This chapter features a Predator intervening in a real historical event. It is intended simply to introduce the critters into the Balkan historical background. Readers may skip it. Murad, Bayezid, Yakub, Lazar, Brankovic and Obilic are all real persons. To my knowledge, there are three quite different accounts of Murad's death from historical sources. My account (minus Predator!) is a synthesis of two of them. My description of the predator is a modification of the movie version, based on unused concept sketches.
Prologue: Demon of Kosovo Polje
"History records only winners and losers. And sometimes even that is unclear."
June 15, 1389: Kosovo Polje
The dividing line between the realm of history and the outlying lands of legend, folklore and mythology is a principle concern of historians. The greatest obstacle to resolving this question is that the greater mass of humanity, especially before the "modern" era, has had little or no interest in such distinctions. This may be true for the Balkans more than most places, and it is egregiously so with one of the key events in the region's history: the Battle of Kosovo Polje ("Field of Blackbirds"). It is remembered in countless tales and songs, usually elaborated upon down to the finest detail. It has also been remembered through a fair number of deeds, such as the shooting of one Franz Joseph Ferdinand by one Gavrilo Princip in front of a Sarajevo café in June 1914. Yet, the vividness of legend stands in contrast to a dearth of knowable historical facts. For, it should be little exaggeration to say that those who remembered the battle best were those who were not there.
Now, venture to look through the haze of history, to Vivovdan, St. Vitus' day, in an expanse between to rivers. You will see two formidable armies engaged at point-blank range on the left bank of the river Lab. These are the army led by Prince Lazar, ruler of the Kingdom of Serbia and champion of Christendom, and that of Murad, Sultan of the Ottoman Turks and vanguard of Islam. Lazar leads the cavalry in his army's center, risking himself at every charge, while Murad remains sheltered in a tent at the rear of his own army's center. Yet, neither ruler will survive the day.
Now look to the left flank of Lazar's army. It is, strictly speaking, the army of a separate realm, ruled by Vuk Brankovic. The armies fight fiercely, perhaps more so than elsewhere on the battlefield. Though he will be branded a traitor, it is Brankovic who strikes the greatest blow against the Ottomans. His cavalry break through the Turks' left flank, which is led by the Sultan's son Yakub. The losses are great, scarcely less so for the Slavic knights than for the Turks. It is Brankovic's men who rue the exchange most, for, having breached the line, they find themselves alone, on horses to exhausted to advance or retreat, while the archers and lighter, swifter cavalry of the Turks regroup to counterattack. Few outrun the cavalry that come to intercept and then pursue. Fewer still make it through the gauntlet of the reforming left flank. When Brankovic retreats in ignominy, it is with no more than half of the 12,000 or so he first led onto the field.
Now, imagine that we can look closer still, through the eyes of one of those knights…
Milos Obilic cautiously peered over the corpse of his horse. It had been stuck with too many arrows to count. His own mail shirt had been stuck with too many to number without undue delay. He noted only that one had penetrated his shoulder. He watched as the last of the Turk horsemen passed by. They his gaze turned. A few hundred meters away, he saw a line of chained camels. Just a little further off was the top of a huge and ornate tent. "There," he murmured softly, as much in wonder as in fear of detection. "It is the sultan's tent!"
He took up the banner from the dead hands of his lord, and for one moment waved it in the air. From among the piled bodies and riderless horses came forth eleven more survivors. 4 of them were lords in armor like himself, all but one wounded and left for dead. The rest were lesser nobles who had been quick enough to dismount and take cover before the Turks could look too closely. "Shed all your armor except chain mail and breastplates. Leave your horses," he said. "We must move quickly, and stealthily. I do not think any of us shall live the day, but God willing, we shall send the heathen tyrant to Hell!"
As the 12 nobles snuck away, one Ottoman rider, already straggling, circled around to make sure none had been left alive. His eyes widened when he saw three of the knights sneaking toward the sultan's tent. He turned to shout a warning. Then his horse reared in fright for no apparent reason. He looked about, expecting to see another infidel come out of hiding, but there was nothing. Then he felt a terrific pain in his chest, and he was lifted from his horse. He looked down in mute surprise at the spear head protruding from his chest. He looked over his shoulder, and saw the shaft- but only where his own blood covered it. The rest was more transparent than glass. He could just begin to make out the shape of the one who held it. Then there was a hiss of an unseen blade, and the last thing he saw was his own headless body.
The camels by the sultan's tent became inexplicably agitated. Obilic feared it was at their presence, and would warn the guards. But the Turkish guards and Arab handlers were only further distracted by the camels' distress, which they knew to be unlike any response that could be elicited by a human or animal. One camel became so furious in its terror that its chain broke, and the beast fled at full speed toward the river Lab, leading a dozen men in the exact opposite direction from the knights.
Obilic led a charge through the very midst of men and beasts. Unable to raise his sword, he used a dagger instead, and was served better by it. Many guards were cut down before they knew a foe was among them. Still, only nine knights emerged from the fray. As guards began to extricate themselves and prepare to pursue, 3 knights fell back from the others to form a rear guard. The first charge by the guards was thrown back, with one knight and five guards slain. Six warriors with bows fanned out to either side and peppered the two knights with arrows. A second knight fell, and the last charged the guards. The bowmen fired a stream of arrows at him. But, inexplicably, there were only four bowmen, then three. Then one of them turned and shouted, and the others turned in time to see his head fly from his shoulders. The knight, heedless of what was happening among his adversaries, charged into the midst of the swordsmen. As he hewed down the Turks in a calculated frenzy, he saw that he was not the only one bringing them down. Yet, he did not see this second warrior, only a blood-stained blade that slew wherever it fell.
