Fairy Tales from South Africa [VOLUNTEER PROJECT] | Annotated Tale

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Serpent's Bride, The: Part II.

THE King of the Waters and his bride rested by the White Pool for many weeks, making plans for the future and talking much together. They waited till the spring came, and then as the early summer advanced they set forth on their travels. For there were no tribes near them for many a day's journey, and the King needed great numbers of men and women to people his kingdom. It was no longer enough for him to command the wide river and reign alone at the White Pool.

            The wicked king whose magician had transformed him into a serpent was long dead and his nation dispersed, so that there was no one left on whom he might avenge himself. So the King and Queen journeyed for days and days through the great forest, and then beyond through open flat country, till, after many weeks, they came to a new kingdom and people who did not know them. They travelled alone like ordinary folk, for they did not wish to be noticed.

            The first city they reached was small, but beautifully built on the side of a hill. Here they entered and talked with the Chief.

            "Whose kingdom is this?" asked the King of the Waters.

            "This is the kingdom of Volha-Volha," said the Induna. "He is a great King and powerful."

            "Does he live near here?" asked the King.

            "Volha-Volha lives two days' journey from here," said the Induna. "You follow the path over the hill and across two valleys. Then you come to our greatest city. But let me warn you; our King does not love strangers."

            The King of the Waters smiled and thanked the Induna, and then turned to his wife. Timba meanwhile had been talking with the women, and as soon as they were alone she said: "There is something curious about this city. The women seem sad and frightened; they would hardly speak to me at all, and made excuses to get away. Did you notice how few children there are? There is some mystery here."

            "We will go on to-morrow towards the King's city," said her husband. "We shall discover what is amiss before long."

            The next morning they set out by the narrow path which led to the King's kraal. They left very early in the morning: it was cool and bright, for autumn was at hand, and the crops were already ripe in the valleys. They walked till mid-day, the King in front, spear in hand, casting his bright eyes here and there, so as to be ready for any enemy, and the Queen behind, holding the magic staff, her blue mantle waving in the wind.

            At noon they came upon a second city, much larger than the first. The huts were neat and strong, and set in little circles surrounded by a fence. Little paths ran from one group of huts to another, for there were no wide roads at all, and a strong palisade encircled the whole town. Many people were moving to and fro, and one could see they were rich and prosperous, for the cattle-kraal was very large and excellently built. The King and Queen decided to wait here and ask more about the kingdom of Volha-Volha. They came to the chief entrance and looked about them. Instantly every one began to move towards their huts, more especially the women, as if they suspected strangers and were anxious to avoid them.

            "Why do the people look at us in this way?" said the Queen. "We are alone and cannot harm them."

            At last a man came forward hurriedly, with every mark of fear, and led them to the Induna. There they again asked if they were on the road to Volha-Volha's kraal.

            "Yes, you are on the right road," said the Induna briefly. Then he added: "You have never seen our country?"

            "We are strangers, my wife and I," said the Serpent King. "Our home is many days' journey from here."

            The Induna asked many more questions, and when he was satisfied that Timba and her husband really knew nothing of the country, he offered them food and rest. But he did not seem to wish to talk, and the King and Queen soon continued their journey, for they wanted to reach the second valley before nightfall.

            "It is strange," said Timba. "In that city also I noticed but few children, and they were all copper - coloured, none were black. Yet these people are Shanganis like ourselves, and have dark skins."

            "We shall know soon," said the King.

            The afternoon was very hot; the morning freshness had gone, and there was a heavy feeling in the air. The narrow path mounted up and up towards a great red cliff, which crowned the hill and extended for more than a mile. The King and Queen followed its windings till they reached the foot of the crags. There the path turned and continued under the precipitous wall.

            Suddenly Timba cried out in horror.

            "What do you see?" said the King.

            "I saw white bones in the grass," said Timba. "Look! There are still more. What can they be? They are not like the bones of animals."

            The husband and wife peered among the tall dry grass and the great boulders. Then they saw that all the ground at the foot of the cliffs was covered with little white bones. They looked like splintered wood, for they had lain there many months. Before long they understood the horror of their discovery, for Timba suddenly saw a tiny skull under a thorn-bush.

            "Now I know!" she cried. "These are the bones of tiny children, and that is why we saw so few in the cities. What can it all mean? Some dreadful monster must dwell in this land."

            "We will soon find out," said the King. "Let us move on quickly, for there is thunder in the air."

