Once upon a time there were three sisters, the youngest of whom was prettier than the other two. Her name was Fatima. One day the sisters asked the sun, “Dear sun, which of us is the prettiest?” “Fatima,” the sun replied. The next day, the two sisters rubbed dirt into Fatima’s face and asked the sun again, but it repeated, “Fatima is the prettiest.”
The two sisters took counsel on what they could do to rid themselves of Fatima. They decided that the next day they would pretend to go out for wood. They would leave the house before Fatima and when she tried to follow them, she would not be able to find them in the woods. They thought they had found the solution. The next morning they said to Fatima, “You sweep the house and we’ll go out to chop wood. You’ll find us near a gourd we will hang in a tree.” The sisters departed and Fatima swept the house. When she had finished, she set off to look for the gourd. She searched in one direction and then in the other, but could not find her sisters anywhere because they had come home by another road. Fatima wandered through the forest in circles, looking for a path. When it got dark, she climbed up to the top of a high tree and saw a light in the distance. Frightened as she was, she ran towards it and entered a cottage.
The cottage was the home of forty thieves who went out robbing at night. As was their custom, they returned home the following day and beat with their rifles on the door, which opened and let them in. The thieves sat down at the table, were brought some delicious food and began to eat. At the first bite they noticed that it was not their servant who had prepared the meal, so they asked him if there were anyone else with him in the house. At first the servant did not want to say anything, but then he told them the truth. The thieves thought that one of them should have Fatima for his wife, but they finally decided to marry her to the servant instead so that there would be no fighting among them. The forty thieves came to love Fatima as their sister and brought her many beautiful presents.
When the sisters heard that Fatima was married, they were annoyed and resolved to kill her. One day they sent a maidservant to the house of the forty thieves with a poisoned golden necklace. The moment Fatima put on the necklace, she fell over dead. When the thieves came home and knocked at the door, there was no one to open it. They entered the cottage and found Fatima lying dead in the middle of the room. They shook her, turned her over, and finally took off her new necklace. Then Fatima came to herself and told the thieves how she had died. She promised the thieves not to accept any more gifts from her sisters.
But the sisters found out that Fatima was not dead after all and sent their maidservant off once again with some more poisoned gold. With compliments and flattery she had learned from the sisters, the maidservant persuaded Fatima to accept the present. The moment she put the gold in her dress, she fell dead again. The thieves and Fatima’s husband returned home the next morning and again found her dead on the floor. They turned her over, searched everywhere and finally discovered the gold in her bosom. This time the thieves scolded her even more severely and warned her not to accept any gifts that her sisters might send.
The third day, the sisters sent Fatima a ring which, despite all the thieves’ warnings, she accepted. The moment she put the ring on, she fell dead a third time. When the thieves returned home from their robberies they found her and searched her again, but none of them thought of looking at her fingers. Finally they gave up and began to weep and mourn the loss of Fatima. They placed her in a coffin, weighed it down with a tree trunk and threw it into a fountain.
One day, the king’s stableboy went to the fountain to water his horse. The horse saw the silhouette of the coffin in the fountain and shied away, refusing to drink. The stableboy returned home and told the king what had happened. The king rode out to the fountain himself and saw the silhouette of the coffin in the water. Immediately he gave orders to have the coffin raised and, seeing the beautiful maiden inside it, took her home with him and locked her in a room. With time she got thinner and thinner and the ring fell off her finger.
As soon as the ring fell off her finger, Fatima came back to life again. The king married her and they both 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.]