Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Brontë's Heights

Those who know me at all know that reading is my passion. I was one of those kids who always carried a book around with me wherever I went... I may have only kind of grown out of that. 
But it is through reading that I found I loved to draw, if that makes sense. Reading is what made me want to be an illustrator.
I recently finished Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.
I know, it's taken me a really long time to get to this one. I know most people probably read it in High school. But I've always been a little worried about reading it because it seemed like most people I knew don't like it. I found out those fears are unfounded. 

Don't hate me because I loved this book. Despite the evil nature of most of the characters, despite the gloomy setting, despite the difficult Yorkshire some of the dialogue is written in, despite everything awful about the story, I thought it was brilliant. Who would have thought such a time-resistant story could have come from such awful? But it has withstood the test of time and is still a classic today. And I now understand why. 
Because it is beautifully, hauntingly written.
I think I liked it most because despite how much Heathcliff tried to destroy all the happiness of anyone related to those who ever scorned him, they still triumphed, love overcame hate, light over darkness, and justice was served to the one who really deserved it, through his torment by the ghost of the one he thought he loved. I disagree with those that say that Heathcliff and Catherine's love for each other redeemed them. If they truly loved anyone there would have been a lot less sorrow. the love that redeems them is the love that Nelly has for them. She raised them, they are detestable, but she forgives them, and it is through her biased narration that we are able to tolerate their behavior to stay with the story and hope for a better ending. This is mistaken as a love story. It is not a love story, at least not of romantic love. But it is a story of goodness and evil. There is so much more to this book than just the story. The question now that we should be asking ourselves is, who would I have been in this story? Which of these characters would I react like? When I am scorned? When I am pampered? When I am rejected? Just some food for thought. I am done with the literary rant.

Anyways, I couldn't get the image of the specter Cathy haunting Heathcliff's footsteps, and so I decided to try my hand at book cover designing. And since I've been using Adobe Illustrator a lot at work, I wanted to try that out as well. I hope you like it! 

Also, if you want to know more of my favorite books, check out my Goodreads bookshelves. If you're into that sort of stuff.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Inktober 2016

This year, I have successfully completed #inktober by doing an ink drawing every single day, for 31 days.
You guys don't understand how big of an achievement that is for me. When I first started school as an art student I barely could get myself to draw in my sketchbook once a month, much less every day. These past five years have been more of a lesson in discipline than anything else. I learned that I could keep feeling guilty that I wasn't doing what I knew I should be, or I could buckle down and actually do it. I realized it was a lot less painless to just draw, and I actually realized that keeping a sketchbook on me almost all the time is the best way to capture the ideas I was missing before. And I have grown to love my sketchbooks, they are all very precious to me.
You know that question of what would you grab if your house was burning and you could only grab one thing? Without hesitation it would be my sketchbooks.
The drawings in them are sometimes ok, but mostly bad. But that doesn't matter, because they are a record of my life, I can look in my sketchbooks and remember moments. Where I was, if I was eating, who I was with, how I felt. It's all recorded in those falling a part bundles of paper.
But I digress. This year's Inktober is a witness to how far I have come, from never thinking of drawing to being infinitely excited to get started.
So I have decided to share these drawings with you. They are all not great, some are better than others, but I still have far to go. But they represent an landmark in my life. So they are important.

The Theme: So for my prompt each day, I decided to focus on human faces. I did it less because I wanted to get better at drawing them, and more because I wanted to get over drawing them. Let me explain - I draw faces too much. I reasoned that if I drew them everyday for a month, not only would I get better, but I would also get tired of drawing only faces. I feel that drawing just human faces all the time, I have become frozen in my ability to draw pretty much everything else. I know this about myself: that when I repeatedly do the same thing too much, I get tired of it and lose interest. My life needs so much balance in all things to stay engaged. So I felt that by drawing faces everyday, I would lose the overwhelming desire to just draw faces and move on to improving in other areas.
And at the conclusion, I can honestly say that when I think of what to draw, my mind does not automatically shift to a face. So I guess my method worked.
So peruse them at your leisure. Inspiration came from all sorts of places - books I read, images from Pinterest, movies I like, master artists I admire, people around me, even my dreams. Which is your favorite?
P.S. sorry about not being able to look at them much larger - I hate formatting on here. It was driving me insane and so I gave up and used Photoshop. But you can definitely see larger images on my Instagram - @ambermstotts
They are all on there, just backwards in order.
Happy November! On to a new month with new art!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Spring City

About a month ago I was goaded into participating in a plein air painting competition with one of my dear friends. For those of you reading this who don't know what plein air is, it is painting in the open, on the landscape, from the landscape, from life. It is so beautiful but so hard, especially once it gets cold. Then it's just impossible. For me at least. I admire those who trek out into the snow to paint the beautifully frozen landscape.

