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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Literature  |  Folktales

 

   
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The Shoes

Once upon a time there was a king who had a wife and a daughter. When his wife became ill and knew that she was going to die, she called her husband and said to him, "Order a pair of shoes from the shoemaker, not too big and not too small. Tell him to come and measure my feet. When I die, send a servant from town to town with the shoes and marry the girl whom they fit.

When his wife died, the king sent the servant off with the shoes but he could find neither a woman nor a girl whom the shoes fit. The servant returned to the king and said to him, "We have found no women whom the shoes fit, their feet were either too big or too small."

One day, the king's daughter tried the shoes on to see if they would fit, never dreaming that the king would marry her. She slipped the shoes on and to her surprise they fit perfectly. At that very moment, the king called his daughter to bring him a glass of water. She arrived wearing the shoes, never thinking that her father would marry her, his own daughter.

When the king saw that she was wearing the shoes, he said to her, "I am going to marry you. Your mother said in her hour of death that I should marry the woman whom the shoes fit." The daughter replied, "Well, if you really want to marry me, first have two big lamps made, about as tall and as wide as I am, and fashion them in such a way that they can be opened and closed with a screw." He immediately gave orders that the lamps be made and three days later they were ready. The girl had the lamps set up in her chamber and hid in one of them. When her father arrived for the wedding, he could not find his daughter anywhere. He never thought of looking in the lamps. He was very upset that his daughter had escaped from him and therefore summoned the town crier, saying to him, "Take these lamps away and sell them. You can keep the money. I don't want them anymore."

The town crier went off to the next town to sell the lamps. There he saw a prince sitting at a window gazing out. The prince asked how much he wanted for the lamps. "Whatever you wish to give me, my lord." The prince gave him a gold coin, took the lamps and set them up in his chamber.

This prince, who was engaged to the daughter of a king, had a habit of getting up in the middle of the night to eat. For this reason, various plates of food were always brought to him. That night, when he was sleeping, the maiden snuck out of the lamp and tried all the food. After she had finished eating, she washed her hands, went over to the sleeping prince and stroked him. Then she climbed back into the lamp. The youth awoke, stood up, noticed the soap suds and saw that all the food had been touched. The next morning he asked his servants, "Did you try my food, or was there a cat in my chamber nibbling at it?" "No," they replied, "no cat entered your chamber. Why do you ask?" He ordered them to keep watch so that no cats entered his chamber. The next night, he found to his amazement that his food had been touched again. The third night he went to bed, but only pretended to sleep. The maiden crept out of the lamp, began to eat, and when she was finished, went over to his bed to stroke his hands. At that moment, the prince sat up and declared, "So you're the one who has been trying my food! Although I am already engaged, I shall marry you because you are very beautiful." And he married her, though without a wedding celebration.

A time came when the prince had to go off to war. He said to his wife, "I must go to war now. You stay here in this chamber and don't go out. When I return after a long time, I want to find you here. I will order the servants to bring you food and whatever else you need. But you must hide in the lamp so that no one can see you." And so he departed.

One day, the youth's future father in law appeared. He entered the groom's chamber and, finding the girl, asked her what she was doing there. Full of anger, he ordered the servants to throw her out of the palace and toss her into a patch of nettles so that she would burn herself and, not be able to stand up anymore, would die.

An old woman who used to visit this patch to gather nettles saw the maiden and asked what she was doing there. The maiden said to her, "They threw me into this patch of nettles so that I would burn myself because they are jealous of me. Please, oh please take me home with you, old woman. I will do all your housework, for you are very old." "I can't take you home with me for I am too poor," the old woman replied. "That doesn't matter," said the girl, "I am willing to live anywhere you live."

Some time later, the prince returned from the war. He waited for his wife to come out of the lamp but she was no longer there. He loved his wife so much and was so full of longing for her that he fell ill. Despite his illness, he got hungry, so he ordered his servants to call on everyone in the town to bring him pastry. The old woman, too, brought him some pastry which the girl had baked and in which she had hidden a ring he had given her as a wedding present. When the prince ate the pastry, he found the ring and recognized it immediately. He said to the old woman, "I will call upon you tomorrow." "As you wish, my lord," she replied, "but we are poor people."

When he arrived the next morning, he looked all around at everything until he noticed a kneading trough leaning against the wall. He asked the old woman what was in it. "Cakes, my son, but please do not touch them because they haven't risen yet." "All right, I won't," he said, "just take them out so that I can see them." He moved the kneading trough to one side and found his wife standing there. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "Didn't I tell you not to leave the lamp?" She told him what had happened and how his father in law had had her tossed into a patch of nettles, how the old woman had found her, taken her home and become like a father and a mother to her, and how she had baked the pastry with the ring in it. Then she asked him to make the old woman rich with gifts, because she had saved her from death. The prince gave the old woman two sacks of silver coins and took his wife home. Then, he called on his would be father in law and said to him, "Because of the wicked things you have done to my wife, I am breaking off my engagement to your daughter and won't marry her anymore." Then he showed everyone the girl who was already his wife.

 

[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.]

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