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Authors: Rovena Cumani,Thomas Hauge

Tags: #romance, #drama, #historical

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BOOK: The Lake of Sorrows
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Suddenly, she felt very old.

XXV

“C
ould you please tell me what sort of business we have at the bazaar?” Chryssie was fidgeting and looking over her shoulder every other moment. This stroll that her lady had suddenly ordered made her feel like an army scout going for a walk in the midst of an enemy camp.

“I cannot stay any longer jailed at home, Vaya. Enough is enough.” Froshenie tried to sound grave, but a mischievous smile spoiled the effect. I got terribly bored.”

“Oh. I see.” Chryssie’s voice was a lash, though one her mistress obviously did not feel. “Watching the lemons and peppers will improve your mood?”

But Froshenie’s mood seemed to need little improvement; truth to tell, it seemed impossible to spoil.

“Just look around yourself, Vaya. Enjoy the colors of the world.” Froshenie focused her attention on a Turkish brass tray on display in one of the market stalls. “Look at sun dancing in that, so free of care.”

“This is not the right time for market strolls and dreaming with your eyes open and you know it, my sweet. Levandinos came to our house again.”

“You did not tell me that!”

“I got rid of him by lying. I said you were asleep. But we both know he will be back again. And you send your children to visit your uncle the Patriarch! Instead of making arrangements for them
and
you to join your husband abroad as soon as possible.”

Froshenie bit her lip, but seemed to have no shame still.

Chryssie fumed. “And we, we just stroll around the bazaar. You are unbelievable.”

“Oh come now, Vaya.” Froshenie’s pleading was laced with honey and sunlight. “Stop grumbling and ruining this happy hour for me.”

“No, I will not.” Chryssie’s pleading had only gloom in it. “Listen to me. We must leave Yannina. The sooner the better. Let us join Dimitros in Venice. It is said to be a nefarious place, but at least it has no Beys. The longer we stay here the greater the danger. We will fall into Muhtar’s trap.”

“Oh, Vaya. You are always exaggerating. There is no danger.” Froshenie’s had barely spoken the words before her smile froze, then vanished. “Too late, Vaya. We have fallen into that trap already.”

Burst forth from the bustling crowd in the bazaar, Muhtar and Tahir were standing beside the two women.

Muhtar nodded at Tahir and he bowed to Chryssie. “My orders are to escort you home without your lady.”

“I am not leaving Froshenie alone.”

“And I am not disobeying my master’s orders. Nothing will happen to your mistress, I assure you. Just do as I say.” He took Chryssie’s arm. She tore away from him. He caught it again, in a far less gentle grip this time. “Look, woman, there is an easy and a hard way to do anything. You do not get to choose
if
this is to be, only
how.

Chryssie looked at the craggy face and at the sword and dagger in his belt and let herself be escorted away. Behind her, Froshenie stood motionless, looking like a deer that has lost its mother.

Muhtar looked like the hunter that had brought down that mother - albeit a hunter that felt no pride having done so. Respectfully, he offered Froshenie his arm. She, having no choice, followed him as he took them away from the crowd, towards the castle ruins beyond the bazaar.

Presently, as they were alone at the ruins, Muhtar released her arm and spoke in a soothing voice. “At the end of the bazaar, right after the silverware shops, is the house of my adjutant and friend, Meço Bolno. Please meet me there tonight. I will be waiting for you.”

“I cannot go anywhere.” Froshenie’s words came out in gasps. “I am a married woman. Do you not see? I cannot wander in the streets at night!”

He beamed at her as, at last, he had heard her voice, and it was as enchanting to his ears as her face was to his eyes. “Then may I come to your house myself?” He took a step towards her. “All we shall do is just talk. Please.”

He grasped her hand in desperation and hope. Her skin tingled, her heart started pounding.

Froshenie raised her eyes for the very first time. His face was so close, his look so intense and the struggle between duty and desire that she saw in it took away her breath.

“Please do not tell me again that it cannot be.” Muhtar’s voice was more pitiful than a bazaar’s beggar’s.

“I am afraid I … I have to.” Froshenie could hardly find enough breath to answer him and feared she would faint.

“Even if you do not come, I will be waiting for you where I told you when the evening comes.”

“I will not. I know you -
of
you. I am a married — “

“My lady, forgive a man who is tyrannized by his heart - which you have stolen. I could never force myself upon a lady, you least of all. I only desire that you consent to meet me, of your own free will. You are unlike any other woman I have ever met.”