My friend is a landscape painter (she has beautiful work, and a cool website, so you should check it out here) and is always bringing me along with her on her painting adventures, and I enjoy them. Landscape painting does not come naturally to me, but I love being outside more than I care about how my painting turns out, so I tag along.
This time around, we went to Spring City, Utah, which is a little town somewhere between Manti and Provo. Basically in the mountains far away from everything. It was originally a farming town, and still is largely, but in recent years, it has become known for it's art scene, of all things. There are a few little galleries along the one street in town, and it is surrounded by the most gorgeous mountains. It is a beautifully peaceful kind of place.

I don't know much about plein air competitions, but it was cool to be a part of one. I got a badge and a bag and everything! My favorite part though was the place we went to paint. Out away from the town even further from civilization, around this little fishing lake. There were a few cabins, and sheep grazing fields, but mostly just rolling hills, pines, and aspens. And we saw a fox! I'd never seen one in the wild before and it was magical. He was hanging out with a deer, and I'd like to think they were friends. We really only glimpsed a flash of his tail, but there was no way of missing or mistaking it! Those creatures are the most vibrant color!

My first painting came after wandering through the grazing fields and almost getting chased down by some sheep dogs. By the way, who thought up the clever idea of using white dogs? Because they definitely fooled us, we didn't see them until they barked, when we tried to touch the sheep- they did not like that. Thankfully they actually let us pet them (meaning the dogs, not the sheep. I am convinced dogs are the jealous type and can't stand letting anyone get attention other than themselves. I still love them though) instead of biting our hands off.
Then I painted the lake, while trying to fend off curious sheep from eating my paints.

My second painting came after we decided to hike the "small" hill. I like to think we almost made it to the top, but it probably was just a false summit. Either way, we got high enough to see this incredible view, right as the sun was beginning to dive to the horizon.

The trek up was partly on hidden deer trails, and mostly through the undergrowth. We climbed through pine trees and then through the beautiful aspens. There was so much peace in that place, I was amazed. It is just incredible how everything mundane and inconsequential about everyday life just disappears when you are standing in a mountain meadow with your eyes to the sky. The calm of being in God's creations enters your heart and leaves you with the feeling that nothing really matters but that moment. 

After the above attempted painting, we hiked back down in the most glorious golden light I've ever had the privilege of seeing. It got me thinking about the sacred nature of this world. Just the simple act of being out in the trees was enough to feel how much God loves us. I believe he made this world for us, why shouldn't we enjoy it and see as much of it as we can? In fact, I believe it is our duty to protect it. It is not ours. It is on loan to us. We should do our very best to not destroy it.

Thanks for coming with me to revisit this memory. If you are interested in owning one of these paintings, or any of my work, the link to my Etsy shop is in the About Me section of this page. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016


For the next couple of posts I would like to talk about the natural wonder that is the state of Utah. If you have ever been here, it is a place unlike any other, and not just because of the high density of Mormons, although that definitely adds to its peculiarity. There are five National Parks, over a dozen state parks, and many more national monuments, national forests, and many historic sites related to the pioneer heritage of this state. It is every camping, hiking, skiing, mountain biking, nature lover guru's dream. Utah is a place that everyone needs to come to at least once in their life, just to experience the beautiful variety that is the landscape here. From red rock to aspen forests, it is when you get above and away from the smoggy valleys that you see the true glory of the Utah landscape.

You can't be afraid to get away from civilization though, that is for sure. Many of the sites are far from major cities. But there is nothing that compares to standing atop a mountain ridge completely alone with the whispering trees as your only companions. Some of my most spiritual experiences have happened where there are very few people, surrounded by God's creations.

I didn't use to think this way about Utah. But I had never been in the mountains. Once I stepped foot on my first hiking path here, I knew I was in love. In love with the landscape, in love with the forests, in love with the mountains. The mountains are holy places, and I hope you will have the chance to visit them. They are my old friends, and they welcome all.

