The Three Friends and the Earthly Beauty

A man died leaving his wife with child. Six months later she gave birth to a son. Though they were very poor, the woman raised the son well. When he turned fifteen, the youth asked his mother if she had any souvenirs to remember his father by. The mother replied that his father had left many things, but that she had been forced to sell everything off in order to raise the boy. Still the youth continued to pester his mother to find out whether there wasn’t something left over of his father’s. Finally she replied, “I have the feeling that his sabre may still be under the roof.” The youth asked his mother to lift him up onto her shoulders so that he could reach under the roof. There he found the sabre which, after such a long time, was now covered in rust and dirt. He cleaned the sabre and polished it until it shone again. He then slung it over his shoulder and said to his mother, “I am off on a journey to foreign lands.” His poor mother began to weep and lament and begged him not to leave. The next morning she said to him, “Take your father’s sabre, son, but cut my head off before you go!” The youth replied, “Which son has ever cut off his mother’s head? I beg you, mother, do not make it difficult for me and break my heart. Wish me good luck so that, God willing, I may return as soon as possible.”

Thereupon he changed his name, calling himself Kordha the Sabre, and inscribed this name on the sabre itself. Then he hugged his mother, and they kissed because they were to separate and wept many tears. Once they had said their good byes, the youth kissed his sabre for luck and departed, saying, “Farewell and please wish me well for I will not be back for six months.” After leaving the village, he wandered through the countryside for five or six hours until he came to a mountain. There was not a soul to be seen. The youth sat down on a flat patch of ground, drew his sabre, kissed it and placed it on his lap. Hardly had an hour passed when another youth of his age came by and greeted him. “Hello,” answered Kordha, “Where do you come from and where are you going?” “I am in search of my fortune,” replied the other. “I, too, am in search of my fortune. Let us become brothers and travel together.” They hugged and kissed and told one another their names: one was called Kordha and the other Ylli the Star. Then they set off together and walked until it got dark, when they lay down and went to sleep without dinner.

The next day they set off again in the same direction and after a while met another youth of the same age. They greeted one another and inquired of one another where they had come from and where they were going. The youth asked Kordha and Ylli if he could become their brother too. And so they became brothers, and the new boy said that his name was Deti the Sea. They all hugged and kissed and swore that they would be faithful to one another and that if anything should happen, they would all die together.

The three set off and arrived at a city. The king of the city had just had a wide moat dug and announced that he would give his daughter’s hand in marriage to the man who could jump over the moat, but that those who tried and failed to jump over the moat would have their heads chopped off. Many men had already attempted to jump over the moat and had fallen in, and the hangman had come straight away and chopped off their heads. When the three friends approached and found out that they had to jump over the moat, they thought for a while. Finally they agreed to take courage and jump, or all die together, though Deti had doubts, “Look how wide the moat is!. I’m afraid we won’t be able to jump across it.” Kordha then picked up a stone, gave it to Deti and told him to throw it across the moat. Then he asked, “Was it difficult to throw the stone over to the other side?” “No, but it weighed less than a hundred grams.” “Well, it won’t be any harder for me to jump across,” said Ylli. And in the twinkling of an eye, he grabbed the other two and, using all his strength, jumped with ease across the moat.

The people who had gathered on the other side were amazed. The king then ordered that the three of them be brought to him. They were put in a coach and driven to the king’s palace. “Which of you is to marry my daughter?” asked the king. Kordha replied, “Ylli will marry your daughter.” The king then ordered the marriage to be arranged and asked Kordha and Deti what their wishes were. Kordha replied that he wanted nothing for himself but that the king should give Deti a gift. A few days after the wedding, Kordha asked his brothers for permission to set off again. They were very sad and said to him, “Is our friendship to have lasted such a short time? How can you have the heart to set off and leave us?” Kordha replied, “Our friendship is eternal, but I must depart. I will leave a feather over your doorway. Pay attention to it, for if the feather ever drips with blood, you will know that I am in danger. You must set off immediately to find me, for I will be in great need of your help.” Then he kissed them and departed.

