1. Relya Raids a Vineyard
ONE DAY towards the end of summer Marko and two of his good friends, Milosli Obilich and Relya of Pazar, went out for a ride. They left the plain of Kosovo and rode southward slowly over the mountains until they came to the rocky shore of the Aegean Sea—a long journey. They rode along the shore, looking out over the sea. From the heights they could look down on the water, and they admired the dancing waves as they shone in the sunlight with patches of purple and dazzling blue. It was a wonderful sight for the ihree friends, who had spent most of their lives in the mountains.
As they made their way slowly along they saw a vineyard growing Hear the shore. The vines were filled with large bunches of grapes which were just beginning to ripen. The young shoots of the vines were reaching out and almost intertwining, for the time for harvesting the season's fruit was near.
Just then some spirit of mischief entered Relya of Pazar, and he turned his horse and, instead of staying on the edge of the vineyard, he rode within. While Relya picked and ate some of the grapes, his horse trampled on some of the vines.
Marko was alarmed and called a warning to his friend.
"Be careful of that vineyard, Relya," he said. "It belongs to Bogdan the Terrible, a fierce knight. I remember some seven years ago, I was riding around this region and I saw the same vineyard. I did what you are doing now, Relya, and Bogdan saw me. He rode after me on his slender Arab mare, and I did not dare wait for him, but turned Sharats and off we went. He came after me and chased me down to the rocky shore, and if it had not been for the wonderful speed of Sharats, he would have caught me. But Sharats raced away and very soon the distance between Sharats and his Arab increased. Then in anger Bogdan took his heavy mace and hurled it after me. It hit me in the middle of the back and knocked me forward, so that I lay along the neck of Sharats, and thus I got away. But since that time I have never been back to disturb his vineyard."
Marko's story did not seem to make any impression on Relya, but he rode out of the vineyard. All at once the three friends saw a cloud of dust rising out of the plain near the vineyard. It was the dry season of the year, and the dust rose in light columns with every step of the horses. The friends could see that there was quite a troop approaching. As it came nearer they could make out Bogdan the Terrible with twelve knights.
When Marko saw who was upon them, he turned to his friends and said:
"Let us flee from Bogdan the Terrible, for if we do not get away in time we shall all lose our heads."
This advice did not suit the other two.
"Pobratim Marko," Milosh answered, "everyone says and thinks to-day that we are the three greatest heroes of the Serbian land and that there are no greater heroes or stronger men anywhere. We had better die than earn the name of cowards wlio ran away."
Marko had no answer to make to this, so he turned to preparations for battle.
"Well,", he said, "shall we separate them? Do you two want to engage Bogdan and leave to me the twelve knights?"
Both Milosh and Relja answered, "We will fight Bogdan."
To tell the truth, Marko was well pleased with this arrangement. He turned Sharats and rode straight at the twelve knights. The konflict was short and sharp. In a very few minutes Marko had unhorsed them all. Then he jumped off and with great skill he tied their arms behind their backs, mounted Sharats and began to drive them around the vineyard.
When he reached the other side he caught sight of Bogdan the Terrible doing the same thing to his friends. There were Milosh and Relya, both with their hands bound, running along with Bogdan mounted behind them.
Marko's first impulse was to flee from the conqueror and forsake his friends. Then he remembered that they were his pobratims and three had promised never to desert one another. He knew then that he had to fight and die, if necessary, but that he could not run away.
He tightened the reins of Sharats, and pulled his cable cap down over his eyes so hard that the black fur joined in with his heavy black eyebrows. He drew his sharp sword, and rode toward Bogdan. Bogdan the Terrible rode toward Marko, and then both men stopped.
Marko looked at Bogdan, Bogdan looked at Marko. Neither moved.
So the two stood for a long time, but the gleam of Marko's black eyes and the threatening pose which he had taken gradually had their effect. Bogdan slowly drew back and was the first to speak.
"Come, Marko," he said, "let us make peace. Release my twelve knights and I will let your friends go."
This suited Marko perfectly, for he never liked to fight without cause, and he had little taste for a hard battle, after Relya had brought it upon him by entering the vineyard.
So Marko released the twelve knights, and Bogdan turned Relya and Milosh loose. Then they all sat down together and Marko opened the sack of wine that he always carried on Sharats, and Bogdan picked some of the grapes in the vineyard. A jolly feast began, and Sharats as usual received his share of the wine and dainties.
