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THE LIZARD WHO SAVED THREE VILLAGES
by Mary Ansell, Copyright © 2001

Once upon a time, a small green lizard lived among the ruins of a temple, high up on a hilltop which overlooked three villages scattered along the sea coast. The roof of the temple had rotted away, but the stone pillars were still standing. The pillars were carved in the shape of caryatids, or human figures. The pillars on the east side of the temple were carved in the shape of beautiful maidens, while those on the west side were carved to resemble handsome young men.

The climate was very hot and sunny, and grape vines had been planted over most of the hillside. Each day, after hunting for food among the rocks and shrubs near the temple, the lizard would climb up one of the pillars, and cling to the hot stone while basking himself in the sun. In the morning, when the sun was in the east, the lizard would sun himself on the side of the temple where the pillars were carved in the shape of beautiful maidens. In the afternoon, when the sun was in the west, the lizard would move to the other side of the temple, where the pillars were carved to resemble young men.

One morning, as the lizard was perched, half asleep, on the arm of a caryatid resembling a maiden with long, flowing hair, he thought he heard female voices. For a moment, he thought that perhaps the caryatids were speaking to one another, and that he must be asleep and dreaming. But then the voices grew louder, and he could begin to understand what they were saying.

"You see," said one of the voices, "it is as I said. From here we can see clearly down into the wine-makers' village below us."

"You are right," agreed a second voice. "Every street and every courtyard is visible."

The lizard crept cautiously up to the shoulder of the caryatid, so that he could peer around the edge of the pillar. Standing near the front of the temple, intently studying the village below, were seven maidens, who, from their dress, must have come from the village to the east. The lizard soon gathered from what they said that they planned to rob the wine-makers' village, which lay directly south of the temple.

"What fools they are to put their wine into bottles just at a time when their largest ships are away at sea!" exclaimed one of the maidens. "Now the wine will be easy to steal, and they will not be able to defend themselves!"

"Usually they are not so careless," answered another maiden. "I heard they are planning a wedding for the head wine-maker's daughter, and they imagine that their voyages of preparation are a secret. Fortunately, our sentinels recognised their ships as they departed."

From the conversation, the lizard learned that the villagers to the east, who lived mainly by fishing, had a great liking for white wine, and planned to steal as much of it as possible. The seven maidens had been sent to the temple as scouts, to plan the best route to take through the village to the cellars where the wine was kept.

"Tomorrow there will be a full moon and a high tide," said the maiden who seemed to be the oldest. "We can land at the innermost part of the harbour. Then we have only two lanes to go up, to reach the three largest wine cellars. You see? They are there, by those arches. We will bring tools with us to force the doors."

The youngest maiden was the only one who seemed to hesitate. "Their ships are bigger than ours. If we take their wine, we will destroy their trade. They will certainly be angry, and will attack our village."

But the other maidens refused to listen to her. "When will we have such a good opportunity again?" they argued. "The wine-makers' village is wealthy. They make both red and white wine. If we take the white wine, the red will still be left. We will disguise ourselves, so that even if they see us, they will not be sure who has robbed them. It will not be worth their while to attack us."

After they had memorised the route they would take, the maidens left the temple. Except for the youngest, they were all laughing and joking with one another about how good the wine would taste. As they passed beneath him, the lizard kept perfectly still, moving only his eyes. Only the youngest maiden glanced up at him for an instant, as she went by.

The lizard watched them make their way down a path on the far side of the hill, out of sight of the wine-makers' village. An hour later, he saw them arrive at a small, rocky inlet far below on the sea coast, where a boat lay waiting for them. The boat headed to the east, keeping close to the shoreline so as not to be seen. Hoping there would be no more disturbances, the lizard resumed his interrupted nap.

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At noon it was very hot. The lizard descended from the pillar to search for his midday meal. Then he made his way to the west side of the temple, and climbed up a pillar carved in the shape of a young man armed with a bow and arrows. The lizard stretched himself out along the shaft of the bow, which was directly exposed to the sun, and closed his eyes.

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He was half asleep when he thought he heard the shuffle of footsteps on the stone floor of the temple, and then the sound of male voices. At first he thought that the carved pillars were speaking to one another, and that he must be asleep and dreaming. But then he realised, that, as before, it was not a dream. The voices grew louder, and he began to understand what they were saying.

"What fools they are to leave their village unprotected!" exclaimed one of the voices. "From here we can see every lane and archway."

The lizard crept silently to the top of the carved bow shaft, and peered around the edge of the pillar. Near the front of the temple, intently studying the village below, were seven young men, dressed for hunting. The lizard knew from their dress that they must have come from the village to the west.

