1. Marko Drinks Wine in Ramadan
SOON after this it happened that the Sultan Murat, who had heretofore been satisfied with a nominal supremacy over the princes of the South, of whom Marko was one, decided to conquer the remainder of the Serb lands. So the Sultan issued an order for all of his subjects to enter his service at once for this great battle.
Marko was away from Prilip when the Sultan's message came, so he did not receive it. He also failed to receive the message from the Serb leader, Knez Lazar, urging all the Christians to join with him and to meet the Turks in one last battle on Kosovo Field. This struggle, as everyone realized, would determine the fate of the nation, and decide whether Christian or Turk was to rule in the Balkans. Knez Lazar also added a curse on all the Serbs who did not take part in the battle, and thus Marko unwittingly fell under a second threat besides the curse that King Vukashin had cast on him years before.
When the fatal day dawned on Kosovo Field, all the Serb heroes were there save Marko. He had heard of the battle too late to arrive, although he made every effort to reach the field. ID vain the Serbs waited for him but he did not come. The battle started and raged for hours. For a long time the struggle was nearly equal, but at last the superior forces of the Turks began to tell, and the Serbs were overwhelmed. Even to-day the inhabitants of Montenegro wear a black band on their caps in memory of that terrible hour. Kosovo Field became the sacred spot 10 the Serbs, and centuries later, in 1912, when the Serb army reached it in the struggle against the Turks, all the soldiers fell on their knees as they came to that historic ground.
All the leaders of the Serbs fell in the battle. Knez Lazar, the leader of the Serb forces, died fighting. With him died all of the heroes except Milosh Obilich. He penetrated the Turkish camp and there during the battle he succeeded in slaying the Sultan Murat, although Milosh paid for the deed with his life.
Under the new Sultan conditions changed greatly for the masses of the people. Marko continued his old life of entertainment and of travel, and his fame grew among the Serbs as their only possible means of salvation from the Turks. The common people were oppressed more and more heavily, as the Turks placed over them strangers and foreigners, and took away from them all the liberties to which they had previously been accustomed.
Now according to Turkish law there was each year a great fast called Ramadan. During this fast no Moslem was allowed to eat during the daytime, but all day long he fasted and rested, and then in the evening, during the dark hours of the night, he ate his fill. And so it was for forty days. The Turks all kept this fast, and they were much displeased at the Serbs and other Christians for not keeping it also.
The Sultan Bayazet, who had succeeded Murat, was especially vexed at this, so he issued a code of laws to cover the conduct of all the people—both Christians and Moslems—during the fast of Ramadan. He ordered severe punishment for anyone in his broad realm who would drink wine during the fast of Ramadan, or who would wear a bright green cloak or a well-wrought sword.
Marko heard these orders, but he was not in the least inclined to obey them. He carried his well-wrought sword and he wore a green cloak. And he drank wine during the fast of Ramadan. But that was not the worst. He gathered together the hodjas and the hadjis, the very men who were learned in the Moslem law and who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and he compelled them to drink wine with him in Ramadan.
These men felt themselves outraged and, gathering with them Marko's enemies, they went to the Sultan and presented a formal complaint against Marko. They praised the majesty and kindness of their sovereign to the skies and they loudly complained of Marko's ingratitude and disloyalty in daring to act contrary to the decree of the Sultan.
The Sultan was properly enraged to hear how Marko had disobeyed his commands, and he was determined to punish him at all costs. So he sent two of his most trusty messengers to Marko with a stern command to appear before him at once and answer for his crimes.
The messengers went to Marko and haughtily delivered their message: "Listen now, Marko Kralyevich! The Sultan demands that you appear before him in the council at once to answer for your crimes."
The men found Marko sitting contentedly in his tent drinking red wine, but when they delivered the decree of the Sultan he became very angry. Marko leaped to his feet and seized his cup, which held some sixteen quarts, and hurled it at the heads of the Sultan's messengers. The blow was so strong that it broke the cup, but it likewise smashed the heads of the men, and wine and blood flowed down together on the floor. Then Marko went to court.
