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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

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Legends of Mujo and Halili

The following texts are prose renditions of the Cycle of Mujo and Halili, which was originally recorded in the form of epic verse as part of the Songs of the Frontier Warriors (Këngë Kreshnikësh). The prose versions here are taken from Mitrush Kuteli (1907-1967).

Mujo's Strength

Many years ago there lived a mountain man in Kladush in the Krahina near Jutbina. He had two sons called Mujo and Halil, and a daughter called Kunja. This mountain man was very strong and courageous, as were his two sons. Nevertheless, the father was very poor and had great difficulty making ends meet. Mujo had to go to work as soon as he was physically able and entered the service of a rich man to gain his living. He was made a cowherd. He was entrusted with a herd and sent up to the mountain pastures with it.

From then on, Mujo would get up as soon as the stars faded and the first rays of dawn began to appear, stick a crust of bread and a few grains of salt in his pocket, take his staff and set out with the cows to climb up into the mountains. There he let the animals graze all day, ate his bread and salt, drank water from a spring and rested in the noonday heat. Mujo got to know every path, leading his herd in one direction and then in the other to find the best pastures. In the evening he would take the cows home again. His master was surprised because the cows were producing so much milk that he could not find enough containers in which to store it. But still, Mujo received only bread and salt as wages.

Things went well until, one day, Mujo lost the cows up in the mountain pastures. He followed their tracks, leaving no stone unturned, and searched until it got dark, but could simply not find his cows. That night he did not return home. How could he go back without the cows? The master would be furious and the other cowherds would make fun of him. Exhausted from his searching and running around, he sat down despondently beside a boulder as the sun set behind the mountains. There, a pitch black, moonless and starless night overtook him. Mujo did not know what else to do so he decided to get a bit of sleep and wait until dawn to start searching for the cows again.

Near the boulder where Mujo was resting, he noticed two cradles with crying infants. He went over to have a look and took pity on the infants because they were still very small, rocking them in their cradles until they fell asleep. At midnight, two lights appeared on top of the boulder, bedazzling him with their glare. But in fact they were not lights, but two Zanas bathed in light. The Zanas watched Mujo gently rocking the infants' cradles and speaking softly and gently to them. They were surprised to see him and asked, "Who are you? What are you doing here? Have you lost something here and come to look for it?" "I am a cowherd and work for bread and salt," Mujo replied, "I wander all day long over the mountain pastures. But today something terrible happened to me. I lost my master's cows and came in search of them. Then night fell and I wanted to get some rest, but I couldn't sleep because of the crying of these infants. I took pity on them and rocked their cradles. They have just fallen asleep... But who are you? I cannot see your faces. Where did the light come from?"

The two Zanas recognized Mujo because they had often seen him in the meadows with his cows. "We are Zanas, Mujo," they replied. "We go out every night on our wanderings to help the good and the righteous. We left our children here. You are a good man, Mujo, and have rocked them to sleep. May you be rewarded! Tell us what you want for having helped us, Mujo. Do you want strength? Would you like to be a mighty warrior? Do you want property or wealth? Do you wish for knowledge or to be able to speak other languages? Tell us what you want and we will give it to you." Mujo replied to the Zanas, "Fair Zanas, the other cowherds always taunt me and make fun of me. Can you to make me so strong so that I can fight and beat them?" "Is that the only thing you want, Mujo?" "That's all."

One Zana then said to the other, "Shall we give Mujo some of our milk, sister, so that he will grow strong?" "Yes, let us give him some milk, sister." The Zanas then gave Mujo their breasts and he drank three drops of milk. Immediately he felt strong enough to pull a tree out of the ground by its roots. The Zanas said to him, "Let's see how strong you are, Mujo. Pick up this rock and raise it into the air." The Zanas pointed to the boulder which weighed as much as three teams of oxen.

Mujo knelt, put his arms around the boulder, moved it and eventually managed to lift it as high as his ankles. But he could not get it any higher and dropped it. "We'll have to give him some more milk," they said. Mujo had another drink, seized the boulder and raised it as high as his knees. Since he still could not lift it any higher, the Zanas gave him their breasts a third time. His strength grew. Once again he seized the boulder and this time raised it to his waist. As he could not lift it any higher the Zanas gave him even more milk. Mujo thus had another drink and was now stronger than a Drangue. He lifted the boulder, rested it on his shoulders and then raised it over his head, standing as firm as a pillar. "Where should I throw the boulder?" he asked the Zanas. "Into the Green Valleys or down onto the Plain of Jutbina?" The Zanas grinned and replied, "We must not give him any more milk or he'll destroy the whole world." Then the Zanas asked Mujo all about his father and mother, about his brother and sister and about Jutbina and the Krahina.

In the meantime, a bright moon had risen and was shining down on them. The shadow of the huge boulder grew and darkened the nearby gorges. A cool evening breeze blew over the mountain pastures, the leaves of the beech trees rustled in the wind and the pure spring water murmured. When the Zanas had finished asking Mujo all about himself, they said to him, "We would like you to become our blood brother, Mujo. Will you?" "If you want me to be your blood brother, Zanas, I will," replied Mujo, "Once we are related to one another, I can call on your help, and if anyone ever insults you, you can call on me to come and help you." "Fine, blood brother."

When rosy dawn announced the approach of a new day, the Zanas took their cradles, slung them over their backs and disappeared, leaving behind but a ray of light. Mujo rubbed his eyes to make out where the Zanas had gone, but could see nothing but light. He pondered to himself, "Perhaps I was only dreaming?", and went off to a spring to wash. The cold water refreshed him. At the edge of the water was a huge boulder which twenty men could not have lifted. Mujo knelt, put his arms around the boulder and lifted it onto his shoulders. He laughed, saying, "It was certainly no dream," and tossed the boulder away. It rolled from cliff to cliff all the way down into the valley below. Its echo resounded through the mountain pastures.

After a while, he departed in search of his cows and eventually found them with their udders full. He herded them together and took them back down into the valley. It was already day when he arrived on the Plain of Jutbina, where all the cowherds had assembled. When they saw Mujo coming, they began making fun of him, "Well, you finally got here, did you, sleepy head?" Mujo scowled at them but made no reply. "Didn't the wolves get you and all your cows?" He gave them an even fiercer look but still said nothing. "Shall we have a wrestle?" Mujo laughed out loud and replied, "All right, I'm ready for you." "Aren't you afraid we'll pin you to the ground?" "I'm not afraid of you," he countered and hastily rolled up his sleeves. When the strongest of the cowherds approached and tried to grab Mujo by the waist to wrestle him down, Mujo seized him by the arm, lifted him up, shook him back and forth several times and hurled him into the air. The other cowherds looked on in dismay. "What has happened to Mujo?" They backed off, turned tail and fled as fast as they could. "Does anyone else want to fight with me?" Mujo shouted. But there was no reply, for they had all disappeared.

Mujo led the cows back to his master and said to him, "Here are your cows! You can start looking for another cowherd!" Then he returned to Kladush, to his father, mother, brother and sister. From then on, Mujo worked for himself. He went hunting up in the mountain pastures. The wolves trembled whenever they heard him approach. Mujo fought for his country and everyone in the Kingdom of the Christians panicked at the very mention of his name.