“Please.” It was Froshenie’s turn to beg in agony. “Not at a stranger’s house. If anybody sees me, the gossip will spread like a wildfire. You are wronging me simply by suggesting it.”

Muhtar looked around him. Curious onlookers were approaching, as they had not yet recognized the Pasha’s son. He groaned and capitulated. “Then here should be just fine. Nobody comes at night. I will be waiting for you.”

With that, he left. As suddenly as he had appeared to turn her life inside out.

Froshenie almost ran to her home. She hid behind the garden walls and slammed the small gate, still gasping. Collapsing by the well ledge, she tried to calm her racing mind. But she found she had not been able to outrun herself.

XXVI

T
he evening darkness was spreading fast over Yannina. Froshenie was in her bedroom once the Vaya entered the room. Chryssie pretended not to notice a certain piece of jewelry her lady was admiring on herself in the mirror - before taking its delicate chain off her neck again.

So the Vaya simply stood there, until the silence became unbearable. Froshenie spoke without turning away from the mirror. “Have the children fallen asleep?”

“Yes, they have.” Chryssie’s voice, previously so agitated, was now calm - or resigned. “Have you decided what you will do?”

Froshenie was turning the crucifix over in her hand, over and over. “He is waiting for me, Vaya. if I do not go to meet him, he will come here himself.”

Chryssie took Froshenie protectively by the shoulders and turned her around. “My sweet child! You are a clever woman. You know you should not do this. And that you are not about to do it because you fear what people would say. It is because you want to,
regardless
of what people say. But you forget who he is. Danger lurks, Froshenie. You are about to visit a
daimon
out of your own free will.”

“A
daimon
that will come here, Vaya, if I do not come to him. But this is my home. My children live here. Do you wish them to share the same danger?”

“Neither them nor you, my sweet. Tomorrow, I will take your children to the Patriarch again. This time I will ask if they can stay with him a while. They will be safe there, even the Pasha himself would not dare enter the Patriarch’s house unbidden, he is too wise for that. Or too cunning. And then you need not go to the Beast’s son! Just stay put. If Muhtar Bey calls, refuse him. Then he must enter the house by force. If he stoops so low as to do that, it means there was no escape for us no matter what. And at least your reputation will be intact. A lady who ventures out into the streets alone and in the dark risks both her reputation and her virtue - and her life.”

“He and I will just talk, Vaya. Then, tomorrow we both will visit my uncle. Yes, we will ask him to protect the children until this matter has been settled. And we will ask his help to settle it. He has the ear of the Pasha and the Pasha must have the ear of his son. The Pasha will make his son see sense - or
order
him to see sense.”

“You would have the Pasha of the Muslims obey the Patriarch of the Christians?”

“Alhi needs the Patriarch, Vaya. He is the one that keeps the Christian flock quiet and obedient in Yannina.”

Chryssie’s face was hardly that of a true believer. “What would you do have me say, my sweet? Do you honestly believe that a sermon from the Patriarch to the beast Pasha could ever do any good, rather than make things worse? When has the Pasha ever interfered with his son’s love affairs before? Never. Do you honestly believe that Muhtar would give up that easily?”

Froshenie was wringing her hands. “I can only hope for it, Vaya.”

Tears filled Chryssie’s eyes. “Then you are hoping for a miracle, my poor sweet. May God grant it. I see no other way out of this.”

At that moment a hammering on their door made them both jump. For a moment, they looked ominously at each other. The hammering was repeated, more thunderously this time. Froshenie grabbed Chryssie by the arm, not knowing if it was to steady the nurse or herself.

Then the attack on the door ceased for a moment and a booming voice called out. “Chryssie! Froshenie! What is taking you so long? Why have you bolted the door? Open up. Is nobody in there?”

Both women’s mouths fell open in a joint gasp. Then the smile of a reprieved martyr bloomed on Chryssie’s face. “God has heard our hopes already. It is Dimitros!”

Froshenie bowed her head and shadows hid the expression it bore, but her voice was a mere whisper. “My husband has come home.”

XXVII

“A
t the end of the bazaar, right after the silverware shops.” The caped and hooded figure whispered the instructions again, reluctantly, as if trying to believe the darkened house was
not
the right one. But it was. The house of Muhtar Bey’s adjutant and friend, Meço Bolno.

