Long, long ago, before there was a moon in the sky, there lived two beautiful maidens who loved each other dearly. One was called by a name that meant Shining-Eyes, and the other by a name that meant Rippling-Hair.
Shining-Eyes had heard a great deal about the Fire-that-never-goes-out. She often talked to Rippling-Hair about it. “It is kept in one of the underworlds,” she said. “Fierce spirits guard it day and night. If we could bring it away we should obtain the Life-that-never-dies. Think of it. Unending Life! What a gift that would be to the world!”
One day she said, “Will you come with me to look for it?”
“The journey is too dangerous,” cried Rippling- Hair. “Besides, there are those terrible spirits! We should never return alive.”
“Wait! I have a plan,” said Shining-Eyes. We might take a basket of kumaras to the spirits. While they eat the sweet earth-fruits we can snatch away a fire-stick and run off with it.”
“But they would catch us.”
“I think not. We are both swift runners, and we should have a good start.”
“Our fathers may not let us go.”
“We need not say where we are going, nor mention the dangers of the journey. It will be enough to say that we wish to take a little trip together.”
Rippling-Hair still looked doubtful, but Shining- Eyes took her hands and looked into her eyes. ” I am going, dear friend,” she said. “I have thought of it night and day until I must go. I cannot give it up. But you—do not come if your heart fails you. I do not wish to lead you into danger.”
“Where you go I shall go—you know that!” cried Rippling-Hair.
“Then come with me to find the Fire-that-never-goes-out,” laughed Shining-Eyes, “for that is where I am going.”
“I will come,” said Rippling-Hair, though she trembled at the thought. Afterwards, when the real dangers came, she forgot her fears and went through everything as bravely as Shining- Eyes herself.
They obtained the consent of their parents to leave home, made all their arrangements as if for a short visit to a neighbouring village, and started off, taking with them food for themselves on the way and a basket of kumaras for the spirits. At first the track was pleasant enough. It led over a sunny plain and past a gently-flowing river. But when they came to the dark bush- lands their troubles began. Every tree and bramble, every bird and insect in the bush, knew why Shining-Eyes and Rippling-Hair were travelling north, and they all tried to turn them back from the death they risked.
The tall trees interlocked their boughs to shut out the sun and make the pathway dark. “You will lose your way. Turn back before it is too late,” they sighed. And many times the two girls lost their way.
“Turn back before it is too late,” said the brambles, the thorny wait-a-bits. They caught the friends, holding them with their curved claws, and tearing their hands and faces till they bled.
“Turn back before it is too late,” piped the birds and insects. They stole what food they could when the maidens were not watching, so that hunger should drive them back to safety.
But Shining-Eyes and Rippling-Hair would not be turned back. Although after many days their sufferings had weakened them so sorely that they fell at the foot of a great tree-fern and could not rise, they did not lose heart. All their food was gone except the basket of kumaras for the spirits, they were footsore, and numb with weariness, but they said: “We shall sleep and wake up strengthened. We must not, will not give in.”
From among the fronds of the tree-fern peeped the kindly faces of watching forest fairies. They heard the brave words, and saw the worn-out girls drop off to sleep. “Let us help them,” said one. “The bush has done its best to stop them, but they will not be stopped. Perhaps their courage will carry them safely to their journey’s end.”
They trooped down from the tree-fern, carried the sleepers to the fairy palace, and laid them on beds of softest down to dream the night away. In the morning they brought magic foods and drinks that took away all pain and weariness.
The two girls, strong and well once more, went on their way with grateful, happy hearts. Leaving the bush behind, they came into the mountain-land. The mountains put forth all their terrors to turn them back from death. Little hills raised themselves into mountains to tire their feet, mountains stretched themselves almost to the sky. The girls went on as if nothing had happened ; the hills and mountains, seeing this, fell back again to their old size, and the girls climbed over them with ease. Sometimes great rocks sprang suddenly into their path; deep clefts opened before their feet; mountain storms roared about their heads ; once a mountain giant chased them.
But they neither faltered nor turned back, and at last the mountains said, “Leave them alone. Their courage will carry them safely through to their purpose.”
They came at last to the end of the land. Below them lay the sea, above them towered a beautiful tree with crimson flowers. They stood on the edge of the cliff and looked at the twisted roots that led from the tree down the face of the rock to the beach below.
“The tree is called Spray-Sprinkled,” said Shining-Eyes. ” Between its lowest roots lies the opening to the underworld. To that higher point above us come each night the souls of those who have died during the day. There they pause once to sigh, then fling themselves below to enter that dark underworld. If we can save our friends from death and this sad end, our sufferings on the way have been worth while.”
Through the night they rested. When the morning broke they descended by the roots and found the opening to the underworld. A narrow passage, dark as night, led into the earth. Trembling, they entered in, groping their slow way with beating hearts. After a long time a gleam of light shone out in front. They walked faster. Coming to the end of the passage, they peeped out. Before them lay a wide open plain, lit by a fire made of three sticks crossed. In front of the fire sat three fierce old spirits. “The Fire-that-never-goes-out! ” whispered Shining-Eyes. “Give me the kumaras.”
Silently as they could the girls approached the fire. But the spirits heard their steps. “Mortals!” they shrieked, starting up in anger.
Shining-Eyes held out the basket of kumaras. “See,” she said, ” we have brought you these earth-fruits. You have none so sweet down here.”
Astonished at her boldness, the spirits took the kumaras and crowded round to taste them. Stooping, Shining-Eyes snatched a fire-stick from the ground and flew with Rippling-Hair towards the entrance to the passage. They had almost reached the entrance when screams of rage behind them told them that their trick was discovered. “Quick, oh, quick!” breathed Shining-Eyes.
Up the long passage, now lit by the flaming stick, they fled with desperate swiftness. Behind them came the spirits, gaining on them with every step. “If only we can keep the lead till we reach the opening,” panted Rippling-Hair in front. “Ah, here it is. We are saved.”
She sprang through the opening, turned, and grasped her friend’s hand to pull her through. But at that moment one of the spirits reached Shining-Eyes and seized her heel. “I am held,” gasped Shining-Eyes.
She struggled wildly, while Rippling-Hair pulled with all her strength. They could not free her heel. “Drop the fire-stick and give me both hands/” Rippling-Hair whispered. ” Drop it, or you will be pulled back, and that means death.” “I will not lose it. It is unending life! cried Shining-Eyes. With one tremendous effort she hurled it far into the sky.
Seizing the freed hand, Rippling-Hair jerked her friend out of the spirit’s grasp on to the sandy beach above the opening. The spirits dared not come above the ground. They fled back through the passage, screaming with rage at the loss of their cherished stick.
The girls lay panting on the beach, their eyes directed to the flaming stick. From where Shining-Eyes had flung it, it whirled higher and yet higher, faster and faster, until it whirled itself into a ball. Rangi looked down and saw it coming. He put out his hand and caught it, and fitted it into a niche in the sky. Calling the North Wind, he gave him a message for the girls.
“Tell them,” he said, “that unending life is not for the people of the earth. But tell them also that their brave deed is not lost, for the Fire- that-never-goes-out shall stay in the sky to give light when the sun is away. Through it I can look down upon the Earth-mother at night; by its light men shall see to walk when otherwise it would be dark. Let the maidens return to their homes, knowing that for ever men will bless them for the good deed they have done.”
The girls listened to the message and were comforted for the loss of the stick. They retraced their steps, arriving home in safety to relate their doings to their friends. astonished, but they saw the new great light in the sky, so they believed the girls and loved them for their noble courage. And the great light still shines on in the sky. Men call it the Moon.