Helen Of The Netherworld

"And yon unwedded virgins…"(Euripides, The Trojan Tragedy) This story commences in the Mounts of the Pindus. The dawn of the 20th century. Autumn: the time of wedlock. The Pindian event of the season: the wedding of beauteous Helen. Macedo-Romanian villagers called her Lena. Greeks in high offices called her Heleni. The chosen and the lucky one was Stere Nika. The groom was born to a family of wealth and honor. With Macedo-Romanians, these are cardinal virtues: wealth and honor.On the day before the wedding, Saturday evening, Pascali, the father, was struck by a sudden giddy feeling. He fell and never rose to his feet again. They put him in bed. He recalled that, upon an unseemly deed, gentle Kerana had said: "May you never live to merrymake at yer daughter's wedding." And, on the eve of the event, the word became flesh, for perilous are the words of the meek. The wedding morning was bright, and nothing would indicate the impending commotion. Maidens arrived, preparing Helena for her journey. Combed with artful craft and clad like a fairy. Then came the groom's retinue from the neighboring village, to take the girl. They performed the ritual of the breaking of blossoms. They paid the toll and "carried the bride away". They paid for her in wheat, fruit, honey, and wine.Then they proceeded with music and mirth towards the groom's village.People would stand in the porch to see the cohort of fair Helena Pascali, as it went by. A bride's attire made her even fairer.Stere Nicolae, the rich and worthy groom, was fronting the procession, flanked by two of the maidens. Helen followed them, escorted by two captains. The runners were trimmed.The groom's village. People are happy to welcome a stately woman in their midst.The wedding on the trodden path that leads to the village.Good players, the Vlahorinti folk band.The ritual of matrimony in church. Three villages were amassed there. Even the haughty Greeks from Ladoneus had come to liturgy to wonder at the bride's beauty – this meant they paid homage, and the Macedo-Romanians were proud therefore. The bride's reel. The enchanted ring of villagers – watching. The musics heighten the emotion. The miracle of matrimony reaches a climactic moment. All the eyes are hypnotically riveted on the about-to-be-weds: on the woman.At that moment, an old man cried out, as if in a state of trance:"She's so fair, she will not live to see next year!""Keep quiet, fool!" said a woman who had heard his sayings. "Take back your words."But the verbum had been set free.The bride, fair Helena, instantly went with her hand against her brow, and paused from her dancing.All stood dumbfounded, ignorant of what had happened.The bride regained her spirits, smiled, encouraging the merrymakers. She herself tried to resume her dancing, made another swirl; but then, she halted and went with her hand against her brow. She gave an unperceivable moan: Oooh-ooh! She tottered. Stere held her in his grip."What's wrong with you?" he asked in a terrified voice."Oh Lord, my head!" she answered mutely.She feels dizzy. Wants to sit somewhere. The groom holds her firm on the porch.The captains tried to enliven the crowd, for the wedding should not come to pieces.A joke is said, an innocent comment. They think she needs rest after one week's toil and preparation. Then an erotic innuendo – they think she needs "the mandatory invigoration". Upon which the wedding continued till evening, but not all too mirthfully. Then they sat at the table. The food was plentiful. People ate and drank, still whispering about the wife's headache.Once more, Helena made her appearance, trying to show a calm, smiling demeanor. Then she retreated into the house. The only thing she did was put her hands against her brow: a terrible affliction had been triggered inside her head.Helena was 18 of age.That night she tossed with pain, could not get a moment's rest. The next day, they called Lutsa, the charmer. She was famed for taking off a man's pain with her bare hands and working evil with her knife, for banning the evil eye.As soon as she started speaking, the pain ceased.The charmer said: Fair bird – white-necked sister,Up you flew,down you went.To the skiesinto the stone.If dark man, unclean, has charmedlet his stones rot.If the sun has charmedlet his rays drop.Get away, devil's sword,here comes Angel's sword.Get thee away,away from the brainsaway from the cheek.Leave the head cleanas washed silver and gold.I say this charm,The healing is with God. Thereupon she added more mysterious, undistinguishable, and powerful words.Then she burned an essence of transcantia zebrina and anointed her neck with a herb called by indigenes "Heaven's little key".Helena felt well throughout the day. On the day after, her blood had thickened again and she was cast into illness.She took concoctions of boiled herbs which seemed to alleviate the pain.The Greek priest was called, a man of great gifts, to perform a mass of absolution from spell, from the known and the unknown.However, the pain in the head would not go away.Kerana, the girl's mother, was not much of a believer in old women's charms. She decided to take her to hospital, into the town.They committed her. They sold many sheep to pay the doctors. One day, Helena called Kerana unto her and her brothers, Victor and Hristodor.They were silent, it was a solemn hour. Helena spoke:"My great-grandfather came in my dream last night and said you should be warned. A time of persecution and death is at hand. The Greeks will ban you from your customs, the Bulgarians will oppress you and drive you away, the Turks will cut you to pieces. Sell the sheep and the houses and be prepared for the dawn of the great trekking. You will cross the Danube, to the Romanians of the other side. For them, there is still ill fate in store, and you will embrace their ill fate, as well.""And what will happen to us? What doth the great father say?""This father says that you, mother, will take a man's place and will protect what is left of your kin. And you, Hristodor, will bear a cross so heavy as no soul has seen since Crucifixion. They will plague you, they will trash you, they will drive you into starvation, brand you with the hot iron, they will grind your bones; and you will be near death and bear the torment. Thus did my grandfather speak. Prepare."Then the others asked: What other things lay at hand?She told them all.Then, abruptly she went silent.Her eyes magnified, as if she had encountered a terrible vision.She said:"Mother, verily – I shall die." She spoke nothing, not a thing – for three days.Then, on the fourth, she expired. The wave of the people relocated from the Pindus into Dobrogea has imported the legend of fair Helena Zissu Pascali. This is how I happened to hear it, even from her own kin, in the Dobrogean village of Tariverde. After Lena's demise, the female babies born on the following years were all baptized to the name of Helena. And tradition went on over the years. In the village of Tariverde, there are three women left bearing that name. All have one thing in common, something peculiar: they carry a mythological, ancestral mark, that can be spied on their countenance. And more, all three have inherited the gift of receiving messages from the netherworld. Excerpted with the author's permission from The Remotest Paradise, Dacia, 2001

by Vasile Andru (b. 1942)