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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Literature  |  Folktales

 

   
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The Foolish Youth and the Ring

Once upon a time there was an old woman with one son who was a fool. The mother was very poor and spun yarn for a living. One day her son said, "Mother, I am going out now to sell the yarn." "All right, my son, see that you sell it quickly and bring back a loaf of bread for dinner." The youth departed and sold the yarn for three piastres. On his way to buy bread, he happened upon a charlatan who was about to kill a dog. The youth begged him, "Please don't kill the dog. It would be a sin." "Well, you take it then," said the charlatan. The youth asked, "Will you sell it to me?" "I will indeed," the other replied. So the youth bought the dog for two and a half piastres and used the other half piastre to buy food for the dog.

The boy returned home and told his mother that he had bought a dog. "You fool," she scolded, "what am I supposed to do with a dog?" The poor mother returned to her spindle and spun some more yarn. When she was finished, she gave it to her son to sell. He sold the yarn, but then he happened on someone who was about to kill a cat. And so he bought the cat, just as he had bought the dog, and purchased some fish for it to eat. He returned home again and said, "Mother, I've bought us a cat." "I hope it bites you in the ear, you fool," said the mother, "we don't even have enough to eat and now we have a cat to feed." She began once more to spin yarn which the youth took and sold. This time, he came across someone who was about to kill a donkey. The youth called out, "Don't kill the donkey. Sell it to me." So the youth bought the donkey for fifty piastres and with his remaining ten piastres he bought some straw. The mother was expecting the youth to return with a loaf of bread, but instead he came back with a donkey. The poor woman almost fainted at the sight, but she quickly spun more yarn and this time she went out to sell it herself.

One day, the youth took the donkey out to gather firewood. When he had finished chopping the wood, he loaded it onto the donkey. On their way home, he saw a fire burning in a garden. As he stood watching it, he noticed a snake trapped in a fig tree. "Save me from the fire, son of man!" the snake pleaded with him. "You're a snake and will bite me. I don't trust you," he replied. "If you save me from the fire," answered the snake, "I'll be of great service to you." So the youth went into the garden and rescued the snake from the tree.

When they were out of danger, the snake said, "Come back with me to our cave where my mother and my brothers are." The youth agreed and, on their way, the snake advised him, "Don't accept anything from my mother but the ring she keeps under her tongue." When they arrived at the cave, the mother darted forward to bite the youth, but the little snake called out, "Mother, don't touch the boy. He saved me from the fire." And so she did him no harm. The little snake continued, "Mother, give him something as a reward because he saved my life." She asked the youth what he wanted and he replied, "All I want is the ring under your tongue." She gave him the ring and explained, "The ring will grant your every wish. But take care that you never lose it!"

When the youth returned home, he called out, "Mother, it's time for supper!" "There's no supper, my son. We have nothing to eat," she replied. "Come over here then and you'll see the table laden with lots of delicious foods." The mother was curious to see what the youth had set the table with. But he simply said to his ring, "Ring, oh ring, bring me a table laden with delicious food!", and immediately his wish was granted. When they had finished their meal, the son said to his mother, "Mother, I want the king's daughter. Go and tell the king that your son wants to marry his daughter." The mother went to the king and told him her son's wish. "If he can build a palace better than mine," replied the king, "he can have my daughter."

The old woman returned home and told her son what the king had said. The youth asked the ring to build him a better palace than the king's. Immediately a palace appeared, and was indeed more magnificent than the king's. The mother returned to the king and asked for his daughter's hand, saying, "My son has built the palace and now he wants your daughter." But the king said, "First he must build a road of silver plate leading from my palace to his. Then he can have my daughter." The mother told her son what the king had said. The foolish youth once again asked his ring to do his bidding and at once the road was built. When the mother asked for the hand of the king's daughter for the third time, the king replied, "If he can furnish his palace more grandly than mine, we will give him our daughter." The youth ordered the ring to fill the palace with elegant furnishings and the mother returned to the king to tell him everything was ready. The king went over to see for himself, and as the youth's palace was indeed furnished more grandly than his own he gave the youth his daughter's hand in marriage.

A few days later, the young wife stole the ring and said to it, "Ring, take me to the other side of the Black Sea and leave my husband in the little cottage where he began." Immediately she was transported to the other side of the Black Sea with the ring and the husband was back in his old cottage. He searched everywhere but could not find the ring. The dog and the cat said to him, "Let us go and look for your ring." "All right," replied the youth, and they set out together.

After travelling for some time, they arrived at the Black Sea. There, the cat climbed on the dog's back and they swam across to the other side. They continued their journey until night fell. They came to a house and went in to spend the night. At the stroke of midnight, the cat heard scampering sounds and hid behind the curtains. The king of the mice was getting married and the mice were celebrating his wedding. When the mouse king's bride entered the room, the cat leapt into their midst and frightened them out of their wits. But the cat said to the mice, "Don't be afraid. I won't do you any harm. I want you to help me find me a ring and if you don't, I'll eat the bride."

The mice scurried about in all directions in search of the ring and finally found it with the king's daughter, who was asleep. She had stuck the ring in her nostril which made it very difficult to steal. What could they do? One of the mice stuck his tail into the girl's nose and tickled her, making her sneeze. The ring flew out and the mice caught it and took it back to the cat.

The dog and the cat set off immediately for the sea where the cat climbed onto the dog's back once more. When they were in the middle of the sea, the dog said, "Let me carry the ring for a while." "No," said the cat, "I won't give it to you." They began to argue and while they were fighting, the ring fell into the water. When they reached land, the cat lay down on the beach. It had not waited long before a little fish swam by. The cat caught the fish and inside it was the ring. The dog and the cat took the ring back to their master who ordered, "Ring, bring me back my palace with all its furnishings, and throw my wife into the sea."

The tale is over and wishes you health and happiness.

 

[Source: Contes albanais, recueillis et traduits par Auguste Dozon, auteur du Manuel de la Langue Chkipe (Paris: Ernest Leroux 1881, reprint New York 1980), reprinted in Folklor shqiptar 1, Proza popullore (Tirana 1963). Translated by Robert Elsie.]

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