The Enchanted Island of Yew
Whereon Prince Marvel Encountered the High Ki of Twi and Other Surprising People
L. Frank Baum
Author of "The Wizard of Oz," "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus," "The Magical Monarch of Mo," Etc.
1. Once On a Time 2. The Enchanted Isle 3. The Fairy Bower 4. Prince Marvel 5. The King of Thieves 6. The Troubles of Nerle 7. The Gray Men 8. The Fool-Killer 9. The Royal Dragon of Spor 10. Prince Marvel Wins His Fight 11. The Cunning of King Terribus 12. The Gift of Beauty 13. The Hidden Kingdom of Twi 14. The Ki and The Ki-Ki 15. The High Ki of Twi 16. The Rebellion of The High Ki 17. The Separation of The High Ki 18. The Rescue of The High Ki 19. The Reunion of The High Ki 20. Kwytoffle, the Tyrant 21. The Wonderful Book of Magic 22. The Queen of Plenta 23. The Red Rogue of Dawna 24. The Enchanted Mirrors 25. The Adventurers Separate 26. The End of the Year 27. A Hundred Years Afterward
1. "Once on a Time"
I am going to tell a story, one of those tales of astonishing adventures that happened years and years and years ago. Perhaps you wonder why it is that so many stories are told of "once on a time", and so few of these days in which we live; but that is easily explained.
In the old days, when the world was young, there were no automobiles nor flying-machines to make one wonder; nor were there railway trains, nor telephones, nor mechanical inventions of any sort to keep people keyed up to a high pitch of excitement. Men and women lived simply and quietly. They were Nature's children, and breathed fresh air into their lungs instead of smoke and coal gas; and tramped through green meadows and deep forests instead of riding in street cars; and went to bed when it grew dark and rose with the sun—which is vastly different from the present custom. Having no books to read they told their adventures to one another and to their little ones; and the stories were handed down from generation to generation and reverently believed.
Those who peopled the world in the old days, having nothing but their hands to depend on, were to a certain extent helpless, and so the fairies were sorry for them and ministered to their wants patiently and frankly, often showing themselves to those they befriended.
So people knew fairies in those days, my dear, and loved them, together with all the ryls and knooks and pixies and nymphs and other beings that belong to the hordes of immortals. And a fairy tale was a thing to be wondered at and spoken of in awed whispers; for no one thought of doubting its truth.
To-day the fairies are shy; for so many curious inventions of men have come into use that the wonders of Fairyland are somewhat tame beside them, and even the boys and girls can not be so easily interested or surprised as in the old days. So the sweet and gentle little immortals perform their tasks unseen and unknown, and live mostly in their own beautiful realms, where they are almost unthought of by our busy, bustling world.
Yet when we come to story-telling the marvels of our own age shrink into insignificance beside the brave deeds and absorbing experiences of the days when fairies were better known; and so we go back to "once on a time" for the tales that we most love—and that children have ever loved since mankind knew that fairies exist.
2. The Enchanted Isle
Once there was an enchanted island in the middle of the sea. It was called the Isle of Yew. And in it were five important kingdoms ruled by men, and many woodland dells and forest glades and pleasant meadows and grim mountains inhabited by fairies.
From the fairies some of the men had learned wonderful secrets, and had become magicians and sorcerers, with powers so great that the entire island was reputed to be one of enchantments. Who these men were the common people did not always know; for while some were kings and rulers, others lived quietly hidden away in forests or mountains, and seldom or never showed themselves. Indeed, there were not so many of these magicians as people thought, only it was so hard to tell them from common folk that every stranger was regarded with a certain amount of curiosity and fear.
