The Stirrup Moor – the most beautiful Albanian fable!

Once upon a time there was a king who owned a mare. It was his own personal mare and no one else was allowed to ride it. The mare had never had a foal. Nor did the king have any children. One day, he saddled the mare and rode out to find a potion so that his wife could bear children and the mare could have a foal. On his way, the king met an old man who asked him where he was going. The king replied, “I have set out to find a remedy because my mare, which I’ve had for ten years now, is infertile and my wife hasn’t had any children either.” The old man said, “Here, take this apple. Go home and peel it, and give the apple to the queen and the peelings to the mare. Then they will both become pregnant and give birth.” The king took the apple and returned to his palace. He gave the apple to the queen and the peelings to the mare, as the old man had told him to do. Both became pregnant and gave birth: the queen had a son with a star on his forehead and the mare had a foal with a star on its forehead. The king gave the stallion to his son and no one else was allowed to ride it. Everyone marvelled when the two rode out together.

Time passed and the youth turned twenty. He loved to hunt and went out every day with his stallion. One day, he lost his way and came to a river as big as the Vjosa. As he was riding along the bank of the river he saw a beautiful maiden on the other side who was also out hunting with her servants and hounds. The maiden was the daughter of a king, but her father was king of the jinns. She was therefore a jinn maiden, not a human being. When the youth saw the beautiful maiden he fell in love with her and returned day after day to the same place to see her. One day, he could stand it no longer. He spurred on his stallion and they leapt over the river to the other side. He then approached the maiden and spoke to her. The maiden asked him, “What are you doing on my land?” “I want to ask you a question,” replied the youth, “I am so full of longing for you. Do you love me or not?” The maiden looked at the handsome youth and fell in love with him, saying, “I love you five times more than you love me, but nothing will come of our love because of our families. Your father is a king and my father is a king, but your father is king of the humans and mine is king of the jinns. It simply won’t work out.” “But what can we do to stay together?” pleaded the youth, “for I will never give you up.” The maiden took a piece of toast out of her pocket and said to the youth, “Take this piece of toast and go back home. When you get there, pretend you are deathly ill and don’t eat anything they give you. Eat this toast instead when no one is watching. Then they will ask you what you want. Whenever they ask you, say you want nothing at all. In the end, they will ask you: Wouldn’t you like a girl? Just sigh deeply and they will understand that you love me and that we can’t be together.” Then the two separated.

The youth went home and became ill. They brought him food, but he would eat none of it. The king sent for all his physicians, for he had only one son, and he had no peer on earth. But however much the physicians examined him, they could not find out what was wrong. At that time, one of the king’s shepherds was on his way to bring the king a lamb and a gardener was on his way, too, to bring the king a melon. The two met on the road and asked one another where they were going. “I’m going to see the king,” said the first one. “So am I,” said the second, “because his son is ill.” They continued on their way and arrived at the palace where they offered their gifts. On seeing the youth, the gardener realized immediately that he wasn’t ill at all, but was in love. So he said, “Send all the people out of the room. You go too, my lord. Leave me alone with the youth. I think I can cure him.” The king replied, “I do hope so,” and sent everyone out of the room, leaving the gardener alone with the youth.

The gardener began by asking the youth what he wanted and mentioned all sorts of things. The youth replied time and time again, “There is nothing I want.” Finally the gardener asked, “Would you like the daughter of the king of the jinns?” The youth sighed deeply and replied, “Yes, indeed I would.” The gardener then said, “I will tell the king and when you get up, everything will be arranged.” The gardener went back to the king and said to him, “The youth is now in good health and has gotten up. As you can see, he has gone out to see his stallion. He had simply fallen in love with the daughter of the king of the jinns. You must bring her here as a bride for your son, otherwise he will be so distraught in his longing that you will lose him.” The king agreed right away. He sent a message to the king of the jinns inviting him to a banquet.