Mujo and the Zanas

The whole world had heard of the heroic deeds of Gjeto Basho Mujo before he had even reached the prime of his life. He had stalked hordes of wild beasts in the mountains and slain many an enemy from the Kingdom of the Christians and from beyond the sea. Mujo defended the country and the poor people. His heroic deeds and his courage were famous throughout the Krahina and especially in Jutbina. No foreigners dared cross the border of the Krahina to plunder and maraud. Together with his band of thirty warriors, Mujo had conducted many raids in the Krahina and the Kingdom of the Christians, penetrating right to New Kotor and even farther, and every time he returned home victorious. Such a man was Gjeto Basho Mujo.

The days, months and years passed until, as is the custom, the time came for him to marry. One day, therefore, Mujo mounted his steed as the first rays of dawn struck the peaks, and crossed the mountain passes into the Kingdom of the Christians in order to find himself a bride. He chose a fair maiden from a good family whom his friends had recommended and who was fitting for Mujo's lineage.

As soon as Mujo had arranged for his marriage, he returned to Jutbina and assembled three hundred attendants to collect the bride, all of whom were his friends. The three hundred shone in their robes of sparkling gold and bore golden swords, arrows and lances. All of them rode white steeds with saddles of gold. All were young with the exception of their leader, an old man with grey hair called Aga Dizdar Osman who was second in command only to Gjeto Basho Mujo.

Before the attendants set off to claim the bride in the Kingdom of the Christians, Mujo spoke to them, saying, "Listen to my words, attendants! When you reach the mountain pastures, you will come across three shady resting spots. Take care not to revel and not to dismount for a rest. Be careful not to drink from the springs there for it is inhabited by three evil Zanas. They may be having their afternoon nap there or refreshing themselves at the water and you may disturb and upset them. They never let anyone escape unharmed." Mujo warned the attendants strictly and they promised to follow his instructions.

The next morning, the attendants saddled and mounted their horses and set off in what was a joyful spectacle for all of Jutbina. They departed for the Kingdom of the Christians to pick up Mujo's bride, singing songs and playing music with their horns. When they reached the mountain pastures, they remembered Mujo's warning, stopped chanting and making music, dismounted and led their horses by the reins in silence. Nowhere did they pause, nowhere did they drink from the springs, nowhere did they rest in the shade, nowhere did they stop to dance and make merry. They carried on over the mountains and arrived safe and sound on the other side at the bride's home in the Kingdom of the Christians.

Her father welcomed the attendants, giving them food and drink and entertaining them with games and amusements. The music and dancing echoed until midnight. When the stars faded and the next day dawned, the attendants rose, girded their weapons, collected the bride and set off for Jutbina. They continued singing and revelling on their way. The peaks and valleys echoed their mirth.

And so they arrived at one of the three resting spots. Here they remembered Mujo's words, stopped singing and revelling and carried on in silence. But then Aga Dizdar Osman, the old man with grey hair, spoke, "Listen, attendants of the bride. I have accompanied many a bride. We have always stopped and revelled at this resting spot and quenched our thirst at this spring. We have always dismounted to dance. Nothing has ever happened to us here. So let us make merry!" When the other attendants heard this, they stopped at the resting spot right away, dismounted and began to sing and dance. They muddied the springs and streams, set up targets and shot at them with their bows and arrows. The mountain pastures echoed with their mirth once again.

Suddenly there was a terrifying clap of thunder. The din resounded through the mountains, a strong gale began to blow through the trees, the mountain pastures thundered and quaked. Hovering over the peaks in the midst of the storm were the three evil Zanas. They gnashed their teeth, spewed smoke and fire and descended upon the resting spot where the attendants of the bride had chosen to stop. In the blink of an eye, the three Zanas turned the attendants to stone and transformed their horses into tree trunks. Where but a moment ago song and merriment had resounded, no human voice or neighing of horses was to be heard. Silence and death reigned. The mountain peaks echoed no more, the wind ceased to blow, the resting spots, the meadows and springs were emptied. Left all alone in her horror and shock was Mujo's bride. She alone had survived, but did not know what to do or where to go. The Zanas lunged forth to attack her, seized her by the arm and dragged her off into a cavern deep in the mountains where no human being had ever set foot. There they kept the maiden prisoner, forcing her to feed them and bring them water so that she never had a moment's rest.

Gjeto Basho Mujo knew nothing of what had happened. He waited for the attendants to bring him his bride. He waited and waited but they did not come. The longer they were away, the more Mujo began to worry. He listened for singing or for the neighing of horses, but there was nothing to be heard. Finally he realized what had happened. The attendants of the bride had broken their word. He was in despair for he knew that the three Zanas were evil to the core and had unimaginable skills.

He waited no longer. Heaving a sack filled with bread and meat over his shoulder, he mounted his steed and set off for the mountain pastures. 'What can all the warriors possibly be doing in their garments of gold and with their golden swords, arrows and lances?' he wondered. 'What has happened to the horses that speed like the wind?' He looked everywhere but could see nothing but stones and tree trunks. Mujo approached the stones and recognized their form as that of his warriors. Yes, the white stone was their leader, Aga Dizdar Osman; the reddish one was like Ali Bajraktar and the next was like Butali Tali. One by one, he recognized them all: Basho Jona, Zukut Bajraktar, Shaban Evimadhi, Kazi Mehmet Aga and the rest. Once beings of flesh and blood, they were now turned to stone. But nowhere could Mujo find his bride. He was in such despair that he almost broke into tears!

But Mujo was a man of courage. He concentrated his thoughts on how to turn the stones and tree trunks into living beings again. He did not restrain his horse or dismount but rode back and forth over the desolate mountain pastures looking for the spring of the Zanas, for their resting spots, and for his bride. He entered a dark grove of beech trees, riding deeper and deeper to where the sun's rays no longer penetrated. He continued on his way until he came to a spring with water as sparkling as tears. There he stopped and dismounted to rest for a while. He took a good look at the beech trees but could find no path through them, only bushes and scrub. Rising above the grove was a cliff covered in grass. At the foot of it he saw a number of boulders buried in scree. The branches of the ancient trees were so entwined with one another that no sunlight or wind could get through. Eternal twilight reigned here.

"This must be the home of the Zanas," Mujo thought to himself. He put his horse to pasture among the beech trees and sat down beside the spring, waiting patiently for the Zanas to arrive. Three days passed and no one came. Mujo saw deer approach the watering hole but he did not string his bow. He saw fair feathered birds but he did not shoot at them. He had not come to hunt but for something more important. When three days had passed, he caught sight in the twilight of a young maiden in her bridal gown bearing a water jug in her hands. She was as fair as the moon in May, but so sorrowful. Mujo wondered what the young maiden was doing in such a dark and gloomy place. Perhaps she was a vision. But no, she came closer and closer. Suddenly Mujo recognized her and his heart began to beat rapidly. The maiden with the jug arrived at the spring, saw Mujo but did not recognize him. "Good day, young man!" she said. "Good day, young maid," he replied. She put her jug down to fill it. "Whom are you fetching the water for, maid? Whom are you taking it to?" "Oh, do not ask me, young man. I am of a noble family and have just been married. My attendants were taking me to my husband when..." The maiden proceeded to tell him the whole story of how the Zanas had petrified the men and horses and of how she had been taken prisoner.

Mujo asked her, "Who were you marrying, maid? What was the man's name?" "Oh, wretch that I am, I left my mother and father, I left my brothers and sisters to marry a famous warrior. His name is Gjeto Basho Mujo. Do you know him, young man? Have you ever heard of him, Gjeto Basho Mujo of Jutbina? Mujo neither laughed nor responded. He stared at the fair maiden and said, "Do you recognize me, fair maid?" "How could I possibly know you. I've never seen you before. But when I look at you, I am reminded of what I heard of Mujo. You could be Gjeto Basho Mujo."

