1. Marko and Musa the Robber
AT THE TIME that Marko rescued the Sultan's daughter, the Sultan had promised him that he would not allow the Vizier to execute Marko without permission. But as the years passed the Sultan forgot the debt of gratitude he owed the hero. Finally he became angry at one of Marko's outbursts against the Turks, and he ordered him thrown into a dungeon. There Marko remained forgotten for three years, but his heart never wavered. He knew that some time the Sultan would again need his help, so he waited hopefully and patiently. In the meantime, his hair and beard grew very long. His hair became so long that it dragged upon the ground, and he used half of it at night as a mattress and half as a blanket. His nails became so long and stiff that they could be used as ploughshares, and the moss of the stones of the prison grew on him.
It seemed that Marko was indeed forgotten.
Among the servants whom the Sultan had gathered in Istanbul was one Musa, an Albanian, as wild and proud as his native mountains. For nine years Musa was compelled to serve at the Sultan's court. Around him he saw such luxury as he had never dreamed of—gold, silver, and precious stones—but no one gave him any of these riches. He felt bitter and resentful, for he was a free spirit forced to dwell in an atmosphere of formality and pomp.
One day while Musa was drinking at an inn, he drank too much and forgot his caution. He began shouting so that all could hear him.
"I have been serving the Sultan for nine years at Istanbul," he cried, "and he has given me neither horse nor weapons, no new cloak nor an old one. I have served him well, but that time is past! Now I shall go to the level seashore and find a spot where the hills come down nearly to the sea, where the Sultan's commerce has to go. There will I build my castle, and I will control the sea and close off the roads by land. In my castle I shall place huge hooks, and on those hooks I will hang the Moslem preachers and the pilgrims who have been to Mecca, the hadjis and the hodjas. So I will have my revenge!"
This seemed only a drunken boast, but Musa disappeared and no one knew where he had gone. It was not long before reports came to the Sultan that a new and terrible foe had built a castle on a narrow stretch of land between the mountains and the sea. It was a fertile plain, not very wide, but wide enough tor a determined foe to hold it against attack. Off the coast the channel was shallow and the foe could bar the ships. The stranger evidently had a special grudge against the hodjas and the hadjis, for woe to the Moslem who fell into his hands!
All these rumors drifted to the ears of the Sultan, who of course had heard of Musa's drunken boast some time before. He realized Musa had made good his threat, and that the Albanian was to be feared. So he ordered the Vizier Chuprilich to take three thousand men and bring back the head of Musa the Outlaw. The Vizier started with every hope of success. When he came to the castle of Musa, he found that the three thousand men were unable to attack together on the narrow pathway. Musa overthrew them in small detachments, and caught the Vizier and sent him back to Istanbul with his hands bound behind him.
This challenge was too much for the Sultan. He offered vast sums of money and much treasure to the man who would overcome Musa. Many young and ambitious knights tried it, but none returned to tell the tale, and Musa became more and more insolent.
Finally one of the hodjas, a kinsman of the Vizier who had fared so ill, addressed the Sultan.
"O master, Sultan of Istanbul," he said. "If you were to send Marko Kralyevich, he would overcome Musa the Outlaw."
The Sultan had long since repented of his sternness to Marko, but he did not want to admit this publicly. Also he believed that Marko was dead, but this gave him an opportunity to inquire about him.
"Why do you speak of Marko Kralyevich?" asked the Sultan, shedding crocodile tears as he spoke. "His bones are already rotted, for it is full three years of days since I cast him into prison, and the gate has never since been opened."
The hodja answered: "Permit me, master. What would you give to the young hero who would bring you Marko alive?"
"I will make him Vizier of Bosnia," the Sultan replied, "without payment of taxes or contributions, for nine years, and he will not need to give me a dinar or a para."
In other words, the fortunate man would receive for nine years all the revenues of one of the richest provinces of the time.
This was good news for the hodja, and very soon he dashed to the prison, unlocked it and brought out the pitiable, unkempt figure of Marko Kralyevich.
The Sultan was glad to see him, and after greeting him kindly, went at once to the matter nearest his heart.
"Can you, Marko," he said, "undertake the task of going to the level seacoast and conquering Musa the Outlaw?"
