By Nimfa Hakani/
Note from the author: The story unveils circa 1457 in the castle of Gjergj Arianit Commneni, the Albanian prince known as the father in law of the National Hero, Prince Gjergj Kastrioti, The Scanderbeg./
Donica was walking in her mother’s flower garden. Her infant was sleeping quietly in his crib under a tree. She approached the crib time to time to look at her son’s angelic face, and his two tiny, small fists on his pink little cheeks. Every time he opened his wide blue eyes, the child looked at her as the only existing thing to him. He was the greatest pleasure, the joy, the life itself. The Creator had granted her the gift to bring in life such an incredible, small creature, which made her heart race every time she would see his tiny face. A smile appeared in her face as she ran her finger gently over his tiny nose
Looking at him, Donica thought about her husband. This little miracle’ features had a strong resemblance with the man she was in love with, the man to whom she has dedicated her life, her soul. Looking at her newborn’s face she got lost in her thoughts and her mind took off in the world she became part of these past few years.
Her lord husband was the prince whose name had enlightened every soul of their land, up to the most lost and remotest areas of the mountains in the country. Mothers would tell their children about his deeds and heroic battles every night before bed time. Fathers would kiss their children goodbye and would join her husband’s army without blinking the eye even if he wasn’t their prince. He had become a legend, and almost a divine symbol to everyone in the nation of Albanians. Everyone felt hope since he took over the fight against the ottomans. His myth has reached even the courts of Europe.
The daughter of one of most powerful princes in the country, Arianit Komneni, she married the man for whom, many princesses, single or married, had fantasized about, and most prominent men in the county wanted to be him or to serve beside him. Even her own father, the proud, stubborn, the great prince Arianiti, secretly admired her husband and envisioned to be him! The Old Man, as the people in the castle called him, would never show his feeling to others, and especially to Kastrioti. But she knew! The only person she was certain about in her life was her father. She grew up on his lap. She was the first child! She knew every gray hair in his head. Although she was too young, she knew his most inner thoughts. He used to keep her around his council since she was an infant herself.
Donica’s thoughts were swirling in her head like the weather before a hurricane. Her mind was going back and forth through all the mixed emotions of the motherhood, womanhood, and childhood in a strange order.
There she was back at her father’s castle visiting her own kinsmen. It was an old custom; the bride had to spend some time at her parents’ house after she had her first new born and every three years after that. But for Donica it was not a simple formality. She really needed to get away from everything for a while. She needed to think. She needed to have a good grasp of her new life and the place she had in it. And what more comfortable place than the castle she grew up she could find to think thoroughly about it away from the sounds of war. The relaxed atmosphere she was surrounded in her father’s castle these past few days gave her the serenity to think, analyze, and reflect upon all the things and changes she went through these last years. For the first time she understood the real meaning of the custom.
The newly married women needed time to adjust with their new life. Visiting their parents after having their first newborn it helped them to amend themselves. This great likelihood was given to the new bride by the old, customary tenets. She thought with respect for the men that crafted that tenet. “It takes e wise man to understand the need of a young woman to have an adjustable time in her parents’ house once in a while,” she thought.
Her thoughts went back to her husband. Her Lord husband was not only a great leader and warrior, and a Prince, the knight that came to save the country from the ottomans, but a very handsome man too. Many eligible princesses had dreamed being in her position, many prominent families had tried hard to make him the son in law. Some princesses even tried to turn their husbands against him, when unable to have him priory to their marrige. The great Moisiu, a great worrier, known as one of his best knights, pushed to the edge by the greed of his wife, turned his back and joined the enemy forces against his idol. She saw in Her Lord’s face the hurt Moisiu had caused by switching on enemy’s side. It wasn’t just the pain of the loss of one of his commanders; it was the loss of a close, dear friend.
She was inexperienced when she got married to Kastrioti, a man already in his mid forties. She did not know many things about men at the time. Better to say, she knew nothing. Some old women in the castle gave her many advises on marriage affairs before the wedding, but it was so much, and so unreal all she heard from them the week before the wedding, she was not able to perceive it all. The harsh reality she experienced after the marriage was much different from what she thought. Her world was dramatically turned upside down after the wedding. Everything was different. She did not have the attention she used to have in her father’s castle. She had duties to carry out as the Lady of the Castle from morning till night. She saw her Lady Mother perform her duties, but it was totally different. In her Lord Husband’s castle everything was about war. In her father’s castle was more about peace, beauty, and hospitality. Her Father kept the matters of wars away from the women.
