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THE FAIRIES’ THEFT
THE people of Petsà were threshing their wheat on the hard, dry, sun-baked threshing floors. Suddenly out of the stillness came a strange cry. They saw, coming down one of the foothills of Mount Kellene, three shepherds carrying a limp burden. Behind them came shepherdesses wringing their hands, while dogs leaped and barked around them.
"The priest, the priest! Go for the priest!" shouted one of the shepherds. It could then be seen that they were carrying a young girl.
"Tasoula!" someone cried. "It is Tasoula, daughter of Petros!"
A boy darted away to find the priest. The shepherds moved slowly on to Petros’ house, while the villagers followed, talking and asking questions excitedly. Tasoula was very white and she lay very still with her eyes closed—her eyes that were always bright and laughing—and there was a strange look about her, as though she would never move again. Around her bed, the crowd became silent and one of the shepherds spoke.
"I was watching the sheep on Saint Elias Hill," he said, "when I looked across to the Sotera Hill and saw something white under the tallest pine tree. 'Fairies,' I said to myself, but I wasn't sure. I called Yannis and Stephanos," indicating the other shepherds, "and they said, 'Yes, it is fairies! It's a fairy ring around that pine tree!'"
"I saw Tasoula first," broke in the one called Stephanos. "I saw her in the center of the ring, trying to get away from the fairies."
"We ran toward her," went on the first shepherd, "but the fairies at the same moment started the other way, dancing round and round without touching the ground, and dragging Tasoula with them. Faster and faster they went till they looked like white birds skimming along the ground. Above a spring they stopped a moment and we saw them no more. When we reached the spot, Tasoula was lying there on the ground as if she were asleep."
"We tried to wake her." Yannis took up the story. "But she didn't speak or move or even open her eyes. We are afraid," lowering his voice and speaking very slowly, "we are afraid the fairies have taken her soul with them and left her body because it isn't beautiful enough!"
There were murmurs from the crowd, some of surprise, some of agreement, but before any word could be spoken, the priest arrived, and the people fell back to let him enter.
He moved solemnly to Tasoula's bed and held his cross above her.
"Evil, evil!" he cried in a kind of chant as he moved solemnly to Tasoula's bed and held his cross above her. "Evil, evil, depart from this house!"
After he had prayed, the priest burned incense and went all through the house, swinging his censor and chanting, "Evil, depart. Evil, depart." Tasoula remained white and motionless. The priest left, shaking his head.
A hush had fallen over the whole village, as though everyone were waiting, waiting. Few of the people returned to their work. They sat on the ground near the house of Petros and talked in low tones about fairies. When Grandmother Adamis joined them, they begged her to speak because they knew she had seen fairies.
Grandmother told of her experience which Tasoula's accident recalled. When she was about sixteen years old, she was considered one of the prettiest girls in the village of Petsà. It was one lovely May day when she, a shepherdess, was watching her sheep high on the hills of Sotera. At noon she climbed to the pine-crowned peak of the mountain to drink at the spring called Kreovreshe and to rest under the shadow of a pine.
The sheep had gathered in the deep shade, the goat bells were hushed, the dogs lay still, and only the wind stirred, bearing the perfume of wild roses and of pines. The girl was lulled to sleep, but in a few moments she was awakened by hundreds of beautiful beings, airy and shadow-like, approaching from all sides. She heard the clear notes of their flutes and the gentle beating of their drums drawing nearer and nearer. She seemed to be in a very wave of sound and of light, dancing forms. She was caught up on the wave and lifted high, high above spring and fields and sheep. With the fairy maidens circling about her, playing and singing as they rose and descended and rose again in slow rhythm, the shepherdess was borne onward into the west.
Music and motion stopped. She found herself on the side of the Neraidorahe, Fairy Hill, before the great, black openings like monster's jaws. Through one of these she was led to a garden, within the mountain, where flowers and sunshine and the plashing of fountains made the heart glad. There was music in bird songs, chanting voices and the buzzing of bees, while streams of silver, crystal cataracts, and youths and maidens in graceful dance, were a delight to the eyes. Fairies with white veils who were subjects, and fairies with red caps, who were princesses, grouped themselves about a throne of brilliant jewels. The fairies who had escorted the shepherdess led her by flower-strewn paths to the throne, where she saw the queen of the fairies.
The queen was dressed in pure white robes, her long, golden hair falling about her, and on her head she wore a circlet of gold entwined with flowers that never fade.
"Would you not like to be a fairy?" asked the queen, "and live with me in this garden where the sun never ceases to shine and where it is summer all the year?"
"My gracious queen," said the shepherdess trembling, "do not be angry because I refuse. I have a lover who will be waiting for me at the foot of the Sotera. I beg you to let me go back to him."
The queen paid no heed to these words. "Take her," she ordered the servants. "Take from her the clothes of mortals and dress her in fairy garments!"
The girl, weeping, was whirled away from the queen's presence. The servant fairies were about to remove her dress when they discovered the bag of incense which she always wore in a ribbon around her neck. This little bag, felahtare, contained incense from Mount Levanos, a bit of candle that had burned on Easter before the portrait of the Virgin, a leaf from a wild fairy plant, a petal 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.
The fairies released their prisoner suddenly with cries of alarm. "We dare not touch it! We dare not touch it! A curse would fall upon us!"
Instead of fairy robes, the shepherdess was given cream and the finest honey from Crete. When she had eaten, the fairies carried her back over hills and fields and streams, and set her down beside the Kreovreshe near where her sheep were feeding. The watch dog that had guarded them in her absence came to her, barking, and the fairies disappeared.
Twilight began to fall as Grandmother Adamis ended her story. The priest returned for his third visit to the house of Petros. Tasoula's mother still knelt at the bedside, moaning, while the women who stood about wailed in despair. Tasoula was lying just as she had been since she was carried in, when all at once she gave a little sigh and opened her eyes.
She seemed startled as she looked about. Then she realized where she was and after she had been given a little food and wine, she was able to tell what had happened.
Six beautiful fairy maidens had appeared before her while she was drinking from the spring at the foot of the tallest pine. It was the very Kreovreshe where the fairies had appeared to Grandmother Adamis. The maidens begged Tasoula to dance with them and when she refused, they grew very angry and by joining hands they formed a ring around her so that she could not escape. They took her up, up, dancing all the time and never touching the ground, until they reached the highest peak of all the mountains. There was snow, deep snow, everywhere, and it was bitterly cold, but they danced in the snow and made Tasoula dance with them.
Then their anger seemed to have left them. They whispered together a little while, looking at her. Then the tallest, the most beautiful, waved her handkerchief above the ground. The snow melted and a great, black hole opened beneath their feet. They dropped into the mountain and went whirling down, down, down. It was dark and terrible. Tasoula could not see, but she felt the fairies holding to her and their voices echoing through the passage rang in her ears. All at once they were out again in the hot sunshine on the side of the Sotera.
"The fairies laughed and flew away," Tasoula said, "and then I don't know how it was, but when I started to the
spring to drink again, I was here!"
"She doesn't know it was only her soul they took with
them," whispered a neighbor.
"No," agreed another. "They would have stolen her body, too, if she had been more beautiful. We would never have seen her again."