The Lover’s Grave
This is a now largely forgotten tale from central Albania, recorded in the late nineteenth century. Nderenje, now Ndroq, is a small town on the road from Tirana to Kavaja.
At a time when the towns of Kruja and Tirana were in feud with one another, there lived in Kruja a poor Muslim whose son Bedri had risen in the ranks of the imperial army because of his exceptional courage and had been made a yüzbashi [captain]. When peace was restored, the army was reduced in size and many men were sent home. Among them was Bedri who, with much regret, returned to his home country, wondering how he would now make his living.
One day he fell asleep in a forest and before him appeared a zana [mountain fairy] in white clothes embroidered in gold, wearing a diadem on her head and carrying a curiously shaped wand in her hand. She touched his temples with the wand and thus awakened him. Bedri, recognising the zana, was about to prostrate himself at her feet, but she made it clear that he need have no fear of her and could tell her of his woes.
The yüzbashi took courage and told her what was on his heart. The zana listened patiently and then said: “I can do nothing for you but give you good advice and, if you take it, you will be lucky. Go back to Kruja and stop nowhere on your way. Beware of the wooden beam and of the doe. And never forget that you are safer at the fountain than at the root. Take my warnings seriously. I bid you farewell.”
Having spoken, the zana vanished, leaving Bedri all alone. Initially, the young Muslim thought he had been dreaming, but the puzzling words of the zana were still ringing in his ears and his nose could still smell the pleasant odour that the zana’s body had left behind. Bedri reflected for some time on the meaning of her curious exhortations, but could grasp no meaning in them.
At noon, the yüzbashi stopped to rest at a fountain. He had just sat down to lunch when he heard the sound of hooves. A group of men on horseback approached, and in their midst was a lady. As she was wearing a hood and a veil, Bedri could not see whether she was young or old, but suspected from the care the horsemen were taking of her that she must be young and of a noble family.
The riders dismounted at the fountain and helped the lady out of her saddle. Paying no attention to Bedri, they set up camp and began to cook their meal. After lunch, they all lay down for a nap. Only one of them remained awake as a guard.
Bedri was behind the fountain. All at once, the lady got to her feet and, taking a jug, went over to get some water. The yüzbashi followed her with his eyes. Standing beside the fountain, the Muslim lady had difficulty filling her jug and at one point her hood fell to one side, allowing Bedri to get a glimpse of her face.
He was thunderstruck by her beauty. When the young lady gave him a long and ardent glance, Bedri fell instantly in love. Throwing all caution to the wind, he was on the verge of expressing his desire, when the Turkish guardsman hastened to her side. She lost no time in putting on her veil, thus bringing him to reason.
But the charm of her face was now carved into his heart. Bedri recalled the words of the zana, wondering if they now had any meaning for him. He remembered what she had said of the fountain and believed it to be a good omen. After due reflection, he resolved to approach the group of travellers.
He learned from their conversation that their destination was Tirana and, since this was not far out of his way, he decided to follow them, keeping as close as possible. As he had no horse of his own, however, he was not able to keep up and soon lost sight of the travellers, yet he was confident that he would find them once again when he got there.
When he reached the gates of the town, he was surrounded by some Albanians who showed him a wooden beam and asked him what it was. Suspecting nothing, Bedri replied: “trani.” (1) They immediately drew their daggers to slay him. He, however, succeeded in eluding their grasp and, brandishing his sabre, cried out: “You wretches, how dare you attack an imperial yüzbashi!” The men took fright at his words and looked at one another in consternation.
One of them stated: “We cannot kill an officer of the sultan without suffering the consequences.”
“Let us take him to the kajmakam [governor] and let him decide,” said the other.
“Off to the kajmakam with him!” shouted the rest.
And so it was. At the kajmakam’s manor, Bedri was surprised to see one of the horsemen who had been escorting the fair lady. The horseman recognised Bedri, too, and struck up a conversation with him. Learning that Bedri, as an imperial officer, was not aware of the feud going on between Tirana and Kruja and that he was simply on his way home to Kruja, he pleaded that Bedri ought not to be punished since he had come to Tirana innocently, and offered Bedri accommodation for the night. The next day he would, however, have to leave the town.
Bedri was satisfied with this turn of events and was intent, more than ever, on discovering the whereabouts of his beloved. Luck was with him. The room he was given was situated right across from a harem and, even though it was barred with wooden boards, he managed to get a glimpse of his beloved inside, who saw him and gave him a discreet glance.
Love-struck, Bedri forgot himself and called to the lady through the holes between the wooden boards. He learned that she was the daughter of a prominent bey from Elbasan and was being forced to marry the kajmakam of Tirana. She disliked her future husband, in particular now that she had seen Bedri. She declared her love for him and begged him to save her before twilight.
Bedri forgot the shame he ought to have felt at betraying the hospitality of his host. He was too deeply in love. Secretly, he saddled the kajmakam’s best horse and made it ready. Then, mounting the beast, he forced it to lean against the wooden boards of her chamber until they shattered, thus releasing the lady from her captivity. Bedri helped her through the gap in the wall, heaved her onto the horse in front of him, and set off in a galop.
Great commotion was caused by their escape in broad daylight and Bedri had not even reached the edge of town with his precious booty when the kajmakam was informed of his deed. His men saddled their horses and set off in pursuit of the couple.
Bedri did not make for Kruja, thinking that most of the men pursuing him would ride in that direction. Instead, he chose the road to Nderenje [Ndroq]. While on their way, he asked the lady her name. “My name is Dre [doe],” she replied.
Bedri recalled the words of the zana about the wooden beam and the doe. The part about the wooden beam had turned true. Now he understood the meaning of the doe. It was only the words about the fountain and the root that remained a mystery for him. But not for long. Not far from Nderenje, the couple was overtaken by their pursuers. It was too late for the yüzbashi to realize that Nderenje meant “at the root” and Kruja derived its name from the word for “fountain.” The horsemen surrounded Bedri there, and in the heroic struggle that ensued, Bedri was defeated. Seeing no other way out, he turned and stabbed his beloved, and then himself. As they were dying, they begged to be buried together. And their final wish was granted.