Mujo could wait no longer and laughed out loud, "I am Mujo, fair maid! You have recognized me indeed. But if you are the daughter of a noble family, will you now listen to me and to what I have to say?" "I give you my word," she replied, "by the ruler over the sun and the moon, over heaven and earth, that I will listen to what you have to say, Mujo. I would have faith in you even if I knew you were going to behead me." "No, I would never behead you, for I loved you and still do. I am going to try and save you and bring your attendants back to life. To do this, however, I must know the source of the Zanas' power. Therefore, when you return to the cavern, say to them that you know they are very powerful and ask them where they get their power." "Do you really think that the Zanas will tell me the source of their power, Mujo?" "Do not lose heart, maiden. Do as I tell you. The sun is now setting behind the mountains and the moon is rising over the beech trees. The Zanas will soon come to the spring to dine in the moonlight. When they sit down to dinner, stand at a distance and do not eat or drink anything. The Zanas will take pity on you and will not want to eat without you. Then, if you remember what to say, they will divulge their secret. Say to them, 'Mountain Zanas, may you always have bread to eat, may you always have the high mountains to live in, may you always have resting spots for your afternoon naps and springs to refresh yourselves in. I have been living with you for some time now and will live with you forever as your prisoner. Why don't you tell me where your power comes from?' Ask them, for there is no reason why they should not believe you. And even if they should turn you to stone, I shall do everything in my power and save you. I will wait for you here tomorrow." "All right, Mujo. I will do as you say." The maiden picked up her water jug, said good bye to Mujo and disappeared into the darkness. Mujo watched her as long as he could and then returned to the Green Valleys.

The maiden went back to the cavern. The Zanas asked her, "Why are you so late, dear bride?" "The water was muddy, dear Zanas, and I had to wait for it to clear." "You have done well, my dear." The sun set and the moon rose, shining over the tips of the beech trees and spreading its rays into the valleys and gorges. There was a light breeze which caused the leaves to rustle. The birds twittered among the branches. The deer came out of the forest to graze and drink. The mountain Zanas waited no longer. They went off to the spring and set the table to have dinner. The young bride stood near by, broke the bread for them and brought them their water, but did not sit down with them to eat. She stood there, her eyes downcast. The youngest of the Zanas asked her, "What is wrong, dear bride? Why are you not eating or drinking? You are not ill, are you? Or are you homesick for your fellow human beings?" "No," replied the maiden, "I am neither ill nor homesick. I am content to be here where I am. You love me. That is why you wanted to keep me with you. If you did not love me you would have turned me to stone as you did the others, but I simply cannot eat or drink anymore until you answer a question I have to ask you. Therefore I swear in your presence, dear mountain Zanas, may you always have bread to eat, may you always have the high mountains to live in, may you always have resting spots for your afternoon naps and springs to refresh yourselves in, may you always have the light of the moon to dance by... Why don't you tell me where your power comes from? You have become my sisters. I will always be with you. I can find no better place to live than here with you because nowhere on earth could I find more kind and understanding sisters."

The moment the two elder Zanas heard this they leapt to their feet to turn the poor maiden to stone, but in a flash the youngest Zana intervened, stretched out her hands and covered their mouths so that they could not pronounce the fatal words. She called out, "May God damn you, sisters. What could this young bride possibly do to us if we told her of our power? She is a human, we are Zanas. She is of the earth, we are of the heavens and earth. She is our prisoner, we are the rulers. She has given us her word of honour and we must not doubt it. She breaks our bread for us and brings us our water. We must tell her the truth."

The elder Zanas stepped back. The youngest one turned to the bride and said, "Listen, daughter of man, we have three wild goats with golden horns grazing in the Green Valleys. No one on earth can capture these goats because they are so light footed and can jump from rock to rock and leap from cliff to cliff. Even the bears and wolves fear them because they attack with their golden horns. But if someone were to capture them I shudder at the thought we would have no more power. We would no longer be able to fly and turn humans to stone. We would be women like all the others." When the bride heard this, she smiled, sat down and ate dinner with them as usual.

When the three Zanas had finished their meal, they refreshed themselves in the spring, picked flowers and made wreathes of them which they placed on their heads. Then they sang and danced. The moon and the stars looked down upon them from above. Mujo's bride watched them from below. The oaks and beeches made no sound. When the three Zanas had finished singing and dancing they joined hands and returned quickly to their cavern. Silence reigned.

When the new day dawned and the Zanas were still asleep, Mujo's bride rose, took her water jug and went to the spring. There she found Mujo waiting for her. He was delighted to see her. "You have survived, I see." "Yes, I was almost turned to stone. But ask no more questions. I know you are brave, but they are mountain Zanas and have tremendous power." "And where do they get their power?" Mujo asked. The maiden then told him about the three wild goats with the golden horns. Mujo listened attentively and said, "I understand, maiden. Now it is my turn. Go back to the Zanas, wait there and do not be afraid. Simply pretend you know nothing. I will return to fetch you safe and sound. I will also bring your attendants back to life and then we will hold our wedding a second time with an even bigger celebration so that the very mountain pastures will resound with the merriment. The Zanas themselves will be your bridesmaids and accompany you in a golden carriage right to my fortress." The maiden looked bewildered and, though she was not too sure, she believed him. She had to smile, however, at the thought of the Zanas with her in the bridal carriage.

Mujo waited no longer. He said farewell, mounted his steed and rode off to Jutbina. He stood in the middle of the square and shouted at the top of his voice so that all of the Krahina could hear him, "Listen to me, men! Gjeto Basho Mujo is speaking to you. Let all brave hunters come to my fortress tonight with their hounds. I will give you as much to eat and drink as your hearts desire, and tomorrow we will set off for the hunt. Do you hear me?" Then he returned home, slaughtered sheep and lambs, had bread baked and the ovens heated. As soon as they heard Mujo's call, three hundred brave hunters gathered with over a thousand hounds and marched towards Mujo's fortress. "You called, Mujo?" "Yes, my brothers, I called you. Come in!" Mujo received them cordially and invited them to dinner. He asked Halil to take out his lahuta and play for their entertainment.

At the break of dawn, Mujo said to his friends, "Listen, hunters, to why I have called you. There are three wild goats with golden horns grazing in the Green Valleys. I want to take these three goats alive. We will therefore encircle the mountain pastures and hunt them until they tire and fall into our hands. But take care to use neither arrow nor lance, for if you wound or kill them, none of you will ever return to Jutbina alive." "We shall do as you order, Mujo," replied the hunters.

Mujo then led them into the Green Valleys. There they encircled the mountain pastures and took up their positions. There was no room for even a bird to escape. Mujo entered the circle with a few light footed friends and some of the hounds. The others lay in wait. Then, sounding their horns unceasingly, the hunters pursued the goats from rock to rock and from cliff to cliff. The very mountain pastures trembled. When three days and three nights had passed, the goats grew tired, fell to the ground and lay their heads on the earth to rest. Mujo thus captured them alive, took them back to Jutbina and locked them up in a pen, bringing them fresh grass and water from the mountain pastures. He invited the hunters to dine with him once more, gave them presents and bid them farewell.

