Tawhaki the Prince, was so brave and handsome, and did so many noble deeds, that his fame went abroad throughout the land. At last even the Sky-fairies heard of him. One of them said, “I wonder whether this Earth-prince is as brave and handsome as they say he is. I will go down to the earth to see.”
One summer morning she descended to the earth. Herself unseen, she watched Tawhaki, finding him even braver and more handsome than any one had told her. Indeed, she was so pleased with him that she came out of her hiding place and made herself known to him.
Each day she came down to talk to him. He was glad and proud, for no Earth-princess was half so beautiful; besides, was she not a Sky-fairy? At last these two became so fond of one another that they were married. The Sky-fairy left her home above the clouds, and lived on the earth as Tawhaki’s wife.
Such a thing had never happened before. When the other Sky-fairies heard of it they were exceedingly angry.
“She belongs to us,” they said. “She must come back.”
But she refused to come. “I love Tawhaki,” she said. “I will not leave him.”
They made up their minds to carry her off. One day they swooped down upon the island and carried her away before Tawhaki’s very eyes.
She struggled with all her strength to free herself, while Tawhaki tried to hold her back and beat the Sky-fairies off. But the Sky-fairies were too powerful. They pushed Tawhaki aside and carried his wife away. “Sky-fairies must not live on the earth,” they said. “You shall never return to Tawhaki.”
“Come to me, then, Tawhaki! Come to me in the sky!” she called, her voice growing fainter as she was borne out of his hearing.
Tawhaki stretched up despairing arms. What could he do? He had no means of following her. And yet, the loneliness without her! For many sad and weary days he wandered hopelessly about, unable to find a way of reaching her. He asked the eagles to carry him, but they replied that they could never reach the sky. He climbed mountain after mountain, but none was high enough.
One morning, passing through the mountainland, he came upon an old woman, sitting alone. An old, old woman she was. In her hand she held a fine white spider-thread.
“Who are you?” asked Tawhaki.
“I am called the Old Grandmother,” she replied. “What are you doing in this lonely place?”
“Holding this thread.”
Tawhaki’s eye followed the thread up. “Where is the other end?” he asked.
“In the sky.”
“What is it for?” asked Tawhaki eagerly. The old woman eyed him steadily. “If a man on the earth wished to go to Sky-land he might climb this thread,” she said. “It would bear him, but he must be very brave, for if he once looked back or lost heart he would fall and be dashed to pieces. I do not think any Earth man is brave enough to attempt the deed.”
“Try me. I will go!” cried Tawhaki, his heart beating with joy. He guessed that this thread had been sent down by his wife that he might go to her.
“Give me the thread,” he said.
The Old Grandmother was pleased at his courage, but she warned him of his danger. “It is such a tiny, slender thread,” she said. ” One slip, one moment’s loss of courage, would dash you on these mountain-tops.”
“I shall not be afraid,” said Tawhaki. “My heart is too full of love to have room for fear.”
“Listen then,” she said. “I will teach you a charm. Sing it if ever your strength seems to be leaving you. By it, too, you can change yourself as you will.”
She sang the charm, and he repeated it until he knew it.
“Now you may go,” she said. “Keep a brave heart, remember to never look back, and, if your strength fails, sing the charm.”
Grasping the spider-thread, Tawhaki sprang from the earth, and began his wonderful climb to Sky-land. What a frail thread it was! It swayed and swung with his weight, but he had faith in its magic power to hold him. He clung and climbed, higher and ever higher, until he was level with the tops of the lower hills.
Up still, and higher yet. Now he was level with the highest mountains. Now he was above them. He was passing through Cloud-land. What if the thread should break or come loose? He would not think of such accidents. His wife was at the top.
It was cold, cold and wet in Cloud-land, and he had been climbing for hours. His strength began to ebb. Then he remembered the charm, and sang it with all his might as he passed through the great lonely spaces beneath Sky-land. Over and over again he sang it, till weariness fled and strength returned.
Climbing now quickly and joyfully, he came to the first of the ten Sky-lands. He pushed himself through the flooring, and it cracked in all directions. A deluge of water rushed through the hole. He sprang up and looked round. The water was overflowing from the edge of a lake in which Sky-fairies were bathing.
“That water will make a flood on the earth,” he thought; but he did not stay to look back, nor even to watch the Sky-fairies. He knew his wife’s home was not here, but on the fourth Sky-land. He grasped the thread again, and went on his way.
When he reached the second Sky-land he met a snake-shaped fish. Behind this fish crawled hundreds of smaller ones. “Who are you?” Tawhaki asked boldly.
“I am the Eel-king,” replied the fish. “I am looking for water. Up here we are parched and dry. How is it in the earth?”