After travelling alone for several days, he came to a place where the road divided into seven. At the crossroads was a cottage in front of which sat an old woman. Kordha asked her to tell him where the roads led. One of the roads, said the old woman, led to the Earthly Beauty. Kordha immediately prepared to set out in that direction. But the old woman said to him, “No, my boy, you’ll lose your head there, and that would be a shame because you are still so young. Many kings with mighty armies have taken that road and never got to the end of it, and you want to go all by yourself?” He wrote something on the wall of the cottage and asked the old woman to point it out to the two brave young men who would come by and inquire about him, and to show them the road he was now taking. Then he set off down the road which led to the Earthly Beauty.

After continuing for a while, he came across a Kulshedra with six young. The Kulshedra charged and wanted to devour him, but the boy drew his sabre and slew it and all its young. Suddenly Kordha saw the palace of the Earthly Beauty rising before him. On his way up to it, he came across a spring of cool water at the side of the road and sat down for a rest. From the window of the palace, the Earthly Beauty caught sight of him and said to her Kulshedra, “Look there’s a brave young man coming all dressed in white.” The Kulshedra replied, “Look out the window and see whether he drinks the water with his hands or on his knees?” The boy knelt down, bowed his head and drank the water without using his hands. The Kulshedra said, “I fear this person.” Beside the palace was an appletree with fruit on it. When Kordha got closer to the tree, the Kulshedra looked out to see if he would jump up and pick the biggest apple. And Kordha jumped and plucked the apple off the tree, but did so by using his teeth and not his hands. When the Kulshedra saw this, it said, “Alas, there is no salvation from this boy!” Kordha approached the gate of the palace and entered straight away, calling out, “Hello to those within.” “How dare you enter here!” said the Kulshedra menacingly. And the boy answered angrily, “Why shouldn’t I? Afer all, you dared to enter!” The Kulshedra was furious and set upon Kordha, but he drew his sabre quickly and slit the Kulshedra into two pieces. And so he won the Earthly Beauty.

Several weeks passed and the kings heard that a brave young man had killed the Kulshedra and had married the Earthly Beauty. They set off in haste and arrived at the place where the road divided into seven. There they asked the old woman who it was that had travelled down the road leading to the Earthly Beauty. When she told them that the brave young man was but a youth sixteen years old, they took counsel and decided to attack him by surprise. They set off and did battle with him for twenty four days, but they could not defeat him and returned home having achieved nothing. After this initial failure, the kings went back to the old woman and asked her to go to the Earthly Beauty and inquire as to what power the boy possessed or what feats he had accomplished to win her. The Earthly Beauty recounted to the old woman what had happened, “He arrived in a fury,” she said, “slew the Kulshedra and won me.” Then the old woman told her to ask the boy what the source of his heroic power was. A few days later, the Earthly Beauty asked Kordha where he got his power, and the poor boy, because he loved her, revealed to her that it came from his sabre. If anyone were to take his sabre away from him, he would be lost. When the old woman heard this, she stole the sabre and threw it into the sea. Kordha became ill and lay down to die. The old woman returned gleefully to her cottage and announced to the kings that they could now win the Earthly Beauty easily without an army and without doing battle at all.

As the kings were about to begin their attack, Kordha’s friends noticed blood dripping from the feather and set off right away in search of him. Ylli took Deti by the arm and in no time they were standing beside Kordha, long before the kings arrived. They asked the Earthly Beauty where the sabre was. She told them that someone had stolen it and thrown it into the sea. Deti then rose and plunged into the sea, found the sabre and brought it back. As soon as the sabre was put in front of him, Kordha opened his eyes and said, “Look how long I’ve been sleeping!” But when he saw his brothers, he realized that he was in danger.

At that moment the kings arrived to do battle once again. They set upon him furiously but since Kordha had regained his health, he managed to fight the kings off once more and they returned home, vanquished. Kordha took the Earthly Beauty and all her possessions and set off with his friends to return home to his mother. When they arrived at the place where the seven roads met, he gave the old woman a present, saying to her, “This is for you because you did me a good deed by throwing my sabre into the sea. Please tell the kings who did battle with me that I have gone away and taken the Earthly Beauty with me. I am going home and if they still miss me, they can come and do battle with me again. I will be waiting for them. Farewell, old woman!” And so they parted.