Have been few years after the marriage she did not fully adapt to the way things were in Kruja’s castle. She experienced things that she had never a chance to before. She was living with the Man that was constantly away fighting wars. She saw, she heard, and dealt with things the other women did not have the chance to. This land had faced great deal of turmoil. She had witnessed it every day in the Castle of Kruja*. There were wars too when she grew up in her Lord Father’s castle but they did not have the same meaning they had for her now. In Kruja’s Castle, the war was almost within the walls with profound, visible scars everywhere, on people and objects alike.
Back then she was Arianiti’s daughter, a young lady whose life was perfect. She was the loved, by anyone, the delight of her father’s princedom, the lucky young princes who made proud the people of her homeland by marring their hero. She was the First lady of the Kruja’s castle. She was blessed with the best gift a woman could, a child. Her son had a great chance to be the future king of Albania, and She, the mother of the king. And, why wasn’t she pleased? She had everything a woman would dream and she felt restless.
Her Lord Father had her spoiled. She was his beautiful butterfly, his gemstone. She was kept her away from the worries of life. She was constantly cheerful, living more like a child than a young woman while in his court. She had perceived the sound of the war as if it was far away from her world. She was the joy of the Arianiti’s castle. She brought the light of life and smile to the people when the blast of the war and the fear of the Turks would float in the air. Nothing in the world would touch her purity and joyfulness. The sound of her singing in the early morning would echo from one stone house to another, infiltrating the house walls, lifting the souls of people while mourning for the loss of the loved ones. First thing each morning she would go and give a kiss on the forehead to her father making the burden of princedom’s affairs in his mind briefly disappear. Her mother‘s life was blessed by having her around, while her father and her brothers were away on wars.
Now she was the Wife of the Grand Kastrioti who never had a real break in between the wars. As Kastrioti’s wife she had had the chance to see for the first time from the crenels the enormous ottoman army spread around the walls of Kruja’s Castle as a black plague. She had heard the deafening blast of the cannons. She had seen the gravely, wounded soldiers carried away from the battlements of the castle. Many times she attended to the wounded in their struggle with life and death. She met with women whose lives had been shattered by the loss of their husbands and son’s in battles. She saw the empty expression on the face of orphans who had lost their identity with the loss of their families. Their entire family had been killed. There was no one left to take care of them. A few of them were lucky to escape with a sister or brother, but they walked miles and miles to reach the Kruja castle to meet the Great Kastrioti.
She had to come up with a temporary orphanage for the children. She attended the grounds of it daily to make sure the children were given the proper care. She saw the anguish in the children’s faces, and the torment they had gone through while listening to their stories. Some of them did not talk much. They stared in the space, and sometimes, when someone approached them, startled, they jumped on their feet. The fear shown on their faces was terrifying. These were the children who had witnessed the killings. The rest had found their family slaughtered. That was the real face of war she had never seen before. She had heard only the echo of it.
She saw the face of war also on Her Lord’s Husband’s face every time when He came back home from a battle. She saw the devastation on his face for the loss of his brave soldiers, the worry about the poverty hitting the country deeper and deeper, the new wrinkles and deep creases on his rugged face after each battle. Then she had the baby. It was after that she started to see the world in a deeper meaning, much deeper, and understand the meaning of loss in the core of her bones.
The child moved and she approached the crib. The two blue, big, beautiful eyes, opened up and the infant looked at her. A great unknown feeling filled her chest and a sense of immense, new emotions spread out in her and she breathed deeply.
Her spirit found peace looking at her son’s face. The light of the dawn and the blue color of his innocent eyes made her forget about the reality and she got lost in the world of motherhood. She felt the strong urge to feed him. She took him in her arms, sat down in the chair next to the crib, positioned his body to her chest, lifted her white blouse and lowered her breast to his mouth.
His small head moved quickly and his tiny mouth caught her nipple and started to enjoy the fluid of warm milk going down his tiny throat. His eyes were already closed as his lips moved rhythmically. The emotions that would fill her spirit every time she would breastfeed him was not comparable with any other feelings she had experienced in her young, short life. No one, not even her great husband made her feel that way.
Mother and the child were lost in the oldest, language of communication. Nothing existed in the moment but the sensation they conveyed to one another. The magic, primeval language exchanged in silence between mother and infant since the world was created, that special bond between the mother and the offspring could not be understood by anyone but them and them only. It was the only thing that made sense in that crazy, chaotic world that she had a hard time to perceive sometimes.
