Echoes of a Battle, the Getae, is the next 100 words story following the historical timeline of Romania’s past. Although most of these stories focus on Transylvania, ‘Echoes of a Battle’ looks at the Getae, a Thracian tribe that occupied the left and right bancs of Danube River between 6th – 1st centuries BC.
Next to the Dacians who lived in the mountainous area of Transylvania, towards the valley of Mures river, the Getae are some of the first ancestors of the Romanians.
Their bravery and fairness was legendary.
Echoes of a Battle, the Getae
It was the chickens’ cry that covered the lost echoes of metal ringing against metal, not the widows’ and mothers’ heartache. In the aftermath of battle, the lambs’ bleating sang for the souls rushed to Zalmoxis’ kingdom, not the wake preceding the burial.
‘Prepare the feast!’ Getae King Dromihete ordered. ‘Balance after battle, Zalmoxis’ word.’
The gold plates their Thracian prisoners ate from shone under the bonfires and the gleaming stars above, more tonight. Around, the Getae’s wooden spoons kept a peaceful rhythm against wooden dishes.
Freed by daybreak, the prisoners broadcasted about a tribe worthier, wiser than any others.
Ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote about the Getae that they were “the noblest as well as the most just of all the Thracian tribes”.
We also know that around 300BC Getae king Dromichaetes won a great battle against Thracian king Lysimachus (successor of Alexander the Great and ruling Thrace, Asia Minor and Macedon). The Getae held Lysimachus captive, yet in the aftermath of his victory Dromichaetes ordered a great feast. During this feast the Getae ate with the same wooden spoons and plates they always used, while the Thracian prisoners and Lysimachus received gold spoons and plates and were afterwards released.
Thus, Dromichaetes wished to prove that a rich kingdom like the one ruled by Lysimachus is in no need of a poor land like the one his people occupied.
Dromichaetes also release Lysimachus knowing that freeing an enemy king would bring them greater political advantage than his punishment.
A Room to Swing a Cat In is a short story inspired by the history behind the house of Nicolas Flamel, 51 rue de Montmorency, the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, while its majestic doors represent my weekly contribution to Thursday Doors.
A Room to Swing a Cat In
What the plague hadn’t claimed was gathered on the streets of Paris for the fête of Sainte-Geneviève. Parades, farces, mocking jokes, they were all washed down with copious amounts of weak wine.
You either have the guts to do it or not.
So he did it. When the crowds broke in laughter his hand was elbow-deep in his surcoat, the parcel secured. Then he ran, the laden weight of a low Parisian sky hanging over his shoulders and him, a moving dot in a monochrome city.
He darted through a passage, away from their cheers, jumping sideways at the call of the chamber pot, slowing down past les gendarms whose hand always fell heavy on his kind of folk. His mother’s kind. Dark, with luscious hair, the keepers of the laughter and of the magic. He was proud of her gift for reading people and foretelling their future. ‘One God,’ she’d taught him, ‘for everybody.’
Yet not all were equal. And God was up. They were in the sewer.
The drizzle hitting his face forced him to bury his head between his skinny shoulders and look down when he reached the church of St Merri, that fed him now. It was the rain wetting his face, not his shame. The rain that also stung his eyes. So he picked up the pace, feeling only his heart hammering in his jacket.
He broke his run near the open market to check inside his coat, sliding on the slippery stones and bumping into a merchant yelling away his ware. His nose crushed into the fishmonger’s raw hand, yet the smell of burning wood glued to his nostrils blocked the stench. The torrent of curses fell on his ribs, but for once he didn’t care, his eyes jabbing inside his coat for a sign of life.
He licked the pink, hairless nose the way he saw its mother doing it. Two perfectly round eyes opened up on him. Hope.
So the remainder of the road he ran, he ran till he reached the tall house that bent over the road, in protection. He ran up the two flights of stairs with their many doors that sheltered the homeless, like them. He ran all the way to their tiny room at the mansard. Cozy, his mother would correct him with a laugh.
