Lives of the Gheorghenis - Chapter 4: Life in the Fast Lane

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Chapter 4: Life in the Fast Lane

Demetrius regarding a handful of beans with loathing.

'Why are you sitting there?' Demetrius demanded of his cousin the cat, who was currently occupying an otherwise-empty basket in the corner of the triclinium.

The answer was a loud purr and a smug, 'Veni. Vidi. Conveni. Consedi.1'

Demetrius sat down on a couch with a sigh. 'I get it. Quadrupedal is far more comfortable. Personally, I prefer to fly or swim. Whatever. Just shift before these superstitious Greeks see you doing it and all hades breaks loose during Lemuria. Pretty please, with honey on top.'

The answer was a very human-sounding laugh as the orange cat turned into a cloud that shimmered in the lamplight. The shimmery stuff swirled around for a bit, casting odd reflections on the polished marble mosaic of the floor (Cleo's cousin, also named Cleo so Demetrius called her Kiki2 was a dedicated housekeeper and kept her brood busy sweeping, dusting, and polishing). The sparkly cloud segued through a rainbow of colours, finally settling into a sort of dark-human-tan and a deep blue that the Gheorgheni clan had a proprietary claim on (and which could not be reproduced by grinding up shellfish because Gheorghenis are animal lovers even when they aren't making love to animals). Eventually (and none to soon for Demetrius, who was watching the doorway anxiously for stray allegedly-enslaved Greek persons) what emerged was a short, nice-looking young man with curly red hair and a grin that wouldn't quit.

At least, it almost never quit. That time with Sennacherib and his army had been a notable exception.

The young man was reasonably dressed in a tunic and leggings of Gheorgheni Blue™ with a simple belt and sandals. He would have looked unostentatious on the streets of Potentia and beautifully dressed for a late-20th-century toga beer bash.

Demetrius gestured to a klini. 'Sit. Talk. Explain yourself. What happened to the Lines of Demarcation?'

Radu's grin got even wider. 'Thereby hangs a tale –' he began. But that was as far as he got before Ermione, Kiki's eldest, bustled in with a broom. She was a pretty girl, slim and toothy, about sixteen.

'Mama says clear the room so we can ready the meal,' she said. And winked at Radu.

'All right,' said Demetrius and grabbed his cousin by the elbow before any more winking could take place. 'Let's you and I go for a stroll around the peristylium. I have questions.'


'Once again,' asked Demetrius as they circled the garden with watering cans, 'what happened to the Lines of Demarcation? Alex was really insistent on all that. I, being virtuous, have been sticking to my segment of the Known World.'

Radu shrugged. 'He showed up in North Africa, riding a camel –'

'Doing WHAT?' Demetrius interrupted.

'The camel didn't look happy about it, either,' said Radu. 'I asked him why he didn't just fly – or swim, this was in Saldae, and the water was fine, I'd tried it – but he muttered some excuse about having sprained a wing. Whoever heard of such a thing?'

Demetrius shrugged, sprinkling water on Radu's sandals. 'Sorry, er, yes, who, indeed? What else did he say?'

'That "all bets were off" because of something that happened in Damascus. More I couldn't get out of him, but he wants us all to meet. In Dalmatia, of all places. Do you think you could leave here for awhile?'

Demetrius set down the watering can and gave Radu an ironic look. 'I believe I could manage to clear my busy schedule.' He sat down on a beautifully-decorated bench. 'I haven't done a single significant thing since IT happened. I could go to China for six months and it wouldn't bother a soul.'

Radu sat down beside Demetrius. He cocked his head. 'Not even the, er, household here? It seems to me you're in charge of a couple of dozen humans.'

Demetrius laughed. 'In charge of that lot? They're an autonomous collective. Cleo, Kiki, and their kin lived on Samothraki. They made furniture, family business like all Greeks. They make lovely furniture; you're sitting on a piece.'

Radu ran his hand over the carving. 'Impressive work,' he said.

Demetrius smiled. 'Yes, they make wonderful things as long as I stop them from over-decorating. It's a tendency they have in Thraki. I call it the Lurex Effect. Anyway, that wasn't their problem. Telly is a terrible businessman. He did some deal with a dodgy supplier from Pontios. The next thing they knew, the family was buried in debt. They were on the verge of having to sell the children to pay off the creditors when I happened along.'

'What were you doing on Samothraki?' Radu wanted to know. 'Tell me you stayed away from the Sanctuary of the Great Gods? Too much hanky-panky going on there. Alex would not approve.'

Demetrius looked offended. 'I most certainly did not go there to muck about with their fertility clinic. I was there to appreciate the art.'

'Oh, sure,' teased Radu, though he secretly believed it. Demetrius was a big nerd, in his opinion.

