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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Literature  |  Folktales



The Grateful Snake and the Magic Case

Once upon a time there was a poor man who had one son. One day the son found a snake almost frozen to death and took it home with him. When the little snake had recovered in the warmth of the house, it said to the boy, "I cannot repay you for what you have done but come with me to my father. When he asks you what he can do to repay you, ask only for his cigarette case. In the case is a strand of hair, and when you shake it, it will make all your wishes come true."

They went off to the little snake's parents who were overjoyed to see their son again. The snake's father asked the youth what he wanted as a reward for having saved their son's life and the youth asked for the case as the little snake had told him. The father became angry and refused to part with his cigarette case. He said to the youth, "I'll give you absolutely anything you want, except for this case." When the youth got up to leave and the little snake set out to follow him, the mother began to weep and implored her husband, "It is better to give him what he wants than for us to lose our son." She would not let her son leave and both of them begged the father until at last he gave in. The little snake called the youth back and the father gave him the cigarette case. Then the youth returned home.

At that time, the king had just proclaimed throughout his territories that all the young men of the country were to assemble in front of his palace because his daughter wished to choose a husband. The princess would throw an apple to the man she wanted. So the youth set out for the assembly. On his way, he shook the case and received handsome garments and a white horse. He let all the other young men go before him and was the last to arrive in front of the palace. The maiden did not care for any of the men who were already assembled there and when the youth finally appeared, she threw him the apple. The king summoned the youth and they agreed to hold the wedding celebration in four months' time. A few days later, the youth went back to his home.

As the wedding approached, he shook his case and a palace appeared. When the villagers woke the next morning, they looked at one another in utter amazement and wondered who could possibly have built the palace in such a short time. Finally, one Saturday evening, the youth went to fetch his bride and they celebrated for several days. The bride and groom spent a week with the king and then returned to the youth's own palace.

After a while, the youth's father in law went to war with another king and summoned all his warriors. He called his son in law too and made him commander in chief of the army. While the youth was at war, the king called his daughter to him and asked her whether she was happy with her husband. She told him that she had no maids or butlers and that all her wishes were granted whenever her husband shook his cigarette case. The king convinced his daughter to steal the case from her husband, but she did not know where he kept it hidden.

In this long ago time all the birds and animals could speak, so the king asked the animals which one of them could find out where his son in law had hidden the cigarette case. "I'll find it," promised the mouse. "When you go to bed, just set out a lamp with some petroleum in it." When everyone had gone to bed and was fast asleep, the mouse dipped its tail into the petroleum and stuck it in the son in law's nose. The youth sneezed and the case fell out. The mouse seized the case and ran off with it to the king.

The son in law understood at once that he had lost the case when he sneezed and immediately got up to look for it. He searched the palace from top to bottom but could not find it anywhere, and thought that it must have fallen into a mousehole. He knew that without his case he would become poor again.

But the king, who now knew best of all where the case was, summoned his son in law and daughter to him and bestowed upon them a kingdom of their own where they lived happily ever after.


[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.]