Arianiti, sitting in his rocking chair, was looking at his daughter and her newborn for a while. The view was so magic that would please the ego of every proud creator beyond any expectations. The togetherness of the youth, beauty, and the innocence created the rarest view for his eyes. She was nourishing the child of Kastrioti, he thought. His own blood mixed with Kastrioti’s was flowing inside that infant’s veins. Yes! This child’s flesh and blood was part Kastrioti and part Commneni! What a superb combination! “It was royal blood inside that little, fragile body!” Pride filled his chest and he breathed hard. “Yes!” The old man almost cried inwardly, “That child would be the future king of Albania! And HE is my grandchild!” And He, The Great Gjergj Arianit Commneni. was the reason for making it happened. That infant was his own creation. He made that child! He created him. He arranged the marriage between his daughter and Kastrioti in a very subtle way.
The pride made Arianiti’s blood flow fast. The old man felt his heart beating more than usual. His healer has advised him to save himself from strong emotions. But how could he save himself from this. The whole thing was a master piece. The picture where the magic view of his own flesh and blood down there would include Him on the side of the Kastrioti’s name was very inviting. Looking at his daughter and his grandchild, his thoughts took a long journey.
He dreamed all his life to reign above others. He thought he had a hereditary right and he most certainly deserved more than any one to be the First King of Albania on grounds of personal traits and accomplishments only. He had proved to be a great prince for his princedom and a great strategist on war’s expertise in the homeland.
The country, which was shattered in so many princedoms, was never able to deal with internal problems and be united. Without a slights chance for a break in any moment, Albanians, never had a chance to take a deep breath to rebuild or take care of domestic affairs from one attack to another except in the short times of honored peace that were never fully honored. The enemies were constantly at the borders. From the south, east, north and west, mountains or seas, from everywhere they appeared as a black cloud in horizon trying to take over the homeland.
Being the most powerful prince of Fatherland, although he tried, he had never been able to put together the princes, nor with violence or intrigue, either through alliance. Each prince had his own mind. He, himself, was no different from others. No one was able to accept someone else’s leadership. They were willing to make pacts with the enemy in order to destroy their fellow prince neighbor than unite. Every prince’s dream was to take other fellow countryman’s land, without caring what damage would bring all that to the homeland’s future. It has been that way for decades as he would recall as the oldest of all princes in his lifetime.
Somehow, something changed. A man that was taken away as a child from ottomans would appear suddenly in the horizon of the history. He was taken away from his terrified mother’s arms. His father, one of Arianiti’s strongest rivals, prince Gjon Kastrioti, was defeated badly by the Ottomans.
He imagined Gjon, seating in his glamorous chair in the council chamber of his castle with his head banded on the side, with bitter tears in his eyes, ashamed for letting all that happening! Seating there, leaning on the right arm of the chair, tightening his fists in despair, unable to do anything to save his heirs, his flash and blood, powerless seeing the Ottomans snatching his sons away from him one by one, to waste them in the eastern world, to convert them in Islamic religion, to change them, to make them denounce their Motherland, their own language, their traditions, to make them forget who they were, to make them forget their own father and mother.
As the years passed, from all Old Kastrioti’s sons, the youngest, Gjergj Kastrioti, was the only one to survive the turmoil of conversion. He came back to his homeland after more than three decades among the ottomans and declared his father’s princedom. In his service to ottomans, initially, the talented young man, after attended the janissaries’ infantry camps training, was sent to all eastern battles by the ottomans, known not to be so trustworthy to be sent on western battleships. They did not trust his Albanian birthright. He climbed very fast on the ottoman army hierarchy ranks; won all battles, not one lost. With time he became one of the favorite men to the sultan’s court, the most successful general of all times in the whole empire, an empire that was determined to conquer the Europe as the last bastion. Known already as the famous, unbeatable, ottoman’s army the general Scanderbeg, he was finally trusted with an important mission.
Hunyadi in Balkan, was becoming a great danger for the ottomans. His army, formed only by common peasant, was defeating ottoman’s strong, organized army constantly. The great plans invading Europe were going in fumes. Sultan called upon the unbeatable Scanderbeg forgetting what blood was flowing all these years in his veins. There were no worries on that regard. His brothers were already converted and living the Eastern life style.
With the victories on the East, he had gained their trust to the point that even the Big Council and Grand Vizier, under the sultan’s request, decided to send him to confront The Great Hunyadi. He was the only one who could defeat Hunyadi in his tactics, they concluded. Their strategies were very similar.
“Poor sultan,” Arianiti smiled thinking of that moment. “There you went wrong my sultan! You thought you won him by showering him with titles and lavishing, oriental lifestyle.” the old man thought, “Way wrong my sultan, way wrong!!” A rare smile covered his face. His thoughts, flowing in his mind, were giving him a great deal of pleasure.