With his head held high he proudly entered the divan of the Sultan. Here on costly rugs were seated all the dignitaries of the state. Each man as he came in made deep obeisance to his sovereign, and then took his place on the rich carpets. Marko followed the usual procedure, but he sat down at the very knee of the Sultan. He pulled his sable cap down over his eyes, as he always did before entering battle, and he played with his golden mace, caressing it and handling it with affection. Then he laid his drawn sword carelessly across his knees and waited for the Sultan to speak.
The ruler began in a voice wherein sternness and friendliness were mingled. "My son, Marko Kralyevich," he said, "did you not know that I had forbidden anyone to drink wine in Ramadan, or to wear a green cloak or carry a well-wrought sword?"
As he spoke the Sultan reflected on Marko's actions in his presence, and he became alarmed, so he added: "But why have you pulled your cap down over your eyes, as if you were going into battle? And why are you playing with your mace? And why have you drawn your sharp sword?"
Marko listened impatiently, and when the Sultan had finished he burst out:
"O my father, Sultan Bayazet! What are you talking about? Listen to me! If I drink wine in Ramadan, I do it because my faith allows it. I am no Moslem but a Christian, and I do not care for the customs of Ramadan. If I force the hodjas and hadjis to drink, it is because my customs and the usage of my people do not allow a man to drink alone, without sharing with the men who are watching and looking on. If they do not like it, let them stay away from the inn where I am staying. If I wear a green cloak, it is because I like it and think it suits me well. My sword I bought for a good price out of my own money, and so I shall carry it.
"That explains my attitude towards your decrees. But now as to the rest. I have pulled my cap over my eyes because my head bums when I talk with the Sultan. And I am playing with my mace, and my sword is lying drawn on my knees, because I am afraid there may be a fight. And if there should be a fight, then woe to the man who is nearest to Marko Kralyevich!"
With these words Marko leaped up and twirled his mace only a few inches from the head of the Sultan. The Sultan looked around in alarm to see where his courtiers were, but Marko was closer than any of them and it was all too evident that the Sultan would be the first victim of the fight, if it came to that.
So the Sultan Bayazet tried to placate Marko with soft words. He drew one hundred dinars out of his pocket and gave them to Marko, as the latter stood almost over him, swinging his golden mace in threatening fashion.
"Go, Marko," said the Sultan, "take this money and buy thyself wine."
And from that hour the Sultan withdrew from Marko the restrictions imposed by the fast of Ramadan, and no longer asked him to do the impossible.
So Marko returned to white Prilip and continued to drink wine in Ramadan, and to carry his well-wrought sword. He also wore his green cloak, which became him well.
2. Marko Rescues the Sultan's Daughter
Not for long, however, was Marko left in peace at white Prilip. The Sultan could not do without his aid, and this was how Marko was again summoned to the court of Sultan Bayazet.
A certain Arab had built for himself a palace of twenty stories by the sea, and he had furnished it with all kinds of luxurious things. He had put glass in the windows, and silks and velvets were used in abundance throughout the beautiful palace. The stories about this Arab grew to great proportions, as everyone united in telling of his wonderful strength, of his riches, and his warlike skill. The Sultan of Istanbul was much disturbed by these rumors of the rise of this Arab. But the rumors turned into actual alarm when a messenger arrived one day from the Arab with a demand for the Sultan's daughter.
The Arab wrote: "O Lord, the Emperor of Istanbul! I have builded me a new palace near the blue sea and there is no one to preside over it. Give me your daughter for my wife, and she shall have much honor and great wealth. But if you will not do this, come out and meet me in battle."
The Sultan received the letter and at once began to look for knights who would meet the Arab in battle. He sent out several champions, but none of them ever returned and no word was received as to their fate. The poor princess whom the Arab had thus rudely selected to be his bride was wild with grief at the thought of marrying the black Arab, and the Sultan looked in vain for a new champion, or for some means of escaping the demand of his foe.
