The Ballads of Marko Kraljević/Marko Kraljević and Musa the Outlaw

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The Ballads of Marko Kraljević  (1922)  by Unknown, translated by D. H. Low
Marko Kraljević and Musa the Outlaw


MUSA, the Albanian, was drinking wine
In Stamboul, in the white inn.
And when Musa had quaffed his fill,
Being drunken he spake a great word:
"Nine years already
Have I served the Sultan in Stamboul,
Nor have I gained by my service horse nor weapon,
Nor a new cloak nor yet an old one.
But I swear by all that is holy,
I shall go hence to the level coast, 10
I shall close the routes by sea,
And the roads by land.
I shall build a tower on the sea-coast,
And set it about with iron hooks,
And I shall hang thereon the hodjas and the hadjis[2]."
What the Turk said when he was drunken,
That sober he fulfilled:
To the level coast he betook him.
He closed the sea-routes round about,
And the roads by land, 20
By which the Sultan's treasure passed,
Each year three hundred tovars,
And Musa took it all for himself!
On the sea-coast he builded him a tower,
Round about the tower he set iron hooks,
And hanged thereon the Sultan's hodjas and hadjis.
Now when the Sultan was weary of complaints,
He sent against him the Vizier Ćuprilić,

With three thousand men with him.
But when they were come to the level sea-coast 30
Musa smote them all hip and thigh on the sea-coast.
He took captive the Vizier Ćuprilić.
He bound his hands behind his back,
He bound his feet beneath his horse,
And sent him to the Sultan in Stamboul!
The Sultan let summon proved knights,
And promised gold untold
To him that should slay Musa the Outlaw.
But whoso went forth on that quest,
He returned to Stamboul no more. 40
For that cause was the Sultan passing heavy,
But the hodja Ćuprilic spake to him, saying:
"Lord and master, Sultan of Stamboul,
Had we but with us Kraljević Marko,
He would slay thee this Musa."
The Sultan looked at him in anger,
And tears rolled down from his eyes:
"Enough," quoth he, "hodja Ćuprilić,
Wherefore dost thou speak of Kraljević Marko?
His very bones must or now be rotted. 50
For it is full three years of days,
Since I let cast him into prison,
Nor has the door once been opened."
Answered him the hodja Ćuprilić:
"An it please thee, Lord and master,
What wouldst thou give to the knight
That should show thee Marko alive?"
The Lord Sultan made answer to him:
"I should make him Vizier in Bosnia
For nine years without change, 60
Nor should I require of him a dinar nor yet a para."
The hodja leapt lightly to his feet,
He opened the door of the dungeon,
And led forth Kraljević Marko!
He led him forth before the illustrious Sultan:

His hair reached down to the black earth,
The half thereof served him for bed and half for coverlet;
With the nails of his fingers he could have ploughed,
The mould from the stone had gotten hold on him,
And he was become the colour of a dark stone. 70
The Sultan spake to Kraljević Marko:
"Art thou in good sooth alive, Marko?"
"Truly, Sultan," quoth he, "but in evil case."
Then the Sultan told Marko
The despite that Musa had done upon him,
And he asked Kraljević Marko:
"Canst thou take it upon thee, Marko,
To go down to the level coast-land
And slay Musa the Highwayman?
I will give thee gold as seemeth good unto thee." 80
Marko made answer to him:
"God's truth, my Lord Sultan!
The mould from the stone hath gotten hold on me
That I may not even see with mine eyes,
Much less strive with Musa body to body.
But set me in an inn somewhither,
Let serve me with wine and rakia,
With the flesh of fat rams,
And with loaves of white bread:
Let me remain there certain days,90
And I shall tell thee when I am in case to fight."
The Sultan sent fetch three barbers,
One washed Marko, the second shaved him,
The third cut his finger-nails.
The Sultan set Marko in the new inn,
And let serve him with wine and rakia,
With the flesh of fat rams,
And with loaves of white bread.
And there Marko tarried three months of days,
Until his life was a little returned to him.100
And the Sultan asked Kraljević Marko:
"Canst thou now take upon thee this adventure?

