Albanian Folk Tales / The Serpent
This story has been found extant and still flourishing in popular narrative in both Italy and the Himalayan region of Asia. Choosing a version which is geographically in between, below is a Balkan one collected in Albania.
The Tale of the Serpent
There was once a hunter who, while passing by a quarry, noticed that a serpent was trapped by a large stone or rock.
The snake called out when it saw him: "Please help me, lift the stone."
The hunter answered: "I cannot help you because you are likely to devour me."
The reptile asked again for aid, promising that he would not eat the man.
And so the man released the snake. It immediately made a movement towards him, as if to attack.
"Did you not promise not to eat me, if I let you go?" the man asked.
The snake said: "Hunger is hunger."
"But," said the hunter, "if you are doing something wrong, what has hunger to do with it?"
The man then suggested that they should put the matter to the adjudication of others.
They went into some woods where they found a hound. They asked him whether he thought that the snake should eat the man, and he replied:
"I was once owned by a man. I caught hares, and he would provide me with the very best meat to eat. But now I am old, and I cannot catch even a tortoise, so he wants to kill me. Since I have been given evil in return for good, I claim he should eat you."
"You have heard," said the snake to the man, "That is the judgment."
But they decided to take three pieces of advice, not one, and continued on their way. Presently they met a horse and asked him to judge between them.
"I think that the serpent should be allowed to eat the man," said the horse. It continued: "I once had a master. He fed me for so long as I could travel. Now that I am feeble and cannot continue my duties, he desires to kill me."
The serpent said to the man: "We now have the unanimity of two judgments."
Further along, they came cross a fox. The hunter said: "Dear friend, come to my help! I was passing a quarry and I found this huge serpent under a stone and almost dead. He asked me to release him. I got him out, and yet he now wishes to eat me."
The fox answered: "If I have to give a decision, let us return to the place where you met. I have to see the actual situation."
They went back to the quarry, and the fox asked for the rock to be placed over the serpent, to reconstruct the situation. This was done. He asked: "Is this how it was?"
"Yes," said the serpent.
"Very well," the fox told him, "You shall now stay there until the end of your days."
-- Taken from WORLD TALES, Collected by Indries Shah. Submitted to Frosina by Jim Gregory