Gjergj Kastrioti, the so called the Scanderbeg by the Turkish, or Iskander in the honor of the Great Alexander, traveled through the east escorted by his trusting unit, formed only by three hundred Albanian country service men.
As soon as they reached Balkan, the escort did not join the Ottoman army that was waiting for Scanderbeg to take the command against Hunyadi. Kastrioti change the course of his expedition and took a different route instead. He ended up in his homeland where he proclaimed his father’s castle and princedom. From that moment and on he started to negotiate with his fellow countrymen princes, as well as the foreign powers and tried hard to gather all the princes of the country in an alliance. After long, difficult negotiation, he achieved to form for the first time in history of the country an army supported by all, but lead only by him. For the first time of the history of the country, and as far as Arianiti knew, just one year after taking over his Father’s castle, Kastrioti became the architect of the League of Lezhe, March 1444, a gathering of all Albanian nobles in a neutral land, the city of Lezha which had been under the protectorate of Venetians for decades now, where the princes would discuss the war matters of the nation and how to handle them. It was something that never happened before as far as he knew. Only in the ancient Greece and in the Roman republic had he heard such demokratia, the rule of people, taking place. It was not exactly the same he thought, the nobles were not elected by the people, but the freedom to make decisions in the League was the same principal. The princes, concern by great dimensions of which the ottoman invasion was taking place, had come to agreement on the first assembly of the League to contribute to any danger from the Ottomans that would bring the country to the brig of a war. They agreed to give Kastrioti the charge of the army, but no one was willing to add more glory to the man that was destined to complete great deeds, and risk their tittle. They recognized him as the commander in chief of the army, but a good number of them did not take any important role in the battles against the ottomans. They left almost everything to him discretely hoping he would not survive long to the structured ottoman army. “Jealousy and selfishness, as part of human nature, had destroyed the destiny of great men in centuries and as a consequence the fate of the countries in questions”, was his favorite quote.
He knew where Kastrioti was heading with the League of Lezhe. It was a prevailing way to bring the princes together in one room to agree and disagree and make them conscientious about the nation’s fate. This was the first time in the history of the country that this kind of governing was happening. The League of Lezhe was a big step toward a unified kingdom under one man. Kastrioti had everything a king represented. But Albanian princes were not ready to accept a king over their heads. He, Arianiti was not ready either. He supported Kastrioti in his endeavors, but he knew where to stop.
A quick shadow passed through his face for a moment and a sad smile followed it, when the last thought crossed his mind. He, Kastrioti knew the peril that came from pushing other princes to accept his authority, that’s why he decided that the gathering would take place in Lezha. The stubbornness and the blindness of the princes to see clearly the grotesque menace that was coming from the east as a dark cloud that predicted a lingering tempest to the nation of Albania was irrational and came from the possessive obsession with their title. It was a disease spread all over the Europe, but was even stronger in this homeland. He was not spared from it. He understood and he knew. Kastrioti had a greater vision than any of them for the future, he was aiming to create a united kingdom of Albania using for now the invisible model of the confederacy that preserved the sovereignty of each princedom.
He, Kastrioti, had what it takes to be not only a great man in command, but even a King; however, he, Arianiti, couldn’t come to the terms to see anyone over his head, even the great Kastritoti who Turks nicknamed after the Alexander the Great. He was no different from others. This is how it was and this is how it was going to be. He knew the word KING was being used freely lately among the common people when referring to Kastrioti, as people clearly saw the hope at this great man who appeared from nowhere to stand by them, but all Arianiti and the most of nobles could accept was, A Great Man in Command! They left the war to him, sending often lower ranking men in their place. They did not feel comfortable to fight on his side. They did not want to take orders from him. They did not want to live in his shadow. They did not want to share the glory with him, though he was living the glory as they took lodging in their castle planning hunting expeditions and negotiating secret alliances with venetians or ottomans.
The nobles were not capable to see beyond the land that surrounded their castle. They were not able to see that he, Kastrioti, was going down in history. But he, Arianity had a greater vision. He had outwitted the other princes. His name was the second name to be mentioned after Kastrioti’s. And the reason, he made a pause, was that little creature in his daughter’s arms. He did not have to accept the Man as the king, he had just done it. His grandson was going to be the King of Albania. “The times are going to change when he grows up”, he thought.