Those who know me well know that I bring my sketchbook everywhere I go. I would call it my comfort blanket, except it isn't really that. It has taken me a while to be ok drawing in front of people. and I still feel self-conscious. But my desire to try and capture the beauty around me is stronger than my embarrassment. And so I draw. I paint. And when there isn't time, I take photos to come back to paint and draw from. Utah is a rich beautiful place to try and capture. 

 And so I come to my conclusion, I would like to share the images I create from my wanderings around this beautiful state, and beyond. So this is the place they will be. I am never content with just knowing one place my whole life, I don't even know if that would be possible for me. I need to see and experience new things all the time, even if they are just a couple hours away. I hope you will enjoy coming along with me.

Monday, August 15, 2016

BFA: Timeless Tales

Timeless Tales: Folktales from Around the World

This is it, I am graduated. With the completion of this project I officially finish my time as an Illustration student at Brigham Young University. Below is a brief description of the project, and you can also find the links to every story after that. My show will be up for three weeks in the Harris Fine Arts center on Brigham Young University campus.

I decided to focus the theme of my show on folktales from different countries around the world. I chose seven different regions from around the world and chose one group of people to read stories from; Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, South Africa, Russia, and Japan. There were so many stories to choose from, but I decided to focus on stories that were visually appealing to me. Maybe I should have focused it a lot more than that, but it turned out working out well for me. I love stories. I love to read the intricate details contained in each and every story that I read. I get invested in the stories, I want the characters to succeed in their endeavors. I learned a lot about the basics of storytelling, and even though these stories seem simple at first, they really do hold eternal truths in their words.

The folktale is a story, passed down verbally from
generation to generation. Each storyteller told
the stories a little differently, making them more
interesting as the ages passed. Different folktales bear the
characteristics of the culture, folklore and customs
of the people from which they originated. We can learn
about different cultures by studying their folktales, and the
more we know and understand about each other, the easier
it becomes to empathize with those who at first glance
would seem very different from ourselves. But we are
not so different as we at first appear to be. It is through
stories that we learn what people value: love, learning,
family, kindness, gratitude, and happy endings.

“And those who think that the legends here
recorded are childish and frivilous, may rest
assured that they bear on questions which could not
themselves be called either childish nor frivilous.
So, however silly a legend may be thought, let him
who knows such a legend communicate it to somebody
who will place it on record; he will probably find that it
has more meaning and interest than he had

Prince Ivan and the Firebird - a Russian fairytale
Jabu and the Lion - a Zulu tale
The Grateful Crane - a Japanese folktale
The Little Frog in the Stream - a Quechua folktale
East of the Sun, West of the Moon - a Norwegian fairytale
Maui and Mahuika - a Maori legend
Diarmuid and Grainne - an Irish Celtic Myth

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Prince Ivan and the Firebird