When the king of the jinns arrived, they celebrated for a whole week, eating, drinking, listening to music and playing games. Then the king of the humans said to the king of the jinns, “We have finally gotten to know one another and from now on we shall be friends. But I would like to go even further.” “As you wish,” replied the king of the jinns. “Give me your daughter as a wife for my son,” said the king, “then we will be relatives.” “Fine, I agree,” said the king of the jinns. And so, the two kings became relatives and exchanged rings. When the king of the jinns returned home, his wife greeted him and asked him, “How was it at the king’s banquet?” He replied, “They received me with hospitality and great honour and then we became relatives, for I have given our daughter in marriage to the king’s son.” When the queen heard this, she screamed, “You want me to give my daughter to the humans? Never! If you agreed to that, you did a very wicked thing!” She then stood up, took her daughter by the hand and went off to another corner of the world where another king of the jinns lived. She took her daughter there and left her with the other king of the jinns. Later, the mother died leaving the maiden all alone.

When the son of the king of the humans heard that the maiden had been taken away, he became ill again and went to his stallion to tell him his tale of woe. The stallion said to him, “Since you are going to die of longing for the maiden, go to your father and ask him to have his servants bring you your best clothes and to have them saddle me with two pouches of money. Then say to him: I want to go out into the courtyard and ride my stallion before I die, because I cannot give up the ghost without have ridden my stallion one last time with my best clothes on.” The youth did as the stallion had told him. Though the king agreed to all his son’s requests, he had guardsmen posted and locked the gates so that the youth couldn’t ride away. The youth went out of the palace, mounted his stallion and rode around in the courtyard for a while and then, suddenly, he shouted, “Farewell, father!” His father hardly had time to shout, “Catch them!” before the stallion and the youth had leapt over the walls and galloped off.

On their way, they arrived at a house with no doors or windows. A beautiful maiden who had seven brothers lived there. The brothers were off fighting with the king of Russia because he wanted to marry their sister and they had refused to give her up. They had therefore gone to war and had been fighting for five years. When the youth approached the house, which was more like a fortress, he took out his sword and struck the wall with it. A doorway opened where he had struck and the youth went through. On entering the house, he encountered the maiden all alone. She asked him, “Who are you and how did you get in here? There is a mighty king who has been fighting with my brothers for five years. No one is allowed to enter here.” The youth replied, “I haven’t come to do you any harm. I just want to see what’s going on. Tell me where your brothers are and I will go and make friends with them.” She replied, “My brothers are at the beach because some ships full of soldiers are coming tomorrow to do battle with them. The youth went out and struck the wall again, and the doorway disappeared. He went off to find the seven brothers. When he found them, they sat down to talk and he asked what they were doing there. They told him their problem, “Ten ships full of soldiers are coming tomorrow and we will have to fight.” The youth replied, “Don’t be afraid. I will stay here and fight with you.”

The next day, the ships full of soldiers arrived and the seven brothers got up to go into battle. The youth, however, said to them, “Wait a moment, let them get off the ships first, then we will charge and do battle with them.” “But there are so many of them,” said the brothers, “and only a handful of us. Once they get off the ships, we are lost.” The youth retorted, “Stay here and don’t worry.” So they let the soldiers get off the ships. The king’s son got up and mounted his stallion, stroking its mane and the forehead with a star on it. Then he took off his fez and set upon the soldiers. The two of them shone so brightly that the soldiers were blinded, and the youth was able to charge into their midst and slay almost all of them. He let a few of them live so that they would return home with their ships to tell the tale of their disaster. Then the youth returned to the brothers who took him home to their house nearby.

The soldiers who had survived reported to the king of Russia, “You have lost many soldiers, for there was a man there who shone as bright as the sun that we couldn’t see to fight him.” When the king of Russia heard this, he decided to give up.

The seven brothers took the king’s son home with them and kept him there for a month because they were afraid that the enemy would return. But no one came. Then they said to the youth, “You have saved us. Let us become brothers. We will give you our sister in marriage.” The youth replied, “All right, but I actually love the daughter of the king of the jinns and have set off to find her. When I return, I will take your sister with me.” And so they exchanged rings. The youngest of the seven brothers said he would accompany the youth. They kissed one another, said farewell and the two of them departed.