Unfortunately Kastrioti was following the wrong route to unite the country in a kingdom waiting for the princes’ consent, Arianiti followed the trail of his thought. He presumed that with time they will come to understand the big threat the nation was facing; he hoped they would come to the terms to unite their princedoms under a kingdom and accept him as a king. He had learned a lot in the ottoman court, Arianiti contemplated, but one thing: the backstabbing, intrigues, poisoning, murder in a mountain’s remote passage by an invisible stranger, an accidental death while in a hunting excursion, and most of all, the ancient divide and conquer ploy. All were the quickest and safest way to obtain the power and get the deed done. It was the way how it had been in centuries. All emperors and kings had acquired power using those methods.
But unfortunately it was not in him to use such low schemes and trickeries. What kind of a mankind species was He? This was the first time Arianiti thought about it. He felt baffled.”Really!” he voiced his thoughts this time, “What kind of a man is He?” He looked down the horizon and stood there looking in the far distance in Kruja’s castle direction wondering about this unconventional man.
How had he, Kastrioti, the youngest child of Gjon, had survived the severe Spartan-like training in the janissaries camps, the brainwashing, the lavish life thrown in his lap when he grew up, the women that were part of ultimately absorbing the body and mind of a young man on forgetting his past, his inheritance, his birthright? He thought. His brothers didn’t, and many other even older boys of different backgrounds did not. How did this man left behind his title of the Alexander the Great, The Beg Iscander, of the Ottoman Empire to become to become Gjergj Kastrioti, the prince of the impoverished Kruja Castle? What drove him to do it? How did this man survive it all and preserved everything from his childhood and came back to outshine the ones that since they were born, drank the water and ate the bread of this soil. The rightful princes of Albania! He scoffed. Some of them called him “The Turk” to undermine his uprising in the Albanian horizon.
How it was possible for him to pass through twenty some years in the ottoman lifestyle and not forget his homeland. There was a rumor, he recalled, of an old, legionary soldier sent by his father, Gjon Kastrioti, to stay close to him and watch his upbringing. Why this old soldier did not save his brothers that were older and remembered more about the land they grew up, and were more the rightful heir for the Kastrioti princedom? Something was different about this Man, Arianiti concluded. Maybe his father, the quick-witted, sly Gjon Kastrioti, had noticed his youngest son was different from his brothers; that’s why he sent the old legionary soldier after him.
Arianiti’s thoughts went back to the way Kastrioti was leading the country. He was wasting his time; Arianiti followed the thread of his thoughts. He was not achieving what he had designed in his mind because he was applying the demokratia style. While he was not using the divide and conquer methods, others around him were. You cannot win if you do not use the same methods your adversary uses. Arianiti has experienced that first hand. His way of trying to convince his cohort princes in a peaceful manner was working against him, he reflected. And he had to deal and handle more than the nobles.
The Venetian delegates were always present in the Lezha gatherings. They stood in the corner of the Big Chamber with their black togas and lookalike crow’s appearance listening carefully to the debates of Albanian princes. Staying quiet in their corner they studied the body language, the face expression, the tone of the voice of the participants. They were there as allies, but in the meantime they were in secret negotiation with all the adversaries of the Lezha League. They were cunning and unscrupulous. They shifted their alliances where their monetary interest laid. Kastrioti treated them with more caution than every other power. He was diplomatic with them, but did never trust them. Albanians needed to be safe on the north, and their need for supply of food and equipment by the Venetians made them close an eye to the secret, dual agenda the Venetians played. No one trusted them. Their continuous double game has created a dubious reputation about them in the diplomatic circles. The venetians knew how to use their power and gold to succeed in their undertakings and be so to speak in good terms with everyone. In their sway, diplomatic game using others for their gain it was an unspoken, legitimate norm.
His knowledge about the war, his boisterous victories, the way he stood in each Lezha council, great and mighty, the way he faced and dealt with the conniving Venetians or the princes that have tried attempts on his life with such calmness, made the ones who were against him feel smaller than they were in his presence. He showed a greatness that came from within, so natural that made everyone in the Lezha League to feel as if he was greater than life itself.
Gjergj Kastrioti, The Scanderbeg
He made the princes to deeply give in to his authority and back up and vote in favor of his proposals each time the council was called upon Lezha’s League. But, once some of them were back on their horses in the way home to their castle, they experienced in their travels the love that common people had for Him, the Great Kastrioti. The peasants would come out of their way, waiting on the side of the roads to meet their nobles after each Lezha’s gathering and ask about Kastrioti’s wellbeing and news about the decisions made at the League. Those encounters made them grow more uneasy feelings toward the man that even was stealing what belonged to them, the worship of their dwellers. The envy of Kastrioti being more mentally present in their turfs than they were, outshining them among their constituencies even if the peasants had never met The Man, and them being obliged to answering their questions on and on putting even a smile in their face and even showing great consideration for The Man, made them feel as a second level abiding vassals, would levitate the word “The Turk” inside them with strong pungent undertones. That was the group that couldn’t come against him openly although they did not agree with anything he did. There were two reasons for that, first, they had a face to save in front of their dwellers, second, he imposed his authority on them without them understanding how during the Lezha gathering. They could not help but bend to his authority and accept his logical arguments. They did not quite understand how they voted pro to all his proposals and turned them into rulings. It was as if they were under his spell while in his presence.