There, he stood in the only open spot and removed the kitten out of his bosom. It made a noise like a whisper and opened its round eyes on him again. The boy’s dark face lit up in a smile as big as a heart, revealing a few missing teeth. His mother will be so proud. He spun around three times like she’d taught him, making sure the cat was secure in his arms. He spun around to swing the cat for they had a room to swing a cat in. To keep it, as the gypsy believe said to do if one wanted to keep a cat.
In his father’s home, there were plenty rooms where he could swing a cat in. But an executioner’s son was not allowed to own a cat, what was allowed was to inherit his father’s job.
The House of Nicolas Flamel appeared on our Paris itinerary due to our daughter’s extraordinary interest in the world of Harry Potter.
About the house itself: Nicolas Flamel had the house built after his wife Pernelle passed away in 1397. The house (as well as several others owned by Flamel) did accommodate the homeless of Paris, or at least a part of them. Yet this is the only one still standing. The frieze above the ground floor dates from 1407, when the house was completed:
“Nous homes et femes laboureurs demourans ou porche de ceste maison qui fu fte en lan de grace mil quatre cens et sept, somes tenus chacun en droit soy dire tous les jours une patrenostre et 1 ave maria en priant dieu que sa grace face pardon aux povres pescheurs trespassez. amen.”
“We men and women labourers residing in the entryway of this house, which was built in the year 1407, vow to recite each day Our Father who Art in Heaven and Ave Maria, praying to God by whose grace accords pardon to those poor sinners (who) trespass. Amen.”
Yet Nicolas Flamel never lived here, in what is today the oldest house in Paris.
Update 🙂 I used a 14th century map of Paris to locate the House of Nicolas Flamel and trace the boy’s route:
The day of Saints-Geneviève:
During the Middle Ages, the Parisians had quite a full calendar, abundant in holidays and events that were enthusiastically celebrated, perhaps because of the precarious lives of the ordinary populace. Thus, The day of Saints-Geneviève, the patron saint of the city who allegedly saved that city from the Huns was and still is celebrated on the 3rd of January.
The origin of the saying “there was not room to swing a cat in it”:
There is a superstition in Transylvania, perhaps brought about by the gypsies whose specialty was to bear the seeds of magic and spread them about here and there, as the winds do to those of plants… In this province of Romania it is said that if a cat runs away, when recovered it must be swung around three times to attach it to the dwelling.
The same is done to a stolen cat by the thief himself, if he plans to keep it. This is a rather strange way to induce an attachment to any animal, but perhaps from the point of view of the professional cat-stealer the size of his room is a matter of greater importance.
On the Executioners Who Inherited Their Jobs
Truth be told, for centuries in France execution was a family matter and the job of an executioner was passed on from father to son.
Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – discover more doors from around the world.
The Oldest Christmas Story. Enjoy! Merry Christmas! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
It had snowed on the Gray-Haired Mountain that December and the winter’s icy breath had rolled down along the valleys of the Judaean Mountains, covering them with a white blanket that dissipated as soon as one set foot on it.
Some might not even call these mountains such, but rather nests of sleeping turtles for their soft curvatures, yet they all agree that it is these mountains here, as old as the first thought, that God uses to describe His omniscient and constant presence to His people.
It had snowed that December and the air smelled clean, like a white linen that’s been washed and set in the sun to dry. And this, some say, it wasn’t by chance.
It was a time when ambitious, assertive republics became empires and a time of skilled, yet overlooked nations. It was a time when the Roman Empire reached its peak, stretching westwards across Hispania, eastwards across Pannonia and Dacia, and even over the big sea, Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) how Romans called the Mediterranean, and all the way to the African continent, and to Judea.
Desiring to know how many subjects he ruled over, ravenous Roman emperor Caesar Augustus gave a decree that everyone be counted. But not in the places where they lived, where they had business and had built homes, but in the place where the head of each family had been born. Be it where it may be.
And so the people packed up their families, provisions to last them the entire journey, and traveled. The wealthy ones in carriages, the poorest ones by foot, others with the aid of donkeys. None thought to fight the Emperor’s authority, for in those times, much like now, people recognized and obeyed the tradition of authority.
