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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Literature  |  Folktales



The Boy with No Name

Once upon a time there was a man and a women to whom God had given no children. One evening the man was returning from the fields with his team of oxen when he met a dervish who was leaning against the wall of his house. The dervish asked the man to invite him in because he had been travelling for quite a while. It was the fifth day of Ramadan and after some time had passed, the wife beat the drum to show that the time had come for the Ramadan supper. Once they had eaten, the dervish asked the couple whether they had any children. The husband answered, "No, my dear dervish, I am already fifty and my wife is forty. God in his greatness has given us no children, although I don't think we are such bad people." The dervish then brought out a book in which their fate was written. After he had leafed through it, he predicted that God would give them a son, but he added that they must not give the boy a name until he returned to them.

Less than two years later, the couple did have a son, just as the dervish had predicted, and they gave him no name. The boy grew up and turned fifteen. His friends would taunt him by shouting, "Ha, Ha! You're nameless! Boy without a name!" One time the boy got so upset that he sent all his friends to his father to ask the father to give him a name. But the father refused, for he remembered the words of the dervish and was afraid of losing the child. The boy therefore decided not to stay with his father any longer and ran away. He hiked into a forest and came to a cliff. In the cliff was a cave in which an old blindman lived tending his sheep. The boy asked the old man if he might enter the cave because otherwise he would have to sleep outside. The old man welcomed the boy hospitably and slaughtered a sheep for their evening meal. When they had finished eating, the boy inquired whether the old man had any children. The old man said no and asked the boy if he might look after him as his child instead. The boy was happy and agreed to the proposal. The next morning the boy told the old man he should stay at home because he was blind and said he would take the sheep out to pasture himself. At first the old man refused, but when he saw that the boy really wanted to, he consented. But before the boy went out, he warned him, "Not far from here, my son, there is a garden surrounded by orange trees. There are jinns living there, and you must not take the sheep there or you will lose your eyesight as I did."

The boy took the sheep out to pasture and led them straight to the garden. There he sat down on a wall and began playing his flute. After a while, the jinns came out and began to dance. That evening when he took the sheep back to the cave, the old man came out to stroke a black ram. He noticed that the boy had taken the sheep to the garden after all and warned him a second time. Nevertheless, the boy took the sheep there day after day. One day, the king of the jinns appeared in the garden and said, "I cannot go on like this, these wars are tiring me out. What can I give you to take over my job?" The boy replied that he wanted nothing but a potion to cure his father's blindness. The king assembled all the jinns and asked if any of them had caused the old man to go blind. They all said no, but the king of the jinns said they must wait for a crippled jinn who was still on his way. When the crippled jinn arrived, the king asked him the same question. The crippled jinn replied that he had punished the old man by blinding him in both eyes. For this reason, the king of the jinns gave the boy an eye potion.

When the boy returned home that evening, he rubbed the potion on the old man's eyes, and suddenly the old man could see again. He took the boy by the hand and showed him seven rooms in the cave. The rooms were furnished with everything one could possibly need and one of them was full of gold. The old man showed the boy all the rooms but one. Pointing to it, he said "That is your room, but the time has not come for you to use it." The boy could hardly conceal his curiosity. One day, he went back to the garden and played his flute, and the jinns came out to dance. When they tired of dancing, they asked him to stop for a rest. "We aren't stopping," said the boy, "unless you tell me where I can find the key to the room my father didn't show me." Finally the jinns told him that the old man had hidden the key in his beard. That night when the old man was asleep, the boy removed the key from his beard and the next morning said he was too sick to take the sheep out to pasture.

When the old man had left the cave with the sheep, the boy took the key and opened the door. As soon as he did so, a horse in the room neighed and asked the boy whether he was a man or a ghost. When the horse heard that he was not a ghost, he told the boy to put on a coat and a sword. Then he told him to fetch a mirror, a comb and a ball and to fill the pouches of the saddle with diamonds. When everything was done, the horse said that they could now go out for a ride. As they were riding out of the cave, the tip of the sword brushed against something. At that moment the black ram which the old man had been stroking began to bleat and said, "The boy has taken the horse away!" The old man stroked his beard and realized that the key to the room was gone. He mounted the black ram and set off after the boy.

On their way, the horse asked the boy whether he could see anything behind them. The boy answered that he could see a black cloud coming over the mountain. The horse then told the boy to throw the comb onto the ground. Immediately the road behind them became covered in trees and the old man could hardly make his way through. Then the boy threw the mirror onto the ground and the road became so icy that the old man and his ram could hardly proceed another step. The horse again asked the boy whether he could see anything. He answered, "Now I can see a big wolf who is about to set upon us." At that moment the boy and the horse came to a big river which the old man could not cross because it was the border. The old man stopped on the river bank and called to the boy who had leapt across the river with his horse. The boy came to a stop and the two of them, one on one side of the river and the other on the opposite side, began to talk. The old man said to the boy, "That horse was meant for you, but I couldn't give it to you because the time hadn't come. Take it now, but let me give you a piece of advice: if you continue down that road, you will find a dead horse. Strip its hide off and take it with you. And wherever you spend the night tonight, cover yourself and the horse with it, otherwise the king of that country will kill you." The boy took what the old man had said to heart and did as he was told.

