1. Marko Rescues a Maiden
ONE DAY it happened that Marko was traveling through Asia Minor and he pitched his tent among the fierce Arabs who dwell there. He sat down in his tent to drink wine, and he had barely seated himself comfortably when the flap of his tent was drawn and a girl ran in and threw herself at his feet.
"Brother in God, Marko Kralyevich!" she begged. "By the supreme God and by St. John! Save me to-day from the Arabs. I have been in the hands of three of them and to-day I am being sent to the fourth of twelve brothers. They beat me with a triple scourge, and make me kiss their black faces. They are so terrible-looking, I fear even to look at them, and how can I kiss them?"
Marko listened to this story in amazement. He looked at the girl, who was white and evidently a Christian prisoner, and decided at once that he must save her. So he took her by her white hand, raised her from her kneeling posture, and seated her by his right knee. He placed around her a figured mantle, and gave her a cup of wine to drink.
"Drink, maiden," he said, "for to-day the sun of happiness and good fortune has come upon you, since you have entered my tent."
The girl took the cup, but she had barely raised it to her lips when the twelve Arabs who were pursuing her entered the tent. They rode into the tent on their Arab steeds and began to curse Marko.
"O evil one, Marko Kralyevich!" they said. "Do you think that you are the ruler of the whole earth, that you can take slaves from the Arabs?"
Marko answered their curses with a laugh, for he was in a good humor. "Go away, O Arabs!" he said. "Why should I bring sin upon my soul by fighting with you?"
This only infuriated the twelve brothers still more. They drew their swords and cut the ropes that held Marko's tent. Tent and all, even the standard that was flying on the peak, fell down on Marko and the girl, and on Sharats.
That was too much for Marko to. endure. His standard lay in the dust and his silken tent was in ruins. He leaped to the. back of Sharats, picked up the girl and placed her behind him in the saddle. With three turns of his girdle and one of his sword belt he fastened the maiden to him. Then he drew his sword and charged at the twelve brothers.
None could withstand him, and with one blow of his sword Marko cut the first brother from the head to the saddle. With the second blow he cut the second brother from the head to the saddle also. And so he did for all twelve.
Then Marko galloped straight home to white Prilip. He entered his palace and called to his mother.
"Yevrosima, my mother," he said. "Here is a girl whom I have rescued from the Arabs. Sister, this is my mother! Mother, take her and treat her as a daughter; care for her as your own child, and marry her as if she were your daughter. By so doing, we may gain friends for ourselves."
The aged Yevrosima did as her son told her. She took the young girl into her house and cared for her, and later she found a husband for her in Rudnik, one of the nine brothers of the rich and great Dizdarich family. There she lived happily and Marko often visited her, for she was to him as his own sister, and in her household he loved to sit and drink wine.
2. The Rescue of Marko from Azak
Marko was not always successful in his solitary journeys. At times he would run unnecessary risks and find himself in positions that were very unpleasant and even dangerous. One such experience he had in the Arab country, in the city of Azak.
He came into this town alone, and went into a cheap inn. There he began to drink wine. He drank and drank, but as he showed no signs of paying his bill the innkeeper began to be uneasy. Then Marko demanded pork to eat with the wine, which was considered an insult in a Mohammedan country, for Moslems never eat pork in any form. When the innkeeper refused to serve him pork, Marko grew angry and began to lay around him vigorously with his whip. So the innkeeper sent for the King, and the King sent his soldiers to punish Marko. They overpowered him and brought him before the King, who ordered him thrown into a dark dungeon, a foul place, full of stagnant water and loathsome reptiles. There Marko remained for a long time until he despaired of ever getting out of it.
One day he looked out of his tiny barred window and saw the daughter of the King.
"O my sister in God," said Marko to her, "I pray you take a message from me to the King. Greet him from me and tell him that if he will release me, I promise on my honor and my holy religion to go to white Prilip and to bring him twenty loads of gold for ransom. Or, if he does not trust me, let him take me out of this dungeon and fetter me in a dry place, and send a message to my mother, and she will send him the gold, as much as he wants."