And then the worst happened. The Arab dressed himself in his best suit and girded on his mighty sword. He saddled his Arab mare and tightened the seven girths of the saddle. He hung his tent on one side of the saddle, and his heavy mace on the other. Thus gaily arrayed he rode into Istanbul. When he reached the heavy gates, which had been closed at the news of his approach, he struck his spear into the ground before the gates and tied his horse to it. He pitched his white tent and he laid a demand on Istanbul that each day the Sultan should give him a fat sheep, a baking of white bread, a cask of burned rakija, two casks of red wine, and a beautiful maiden to serve him the wine and kiss his black face. He ate the sheep and the bread, and drank the rakija and the red wine, and the maiden he added to his slaves.
This went on for three months, and still the Sultan had not consented to the marriage of his daughter to the Arab, although he had not been able to find a way of preventing it. Finally the Arab lost patience. He mounted his horse and rode through the streets of Istanbul until he came to the imperial palace. Here he called in a voice that rang through the city: "Ho, Sultan! Bring out your daughter!" Then with his heavy mace he heat upon the palace door, until he had broken all the windows and nearly wrecked the entire building.
What was the Sultan to do? The shameless Arab paid no attention to the Sultan, and with no champion the Sultan saw that he had to accede to the demand of the Arab. So he agreed. Then the Arab announced that he would return for the princess in fifteen days, and would bring with him the wedding party and his friends.
Deep despair now settled down over the palace.
The Sultan's daughter wept constantly and swore that she would kill herself rather than marry the Arab. The Sultan had nothing to say, but racked his brains in vain for an idea. That night the Sultan's wife had a strange dream. In her dream a man appeared to her and said:
"Honored lady, in your realm there is the wide plain that is called Kosovo, the Field of Blackbirds, and near that plain there is located a city called Prilip, and in that city dwells a hero named Marko Kralyevich. He has a wonderful reputation as a hero. Send therefore to him and beg him by the true God and offer him money without measure to come and save your daughter from the Arab."
The next morning the Sultana told her dream to her husband, and he wondered why he had not thought of Marko before. He immediately drew up a firman and sent it to white Prilip to Marko Kralyevich.
"O my son in God, Marko Kralyevich!" the Sultan wrote to Marko. "Come to me to white Istanbul;
slay for me the black Arab, so that he cannot carry away my daughter, and I will give you as much gold as three animals can carry."
Marko read the letter and at once answered the messenger: "Return in peace, imperial messenger! Greet the Sultan, my father. Tell him that I do not dare to fight against the Arab, for he is a great fighter. If he takes the head from my shoulders, what good will three loads of gold do me?"
The Tatar messenger took this message back to the Sultan, who was again in despair. But when the Sultana heard of the failure of the mission, she sat down herself and wrote to Marko:
"O my son in God, Marko Kralyevich. Do not allow my daughter to marry the Arab, and I will give you five loads of gold."
Marko read this message and he answered the messenger thus: "Go back, imperial messenger, arid say to the Sultana that I do not dare to meet the Arab. He is a great hero and will knock the head from off my shoulders, and I value my head more than all the money of the Sultan."
The Tatar messenger carried back this word also to the Sultana, and there seemed to be no hope at all. Then the princess wrote to Marko herself. She took pen and paper and she pierced her cheek with the pen until she drew blood. Then with her own blood she wrote to Marko Kralyevich, and thus she begged him:
"O my brother in God, Marko Kralyevich. I will call you brother in the true God and I will call you kum by the true God, and by your St. John. Do not hand me over to the black Arab, and in return I will give you seven loads of gold and behold! seven presents as from a bride, not of things woven or spun or made upon a loom, but objects made of pure gold. And I will give you a table of gold and on the table will be a twisted serpent lifting its head on high; and in its jaws it holds a precious stone which will give you light by night as well as by day. And I will give you a well-wrought sword with a hilt of gold, all wrought as if braided by hand, and in it there are three precious stones; and that sword is worth three of my father's cities. And I will give you the Sultan's seal, so that the Grand Vizier can never kill you without my father's consent."
