1. The Turks Come to the Slava of Marko
EVERY year Marko celebrated his Slava, or his family festival, on St. George's Day. Like all of the other Serbs he endeavored to make this occasion the finest of the entire year, but there was one cloud that always hung over it, and that was the Turks.
However much the Sultan might personally admire Marko, there was always a group of nobles, or janissaries, or intriguers, who sought nothing better than an excuse to blacken the character of Marko and other prominent Serbs. Besides that, the Turks at a Slava were at a marked advantage. It was considered very bad manners to turn away anyone, however poor and mean, who came to share in the blessings that the patron saint had brought to the household, and it was absolutely forbidden a Serb to do violence to any person with whom he had broken bread. Thus the way was open for annoying and even dangerous clashes under conditions which the Christians could not properly resent, even if the supreme power of the Sultan was overlooked.
For this reason when Marko made preparations each year for his Slava, he always added a prayer that nothing would move any of the Turks or the janissaries to interrupt the festivities with their threats or violence. He also placed one of his most trusted servants on guard to divert peacefully any Turks who might put in an appearance.
This year Marko made all his preparations. He arranged three large tables, loaded down with good things to eat of every kind, and of drinks of every sort. The first table contained the guests of honor, twelve bishops of the Orthodox Church. The second table held the great body of the Christian people, the friends and associates of Marko. These two tables Marko served himself, and he also passed the wine himself. The third table was for the poor and the beggars, and this one was much longer than the two other tables put together, for Marko was known far and wide for his hospitality At this third table sat a miscellaneous group of the lame, the halt and the blind; beggars from all over the Balkans who had gathered to hail Marko; victims of the Turkish yoke who had come hither to celebrate with him. In order to serve the people faster, Marko's mother, the aged Yevrosima, passed the wine around this third table. His young wife, Yelitsa, carried the food around from table to table, and place to place, and her beauty and charm attracted favorable attention from all the guests. At the same time Vaistina, one of Marko's strongest and most tactful as well as reliable servants, was stationed at the main entrance to the courtyard to ward off any Turks.
Everything was going well, when the sound of merriment and good cheer within came over the walls of the courtyard to the ears of a party of Turks who were passing that way. In the party were three agas, or nobles, and thirty janissaries. They heard the entertainment, the laughing and the singing, and decided to enter the palace of Marko.
Instead of entering quietly and behaving properly while at the Slava, the Turks strode insolently up to the door of the courtyard and pounded upon it.
"O giaour, unbeliever," they shouted, "open the door and open it quickly. You fool giaour, open this door, so that we may see how Marko celebrates his patron saint."
Upon hearing the commotion the servant, Vais-tina, answered in Turkish:
"I pray you, do not compel me, for I may not open the gates and let you in. You see, I fear my master."
This answer did not alter the determination of the Turks. The agas turned to the janissaries, and they without further word of command picked up their maces and smashed in the door. At the same time they landed six-and-thirty blows upon the unlucky servant, who even then endeavored to hold them off. Finally Vaistina had to give up resisting them, and he ran in to Marko.
Marko saw him enter the room in tears, so he spoke to him kindly.
"Vaistina, my dear child," he said. "What is the matter? Why are you weeping? If you are hungry, here is food. If you are thirsty, here is cold wine. But do not weep and spoil my feast."
"O master, Marko Kralyevich," Vaistina replied, "I am neither hungry nor thirsty. Evil has come to me with the bread that you have given and still greater evil with the wine. You sent me to act as guard for your feast, but who is able to guard you? Three agas and thirty janissaries have come and pounded on the doors," and poor Vaistina told Marko the rest of the sad tale.
Marko flared up at once. He seized his sword and his mace, which were always at hand, and he took an oath aloud for all his guests to hear.
"Hear ye guests and all!" Marko exclaimed. "May I not be the son of my mother, the royal queen of a royal family, if I do not decorate Prilip, not with basil nor with red roses but with the heads of these Turks!"
Yevrosima, knowing that he would carry out his threat and very likely get into trouble because of it, tried to culm him and bring him to his senses.
"Don't do that, my dear child Marko," she said. "Do not shed blood at your Slava, at the feast of your patron saint. To-day you must let the Turks in and give them to cat and drink for the sake of the souls of your parents, and for your own health, and that of your dear wife Yelitsa."
Marko heeded his mother and put his sword back in its sheath. He kept his mace, however, and went out to meet the Turks. He brought them into the dining-hall and seated them in order at the tables. Then he called Vaistina and ordered him, despite the beating which he had received, to serve the Turks with wine. He also asked Yelitsa to bring them food.