The island was round—like a mince pie. And it was divided into four quarters—also like a pie—except that there was a big place in the center where the fifth kingdom, called Spor, lay in the midst of the mountains. Spor was ruled by King Terribus, whom no one but his own subjects had ever seen—and not many of them. For no one was allowed to enter the Kingdom of Spor, and its king never left his palace. But the people of Spor had a bad habit of rushing down from their mountains and stealing the goods of the inhabitants of the other four kingdoms, and carrying them home with them, without offering any apologies whatever for such horrid conduct. Sometimes those they robbed tried to fight them; but they were a terrible people, consisting of giants with huge clubs, and dwarfs who threw flaming darts, and the stern Gray Men of Spor, who were most frightful of all. So, as a rule, every one fled before them, and the people were thankful that the fierce warriors of Spor seldom came to rob them oftener than once a year.
It was on this account that all who could afford the expense built castles to live in, with stone walls so thick that even the giants of Spor could not batter them down. And the children were not allowed to stray far from home for fear some roving band of robbers might steal them and make their parents pay large sums for their safe return.
Yet for all this the people of the Enchanted Isle of Yew were happy and prosperous. No grass was greener, no forests more cool and delightful, no skies more sunny, no sea more blue and rippling than theirs.
And the nations of the world envied them, but dared not attempt to conquer an island abounding in enchantments.
3. The Fairy Bower
That part of the Enchanted Isle which was kissed by the rising sun was called Dawna; the kingdom that was tinted rose and purple by the setting sun was known as Auriel, and the southland, where fruits and flowers abounded, was the kingdom of Plenta. Up at the north lay Heg, the home of the great barons who feared not even the men of Spor; and in the Kingdom of Heg our story opens.
Upon a beautiful plain stood the castle of the great Baron Merd—renowned alike in war and peace, and second in importance only to the King of Heg. It was a castle of vast extent, built with thick walls and protected by strong gates. In front of it sloped a pretty stretch of land with the sea glistening far beyond; and back of it, but a short distance away, was the edge of the Forest of Lurla.
One fair summer day the custodian of the castle gates opened a wicket and let down a draw-bridge, when out trooped three pretty girls with baskets dangling on their arms. One of the maids walked in front of her companions, as became the only daughter of the mighty Baron Merd. She was named Seseley, and had yellow hair and red cheeks and big, blue eyes. Behind her, merry and laughing, yet with a distinct deference to the high station of their young lady, walked Berna and Helda—dark brunettes with mischievous eyes and slender, lithe limbs. Berna was the daughter of the chief archer, and Helda the niece of the captain of the guard, and they were appointed play-fellows and comrades of the fair Seseley.
Up the hill to the forest's edge ran the three, and then without hesitation plunged into the shade of the ancient trees. There was no sunlight now, but the air was cool and fragrant of nuts and mosses, and the children skipped along the paths joyously and without fear.
To be sure, the Forest of Lurla was well known as the home of fairies, but Seseley and her comrades feared nothing from such gentle creatures and only longed for an interview with the powerful immortals whom they had been taught to love as the tender guardians of mankind. Nymphs there were in Lurla, as well, and crooked knooks, it was said; yet for many years past no person could boast the favor of meeting any one of the fairy creatures face to face.
So, gathering a few nuts here and a sweet forest flower there, the three maidens walked farther and farther into the forest until they came upon a clearing—formed like a circle—with mosses and ferns for its carpet and great overhanging branches for its roof.
"How pretty!" cried Seseley, gaily. "Let us eat our luncheon in this lovely banquet-hall!"
So Berna and Helda spread a cloth and brought from their baskets some golden platters and a store of food. Yet there was little ceremony over the meal, you may be sure, and within a short space all the children had satisfied their appetites and were laughing and chatting as merrily as if they were at home in the great castle. Indeed, it is certain they were happier in their forest glade than when facing grim walls of stone, and the three were in such gay spirits that whatever one chanced to say the others promptly joined in laughing over.
Soon, however, they were startled to hear a silvery peal of laughter answering their own, and turning to see whence the sound proceeded, they found seated near them a creature so beautiful that at once the three pairs of eyes opened to their widest extent, and three hearts beat much faster than before.
