Image courtesy of Brian Minear on Unsplash

In the days of the Tourkokratia — when my grandfather’s grandfather was a child and Hellas was a conquered land — the Sanjak rode into our village on the back of his fine horse, a host of Janissaries at his back. And everyone who saw them knew that it was the time of the paidomazoma, when sons would be taken to serve among the Janissaries and daughters would be taken to serve in the harems.

When the father of my grandfather’s grandfather saw the Sanjak, he limped home as quickly as his maimed leg would allow; for he was forbidden by the laws of the Tourkokratia to ride a horse and his own mother had crippled him as a child, rather than see him taken away. And when he arrived home, he told his wife about the paidomazoma. She quickly gathered up what food she could find and pulled her son and daughter close and told them this:

“Leave now, and do not look back. Do not walk the roads. Go to the wetland north of the village. When the ground softens beneath your feet, pour out a bit of wine, and tell them why you have come. Hide there. They will keep you safe, as they kept me safe.”

The children did not understand, but hugged their mother and father and, weeping, left their home without looking back. They fled through the brush and the trees. But soon the trees grew too thick and they were forced to walk the road. And it was there that the Sanjak and his Janissaries saw the children and ordered them to halt, intending to take them away as slaves.

But the children remembered their parents’ words and fled, and they reached the wetland north of the village with the Sanjak and his Janissaries only a few steps behind. The children poured out the wine and cried:

“They will take us away from our mother and our father! As you sheltered her, please keep us safe!”

Taking each other’s hand, they moved deeper into the wetland. The ground gave way beneath their feet, turning to mud. Soon the mud gave way, becoming water thick with grasses and flowers. The water rose to their chests and then their chins, and the grasses and flowers tickled their cheeks, and the children felt cool hands curl around their ankles, urging them on.

The Sanjak, furious and afraid, drove his horse and his Janissaries in pursuit. For if he did not deliver enough children during the paidomazoma, then his own life would be forfeit. His horse stumbled in the soft ground, and he beat the animal with his stick. But soon his horse and the horses of all his Janissaries became trapped in the mud, and the Sanjak was forced to dismount.

His Janissaries, fearful of the wetland, called the Sanjak to retreat, but he refused. His sword held high, he continued after the children, shouting. The mud gave way beneath his feet to water thick with grasses and flowers. The water rose to his thighs and then his waist, and he felt cool hands curl around his ankles. And the hands began to pull him down, down, down. And though he screamed and kicked and slashed at the water with his sword, the hands continued to pull him down, down, down until he was lost to the wetland.

And none of his Janissaries had the courage to go after him. They left their horses and fled the village on foot, covered in mud, and none dared to ever return.

As for my grandfather’s grandfather and his sister, they remained in the wetland for some time. They slept in trees while the dryads watched over them, and ate the berries and birds’ eggs they harvested under the guidance of the nymphs. And when enough time had passed, they bid a grateful farewell and returned home to their mother and father. And when they were grown and married — my grandfather’s grandfather to a woman who knew all the old songs and prayers, his sister to a goatherder who knew to pour wine in the hollows of trees — they told their story to their children, who told it to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and now I tell it to you.

[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her publications can be found there.]