The Kingdom Above the Earth
In the days of our father's fathers, say the Zulus, there lived a powerful cannibal whose dwelling was behind a great wall of rock, and in this rock no sign of any doorway could be discerned. Nevertheless, when the cannibal said, "Be opened," a door swung open, and when he said, "Be shut," it rolled to again. How this could be was known to no man, though some said that the opening and the closing was done by the swallows. Yet, strange to say, though none might open the rock from without, it could easily be opened from within by the touch of a light hand.
It happened that the cannibal who dwelt behind that rock had taken a maiden captive, and kept her there, intending to eat her when she was ripe for roasting. As that was not yet, he left her one day behind him while he went forth to hunt. Within the house was the carcass of a sheep, and before setting out he said to her: "Do not cook that sheep while I am away, for if other cannibals smell roasting flesh, they will come and carry you off."
He was so long absent that the girl grew hungry, and defying her master's orders, made a fire and set the meat to roast. By and by there was such a savoury smell that the cannibals from all round came to the rock-dwelling, snuffing, and saying, "Um, Um, whence comes this good smell?" Their Chief, knowing the words by which the rock was opened, cried: "Rock, open to me that I may enter." But the wise birds knew he was not the master, and would not turn the door upon its hinges. Nor would the girl, hearing a strange voice, open it from within.
"Away," she said, "let the long-haired cannibal depart. He is not the owner of this place."
Finding that the rock would not open, all the cannibals save their Chief departed, and he considered by what device he might yet gain admission. After a time he went to his own home, and taking a hoe, scraped his throat until his voice was weak and hoarse like that of the owner of the rock-dwelling. Then he came back and said in husky tones: "Rock, open to me," as before. The swallows knew him for an intruder, and did not obey his command; but the girl was deceived and let him enter. When she saw that he was a stranger, she was so terrified that she could neither speak nor move; but the cannibal, who was hungry, took no heed of her, and falling upon the roasting sheep, ate till he was satisfied. Feeling strong and lusty after his meal, he then said to the girl, "Stay here while I go hunting," and left her alone once more.
The girl feared that when he returned he would kill and eat her; so she laid a plan by which she might escape him and all his hungry brethren.
Now, in that house there were great stores of sesamum, for the cannibals like to eat it with the flesh of men; and having filled a calabash to the brim with the grain, she took it with her, and set out.
By and by the cannibal came back from his hunting, and called out, "Rock, open for me that I may enter!" But the door remained fast shut, though he called again and yet again.
Guessing by this that the girl must have fled, he summoned all his men and went in pursuit of her; and because they were fleet of foot they gained upon her easily. With shouts of joy at the sight of their prey they hastened on, and looking back she saw her danger.
Then she scattered a portion of the sesamum upon the ground, and as they stopped to eat it, sped on her way. When they had eaten all that she had scattered, the cannibals were soon once more hard upon her heels. Again she scattered the sesamum, and again they stopped to eat. This happened a third time, and while they were still eating, the girl came up to a tree that was taller than all the others. She climbed up until she reached the topmost bough, which was slender, and fit for the nest of a bird. There she rested from her exertions.
Meanwhile the cannibals, finding that their prey had escaped them, and having eaten all the grain, gathered round the foot of the tree and looked up angrily at the girl, who was beyond their reach. Then they took their axes and hewed at the great trunk, so that the tree swayed to one side and seemed about to fall. All at once it stood upright again, and this happened each time it appeared to be on the point of falling as the result of their heavy blows. As it rose and towered against the sky, they could see the girl perched on its topmost bough, high above their reach.
The maiden's brother was hunting with his great dogs, and from very far off saw his sister's plight. Being only one against so many, he dared not attack the cannibals, so he sauntered up to them in a friendly way, and seizing an axe pretended to help them. After a few feeble strokes he feigned weariness, and putting down his axe, poured snuff upon the ground, and told the cannibals to refresh themselves. And because they were weary with the chase and with hewing the tree, they ceased from their work, and accepted his invitation. Then while they rested and took snuff, he hid their axes. They had thus nothing with which to defend themselves when he set his dogs upon them, and so they were all slain by these fierce beasts.
When all were dead, and the young man had climbed the tree to join his sister, he found that they were in a beautiful country far above the earth. Safe from all their troubles, they wandered about till they came to. a stately house, green as the leaves of the forest, and with a fair, burnished floor. Here they abode for a long time, for they feared to return to earth lest any cannibals should be lying in wait for them.
They were happy in the peace of their new home, but after many days the girl began to long for the old life, and to pine for her mother and sister. So they descended. They had far to travel, and before they reached their mother's house the moon had waned, and a new moon come in its stead. At last they came to their journey's end, and then there was great rejoicing. Many were the questions asked of them, for it had been thought that they were dead. To all they made answer, "We come from a fair country above the earth where we tarried long," but told no more.
Never again could they find the tree which led up to the wonderful land above the earth.