The lizard was astonished to hear the same conversation which had taken place in the morning, repeated almost exactly by a group of young men in the afternoon. But it soon became apparent that it was the red wine which interested the villagers to the west.

"There will be a high tide soon after dark tomorrow night," said the young man who seemed to be the oldest. "If we land at the western end of the harbour, we shall be close to the cellars where the red wine is kept. You see? They are there, beside the bell tower."

As before, it was only the youngest of the group who seemed to hesitate. "If we rob the wine-makers, they will become our enemies. After their big ships return, it is we who will be in danger."

But the other young men refused to listen to him. "Why should they begrudge us a few bottles of wine? We will take only the red wine; the white will still be left. It will not be worth their while to make trouble for us."

After they had memorised the route they would take, the young men left the temple, laughing and joking with one another about how good the wine would taste. As they passed by, only the youngest, who remained silent, happened to glance up and catch sight of the lizard watching them. The young men disappeared down a path on the far side of the hill, out of sight of the wine-makers' village. Looking towards the sea, the lizard saw a waiting boat, lying hidden at the mouth of a stream, far below.

The lizard tried to resume his interrupted nap, but his thoughts made him very uncomfortable. If the wine-makers were robbed of both their red and their white wine, it seemed certain that serious fighting among the three villages would be the result. The temple itself would be in danger. Traditionally, it belonged to all three villages, since it was the only place from which all three could be seen at once. Even though the temple was old and no longer had a roof, no one had dared to remove any of the beautifully carved pillars to his own village, for fear of angering the other villagers. But if fighting broke out, how long would the pillars be left standing? The wine-makers might even decide to destroy the temple, since it provided such a good vantage point for spying on their village.

That night the lizard had several nightmares about fighting, and crashing columns. He woke very early in the morning, and in the first light, stared down at the wine-makers' village, studying it as carefully as the enemy scouts had done the day before, and noting the location of the various cellars and the lanes which led from one to another. As he was watching, he noticed a young maiden carrying a basket, leaving a house near the centre of the village. He recognised her by her green-and-gold head scarf as the maiden who came almost every day to work in the fields below the temple. Having observed the position of her house, he made up his mind what to do.

First he circled the temple, searching for food. As he passed each of the pillars, he glanced up, hoping that his plan would be successful, and that he would soon be back at the temple again.

After eating as much as he could, he proceeded southward down the hill, keeping the sun on his left side. As much as possible, he kept out of sight, making his way under the branches of spiny shrubs and beneath rocky ledges, since he knew that a lizard was as tasty a delicacy for a hawk or an eagle as a beetle was for a lizard.

The sun grew hotter and hotter. The lizard longed to stop and take a nap, as he usually did in the morning, but he knew that he must keep moving. Finally, just before noon, when the sun had become so bright that it seemed pale in the sky above him, the lizard reached the first row of vines, which stretched across the hillside. At the end of the row was a path, descending from one terrace to the next.

The lizard began to follow the path down, keeping careful watch overhead, and pausing every few minutes to listen. At last he heard the sounds of someone at work among the grape vines. He crept nearer, and heard the voice of a maiden, humming to herself. When she raised her head, he could see her green-and-gold scarf.

She was digging up weeds and putting them into her basket, so that they could be taken down to the village to feed to the goats. As she looked the other way, the lizard darted towards the large basket, which was resting on the ground, and climbed carefully up the far side of it, where the maiden could not see him.

Finally he could take a nap. He closed his eyes. If he could stay hidden on the basket, the maiden would carry him down to the village at the end of the day. Late in the afternoon, he managed to find something to eat. Soon after he had returned to the basket, bells began to toll in the village below, signalling the workers in the fields to return home. The maiden put her water jug into the basket, strapped the basket onto her back, and descended towards the village.

The lizard clung tightly to the outside of the basket. When she arrived home, the maiden went first to the pen where the goats were kept, to feed them the weeds she had brought back with her. As she set down the basket down, the lizard darted away from it, and hid himself under the eave of the house. The first part of his plan had succeeded. He was now in the village.

He waited until all of the lanes were quiet, and most of the lights in the village had been put out. Then, making his way by moonlight, he crept along the lanes to the large cellars where most of the white wine was kept.

There were three cellars close together. The doors of the first two were tightly fastened, and there were no cracks big enough for a lizard to squeeze through. But the third cellar had a large gap beneath the door, and the lizard crept inside.

It was cold, damp and musty, very different from the warm, sunny hilltop. The second part of the lizard's plan was to create a disturbance, to alert the wine-makers before the robbers could arrive. He had not been able to plan exactly what he would do, since he did not know what he would find inside the cellars.

