Marailane was a great chief who had many wives, but his heart's delight was Lielie, the beautiful girl whose laughter was like the sound of running water and whose singing was sweeter than the notes of the mountain birds.
Marailane loved sweet sounds above all things, and from a far country he had brought back a magic lute which at his bidding gave forth wonderful music, and which men said had never been fashioned by human hands. Because he loved Lielie above his other wives he hung the lute upon the wall of her hut, and when he came back wearied by the fierce heat of noonday he would take it down from its place and enjoy its wonderful melodies as he rested. The lute was dearer to him even than Lielie, and he bade her guard it carefully; above all, he charged her not to touch it or to show it to the other women.
But the women, who had heard the magic music floating through the door of the hut, begged Lielie to let them hear it in its full beauty and look upon the cunning with which the lute was fashioned. Some, the boldest, dreamt of taking it in their hands. They tried to bribe Lielie with the offer of their bracelets and anklets, but she always said them nay, until one night, when Marailane had gone forth to the veld to tend his flocks, oppressed by her loneliness, she summoned her sisters into the hut and pointed to where the lute hung upon the wall with the moonlight playing upon its silver strings.
The women seated themselves in a circle upon the ground, and there was a hush while Lielie took down the lute and laid it upon a mat in the centre of the circle, wondering the while at her own daring.
For a space all was silence, and then there poured forth notes of such maddening sweetness that the women held their breath. Louder and sweeter grew the music, till it filled the hut and floated far out across the veld and reached the ears of Marailane as he lay upon the dry earth watching his flocks. So wroth was he at Lielie's disobedience that the women in the distant hut felt his anger and with one accord they fled and hid themselves. Then the music suddenly ceased, and Lielie with trembling hands lifted up the dumb lute and hung it again upon the wall, but with a loud crash it fell at her feet. Stricken with dismay, she too fled from the hut and sought her native village. The way lay down a steep hill-side; more than once Lielie stumbled and fell, but at last she reached her father's dwelling, and lay down to rest with fear in her heart.
Meanwhile, with fierce anger in his bosom, Marailane strode across the veld, and came to his hut, where the magic lute lay mute upon the ground. It was in vain that he summoned the music, and ere sleep came to him that night he resolved fiercely that Lielie should suffer for the wrong that she had done him.
In the morning his wrath flamed again into a great fire, and calling one of his men, he bade him go to the village where Lielie had taken refuge with her father and say: "The Great One summons his wife to return and restore the music to the magic lute, which is dumb because of her evil-doing."
And when Lielie heard the words of the messenger, she bent her head, saying, "I have been summoned. I will come."
Then she began to ascend the hill which led to her husband's village. The way was steep, and when she had climbed half-way she stayed to rest, leaning upon her staff of iron. Then from far off she was seen by Marailane's men; they came near, and in their rage they stoned her; she turned to flee, and they ran after her and beat her with sticks. In her flight, Lielie fell over the edge of a gorge, whereupon, thinking she was dead, her pursuers returned to their village.
But when the moon was high in the heavens Lielie woke from her swoon. She was faint from her wounds, but her heart was strong; bravely she rose from the ground and made her way out of the gorge, sometimes creeping upon her hands and knees, till she came again within the friendly gates of her father's kraal. When her father and mother saw her thus sorely hurt they carried her into a hut and tended her, placing healing herbs upon her wounds. The days passed, and as Lielie grew strong again, her beauty flowered once more till she was as fair as she had been on the day on which she went forth to be the bride of Marailane.
She was the joy of the whole village, and the people would have kept her with them, but Lielie's love was still to her husband, whose wrath was upon her because she had robbed him of the magic music.
"I must go back to him," she said to her heart; and so one day when Marailane had summoned his men for a great singing feast, and she heard the sound of their voices from the hill above, she said to her father and mother: "I will go back to my husband. I will bring back to him the music."
Not caring to thwart her, her parents brought forth armlets and anklets of shining brass and decked her as if she were a bride. They put into her hand a staff of iron and blessed her; then, with a troop of maidens to accompany her, she set forth once again to climb the steep hill leading to Marailane's village.
When the revellers saw the bridal procession coming toward them their singing ceased, and Marailane, going to meet the maidens, saw among them Lielie, the wife who he thought lay dead in the gorge.
Now that his wrath was quenched he mourned for her who had been his heart's delight, and great was his joy. That night when the great moon cast its light upon the veld the sweet notes of the magic lute once again floated out from the door of Lielie's hut and filled the night with beauty.