Tolosum Treasure

15 Aug

Marko Matov, the local lawyer, had always had a deep interest in popular folklore.

Over several decades, he had acquired many acquaintances around Lake Ohrid who related traditional legends and tales to this amateur ethnographer. He had amassed an extensive archive of handwritten notes about popular myths held in the many fishing villages around the clear, light blue waters.

The lake, one of the oldest in the entire world, measured eighteen miles long and nine miles in width. Its average depth was five hundred feet, while its deepest spot was nine hundred. The trout caught in it were among the finest in Europe.

Attorney Matov’s favorite informant was the elderly Vojdan Temko, a stubborn man who refused to retire from his fishing with nets. He was the person who revealed to the lawyer the secrets concerning old treasure buried somewhere on the shores of Lake Ohrid.

The two men sat on large rocks one evening as dusk fell over the lake, the town of Ohrid, and the quiet villages and beaches of the region. Vojdan, in fisherman’s home cloth, took occasional puffs on a long cob pipe. All at once, he asked his companion an unexpected question.

“Do you know that there are secret stories from our dead ancestors that describe gigantic treasure troves buried around the lake. Some belonged to merchants or traders who never had time or opportunity to spend their hordes. There are tales about outlaw bandits whose stolen fortunes were never recovered, but still lie forgotten down to today. They have left, but their gold and silver remains where it was buried.”

“I have never heard of anyone from this area digging in the ground trying to find such hidden treasure,” declared the attorney, his hazel eyes focused far away on the quickly fading red twilight.

The old fisherman lowered his voice as if entering a dangerous subject. “Most people about the lake prefer not to think or talk about the evil beings that are known as tolosums. You must certainly have come across mention of them in your wide reading, my friend.”

Marko gave a nod in the darkening shadows of twilight. “From time to time, one sees reference to them. Here in the west, the word is pronounced tolosum, but in other parts of Macedonia the demonic spirit is called a talasam. There are beliefs in various localities that this invisible creature often dwells under wells, bridges, or inside abandoned buildings. In some places they are considered to be the spirits of the dead.”

A few bright, early stars began to appear above in the cloudless expanse of dark blue.

“I have heard many stories about how they came to be,” said Vojdan, recalling his childhood years in another century. “An old legend tells that the tolosum results from the walling up of some living human being in a newly constructed structure. It could be a house, a barn or shed, or shepherd’s cottage. In ancient times, a man or a woman would be sacrificed for the sake of the building. A flourmill might be the site of such an immuring of an unfortunate person.

“In vengeance, such a human could turn into a tolosum, an enemy spirit to those who imprisoned it behind a wall.”

“That is a truly demonic being, then,” sighed Marko. “It is clearly a horrifying creature that would frighten off anyone searching for hidden, buried treasures from the times of our distant ancestors. A tolosum is not something with which anyone dares to trifle with in any way. It can make itself appear as an ordinary, natural person.”

The fisherman leaned forward in order to speak closer. “There are stories in villages across the lake that tell how a tolosum can turn itself into an ugly large snake that has a gigantic head. It is said to appear and attack anyone who has located the treasure that it guards. Such a terrifying snake, known as a smok, kills with fire from out of its mouth. Have you ever heard such a story, my friend?”

“No, I never have,” replied Marko in a hollow voice.

Total night now prevailed. The attorney excused himself and departed back to town.

The high, steep hill upon which the town of Ohrid was built was topped with the ruins of the fortress castle of medieval rulers. Its shadow fell downward onto the slopes, making it necessary for those who walked along the lake at night to step carefully and slowly.

Marko Matov, reviewing in his mind what he had learned from Vojdan that evening, took very little notice of forms or noises about him on his return journey homeward. His thoughts seemed to be on another plane of reality, until something flashed by into his consciousness.

What was it he had experienced a glance of? All that he was able to recall was a sudden spark of flame coming from the peak of the great hill, from out of the castle ruins. What could the fire have been caused by? Did it signify something? Was it a signal or message meant for himself personally?

Once back in his centuries-old stucco brick quarters, the lawyer had a chance to lie down and consider what had occurred to him on the hill.

Marko resolved to take the time on the following day to explore the fortress ruins by himself.

His mind could not escape from thoughts about buried treasure guarded by the spirit of a tolosum.

Brilliant, blinding rays illuminated the morning air over the placidly still waters of Lake Ohrid.

Having no legal business to take care of, Marko Matov put on some informal hiking clothes and shoes, then headed up toward the thick brick walls of the empty fortress. Have I become obsessed with what I think I saw last night? he wondered as he climbed the steep stone path leading up to the hill’s peak.

