Revenge Taken on Kastrati
— a Legend of the Triepshi Tribe
The following legend of blood feuding between the Triepshi and Kastrati tribes in the Montenegrin-Albanian border region was recorded by the Montenegrin warrior, Marko Miljanov (1833-1901), in his book “Life and Customs of the Albanians” (Život i običaje Arbanasa), Belgrade 1907.
“There is a tale about Albanian blood feuding from ancient times. It is as follows.
When someone’s brother or relative is killed, they take blood from the body of the dead man and put it in a glass where they leave it. Revenge is not take for as long as the blood remains coagulated. But when the blood seethes and spills over the glass, it is a sign that the time has come for revenge to be taken. The blood shows that the time is right and that the murdererhas no way out but to pay the price, for fate itself calls for revenge. Among the many events of this kind, I would like to mention only one example of revenge being taken when foaming blood spilled over a glass.
This is what happened. A group of armed Kastrati men attacked the herds and shepherds of Triepshi [Zatrepčani] at Bardhanja [Bardanje] near the Cem [Cijevna] River. The attack took place at dawn, when daylight emerges from the night. This event happened many years ago, and yet the Kastrati and Triepshi have not been reconciled up to the present day. But I do not intend to recall all the misfortunes that took place between them over the last hundred years, and I am not sure whether this attack was the actual origin of the conflict and all the fighting between them. What I do know is that the blood in the glass seethed and gave rise to a feud, not because of the death of a friend or a blood brother, but because of a child. This is what happened.
During the attack, they stole the animals and slew the shepherds. But there was a little, eight-year-old boy there called Brunçi [Brunči], who was tending his goats, too. They realised that it was not proper for them to kill him because he was too young to bear arms (only a man who himself is able to kill, may be killed). The men decided to leave the boy alone, but when the lad saw his goats on the move, he ran after them and no one noticed him. He journeyed with the herd all night long. At dawn, the attackers noticed him and asked him:
“Who are you?”
“I am the son of Mark Pjetri [Mark Petrov],” replied the lad.
“But where do you think you are going?”
“I am looking after my goats.”
“But we are not from here, poor boy, and we have taken all of the goats. However, we will give you one goat back. Take it with you and go home.”
Little Brunçi took one goat, swung it over his neck and departed peacefully, passing by all the armed warriors of Kastrati. They watched the little boy as he happily drove his goat home. He was a good-looking lad and they watched him fondly, not like the killers they were who, but a few hours earlier, had slaughtered and pillaged everything they could find.
But among the attacking force there was a fellow called Cuc Caka, a well-known fighter who, like a wild beast, was watching over the men. When he came upon the little boy with his goat, he stopped him and asked him:
“Who are you?”
“I am the son of Mark Pjetri,” replied the lad.
The warrior drew his sabre from his belt and brandished it in front of the boy.
“I am going to slice off your head.”
The boy showed no fear and replied bravely: “You wouldn’t dare!”
“I wouldn’t dare because of whom?”
“Because of my brother, Prela [Pranlja].”
Hearing this response, the warrior went berserk and, in one fell swoop, he sliced off the head of little Brunçi. All the other warriors there spit and cursed him for the crime he committed against a little boy who had not yet reached the age to bear arms and go to war.
When Mark, the father of little Brunçi, found the headless body of his son, he gathered what he could of the boy’s blood and put it in a glass. There it remained for several years until, one day, it began to seethe and foam, and spilled over the glass. When he saw the blood seething, Mark grabbed his sabre and went out to the threshing floor above his home. Brandishing his sabre, he ran back and forth across it. The wives of his three sons, who were fetching wood, laughed at him when they saw him running around on the threshing floor and said to one another on their way home: “Father has gone crazy!”
Mark returned to his house and informed his sons that little Brunçi’s blood had begun to seethe, and that it was time to take revenge.
“I am an old man now and can no longer use my sabre. I realised on the threshing floor now that I am unable to carry out the deed. But you are still young and unskilled. You don’t know the roads of Kastrati, yet I think you could easily take revenge without any great loss of life. From the foaming blood, it is clear that the time has come for the murderer to pay for his crime.”
On hearing the words of the old man, the sons’ wives were ashamed that they had laughed at him.
The sons replied to him, saying: “Since we do not know the roads and you are not able to carry out the deed, we will take you and carry you wherever you want to go so that you can tell us what to do. You just tell us where you want to go. Once you have told us what to do, we will bring you home and then go out and find that Cuc Caka, and take revenge for the death of little Brunçi.”
As such, the three sons, Prela, Dreshk [Dreško] and Gjon (Đon], carried old Mark up into the mountains of Kastrati, to a high peak from where they could see everything they needed to see so that he could give them instructions. There was a cavern nearby with two entrances and in it were thirty shepherds and over one thousand head of livestock, small and large. When they got back home, they asked Mark about everything they had seen. He told them the following:
“The three of you alone will not be able to overcome Cuc and the thirty shepherds in the cavern. You must go first to Lalë Drekali [Lal Drekalov] who will give you three hundred Kuči warriors to attack and take the cavern. Leave me right here. I will not move from the spot until I hear that you have slain Cuc and all of his men and cut them to pieces. Just bring me some bread and water so that I do not die of hunger or thirst while awaiting your return.”
The three brothers set off and returned eight days later with the three hundred men of Kuči. They then asked Mark how they should attack the cavern, and he replied:
“The cavern has two entrances, a large one and a small one. At the large entrance you will find the thirty shepherds, and at the small entrance you will find Cuc and his two companions. Therefore, the two strongest of you must attack the small entrance. When you kill Cuc Caka, his two companions will be confused and frightened and will run towards the large entrance. At that moment, the three hundred of you must attack.”
They then said to old Mark: “We do not know which ones of us are strong enough to attack the small entrance.”
Mark responded: “Come over here and I will tell you which of you are the strongest.”
He began to poke his fingers in their bellies and after he had poked at all of them, he said to his son, Prela: “You are the strongest. You take over the small entrance.”
He then said to another Triepshi warrior whose belly he had poked: “You, too, are strong enough for the small entrance.”
And so, all of them went off where they were told. Prela approached the small entrance when he got to the cavern. There he espied Cuc and the two other men who were lying in the cavern singing. The closer he got, the clearer their voices became. Prela and his companion listened to what they were singing. The song ended with these words:
“Do not slay me, Prela Marko,
By the Lord and by Saint John, no!”
At that moment, Prela attacked, shouting: “Saint John will not help you this time, just as he did not help our little Brunçi to escape from you and your sabre when you slew him.” The other two men ran towards the large entrance but they were all killed.
The livestock was seized and taken back to Kuči, and old Mark received them with great satisfaction, not only for the booty and the thirty men of Kastrati who were slain, but for the death of Cuc and for the capture of his sabre that was very famous by that time. This was the sabre he had used to slay little Brunçi and it was now safely in the belt of his son Prela.
Revenge had thus been taken. The booty was distributed and the sabre of Cuc was handed over to old Mark, who kept it in memory of the deed.”