1. Marko and the Vila Raviyoyla
WHEN Marko Kralyevich lived and fought, the mountains of the Balkans were filled with many beautiful maidens possessing supernatural powers, who were called the vilas of the mountains. They resembled the wood nymphs or fairies of other lands, and were noted for their grace and beauty. They were tall, slender and blonde, their fair hair thus distinguishing them from the rest of the native population, which was dark. Some say that even to day the Balkan mountains are haunted by these beauteous sprites, but at that time vilas were everywhere. As a rule they were kind to mortals and sometimes did them great service, but occasionally they were cruel and made a great deal of trouble for people.
These vilas needed a master, someone who should subdue them and teach them obedience. Until Marko came there was no one who had the courage or daring to undertake the task. Marko tried it and conquered, winning besides the undying friendship of most of the vilas. And this is the way it happened.
One day Marko was riding with his friend Milosh Obilich over the mountain of Miroch. Both were well mounted, Marko of course on his beloved Sharats; and both men carried with them their battle-spears and other weapons. They rode along arm in arm, for they had long been pobratims, sworn brothers for life and death.
After a while Marko became sleepy and he. turned to Milosh and said: "Brother dear, Voyvoda Milosh, I am terribly sleepy. Sing to me and cheer me up."
"Brother dear, Marko Kralyevich," Milosh answered, "I would be very glad to do it, but last night I was drinking much wine on the mountain with the vila Raviyoyla, and she absolutely forbade me to sing on her mountains. She threatened me sternly, and said that if I ever sang on them again, she would take her bow and send a death-dealing arrow into my heart, and another into my throat. And she never misses her aim."
Marko was not be balked in any such way.
"Sing, brother!" he said. "As long as you have with you Marko Kralyevich, my uncanny Sharats, and my golden mace, you need not fear the vila."
So Marko sank back in his saddle and went to sleep in the hot sunshine that was baking the mountains into a grayish brown. Around them on the mountains were only a few pine-trees in the hollows and the low thorn-bushes, fit food for goats and nothing else. Around them stretched the vast slopes of the mountains, and it seemed to Milosh that his encounter the night before with the vila was all a bad dream. Who could harm him on these open hillsides?
So he began to sing, and his voice rang out sweet and clear. What a song he sang! He sang of the past of his people, of the great exploits they had accomplished, of the fate of their kings, of all that had ever happened in the land, and of many a thrilling and historic theme.
Now and then Marko roused himself a little, but the pace of Sharats was so steady and rhythmic, and Marko was so at home in the saddle, that he could sleep there as soundly and peacefully as at home in his bed in white Prilip.
Milosh sang on and on, and finally his song came to the ears of the vila Raviyoyla. She could scarcely believe what she heard. Milosh was singing again! She Joined in with him and sang the same song, but with all her pride she could not deny that Milosh was her superior. Fair and sweet though her voice was, his was clearer and more resonant, and his words, as they rang out over the hillside, were a challenge to her.
She dashed down from her hiding-place on to the mountain of Miroch, bent her bow and let fly two white arrows. One pierced the throat of Milosh; the other went straight through his heart. His song stopped abruptly and Milosh fell from his horse. In a weak, suffering voice he appealed to his pobratim Marko and bewailed his fate.
"Oh, my poor mother!" he cried. "O Marko, my pobratim in God! O my brother, the vila has shot me! Did I not tell you that I should not sing on the mountain of Miroch?"
The cry of Milosh as he was struck, the sudden ending of his song, and the thud of his body falling on the earth from his horse, roused Marko from his slumbers. He jumped off Sharats and gave one look at the unfortunate Milosh, who was bleeding from his two mortal wounds and rapidly losing consciousness. There was no time to waste in futile lamentations, for the wounds of the vila were fatal unless she could be induced to heal them herself. This seemed impossible to accomplish, but Raviyoyla did not yet know what sort of man Marko was. With practised hand he tightened the saddle girths of his Sharats, and embraced and kissed his trusty horse.
"O Sharats, my right wing," Marko cried. "If you will overtake the vila Raviyoyla, I will shoe you with pure silver and with beaten gold. I will give you a saddle cloth of the finest silk which will reach to your knees arid the tassels on it will sweep upon the ground. I will scatter gold throughout your mane and I will decorate you with little pearls. You will be the most beautiful horse in the world!"
Then Marko leaped into the saddle and he and Sharats were off.
