Everybody knows the story of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, but did you know about a legend older than that story? Well, this is that story.
In the ancient times when Serbia was divided on small areas and every area had a chieftain, those who inherited Sokolac from the Roman Empire, made it their Županija (Kingdome made of one city) while other fortresses were held by other tribes. In those times, people worshiped nature, prayed to the ancient Gods that lived in the river, in the roots of an oak, lingered in the air and the mountains, took forms of animals and played games with the common folk.
This Županija blossomed as did the others, but the one that grew faster and stronger was the Županija of Vrmdža (Vrmdza). Their fortress stood in the middle of the hill, a good position from where the Župan (prince – chieftain) of the city could see the enemy approach.
Royal families enjoyed hunting by falcons, while peasants worked in the field, boy shepherds played a flute and girls sang while decorating their hair with white flower crowns. Peasants fought each other because of land and goods, so eventually the cities had a bit of a quarrel that led to immeasurable hatred. This time of hate and bickering lasted for quite some time and clashes were frequent if both the armies met on the road.
King of Sokolac had an only son he intended to become a Župan (zhoopAn), and so people who served him started calling him by his title instead by his name. On the other hand, a Vrmdža’s King had an only daughter he named Lepterija (lep-te-rea – leptir – butterfly). Not knowingly, they met at the river where young Prince was passing by and saw a beautiful young girl playing in the water.
Asking her for her name, she replied and there it was, a love at the first sight. They continued to meet in the open field, courted each other and enjoyed the company. This news reached both the Kings and when they found out with who their children are in love with, they became angry and forbade them to meet. No marriage shall be struck between two fierce enemies, because they have sworn by blood to annihilate their rival.
Months have passed in the dark towers where Župan and Lepterija suffered, weeping heart making poems, calling for their other half held in captivity. But Prince was reluctant to ease his hardships, so he started sending letters over a dove, sending his love on the white wings, hoping that falcons of his father won’t intercept it.
Seeing his son deeply wounded, King of Sokolac decided to forget the past and let his son be happy. He has decided to let the marriage happen, let the loved ones live together and undo what the old men have cooked for the future generations. The King even offered to protect his son and his woman from the stubborn Vrmdža’s King, but he must not provoke the war with the King, not now when it was time of harvest. She must escape the city on her own and flee to Sokolac on her own will.
This news lifted hearth of a young Prince, showed him that there is hope for their love. He presented the plan to his lover and she agreed. Alas, running away from her father’s eyes turned impossible and every time she went outside, she was followed by the guards. When a Prince heard about the Lepterija’s problems, he decided to take action.
Finally he reached the Vrmdža, broke through and kidnapped Lepterija from her cell. They both started heading back, when the guards sounded the alarm and summoned the archers. Night fell and soon they had to split and deceive the soldiers in pursuit. She ran across the meadow and he ran near the river. Guards were just behind them when a loosened arrow struck Lepterija in the meadow and she fell without breath.
Župan started looking for her, called her name as loud as he could, but her reply never answered his screams of despair. He found her in the tall grass, an arrow in her body, split heart, just like his was in the moment. Nothing could heal him, nothing can diminish the grief he felt, nothing could stop the tears that ran down his cheeks. His love lost, his life meaningless without her, he was broken.
Like a ghost he traveled down the meadow to the river. He stopped at the steepest edge he found, looked at the bottom of the river bank where the river was deepest, sounded her name once again and drowned in the cold water.
No river nymph saved him that night, no bird whispered the word of comfort to him that night, and if they did, his heart was deaf. Župan died, so he can be with his loved one in the world of bliss, in the realm of old Gods, finally with her again.
Now, just a fun fact here, Vrmdža is an actual place, so it is Sokolac and Lepterija and Župan. These places got their names from the very sad story of Lepterija and Župan. Even today, people speak that her name echoes in the meadows or linger among the trees like a whisper, while brave young men jump from the very same cliff Župan did to show the power of their love for their girls, who sing and ware white flower crown in their hair.