It seemed wiser to him not to tell his friend, Vojdan, the sighting he believed he had made. What if it was an imagined illusion of some kind? No, it was better to wait and see if there was anything of possible interest up there among the disintegrating ruins.

By the time he reached the open area where the fortress gate had once been, Marko was panting for breath. He could feel the heat of the rising sun from the east. His hazel eyes scanned the empty interior courtyard where warrior’s horses had once stood. He was about to kneel down and rest for a short spell when he caught sight of something white across on the opposite side of the fortress.

Someone had emerged from the ruins there and was moving toward him. It appeared to be some villager from the countryside. The white was a bright, clean old-fashioned shirt with colored ribbons in it.

Nothing for me to be concerned about, the one from the town said to himself.

The tall, bony figure slowly approached, an undecipherable grin on his long, narrow face. A ghostly paleness characterized the skin of what seemed to be a young man.

When the stranger halted several yards from Marko, the puzzled attorney was the first to say something.

“How are you? I do not recognize you, for I am a town-dweller. My purpose in climbing up to the kula is to provide myself an opportunity to think certain things out in quiet and silence. There is too much racket and movement down there in Ohrid, especially now during the summer. It has enormous benefit to be alone in order to deal with troublesome problems, I believe. Do you agree with that idea?”

A short, uncomfortable silence ensued until the lanky one began to speak.

“My name is Toma, and I walked here from the village of Velgosti, up on Galichitsa Mountain. There was no work for me to finish today, so I decided to come to the lake and look around at how things happen to be going.”

Suddenly, an inner voice told Marko that this young man was not telling him the truth. What could he be hiding? Why should he be a liar about who he was and what he was doing here?

“Do you often climb up to the fortress?” sharply asked the lawyer, as if questioning some witness in a court case.

No direct answer was offered. “I like to imagine what it might have been like on this summit centuries ago. That would be very interesting to see with one’s own eyes. And there is so much visible from here in all directions. The lake is a most enchanting sight to look at. I can watch it all day long and never tire. It is a wonder how many generations of people have done the very same thing back in the past.

“I myself am greatly interested in the background behind our life here around Lake Ohrid. It is a very old part of this world, no question about that. Although my profession lies in the practice of civil law, I have always been interested in history and our cultural traditions. Our local folklore is rich and significant. In an uncanny way, that has become my prime hobby and leisure pastime, studying the significance of our people’s myths and legends.”

“That is most interesting, sir,” remarked Toma, taking a step closer. “I myself have had the opportunity to hear many interesting stories from friends, neighbors, and relatives in Velgosti. There is even a tale about this fortress and what is buried somewhere under the ground within the high, old walls.”

Marko felt an electrical shock shoot down his spine. “That is amazing, because just last evening I was discussing legends of ancient hidden treasures under the soil within the kula walls. It is quite a coincidence that you and I should come across each other this morning, right here within the old fortress walls.”

“I would like to hear what you know about buried treasure in this area,” said the young villager. “Of course, I am willing to relate to you all that I have learned about the subject. For instance, has anyone told you of the spirits called tolosumi that are supposed to fiercely guard the underground sites that hold fantastic amounts of riches?”

Marko could hardly believe what his ears then heard from the young stranger. “Yes, indeed. Only last evening I was with a knowledgeable friend of mine who described to me what is said about the creature that you just mentioned. It stands guard over abandoned buildings and structures, along with locations where precious treasures were buried long ago in bygone times. The idea of the demonic being called the tolosum in our part of the land is an intriguing subject to me. I ask myself, again and again, whether there may be unknown and unidentified masses of money or jewelry under the surface where no one suspects such things to be.

“I really do not know.”

The collector of folktales stared directly into the long, white face of the one he had chanced to meet.

“I have learned there is a way of determining whether there might be buried wealth in a particular place,” said Toma in nearly a whisper.

Marko sensed a whirling sensation in the middle of head. “You do?” he asked with rising curiosity. “How can such a thing be accomplished?”

The other smiled with glee. “It can easily be done using a spool of red cotton thread. One must know how to cover a land surface with lines of such red-colored material, perhaps over and over, until one is certain about the exact spot where the treasure has been hidden.”

“What if a person had reason to suspect that there was a trove of riches somewhere up here within this fortress, Do you think that you could use red threads of material to pin down exactly where that might be?”

An unusual exhilaration took hold of all of Marko Matov. He suddenly felt as if he were a young child once more.