On their way, they saw an inn in the distance. The stallion said to the youth, “Do you see that inn? A Moor lives there who always sets a table at the roadside, but no one stops there to eat because everyone is afraid of him. His table is made of gold and so are the dishes, the plates, the spoons and the forks. You won’t even see that much gold at the king’s table. “Now,” continued the stallion, “we are getting closer to the inn. We’ll leave the boy here at the river so that no one can see him and go on ahead. When we approach the table, you get off and eat. But you’ll have to be quick and get back on me right away because the Moor has a mare that is swifter than any stallion on earth. We are now approaching someone selling hides. Buy five buffalo hides and cover my body with them, and put the saddle over them.” The youth did as the stallion had told him. He went over to the tanner, bought the hides, put them on the stallion and rode to the inn. There he found the table, got off and had something to eat. The Moor went over to the window and asked, “Who is down there?” The youth continued eating and didn’t answer. Then the Moor went out and mounted his mare. The youth finished eating and jumped on his stallion. When the Moor’s horse passed through the entrance to the inn, it neighed and the whole place was transformed into a lake so that the youth’s stallion and the mare were up to their bellies in water. The mare immediately set upon the stallion and the stallion upon the mare. The mare bit into the stallion and ripped off a whole buffalo hide in one piece. The stallion bit into the mare and broke one of its ribs. By the time the five buffalo hides had been torn off, the stallion and the mare were both exhausted. All the mare’s ribs had been broken and the two horses fell to the ground. The Moor and the youth fought with their swords. But no matter how often they struck one another, neither one was ever wounded. After the sword fight, they wrestled with their bare hands, but neither of them could win. When they got tired and had no energy left at all, the Moor said, “You are very strong indeed. Let us become brothers. I have seen the whole world, but I have never seen a person like you.” The youth replied, “All right, let us become brothers, although I don’t really trust you yet.” So the Moor gave his word and they trusted one another. The Moor took the youth with him and they went back to the inn. They called the other boy, took the horses with them and all went in together.

The black man, however, was not a real Moor, but the Earthly Beauty. When they entered the inn, the Moor went into another room to make coffee. There he took off his black skin and became the Earthly Beauty he actually was. Then he brought in the coffee, shook hands with everyone and welcomed them. When the men saw the beautiful girl, they began to tremble. The girl went back into the other room, put on the black skin again, and returned as the Moor, saying to the king’s son, “Did you see my sister who brought you the coffee?” “Yes, I did,” said the youth. The Moor continued, “I would like you to have her for your wife.” “All right, I’ll take her,” said the king’s son, “but first I have to find the daughter of the king of the jinns, then I’ll come back and take her with me.” And so they agreed and exchanged rings. Then the Moor said, “It is I who am the girl.” He took off his black skin and everyone could see that he was the beautiful girl. The Moor, who was now called the Stirrup Moor, said to the youth, “You won’t be able to find the maiden you’re looking for all by yourself.” He replied, “You are right. Let us go together if you it’s all right with you.” And so they spent a month at the house of the Stirrup Moor and, once the mare had recovered, the three of them set off.

They travelled a long, long way and eventually they arrived in another world. There, they came to a big river that was spanned by a bridge made of two parts. One part of the bridge was on one side of the river and the other part was on the other side. When they got to the bridge, the Stirrup Moor said, “We have arrived, so listen to what I have to say because you will have to repeat it to cross the bridge. Otherwise it will collapse and you will drown.” The Stirrup Moor went up to the bridge and said, “It’s me, bridge. I want to cross, but I can’t cross you like that.” The two parts of the bridge then rose and joined to make one bridge. The Stirrup Moor walked onto the bridge and crossed over. The others said the same thing and they too were able to cross to the other side.

Finally they reached the place where the daughter of the king of the jinns was living and entered the house of an old woman to spend the night. There they heard music, gun salutes, songs and dances as if a marriage were being celebrated in town and asked the old woman if someone was getting married. She replied, “Oh yes, the daughter of the king of the jinns is getting married. Another king is taking her away with him.” The Stirrup Moor asked, “When is the bridegroom coming to get her?” “In three days,” answered the old woman. The Moor then addressed the old woman again, saying, “Here is a handful of money for you. Go to the maiden and whisper in her ear that the son of the king of the humans has come and wants to meet her. And bring us her answer.” The old woman agreed, saying, “All right, I’ll go,” And off she went.