            They hurried forward, the King erect and gloomy, Timba in fear and sorrow, but grasping her staff firmly, for she felt it might soon be needed. The clouds rose higher and higher, and lightning began to play on the horizon like the flash of spears. They reached the top of the pass, and saw a wide valley and, many miles away, a great city set on the ridge of a hill. Farther away to the right the hill broke up into a succession of kopjes [1] so steep and rough that it was impossible to climb them. The storm drew nearer, and great drops of rain splashed on the red dust.

            "We cannot reach the city to-night," said the King. "Let us seek shelter near at hand."

            They hurried on down the mountain-side till they came to a gentle slope on which stood a tiny kraal. It contained but three huts and a small enclosure for cattle, but all was very strong and neat. On one side was a kind of platform supported by poles, and on this stood six immense baskets made of grass rope. These were waiting to be filled with grain at the coming harvest; indeed some were already full, for a young woman was anxiously arranging the cone-shaped lids while glancing every now and then at the coming rain. As soon as she saw the strangers she ran to a hut and crept in quickly, as if to avoid them. But Timba and the King were not surprised; they understood by now that some terror ruled the country, and that the people feared its coming at any moment. They went straight forward and begged for shelter.

            The young woman admitted them as if she dared not refuse. She was nearly as tall as Timba herself, and very beautiful, though her skin was as black as ebony. She was quite young, too, but very grave and anxious, and started whenever the Queen spoke to her.

            The storm was already upon them; the rain descended in torrents, and soon the entire hillside was seamed with little noisy streams. There was no question of going on till the next day, and presently the King and Queen begged to stay the night at the kraal. The young woman, whose name was Siapi, took them to her hut. Her husband, she said, was away hunting and she was in charge of the kraal. When the evening meal was over, she brought some sleeping-mats for her guests; they were very strong and well woven, indeed all about the hut showed great neatness and order, and was a credit to its mistress. Then she spread her own mat on the floor, the door was closed, and presently all were asleep.

            At midnight Timba woke suddenly to find the door ajar, and the cold night wind blowing in. The fire in the centre of the hut was nearly out, but there was enough glow from the dying embers to show that the corner in which the young wife slept was empty. Timba was much puzzled, and listened to hear if any one was moving about. Suddenly she heard a baby's cry, followed by quick hushing and many caresses. Then she remembered again the ghastly red cliff and the frightened women she had seen the day before. Without doubt the young wife had a baby and was hiding it from some danger. Timba arose quickly, determined to know all.

            The clouds had not all dispersed, but the moon shone fitfully, and it was easy to see anything near at hand. Timba looked all round the little kraal, and presently, to her great surprise, she saw the young mother standing on the grain store and lifting out of one of the big baskets a beautiful little baby.

            Timba ran towards her and poor Siapi screamed.

            "Oh!" she cried, "do not betray me, do not tell them about my little girl!"

            "I will tell no one," said Timba. "But why are you afraid? What is the matter?"

            "Do you not know then?" said the poor mother with wide-open eyes.

            "How should I? We are strangers."

            "Every year Volha-Volha, our King, kills every baby born in this country who is black. Only copper-coloured babies may live, for he is determined his people shall be black no longer. The time approaches for his spies to come and seize our little ones. Then his impis kill them with assegais and knobkerries, and throw them over the great red cliff. We have no helper or defender. Volha-Volha is all-powerful. Every year he does bad deeds, but this is the most cruel of all. My little girl was born three months ago; she is as black as can be. I hid her here, for no spy climbs up to the grain stores; but if they find her I will not live; we will die together."

            "Do not fear any more," said the Queen. "I will help you."

            Then she stamped on the ground with her magic staff, and instantly there appeared the kindest old woman you ever saw.

            "Here," said the Queen, "is a very wise Fairy. Give her your baby and she will fly like the wind over hills and dales, and take her wherever you wish, to a place where kings do not kill babies."

            Siapi looked up in wonder and delight. "Take her to my sister," she said; "she will care for her, and I shall have nothing more to fear."

            So the old Fairy took the baby, who cooed with delight in her arms. A moment later they were gone.

            "And now," said Timba, "we will rest, and to-morrow we will tell the King, my husband."

            The next day Siapi told the Serpent King of her sad lot and that of all her people; how they lived in hourly terror of spies, and thus dreaded the sight of any stranger; and how, no matter what they did, Volha-Volha was too clever and too cruel to allow them to escape.

            Then the King of the Waters burst into great wrath. "Such a man should die," cried he. "He shall pay with his own life for the tears of all these mothers."

            That evening, as the sun went down, he called Timba and Siapi, and bade them follow him to a lonely spot out of sight of the kraal. Then he turned towards the Queen and said, "Hold your staff firmly while I summon my armies."

