How an Eagle and a Snake both wished to Marry the same Woman.
[Extracted from Romily, From My Verandah, pp. 107-20.]
A long time ago there lived some few miles inland from the coast a large eagle. He did not often come down to the sea, but sometimes the people saw him and were afraid, on account of his great age and enormous size. Their fathers and grandfathers had known him, and there was no bird in all the country which could compare to him. His home was in the dense bush inland where the people feared to go. The same sorts of birds, beasts, and reptiles, which frequented the coast, lived there, but they practised magic, could speak all human languages, and were all of terrific size. But sometimes a wandering hunter would travel so far afield as to reach these haunted localities, and would return to his people with tales of what he had seen, which amazed and frightened them. The eagle was regarded as king of this country, and there was no such tree to be seen in the whole land as the one in which his nest was built. But he had no one to mate with, as no other eagle could compare with him for strength and wisdom. As he flew over the hills he pondered on this matter, and one day, as he was circling high above the town on the coast, he discerned a young woman more beautiful than any he had ever seen before. She was tall, and of a good figure. Her five petticoats of grass were each of a different colour, her hair had sweet-smelling flowers arranged in it, and she was covered with ornaments. The eagle had no sooner seen her, than he decided that she and no other must be his wife. But he had to wait for an opportunity to catch her, as she was sitting amongst her relations on the platform of the house. At last she took up a water-pot and put it on her shoulder, and stepped down on to the ground. The eagle saw his chance, and swooped down suddenly upon her, and carried her away quite easily, but did not in any way hurt her. Her father and mother, seeing what had happened, ran out and tried to follow him, as he flew but slowly.
For many miles they followed, till they reached the "border of the enchanted country. Here they stopped, for they were afraid to proceed, and soon the sun went down, and in the darkness they lost sight, as they supposed for ever, of their daughter. Sadly they returned home and told the story to their friends. The eagle flew slowly on, holding the girl gently so as not to hurt her, and when he arrived at his nest he put her in it and sat down by her side. She reproached him with what he had done, but he said:
"Have I hurt you? I am the king of all this country, and there was no one fit to wed with me, until I beheld you. I saw how beautiful you were, and I said, "Here is my wife," and with that I carried you off, and flew slowly, lest your father and mother who followed me should find my tree, and know where I had brought you to. Now," he continued, "you must marry me, and we will reign over this country."
The girl understood that she could not refuse, and by this time she liked the eagle on account of his strength. So she consented cheerfully to remain with him. Every day he got food, which she cooked, and in course of time a son was born to them. Their life continued happily for some years, and the boy got big and strong.
But one day her boy saw smoke rising in the direction of the sea, and he asked his mother where it came from, and what it meant.
His mother replied: "That is the smoke from my village, where my father and mother live."
"Let us go," he cried, "and see our relations."
But his mother said: "No; they think I am dead."
But the boy cried so much to be allowed to go that his father said: "My wife and my son, you shall visit your relations once more, but first I must go out and catch fish, and when the fish are cooked you shall go."
So next day he went out and brought back many fish, which his wife cooked, and the following day the fish were put into a bag, and the eagle flew down to the ground, carrying his wife and his son.
Before they started he said: "I have got some instructions to give you, which you must carefully obey. Follow the path you are on now till the sun is above your head, and you will come to a place where two paths meet. You must be sure to take the left-hand path. If you take the other, you will get into the country of the big snake, and he will try and take you away from me."
His wife promised to obey his orders, and she and the boy began to walk along the path.
"In five days' time I shall expect to see you back," said the eagle, and this his wife also promised. They walked until noon, when, as the eagle had told them, they saw two diverging paths, one on the right and one on the left.
The boy said to his mother, ''This is our road," pointing to the left-hand path.
"No," said his mother, "it is the other one."
The boy insisted on it that she was wrong, but his mother would not listen to him, and took the wrong road, the one leading to the right. For some time they walked and saw nothing, but when they turned a corner of the path they both stopped, for a monstrous snake lay coiled upon it. It was a larger snake than had ever been seen before. The mother was frightened, but the boy laughed, and told his mother not to be afraid. She wished to turn back, but he said: "No, let us go on; I should like a snake like that to play with."
"No," said his mother, "you know what your father said about the snake; if you touch him, he will take us away with him."
But the snake did not molest them, and they walked on steadily, seeing many small snakes by the way.