The Turks suspected some trick, and they began to be uneasy. Such elaborate hospitality offered by the wife of Marko and a servant whom they had beaten was very strange. So they talked among themselves as to what it might mean. They spoke in Turkish and did not suspect that Marko understood what they were saying. None of them knew he had served for seven years at the Turkish court and in Syria, and that he knew their language as well as his own.
Suddenly Marko sauntered over to them, his mace swinging ominously in his hand.
"O Turks," he said, "you are welcome to sit and drink my wine. I must ask you, however, to pay for the healing of my servant of the beating you gave him. It will not cost much, but if that little is a great deal for you I shall be very glad to let you go without paying, if you will just let me give each of you a light tap with this mace. It does not weigh much; just forty okas of cold iron. With the forty okas of iron are mixed twelve okas of pure silver, and six okas of beaten gold. So it weighs about fifty-eight okas. I am only going to give you one tap each, although you gave my one servant thirty-six blows."
The mace began to swing a little more vigorously in Marko's hand, and each swing seemed to bring it a little closer to their heads. The Turks began to search their pockets hurriedly. First one of the agas brought out thirty ducats and laid them cautiously on the cloak of Marko. Another followed his example, and soon the three agas and the thirty janissaries had all put down their donations. Meanwhile Marko had taken a drink and passed the cup around again. Apparently he was ready for trouble, while the Turks were not.
"Come, Turks," he said, "sit down and drink wine. Give your fee to the waitress and remember as you give it that my wife is not a slave, and that she soiled her silken robes when she came here to serve you."
The mace began to play ominously in the air again, and one of the janissaries who was nearest to Marko, and therefore would be the first to suffer should the mace be put to use, hastily added ten ducats to the thirty that he had previously put down. One after another followed suit, and the agas found it wiser to put down twenty ducats apiece. Some of them did not have so much money as that with them; but the mace continued swinging until they had borrowed from one another and had laid down the money.
Then they filed out, grumbling, and Marko gathered up the money and went to the apartment of his mother.
"My aged mother, Yevrosima," Marko said, "I took this money from those men not because I need it, but in order that they may go around and tell what Marko did to the Turks."
Yevrosima was very happy that the affair had passed off so well, but the Turks were not satisfied, and as the party walked in crestfallen fashion through the street of white Prilip, they cursed themselves for fools.
"May God destroy any Turk," they said, "who visits a giaour on the day when he celebrates his Slava, the feast of his patron saint! We have paid out to-day enough to have supported any one of us for an entire year! But it was the only way to escape the blows of Marko."
2. The Sultan Pays a Bill
Soon after this there was great excitement in Istanbul. The Sultan called a council of all the officials, and the leaders of the janissaries, and the outstanding Turks. The official treasure had been stolen. Some unknown thief had entered the city and had dared to take from the Sultan's palace the vast stores of gold, silver and precious stones that lay there. No one knew who had done this thing.
Since this was the case, why not blame the worst foe of the Turkish oppressors? So the janissaries, the Turks and high officials united in blaming Marko Kralyevich, and accusing him of this outrage. They were still smarting under the treatment he had accorded them at the time of his Slava. They did not care whether Marko was guilty or not. Here was a chance to stir up feeling against him and possibly to end his career.
The Sultan Bayazet called the council together, and when all had agreed on Marko as the guilty party, the Sultan spoke. He quite forgot the many things Marko had done for his predecessor, nor did he stop to investigate the justice of the accusation again Marko.
"If any man will go to Prilip and bring me back Marko, living or dead," the Sultan said, "I will make him Vizier of Bosnia. I will give him all the treasures of the land and he need not pay over to me one cent of the taxes for nine years. He can keep them all for himself."
This was indeed a marvelous offer, but it found no one to accept it. No one would volunteer to beard Marko in his lair. It was fine to talk of seizing him, but Marko at bay was dangerous, as the Turks had had cause to learn on too many occasions. They looked at one another and said nothing.
Finally Misirliya Djano, a young and boastful Turk, spoke up.
"O honored Sultan," he said, "I will go and bring you Marko alive."
The Sultan liked Djano, so he answered: "I am afraid that the odds will not be even, and that Marko will bind you instead."
"Perish the thought!" exclaimed Djano. "I, a true believer, a follower of the Prophet, a keeper of the fast of Ramadan? Why, I know those three Serb voyvodas, Marko Kralyevich, Milosh Obilich and Relya of Pazar, and I got into a fight with them and bound the hands of all three, so that they could not hurt me. So what is Marko Kralyevich alone? Give me, O Sultan, a plaited rope and a whip, that I may bind the hands of Marko with the rope and drive him with the whip, and I will bring him up to Istanbul without delay."
The Sultan was still suspicious of the boasts of Djano, but he gave him the whip and the rope, and Djano went directly to Prilip. He reached there late at night, and the door of Marko's palace was closed.