The vila was nowhere in sight. She was making her way along the summit of the mountain, and Marko had lost some precious minutes in trying to relieve his pobratim. The vila was flying along the mountain of Miroch while Sharats was galloping along the middle of the slope. Finally both Sharats and Marko caught sight of her and then the race was on in earnest. Each leap carried Sharats three spear-lengths into the air. He cleared ravines and bushes without losing the rhythm of his pace, and with each jump he cleared four spear-throws on the ground. Such great speed was more than the vila had ever dreamed of; the mortal horse was rapidly gaining on her immortal power. She was beginning to weaken and tried as a last resort to leave the earth and fly up into the air.
She started upward in an effort to hide amid the clouds, but Marko was not minded to let her escape so easily. He seized his mighty mace and hurled it after her. His aim was true and the mace struck the fleeing vila between the shoulders, and she fell unconscious on the black earth. Before she had a chance to recover and rise, Marko was off Sharats and bending over her. He struck her with mighty blows, first on one side and then on the other, until the vila lost her daring spirit and was ready to sue for peace.
"Why, O vila, did you shoot my pobratim?" Marko kept asking as he struck her. "May the Lord smite you for it! Give me herbs for this hero or I swear that you will lose your head."
Under the rough assaults of Marko the vila begged for pardon.
"O my brother in God, Marko Kralyevich!" she cried. "By Almighty God and by St. John, let me go forth alive into the mountain and I will bring back the herbs that grow on Miroch and I will cure Milosh."
Marko was always merciful, so he let the vila go, but he watched her narrowly the while she picked the herbs. Raviyoyla, however, had learned her lesson. So far from trying to escape she kept repeating, "Pobratim in God, I shall soon be there now. Pobratim in God, I shall soon be there now."
When the vila had gathered the herbs on Mount Miroch, she placed them on the wounds in Milosh's throat and heart. And lo, he was healed! His wonderful voice was sweeter than ever before. His heart became stronger and braver than in the past, and Milosh was a better and more courageous warrior and friend.
Then the vila, now bound by ties of pobratimstvo to Marko, parted with him respectfully, and went back to her home on the mountain of Miroch. Marko and Milosh journeyed in the other direction until they came to the bank of the river Timok. They forded it near the village of Bregovo, and went on from there to Vidin.
When the vila joined her sisters she gave them some good advice.
"Hear me now, ye vilas, my sisters!" she said to them. "Never shoot a hero who is singing as long as you can hear the voice of Marko Kralyevich and see his uncanny Sharats and his golden mace. He knows how to use both horse and mace, and alas! I suffered. I really did not think I should escape alive."
From that time on the vila Raviyoyla kept her promise. She remained a sworn friend of Marko, and again and again she was able to be of the greatest help to him in his difficult tasks.
And the horse Sharats was shod with silver and gold, and had a saddle cloth of the finest silk Marko could find, with tassels that swept the ground. And Marko scattered gold through his mane, and decorated him with little pearls, so that he was the most beautiful horse in the world.
2. Marko and the Vila of the Lake
One day Marko decided to return to Prizren to visit some of his old friends. For him to think was to act, so he at once called his servant Milutin.
"My faithful servant Milutin," he said, '"jump quickly to your feet and run to the stable and select a good bridle for Sharats- Lead him out from the warm stable into the marble courtyard, for I wish to go to-day to Prizren to see my old friends and comrades."
By the time that Sharats was ready and led out into the marble courtyard, Marko came down the stair from his lofty white tower. He had his splendid sword on his thigh and he was carrying his winged mace. With these weapons he leaped lightly upon Sharats and was off. No one barred his way, for at the sight of the cloud of dust in which he usually traveled, all the peasants and other travelers on the road stepped to one side and allowed him to pass without having to slacken his pace for them.
Mountain range after mountain range was passed rapidly by hero and steed, but soon the dusk of evening came on. They had reached Mount Prolog, so Marko at once dismounted and lay down to sleep, while his faithful steed kept watch beside him.
The next morning dawned clear and hot with the dazzling, blinding heat that the Balkans know so well. On the desolate slopes of the mountain not a drop of water was to be had. Not a tree rose to shade the weary traveler. Around in all directions stretched the brown bare area of sun-baked earth.
Marko's throat was so parched that he could scarcely speak. Sharats, too, was barely able to go any farther, and it seemed as if the two would die there on the desolate uplands. Marko was desperate, so he said to Sharats: "O Sharats, my right wing! I know that you are thirsty. I am even more so. The two of us cannot escape from this desert. I shall have to slay you and drink your blood if I am to escape alive."
