Many years ago there lived a Queen who was beloved by her husband above any of his other wives. They hated her, not alone for this, but because she was the daughter of another King as powerful as her husband. Therefore they laid plans to do her an injury.
The Queen’s first-born, a daughter, was fair as a star, and she loved her exceedingly. The jealous women plotted to make away with her, and one day, when the Chief was absent on a hunting expedition, they said, ‘Let us go and cut fibre for the mats.’
To this the Queen agreed. Before setting out, the women went round to all the young girls of the kraal, the nurses, and forbade that any one of them should carry the Queen’s baby. When all were assembled ready to start, the Queen called to her child’s nurse to carry the little one; but the girl refused, and among the nurses not one could be found to take charge of her.
Sorely hurt and insulted, the Queen put her babe on her own back and set out with the other wives.
Burdened with the child, she found it heavy work to cut and gather the fibre, and the other women laughed at her because she could cut so little. They worked until the heat of noon became so fierce that they could work no longer; then they made their way to a green valley through which flowed a stream, splashing and breaking over the stones with the sound of sweet music. Here they rested in the shade of the trees.
The Queen spread a couch of soft grass for her babe, giving her a bundle of fibre to play with, and the little Princess cooed and twittered like a bird until she fell into a soft sleep, while her mother rested at her side.
When the fierce heat had passed and the women rose and went back to their work, the young girls following with the children, they did not rouse the Queen.
Suddenly waking from a heavy sleep, she saw them far ahead and, forgetting her slumbering babe, for she was not accustomed to carry her, she ran after her companions.
Not until she had reached the kraal at sundown and laid down her load of fibre did she remember her child.
‘What have you done with your child?’ cried the other women in mocking tones.
The distracted Queen ran back to the valley; but, alas! the little one had disappeared, and the poor woman returned weeping, tortured by biting remorse.
Meanwhile an old woman of the household of a neighbouring Queen had gone to draw water from the stream near which the babe had been left sleeping. The child was now awake, and finding herself alone, had begun to cry. Hearing her wailing, the old woman searched until she found her lying under a bush. Since she saw no one in charge of her, she called, trying to summon her mother; but in vain – there was no response.
‘This must be a royal child,’ she thought, gazing at her rare beauty. Then she hastened back to her mistress and said, ‘Come with me. I have something to show you.’
Delighted at the sight of so fair a child, the Queen ordered the woman to take her to the royal hut, and to wash and tend her. Now, a few months earlier this Queen had borne a son, and because her heart went out to the foundling, she suckled her with her own child. The little girl throve under her care, and as she grew to womanhood her beauty was the joy and wonder of the tribe. The Queen loved this foster-child as her own.
When the boy and girl had reached their full stature the people said, ‘It is fitting that the Queen’s son and the girl whom she has reared should marry. There was never a nobler youth or a fairer maiden.’
So the chief men of the tribe went to the young Prince and said, ‘Marry this maiden, who is the fairest among our people and worthy to be your wife.’
But he answered, ‘What is this that you ask of me? I cannot marry my sister. Did we not both draw milk from the same breast?’
‘She is not your sister,’ they answered. ‘She was found lying among the reeds by the river, and no one knows whence she came.’
Then the youth, wondering at their words, went away greatly troubled.
Meanwhile one of the old women of the tribe said to the young girl, ‘You are to be married.’
‘And who is to be my husband?’ she asked, surprised.
‘The Queen’s eldest son,’ was the answer.
‘Alas!’ she cried, ‘what is this that is required of me? You know well that I cannot marry my brother.’
‘The Prince is not your brother,’ said the old woman. ‘You were found by the river in the valley when you were a helpless babe.’
At this the girl’s heart grew heavy and perplexed, and, taking her water-pot, she went to the valley.
When she had filled her pot she sat down on the river bank and wept till her tears fell into the stream. Thus her grief was made known to the King of the Frogs, who dwelt in its depths.
