From Abducting A General
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Among the rocks and arbutus clumps, there was an ice-cold spring that was said to bestow the gift ofimmortality. We all lay on our faces, and lapped up as much water as we could hold. I told the General about the property of the water. He leant down from the saddle of his mule, and urgently asked for a second mug.
Among the trees outside the hamlet of Karines, a little further on, Uncle Stavros Zourbakis, forewarned to make sure that the coast was clear, was waiting with Kiria Eleni, his high-spirited wife (a crack shot with a rifle), and their daughter Popi – our hosts, and guardian angels, on scores of journeys – with a tray of raki glasses and peeled walnuts. We swigged them down, and went on our way munching.
At a hut near Alones, Yanni Katsias was waiting with two very wild-looking boys, whose appearance aptly epitomised the mood of the approaching mountains, and our old escort turned back to Fortinou. We were joined too – he suddenly materialised out of the trees further on, as though instinct had summoned him there – by Eleftherios Alevizakis, son of Father John, the brave and saint-like priest of Alones. (Father John, in spite of the capture and execution of one of his sons, had sheltered and befriended many of us for years. It was with great difficulty that, after endless raids on his village, we had persuaded this tall, bearded and spectacled figure, one of the most outstanding of the resistance, to go to Cairo – at least until things had blown over a bit.)
A mishap occurred on this long night’s march: the girth of the General’s mule broke, and sent his rider tumbling down a steep precipice. We chased after him. At first we thought that one of his shoulder blades had been damaged. We arranged a sling and, after a while, the pain seemed to go. But his right arm remained in a sling for the rest of the journey. It was an anxious moment.
Outside the little village of Vilandredo, we were met by the kind and enthusiastic Stathi Loukakis and his brother, yet another Stavro. He led us all, dog-tired and woe-begone, to a built-up cave that clung to themountainside like a martin’s nest. It was only to be reached by the clambering ascent of a steep ladder ofroots and rocks – up which our disabled captive could only be hoisted by many hands and in slow stages.
But once we were inside, everything took a really promising turn: a booted, turbaned and heavily bearded figure, with a goatskin cloak about him, lay fast asleep in a corner of the cave. It was our colleague, Dennis Ciclitira, no less. His wireless set, we had learned from god-brother Stathi, was only just up thevalley at Asi Gonia. Yanni Katsias had told me, at our rendevous near Alones, through teeth clenched like a portcullis in the south-west Retimo and Sphakian way – it turns all their Ls into Rs, one of the many odd characteristics of the local accent – that he and his two chaps had explored the Rodakino beach. There was not a single German anywhere near. I hardly dared to think of it, but as we tucked up the General as snugly as possible, I could not help feeling that things must at last be going right.
At first, things really did look promising. Rumours of a German descent on the region had prompted Stathi to conceal us in a cramped and precarious eyrie the night before. But the next morning, all seemed serene. We climbed up to a commodious and beautiful ledge of rock, where the General was consoled for the agonies of the ascent by the coloured blankets and the cushions spread there under the leaves by my god-brother and Stavro (an old drinking companion of mine) and by a marvellous banquet of roast sucking pig and kalitsounias – crescent-shaped mizithra (soft cheese) croquettes – and the wicker demijohn ofmagnificent old wine that was waiting. Stathi was a great bon viveur and a paragon of kindness and generosity, as well as being the Kapetanios of an armed band. His eager blue eyes kindled with delight to see us demolish his feast. He hoped, and so did we, that we could lie up here in luxury until we slipped off, over the hill, to the boat.
There was a rushing stream hard by, and sweet-smelling herbs all around us, and the trees were full ofnightingales. We banqueted and slept, and talked and sang. The sun set through the surrounding peaks and as we lolled, exulting on the soft rugs under the moon and the stars, forever plied with fresh marvels by the two brothers, who sped to and from the village like kindly djinns, this sudden change in our affairs seemed, to all of us, as magical as the sudden transportation to paradise for beggars in a Persian story.
But next morning, two hundred Germans detrucked in Argyroupolis, the road terminus less than an hour away.
We changed our hideout several times, in accordance with the German movements.
At one point in this agitated interlude, a boy got through from Asi Gonia, with a message about an impending boat at Rodakino – the time, place and signals to be confirmed later. This buoyed us up in our troubles, which began to multiply. At one dark crevasse – our third cache – we were skulking and shuddering, waiting for Stathi and Stavro to come. They arrived, several hours after they had planned, with the baleful news that a hundred Germans had surrounded the village, so that nobody had been able to get in or out. They were asking, Stathi told us in a whisper, looking towards the huddled figure of our prisoner, for General Kreipe.
Then they left.