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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Literature  |  Folktales


  Webdesign J. Groß

The Three Brothers and the Three Sisters

Once upon a time there lived three brothers and three sisters. The brothers married their sisters off, one to the sun, one to the moon and one to the south wind. After the sisters had been married for some time, the brothers said to one another, "Let us go and see how our sisters are faring." And so they did. They took some food with them for the journey and set off. After they had gone a ways, darkness fell while there were crossing a plain at the foot of a mountain. They sat down, took out their food and made a fire. When they had finished their meal, the eldest brother said, "You two go to sleep and I will keep watch so that no one comes to rob or kill us." The two younger brothers lay down to sleep and the eldest kept watch.

A Kulshedra, attracted by the light of their fire, approached, was delighted to see the humans and set upon the eldest brother keeping watch, to eat him up. The eldest brother shot and killed the Kulshedra, took out his sabre and chopped off its head, stuffing it into his bag. Then he threw the Kulshedra's body into a ditch so that his brothers would not see it. He sat there for a spell, then he woke his brothers and they set out on their way. They spent the second night at a different place, made a fire again, ate supper and two of them lay down to sleep. That night the second brother kept watch and slew a Kulshedra, too. The third night, the youngest brother said he would keep watch. The two older brothers told him he should sleep instead because he was still too young, but he insisted and finally they allowed him to keep watch. A Kulshedra approached to devour the youngest brother, too. He shot at it but missed, for he was too young. The boy then drew his sword and slew the Kulshedra, but as the beast lay dying, it swished with its tail and put out the fire. The boy tried to relight the fire but did not know what to use. Finally, spying a small fire at the top of the mountain and set off for it.

On his way, he met the Mother of the Night and asked her where she was going. She replied that she was on her way to the dawn. He said to her, "Wait for me to light my fire." She agreed, but he didn't believe her and tied her up so that she could not let the day break. When he got to the fire, he saw a huge cauldron with twelve handles on top of it. He lifted the cauldron off and lit his fire. At that moment the thieves who owned the cauldron arrived. They asked him who he was and he replied, "I am a traveller. My fire went out so I came here to relight it." "How did you manage to lift the cauldron off?" they asked. "There are twelve of us and when we want to lift the cauldron off the fire, each of us has to take a handle and we still have to strain with all our might." "It doesn't seem very heavy to me," retorted the boy and lifted the cauldron again. "You are a good lad," they replied. "We are off to rob the king and you're just the one we need."

So the thirteen of them set out. They broke a hole into the palace wall and entered the courtyard to steal the king's horses. The boy remained outside and thought to himself, "I have never stolen anything. It would be better for me to slay the thieves instead and escape." So he shouted to the thieves, "Come out quickly. Someone has betrayed us." As they crawled through the hole, the boy chopped their heads off one by one. Then he threw his knife into the middle of the king's courtyard, ran away, relit his fire, freed the Mother of the Night, awakened his brothers, and they set out on their way once again.

When the king got up the next morning, he saw the dead men and the knife in the courtyard and wondered what had happened. He gave orders that an inn be built at a crossroads. Anyone who stopped there was not to pay for the night but was instead to tell the story of all the good and bad deeds he had done in his lifetime. Many people stayed at the inn, eating and sleeping there without paying a cent. One day the three brothers happened by and stayed overnight at the inn. When they went to pay the next morning, the inn keeper said to them, "No one pays here. Instead, everyone must tell a story from his life." The eldest brother told the story of what he had done with the Kulshedra. The second brother also told the story of how he had slain a Kulshedra. The youngest brother then began to tell the story of the Kulshedra and the twelve thieves who had wanted to rob the king. The inn keeper cried out, "So you're the one the king is looking for!" The two older brothers continued on their way and the third brother was taken to the king. When the king had heard the story, he gave the boy his daughter in marriage.

There was a wedding custom in that land to release a lot of prisoners from jail. One of the prisoners was half man, half iron. When many of the prisoners were released and he was not, the half iron man began to weep. The king's son in law took pity on the man and begged the king to release him, too, but the king had had him imprisoned for life. The son in law begged the king again and finally he gave way and freed the prisoner from his chains. The king's daughter was standing nearby, and the moment he was released, the half iron man devoured her and disappeared. The king was so furious that he drew his sword to slay the son in law who was to blame for this misfortune. But the son in law declared, "I'll find your daughter and bring her back. But first let me make some iron shoes and an iron cane because I have a long way to walk. Once I am equipped, I will return in one year and bring you your daughter." When everything was ready, he set off.

That evening, he visited his sister who was married to the sun, and knocked at her door. She approached and asked, "Who is there?" "It is a human," he replied. She opened the door and rejoiced to see her brother. After a while, her husband the sun arrived. Because the sister was afraid that the sun would devour her brother, she hid him in a chest. When the sun entered, he asked his wife what she had been cooking. "The same as always," said the wife. "But I can smell meat," said the sun. "No," she replied, "there is no meat." The sun, however, stood up and began looking around for the meat. The wife then said to him, "Eat me rather than my brother who arrived just before you came in." "Let him out, I won't eat him." She got her brother out of the chest and the sun, too, rejoiced at meeting his brother in law. Then the brother asked the sun if he knew where a being who was half man, half iron lived. "We don't know," the two of them answered, "but go and ask the moon."

