"The Twins" includes common Albanian mythological figures like the ora, zana, kulshedra, shtriga and e Bukura e Dheut ("the Earthly Beauty"), and features the Albanian traditional motif of the "pair of heroic brothers", which is found also as one of the main themes in Albanian epic cycle of the Kângë Kreshnikësh ("Songs of Heroes"). The protagonists are twins Zjerma[d] and Handa[e] born one with the Sun and the other with the Moon in their forehead. One day they decide to travel the world together with their two horses and two dogs but at some point they separate from each other.
There was a king who had lost his kingdom. Of all his wealth, he retained only two gold rings each adorned with a gem, a mare, a brave female dog, and a vegetable garden, where he lived with his wife. He used to spend the days hoeing the earth, his wife spinning linen and wool. They were happy in the quiet of the fields and in the tranquility of a solitary life. The only thing missing them was a son. One morning the king went to the seashore and caught a big red fish, which resulted magic as it began to speak and told the king to divide it into four pieces, giving his wife the part that was on the side of the head, eating the middle part himself, giving a piece from the part of the tail to the mare and another to the dog, and burying the bones in the garden. The king fulfilled the instructions of the fish. Time passed and his wife gave birth to two male twins, Zjerma[f] and Handa,[g] the one with the Sun and the other with the Moon in their forehead; while the mare gave birth to two foals, the dog to two puppies, and two silver swords appeared in the garden. The mother raised her twins with care, and the father taught them to ride even without a saddle, to use the spear and the bow, the sword and the dagger, and to hunt in the mountains and forests.
When the twins became nineteen, the old man fell ill and realized he was joined by the black ora. He called his sons in front of the bed, he recommended them never to forget that in their veins pure king's blood flowed, to love each other as they had done until that day, to take care of their old mother, and to leave a good name, doing good to everyone, wherever they happened to pass. Before dying he gave each of them one of his gold rings. They buried him with all his weapons and mourned him for nine days and for nine nights. The queen suffered a lot for her husband's death, but she was comforted by her two sons. So she went back to spinning linen and wool all day. A farmer started to work in the garden, while his wife took care of the housework.
After a year Zjerma told Handa that he intended to leave and travel the world in order to gain fame and conquer some kingdom, so they could rise again in the high glory of their ancestors. He proposed to gird their silver swords, to mount on their steeds, to take with them the two dogs who were not afraid to attack even a drangue, and to depart. As for their mother, although old, she was healthy and there was already someone who could help her. Handa accepted his brother's proposal, so the two greeted their mother and left with the horses and dogs.
On their journey they came to a water source that was at the foot of a flowering almond tree, where the road split. There they decided to separate and follow their own fate, according to the choice of the horses, swearing to be in that place every year on the same day. In the event that one of the two had found himself in danger and had thus needed the help of the other, the gem of the ring would have lost its radiance, darkening and eventually becoming completely black, so the other would have rushed to the rescue. The two brothers hug each other, subsequently the horse of Zjerma went towards the way on the right and that of Handa towards the other on the left.
Kulshedra: the seven-headed dragon
After a few days, Zjerma arrived in a city where he noticed that all the streets were empy and the houses were closed. At some point he arrived in front of the great temple of the Sun, where he saw an old man crying, thus Zjerma asked him for informations about that mysterious situation. The old man answered that the kulshedra appeared about a month before at the sources of the river and blocked the waters causing drought in the region. All the valiant heroes who tried to slay the monster were defeated and perished. So the elders suggested to the king to find an agreement with the monster if she was willing to release the waters. She accepted only on the condition of receiving daily the offering of one of the most beautiful maidens. The old man told Zjerma that his daughter was sent the day before, while king's daughter Bardhakuqja ("Whitered") was sent that day, and the king had promised his daughter in marriage to whatever man succeeded in slaying the dragon.
Zjerma then promised the old man that he would avenge his daughter and departed immediately with his animal companions. The hero soon reached a dark valley, in the midst of high mountains, where the head of the river consisted of a deep and wide abyss, at the bottom of which the monster lived. There the wretched maiden was tied to a boulder, almost lifeless. Seeing the princess, still radiant in her great beauty, Zjerma felt all his blood stirring in his veins. Her big blue eyes saw Zjerma, and immediately she told him to go away to save his life. But the hero was there to save her and free the city, thus he dismounted and freed the princess. Because he was very tired, he wanted to rest holding his head on her knees before the arrival of the monster, so he lay down on the ground and soon fell asleep.
At noon the water began to move and the beauty realized that the kulshedra was about to come out, however she did not have the courage to wake Zjerma up, and began to cry, but a tear woke him up. Zjerma mounted his horse and brandished the silver sword, waiting for the monster. The water was boiling and from its waves the seven heads of the kulshedra emerged, of which, the central one was horned and with a seven-pointed crown. Poison was flowing between her teeth and forked tongues were hissing, while her mouths were spitting fire. When the kulshedra jumped to the ground Zjerma saw that her body was similar to that of a giant lizard, but equipped with a segmented armor, made of bone hard as steel. In the back there was a serpentine tail with nine knots and covered with hard scales. Her legs were short, but large and robust, with curved claws as hard as iron. On her back she had a kind of fish fin that dilated and narrowed by means of certain mobile antennas that ended like boar tusks. She had wings like those of a bat, but nine times larger than those of a large hawk.