The daughter of the King took this message to her father, but he refused to listen to her. More than that, he abused her roundly and announced that he would wait only a few weeks longer. Then, if Marko had not died from staying in such a dreadful place as the dungeon was, he would call his Arab soldiers and they would cut off Marko's head.
The maiden brought this message back to Marko, and he realized that something must be done quickly. So he said to the King's daughter:
"Sister in God, kindly bring me some paper and ink, that I may write a letter to my mother and tell her to sell my land, so that she can have the means to live; and to my young wife, that she should marry again, for I shall soon be dead."
Luck was with Marko, for he had seen his gray falcon circling in the air around his prison cell. It seemed waiting for Marko to call it.
The maiden had pity on Marko and brought him paper and ink, and he wrote a letter to his pobratim Milosh Obilich, He described his sad plight and then he added:
"You will never see me again if you do not come at once and rescue me. Bring with you Banovich Sekula. Do not delay."
Then Marko wrote letters to his mother and wife, and gave them to the King's daughter, so she would suspect nothing. After she had gone Marko whistled to his falcon, which fluttered down to the bars of the dungeon. Marko tied the note to Milosh to the falcon's wing with a hair from his head, and released the bird. Marko knew it would fly to Prizren with1 the message.
The falcon flew off and within an hour he lighted on the tower of Milosheva. He then came down to the open window, and flew into the room.
Milosh Obilich was silting in the room talking with two friends, Banovich Sekula and Zmiyanya Rayko. They were drinking red wine and bewailing the absence of Marko Kralyevich. He had been gone a long time. There was no tavern in which they had not looked, no city where they had not inquired, and yet there was no sign of Marko. He seemed to have disappeared from the. haunts of men.
When the falcon flew into the room the heroes were greatly surprised, for they recognized the bird as belonging to Marko. Milosh at once saw the letter and read it. The three friends decided they could not forsake their pobratim, and set off at once for Azak.
Fear added wings to their horses' hoofs, and very soon they drew near the city of Azak. In order to find out what had occurred, the three Serbs entered an inn and ordered some red wine. Their servants held their horses outside, while Milosh, Sekula and Rayko went in and sat down. While they were drinking they thoughtlessly called for pork to eat with their wine. The young woman who served them saw they were strangers, so she said:
"This is not a Christian city but a capital of the Moslems. There is no one who eats pork in any form, for the people are all Moslem teachers and preachers. There is only one Serb in this city, Marko Kralyevich, and he is in prison because he demanded pork in this very tavern."
This was welcome news to the three heroes.
"Tell us about this robber Marko," Milosh asked. "I hear he is to be executed and I am glad of it, for Marko once did me a very bad turn. When is this to take place?"
"If you want to see Marko's head cut off," the girl replied, "you will not have long to wait, for to-morrow is the day. He would have been killed before, but the King of Azak was waiting for the arrival of Neko the Albanian. Marko is certainly a great robber. What has he not done? He has annoyed the Sultan and the King; he has closed many roads; he has made vacant many inns; he has sunk many ships; he has made many children orphans, and he has brought much sin upon his soul. But yesterday two heralds went through the city and they proclaimed that Marko would never sin again; that the King and the Sultan were determined to execute him."
Milosh pretended to be pleased at this.
"Innkeeper," he cried, "bring me wine, for I and my friends will drink and to-rnorrow we shall certainly go to see Marko's head cut off."
Their joy seemed so real that the girl brought the wine, saying as she did so: "This is a gift from the inn to those who are friendly to the King."
So the three friends sat and drank and were cheerful, waiting for the morning to come. They laughed and talked, and no one seeing them would have suspected that what was to. happen the next day in reality filled them with sadness and grief.
Early in the morning they arose and went to the field of Azak outside the city, where the execution was to take place. They had their swords under their cloaks, but Milosh carried one in his hand. That was the only visible weapon, and aside from this they looked completely unarmed.