The next evening the boy visited the second sister who was married to the moon, but they knew nothing of the half iron man either.

Then he visited the third sister who was married to the south wind. He asked again if they knew where the half iron man lived. The south wind answered, "I don't know, but if you take this road before daybreak tomorrow, you will come across a falcon so huge that it cannot fly. Steal up to it, seize it by the head and say: I'll kill you if you don't tell me about the half iron man. Then it will tell you where the iron man lives and what you must do." The brother set out at dawn and found the falcon. He did just as his brother in law, the south wind, had told him and the falcon said, "I know where he is, but first you must serve me many okas of meat and wait until my wings have grown back, for I am very old." And so the boy waited until its wings had grown back. He prepared a lot of meat to feed to the falcon on their journey. Their destination was a mountain so high that no man had ever climbed it. The mountain was in another world, and it was there that the half iron man lived with the king's daughter.

When they were finally ready, the boy climbed onto the falcon's back, taking the meat with him, and the bird flew off. They flew higher and higher and he kept feeding the falcon pieces of meat until they got close to the mountain. When the meat was all gone and he had nothing more to feed to the falcon, the bird croaked, "Give me more meat." "I haven't got any more. It's all gone." "If you don't give me more meat, I'll throw you off." Not knowing what else to do, the boy cut a piece out of the calf of his leg and gave it to the falcon. The next time the bird demanded meat, he cut a piece out of his thigh. Once they had arrived, he clambered off the falcon. When the falcon saw that the boy was covered in blood, he spit out the pieces of meat and the boy recovered immediately. The boy then went over to one of the palaces nearby and knocked at the door. His wife, the king's daughter, opened and recognized him right away. "My husband!" she exclaimed joyfully. "How did you get here? Who brought you here?" He recounted all he had been through. As they were talking, the half iron man approached so she quickly hid her husband in the attic. The half iron man entered and asked, "What have you been cooking?" "The same as always." "But I can smell meat." By chance, he noticed the boy through a hole in the ceiling, went upstairs and sucked his blood out, picking up the skin and bones and throwing them outside. The falcon saw them, recognized them and exclaimed, "That's the boy I carried here! I'll go and get some swallow's milk to bring him back to life." Without delay, it flew off to a place between two mountain peaks where swallow's milk was to be found. It landed, filled its beak and returned, pouring the milk into the boy who recovered immediately. The boy stood up, went back to his wife and told her that she must pretend to be sick. She was to say to the half iron man, "We have been together for such a long time now and you have never told me the source of your power. I am at death's door. You have nothing more to fear from me." Then he would tell her the source of his power. The boy went off and hid so that the half iron man could not find and devour him again.

The king's daughter did as they had planned. She pretended to be sick and asked the half iron man what the source of his power was. "It is in my broom," he told her. The next day when he was out, she burned the broom, but his power remained untouched. The wife pretended to be sick again and asked him once more about his power. This time he said, "My power is in a boar up on the mountain over there. The boar has a silver tusk and in it there is a hare. In the hare's belly are three doves. There lies the source of my power." The half iron man went back to work. The wife ran out, called her husband and told him what she had heard. The boy climbed the mountain where he met a shepherd tending his sheep and inquired about the whereabouts of a huge boar. "Don't speak so loudly," replied the shepherd. "If the boar hears us it will come and devour us." The boy began talking even louder until the boar heard them and charged into their midst to devour them. But it could not assail the boy because he was carrying a knife. The boar said, "If only I had a stalk of arum to sharpen my teeth with, you'd see something happen!" Then the boy said, "If only I had some fried fish, cake and a cup of wine, you'd see something happen, too!" The shepherd immediately brought the boy and boar what they wanted. When the boar had eaten its arum and the boy his fish and cake, they set upon one another and battled until the boy had slain the boar. He examined its tusks and saw that one of them was indeed made of silver. Breaking it open, he found in it a hare, which he killed, and in the belly of the hare he found the three doves.

The moment the boy slew the boar, the half iron man fell sick. When the boy killed the hare, the half iron man became so ill that he could not get up. Then the boy killed two of the doves, took the third one and returned to the iron man's bed. When he saw the boy approaching, the half iron man tried to get up but was not able to. And when the boy killed the third dove, the half iron man died.

The boy took his wife, mounted the falcon, flew back and returned to the king. The king rejoiced to see the two of them and had a splendid feast prepared in their honour.


[Source: Manuel de la langue chkipe ou albanaise par Auguste Dozon, consul de France. Grammaire, vocabulaire, chrestomathie (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1879), reprinted in Folklor shqiptar 1, Proza popullore (Tirana 1963). Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]