The jealousy made them blind enough to not understand he was making history. Often they thought how to eliminate him attempting in a few occasion on his life. They detested him for leaving the twenty years of glory in the Sultan’s court, the glory of the battles he won in the East, the luxury and the lavish lifestyle all the high rank official were entitled to in the ottoman empire and for coming back taking all the stardom away from them.
He was wasting his time, he is not going to succeed in his plans, Arianiti repeated again. If he went the other way, he probably would have had everyone under his scepter by now. But he couldn’t do otherwise. Some leaders come in their stardom by mere circumstances or by forcing themselves taking a small spot in history. Kastrioti was born to make history. He was one of a kind of human species.
The Old Man took a deep breath. The flashes of the events that had gone through his mind in those moments made him straighten his back and look up in the bright, blue sky. He breathed deeply the fresh morning air. He looked down at his Grandson, the flash of his flesh, and the blood rushed to his face. He felt the strong pulse of the vein on his neck. Euphoria captured him and he thought: “His blood is in my grandson’s veins!” Then he repeated it, this time mouthing the words for him only to hear, “His blood is in my grandson’s veins!”
“My greatness is going to survive through that tiny, pink infant in my daughter’s arms! He is going to be the King of Albania one day! Times will change for him!” he whispered for the wind only to hear. A smile brightened his wrinkled face again, and his mind depicted the future: Gjon Kastrioti – King of Albania Grandson Son of Gjergj Arianity- Gjergj Kastrioti
A pompous sensation entered his being. He stood up and slowly walked down to join his daughter and the little, pink angel in her arms.
The child was sleeping in Donika’s arms undisturbed by the thoughts that were twirling in his mother’s and grandfather’s minds. Both father and daughter looked at each other’s eyes smiling. It has been several days since Donika had been the honor guest in the castle. He had been pleased having her around after such a long time since the wedding. The castle missed her, her youth, her voice, and her light color dresses that would make everybody notice her from far. She really had been the joy and the flower of this castle.
Looking at his daughter he suddenly realized; she wasn’t the same young woman who left this castle in the white wedding dress. The youth in her had gone and for the first time in days, he saw in front of him a mature woman. He came to realization he did not know much about the woman standing in front of him. He looked in her eyes and noticed the shadows in her eyes. She looked more like her mother, but something quite different was about her, very different. Not just the fact that she had become a woman.
He sat down near them, looked at her and asked, “What is it My Dear Marina? What bothers you my pretty flower?”
He was the only one to call her by her first name. Everyone else called her by her middle name, Donika. Donika looked at her father’s face for a moment, than at his white, long hair, and stopped at his eyes. The strong will of a man that saw and experienced many things in life was deeply carved in his features. Despite his old age his eyes were sharp and piercing. The long white robe covered his big bony body. He was a legendary figure far beyond his princedom. She had worshiped him her entire life. But now she could see through his big statue, she could see things that she was not able to see before. Yes, the Man standing right there was her father! He was the man that gave her life. He had shaped her spirit, her mind, her world. Made her the woman she was. And, yet now she couldn’t experience the familiar attachment she used to have with the father she once knew. When have the things changed? Why did she not feel close to him the same way she did when she use to live here.
“You are making me worry about you my dear daughter!” He asked again when he saw her pensive.
He did not use her first name. The words “my dear” sounded strange in her ears. He never called her but Marina.
“What is it?” his voice interrupted her thoughts.
She looked at him and heard her voice breaking while she spoke:
“My Lord! Why are the princes not helping my Lord Husband?”
Both father and daughter were stunned by the question. A moment of silence grew between them. She did not understand how that question came out of her mouth. She did not mean to ask it.
“That’s it!” she said to herself looking at her father’s stoned face and the answer came to her: “They do not want really help him! They do not want to help him!” She repeated. “That’s why My Father is so silent.”
She looked carefully at her father’s face. Suddenly she realized, “My Husband is alone! My Lord is all alone against everybody. Only common people follow and worship him! And some faithful, devoted for life captains.” She chuckled disheartened. “Nobles are not genuinely on his side”, she thought, “He is fighting with the most powerful empire of all times alone, without having even her father supporting and accepting him as the greater man. He has three thousand to ten thousand countrymen fighting on his side against a well trained Ottoman army that ranged from thirty thousand to one hundred thousand soldiers.”
