I am the son of a defrocked priest. When I was born my father was still a priest and was the only priest in the village of San Rocco in Monte Etrusco, a small village in the Umbrian Appenines.
My mother was a simple village woman; she could read a little and could sign her name; but not much more. She had been orphaned at age eight and had been raised by a very pious grandmother who made sure her religious training was foremost in her life. So mother was raised most piously, her grandmother made sure of that.
My father, a learned man, was not an Umbrian; he came from Foggia in Puglie, but he had studied in Rome and in his youth had traveled and could speak several languages. His travels convinced him that the life of a priest was for him because he would rather read, pray and study than work as a deckhand on a ship or to do agricultural labor or other menial tasks he seemed destined for. His parents had taught him to read and he had always liked to read; that was his downfull: books. They kept him from exploring the world around him. He, instead, lost himself in books instead of participating in life at its fullest--especially when he was young.
At least I am not like my father. I like to travel and explore and yes, even to read books--I've read thousands of them--but I can't stay too long in one place.
At any rate, father took to being a priest as does a duck to water. He excelled in theology and Latin and his Greek was very good and his understanding of Scripture held him in good stead and he was the best scriptural student in his class, and he excelled in rhetoric, something my mother remembered and which affected my later life. After he was ordained, he was offered a position as a teacher in a boys school which position did not usually go to young, newly ordained priests, but the it was given to him as a kind of reward for having been such a good theology student. The school was a very prestigous school where rich merchants and the aristocracy sent their children. He taught Latin and theology to youths at the St Joseph Academy..
He was there for about two years and had been commended many times and he even came to the notice of the Archbishop, who asked to be kept informed of the promising priest, knew about his talents as budding scholar, theologian and teacher. He would go a long way in the church. But fate would have it otherwise. For a young boy fell in love with my father and that caused his first ruination.
The boy was fifteen and fell in love with father. But the love was only one sided, for father was chaste and would remain so until he met my mother. At first father tried to ignore this over-excited youth, but the boy sent him notes and small gifts and whispered things to him; he even had the audacity to use the confessional to express his ardor person to person. That, however, was the last straw for father who felt that the student had committed blasphemy by using the confessional to ask the young priest to meet him in the olive grove adjacent to the school.
Father dragged the unexpected boy from the confessional, dragged him by the ear all the way to the Father Superior, who sat in outrage and disgust at the youth's blasphemy. The youth, truly frightened at the shock of his having been exposed so very quickly, admitted to the charge of blashphemy, but with a serpent's bit of quick wit he replied that he was only using the confessional to rid himself of the sin that he had committed with my innocent father. It was an ugly scheme of revenge, this counterac- cusation, that father, further had taken him by force, and afterward the boy was only confessing his sin, committed with my father,in the confessional, as his guilt-ridden conscience dictated.
Never let it be said that liars will ever lack charm in their lies, for suddenly all the forces of the church were at father's throat. The boy's father was an aristocrat who was the friend of cardinals and bishops and he had connections in the Curia as well. He insisted that justice be served and that the priest be defrocked and sent to the civil authorities and dealt with. But the Father Superior had not trusted the youth's testimony and never believed the youth and fought on father's side and even got a few others to side with him. But the boy's father was very powerful and oiled the palms of certain people with gold ducats; but father, praise God, was not defrocked, then, primarily because of the big stink put up by Father Superior Agostino, who paid dearly for his championing father's cause, for he was removed from his high position and sent to an out of the way African mission.
Father, of course, had been removed from his teaching positon and was told to stay in his room (a kind of house arrest) and he could only come out for one hour a day, in the evening and could not receive any visitors except his confessor, who happened to be Father Superior Agostino, who kept my father abreast of things and advised him.
In the end the boy was taken out of the school and sent to another school. My father, innocent, yet guilty in the eyes of those with golden ducats in their purses, was first sent to the Monastery of San Mary Magdalene, a very strict order that kept the priests praying eighteen hours a day with very little sleep. Father endured this austere monasticism for eight years. Then he wrote a letter to the local bishop asking that he be transfered from this order for he felt he was losing his sanity, and that he be sent to where his learning could be put to good use. The harsh life of a monk, especially the fasting was ruining his health and causing him to be constantly unhappy, which was unnatural, unChristian, and unjust for he was innocent of all charges and had suffered enough. The abbot sent up the appeal.
Good fortune was on my father's side, for the local bishiop was a priest who had remembered his case of eight years before and never thought him guilty; and seeing that the old priest in San Rocco in Monte Etrusco, who had failing kidneys, would be dead before Christmas--so said the doctors--would need to be replaced, then, as soon as possible with Father Paul, my father, and while the old priest was still alive he could guide the young priest who had been more than punished and humiliated, by his long years of monastic imprisonment.
Therefore the bishop released my father, and after some days of abundant food, air, light and freedom of movement, and of reorientation to the outside world from which he'd been kept from for eight years, he was sent as a replacement to the Church of the Annunciation in the village of almost three thousand souls, San Rocco in Monte Etrusco.
Father was now thrity-three years old. He was regaining his health and his mind was very sharp and he no sooner was familiar with all the rooms and knew where the money box was and knew which keys were for which doors, and after Father Alfredo had told him as much as he could about the people and the history of the small town way up on Monte Etrusco, the old priest asked my father to give him last rites and after a long night of suffering, the old priest gave up the ghost and my father was now alone. Father sang his first high mass in honor of the old priest who had served in the town for over fifty years.
