It is with great fondness and deep appreciation that we dedicate this book to AMINAH BRENDA LYNN ROBINSON (1940-2015), American artist, for her inspiration and encouragement.
A.L.M. & D.B.
Loukas and the Game of Chance
©2019 Anthony L. Manna. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, or photocopying, recording or otherwise without the permission of the author.
Cover art and interior illustrations ©2019 Donald Babisch
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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In a time long ago forgotten, a fisherman, his wife, and their son lived peacefully together on a remote island in the restless Aegean Sea. Their weathered cottage stood on a cliff overlooking clusters of drab villages scattered throughout wooded hills.
Paths overgrown with wild herbs and gnarled shrubs wended their way from the family’s cottage down to the island’s busy harbor.
For generations the cottage and the plot of land on which it stood with its commanding view of the sea had remained a cherished inheritance. Over the years, each family that lived there took great pride in preserving the humble beauty of the place.
Like his ancestors before him, the fisherman believed it was in his honor to pass the skills of the fishing trade to his child. From time to time, he would bring his young son along when he headed out to sea in the family’s old row boat.
On days when the boy joined his father, he woke to his mother’s call as darkness was draining from the night sky. He dressed himself just like his father—in overalls, clunky rubber boots, and a scruffy cap.
Before setting out, the boy was sure to grab the wooden flute his parents had made for him to celebrate his christening and to honor the spirit of Saint Loukas, the legendary miracle worker whose name the boy had been given at birth.
Just as Loukas was about to rush off to meet up with his father on the path, his mother handed him the small sack of food she had prepared for their outing. With the family’s pantry nearly empty each and every day, she could only offer Loukas and his father a few slices of bread and a small wedge of cheese to share.
As daylight was brightening, Loukas and his father boarded their boat and rowed out to a shallow channel not far beyond the shore. There they waited for schools of sardines and mullets to fill their net.
Whenever Loukas accompanied his father out to sea, he helped pass the time out on the water by taking up his flute and playing sea songs.
They never tired of hearing the song that honored a trawler’s captain and crew for fighting off a band of pirates on the high seas.
Or the song about the islanders’ lament for fisherfolk lost at sea during a brutal storm.
Or the children’s song that captured the playful spirit of dolphins as they rode a schooner’s bow waves.
Or the songs of mermaids and merlads, sea monsters, and legendary sirens whose singing lured unwary sailors to steer their boats onto rocks that lined the coast.
On days when good luck guided their boat, Loukas and his father returned to the dock by midday with a basket, full to the brim, of fish. Later, Loukas would help his parents sell the day’s catch at the village marketplace along with the herbs the family grew in their modest garden.
As a young boy, Loukas had his father’s deep-set sea-green eyes and narrow nose with a slight curve at the bridge.
He also bore his father’s slightly crooked smile that, were it not for the man’s friendly manner, might easily be mistaken for an angry scowl.
From his mother, Loukas had received an untamed crop of curly black hair and a dark complexion, as though blessed by the sun’s golden rays.
Lately, Loukas had taken to imitating the confidence his mother radiated whenever she made her way through their village. As she moved from place to place, folks took kindly to her gentle way of finding goodness in people.
Like Loukas’s father, his mother steered clear of gossip that too often poisoned the village with spells of spite and distrust. Even when Loukas was still a young child, his mother warned him to walk away from mean people who talked about folks with spiteful words. Loukas must be kind to people. He must look out for villagers—whether young or old—who need help.
Some days Loukas roamed the seashore alone not far from home. He ran alongside sandpipers as they scuttled across the beach, their shrill cries stirring up a rowdy chorus of weet-weet-weeting.
“awawawk,” Loukas screeched, echoing the gulls’ calls. He flapped his arms and swayed like an anxious seabird, circling and diving through salty gusts of wind.
“awawawk, awawawk,” he cried, and took off down the sun-drenched trail that brought him to the island’s ancient seawall.
Once there, Loukas clambered up to a narrow hollow where he took a seat and watched the flurry of activity that swarmed the harbor. By day, merchants from near and far came ashore hoping to sell their wares to the island’s eager vendors and shopkeepers.
From his perch, Loukas could see trawlers and tall ships moving to and from the harbor. Flocks of squawking gulls soared and plummeted above the boats’ misty wakes, their webbed feet barely touching the sea’s churning surface.
As was his habit, Loukas soon began playing a cheerful tune on his flute. He slowed or quickened the rhythm to keep pace with the gulls’ sweeping movements. Just when he started mounting a rapid series of high notes, out of the corner of his eye he spotted a snake weaving its way toward him.
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