Since it was pitch black, he could explore only by feel and smell. First he came to great, heavy, wooden wine casks, and then to crates of empty bottles, resting on the floor. Finally, at the back of the cellar, he discovered a shelf crowded to the edge with large wine bottles standing up. Most of the bottles were full, and were too heavy to move. But several bottles at one end were still empty.

By using all his strength, the lizard was able to move one of the empty bottles, little by little, towards the edge of the shelf. After several minutes of shoving against the slippery glass, he managed to force the bottle far enough forward, so that it tottered at the edge of the shelf, and then plunged into a crate of empty bottles below, with a great crash of breaking glass.

The lizard immediately began to work on a second bottle. A neighbour across the street was just looking out, ready to lock his front door for the night, when the second bottle crashed to the floor of the cellar. Startled by the sound, the neighbour quickly crossed the street, and listened at the door of the cellar. The lizard had found a bottle that was already part way over the edge of the shelf. Once again, there was the sound of breaking glass. The neighbour went to get help.

Since the family who owned the cellar were already asleep, it was some time before the neighbour could convince them that there were vandals at work. By that time, several households had been awakened. The lizard had begun to work on the seventh bottle when the door of the cellar was suddenly flung open, and the light of several lanterns shone into the darkness.

The shards of the broken bottles were plain to see. The lizard was so dazzled by the sudden light that he was unable to avoid the glare of the lanterns.

"Look, it is a lizard who is doing it!" someone exclaimed. The lizard swiftly darted out of sight, behind the full wine jars.

In spite of having seen the lizard among the empty bottles, after the first exclamation, the wine-makers could not really believe that a lizard had caused the damage. They shone their lanterns into every corner of the cellar, searching for another culprit, but could find nothing.

As the wine-makers began to argue about what might have happened, their children, who had taken advantage of the chance of escaping from their beds after dark, were darting up and down the laneways, playing tag and hide-and-seek. Suddenly, they all came racing back to the cellar, breathless with excitement.

"Papa, Mama! A boat with no lights and no sails is coming into the harbour. We saw her in the moonlight!"

The lizard sighed with relief. This was what he had hoped would happen. The warning had been given.

Filled with surprise, the wine-makers hurried to the harbour. When the robbers from the village to the east saw the approaching lanterns, they knew they had no hope of taking the wine-makers unaware. Silently, before they could be recognised, they rowed as quickly as possible out to sea. The wine-makers arrived at the shore just in time to see the boat disappearing past the eastern headland of the harbour. It was not difficult to guess that this was an enemy ship from the village to the east. Disturbed by the sight of a strange ship in their harbour, several of the wine-makers decided to patrol the whole village, searching for hidden enemies.

The lizard wondered whether it would be necessary to carry out the next part of his plan. He crept out of the cellar, and along back lanes, past the bell tower, to the cellars where the red wine was kept. He could find no way into the first two cellars, but managed to enter the third through a gap between two stones.

This time, there were no empty bottles perched on a shelf. He explored the whole cellar, and finally discovered a valve on one of the huge casks. The valve was so well-oiled, that he was able to turn it, little by little, until wine began to splash out of the cask onto the stone floor of the cellar.

Only a few moments later, the heavy door was flung open, and lantern light flooded the cellar. As before, the lizard was too dazzled by the sudden light to be able to avoid the glare of the lanterns. He fled to hide behind the casks, but not before he had been seen clinging to the handle of the valve.

"A lizard has opened the valve!" exclaimed one of the men in astonishment.

But after the first moment, the wine-makers thought surely there must be some other explanation. They turned off the valve and shone their lanterns into every corner of the cellar, but could find nothing unusual.

The lizard listened as the wine-makers searched other cellars nearby. Then he heard someone say, "We had better go down to the water again, to make sure no boats are hidden along the shore."

The lizard followed cautiously, to see what would happen. As the wine-makers reached the top of a narrow passage which led down to the water, a shadowy group of figures could be seen approaching, silently, without lights. The moment the approaching group caught sight of the gleam of lanterns above them, with one accord they turned and fled towards the water.

The wine-makers, startled and angry, pursued the fleeing figures. They recognised the hunting dress of the people from the village to the west, but were not in time to prevent them from escaping in their boat.

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The lizard managed to find his way back to the house with the basket. He entered through a front window, which had been left ajar, and the first thing he saw, standing in a patch of moonlight, was the large basket. He crawled into it and fell asleep.

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The lizard was so tired, he did not wake up until he was halfway up the hillside again. The basket was being carried on the back of the maiden with the green-and-gold scarf, who was talking to a man walking beside her.