The boy got impatient at seeing so many, and said: "Mother, I must have a snake to play with.''
"No, no," she replied; "come on quickly."
But they had got but a very short distance farther along the path, when they saw a snake, compared to which the first one was small. He was coiled up in their path, and the woman did not dare to pass him.
"What shall we do?" she cried. ''I dare not go on, and I cannot return on account of the snakes behind us. This must be the king; there can be no snake in the world so big as this one."
But the boy only laughed, and said, "Come on, mother, I must have a snake to play with, and I am going to have that one;" and with that he ran forward and caught hold of the king of the snakes.
His mother cried to him not to touch him, but her son did not heed her; but as soon as he touched it, the snake rose up on his tail with a great hiss and said:
"Now that your son has touched me, you must remain with me. You are my wife, and he is my son.''
On hearing these words, they both sat down and began to cry.
"Do not cry," said the snake, "it must be as I wish, and you cannot get away from me."
But they still sat and cried.
"Follow me," said the king of the snakes; "where I go you must follow;" and with that he uncoiled himself, and slowly proceeded along the path in the direction in which they had been travelling.
She and her boy followed, but as they went the woman took a fish out of her basket and threw it on the ground. From time to time she repeated the same thing, and after a time she had thrown twelve fish on to the ground.
After they had gone about a mile, the woman said: "Snake, my husband."
"Yes," said the snake, "what do you want?"
"I have dropped my fish," she said, "and I am tired and cannot go back for them."
"Never mind," said the snake; "if you are tired, sit down here, and I will go back for your fish."
So they sat down, and the snake returned in the direction from which they had been coming. But as soon as he was out of sight the woman jumped up and said, "Now run," and they ran as fast as they could till their breath failed them, and they had to stop. But they still walked on, though they could not run. The snake picked up all the fish, and came back to where he had left them sitting; but when he arrived he found no one. He marvelled at this, but he could scent their tracks along the path, and throwing away the fish he had gathered, he pursued the fugitives at a great pace.
After a time he saw them, but still they could not run, and he soon caught them up.
"Why did you run from me?" he said.
She replied: "My little boy ran, and I followed him; I want to get to the village tonight, as I do not want my son to sleep in the bush."
"No," said the snake, "you cannot run from me. I can go faster than you can, and wherever you go I will follow your tracks, even if I have to cross the whole country. Do not think you can escape from me."
"Very well, my husband," the woman said; "what you wish me to do, I will do."
The snake appeared pleased, and once more went on ahead, the two as usual following close behind him. This time the woman waited till they were not far from the village, and then she began to throw more fish out of her basket. When she had got rid of all her fish, she called out to the snake, and said:
"Snake, my husband, I have dropped some more fish behind, and I am too tired to go back for them."
"Very well," said the snake; "you sit down here, and I will go back and pick them up for you."
So for the second time they sat down till the snake was out of sight, and then the woman jumped up, and seizing her boy by the hand, began to run very fast until they reached the village. They ran through the crowd till they reached her fathers house. Her parents recognized her at once, and were very glad to see her, and came out to meet her.
"Is that you, my daughter?" they cried. ''What has kept you so long? where have you been all this time?"
"Never mind me," said his daughter; "I will tell you all about it some time. I have been away a long time, and have seen many things; but you must hide me and my boy now, for the king of the snakes is chasing me, and says I must be his wife, though I am already married to the king of the eagles. He will follow me wherever I go."
The father and mother thereupon took them out in a canoe to the house in the Water, and when they got there they covered them up with mats, so as to hide them.
When the snake had picked up his second lot of fish, he returned to the place where he had left the boy and his mother. But when he saw they had gone he was angry, and threw away all the fish again, and went very fast in the direction of the village. He soon reached it, and saw a number of people there.
He said to them: ''Where is my wife and boy?"
"They have not been here," said the people.
"We do not know your wife and boy."
"Yes," he said, "they are here; I smelt their tracks through the bush, and I can smell them now. Where are they?"
The people were afraid, and made no reply.
The king of the snakes followed the tracks to the water's edge, and then swam off to the house in which the woman he wished to marry and her boy had been hidden.
"Are you here?" he cried. "I can smell you."
The woman he was pursuing saw that it was of no further use trying to hide herself, and so she said:
"Yes, we are here. What are you going to do?"
"I am going to remain here," he replied. "You see it is no use trying to escape me."
She understood that she could not escape him, and for some days the snake remained in the house.