"No, master," answered Marko. "Can you not see how the moss is grown upon me? My eyes are unused to the light after the darkness of the prison, and how can I fight Musa the Outlaw? But send me somewhere to some inn, and give me wine and rakija, and the tender meat of mutton, and a supply of white bread, and let me wait for a certain number of days, and I will tell you when I am ready."
The Sultan sent for the barbers. One of them washed Marko, the second shaved him and cut his hair, and the third cut his fingernails. Then they led the hero to an inn and placed before him food and drink in large quantities. And so Marko feasted at will for three months, and life began to return to him.
Then the Sultan sent for him.
"Can you go now, Marko?" he said. "I am saddened by the pleas for aid made me by the victims of that accursed Musa the Outlaw."
"Bring me some dry cornel-wood," answered Marko, "that has been seasoned for nine years, and I will see how strong I am."
When the wood was brought Marko took it in his right hand and gripped it so hard that it broke into small pieces. But when Marko looked at the pieces he saw that they were perfectly dry. So he said, "O Sultan, I am not yet ready."
Marko waited another month, eating and drinking as he would, and then he again asked for cornel-wood. This time he squeezed it and as he did so, drops of water came out of the well-dried wood, for Marko had reached into the very substance of the wood and forced out the moisture. Then he knew that he was ready for battle, so he told the Sultan he would go.
Marko then went to the forge of Novak the smith. In the great bazaar of Istanbul Novak had his forge in a sort of dark booth. The flames leaped up from the forge fire and lighted up the hut, revealing the splendid swords and weapons made by Novak which hung on the walls. At first Marko's eyes could make out nothing. The smith, a great burly man, took Marko's order and then started to show him the blades that he had already forged. Marko looked them over, but none of them suited him.
"Here, Novak," said Marko, "are thirty ducats. Take them and make the best sword that you have ever made."
Then Marko returned to his inn and for three days he ate and drank. After that, he went back to the smith.
"Is the sword ready, Novak?" he asked.
For answer Novak showed him a great sword, richly embossed, and made of the finest steel.
"Is it good, Novak?"
"There is the sword, and there the anvil," the smith replied. "Try it and see."
Marko raised the sword, whirled it around his head and brought it down on the anvil. There was a resounding clang as iron met iron, and the sparks flew out in a torrent of flame. The anvil did not resist, and the invincible sword cut through the iron as if it had been but wood or bone.
Marko was satisfied, but he had still one more question.
"Novak," he said, "have you ever forged so good a sword as this?"
"Yes, Marko Kralyevich," was the reply, "I made one sword better; a better sword for a better hero. When Musa was going off to the seacoast, I made him a sword, and that cut through not merely the anvil but the block on which the anvil stands."
Marko became angry and he said: "Stretch out your arm so that I can pay you."
Novak stretched out his right arm and with one blow Marko cut it off.
"You'll never make another better or a worse sword again, Novak," he said. "And there are one hundred ducats so that you can live in the future."
Marko threw down the money, took the sword, mounted Sharats and started in search of Musa. For many days he sought him along the seashore, until one Sunday morning he was riding up the pass of Kachanik, near Klisur, the home country of Musa.
It was a clear and sunny day. The road was merely a dusty track, winding around amid steep and rugged hills covered with rocks. The rocks were both large and small, and piled together so thickly and in such confusion that there was scarcely soil for the thorn bushes from which the goats eked out a scanty living. Now and then there was a field some ten feet square, perched high on a ledge, or tucked down in some hollow, where a toiling peasant had piled up the stones and men had moved in the earth by hand to make a little terrace. It was just the country for outlaws and robbers.
Marko was riding along this lonesome trail when he looked up and there was Musa the Outlaw.
A huge man he was, sitting there on a black horse, carelessly lounging in his saddle and playing with his great mace. Now and then he hurled it up to the clouds and caught it in his white hand as it fell back.
Marko noticed the giant and called to him.
''Brave Musa!" he cried. "Get out of my path. Either get out of my way or bow down to me!"
Musa the Outlaw was offended by this remark, and he replied proudly:
"Marko, pass by peaceably and do not get into a fight with me, or else sit down and let us drink wine together. I will not do obeisance to you, even if you are the son of a king, and if your royal mother bore you in a palace and laid you on a soft cushion, and wrapped you in pure silk and cloth of gold, and nourished you with honey and sugar. My mother was a wild Albanian and she bore me on the cold earth, amid the sheep and the stones, and she wrapped me in rough cloth and laid me among the thorns, and fed me with porridge. But she was proud and free, and she made me swear again and again that I would never get out of the way for any man."
