The Story of a Gazelle
Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 900 words.
'So they went their way, and they went and went till the gazelle saw in the distance the palace of the sultan. Then it said, 'Master, that is the house we are going to, and you are not a poor man any longer: even your name is new.'
'What IS my name, eh, my father?' asked the man.
'Sultan Darai,' said the gazelle.
Very soon some soldiers came to meet them, while others ran off to tell the sultan of their approach. And the sultan set off at once, and the viziers and the emirs, and the judges, and the rich men of the city, all followed him.
Directly the gazelle saw them coming, it said to its master: 'Your father-in-law is coming to meet you; that is he in the middle, wearing a mantle of sky-blue. Get off your horse and go to greet him.'
And Sultan Darai leapt from his horse, and so did the other sultan, and they gave their hands to one another and kissed each other, and went together into the palace.
The next morning the gazelle went to the rooms of the sultan, and said to him: 'My lord, we want you to marry us our wife, for the soul of Sultan Darai is eager.'
'The wife is ready, so call the priest,' answered he, and when the ceremony was over a cannon was fired and music was played, and within the palace there was feasting.
'Master,' said the gazelle the following morning, 'I am setting out on a journey, and I shall not be back for seven days, and perhaps not then. But be careful not to leave the house till I come.'
And the master answered, 'I will not leave the house.'
And it went to the sultan of the country and said to him: 'My lord, Sultan Darai has sent me to his town to get the house in order. It will take me seven days, and if I am not back in seven days he will not leave the palace till I return.'
'Very good,' said the sultan.
And it went and it went through the forest and wilderness, till it arrived at a town full of fine houses. At the end of the chief road was a great house, beautiful exceedingly, built of sapphire and turquoise and marbles.
'That,' thought the gazelle, 'is the house for my master, and I will call up my courage and go and look at the people who are in it, if any people there are. For in this town have I as yet seen no people. If I die, I die, and if I live, I live. Here can I think of no plan, so if anything is to kill me, it will kill me.'
Then it knocked twice at the door, and cried 'Open,' but no one answered. And it cried again, and a voice replied: 'Who are you that are crying "Open"?'
And the gazelle said, 'It is I, great mistress, your grandchild.'
'If you are my grandchild,' returned the voice, 'go back whence you came. Don't come and die here, and bring me to my death as well.'
'Open, mistress, I entreat, I have something to say to you.'
'Grandchild,' replied she, 'I fear to put your life in danger, and my own too.'
'Oh, mistress, my life will not be lost, nor yours either; open, I pray you.' So she opened the door.
'What is the news where you come from, my grandson,' asked she.
'Great lady, where I come from it is well, and with you it is well.'
'Ah, my son, here it is not well at all. If you seek a way to die, or if you have not yet seen death, then is to-day the day for you to know what dying is.'
'If I am to know it, I shall know it,' replied the gazelle; 'but tell me, who is the lord of this house?'
And she said: 'Ah, father! in this house is much wealth, and much people, and much food, and many horses. And the lord of it all is an exceeding great and wonderful snake.'
'Oh!' cried the gazelle when he heard this; 'tell me how I can get at the snake to kill him?'
'My son,' returned the old woman, 'do not say words like these; you risk both our lives. He has put me here all by myself, and I have to cook his food. When the great snake is coming there springs up a wind, and blows the dust about, and this goes on till the great snake glides into the courtyard and calls for his dinner, which must always be ready for him in those big pots. He eats till he has had enough, and then drinks a whole tankful of water. After that he goes away. Every second day he comes, when the sun is over the house. And he has seven heads. How then can you be a match for him, my son?'
'Mind your own business, mother,' answered the gazelle, 'and don't mind other people's! Has this snake a sword?'
'He has a sword, and a sharp one too. It cuts like a dash of lightning.'
'Give it to me, mother!' said the gazelle, and she unhooked the sword from the wall, as she was bidden. 'You must be quick,' she said, 'for he may be here at any moment. Hark! is not that the wind rising? He has come!'
Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:
Source: Andrew Lang, Violet Fairy Book (1901). Weblink. [Lang notes: Swahili story]
Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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