When she got to the palace gate, she began to prattle with the maiden’s servants the way old women do, “I want to see your mistress. Let me through.” But the servants wouldn’t let her in, and she began to shout. The mistress overheard her and asked her servants why the old woman was shouting. On hearing the answer of the servants, the maiden said, “Let her in.”

And so the old woman went in to see the maiden, kissed her and whispered in her ear, “The son of the king of the humans has come to meet you.” The maiden then gave orders to her servants, saying, “Go and cut off a branch from the big apple tree at the end of the little garden.” And they went and cut the branch off, and the maiden began beating the old woman with it. The old woman screamed and ran home lamenting and cursing, “You go and see her yourself. The king’s daughter has beaten me because of you.” When the Stirrup Moor heard what had happened, he calmed the old woman down and asked her what the maiden had said. He gave her more money and she told him, “The mistress sent for a branch from the big apple tree at the end of the little garden.” The Stirrup Moor then took the youth aside and said to him, “Go and sit under the big apple tree tonight. I’ll come too, so don’t be afraid. I’ll wait outside and keep watch.” And so the youth entered the garden that evening and sat down under the apple tree. At midnight, the king’s daughter arrived and found the youth asleep. She said nothing, but put a handful of sweets in his pocket and departed.

Next morning, the Moor came and asked the youth, “What did she say?” “She didn’t come,” he replied. The Moor examined the youth, took a look at his pocket and saw the sweets. “What did you put in your pocket last night?” he asked. “Nothing,” replied the youth. “What are those sweets you have in your pocket then?” When the youth noticed the sweets, he was amazed. The Stirrup Moor then said, “She was here, but you were asleep. If we want to win her, we will have to send the old woman to the king’s daughter again to find out what she has to say.” And so they went back to the old woman, and with great difficulty the Stirrup Moor managed to persuade her to return to the maiden. He gave her a great deal of money and sent her off. The daughter of the king of the jinns was already waiting at the window. When she saw the old woman coming, she gave orders, saying, “Let the old woman in.” The old woman entered and repeated what she had said the first time. The mistress then sent for a rod from a little apple tree in the middle of the big garden and used it to beat the old woman who fled home once more screaming.

The Stirrup Moor asked the old woman what had happened, and she explained about the rod the maiden had used to beat her. The Moor then took the youth to the little apple tree in the middle of the big garden. The king’s daughter got up at midnight and found the youth asleep again. She took his fez, left him hers and departed. When the youth got up the next morning, he met the Stirrup Moor who asked him about the maiden. “She didn’t come,” said the youth. The Stirrup Moor then asked, “Which fez were you wearing last night?” “My own,” replied the youth. “Look at the fez you’re wearing now,” said the Stirrup Moor. The youth looked at the fez and was amazed.

So they went back to the old woman and forced her to return to the maiden again. What did the mistress do this time? She sent for her servants saying, “Bring back a bunch of nettles from the end of the big garden.” When the servants brought the nettles, she took them, threw the old woman to the ground and beat her with the nettles until she was covered in blisters from head to toe. The old woman fled home screaming and cursing, saying that she was going to throw all of them out of her house. The Stirrup Moor calmed her down again and gave her more money. The old woman then told him where the nettles had come from.

The Moor took the youth, set him in the place where the nettles grew, grabbed a bunch of them, shook them and stung the youth so that he could not sleep. At midnight, the king’s daughter appeared and this time found the youth awake. “What are you doing here?” she asked. He replied that he had come to marry her. She retorted, “I would like to marry you, but it wouldn’t be that easy. There are jinns here too. I could get away; they couldn’t catch me. But you would never get away.” “What should we do?” inquired the youth. She explained, “I must leave tomorrow morning because the groom’s attendants are coming to get me. There is one thing you could do to save me, but someone would have to sacrifice himself.” “Tell me what it is,” said the youth, “what can I do?” She replied, “When I leave tomorrow morning, there is a mosque at a certain point along the road. There I will tell the groom’s attendants that I promised my mother I would go into the mosque to pray before getting married. They will let me enter the mosque alone. If someone else were already in the mosque, I could give him my clothes and he could put them on and go back out as the bride. Then we would be able to flee together.” She then promised that she would return to him from the mosque.