"Well, I must say you DO stare!" exclaimed the newcomer, who was clothed in soft floating robes of rose and pearl color, and whose eyes shone upon them like two stars.
"Forgive our impertinence," answered the little Lady Seseley, trying to appear dignified and unmoved; "but you must acknowledge that you came among us uninvited, and—and you are certainly rather odd in appearance."
Again the silvery laughter rang through the glade.
"Uninvited!" echoed the creature, clapping her hands together delightedly; "uninvited to my own forest home! Why, my dear girls, you are the uninvited ones—indeed you are—to thus come romping into our fairy bower."
The children did not open their eyes any wider on hearing this speech, for they could not; but their faces expressed their amazement fully, while Helda gasped the words:
"A fairy bower! We are in a fairy bower!"
"Most certainly," was the reply. "And as for being odd in appearance, let me ask how you could reasonably expect a fairy to appear as mortal maidens do?"
"A fairy!" exclaimed Seseley. "Are you, then, a real fairy?"
"I regret to say I am," returned the other, more soberly, as she patted a moss-bank with a silver-tipped wand.
Then for a moment there was silence, while the three girls sat very still and stared at their immortal companion with evident curiosity. Finally Seseley asked:
"Why do you regret being a fairy? I have always thought them the happiest creatures in the world."
"Perhaps we ought to be happy," answered the fairy, gravely, "for we have wonderful powers and do much to assist you helpless mortals. And I suppose some of us really are happy. But, for my part, I am so utterly tired of a fairy life that I would do anything to change it."
"That is strange," declared Berna. "You seem very young to be already discontented with your lot."
Now at this the fairy burst into laughter again, and presently asked:
"How old do you think me?"
"About our own age," said Berna, after a glance at her and a moment's reflection.
"Nonsense!" retorted the fairy, sharply. "These trees are hundreds of years old, yet I remember when they were mere twigs. And I remember when mortals first came to live upon this island, yes—and when this island was first created and rose from the sea after a great earthquake. I remember for many, many centuries, my dears. I have grown tired of remembering—and of being a fairy continually, without any change to brighten my life."
"To be sure!" said Seseley, with sympathy. "I never thought of fairy life in that way before. It must get to be quite tiresome."
"And think of the centuries I must yet live!" exclaimed the fairy in a dismal voice. "Isn't it an awful thing to look forward to?"
"It is, indeed," agreed Seseley.
"I'd be glad to exchange lives with you," said Helda, looking at the fairy with intense admiration.
"But you can't do that," answered the little creature quickly. "Mortals can't become fairies, you know—although I believe there was once a mortal who was made immortal."
"But fairies can become anything they desire!" cried Berna.
"Oh, no, they can't. You are mistaken if you believe that," was the reply. "I could change YOU into a fly, or a crocodile, or a bobolink, if I wanted to; but fairies can't change themselves into anything else."
"How strange!" murmured Seseley, much impressed.
"But YOU can," cried the fairy, jumping up and coming toward them. "You are mortals, and, by the laws that govern us, a mortal can change a fairy into anything she pleases."
"Oh!" said Seseley, filled with amazement at the idea.
The fairy fell on her knees before the baron's daughter. "Please—please, dear Seseley," she pleaded, "change me into a mortal!"
4. Prince Marvel
It is easy to imagine the astonishment of the three girls at hearing this strange request. They gazed in a bewildered fashion upon the kneeling fairy, and were at first unable to answer one word. Then Seseley said—sadly, for she grieved to disappoint the pretty creature:
"We are but mortal children, and have no powers of enchantment at all."
"Ah, that is true, so far as concerns yourselves," replied the fairy, eagerly; "yet mortals may easily transform fairies into anything they wish."
"If that is so, why have we never heard of this power before?" asked Seseley.
"Because fairies, as a rule, are content with their lot, and do not wish to appear in any form but their own. And, knowing that evil or mischievous mortals can transform them at will, the fairies take great care to remain invisible, so they can not be interfered with. Have you ever," she asked, suddenly, "seen a fairy before?"