To his consternation, the lizard heard the man giving a description of the type of lizard that had been seen in the two cellars. "A small, green lizard, with bright eyes. An alert look and quick movements."

"That type of lizard does not live in our village," said the maiden. "It is found only near the top of the hill, by the temple."

"Come up to the temple with me," suggested the man. "Perhaps we will learn something."

The maiden agreed, and the lizard found himself being carried all the way to his home. As soon as the maiden had set down her basket on the temple steps, the lizard darted away and climbed up his favourite caryatid.

He was safely back at the temple, but had he succeeded in preventing a battle among the three villages? The man and the maiden scanned the sea coast, and turned their gaze towards first the eastern, and then the western village. They spoke in low voices, and the lizard could catch only the phrases, "I will report to the Council," and, "We must certainly patrol every night, until our ships return."

After leaving the temple, the maiden resumed work in the field where she had been the day before, and the man returned to the village.

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Late in the afternoon, a group of people from the wine-makers' village climbed up the steep slope to the temple, carrying jars and bowls. The lizard watched in amazement as they carefully placed a bowl of wine at the foot of each of the carved pillars. Bowls of white wine were placed along the east side of the temple, and bowls of red wine along the west side.

Wondering what was going to happen next, instead of concealing himself in a crevice for the night as he usually did, at dusk the lizard returned to his favourite caryatid, and stretched himself out along her arm.

He was awakened near midnight by laughing voices and flickering lights approaching the temple. He saw seven maidens advancing by torchlight, and recognised them as the scouts from the village to the east.

"Look behind us! We had better wait to see who they are," came the voice of the oldest maiden.

In a few minutes, a second group, also bearing torches, drew near the temple. The lizard recognised the seven young men from the village to the west.

"Why have you come here?" challenged the oldest maiden.

"We heard the news, as you did," answered the oldest of the young men.

"And what did you hear?"

"That last night, the gods of the temple sent one their number, in the form of a lizard, to alert the wine-makers, so that they would not lose their wine to robbers. In gratitude, the wine-makers have revived their ancient custom of offering a bowl of wine to each of the figures carved on the pillars."

"So," replied the maiden. "But it is the ancient custom of our village to sample the white wine, offered to the caryatids at the east side of the temple."

The young man laughed. "And it is the ancient custom of our village to sample the red wine, offered to the figures carved at the west side of temple. Let us not argue, but set to work."

In a few moments, the scouts had moved all of the bowls of wine to the centre of the temple. Soon laughter could be heard, interspersed with serious, but mostly admiring, comments about the quality of the wine. The lizard could not help wondering if, in addition to paying homage to the gods, the wine-makers had brought the wine to the temple as a way of pacifying their neighbours, and, at the same time, possibly expanding the market for the wine.

He did not notice until it was too late that the youngest maiden had wandered away from her friends, and was shining her torch here and there among the caryatids. Before he realised what she was doing, she had caught sight of him on the arm of his favourite caryatid. Since there was no path of escape except to the top of the pillar, the lizard stayed where he was. Perhaps the maiden meant him no harm.

The youngest of the men had noticed the maiden searching among the pillars, and came to join her.

"Are you looking for the lizard?" he whispered as he approached.

Silently, she raised her torch a little, so that the lizard was plainly visible. "How did you know? I saw him, when we came here, planning what to do."

"I saw him too, but then he was on a pillar at the west side of the temple."

"I am sure he is a real lizard. He wanted to save us from making enemies of the wine-makers."

The young man looked at her in surprise. "I have the same opinion! Do you know what I heard? That the wine-makers plan to construct a statue of a lizard in the main square of their village."

The maiden laughed softly. "Will you like that?" she asked the lizard. However, the lizard only blinked his eyes, to show that he had heard. Then she and the young man walked slowly towards the steps of the temple, and gazed down at the wine-makers' village. Everything was still, except for the lights of a patrol.

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After the return of their big ships, the wine-makers built a large statue of a lizard in their village square. The lizard could see it clearly from the temple. He guessed that as well as commemorating the rescue of the wine, it was intended as a reminder to the other villages of their unsuccessful attempt at a raid, and as a warning not to attempt such a deed again.

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The young people of the villages to the east and the west had enjoyed their midnight gathering so much that they frequently met at the temple after that. The two youngest seemed to have an especially good understanding with one another. They often wandered about together, and the lizard sometimes allowed them to catch sight of him.

"There he is!" the maiden would exclaim. "Think of his courage and intelligence, to have saved our three villages from fighting one another."

"Yes," the young man would reply, "and now he is a hero, with a statue built to him in the main square!"

After the statue was completed, the wine-makers took care never to their village unguarded, and peace reigned in the region for a very long time.
 

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