1. Marko Hunts with the Vizier Murat
IT WOULD seem as though the Turks ought sooner or later to have learned the ways of Marko—again and again they had turned to him in danger and trouble, and always he had saved them from their difficulties. Nevertheless, such was the spirit of indifference prevailing in the Ottoman Empire that the Sultan forgot Marko regularly, and the lesser officials were only too glad to show their power by sneering at one of the despised and oppressed Christians. It was at times a costly sport, for Marko might turn on them; but they took the chance almost every time he appeared among them.
One day the Vizier Murat decided to go hawking, and he gathered together a sturdy band of twelve young warriors. Just at that moment Marko happened to pass near Edirne and the Vizier asked him to join the gay party. Marko was a little suspicious, for he had been on such hunting trips before. He happened to have his own falcon with him, and he wanted to see whether it was as good as those of the Turks, so he consented to accompany the party.
The band of fourteen set out for the hunt. They rode around the country on their beautiful horses, up hill and down dale, but they saw no game. There was no occasion to unhood their birds and set them into the air, and it seemed as if they had gone hunting in vain. The Vizier finally lost his patience, of which he had little even in his best moments. He resented having the Christian Marko with him on such a disappointing occasion.
They tried in upland and in lowland, in the forest-covered region of central Serbia, and in the wind-swept and sun-baked highlands of the south, but always with the same result. At last they came to a little pond nestling among the pine-trees. It was so still and quiet, and there was so little wind in the valley, that the pine-trees on the edge could be clearly seen reflected in the water. It was a welcome hiding-place for game, where human beings intruded but rarely, and where peace and quiet, shelter and coolness awaited the shy birds.
As the company cantered through the woods down to the shore of the lake, the echo of their horses' hoofs and the sound of their laughter and talk warned the birds and animals that their forest solitude was being invaded. The small birds hurried to cover.
One duck with golden wings rose rapidly into the air, and with a sharp, whistling sound hurled itself like a cannon-ball away from the approaching men arid horses. Quick was its flight, but the Vizier was still quicker. He hurriedly drew the hood from his favorite bird and launched it in the air. The falcon was swift and strong, but it was a lazy bird and did not even look for the game. It rose in the air, circled a few times and perched on the limb of a tree.
The Vizier was angry. His bird had disgraced him before the entire company, and his anger had not cooled when Marko rode up to him.
"O Vizier Murat," Marko said formally, "am I permitted now to loosen my falcon to pursue the duck with golden wings?"
The Vizier answered in a disgusted tone, "Yes, Marko, you may. Why not?"
He knew very well that the duck was already far off, and that the chances were overwhelming that Marko's bird would not be able even to catch sight of the game.
Marko in his turn drew the hood from his falcon and hurled the bird high in the air. The falcon rose higher and higher, until the white clouds of heaven seemed to swallow it. The bird caught sight of the fleeing duck and turned in pursuit. The duck was swift, but Marko's falcon was still swifter. It hurled itself after the prey and the eye could scarcely follow it in its flight. Almost before the Vizier could recover from his astonishment, the falcon folded its wings and fell like a stroke of lightning upon the duck with the golden wings. With one blow its talons went into the duck, and scarcely a minute had passed when the well-trained bird was returning to its master with the booty.
As it came near the lake, the Vizier's falcon suddenly took wing, and dashing over to Marko's falcon, swooped down on it. When Marko's bird was thus suddenly attacked, it dropped the duck and turned against its enemy. The fight was short but severe. Marko's falcon was as stubborn as its master, and was not inclined to yield its prey to the bullying bird of the Vizier. Round and round the two birds went, each seeking to rise above the other. Finally Marko's bird was in position. It struck the falcon of the Vizier and tore out a large bunch of gray feathers, which slowly floated down on the surface of the lake.
The Vizier's falcon gave up the fight and ran for protection to its master and perched on his glove. Marko's falcon was no respecter of persons, and it dashed after its defeated foe. The Vizier caught the falcon as it circled around and threw it violently against a tree, breaking its right wing. Then with an insolent sneer, the Vizier and his friends moved on.
Marko stayed behind. He was thoroughly enraged by the treatment of his bird. He heard his falcon crying out in pain as it fluttered around helpless in the woods, unable to rise again. Then he dismounted from Sharats and walked towards it. The bird recognized Marko and allowed him to pick it up and examine the broken wing. Marko bound it up as well as he could.
"It's hard for both of us, my falcon," he said as he did so, "to go hunting with the Turks without a group of Serbs to back us. Neither of us gets much kind treatment."
The longer he worked over the bird's wing, the angrier he became, and finally his wrath mastered his prudence. He leaped into the saddle and started after the Vizier and his friends. They had already crossed the next ridge of mountains and were riding down into the valley, entirely forgetful of Marko. Why should they concern themselves about a Serb or his wounded falcon?
Suddenly they heard the sound of a horse's hoofs and they could tell that the rider was coming in haste. They all looked around, and there were Marko and Sharats coming down the mountainside. Each leap that Sharats made was mightier than the one before it, and the dust rose high behind them so that it was hard to see either horse or rider as they came. The Vizier felt uneasy and he turned to his men. l
"See, my brave friends," he said, "Marko and Sharats are galloping there in that cloud of dust, and Sharats is coming at full speed. That seems to bode no good."
