A celestial combat seen by the inhabitants of a Touraine town, in 1480. Wood XVIth Century.

It is early May, and already the African wind is changing Spring in Crete into a furnace.  On a little beach in the island’s North, a mule caravan is moving along, on its way to the White Mountains from whence can be seen, on a clear day, Cythera and even the Peloponnese…  But instead of taking the Eskifu road towards the interior, the head muletier continues along the coast.  Guthrie, an English tourist, calls him to the rear.  The man, who is wearing ample Ottoman clothing, apologizes, saying that he had thought that they wanted to see “the Shades”.  Amused, the Englishman asks him where he thinks that he is going to find any shade in this desert.  The muletier is offended.

“I’m serious.  You can see them in the evening quite near here…  Near the ruins of the castle, Franco Kastelli.  It’s an old Venitian fortress.  Over one hundred years ago, the Greeks and the Turks fought there.  They did it a lot…  And since then, the Shades return every May.”

“And what do these shades do?”

“They fight each other and a lot of them are killed or wounded!”

Guthrie mops his perspiring brow and advises the muletier, whose name is Yami, to take an obviously much-needed rest…  in the shade, of course.

That evening, while camping in a little shepherd’s hut half-way up the Aspra-Vuna, a two thousand metre high mountain, the Englishman, who is accompanied by two friends, pensively watches the sun sinking into the sea.  It’s that indecisive hour when everything which seems banal by day is tinted with strangeness…  On this immemorial land where, since sombre King Minos, a torrent of blood from wars of conquest and insurrections has flowed…  Suddenly, Guthrie says:

“And what if this countryside could reflect through time something of these dramas?…  Tomorrow, if you like, we’ll go to see if there is a shadow performance at the Franco Kastelli theatre!…”

***

The next morning, the English tourists start off before Dawn.  By questioning their guides, they have learnt that the shades also sometimes manifest themselves in the morning, and that some in Crete call them, for this reason, “the Drosulites” or “Men of the Dew”.  Guthrie, who is an engineer and, in these 1930 years, has retained something of the spirit of adventure of the XIXth Century British people, very much hopes to liven up his vacation.  He thinks that, whatever happens, back in his London club, this excursion must furnish some material for an anecdote…  Or, who knows, a declaration to the Science Academy about a phenomenon which, because dew has been mentioned, must be of a meterological or optical nature, and is only an illusion, a mirage, but which he will be the first to observe with the phlegm and rigour of a strong mind…

The little troup is back on the beach which leads to the castle.  The day has not yet dawned, but a light is coming from the East, from the faraway coasts of Syria.  Yami puts his mules to a trot and cries out:

“The castle is down there, in that little gulf!”

This part of the beach is perfectly flat, and less than a kilometre away, parts of the crumbling walls of the old fortress with its damaged tower can be seen.  Our travellers agree that the simple topography of the place will render any trickery impossible and that even if any phenomenon did occur inside the ruins, they would have no difficulty in seeing what it was close up…

They sit down in the warm sand and drink the coffee that Yami pours for them from a thermos.  Then Guthrie and one of his two companions advance about one hundred metres towards the citadelle.  The third Englishman, who has remained behind, is finding that the night has been very short.  He is also asking himself what he is doing here waiting for the improbable to happen.  He wraps himself in a blanket and lights his pipe…

This battle between a regiment of Napoleon and an English regiment was very distinctly seen in the sky by British citizens at the end of the XIXth Century. The combat lasted nearly an hour.

Yami, who is finishing unpacking the mules, suddenly hears him call out:

“Hey!…  Hey, there!…  Yes, there!  I can see them!  The shades are coming towards us!”

He has leapt to his feet and is making wild signs to his companions who do not seem to have seen anything.  As he  continues to gesticulate, they hurry back.  Yami has prudently taken his mules towards the sea…

“It’s unbelievable!  I can’t see them any more now!…  But I’m sure I didn’t dream it!”

Back together again, the three men intently scrutinize the ruins.

“There they are!  They’re back again!…  You have to crouch down to see them…”

Guthrie murmurs:

“My God!  It’s a veritable army on the march!”

Three hundred metres in front of them, coming from the East, they distinctly see armed men advancing in a long line.  Guthrie says:

“They’re certainly not the Greeks and the Turks Yami talked about.  They look more like Roman legionaries!”

“Or Persians!”

suggests one of his companions.  The younger of the two anxiously asks:

“Do you think that we risk anything?”

Guthrie replies:

“Of course not!  It’s surely only a mirage…  See, when we stand up, the legs of the “Shades” seem to evaporate!”

The elder of his two companions replies:

“I’ve seen lots of mirages in Africa, but never anything like this!  You can clearly see their helmets and their chainmail…  and some of them are a lot bigger than others!”

Guthrie says:

“It’s strange!  There are only foot soldiers…  Now they are going straight for the ruins!  Dawn isn’t far off…  look!  You can see the spears glittering…  It’s really crazy!  I must absolutely see this close up.  Yami!…”

The Crete guide has gathered his mules who are moving nervously.  He cries out:

“In the name of Saint Panasia, let us leave!  The Shades are a bad omen!”

“Right…  I’ll go on foot!  Try not to let me out of your sight!”

His companions want to stop him, but the engineer has already taken off running.  Five minutes have gone by since the beginning of the apparition and the little group that has remained near the sea, watches, petrified, as the Englishman goes towards the head of the column which is now less than one hundred metres from the castle.  A few seconds later, the witnesses see him traverse the column and go towards the heights which surround the fortress on the mountains side.

Guthrie is 400 metres from them now, but his companions still clearly see him transparently through the fantastic troop, whose progression had in no way been disturbed when the Englishman opened a passage through it.

Still through the column, they again see him waving his arms, moving forward, moving back, and making signs to them to make them understand that he is seeing the phenomenon too, from the side on which he is.

Only a quarter of an hour has passed.  Those who are contemplating, fascinated, this incredible spectacle, have to crouch down again to continue to see it.  Already, the legs and trunks of the spectres have become invisible again…  Soon the only thing left of the warriors of the shadows, is a flash of light on a sword or a shield.  Shadows returned to the shadows, evaporated like the dew in the rising sun…

***

To be continued.

Advertisements