Marko read this letter from the Sultan's daughter, and he realized the magnificence of the offer, and the seriousness of the situation.
"O my poor sister!" he thought. "It is bad to go and worse to stay. I do not fear the Sultan and his wife, but I do fear God and St. John. I will go, even if I never return."
He sent back the Tatar messenger without giving him any answer, good or bad, and then went directly up to his slender tower to prepare for the journey. He put on his shoulders his cloak of wolf skin and on his head he placed his cap of wolfskin. He girded on his well-wrought sword and he took his martial spear. He saddled Sharats and he tightened his saddle with its seven girths. He filled a skin of wine and he hung it on the right side of his saddle, and on the left he placed his heavy-mace, so that the saddle might not turn. Then he leaped into the saddle, picked up the reins and started straight for Istanbul.
When he reached the city he did not visit either the Sultan or the Grand Vizier, but he went straight to the New Khan, and there he put up for the night. Everyone talked of nothing but the terrible Arab, and Marko grasped still more clearly the horror and fear into which the whole city was plunged. As a stranger he apparently knew nothing, and all the people, from the innkeeper down, marveled how he could remain so unmoved at the news of this terrible disaster, for the Arab was to arrive the very next day.
Just at dusk Marko rode down to a lake near the city in order to give Sharats some cold water. On the surface of the water was a thick green scum, for the lake was not much more than a large, stagnant pool. Although the water made a contrast to the dust and dirt around the spot, it was a desolate region and lonely. Sharats would not drink but kept looking around as if he were seeking something. Marko followed the gaze of Sharats and very soon he saw a beautiful young Turkish maiden, with a golden shawl over her head and shoulders, come down to the water. She was very fair to look upon, but Marko was surprised at seeing such a lovely girl at that time of night in such a desolate spot. It did not take him long to learn why she was there, for she came down to the lake and bending over it, said:
"May God help thee, O green lake! God help thee, my eternal home! I will live in thee forever. I choose to marry thee rather than the Arab."
Marko realized who the maiden was, but just as if he knew nothing of the cause of her distress he walked up to her and said: "Oh, lady, Turkish maiden! What drives you to the lake? Why wed the lake, as if you were compelled to choose?"
The maiden answered, "Let me pass, mad dervish I Why do you ask me when you cannot help me?" Then she noticed that this curious stranger with his giant horse and his odd-looking garments seemed interested, arid however she might resent his question she was ready to grasp at the slightest hope. So partly because of that and partly to relieve her own feelings, she told the entire story.
"And then they spoke to me of Marko," she ended, sadly, "who dwells in white Prilip, and they said that he could slay the Arab. I called him brother in God; I called him my kum by St. John;
I promised him many gifts. But alas! Marko will not come. May he never return to his mother!" But Marko answered, "Do not rebuke me, O my sister in God! for I am Marko Kralyevich."
This seemed too good to be true, and the maiden threw herself on Marko's neck and kissed him. "O my brother in God, Marko Kralyevich," she implored him. "Do not give me over to the black Arab!"
Marko answered her with his customary assurance, which the princess could not fail to notice.
"O my sister in God, Turkish maiden," he said, "as long as my head sits upon my shoulders, I shall never give you up to the Arab. Do not tell anyone that I have come, save only your father and mother. Send me my supper to the New Khan and see that the wine is not scanty. When the Arab comes with his bridal party, await him with peace and dignity and let your parents give you over to him. See that there is no fighting or brawling near the palace, and I know where I shall wait for him, if God and my heroic fortune do not forsake me."
Marko's confidence was felt by the maiden, although she could not understand why this strange hero should adopt such a policy. She would have preferred that the battle should take place before the wedding, so that she would not have to meet the terrible Arab. But her only help was in Marko, and there was something in him that made her trust him and gave her hops. So she returned to the palace perplexed but comforted.