Prince Ivan and the Firebird
Taken from Essential Russian Mythology compiled by Pyotr Simonov
            In a certain kingdom in a certain land here lived a tsar called Vyslav Andronovich who had three sons named Prince Dimitri, Prince Vasili, and Prince Ivan. The tsar had a garden so rich and abundant, there was none like it in any realm. Among the many valuable and rare trees in this garden – both with and without fruit – was one that was especially prized by the tsar. It was an apple tree that bore beautiful golden apples.
It happened that a firebird took to visiting Tsar Vyslav’s garden every evening. Her wings were of gold and her eyes sparkling crystals of the orient, and she would fly into the tree, perch on a bough, and pick the beautiful golden fruit. Then she would fly away, only to return the following evening to feast on the precious apples. The star was greatly distressed at the diminishing number of apples on the tree, so he summoned his three sons and said to them, “My beloved children, can any one of you catch the firebird that is attacking my favorite apple tree? Whoever captures the bird alive will receive one half of my kingdom here and now, while I yet live; and when I die he will inherit the rest.”
Then his sons, the three princes, shouted in response with one voice, “Gracious sovereign and father, we will endeavor with pleasure to capture the firebird alive.”
The first night Prince Dimitri kept watch in the garden and stood by the apple tree from which the firebird had been plucking the golden apples. He waited and waited and eventually fell deeply asleep and so did not notice the firebird enter the garden, fly into the tree and pick the precious fruit. The next morning Tsar Vyslav called Dimitri and asked him, “well, my dear son, did you or did you not see the firebird?”
“No gracious sovereign and father,” he replied, “for the firebird did not come last night.”
The next night, Prince Vasili kept watch in the garden and stood by the same apple tree. But barely had two hours elapsed before he fell fast asleep  and so did not notice the firebird enter the garden, fly into the tree and pick the precious fruit. The following morning Tsar Vyslav called Vasili and asked him, “Well, my dear son, did you or did you not see the firebird?”
“No, gracious sovereign and father,” he replied, “for the firebird did not come last night.”
The third night Prince Ivan kept watch in the garden and stood by the same apple tree. He remained alert for one hour, then two and then three – then suddenly the entire garden was flooded with light as if by many flames. Down flew the marvelous firebird; she alighted on one of the boughs of the apple tree and began to pick the priceless fruit. With great cunning and caution, Prince Ivan crept up to her, stretched out his arm and made a sudden grasp. But the bird was too quick for him; she tore herself free and flew off in fright. All that was left in Prince Ivan’s clenched fist was one brightly colored tail feather.
Early the next morning the prince rushed into his father’s chambers, “Well, my dear son, did you or did you not see the firebird?”
“Yes gracious sovereign and father,” replied Ivan, “the firebird did come last night and here is a feather from her tail. She will never trespass in your garden again.”
Tsar Vyslav was greatly delighted that his youngest son had been able to retrieve even one small feather from the firebird’s tail. And what a feather it was! When placed in a darkened room it glowed marvelously and shone with the light of a thousand candles. The tsar treasured this relic, for a thing so marvelous, he thought, should be preserved for all time.
“If but one small feather can possess such extraordinary beauty,” mused Tsar Vyslav, “what must the entire bird be like?” An idea suddenly possessed him. He again summoned the three princes and said to them, “My dear children, I offer you my blessing to set out on an urgent mission. Go forth and seek out the fabulous firebird. Bring her to me alive, and what I had promised at first will surely go to the one who succeeds.”
Now Prince Dimitri and Prince Vasili bore malice against their younger brother because he had been able to seize a feather from the firebird’s tail. They were determined to get the better of him this time so, taking their father’s blessing, they rode swiftly away together to capture the firebird. Prince Ivan as well received from his protective and reluctant father a blessing to set out on this quest. The young man immediately selected a fine horse and set out on his journey even though he knew not where he was going.
Randomly taking a dusty path, he proceeded onwards uphill and downhill, near and far, along byways and throughways. Eventually he reached wide open country and rode onto a grassy meadow. In front of him he spotted a tall stone pillar on which were written the words:
Whoever continues straight on past this pillar,
Will become cold and hungry.
Whoever turns to the right will keep strong and healthy,
But his horse will be killed.
Whoever turns to the left will himself be killed,
But his horse will be safe and sound.
Having read this inscription, Prince Ivan decided to go to the right, bearing in mind that although his horse might be killed, he himself would remain alive and would in time get another horse.
