Daughter of Luka and Luca Grabovac from the village of Varvara, serfs of the Rama aga Arslanaga Zukić from Rumboci, called Diva, was a fine girl of unusual and exceptional beauty, the beauty that comes as a sudden thunderstorm in the midst of a summer heat, a beauty that is inappropriate in a poor Rama village, far from the main roads, a godsend which, by human standards, is inappropriate in the home of a poor surf that could scarcely feed the hungry mouth with the pathetic.
Such beauty belonged to a rich noble house, where she sleeps in silk and velvet and whose hands are white, and the complexion pale, untouched by the sun or the winds rising from the proud, infamous and capricious Vran Mountain, full of wolves and the hajduks preying on the Turkish caravans and echoing with shepherd’s songs of maidens and moans of dying Turkish horsemen and members of caravans. But fate wanted the flower to grow among thorns, not in a fragrant garden. Diva’s beauty was her blessing and her curse, and just like other beauties, she would have stood out for a while, until the hard life surfs suffered under the oppressor wrinkled her face and erased the maiden beauty from her face, had she not caught the eye of the rich and wild Tahir-bey Kopčić, son of the Duvno ruler, Bey Džafer-bey Kopčić, lord of Rama, Duvno, Uskoplje, and Kupres. Young and arrogant Turk was not accustomed to anything opposing his will and wantonly spent money and wandered the Turkish empire in search of unbridled life.
Džafer-bey Kopčić’s arrogant son
Riding his full-blooded Arabian horse, which his father had recently given him to strut around fairs and feasts, one day he stumbled upon a young girl with her sheep, singing maiden songs and knitting needles near the well-used for the cattle by shepherds and other people. She noticed from a distance a furious rider arriving at a galloping horse. She knew he was a Turk, because common folk were not allowed to ride, especially not such a horse. Bey’s attire shimmered in the sun. Agas and beys sometimes came there to fetch water for themselves and their horses, curse at the oppressed Christian peasants who would wordlessly fetch them cold water from the deep well.
She asked her where she was from, and she told him that she was the daughter of Luka Grabovac from Varvara. He then asked her what her name was, and she answered, “Diva. (maiden)” He repeated her name, and commented it suited her well. She kept quiet.
As Diva turned her head and gaze away from the hated Turk, he rode up to her, jumped off his horse, tied the reins to a wooden pole by the well, approached the girl, and stopped in front of her, looking at her with a penetrating gaze, and moving the Damascus sabre to the back of his belt. He looked at her for a long time, for what seemed like an eternity to her. She knew who he was, the arrogant son of Džafer-bey Kopčić, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, who indulged in his father’s wealth collected in taxes, and who had songs sung about him. She averted her big blue eyes and waited for his order to fetch him water from the well. She was about to grab the chain when Tahir boldly grabbed her arm. While she stood petrified in fear and anticipation, he had already thrown the bucket into the water, abruptly drew it up, gulped the water and threw his black hair to the back, fixing the girl with his gaze. When he asked her where she was from, she told him that she was from Varvara and that she was the daughter of Luka Grabovac. He then asked her what her name was, and she answered, “Diva.” He repeated it and commented it suited her well. She kept quiet. He then asked if those were her sheep. She confirmed. “Who is your aga?”, he asked. “Arslanaga”, she answered. “So, is he a good lord?” “He is.” She dared not move or step away, as his impulsive nature was known far and wide. “Don’t be afraid lass”, he said. “I’m not”, she replied. “Do you bring the sheep here every day?” Diva kept silent and looked aside. Tahir jumped on the horse, pulled the reins, whirled his horse several times and said, “Be here tomorrow at the same time, I’ll come, you better be here.” He shouted to the horse and rode off at a gallop without waiting for her reply. Diva was rooted to the spot, her mind reeling. She quietly followed the sheep home, not telling anyone, not even her mother, what was coming. She sensed no good. She was anxious and unable to sleep.
