The Princess of China

Once upon a time there were a king and a queen who had one son. One day the youth went hunting with the son of the Grand Vizier. In the course of the hunt, they killed a magpie and a drop of its blood fell onto the snow which had fallen heavily that winter. At that moment, a dervish happened by and, seeing the red blood in the snow, declared, “This blood is as red as the cheeks of the king of China’s daughter.”

When the youth heard this, he was filled with such longing that he fell ill. He had to see the king of China’s daughter and find out if she was really as beautiful as the dervish had said. The queen noticed her son was ill and that he was moaning and sighing all the time. She therefore asked him, “What is troubling you, my son? What has made you so sad?” He replied, “I am so full of longing for something that I have fallen ill. If you promise me that I can have the thing I want, I will get better and not die.” The mother asked what it was that he wanted. The youth called the son of the Grand Vizier and secretly asked him, “What do we need to travel to China?” He replied that they would need three baskets full of gold and three horsemen. The son then turned to his mother and said, “Give me three baskets of gold and three horsemen and I promise to return, no matter where I go.” The mother went to the king and said to him, “Our only son has fallen ill. He wants to go on a journey because he is suffering from a great longing for something. He will return in two or three years, but he needs three baskets of gold and three horsemen.” The king had everything readied and the youth set off with the son of the Grand Vizier.

When they reached China, the three horsemen returned home. The two young men looked for an inn and asked an innkeeper, “How much money do you earn in a day?” “Two hundred pence,” replied the innkeeper. “We’ll give you three hundred pence,” they said, “if you promise not to let anyone else into the inn.” The innkeeper gave them a room which was usually reserved for three. They bought some women’s clothes and a couple of days later the son of the Grand Vizier went off to the barber for a shave. When the barber had shaved him, the young man gave him one piece of silver. Two or three days later he returned to the barber for another shave and gave him five pieces of silver. The third time he gave him ten pieces of silver and then asked, “Where is the Turkish girls’ school here? I have a sister whom I must take to school.” The barber dispatched a young lad to show him where the school was, and the two of them returned to the inn where the king’s son was waiting. There, the son of the Grand Vizier dressed in the women’s clothes. Then he said to the lad, “Show me where the school is and then go home. I will go in by myself.”

When they arrived at the school, the lad departed and the son of the Grand Vizier rang the bell at the door of the school. A girl came out and he said to her, “Here are ten pieces of gold. Take them to the teacher with this note and give her my greetings.” The girl went back inside, gave the coins to the teacher and said, “There is a lady at the door who gave me these coins and told me to give you her greetings.” “Did you see who she was?” asked the teacher, but the girl replied that she hadn’t.

The next day the son of the Grand Vizier went back to the school at the same time and rang the bell again. The teacher sent the same girl to answer the door and the young man repeated what he had said the day before. The teacher was surprised and did not understand why someone was sending her gold coins, so she ordered the girl not to accept any more gold coins from the woman if she came again, but to have her come into the building.

The following day, when the young man knocked again, the girl asked him to come inside. He sat down on a bench beside the teacher and gave her ten gold coins. Then all the pupils came in to recite their lessons and went out again, one by one. The king’s daughter, too, came in and, having recited her lessons, whispered to the teacher that she wanted to invite the lady to dinner. The teacher said to the young man, “The king’s daughter would like to invite you to dinner tonight.” The young man accepted the invitation, saying, “Let me go home first to ask permission and tell them not to wait up for me because I can spend the night at the home of the king’s daughter.” Then he returned to the inn and said to the king’s son, “Don’t be sad any longer. I’ll arrange everything so that you can marry the king’s daughter. She has invited me to dinner tonight.”

And so he had dinner with her and lay down beside her to go to sleep. The maiden however noticed that the woman was really a young man because in his sleep, he threw his leg over her. She asked him straight out whether he was a man and he told her the whole truth. “Yes, I am a man and have I come here with the king’s son who is so taken with you that he wants to marry you. I dressed in these women’s clothes so as to be able to see you.” She asked him if she might see the king’s son. Is your mother still alive?” inquired the son of the Grand Vizier. “Not any more.” “When do you go to pray at her grave?” “Every Friday,” she replied. Then he suggested that he would go back to the inn and send the king’s son to the graveyard on Friday so that she could see him.

On Friday, the maiden went to the graveyard and saw the king’s son, who had fallen asleep. He did not wake up as she approached, but she could see that he was very handsome. She picked three flowers buds, laid them on his chest and departed. When the young man woke up and saw the flower buds, he was angry at himself for having missed the maiden. The son of the Grand Vizier later returned to the maiden and asked her whether she had seen the king’s son. She replied, “He was sleeping when I saw him, but I would like very much to see him again, for I have fallen in love with him.” “Can you go back to the graveyard tomorrow?” “I can go any day I want. No one stops me,” replied the maiden. “I’ll go too and make sure he doesn’t fall asleep,” the youth promised.

When she returned to her mother’s grave the next day she found the young man there, threw her arms around him and kissed him. “I would like to have you for my husband,” she told him, “but I don’t know how, because I am already engaged. The attendants of the groom are coming this week to fetch me.” The king’s son replied, “I don’t know what to do either. Let’s ask the son of the Grand Vizier and do whatever he says.” When the son of the Grand Vizier arrived, he asked the maiden, “Do you like him enough to have him for your husband?” She told him that she did, but that she was engaged and the attendants of the groom would soon be coming to fetch her. The son of the Grand Vizier suggested a plan, “When you depart with the attendants of the groom and pass the graveyard, tell them that you want to get out for a moment to pay your respects one last time at your mother’s grave. When you arrive at the grave, I’ll put on your clothes and you stay here with the king’s son. I will return in your place and you leave the graveyard as soon as you can get away.” When the day came for the groom’s attendants to fetch her, she asked them to stop for a moment at the graveyard. They agreed and she went in. The son of the Grand Vizier dressed in the maiden’s clothes and climbed back into the wedding coach, and the maiden and the king’s son married in secret.

When the son of the Grand Vizier arrived, he was led to the house of the groom with all the pomp and ceremony of a royal wedding. It was the custom there for the sisters of the groom to spend the first three nights with the bride, but the three sisters could not agree which one of them was to go first. The queen, the groom’s mother, decided that the youngest daughter, whom she loved the most, should spend the first night with the bride. After the first night, the youngest daughter fell in love with the bride and begged her mother to let her spend the second night there too. The second night, she realized that the bride was actually a young man and said to him, “Tell me the truth, are you a man or a woman?” “I am a man,” he replied, ” and then told her the story of what had happened. She saw that he was very handsome and said, “I’d like to marry you but I don’t know whether you want me.” “Oh yes, I do. Do you know what we can do to escape tonight? You must say that you want to go out riding and ask for a stableboy and two horses. When we get to the city gates, show the guards something that belongs to your father and they will let us pass.”

The maiden went back to her mother and asked for a stableboy and two horses so that she could go riding. Her mother arranged for everything and the maiden secretly took two water glasses with her. When everyone was asleep in the middle of the night, the maiden and the young man rose and crept out, mounted the horses and sent the stableboy home, saying they would be away for two or three days.

When the servants came the next morning to wake the bride and the youngest daughter, the room was empty. The stableboy reported that they had gone out riding and would be back in two or three days. The servants waited for three days, but the couple never returned, for they had caught up with the king’s son and had married too.

[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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