Read The Lake of Sorrows Online

Authors: Rovena Cumani,Thomas Hauge

Tags: #romance, #drama, #historical

The Lake of Sorrows (5 page)

BOOK: The Lake of Sorrows
13.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Suddenly intrigued, Alhi leaned forward. “Why did your own mother show you to Tahir? Mothers usually hide girls from me.”

“My mother was very sick and I had noone else in the world. What would become of me after she died? She had no choice.”

Caught off guard by her reply, Alhi’s gaze grew distant. “True. You would feel very … lonely.”

Eminee saw the odd look in his eyes, remembered that he occasionally sensed Hamko’s ghost in daytime, too - and immediately ordered the slaves to take the girl out of the room.

When they were alone, Alhi hid his unease behind disdain. “By the gods of all my religions, now my harem has become a convent! Whoever has a girl to get rid of, they send her to me for feed and care.”

Eminee listened patiently to the rest of his speech, though she had heard it before - and disapproved. It was not the speech of a Pasha, but that of a stingy goatherd.

“My entire harem eat the best there is!” Alhi was grumbling still. “Dress up and ornate themselves with the best and then do what? Nothing. Except waste my treasures purchasing all the silk and trinkets in Hyperus. As long as they are young I can swallow it, but once they grow old and wrinkled, it is treasure thrown off a cliff.

Eminee spoke in her most honey-laced voice. “You wish your harem to be largest of all, the envy of all men. Yet you complain at the arrival of a new - and pretty - girl.”

“Yes. I wish to expand my harem at my own will. Not to have others unload their burdens on my back.”

But his change of heart was as fast as it had always been when looking into Eminee’s eyes. “Anyway, let it be. Dress her up in silk and baubles, teach her the ways of the harem and tell her to watch her step. As for me, there is a good chance she never sees my face again. And no other man’s, either.”

Eminee nodded. “Until it is time we marry her off to someone else to the benefit of you, my lord.”

A touch of his grumbling returned. “We need to marry off a lot of them as speedily as possible to whomever I owe a favor, so that they will be feeding these gorgeous vultures, not I.”

Despite herself, Eminee had to smile at how the goatherd’s sense of practicalities joined forces with the Pasha’s. “And thus improve your fortunes even further while defending your poor treasury.”

“I must be a master strategist these days. Muhtar is building a harem of his own, you know. Velis, too. In Constantinople, but at my expense. Soon this palace will be nothing but a bejeweled stable full of dazzling women overseen by a few poor paupers like myself.” He shook his head. “Remind me to tell my sons not to fall in love too often!”

XI

“Y
our Dimitros would never do that, Froshenie. Few husbands are as devoted as he. Besides, where in the world would he find a beauty to match yours?”

The question hung unanswered for quite some time in the flickering candle-light in the stately Vassiliou house’s living room. Froshenie was curled up, somewhat un-ladylike, in a large italian armchair by the fire, looking down on a closed book. Chryssie, the
Vaya
nurse, was seated on the carpet, trying to explain to her current charges, Ioannis and Antonia, that it was too early for a boy of six to be haughty towards a girl of four. He seemed to her to be paying no more attention than his mother did.

“Still, Dimitros has to spend many a night in Italian taverns.” Froshenie still seemed mesmerized by the closed book. “And his travels are taking him ever further. How long has he been gone this time already?”

Grunting with the not inconsiderable effort of it, Chryssie rose from the floor and took the book from Froshenie’s hands. Glancing at it, she harrumphed mightily. “That old Italian fellow again, is it? And let me guess — that distasteful story of two young men lodging at an inn?”

Slightly shame-faced, Froshenie took back the book. “He is quite famous, Chryssie. And no honest woman would deny she has heard of husbands and wives losing their hearts elsewhere.”

Chryssie harrumphed again. “It is not their
hearts
that lead them to the wrong bed, my sweet, if you will pardon me for hinting at matters that a married wife should know nothing about. This
signore
Boccaccio makes no secret of that. But what else would one expect from an Italian?”

“They are fine tales, Chryssie. So full of … life. Not at all like the books my uncle allowed me to read.”

The Vaya shook her head. “Not only do you read far too many books for a woman, assuming she should read any at all. You also read all the wrong ones, my pet. I think I shall suggest to master Dimitros that he leaves his library locked when he is abroad.”

“Chryssie!” Froshenie looked up, laughing. “What would I do with myself, then?”

