This book was proofed and edited by volunteers in 2020. Please see the notes for each tale for credit to the individual proofers. Thanks to everyone who contributed!

Story of the King's Son and the Magic Song, The

A Swazi Tale


ONCE upon a time there lived among the mountains a great King; and he had many cattle, which he loved. Among them was a fairy ox, with horns which curled right across his forehead, and with a voice like thunder; this ox led the herd, and at hs call all the cattle followed him. In the day-time they fed in the tall grass in the valley, and at night they were brought home to the big kraal, round which were the huts of the King and all his men, so that they might be safe from any harm. And the fence of the kraal was strong and high, and the men watched so that no evil befell the cattle.


Now the King loved the cattle so much that he made one of his own sons herdsmen. Every morning this boy took the cattle to graze in the pasture, and the sunset he drove them back to the kraal. All day, in the hot sunshine, he watched the herd to see that none strayed and were lost, and to take care that no enemy came in to steal. And because the grass in summer grew tall, high above his head, and thick, so that he could not see, he would climb on to one of the great rocks that lay scattered about the valley. For the rocks were large, large as a hut, and in the shadow beneath them it was cool and the little rock-ferns grew; but on the top, where the sunlight fell, the little lizards lay and caught flies.


Often the boy grew tired as he watched the herds, and longed to lie in the warm sun and sleep; but he dared not, for he feared his father's anger if he should lose him an ox.


But it happened one day that as he watched the cattle a Fairy appeared to him in the shape of a very old woman. She came and talked to him, and he told her how he had always watched lest the cattle strayed, and how he feared lest his father's foes should come and kill him and take the cattle.


Then the Fairy pointed to a stone, smooth and large and round, like a hut that showed up above the grass of the valley. The boy looked, for he had never seen the stone before. “Come,” she said, “this is your stone. See it is so smooth that no-one can keep his footing on it or climb it. But you shall be able. As you grow the stone will grow, and from it you can watch all the valley, and no enemy will be able to hurt you, for they could not climb it. But beware that you do not fall asleep on it, for then all your cattle will be stolen.”


She also taught him a magic song, “Come, cattle, come, all you cattle come to me,” the melody of which was so enchanting that all cattle who heard it followed the singer. Then the Fairy vanished away.


So the boy became a splendid herdsman, and none of his cattle were lost, for every evening he sang to them and they followed him to the kraal, and none strayed. Nor could any be stolen, for on the rock he watched in safety. But at last one hot day he fell asleep on the rock, and the enemy who were watching saw him sleeping, and crept down from the hills and drove off all the cattle. When he woke up not one head of cattle could he find. He sang “Come, cattle, come,” but it was in vain; they did not hear him. He wandered about the valley looking and singing till the sun began to set, and then in shame and fear went to the kraal alone. He went to his father and told him all, but the old King was very angry and drove him from the kraal, saying: “Never come back unless you bring my cattle with you.”


So the poor boy wandered back sadly to the valley, and climbed upon the big stone and lay there in the moonlight crying, for he had lost his cattle and he had lost his home. And as he lay some one touched him, and he looked up and saw the old woman, the Fairy, who had given him the stone and taught him the charm. “I know what has happened,” she said; “you have slept, and what I foretold has come to pass – the cattle are gone.”


“And I am driven for the kraal till I find them,” he said, and cried again.


“Do not despair,” she said, “but go to the Chief who has your cattle and ask to be his man.”


So the boy rose, and all night long under the moon he travelled between the grey mountains, up and down by little winding paths between the grass and rocks, through the streams and bushes, till in the morning, when the sun rose, he came to his enemy's kraal, and within it he heard his father's cattle.


So he entered the kraal and went to the Chief and offered to be his man, and the Chief made him herdsman of his own cattle. Every morning he took them out to pasture and every evening he sang to them the magic song and brought them home, and non strayed and were lost. Thus he served the Chief many years till he was a man full grown. And always he thought of his father's kraal, and looked how he might take the cattle and return. At last the chance came. The great festival of the first-fruits was at hand. The women made the beer, placed the calabashes in a row outside the kraal, and on the day appointed the man and women went out to gather the first ripe maize and Kafir corn from the lands, and the children went to get wood for the cooking of the feast, and no-one was left in the kraal but an old woman and the King's son, who was in charge of the cattle.


When all were gone he took some sango, the herb that intoxicates men and makes them sleep, and powdered it very fine. Then he went to the row of calabashes in which the beer stood waiting for the evening's feast, and put some into each calabash, and went away and waited till all came back.


