Once upon a time there was a widow who had two sons. The older of the two was a pasha in Baghdad. When the younger son grew up, people said to him, “Aren’t you lucky to have a brother who is Pasha in Baghdad?” The youth replied that he had no brother. “Oh yes you do,” they persisted. “Your mother just hasn’t told you about him because she is afraid that you will leave her too.” The next morning he asked his mother, “Mother, do I have a brother?” “Yes you do, my son,” she replied, “but the people who have told you about him do not have your best interests at heart.” Every day after that the youth asked his mother, “Mother, please let me go and see my brother,” until she could do nothing but reply, “All right, my son. But swear to me that you will come home immediately if you meet a barefaced man on the road.”
The youth set off on his way. After travelling for three days he did indeed meet a barefaced man on the road and so he went back home. A few days later he set off again and had travelled for six days when he again met a barefaced man, but this time he did not return home. The barefaced man asked him where he was going. The youth mentioned carelessly that he was off to see his brother who was Pasha in Baghdad. The barefaced man then said, “I too am on my way to Baghdad. Let us go together.”
They travelled together and had walked a long way when the youth became thirsty. The barefaced man led him to a well which had neither a pail nor a rope and said to him,” I’ll tie you to my belt and lower you into the well so that you can drink.” And so he did. When the youth had had enough to drink, he shouted, “I’m finished. Pull me up.” But the barefaced man shouted back, “I will pull you out of the well only if you promise that from now on you will be the barefaced man and I can be the Pasha’s brother.” The youth had no choice but to give his promise. The barefaced man pulled him out of the well and they continued on their way to the palace of the Pasha who received the brother with great joy.
The next morning, the barefaced man said to the Pasha, “Are you bored? I can offer you some entertainment, for I have a barefaced man with me who is very brave. He will slay anything, no matter what it is.” The barefaced man wanted to get rid of the brother because he was afraid that he would tell the Pasha the truth. The Pasha replied, “A Kulshedra comes from time to time. Perhaps he could slay it for me.” When the youth heard this, all he said was, “Give me two cudgels and have a bonfire laid.” The Pasha had everything prepared for him right away and the youth set out. The Kulshedra, attracted by the fire, approached the youth and prepared to devour him. But the youth dealt it a blow on the head with the cudgel and slew it. In no time, the news had spread that the youth had slain the Kulshedra, and the Pasha awarded him a medal for he was fond of the boy. The barefaced man was most upset because he was still afraid that the youth would tell the Pasha which of them was the real brother.
The barefaced man asked the Pasha again, “Have you any other wishes?” “Yes,” replied the Pasha, “I am engaged to the daughter of the Shah of Persia, but whenever I send my soldiers there, they are all killed. Send the youth there.” So the youth set out with ninety seven soldiers.
On his way, he happened upon a fellow sitting on the bank of a river who was drinking all the water in the river and then spitting it out again. The youth stopped with his soldiers and watched the young man, for he had never seen anyone swallow so much water before. Finally he asked the fellow, “What are you doing?” “There’s nothing else I can do,” the other replied. I just sit here all day and play with the water.” “Would you like to come with me?” “Yes, I would,” the fellow said, and he set out with the youth. They continued on their way and came upon a another young man who was playing with some hares. He would let them go and then catch them again. The youth asked the fellow what he was doing and he replied, “There’s nothing else I can do but catch hares.” “Would you like to come with me?” “Yes, indeed,” he replied and they all set off again.
After a while they sat down to rest under an oak tree. In the tree was a nest of baby eagles and a snake was crawling up the tree to devour them. When the youth saw what was happening, he jumped up and slew the snake. The moment the mother eagle arrived, it set upon the youth and tried to gouge his eyes out, but the baby eagles cried out, “No, no, he saved us from the snake!” The eagle said to the youth, “You saved my children from the snake. What can I do for you?” But the youth replied that there was nothing he wanted, so the eagle plucked a feather out of its wing and said, “Take this feather and if you ever need me, burn it and I will come to your aid right away.” The youth took the feather and put it in his pocket, and the whole group set out again.
On their way, they came across an ant hill. They went around it, taking care not to step on it so as not to destroy it. The queen of the ants asked, “Why did you not step on the ant hill?” “I didn’t want to do you any harm,” replied the youth, and the queen of the ants declared, “You have done us a great service, and as thanks I will give you one of my wings. If you are ever in danger, burn it and I will come to your aid with all my army.”