At sunset she returned to the kraal, and sat silently in the Queen’s hut, not tasting her food. Seeing that something was amiss with the girl, the Queen questioned her kindly, but beyond complaining of pain in her head, she made no answer, and lay down upon her mat. She could not sleep, and in the faint light of dawn rose and went to draw water from the stream.
Seated on the bank, her tears again began to flow, and this time the King of the Frogs rose from the water, saying, ‘King’s daughter, why are you weeping?’
‘Because they say that I must marry my brother,’ she answered.
‘I will help you, if you will let me,’ said the Frog. ‘Go back to the hut and bring here all your pretty things – your bracelets and anklets of brass, your petticoat of beads, your pillow and your staff.’
Then the Princess returned to the village, and taking her ornaments of brass and beads, she put them into the water-pot and slipped unseen from the kraal. The sun had scarcely risen above the world’s edge and all but herself were sleeping.
When she reached the valley the Frog was waiting for her on the bank.
‘Do you wish me to take you back to your own people?’ he asked. The girl bent her head in assent.
‘Have you the courage to let me swallow you and all your belongings?’ he asked next. And again she bent her head.
Wondering at her courage, the Frog opened his mouth and, having swallowed the maiden and all that she had brought with her, set out for her father’s village.
When he had gone some distance he met a troop of young men coming along in single file. At the sight of the monstrous frog their leader bent down and picked up a stone, saying to his fellows, ‘Let us slay this creature.’
But the Frog addressed him and said, ‘Kill me not, for I am taking a royal Princess back to her father’s house.’
Hearing this, the young men forbore to molest him, and the Frog continued his journey.
Within sight of the village, the Frog opened his jaws and bade the maiden come forth with all her trappings and adorn herself.
When she had done so, and stood leaning upon her staff with the sun glinting upon the shining brass of her armlets and anklets, her beauty surpassed that of all other maidens.
‘Go, Princess, to the house of your mother, the Queen,’ said the Frog; ‘go, and fill her heart with gladness.’
As the girl walked through the village all eyes were fixed upon her, and the people wondered who might be the maiden whose beauty was like that of grass refreshed by the rain.
When the Princess came to her mother’s hut she found the Queen seated at the doorway.
‘Damsel, whence come you?’ she asked looking up at the lovely stranger.
‘I am upon a journey,’ answered the girl.
‘Women who have daughters such as you should be happy,’ said the Queen, gazing at her wistfully. ‘Alas for me! My heart is heavy, for my child was lost. I left her in the valley long years ago.’
‘Why did you leave her?’ asked the stranger. ‘Did you not love her?’
‘I loved her dearly,’ answered the woman, ‘but the other queens would not let me have a nurse for her. They made me carry her myself, and because I was not accustomed to this, I forgot her and left her behind. But a mother’s heart has long memories, and for all these years I have remembered the little one I left in the valley.’
‘I am your child,’ said the girl softly; ‘but had you loved me you could not have forgotten me on that sad day.’
The Queen’s eyes searched the face of the girl, and she knew that she was indeed her child. Flinging her arms around her, she showered upon her names of praise and blessing till the heart of the Princess was satisfied.
Then the Queen put on her mantle of state, and crowned herself with a head-dress of bright plumage. Thus arrayed, she seized a staff of brass, went into the cattle-shed and leapt with joy, shouting, ‘Halala! Halala!’ till the people gathered round, asking, ‘Why does the Queen rejoice thus – she who was always so sad of heart, and who ceased to sing the day that her child was lost?’
Having learnt the good tidings, one of the women went round the village telling the people that the lost Princess had returned.
When they heard this, they came crowding round the door of the hut, demanding that they might see her.
But those who had plotted her death drew to one side with fear, murmuring to each other, ‘This child whom we thought we had slain has come back from death. We shall surely be put to shame and our children will be supplanted.’
Meanwhile a messenger had hastened to the King. When he reached his presence he cried, ‘O King, your child who was dead has come back to life again!’
‘Thou art mad!’ exclaimed the King. ‘If thou hast lied to me, then thou shalt surely die. But if what thou sayest be true, then go round to all my people and tell them the good news. Raise a cry in all places that they may come to a feast, bringing with them fat oxen for the slaughter.’