And what happened up on the mountain pastures? The mountain Zanas suddenly lost their power. They tried to fly but they could not. Their bodies had become stiff and heavy. They ordered the wind to blow through the beech trees, but it refused. They concentrated their thoughts on the wild goats, but the goats did not come. The Zanas then set off to look for the goats; they searched the valleys and the cliffs, but the goats were nowhere to be seen. The eldest Zana clapped her hands and said, "Zanas, my dear Zanas of the mountain cliffs, someone has captured our goats!" Mujo's bride smiled. "Listen to me, Zanas, I have something to tell you. Gjeto Basho Mujo send his greetings and tells you that since you stole his bride and turned his attendants and their horses to stone, he has captured your goats and is holding them hostage."

When the Zanas heard this, they tried to turn the bride to stone, but they could not for their power had dissipated. They then set off for Jutbina, though not in flight, but on foot like human beings. Their feet were battered by the stones and roots of trees on the way. Thorns scratched their hands. And so they arrived at Mujo's door. "Mujo, have you taken our goats prisoner?" "Yes, I have captured them and locked them up in my pen. They receive fresh grass and spring water." With tears in her eyes, the eldest Zana then begged him, "We are in your hands, Gjeto Basho Mujo. Either kill us here at your house or give us back what is ours. Otherwise we must perish. We will throw ourselves from a mountain peak. But we are willing to give you back the attendants the way they were. We will return their horses and bring them to you. We will even bring your bride to your door in a golden carriage. You will have them all as they were before."

Mujo answered calmly, "I do not want the attendants. I am not even interested in the bride. Leave them where they are, the attendants as stones and the bride in slavery. I can find a new wife in the Krahina or in the Kingdom of the Christians whenever I want. But I cannot let the three goats go for I have never caught anything like them before, although I have combed the mountain pastures many a time. When I remarry I will slaughter them and feed them to the guests. I will hang their golden horns on the wall to shine for me day and night."

When the three Zanas heard this they broke into tears, moaning and groaning so that the very rocks and trees took pity on them as if they had been women, not Zanas. But Mujo was not to be moved. The youngest Zana advanced, wiped the tears from her eyes with her hair, clutched Mujo's hand and swore, "Listen Gjeto Basho Mujo, whenever you arrange for a marriage and have a bride to accompany over the mountain pastures, whenever you have a Baloz to kill, whenever you go hunting, whenever you need a place to rest and refresh yourself, come to our meadows, take your rest, refresh yourself or do battle. We give you our word of honour that we will do no harm to anyone, that we will say nothing harmful to anyone."

Mujo hesitated. He reflected a moment and then said, "You are Zanas and Zanas you must remain! A word of honour is a word of honour and a promise is a promise. I shall give you back your wild goats." He then turned and called to Halil, "Halil, release the goats from the pen!" The moment the goats were out of the pen, the Zana's faces changed and they regained their vigour. They transformed themselves into light and flew off to the mountain pastures, leaving the Green Valleys behind them.

There they returned to the attendants of stone and their horses and brought them back to life as they had promised, saying, "Arise and depart! We wish you a safe journey. Return to Jutbina where Gjeto Basho Mujo awaits you!" The attendants rubbed their eyes and said, "Oh, look how long we have been sleeping!" They did not remember having been turned to stone. They went to the spring, washed, refreshed themselves and mounted their steeds.

In the meantime, the Zanas had placed Mujo's bride in a golden carriage and taken her back to Mujo in Jutbina. When the attendants descended into the valley on their way to Jutbina, they began to sing and dance. Mujo and Halil went out to welcome them. The mountain pastures echoed with the song of the Zanas:

"Zanas we are and Zanas we remain,
A word of honour is a word of honour,
And a promise is a promise."

The song of the good Zanas resounded from cliff to cliff in the mountains as a second and even bigger wedding was celebrated in Jutbina.

Halil's Marriage

It was very cold that winter. The sun shone but gave little warmth. The wind raged like mad against the old plane tree in Jutbina. So much snow had fallen in the mountains that the beech trees had almost collapsed under the weight. Only the tips of the pines could be seen. The valley echoed from time to time with the sound of avalanches roaring down the mountainsides.

On such a winter's day, Mujo was out hunting with his warriors when suddenly the weather changed. A dark wall of clouds approached, blotting out the sky and the surrounding mountain peaks and bringing with it new snow. The warriors could hardly see one another as they descended into the river valley because the new powder snow had covered them in a mantle of white. The biting wind took their very breath away, freezing everything in its path. But Mujo's fortress was not far off on the riverbank and he invited them all in for dinner.

But how was Mujo to warm up three hundred men with an oven alone? He brought out a jug of raki and a couple of barrels of wine. "Drink up, my friends, drink up!" he exclaimed. The warriors drank and could soon breathe freely again for the drink warmed their blood. Then a meal was brought in and they began to eat, converse and enjoy themselves as the snowstorm raged outside and the avalanches echoed through the valleys.

The warriors then turned to their host, saying: "Mujo, we hope you will not take offense since we are sitting here as your guests, but we wish to ask you a question." "Speak up, men. I know that you are my friends so I won't be offended." "Why then has your brother Halil not yet married, Mujo? All the other men of his age are married and have sons and daughters. It is not because of the money that you would have to give him, is it? Or is it too costly for you to hold a wedding? Your brother is often to be seen in New Kotor. We are afraid that someone will ambush him and take him prisoner to dishonour your family and outrage your clan."

Mujo turned to his friends, saying, "I thank you, my companions, for having divulged your worries to me. I can assure you that it is by no means a question of money. I would not skimp if my brother were to marry. You yourselves have brothers and know what a joy it is for a younger brother to be able to make preparations for a wedding. He who has a brother has two hearts. You are well aware that Halil goes to New Kotor, but he does nothing wrong. He is a warrior and fights courageously like a man. If ever he should cause dishonour to our family, may he go blind. If ever he were to cause outrage to the clan, may he be struck by lightning and may Mother Earth cast him out of his grave the very first night."     Halil then rose and exclaimed, "By my brother and my sister I swear that I would rather die than marry! All the women in the Krahina and all the maidens of Jutbina are like sisters to me. I will perish if I don't have Tanusha, the daughter of the King of the Christians, for my wife. I saw her when we were allies. No maiden on earth is fairer than she. Her eyebrows are like the branches of the willow, her forehead is like the mountains in the moonlight, her eyes are like black cherries, her eyelashes are like a swallow's wings, her face is like a red apple shining among the branches, her nose is as slender as a blade of grass, her delicate mouth is like a blossom, her white teeth sparkle like pebbles in the sun after a rainfall. She has the neck of a dove, a body as slender as a fir tree. The skin of her hands is ..." Mujo saw his enthusiasm and put his finger to his lips, but that only made Halil more excited.

Basho Jono, an old bachelor, then proclaimed, "We will all have our say here, Mujo! I, too, did not marry, and not for want of money or friends, nor because I never found a maiden. I did not marry because I simply did not wish to!"

Then Aga Dizdar Osman jumped to his feet and addressed Halil indulgently, "Listen, my boy. Tomorrow a great day will dawn for you. We shall send thirty warriors out to find thirty fair maidens. You yourself can choose the best one. Then we will celebrate the wedding and marry you off properly..."

Halil interrupted him, "God forbid, warriors of Jutbina! Where in heaven or on earth has a brother ever married his sister? I have sworn to take the king's daughter, Tanusha, and marry only her. Listen therefore to my words, warriors of Jutbina! Up to now, I have lived a solitary life as quiet as the grave and have not married. What makes you possibly think that I would get married now?"