He travelled for one entire day, then for a second day and finally for a third. All at once an enormous grey wolf leaped towards him and tore the prince’s horse in two and departed as quickly as he came.
Prince Ivan lamented bitterly the loss of his horse, but continued his journey on foot. He walked the entire day and became unspeakably exhausted. Just as he was about to sit down and rest for a moment, the grey wolf quite suddenly appeared and said, “I am extremely sorry, Prince Ivan, that you are so tired from walking and I also regret having destroyed your fine horse. So please climb on my back and tell me where I may take you and for what purpose.”
The prince climbed on the wolf’s back and told him the whole story about the firebird and the tsar’s commands. The grey wolf sped off with him more swiftly than and horse could have carried him and by nightfall they arrived at a low stone wall.
“Now, Prince Ivan, climb down and quickly scale that stone wall. Behind it you will discover a beautiful garden, and in that garden sits the firebird that you seek. She is sitting in a gilded cage. Take the firebird, but I warn you, do not touch the golden cage. If you attempt to remove it, you will be unable to escape but will be caught straight away.”
Prince Ivan climbed over the stone wall into the garden, spotted the firebird in her gilded cage, and was totally captivated by the beauty of the cage. He removed the bird from the cage and began retracing his steps when he stopped in his tracks and thought, ‘why have I taken the firebird without her cage? Where shall I put her?’ So he returned , and no sooner did he lay his hand on the cage than there was a thunderous noise that echoed throughout the garden, for warning wires had been attached to the bird’s golden cage. At once the watchmen woke up, ran into the garden, apprehended Prince Ivan with the firebird and took him to their king, whose name was Dolmat.
Dolmat was greatly incensed at the prince and shouted at him in a fierce and furious voice: “What is this! Young man, are you not ashamed to steal? What is your name and who is your father and from which land have you come?”
“I am Prince Ivan, the son of Tsar Vyslav Andronovich, and have come from his kingdom. Your firebird made a habit of flying to our royal garden each night to pluck the golden apples from my father’s favorite tree. She has practically ruined the entire trees. This is why my father sent me to locate the thieving firebird and take her to him.”
“Oh, young man, Prince Ivan! Listen carefully, If you render me a special service, I will pardon you your offence and give you the firebird with all honor. Go beyond the thrice-nine lands to the thrice-tenth kingdom and get me from Tsar Aphron his golden-maned steed. If you refuse me this, I will let it be known in all parts how despicably you have behaved in my kingdom and that you are a miserable thief.”
Prince Ivan was greatly distressed. He promised to procure for King Dolmat the horse with the golden mane, and took his leave of him.
He went back to the grey wolf and reported to him all that King Dolmat had said. “Ah, Prince Ivan, young man,” said the grey wolf, “why did you disobey my instructions? Why did you attempt to take the gilded cage? Very well. Now climb back on my back, and I shall take you wherever you wish to go.”
The prince did so and the grey wolf sped off like lighting, a short distance or a long one, toward the eastern sky. At dusk they entered the realm of Tsar Aphron and eventually came to the white-walled stables. The grey wolf said “You must go alone into these white-walled stables, Prince Ivan, but have no fear, the guards are fast asleep. Take the golden-maned steed which you will find in the furthest stall. But heed this warning, do not lay a finger on the golden bridle that hangs on the wall. Otherwise great misfortune will befall you.”
Prince Ivan entered the white-walled stables, took the horse and began retracing his steps when he stopped in his tracks and thought, “What an exquisite bride. Without it, how can I lead this noble beast?” So he removed it from the wall. Instantly the stable guards woke up, rushed in, seized Prince Ivan and conducted him to Tsar Aphron. The Tsar was furious. “Listen carefully young Prince, if you render me a special service, if you will go beyond the thrice-ninth lands to the thrice-tenth kingdom and get for me Princess Elena the fair, with whom I long ago fell completely in love with, heart and soul, but whom I cannot secure for my wife, I will pardon you your offence and give you the horse with the golden mane with all honor. But if you refuse me this,  I will let it be known in all parts how despicably you have behaved in my kingdom and that you are a miserable thief.” Prince Ivan promised Aphron to secure Princess Elena the fair and then left the palace weeping bitterly.
He went back to the grey wolf and reported to him all that Tsar Aphron had said. “A, Prince Ivan, young man,” said the grey wolf, “why did you disobey my instructions? Why did you attempt to take the golden bridle? But so be it. Climb back upon my back and I shall take you wherever you wish to go.”
The prince did that and the grey wolf sped off like lightning, so that in an amazingly short time they reached the kingdom of Elena the Fair.