This was a sign of battle, and Marko made ready. He cast his heroic spear between the ears of Sharats at the breast of Musa. Musa waited with his mace and then, with a quick blow of his hand, turned the spear aside and let it fall useless on the ground. It was now his turn to assault Marko. Marko waited for the spear and as it was hurled at him with gigantic force, he stretched out his mace and broke it into three pieces.
Then the warriors drew their swords and rushed upon each other. Marko raised his sword but, as the blow was falling, Musa caught it on his mace and he snapped the blade in three pieces. Thus disarmed, Marko waited for Musa, and as the Albanian swung Marko snapped off Musa's blade at the hilt with his mace.
The second round of combat was over, and the two heroes assailed one another with their heavy maces until these, too, were shattered into bits and they were both left unarmed.
But neither was satisfied. So they dismounted from their horses and struggled man to man—they wrestled and they fought. They wrestled and they fought all through the morning. They wrestled and they fought under the fiery sun of noon. White beads of sweat stood out on the body of Musa, and on Marko blood and sweat were strangely mixed. Still neither was gaining.
But Marko's imprisonment was still too recent, and he was weakening. Musa, seeing victory in sight, laughed and said: "Conquer, Marko, or I will!"
But Marko could do no more, and finally Musa cast him down upon the green grass and sat on his heroic breast.
In despair, Marko called upon his sister, the vila of the mountain.
"Sister," he cried, "where are you to-day? I have not seen you. Have you sworn falsely, that you do not help me now when I am in great need?"
The sweet, melodious voice of the vila came from the clouds.
"O brother, Marko Kralyevich," she called, "did I not tell you that you should never fight on Sunday? It is a shame for two to attack one. Where are your hidden weapons?"
Musa looked up at the cloudless sky to see where the voice was and to learn who was calling to Marko. That unguarded moment was his undoing. Marko grasped a knife from his belt and with one blow ripped Musa the Outlaw from the navel to his white throat And Musa lay dead with Marko under him.
It was a hard task for Marko to roll the dead body off his chest and to free himself from the giant bulk of the Albanian. He finally got up and looked at the outlaw's body lying on the ground, and lo! Musa had three hearts and three sets of ribs. One heart was dead; the second was dying;
and a serpent slept upon the third. When the serpent awoke, the body of Musa jumped around on the road and the serpent said: "Thank God, Marko Kralyevich, that I did not awake in time, for if I had, three hundred woes would have come upon me."
When Marko saw the hearts of Musa and listened to the words of the serpent, he began to weep and his heart was sad.
"O God, have mercy on me," he said, "for I have slain a better hero than I."
Then he cut off the head of Musa and put it in one of the saddle bags on Sharats and returned to Istanbul. When he took the head out of the bag to show it to the Sultan, the latter jumped to his feet in terror.
"Don't be afraid, O Sultan!" said Marko, laughing. "What would you have done if you had seen him alive, if his dead head frightens you so?"
The Sultan changed the subject quickly, and gave Marko three loads of money. He took them back with him to white Prilip, and the body of Musa without his head lay long on the field of battle.
2. Marko and Chemo the Mountaineer
Now it happened that by slaying Musa the Albanian, Marko had stirred up a blood feud with all the clan of Musa. He could safely expect, therefore, that sooner or later some member of the family would endeavor to take vengeance upon him, for these feuds were carried on for generations. And the next act in the feud came in this wise.
The autumn after the defeat of Musa, Marko was celebrating his Slava, the feast of the patron saint of his family. He had called together on St. George's Day all his friends and acquaintances for the celebration. Like a pious prince, he had gathered here two hundred priests and three hundred monks, twelve Serb bishops, and four old patriarchs, and there was no numbering the other dignitaries. Everything was on the table that could be desired, of food and of wine and of rakija. But one old monk found something lacking.
"Marko Kralyevich," said this carping monk, "this is a glorious feast, but it wants one thing. If you had fish from Lake Ohrid, it would be perfect."
The remark hurt Marko. It was a reflection upon his pride which he would not tolerate. He decided to go and get some fish from Lake Ohrid.
