The Lost Spear

            Once there was a great king whose daughter, Unanana, was of marriageable age.  So to be certain that her suitors were the finest hunters in the land, he declared a contest for her hand. 
           "Whoever is the strongest and can throw my royal spear-the assegai farthest will be my son-in-law."
            Now many chiefs gathered for the contest and with them their sons and their sons' sons.  Not only were the king's lands of nterest to them, but Unanana herself was known to be a great beauty.
           Three days and three nights, the men feasted and engaged in mock combat, until at last there were four who were clearly the strongest.
           "These four," declared the great king, "will throw the assegai."
           Now three of the chosen were the sons of chieftains, but the fourth was a handsome lad named Zandilli, and he was but a poor herdsman.  Yet Princess Unanana had eyes only for him.
           The great king had the four stand in a row on a sandy plain.  Then he handed the assegai to the first young man.
           This one was the oldest son of a famous warrior. He stood tall and proud.  When he threw the spear, it flew quickly through the air and landed upright in an anthill on the edge of sight.  
           "Ha!" cried the king. "You are surely the strongest.  My daughter is
all but yours.
           But when the second young man got ready to throw, he was even taller and prouder than the last, for he was the son of a famous hunter.  His throw flew even more quickly through the air and went past the anthill and pierced the heart of an ironwood tree.
           "Ha!" cried the king. "You are surely the strongest. My daughter is all but yours."
           Then the third young rnan got ready to throw, and he was even taller and prouder than the first two, for his father was famous as both a hunter and a warrior.  His throw surpassed the others and hit a hawk in flight that carried the assegai farther still.
           "Ha!" cried the king. "I see that you are the strongest of the three.  My daughter is surely yours."
The herdsman now came forward and when the assegai was returned, he held out his hand.
           The king made a face.  He thought no one could better that third throw, and besides, lie did not want the herdsman to marry his daughter.
           The herdsman bowed to the king, and turned and smiled at Unanana. Then he turned back and threw the assegai.  Like lightning the assegai flew, past the anthill, past the ironwood tree, past the place where the dead hawk lay, and out of sght.
           Loud were the cries of praise from all of the people, but loudest still was the voice of Unanana.  "Zandilli is the strongest of them all!"
           But the great king was not pleased.  "Tomorrow" there will be another contest," he said.  "And all will throw with spears of gold."
           In the morning the four men threw.  The three were given spears that were perfectly balanced, but the herdsman was given a clumsy spear, unbalanced and untrue.
           Yet again the herdsman's assegai flew farther than the others, into the very clouds, where it was lost from sight.
           "I claim Princess Unanana as my bride," said Zandilli.  "For I have proved that I am the strongest."
           "Not until you bring me back the golden spear and lay it here at my feet," said the king.
            Unanana flung herself at her father's feet.  "You are unjust, Father," she cried.  "Zandilli has won the contest not once but twice."
            "Nevertheless, I have spoken," said the king.
            Princess Unanana stood and put her hands on her hips.  "I will remind you what the wise men say: A word uttered cannot be taken back.  When Zandilli returns with the spear, we will he married."
           So Zandilli went at once to seek the lost golden spear, wandering for days among the mountains.
           On the fourth day, as he gazed into a brown pool wondering where to go next, a butcher-bird fell at his feet, a little green frog clutched in its talons. "Help me!" cried the frog.
           Zandilli grabbed up the butcher-bird and freed the frog from its grip, then he flung the bird back up into the sky.  The frog blinked its golden eyes. "If ever you are in trouble, man, think of this brown pond, and 1 will come to help."
    "How can you help me'?" asked Zandilli. "With all my strength, I cannot do what must be done. And you are so small."
           The frog chuggered.  "Do not the wise men say, Even an ant can help an elephant"?"  And it hopped into the pond and was gone.
           Zandilli went on and found a large yellow and black butterfly impaled upon the thorns of a tree.
           "Help me!" cried the butterfly.  Carefully Zandilli pulled the butterfly free.
           "If ever you are in trouble, man, think of this thorn tree, and I will come to help."
           "How can you help me?" asked Zandilli. "With all my strength, 1 cannot do what must be done.  And you are so small."
