The Steep Path to the Fortress

Out of the fog that danced in the mountain air with the gaiety of solitude, I saw arise the small chapel of Agios Dimitrios Stavri. Although nothing but a small chapel of simple solid stone coarsely hewed from the mountain rock, it stood on the top of the road on a pedestal of climbing rock with such might and awe, that it grounded the faith of man with unshakable firmness. I stood still and admired this mystical appearance out of the clouds. Agios Dimitrios and Agios Georgios, patron saints of the Crucades, were widely venerated on the island, which was for the longest time, occupied by the Ottomans. This island was the frontier, it was deserted, it was barren, it was impenetrable, it was vulnerable. I was on my way to the castle of Kastro tou Kosikias and the chapel of Agios Georgios tou Drogana..

I looked around me, peeked in the distance, and saw the mountainous landscape of Ikaria flow before me. I took the unpaved road that lead away from the asphalt of modern life and the populated coast and followed a stony dirt path deeper into the protective womb of the island.

The vapor in the air had risen from the immaculate Aegean sea below to the mountain tops hundreds of meters above the coast line, and enclosed me from the inhabitable lower parts of the island, while the clouds were driven further up the steep sides by a strong northern wind. Hidden by the waves of hard stone and a potent maquis green of shurbs and trees, here and there, I encountered flocks of wild goats tacidly grazing the gray pastures, fleeing my intrusion.

I walked up the dirt road that meandered into the mountains. At a less steep part of the hill, I left the road and crossed through the shrubs. Everywhere I stepped, my feet landed on dried goat droppings that covered the landscape. Maybe as short ago as twenty years, the landscape was covered by a dense forest that in long past centuries had protected the Ikarians against pirate invasions as well as the Ottoman census. But the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy that provided subsidies to subsistence farmers on the island per goat has catalyzed a boom of the goat population that had destroyed the century old habitat.

I turned a bend in the road, and there towering high above the surrounding plain and mountains, I saw in the distant height, the castle of Koskina. Nothing more than the dilapidated walls of a ruin, once a Byzantine fortress, now only the restored chapel of Agios Georgios was clearly visible, while the castle walls around it had dissolved into the rock from which it once rose. I hoped to find here at least a clue, but maybe even parts of the treasure. The fortress was the most obvious place to seek, because it was a fortress, and thus it must have been build to protect something or someone. For this reason, I decided first to set out for the castle.

At the foot of the mountain, I looked up at the impressive climb. At the side of the road, hidden between shrubs and stones, the remains of a small round building, a guarding tower perhaps, or a shelter against the sun for a shepherd or a farmer tending to his vineyard here on the small stretch of plain cultivable land.

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