And so they arrived at the palace of the Shah of Persia and the youth said to him, “I have come to fetch the Pasha’s bride.” The Shah retorted, “If you can eat three hundred plates of food, you can have the bride.” The fellow who had drunk all the water in the river said that he was willing to try. The Shah sent for three hundred plates of food, and the fellow ate everything up, more than the Pasha’s whole army could have eaten. There was not a crumb left over. The Shah became worried and declared, “Whoever wins the flag in a race with my swiftest horses can have the bride.” The young man who had been catching hares exclaimed, “Don’t worry, I’ll win the flag for you.” When the horses arrived at the racetrack, the young man said to the riders, “I’ll give you a head start and then I’ll set out after you.” So they let the horses gallop away. The hare catcher set out last, caught up with the horses, passed them and won the flag. When the youth showed the Shah that he had won the flag, the Shah was even more worried, but still he would not give up the bride.
Next the Shah declared, “I have a barn full of wheat, barley and millet all mixed up together. You must sort it out for me in three days, otherwise I won’t give you the Pasha’s bride. This time the youth despaired for he knew it was impossible to sort out that much grain in three days. Then he remembered the ant’s wing and threw it into the fire. Immediately the queen of the ants arrived and asked him what he wanted. He told her about the barn full of grain and she summoned all her ants. In three hours they had finished the task. The youth sent a message to the Shah, saying, “The grain has been sorted into three piles. Now you must give us the maiden.” The Shah wondered how the youth could have done the chore in three hours. He went out to the barn and saw, to his utter amazement, that the grain had indeed been sorted into three piles.
The Shah then declared, “I have one more request. I want you to bring me a bottle of water from the mountains whose peaks touch. At the foot of the mountains is a cave and in the cave is the water you must bring me. It is a remedy to bring the dead back to life.”
The youth remembered the eagle’s feather and burnt it. The eagle appeared and asked the youth what he desired. The youth told the eagle about the water he must bring from the mountains. At once the eagle flew off and in no time it brought back the water and gave it to the youth who presented it to the Shah. In the palace, the bride took a flask of the water. She was then given to the youth and together they made their way home.
They were singing and making merry when they arrived at the Pasha’s palace. The barefaced man heard their laughter and went out to meet them. When he saw that the youth had returned safe and sound, he was furious. In his anger, he drew his sword and chopped the youth in two. When the Pasha found out that the barefaced man had slain the youth of whom he was fond, he was so despondent that he could neither eat nor sleep. Though he did not punish the barefaced man because he believed him to be his brother, he refused to see him anymore.
Meanwhile, the bride had sprinkled the magic water over the youth and brought him back to life without the Pasha’s knowledge. The next morning, the youth went to the Pasha’s palace and declared, “I want to see the Pasha. I must talk to him.” But the servants did not recognize him and told him that the Pasha was in mourning and would not see anyone. But the youth insisted, and so they finally called the Pasha, “There is a youth here who wishes to speak to Your Lordship,” they said. “Let him in,” replied the Pasha. When the youth arrived in the Pasha’s chamber he began by asking, “If a man has made a promise and has then been cut into two, he can’t come back to life, can he?” “No,” replied the Pasha, “he can’t come back to life.” “And if a man is cut into two and then does come back to life, is he still bound to keep his promise?” “No,” said the Pasha, “no one is bound by a promise after his death.” “Fine,” said the youth, “now I can tell you what I couldn’t tell you before, for I have died and come back to life. Now I can tell you that it is I who am your brother. The other is a barefaced man whom I promised that I would never say anything as long as I lived.” Then he recounted everything that had happened to him on his journey.
The Pasha was overjoyed and embraced his brother, and a great feast was held. Then the Pasha ordered the oven to be stoked up and the barefaced man to be thrown into it. And so it was done.[Source: Urban Jarnik, Príspevky ku poznání nárecí albánských uverejnuje Jan Urban Jarník. Pojednání král. ceské spolecnosti nauk. Rada VI, díl 12. Abhandlungen der Königlich-Böhmischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Prag, 12 (Prague, Tiskem Dra. Edvarda Grégra, 1883), reprinted in Folklor shqiptar 1, Proza popullore (Tirana 1963). Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]