So did Joseph and his wife Mary who traveled for ninety long miles (about 144 kilometers) in a cold winter, along dangerous roads littered with pirates of the desert and robbers too. For a whole week.
They started their journey from their home in Nazareth, perhaps after a rushed breakfast of dried bread, and followed the flat bed of Jordan river heading south along the water. Its gushing waters would have made them feel, at first, as if they too advanced at great speed. Yet soon after the first excitements of a trip wore off the path, too, somehow went uphill, then downhill again, uphill and downhill. And the journey soon became a tiresome one.
Especially for Mary, who was with child.
And where a traveler would have covered 20 miles in a day (as much as 32 kilometers), Mary and Joseph could only do half. Yet Joseph did not push Mary, and Mary did not complain. They drew strength from each other and they put one foot after the next. Through rain and sleet, for winter days are rainy in Judea, and winter nights turn frigid. One foot after the next, thinking of the end of their journey. Of the birth of their child. Hoping for a healthy babe, and a safe return back to Nazareth. To their life as they knew it.
Maybe Joseph’s feet turned wet and cold. Maybe Mary’s hands became stiff on the reins, her back aching. Joseph would have walked by her side, one hand supporting his heavy wife. Mary would have caressed his beard. And they would have found the strength to smle at one another.
And when they stopped for lunch, they probably shared some oil with bread that Mary had packed for their trip. And in the evening, they probably devoured more bread, this time with herbs and oil. A traveler’s frugal meal.
Thus Mary and Joseph traveled that December, overcome by the long journey ahead and by the heavy woolen cloaks on their backs, but shielding an ember of hope in their hearts. It was this hope that saw them through the next part of their journey, through the forests lining the Jordan River, forests where bears, wild boars and even lions made den.
Finally, they made it to Bethlehem, but with so many people returning here to be counted, and with Mary and Joseph arriving late, the two could find no space at Joseph’s distant family, nor in an inn, where Joseph asked, although their money was tight.
Some space, a dry roof, was finally found in a manger, by a busy tavern. And since it was time, and Mary had been traveling for a whole week, the babe was born that night.
Donkeys and a sheep or two were also nearby, sharing the dry barn, their breath warm, smelling of hay, their bodies radiating heat. And perhaps that other travelers were also taking shelter in that small space, and the women would have helped Mary, for it is human nature to help those in need. Maybe Joseph even went to find a midwife, as it was custom at the birth of a baby.
The baby was born, healthy, surrounded by love.
And all was good in that stable, all was good in the world.
The ember of hope that Mary and Joseph had carried in their hearts was finally there, and it is said that a star just as bright, maybe even brighter, shone that night above the manger.
Why was that?
God had a grand plan with His special Son. And He wanted all to know of His birth, yet He did not tell the Emperor of Rome, nor the King of Judea. God was a God of all people, so this is whom He let know first.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,” said He, through an angel to three shepherds – and their woolly dog – who were watching their flock on a field not far from the manger. The shepherds were not wealthy in money, nor had they many sheep, but they had faith. And so they were not scared by the sight of the angel, their woolly dog did not bark, yet they rejoiced, feeling God’s presence, and immediately left for Bethlehem, to see this special babe. And, soon after, to tell others of the great happening. And to show them the star.
Yet humankind was not quite ready to accept the authority of such a tradition without proof. God knew it, Jesus knew it too.
Had Mary, the mother, known it as well, in her heart?
Had she know that her smile for her newborn son would have been her last smile? That securing her baby in her arms, in that rugged barn, would have been the last time she’ll ever be able to keep him safe?
The tapestry of the oldest Christmas story took centuries to weave and it needed many hands to be finished, so that we can enjoy its story and its meaning today, an ember to treasure in our own hearts.
Scholars may argue here and there. 🙂 But I do hope that by reading this, the Oldest Christmas Story, some peace will come upon you this December.
Merry Christmas! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (The Gospel According to St. Luke)
21st of December update 🙂
As we saw it from our yard tonight, the Christmas Star or the Star of Bethlehem:
The Christmas Star, or the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Astronomers call it Saturn’s planetary dance. The two planets appear to be separated by as much as the thickness of coin, when actually they are 400 million miles apart!