She tried to console herself with the fact that Tahir was restless and that in a couple of days he would ride off to Istanbul or some other part of the empire he had not yet visited, to party and enjoy women’s company, and that the moment he rode off, he may have forgotten all about the poor peasant girl from Rama, of different faith. Sleep escaped her and she only closed her eyes at dawn, when the shepherds were already taking the cattle for the morning grazing and the sun was beginning to roll over the Vran’s peaks overgrown with thick black firs. Tahir came that day, and every other day, punctual and unrelenting. She could not hide from him, even though she came to the well at different times. If he did not find her at the well, he found her at the remotest pastures, where the Turks never set foot before. He would appear like a ghost, like an inseparable shadow, like the inexorable fate she could not fight, but could only let herself at the mercy of destiny and God’s will. He tried to persuade her every day, promising her the world, threatening her, bringing her gifts, and showing off. One day, she found the strength to tell him, “Don’t, you know I’m Christian, this befits neither of us.” He replied, “You will convert to Islam.” His words cut through her heart like a sword. “I will not change my faith”, she replied. He looked at her in bewilderment, and she removed a rosary from her bosom and showed it to him, “I will rather have a knife in my chest, then this taken from my chest.” Tahir jerked, waving a rosary in front of a bey was daring and crazy, who does this infidel girl think she is? His anger overwhelmed him, but he reined it in.
Through clenched teeth he said, “Let go of it, lass, that will change.” “Never, bey”, she answered loudly and confidently. He gripped her by the nape and by the hand firmly holding the rosary. “Girl, I’ve been nice to you so far, but you know my reputation perfectly well, and it’s no hot air, I can change how I treat you. I’ll come again soon, and watch what you’re going to tell me”. He pushed her away and she fell on the ground. He jumped on the horse, lashed it and rode off at a gallop, shouting. Diva remained on the ground, rooted to the spot. Tahir arrived home, his servants grabbed the frothing horse, and Tahir ran to the Bey’s tower. Old Džafer-bey, fat and swollen, almost unable to move, like an inhuman monster woken up from a deep sleep, sat on the pillows behind thin silk curtains. The young Turk stood before his father and said, “Father, I would marry.” The old Bey raised his cruel eyes, gave his son a piercing look and said, “Whom?” “An infidel girl, daughter of Luka Grabovac, an Arslanaga Zukić’s surf. She is as a beautiful as a rose, father.” Džafer-bey went mad and roared at his son. He tossed pots and chibouks, grunted, possessed by inhuman rage and strangled by his huge body. “Never, ever, for as long as I live! Never, you wretch! I would rather see you dead!” Tahir stormed out of the house and went to his mother. The old woman did not gladly accept her son’s intentions, on the contrary. But he persuaded her to talk to the Bey and ask for his permission to take Diva as his wife. Bey’s wife went to her husband and told him, “What sort of a Bey is he, if he cannot take from the infidels whatever he pleases. Who does this shepherdess think she is, to refuse the son of a great Bey? The infidel will convert to Islam before she sets foot in this house.” Hearing that Diva had rejected Tahir, the old Bey relented and said, “So be it. A Bey takes what he wants, a Bey does not beg to take.” When he heard this, the next morning Tahir happily climbed his horse and took two servants with him to abduct Diva. Diva came home distraught and afraid.