            The butterfly flapped its wings.  "Do not the wise men say, 'Even an ant can help an elephant"?" Then it flapped twice and was gone.
           Night was darkening the sky of the fifth day, and still Zandilli had not found the king's spear.  Eager to find shelter, Zandilli  tumbled into a wild gorge and came upon a small cave.
           Zandilli entered the cave and lay down to rest.  No sooner had he done so than he heard sweet music coming from farther in.  As Zandilli knew no fear, he stood and wound his way through the blackness toward that unearthly music.  The music grew louder with every step, and at last a faint light appeared ahead of him.
    Astonished, Zandilli kept going forward until at last he found himself at an underground lake lit by an eerie light.  The cave mounded high like a dome over the lake and shone with the glitter of a thousand bright stones.
In the very center of the lake were golden steps leading to a throne on which sat the most beautiful woman Zandilli had ever seen.  She had feathery wings and white hair that curled down to her waist.  Then, floating on large rose-colored lilies, came a hundred other fairies, their wings translucent and fine.  They gathered before the throne, and Zandilli realized they were the source of the music.
           He could not move for fear of frightening them all away.
           But suddenly the fairy on the throne spoke. "Mortal," she said, "we, the Moon Fairies, have been waiting for you.  We know what it is you seek." Zandilli flung himself down on the stone floor crying, "Oh, Mighty Being, help me find the spear that I may wed the beautiful Unanana."
           "We can give you only what you can win," the fairy queen said. "For it was prophesied at the beginning of time that a mortal would come to our hidden home and ask for something in our possession which we could give him only if he performed two tasks for us."
           "Ask and I shall do them," cried Zandilli.
           The queen came down the golden steps and got onto one of the lily boats.  She came to the shore and gestured to Zandilli, who climbed aboard.  Then, with the rest of the Moon Fairies following, they floated through the tunnels of the cave.  Wonder after bright wonder unfolded before them, but there was one dark cavern that seemed a blot upon the fairies' home.
           "There," said the queen. "If, before the moon rises again, you can make that cavern as beautiful as the others, you will have performed your first task.  Fail-and you shall die."
           Zandilli was left in a golden canoe at the gaping door of' the black cavern and the fairies sailed away.
           "What have I done?" he asked himself. "'There is no way I can make beautiful this dark place in so short a time.  I shall die in the morning." He thought about all that he would be leaving behind: the beautiful Unanana, the towering mountains, the gold-flecked waters, his own small flock, the birds, the butterflies...
           Zandilli laughed. He remembered the butterfly he had saved from the thorn tree.  "If ever you could help me," he said aloud,"help me now." There was a sudden shiver in the air, as if a thousand thousand small wings were fluttering toward him.  Zandilli shivered, closed his eyes, and slept.  When he opened them again, the black cavern had been transformed into a fairy palace by the gorgeous wings of butterflies and firef1ies who spread themselves out across the cavern walls.
           The fairy queen and her followers arrived on their lily boats.  With one voice, they cried, "He has done it!  He has done it!"  And the fairy queen smiled.
           But there was still the second task.
           "Here is the golden spear you seek," said the fairy queen. "I will place it on the steps of my throne so you can see we do not promise what we cannot give."
           "I see it, my queen," said Zandilli.
           "Your second task is this: My fairy maidens' wings are woven from the wings of flies. But alas, we have no more. Our looms stand idle, our storerooms empty.  Fill those storerooms by tomorrow morning, else you shall die."
   Zandilli nodded, but in his heart he felt only despair.  The first task had been difficult enough.  But the second was beyond
doing.
           Oh little frog in the the brown pond, he thought, if you could only help me as the butterfly did.  Then he fell asleep, dreaming of all he was about to lose.  But the little frog heard his call and gathered all its kin and its lizard cousins as well.  Each came to the cavern with a bundle of flies and left them in the storeroom.  Hundreds of flies. thousands of flies.  Perhaps even millions of flies.
           When the queen and her followers came the next morning, they cried, "He has done it!  He has done it!" 
           The queen smiled and handed Zandilli the golden spear.  "Go, mortal, and know that it was your tender heart that won you your spear.   Strength is nothing without the heart.  Remember that when you are wed."
           Zandilli bowed his head. "I will remember," he said. And he did.