When the kulshedra was about to pounce, Zjerma attacked her together with the horse and went up to the monster, while the dog bit her behind. The kulshedra writhed spitting flames and hissing from her mouths, striving to bite the enemies and crush them with her tail, but the horse trampled on her with its paws denting the bony armor and breaking the scales that protected her body, while the hero uninterruptedly wounded her with the sword, cutting off her heads, in vain because they leapt from the ground and sticked to the bloody necks again. He realized that he would have to cut off her central head to kill her. Meanwhile, a thick black cloud covered the valley, full of thunders and lightning. Finally Zjerma's sword struck and cut off the central head, and a torrent of boiling black blood erupted along with flames from the neck, accompanied by a very loud screech. The cloud cleared and the Sun shone. The waters began to flow again into the river renewing life in the region.
Zjerma cut off kulshedra's tongues and put them in the saddlebag along with the crowned head. He washed himself in the river with the horse and the dog. Then he helped the princess to mount on horseback and brought her into the city, where the hero was greeted with celebrations and honors. Meanwhile, Barkulku ("Wolfbelly") passed near the source of the river and noticed the dead kulshedra. Not knowing what had happened, he cut off the remaining heads and put them in a sack hoping to get some reward. He arrived in the city at the same time Zjerma and Bardhakuqja were getting married. Then Barkulku approached the foot of the throne, and in the presence of all the people he shouted that he had killed the kulshedra, consequently the reward had to be his. The king asked him to prove what he claimed. So Barkulku pulled out the heads of the kulshedra, but Zjerma pointed out that the crowned head was missing along with the tongues, thus he took them out of his saddlebag and showed them to everyone. The king swore by the Sun that if Barkulku had no other arguments to defend himself, he would have given the order to burn him. Thus Barkulku attacked Zjerma, but during the battle he was wounded and finally killed by the real dragon slayer.
When Zjerma and Bardhakuqja were about to put garlands on their heads, Zjerma realized that the gem of his ring lost its radiance and began darkening. Suddenly Zjerma stopped the ceremony saying that he had to leave urgently. He kissed the bride and told her to wait for him for a year, a month and a day. If he hadn't come back in time, she would have been free to remarry. He greeted everyone and departed to rescue his brother with his horse and dog.
After separating from his brother, Handa and his animal companions crossed plains, hills and mountains, and finally arrived in a thick forest. He proceeded with difficulty often cutting the plants to make his way. When the forest became thinner, the young man noticed a hut near a stream, at the entrance of which an old man was resting. They greeted each other and the elder immediately advised Handa not to continue on the direction he had taken because he would face many risks, even worse than death, but the young man replied that he had to follow his fate, thus he continued on his way. After a while he arrived in the garden of the Zanas. There, white dressed nymphs welcomed him with laughs, songs and dances. They charmed the young man with kisses and caresses, then they informed him that e Bukura e Dheut ("the Earthly Beauty") lived in the cave at the foot of the mountain, where that plain ended. It was easy to convince the inebriated Handa to go and find her in order to achieve his complete happiness.
He left the Zanas and arrived with the horse and the dog at the entrance of a garden surrounded by a hedge of brambles and briars. An old woman appeared and asked him what he was looking for. He replied that he wanted to meet the Earthly Beauty and then to marry her. The old woman allowed him to enter only after a test of intelligence, of the ability to wield his sword and to ride his horse. The test consisted of solving a riddle, cutting a woolen bow in two pieces and climbing over the hedge on the horse's back without touching it. Handa failed all of them, and when he was in the garden, the evil old woman sprayed him, the horse and the dog with an herbal ointment transforming them into stone. It was then that Zjerma noticed the darkening of the gem of his ring.
Zjerma reached the source under the flowering almond tree, walked towards the way that Handa had taken before him, and finally arrived at the old man's hut. Once they greeted each other, the elder told the young man that his brother followed the path that led to the garden of the Earthly Beauty, that he unsuccessfully tried to convince him not to go, but his brother didn't listen him. The old man said that before him he saw many other men try that feat without ever going back. The wise old man invited Zjerma to enter the hut, where he gave him many secret teachings that could have helped him to save his brother. Later Zjerma greeted the old man and departed. In the garden of the Zanas the bright nymphs tried to entertain him with their songs and dances, but he did not stop, saying that they were very beautiful, but they were not for him.