It wearies me of angry wretches,
That complain ever of that accursed Musa."
Marko said to the illustrious Sultan:
"Let bring dry cornel-wood
That has been nine years seasoning,
That I may see what I can bring out of it."
The Sultan let bring dry cornel-wood,
Marko gripped it in his right hand, 110
The wood crunching brake in two pieces and in three,
But no drop of water came forth of it.
"God's truth, Sultan," quoth he, "the time is not yet."
So there passed another month of days,
Until that Marko was somewhat refreshed,
And when him seemed he might now do battle,
He asked for dry cornel-wood,
And they brought Marko wood of the cornel.
And when he grasped it in his right hand,
It brast crunching in two pieces and in three 120
And there sprang forth two drops of water.
Right so, withal, Marko spake to the Sultan, saying:
"Sultan, the time is come."
Straightway he betook him to Novak the smith,
"Forge me a sabre, smith Novak," quoth he,
"Such as thou hast never forged before."
He gave him thirty ducats,
And gat him to the inn.
And there drank wine for three days and for four,
And then betook him once again to Novak:130
"Hast thou forged me the sabre, Novak?" quoth he.
The smith brought out the weapon he had forged.
To him Kraljević Marko:
"Is it a good sword, smith Novak?"
And Novak answered and said:
"Lo, here is the sabre and here the anvil,
See for thyself what manner of sword it is."
Marko swung the sabre in his right hand,
And smote down upon the anvil,

And hewed the anvil in half. 140
Then he asked Novak the smith:
"In good sooth, Novak,
Hast thou ever forged a better blade?"
Novak the smith answered him again:
"In good sooth, Kraljević Marko,
I have forged one better,
A better sabre—for a better knight.
When Musa betook him to the coast-land,
I forged a sabre for him,
And when he smote down with it upon the anvil 150
Not even the block remained whole."
Thereat Kraljević Marko waxed wroth,
And thus to Novak the smith he spake:
"Stretch forth thy hand, Novak!
Stretch forth thy hand that I pay thee for the sabre."
The smith was deceived, the serpent of foolishness bit him,
He was deceived, and he stretched forth his right hand.
Kraljević Marko swung the sabre
And hewed off his arm at the shoulder:
"Lo, here thy recompense, smith Novak! 160
Nevermore shalt thou make blades or better or worse.
And here for thee are an hundred ducats,
For to nourish thee the days of thy life."
He gave him an hundred ducats,
He mounted the war-tried Sharatz,
And hied him straightway to the level coast-land,
Where he went to and fro seeking word of Musa.
And on a morn as he journeyed early
Up the hard pass of Kačanik,
Lo, on a sudden, Musa the Outlaw!170
Cross-legged he sat upon a black horse,
Tossing his mace to the clouds
And catching it in his white hand as it fell.
And when they drew nigh one to the other,
Marko spake to Musa and said:
"Bold Musa, get thee out of my way!

Get thee out of my way or do obeisance before me!"
But Musa the Albanian answered:
"Pass on thy way, Marko, and seek not to have ado with me,
Or light down if thou wilt, that we may drink wine together.
But I will not do obeisance before thee,
Albeit a queen bore thee,
In a čardak amongst soft cushions,
And wrapped thee in pure silk,
And bound thee about with thread of gold,
And nourished thee on honey and on sugar.
But as for me—a wild Arnaut[3] woman bore me,
Amongst the sheep on the cold ground.
In a rough black mantle she wrapped me,
And bound me about with thorns,190
And nourished me on porridge.
Oft did she make me swear,
Never to give way to no man."
When Marko of Prilep heard it,
He cast his battle-spear
Between the ears of his Sharatz,
At the breast of the bold Musa.
Musa caught it on his mace,
And turned the spear aside from him.
Then took he his own battle-spear, 200
And cast it at Kraljević Marko.
Marko caught it on his mace
And brake the spear in three pieces.
Then they pulled out their sabres,
And ran furiously the one against other.
Marko Kraljević swung his sabre,
But the bold Musa thrust out his mace
And brake the sabre in three pieces;
Then quickly he pulled out his sword,
For to smite Marko Kraljević,210