The youth went back to the Stirrup Moor and told him everything. “Where can we find someone willing to sacrifice himself?” asked the Moor. The little boy, the youngest of the seven brothers, interrupted saying, “I’ll do it, I’ll sacrifice my head. If I survive, I survive; if not, then I won’t.” The boy departed for the mosque. When the maiden arrived the next morning, she gave him her clothes, and he put them on and became the bride. The king’s daughter met the Stirrup Moor and her new husband and they left together for the Moor’s inn to await news of the boy dressed in the bride’s clothes.

The false bride was brought to the king’s palace to be married off. When the time came for her to be brought to the groom, she became ill and couldn’t go. She stayed in her room all night in the company of the groom’s eldest sister. The following night, the groom’s youngest sister said that she too wanted to spend the night with the bride and her request was granted. She visited the bride, but soon discovered that she wasn’t a real bride, but a young man. The girl said to him, “They haven’t come for you yet… but if you want to marry me, we could escape together.” He replied, “I would like to all right, but how can we escape?” “Let me worry about that,” replied the girl. They got up and went off to the king’s stable. There they chose the swiftest horses and mounted them. She tied the boy to the horse and to herself so that he wouldn’t fall off.

One day, while the Stirrup Moor and the king’s son were still at the inn, the boy and his bride arrived. The five of them then set off: the king’s son with his two wives, the Stirrup Moor who was actually the Earthly Beauty and the daughter of the king of the jinns, and the boy and his bride, and returned to the other brothers who had remained at home. They were received hospitably by the brothers and stayed at their house for some time. Finally, the king’s son took the sister of the seven brothers and set off together with his other wives. The youngest of the seven brothers still wanted to accompany them and the other brothers agreed. So he too set off with the king’s son. The Stirrup Moor rebuilt his palace with everything in it right across from that of the king, the youth’s father, and they all went to live in it: the youth with his wives and his brother in law with his wife.

One morning the king got up and was surprised to see a palace right across from his. He asked which palace it was and who had built it. His courtiers went out to have a look and reported, “That’s the palace of the king’s son.” Later the son invited the father and all his courtiers to a banquet. While they were celebrating, the father fell in love with the son’s young wives and said to him, “Let me have one of your wives.” The son replied, “You already have a hundred wives and if you need more you can get them. I only have these three and don’t want any more because I won them after great perils.” And he would not give the king any of his wives.

The king returned to his palace and invited the son to a banquet. The youth arrived with his wives, his brother in law and wife and was received as hospitably as he had received the king. Once they had eaten, the king suggested, “Shall we play cards?” “All right,” replied his son, “what shall we play for?” The father said, “If you win, you can put out my eyes, and if I win, I can put out your eyes.” And so they began to play. The son won the first game and his father said to him, “You’ve won. Put out my eyes.” “I don’t want to deprive you of your eyesight,” responded the youth, “let’s play once more.” They played once more and the son beat his father again. The father repeated, “Put out my eyes. You have won.” “I can’t put out your eyes. You are my father,” replied the son. The father then declared, “If I had won, I would have put out your eyes, so blind me if you want to, because you have won.”

They began to play again and this time the father beat the son saying, “Now I’ve won and I shall put out your eyes.” The youth replied, “I beat you twice and didn’t blind you and you want to put out my eyes after winning just once?” The king insisted that he had won, and because he wanted his wives, he had his son’s eyes put out. The youth’s three wives were away at a dance at the time. As the boy’s eyes were being put out, the daughter of the king of the jinns realized what was happening and said to the Stirrup Moor, “What shall we do? The king has blinded our husband to take us away from him.” The wives and the youth’s brother in law got up to return to their palace. When the king saw that they were going, he rushed to try and stop them. But the Stirrup Moor was so strong that he was able to fight the king off and even the whole army couldn’t stop them.

