Both Nikos and Kori stood staring at each other until Aunt Mia who was holding the plate of food gazed back and forth with a puzzled expression on her face,
“Is there something wrong? You two are acting rather odd.”
At that statement, Kori came alive replying,
“Oh no Aunt Mia, not at all I was just pleasantly surprised that's all, really just pleasantly surprised.”
With that being said, Mia proceeded to introduce the two of us.
Still standing while we were formally introduced I bowed my head once before sitting back down. Swallowing hard I put a pleasant expression on my face all the while trying not to stare at the niece. I kept glancing at her, actually I really couldn't take my eyes off her. Up close like this she reminded me of a goddess, in that green and gold dress with her hair done to perfection with the little ringlets and ornaments. I shook my head a bit trying to look like the suitor that the aunt was obviously hoping for and not some lovesick calf.
Once my mind cleared a little, I began to realize the girl...Korinna didn't want her aunt to know how we'd met. This could be interesting, taking a deep breath I waited to see what would unfold.
Meanwhile Aunt Mia desperately thought, (This young man is Kori's last chance, if she doesn't catch his eye now, it's back to my brother she goes. I can't have all this hard work go for nought, I just can't. I have to rethink my plans. Maybe give my poor niece a helping hand, she obviously needs my help since all the other suitors have not come back. Putting on a brave smile she said, “Why don't I let you two young people get acquainted, while I get this plate of snacks refreshed, I'll be back shortly.”
Once she had left the room, Kori looked at me with barely suppressed anger, her green eyes sparkled. In a low voice, so as not to be overheard, she started on me, “If you say one word about how we met, I'll...I'll oh I don't know what I'll do, but mark my words I'll make you regret it." Pausing a few seconds, she continued a little less forcefully. "Listen people can't know, especially my aunt and uncle. My reputation will be lost, you must keep quiet about it. Promise me you will.”
She ended up pleading for me to keep my mouth shut. I have to admit I was enjoying the position of power, compared to what I went through all those weeks ago. I wanted to get to know this girl, and she just gave me a huge bargaining chip. I nodded my head in agreement rubbing my chin with my hand before replying,
“OK... I won't say a word, but in return you have to be nice to me this evening, in fact, you will treat me like a good friend whenever we meet....public or private. Is it a deal?”
Knowing she wasn't in any position to bargain, Kori reluctantly nodded her head in agreement, just moments later her aunt returned with a fresh plate of snacks.
Mia first offered the plate to me, after taking a few seconds I choose a square piece of flat bread with a shrimp on top. Popping it into my mouth, I looked up at her and indicated that it was delicious. With great satisfaction, she then turned to Kori, offering her a morsel, which she smilingly refused. Mia set the plate down on a nearby table. She announced, “Why don't you two go out to the garden, have a nice visit while I finish preparing the lovely meal that our Kori has started? I'll call you when it's ready.”
Kori, who had changed her mind about the snack, had been about to put a bite into her mouth when she suddenly froze in surprise. Turning towards her aunt with the morsel inches from her mouth, she stared (What is going on with with you Aunt Mia?) Taking a bite of the bread topped with feta cheese she hastily replied before her aunt could change her mind, “What a great idea thank you so much Aunt Mia.”
Grabbing my hand, Kori looked at me darkly before hauling me out the door and into the lovely green garden. I smiled at the aunt just before being jerked out the door. She let go of my hand and indicated for me to follow her deeper into the greenery of the fruit trees. She stopped at an old bench and sat waiting for me to join her.
As I walked towards the girl, I couldn't help but think, ( I know I shouldn't take advantage of this situation, but I may never have another chance like this. I was beginning to get a glimmer of a plan.) My smile deepened as I joined her on the bench. I know she was trying to remain calm, but her nervousness came through anyways. She went on and on, about her aunt and uncle and the fact that they couldn't find out about that day at the pool. If they did, she would be shipped back to her father's in disgrace, and she would end up living a life of misery.
As she talked, I sat there only half listening to her words. I couldn't help but be smitten by the beautiful girl beside me. After all, I had been thinking and dreaming about her for weeks, never once did I expect I would ever see her again. But here she was sitting by my side babbling on about keeping the secret.
I'm not proud of this but, it was then that a plan started to form in my head, I had to have her, and that I meant by hook or crook I would have her. I could see from the way she kept looking at the house that she wanted my promise to keep this all a secret. I smiled at her and finally spoke, “Korinna.... I will keep our little secret but want something more in return.”
