Many, many years ago there lived a poor man, named Setuli, who was deaf and dumb. He had never been able to speak, or understand anything but signs from his birth, and was despised by all his brothers and sisters.
Although he was the son of a powerful Chief, no one so much as looked at him, and he could never hope to win a bride or have a home of his own. He had but one friend, an elder brother, who gave him food and shelter, and was always kind to him. This brother was already old, and was known as a great magician; he knew the properties of every herb, and the wonderful powers possessed by birds and beasts. When he went to search for magic roots he always took Setuli with him, for he found his eyes were quicker than those of any man in the countryside, and his fingers more deft.
One day in Spring, when the first rains had fallen and green shoots were showing among the dry grass, the two brothers went out to gather roots as usual. They travelled far into the mountains till they reached a narrow valley full of trees just bursting into leaf. A clear stream ran down one side among great boulders, ferns were just uncurling their early fronds, and in sheltered nooks big scarlet daisies shone like tiny suns. The old magician and Setuli set to work at once, for here many rare plants flourished. They had been at work an hour or more when a swarm of beautiful black birds with long waving tails came towards them, flying in a zigzag course. They settled on the low bushes, swinging up and down on the branches, and balancing their long tails.
The two brothers both looked up, and in a grave voice the old magician said to the birds, “Sakobulas, we go to sleep and we get up as we used to do.” This was the magic greeting they expected. I cannot tell you what it meant, but when the sakobulas heard it, they flew away quite satisfied. The two brothers went on digging, and moved farther up the stream. Then a great swarm of dear little rooibekkies suddenly appeared, tiny little brown birds with pink breasts and bright red bills. They fluttered all round, chattering gaily.
The old magician again looked up. “Mantsiane,” said he, “we go to sleep and we get up as we used to do”; and the rooibekkies flew away quite satisfied. Then the two brothers went on digging again, and worked for a long time. All at once there rushed upon them an immense flight of the most beautiful birds, shining from head to foot with glorious yellow plumage. Round their necks showed a ring of velvety black, and there were black feathers in their wings.
“Follow us up! Follow us up!” they cried to the two brothers. “These are orioles,” said the old magician; “without doubt some great adventure is before us.” He signed to his brother to leave the roots and follow the birds.
They travelled over the mountains for three days and three nights, following the golden birds. On the morning of the fourth day the birds led them down a steep mountain-side to a deep green valley through which ran a wide stream. The birds followed the stream till they came to a deep clear pool under the shadow of great trees. It was very cool and very still. Tall reeds and big white lilies grew all round the water’s edge, and over the pool itself were hundreds of water-lilies, white and purple.
The golden birds turned to the magician and said, “Bring your brother here and tell him on no account to be afraid, no matter what may happen to him. He must wait by the edge of the pool amongst the reeds and lilies.”
The elder brother fetched Setuli and made him understand what was wanted of him. Then he went away and left his brother alone, wondering what this new adventure would bring.
Now, though Setuli had always been despised and set aside by all his relations, he was in reality both wise and brave. He sat down at the water’s edge and remained perfectly still. Suddenly the waters moved, and up rose a huge alligator. It came straight towards him, lashing its great tail and opening its huge jaws. Its teeth glistened in the sun, and as it walked up the bank it snapped at Setuli and blinked its wicked little eyes. But Setuli sat perfectly still and pretended not to notice. The alligator thrust its long nose almost in his face, snapped its jaws once more, and then, seeing he showed no sign of fear, turned tail and slipped into the pool again.
Setuli remained sitting, waiting to see what would happen next. For a little while the pool was still; then the whole of the waters moved and out came a huge ogre, far more hideous and terrible than the alligator. He was covered with eyes and glared with every one of them at the deaf man. Then he roared fiercely and sprang towards him; but still Setuli did not move so much as an eyelid. The ogre shouted again, and then disappeared, like the alligator before him.
After that there was no sound or motion for many hours. Setuli sat watching by the pool. Just as he began to think nothing more would happen, the water moved quietly and out came a Fairy in the shape of an old woman. She stood in the waters up to her waist and gazed at Setuli. On her right hand there perched a beautiful black sakobula, on her left hand a little rooibekkie, and on her head was a most wonderful oriole, bright as the rising moon. The old woman continued to gaze at Setuli, and said three times in a loud voice, “Speak!”
When she uttered the third word Setuli felt a new power had come to him. He could speak like other people, and he could understand all the Fairy said.