Halil then turned and cursed the mountain pastures: "You are at fault, oh, lofty mountain pastures! You are so weighted down in snow that I can find no path to reach the Kingdom of the Christians! Oh, if only a sea breeze would flow through the mountains and melt the snow to open the roads, our marriage could be celebrated!" The mountains heard Halil's cursing and rumbled in reply. The sea heard Halil's invitation to invade the mountains and sent forth a warm gale. A dark cloud approached bearing rain. Avalanches tumbled into the canyons, the mountains echoed their roar. In three days time, the snow had melted away and gushed down into the rivers below.

The nightingale sang in the mountains and children frolicked once more in the meadows. The high mountain pastures were covered in green, the beech trees began to bud and flowers and grass grew in the valleys. Halil said to his brother, "Mujo, give me your warhorse so that I can go and claim my Tanusha." But Mujo refused. Halil was hurt by this refusal because his brother's steed was as swift as a bird in flight. But what could he do? He mounted his own horse and prepared to set off.

Mujo's elderly mother scolded him, saying, "What made you do that, my son? Why didn't you give him your steed? If anything happens to him in the Kingdom of the Christians you will never forgive yourself." Mujo suddenly regretted his decision and called his brother back. He bestowed upon Halil his warhorse and gave him a final piece of advice, "When you reach the border with the Kingdom, Halil, let the reins loose and the horse will take you directly to Vuk Harambash, my blood brother. Tell him: 'Mujo sends greetings and asks for money and arms to assist his brother in winning the king's daughter.' Have a safe trip, Halil!" Halil mounted the steed, said farewell to Mujo and departed for the Kingdom.

The horse and its rider sped like an arrow, leaving the mountains and valleys behind them. Clusters of fir trees and groves of beeches flew past. They travelled for days on end, encountering no human beings. The sun proclaimed, "Halil shall be under my protection." The moon too bestowed its protection upon Halil. Even the mountain Oras declared, "Halil shall be under our protection." The mountain goats of the Zanas whispered, "Halil shall be under the protection of the sun as long as it shines. In the dark of night he shall be under the protection of the moon. May the Zanas protect his weapons."

Halil was startled and wondered, "What are these voices I hear among the pines? Can it be that the goats are talking?" The reply was immediate, "Make no mistake about it, Halil. We are not simple goats but three mountain goats who live with the Zanas." Halil listened attentively and said, "So this is the home of the Zanas! May your word never be broken, oh Zanas. May my eyes be under the protection of the sun, may my legs be under the protection of the moon and may my weapons be under the protection of the Zanas who hold watch and vigil."

When Halil had crossed the mountains, he saw a mighty river. On the other side of it was a broad plain. Halil descended from the mountain pastures to give his horse to drink, but when they arrived the horse shied away, backing off three steps. Halil then saw a human being leaning against a cliff. When he got closer, he recognized that it was no human being, but a mountain Ora herself. She asked Halil, "Where are you going, young man?" Halil replied courteously, "I am on my way to the Kingdom of the Christians to see Vuk Harambash." The mountain Ora laughed, confusing Halil until she explained, "Listen, young warrior, I know exactly why you have come. I caught sight of you in the Green Valleys and learned to cherish you like my own eyes. I have been watching over you for days now and followed you here to give you my protection. You will not find Vuk Harambash. He left the Kingdom many years ago. Come over here. Can you see yonder mighty river? They call it the Danube. Cast your eyes over to the other side, and look up there at that shadow. Can you see the white tents? And can you distinguish the red tent in their midst? Set off immediately holding the reins of your horse tightly and it will take you straight to the king's daughter."

Thereupon, the Ora vanished up into the mountains. Halil rode further down into the valley as the sun set and evening approached.

The nightingales up in the mountain pastures wondered, "What is wrong with the moon, for it is not rising." The mountain goats on the peaks responded, "Be patient, birds. You have nothing to do but sing. The moon has other tasks tonight. Someone is under its protection and it is accompanying him."

Halil spurred his steed on and reached the river. There he tied the horse to a young oak tree and approached the tents in the dark of night. When he got close to the red tent, he stopped and chose a spot to rest under a tree whose roots reached the river. There he sat down and waited for midnight.

At the stroke of midnight, Halil drew his sharp dagger, crawled on all fours up to the red tent and cut a hole in it. Putting his hand through the hole, he touched a forehead. It was that of Tanusha, the king's daughter. The maiden was startled and screamed. Three hundred other maidens rushed to her bedside, asking her, "Why did you scream? You've never screamed like that before." "Go back to bed, my good friends," replied Tanusha, "I simply dreamt that something touched me and I woke up screaming."

The maidens went back to bed, but Tanusha could not sleep. Suddenly, she noticed a ring rolling across the floor. Picking it up straight away, she saw on it the image of a young man. Tanusha wondered where she had seen the face before and recognized it as that of Halil. Just as she was about to speak, Halil said to her, "It is I, Halil. Do you believe me?" "How did you get here? You must think you have three hundred souls. But come in. Either we will escape for good or we will die here together." Halil waited no longer, saying, "Stay where you are for a moment!" Crouching in front of the tent, he drew his sword from its sheath and looked around, but could see no one. Then he entered the tent. The maiden took Halil by the hand and led him into another room containing her trousseau. There she took out some women's clothes embroidered in gold and gave them to him, saying, "Put these on, Halil. If they see you like that tomorrow, the king will behead the both of us." Halil changed his clothes and looked just like a maiden.

The next day dawned, dispersing the darkness of night. The sun, which was protecting Halil, rose but shone only faintly. The maidens had risen early to take their woollens down to the river to wash. There they sang songs as did their work. Tanusha, too, went down to the river with another maiden. The two held hands and sat down on the rocks on the bank of the river.

"Listen, Earthly Beauty," the other maidens said to Tanusha, "where did that girl come from who surpasses us all in beauty? Her eyes are like those of a Zana, her forehead is like the moon, her body is as slender as a pine tree in the mountain pastures. No one under the sun is as fair as she." "Be ashamed of yourselves, all three hundred of you!" replied Tanusha, "There is nothing on earth without compare. She is a poor maiden and has been promised to the Pasha of Dumlik. But the poor thing has no dowry. Her father is dead and her mother gone. That is why she has come to the king to ask him for money. But leave me alone now. Wash your woollens and don't ask any more questions." Not another word was said. The maidens washed their woollens in silence among the rocks at the riverbank. Some of them even wept out of pity for the poor girl.

But what was the queen doing in Kotor? She had had a nightmare in which she saw a herd of three hundred white sheep with a black wolf in their midst. A black wolf in sheeps' clothing. On waking, she got up and went to the king. "Arise, king! You have but one daughter whom you haven't seen in a long time. Mount your best steed and go to see her. I have had a bad dream." "May it not come true," replied the king. "In my dream," she said, "I saw a wolf from Jutbina come and scatter the three hundred maidens who are protecting our daughter."
When the king heard this he rose, put on his boots and spurs, had his warhorse saddled and covered with a coat of mail, and set off for the banks of the Danube. When he arrived, he counted the maidens, one by one. There was one maiden too many, the prettiest one, so he asked his daughter, "Tanusha, your father is so happy to see you! But where did this maiden whose fairness surpasses that of all the others come from?" "She is a poor girl whose father is dead. Her mother is gone. She has been promised to the Pasha of Dumlik but has no dowry. That is why she came to me to ask you for something." The king was deeply moved on hearing this. "We will set off for New Kotor immediately," he said, "and take the maiden with us." The king ordered his courtiers to mount the three hundred maidens on horseback and set off with the whole caravan for New Kotor.

