Legends about King Marko
In folklore King Marko is depicted as a protector of the people with unearthly strength.
The folklore character is very different from the actual historical figure – when I spoke with researchers of local folklore, they had a lot to tell on this mater.
It turns out that the myths and legends about King Marko are from the times before his reign and are very ancient.
What happened is the following: when the Ottomans conquered the Balkans, the locals in attempt to preserve the memory for the last Christian kings, started to tell the stories with their names. Other kings from the 14h century like Momchil and Tzar Shishman also appear in folklore stories in a similar way.
A legend tell us how King Marko got his strength: He was raised in the family of a peasant and when he became seven years old they started sending him to look after the calves.
Marko was grazing his herd at a field, when he saw a little girl left out in the sun to sleep. He felt sorry for the child, so he took some branches and leaves to make shade for it, but when the mother of the child came back and she saw him with it, she got angry of him. In most folklore songs, she is a Samodiva (a female demon in Slavic folklore). Then her child told her: Don’t punish him, mother, he wanted to do good to me. Let him be my sworn brother” and so the Samodiva instead of punishing him, let him suck from her milk.
This is how Marko gets his superhuman strength – in this story is we see an ancient myth for the initiation of a semigod hero preserved.
King Marko and the Black Arabs
On a summer morning King Marko got out of bed, got dressed, put on his sable hat, buckled up his saber and called to his wife:
– Wife Angelina, saddle my horse, Sharkolia, I have decided to go on long journey
– Where will you go, son? – asked his old mother
– To Thessaloniki city I will go, mother. I want to visit my sworn brother Sekula. My hearth has grown sad of him. We haven’t met in a long time.
– Why have you girdled your sword and why have you shouldered your mace? You aren’t going to fight in a battle, but to meet an old friend, right? Leave your weapons here, Marko, you don’t need this burden on the road!
– Marko listened to his mother, he ungirdled his light saber, he hung it on the wall and threw his heavy mace in the corner, entered the small room, where his young son was sleeping, he bent down and kissed him on the forehead.
Marko’s young wife, she was smart and resourceful one, as she was saddling his horse, she secretly hid his light saber under the saddle and his mace she put in his leather saddlebags.
He mounted his winged horse and set out on the wide Thessaloniki road, he crossed the Bitola fields, where white-wooled herds were grazing and then he entered a thick oak forest, and when he looked at the trees, he couldn’t believe his eyes: their leaves had gone yellow amid summer, as if they were scalded by a fierce autumn frost. Never in the peak of summer has been such a wonder.
King Marko asked the forest:
– Tell me, forest, why have you wilted? Did a fire burn you or did a frost scald your leaves?
The forest never speaks, but to Marko it replied:
– I will tell you, young hero: nor a fire has burned me, nor a frost has scalded me. This morning through me the enslavers of the people passed – black Arabs with crooked yataghans. They were driving 3 rows of chained slaves – your brothers, Christians. On the first chain were tied up together young brides with white kerchiefs and red necklaces. The brides were walking in grief and were shedding tears for their infant children, left without their mothers in the cradles.
On the second chain were tied up florid girls, taken from their looms just as they were weaving their wedding gifts. Their eyes were bloodshot from crying. On the third chain were tied up the most handsome young men of your homeland. They were walking in silence, with their fists clenched and suppressed anguish. The were all walking barefooted on the dusty road and their sorrow scalded the leaves of my trees. This is why, hero, I have this early I am wilted and faded.
Marko pushed his horse and yelled:
– Hurry, Sharkolia, we must catch up with them! If we find the slaves, I will shoe your feet with silver horseshoes and with golden nails.
The fast-legged horse Rushed through the trees, like a light-feathered bird he ran over the turbulent water of Vardar, he jumped over deep valleys, he trampled the green weed of the fields.
At the end of the field, at the high gates of the Thessaloniki fortress, King Marko caught up with the three rows of chained slaves. They were walking exhausted of heat, turning their eyes up to the sky and telling the birds:
– Dear birds, when you reach our homeland, please tell our dear mothers, fathers and infant children, that we wish them good health. Tell them, that we will never forget them.
Hot tears were falling on the dusty road, and the enslavers were beating the chained people with their whips.
Marko felt sad when he saw the people, and he shouted:
– Black Arabs, you tormentors! Unleash the slaves and set them free. If you free them, I will grant you with a big gift – for each of you a gold piece, and for your commander – ten!
The Arabs turned and looked at the hero with suspicion and replied:
– Just go on your own road, infidel, otherwise we have а chain for you too!
Marko was seeing red. He leaned down from the horse and grabbed a rock – a whole cliff – and threw it with such strength that it got across the chained slaves, over the Thessaloniki fortress and fell in the Aegean sea. He touched his waist, to withdraw his light saber, but it wasn’t there, he sought his mace, but did not find it either.
He sighed bitterly:
– Oh, mother, why did you make me leave my weapons at home! What can I do with my bare hands now? How am I going to help my poor brother?
When Sharkolia heard these words, he neighed:
– Don’t be sad, Marko, brave hero! Put your hands in the saddlebags and lift my saddle to see what your resourceful bride has hidden there.
Marko lifted the leather saddle and pulled out the light saber. He dipped in the saddlebags and found his heavy mace. His eyes were illuminated with happiness. He rose his hand and struck them.
First he threw his mace towards the black Arabs, but their horses were sly. As soon as they saw the heavy mace flying to them, they kneeled and the mace passed over the heads of the Arabs.
Then King Marko clenched the grip of his light saber. The sharp weapon screamed like a fierce snake.
Marko, the brave hero, shouted:
– Watch out, you black Arab souls!
The Arabs withdrew their crooked yataghans, turned their horses towards Marko and their white teeth flashed.
King Marko trotted against them and swung his sword to the right. He struck them down, just the way a scythe cuts weed. He wept them, the way the autumn wind weeps the falled leaves. Only the chained slaves remained alive.
Marko jumped off Sharkolia and untied the three rows of chained slaves.
And to all of them gave a gold piece – to buy shoes from the Thessaloniki bazaar and not walk barefooted.
The freed people were kissing the right hand of their savior. They bought a lot of present from the Thessaloniki bazaar and returned happy to their homeland.
King Marko went on to the large home of his sworn brother Sekul. Before reaching Sekul’s home, he stopped at the smithy of the most skillful blacksmith and shoed Sharkolia with silver horseshoes and golden nails.