"Never," replied Seseley.
"Nor would you have seen me to-day, had I not known you were kind and pure-hearted, or had I not resolved to ask you to exercise your powers upon me."
"I must say," remarked Helda, boldly, "that you are foolish to wish to become anything different from what you are."
"For you are very beautiful NOW," added Berna, admiringly.
"Beautiful!" retorted the fairy, with a little frown; "what does beauty amount to, if one is to remain invisible?"
"Not much, that is true," agreed Berna, smoothing her own dark locks.
"And as for being foolish," continued the fairy, "I ought to be allowed to act foolishly if I want to. For centuries past I have not had a chance to do a single foolish thing."
"Poor dear!" said Helda, softly.
Seseley had listened silently to this conversation. Now she inquired:
"What do you wish to become?"
"A mortal!" answered the fairy, promptly.
"A girl, like ourselves?" questioned the baron's daughter.
"Perhaps," said the fairy, as if undecided.
"Then you would be likely to endure many privations," said Seseley, gently. "For you would have neither father nor mother to befriend you, nor any house to live in."
"And if you hired your services to some baron, you would be obliged to wash dishes all day, or mend clothing, or herd cattle," said Berna.
"But I should travel all over the island," said the fairy, brightly, "and that is what I long to do. I do not care to work."
"I fear a girl would not be allowed to travel alone," Seseley remarked, after some further thought. "At least," she added, "I have never heard of such a thing."
"No," said the fairy, rather bitterly, "your men are the ones that roam abroad and have adventures of all kinds. Your women are poor, weak creatures, I remember."
There was no denying this, so the three girls sat silent until Seseley asked:
"Why do you wish to become a mortal?"
"To gain exciting experiences," answered the fairy. "I'm tired of being a humdrum fairy year in and year out. Of course, I do not wish to become a mortal for all time, for that would get monotonous, too; but to live a short while as the earth people do would amuse me very much."
"If you want variety, you should become a boy," said Helda, with a laugh, "The life of a boy is one round of excitement."
"Then make me a boy!" exclaimed the fairy eagerly.
"A boy!" they all cried in consternation. And Seseley added:
"Why—you're a GIRL fairy, aren't you?"
"Well—yes; I suppose I am," answered the beautiful creature, smiling; "but as you are going to change me anyway, I may as well become a boy as a girl."
"Better!" declared Helda, clapping her hands; "for then you can do as you please."
"But would it be right?" asked Seseley, with hesitation.
"Why not?" retorted the fairy. "I can see nothing wrong in being a boy. Make me a tall, slender youth, with waving brown hair and dark eyes. Then I shall be as unlike my own self as possible, and the adventure will be all the more interesting. Yes; I like the idea of being a boy very much indeed."
"But I don't know how to transform you; some one will have to show me the way to do it," protested Seseley, who was getting worried over the task set her.
"Oh, that will be easy enough," returned the little immortal. "Have you a wand?"
"Then I'll loan you mine, for I shall not need it. And you must wave it over my head three times and say: 'By my mortal powers I transform you into a boy for the space of one year'."
"One year! Isn't that too long?"
"It's a very short time to one who has lived thousands of years as a fairy."
"That is true," answered the baron's daughter.
"Now, I'll begin by doing a little transforming myself," said the fairy, getting upon her feet again, "and you can watch and see how I do it." She brushed a bit of moss from her gauzy skirts and continued: "If I'm to become a boy I shall need a horse, you know. A handsome, prancing steed, very fleet of foot."
A moment she stood motionless, as if listening. Then she uttered a low but shrill whistle.
The three girls, filled with eager interest, watched her intently.
Presently a trampling of footsteps was heard through the brushwood, and a beautiful deer burst from the forest and fearlessly ran to the fairy. Without hesitation she waved her wand above the deer's head and exclaimed:
"By all my fairy powers I command you to become a war-horse for the period of one year."