And so they departed. Tanusha rode at the end of the caravan hand in hand with Halil. They were surrounded by soldiers so they had no chance to escape. Three days later they arrived in Kotor. The three hundred maidens were given quarters in the houses of the town. Tanusha chose the strongest fortress on a cliff overlooking the sea. The fortress was built of polished marble, twelve stories high and three hundred feet long. There were verdant gardens with fresh water from which they could see the sailboats out at sea. Whenever anyone entered that fortress, it was as if his whole life was transformed.

Tanusha and Halil spent three days and three nights there eating, drinking and amusing themselves. "What shall we do to get back to Jutbina?" asked Halil. "Let your horse go," said Tanusha, "so that it crosses the sea. Then we will find a boat with oars and a sail. You row and I'll manage the sailand we'll get back to the Krahina as soon as a strong wind rises. Your horse will be waiting for us when we get there so that we can ride back to Jutbina. I am afraid to tell my mother, though, because I know her well."

When the queen saw Halil's steed galloping over the waves of the sea, she was sure that her dream had come true and that something had happened. She set off immediately to see the king. "May God smite you, husband. Our daughter has been in Kotor for three days now and neither you nor I have seen her." "Well, go and see her then," replied the king, "for I have no time. I have important affairs of state to tend to."

The queen readied herself and set off to visit the fortress overlooking the sea. She found the door locked and called gently, "Tanusha, your mother is so proud of you! Open the door so that I can see you, for I've missed you so." The maiden trembled and whispered to Halil, asking him what she should do. Halil replied, "Open the door and leave everything to fate." But the poor maiden did not have the courage to open the door and called to her mother, "I can't open, mother, for I am ill in bed and am so exhausted..." "I too was young once, my daughter. I often suffered what you are suffering now. I give you my word of honour that I will take care of you. But you must open the door first." The naive maiden descended the staircase and opened the door.

But the queen was now more like a ferocious monster than a gentle mother. When she saw Halil, she quivered like a snake and let out a scream. "May God take your life, daughter! You've filled the fortress with thugs from Jutbina!" She slammed the door behind her and fled to the king, screaming at him, "You're done for now, husband! The thugs of Jutbina have taken over, seized the your fortress and blemished your daughter's reputation!" "Calm down, woman! What are you talking about?" shouted the king of Kotor, his cheeks ablaze. He set off, gathered his soldiers, ordered them to guard the shoreline and took the fortress on the cliffs by storm.

Halil offered no resistance. He was taken prisoner and tied up. The king seized the two of them, Halil and Tanusha. "So this is how you've dishonoured me, Tanusha? How could you dare let this thug from Jutbina into the fortress?" he asked his daughter. Tanusha was speechless. She threw her arms around Halil and refused to let him go. "This is the man I loved and still love today!"

But the king with his mighty army was unyielding. He cast Halil into a deep dungeon and threw Tanusha out into the streets. "So, daughter, may you perish in the streets. That's what you wanted. My door is sealed to you. You need never return!"

The maiden began to weep and lament, and wandered off down the first road she saw. People came out of their houses and felt sorry for her, but no one dared approach her because the king had dispatched his sentries to follow her. When Tanusha got to the edge of Kotor, she came upon a man called Jovan who asked her, "Why are you weeping, my poor Tanusha? I've never heard anyone lament the way you do. Come into my house!" "Your invitation is in vain, Jovan. I cannot enter for they have taken Halil prisoner. My father has expelled me from his house and cast me out into the streets." "My poor sister, who has caused you such pain?" "My own mother! Have pity on me, Jovan. Send a message to Mujo telling him to come to Halil's assistance at once. Otherwise Halil will rot in prison." "I don't know any Mujo," Jovan replied, "but there is a woman near here from the Krahina who will know where he is to be found. Her fortress is at the end of Kotor. The one with the new gate." Jovan then accompanied Tanusha up to the gate. There they met the woman from the Krahina who had just returned from a waterfall. "What has happened, poor Tanusha?" asked the woman. "I wish my fate on no one else," the paiden replied. "My father has thrown me out. I can never return. And they have taken Halil prisoner. If Mujo doesn't come to save him, I'm afraid he will perish. My father will have him executed."

The woman, who was of good breeding, consoled Tanusha, saying, "Take courage, Tanusha. If Mujo is alive he will be here within three days and marry you to Halil." She found a messenger whom she could trust and sent him straight away to Mujo. The following day, the messenger, gasping from exhaustion, knocked at Mujo's door and explained all that had happened. Mujo listened and laughed aloud, saying as if Halil were standing in front of him, "You stupid ox of Kotor, did I not tell you that they would get you there? If the honour of Jutbina were not at stake, I swear I would not move an inch. But I must act to save you, if only for the sake of Jutbina."

Having said this, he climbed out onto the parapet of his fortress and proclaimed so that all of Jutbina and the Krahina could hear him, "To arms, warriors! Gjeto Basho Mujo summons you! Come with me to do battle!" The warriors heard his call and were at his side immediately. When they asked what had happened, Mujo declared that Halil had dishonoured them and had been taken prisoner in New Kotor. The honour of Jutbina and the whole Krahina was at stake. The three hundred warriors prepared for battle. The forests resounded and the rivers grew murky as their horses sped onwards to New Kotor. Dismounting at the seashore, Mujo positioned his companions in the bushes and among the rocks, ordering them not to move or attack until he gave the signal.

Oh, what a multitude arrived that day in New Kotor! The king had summoned all his subjects to show them something they had never seen before. A thug from Jutbina was to be beheaded. Everyone assembled on a large square. It was a Sunday. In the middle of the square was a handsome young man, It was poor Halil with his hands and feet in chains. All of Kotor had come to laugh and make fun of him. Halil stared at them indifferently and suffered the humiliation in silence.

Finally the king rose to his feet, twirled the tips of his long moustache, opened his mouth and said to Halil, "Can you see death already, Halil? It is right beside you. Have you ever been in such dire straits before? Can anything be worse than death?" Halil responded bravely, "Listen to my words, king. A man is never in a real predicament until his final hour comes. But many things are worse than death. For an Albanian, death is less bitter than betraying a friend after giving one's word of honour or not having a crust of bread to offer to a guest. And know, king, that no matter what predicaments I was in before, I was all the freer afterwards. It will be no different this time!"

The king looked at his subjects assembled on the square and at his warriors surrounding Halil. He gave a forced smile and said, "If you have a final word to speak, speak it now, for your life is about to end at the post you see beside you. We are going to behead you. And the same treatment will be given to the other thugs of Jutbina."

"May God smite you, king, for only God knows who this post is really for. You must know that we Albanians are not afraid of death. Our ancestors taught us never to fear death or die in our beds, but to look death in the eye with a song on our lips and sword in hand. Such is the sweetest of deaths for a man. Will you allow me to sing one last song?" "Sing as much as you want, Halil. I would enjoy hearing a song from Jutbina hearing it and laughing at it," said the king.

They untied Halil's hands and brought him a lahuta. He picked it up and began in a mighty voice to intone a mountain song in his mother tongue, a language the king did not understand. The people listened with great interest. The king, too, was intrigued by the song and asked an old man, "What is the song about? It sounds more like a war cry." The old man, who understood Albanian, told the king, "He is chastizing the sun and moon and calling upon the Zanas to come to his assistance. And he is sending a final greeting to the oldest of the Zanas as is the custom of the Albanians." The king exploded with laughter, exclaiming, "Hey! There are no more Zanas left. The sun is ours, and the rivers too. Everything belongs to us!"