First they all went together to the king who was Ylli’s father in law and asked his permission to take his daughter back to their country. The king replied, “You can go wherever you wish, but my son in law and my daughter must remain here.” “You can think whatever you want, but we’re going anyway!” Kordha retorted. And Ylli said to the king straight off, “I am not going to abandon my friends for the sake of the king’s daughter.” The king was furious and shouted, “I don’t care what he wants. You will have to leave him behind!” Kordha, too, became furious. “What do you mean, you don’t care? Do you intend to keep our brother Ylli here by force? The man who can keep one of us by force has yet to be born!” The king gave orders to his guards, saying, “Arrest the three of them and throw them into prison!” But Kordha asked the king to call his daughter first so that everyone could hear what she thought about this. The king ordered his daughter to be brought forth. Kordha said to Ylli, “Put one arm around your wife and the other arm around Deti, say farewell to the king and take off.” Astounded, the king called his guards and ordered them to post at least four watchmen at every door. Ylli stood up, walked to the middle of the room and said to the king, “Forgive me, father in law, and farewell!” Then he jumped out the window with his wife and Deti, and all three disappeared. Only Kordha remained behind. The king rushed to the window to see whether they had been crushed by the fall, because the window from which they had leapt was very high. When he saw that nothing had happened to them, he became so furious that he didn’t know what to do. He gave orders to kill Kordha. When Kordha asked why the king wanted to kill him, he replied, “Because it’s your fault that my daughter has left me.” Kordha then stood up, took the Earthly Beauty by the hand and started to leave. When the watchmen refused to let him pass, he drew his sabre and slew all four of them. And so he escaped and soon joined his friends.

When the king realized what had happened and that his watchmen had been killed, he ordered the army to pursue the brothers and bring them back dead or alive. When the three brothers saw that the army was following them, they stopped and waited for it to approach. The warriors sent a herald to tell them that it would be better for them to return peacefully to the king, for otherwise all the warriors would attack at once and annihilate them. The three answered, “Do what your king has ordered, for we shall not return.” The herald went back and reported that they would not return voluntarily. Then the whole army advanced against the three who were laying in wait for it calmly. When Kordha saw it coming, he rose and shouted, “Hey, wait a moment! What do you think you’re doing, friends? You will all be killed if you approach!” Although the soldiers were somewhat put off by his words, they did not believe him and continued their advance.

When Kordha saw that there was nothing more to be done, he told his friends to take the two women and go on ahead. All by himself, he drew his sabre and set upon the army, slaying seven hundred of them including their leader. When the remaining warriors saw that so many men in their ranks had been killed, and that their leader too was dead, they fled in panic. Kordha then departed and soon caught up with his brothers.

They continued their journey and three days later arrived at Kordha’s house. “Hello, mother,” they said to Kordha’s mother. She was confused and asked, “Who are you people calling me mother?” They replied, “Your son, who will arrive any moment, asked us to do so. We made a bet with him that you would not recognize him when he comes.” “Oh yes I would,” she replied, “I would recognize my son among five hundred men,” and began to cry thinking about her boy. Ylli then asked her which of the three was her son. She took a close look at the three boys, compared them and recognized Kordha as her son. She threw her arms around him, kissed him tenderly and embraced the other boys and the two women as well.

The three friends and their wives settled there and after a while, one of them asked, “Are we three friends or just two?” “We are three,” Ylli answered. “If we are three, then why do we have only two wives?” Deti jumped up and declared, “That doesn’t matter!” But Kordha responded, saying, “We will make you king of the whole country.”

And so Deti became king and reigned over the land for a long, long time. And the three remained the best of friends and loved one another like brothers for as long as they lived.

[Source: Albanikê melissa (Bêlietta sskiypêtare). Syggramma albano-hellênikon periechon meros historias ‘Dôra Istrias – hê Albanikê fylê’, Albano-Hellênikas Paroimias kai Ainigmata, Albanika kyria onomata, Asmata kai Paramythia Albanika, kai Albano-Hellênikon leksilogion meta parabolês Albanikôn lekseôn pros archaias hellênikas. Syntachthen hypo E. Mêtku (Typ. Xenofôntos N. Saltê, Alexandria 1878), reprinted in Folklor shqiptar 1, Proza popullore (Tirana 1963). Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

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