A young Greek boy living in an isolated small village seeks to continue the Spartan way of living and tries to join the army at age 7, the same as the Spartans. His attempt to join is picked up by the newspapers and read by a wealthy Greek man from New York who offers to send him through Military School. Nikos becomes a courier of funds slated for helping the Conservative faction to overthrow the Liberals in Greece. His adventures awaken his understanding in his friendships with men and women.
(THE STORY BEGINS IN THE EARLY 1900’S JUST BEFORE THE OUTBREAK OF THE GRECO-TURKISH WAR)
“Nikos”, he heard his mother calling, “Come quick and see something beautiful”! Nikos had been playing quietly near the tiny spring that fed the well and that seeped into the field his mother had planted. He was actually sent to pull any weeds that would have taken the precious water away from the lentils and chickpeas they had growing in the small garden. Raising himself slowly and half wishing that he might be left alone so that he could do what he called thinking and fantasizing a little longer; but, at seven years of age, he had to heed his mother’s call. Besides, what could this wonderful thing be? Everything about the way they lived was as ordinary as breathing; there were no differences between one day or the other.
When he arrived at the small cottage they shared, the only thing he could see was that his mother was bent over and drying or rubbing something on the straw in front of her. There it was, a new born kid with its mother also lying down but obviously too weak to attend her own kid. The female goat had given birth prematurely and looked as though she would die at any moment.
Nikos’ mother looked up at him. There was a look of deep concern on her face as she painfully gasped that the small kid needed its mother to suckle him and even worse, what were they going to do if the mother goat died? There was no time to butcher the animal and make preparations to preserve the meat and if the she-goat died, so would the kid.
Maia Kokiniakis was still considered beautiful but her beauty had absolutely no meaning in the society in which they lived. Widowed at the early age of 29 it was considered that her life would now take on the widowed weeds and that she would never again be able to be dressed in anything but black. Once a widow, no matter what the age, life stopped. Maia was blessed with hair the color of rich wheat and she wore it braided and wound around her head like a golden crown. Women looked at her in envy when she passed and the men would inwardly stifle their hungry desires for this young widow. The black shawl she wore around her shoulders set off the contrast to an even greater degree. Her work in the garden and the small barley field kept her in perfect shape and the men thought of how great was the waste in following the customs of the times.
Maia Kokiniakis looked plaintively at her small son and said, “ you must run to all the houses of the town and tell them that we have a female goat that has died giving birth to her kid. Tell them that we cannot possibly make use of all the meat and that we want to follow the normal custom of each family taking the part of the goat they want and that when it is time for one of them to slaughter, they will return the meat they took from us.”
It was the custom to advise all who were interested to make their claim for part of the animal since no family could neither preserve or eat the meat when it slaughtered an animal. Since there was no refrigeration, the meat had to be made into sausages or dried , salted or smoked so that it could be used later. But with the possible death of the she goat, it also required preparation time to get the spices and the help of neighbors to do the work. The reason Maia said that the goat was a female was so that people would not think it was a male goat whose flesh was infused with testosterone and which made it almost inedible. Also, she told Nikos to be sure he mentioned that the goat died without disease; that it died giving birth. “ And ask them if one of their goats has enough milk to feed our little one; I will pay them for the milk.” Young Nikos seeing the fear and consternation on his mother’s face, raced to the small closet where he had his shoes stored. Ordinarily, he went about barefoot, but with his having to go up rocky paths to see the neighbors, he had to use his shoes. As he hurried to bring his news to the neighboring farms, the thoughts that he had been fantasizing about when his mother called were about the Spartans. He remembered reading in his elementary class a story about the forebears of this part of Greece where he lived. At my age, I would have been taken off to study how to be a soldier. Instead of wearing shoes, I would have had to learn to go without shoes to toughen my feet. In his mind, Nikos, after learning from the elementary school picture book had decided that that is what he was – A Spartan; they were his ancestors . He was a Maniot. He recalled the tale his teacher had told his class about the fighting between Greece and the Ottoman Empire in 1821 where a small band of Maniot villagers (400 old men and women left in the village after their eligible men were at war,) attacked the invading Turks with scythes, sticks and stones and drove off the 1500 invaders, killing 1000 of the enemy troops. No other parts of Greece could call themselves Spartans or Maniots. Besides and best of all, he would no longer be required to listen to his mother like a child and run errands. Rather, he would be taught how to use a sword and a lance. Now, every time he put a stick in his hand and made believe it was a sword, he would hear her shouting to stop playing with a piece of wood because I might hurt myself. His deepest desire was that one day he would find a sword or a mask from those ancient times. In the picture books, he saw that most of the masks were similar and so there were times when he drew the shape of the mask on paper and then cut the places for the eyes. Without telling his mother, he would steal a little flour which he mixed with water and then painted over the paper. When the flour and water hardened, his mask was stiff and just like the real thing.