Then Néki stepped forward and declared: – You have to do anything! It is not possible to disobey Bayamé, but neither can we make our people so tormented.
– What can we do? Asked the chief of elders in a desolate voice, shaking his head.
“I will see Bayamé and ask you to let us enjoy the flowers that grow on the earth to the delight of all.”
A smile lit up the faces of children and women, but the old men remained sad and hopeless.
“Do you realize what that means, Néki?” Meeting Bayamé in Country of Great Rest is an impossible task!
– It’s because? Insisted the young man.
“You would have to walk days and days toward the Oubi-Oubi Mountains, and this from the assumption that you can reach them.” Then you should look for the path that leads to the country of Boullimah, where the wise man rests, ”the chief explained. “No one has ever returned from such a trip,” he hastened to add.
Néki was not disturbed and repeated: – Even so, I will try! I will see Bayamé! But you must promise me that no one will touch the flowers, the bees, or the holy honey until I return!
– What if you don’t come back? Exclaimed the woman who had first revolted.
“I’ll do everything to hear from me.” But I want you to promise me that before you get on my way.
Two or three voices exclaimed, “You have our word!”
Other voices echoed. Soon everyone shouted to Néki that he could trust them, that they would keep their promise until he returned. Then the young man took the faithful boomerang from his waist and said:
“It doesn’t take weapons to get to Boullimah country.” I’ll be there if Bayamé so wishes!
And he set out on his way north. As he turned off the road, he glanced back to see his people standing motionless in the clearing. The children looked at him with hope, the women and men with a mixture of wonder and doubt. However, no one made a gesture that violated the orders of the elders.
Néki walked with anguished heart… Would they wait for him without touching a single flower? Without tasting some honey? Wouldn’t it be too much of these simple people who just asked to pick a seed or taste some of the honey that dripped from the abundant trees?
And himself, without weapons, without experience, could he reach that far-off country where, they said, sage Bayamé rested? However, I thought after these hesitations, “It is the messenger Spirit who has allowed me to know the will of Bayame. He has helped me and will help me again. ”And he felt his strength revived by such a thought.
He walked like this for days and days without feeling hungry or thirsty. At last he reached the foot of the Oubi-Oubi Mountains. It was an inaccessible chain, with rocky walls, so abrupt and steep that they looked crystal.
Néki searched for hours for a place to climb but had to resign.
He then decided to go around the mountain to find a passage. And set out. It explored all the slopes, all the anfractuosities of the rock. After long days of hiking, he found a place where climbing was possible.
He began to slowly climb the slope. After an hour of tiring and dangerous ascent, he noticed that the rock was carved into a succession of numerous steps, forming a giant staircase that was lost in the clouds.
It continued the ascent, more easily this time. But the stone staircase was so long that it climbed all day without seeing its end. As night fell, the exhausted youth curled up in a rock pit and fell asleep.
At sunrise, he resumed his trek to the summit. The stone steps drew a gigantic spiral that meandered on the side of the mountain and rose endlessly.
Néki went up like this on the second day, on the third, on the fourth. At night it rested on the hard stones. On the night of the fourth day he finally reached the top of the mountain.
From the rock’s anfractuosity dripped a source of clear water where Néki quenched his thirst, momentarily forgetting the great fatigue that numbed all his muscles. The air was pure and gradually felt invigorated. He looked around and noticed that it was on a kind of small platform, in the center of which stood stones arranged in a circle. As it came within range, it was shaken by a strong gust of wind.
It was then that he heard the powerful voice of the Messenger Spirit:
“What are you doing here, Néki, in this holy place dedicated to Bayame?”
“Are you really the Spirit who once spoke to me in the clearing of the three flower-covered trees?” Asked Néki.
– I am myself, the messenger Spirit. What do you want?
“That day you showed me where my tribe could enjoy the contemplation of the Bayamé flowers and bees,” began Néki. – They enjoyed this great benesse, but since then a great melancholy has taken over their hearts. The children wanted to taste the honey, but the mothers cannot give it. Women would like to have some flowers to beautify the huts, but they cannot pick them and no one can take a seed that is to be planted in the garden. The elders of the village must be on their guard at the holy trees day and night so that no one dares touch them. Would it not have been better for everyone to know these wonders only through the legends told by the old? However, you can tell Bayamé that, despite their unhappiness, my people have not touched a flower or a drop of honey.
“The wise and generous Bayamé knows this,” the messenger resumed, “and is pleased with your obedience. He has promised to reward you and will keep his promise. I can satisfy one of your wishes, choose! What do you want? The flowers? The bees? Or the honey?
Néki didn’t have to think much. He responded promptly:
“It is not hard for me to choose, Messenger Spirit.” I know that asking for honey would make children and mothers happy. But even if the generous Bayamé gave us a great deal of honey, it would be exhausted in a day. And sadness would once again invade the village. If I asked for the bees, they would make honey for a while, but then they would leave because they would have to pick the pollen from other flowers.
“Your choice is wise,” observed the messenger. – I’ll take you a little higher. Fear nothing. It is the only way to reach the country of Boullimah.
Néki felt him lift him skyward, where he flew lightly, as if his body had no weight. Shortly after, he found himself lying in a flowery meadow that stretched out of sight. It was the country of the Great Home.