Jupiter and Saturn line up every 20 years or so, but this year they line up in December .
And we also spotted a Christmas tree made of clouds:
This week for Thursday Doors I have included an edited extract from my WIP calling itWinter Story for Thursday Doors. The doors featured here are from Brasov, Romania.
🙂 For Dan’s Thursday Doors blog feature over at No Facilities – do visit and you can participate too by creating your own blog post celebrating a world of doors. 🙂
A Winter Story for Thursday Doors
“The little man shook hands. Left, then right. He introduced himself and bowed in turn, first towards the girl, then towards the boy.
The girl felt a wave of heat spreading over her cheeks and thanked the stars for the hat covering her ears. She stomped her feet and exhaled with force hoping that the steam will remind all that it’s the middle of winter, enough to explain her red face. She’d been so shallow to call the old man ‘a jacket cladding a dwarf’, while all he did was dragging his body along the street, each step a wrestle with the fresh snow.
Yet she hadn’t been that wrong, had she? She lowered her gaze, her eyes sweeping over the woolly coat standing in front of her. It covered everything from above the man’s ears to the ground. Its hem was trimmed with white from having being pushed and pulled along the snow-laden streets, while its collar was lifted and secured in place by a scarf so wide that it covered both nose and mouth. But a pair of smiling eyes met hers – had he seen her studying him? – proof that a human being did live inside that coat. The eyes and the shopping bag on wheels left half a meter behind, in front of an arched red entrance mirroring the one they had tried to gain access to, were her proof of life.
Once again that morning they found themselves in front of a metal gate with an arched top and a small door carved into it. Above it rose a centuries old stone building that offered little protection against the weather to anyone trying to get in.
The small man retrieved a set of keys and began searching for the right one, a slow job given his thick gloves that hid arthritic fingers. Behind him, the boy scanned the names on the building’s door buzzer. Three all together. He did a quick math: two windows per apartment. They must be tiny.
‘Do you know when your neighbors open for business?’ the boy was back and had bent his knees to stoop low near the short man, his voice echoing far in the narrow street. He’d spoken loud on purpose. Aren’t all old men kind of deaf? The girl pushed her hands hard into her pockets and looked at her feet, wishing she could hide in the snow, with her toes.
The little man held up a key, shaking it like a prize. ‘Found it!’ his eyes smiled left, then right.
Ignoring the snowdrift, the boy strode around the old man, aiming for his other ear. ‘Your neighbors,’ he called pointing across the road, and more steam poured from his mouth.
The old man kept smiling and nodding, waving his gloved hand left and right, the tip of the key sticking out like a present.
The boy pressed his hands against his hat and slowly pulled it over his face. The girl turned, her eyes lingering across the road. Her eyes, big like a child’s on Christmas morning when he finds no presents underneath the tree.
The old man made four small steps towards the red gate, then stopped. ‘Come, come,’ he called and his voice, although not loud, carried well. Yet the steam remained behind the scarf, trapped. ‘We’ll have tea, warm up and talk.’ Then he added, in a softer tone, ‘we’ll talk about my neighbors too,’ while his eyes narrowed on the girl, the way a grandfather would to sooth an upset child. And he smiled again, lifting his hand that still squeezed the shiny key, like a prize, while his other hand closed slowly on the handle of his bag on wheels. Yet the bag didn’t yield. The old man shook its handle in distress, as if now he was the child. The wheels held, frozen in the ice masked by fresh snow.
The boy jumped to the rescue and freed the shopping bag pulling it towards the red metal gate, his head tilted, astonished by its unexpected weight. And the girl followed.
The first thing that changed was the snow underfoot. It remained outside the red door as they crossed its threshold. On the other side ancient cobble stones paved the ground and their pattern opened in a half a circle, shaped like the vestibule that welcomed them. Rather large, so large.
As soon as the little door closed behind silence enveloped them, only the muffled echo of their footsteps resonating against the ancient walls. The space, wider than either of the visitors expected, was equally shared by the three families living in the building, as was the small Christmas tree placed in the middle and decorated with hand made paper snowflakes and tin stars.
