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English  Albanian Literature in Translation

Robert Elsie

 

Oral Literature |  Folktales

  Webdesign J. Groß

The Girl who Became a Boy

     Once upon a time there was a man who had three daughters. When the king called up soldiers for the war, the man had no sons to send. As he sat and pondered what to do, his eldest daughter approached him and inquired, "What are you thinking about, father?" He answered, "Leave me alone, daughter. The king has called up soldiers to go to war and I have no sons. I only have you whom I can't send to war." To this she replied, "Marry me to someone!" Later the second daughter gave the very same answer. The youngest daughter, however, replied, "Don't worry, father, I'll go to war. Have a uniform made for me and cut off my hair so that no one will know that I am a girl. Then give me your horse and weapons." Her father did as she had requested and she set off with the other young men of the village. Everyone who saw the new young man was surprised. And so they departed.
     That day, the king had ordered his own son to be taken out of the town to be eaten by a Kulshedra. Every year the Kulshedra would come and devour a number of people. One day the Kulshedra said, "If you don't want me to come back ever again, give me the king's son." And so they brought the king's son to the Kulshedra. When the boy was outside the town, the townspeople all watched the Kulshedra setting upon him to devour him and they were all so frightened that no one even thought of going to his assistance. The disguised girl, however, drew her sabre, slew the Kulshedra and saved the king's son. The news that the Kulshedra had been slain spread immediately to the king who was so overjoyed that he gave orders for a banquet and a gun salute. When the young man entered the palace with the king's son, the son whispered, "My father will offer you a kingdom, but ask only for his horse, because it can think and talk like we do."
     When they got to the king, he asked, "Which kingdom would you like to have as your reward?" The young man replied, "My only wish is not to go to war." "Fine," said the king, "I will gladly free you from military service, but which kingdom do you want?" "Well, if you really want to give me something, give me the horse you're sitting on." The king refused, however, and so the young man departed. The king's son followed young man and when the people asked where he was going, he replied, "I am going away with my new father. He saved my life and now he is like a father to me. If my real father cares more for his horse than he does for me, his son, then it is better for me to depart."
     When the king heard what his son had said, he changed his mind. They brought the young man the horse and placed a golden saddle on it. The young man (we will call him so though he was actually a girl) mounted the horse and rode off to another kingdom.
     When he arrived, he saw a crowd of people standing before a moat. The young man's horse saw the crowd in the distance and asked its master, "My lord, can you see what they are doing?" "I can see them all right, but I cannot make out what is going on." "The king had the moat dug because he wants to marry his daughter to someone," replied the horse. "The person who can jump over the moat with his horse and catch an apple can have the king's daughter for his wife. It looks, though, as if no one has yet succeeded. I'll jump over the moat. You just hold on tightly. Don't be afraid, and keep an eye out for the apple. When I jump, I'll stumble at the edge of the moat, so grab my mane and hang on." As they talked, the horse approached. Then it took a run at the moat and leapt over it. When it reached the other side, it stumbled on one leg. The young man seized the mane and the horse leapt into the air again so that the young man was able to catch the apple.
     Everyone was surprised because many people had tried to jump the moat, but no one had ever succeeded in catching the apple. The king immediately arranged for the wedding and gave his daughter away in marriage. When the marriage ceremony was over, the bride and the groom went to bed, though of course both of them were girls. The next morning, as is custom, the wife was asked how she had spent the night. "Nothing happened," she replied. The second and third nights were the same. The people at the court decided that they would have to kill the young man, but somehow they felt sorry for him. "I know what to do," said one courtier, "we'll send him into the forest to take food to the woodcutters. There is a Kulshedra in the forest who will come and devour him." The groom, however, was standing behind the door and overheard everything. He went back to his horse and sat down despondently. "Why are you so sad?" asked the horse. "Why shouldn't I be?" he replied, "The king wants to send me into the forest so that the Kulshedra will devour me." "Don't be afraid," declared the horse, "Ask him for a cart to carry the food and for a team of oxen, and I'll tell you what to do when we get there." A little later, the father in law summoned the young man and said to him, "Go into the forest and take the woodcutters something to eat." "All right," replied the young man, "but I will need a cart to carry the food." So they gave him what he needed and he set off.