This time, the grey wolf told Prince Ivan to wait for him while he went to retrieved the princess. The grey wolf waited for Princess Elena by the golden fence. Toward evening, as the sun was sinking low in the western sky and the night air lost its warmth, Princess Elena set out on her evening stroll with her handmaidens. As soon as she approached the spot by the fence where the grey wolf was lying in wait, he suddenly jumped out, seized her, sprang back again and bore her away at full speed.
When he met up with Prince Ivan he shouted, “My prince! Leap up on my back immediately!” Prince Ivan did so, and the grey wolf sped off, bearing them both along to the territory of Tsar Aphron.
Meanwhile, Princess Elena’s handmaidens reported the events immediately, and at a moment’s notice men-at-arms were commanded to pursue and overtake the grey wolf; but no matter how fast they ran, they could not outrun hum and were forced to turn back without her.
While sitting beside Elena the Fair on the grey wolf’s back, Prince Ivan fell totally in love with her, and she also began to love him. Thus by the time the grey wolf had entered Tsar Aphron’s domain, Prince Ivan began to be sullen and to lament with bitter tears.
“Why are you weeping so, Prince Ivan?” asked the grey wolf.
“Oh, grey wolf, my dear friend, how can a young fellow such as I not weep and grieve? I have fallen in love with Elena with all my heart and soul, and now I must render her up to Tsar Aphron in return for the horse with the golden mane. For if I fail to do this, the tsar will dishonor me far and wide.”
“I have been of much service to you, Prince Ivan,” said the grey wolf, “but I shall help you once again. You must take me to the tsar in Princess Elena’s place, for I can transform myself into any form I wish. I will transform myself into the fair princess. After you leave me, you only need to call me to your remembrance, and I will be at your side again in my true form.”
Having uttered these words, the grey wolf struck himself against the earth and became the image and likeness of Princess Elena the fair so that it was impossible to distinguish between them. When the prince presented the false Elena to the tsar, he immediately rejoiced with all his heart that he had taken possession of the treasure which he had long desired. Accepting the beautiful imposter, the tsar gave Prince Ivan the horse with the golden mane. The prince immediately mounted the steed and rode out of the town to his fair Elena whom he seated behind him; thereupon he set his course to the kingdom of Tsar Dolmat.
As for the grey wolf, he remained with the tsar for one day, a second day, and then a third, in the place of Elena the Fair. On the fourth day, he went to take a stroll in an open field. Meanwhile, Prince Ivan was riding along the highways with the Princess Elena, almost forgetting about the grey wolf. However, he suddenly remembered what the grey wolf had told him and he exclaimed, “Oh, where can my grey wolf be?”
In the twinkling of an eye, the grey wolf appeared before him, and joined them on their journey to the kingdom of King Dolmat.
After traveling a long time or a short time, they approached the kingdom and stopped a few miles outside of the town. Prince Ivan began to beseech the grey wolf, saying, “My dear friend, grey wolf, please listen to my words. You have been of much service to me and I am extremely grateful. Now do me one last favor, would it not be possible for you to take on the appearance of a golden-maned horse in place of this one? For I greatly desire to have my own horse with a golden mane.” Immediately the grey wolf struck himself against the ground and became the image and likeness of a horse with a golden mane.
Leaving the Princess and the true golden-maned horse in a green meadow, Prince Ivan climbed onto the grey wolf as the false horse and entered the wide palace courtyard of King Dolmat. As soon as the king saw Prince Ivan approaching, on the horse with the golden mane, he rejoiced greatly. In a few moments, he rushed down to meet the prince with wild excitement, and presented to the prince the firebird in its golden cage. Together with the firebird, Ivan journeyed outside the town, mounted the true golden-maned steed alongside Princess Elena the Fair and set out for his homeland, the kingdom of Tsar Vyslav Andronovich.
As for King Dolmat, he decided the next day to break in his new steed out in the open field. He ordered his aides to saddle the steed, then he mounted it and rode off to the open field. But his actions irritated the horse, which threw him from his back. The horse then became the grey wolf again, raced away and caught up with Prince Ivan. 
As soon as the grey wolf had brought Prince Ivan to the spot where he had torn his horse in two he stopped and said: "Now Prince Ivan, I have served you long enough in faith and truth. Here is the place where we first met and I tore your horse in two. I have now returned you to the same spot safe and sound. I am no longer your servant." With these words the grey wolf departed quickly. Prince Ivan bitterly bewailed the loss of his faithful wolf and continued his journey with the beautiful princess. 
When Prince Ivan returned to the kingdom of Tsar Vyslav Andronovich with the golden-maned horse, the beautiful princess, and the firebird, his brothers Prince Dimitri and Prince Vasili were consumed with jealousy. But Ivan the prince married Princess Elena the Fair that same day and lived with her in such harmony and love that neither of them could bear to be without the other for a single moment. 

