The Stolen Wife
In the long ago, there lived
a fisherman named Ruarangi who had a wife so beautiful, even the fairies
were jealous of her. They talked about her incessantly, their voices
sounding to the humans like bellbirds in the trees.
The fairy king, hearing from
his people about this lovely woman, decided to see her for himself.
As he was invisible in the daylight, he flew to her home and watched her
as she walked in her garden.
Even fairies can fall in
love. He felt such a longing for the beautiful woman that he could
barely eat or drink.
"I will wait till Ruarangi
is off on a fishing voyage," he said to his people, "and then I will take
"Will you take her while
she sleeps?" asked his fairy adviser.
The king shook his head, for to take a sleeping human
meant that only the soul was carried away and that the human's body dies.
He did not want that. He wanted the woman body and soul.
"I will take her when she
is awake," he said. And though it was not often done this way, it
was what the king wished. So the very next time Ruarangi sailed off,
the fairy king went to his house and hovered outside the door, calling
in a voice like a tui - that musical forest bird - now soft, now loud,
Ruarangi's wife left the
fire and came outside and walked to her garden to search for the calling
bird, for such singing brought tears to her eyes.
The fairy king swooped down
and enfolded her in his wings, then lifted her up and up, higher and higher,
till the world was lost to her. Then, still singing in her ear, a
voice that made her forget all that she had known, the king carried her
to his own house and garden. "Now you are truly home," he sang to
her. And so she believed.
It was not a hard life, for
the love of fairies is infinitely gentle and kind. She never thought of
her mortal husband, but listened to the fairy singing, the pipings of the
king's flautist, and to the love words of the king himself. When Ruarangi
returned from his fishing voyage, he discovered that his wife was gone.
Distracted, he ran through
the garden and down the path. He searched the woods and pools nearby.
But she was not to be found.
The other villagers helped in his search, and for
days they looked everywhere, calling her name in loud voices till all of
them were hoarse.
At last Ruarangi went to
the tohunga, the village priest who was well versed in magic and had knowledge
of unseen things. "Please," cried Ruarangi, "please help me find
my beloved wife."
The tohunga replied,
"I will do what I can," for he had known Ruarangi as a boy and was fond
of him. He called up a Seeking spell and discovered that Ruarangi's wife
had been taken both body and soul by the fairy king.
"Then I shall never see her
again," Ruarangi cried, putting his head in his hands.
"Never is a word that is
too big for me to understand," said the tohunga. "What is it your wife
loves to do most of all'?"
Ruarangi thought and thought.
"She will always stop to listen to the birds," he said. "She knows
them each by their songs."
The tohunga smiled. "Then
she will know this one best of all." And he began a karakia, an incantation.
From his incantation there came the trilling song of the ngiru-ngiru, the
That song traveled from the
village, through the woods, across one mountain and then another and then
another after that till it came at last to the palace of the fairy king.
The song fluttered like the lovebird itself and landed on a branch in the
fairy king's garden. There, walking through the fairy grove, where strange
and wonderful fruit hung down from the trees all year round, was Ruarangi's
She had been a full year
entranced by the fairy singing. She had been a full year transfixed by
their unearthly songs. But when the lovebird's little call sang from the
branch of a tree, she stopped. That was something
new. And something old. Something she thought
With that memory, small and compact as the lovebird
itself, came another. A face and a laugh. It was the memory of her husband
in the world. Ruarangi.
Suddenly she longed for him,
her husband, and it was a pang under the breast, like a sharp thorn that
was both painful and wonderful at the same time.
"Ruarangi," she whispered.
"Ruarangi!" she said aloud. At her voice, the fairy king's spell was broken
in two. She looked around, wondering where she was. "Then she
walked through a gate in the wall surrounding it. there in the distance
was her husband, Ruarangi, who had traveled from the village, through the
woods, across one mountain and then another, and then another after that,
to come at last to the palace of the fairy king.
"Ruarangi!" she cried, and
he ran to her. Then he enfolded a cloth around her shoulders and led her
back into the world. She looked pale and cold. A year with
the fairies will do that to any mortal. But he brought her into their house
and cooked food for her and fed it to her with his own hand. After
a while, the color returned to her face, and she smiled at him, which had
a warmth of its very own.
Meanwhile the fairy king
furious to find the human woman gone, flew after them, across one mountain,
then another and another, through the woods and into the village.
He arrived at Ruarangi's house in the daylight, and so he was invisible.
But the tohunga was there, outside, waiting. What was invisible to
others was visible to him. He saw the fairy king in all his power
and beauty. So the tohunga sang out an incantation, the most powerful
he had ever tried. He sang of the love of one human for another,
of the children yet to be born between this man and this woman. He
sang of the joy of hard work and the soft rest after - all things that
the fairies knew not. The fairy king was caught by the tohunga's
enchantment and was unable to come into Ruarangi's house. And by
the end of the priest's karakia, the fairy king had forgotten Ruarangi's
wife altogether and returned to his own palace, alone.