At the King’s bidding the messenger ran from place to place crying aloud the good news.
‘The Princess has come back from death. Make haste and bring your oxen, that there may be a feast.’
Thereupon the people rejoiced, and taking their shields and their spears, with gifts to gladden the Princess who had come back from death, they drove the oxen into the presence of the King.
So many oxen were slaughtered that there was meat for all, for the old men and the old women, for the sick, and for all who were not able to journey to the King’s village.
Now, when the King had received the news of his daughter’s return he went to the hut where she tarried and said, ‘Come forth, my child, that I may see you.’
But she made no answer and remained within the hut. Then to do her honour he ordered twenty oxen to be slain, and again he summoned her. This time she came to the doorway, but stood still within it. To satisfy her the King ordered ten more oxen to be slain, and then she came to receive her father’s greeting.
‘Go forth, my child,’ he said, ‘go forth into the cattle kraal that we may dance for you, and show our gladness that you, whom we counted as dead, have come back to us.’
Led by her father, the Princess went to the kraal where the warriors had assembled, and with clash of spears and loud shouting they danced until the sun went down.
The people looked on rejoicing, all save the evil queens who had plotted her death. They and their children stood on one side with fear in their hearts.
When the dancing was done the King summoned his men, saying, ‘Let a fat ox be killed and cooked, that my child who was lost may eat.’ This was done, and all through the night there was feasting and merry-making.
From that day forward the King went to dwell with the Queen and the child who had been restored to them.
‘My child, how came you to return to us?’ he asked his daughter.
‘I was brought back by a Frog,’ was her answer.
‘And where now is your deliverer?’
‘He is yonder in the bush,’ replied the Princess.
Hereupon the King commanded that oxen should be taken and that the frog should be brought in state to his presence. And when this was done he ordered that a feast should be prepared for him also, and that there should be dancing in his honour.
‘How can I reward you for having brought back my daughter?’ asked the King.
‘My desire is for black, hornless cattle,’ said the frog.
‘It shall be even as you wish,’ said the King; and having been presented with a herd of black cattle, the frog was taken back to his own country escorted by many warriors.
Here he built a great town, where he lived in state and plenty, giving meat in abundance to all who asked it of him. Many came asking leave to dwell under his rule. He became one of the mightiest rulers in the land, and his renown was great.
In time it came to pass that the fame of the Princess’s beauty reached the ears of a great King who desired that she should become the bride of his son; so he summoned his councillors and bade them go and see for themselves whether these reports were true.
‘If she be as fair as men say,’ he told them, ‘ask her in marriage for my son. Remember ye are the King’s eyes, and if ye choose a damsel who is not worthy of my son, then your honour is ended.’
Thus exhorted, the councillors obtained leave to look upon all the daughters of the King. With one accord they choose the lost Princess for their Prince’s bride, saying, ‘This is the fairest of all the King’s daughters.’
At this the hearts of the wicked queens were filled with anger and jealousy, but her mother said, ‘I did well when I gave birth to this fair daughter.’
When their King heard the councillors’ praise of the damsel, he bade them go again to fetch her, taking with them a gift of a thousand oxen.
The dust raised by the trampling feet of cattle was so great that the bride’s people believed that a vast host was coming to attack them, and the King bade his warriors arm themselves to do battle. But when the oxen drew near and he saw that it was the bridal gift, he said, ‘It is well.’
Forthwith he commanded the young men and the damsels of the village to form a bridal procession to escort his daughter to her bridegroom, and he gave her a portion of five hundred oxen and brass and beads in plenty. Having blessed her, he sent her forth to meet the bridegroom and his father, who awaited her coming with impatience.
When she arrived they saw that her beauty was even greater than they had heard, and they celebrated the wedding with dancing and great feasting. When the feast was ended, the bride took in her hands the gift of brass and going before her husband’s father, said, ‘Sire, take care of me forever; for now I am in thy hands.’
And the King blessed her and built a great town for her, where she dwelt in honour among his people.