Marko went back to the New Khan and very soon his dinner arrived from the palace. It was a sumptuous meal with an abundance of wine. Marko sat down to eat and to drink, and almost at once the innkeeper began to close the khan. All through the city doors were locked, shutters were put up, and the place seemed a city of the dead.
Marko noticed these preparations and he asked casually, "Why are you closing so early?"
The innkeeper looked at him in surprise. "You are a strange hero!" he said. "The Arab has demanded the daughter of the Sultan and to-day he is coming for the maiden, for to our shame and sorrow the Sultan was forced to give her up. We are all so afraid of him that we are closing up."
Marko objected most decidedly to being shut up in the khan. There was something about him that impressed the innkeeper, and he felt that to displease Marko might be more fatal than to risk an encounter with the Arab. At all events, he did not close the gates, and Marko sat there, watching for the arrival of the Arab and his attendants.
Very soon there came a sound of music and revelry and merriment. It drew nearer and nearer, and the wedding party came into sight. At the head was the Arab, black as coal. He made a really splendid figure as he rode on his slender Arab mare. Behind him came his five hundred guests, all of them as black as he. The dever was a black Arab; so was the stary svat. All of the group were black Arabs. They rode haughtily along and as the mare of the bridegroom pranced through the narrow streets, she kicked up dust and stones which beat upon the walls and the shutters of the windows.
Soon they came to the New Khan and this was the only place in Istanbul that was open and lighted. The Arab was surprised and angry.
"By the beard of the prophet!" he shouted. "This is a marvel! The whole city of Istanbul is closed tight from fear of me except the gates to the New Khan! Are the people there so foolish and so stupid that they do not know of my reputation and how terrible I am?"
Nevertheless the Arab went on his way and he came to the Sultan's palace. All night he was entertained royally, and early the next morning the Sultan led out his daughter to the Arab. He also brought out the dowry, twelve horseloads of clothing.
Then the Arab started back through Istanbul with the maiden and the treasure. The poor girl's heart sank as she left her parents, for she had no chance of escape, unless that mysterious figure whom she had met the night before could do something. Apparently all he was doing was eating and drinking in the New Khan. Rumors of this had not failed to reach, the palace. The Arab's suite had talked of the strange fact that the New Khan alone was open, and the stories had reached the princess. She connected them with what she knew of Marko, but still there seemed little sense in the whole affair and no hope at all.
The procession wound back through the silent streets, and still the gates of the New Khan stood open. From within there came the sounds of feasting and of merriment. The Arab spurred his mare up to the gates and looked through the open window. There he saw a huge man in a wolfskin coat drinking and making merry. Each time he drank he emptied a cup of twelve quarts, and each time he gave the same amount to his horse who stood near him and who quaffed the wine as joyfully as his master. The Arab wanted to enter and pick a quarrel, but Sharats, who was by the door, did not let him come in. He kicked at the ribs of the Arab mare, and the Arab went back to his company and started through the market-place.
When the merry company had passed, Marko Kralyevich arose from the table. He lazily turned his fur coat so that the fur side was outside, and he turned his cap of wolfskin so that the fur side of that was outside. He fastened well the seven girths of his saddle, and on one side he hung a sack of wine and on the other his heavy mace, so that the saddle would not turn. He took his warlike spear, leaped upon Sharats, and rode toward the marketplace.
He came to the end of the bridal procession and started to ride through it. The Arabs refused to give way.
"Get back, you fool!" they shouted. "Don't you see that this is the wedding: party of the Arab? We allow no one to pass."
"Except me!" said Marko, and Sharats leaped through the crowd, trampling the Arabs down to right and left. Very soon he had reached the bride, and in two blows Marko had slain the dever and the kum. By now the whole street was in an uproar. Some of the guests were dead, and others were fleeing in all directions. A few were trying to draw their weapons, but the confusion was so great that they could not tell friend from foe.