The answers of the questions that were bothering and badgering her, and going on and on in her mind for months sometimes unclearly, were right there in front of her in the silhouette of her mighty father. “That’s why!” She kept repeating in a mute voice, “That’s why!”
“When did her father stop helping My lord Husband?” another question surprised her.
Her thoughts were twirling with an unthinkable speed, and she suddenly realized that Her Lord Husband felt alone also, even with her. The only man he could trust was Tanush Topia.
She was so young and inexperienced he couldn’t confine in her his inner thoughts and his worries. He could not share with her! Could not relate with her! She was not part of his world!
She was just the woman he married to have an heir, and maybe just to have her father on his side, or at least not to have, him the great Arianiti against him. The only thing these two men had in common, was, being strong, will powered men who strangely had the same given name. They were both born to be the person in command but her father did not have the strength to gallantly give the way to a greater man and open the way for others to follow. He and others were using the loss of Berati’s battle** as an excuse for not giving lately
* Berati’s battle: 1455 The Siege of Berat would end in the most disastrous defeat Skanderbeg would suffer. Almost all the 5,000 Albanian cavalry laying siege to Berat were killed. Most of the forces belonged to Gjergj Arianiti and this defeat minimized his role as the greatest supporter of Skanderbeg. ( see wikipedia) the support promised in the Lezha League to her Lord Husband.
She did not feel at the moment as Arianiti’s daughter, but she did not feel as the wife of Kastrioti’s either. She was the bridge between these two strong men, but she herself did not belong to either at the moment. It was her infant son who really launched the link. He was the one for whom the two men really felt a bond. He represented for both their future. She, Donica, had been simply the carrier of their dream.
Her thoughts went deeper. The only thing she had had with Her Lord Husband, for the seven years they had lived together, was their relation as a woman and a man, nothing else! She had reached her mid twenties and He his early fifties; they spent seven years together, but the bond between them had not strengthen for the years they lived together.
Her head was spinning from all these contradicting thoughts. She felt terrified and alone more than ever.
She had married the Man, but did not know much about his dreams. She did not know what his desires and plans were. She did not know how he felt, even about her; she did not know his intimate thoughts. She was not capable to read what thoughts he had in his mind when he laid at night beside her.
A tear went down her face and she felt her sight blurry.
Two men whose names were on folk tales and songs of the common people were the closest men in her life. One Great Man brought her in life, to give her away one day to another Great Man. The Great Man who married her, allowed her in his life, but not inside his world.
“Maybe he does not trust to share his thoughts with me!” she thought terrified, “I have been more \Arianiti’s daughter than his wife all this time! I missed the fact I became a woman, his woman,” it occurred to her. Since she had arrived in Kruja’s castle she had felt homesick. With him being away most of the time fighting his wars, her thoughts often were dominated by nostalgia for the life in parent’s house. She had not fully been able to capture her new life and be close spiritually with her husband as a woman and a man should be.
“Things are going to change now and on!” a certain, confident voice sounded in her head.
She thought about the latest news. Right after she had arrived in her father’s castle, she had heard her
Lord’s nephew, Hamzai***, was nowhere to be found.
Then other news followed the first shortly. She did not believe what she heard the second time. Later, she had received a letter from Her Lord that confirmed the unlikely story. Hamzai had taken refuge in Sultan’s court, he wrote. Her lord had used a very subtle word to describe the betrayal of his favorite, dear nephew. She could sense through the words in his writing how deeply he was hurting. She could feel the ache in the pit of his stomach. The betrayal of his own blood was more than he could endure, she thought. The gossip was he was assigned as one of the commanders of the ottoman army that was in the way to attack the Albanian forces. The news had come as a shock to everyone in the castle. They knew how much Kastrioti had regarded Hamzai.
Everyone had thought he was going to be his heir until Donica gave birth to Gjon the II. She had noticed Hamzai’s bizarre behavior lately after Gjon’s birth, but did not give it much attention. Hamzai was young and wild. Being Kastrioti’s favorite he has done pretty much as he wished. He always had exhibit unconventional behavior. No one could get away with things he had done but him. Some Captains had brought up his inadequate behavior to Kastrioti’s attention many times, but Kastrioti had a soft spot for his nephew. He regarded his uncommonly ways to do things as part of him being young, a phase that will pass, he use to say, the moment the young man settles down. And the soldiers loved him dearly, he would add in his defense. Her Lord had practically raised him since he was a child after his father had died. He had trained him personally and
kept him closer than he kept any other of his captains. He had more trust in him than in anybody else. He had treated him like he was his own son.