“Uncomfortably wet, I should say, for I have cracked the lowest Sky-land and let the water through from the fairies’ lake,” said Tawhaki.
“Good! ” said the Eel-king. ” The earth is the very place for us. Come, my children, to this delightful earth.”
With his wriggling people he slid down through the hole to the earth, and here he has stayed ever since. Before that there were no eels in the creeks and rivers of the world.
On the third Sky-land Tawhaki met the Pukaki. The bird stretched its long neck in astonishment at the sight of an earth-man. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“To the fourth Sky-land,” replied Tawhaki. “What is the earth like just now?” was the bird’s next question.
“Very wet. Flooded, in fact,” said Tawhaki.
“You don’t say so! ” cried the bird joyfully. “Why, that is the kind of world I want. Here there is no swamp. I shall go down to the earth. Tell me, do the fairies know you are on your way to their land?”
“No,” said Tawhaki. “I do not wish them to know that.”
“Oh, indeed! Then I shall give them warning.”
The mischievous bird raised his head to give a cry that should reach the fourth Sky-land. Just in time Tawhaki caught him by the nose, pinching it so hard that the Pukaki could make no sound. He pulled, and struggled to break loose, but Tawhaki held on.
Tawhaki said, “Will you promise to keep quiet if I let you go?”
A subdued droop of the bird’s tail seemed to answer “yes,” so Tawhaki loosed his hold.
The Pukaki fled down through the hole to the earth. Ever since that day his nose has been red from Tawhaki’s pinching, and all his children and children’s children have been hatched with crimson noses.
Tawhaki climbed the fourth Sky-land. Here the thread ended. He looked about him. This Sky-land was beautiful, clothed in green forests and decked with bright flowers. Through the trees he saw the gleam of water. Listening, he heard the sound of voices. He crept quietly towards the voices. Near the lake the fairies who had carried off his wife were making a canoe.
“If I follow these fairies I shall find my wife,” thought Tawhaki; “but they must not know me, or they will send me down to earth again. I will change my form.”
He stole back into the forest, and softly sang his charm. By the time it was finished he had the appearance of a poor, miserable old man. No one would have recognized in him the handsome Tawhaki.
He walked slowly towards the fairies. ” Look at that old man,” said one. “Where has he come from?”
“Make him work,” said another. “He shall carry our axes home.”
They loaded Tawhaki with axes, and he followed them towards their home. “What would my people say if they could see their Prince carrying tools like a servant? “he thought. “But it is for my wife’s sake. For her I will suffer anything.”
An idea came to him. He called to the fairies, “Do not wait for me. I am old, and cannot walk fast. I will follow you slowly.”
The fairies went on. As soon as they were out of sight Tawhaki changed himself to his old strength of limb.
Running back to the canoe, he worked at it until one side was finished. “My work is better than theirs,” he said. “They may be glad to learn from me.”
He ran through the forest till he almost reached the fairies, then he returned to the form of the old man carrying the axes. At the fairies’ home he saw his wife. She sat sadly by herself, taking no interest in anything. She glanced at the old man following the fairies, but did not recognize him as Tawhaki. He dared not make himself known. “I must first finish the canoe,” he thought.
Early the next morning the fairies again set off for the forest, Tawhaki carrying the tools. When they reached the canoe the fairies stood lost in astonishment. “Who has been working at our canoe? It is half done. And so well done! Who can it be?”
Nobody knew, and of course nobody suspected the feeble old man. After talking a great deal about it, and coming to no solution of the mystery, they set to work, chopping and adzing all through the day. When the evening came Tawhaki did exactly as he had done the night before. The next morning the other side of their canoe was finished.
“Tonight we will watch,” they said. This was just what Tawhaki wished. When the evening came he changed himself into the strong and handsome Tawhaki, knowing that the fairies were waiting in the forest to surprise him.
They came rushing out from behind the trees. “We have found you at last, kind worker,” they shouted.
He turned his face to them, and they saw that he was Tawhaki!
Without a word he set off at a run for his wife’s hone. The angry, puzzled fairies followed him. Some said: “He shall not stay. Send him back to earth.”
Others said: “Let him stay. He can teach us the building of canoes. We can make a Sky-fairy of him, and his wife will then be happy.”
They reached the house. Tawhaki ran in and stood before his wife. She knew him now and sprang to meet him. They held each other’s hands, and showed their joy so plainly that the fairies could not bear to part them. “He shall stay,”they agreed.
They gave him fairy power, so that he can never die. Today he lives in happiness with his fairy wife. So powerful has he grown in magic that men, hearing his footsteps on the floor of Sky-land, call them thunder; and when he lifts his arms lightning flashes from his armpits.