She knew of Tahir’s violent nature and savage character; she knew he would not give up. And she knew she wouldn’t yield. Two clashing characters, two faiths, two cultures, two peoples, two rams on a log across the river, one strong and cruel, protected by force and power, the other without rights, but ready to do anything, even sacrifice. She decided to tell her parents everything. Luka wringed his hands in frustration. He knew that he was facing a cruel force, the savage Tahir-bey Kopčić, whose fame spread beyond the poor Rama region, all the way to Istanbul, he knew of his father Džafer-bey, an unrelenting and cruel Bey, oppressor. He, a small and poor surf, a Christian, cannot in any way oppose this force without paying with his life and the lives of his entire family. His mind was reeling, until a thought occurred to him. It was that time of the year when cattle were shepherded to the mountains, to Vran and Ljubuša. The Grabovac family took its cattle to Ljubuša, every spring they took it there for the summer. Diva’s father realised in his distress that it might be best to send Diva with the shepherds, to hide her from Tahir. But back then, everyone knew where a family took the sheep to graze, including the Grabovac family. He will ask for help from his lord, Aga Arslanaga Zukić, the lord of Rama. He is a good man, he will understand, even though his reputation and power were nowhere near Džafer-bey’s, but perhaps he will help, yes, he will. Luka jerked, left the house and went to Arslanaga. When he arrived, he welcomed him warmly, for they already called themselves friends, and Arslanaga loved Diva as if she were his own child. Luka shared his troubles with Arslanaga. “My friend, I would not ask this of you if I were not so hardly pressed.” Aga said, “Tell me, ask of me, I will help the way I can. But you know that a bey is above an aga and that I neither have Džafer-bey’s strength or wealth and that he rules over me.” Luka said: “Nothing of the sort. I would ask something else of you. I will send Diva with the shepherds to the mountain, to hide until Tahir forgets about her. But he will eventually find out where she went and to which mountain we take our sheep. ”Arslanaga listened intently. “Our sheep graze on the Ljubuša Mountain and yours on the Vran Mountain. Let us switch, so that Diva goes to the Vran Mountain, and your shepherds to the Ljubuša Mountain. Arslanaga could not wait to help his friend, and so they did as planned. The next day before dawn, when Tahir set off from Duvno, Diva went with the shepherds and sheep to Vran, to the safety of the mountain.
When Tahir arrived with his servants to Rama, he searched everywhere, but did not find Diva. He realised that the sheep were gone and Diva probably with them too. He sent servants to enquire to which mountain Grabovac family takes it sheep. When the servants returned with the information, they continued to Ljubuša, but Diva was nowhere to be found. When he returned home, angry and disappointed, he told his father what had happened. The old Bey then wisely said, “Load the horses with all kinds of treasure, take sheep and cows with you, and go to the girl’s father to speak for her. Everyone has a price.”Tahir prepared the servants and the treasure, and sent them on their way; the horses, loaded with heavy cargo, struggled down the slope to the miserable Luka and Luca’s house, followed by the servants driving the sheep and cows. The envoy greeted Luka, who greeted him back, the servants retreated some distance away, and the envoy and Luka were left alone. “Luka, you must be wondering why we came to you.” “I know why,” Luke replied, “you have come in vain.” Masking his anger and pretending he did not hear Luka’s insolent response well, the envoy continued, “Your daughter has caught the eye of Tahir-bey, son of the mighty Džafer-bey Kopčić, the lord of Duvno.” Luka was silent. The envoy said, “To cut the story short, I came at his request to speak for Diva, and to that end…” he gestured to the overloaded horses and the herd of cattle “Bey will reward you well, and let it all be blessed and happy.” Luka looked up and found his courage, “Go and tell your Bey that Diva is not a cow to be bought with loot, we do not need the Bey’s treasure, and leave Diva alone.” The envoy leapt to his feet and rested his left hand on his curved dagger. “Careful infidel, you are a surf and an infidel, and Džafer is your Bey and lord, think carefully what you will say next.” Luka continued staring at the envoy angrily and wordlessly, while the servants exchanged whispers. His gaze went from the envoy’s eyes, to his hand on the dagger, to the axe leaning against the door, to the servants. When the envoy realised what might happen and that he was in a Christian village, he moved away, climbed his horse and whirled it, telling Luka: “Bey will hear about your insolence, and before you meet your maker, you will give Tahir what he wants, or Diva will end up in a grave.” Luka looked at him and said, “It will be as God wills.” The envoy, with his back already turned, angrily and contemptuously smiled to Luka over the shoulder and rode off at a gallop, shouting and driving the servants back. When the Bey’s envoy returned in the evening with his mission uncompleted, he told the Bey and Tahir what happened. Džafer-bey was enraged and ordered the horses to be saddled immediately, so as to go and take the bloody infidel’s head off. Tahir wanted to go with him, but the Bey said, “No, you gather your friends and go find the girl, if she is not on Ljubuša then she is on Vran, there is no third option.” Tahir seemed to barely wait and a knowing smile wiped the anger off his face.