At the entrance of the garden of the Earthly Beauty he solved the riddle of the evil old woman, with the silver sword he cut the woolen bow in two pieces, then he jumped the hedge with his horse, but before the witch sprayed the herbal ointment on him, he captured her and tied her to a tree ordering her to show him his brother, otherwise he would kill her. Trembling, she showed him a great number of petrified brave men, among whom was also Handa. Thus he asked the witch to tell him what to do to get his brother back to life, she replied that he should anointed Handa's eyes and lips with the dew that he could have found inside the calyx of the white lily. Not finding the flower by himself, he ordered the witch to tell him its location, she obeyed. The young man took the flower and with the dew sprinkled Handa's eyes and lips making him come back to life. Zjerma embraced Handa, thus he sprinkled also the horse and dog with the dew, and when he started waking up everyone else, the witch yelled at him to stop, but he paid no attention to her, so she transformed herself to a black bolla and tried to free herself by twisting, then she clung to a nearby tree trying to uproot the tree on which she was tied, but her body split into two pieces causing her death.
When all the petrified men came back to life, the twins realized that they were all young brave men of noble origins. Handa proposed to them, since they were all there for the Earthly Beauty's hand, to compete in a tournament. The brave men showed gratitude to his brother Zjerma who had saved their lives, thus they granted to Handa to marry her without having to fight. Zjerma begged everyone to follow him and his brother to visit the Beauty, they accepted. At the head of that group of brave heroes, the twins arrived at the cave where the Earthly Beauty lived. There they found the immortal maiden in the shade of a cypress and vine, surrounded by her maids. She greeted the heroes and offered her hand to Handa. Earthly Beauty's eyes were lighter than Moon and she looked like the bright of Venus. Zjerma made two laurel wreaths and placed them on the head of Earthly Beauty and Handa. Nine-day celebrations followed.
Zjerma gathered all his brave companions in assembly and invited them to take part in the liberation of the kingdom of twins' ancestors from the foreign domination. Everyone approved his proposal and left for the war. The twin's army was composed of a few men, but their value combined with the strength of Zjerma and Handa – comparable to that of a drangue – allowed them to win the battles for several months. When the foreign king realized that he no longer had hope of victory or of salvation, he joined his army in combat, but found death by Handa's silver sword. Being heir to his father-in-law's throne, Zjerma left Handa the part he owed of his ancestor's crown and recognized his brother as king. Then the two heroes took their mother back to her own kingdom. Afterwards Zjerma went with his army to Earthly Beauty's cave to bring her to his brother. After such a journey Zjerma became ill. Soon came the last day of the expiration of the time by which he should have returned to Bardhakuqja, but he had no strength to get out of bed, so he sent Handa to his beloved.
When Handa arrived in the city freed by his brother, everyone mistaken him for Zjerma. People there spent all day celebrating. At night Handa had to go to bed with her sister-in-law. He revealed the truth to her, then he placed the sword between them. In the morning Zjerma arrived unexpectedly, entered the room and saw the two sleeping in the same bed. At first he would have killed them both in their sleep, but he noticed Handa's silver sword which separated them better than a wall, he realized how the matter had gone and laughed waking them up. The twins later went with Bardhakuqja to Handa's kingdom, where she met their mother and Handa's wife. After three months Zjerma and his wife returned home. There, since the king was very old and would have liked to rest, he gave his throne to Zjerma and placed the golden crown on his head.
The tale is Aarne–Thompson type 303, "The Twins or Blood Brothers" including also the ATU type 300, "The Dragon Slayer". Instead of the theme of the social rise of a young man of humble conditions – son of a fisherman – who is found in different variations of other traditions, in the Albanian version there is the theme of two brothers – sons of a king who has lost his throne, born one with the sun and the other with the moon in their forehead – who restore the initial order, regaining the former kingdom of their father. The theme of the reconquest of the father's kingdom is found also in some Sicilian versions.
Among others, it contains the following Thompson's motifs:
T511.5.1, "Conception from eating fish";
T589.7.1, "Simultaneous birth of [domestic] animal and child";
D1076, "Magic ring";[h]
D231, "Transformation man to stone";
D885.1, "Magic object recovered with witch's help";
K1311.1, "Husband's twin brother mistaken by woman for her husband";
T351, "Sword of chastity".
Variant in Pitrè's collection
A shorter variant of the tale was recorded by Gerlando Bennici and published in Albanian and Italian with the name I due gemelli fatati ("The Two Fairy Twins") by Giuseppe Pitrè in his 1875 Fiabe, novelle e racconti popolari siciliani.[i] This version includes the first part of the Twins' magic birth found also in Schiro's version, comprising Thompson's motifs: T511.5.1, "Conception from eating fish" and T589.7.1, "Simultaneous birth of [domestic] animal and child", but exludes the king's death and the magic rings (Thompson's motif D1076) which allow one twin to know the other's health condition. The episode of the dragon slayer who frees the princess – the ATU type 300 – is replaced by the tournament organized by the king, which corresponds to Thompson's motif H1561.1, "Tests of valor: tournament" based on ATU 314.