Jabu and the Lion

Zulu of Southern Africa
Jabu and the Lion

There was a young herdboy named Jabu (jah'-boo). He took great pride in the way in which he cared for his father's cattle. And his father had many cows - over 25! It was quite a task to keep these silly creatures out of trouble, away from the farmers mealies (corn) and out of the dangerous roads. Jabu had some friends who also kept their fathers' cattle, but none of them had even half the herd Jabu did! And none of them were as careful as Jabu. It was a sign of Jabu's father's pride in his boy that he entrusted such a large herd to such a young boy.
One day as he sat atop a small koppie (hill) watching the animals feed and braiding long thin strips of grass into bangles for his sisters, Jabu's friend Sipho (see'-poh) came running to him. "Have you heard the news, my friend?" panted Sipho. Before Jabu could even answer, Sipho rushed on to tell him. "Bhubesi, the lion, has been seen in these parts. Last night Bhubesi attacked and killed one of Thabo's (tah'-boh) father's cows. The men of the village are already setting traps for the beast!"
Jabu wasn't surprised by this news. His keen eyes had seen the spoor of the lion -- his left-over kill, his prints here-and-there in the soft earth, his dung. Jabu had respect for the king of the beasts. And since Bhubesi's pattern was to hunt at night when the cattle was safely within the kraal (/krawl/ "corral"), Jabu had seen no reason to alert the village of Bhubesi's presence. But the killing of a cow! "I wonder," thought Jabu to himself, "if the cow was not left out of the kraal?" Thabo was known to be a sloppy herdboy, a fellow who ran with his head in the clouds. He had been known to forget a cow or two before.
"Woza, Ngane!" (woh'-zah ngah'-nay "Come, friend!") Sipho urged, "come and put your cows away for the day and watch with me as the men set the traps!" Jabu slowly shook his head as he looked at Sipho and smiled. "You know me, friend," he returned Sipho's address. "I cannot put the cattle back into the kraal so early in the day! They need to be driven to the river before they go home."
Sipho smiled. "Yes, I thought you would say this. But I wanted to tell you anyway. I will see you later, friend, perhaps by the fire tonight!" And Sipho ran toward the village with a final wave to Jabu.
Jabu began to gather the cows together. He waved his intonga (ee-ntah'-gah "staff") and gave a loud whistle. Each cow looked up, then after a moment's pause, slowly started to trudge toward Jabu. With a grin Jabu began to take them to water.
Jabu bathed his feet in the cool refreshing river as the cows drank their fill. It was a fine sunny Autumn day, and if his mind had not been so busy thinking about the lion and the traps the men were setting, Jabu would probably be shaping the soft river clay into small cow figurines for his young brother. Then Jabu heard a sound that stole his breath from him. "Rrrrroar!" came the bellow. The cows all froze, a wild look coming into their eyes. "Rrrroarrrrrrr...." It was Bhubesi, and he was near! There was no time to drive the animals home; the lion was much too close. Jabu slowly rose, looking carefully around, his hand clenched on his staff. He walked purposefully, trying not to show the fear that made his knees tremble, pulling the cattle together into a tight circle. The cows trusted him and they obeyed. "Rrrrroarr...oarr..oarr...aaa!" Jabu listened. Bhubesi was not declaring his majesty or might....it sounded more like a cry for help. Several more bellows and Jabu knew, Bhubesi was in trouble. Somehow this took most of the boy's fear from him. Gripping his staff, Jabu quietly began to walk toward the lion's cry.
Yes, indeed, the lion was in trouble. Jabu found him in a small clearing several metres across the river. He was caught in on of the traps laid by the men of the village. His head was firmly wedged in the barred structure, and the more he struggled, the tighter the snare became. Jabu stood and stared. Never before had he seen the king of the animals so near. He truly was a majestic animal. And a large part of his heart was sore for the creature. Then the lion saw the boy. "Hawu! Mfana! (hah'woo mfah'nah "Oh! Boy!") It is good that you are here. Please, help me. I am caught in this stupid trap and I cannot free myself. Please, please, will you come and pull up on the bar that is holding my head here. Please!"
Jabu looked into Bhubesi's eyes. He could not read them, but he could hear the desperation in the animal's voice. "Please, Mfana! Please! Before those hunters come and kill me. Please release me!"
Jabu had a tender heart, but he was no fool. "I would very much like to free you, Bhubesi! But I am afraid that as soon as I did so you would make me your dinner."
"Oh, no, Ngane wami! (ngah'nee wah'me "My friend") I could never eat someone who set me free! I promise, I really promise with full sincerity, that I will not touch a hair on your head!"