The housekeeper who had served the late father was also old and she wanted to retire to her land and help raise her many grandchildren, but before she went she sought her own replacement and since she knew my great-grandmother, she went to her and told her that all Antonia (my mother) had to do was wash his linens once a week, do the marketing cook two meals a day; keep the house clean, mend clothes, make sure the larder was always full and to help dispense surplus when the priest's larder was overflowing--which happened usually around Christmas time. She would be home every night and would still be able to help her grandmother, and every month she would receive a gold paoli for her services. Great grandmother agreed.
My unselfish mother, being of modest demeanor and learned in the domestic arts, gave unconditinal service to the recently released, former monk-prisoner, who had not expected such service, being himself so long used to austerities and paucities undreamed of by the laity. Her good service pleased him, but beyond that he gave her no more thought and threw himself into his work.
She cooked him nutritious dinners; she baked bread and made her own egg noodles and rolled them out on the square marble-topped table in the rectory's kitchen. She mended his clothes and folded his linens and dusted all over and swept clean the floors, She washed the house's linens at the stream with the village women and these women often joked with her about being able to perform all of the chores of a wife and not having any of the "other" duties of a wife, and still able to go home at night. The sexual implication was quite clear, and it was cruel to my mother who was sweet and innocent, but the women meant no harm, it was but rustic humor at which the older women laughed, but which ways made my poor shy mother blush and almost want to run away.
She was my father's housekeeper for two years. During that time father recovered from his long years of austerities; but one habit of his monkage remained with him, that of not sleeping many hours. He would stay up very, very late, then sleep for only three or four hours, get up and put in a full day. The years in the monstery had given him a new outlook on life and now instead of being disdainful of manual labor, he performed what he could when he could. During harvest time he would roll up his cassock and pick fruit or scythe grain or help preserve fruits and meats and join in the grape crushing; and in the proper season help the local farmers to prune the vines and the fruit trees; but when all the activities of daily life eneded, he most of all would stay in his room and read and read and read for many. many hours and sleep very little. Winter was his most favorite time, for then the land was quite and he could devote many hours to reading, reflecting and writing..
In those first two years, as noted, he barely noticed mother. He was busy ministering to his new flock and, taking his post most seriously, he spent a lot of time away from the rectory. He was up early to hear confessions and to say mass daily. Afterwards he would walk or borrow a mule or a donkey and go visit the sick and the housebound within his parish; or to bring the sacrament to the dying and to baptise and wed those who lived in the remoter parts of the parish which was very large.
Coming back from one of these long day trips, his mule shied when some nocturanl creature had run across the road, and in the poor beast's fright it threw father to the ground. When he landed he did not break any bones, but his head had hit a stone and he lost consciousness and stayed unconscious until some local farmers found him on their way to market. He was brought back to his house and a distant doctor fetched. He was badly bruised; his body hurt all over and his head hurt excruciatingly so. The doctor advised complete bed rest for at least ten or more days and lots of hot food and a night watch lest a fever come upon him and he convulse.
Of course it was to mother that the burden of the care fell, but she did not mind. Some of the older women in the village came to sit with him during the day and their droning put him to sleep while she was busy around the house with chores, and also, to help her grandmother. But at night it was she who slept in a chair or stood vigil over him during the wee hours of the morning. But since he slept so much during the day he could not sleep during the night and it was during one of his first sleepless nights that he started to talk to mother for the first time in depth and got to know her and take notice of her and saw how pretty and shy she was and he gave her several compliments. After several nights of exchanges she came to like the father very much and liked the things he's said about her, and she felt he liked her the way she was liking him, too--but what she was feeling and thinking was wrong and she immediately chastised herself for having such thoughts.
Gradually he mended and returned to his clerical routine, however my father got to thinking that the priesthood, afterall, was not for him, and he was mulling over in his mind what to do. His calling was no longer a calling but a burden, for during his recuperation from being thrown from the mule, he realized that his long years of monastic imprisonment had left him bitter for having been treated so unjustly. This bitterness was eating at his soul. And he started doing something he'd never done: he started to drink in excess. In the priest's larder were many bottles of spirits and casks of house wine. His usual habit was to have one glass of wine with his main meal and watered down at that. But now at midday he took to drinking two glasses-unwatered-and by the end of the meal his face was red and his spirits jovial. When he had had a couple of glasses of wine his priestly burden was not so heavy.
He never drank outside the rectory, so the people did not notice, at first, the change in him. But my mother did. And she saw that something was bothering him and because she had come to be very fond of him, it pained her to see him destroying himself with drink. She tried to encourage him not to drink the second and the third glass; she even began to put water in his wine; but he soon caught on to that and told her to stop watering the wine and that is when mother, whose poor innocent heart could no longer stand the pain of his drinking, burst into tears and told him that his drinking was breaking her heart, and that for the love of God and that for her own love for him he should stop. She had blurted out her love for him and immediately tried to take back her words, but she had uttered them so spontaneously, and he took them to heart immediately, and there was no reason for her to have to justify them. He took her in his arms and confessed that he too loved her, then also confessed his dissatisfacttin with the priesthood and she, of course, tried to convince him to continue in his calling. But his mind was made up to quit. When? He did not know. That, of course, was the beginning of their romance.
Father had never had a woman and my mother was still a virgin; and although he readily embraced mother regularly, it was almost like two children. But by and by their heretofore latent passions came to the fore, and in not too long a time they were able to consummate their love, and for almost a year they were lovers.
