Mea Culpa for my absence – but with an excuse.
My last post was in October 2020 – almost 4 months ago. Wow, has a lot happened since then or what?
While the world was watching the American election mess, I was quietly following in the footsteps of my paternal ancestors – having a heart attack and benefitting from modern medical science with the insertion of two stents. It sort of slowed me down for a while, and then along came the holidays and cardiac rehab, and next think I knew it was 2021.
Although I went through an unproductive period, I started the new year with getting back to business. I completed the first chapter of my Armenian story, working title Armenian Dances. I’ll share a couple of pages of that with you here.
Kharpert, Ottoman Empire
Marderos spotted the Kurd on horseback cresting the hill in the distance when he and his sister, Araxie, returned from school. His village was one of the few with a school for girls, at least to sixth grade. Then girls joined the other women in the family for homemaking chores. Araxie was the first girl in their family who could read and write. Their grandmother, mother and aunt were born before there was a girls’ school. Marderos thought that was sad. But it was the way it was.
The Kurds hated the Armenians. Turkish government alternately encouraged the Kurds in their hatred and cracked down on their violence. Their village and others nearby were going through one of the encouragement phases. There had been several reports of girls violated in nearby villages just in the past few weeks. Fourteen year old Marderos immediately devised a plan to keep his family safe from this Kurd. With his father, brothers and uncle away at the market in the next village, it was his responsibility.
As he secured his knife, he told the women to go to the tunnel and stay until he or the other men in the family returned. His ma’eer, Auntie and Araxie didn’t question him. This wasn’t the first time. Medz ma’eer—his grandmother—huffed her refusal and waved him away.
“They won’t bother with an old woman,” she said, with a characteristic shrug. “And if they come in, I’ll draw attention away from the others.” There was no arguing with his grandmother.
He left his family’s home, making a show of tying the money sack around his waist and headed toward the village square. He knew he would entice the Kurd to pass by the home where his grandmother, mother, aunt and sister were, and come after him and his money sack. That was the plan. He just needed to survive it.
He set off at a trot, not wanting to appear to be running from the Kurd. He heard the horse hooves by then, but still at a safe distance. He increased to a sprint.
The clack of the hooves grew louder. He chanced a glance behind him. At this pace, he was perhaps a minute or two from a near certain bloody and painful death. He had no riches to lose—the sack contained only marbles, not the gold the Kurd likely presumed. He was closing in. Of course. Marderos was fast, but no person could outrun a horse.
Unless…. Unless he could make it to the community well in the square.
The filthy Kurd, one hand on the reins and the other holding his sword high, wouldn’t follow him in the plunge. Of that, Marderos was confident. He wouldn’t risk leaving his horse that likely would run off. And he wouldn’t risk the fall to the water that may or may not be deep enough to avoid death or serious injury. And he probably couldn’t swim.
And he didn’t know the well’s secrets.
Marderos spun right abruptly and turned into a narrow alley between two houses. Maybe too narrow for the horse. At least he hoped it would slow him down or make him go around to the path to the square.
He emerged at the end of the alley and chanced another look back. The Kurd was nearly on him, not at all slowed by the alley. The well was feet away. With a burst of speed, Marderos bolted toward the well and catapulted over the rim, dropping to the water with a loud splash. The water, thankfully, was high. He had anticipated that, after the rains of the last few weeks. It was high enough for him to swim beneath the surface to the drainage pipe, but not so high that the pipe was fully immersed. When he reached the pipe he looked up. Where was the Kurd? He hauled himself up and into the pipe, grateful for once that, at fourteen, he was not fully grown yet. He could slide feet first into the pipe and see to the top of the well.
The Kurd would be furious that a boy, one carrying a sack that he believed contained coins or gold, could outrun and outsmart him. He wasn’t likely to leave without trying to get to Marderos and his sack of precious cargo.
Plunk. Pop. Splash.
The Kurd was dropping rocks into the well. Was he trying to determine how deep the water was? Maybe he thought Marderos was holding his breath under the water and would be hit by the rocks or forced to surface.
Marderos was amazed at how long the Kurd continued this. The sun, nearly overhead when he entered the well, was too low to see now. Now and again the Kurd disappeared from the top of the well and returned minutes later with a new supply of rocks—including a huge one that could have killed Marderos if he had been hit. Finally, the Kurd cursed and shouted something Marderos didn’t understand, tossed a final rock and moved away from the well opening. Marderos began to breathe normally at last.
He listened for horse hooves taking the Kurd away, but heard nothing. Was he up there hoping to draw the Armenian boy out? He waited what felt like a very long while, what felt like hours, wary that if the Kurd had left, he might return with another plan. The sun was setting, and Marderos was beginning to feel cold. It was time to take a chance.
So then, how to get out of the well?
The light was fading. He had to move fast. He scanned the wall of the well stone by stone. Gradually, the pattern he knew was there emerged. He shimmied out of the drain and reached overhead for a stone that protruded from the others in the pattern that wouldn’t be obvious unless you knew the secret. Anchoring one foot on the top of the drain, he pushed with his feet, pulled with his hands. Feet, hands, push, search for the next stone. Pull, search again, climbing the wall that to most eyes looked fairly smooth, unless you knew about the stepping stones. Push, pull, search again, until at last, breathless, Marderos reached over the top of the well.
He stayed low, scanning the village square around him, making sure the Kurd and his horse were gone. Then he hauled himself up and out, dropping to the ground to recover from the effort before returning to his family. It was late, so possibly his father and brothers would be home by then.
He hated this. Living in fear of the Kurds and the Turks was no way to spend a life. When he was older and carried more weight in the family, he planned to convince his father and uncle that they should start a new life somewhere. His schooling taught him about other countries, places where there were more opportunities, where they could worship in their churches without fear—and most of all, no Turks and barbaric tribes threatening his family and their future. Lebanon, maybe. Or Syria. Or France. He smiled at his final thought, America. Where people were free. Where the penniless could become rich and land was plentiful, as long as you were willing to work hard. Marderos knew about working hard. He grew up watching his family working hard. But between taxes and special leins and theft and —. He stopped walking. The late day air was cool, and his wet clothes didn’t help, but that didn’t matter in the moment.
The chapter continues, laying the groundwork for the trajectory of the historical novel.
Let me know what you think!