of oranges, apples, bread, olives and other goods. The main road was lined with small shops, gaily-coloured clothes, weaving and embroidery hanging outside to attract the passer-by. Interspersed were the usual tavernas where the old men spent all day, sitting with their cups of black coffee, clicking their beads and discussing politics.

They filed into a taverna, ostensibly for food, but also to ask for directions. Coffee was ordered for Maria, and Yannis was treated to a glass of fresh lemon juice whilst they waited for their moussaka to arrive. Yannis senior began to converse with two men at the next table and Maria and her son waited until he turned back to them.

‘Our luck is in. Yiorgo hasn’t gone out today. When we’ve eaten we’ll go and find him.’

Maria smiled happily. Her cousin had visited them occasionally and she was excited at the prospect of meeting his wife and family and showing off her own son.

The moussaka was not as good as his mother served, but Yannis was hungry. He cleared his plate, then wiped it round with bread, wishing there could have been more. Having eaten well and drunk two glasses of wine Yannis senior was in no hurry to move. Yannis began to fidget. Although he was tired after the long walk across the hills he wanted to see more of this new town. Maria coughed to attract her husband’s attention and reluctantly he rose to his feet. The bill paid, the little group made their way down to the quay until Maria gave a shout.

‘There he is.’

A tall, bronzed man looked up from his nets. His face was weathered by the open-air life he led, his hands gnarled and misshapen from his work.

‘Maria! I don’t believe it.’

Yiorgo packed up his nets, checked the moorings were secure, then led the way to his cottage. Coffee, lemon juice and raki were produced. Elena and Maria, wary of each other at first, were soon chatting amicably about their children. Yannis had been tongue-tied with Annita and Andreas initially, but when Andreas suggested they showed him the town he accepted with alacrity.

‘Be back in an hour,’ insisted Elena. ‘I will need Annita to help me then.’

‘I could stay now, Mamma.’ Annita had no particular desire to wander around her hometown with her cousin.

‘Off you go, all of you,’ her father ordered. ‘We have business to discuss.’

The children left the house obediently and Yiorgo smiled happily at his relatives. ‘It’s good to see you, but what has brought you all this way? If you just wanted to visit I could have brought you down in my boat next time I called at Plaka.’

‘Maria wishes to sell more embroidery and we need to see a doctor.’

Yiorgo raised his eyebrows. ‘Who is ill?’ Both Maria and Yannis looked the picture of middle-aged health.

Yannis explained. It was nothing much, just a small lump on Yannis’s neck that gave him a little trouble breathing sometimes.

Yiorgo nodded. ‘The doctor will know what it is. Maybe he should have his tonsils out. I’m pleased you’ve come, though. There are a couple of things I need to talk over with you, and the first concerns Yannis. Have you any plans for the boy?’

‘Plans?’ Yannis looked puzzled.

Yiorgo leant forward across the table. ‘You say he’s an intelligent boy. Maybe if he went to a proper school he could become a shopkeeper. There’s money in that – and you’re not out in all weather every day of the week.’

‘He’s used to being up in the fields with me.’

‘Does he want to be a farmer? The last time I visited you he was working away at an exercise the priest had set him and was reluctant to leave it unfinished. Also, I’ve looked around. Annita’s a good girl. She’s been brought up properly, knows how to cook and run a house. What’s more she goes to school with Andreas and can read and write. She’ll make a good wife, but there’s no one in Aghios Nikolaos that I would consider suitable for her. They’re mostly young ruffians and not likely to improve as they get older.’

Maria sucked in her breath. ‘Are you suggesting that Yannis and Annita are betrothed?’

‘Unofficially. Just an understanding between us for a few years time.’

Yannis was calculating rapidly. He had one farm and three sons. It was unlikely to provide a living for all of them. ‘I’ve no objection to a betrothal, but the schooling, that’s another matter.’

‘Yannis could stay with us and go to school with Andreas. See how he gets on. If he’s unhappy he could always return to the farm.’

Yannis shook his head doubtfully. ‘I’d need to think about this carefully. Go into the finance. I haven’t got a great deal of savings.’

Yiorgo rubbed the side of his nose and winked. ‘We’ll leave the ladies here to chat whilst we walk down to the taverna.’

Yannis followed Yiorgo obediently from the house and they strolled down to the quay. ‘Just thought we could do with a bit of privacy,’ smiled Yiorgo as he helped Yannis aboard his fishing boat. ‘Come and look in the hold.’ He ducked inside the small doorway and lit the oil-lamp that hung from a hook to give a feeble light. ‘This is my living,’ grinned Yiorgo.

Yannis looked around the empty hold. ‘There’s nothing here.’

‘When the Turks were here they ran a very profitable business. Often I would lend my boat for a few hours and be well paid. The Turks have gone, but the business is still here.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Sometimes goods have to be stored until they can be collected. Storage places can be difficult to find. You have two outhouses. Maybe they need enlarging?’

Yannis looked down at his clasped hands. He guessed Yiorgo was offering him a small part in a smuggling operation. If he was careful there should be little risk involved.

‘What would you want me to do?’

‘You have a contract from the Government to send produce to Spinalonga for the lepers. No one will notice an extra crate occasionally. You’ll make more money that way. The Government will pay you and you’ll be paid for storage.’

To Yannis it seemed too easy for words. Yiorgo winked at him. ‘I don’t need to tell you to keep it to yourself, you know what women are like, a little gossip with the neighbours and before you know it half a dozen people are offering storage space and wanting a share in the profits.’

Yannis had no intention of telling Maria. He had an idea that she would disapprove. He deliberately ignored the fact that if he and Yiorgo were caught moving contraband they would both face a spell of imprisonment. The immediate benefits were more important to him.

‘Now, we’ll visit that taverna.’ Yiorgo jumped off his boat and held out his hand to steady Yannis.

The two men finally returned to the fisherman’s cottage an hour after the children. Yannis’s eyes were aglow and he was recounting to his mother all the wonders he had seen. The school where not only Andreas attended every day, but Annita also, was enormous when compared with the tiny back room that belonged to the village priest. The shops sold all manner of exciting items. There was even a bookshop where you could by newspapers, which had been sent over from Athens. If you wanted information you could visit the library and spend hours sitting in there reading to your heart’s content. Aghios Nikolaos, when compared with Plaka, was the most wonderful place on earth.

BOOK: YANNIS (Cretan Saga Book 1)
5.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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