When they had finished Marko said to Bogdan:
"Farewell, Bogdan the Terrible. May we all meet again with pleasure and in good health drink of the red wine!"
Bogdan the Terrible was not so cordial.
"Farewell," he said, "and may God's blessing be on you, Marko Kralyevich. But may we never meet again! For what you did to my twelve knights to-day is something I should not relish seeing done again!"
So the two groups separated. Marko and his two friends rode farther along the rocky shore, and Bogdan and his twelve knights remained in the vineyard.
2. Marko Outwits a General
Now it happened that Toplitsa, the aged father of one of the friends of Marko, was traveling north of the Danube River, in the land of the Magyars. He was very far from home, in the city of Varadin, and since he was without friends, he fell into the hands of the ruler of the country, General Vucha. This ruler treated him very badly and put him in prison.
In due course of time his son, Milan Toplitsa, heard what had happened to his father, and with his two friends, Milosh Obilich and Ivan Kosanchich, he went up to the city of Varadin to rescue his father. There was a sharp battle and at the end the three heroes found themselves also in prison.
They lay in prison for three days and could think of no way of getting out. It was a terrible place. The water on the floor of the prison reached to their knees, and the bones of men who had died there reached up to their armpits. They could not hope to fare any better, and felt they too would probably die there. Milosh particularly was in despair. Good luck had always favored him in his adventures, and this seemed too much to endure. He climbed up to the street level, and hanging to the iron bars of the prison looked out and saw a postman in the street.
"Brother in God, postman!" he called. "Bring me a piece of paper that I may write a letter."
The postman brought him a sheet of paper, and then Milosh cut his finger and in his own blood wrote to Marko.
"Brother in God, Marko Kralyevich! Have you not heard what has happened to me, or are you indifferent? I am in sad straits in the hands of the Magyars, for General Vucha has captured me and my two pobratims, and he has thrown us Into a dungeon where the water is up to our knees, and the bones of dead heroes up to our armpits. We have been here three whole days; and if, brother, you do not come in three days, you will never see me again. Save me, pobratim Marko!" He gave this letter to the postman.
"Take this letter to white Prilip," he said, "to Marko Kralyevich, and he will give you twelve ducats."
The postman took the letter and started off for Prilip. He arrived there on Sunday morning, just as the Serbs were all: going to the white church. He waited at the church door until Marko came out from the service. Then very respectfully he took off his cap, bowed low and handed him the letter from Milosh.
Marko took it, read it through, and burst into tears. He was determined to save his pobratim.
He gave the postman the twelve ducats and then went home. He ate a light meal and drank some wine, and prepared for his journey. He girded on his sharp sword, and put on his coat and cap of wolfskin, fastening the latter with a brown cloth. Next he took his battle spear, and going to the stall of Sharats he led his noble steed out into the stable. Quickly he, saddled him and adjusted the seven girths, and bridled him with a gilded bit. He hung on one side of the saddle a great skin of wine, and on the right side he hung his heavy mace, in order to balance the wine and keep the saddle from slipping. He also took with him his great copper washbowl that held twelve quarts.
He sprang into the saddle and was off. Long he rode through the desolate gray mountains, ever going northward toward the country of the Magyars. As he went farther north he began to see more trees growing. Presently he saw grainfields, and finally, when he was near Beograd, he looked out over the broad plain of the Danube River. As far as he could see there was plain and water, water and plain. He went down to the bank and rested for a while and drank some wine. He called twice for the ferryman to take him and Sharats over on the ferry, but there was no answer. Marko would not wait but urged Sharats into the river and the two swam over the mighty stream of the Danube. The current carried them a long way downstream, for the river was wide and swift, but they reached the other bank safely and pressed on to the city of Varadin.
On the great plain outside the walls of the city Marko found a comfortable spot. He dismounted from Sharats, stuck his spear into the ground and tied his horse to it. Then he lay down in the green grass, and began to drink red wine. He drank from his great copper washbowl, and half he gave to Sharats. Presently the sun slipped below the level of the plain and it was night.
The next morning the daughter-in-law of General Vucha was walking on the castle wall and she saw Marko stretched out on the green field, still drinking wine. She ran into the palace to tell General Vucha.
