THE OMEN OF THE WHITE SWALLOW
Now Sigwe and two of his captains walked to where the diviners stood and took counsel with them, speaking low and earnestly. Then he returned and said:
“Sihamba, Walker-by-Moonlight, and you, Lady Swallow, listen to me. A wonderful thing has come to pass in the kraal of Sigwe this day, such a thing as our fathers have not known. You see that my host is gathered yonder: well, to-morrow they start to make war upon these very Endwandwe of whom you have spoken because of a deadly insult which they have put upon me and my house. Therefore, according to custom, this morning the soldiers were assembled at dawn to be doctored and that the diviners might search out the omens of the war. So the diviners searched, and she who was chosen among them ate the medicine and sank into the witch sleep here before us all. Yes, this one,” and he pointed to a tall woman with dreamy eyes who was bedizened with bones and snakeskins.
“Now in her sleep she spoke, and we hung upon her words, for we knew that they would be the words of omen. Sihamba, these were the words, as all can testify:
“’Thus say the spirits of your fathers, and thus speaks the Snake of your tribe. Unless a White Swallow guide your footsteps in the war with the Men of the Mountains you shall perish and your impis shall be scattered, but if a White Swallow flies before your spears than but little of your blood shall be shed, and you shall return with honour and with one whom you seek. Only the Swallow shall not return with you, for if she set her face southward, then, Sigwe, woe to you and your armies.’
“Sihamba, these were the words of the dreamer. Scarcely was she awake again, while we wondered at their strangeness, and asked her questions of their meaning, which she could not answer, for here the wisdom of the wisest was at fault, lo! you rode over the hill, and with you a beautiful white woman whose name you say is Swallow. Yes, this is the White Swallow who shall fly in front of my regiments, bringing me honour and good fortune in the war, and therefore, Sihamba, your prayer is granted, though not all of it, for you shall go northward and not southward, and among your own people I will leave you and the Swallow with you, and for her sake I will spare your people, the people of Umpondwana, although they are subject to my foe, the Endwandwe, and of the same blood. Moreover, while you are among us all honour shall be done to you and the Swallow, and of the cattle we capture a tenth part shall be the Swallow’s. Still, I tell you this, that had it not been for the omen of the diviner I would have refused your prayer and delivered you and the Swallow over to Bull-Head, for with him I have sworn friendship long ago. But now the face of things is changed, and should he come with a hundred men armed with guns yet I will protect you from him, and the Swallow also; yes, though oaths must be broken to do it.”