When three days had passed she became anxious to return to her proper husband the king of the eagles. A day had been fixed on which she was to return, and she began to think how she could fool the snake and escape from him. She did not like him, and wished to get back to her own husband.
After awhile she thought of a plan. She called her two sisters to her, and said to them: "To-morrow you go out hunting, and take my husband, the snake, hunting with you. When you are gone I will escape with my boy, and return to my proper husband, who is king of the eagles."
Her sisters cried, but said: "Yes, we will do what you wish."
Next day the snake and her two sisters went out hunting, and when they were gone the woman took her boy and went into the bush towards the place where her rightful husband dwelt.
All that day they walked, and in the evening they reached the tree where the king of the eagles lived. The king came down and picked them up, and placed them once more in his nest. His wife told him all her adventures since she had left him, and though he said she was a foolish woman for not obeying his orders about the road, he was not angry with her.
When the king of the snakes returned from hunting, he found that his so-called wife and son had fled. He was very angry, and all the people said: "She was not your wife; she was the wife of the king of the eagles."
The snake said: "No, she is my wife, and I will catch her yet."
He picked up the scent of the woman and her son, and followed it till he reached the tall tree where they lived with the eagle king. No sooner had he arrived there than he looked up, and on the top of the tree in the nest he saw them all three together.
"Eagle," said he, "where is my wife and boy; what are they doing on your tree?"
The eagle replied: "Who are your wife and son? I do not know them."
"Yes," said the snake, "you know them; they are on the tree with you. They came through my country and touched me, and now they are my wife and son."
''No," said the eagle, "they did not wish to go through your country; they took the wrong road."
"She is my wife," cried the snake, "and that is my boy; I will have them."
"No," replied the eagle. "Many years ago I took her from her village, and the boy is my son; I will not give her up."
"If you do not give her up," said the king of the snakes, "I will coil myself round your tree and break it down, and then I will kill you and take her away."
"Very good," replied the eagle king; "break my tree if you can, but you shall not have my wife."
When the snake king heard this, he was angry, and coiled himself tightly round the tree, and bit by bit began to break it down. When he had taken off the branches, the tree began to shake and crack. The trunk was crushed, and it seemed as though the snake would bring the whole tree down.
"Eagle king! Eagle king!" cried his wife, "what are you doing? If the snake king pulls down our tree we shall all be killed."
"Never mind," said the eagle king; "he cannot pall down my tree." And with these words he spat at the king of the snakes, and immediately the tree was restored to its former condition. Again and again did the snake try to break down the tree, but each time that the eagle spat at him the damage was repaired.
The snake was now very angry, and said: "Why do you not come down and fight me?"
"Very well," said the eagle king; "I will come and fight you."
After saying these words, he flew down slowly till he saw his chance, and seized the snake king in his talons, and lifted him off the ground, and flew to a great height with him. When he had got to the height of a tall tree, he let go his hold of the snake and lot him fall on the ground; but the snake laughed as he fell, and when the eagle flew down to him he was still laughing.
"You thought you had killed me," said the snake, laughing; "but I will have your wife yet."
The eagle was angry at this, and said: "You shall never have my wife; I will fight you till one of his is dead."
The snake said: "We have been playing together; pick me and pick me up again, I do not mind it."
The eagle took him at his word, and flying down slowly caught him again, and began to fly up into the air with him.
The snake laughed, and said: "Do you think you can kill me?"
"Yes," said the eagle, "this time I will kill you."
He flew with him higher and higher, and still the snake laughed.
"Are we not high enough?" said he.
"No," said the eagle; "I am going much higher.''
At this the snake began to cry, for he was getting frightened. But the eagle flew higher and higher still, and the snake cried louder and louder.
"You cannot kill me," said the snake, when he saw that the eagle did not mind his cries.
"Then I will go higher still," said the eagle; "so high that when you fall you must die."
"Do not go higher," entreated the snake. "I give up your wife and boy to you; they shall belong to you if you will fly down slowly with me."
"They belong to me already," said the king of the eagles, "and I am going up higher still with you before 1 let you fall." At this the snake began to cry very loudly, but the eagle flew up and up till he could not be seen from the earth, in spite of his great size, and then he let the snake king fall. Down he came, and was utterly broken to pieces. When the eagle saw that he had gained the victory, he returned to his wife, and said to her: "Now you can go wherever you choose, as I have killed the snake king, and there are no more enemies you need be afraid of."