The King’s Son and the Magic Song

Then the King’s son stood up and climbed on the wall of the cattle kraal, and sang the magic song, “Come, 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 horn bellowed loudly, and at his call all the cattle came from the east and the west and the south1, and followed the King’s son.

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

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 all 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 assegais2, and, finding the path of the oxen, followed it. It did not take them long to overtake the King’s son, for the cattle moved slowly; and by the evening of the second day they were in sight of the cattle, and rejoiced over the thought of their capture.

2. Assegais: small light spears, of which natives usually carry several. An assegai can be thrown as a dart or used like a spear at close quarters.

The King’s son, who saw his enemies moving on the mountains behind him, was in great fear and knew not what to do, for the cattle could not travel fast. He led them down the mountain along the banks of a little stream where the trees grew tall thick thorns with yellow 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 creek3 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.

3. 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.”

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 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 the 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 their 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 the 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 impi4 of many thousand men across the creek,” they said; “no one can stand against them.”

4. Impi—a regiment.

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 him 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.

From Fairy Tales from South Africa, Mrs. E. J. Bourhill and Mrs. J. B. Drake
London: Macmillan and Co., 1908

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