Instantly the deer disappeared, and in its place was a handsome charger, milk-white in color, with flowing mane and tail. Upon its back was a saddle sparkling with brilliant gems sewn upon fine dressed leather.
The girls uttered cries of astonishment and delight, and the fairy said:
"You see, these transformations are not at all difficult. I must now have a sword."
She plucked a twig from a near-by tree and cast it upon the ground at her feet. Again she waved her wand—and the twig turned to a gleaming sword, richly engraved, that seemed to the silent watchers to tremble slightly in its sheath, as if its heart of steel throbbed with hopes of battles to come.
"And now I must have shield and armor," said the fairy, gaily. "This will make a shield,"—and she stripped a sheet of loose bark from a tree-trunk,—"but for armor I must have something better. Will you give me your cloak?"
This appeal was made to Seseley, and the baron's daughter drew her white velvet cloak from her shoulders and handed it to the fairy. A moment later it was transformed into a suit of glittering armor that seemed fashioned of pure silver inlaid with gold, while the sheet of bark at the same time became a handsome shield, with the figures of three girls graven upon it. Seseley recognized the features as those of herself and her comrades, and noted also that they appeared sitting at the edge of a forest, the great trees showing plainly in the background.
"I shall be your champion, you see," laughed the fairy, gleefully, "and maybe I shall be able to repay you for the loss of your cloak."
"I do not mind the cloak," returned the child, who had been greatly interested in these strange transformations. "But it seems impossible that a dainty little girl like you can ride this horse and carry these heavy arms."
"I'll not be a girl much longer," said the little creature. "Here, take my wand, and transform me into a noble youth!"
Again the pretty fairy kneeled before Seseley, her dainty, rounded limbs of white and rose showing plainly through her gauzy attire. And the baron's daughter was suddenly inspired to be brave, not wishing to disappoint the venturous immortal. So she rose and took the magic wand in her hand, waving it three times above the head of the fairy.
"By my powers as a mortal," she said, marveling even then at the strange speech, "I command you to become a brave and gallant youth—handsome, strong, fearless! And such shall you remain for the space of one year."
As she ceased speaking the fairy was gone, and a slender youth, dark-eyed and laughing, was holding her hand in his and kissing it gratefully.
"I thank you, most lovely maiden," he said, in a pleasant voice, "for giving me a place in the world of mortals. I shall ride at once in search of adventure, but my good sword is ever at your service."
With this he gracefully arose and began to buckle on his magnificent armor and to fasten the sword to his belt.
Seseley drew a long, sighing breath of amazement at her own powers, and turning to Berna and Helda she asked:
"Do I see aright? Is the little fairy really transformed to this youth?"
"It certainly seems so," returned Helda, who, being unabashed by the marvels she had beheld, turned to gaze boldly upon the young knight.
"Do you still remember that a moment ago you were a fairy?" she inquired.
"Yes, indeed," said he, smiling; "and I am really a fairy now, being but changed in outward form. But no one must know this save yourselves, until the year has expired and I resume my true station. Will you promise to guard my secret?"
"Oh, yes!" they exclaimed, in chorus. For they were delighted, as any children might well be, at having so remarkable a secret to keep and talk over among themselves.
"I must ask one more favor," continued the youth: "that you give me a name; for in this island I believe all men bear names of some sort, to distinguish them one from another."
"True," said Seseley, thoughtfully. "What were you called as a fairy?"
"That does not matter in the least," he answered, hastily. "I must have an entirely new name."
"Suppose we call him the Silver Knight," suggested Berna, as she eyed his glistening armor.
"Oh, no!—that is no name at all!" declared Helda. "We might better call him Baron Strongarm."
"I do not like that, either," said the Lady Seseley, "for we do not know whether his arm is strong or not. But he has been transformed in a most astonishing and bewildering manner before our very eyes, and I think the name of Prince Marvel would suit him very well."