In a small town secrets are rarely kept, no matter how hard people may try to keep something secret; and little by little people understaood that there was something going on between the priest and his housekeeper. Some didn't care, for they had known about other such unions; and then there were those who did not approve but tended to speak about them behind their backs and to always try to bring the subject up and always pretend to be so very upset by the wickedness of the two miscreants, but secretly these people were only jealous that two people had found a little happinesss, but the prurient interests of these deriders had been aroused by the affair and they were always anxious to hear any tidbit of gossip true or made up about it. But then hypocrites are one of the largest of the human families, and San Rocco in Monte Etrusco was no different than any other place and had its share of this insidious and self-righteous family of hypocrites in residence.
Mother knew she was pregnant and her astute grandmother observed that she started to get very sleepy all the time and noticed this and other signs: gaining weight and being sick in the morning and so on. When her grandmother spoke to her about these signs my mother was so ashamed that she broke down and cried and then and there admitted that she and Father Paul had been lovers for over a year.
Great-grandmother, being the pious woman she was, was so outraged that it took two strong women and a man to keep her from rushing over to the priest's house and doing him harm. When they finally let her go, she ran around the village streets denouncing this violation of her virgin grandchild who had been seduced by this pig of a priest whom she had trusted with her grandchild's virtue. The whole town was upset, for if Great-grandmother had not said anything mother would have suffered through her pregnancy and people would have looked the other way, pretending it never happened, or , she could have been sent away quietly to live in another village for a few years and the bishop would transfer the priest. That's the way it was usually done. But not this time. My great-grandmother wanted satisfaction. She promised not to harm the priest but only be allowed to confront him, and so she did with half the town listening behind her as they crowded around his front door. And denounce him she did with a vehemence unknown to her, for she had always been such a saintly woman. She kept repeating she had not agreed to send him her granddaughter to be seduced, and an older man, a priest, had violated a virgin in the rectory of a church! She had to stay abed for two days afterwards, for her denunciation of him had sapped her of her strength.
My mother was so humiliated by the incident, that a few days later, in the middle of the night she ran away to Rome, far from the beehive of scandal which the longer she stayed in the more tortured she felt.
In Rome she had anonymity and a broader range of possibilities and opportunities. Almost from the first day she heard of a place run by nuns for girls in her kind of situation. She went there and was accepted without interrogation. She was well-taken care of there, loved and after I had been born my mother in her innocence and joy at my birth did not hesitate to state (when asked, who the father of the child was) that the father of her baby was Paul Fonte, occupation, priest. The nuns were shocked, of course, but since the information had been received in front of the recorder of birth registrations, it could not be gainsaid and was duly recorded. And this bit of vital statistic eventually found its way out of the home and was gossiped about by both laity and clerics.
In the meanwhile, my father had been sent away from the place of my conception and was assigned as a chaplain to a large prison. And it was while he was chaplain for thieves, liars and murderers that I was born. It was about this same time that a decision was made from on high concerning father, that being: defrocking. His "notorious" past as an alledged boylover was taken into consideration and whether it was true or not did not mattere. There was enough of a malignant history about him that it was not hard to make such a decision and rid the church of such a scandalous man.
The ceremony was brief. His habit was taken away and he was given a new set of worldly clothes, given a small purse of silver and coppers, and sent away in shame from the priesthood he'd entered soley so he could read books and not have to face the world.
In spite of his having wanted to leave the priesthodd it never occured to him that it would be with such shame and humiliation for all parties. He grieved at the pain he caused to his dear Antonia and , of course, to me, his new-born son, whom he loved very much. He'd heard that his Antonia had given birth to a boy and knew it had been baptised Lazarus. If he could have been with us he would have. And imagine: the prison where he had been chaplain was not far from Rome, but he had no way of knowing that we two were in Rome. To support himself he took, therefore, a humble tutor's job in the family of a wealthy farmer who wanted his twin sons to be taught Latin so that they might become gentlemen. Father never gave up hope in finding us. But all of his letters of inquiry notwithstanding, he was never able to locate us. Yet we were closer than he thought.
My mother did not leave Rome, but stayed, and she vowed she would raise me in the best way she could. And as for herself, she would live the rest of her life in repentence. She always wore plain dark-colored clothes, never wore makeup and the only jewelry she wore was a gold cross and chain around her neck and in the privacy of her thoughts, she considered herself a widow, and lived much like one.
With the help of the nuns, who took pity on her, she was able to gain a position as a second cook in the house of a very wealthy widow who loved children but who did not have any of her own and doted on the servant's children, so I had a very good life, for my mother's mistress was forever giving us (there were four of us servants' children living there and we had a happy childhood) sweets and giving us clothes and shoes and always asking if we (the four house brats) had enough to eat, which we always had. We had the best of the best, vegetables, meats cheese, fish, fruits and in their season nuts, which we would crack and eat in front of the fireplace in the large kitchen. Those were truly happy days.
Until I was seven, then, I lived in a utopia of material security. I had never known want or lack of anything, but then, suddenly, all that changed after the old widow died of natural causes and in her will she left everything to a nephew no one had ever heard of. Suddenly he came upon the scene, and when he saw how we lived he could not stand the idea of servants living so well, he denied us everything the old and generous widow had given us gladly, and in spades. After awhile one by one, the servants all left. My mother, unable to find another positon, was forced by circumstances to rent a small room and to take in mending and sewing and the like, but it proved a very hard, hand to mouth existence and we both suffered hunger and lacked proper clothes and I had to go shoeless. She gave our circumstances a great deal of thought and finally for my sake she returned to her grandmother's house. At first my great-grandmother was a little harsh with the both of us, but because I was so angelic she soon dropped her harshness and began to love me only the way a doting grandmother can love a grandchild and she doted on me in ways the old widow never did.
