House of God
It was our holy Eastertime when we were released. I carried Anastasia on my back, for my mother was ill and could only walk slowly, and it was a long way down to the sea, to the Gulf of Lepanto. We entered a church magnificent with pictures on a golden background. They were pictures of angels, oh, so beautiful! but I thought our little Anastasia was just as beautiful. In the center of the floor was a coffin filled with roses. "The Lord Christ is symbolized there as a beautiful rose," said my mother; and then the priest chanted, "Christ is risen!" Everybody kissed each other. All the people had lighted tapers in their hands; I received one, and so did little Anastasia. The bagpipes played, men danced hand in hand from the church, and the women outside were roasting the Easter lamb. We were invited to share it, and when I sat by the fire a boy older than I put his arms around my neck, kissed me, and cried, "Christ is risen!" Thus we met for the first time, Aphtanides and I.
Then one evening Aphtanides returned, strong, brown, and slender as a reed. He kissed us all, and had many stories to tell of the great ocean, the fortifications of Malta, and the strange tombs of Egypt. It all sounded wonderful, like a priestly legend, and I looked at him with a kind of awe.
"How much you know!" I said. "How well you can tell about it!"
"But after all, you once told me about the most wonderful thing," he said. "You told me something that has never been out of my thoughts-the grand old custom of the bond of friendship, a custom I want very much to follow. Brother, let us go to church, as your and Anastasia's fathers did before us. Your sister is the most beautiful and innocent of girls; she shall consecrate us! No nation has such beautiful old customs as we Greeks."
Anastasia blushed like a fresh rose, and my mother kissed Aphtanides.
An hour's walk from our house, where loose earth lies on the rocks, and a few scattered trees give shade, stood the little church, a silver lamp hanging before its altar.
I wore my best clothes. The white fustanella fell in rich folds over my hips, the red jacket fitted tight and snug, the tassel on my fez was silver, and in my girdle gleamed my knife and pistols. Aphtanides wore the blue costume of the Greek sailors; on his chest hung a silver medallion with a figure of the Virgin Mary, and his scarf was as costly as those worn by rich men. Everyone could see that we two were going to some ceremony.
We entered the little empty church, where the evening sunlight, streaming through the door, gleamed on the burning lamp and the colored pictures on the golden background. We knelt on the altar steps, and Anastasia stood before us. A long white garment hung loosely and lightly over her graceful figure; on her white neck and bosom a chain of old and new coins formed a large collar. Her black hair was fastened in a single knot and held together by a small cap fashioned of gold and silver coins that had been found in the old temples. No Greek girl had more beautiful ornaments than she. Her face beamed, and her eyes were bright as two stars.
The three of us prayed silently, and then she asked us, "Will you be friends in life and in death?"
"Yes", we replied.
"Will each of you, whatever may happen, remember: my brother is a part of me! My secrets are his secrets; my happiness is his happiness! Self-sacrifice, patience, every virtue in me, belongs to him as well as to me!"
Then she placed our hands together and kissed each of us on the forehead, and again we prayed silently. Then the priest came through the door behind the altar and blessed the three of us; the singing voices of other holy men sounded from behind the altar screen. The bond of eternal friendship was completed. When we arose I saw that my mother standing by the church door was weeping tenderly.
How cheerful it was now in our little hut by the springs of Delphi!