            He looked towards the mountain and shouted in a terrific voice:

"Vuka panzi, mabutu,
Si bulale Volha-Volha."

"Rise, soldiers,
Let us kill Volha-Volha;
He has slain every black baby.
Rise, impis, rise,
The pot is boiling over."

             And instantly there sprang from the ground a splendid impi of a thousand men with flashing spears. Three times did the King repeat the charm, and each time fresh men appeared. Then he placed them in order, and bade them march upon Volha - Volha's city. He then told the Queen to stay at the kraal with Siapi, and to hold the magic staff in her hand day and night till he returned in triumph.

            As darkness fell he and all his army disappeared like shadows down the mountain-side. No one in all the country had seen them; they crossed the valley and climbed the great hill with amazing swiftness. At cock-crow they surrounded the city, and fell on it with a sudden shout like thunder. Volha-Volha had no time to place his men in order, and fled in panic to his rocky stronghold, calling on his magicians to follow him. In an hour the King of the Waters held the whole of the chief city; but he had by no means obtained all he wanted. For his enemy was now hidden in the caves and inaccessible rocks which crowned the hill. There he had stored grain sufficient for many months, and with him were his magicians and the most wicked of his soldiers. They had long feared attack, and their stronghold was well prepared.

            Then followed a long, tedious fight, which lasted for many a day. Inch by inch the King of the Waters advanced into the stronghold, and one by one he killed all Volha-Volha's men. The wicked magicians, driven desperate, cast every spell they knew, but Timba sat with her staff in her hand day and night and thwarted all their plans. At last the Serpent King reached the inmost defence of all, and there among the thorns Volha-Volha was discovered crouching at the back of a dark cave. His magicians had all been killed, and he was powerless to do any more evil.

            "Die like a dog!" cried the warriors of the Serpent King. "Die, you who have killed all the black children!"

            And they assegaied him at once. His body was thrown over the cliffs and his name wiped out.

            Then the King of the Waters returned to his wife with great rejoicing, and told her they were now rich and powerful beyond belief. He sent orders to every city formerly held by VolhaVolha, bidding the inhabitants come with him and live in a new country. They all rose up with one accord and thus they journeyed, men, women and children, to the land near the great river. Many thousands of cattle went with them, and also large numbers of sheep and goats; such wealth had never been seen before in the country.

            Now, as soon as the news came that VolhaVolha was really dead and his people free, the Queen sent a messenger to fetch the little baby girl she had rescued. The messenger had far to go, and when he returned with the little maiden the King's new subjects were already beginning to build their kraals. The baby was given to the happy mother alive and well, but the messenger had gathered bad news as he travelled. For he heard that the people who lived about the Red Pool were coming in armed force to attack the King of the Waters. The river had been dry now for nearly a year; the rains had begun, and still the water did not rise, so that they feared starvation and ruin.

            When the King of the Waters heard this he said to the Queen, "Come, let us go to the White Pool and give them water."

            So they both rose up and left their people and travelled through the forest till they came to the White Pool. It was now early summer, the ferns were renewing themselves in tints of tenderest green, the white sand and the glittering cliffs shone in the sun. But most beautiful of all were the water-lilies. They covered the pool in thousands, silvery-white and pale blue, with buds of delicate mauve. Above them hovered myriads of shining flies with wings of rainbow gauze. The air was warm and still, the water clear as could be. For the White Pool was never empty, no matter how long the rains stayed away.

            "Now," said the King to Timba, "lift your staff and command the waters to rise, and let us return to your people."

            So Timba lifted her staff, and she and the King turned towards the upper streams. Everywhere they met little rivulets of water, which seemed to spring from the ground as they advanced. Soon the river was in full flood; and the King of the Waters and his bride swam together till they came to the Black PooL There the lilies stood in thousands, creamywhite and glorious to behold, and there the King and Queen came to shore.

            "And now," said the King, "we will visit your father and make peace. And because of all I owe to you the river shall flow for ever, summer and winter, and shall never be empty again."

            Then Timba and her husband went to the kraal and were received with much rejoicing. And when the old father saw the wonderful power of the King of the Waters, he said that he and all his people wished to live under the protection of such a mighty Chief and thus be free of all anxiety. So the two peoples became one, and the King and Queen of the Waters lived in joy and honour all their lives long.


A Shangani Story.


[1]: Kopje—a small hill (pronounced "koppie").

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Serpent's Bride, The: Part II.
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
Classification: ATU 433B: King Lindorm

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