Tonight, it held only one occupant, a splendidly-dressed Muhtar Bey. The bluish light of the full moon glistened in his teeth, as he smiled at the sight of his visitor.

Then his smile vanished and his shoulders sagged, for the figure had hesitantly lowered the hood and now bowed before him.

“You are not the lady Froshenie. You are her nurse, are you not?”

Chryssie shivered and eyed the door. Her voice failed her, so she did not answer the Bey.

The young man leaned closer. “Why did not she come?”

Again, Chryssie shivered and she half-raised her arms to protect herself from the blows that would surely follow a Bey’s disappointment.

None came. He simply waited.

Now Chryssie looked up, full of wonder. “She was ready to, Muhtar Bey, but … ” The Vaya drew a deep, shivering breath. “But her husband just returned home from Genoa. She sent me to let you know this and ask your forgiveness. S-surely you understand?”

Muhtar sagged even more. “Are you telling me the truth?”

His voice was so sad that Chryssie, for a moment, felt like a nurse with a grieving child. She began to reach out to put a comforting hand on his shoulder, then realized what she was doing and yanked it back. “I speak the truth, Muhtar Bey. You can easily see for yourself first thing in the morning, once Dimitros Vassiliou appears in Yannina. You are not … not angry with me?”

Muhtar sighed so deeply it brought tears to the corners of her eyes. Then he looked up in sudden hope. “Will he leave soon?”

Chryssie was no longer cowering; she was eyeing the young man with something like wonder in her face. Where was the fierce beast that a son of the Pasha must surely be? A spark of courage ignited a spark of hope. If the opiate of a bit of hope could stall the beast’s cub … “Dimitros Vassiliou has never been known to stay long in Yannina. He may rest for a few days and then he goes back to Venice or Genoa.”

Muhtar sighed again and she began to feel just a bit exasperated with the lad - but she still had to wipe away a rebellious tear. He smiled wistfully at the sight. “You truly love your lady, do you not? I can tell.”

She raised her gaze to meet his and nodded in surprise. “I could not love her more if she were my own. I have raised her myself and her life is my life. And since her husband is rarely at home, I am all she has in this world.”

“Then go.” Muhtar turned away. “The lake’s mists are full and cold at this hour. You should return home before you endanger your health. I would not want to rob your lady of her only companion.”

Chryssie bowed hurriedly and started towards the door. His voice stopped her. “What is your name?”

She froze. “Wh-why would my name be worthy of your interest, my Bey?”

He smiled again. “I would like to know to whom I owe my thanks.”

“My name, then, is Chryssie, my Bey.”

“Then thank you, lady Chryssie. Thank you very much. For braving the streets of Yannina at night to let me know of my misfortune. And for sparing your mistress the danger.”

XXVIII

C
hryssie met Froshenie in the yard of the Vassiliou house. The Vaya was still unable to control her astonishment and her outburst was almost delirious.

“It is a miracle, my lady! Another miracle, my Virgin Mary.”

Froshenie jumped towards her and clapped a hand over her mouth. “Do not shout! Dimitros will wake up and hear you. He sleeps like a log, he is exhausted from his travels, but your shouting could wake the dead!”

Chryssie was oblivious, blabbering through the fingers over her mouth. “Can you believe it? Muhtar. Alhi’s son. He
thanked
me and asked me my name? Who? Muhtar! And if you could see his expression. Oh, manly as any man, but shy and sweet like a boy, too. God help me. Out of this world, I am telling you.”

“Please do not shout.” Froshenie pressed her hand tighter over her Vaya’s mouth and looked towards the house.

“Forgive me, my sweet.” Gritting her teeth with the effort, Chryssie fought down her agitation. “But I am still in such awe and surprise. An of whom? Muhtar. To thank me and ask me my name. I was expecting to get beheaded or impaled instead. Do you not see?” Her tone went high-pitched again and Froshenie almost fell on her to cover her mouth.

“Vaya, for God’s sake control yourself. If you wake Dimitros he will
not
appreciate it - or your story!”

Chryssie could not stop babbling out her wonder, again and again, but at least she did so in a much lower voice now. “To ask me my name and say thank you! Who? Muhtar. To me … Ran out to become a martyr, I thought, and I am called ‘lady’ instead! Perhaps it has all been gossip, perhaps the Bey’s apple has fallen very far from his father’s tree, perhaps he is as fine a young man as —”

BOOK: The Lake of Sorrows
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