After the king’s servants had blinded the son, they threw him into a ravine for the birds to eat him. When they left, the youth managed to climb an oak tree to protect himself from the birds. There was a spring nearby where devils were gathering. The head of the devils asked the other devils, one after the other, what they had accomplished. The first one he asked was the devil who had possessed the king and made him blind his own son. He replied, “Today I made the king have his son’s eyes put out.” The head of the devils was very pleased and made him an officer. He then asked another devil who replied, “I went out today and peed on the sheep of a shepherd tending his flock up in the mountains. The sheep have fallen ill and will all die.” The head of the devils made him an officer too. He then asked the next devil what he had done. He answered, “I tried the best I could, but I didn’t accomplish anything.” The head of the devils got angry and started to beat him. The devil began to sob and cried, “How is the king’s son supposed to know that he must come to this spring, sprinkle sand from the spring in his eyes and rinse them with the water in order to regain his sight? And how is the shepherd to know that if he comes to the spring and sprinkles the water over the sheep, they will all get well?” Then a rooster crowed and the devils all disappeared.

When they were gone, the youth climbed down from the tree and walked in the direction of the voices. He got closer to the spring and, hearing it bubbling, groped forward to find it. Then he sprinkled sand in his eyes, scooped out some water, rinsed his eyes with it and regained his sight. Near the spring he found an empty gourd which the devils had left behind. He filled it with water and went off to the shepherd whose sheep were all dying and who was at the verge of killing himself. The youth asked the shepherd what he would give him if he saved his sheep. The shepherd replied, “Whatever you want. Just bring the sheep back to life. I only need to see them once and I’ll give you whatever you want.” “All I want is for you to make me some shepherd’s clothes,” said the youth, “but they must be fine looking. I will give you my own clothes in exchange.” Then the youth sprinkled water over the sheep and they came back to life. The shepherd took the youth home, gave him something to eat, made some fine clothes and presented them to him.

The youth then returned to his father who was in a very sad way because the Stirrup Moor had killed all his soldiers and because he hadn’t gained the wives. The youth asked the king what was wrong and why he looked so despondent. The king replied, “What do I have left, shepherd? Don’t you see that I have lost all my soldiers and that I can’t have the wives I wanted?” The youth then asked, “What would you give me if I were to win them over all by myself?” The king replied, “I would give you half of my kingdom and we would reign together.” “All right” responded the youth, “you give me half of your kingdom, but you must also give me one of the wives, any one you wish.” “I agree,” said the king.

The youth then went across to the Stirrup Moor’s palace. The Moor had put on his black skin and was waiting for the enemy to come so that he could vanquish them. When the youth arrived, the Moor lunged at him with his lance. The youth deflected it with his hands and grappled with the Moor who began fighting with his bare hands too. The youth got closer and the Moor lunged at him again. When the Moor realized he couldn’t win, he shouted to the others, “Now we are lost. This one is just as strong as our husband and will take us.” The daughter of the king of the jinns took a look at him, and recognized the crooked tooth that showed when he laughed. She shouted, “Stop, it’s our husband”. Then they all recognized him, opened the door and let him in.

A little later, the youth sent a message to the king to tell him to come over because he was in the palace. The king happily rushed over to the palace and hugged and kissed the shepherd, still not knowing that it was his own son. The king and the son then went into a room, sat down and sent for the women. The king was overjoyed when they arrived. The shepherd declared that he now owned half of the kingdom and one of the wives, one that the king did not want. The king replied, “Which one should I give you? This one? Fine. Or that one? All the better. Or shall I give you the third one? She would be best. But no, I’ll give you one of my nieces.” “No,” insisted the youth, “I want one of the wives. That’s what we agreed to.” The king could not bring himself to give one of his wives up and said to the shepherd, “Let us wait for a moment. Before we decide, we’ll go through the rooms and see how they are decorated. If this palace if more beautiful than mine, I’ll live here and you can have my palace.” So they got up and visited all the rooms.

The Stirrup Moor had put the oven on and by the time they had gone through all the palace, it was very hot indeed. When they had seen all the rooms, the youth said, “Now, let’s have a look at the kitchen,” and they entered the kitchen where the oven was. Immediately, the Stirrup Moor seized the king and threw him into the oven where he was burnt to ashes. Thus, the king’s son kept his three wives and became king. And so they lived and reigned happily ever after.

[Source: Holgar Pedersen, Albanesische Texte mit Glossar. Abhandlungen der philologisch-historischen Classe der Königl. Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften. Vol. 15 (Leipzig: Hirzel 1895), reprinted in Folklor shqiptar 1, Proza popullore (Tirana 1963). Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]
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