The ozone rich air, too dry in the icy winter to carry any scents, fell in a strong embrace with the homely scents of Christmas. It smell of pine, and of wood, but above all of vanilla and cinnamon, the warm scents of freshly baked goodies, cozonac, sweet bread, summer’s sunshine trapped in winter.
The small man parked his trolley in what seemed to be his side of the hallway and busied with his bunch of keys again. So many, thought the boy, and only one to open the door to his apartment. The girl remained behind, frozen by the Christmas tree, her attention on one decoration in particular. A hedgehog fashioned out of slender paper cones trimmed with silver foil. A thin string was threaded through each cone pulling them together to shape a hedgehog. Googly eyes and a bead for a nose completed the face. He was white and silver, as if covered by snow.
‘I had one just like this when I was small,’ she said and her words lifted in surprise.
There was the noise of a key turning in the lock again and of a door swinging open. And they all went inside the old man’s home.’
The first snow of December is winter’s first gift, coming from Saint Nicholas, yet not many know its significance. For that sneeze feeling you have in your nose before winter’s first coat falls, that’s just Saint Nicholas’ beard tickling your cheek.
At the beginning of December, the flakes spiral and dance to the ground the same way Saint Nicholas’ white beard floats behind him as he strides along the road. Each winter since that first one, almost two thousand years ago.
But don’t look out for his arrival for you won’t see him on the road. Cladded in a brown cassock, with white hair framing his silhouette like a cloud, and his silvery beard thrown over his shoulder – so he won’t tread on it – Saint Nicholas’ figure is more like that of a majestic tree than of a man. In his right hand, he holds a stick, a branch of an apple tree, and over his left shoulder, he balances a bundle. It isn’t a big sack like some would expect, rather a modest one, well used, and almost hidden by his snowy mane.
What got him going in the first place? What keeps him on the road still? Some say it is his love for God, for helping those in need. Some believe it is the joy he feels in his heart whenever he offers that much-needed contribution.
For the sum of all the joy that December’s first snow brings to all, is equal to the joy that swells Saint Nicholas’ heart when he strides forward one more year, and makes it snow, a sure tell-tell sign of his impending arrival.
The white stone arches of the maritime city of Patara, in Lycia, have long been reduced to ruins, and its once busy harbor is now but a white beach. But once, during the 3rd century, this town founded by none other but the son of Apollo, the god of archery, truth, and healing, was a known harbor at the Mediterranean Sea, and along the trading routes going through Asia Minor. It is said that even Paul and Luke changed ships here.
Saint Nicholas first walked this earth here, in Patara, before settling in the nearby city of Myra. He was fortunate to be born in a wealthy family so he could enjoy a formal education. During those times only upper-class males had such rights. Yet all young Nicholas wanted to do was to learn about God and aid those less fortunate. And helping them he did, for after the timeous death of his parents, he shared his wealth with the poor.
And he did so in a very peculiar way, for he was a rather shy young man who preferred to observe, rather than judge, and to act quietly, rather than boast.
Night after night Nicholas donned a brown cassock and tiptoed around his town, secretly delivering food and gold coins to those families he knew were in dire need.
One such family was that of a widower who had three hard-working daughters, yet they were too poor to even get married for their father had no money to pay for their dowry. Unable to do much work outside the home to provide for themselves as women were not even considered fit for labor, a harsh life, of poverty and uncertainty, was foreseen for his three girls.
It was the coldest winter they’ve ever known, and the wise men of Patra were whispering it was God’s wrath that had fallen over their village, for people had turned away from one another. Work was scarce, food had become a sweet dream, and even wood for fire was a dear sight.
They had never heard such howling, as if not one, but a clutter of lynxes found refuge outside the city gates.
They had never seen such a snow bridge extending the land far into a still sea now, and narrowing the strait to a choke, freezing all activity in the harbor.
They had never smelled so many different kinds of fire, for the people of Patra having run out of the usual amount of wood stacked for winter, had resourced to burning rags, leaves, even old trash to keep warm.