So once again I found myself in a happy, secure atmosphere and I soon made friends with all the children in the village. One of my playmates had an uncle who was a shepherd and once in a while this friend would bring his uncle things to eat or bring him a mended shirt he'd sent down, and fresh bread and so on. One day my friend, invited me to go along and to stay the night in the shepherd's camp on the mountain. Mother allowed me to go and we made the two hour ascent to the top of the montain to the great meadow where began the grazing land which belonged to the commune. We found his uncle to whom we gave fresh bread and a bottle of olive oil; and after we had settled in and were eating some other shepherds stopped by to visit, and it was during the visit of these other shepherds that they began to ask me questions about who I was, who was my mother and my father and so on. I told them (so innocently) what I knew. And then they burst into laughter one saying to the other, "Oh, he must be the priest's son." My friend's uncle knew something, and put a stop to the conversation and changed the subject to sheep dogs; and so they talked of that and other things. But I had heard something and I wanted to find out what they meant by saying I was the priest's son. I knew very well what a priest was and I knew they didn't have sons.
Everybody knew who I was, but out of defference to my great-grandmother and for my mother, and because so much time had passed when we returned to the village, the urge to gossip had long passed and had not been resurrected when we returned, so we were spared and were accepted and life went on. But when I returned from the top of the mountain, and I asked my mother what the shepherds had meant by saying I was the priest's son, she burst into tears. While growing up I never really asked about my father. Mother never spoke of him so in my own way I had assumed he was dead and that the reason she never mentioned him was because she was so very sad that he had died. So went my child's logic.
Great-grandmother and mother sat me at the kitchen table and (alas) gave me the hard, cold facts of my birth telling me that my father was the former town priest. By this time I was ten or so years old. And then I guess I asked what every other boy has asked who thought his father to be dead: "Where is my father?" Now it was my great-grandmother's turn to cry, for she had repented of her harsh denunciation of my father which in turn drove the church to defrock him and send him packing. Then my mother started to cry again and before you know it I, being young and sensitive, was moved by their tears and I wept, I guess, in commiseration--not really knowing what I was commiserating. But I soon found out: They did not know where father was or even if he was alive.
We never discussed the subject again until I was almost fifteen years old. My mother was determined to give me a sound education and from the very beginning of our return she engaged a tutor for me. I was given the rudiments of mathematics, geography, history, Latin and rhetoric--all strange subjects to my ear, but she had learned a thing or two from father while she'd been his housekeeper-lover, and she knew that if a young man was to get along in the world he should have such learning--especially Latin and rhetoric. Nevertheless,I had just been told by my latest tutor, an old notary who had learned some Latin, that he had no more Latin to teach and that if I wanted more (and he suggested that I study more) I would have to go to the priest or to a school. My mother remained in deep thought for a long time, then she spoke: "Your father was a scholar and a linguist. He could speak several languages. I have been told that you already speak excellent Latin. I believe you have inherited his talent. You are indeed his son. So you must leave to continue your studies. This small town can't help you."
So it was determined that I should leave San Rocco in Monte and I was sent to Gubbio to study at a seminary that took in boarding students. I studied with the fathers for five years and did very well, so well in fact that the Father Superior of the school suggested that I might want to enter the seminary with the idea of eventually takin holy orders--but I had other ideas. For I was sick of school benches and recitations, computations and conjugations and translations. I wanted to flee the closed atmosphere of the classroom and the musty library and spend lots of time under the sun. I wanted to be outdoors and away from the narrow world my mother was trying to create for me in the image of my father, and the best way to gain my freedom was to run off to sea. My last year of school was spent not only with my nose in a Latin text, but in pouring over maps in the library and daydreaming of far away places and exotic peoples and foods. I just knew I had to get away from books and stodgy teachers whose only contact with the world was through books, which I did not agree with. I wanted and I would seek out adventure on my own terms, under God's free sun.
I did not have the courage to tell my poor mother of my plan, so when I went home (for the last time) I simply said that I'd heard of a positon as a tutor for a rich man in France and that perhaps I should take it--with her blessings, of course. It was the first time I ever lied in my life to my mother. She hugged me and kissed me, and for the rest of my time there I was treated royally. When I left, supposedly to go to France as tutor, she gave me a small purse inside of which were ten gold Florins, she had received and saved as part of her wages while we had lived with the old and generous widow. Therefore, I can say that it was the generosity of the old woman that got me started on my life of adventure, for I used that money to make my way by public conveyance to Ravenna, and after having visited the Byzantine mosaics, I was able to talk my way onto a ship and for the next three years I sailed the world and it was while I was a sailor that I heard something about my father.
During my days in the foc'sle, I learned many things other than seamanship: knife fighting, how to smoke, curse, drink, play cards and dice. I even had my first whore and I must say it was not very much to my liking that first time. But when I met Mara, everything was different. I got along well with my shipmates. They were a rough group, but by and large they were a decent lot, mostly uneducated, but good-hearted and always very protective of me for reasons I never knew. In my first year I had already been to Alexandria, Tyre, Chios, Crete, Tripoli, Valencia, Lisbon. I've even been up the Thames to London and back down to the Canary Islands. And while plying my trade, I picked up a smattering of several languages, but mostly I learned to speak Greek from two Greek brothers from Zykanthos who took a liking for me and I for them. We were close in age, and when in some port or other we always went ashore together. And it was while we were ashore that I was brought to Greek tabernas and churches and homes where they knew people and where I was able to absorb more of the language until after two years I spoke it quite well.
