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A million bright stars shone in the frostbitten sky, but Andrija was too tired to notice them as he rode into Runovići. His shirt stuck to the tacky blood on his shoulder and his arm lay limp by his side. He passed the mill and the church and counted the houses, before dismounting outside the fourth one on the right. He tethered his horse to the rail, patted its backside with his good arm and then knocked on the door.
“Who is it?”
“Andrija Šimić,” he croaked. The door creaked open slowly. “I was told I could rely on your hospitality.”
“Yes, come in come in.” Ante Garac said, ushering the man into his home and checking the street for any figures lurking in the darkness. “Kata, we have a guest.”
Kata smiled at Andrija and quickly got about attending to his wound while Ante prepared a simple meal of bread and meat.
“Such an honour to have the great Andrija Šimić in my home,” Kata said smiling and handing a goblet of wine to her guest. “Here, drink this, it will help with the pain.”
“Where’s Ante?” Andrija said, aware that his host had vanished.
“He’s feeding your horse,” Kata said. “Don’t worry you are safe here.”
Andrija could hear muffled voices outside. He took a mouthful of wine.
“You should rest,” Kata said, refilling his cup.
Andrija managed a smile. the wine was good, he felt safe. His eyelids felt heavy. But the voices perturbed him.
“Who’s he talking to?” he asked.
Kata listened. “I think he’s just talking to your horse. He does that.”
“How are you feeling my friend?” Ante was back. Andrija nodded.
“You’re safe here today.” Ante said, “and tomorrow we can move you to a cave where the Austrians won’t find you.”
“Thank you,” Andrija moaned.
“Hey, you’re tired. Let’s put you to bed.” Ante said, and helped his guest to his feet, leading him to the hay mattresses in the corner of the room.
“I spoke to Dušan outside,” Ante said to his wife as soon as he was sure Andrija was asleep.
“You know there’s a price on Andrija’s head?”
“He’s your friend, we can’t betray him.”
“Dušan told me than anyone helping him would be tried as a collaborator.” Ante walked over to his wife. “If Dušan betrays us, we’ll end up in prison with Šimić. But if we go to the police then we get a share of the money.”
“Ante, no! He’s your friend, plus everyone will know it was you who betrayed him. You’ll be a pariah.”
“It’s too late Kata, Dušan is bringing men and rope. We’ll tie him up and wait for the Austrians.”
Kata shook her head, but Ante turned away and opened his door to let his neighbours in.
Within minutes the great hajduk Andrija Šimić was bound up like a pig while still sleeping like a dog.
The cockerel crowed. Andrija stirred. His arm ached from the wound and his head from the wine. He tried to move, but the ropes were tight around his wrists and ankles. He looked up and saw the uniform of the smiling Austrian policeman. As the sun rose, the realisation of what had happened while he slept dawned on him. He saw his ‘friend’ Ante in the corner of the room.
“Look at me Ante,” Andrija said.
Ante didn’t look up. “Ante, my legs will be above your head.”
Ante stood up and walked away.
This story is another fictionalised 'True' story. This time our outlaw is from the Croatia and Herzegovinian border and he died in 1905 after being released from thirty years in captivity.