They rode on until night fell and came to a city where he covered himself and his horse with the hide of the dead horse. He entered an inn and asked the inn keeper to let him stay the night. Although the inn keeper did not really want to because the horse hide looked so mangy and he was afraid it would infect the other horses, he finally agreed, giving him a room of his own. When the boy spread out the hide, the whole room began to shimmer and he and the horse were covered in garments of gold.

At that time there happened to be a farmer bringing three melons to the king of the country. One of the melons was over ripe, the second one was very ripe and the third one had just ripened. The king asked his counsellors the meaning of the three melons. The counsellors answered that the melons signified the king's three daughters. The first melon stood for the eldest daughter who should have been married long ago. The second one stood for the second eldest daughter whose time to marry had already come too. The third melon stood for the youngest daughter who had just become of marriageable age. At this, the king ordered all his subjects to assemble on a square and took his daughters there. The eldest daughter chose the son of the vizier for a husband. The second eldest chose the son of a minister, but the youngest could find no one to choose. The king then asked if all the young men were present. The inn keeper where the boy was staying replied that there was still a scurfhead at his inn.

The king sent the inn keeper and three guards to fetch the boy, but the boy was ashamed to appear before the king and would not go with them. Ignoring his protests, the inn keeper and the guards seized him and brought him to the square. When they arrived, the youngest daughter threw an apple and hit the boy with no name. The king, however, did not want to give his daughter to the boy and told his subjects that she had made a mistake. The youngest daughter threw the apple three more times and each time it hit the boy with no name. Finally they agreed to give the girl to the boy even though he looked like a scurfhead because the boy was still wearing a piece of hide from the dead horse. The king wanted nothing to do with his daughter anymore because she had chosen the scurfhead for a husband, and he refused to let her visit him, though he still treated the two other daughters well.

One day, when the king was going to war with his enemies, he called on his two older sons in law for help. Although he had not asked the help of the youngest son in law who looked like a scurfhead, the boy rode out with them anyway. Once they were some distance from the city, the boy with no name stopped at a stream and took off the horsehide he was wearing. Then he took the hide off his horse and told it to charge into the midst of the enemy. The horse did as its master had ordered. The boy slew hordes of the enemy with his sword and the horse trampled hundreds of them with its hooves. Each time the boy charged into the field, the king won the battle against his enemy. In one of the pitched battles the boy with no name lost a finger. He went to the king, who did not recognize him without the horsehide and asked him to bind it. The king bound the boy's finger and bestowed upon him three apples and a scarf for his heroism. The boy took the apples and the scarf and put them in his pocket.

In the next battle, the king got gunpowder in his eyes and went blind. Several people told the king that the only thing that would help him recover his sight was deer's milk. The king therefore called the husbands of his two eldest daughters and asked them to fetch some deer's milk, which was to be found at a place where two mountains met. The sons in law agreed. The boy with no name heard this and he, too, set out the same day that the two husbands left, even though they had made fun of him. When the boy reached a stream, he took off the horsehide and rode ahead with his horse. At the place where the two mountains met, he tied his horse up and so, displaced one of the mountains slightly and found the deer's milk he was seeking. Then he built himself a little hut of branches. Nearby he came across some wild mares whose milk he put in bottles. Then he sat down in front of the hut and waited for the other two husbands to come by. They arrived after a while, still laughing, but they did not recognize him, and asked what he was selling in the bottles. When he replied that he was selling deer's milk, both the king's sons in law rejoiced at having found what they were looking for so easily. The boy with no name sold them the wild mare's milk and they departed happily.

After waiting for a while, the boy too set off and soon caught up with his brothers in law who were still making fun of him. "You wanted to find deer's milk and you can't even get rid of the scurf on your head," they laughed. They returned to the king and gave him the milk which he applied to his eyes. But because they had given him mare's milk, his eyes began to sting even worse. Then, the boy with no name asked his wife to beg her mother to have the king receive them. Though the mother had little hope that the king would agree, she asked him anyway and finally, after much persuasion, he consented. The boy with no name told his wife to go straight to her father, the king, and rub his eyes with the deer's milk, and she did as her husband had told her. Immediately the king opened his eyes and could see again. He asked his daughter who had given her the remedy. She made no reply, but gave him instead the three apples and the scarf that the king had given her husband during the war.

The king made some inquiries and eventually came to realize that it was his third son in law, whom he had never seen, who had healed him. He also realized that it had only been with the help of this son in law that he had won the war. He commanded that the son in law be sent for, but the boy refused to go. Finally the king said, "Either you come to see me or I will go to see you." The boy replied that he would only go if the king met him halfway, and so the king, intent on meeting his son in law, set off. On his way to meet the king, the boy ordered his horse not to ride through the gate, but to leap over the walls. Then he rode through the market square, but no one recognized him without the horsehide. They all marvelled at the wondrous horse. The palace itself trembled as the mighty horse advanced. When it leapt over the walls, all the palace windows shattered. The king welcomed the boy with open arms and asked him to sit down, but the boy remained standing. After a while, the king put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the scarf he had given to the boy during the war. In the middle of the scarf was stitched the name Suleyman, and so the boy finally had a name. When the king tired of reigning over his kingdom, he abdicated and made his third son in law his successor. The two other sons in law who had made fun of the boy with no name became his servants. And his wife's two older sisters became her ladies in waiting.


[Source: Folklor shqiptar 1, Proza popullore (Tirana 1963). Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]