He hurriedly called his servant Vaistina, gave him the wine-beaker and the glasses and the keys to the storehouse, and said:
"My faithful Vaistina, take charge of this feast, and see that all have enough to eat and to drink, and that all the usual customs are carried out, until I return."
Then Marko left the room quietly, without saying farewell to any of the guests. His mother, the aged Yevrosima, had been listening to the conversation and she suspected the reason for Marko's disappearance. So she slipped out quietly, and went out to the stables, where she found her son making Sharats ready for a journey. She asked him where lie was going, and Marko told her the whole story.
"Go and get the fish, my son," said Yevrosima, "but go in peace. Carry no weapons with you, because you can keep out of fighting and of shedding blood only if you are unarmed, and you must not shed blood on the day of your Slava."
This request of his mother put Marko in a difficult situation. He knew well how many enemies he had and he dreaded to travel unarmed. At the same time he hated to disobey his mother and to shed blood during his Slava. However, after thinking it over, he decided to obey her, and leaving all his weapons at home, he set out for Ohrid.
Marko was frankly uneasy on this trip and he went by the shortest route. His uneasiness soon found justification. As he was crossing a bridge not far, from the city of Ohrid, he looked up and there on the bridge was a giant horseman. This man was mounted on a chestnut steed and he was tossing his heavy mace up to the clouds and catching it as it fell. The gesture reminded Marko of Musa, and it disturbed him. But he asked God to help him, and rode up to the stranger and greeted him courteously.
The reply was disconcerting.
"Stranger knight," said the man, "have you just come from Prilip, from the palace of Marko Kralyevich? Is Marko in his white palace?"
"Stranger knight," Marko answered in turn, "I came this morning from Prilip. Marko Kralyevich is at home and he is celebrating his Slava, the day of his patron saint; and he has many guests with him."
"O stranger knight," the man said to Marko again, "I am Chemo the Mountaineer. If God grants it and my heroic fortune holds, I shall drown Marko's table with blood and I shall hang him on his own gates of white Prilip, for he has killed my brother, Musa the Outlaw."
The two men then each went his own way, but Marko was troubled. What was he to do? He was absolutely unarmed and he could make no effective resistance. The stranger could kill him easily and Marko did not want to die—at least, not in this fashion. On the other hand, no one in white Prilip was expecting an attack. They could not defend themselves and it would be a shame and a disgrace to Marko if the stranger broke into the castle during the feast, and while seeking the host slew some or all of the guests.
Finally Marko decided to risk his own life, and so from a long distance he turned Sharats and cried at the top of his voice:
"Where are you going, Chemo the Mountaineer? Mere! I am Marko Kralyevich!"
With these words he touched spurs to Sharats and tried to escape by flight. The two men were on a broad plain. There was no cover of any kind, and Marko could hope to outdistance his foe only in a straight run. Sharats galloped as he had never galloped before, and he was really gaining on the mountaineer, when the latter drew his mace and hurled it at the fleeing Marko.
The blow was true, and Marko fell from his horse. Chemo galloped up, took chains and fetters from his saddle-bags and proceeded to bind Marko. He fastened two heavy leg-irons on him; he handcuffed him with links of steel, and put a heavy yoke around his neck. Then with a strong chain he bound him to the brown horse and mounted Sharats himself.
Marko was helpless. It had been long since he had met a master, and here, unarmed, he had not even a chance.
Chemo took his prisoner to the city of Ohrid and erected a scaffold on the main square of the city in order to hang Marko. The Christian lords of the town were very sorry to see their champion in such a position and they decided that he must not be hanged in Ohrid. So they began to plead with Chemo.
"Brother in God, Chemo the Mountaineer!" they said. "Do not hang Marko among us. If you do, neither grapes nor wheat will grow here!"
Still more effective with Chemo were three loads of money which they brought out and presented to the mountaineer.
So Chemo left Ohrid and took Marko to the city of Vuchilran, where he again erected a scaffold, The Christian lords of that city sought to remove the disgrace of having Marko hanged among them. They put forward the plea that wheat and grapes would not bear fruit if Chemo did this. They added to their pleas as much money as three pack-animals could carry, so Chemo moved on with Marko.
Chemo was finding it profitable to carry Marko around the country. He was delighted to have conquered Marko, and it pleased him to see the Christians in confusion. He took Marko next to the city of Zvechan, and again the Christians made the same objections and Chemo received three loads of money from them.
