ONCE upon a time there lived a maiden who was as fair as a star. She was the delight of the village, and her mother loved her above all else in the world.
One day when the men of the village had gone out hunting and the women were at work in the fields, the maiden, leaving her young companions in the kraal, went out on to the veld to gather the soft grass. Suddenly while she stooped to her work there came flying from out of the West a flock of grey wood-pigeons who hovered above her. And seeing that she was fair, they lifted her up from the earth and bore her away over the fields where the women were hoeing the ground. The girl, weeping, called out to her mother: "Mother, mother, the Pigeon-folk are carrying me away!"
The woman looked up from her work, and seeing her child, stretched out her arms and tried to reach her, but the Pigeons rose above her head, and then sank again till the girl was almost in her grasp. Then they rose again, mocking her, and flew away.
They flew toward the sunset, and the mother, weeping, followed the Pigeons, begging them to restore her child, but they heeded her not. When darkness fell they alighted upon a tree, and stayed there through the night, keeping the girl with them, while the mother, wearied with her long journey, lay down beneath the tree and slept so heavily that at dawn she did not hear the rustling of the grey wings when the birds took flight, nor did she wake till the sun was high in the heavens.
Then when she found that the Pigeons had gone, taking with them her child, she returned to the village to tell her people of the misfortune that had overtaken her.
Meanwhile the Pigeons had reached their own country, proud of the captive whom they had brought with them.
Now, when the King of the Pigeons saw the beautiful maiden he desired her for his wife and made her his Queen. And for years she lived among the Pigeon-folk, and bore her husband three sons, but she could not forget her own people, for whom her heart yearned. Years passed, and her sons grew to be tall and manly lads, and one day when the King was about to set forth on a hunting expedition with his warriors, he told the Queen that his sons must accompany him. She assented, but before starting she called them apart and told them how they must leave the hunt and come back to the village, and from thence return with her to her native land. They were to feign hurt or sickness, one after another, and ask leave of their father to return.
When the King's train had left the village, the Queen was alone with her husband's mother, who distrusted her, and feared that this stranger-wife meant ill toward her son.
Meanwhile before the huntsmen had gone far afield the youngest of the King's sons stumbled and asked leave of his father to return to the kraal. The King, suspecting nothing, sent the boy home.
A little farther on the second boy, feigning illness, received his father's permission to return; and the third, complaining of a burning pain in his head, was sent back also.
Then when all three had reached the kraal, the Queen gathered together her possessions and set out with her sons, believing that no one had seen her. But the King's mother knew all that was happening, and going to the outskirts of the village she raised her shrill voice, crying, "Yi! Yi! The Queen has gone forth, and has taken her sons with her."
Her voice was heard by one of the hunters, whose ears were as keen as the hare's, and he said: "Hark! Some one is calling. Some one says that the Queen has gone away and taken with her the King's children."
But the others were angry with him, saying, "Hold your tongue. You will bring ill-luck upon the King's children."
And because men hate those who tell evil tidings, they slew him and went on their way.
Meanwhile the voice of evil omen sounded again across the veld, and this time it was heard by another of the hunters, who bade his fellows listen. "I hear a voice," he said, "crying out that the Queen has gone away with her children."
And they, believing that he meant to bring harm to the young Princes, slew him also.
A little farther on the shrill voice was heard for the third time, and yet another of the hunters bade them pause, and he too would have been slain, but he said:
"Ye have already slain two of the King's men because they have harkened to the warning. I too hear it, but slay me not. Let me return to the village to see whether or no this thing be true."
And they listened to his words, and brought him before the King, who harkened to his story and then said: "Let the man go forth to the kraal and bring back tidings of the Queen and my sons."
So the hunter returned with haste to the village, and when he found that the Queen had gone, taking her sons with her, he went back to the King and told him of their departure.
Hereupon the King of the Pigeons called together all his vast army, and from all quarters of the heavens there came the whirr of grey wings, and so great was the host that the sky was darkened, nor could the face of the sun be seen. And when all were assembled the King told his warriors how the Queen had set out with his children. For the honour of his name they must be brought back.
And when the King had spoken there was a stirring of angry wings like the sound of a stormy sea beating upon the shore, and with the King at their head, the Pigeon army swept southward in pursuit of the truant Queen.
Meanwhile the Queen had reached a great sea, the farther shore of which could be dimly seen against the sky, and standing where the waves broke round her feet, she cried t "Sea, Sea, be divided, that I and my children may cross."
At the sound of her voice the waters parted, and the Queen and her children walked upon the dry land and reached the farther shore in safety. Then the waters rolled back with the crash of thunder, just as the army of Pigeons reached the margin of the sea.
On the opposite side they could see the Queen and her sons, and they wondered how she had crossed, seeing that the waters were so vast that their wings would not bear them to the other shore.
When she saw the Pigeons on the farther shore, the Queen thought how she might deceive them, and plaited a long rope of grass which she flung across the waters, shouting, "Lay hold of this rope, and I will pull you across."
The Pigeons hastened to take the rope, while the Queen sought for a sharp stone; then, when all were clinging to the rope, she severed it, and the King and his whole army sank into the sea. The waters closed over them, nor was one left to tell the tale of destruction.
Then the Queen and her sons returned to her own people, and her home-coming was celebrated with dancing and singing and great rejoicings.