Her eyes widened as her brows drew together in a frown, she didn't think she was going to like this something more one little bit but was smart enough to wait for me to finish. I was pleased, she was a bright girl not your ordinary bit of fluff. I continued, “The deal is you will agree to a courtship with me and, of course, show everyone that sees us together that you are very happy to be with me. What say you to this?”
I figured she would hopefully fall in love with me during this courtship. With a look of horror on her face, she was about to scream, “No way in Hades!”....but just then we heard her aunt call out to us, “Korinna....Nikos...dinner is ready, please come before it's cold!”
We both turned our heads towards the house, glancing back at her trying to suppress a huge grin, I casually asked, “Do we have a deal or not? Tell me now my dear girl!”
“Koriiii......Nikossss....dinnerrrrr!” Mia called again.
Kori jumped up....hissing, “Yes, I agree to your dirty little deal, now come on before she comes out here wondering what we're up to!”
Calling in the direction of the house she answered her aunt, “Coming, Aunt Mia, we're coming!”
With that she turned around and stomped back through the garden, leaving me to chuckle my triumph. I rushed to catch up with her so nothing would look amiss. As we came out of the garden, I had a huge grin on my face, Kori had a weak smile on hers. Her aunt hesitated for a second before waving us in,
“Now what were you two doing that took you so long to reply? Oh never mind, I was young once too, let's go inside before the meal gets cold and your uncle gets grumpy.”
When the three of us entered the eating area, there was Uncle Stephanos sitting at the table with a slight frown on his craggy face. Mia immediately hastened to seat Kori and Me opposite each other announcing, “Make yourselves comfortable and I'll bring in the plates right away, Stephanos...quite your frowning!”
Kori glanced at me trying to suppress a chuckle at her uncle, presently her aunt came back with two plates loaded with food. She set the first one in front of her long suffering husband and the other in front of me. My eye widened, this was a feast! I hadn't seen so much food since my homecoming months ago. She smiled at my reaction pleased by what she saw, before going back to get the other plates she said, “Nikos I think you will enjoy the food that our Kori slaved over all day long. Isn't that so Kori?”
Kori turned a bright red and mumbled, “You did help me a lot Aunt Mia I can't take much of the credit.”
Moments later Mia was back with two more plates of food, not of course piled with food as the men's.
At a nod from the lady of the house everyone started to eat. Things became a little more relaxed as we all enjoyed the food. Greens with cheese, olive oil and herbs, tender marinated lamb pieces as well as a side dish of lentils with carrots and onions. All to be washed down with a nice wine that Stephanos proudly declared that he had just finished bottling last week.
Towards the end of the meal I winked at Kori, before asking Stephanos, “Sir, I would like your permission to court your lovely niece, Kori.”
We all looked at Kori who tried to hide her dismay, before putting on a weak smile.
Mia clapped her hands and beamed with happiness, Stephanos nodded his head in approval.
He proceeded to fill everyone's cups with more wine to celebrate the occasion. I felt a little like a heel knowing Kori had no choice but swore she wouldn't regret it in the end. I was happy that I now had the clear road to winning her heart.
After the toast, I let everyone know I had to leave since I had a lot of orders to fill with my pottery business. Plus I didn't want to face Kori's less than a happy frame of mind, it was better that she have some time to accept our arrangement. After saying my good evenings to the old folks, I turned to Kori, who could barely suppress her anger at being blackmailed like this. I gently said, “Good night my love, see you tomorrow night.”
Whistling a tune as I walked home that night, I stopped suddenly and thought (The gods were really smiling down on me now.) I continued whistling as I walked on.
Thus began our courtship, and let me tell you it was pretty rocky at the start. The first month, she stayed angry with me. That girl had a stubborn streak that could compete with any of the local goats. But not being one to give up, I had decided that she was the one for me, my everlasting love, (little did I realize how true that would become). I also had another advantage. Because I was the last available suitor, early in the courtship, Kori's aunt took me aside glancing around to make sure we were alone. She whispered, “Now young man I am willing to be pretty lax on the courting rules. Don't look at me that way, what I mean by that is, you won't need a chaperon every time you take my girl out. But mind you I want her back home in the very same shape as when you took her out. I hope you know what I am saying to you.”