“Come back here tomorrow morning about this same time, sir,” said the young man. “I shall bring a spool of red, and you will see how such an exploration can be carried out. If there is anything of value concealed within the walls of this fortress, you and I will find out.”

Toma turned about and slowly walked away as if returning home.

Excited and nervous with anticipation, the townsman enjoyed little sleep or rest that night. At an early hour, he climbed up the steep incline once again. He was surprised to find his new partner already present within the walls of the empty fortress, waiting for his arrival. “I came early in order to have more hours of daylight,” explained Toma, a radiant smile of joy on his narrow face.

Marko watched as the younger man went through what looked like some strange, mysterious ritual, driving small pegs he had brought with him into the soft ground, then drawing out and tying long stretches of red thread between and to them. He continued to do this, over and over, until there were straight red lines of cotton material covering large open areas within the outer walls of the ancient building. The work continued on and on, till an overlapping pattern of red lines covered the open area in varied directions, from different angles and directions.

Finally, Toma ended his work and came over to where the awed and bewildered lawyer had stood watching him in wonder.

The youth from Velgosti did not appear tired in the slightest.

“What do you think?” inquired Marko with a hint of desperation. “Have we found anything valuable with the red thread?”

“It is too early for us to know that. The light from the sun interferes with the special power of the lines of red. What you and I must do is return here after the day ends and sunlight is gone. Then, the patterns I have set can reveal what may or may not be there underground. You must come back late, in the shadows of the night. I will be here, sir, to read what the ribbons of red have to say.”



The rest of the day was made up of long, impatient waiting for night to fall, Marko discovered.

Unable to stay passively alone at home, he roamed purposelessly along the lake shores, overwhelmed with worried thoughts about what might be coming.

After a late afternoon meal at a tavern he often frequented, he took a final walk beside the lake, several times glancing up at the ruins of the walls of the abandoned fortress. What is ahead for me? he anxiously wondered.

It was only when the sun finally set that Marko started to climb the pathway leading up above Ohrid.

Each step he took toward the weathered fortress walls felt hard and heavy for him. Do I understand what I have gotten myself into? he asked over and over.

By the time he reached the summit, total night existed over the town, the lake, and the fortress from out of the distant past. The sky held a rich sea of stars. An unusual quiet prevailed in every possible direction.

Marko turned and looked downward at the town and the dark, colorless waters. He felt his breathing ease and his heart rate decline. He had made it to the rendezvous with time to spare.

Where is Toma, the one who arranged for this meeting to locate where the guarded treasure might be buried?

He will probably bring with him some digging tool that the two of use could use, reasoned Marko.

A sudden, barely audible noise came from a opposite end of the shadowed shape of the fortress. His eyes darted toward that area, attempting to make out what might soon be appearing there.

Seconds passed before a minute movement in the darkness became detectable.

There was something sliding along next to the ground. It was low and curved, serpentine in shape. Indeed, what was now visible had to be nothing else but – a snake.

Marko gasped for air, sensing an unnatural constriction inside his throat.

All at once, his mind went back to something he had recently heard. What had he been told about a smok? Did this one coming toward him have the powers of a tolosum demon? Was the crawling a disguised, transformed evil spirit?

As if in a hypnotic trance, Marko did not dare try to flee or defend himself.

As the snaking form slid nearer, its head became distinguishable. It was extraordinarily large. The serpent had powerfully protruding eyes, full of ugly hatred and disdain.

What is it going to do to me? wondered Attorney Marko Matov in the final conscious thoughts before he was bitten with a venom unlike any other existing in this world.


Vojdan Temko stayed awake late that night, sitting on a large, smooth rock on the lake shore. His gaze was mostly toward the blackened waters. Occasionally, he glanced toward the few lights still burning in the town of Ohrid and then at the outline of the hill and fortress.

All at once, the one he had been waiting for appeared, slowly walking out of a nearby stand of pine trees.

The tall, lanky figure belonged to Toma from Velgosti.

The latter came close, stopping and looking down at the old fisherman.

“It is finished, old man. The deed is done. No more possibility of trouble or interference exists. That nosy townsman is now underground up at the fortress. No one but you will ever know what I did to that meddling fool tonight. There will no longer be any danger from that individual, I guarantee.”

“I should never have told him so much about your guardian post. He would not have been so fascinated by the idea of treasure, nor have caught sight of you up there by chance. I blame myself for making such a serious error.”

Young Toma grinned in the dark. “The whole affair is now over. Let us forget that it ever happened.”

The tolosum known as Toma turned around and stealthily walked away.

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