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Main > South African folktales > Fairy tale "Who was King?"

Who was King?

“Once upon a time,” began Outa Karel, and his audience of three looked up expectantly.

“Once upon a time, Oom Leeuw roared and the forest shook with the dreadful sound. Then, from far away over the vlakte, floated another roar, and the little lion cubs jumped about and stood on their heads, tumbling over each other in their merriment.

“‘Hear,’ they said, ‘it is Volstruis, old Three Sticks. He tries to imitate the King, our father. He roars well. Truly there is no difference.’

“When Leeuw heard this he was very angry, so he roared again, louder than ever. Again came back the sound over the veld, as if it had been an echo.

“‘Ach, no! this will never do,’ thought Leeuw. ‘I must put a stop to this impudence. I alone am King here, and imitators—I want none.’

“So he went forth and roamed over the vlakte till he met old Three Sticks, the Ostrich. They stood glaring at each other.

“Leeuw’s eyes flamed, his mane rose in a huge mass and he lashed his tail angrily. Volstruis spread out his beautiful wings and swayed from side to side, his beak open and his neck twisting like a whip-snake. Ach! it was pretty, but if baasjes could have seen his eyes! Baasjes know, Volstruis’s eyes are very soft and beautiful—like Nonnie’s when she tells the Bible stories; but now there was only fierceness in them, and yellow lights that looked like fire.

“But there was no fight—yet. It was only their way of meeting. Leeuw came a step nearer and said, ‘We must see who is baas. You, Volstruis, please to roar a little.’

“So Volstruis roared, blowing out his throat, so, ‘Hoo-hoo-hoor-r-r-r!’ It was a fearsome sound—the sort of sound that makes you feel streams of cold water running down your back when you hear it suddenly and don’t know what it is. Yes, baasjes, if you are in bed you curl up and pull the blankets over your head, and if you are outside you run in and get close to the Nooi or Nonnie.”

A slight movement, indicative of contradiction, passed from one to another of his small hearers, but—unless it was a free and easy, conversational evening—they made it a point of honour never to interrupt Outa in full career.

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