Some years later, just as spring’s first traces were awakening the island’s hillsides and meadows with a dazzling palette of orange and lemon blossoms, Lambros spoke to Loukas.
Loukas smiled to hear Lambros’s gravelly voice. Not only does this wondrous snake dance, he thought, it also speaks our language.
“My friend,” the snake said in a voice so strained it seemed each slurred word came from within a deep well. “Someday I will be called from this earthly realm to return to the spirit world and join up with members of my clan who have passed on before me.”
Loukas struggled to hear Lambros’s every word above the harbor’s commotion.
“You will help ease my journey and keep my spirit from ceaseless roaming between this world and the world beyond if you give me a respectful burial,” Lambros said.
Nodding in agreement, Loukas clutched his hands against his chest.
“When you find my body in my hideaway,” Lambros continued, his voice weakening, “wrap it in a white cloth and put me to rest in a grave that looks out to the sea I love.
“In friendship, bury me with a sprig of sage to protect me from wicked powers that may threaten my spirit as I make my passage.”
His voice trembling with sadness at the thought of losing his friend, Loukas stammered through a promise to keep close to his heart Lambros’s wish to be helped bringing his spirit home.
“Your companionship comforts me as much as your music awakens me to great happiness,” rasped the snake. His hoarse voice faded to a sluggish tremor as he slipped out of sight.
Loukas gazed after Lambros through tearful eyes.
Over the years, as Loukas’s friendship with Lambros blossomed, so, too, his family’s fortune.
Where once they were too poor even to come by a few cents to buy flour to make bread, with time they had become one of the richest families on the island.
With Lambros’s coins filling their strongbox, Loukas’s family rejoiced over the changes their new wealth brought into their lives.
They built a new cottage with an unrivaled view of the sea.
They planted spacious flower, herb, and vegetable gardens.
They brought onto their homestead a small herd of goats.
They installed a marble fountain.
They hollowed out a tract for a pond.
They planted chestnut trees as a tribute to Lambros for his good will and devotion.
In honor of Lambros, Loukas’s family came to the aid of the village’s poorest folks. Along with his mother and father, Loukas left baskets of food at the doorways of villagers most in need of help. At every season, they brought clothing made by the village seamstress to families troubled by poor health and hard times.
Before long, a band of neighbors grew curious about the surprising turn of good fortune Loukas’s family had taken—and so quickly, at that!
When neither Loukas nor his mother or father said a word to anyone about the source of their blessings for fear of losing the snake’s trust, their neighbors’ curiosity soured into jealousy.
“Look how they make a spectacle of themselves,” one neighbor confided to folks passing through the village square one afternoon. He gestured toward the lavish cottage the family had built on one of the island’s highest bluffs.
“Indeed,” agreed a milliner, stopping in the square on the way to her shop. “Word is out that they’ve hired a crew of caretakers to look after their place.
“Pity us who must fend for ourselves day after day,” she said, a look of disgust pinching her face as she minced out of the square.
“Not to mention the gardeners they bring in to care for their cypress and olive trees. Those trees are unequal to any others on the entire island,” another villager observed, sulking.
As rumors about the family’s wealth raged on with each passing year, Loukas never once allowed the villagers’ envy to force him to reveal his friendship with Lambros. Nor did Loukas ever consider putting an end to cheering the snake on with songs that invited him to dance.
Lambros could no longer move as nimbly as he had years before when first coming to trust the young boy at the seawall. Yet, even as he aged, the snake was drawn out of his den the minute the stirring sounds of Loukas’s flute came to him on the drift of a gentle sea breeze.
As Loukas came within months of his eighteenth birthday, his features still held the same wide-eyed curiosity he had carried throughout his youth. Framed by a shock of tangly black hair, his face bore a perpetual tan. His green eyes were darker. These were eyes that glanced about for fear of missing out on whatever was happening within his line of vision.
Loukas was more likely to be found smiling shyly than frowning. While his short, thickset body stood firmly grounded, he always appeared restless and weightless, as though ready to spring into action the moment the need arose.
On the very day Loukas celebrated his eighteenth birthday, his mother and father announced that Thera, a young and beautiful seamstress, had gladly accepted Loukas’s offer to marry him.
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