Chemo had paid no attention to the feelings of Marko as he carried him around the country, loaded with fetters, under the hot sun. But presently Chemo himself was thirsty and wanted something to drink. By this time. the two men were on the mountain near Yanina. It was a desolate and barren region with not even a shepherd in sight. There was nothing but a vast expanse of grayish brown hills and gray rocks, while far away was the deep blue sea.
When he caught sight of the water Chemo realized he was thirsty, and turning to his prisoner he asked: "Marko, do you know where there is a spring or an inn near here? I am very thirsty and would like some wine."
"Heroes do not talk that way," Marko answered. "They kill a horse or a falcon, and drink the blood from its throat."
This gave Chemo an idea.
"I will not take a horse or a falcon," he replied, "but I'll kill you, Marko, and drink the blood from your throat."
This was an unpleasant surprise to Marko, and he thought quickly. Chemo reached for his sword and was on the point of drawing it to make good his threat, when Marko said:
"Chemo, I know where there is a white inn and the innkeeper is an old hag, Yanya. I know she will be glad to see me bound and it will please her so much that she will give you wine to drink without asking you to pay for it, for I have never paid her a dinar and she hates me."
This was indeed good news to the thirsty Chemo, and Marko guided him to the inn by the most direct route. Yanya came out to meet them, and great was her surprise to see Marko loaded with irons and fastened to a horse, while his conqueror rode on Sharats.
Marko winked at the woman and she at once understood the situation and knew what she was to do. She invited them in.
"Hail, hero of heroes!" said Yanya. "May the blessing of God be upon you! You have bound Marko and brought him for me to see, and I swear, O Chemo the Mountaineer, that I will give you wine to drink for three days without asking for a piece of money."
Yanya took Chemo's horse and led it into the stables, and then she took Chemo inside. Marko was dumped unceremoniously into a corner of the room and forgotten. He made no move hut Chemo kept teasing him, promising him wine and rakija and offering it to him, but never allowing him to have it. This was safe sport so long as Marko lay bound.
Very soon Chemo began to feel the effects of the wine, and then Yanya brought him more and more wine and strong drink. In the wine she had placed herbs and drugs of various kinds. Chemo drank deeply and finally he fell asleep.
No sooner had this happened than Yanya ran up to Marko, where he lay in the corner, and opened all the locks on his fetters and set Marko free. It was but a minute more before the chains and the leg-irons and the fetters were on the sleeping Chemo. Then it was Marko's turn.
He gave Chemo a kick and cried out: "Wake up, Chemo! Come, let us drink wine!" And Chemo awoke to find himself in irons.
Chemo raged and swore and threatened. He strove to lift himself up to free one leg, one arm, but all in vain. Chemo was bound as securely as Marko had been.
Marko watched his struggles as he drank red wine and rakija. It was his turn to taunt Chemo, and he did so. Wine and rakija never disturbed Marko, and when he had drunk his fill he threw Chemo on Sharats and bound him there, and then mounted Chemo's brown horse.
Marko went first to the city of Vuchitran, and the Christian lords came out to meet him. They were jubilant over his escape and the capture of Chemo. They wanted to know what had happened, but more than that they wanted to see Chemo hanged.
"Brother in God, Marko Kralyevich," they said, "hang Chemo the Mountaineer here, and we will give you three loads of money."
Marko refused their money but he gave back the three loads that they had given to Chemo, and then he went on to Zvechan.
There the same thing happened. The Serb lords of Zvechan came out and offered Marko three loads of money to hang Chemo among them. Marko again refused, and gave back to them the three loads of money they had given Chemo.
Marko went on to Ohrid, and the Christian lords there came out and offered him three loads of money to hang Chemo the Mountaineer among them. Marko refused the money and gave them back the three loads that they had given to Chemo.
But now that he was back in Ohrid, he joined with the lords of Ohrid in building a high scaffold, and on this they hanged Chemo the Mountaineer.
Then Marko bought the fish of Ohrid, and glad of heart rode back to white Prilip. He found his guests still assembled and rejoicing. He had the fish served, and all realized that Marko had celebrated his Slava, the feast of his patron saint, perfectly, and that no one could make the slightest criticism of him or his hospitality.