Well, the lion begged and pleaded so pitifully that Jabu finally decided to trust him and set him free. Gingerly he stepped over to the trap and raised the bar that held the lion's head. With a mighty bound the lion leapt free of the trap and shook his mane. "Oh, thank you, Mfana! I really owe you something. My neck was getting so stiff in there, and I fear it would have been parted from by body by the hunters if you hadn't come along. Now, please, if you don't mind, Mfana, one last thing.... I have become so thirsty from being in that thing, I would really like a drink of water. Can you show me where the river is? I seem to have become confused with my directions."
Jabu agreed, keeping a wary eye on the lion, and led the lion upstream from where he had come, away from his father's cows, since Bhubesi had made no promise about not eating them! As lion drank he watched Jabu with one eye. He was thinking to himself, "Hmmm....nice looking legs on that boy! Hmmm....and those arms are good looking too! Pity to waste such an excellent meal!" When the lion raised his head from the river, both eyes were on Jabu, and this time the boy could see what was reflected there. Jabu began to back up.
"You promised, Bhubesi," Jabu began. "I saved you from the hunters, and you promised not to eat me!"
"Yes," said Bhubesi, slowly walking toward the retreating boy. "You are right, I did make that promise. But somehow now that I am free it does not seem so important to keep that promise. And I am awfully hungry!"
"You are making a big mistake," said Jabu. "Don't you know that if you break your promises that the pieces of the broken promises will come back to pierce you?"
The lion stopped and laughed. "Hah! What nonsense! How can such a flimsy thing pierce me? I am more determined than ever to eat you now, boy," and he started stalking Jabu once more, "and all this talk is just serving to make me hungrier!"
Just then an old donkey happened across their path. "Ask the donkey," said Jabu to the lion. "Ask him and he will tell you how bad it is to break a promise."
"He, wena! (hay, way'nah "alright, you!") You are certainly dragging this thing out! So I will ask the donkey." The lion turned to the old creature. "I want to eat this boy," he addressed the donkey. "Isn't that okay?"
Jabu broke in, "But he promised to let me go after I freed him from the snare," Jabu added.
The donkey slowly looked at the lion and then at Jabu. "I say," the donkey started, "that all my life these stupid humans have beat me and forced me to carry things. Now that I am old they turn me out and leave me to waste away all alone. I do not like humans." He turned back to the lion. "Eat the boy!" and the donkey moved on.
"Well, that settles that," said the lion as he began to approach the boy once more. Just then Mpungushe the jackal stepped between the two.
"Oh, terribly sorry," he said, "to have disturbed you. I'll be on my way..."
"No!" shouted Jabu. "Wait and tell the lion how bad it is to break a promise."
"A promise?" asked the jackal. "Well, I suppose it depends upon the promise, doesn't it? Why? Did one of you make a promise?"
Lion sat down and rolled his eyes up toward the heavens.
"Yes," Jabu said. And he told Jackal how he had freed the lion from the trap, and how Lion had promised not to eat him, and how now Lion was intent upon doing that very thing!
"Oh, what a silly story!" said Jackal. "My nkosi, the great king of all the animals, stuck in a little trap made by humans? Impossible! I don't believe it."
"It is true," said Bhubesi. "It is a strong and terrible trap!"
"Oh, I can't believe anything is stronger than my king. I must see this thing! Please, will you take the courtesy before your dinner to show me this trap that you are speaking about. Please! Then you can eat your meal in peace!"
So the lion, keeping Jabu in front of himself, led Jackal to the trap. "But you can't tell me that this little thing could actually hold your head! Never! I just can't imagine it. Nkosi, would you mind just sticking your head there so I can see how you looked when the boy found you?"
"Hawu. You are taxing me with your questions. This last thing I will do for you and then you must be on your way and leave me to my dinner in peace." So Lion stuck his head back between the bars just the way he had been when Jabu had found him. Then, quicker that lightning, Jackal threw the top bar in place. Lion was caught fast once again!
"Yes," said Jackal, " now I see how you were trapped. What a pity that you are so trapped once more. But the boy is right, Nkosi. Broken promises always catch up with you!"
Lion roared in anger, but the sound trap held him well. Jabu thanked the jackal and ran back to his cows, who were all patiently waiting for their shepherd's return.
Jabu drove them home and into the kraal. What a day he had had! "Jabu, Jabu," Sipho came running from behind Jabu. "The lion has been caught in the trap near the river! You and your cows missed all the adventure!"
Jabu turned and smiled at his friend. "We have had all the adventure we need for one day," he said. And as Sipho headed back to the hunters to hear the story once again of the mighty lion caught in the trap, Jabu greeted his mother in the cooking house and sat down with a sigh.