The Arab heard the fighting and turned to inquire what it meant. Someone a little wiser than the others said: "O Arab, there is mischief afoot. A wild here has attacked your guests. The horse he rides is no ordinary horse, but is brindled like an ox. The hero is not dressed like other men, but he wears a cloak of wolfskin and a cap of wolfskin, and he has a black mustache as large as a lamb six months old. He started a brawl, and, galloping through the company, he has killed the dever arid the kum."
The Arab turned and saw that Marko Kralyevich was close to him.
"Unknown hero!" roared the Arab. "You have met your end! What madness urged you to crowd among my guests, and kill my kum and my dever? Are you an idiot, and do you know nothing? Or are you strong and insane? Are you weary of life? I swear that I shall gather up the reins of my mare and I shall leap over you seven times, and then I shall cut off your head!"
Marko laughed. "Black Arab, do not lie! If God and my heroic fortune favor me, you will not leap over me, but rather I shall master you."
This was a new experience for the Arab. No one had ever dared to defy him so calmly and boldly. His reputation was at stake. One failure, and he saw the end. He turned his horse and prepared to charge at Marko. He struck his mare with his spurs and she leaped lightly into the air. Sharats needed no command. As the mare approached, he reared and with his iron-shod hoofs kicked her in the ribs. With his sharp teeth he caught her by the right ear and bit it off, so that the mare was covered with blood.
The horses fought and so did the heroes. For a long while neither Marko nor the Arab could gain any advantage. For four hours sword clashed against sword, as both warriors tried to find an opening to deliver a mortal thrust. The contest went on, and slowly the citizens of Istanbul dared to peer out of their windows to see the struggle, the noise of which could be heard throughout the whole city. Again and again the swords rang against each other, and clouds of dust rose under the hoofs of the horses. Sharats was as keen to find an opening and attack the Arab's mare as was Marko to deal with the master.
Finally the superior weight and skill of Marko and Sharats began to make itself felt. The blows of the Arab began to weaken and he suddenly turned his Arab mare and started at full speed through the market of Istanbul. Marko and Sharats pursued, but the Arab pressed his mare, which fled faster than the vilas of the mountains, and it almost seemed to Marko that she was gaining on Sharats. Yet Marko was not to be foiled of his victory that way. He caught hold of his huge mace and while at full gallop he hurled it with unerring aim straight at the fleeing Arab. The mace struck him between the shoulders and he fell from his horse. In an instant Marko and Sharats were on him. An instant more and Marko had leaped to the ground and cut off the Arab's head.
Then catching the Arab's mare, Marko mounted Sharats and rode slowly back to the market-place. When he came to the square where the battle started, not one of the Arab's friends was to be seen. There in the empty street, amid the dead bodies of the wedding guests, among which were those of the dever and the stary svat, stood the Sultan's daughter. Near her, wandering loose, were the twelve horses loaded with the dowry. Marko gathered them all together, secured a horse for the maiden, and the cavalcade made its way back to the palace.
The Sultan was overjoyed to receive his daughter again, along with the dowry, and he was still more joyful when he saw the head of the Arab. Without another word Marko abruptly turned Sharats and started for his home in white Prilip. He had barely reached there when a long train was seen approaching his castle.
It was the messengers from the Sultan, and they brought with them the promised gifts—seven loads of money and seven presents as from a bride, not of things woven or spun or made upon a loom, but objects made of pure gold; a table of gold, and on the table a twisted serpent lifting its head on high, and in its jaws a precious stone that gave light by night as well as by day; and a well-wrought sword, with a hilt of gold all wrought as if braided by hand, and in the hilt were three precious stones and the Sultan's seal, so the Grand Vizier could not kill Marko without the permission of the Sultan.
These were all the things that the Sultan's daughter had promised to Marko. She also sent him a letter - and this pleased Marko well—"Here is a little money, and if you need more, come and ask my father."