"O my father-in-law. General Vucha," she said in excited tones, "there is a hero lying yonder in the green field. His spear is stuck into the earth and his horse is fastened to the spear. He lies there drinking red wine from a huge copper washbowl, and his horse drinks as much as he. His horse is not as other horses are but is the color of an ox. The hero wears a wolfskin coat, and a wolfskin cap fastened With a brown cloth, and above his mouth is a black mustache as large as a year-old lamb!"
General Vucha answered her: "Do not be excited, my dear. I have three such men in prison and he will be the fourth." Then he turned to his son, the young Velimir.
"Velimir, my dear child," he said, "take three hundred men with you and ride out into the broad plain and bring me back this hero!"
To think was to act, and Velimir started with three hundred men. Marko sat on the green plain eating and drinking, and paying no attention, but Sharats noticed the approach of the band of men. He stamped his feet on the ground to warn his master. Marko waited lazily until the men were almost upon him. Then he carelessly threw down the copper bowl, leaped on the back of Sharats and charged against the soldiers.
Marko's onslaught was like the attack of a falcon on a flock of doves. One hundred he slew with his sharp sword; one hundred fell under the hoofs of Sharats; and one hundred were drowned in the Danube River, whither they fled from Marko. The young Velimir fled also, and Marko and Sharats pursued him. Marko gave the boy a light blow with his mace and he fell into the green grass. Marko bound the hands and feet of Velimir, threw him back on the grass, and returned to his resting-place to eat and drink once more.
The wife of Velimir saw what had happened to her husband, and she went to General Vucha with the news. The General consoled her and said, "Do not weep, my dear. Now you will see what I can do."
He gathered three thousand troops, mounted his Arab steed and divided his band into four parts, so as to attack Marko on all sides.
Marko still sat calmly on the plain, eating and drinking. But again Sharats noticed the troop of men and gave the alarm.
Again mounted on Sharats, Marko behaved in grand style. He held the reins in his teeth, and in his right hand was his sharp sword, while in his left was his warlike spear. Whoever he hit with his sword, he cut in 'twain. Whoever he struck with his spear, he tossed high in the air. The battle was soon over. The three thousand men were fleeing in all directions, and General Vucha himself was trying to escape.
But escape was impossible, and very sooil Marko was near him. The General tried to reach his castle, but Marko hurled his mace and the General fell to the green grass. Before he knew what had happened, he was lying bound beside his son Velimir. Then without further dslay Marko fastened father and son'to General Vucha's Arab steed and tied the horse behind Sharats. Off they went to white Prilip, where Marko threw both men into a dungeon.
In a few days Marko received a. letter from the wife of General Vucha.
"Brother in God, Marko Kralyevich," she wrote, "do not slay my husband. General Vucha, or my son, Velimir. Ask, Marko, the ransom that you want, and it shall be paid you."
So Marko wrote in reply:
"True wife of General Vucha, set free my three pobratims and give them three loads of money. Release also old Toplitsa and give him tliree loads of money, for he has suffered a great deal. And give me tliree loads of money, because I have worn out Sharats. And what more I want, Milosh Obilich will tell you."
When the wife of General Vucha received this letter she hurriedly sent the money to Marko at Prilip. Then she took the keys to the prison and released the three pobratims and old Toplitsa and took them to the white palace. Here she bade barbers wash and shave them, and trim their nails. Then she brought them wine and rakija and all kinds of dainties. While they ate she told them what Marko had done.
"Brother in God, Voyvoda Milosh," she said, "release my husband and my son from the prison of white Prilip."
"Do not be afraid, O wife of General Vucha," answered Milosh. "Give me the carriage in which the General rides once each year when he goes to the Monastery of Tekiya, that I may ride in dignity like Vucha across the German land. And give me the golden carriage of state and the twelve black liorses which the General rises to go to Vienna when lie attends the court of the Emperor, that I may carry old Toplitsa home."
The wife of Vucha gave everything demanded, and she added one thousand ducats for good measure, to buy wine in white Prilip. So the four men reached the home of Marko, who was waiting for them. He set free General Vucha and Velimir and lie gave them a goodly company to ride with them Lack to the city of Varadin.
Then the voyvodas divided the gold, drank the red wine, and kissed one another on the check. The three heroes kissed the right hand of Marko and went each unto his own home.