Legend has it that thousands of years ago this valley was ruled by an exceptional young woman of great courage and moral virtues. She adored her people, and they adored her. God too was inclined to them, gave them a winding river to nourish their plants and make all kinds of food grow in plenty. Watermelons as sweet as honey grew long after the woman and her people had died out.
They were good people and believed that everyone was good. They trusted strangers and made them feel at home. Then again, there weren’t many strangers wandering into the valley, with a tiara of hills and mountains standing guard all around it. But any guest who came found ease and comfort with the locals.
One day, a ruler from the north came with some friends who had visited the valley earlier. The ruler wanted to see for himself the beauty of paradise on earth. Humbled by his compliments, the woman took the ruler into her home as if he was her closest and dearest friend. If only she knew the disease that had eaten the ruler’s heart and left him as an empty shell, who knows what kind of name this valley would have now. But she didn’t know that his greed and arrogance had killed him long ago, that he was only a well-taught zombie, walking around, repeating well-known phrases, never meant a word he said, and never caring for anything but himself.
When the time came for the ruler to return home, it wasn’t considered strange that his army would come to ensure his safe travel. And when they came, the locals greeted and welcomed them too. The whole valley was one big festivity. Yet, the very next day the ruler ordered his army to attack the locals. They killed as many as they felt they needed to so that others would fear them. Then the ruler went to the woman.
“You shall come with me and be my wife, and all that is yours shall be mine.” He said, looking at the horrified look on her face, before he turned and made his way to the door. Standing inside the frame he took one more look at her and said “If you refuse, I shall take it all by force, enslave your people and kill you. So you better get ready and come along. I am the ruler here now.”
The woman, whose name time has erased, thought how she’d rather die than go with someone like him. But, what about her people? How could she let them suffer like that, especially since she welcomed this man? She wished she and her people could fight the intruders, but they never fought anyone. They lived their whole lives in peace and harmony with everyone and everything. With no chance to fight him, the woman went to him.
“I wish to have assurance for my people, for their safety and wellbeing, before I say goodbye to them.” She said to the ruler from the north, approaching him, her eyes bloodshot with hate.
The ruler paused to consider but eventually agreed. He promised the woman that her people will be free and safe as long as they send regular gifts to him and she comes along to be his wife.
A message was sent to the locals to gather near the river, in a popular place where there was a small river island and a pier. Terrified, the locals gathered. She began her speech to her people, to explain as best she could, and to tell them goodbye. As she said all she could say, she dived into the river. Angered by her attempt to escape, the ruler dived in after her. Neither came up to the surface from the fast waters of the winding river. The ruler’s army men became concerned. The commander became worried. He knew that the ruler’s safety was his responsibility. He had to return home with the ruler or face death in the most painful way. He ordered the soldiers to dive in. They did, but not one of them came up again. In the end, only the commander was still standing on dry land. One of the locals pushed him into the river. As his head disappeared under the water, all the people gathered run as one to the other side of the river island. There, they found the woman. Catching her breath in the shallow water, she tried to ask if the enemy was gone.
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the evil ruler and his men had drowned in the swirls of the river but they checked just in case. The woman, in her wisdom, depended on them being unaware of the nature of the water. She knew they were too arrogant to go with the flow, and when a man finds himself in a river swirl, ‘go with the flow’ is the only way to survive, at least until your feet can touch the riverbed, so that you can spring yourself up to the surface. Just as she predicted, the men fell into the swirls and tried to fight the mighty waters. As a consequence, the mighty waters took them.
But trouble was far from over. Not even a year passed, more visitors from the north came into the valley. They enquired about the valley and who came to see it, and its history, and its people, and in particular about a woman, but none of the local replied. Over time, polite questions turned into rude and angry persistence. The woman could feel the pressure building, someone was going to have to speak. Eventually, the woman decided that she must leave.
One day, she gathered her people once more and told them that she must leave. They couldn’t, they wouldn’t let her go. But she knew that was the only way to keep them safe.
“You and your family have watched over us our whole lives.” One local said desperately, and all the others agreed.
They begged and pleaded so much, that she had no choice but to promise that she will try to find another solution. But no other solution came.
One day, the valley was covered in a blanket of a cloud. The fog was so thick, even sound barely travelled through. It was odd, and mysterious, calm and threatening at the same time. While everyone looked around in astonishment, the eldest man in the valley went to the river island. There he found an eye and a note. The note said “I leave my right eye here with you so that you know I will always watch over you.”
The fog lifted, but the spirits dropped. The joy had been replaced with eternal grief that nothing could lessen, not time, not their safety, not even accounts that she had been seen in the woods of the tiara of the hills and mountains guarding the valley. She had gone forever and nothing could replace her.
Today, there is a town in that valley, a town called Zenica, meaning ‘iris of an eye’. During the Roman Empire the name was a secret kept by all the locals, so the Romans gave the valley a different name. But as soon as that threat was over, the valley returned to its former name, the one that promises them that someone good and noble will always watch over them, even if they can never return to their beloved valley.
About the Creator
I'm an activist and a writer, born in Bosnia, grew up in the UK - yes, I know, another war-child who grew up a little too brave. I'm also a bit of a meverick. Please feel free to get in touch.