A brief word to the reader about the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, as it would later be explained to this chronicler by a twentieth-century Samothrakian: the ancient mystery cult, which predated Greek occupation, was all about fertility. High-born women came from all over the Mediterranean to the Sanctuary. There, after suitable sacrifices and rites which no doubt included what the twentieth century would come to regard as Controlled Substances, the woman would spend the night sleeping in the temple complex (more or less where the little museum would come to be located a convenient donkey ride from the main village). If the woman were favoured by the Great Gods, those whose names could not be spoken and no, did not include Cthulhu, the woman would find herself in due course with child. For which she and her husband would give thanks to the Great Gods.

Samothraki was world-famous at this time, for a certain value of 'world', and had a bustling port and a population rumoured to have been in the tens of thousands – remarkable in an island 17 kilometers long.

As for the pregnant ladies, including at one time Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, who was sure he was a god? The shepherd of twentieth-century Samothraki will whisper, knowingly: 'It was the priests.' There: you have it from the shepherd's mouth to your ear. Now back to the Gheorghenis.

Winged victory, with arms.

'So,' said Demetrius, 'When I got wind of all that drama in the furniture shop – where I legitimately went to buy furniture for this place – I ended up buying the whole shop and all its inhabitants. Including the cats, which are probably boycotting the premises because of you. I took care of the debt and kept the rest of the purchase price in escrow. They live here, pretending to work for me, but mostly doing exactly what they would be doing at home: making furniture to sell, playing gigs at the taverna, and keeping house. When they've got enough saved up I'll manumit the lot of them and pack them off to Samos or someplace else in the Aegean.'

'And they can marry the girls off and be out of your hair.'

'Yes. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. Especially if they'll take Cousin Cleopas and the rest of the orchestra with them.'

'Let me guess: Cleopas is Cleo and Kiki's first cousin? Same grandparents?'

'You're catching on.'

At this point, Ermione showed up to call them in to dinner. They washed their hands and joined the human clan of house-sitters in the triclinium, where they ate dolma lying down in true sybaritic style, while Radu entertained the kids with jokes and Cleopas and his cohort murdered the current greatest hits.

None of them sang as well as the unknown girl in the window, thought Demetrius.


Midnight. Demetrius was rudely torn from blissful slumber. He was dreaming of travelling faster than light, which was restful and kept him far away from Romans, when two weights landed on his chest simultaneously.

One was Radu, who made a pretty hefty cat. The other was Argyros, who shook him by the shoulders.

'Wake up, wake up, Uncle Demetri! It's time to chase the ghosts away!'

Demetrius groaned and struggled off the bed, scattering cat and child. 'O tempora, o mores,' he mumbled.

Cleo, Kiki, and the rest of the household were waiting in the hallway.

'Sandals off!' ordered Kiki.

'This marble floor is cold,' protested Demetrius, but did as he was told. He wasn't sure how a cat managed to chuckle, but he definitely heard Radu doing it. Barefoot, the alleged master of this house navigated its corridors at the head of his entourage, some of whom were giggling.

Feeling an utter fool, he thought to himself, All right, you manes, ready or not, here I come. In each chamber, he stopped and washed his hands in the basin of spring water Ermione held out to him. Chryssa, who had to have a job, handed him the towel and he dried his hands.

Argyros checked each time to see that he had placed his thumb between his fingers to ward off evil spirits. This will come to be seen as a rude gesture, thought Demetrius, and indeed it was rude, to intrusive ghosts. Argyros gave him the go-ahead signal: they could proceed.

Picking a small handful of beans from the bowl Cleo held out, Demetrius placed them in his mouth. Then he turned and spat them out.

'Haec ego mitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis. I send these; with these beans I redeem me and mine!' he intoned, each time with growing annoyance. Uncooked beans don't taste very good, and he was getting a dry mouth.

'Manes exite paterni!' called all the others. 'Ghosts of the fathers and ancestors, be gone!' Then they all banged pots and pans. By the ninth time, which wound up the charm, Demetrius was beginning to get a headache.

Finally, he washed his hands three more times. Superstition is nothing more than an untreated case of OCD, he thought. Then he turned, suddenly and with enough 'drama' to satisfy Kiki and make the kids squeal with delight. The purpose of turning was to make sure there were no more lemures, or lingering, stray ghosts, in the house.

Demetrius looked up. There was a shade floating halfway to the ceiling, trailing tendrils of wispy light like a winding sheet.

Demetrius gave it his dirtiest look. It vanished – thankfully, before anyone else could see it other than Radu, who gave a low kitty growl.

The children cheered and banged the pots once more for good measure. Then Cleo served everyone hot drinks and sweet cakes. There were some barley balls in fish sauce for the cats, which seemed to have accepted Radu into the community. After congratulating Demetrius on a job well done, they all toddled off to bed.

Demetrius only wished he didn't have to do this twice more before the season was over. And what was that ghost doing here, anyway? was his last thought before plunging back into dreams of superluminal travel.

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1'If I fits, I sits.' But in Latin.2This is a common occurrence in Greece: named for the same grandparent.

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