WHEN our fathers' fathers were children, there lived in the valley of the rivers two chiefs, who governed their people wisely and with great kindness. The name of the one was Mopeli, and of the other Khosi.
Now Mopeli had a son whom he loved as his own heart, a youth, tall and brave, and fearless as the young lion. To him was given the name of Tsiu. When Tsiu was able to stand alone, and to play on the mat in front of his father's dwelling, a daughter was born unto the chief Khosi, to whom was given the name of Tebogo. The years passed, and Tsiu and Tebogo grew and thrived. Often the youth drove his father's cattle down towards the lands where Tebogo and her father's maidens worked, and many happy days were spent, while the love each bore the other grew and strengthened, even as they themselves grew older.
When the time came for Tsiu to take a wife, he went to his father and asked that Tebogo might be given him, for none other could he wed. Gladly the parents consented, and preparations were made for the wedding.
Now Tebogo had another lover, upon whom she looked with scorn, but who had vowed that never, never should she be the bride of Tsiu; so he consulted a witch doctor, who promised to aid him. Imagine then his joy when, ere the wedding feast had begun, he heard that Tsiu had disappeared. "Now," thought he, "Tebogo shall be mine;" but the maiden turned from him in anger, nor would her parents listen to his suit.
Meanwhile desolation hung over the home of the chief Mopeli. "My son, my son," cried the unhappy father; but no voice replied, no son came back to rejoice his father's heart.
When the moon had once more grown great in the heavens, an old man came to the village of Mopeli, and called the chief to him. Long they talked, and greatly the people wondered. At length they arose, and, saluting each other, parted at the door of the chief's dwelling. Mopeli then departed for the village of Chief Khosi, where he remained all night. The next day he returned to his own village, and bade his people prepare a great feast.
In the village of the Chief Khosi, also, much wonder filled the people's minds, for they, likewise, were commanded to make ready a marriage feast, for the chief's daughter, the lovely Tebogo, was about to be married, but none knew to whom.
Calling his daughter to him, Khosi said, "My child, your lover Tsiu has been taken from you, so it is my wish that you should marry one who has found favour in my eyes."
"Tell me, my father," replied Tebogo, "who is the man you have chosen for me? Let me at least know his name."
"Nay, my child, that I cannot do," answered Khosi, and with this the maiden was obliged to be content. Behold then her horror when she was brought forth to meet her bridegroom, to find not a man, but a snake. All the people cried "shame" upon the parents who could be so cruel as to wed their daughter to a reptile.
With cries and tears Tebogo implored her parents to spare her; in vain were her entreaties. She was told to take her reptile husband home to the new hut which had been built for them, near the large pool where the cattle drank. Tremblingly she obeyed, followed by her maidens, the snake crawling by her side. When she entered the hut, she tried to shut out the snake, but it darted half its body through the door, and so terrified her that she ran to the other end of the hut.
The snake followed, and began lashing her with its tail, till she ran out of the hut down to the clump of willows which grew by the side of the pool. Here she found an old doctor sitting, and to him she told her trouble. "My daughter," he said, "return to your hut. Do not let the snake see you, but close the door very softly from the outside, and set fire to the hut. When it is all burnt down, you will find the ashes of the snake lying in a little heap in the centre of the hut. Bring them here, and cast them into the water."
Tebogo did as the old doctor directed her, and while the hut was burning, many people ran from both the villages to see what had happened; but Tebogo called to them to keep away, as she was burning the snake. When all was destroyed, she went up, took the ashes of the snake, which she found in the middle of the ruins, and, putting them into a pitcher, ran with them down to the pool and threw them in. No sooner had she done so, than from the water arose, not a snake, but her lover Tsiu. With a joyful cry, she flung herself into his arms, and a great shout went up from all the people gathered there.
As the lightning darts across the heaven, so the news of Tsiu's return spread from hut to hut, and great was the people's wonderment. The story of how he had been turned into a snake, and banished to the pool, until he could find a maiden whose parents would bestow her upon him in marriage, and of how the good old doctor Into had revealed the secret to Mopeli, was soon told. For many days there was feasting and merry-making in the homes of Mopeli the chief and of Khosi, while in the hearts of Tsiu and his bride Tebogo there dwelt a great content; but the wicked lover fled to the mountains, where he cherished a bitter hatred in his heart against Tebogo and her husband, and longed for the time when he could be revenged.