[excerpt from Dobra Tales and Lore, collected by David Hooper]
Long ago when glass was still new there were two thieves, one a Wanderer, and the other a Cousin. So the Wanderer thief came upon the Cousin thief, and they met and learned how the other lived.
Then the Wanderer thief said to the Cousin, “Well, if you’re such a clever thief then steal the eggs out from under the raven’s nest, and I shall know what kind of thief you are.”
And the Cousin said, “Watch me, and see me work.”
And he climbed into the tree and put his hands under the raven so gently she never felt him take her eggs. As he was at his theft, the Wanderer thief stole his breeches, and the Cousin never felt him. And when he came down and saw that he was naked, he said, “Truly we are each equal thieves. Let’s become brothers, and share all things equally.”
So they became brothers.
And they shared all things equally, going into the city and taking one wife between them. As it was the Cousin who spied her first, he slept in the bed on the wedding night, the Wanderer on the floor. And the next night the Wander shared her bed while the Cousin slept on the floor. *
But the Wanderer said, “What are we to do that we may get money?” And the Cousin said, “Come, brother, since you know.”
Soon they came upon the king’s own herdsman leading four oxen under the yolk. And the herdsman was woefully tired, so the Cousin said unto him, “Come, sleep the night under my roof.”
But the herdsman said, “See there, I know you are a Dobra and not to be trusted. You will steal my oxen in the night.”
Then the Cousin said, “Sleep then on the floor between the bed and the door, and you shall know if I rise from my bed.” *
So the herdsman slept on the floor, and in the night the Wanderer took one of the oxen, cutting off the tail and placing it in the other oxen’s mouth. And when the herdsman awoke and saw the missing oxen, he began to weep, saying, “Alas, whilst I was asleep one of the oxen has gone and eaten up the other.”
But when the herdsman told this tale to the king, the king said, “Cut open the belly of the ox and see if this tale is true.” And they slit the belly of the ox and found nothing inside, and the king knew he had a thief in his kingdom.
The king was clever, and said, “Why, I shall lay a trap for this thief.” And so he hung a bag of fifty ducats from a tree, and set soldiers around it.
So the brothers went to the soldiers, the Wanderer making himself very old while the Cousin hid from sight. And the Wanderer brought a white mare and cart with him, and took a jar of twenty measures of wine. But when he passed the soldiers he pretended his cart had broken down, and the jar fallen out. And he began to weep and tear his hair, crying aloud and saying he was a poor man whose master would kill him. The soldiers guarding the sack of ducats took pity on the Wanderer, and said, “Let us put the jar back into the cart for the old man.”
So they went to help him, and the Wanderer said to them, “Take a pull from the jar in thanks.”
So the soldiers drank from the jar until they could drink no more. And they grew tired, and the Wanderer said, “Sleep a while.”
But the soldiers recognized he was a Dobra, and said, “How foolish, you shall surely steal the sack whilst we sleep.” So the Wanderer said, “Then lash me to you, and you shall know if I move in the night.” So they did, and when they were sleeping and took no thought, the hidden Cousin stole the sack.
When they awoke to find the Wanderer still lashed and the sack stolen, they wept and gnashed their teeth. And when they told their tale to the king, he said, “Truly this is a clever thief. But I am a clever king.”
So the king bought up all the joints of meat in the city. And he told the butchers to charge two ducats a pound, so only one who had come into a lot of money could eat. So nobody ate that first day. The next day the wife complained to her husbands, saying, “O, how is it that I have two husbands but no meat between them?” *
So the next day they went out to the meat-market, the Cousin with his cart and mare, and the Wanderer hidden from sight. And outside the butcher the Cousin pretended his cart had been damaged, and lamented that he had not an axe to fix it. Then the butcher said to him, “Here, take my axe, and mend your cart.” And as the butcher brought his axe to the Cousin, the Wanderer picked up a big piece of meat, and stuck it under his coat.
And that night the king asked the butchers, “Have you sold any meat to any one?” They said, “We have not.”