He took the two, and left, while the servants lifted up the swollen Bey on a large cargo horse, and he rode with his whole suite. It was still dark when large party of horsemen arrived in Rama, illuminating the way with torches and lanterns, and the pounding of hooves, whinnying of horses, clanging of daggers, belts and harness, lot of noise. They came to Luka’s house, and he ran out to meet them with an axe. A couple of soldiers arrived before the Bey and the rest of the party, broke the windows and threw torches inside. Luka ran toward the column and attacked the Bey’s large horse, which reared up and threw the Bey off. The Bey fell heavily, crying for help, cursing and raging. A couple of soldiers overcame Luka and seized his axe, while the servants lifted the large Bey from the ground. The house was ablaze and lit up the village, and Luka was tied up and brought before the Bey. The Bey spat on him and cursed him. After a prolonged raging, striking and spitting, the Bey said, “You infidel dog, tell me where the girl is.” Luka spat on the Bey, and the enraged Bey thundered at the envoy: “Cut off his head.” He pulled out his curved dagger, the soldiers forced Luka on his knees, and he uttered his last words, “God, into your hands.” The blade flashed in the light of the burning house and disappeared in the dark. Silence fell, with only the fire crackling, and flames and sparks rose into the night sky. In the meantime, Luca rushed to Arslanaga for help. Luka sent her on her way as soon as he heard the horsemen in the distance. When she woke the Aga up and, anxious and gasping, told him what had happened that day, he realized why the Bey, who climbed his horse every five years, had now ridden up and brought along that many men. He then saw a large flame in the distance and heard the villagers’ roar. He also saw the horsemen filing out of the village, lit by torches and lanterns. He was saddened and suspected that his friend Luka had not survived the Bey’s visit. His chest was filled with anxiety, and he though in pain that they may have found out where Diva was. He left Luca crying in the house and ran out, where his servant watched the flames and bustle in the distance. He ordered him to saddle his horse. The servant obeyed, and Arslanaga climbed his black horse, cracked his whip and rode off at full gallop into the dawn lazily appearing behind Vran. Tahir was well ahead, but he did not know where the shepherd’s residences on the Vran Mountain were, where Diva might be. This comforted Arslanaga: “If they found out where she is, they will not find her before me.” It was already well past dawn when Tahir rode into the woods of the Vran Mountain, sent two servants to look for her in two directions, while he set off towards Polja, to the Kedžara location. He came across herds and shepherds, but no one was able, or perhaps did not want, to tell him, where Diva might be. When he came to a clearing on Kedžara, above Poljica, he saw the girl in her beauty, with cheeks rosy from the fresh mountain morning, sitting like a forest fairy under a fir tree, watching the sheep, humming a song and pleating another girl’s hair. When they heard Tahir’s horse whinnying, Diva and her friend jerked in fear and jumped to their feet. Surprised, holding her breath, she looked at him, and he looked at her. Her gaze was timid and innocent, like a doe’s, while his dark eyes were clouded and furious. When he got off his horse and quickly walked toward her, she stirred and told her friend, “Run as fast as you can.” Her friend did not want to leave Diva, begging her to come with her. Diva was determined not to hide anymore and to refuse Tahir’s advances once and for all.