The rider came nearer arid the Vizier saw to his dismay that Marko had drawn his sword, so that it was no longer a question of sport but of self-defence. His twelve warriors scattered in every direction. Not one remained to fight for his master. The Vizier tried to draw his sword, but it was too late. A tremendous blow from Sharats' hoofs knocked him from his horse, and he had barely fallen when Marko with one sweep of his giant sword completed the work. Then he gave chase to the friends and not one of them escaped. Before they could make any resistance, they were no longer twelve, for Marko's skill had cut them in half, and twenty-four pieces lay on the ground. Thus the falcon's wing was avenged.
What should Marko do next? Should he return to the Sultan at Istanbul or should he go back to white Prilip? He was tempted to return home, but he realized that the news of his exploit could not be hidden. The Vizier would be missed and there would be no doubt whose hand had taken such a terrible and complete vengeance. So Marko determined to go and tell the Sultan himself.
He set out, his anger still as hot as before. Sharats galloped into Istanbul, and up to the palace. Marko jumped off, pushed roughly past the guards, and strode into the presence of the Sultan.
His eyes were dark with anger arid they flashed fire like those of a hungry wolf in the mountains. The lightnings of his rage shot fierce lights upon the Sultan, and the ruler quailed at the sight of Marko.
In a few vehement words the hero poured out his complaint against the Vizier and told what he had done. The Sultan knew that any attempt to reprimand Marko would only have evil consequences, and he knew his life was in as great danger as that of his Vizier. So when Marko finished, the Sultan said mildly:
"My son Marko, you have acted rightly. If you had not done what you did, I would not call you my son. It is easy to make Viziers, but there is only one Marko!"
Marko was calmed and went out of the Sultan's presence in peace. For all of that ruler's power and greatness, the Sultan felt relieved when he saw Marko go out from him and set on his way back to white Prilip.
2. Marko Is Aided by an Eagle
Not only his falcon loved Marko, but other birds counted him as their friend and master. They all knew him, and whenever it was possible helped him.
A hero such as Marko could not hope to pass unwounded through all his battles. Traveling alone over the desolate hills, running into danger almost every hour, he often knew sad times when it seemed to him that he would die if he did not get some help and healing for his wounds, and water to drink. Sharats never left him during the worst times, but there were some things that even he could scarcely do for his beloved master.
One day Marko was in a fierce battle, and he was severely wounded. He rode some distance from the scene of battle and then he could go no farther. He slipped off Sharats and lay down in the open, on a desolate and sun-baked height. There was no shade, no water, and he could only hope for the night to come and relieve him from the terrible heat. Darkness came at last arid Marko wrapped himself in his green cloak to protect himself from the piercing chill. He stuck his spear into the ground and tied Sharats to it. Then he lay down and rested all through the night.
The night passed, and with the coming of day the blazing sun added to the pain that Marko suffered. All at once he noticed a faint shadow over him. It came nearer and nearer, and soon he saw that it was an eagle.
"Waiting for the end," thought Marko, for he knew how the birds of prey came and waited until the victims of the battle died. To his surprise the eagle did nothing of the kind. He came directly over Marko, opened his great beak and dropped some cool water into Marko's parched lips. Then he flew away again and came back with more; and so he did until he had quenched Marko's thirst and the hero began to feel better.
Then the bird perched upon the top of Marko's spear and spread his huge wings, so that Marko was lying in the shade. Under such kindly treatment the hero soon recovered. He gradually began to feel his old strength and vigor return, and he took heart once more.
One of the vilas of the mountain happened to pass that way, and she saw the eagle resting on the spear, shading Marko with its wings. The sight made her curious, so she said to the bird;
"This is something new for you, that you do a kind deed. Why are you helping that great warrior, Marko Kralyevich?"
The eagle could speak to a supernatural being, and it answered:
"Be silent, vila, or may the Lord take your voice from you! Why should I not be kind to Marko Kralyevich? I have enough memories of the times when he has helped me. Once, after a battle, my wings became so thickly covered with blood that the sun dried it and I was helpless and could not fly. My friends had all gone, and I could not move. Then came Marko Kralyevich. He saw me hopping around the field, and knew the soldiers and horses would trample on me and kill me. So he took me away from the field of battle, and mounting his good Sharats took me in his arms and carried me to a green mountain where he put me on the limb of a tree. Very soon there came a gentle rain from heaven and wet my wings, so that the blood came off them, and once more I was able to fly and join my friends.
"Marko helped me a second time," the eagle went on, "when the castle of Kosovo was burned by the Turks and my young eaglets were in the building. Marko knew where they were. He did not hesitate a moment but climbed up the castle wall and found them. He wrapped them in a silken cloth and took them to his white castle. There he fed them for a month and a week, and they grew big and strong and learned to fly in safety. Then he took them out to the forest and put them on a tree, where I found my little eaglets again. That is what Marko Kralyevich did for me, and now when I see him sick and helpless, I ought to help him."
The vila had nothing more to say, but the eagle stayed with Marko and fed him and brought him water. He shaded him from the sun by day, and he warmed him at night with his feathers, until the hero recovered.
When Marko was well again he thanked the eagle for all his services. He mounted Sharats and rode off. The eagle watched him, and rising higher and higher into the air he marked with satisfaction the course of Marko, The bird felt glad that he had been able to repay Marko for all his kindness.