Little Radoyitsa is one of the Serbian epic ballads I know from my earliest childhood days, since my grandparents, both gusle players used to sing or recite it quite often. The ballad often made me cry and I remember how terrified I’ve been everytime I heard about all the temptations and tortures Little Radoyitsa’s been through. Thematically this ballad belongs to Hayduk/ Uskok cycle of Serbian epic poetry. This is the retold version, with language modernized to avoid difficulties in reading, without losing any of the original flavour and vitality.
As Ruth Manning – Sanders said: ‘Happy and sad, mysterious and romatic, heroic or purely mischievous, with their dancing, singing rhytms, the Serbian epic ballads hold na enchantment that still delights and lifts the imagination as it did centuries ago, when they were first sung.’
So here it is, translated and retold by Nada Ćurčija – Prodanović and published by Oxford University Press, London 1963:
Glorious God, O what a great wonder!
Is it thundering, or is the earth trembling?
Is the sea beating the marble rocks, or are Fairies fighting on the mountain?
It is not thundering, nor is the earth trembling; the sea is not beating the marble rocks and fairies are not fighting on the mountain.
Great guns are being fired in Zadar; Bechir Aga is rejoicing and celebrating a conquest. He has captured the hayduk, Little Radoyitsa, and has thrown him in the deepest dungeon.
There were twenty prisoners there before Radoyitsa came, and they were all weeping and mourning their fate; only one among them foung it in his heart to sing and thus comfort them:
❝ Do not weep, O my dear brothers! God will send a hero to free us from our slavery. ❝
When Radoyitsa was thrown among them, great despair seized them and they all wept more bitterly than before, scolding him:
❝ May you live to be terribly tortured, Radoyitsa! We laid all our hopes in you, believing that you would free us from this dungeon one day! But here you are now, in the same plight as us! Who is going to free us now? ❝
❝ Do not lose heart, my dear brothers, but heed my words and do as I bid you. Tomorow morning call Bechir Aga and tell him that Little Radoyitsa has died during the night. He may bury me, and the rest is my own business, ❝ said the hayduk, smiling.
As soon as the sun rose next morning, the twenty captives called as one:
❝ Accursed be you, you Turk, Bechir Aga! Why did you not hang Little Radoyitsa last evening? Why did you let him come among ushere, for he died last night and his body is rotting among us. We shall all perish by this vile air!❝
Aga’s men opened the heavy iron door and carried out the stiffeened Radoyitsa. Becjir Aga glanced at him and waved his hand at the prisoners: ❝Take him away and bury him!,❝ he ordered.
His wife looked on suspiciously: ❝ He may not be dead, Aga my husband, he may just be pretending. Let someone kindle a fire on his breast: we shall then see whether he moves or not, the cunning scoundrel.❝
The servants hurried to do their mistress’s bidding. A bright fire was soon leaping from Padoyitsa’s breast. Under thaat breast was the heart of a hero who stood the torture without wincing or making the slightest move.
Bechir Aga’s wife never let him out of her sight. Yet she was not satisfied with the stiff immobility of the would – be corpse. When the fire died out she said to the servants:
❝ Go to our garden and fetch one of the snakes basking in the sun. You shall put it inside Radoyitsa’s shirt; if he is alive, the cunning scoundrel, he will be frightened and will certainly give himself away by a cry or a shiver. ❝
They fetched a snake from the sunny side of the garden, brought it and put it on Radoyitsa’s breats, but his brave heart withstood even that without flinching.
Yet that still did not convince the suspicious Turkish woman. ❝ I still do not believe he is dead, ❝ she said, pondering. ❝ Oh, I know,❝ she exclaimed. ❝ Take ten iron nails and drive them under his fingernails. We shall seee then whether the pain will force the cunning scoundrel to move or to wince. ❝
This the servants did: the nails were driven under Radoyitsa’s fingernails but his brave heart withstood that too. He neither winced nor drew a breath, in spite of the pain. Bechir Aga’s wife walked around his prostrate body and thought for a while before striking on a new way to test him.