When the Mate heard that I had studied mathematics, he asked me to go to the bridge and help him with his calculations. He was a good seaman, but had a rough time with calculations which were very easy for me. And in helping him I learned navigation and how to use a compass and an astrolabe and other navigational instruments. But most of all I loved to be at the wheel--rain or shine, calm or during storms. I especially liked to be at the wheel at night when we were cruising the coast of the Levant.
It was in Latakia that I met Sophia through my two brother shipmates, Gerasimos and Athanasios. I had become a sometimes ship's clerk, and when we were in port it fell to me to confirm the cargo by checking off on the cargo manifest. I received a little extra in my pay for this and, at the same time, I was learning something about the import and export business, too, which was to hold me in good stead later on. But in the matter of Sophia, I had much to learn. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life as a seaman. As I saw her she was half slut, half angel, half sexual temptress, half sister, half mother, and she had a lavish house and the first time I laid leyes on her I wanted her; but she was to prove a hard woman to win over and when it did happen I got the shock of my life.
At any rate we went to her house where my shipmate brothers were known and were greeted by the servants with respect. A party was in progress--one of the continuous parties given by that luscious woman. She sang and she danced for us, and her apprentices sang and danced for us. Wines from all over the world were drunk; roasts of lamb, goat, camel, ox, and swans stuffed with plovers cooked to a turn with pungent herbs, and garlic, which were served with rich gravies with rice and loaves of crunchy bread. One had to pay for all of this; but because the brothers were liked by Sophia, we were allowed to pay only a token for what others paid a month or more of wages for one night of paradise. The apprentices were available for the night. But I wanted Sophia who had captured me. She was an intelligent woman and could understand Latin, and that is what eventually got us together. She was surprised that a common seaman (even if I was a kind of ship's clerk) knew Latin. But when I related to her my academic history she understood, but oddly enough further counseled me to leave the sea and put my studies to good use, or, become a businessman and settle down. She said she would back me. But I was young and I was foolish and I was infatuated with Sophia and I made it a point, thereafter, to always call at her house when we were in Latakia, which was often, and it was during one of these Latakian portcalls that I first heard word of my father by complete chance.
One of our shipmates had an aged grandmother who wanted passage back to Herakleion. He asked us if we would help load up her things on a cart and push it back to the ship. We agreed. While we were loading the grandmother kept looking at me and looking at me until it became apparent to all of us that she was scrutinizeing me to the point of my discomfort. I whispered this to my shipmate, who in turn spoke to his grandmother who was almost embarrassed. But she soon told me that the reason she was looking at me so intently was she was trying to remember where she had seen me before. But then she went on to explain that it was not me, per se, because this was the first time she had seen me, but it was who I reminded her of--and that was a scholar, who also knew somethig of healing herbs and he had given her a tonic made from herbs he had distilled which had eased her aches and pains. And he never charged her a copper, he only asked for some bread, water and a place to rest for the night. He was clean shaven and she had a good recollection of his face. I immediately exclaimed: "Father! You have seen my father!" and I was taken with a chill that shook my body. But, alas, she said that he had been there three or so months ago and when he left she did not see which way he went.
To say the least I was so down hearted, that I was barely able to help push the laden cart back to our ship. But once back I cheered up and took it upon myself to try to follow my father's trail. Accordingly, therefore, I spoke to our captain and without going into a great deal of detail, I explained that for the first time since my birth, I had had word of my father and that I wanted to go in search of him. The captain understood my situation and canceled my articles, paid me off and I was discharged. I packed my seabag, gave away most of my things, and with only the clothes on my back, my small seabag, said goodbye to my shipmates and, wearing my Persian felt boots and a sturdy knife at my belt, I returned to the grandmother's neighborhood and began talking to neighbors and describing my father as she had described him to me, and, of course, having them take a good look at me. An old man remembered him and also remembered that the scholar said he was on his way north. That general direction was all I needed. So bidding goodbye to Sophia, who wished me God speed, and gave me an unforgetable embrace, I started north in search of a man I had never seen.
After a couple of weeks of walking and asking and getting no where, I stopped at the side of the road and built a small fire to keep me warm and for some company, when all of a sudden there came out of the night three men, robbers, who attacked me, beat me within a inch of my life, robbed me of my purse, my knife, my beautiful Persian boots, my carry bag and all of my food. I was left with a goat skin of water. I was unconscious most of the night and when I woke up I was cold and sore and I sensed I had some broken ribs. When I tried to get up I moaned and had to sit back down again. Three times I tried to get up and thrice I could not, which told me some bone in my leg was broken, the right leg. With the help of a tree I was able to stand on my good leg and look up and down the road. God in his mercy was sending a caravan towards me. When the lead camel came I called out that I was injured and the headman called a halt. My wounds were washed and a pleasing unguent was spread over my broken skin; my ribs were wrapped, my leg set and splinted. They were on their way to Latakia, so back I went whence I had started from. I asked the good merchants who had ministered to me if they would take me to Sophia's house. They were all surprised that I should be asked to taken there so I might recuperate, but they did and I was welcomed, as I knew I would be, and was given a clean, bright and airy room just off the servants quarters which was the quietest and sunniest place in the house.
And it was there that I was visited daily by Sophia and the servants and the apprentices and no man could have been happier than to recuperate in such pleasant surroundings. When I was able to walk with the aid of a crutch and one of the servants, I was able to go outside to the olive orchard next to Sophia's mansion, and there in the peace of the olive orchard, I wrote a letter to my mother telling her that things had not gone well in France and that I was now in the Holy Land and that I was well (which was not true) and that further, I had spoken to an old woman who had known my father, and I would now go in serch of him. I sealed the letter and had one of the servants take it to a ship bound for Italy.