On the emerald green grass, the flowers were arranged in rows by color: red near blue, blue near violet, violet near yellow, and so on, as if endless rainbows landed in the vast prairie. Fascinated by the spectacle, Néki found himself thinking that he would gladly be there, in that place of peace and beauty where he could forget all the miseries of the earth.
But soon afterwards came to mind his people who were waiting for him below. He remembered the expression of hope of the children. The voice of the Spirit was heard again:
“Pick the flowers you want, Néki, and take them to the earth.”
The young man immediately set to work, careful to choose flowers of all colors, all shapes, all perfumes and all possible species.
He gathered the flowers that beautify the gardens and others that grow naturally in the meadows. It has harvested species that hide in gullies and others that bloom on the surface of the waters. He gathered the flowers that creep over the walls, and other that cover the meadows; modest flowers and superb flowers, sparkling flowers and fragrant flowers… You picked so much you didn’t know where to put them. Her arms were loaded and there were flowers in her hair, waist, mouth!
When he could no longer reap, the spirits lifted him and transported him again. And Neki found himself in the midst of the circle of stones, on the top of the Oubi-Oubi hills.
He felt the gust of wind that had struck him, and heard for the last time the voice of the Messenger Spirit:
Return to earth and bring the gift of Bayame to your people. Where you drop the flowers, they will take root. The east wind will bring rain that will fertilize the earth. From the west will come the spring wind that will fill the plants with shoots. In summer, the north wind will bloom all these flowers. When winter comes, the flowers will disappear. But thou shalt settle thy people: in the spring the flowers shall come back to thy joy, and so shall they be in the land unto the end of time, because Bayameth shall fulfill his promise.
The voice fell silent. Néki hurried down the stone staircase, squeezing all the flowers that remained miraculously fresh against him.
When he reached the foot of the mountain, he resumed the path that had led him there, and turning his back on the cloud-ringed mountain range, he hurried toward the village. He walked without food and drink for days: the scent of flowers was enough to feed him and give him strength. He slept a few hours every now and then, and it was enough.
Finally, he glimpsed the hidden village at the bottom of the valley. And her heart clenched at the thought that in her absence the people would not have kept her promise.
He saw the trees surrounding the village, the small gardens where no flower bloomed.
He trembled forward and was recognized by a young boy who began to shout:
– Néki is back! Néki is back!
And this shout spread from hut to hut, swift as the wind. Several children rushed to the enchanted clearing to warn the elders, who kept watch over the three trees.
Women, children and men came to meet the kangaroo hunter. The elders themselves left the clearing to hear the story of the intrepid traveler.
Néki watched his expression and that was enough to understand that they had kept their promises. They had a clear look and faced him straight on. Neki didn’t say a word, but raised his load of flowers high. Everyone rejoiced.
Without asking him any questions, they followed him and watched him, as if subjected to the power of a spell.
Néki advanced slowly and dropped the flowers here and there, one after another.
A flower fell on a bush that was immediately covered with golden buds. Another fell on a mound of hard earth that was immediately filled with a thousand pink corollas. The next slid between a mound of stones and the stones were submerged by thousands of blue-colored bluebells. Néki threw some corollas into the muddy water of a swamp, and several hundred water lilies bloomed to the surface.
Wherever they fell, the flowers took root and multiplied until they could no longer. The small gardens near the huts brightened with a thousand shimmering colors, as did the dark trees that surrounded the village.
Before long, meadows, woods and streams have become a feast of color and perfume.
Then from the distant Oubi-Oubi mountains, the east wind blew. And as the messenger Spirit had said, it brought a beneficial rain that made the earth fruitful.
The colors of the flowers became even brighter and their perfume more penetrating.
Then came the bees. They landed on all the flowers, eagerly sucking on the nectar, looking for holes in the bark of the trees to place their delicate load there.
After a few days the delighted children could taste the honey, and it was abundant for the whole tribe.
Néki was taken in triumph. He was the savior of his people!
He had to count dozens and dozens of times how the journey unfolded and how the spirits had taken him to the country of the Great Rest, where eternal peace reigns.
But when autumn came, the flowers began to wither and the villagers fell into despair.
The girls who had the habit of decorating their hair with multicolour corollas, the women who decorated the interior of the cabin every day with wreaths of flowers, the mothers who jealously kept honey in their jars for the whole family, and especially for the very young. little ones, the old ones who drew from the honey new forces … all trembled thinking that they offended Bayame with some sin.
Néki let them think about their conduct at length, because he wisely thought it was very good for men to wonder about their actions. Finally, I said to them:
“The messenger spirit had warned me of the disappearance of the flowers during the winter. Just as the leaves of the trees turn yellow and fall, so must the flowers wither and disappear to live again after an apparent death. Hope with confidence, all, spring!
They eyed him suspiciously, just as he had when he announced his departure for the country of Boullimah. Long and difficult was then the wait…
Then, in good weather, the flowers and the bees that rested on the chalices returned.
The people happily decided that Néki should become the head of the village. His wisdom set an example for all. He was loved and honored all his life, and after his death his memory remained in everyone’s memory. He even became the hero of wonderful legends. END Michel Langrognet et al. (org.) Le chat botté et autres contes merveilleux Paris, Le Livre de Paris, 1980