But Marko thrust out his mace
And brake off the blade at the hilt.
Then they seized their ribbed maces,
And therewith began to smite each the other,
That the ribbed maces brake,
And they cast them from them on the green grass.
They lighted down from their good horses,
They seized each other body to body,
And wrestled this way and that on the green grass.
For hero met hero in very sooth,220
When Deli Musa met Kraljević Marko!
Nor might Musa overthrow Marko,
Nor by Marko might he be overthrown.
So they wrestled till noon of a summer's day;
White foam fell from Musa,
From Marko foam white and bloody.
And Musa the Outlaw spake and said:
"Overthrow me, Marko, or thee shall I overthrow."
Kraljević Marko put forth his strength,
But in no wise might he prevail. 230
Then Musa put forth his strength,
He overthrew Marko on the green grass,
And knelt upon the hero's breast.
Then Marko made grievous moan:
"Where art thou this day, sworn sister Vila?
Where art thou this day? Foul fall thee!
Falsely didst thou swear
Thou wouldst be with me to aid me,
If haply I should come into evil straits!"
From the clouds the Vila made known her presence: 240
"How now, brother Kraljević Marko!
Did I not lay charge upon thee,
To do no battle on the holy Sabbath?
It were shame also that two should prevail against one.
Bethink thee! Where are thy hidden fangs[4]?"
Musa looked up to the hills and to the clouds,

If haply he might know whence came the voice of the Vila.
Right so Marko drew forth a knife craftily,
And so he carved Musa the Outlaw
From the navel even to the white throat[5].250
But the dead Musa lay heavy on Marko
That scarce might he win out from under him.
And when Marko had rolled Musa over,
He perceived in Musa three mighty hearts,
And three sets of ribs, one over other.
The first heart was quite spent,
The second throbbed strongly,
On the third slept an evil snake;
And when the snake awoke,
Dead Musa writhed on the greensward, 260
And the snake spake thus unto Marko:
"Give thanks to God, Kraljević Marko,
That I was not awaked from sleep
Whilst Musa was yet alive,
Else had three hundred woes come upon thee."
When Kraljević Marko saw this,
Tears ran down his face.
"God of Mercy," quoth he, "woe is me!
For I have slain a better than myself."
Then he strake off Musa's head, 270
And cast it into the corn-sack of Sharatz,
And bore it to white Stamboul.
When he cast down the head before the illustrious Sultan,
Sore adread the Sultan sprang to his feet,
And Kraljević Marko said to him:
"Be not adread, my Lord Sultan!
How hadst thou received him living,
When his dead head maketh thee so to leap?"
Three charges of gold the Sultan gave him;
Marko went forth to white Prilep, 280
Musa tarried on Kačanik.

Note. The story of three-hearted Musa was the legend referred to by the signatories of an appeal by Jugo-Slavs against Italian pretensions. "We offer friendship; they ask for obedience, proclaiming us barbarians.… Conquerors behind the times, put not your hope in the exhaustion of the Jugo-Slav race! If our nation spent its strength first in the Balkan wars and then in this world war, its remaining power of resistance has today increased by the hope of the union of all our lands, and it will (like the hero in our legends who had three hearts) wake to life with its third strength, to defend itself to the last breath rather than bend its head under a new yoke." This document was signed by Ivan Meštrovic and other distinguished artists and men of letters.

  1. кесеција = "latro turcicus equo vectus" (Vuk, Dict.) The word comes from the Turkish кеса = a purse. Here the meaning of "highwayman" or "outlaw" is indicated.
  2. Hodja = "sacerdos turcicus" (Vuk).
    Hadji = one who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca (or to Jerusalem in the case of a Christian) (Vuk).
  3. Arnaut = Albanian.
  4. I.e., "Where is thy concealed weapon?"
  5. "Till he unseam'd him from the nave to the chaps," Macbeth, Act 1, Sc. 2.