It was a sunny morning of November and the Hedgehog stood giddily in the little alley off Karori street in downtown Athens. It as very proud that it, a small clay sculpture from the Cycladic period of Greece’s history, had been chosen as the mascot for this toy company. Today was the day the store bearing its name would open, and it was impatient to see at last the first collection of toys that would go on sale. The Humans had told it that there were memory games about the Bronze Age, a card deck inspired from the Art of Byzantium, colouring cards featuring the Olympian Gods, colouring books about European travellers in Greece in the 19th century and many more. It was especially looking forward to meeting the characters that graced the Attic Biriba and the Seven Families of Ancient Greece and to visit the many locales depicted in the board game Constantinopoly. It had never expected that someday, someone would take it out of the display where it stood in the National Archaeological Museum and give it the option to travel throughout Greece’s history.
At long last a vehicle stopped at the end of the alley and the Humans began to offload dozens and dozens of carton boxes and to carry them inside. The Hedgehog could hear the toys’ eager chatter as the Humans walked by. Apparently, everyone was as excited as it was on this special day. It felt like it was about to join a new, happy family. It spun around to enter the shop and assist with the unpacking when a shrill voice suddenly pierced its little ears.
“Let – me – out! LET – ME – OUT! I am Nicephorus Palaiologos, despot of Mykonos, and I will not be ferried around like a sack of beans!”
The Hedgehog had never heard of Nicephorus Palaiologos or the despotate of Mykonos, and it experienced a surge of shame at its own ignorance. How was it supposed to represent a company that produced toys and games about all aspects of Greek history if it didn’t even know the background about them? This was something it had to rectify immediately. It hurried to the box the voice had come from. Hopefully its occupant would be kind enough to brief it before anyone could notice its shortcomings.
The Humans were busying themselves with all the other boxes, and soon the chatter became louder as one after the other the toys came out. A majestic middle-aged woman with a crown and a peacock emerged from the box that read “Figures from eternity”, a bearded man with a turban and a horse from the one labeled “Constantinopoly”, a mischievous-looking goat-like figure from the one labeled “Beasts of the Bronze Age”. Everywhere the Hedgehog looked, more toys were coming out and heading for their shelves.
“At last!” a very elegant young woman said as the Attic Biriba card game found its place in the shop’s display. “I was beginning to worry that all this shipping business would ruin my bun. I didn’t bring my hairdresser along, you see.” She rearranged her hair carefully.
“Now, now, my dear Duchess of Plaisance,” a serious-looking man carved out of marble said as he settled at her side. “This was merely a minor inconvenience. We are all settled in now, ready to transmit our knowledge of history to the children of Greece.”
“Indeed, my dear Thucydides,” the duchess replied, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “This is undoubtedly the most important thing. I look forward to teaching the young about my contribution to the Greek Revolution.” She looked around that the shop. “This is absolutely lovely. Can you see how carefully the decoration has been handled? I am certain that we will have a wonderful time here. Although a few more mirrors would be in order for those of us who –”
“LET – ME – OUT!” the shrill voice shouted again. “This is unacceptable! I will not tolerate this any longer!”
A Human finally came along and opened the box where the surly toy was enclosed, and a doll representing a man dressed in sumptuous Byzantine clothes and holding a magnificent broadsword came out. “At last!” he snapped. “What took you so long?” He noticed the Hedgehog standing at his side and said coldly, “I am the despot of Mykonos, Hedgehog. It is customary to bow before me.”
The Hedgehog bowed politely (why oh why had no one told it how to behave around royalty, it wondered) and opened its little snout to speak, but Nicephorus Palaiologos had already turned away to look around the shop. “Well, this will have to suffice,” he said contemptuously. “One would have hoped that something better could be arranged for a man of my standing, but it seems that I should lower my expectations. Now…” his eyes swept the shop once more. “I believe that those card games will have to settle somewhere else,” he said, pointing at the central shelf. “This is obviously the best place for a display, and it rightfully belongs to me.”
The Duchess of Plaisance and Thucydides went to protest, but Nicephorus Palaiologos was already pushing them aside and settling the toys that involved him in the place of the Attic Biriba. The Hedgehog noticed that Constantine the Great, who had just emerged from the box of the board game Constantinopoly, was looking askance at Suleyman the Magnificent and rolling his eyes; however, both emperors kept mum.
“And of course, I will require the central place in the window,” Nicephorus Palaiologos went on. “Let me see… The Naval Battle of the Aegean board game in the middle, the colouring book based on the Chronicles of Ioannes Gatatzis over here, and I, of course, will tower above it all.”
There was a sharp hiss somewhere in the back, and the Hedgehog spun around to see that the Serpent Goddess was standing by the display about Women of the Bronze Age. She was waving her snakes menacingly.
“Should I smash him?” a grumpy old man with a cap and a hammer grumbled through his beard.
The Serpent Goddess poked him with her elbow. “That’s won’t be necessary, Hephaestus,” she whispered. “I’m sure we’ll get along… at some point.”
The Hedgehog stared for a moment at Nicephorus Palaiologos, who was now strutting across the window display, then returned his puzzled gaze to the rest of the toys. Most were pretending to ignore the despot of Mykonos, but they were doing a rather poor job at it. Empress Theodora leaned against the chair of the Classical Grandmother and whispered, “He is quite a character, isn’t he?”
The Classical Grandmother suppressed a smile. “Quite.”