One such night, all that the widower’s family of four had left for dinner were four potatoes they cooked over the shadow of a fire. When dinner was ready the father asked the oldest daughter to take his cooked potato along with some sticks and deliver them to their neighbor, a lonely woman. Nobody saw the young girl rushing through the still village in that icy dark, nobody but a man dressed in a long cassock. He saw the girl’s good deed and the smile that grew on his face was the strength that kept him going forward that night.
For he too was a lone visitor in that arctic darkness, moving silently from one needy shelter to the next.
One year passed and it was time for the oldest daughter to marry, yet both she and her father knew it will not happen for they were, each day, poorer than the day before. And winter had come again.
Except that one morning when they woke up the father and his three daughters found a pouch with gold coins outside their front door. They were merry of the unexpected gift, they shared some of it with their needy neighbors, and it was still enough left for the eldest daughter to marry.
But where did the money came from? The father would have like to know.
But we know, don’t we?
One more year passed and the time came for the second daughter to marry. Yet money was scarce again. Until one early morning, when another pouch with gold coins was discovered outside their home. Merry were they, a happy wedding happened and two neighbors were aided this time.
But where did the money had come from, again? The girl’s father promised himself to find out.
Although we do know, don’t we?
So when one more year passed and winter gripped the village once more, the girl’s father hid outside his home, pulling his cloak tight around him, thin protection against winter’s sharp bite, his hood lowered against the gale, seeking shelter behind their only olive tree. Waiting, more eager to discover the identity of their benefactor than he was worried that chills will take shelter in his old bones. And just as Nicholas approached the poor man’s house the father stepped out of the shadow. Nicholas of Myra took a step backward and threw the pouch through the window, thus it landing in a shoe, then ran. He wished more than anything for his gesture to remain anonymous. The girl’s father only caught sight of a man dressed in a common cassock, departing in a hurry. So he followed him and thus he witnessed more good deeds.
And that winter night the old man felt less and less the bite of the arctic wind, the warm blanket of hope and gratitude settling on his skinny shoulders.
And he even caught sight of their benefactor’s face. A young man, whose eyes spread such wisdom and love, as only the city’s elders’ did. A man who shed a tear outside each needy household, yet smiled after leaving the gift behind. A man whose shoulders hunched more and more upon leaving each establishment, as if for each gift he left behind he chose to take away some of the troubles, the worries, the pain hanging over each family.
It was the night between the 5th and the 6th of December, a date the poor man’s family will always remember, a date that remained in folktales and is celebrated by Christians as the night of Saint Nicholas, Moș Nicolae.
I remember, as a child, cleaning my shoes and placing them by the window, hoping that Saint Nicholas will leave an orange and a few chocolates in them. The hope of being remembered. Small joys for a small child, apart for winter’s first snow.
Some say that if they’ve been naughty they found a small wand made from the wood of an apple tree. Maybe even torn from Saint Nicholas’ staff. It is said that if it blooms when placed in water is sure sign that Saint Nicholas forgave all their naughty deeds and that he smiles again.
How Does Snow Smells Like?
And not only the first snow, but the way the air smells around that first snow. Clean and fresh, soft, as if it’s just been washed, although it hasn’t. Isn’t it? I write from memories.
To me, snow smells of pine trees, woody, of open spaces, of holiday, of promises and of hopes. It smells as if anything ~ good ~ is possible, and as if dreams do come true. First snow smells like that.
I know that the frozen air has the opposite effect on the human olfactory system, and that we actually have less chances of smelling when it is cold outside because the mucus inside our nostrils dries up, so less particles reach the nerve receptors in our noses. Yet I do solemnly swear that I can smell the first snow and that I can smell the change in the air, before it first snows.
And I know that the air is supposed to be extra ionized when it snows, as it hold more moisture. Add it is a drop in temperature and a decrease in air pressure that makes it snows. Yet isn’t it more to that first snow than science?
For there is a change in the air before it snows. Some call it happiness or anticipation. For others it is the emotional charge of childhood.