Folding her arms over her ample bosom she gave me one of those looks that meant business, adding, “Don't make me regret this conversation, young man!”
I replied with an equally serious face, “Yes Ma'am, you need not worry, when it comes to Kori, I will always be a gentleman.”
This is what the routine was, I woke up at dawn had a hasty breakfast, usually was leftovers from the night before. After a good day's work, I would clean up, make a simple meal, something quick like bread, cheese, greens, and fruit. Unless something was sent over from my mother, then I ate well. Thank the gods for mothers!
Depending on how busy work was, I usually spent at least three evenings with Kori. She always looked lovely in the different robes that were in fashion at the time. Her aunt made sure she never wore the same robe too many times. I didn't care, to me she always looked beautiful. Once I arrived at the cottage, I had to spend a few minutes with the old folks, it was only polite. Soon enough we were able to get away. We usually went for walks along the beach, she would throw stones towards the sea, if I said something she didn't like, she would throw them at me. I sometimes would throw her into the sea and laugh when she came sputtering up yelling at me about her robe. In this way, we became friends.
Other times I got a note during the day inviting me over for a Kori cooked meal. I would pick some flowers on my way over there, making sure there was enough to give some to her aunt. You do need to please all the women in the house, (my mother taught me that one).
Kori kept telling me how she never wanted to marry and that we could only be friends, but I could see in time she was softening to more than friendship. There was one evening, on our usual walk on the beach that I could not help myself, I leaned down and lightly kissed her lips. She backed up and slapped me a good one across the face.
When she went to do it again, I grabbed her wrist, trying to calm down. We both glared at each other for a few seconds before bursting into laughter. I kissed her hand, before letting go of her wrist as I said, “Kori you can't blame me for wanting to kiss you, after all your a beautiful girl, and I am a passionate man.”
She looked up at me, thinking for a few minutes before replying, “Nikos, if you know what's good for you, you will keep your passion to yourself!
She walked on, but I could see that she had a small smile on her lips. I was satisfied that things were going along well. I also made a note to myself to be ready for another slap, when I kissed her again, as I intended to do as often as I could get away with it.
There came a day that would change our lives forever. I know dramatic, but there is no other way to describe it. It was a few months after we had started seeing each other, we had even celebrated Kori's 14th birthday. My 16th would be coming up in a few months as well. We had fast become good friends, and I have to admit even my attempts to kiss her weren't as rejected as they were in the beginning.
This particular day as we walked through the town, we saw a crowd of people had gathered in the central square. Looking at each other, we opted to see what the excitement was all about. Once we came up close enough, we could see an official cart from one of the famous religious cities, it was Knossos. There was the famous black bull with the gold horns emblazoned on the side. Beside it was a plain cart with a driver sitting up behind the horse. The crowd listened gravely to the leader of the four men. They had announced that they were seeking youths, both maids and boys adding that this was the highest honour that could be bestowed on a family.
This was not good, despite their fine words, you could hear muttering among the crowd. When I had been in Malia, I had heard stories about when men came to small towns, taking the best of the young people. They were never seen again. I had a bad feeling about this and knew I needed to get Kori away before they spotted her. Grabbing her hand, I began desperately pulling her to one side. At that moment, one of the officials glanced our way. Holding his hand up high, he indicated that we come to him. I looked around but saw we had no hope of slipping away now, we had no choice but to move reluctantly towards them.
Once we stood in front of the men, the leader looked us both over for a few minutes. Finally he spoke in high Cretan, I had learned some when I had been in Maila. To my dismay, he announced that the two of us were to be given the high favour of being the chosen ones for the once every seven years of the “Leaping of the Bulls.”
Making a motion with his arm, suddenly two of his men were beside us, taking each of us by the arm. Kori cried out, “No, I don't want to go!”
Having gone through this many many times, the men quietly hauled us to the waiting cart with the horse and driver. One by one we were hoisted up and told to have a seat on the side. Both men then took up positions making sure we didn't leave.
Seeing a townsman that I knew, I hastily called out to him, “Please let our parents know what has happened.”
Meanwhile the crowd murmured in disapproval. Not seeing anymore potential youths in the crowd, the leader and his aid stepped up into their finely decorated cart and drove out of town, followed closely by our cart and the two guards.
I held Kori in my arms as we watched our beloved town and it's people diminish into the distance.