Sophia became very friendly with me and she would often visit me in the morning and late at night when all the guests had gone often she just wanted to sit quietly with someone who would not put demands on her. I loved her private visits and while she sat I recited to her Latin Poems, especially Ars Amatoria of Ovid. She was thrilled to hear such excellent poetry and she encouraged me to recite them as often as I wished when she was with me. By and by my ribs healed, my cuts, scrapes and and bruises healed; all but my leg which took the longest, but even that healed and one day I was in one piece again, and my vigor returned and I found myself so head over heels in love with Sophia that I almost forgot that I was supposed to be looking for my father and I made all sorts of excuses for not starting. In the meanwhile my old ship, the Sibylla had returned from Crete and was in port for a few days and that is how Athanasios and Gerasimos and I were reunited. I told them of my plight and they commisserated with me; but when I told them that I had had the exclusive company of Sophia for many, many hours, they thought me very lucky. In the course of our conversation they told me there next port of call was north, to a small port not far from Tarsus. When I heard that I immediately wanted to talk to my former captain to see if he would take me on as a crew memeber just to that port of call. I would start my serch for my father there, for it was porbably to Tarsus that he went, and by my going there by sea perhaps I might be able to meet him.
My old captain was only too glad to have me back and so was the mate, for whom I took care of the navigation and, of course, took the wheel for the midnight watch, which was my favorite. The trip was uneventful and at last we made land fall just at dawn and before the sun too high, the cargo had been put on lighters and I was aboard the last one. My pay was given me and my shipmates had passed around the hat and I had an extra twenty pieces of silver and a few small gold coins in my purse, a new knife, a present from Gerasimos and a new pair of Presian felt boots from the mate who apprecia- ted my talents.
But before I continue with my tale I must relate what happend my last night in Sophia's house. As usual she came to me after the house was quiet. It had gotten to the point where she would let me hold her hand and kiss it and then I was able to put my arm around her and snuggle up close--but nothing more. On my last night she threw herself at me kissing me almost violently and breaking out into tears and telling me that she had never fallen in love with any of her guests or clients but she had fallen in love with me and now she didn't know what to do, for she found herself in a most awkward, seemingly untenable position. I didn't understand her problem, for if she wanted to get out of a most awkward situation all she had to do was declare herself to be my lover and that would settle that. "If I do that then I must let you in on my secret and that I cannot do," she said. "But you must," I said, "Your secret will be safe with me I love you, darling Sophia," I said. "Would it?" she asked, and answered herself by saying, "I wonder." We sat in extreme silence for the longest time. Then Sophia stood up and leaned down to my ear and whispered into it: "Darling, I am a man." Then she took my hand and guided it to between her legs and I felt the erection! I didn't know what to do. "Now do you still love me?" Asked Sophia. I was in a state of complete shock, and I felt a fool. When suddenly I felt Sophia's burning lips on mine I went deeper into shock because the kiss was so good, I could not deny its passion and when my own horn began to grow hard Sophia took it and satisfied me to no end. What could I have done otherwise? I felt badly afterwards and told Sophia. But she (I could not think of her as "he") consoled me and told me that in future I should hold back my ardor until the object of my affection was naked before me. I was so embarrassed I turned red. But she kissed me goodnight and told me not to worry myself over it. Before she left I swore by the Holy Virgin that her secret would be safe with me forever. In the morning I left.
Once more ashore I made my way on foot to Tarsus and started to make inquiry of my father. In such a city it would be hard to find one man, but I was determined to find father if it was the only thing I would ever do in my life.
I knew from reputation that in Tarsus there was a street called the Street of the Letter Writers. Since father was a learned man and knew several languages, it would perhaps be a place he would frequent to make a little money, for writing letters was good pay. So by asking directions, I made my way to the letter writers who sat under a long portico, some at desks, some sat on pillows with boards on their knees. Eveyone had black and red inks; in cups could be seen brushes and quill pens and felt pens. I immediately felt at home. That particular day there were about a dozen scribes and I began to speak to each one separately but before I was finished with the third letter writer they all knew my purpose and they crowded around me and some said they thought they had seen him and some said they were certain they had seen him and still a few said they didn't think he'd ever been on their street, but that I was welcome to wait for him. Seeing that I was given permission to wait, I waited and while I waited I had a litle business, but because I knew Latin so well word spread and in not too long a time I was getting many letters to write back to Europe, especially France, and to Italy and Saxony and Thuringia and Catalan, and to Rome itself.
I had rented a room which was on the third floor of a tower-like building in the neighborhood of the weavers. In fact my landlord was a rich weaver and it seemed every other shop in the neighborhood was a weaver's shop or a spinner's. And in each home, it seemed, there was a loom and at every loom a woman or a man busy making cloth. And it was while living atop this tall building that I came to know a young woman weaver whom (taking Sophia's advise) I met and took my good old time in seeing her without her clothes and that was the best thing to have happened to me up to that time.
Because I lived so high up I had a small balcony and I often stood on it and could see quite a lot from my high perch; and everyday I would see a young woman also come out to her balcony and hold cloth up to the light. I called down to her one day and when she looked up and smiled I knew I was in heaven for no fairer woman had I ever seen and she was most friendly. Her name was Mara, and like everyone else she was a weaver, and her parents were weavers and they had a shop not too far away, but there was only room for two looms in the shop so she worked at home. We only talked from our respective balconies, and once, when I ran into her on the street, she acted very reservedly with me, which I found to my liking.