❝ I still do not think he’s dead,❝ she said. ❝ Call all the young pretty maidens from our mansion and bring particulary the fairest of them all, our daughter Haykuna. She is to lead kolo around him. He must smile at her if he’s alive. ❝
The girls gathered around Radoyitsa and Haykuna. The fairest of them all began the kolo, dancing and jumping lightly to and fro around him as she led the others. Oh what a beauty that maiden was…! Tall and fair, shining like a bright star among her companions! Her necklaces rows of golden ducats and precious stones, were tinkling gaily in rhytm with her dancing steps, and her silken Turkish trousers rustled with every movement of her graceful young body.
Little Radoyitsa could not help slightly opening his leeft eye to cath a glimpse of her; as he did so, his right moustache curled up with a smile. Haykuna saw it and quickly took off her her velvet bodice. She covered his face with it, hiding it from her dancing companions and all the other onlookers.
❝ O dear father, do not commit such a heavy sin as this! Your caaptive is certainly dead – let our mentake him away and bury him, ❝ she said to Bechir Aga, letting herself out of the reel.
„No, do not bury the scoundrel, for that would be much too good an end for him. Throw him into the deep blue sea instead; let the fish feed on his rebel’s flesh,“ hissed her mother, Bechir Aga’s wife.
Bechir Aga went on the boat with his oarsmen and he himself threw Radoyitsa into the sea, far from the coast, far from any island or islet.
But Radoyitsa was a good swimmer. As soon as the oarsmen had turned their backs on him, he swam ashore and climbed a hill nearby.
❝ O my strong white teeth, take out these nails from my smarting flesh! ❝ he said aloud to himself, drew the nails out and carefully put them inside his shirt.
He waited for nightfall and then lightly walked back to Becir aga’s mansion, stopping in the dar shadows by a lighted window. Peering in, he saw Bechir Aga and his wife who had just sat down to their suppper. The Aga heaved a sigh of relief and said, turning to his wife:
❝ O my dear faithful wife, it is nine years now since Radoyitsa went to forests and became an outlaw, nine years since I could eat supper in peace, or go to sleep without fearing him. Allah be praised that he sould not be alive any longer! Thank Heavens that I have put and end to him and to my own anxiety! Only now can I safely hang my other twenty captives, and that I will do tomorrow, as soon as the day grows light, dear wife! ❝
Radoyitsa heard and saw all that was happening in the lighted room. Without thinking, he rushed in, caught tehAga and strangled him on the spot and then turned to his staggered wife. Taking the nails out of his shirt, he made he made as if to drive one under her fingernail. Hardly had it touched her flesh when the Turkish woman breathed her last , – from pain or fear – who could tell? Little Radoyitsa looked at her, saying:
❝ There, Bechir Aga’s wife, you know how much driving nails into your flash can hurt? ❝
Radoyitsa ran out and found Haykuna. ❝ Haykuna, my own dear heart, go and find the keys of the dungeon, for I want to let the twnty captives out of their mouldy, sad abode. ❝
Haykuna found the keys quckly and captives were let out of the dungeon.
❝ And now, Haykuna, my dear soul, go and find the keys from from the Aga’s treasury – the treasury he built up plundering us, Serbs and Christians. I want to take some of the tresure with me, for long is my journey and thirsty for wine I am, sweetheart. ❝
Haykuna gave him the keys and they descended to the vaults together. She opened a chest full of big silver coins and urged him to take as many as he wanted.
❝ No, Haykuna, my dear heart, what I am to do with these heavy silver plates? I own no horse to have shod with them. You had better open the other chest for me with the golden ducats. ❝
Haykuna obeyed him readily. Radoyitsa took all the ducats and divided them between himself and the twenty liberated captives, who then departed each to his own home.
As for Radoyitsa, he took Haykuna by the hand and let her over the river Drina to Serbia, on to a white church. Haykuna was christened there; changing her Turkish name for the Seerbian, she became Andjeliya, and that very day she was married to Radoyitsa, to whom she was a good and faithful wife all her life long.
From ‘A Buntle of Ballads’, retold by Nada Curcija Prodanovich
Compiled by Ruth Manning – Sanders
Illustrated by William Stobbs, Dusan Ristic
Oxford university press