The Vaya paused for a long, proud look at her mistress. Grown into a beauty that made younger men blush and older men stammer, Froshenie Vassiliou’s face was nevertheless still as much imp as angel, and she never seemed to outgrow that mischievous smile that always lurked in her dark eyes. And, except when dressed up to be a lady at her husband’s side, she seemed to have the manners of a cat! Curling up in that foreign chair instead of reclining on a divan like a lady should, moving about the house like a shadow, and never, ever doing what a proper Vaya thought a proper wife and lady should do. “What you would do with yourself, my sweet? Why, you would receive visits, go on visits yourself, and all the other things a respectable and modern rich man’s wife does. I am sure master Dimitros’ reputation is suffering because you rarely leave this house. They might think he is all but imprisoning you here, you know?”

“Anyone who knows him also knows he cannot even bring himself to keep a bird in a cage, much less a wife.” A touch of tantrum crept into Froshenie’s voice. “It is
they
who insist a wife should be like a caged bird! The next time I meet them in the bazaar, I shall raise my nose even higher to the heavens than any of those hypocrite matriarchs and dare them to — “

“A caged bird is healthy and well fed, my sweet, and does not have to fear becoming dinner for a hawk or a cat at any moment. Besides, a bird of your delicate health — “

“My father did not raise me to be a bird!”

Chryssie was getting exasperated. “So you always say. And no, your father, may he rest in peace, tried to raise you to be a poet like himself. And forgot you were a daughter, not a son. You should be happy that your uncle took you in. It is curious, is it not, that the Patriarch knew better how to raise a child, as he never had any of his own?”

Froshenie’s annoyance succumbed to a smile. “He let
you
raise me, Chryssie.”

“And a fine job I did, too!” Chryssie swelled to even more matronly stature. “My little girl has become the pride of Yannina, the envy of all the men that are
not
married to you.” She leaned towards Froshenie, with mock sternness in her countenance. “If only for that reason, you should go out more, to bring glory to your poor, hard-working husband. How can a man take pride in the beauty of his wife, when she is only ever seen by a two children and a nurse?”

“Have you forgotten he had no less than twoscore miniatures made of my humble likeness as gift for his wedding guests? Perhaps he knew I was not a wife who would prance around town?”

“Or perhaps he made them to make sure at least
some
people would know who you are if you got lost, since they see you as rarely as you see the city?”

“Ahh, Chryssie. Are you so eager to push me out of the nest? Are you not at all afraid I might meet a Paganino?”

“You are married to young man, not an old one, you shameless Fiammetta.”

“You seem to know the
signore’s
tales quite well, my prim Chryssie.”

“I am not married, little imp. And besides, you have prattled of those stories so often that one hardly needs to read them.”

Froshenie’s smile was impish indeed. “Then I wonder who put those dog-ears in the tales of the fifth day. You know I love books far too much to do such things to them.”

“Now I
will
tell master Dimitros to lock up his library!”

XII

A
lhi loved to visit the bazaar on Yannina’s vast city square from time to time. He would inspect his subjects and enjoy their respectful bows - or perhaps the smell of fear as he rode by on his magnificent war-horse, escorted by the chosen men of his guard, and occasionally by his son, when Muhtar was home from his wars. But one such day the Pasha forgot all this as his gaze fell on a lady among the crowd who was … different.

Her head was not bowed, but raised defiantly and yet peacefully, with an air of kind pride. And never in his life had Alhi seen those two qualities in one person. As they rode closer, the sun’s rays caught dark eyes and a face of rare beauty in full bloom, and yet — there was something impish about it that made him want to chuckle without knowing why.

With the slightest of gestures, he signaled his guard captain to move closer and spoke quietly in the dialect of the Tepeleni tribesmen. “Who is that, Tahir?”

The captain answered in the same tongue. “Unapproachable, my Pasha.” The guard captain’s gnarled, grey-bearded face was studiously neutral. “Married to that wealthy merchant whose ships are all over the Ionian and the Adriatic — Vassiliou, I think he is called, Dimitros Vassiliou. Even worse, she is the niece of the Christians’ Patriarch. Froshenie is her name, I believe.”

“Ah!” Alhi swiftly raised his gaze away from the woman and looked at the empty sky with great concentration. “Well, even the Pasha has to have certain boundaries.”

“Not worth it.” The ghost of a not too gentlemanly grin slipped across Tahir’s face as, for a moment, he was a tribesman speaking to his chieftain.