But the king weighed the meat, and found it twenty pounds short. And he said, “Truly this is a clever thief, and I must be careful, and hide all my money away.” So the king hid his fortune in his palace.
Hearing that there was great treasure in the palace, the brothers broke through the roof, the Wanderer lowering the Cousin inside, and the Cousin passing purses of money back to the Wanderer. And they went home much richer.
Then the king arose in the morning, and looked upon his treasure, and saw two hundred purses of money were missing. Straightaway the clever king lit a fire in his palace. And outside the palace the king waited until he saw where the smoke escaped, and where the thief had entered. So the king placed a cask of molasses below the hole, knowing that the greedy thief would return the next night.
And the next night the brothers returned, the Cousin lowering the Wanderer down. And as he did so, the Wanderer became stuck in the cask of molasses. And he said to his brother, “Brother, it is over for me. I hear soldiers approaching, so do not give them the pleasure. Come, cut off my head, for I am good as dead.”
But the Cousin loved his brother too much to kill him. So he fled.
And when the king came upon the trapped Wanderer he said, “There! I heard you call out to another. Tell me who he is!” But the Wanderer would not give up his brother, even as the king hurt him sorely.
So for a year the Wanderer endured the abuses of the king. But he would not give up his brother, who he loved. And after a year the king came onto him, and said, “Why do you remain so loyal to the one who has left you here?”
The Wanderer thief answered him thus, “For we are brothers and share all things equally, even our wife, one taking to her bed each night, while the other sleeps on the floor.”
And the king answered him, “How is this equal when you sleep on the floor of a cell, and your brother in your wife’s bed? Do you think he sleeps on the floor with you gone?” But still the Wanderer would not give his brother up.
So the king said, “O, but your loyalty touches me, two brothers sharing their fates as one. Does your brother love you enough to take your place?”
The Wanderer replied, “Surely he would.”
So the king answered him, “Then I decree that you two shall share you sentence as you share your wife. Since you have slept on the floor one year, your brother will take your place, while you take his in your wife’s bed. And at the end of the year you will exchange places, and again and again until your wife’s death.”
But the Wanderer was not swayed, saying, “How do I know you will keep your word?”
Then the king replied, “I swear by my name, and if I lie may Sol punish me with death.” Hearing the king’s sacred oath, the Wanderer told where the Cousin lived, since he was sore from the floor, and missed his wife’s bed.
So the king sent soldiers to the house, bringing the Cousin before the court and the Wanderer. And the king said, “As you are brothers, and share all things equally, you shall share the same punishment for thieving.” Then the soldiers cut off the Cousin thief’s head.
At seeing his brother’s head cut off, the Wanderer said, “But you gave your sacred oath, king, that we would trade places, one to the cell, and the other to our wife’s bed.”
And the king answered him, “I will abide my oath, your brother taking your place for a year while you take his place in your wife’s bed. But only after you equally share his fate.” *
Then the soldier cut off the Wanderer thief’s head. And they took his headless body, and laid it beside his wife, while the body of the Cousin was placed in the cell. And so she spent the rest of her days sleeping beside her dead husbands, their bodies exchanged each year, for the king was true to his word.
Footnotes from Editor David Hooper:
1. In the version of this story from the Kaad tribes the Cousin and Wanderer thieves forego alternating sleeping on the floor, the three sinners sharing the same bed on the wedding night. While the Biba Sacara has numerous instances of a man sharing numerous wives, the heathen Dobra of course pervert and invert this understanding, with two men marrying one woman.
2. In many versions of the tale the herdsman joins the Cousin and wife in the bed.
3. In oral tellings of this tale, this line is always delivered quite lasciviously and without any sense of decency.
4. Versions of this tale exist outside of the Dobra tribes, the clever king the hero as he both keeps his oath and turns two purported “brothers” against each other. But to the Dobra the moral is understood to be to always trust those within the “Natsa,” the collective Dobra tribes, over outsiders, which they refer to as “Gaj.” As with all things related to the Dobra, their understanding of morality is inverted.
I have holes on the top and bottom.
I have holes on my left and on my right.
And I have holes in the middle,
Yet I still hold water.