At that moment, a bird flew down from the mountains and perched on the branch of a beech tree nearby. Halil sang to the bird, telling it to send Mujo greetings from his brother.

Gjeto Basho Mujo heard the song and, thundering down into the valley, let out a strident war cry causing the very foundations of the fortresses to tremble and a tidal wave to swell in the sea. The mountains echoed as if a storm had broken. Mujo's warriors rushed into battle letting no one escape. The carnage began. The warriors tore at each other with their teeth. The horses, too, bit into one another. The sea was covered with bodies floating in blood. Gjeto Basho Mujo, untiring, fought on in the enemy's midst. Halil called out to him, "Take care not to slay the king, Mujo! Free me from my chains first for I have sworn that he will breathe his last at this post." Mujo freed his brother who rushed forth to take the king alive. And the king was indeed to perish with his back to the post.

The warriors of Jutbina put New Kotor to the torch and within minutes the whole town was ablaze. Mujo went bezerk at the sight of the blood and showed no mercy, neither with the fortresses collapsing around him nor with the burning bodies. Three times the sun set and three time the moon rose before the fires went out. Not a single stone in the town was still in place.

As the warriors set off to return to Jutbina, they turned to look back at New Kotor, proclaiming, "Hear our words, city of destruction. We have razed you to the ground! Should anyone ask you why, tell them it was because a mother betrayed her daughter."

Thus Mujo saved his brother and Halil married the maiden he loved, though she was now an orphan.

Mujo and Halil visit the Sultan

Mujo and Halil were the greatest of heroes. Their spectacular deeds were known throughout the Krahina and the Kingdom of the Christians. They had never let a Baloz escape alive, they had never allowed a Christian king to invade Jutbina, or any warriors, guerrilla fighters or pandours to cross over the mountains from the Kingdom of the Christians. The two had invaded New Kotor with their band of thirty warriors, had done battle with the king, torn down his fortresses and set fire to his palaces. They had carried off maidens and always returned to Jutbina victorious with a song on their lips. When Mujo's son Omer was treacherously slain, the two invaded Zahar with their friends and put everything to the torch. Naturally their companions often fell on the battlefield or were wounded in sword fights. Such is the nature of war. Gjeto Basho Mujo had lost seven sons up in the mountains, all seven of them as young men. His beloved sons now lay under the grass among the beech trees and were mourned for by their mother Ajkunja, by the birds and by the Zanas of the mountain pastures. They mourned for them, and all Jutbina sang of their heroic deeds, for Mujo's sons had fought as heroes and died as heroes.

And what happened thereafter? Messengers had been sent to Istanbul to seek the support of the Sultan. They had taken gifts with them and had fallen on their knees before the Sultan, adoring and praising him. "Sultan," they said slyly, "you are mighty and reign over land and sea. Why do you not reign over Jutbina? Mujo and Halil hold sway there and do whatever they wish. They block the roads and highways, rob travellers and even murder little children. We beg of you, Sultan, vanquish Mujo and Halil as you have vanquished the whole world. Seize the two of them, behead them and hang them from the walls so that all of Istanbul can see that they are common thieves."

The Sultan accepted the gifts which the messengers had brought and listened to what they had to say. He pondered a while and then clapped his hands. "What are your orders, oh Sultan?" his attendants asked, ready to fulfil his wishes. "Give me paper and a quill so that I can write a letter to Gjeto Basho Mujo of Jutbina." They brought him some fine white paper, black ink and a sharpened quill. The Sultan sat on a pillow on the floor and began to write his letter. When he had finished, he folded the letter, sealed it with black sealing wax and handed it to a Tatar. "Take this letter to Mujo of Jutbina in the Krahina. He is to appear before me immediately, otherwise I will send my army there and dismantle his fortress stone by stone. I will pursue him up into the mountains and hang him with a rope." The Tatar took the letter, mounted his steed and rode like the wind to Jutbina where he arrived sweating and covered in dust. There, he went straight to the fortress of Mujo, knocked on the door, gave Mujo the letter and returned immediately whence he had come.

Gjeto Basho Mujo opened the letter and read it. He knit his brow and scowled. Halil, on seeing him, exclaimed, "Mujo, I've seen you read many a letter but I've never seen you look so grim. Has a good friend or blood brother died? Has another Baloz arisen from the sea and challenged you to battle? Or has the King of the Christians set off with all his warriors, commanders and pandours to invade Jutbina? Don't worry, Mujo! Jutbina and the whole Krahina are behind us." "Be quiet or be damned, Halil. No one has died, no Baloz has arisen, no foreign king with his warriors, commanders and pandours has invaded Jutbina. But someone has made accusations about us to the Sultan, saying that we are blocking the roads, robbing travellers and even murdering little children. I don't know what to do, Halil! The Sultan has written that I should appear before him, otherwise he will invade us. It is a dreadful situation indeed. We cannot fight the King of the Christians and the Sultan at the same time. Should we barricade ourselves in our fortress and fight until we fall? Or should we take to the mountains and fight there until the Sultan and the King encircle us together. We could fight as long as we are able and then throw ourselves from the cliffs so that we don't fall into their hands alive." "Do you know what we should do, Mujo?" said Halil. "Let us ask our mother. She will give us her advice." "Good, Halil, let's ask her."

They went to their mother and told her what the Sultan had written, saying they did not know what to do. The mother laughed, saying, "You will neither barricade yourselves in the fortress nor take to the mountains, but ready yourselves, saddle your steeds and ride directly to the Sultan who is waiting for you. Tell him that what others have told him is not true, that you do not block the roads, rob travellers and murder little children. You are true warriors and only fight with men on the battlefield." "The Sultan won't ask any questions, mother. He will simply execute us. He will call his moor and have him behead us right away." "No he won't, because you haven't done the things he has accused you of. You are not common thieves, but warriors. The Sultan ought to know this, and if he doesn't, you must tell him so. Saddle your steeds my sons and be off!"

At the crack of dawn Mujo and Halil shoed and saddled their steeds, dressed and put on their armour. They covered their heads in cloaks and let the tips of their moustaches droop so that no one would recognize them as they passed through the Kingdom of the Christians. They bandaged the legs of their steeds so that they would limp. Everyone who saw them pass was surprised. "Who are those Gypsies as big as oak trees, with cloaks covering their heads and drooping moustaches?" "Never seen them before," said the people. Everyone watched them at a distance, but no one dared to approach. "Mujo," Halil asked, "why are we putting ourselves to such shame? This is worse than death. Have we reached the battlefield yet?" "Yes, we have, Halil." They dismounted, unbandaged their legs of their steeds, threw off the cloaks and twirled their moustaches. The people standing nearby suddenly recognized who they were and fled, screaming, "It's Mujo and Halil, Mujo and Halil!" They locked themselves in their cellars. Now the two could continue their journey unhindered. They were off in a flash of lightning, leaving a cloud of dust and smoke behind them. The mouths of their steeds frothed and emitted a yellowish smoke from which the mountain oaks caught fire. The flames spread and masked the mountain pastures in their smoke.

Thus the brothers sped through the Kingdom of the Christians and through the Sultan's empire on to Istanbul. The Sultan's sons were awestruck at the sound of their approach, saying, "What is that roar? Is it thunder or cannon fire from the Kingdom of the Christians?" The Sultan replied, "It is neither the heavens nor cannon fire. Mujo and Halil are on their way. I have summoned them."