He must hurt badly, she thought. He regarded the future of Albania in Hamzai’s hand. Gjon was too young to take over the army after his death.
“How was Her Lord going to react when face to face with him in battlefield?” The question crossed her
** After the marriage of Skanderbeg and the birth of his son Gjon, Hamza Kastrioti lost every hope of inheriting the principality of Kastrioti. He deserted to the Turkish in 1457. He was one of the commanders of the Ottoman troops in the Battle of Ujebardha. In that battle he was captured by Skanderbeg forces and was placed in detention in Naples on charges of treason. ( see wikipedia) mind. “He might feel very vulnerable when crossing his sword with his dear nephew!”
“Maybe, that‘s what the ottoman’s were counting on?” Petrified of the last thought, she felt a throb in her throat. Everything was coming to her at once like a thunderstorm in a clear day.
She was looking forward to come here. She had missed the old times, her dear Lady Mother and Her Lord Father, the castle, the good people of her homeland, and yet she could not find the serenity in her spirit. For an instant all her previous thoughts were back.
She had everything a woman could ever dream, but her spirit was in a total distress. She had never dreamed to be in such position at any point of her life. She had a beautiful child by the greatest man of the Land, the great Gjergj Kastrioti, destined to be the first King of the Albanian land! Common
people saw in him more than a king. She knew by now he was never going to be crowned, her father was a
strong prove of it, but, she proudly thought, “The the crown has stood invisibly above his head as an white
aureole by the trust the people had bestowed on him.
“Why was she feeling this way?, she asked again. “Why wasn’t she able to enjoy the time in her parent’s castle and the places where she grew up?”
Suddenly she felt the strong desire to go. She wanted to be with Her Lord Husband. To be on His side! To be at last, part of His complex life! To share his loneliness and his hurt! To easy a little bit his burden! Now she knew how to help Him. Her time at her parent’s was over.
The voice of her father interrupted her thoughts:
“You are too young to understand my dear!”
“My dear!!!You are too young to understand?” his voice echoed inside her head many times.
Panic captured Donica. Her father had read her thoughts. It was second time he was calling her “My dear!” Those two words sent cold shivers in her. He was talking to a stranger not to his daughter.
She wrapped up the baby in her arms as if she wanted to protect him from something invisible and said,
Lost in her simple and in the same time terrifying discovery she did not notice her father did
not answer. He was standing beside her with his head turned on the other side looking beyond the walls of the castle over the valley that brought to the Adriatic Sea.
She looked at him and saw an old, powerless man. A man that knew his weakness, and wasn’t proud of it, but he couldn’t do otherwise. Where has her strong, powerful father gone? The man who once supported Her Lord husband? The Man she once worshiped?
“The jealousy and selfishness of others, as part of human nature, had destroyed the destiny of many great men through centuries, and the destiny of their countries. And history had gone backwards many times because of It.” she remembered her father saying often when she was young, but she did not fully understand the meaning of that great saying at the time. Now she did!
“He does not need to say a word!” she thought, feeling a mix of pity and resentment looking at the big, fragile frame of her elderly Lord Father.
“Father”, she said “I need to get back to my Lord Husband! He needs me!”She paused for a moment, then added, “Please give your orders for my departure!’
Arianiti turned his head and looked at her. She was a little shorter than he was. In front of him there was a strong woman standing looking him eye to eye. She was no more his delicate daughter! She was the wife of Gjergj Kastrioti. His daughter did not exist in this woman anymore. Her love for him had faded. Arianiti saw that in her look.
He had destroyed with his own bare hands the best thing he ever had possessed in his life. He felt old, powerless, and useless. Giving her a weak, remorseful look, he put his hand on her shoulder as to touch her for the last time, and said in a soft, frail, old man’s voice, “Be ready! The day is breaking. In an hour you are leaving My Dear!” and left with slow, heavy steps without looking back. He knew! His days were numbered at this point. The old age has taken a tall on his body. This was the first and the last time for him seeing His Grandson, the master piece of his life!
She looked at his slightly hunched, broad, bony shoulders as he was going away from her, and felt nothing. She had jumped so many times as a child on his broad back. But now that was just the back of an old Man she did not know. The closeness they once had as a daughter and a father had gone.
The desire of leaving this place as soon as possible grew even more in her. She was anxious to be back in the other castle as soon as possible. For the first time she knew what was expected of her over at her Lord’s Husband’s castle.