He knocked on it loudly. Marko was at his evening meal and he called out from the table: "Who is knocking so late at night?"
"Marko Kralyevich, it is I, Misirliya Djano!" was the answer. "Open for me!"
Marko had seen Djano around Istanbul, and he did not take him at all seriously. So he went and opened the door. The two men exchanged the customary greetings and then went up into the lofty tower to sit down. Marko, always hospitable, asked the stranger to be seated.
"Come, Djano," he said, "sit down and drink wine. I have not much in my house, and the cups are small. I have no cup of twelve quarts and I have not wine to fill it, but you are my guest, so we will divide up what I have, and to-morrow I will get more."
"I have no time to drink wine, Marko," Misirliya Djano answered. "The Sultan sent me in haste to bring you back with your hands bound."
"That is a pleasant task the Sultan gave you," said Marko, laughing. "Sit down and drink wine with me first."
"I have no time. Stretch out your hands that I may bind them," ordered Djano, roughly, in his most imperious tone. As he did so, he raised his whip and struck Marko across the shoulders. That was enough to arouse the hero, but at that moment Marko happened to have a cup of wine in his hand and the cup was the nearest weapon. What was he to do? For Marko there was only one answer. He never wasted wine, so he drained the cup at one draught, and then, with the precious wine saved, and before Djano could strike a second blow with his whip, Marko dashed the heavy wine-cup against his forehead, cleaving Djano's skull, and the Turk fell down on the floor, dead.
Marko dragged the body out of the room, left it on the refuse pile of the castle, and walked directly to the stables. He saddled Sharats, and though it was late at night he started directly for Istanbul.
The next morning early he reached the city. The servants of the Sultan, who were watching for the return of Djano, were surprised to see Marko riding up in his usual carefree manner. Yet there seemed to be an ominous appearance about him as he rode, and the servants suspected something at once. They ran hurriedly in to the Sultan with the unexpected news.
"Honored master, our most noble Sultan," they said, "here is Marko Kralyevich."
"But," asked the Sultan, "where is Djano?"
"Marko only is coming," was the reply. "We see nothing of Djano."
This was disturbing news to the Sultan. Marko seemed angry as he rode up. He barely nodded to the servants, but rode directly toward the center of the court, tying Sharats to one of the columns of the porch. Then he strode into the council room of the Sultan. When the Sultan entered Marko met him with perfect courtesy. He kissed his hand in token of his humility, bowed low and then stood quietly before the Sultan.
"Tell me, my son Marko," said the Sultan, "where is Djano?"
"O my master, the Sultan," replied Marko, "I am surprised that you ask such a question. The Turkish faith cannot tolerate renegades who drink wine in Ramadan."
This was a strange answer, and the Sultan looked steadily at Marko to sec what the Serb was thinking. He understood at once that the plan of Djano to capture Marko had failed, but he wanted to know more.
"Marko, my son, do not say that, forI do not believe you. You have slain my Djano. Draw your sharp sword and let me see whether it is bloody."
"O Sultan," Marko answered, "I cannot draw my sword without shedding blood. I swore to God that I would never draw my sword except to use it."
The Sultan knew this by experience, but he decided to make one last effort.
''O Marko, my son," he said, "I do not want you to break your oath to God, but draw your sharp sword and cut one of my young Turks lightly on the left hand. Scratch it just enough to draw blood and then you will not have violated your oath."
Marko saw what the Sultan had in mind. There was of course no blood on his sword, as he had not used it on Djano, but he saw the Sultan's order as a good chance to annoy the Turks. So, having the Sultan's permission, he drew his sword and laid around him so manfully that soon two hodjas, four cadis and four viziers of high rank lay dead at his feet. Then he knelt at the knee of the Sultan.
The Sultan leaped lightly to his feet.
"May God confound you!" he exclaimed. "I certainly did not order you to kill Turks!"
"No," said Marko. "Give praise to God, for you are still alive."
The Sultan was by now thoroughly frightened, and with a trembling hand pulled one hundred ducats out of his pocket and handed them to Marko.
"Marko, my son," he said, "take these ducats and go drink wine. I cannot look you in the eye."
Marko threw the money on the floor.
"What are these, O Sultan?" he asked. "I cannot count them, I cannot measure them, and all too soon they are gone. Give me a firman that I may drink wine wherever I go, and that they can send you the bill and not bother me. Then I will drink to the health of the honored Sultan."
This seemed cheap enough to the Sultan, so he gave Marko Kralyevich the desired firman.
Marko went from one inn to another, and wherever his whim moved him he drank and drank on the strength of the firman without paying for the wine. So he did for fifteen days and then he stopped, because there was no more wine in Istanbul.