The two brothers rode straight into the palace and dismounted. The guards were startled to see them and wondered if they were human beings or oak trees, but let them pass. Mujo said to Halil, "Wait here, brother, and keep watch. If the Sultan calls the moor, you slay him first and call me. The blood in Istanbul and in the Sultan's palace will then be knee deep, for I am armed." As Mujo climbed the steps, the whole staircase creeked and sagged under his weight. The carpenters had to be called to repair and reinforce it. When Mujo tried entering the hall, he found the door too small. Again the carpenters had to be called to enlarge it.

Finally Mujo entered. The Sultan was sitting on a pillow on the floor and looking at him in awe. "Is it a human being or a mountain?" he wondered. Mujo's head touched the ceiling, his thighs were as thick as the Sultan himself. He greeted the Sultan courteously: "Greetings, oh Sultan! I am Gjeto Basho Mujo of Jutbina. You have summoned me and I have come. How are you faring, Sultan? How are your sons?" The Sultan offered him a seat and asked him about Jutbina and the Krahina, about his battles in the Kingdom of the Christians and about the Sea Baloz. Mujo answered his questions, then grinned and asked, "Sultan, are you going to call your moor now to have me beheaded?" The Sultan stroked his beard and looked quite surprised. "No, Mujo," he said, "why should I call the moor? I had heard much about you and wanted to meet you." Mujo sat a little while longer and chatted with the Sultan. Then he said, "Allow me now to take my leave, Sultan, for my brother Halil is waiting for me downstairs."

A hook on Mujo's trousers, however, caught on the pillow on which the mighty Sultan was sitting. When Mujo rose to leave, he dragged the pillow and the Sultan after him right to the top of the stairs, without noticing a thing. At the staircase he extricated the hook, left the Sultan sitting there and descended. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he and Halil mounted their steeds and rode back to Jutbina.

Mujo Avenges Halil's Death

Halil was dead. The warrior who made all of New Kotor and Zahar tremble and who was dreaded throughout the Kingdom of the Christians as far as the Danube, had been slain. His friends had buried him up in the mountain pastures. Mujo was alone, bereft of his companion. The lofty mountains too were lonesome, for the warriors' cry was no longer to be heard. Only the cuckoo remained in a dried up stream bed, its chant echoing plaintively over the meadows.

One day, a voice arose from the depths of the earth and addressed the bird: "Cuckoo, oh cuckoo, listen to my words! I am sending you a message." The cuckoo replied, "I am indeed surprised to hear a human voice on these solitary mountain peaks and yet see no humans. I am used to being here alone, and to tell the truth, have never heard a voice up in these mountains here. Where are you speaking from?" The same voice spoke again, saying, "I am of the dead, cuckoo, that is why you cannot see me. I lie under the earth." "But who are you?" "I am Halil, brother of Gjeto Basho Mujo. Listen to my message, cuckoo, and take it to my brother. Say to him: Oh, Mujo of Kladush, I, your brother Halil, send you greetings from the mountain pasture where I lie. I fear neither wind nor rain, neither snow nor cold, neither thunder nor lightning.

But God has caused me to suffer great hardship. It is Captain Kreshto of the Kingdom of the Christians. Every Sunday, he comes here to hunt. Nor does he come alone. He brings three hundred companions with him. They all stand in front of my grave and vilify me, shouting: 'Halil, get up and rise from the grave so that we can fight man to man! You used to block the roads, do battle with us and frighten our friends out of their wits. The whole Kingdom right up to the Danube trembled at the very mention of your name. You slew many a warrior with your sword, razed many a fortress and carried off many a maiden. I have now come to avenge myself. I will never leave you in peace, even in death!' So speaks Kreshto over and over. He stomps on my grave with his feet and pounds it with his cudgel, never letting my bones rest. Then he summons his three hundred companions and they all stomp on my grave. I have told him, Mujo, that a deadman is dead and cannot rise to do battle. I would like to rise, Mujo, but I cannot. I lie six yards under the earth covered by a heavy tombstone. If you wish to do battle, Kreshto, I told him, then call on my brother Mujo and he will face you. If you are still my brother, Mujo, rid me of this pest so that my bones can finally come to rest. Have you understood, cuckoo?" "I understand," it replied from the bed of the dried up stream. "Bear my message to Mujo. In our courtyard we have a withered mulberry tree. Perch there and wait until my brother hears your call. It may be that they curse you, but do not take offense. Will you give him my message anyway?" "I will, Halil," replied the cuckoo. "I am off to Jutbina. Farewell Halil!"

The cuckoo spread its wings and set off, flying straight to Jutbina. On arrival, it landed on the mulberry tree and sang its "cuckoo". Mujo's wife heard the bird, opened her window and shouted angrily, "Be off, bird of ill tidings! A cuckoo landed on the mulberry tree at the same time last year and brought us the news of Halil's death. Go away or Mujo will come out and pluck your feathers." The cuckoo replied in an injured air, "I have never been to this area, nor did I bring you news of Halil's death. But listen to me now. I come from Halil's grave in the mountains. Halil heard me there and asked me to bear greetings to Mujo. He also gave me a message and I shall not depart without having given it to him even if you try to kill me."

Mujo heard the cuckoo and rushed out into the courtyard addressing the bird gently, "Speak, cuckoo! If you wish to enter our home, if you want anything to eat or drink, please come in and stay as long as you like." The cuckoo replied from its perch on the withered mulberry tree, "No, Mujo, that is not why I am here. I have come because Halil gave me a message for you." The cuckoo then repeated word for word what Halil had told it. Mujo listened and said to the bird, "Farewell, cuckoo! Greet Halil for me and tell him that I will be there next Sunday." The cuckoo then took to the air and flew back to the mountain pastures.

On Friday, Mujo went out onto the parapet of his fortress and summoned his warriors to battle. All of Jutbina and the whole Krahina heard his call, seized their weapons and gathered immediately in front of Mujo's home. They asked why he had summoned them and he informed them that they were to leave Saturday to do battle in the mountains. He invited all the warriors to stay with him and showed them great hospitality. They spent the night at his home until Saturday came.

In the dark of night they set off, led by Mujo, and rode up into the mountains, arriving on Sunday morning at Halil's grave. There Mujo said to them, "My friends, conceal yourselves on both sides of the road. That is the direction Captain Kreshto and his band of three hundred companions will take when they come to defile Halil's grave. Promise me that you will not talk or fight until I give the word." The warriors promised and lay in ambush, waiting silently. The only noises to be heard were the wind rustling in the beech trees and the murmur of the spring.

At daybreak, the call of hunters could be heard in the distance. Then came a deafening roar as Captain Kreshto appeared with his three hundred companions. He walked up to Halil's grave, stood on the tombstone and stomped on it three times, calling loudly, "Rise from your grave, Halil, and let us do battle!" But he could speak and defile the grave with his feet and cudgel no longer, for at that very moment Mujo's deep voice resounded in the mountain. "I will give you satisfaction, Captain Kreshto!" Kreshto froze and said, "Holy God! What was that voice thundering in the mountains? Has the deadman actually risen from his grave?" Kreshto's three hundred companions froze too. Mujo delayed no longer. Drawing his sword, he sprang forth. Kreshto tried to retreat but Mujo slew him with one fell stroke. Once again, Mujo's voice thundered: "Such is the vengeance for defiling Halil's grave!".

 

[from Mitrush Kuteli (ed.) Tregime të moçme shqiptare (Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1965, reprint 1987, 1998). Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

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