Mara and I were destined for great things, at which appropriate time I shall relate, but as to the search for my father I cannot say I made any progress. Often I would stand at the city's gate and scrutinize the faces of those who entred; after a while the guards and customs collectors got to know me and I asked each of them if they had ever seen an older man who looked something like me. And some said they had and others said they had not, so I was again disappointed. One morning, however,a man came to my place under the portico and asked me to write a letter for him in Latin. It was a simple commercial letter, I had written many such letters, but it was in talking to my client afterwards, while the ink dried on the parchment, that he told me that during his travels he had encountered an Italian who had drunk too much wine one night and who spilled out his troubled heart to all who would listen to him and he said that he had been a priest who had committed a great sin and had been defrocked, and now all he did was wander aimlessly atoning for his inequity, but never seeming able to purge his soul of his dastardly deed--which he did not mention. As he spoke my heart raced, and I began to ask pertinent questions of where and how long ago and did the merchant know where he was headed. To the first and second questions he said he'd met him in Aleppo about a month before and when he saw me he thought of the man immediately for I resembled him very much. I could barely contain my excitement. As to the third question, where was he headed, the merchant could not say, for the meeting had aken place at a caravanserai in Aleppo and when his party made ready to leave the man who might be my father was already gone.
I can't say how happy I was to have had this intelligence. When I asked the good merchant what the name of the caravanserai in Aleppo was, he said it was called the Blue Moon. When he made to pay me, I refused his coin. "You have paid me already," I said, but not knowing what I meant he left with a puzzled look on his face. When I told the other scribes what I had learned they were all happy, and told me I should leave at once and make inquiry, and should this illusive father of mine show up in Tarsus, they would hold him and send someone to fetch me in Aleppo, and if I were to leave, then I should leave word with the proprietor of the Blue Moon as to my new destination. I agreed, and taking leave of my dear colleagues-in-letters, I went back to my small room to pack my few belongins and to bid my sweet Mara goodbye. She knew my story and when I told her she cried with happiness and told me she would wait for the both of us to return and that we should live in Aleppo and become good neighbors. I took her in my arms and held her ever so gently and kissed her lightly on the lips. She responded by holding me and kissing me in a similar way. Our hearts were skipping. I kissed her breasts and pledged my heart to her and said I would be back as soon as possible and that we would talk about the future once my father and I we were established in Aleppo.
I did go to Aleppo and I found the Blue Moon caravanserai and spoke to the proprietor and he did indeed remember father, and even told me how much I resembled him, but all he could say was that he had left with a caravan on its way to Tashkhent. I was exhausted after my long trek by foot and camel from Tarsus and my purse was almost empty and my Persian felt boots were worn to a shread and I was forced to go barefooted because I had no money to buy even the cheapest pair of sandals at the bazaar. But I did not let that stop me. Nothing would deter me. I had a big water skin and with my last coppers I bought two large loafs of bread and shoeless, I started out on the road to Tashkhent.
I knew that I had to stay near civilization if I was to survive, so I asked the road toward the Caspian Sea, and once there I knew enough about geography to know to follow the south shore which would eventually lead me to Ashgabat thence through Turkmenistan to Tashkhent. But that is all I knew. So trusting in Providence to show me the way, I stared on my long journey.
One month into my journey I had to stop for lack of food. The surrounding country was pretty desolate; I stopped by a well and drank plenty of water to stop my hunger pangs. In my bag was a last crust of dried bread which I softened with water and ate it as if it were a piece of tender and moist lamb cooked to a turn. It was my intention to wait by the well for some wayfarer to pass. If no one passed for two days I would continue until I dropped.
During the night a terible wind blew for several hours. I had never experienced such a blow, not leven at sea; and when the wind abated just around dawn I was covered with sand and had to almost dig myself out. Fortunately there was a cover on the well so the water was clear of sand. As I drank to refresh myself after the big blow of sand-laden wind, I heard the unmistakeable sound of a donkey braying. Off in the distance I saw a donkey! with a burden on its back and no driver in sight. I went to meet the poor lost beast, and with soft words I calmed the beast. He was as happy to see me as I was to see him and he gave me no trouble when I went to pick up his rope and brought it back to the well and gave it water. The beast was greatful to me for having captured it, taken off the bags and given it drink. And now that we were both comfortable, I began to examine the bags I had removed. Obviously someone had lost this animal during last night's storm, but who, and where were they now?
As the donkey browsed on some scrubbrush I examined the bags and discovered much to my joy, food: some dates and dried figs, a kind of hardtack, some nuts a bottle of oil, a bag of salt, and embedded in the salt a pouch of leather which had a thong drawstring.And when I emptied out the contents of the pouch I found the palm of my hand filled with a small fortune in diamonds, emeralds and a few rubies!
In spite of having recovered this pouch from the storm it still belonged to someone and that someone was either at this very moment seeking his strayed animal and the gems in the salt sack, or that person was dead in the storm, perhaps buried under the blowing sands, yet I could not in good conscience keep the gems, for I was raised to be honest and have never swayed from that honesty-except to save my life-which I shall relate in its proper place. At any rate it was up to me to do what I could to return the gems to their owner. I was also concerened that someone might be back on the road who needed my help, and taking my own counsel, I ate some of the hardtack sofetened with oil, ate a few dates and figs. I would rest the night and the next day go back the way the donkey had come to find the owner. My quest for my father would have to wait, but I felt compelled to return.