“No.” For a moment, Alhi was more chieftain than Pasha, too. “Lost trade and taxes, a possible uprising - and lost
face.
Too high a price for a pair of dark eyes, you are right.”

“A wise choice, my Pasha. And, to a man with a harem as fine as yours, an easy one.”

“You forget yourself, Tahir.” Alhi’s voice was once more the Pasha, but there was still a shadow of the grin on his face.

“Your forgiveness, my Pasha. You know you can trust me to never reveal our words.”

“I trust you in all things, Tahir. That is also an easy choice, since our heads will be sent together to the Sultan if he ever un-makes me Pasha.”

They rode on. Muhtar, however, held back his horse and looked at Froshenie with unashamed fascination.

Froshenie, in turn, found herself unable to look away from the Bey and their gazes met. And for once a young man did not blush when laying eyes on her - at least no more than she blushed at laying eyes on him. Since he had first entered Yannina, the Bey had grown to be able to look over most men’s heads, and the width of his shoulders and back now matched his father’s, although his height made him look more slender. His face, though, had become a permanent battleground between the finely-chiseled features of his mother and the sprouting, unruly beard of his father — short though he wore that beard, it always seemed on the verge of fanning out in all directions to make him look like a comely cutthroat.

“Muhtar! Will you deny us your pleasant company?” Alhi’s gravelly voice made both his son and Froshenie start. Muhtar caught himself, cast one last, lingering look at her, then turned and spurred his horse to catch up with his father and the guard captain.

“Who is he, Vaya?” Froshenie was smiling at nothing.

Chryssie saw it and quickly made the sign of the cross. “Protect yourself and forget him at once, my mistress!” She put her hand on Froshenie’s arm, none too gently. “Why do you think he rides the finest horse in Yannina, except for the Pasha’s own? No, you did not notice that, did you? You noticed nothing but
him
! That man is danger, my sweet. He is Alhi Pasha’s son, Muhtar. He is Bey, he is Pasha-to-be, he is his father’s errand-boy in peace and butcher in war.”

Froshenie, barely listening to her Vaya’s wisdom, was breathing the air as if drinking fine wine. “He looks so … valiant.”

“And he is so married! As are you. Did you not even notice that emerald ring on his finger? No? Well, look closer at
that
next time and not at his ‘so valiant’ face. The emerald is cut to the shape of a snake, my sweet.” Chryssie tugged at Froshenie’s arm, but it was like tugging at a statue. “That is a gift from his wife, it is said, to remind him of her - and of the kind of woman she can be! Will you take your eyes off him! Have you no shame? Come with me at once, we are going home. Now!”

And she dragged Froshenie away from the bazaar, sternly reminding her again and again
not
to look back.

XIII

“B
e careful, doctor. That is a frightful lot of blood!”

Chryssie flinched at the sight of the lancet and the cup, filling with the dark blood of her mistress. Froshenie was lying in bed, looking almost more pale than her silken covers, and Chryssie had never reconciled herself to the idea of bleeding red from people who were already too white.

Doctor Karayannis smiled condescendingly as he retracted his lancet from Froshenie’s arm and studied the blood he had drawn. “Do not be afraid, Chryssie. It has to be let out. It is the superfluous, weakened blood in your lady’s body that causes these fevers of hers.”

Froshenie drew more of her covers over her. “Every time the weather changes, it is the same. I get this fever and it makes me feel like dying.”

“You and the Pasha both.” The doctor laughed. “Every time the weather changes, you both get fevers.”

Suddenly stern, Chryssie broke in. “Please do not mention the name of that Antichrist, doctor. I get frightened just at the sound of his name. Like an evil spell or something. It is not something to talk of in front of a sick woman.”

Karayannis laughed at this Vaya’s simplicity and innocence, although he tried to do so politely.

“Bring me the cloth with wine, Chryssie and do not worry. Soon he will ask for me to visit him again. As soon as the rainy season starts for true, he will fall ill, just like poor Froshenie.”

Curiosity brought a bit of spark to Froshenie’s eyes. “How is he?
Really
I mean. As a human being?”

BOOK: The Lake of Sorrows
13.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Secrets of the Past by Wendy Backshall
Stray by Craw, Rachael
19 - The Power Cube Affair by John T. Phillifent
Astrid Cielo by Begging for Forgiveness (Pinewood Creek Shifters)
Night Fury: First Act by Belle Aurora
Necrocrip by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
My Three Masters by Juniper Bell
The Romance Novel Cure by Ceves, Nina