As Marko spoke he remembered that on the barren mountain that he could see from where he stood there was a lake of clear cold water. He had heard the story of how this lake was guarded by a wicked vila. She had built a high wall around it, in which were four gates. The fourth gate was open and here the vila sat guarding the water. She allowed no one to drink unless he paid a heavy tax. And this was the price she demanded: From a hero she asked his two eyes; from an animal, its two forelegs; and from a bird she took its two wings.
Now many birds, large and small, lived on this mountain, as well as numerous animals, and they could not drink of the water of the lake, but had to quench their thirst at small streams wherever they could find them. Marko thought of all this and decided not only that he would have a drink for himself and for Sharats, but that he would also open the lake to all the creatures of the mountain. So he turned Sharats and pushed on until he came to the gate where the vila sat guarding her lake. She was sleeping peacefully.
Sharats had already seen the water and went towards it with great joy. At last both he and his master could moisten their parched throats. Marko spurred him on in the hope that the two might reach the water and secure some before the vila awoke and commenced battle.
They reached the lake safely but they had scarcely taken a drink when the vila heard them and leaped to her feet. As she stood there, angry and threatening, she presented a weird and terrifying figure.
"What are you doing here, Marko Kralyevich?" she cried out in fury. "Why have you come to the shore of my lake? Why are you drinking water from my lake? You may not drink until you have paid the tax I exact"
Marko endeavored to gain time for Sharats and himself.
"No, vila, no," he answered, "I shall drink my fill and then pay the tax."
As he said this, Marko leaned down in the saddle and again filled his great drinking cup. He had had but three swallows when the vila started towards him threateningly with a renewed demand for payment in advance.
Her menacing attitude startled Marko, and despite his thirst he decided that it would be belter to beat a retreat. He turned Sharats, whose thirst had not been satisfied either, and the two started away.
At first Marko hoped that he could avoid a battle while he was still thirsty, but the vila pursued him. Sharats galloped faster and faster, but it was no use. Try as he could the vila kept gaining on him. He dashed up hill and down but the vila spread her wings and came faster and faster.
Marko saw that escape was impossible. He was merely exhausting himself and Sharats, so he turned Sharats, stopped and drew his sword, and prepared for battle.
The vila did not allow him to attack but flew up and caught Marko by his sword and his right hand.
Great as was his strength hers was even greater, and by the suddenness of her blow she wrenched the sword from his hand and hurled it to the ground. She caught hold of him by his shoulders and dragged him from Sharats. Marko saw that the contest was going to be settled by sheer physical strength, so he grappled with the vila. The two fell together to the brown grass and the struggle was on.
For three hours Marko and the vila thrashed on the ground, tearing up the earth. Neither could secure an advantage. Neither had any weapons except their bare hands. Marko was strong but the vila was even stronger. Both were covered with sweat and foam, and Marko was so thirsty that drops of blood came out through his skin. Still there seemed no end to the contest. Marko felt that he could not continue the fight indefinitely, and he decided to try a stratagem.
He could barely speak from weariness and thirst, yet somehow he gasped out: "O vila, we are both to perish. There behind you are two savage wolves. One will devour you and I must be a victim of the other. We fight, but they will win!"
The vila heard Marko and remembered the wolves that she had angered by her demands for the tax. She turned her head to meet the new enemy and relaxed her grip on Marko's arm. That second was enough to give him the victory and he was able to throw the vila under him and free himself from her grip. He exerted the whole of his vast strength and before long the vila lay dying on the field of battle. Marko now sought for his sword and with it he cut off the head of the cruel vila. He went back to the shore of the lake and drank his fill of water and gave to Sharats all that he wanted. Then he called out with a loud voice that echoed throughout the whole region:
"Ho, all ye who live upon this mountain, bold heroes, martial horses, ye birds upon the trees, and all ye animals of the wild! Whoever is thirsty to-day let him come unto the lake and let him drink of the ice-cold water, for Marko has paid the tax for all and he has slain the vila of the lake!"
Then the gray falcons and the doves, and all the other birds that were upon the mountain, and all the animals that were nearby, the worms and ants, everything that had life, came to the lake to drink of the water and to give their thanks to Marko Kralyevich. He watched them for a while and then he remounted Sharats and turned to the white road. With a joyful song upon his lips he made his way to white Prizren.