It was not long before the crowds were astir. Hardly had the muezzin proclaimed on the minarets of the mosques that Allah is great, when all the city started out to the field to see the execution of Marko. In solemn pomp came the dignitaries of the city—the King, the nobles and the soldiers. Here were Moslems who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca and who wore the green turban of the pilgrim. There were thirty Arabs from Medina, arrayed in their best costumes. And over the dignified procession floated the banners of the Prophet, while many other standards waved on this festal day. The King of Azak had a bodyguard of one hundred men. Four grooms came after him leading the mighty Sharats. Behind Sharats walked Marko, his arms tightly bound, and directly after him came the two Arab executioners.
The procession passed around the city, through the market-place and the bazaar?. It was a great day for the Moslem population when they realized that they had finally conquered the Christian champion. The procession entered the field of Azak with music playing and banners flying.
Marko looked in vain for any Serb faces. As the innkeeper had fold Milosh, there were no Serbs in the city. He could look nowhere for assistance, and his only hope was the words of Urosh when he blessed Marko so long ago, that Marko Kralyevich would not die at the hands of his enemies. This seemed rather cold comfort, but Marko resolved to die like a hero.
Suddenly, as the procession approached the place of execution, Marko noticed Milosh standing quietly on one side with two young grooms behind him. Marko had no idea what would happen, but the sight of Milosh warmed his heart and gave him new hope. The pobratims had never failed one another yet.
Milosh made no sign, but he allowed Marko to be led by lo the place of execution. The two Arabs stepped forward and the last preparations were made. Milosh was watching intently.
Just as the executioner raised his sword to strike, Milosh called out:
"Wait, brothers! Wait, my dark children! Do not use that sword—use this one that I am bringing you. With this sword the accursed hand of Marko slew my father, and it will be a joy to me to see him slain with the same sword. As soon as I heard that he had been captured, and was to die to-day, I secured the sword. Let it cut off his head."
This request pleased the people of Azak. It made the execution more exciting, and the crowd applauded wildly. They insisted that the executioners grant the request of Milosh and use his sword.
So Milosh stepped forward, attended by his two friends, to hand the Arabs the sword and seemingly to enjoy the pleasure of a close view of the end of Marko. The attention of the crowd was so aroused, and they were all so eager to see the execution, that everyone held his breath. Even the delay while Milosh was walking up toward Marko seemed an hour.
Milosh and his friends were the center of all eyes. Everyone looked at them, as Milosh offered his sword to one of the Arabs. So far, all was in order.
Suddenly the sword gleamed in the air; a sharp blow and the head of the nearest Arab flew off. Sekula drew his sword from under his cloak and finished the second Arab. Milosh ran up to Marko. With one blow he cut the ropes that bound his hands, and thrust his own sword into them. Then he seized the second sword that he had hidden beneath his cloak for himself.
Confusion and bedlam broke loose. Marko, now armed, and his three armed friends were dangerous foes, even against many, and the guard that had surrounded Marko melted away. A few tried to resist. They paid the penalty, for Marko did not strike twice at any man. Then he reached Sharats, leaped into the saddle, and woe to the soldiers who got in his way! The four friends were mounted and cutting their way through the crowd, which was fleeing wildly in all directions and yet not able to escape fast enough.
Seeing the terror which they had inspired, the four horsemen turned to find the King, but he had not waited. As soon as the first blow was struck the King of Azak realized the fate in store for him should the heroes reach him. He hurriedly left the field and fled to the castle, not emerging until order had been restored.
When the heroes saw he had escaped, they went to the market-place and rode around, closing the entire market, scattering the Turkish traders, and enjoying the confusion they caused. Then they rode up to the inn where all the trouble had started, and set it on fire. This done and their vengeance accomplished, the four friends rode back to their homes, happy and joyful. And happy and joyful were the mother and wife of Marko when they saw him ride safely into white Prilip.