Finally, he stood with none to face except the invisible figure with the blood-stained blade. A tracing of lightning ran through it, giving a brief glimpse of its form. It had a stout, horse-like neck that went directly into the back of its head, and a silver mask covered its face and sloping forehead. Its legs were long and multi-jointed, and each foot was effectively just a single huge toe, like those of an ostrich. "I should thank you," he said, "but I know not what you are. I am sure you are no angel, and I can think of but one other thing you might be." The glassy sword shook in the air, shedding the blood from its length. The knight was already drawing his own sword back for a mighty stroke. But, before he could begin his thrust, the phantom's blade cut him in two.
It was the Prince Beyezid who reached the Sultan's tent first, accompanied by a squad of soldiers and a native slave who know both the local speech and Turkic. Four infidel knights and six of the sultan's guards lay slain at the mouth. He drew his scabbard and stepped inside. He signaled for the slave to follow. To the chief of the soldiers, he said, "Send for my brother Yakub. Tell him he is to come here to discuss a change in our plans."
Within were six more bodies. No- one still lived. And on the sultan's throne- he choked back a cry of rage. He drew his scimitar and pressed it to the knight's throat. "Ask this infidel his name," he said to the slave.
The knight spoke directly to the prince. "My name is Milos Obilic."
"Are you the one who killed the Sultan, my father?"
The slave translated the reply: "I am a good Christian, and I do not lie, neither to claim a good deed wrongly nor to hide an evil one. I strove mightily to slay your lord. If I had succeeded I would declare it proudly, even if it meant being killed by torture. But, in truth, it was neither I nor any in my band who did the deed. I will tell you my tale.
"'As you can see, I and my companions fought our way to this tent. I and another, Jovanovic, made our way within. We fought these last four guards and killed two, before Jovanovic was slain and I was disarmed. The last two guards prepared to cut off my head.
"Then something bizarre happened. One guard screamed. Red blades stuck out of his chest, but there was no one behind him to wield the blades. The last guard swung over the dying man's shoulders, and his scimitar broke on nothing. See there, I tell the truth.'" Bayezid looked at a shattered scimitar on the floor.
"The Sultan did not shrink with terror. He stood up, and drew his own sword, and advanced. He shouted something, I am sure to the invisible demon. Then- well, you see.'" Bayezid looked back to the throne. His father lay slouched in it, looking like he might have been roughly and carelessly tossed in. Body and chair alike were transfixed by a strangely-made spear.
Bayezid glared at Obilic. "So, you say my father was killed by a djinn? Then why did it not also kill you? And why did it leave its spear? Why-?"
Obilic spoke suddenly, shortly and sharply, in a tone that made the prince pause. The slave translated, "He said, it did not leave its spear. The demon is still in this tent."
Bayezid whirled around. Suddenly, a deep, inhuman chuckle rang through the tent. The slave bolted from the tent. As the prince watched, a huge creature materialized next to the body on the throne. It pulled the spear from the sultan's body, and somehow made the weapon collapse into a compact rod. It dropped the spear. Then it removed its mask. This revealed a face with beady eyes and mandibles in place of jaws. It roared, spreading the mandibles to show something like a mouth, but its toothy jaws opened to the sides instead of up and down. Finally, it shed plate armor that covered its torso and retracted two blades that projected from its forearm.
Obelic lunged for a fallen dagger. Bayezid cast aside his sword and ran from the tent, while the being's huge feet pounded closer and closer. As he dived through the threshold of the tent, he heard Obilic laugh, a laugh that ended in a scream. He looked into the calm but questioning faces of his soldiers. He raided himself to his feet, and glared at his cowering slave. "Kill him," he ordered briskly.
The soldiers had scarcely complied with the order when his brother Prince Jakub arrived. "What is the meaning of this?" Jakub shouted. "Have you at last resorted to patricide?"
A measure of calm and subtle cunning returned to Bayezid. "There is something in the tent which we must look upon together," he said.
"Together as in alone?" said his brother. Bayezid refrained from answering. "I can guess what it is you wish me to see: your ascension to sultan, and my own death!"
"Brother, dear brother," Bayezid said, "you wrong me! Did I not promise father I would never harm you?"
"Yes, but our father is dead, is he not?"
"That is what we must see."
"This is what I shall do," said Jakub. "I will go inside, with two of my guards. You will remain here. When I return, we shall speak."
Jakub and two of his guards went inside. Moments later, there was a hint of a stifled cry within. The rest of Jakub's guards drew their swords, only to find the swords of Bayezid's soldiers at their throats. "My brother insisted he would go in with but two guards," Bayezid said with a smirk. "I am only making sure that his wishes are followed."
Bayezid returned to the right flank, where he launched the counterattack which decisively routed the Serb army. He ordered his father's tent set on fire. The soldiers reported that the tent collapsed soon after. No one and nothing, they said, could have escaped. When they examined the tent, they found the still-recognizable bodies of the Sultan, Obilic and Jakub. The sultan and the knight were missing their heads. Jakub's body was intact. It was decided that he had been dead before the fire, probably by strangulation. It was whispered that the marks of something like enormous hands were found encircling his throat.
NEXT: Aliens on the high seas