The girl ran into the darkness of the forest, leaving Diva at Tahir’s mercy. He approached Diva wordlessly, and tore her shirt, intending to strip her and take her right there and then. She grabbed the rosary around her neck and screamed, and resisted the rapist. At that moment, they heard the pounding of hooves in the distance. It was Arslanaga, approaching on his black horse, already pulling out his dagger to cut down Tahir. Tahir jumped to his feet and dragged Diva with him: “On the horse! On the horse, quickly!” Diva freed herself from his hands, he reached for her and grabbed her again. Frightened and panicking, he shouted at her and dragged her toward the horse: “Diva, climb on the horse, this is the last time I am telling you!” It was a matter of seconds. Arslanaga was merely a hundred meters away when Tahir dragged Diva, crying and bruised, to his horse. Seeing that he would not be able to lift her on the horse and that Arslanaga was only several dozen metres away, he pulled the dagger from the saddle and stabbed the girl in the stomach and chest. Diva took a short, painful breath, which turned into a barely audible moan. Tahir dropped the girl and she fell down; he jumped on the horse and rode off at a gallop. Arslanaga, shaken by the scene, slowed down, jumped off the still moving horse, kneeled beside Diva and hugged her already numb body. Her blood soaked the turf around the proud firs growing on the Vran Mountain. Diva looked into Arslanaga’s tearful eyes with a dying look. “Goodbye, friend.” “Don’t, don’t, my child, don’t Diva! Don’t, my flower…!”. Arslanaga cried like a child, holding Diva’s dying body in his arms. A scream of pain and anger broke out of him, and rage contorted his face. He gritted his teeth and his eyes blazed. As he lowered the dead girl on the grass, tears streaming down his cheeks, he kissed her forehead and swore, “Sweet child, Arslanaga will avenge you, I swear to you by God and Allah! He ripped the knife from her chest and jumped on the horse dark as the night, whipped it furiously and rushed after Tahir. He caught up with him on a meadow, and knocked him off his horse. They fought, wrestled and rolled around, wild and furious. Tahir was panic-stricken, frothing at the mouth, gritting his teeth, feeling his strength seeping out of him. Arslanaga knocked him down and punched his face, and his temple, again and again, until his face was entirely smashed and unrecognizable … “Don’t, Arslanaga, stop, my father will give you three loads of treasure.” Arslanaga took out Tahir’s long dagger and shouted: “You will not return to your father for dinner, Luka Grabovac sends his greetings by Arslanaga, his lord!” Arslanaga stabbed Tahir in the heart. Tahir rolled his eyes, let out a wheezing breath and died. Arslanaga angrily pulled out the knife, spat on the dead Tahir and with a painful grimace threw the dagger far away. Young men and girls, who abandoned their cattle, arrived to the spot. They had run like their lives had depended on it. They found her under the fir tree, in the grass, lying like a fairy among the mountain flowers. She resembled a bird with broken wings, clutching her rosary. They washed the blood off her and buried her under the same tree where she gave her young innocent life for the holy faith and the holy cross, for her tradition and her people. Her mother knelt silently on the grave, with emotionless and dead face, wind coming from the mountain at night playing with her grey hair. It was a summer evening, on the first Sunday after St. Peter’s Day, at Kedžara, on Vran, on the Mountain. They are all gone now, the mother, the shepherds, the Turks and the oppression, the Kopčić family. Turf covered Diva’s grave and proud Vran remained as a silent witness for years to come, while Diva went into legend.
Hundreds of years later, another girl was tending to her sheep on the same spot. By then, Diva’s grave was lost and forgotten, only the legend remained. The girl was seriously ill and her condition deteriorated dramatically while she watched the sheep on the clearing at Kedžara. Feeling that her young life might have come to its end, she lay down on the grass under a fir tree, and, overcome by her condition, closed her eyes and fell asleep. At the end of the day, other shepherds found her, thinking she was dead, because they knew of her condition. But when they reached her, the girl woke up healthy and healed. A miracle had happened. Not knowing, she had fallen asleep on Diva’s grave. When they removed a layer of dirt on that spot, to place a mark commemorating this miracle, they discovered a skeleton and realised they had found the long-forgotten grave of Diva Grabovčeva. From that day on, on the first Sunday after St. Peter’s Day, crowds of pilgrims from all regions populated by Croats flock to Diva’s grave to celebrate the Holy Mass, and stage Diva’s martyrdom, honouring the memory of the Croat heroine and Catholic martyr, Diva Grabovčeva.