When the Chief and his people returned there was great rejoicing. A hut of green boughs was made for the Chief, in which he sat, and the first-fruits were all brought to him, and a branch from each offering was tied to his arms or neck. Then his wise men brought him a drink made of herbs and water from the sea, and gave it to all present as a sign that the feast was to begin. Every one ate of the new corn and the fresh nuts, and drank of the new beer. Only the King's son drank none, and at last all fell asleep; and when the evening came and the moon rose not a man or woman was left awake.


Then the King's son stood up and cimbed on the wall of the cattle kraal, and sang the magic song, “Cattle, cattle, come to me,” and opened the gate of the kraal. At once the cattle rose up and walked straight past the huts and the sleeping men and out into the country, following the King's son; and as they went the fairy ox with the crumpled horns bellowed loudly, and at his call all the cattle came from the east and the west and the south, [1] and followed the King's son.


And he went towards his Father's kraal.


When his enemies woke in the morning they could not find one head of cattle in their kraal nor yet in the surrounding country. The old Chief felt sure when he heard this that the King's son had taken them away, and he bade all his men arm themselves and follow the culprit. So his men gathered with their shields of ox-hide and their assegais, and, finding the path of the oxen, followed it. It did not take them long to over take the King's son, for the cattle moved away slowly; and by the evening of the second day they were in sight of the cattle, and rejoiced over the thought of their capture.


The King's son, who saw his enemies moving on the mountains behind him, was in great fear and knew not what to do, fo the cattle could not travel fast. He led them down the mountain along the banks of a little stream where the flowers like small pincushions, and wild figs with tiny fruit – and tall reeds covered the banks, and from the trees the monkey ropes hung down to the rocks and water. And everywhere grew the fern, and the clear water ran and raced between the stones, slipping from pool to pool and playing with the leaves and rushes; and the bright flies hung over it in the little ladders of sunlight slanting through the trees. And there the king's son hid his cattle amongst the bush, and sat in the grass under a big fig-tree to think what he should do.


But he could think of no way to save the cattle. And the evening drew on, and the shadow rose over the creek [2] and crept up the mountain-side; and the frogs began to croak and the crickets to sing, and everywhere was the humming of the gnats. And he sat under the fig-tree and looked across the valley to the mountain where his enemies were; and he knew that in the morning they would come and kill him and take his cattle.


A bat flitted round him in the darkness, so near that he looked up, and there before him he saw the Fairy. “Do not despair,” she said; “your task is nearly done. Obey me and all shall be well. Go now and kill a white ox, skin it, and cut the hide into ten thousand little white shields, and I will find you ten soldiers.” So he slew the ox and skinned it and made of the hide ten thousand little white shields.


Then the Fairy cried to the frogs who lived near the stream, sitting under all the stones from the top of the hill to the bottom, and whose voices could be heard all across he valley. “Frogs!” she cried, “will you take these shields and do as the King's son bids you?” And from all over the valley they cried, “We will!” So the King's son gave them the shields, and all night long he drilled them in the moonlight. When he called “Woo-ooh,” they rose up, shouting, with theur shields extended; and when he cried “Boo-ooh,” they fell down and lay hidden.


Before the dawn he placed them in a long line on the mountain-side where the enemy would see them.


As the first company of the enemy appeared and frogs rose together, raised their shields, and croaked “Woo-ooh,” with a sound like thunder; so great, indeed, was the sound that the enemy fell back to their Chief in terror. “There is an impi [3] of many thousand men across the creek,” they said; “no one can stand against them.”


The Chief then sent a larger company, but they returned with the same tale.


Then he went himself with all his army; but when he saw the thousands of white shields and heard the war-cry, fear seized his heart. “It is better to return without our cattle than lose our lives,” he said, and ordered all to go back home again.


So the King's son was safe. He thanked the frogs, gathered his cattle together and reached his father's kraal. The King received him with great honour, gave hiim a Princess for his wife, and made him Chief of all his sons; but every night the King's son sang his magic song as before, and kept the cattle in safety.




[1]: This is the order in which the Kafirs speak of the points of the compass. The north is not mentioned in such expressions.


[2]: Creek: This word is used in the English-speaking districts of South Africa to denote a narrow gorge in the mountains with a stream running down the middle. As a rule they are thickly wooded and full of the most lovely ferns. In the Cape Colony they are called “Kloofs.”


[3]: Impi: a regiment


Proofread from the original source by a SurLaLune Volunteer, Natalie Parsons, in July 2020.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of the King's Son and the Magic Song, The
Tale Author/Editor: Bourhill, Mrs E. J., and Mrs J. B. Drake
Book Title: Fairy Tales from South Africa [VOLUNTEER PROJECT]
Book Author/Editor: Bourhill, Mrs E. J., and Mrs J. B. Drake
Publisher: Macmillan and Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1908
Country of Origin: South Africa

Back to Top