     On their way, the horse explained to him, "When we get to the middle of the forest, release one of the oxen and call the woodcutters. The Kulshedra will hear you and rush forth to devour you. But don't worry! Seize it by the ear and put it to the yoke." Hardly had the horse finished explaining when they found themselves in the middle of the forest. The young man released an ox and called the woodcutters. The Kulshedra heard him calling and set upon him, but the young man simply seized it by the ear and put it to the yoke in place of the ox. Then they returned quickly to the king. When the townspeople saw the Kulshedra under the yoke, they were horrified and hid in their houses. The horse then told the young man to release the Kulshedra, which he did.
     The bride and groom slept with one another again, but the bride admitted that she had spent the night the same way as she had spent the others. This time the courtiers said, "We'll send him to water the wild mare who devours all living creatures. She will devour him too." The young man overheard everything again and returned despondently to his horse that asked him why he was so sad. The young man recounted, "I escaped from the Kulshedra, but now I am supposed to water a mare which devours all living creatures." "Don't be afraid," said the horse, "she is my mother. Just ask the king for two pails of honey." A little later, the king summoned him and told him to water the mare. The young man then requested two pails of honey, which he received, and set off with his horse.
     On their way, the horse said to him, "When we get to the well, draw two pails of water out, pour the two pails of honey into the well and mix everything well. Then hang your saddle nearby so that the mare can see it, and climb up a tall tree. When the mare arrives, she will drink the water, see the golden saddle and say, 'Such sweet water and such a golden saddle! I need a human to sit on me and play with me!' You shout down, 'Here I am, but I'm afraid you will eat me.' She will say, 'No, I won't', and you reply, 'Swear by the head of Demirçil the horse.' She will swear by my head and you can then climb down and mount her."
     The young man did as the horse had told him. The mare arrived, drank some water, looked at the golden saddle and said, "Such sweet water and such a golden saddle! I need a human to sit on me and play with me!" The young man shouted, "Here I am, but I'm afraid you will eat me." "No, I won't." "Swear by the head of Demirçil the horse." She swore and he climbed down the tree, mounted the mare and rode around with her. The mare then said, "I would be even happier if Demirçil were here." "I have your son here too," said the young man, called his horse and they all frolicked together.
     After a while, the young man and his horse returned to the town and the mare accompanied them. When the townspeople saw the wild mare coming, they scream at it to frighten it off. But the mare would not leave. Finally her son begged her to return home and promised her that he would come to play with her again. And so she departed.
     The groom returned to the king and slept with the bride once more. Again nothing happened. This time the king resolved to send the young man to a church full of snakes to collect the taxes which the snakes had not been paying for years. The young man overheard everything from behind the door and returned despondently to his horse. The horse asked, "Why are you so sad, my lord?" "This time I am really going to die," he replied, "the king is going to send me to a church full of snakes." "Don't worry," responded the horse, "ask for a waggon covered with bells and for some donkeys to transport the money." The young man did as the horse had said and his father in law told him that he would have to go to the church. When they left, they took the wild mare with them, and the horse and mare explained to the young man what he had to do. "My mother and I," said the stallion, "will guard the doors and neigh loudly. You climb in through the window with all the bells and ring them. The snakes will then cry out and ask whether we are gods come to torture them. You demand the king's taxes and say that God will destroy them if they don't pay up."
     When they got to the church, they did everything as planned. The snakes were so frightened by the bells and the noise the horses were making that they brought out heaps of money. When the three were on their way home, the snakes slithered after them and set upon the young man, but were unable to do him any harm.
     Then they cursed him, saying, "If you who have taken our money away are a boy, may you be transformed into a girl, and if you are a girl, may you be transformed into a boy," and the girl suddenly realized that she had been turned into a boy.
     They returned to the king and when the bride and groom got up the next morning, the young woman, on being asked how she had spent the night, replied, "You don't need to ask any more questions. I spent a wonderful night."
     The fairy tale is over and wishes you all the best.

[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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