The Youth and the Maiden with stars on their Foreheads and Crescents on their Breasts- the best Albanian fable!

Once upon a time there was a king who had three daughters. When he died, another man mounted the throne and ordered that no one in the country was to leave a light burning on the night of his coronation. Then the new king put on a disguise and went out into the streets alone. As he was walking through the streets of the city, he passed by the house of the three daughters and heard them talking to one another. The eldest daughter said, “If the king were to marry me, I would weave him a carpet so great that the whole army could sit on it and there would still be room left over.” The second daughter said, “If the king were to marry me, I would make him a tent with room for the whole army and more.” The youngest daughter said, “If the king were to marry me, I would give him a son and a daughter with stars on their foreheads and crescents on their breasts.” When the king heard this, he had the three maidens called to him the next morning and married all three. As they had promised, the eldest wove a carpet so great that the whole army could sit on it and the second daughter made a tent with room for the whole army.

After some time, the youngest wife became pregnant and the moment approached for her to give birth. On the day of the birth, the king went out riding. When he returned, he asked what his wife had given birth to. The two sisters answered, “A baby kitten and a baby mouse.” When the king heard this, he ordered his youngest wife to sit on the stairs so that everyone who passed by could spit at her. The sisters put the boy and the girl, to whom the youngest wife had given birth, into a box and sent a servant off to throw them into the river. There was a strong wind blowing that day and it carried the box to the other side of the river. On the bank of the river there stood a mill inhabited by an old man and old woman. The old woman noticed the box, took it into her cottage, opened it and saw the youth and the maiden with stars on their foreheads and crescents on their breasts. In great awe and amazement, she took the children out of the box and raised them.

After some time, the old woman died, and it was not long until death overcame the old man too. On his deathbed, he called the youth, saying to him, “My son, in the cave over there I have a bridle. But you must not enter the cave until forty days have passed.” When the forty days had passed, the youth entered the cave and found the bridle. The moment he put his hands on it and said, “I wish I had two horses,” the two horses appeared before him. He and his sister mounted the horses and rode back into the city where their father lived. There, the youth opened a coffee house and the maiden lived at home all by herself.

One day the king came to the coffee house because it was the best one in the city and saw the youth with the star on his forehead. He was so taken by the boy’s beauty that he returned home later than usual. When he got home, the sisters asked him why he was so late. He replied, “There is a youth who has opened up a coffee house. I have never seen such a beautiful boy in all my life. But the most amazing thing is that he has a star on his forehead.”

When the sisters heard this, they knew right away that it was the son of the youngest sister. They were furious and pondered on how to kill the youth. So they sent an old woman to the youth’s sister and she said to the maiden, “Your brother doesn’t love you at all. He sits in the coffee house all day, has fun and leaves you here all alone. If he loved you, he would bring you a flower from the Earthly Beauty to play with. That evening, the brother returned home and found his sister looking unhappy. He asked her, “Why are you so sad?” “Why shouldn’t I be,” she replied, “I am shut up here all day long. You can go out. If you loved me, you would go to the Earthly Beauty and bring me back a flower to make me as happy as you are.” The brother replied, “All right, you mustn’t be sad because of me.” He picked up the bridle and a horse appeared. He mounted it and rode straight off in the direction of a Kulshedra.

When the Kulshedra saw him coming, it said, “You are so handsome that it would be a pity to devour you. I will let you live.” The youth then asked the way to the Earthly Beauty. The Kulshedra replied, “I don’t know where she is. You will have to go and ask my older sister.”

The youth continued on his way and finally reached the Kulshedra’s older sister. It, too, wanted to devour him but, seeing how handsome he was, it set him free and asked where he wanted to go. The youth told the monster everything, but the Kulshedra did not know the way to the Earthly Beauty either and sent him on to the eldest sister. The eldest sister prepared to set upon the youth to devour him, but when she saw how beautiful he was, took pity on him and let him go.

The youth again asked the way to the Earthly Beauty and the Kulshedra replied, “When you get to her house, rub the door with your scarf and it will open. When you enter, you will see a lion and a lamb. Throw some brains to the lion and some grass to the lamb.” The youth went off and did exactly as the Kulshedra had told him. He rubbed the door with his scarf and it opened. He threw some brains to the lion and some grass to the lamb, and they let him pass. He then went into the house and removed a flower which he took back home to his sister. She was delighted and played with it.

Hardly had another day passed when the sisters sent the old woman to see the maiden again. “Did he bring you the flower?” the old woman asked. When the maiden told her that her brother had indeed brought her the flower, the old woman said to her, “That’s very nice, my maiden, but if you had the Earthly Beauty’s scarf, you’d be even happier.”

When the brother came home, the maiden was weeping and lamenting. He asked what was wrong and she replied, “How am I supposed to be happy with a simple flower if I don’t have the Earthly Beauty’s scarf?” The youth didn’t want to see his sister unhappy, so he mounted his horse and hurried off to find his sister the scarf.

The next morning, when the youth had gone to the coffee house, the old hag appeared again. She said, “You can consider yourself very happy to have such a brother who brings you whatever you wish. But you would be without equals if he brought you the owner of the scarf.” Once again the youth set off and went to the oldest Kulshedra who said to him, “Oh, young man, to go there and get the Earthly Beauty herself is not an easy task. You must keep your eyes open and try to find her ring, since the ring is the source of all her power.”

The youth departed once more, passed by the lion and lamb and entered the chamber of the Earthly Beauty. As he got closer, he saw that she was asleep. He approached her silently. As soon as he had slipped the ring off her finger, she awoke and realized that he had her in his power. So she accompanied the youth and in no time they were back at home and his sister was again delighted.

The next morning, the king entered the coffee house and when he returned home, he ordered that a feast be held in honour of the youth and his family. The two sisters, however, ordered the cooks to poison the food. That evening, the youth arrived with his sister and with the Earthly Beauty who was now his wife. The youth, his wife and sister ate nothing at the feast, although the king urged them to, for the Earthly Beauty had noticed that the food was poisoned. They had only two spoonfuls of the king’s stewed prunes.

When they stood up to leave the table, the king suggested that everyone tell a story. When the youth’s turn came, he told the story of his life, and the king recognized that he was the son of his youngest wife whom he had repudiated. He had the youngest wife brought back to him and had the two older sisters drawn and quartered. Then he made the youth his successor and they all 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.]

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