By midaftrernoon of the next day I had walked back many stadia and saw no sign of life and I was about to give up when the donkey started to pull at the rope and bray. At first I tried to pull him into line but he kept pulling so I eased up on the rope and he pulled it out of my hand and bounded off. I did not spare a moment in pursuit of the donkey who, thank God, did not run very far; he slowed and stopped and when I caught up with him I saw three humps, one of which he was pawing. I pushed the poor excited beast out of the way and dug through the sand and found the body of a man, he nose and mouth filled with sand. The other mound revealed the body of a woman who had died under similar circumstances. And in the third hump I found a rolled carpet and inside something was moving; when I unrolled the carpet I discovered a young girl, of about fourteen years and with her was an infant, perhaps a year old. They were both alive, but barely. I quickly gave her water. She was a little disoriented, but she drank and then from her mouth passed water to the baby who suddenly came screaming to life wanting, I guess, to nurse. She rocked the baby in her arms and sang a lulling song in a strange language, one I'd not ever heard. Suddenly the look of disorientation passed from her eyes and she looked at me as if she had just become aware of me and let out a little scream of fright and, looking around, she saw the uncovered bodies and went to each and wailed over each. I soon came to understand what had happened. The parents wrapped the children in the rug and took their chances and died in the storm while the children in the protective cocoon of the rolled rug survived. I let her wail until she had no more tears. At last, I lead her away and gave her the bag of food and made motions with my hands for her to eat. I moved the bodies side by side and began to pick up any size stone to cover the bodies for the earth was simply too hard to dig. I was tired and I was perspiring and I needed a drink of water, but before I could even finish the thought the young girl was at my side with the goatskin bag of water. She poured some into my cupped hands and I splashed it onto my face and hair and the back of my neck, then drank, smacked my lips and went back to my rock gathering. She joined me, and in not too long of a time both bodies were covered with stones and would be safe from animals and before we left I saw the girl make the sign of the cross in the Greek fashion, and I knew she was a Christian and that would prove to be a boon to all of us later on. I took a chance and asked her if she spoke Greek. Her eyes brightened and she replied to my Greek with a kind of Greek I had never heard, a transCaspian Greek nevertheless a Greek I could understand in the same way a Spaniard can understand an Italian, andwe got along famously. Her name was Evangelia, and her little brother was called Stavros, and the language of her family was Turkomeni, and that they were residents of Ashgabat and had been been in Kirkuk and were on their way back to Ashgabat when they were taken by surprise by the suddenness of the storm. Their other animals, a camel and her father's horse had disappeared, and yes, the donkey was theirs, too. Now my conscience was clear. I had found the heir to the jewels and took the pouch out of my shirt and showed it to her. "Have you ever seen this before?" She looked at the pouch and shook her head. "I found it in the salt sack. it is filled with jewels and must have belonged to your parents." I spilled the gems into her hand and she gave out a little shout of surprise. "Yes, now I know what these are. My father, is a rug merchant. We had gone to Kirkuk in a caravan and more than five of the caravan's camels carried father's carpets and this must be how he changed all the gold and silver coins he'd received for his prices." I put the gems back in the pouch and handed it to her. She looked at it, then turned to me. "Please keep them for me. When we get to Ashgabat I shall tell my auntie and she will reward you. Do not refuse me. I'm afraid I might lose them, for I have now to mother my baby brother" and at mention of him he woke up and started to cry and she went to him and let him suck on a piece of moistened hardtack.
At the well where I had sat out the storm we stopped and rested under the shadow of some tall rocks, and there stayed until the cool of the evening when we continued on our trek toward her auntie in Ashgabat a few weeks journey, so she said. But now we were approaching the south shore of the Caspian sea and we would be able to pass through at least one village per day (so she informed me) and buy food and replenish our water supply.
The only difficulty to buying food was that neither I nor Evangelia had any money. I had spent my last coin on bread and she being the daughter in a family didn't need any money we only had the gems to sell and to sell even one of them would probably bring suspicion on us,or worse, some thieves would follow and waylay us, slit our throats and make off with the jewels and I could not let that happen to my suddenly acquired charges, to whom I must be protector and provider, so I did what I did best. When we passed through a village I asked at the very first house if we could work for some bread. The people in the house took pity on us when they saw how dirty and lean we were and the woman of the house took especial pity on the baby and we were soon given something to eat. The man of the house was a wool dyer and he said he would take me on for a few days work because he had just received a large shipment of wool which needed to be dyed as soon as possible, for it was consigned to a famous carpet maker in Teheran who was very picky about the quality and consistency of color of the wool used in the expensive carpets he wove. It would be my duty to stir the wool in the dyeing vats and to stoke the fires and to help in other ways as needed. And for this he would give me and my wards all the food they wanted, a place to sleep and at the end of three days a dyer's wage paid in silver. I knew we were blessed and I took to the work gladly, though I did not like the smell of the dyeing vats. At any rate we ate well. Young Evangelia could switch back and forth from her archaic Greek to Turkmeni with ease so I listened to her intently when she spoke because she always spoke slowly and clearly. She was my good interpreter and I don't know what I would have done without her linguistic abilities. She helped around as she could as she carried the baby on her back tied in a shawl. At night we slept on the rug in which Evangelia and baby Stvros had been wrapped in. And more than once I awoke to find Evangelia weeping and that is when I would hold her close to me and her weeping would diminish to a whimpering, then she would fall into a pleasant slumber and often we awoke still wrapped in eachother's arms.
There is not much more to be said about our journey, for it lws hot and monotonous. But lwhen we reached Ashgabat a whole world heretofore unknown to me was opened and I marveled at most everything I saw. However, first we went to her auntie's house where soon after there could be heard weeping and wailing and I felt very badly for the family
He wrote a letter to the local bishop asking that he be transfered from this orde