Predrag and Nenad
Heroic Ballads of Serbia
George Rapall Noyes & Leonard Bacon
A mother reared two tender sons, in a hungry time and year,
At her left and right. And Predrag, that is to say, “Most Dear,”
She named the first with a fair name; also the second son
Nenad she named, that is to say, “the Sudden, Unlooked-for one.”
Predrag grew strong to wield the spear and the steed to ride upon:
He ran away from his mother; unto the wood he sped,
To the hayduks and the outlaws. Nenad his mother bred;
Nenad forgot his brother, nor pondered him upon.
Nenad grew strong to wield the spear and the steed to ride upon:
He ran away from his mother; unto the wood he sped,
To the hayduks and the outlaws. Three years that life he led.
He was a hero fortunate and lucky amid the spears;
His comrades made him their captain; he was their chief three years.
But woe was him for his mother; to his comrades all he spake:
“Comrades,” said he, “now woe is me for my dear mother’s sake!
Let us divide our treasures and go to our mothers dear.”
Gladly his comrades thereunto harkened and gave an ear.
When they took out their treasures, each man a great oath sware,
For one sware by his brother and one by his sister fair.
But when Nenad took his treasure, he spake to his comrades by:
“Comrades, my brothers, brother nor sister at all have I;
But—so may the one God hear me!—may this arm be withered and lean,
May the mane of the stallion fall, may rust devour the saber keen,
If any of the treasure I have kept from other men!”
When they had divided the treasure, he mounted his charger then,
The little and the nimble; to his mother forth he went,
And well did she receive him, and they feasted in content.
When they sat down at dinner, said Nenad to the dame:
“My gentle mother, surely before all men is it shame!
I would say thou wert not my mother, ’fore God were it not a sin.
Why didst thou bear me no brother, or sister of my kin?
When my comrades divided the treasure, each man among them sware
A great oath, by his brother or by his sister fair;
But, mother, by myself I sware, and my weapons fair to see,
And also in that hour by the good horse under me.”
“Speak not foolishly, Nenad!” his mother laughed in his face;
“A brother indeed, and one ‘Most Dear,’ have I borne unto thy race.
But yesterday did I hear of him; with the hayduks he abides
In the wood of Gárevitsa, and chief of them all he rides.”
“Mother, now make me new raiment of the green;
Short shalt thou make it, fitting in the forest to be seen,
That forth in the wood to find him in this hour I may go,
And that thus may pass from my spirit the weight of living woe.”
His mother dear bespake him: “Speak not like a fool,” said she;
“Nenad, my son, in very truth thou wilt perish miserably.”
But Nenad heard not his mother, nor would harken what she said;
Whate’er was pleasing in his sight, he did that thing instead.
He made himself new raiment; he wrought it of the green;
And short he made it, fitting in the forest to be seen.
He mounted the steed; to his brother through the forest did he go,
That thereby might pass from him his weight of living woe.
He made no sound, he spat not, to the steed he spake not at all;
When to Gárevitsa wood he came, like a gray hawk did he call:
“Green wood of Gárevitsa, holdest thou hidden in thee;
The ‘Most Dear,’ my true brother?—My mother’s son is he!
Keepest thou not the hero that will bring my brother to me?”
’Neath a green fir sat Predrag and drank the yellow wine.
When he heard the voice, he spake to his men: “Ho, comrades good of mine!
Go forth to the road in ambush; for the champion unknown
Ye shall wait; ye shall not rob him, nor shall ye strike him down:
Bring him alive to me, hither. Whate’er his lineage shows,
He is kin to me.”
And thereupon full thirty lads arose.
In three places were they ambushed, in every place ten men;
But none dared go before him, when he came to the tirst ten,
To seize his steed; and forthwith they shot against him then.
Nenad spake ’mid the arrows: “Wood-brethren, shoot me not,
Lest woe for a brother smite you, such as drove me to this spot.”
The outlaws of the ambush, in peace they let him past.
When he came on to the second ten, the shafts flew fierce and fast.
Said Nenad ’mid the arrows: “Wood-brethren, shoot me not,
Lest woe for a brother smite you, such as drove me to this spot,
For sorrow of him hath smitten me.” In peace they let him past.
When he came to the third ambush, the shafts flew fierce and fast.
Then Nenad the young was angry; he smote the thirty then.
With the edges of the saber he smote on the first ten;
The second ten he trampled with the stallion as he could;
And the third ten he scattered in his anger through the wood,
Some of them in the forest, and some beside the flood.
One shouted unto Predrag: “A plague on thee alight!
A hero unknown in the forest hath slain thy friends in fight.”
To his nimble feet leaped Predrag; he took his arrows and bow;
Down to the road to the ambush behind a fir did he go.
With an arrow from the stallion he smote down Nenad the young.
In the heart was he hit; he shrieked like a hawk; to the saddlebow he clung,
“Hero of the green wood, may thy right hand wither and dry!
God slay thee alive and the right hand the arrow that let fly.
May thy right eye be blasted wherewith thou hast looked on me!
May woe for a brother smite thee, as erst it smote on me,
Which drove me wretchedly hither, in evil luck to die!”
When Predrag heard, he questioned from the fir tree on high:
“Who art thou, wounded hero, and of what race art thou?”
“Foh! and wherefore thereof dost thou question now?
Dost thou seek a maiden in marriage? In faith I will give thee none!
I am the hero Nenad, and my mother liveth alone,
And I have but one born brother, a brother born ‘Most Dear,’
And in a bitter hour I sought to find him here,
That thereby at last should pass away the weight of my living woe;
And I came on evil fortune and life’s very overthrow.”
Predrag heard, and let fall the shafts; in bitter terror he was;
He ran to the wounded hero and laid him on the grass:
“Is it thou, my brother Nenad? I am Predrag, thy brother dear.
Canst thou mend of the wound? My raiment I will rend in pieces here,
And heal thee well, and bandage thee with the strips of linen fine.”
And the wounded Nenad answered:
“Is it thou, brother mine?
Glory to God the highest, that I have looked on thee.
The burden of my living woe is passed away from me.
I cannot mend, but of my hurt bloodguiltless mayst thou be!”
So Nenad spake, and thereupon forth his strong spirit went,
And Predrag lifted up his voice with a miserable lament:
“Ah, Nenad, my fair splendid sun, early for me didst thou rise,
And early set! Ah, basil flower of my green paradise,
Early didst thou bloom, and early didst thou wither here for me!”
From the scabbard at his girdle he wrenched the poniard free;
Right through his heart he plunged it. The blood ran swift and red;
Down brother fell by brother: the dead lay with the dead.