"Excellent!" cried the youth, picking up his richly graven shield. "The name seems fitting in every way. And for a year I shall be known to all this island as Prince Marvel!"
5. The King of Thieves
Old Marshelm, the captain of the guard, was much surprised when he saw the baron's daughter and her playmates approach her father's castle escorted by a knight in glittering armor.
To be sure it was a rather small knight, but the horse he led by the bridle was so stately and magnificent in appearance that old Marshelm, who was an excellent judge of horses, at once decided the stranger must be a personage of unusual importance.
As they came nearer the captain of the guard also observed the beauty of the little knight's armor, and caught the glint of jewels set in the handle of his sword; so he called his men about him and prepared to receive the knight with the honors doubtless due his high rank.
But to the captain's disappointment the stranger showed no intention of entering the castle. On the contrary, he kissed the little Lady Seseley's hand respectfully, waved an adieu to the others, and then mounted his charger and galloped away over the plains.
The drawbridge was let down to permit the three children to enter, and the great Baron Merd came himself to question his daughter.
"Who was the little knight?" he asked.
"His name is Prince Marvel," answered Seseley, demurely.
"Prince Marvel?" exclaimed the Baron. "I have never heard of him. Does he come from the Kingdom of Dawna, or that of Auriel, or Plenta?"
"That I do not know," said Seseley, with truth.
"Where did you meet him?" continued the baron.
"In the forest, my father, and he kindly escorted us home."
"Hm!" muttered the baron, thoughtfully. "Did he say what adventure brought him to our Kingdom of Heg?"
"No, father. But he mentioned being in search of adventure."
"Oh, he'll find enough to busy him in this wild island, where every man he meets would rather draw his sword than eat," returned the old warrior, smiling. "How old may this Prince Marvel be?"
"He looks not over fifteen years of age," said Seseley, uneasy at so much questioning, for she did not wish to be forced to tell an untruth. "But it is possible he is much older," she added, beginning to get confused.
"Well, well; I am sorry he did not pay my castle a visit," declared the baron. "He is very small and slight to be traveling this dangerous country alone, and I might have advised him as to his welfare."
Seseley thought that Prince Marvel would need no advice from any one as to his conduct; but she wisely refrained from speaking this thought, and the old baron walked away to glance through a slit in the stone wall at the figure of the now distant knight.
Prince Marvel was riding swiftly toward the brow of the hill, and shortly his great war-horse mounted the ascent and disappeared on its farther slope.
The youth's heart was merry and light, and he reflected joyously, as he rode along, that a whole year of freedom and fascinating adventure lay before him.
The valley in which he now found himself was very beautiful, the soft grass beneath his horse's feet being sprinkled with bright flowers, while clumps of trees stood here and there to break the monotony of the landscape.
For an hour the prince rode along, rejoicing in the free motion of his horse and breathing in the perfume-laden air. Then he found he had crossed the valley and was approaching a series of hills. These were broken by huge rocks, the ground being cluttered with boulders of rough stone. His horse speedily found a pathway leading through these rocks, but was obliged to proceed at a walk, turning first one way and then another as the path zigzagged up the hill.
Presently, being engaged in deep thought and little noting the way, Prince Marvel rode between two high walls of rock standing so close together that horse and rider could scarcely pass between the sides. Having traversed this narrow space some distance the wall opened suddenly upon a level plat of ground, where grass and trees grew. It was not a very big place, but was surely the end of the path, as all around it stood bare walls so high and steep that neither horse nor man could climb them. In the side of the rocky wall facing the entrance the traveler noticed a hollow, like the mouth of a cave, across which was placed an iron gate. And above the gateway was painted in red letters on the gray stone the following words:
WUL-TAKIM KING OF THIEVES ——— HIS TREASURE HOUSE KEEP OUT
Prince Marvel laughed on reading this, and after getting down from his saddle he advanced to the iron gate and peered through its heavy bars.
"I have no idea who this Wul-Takim is," he said, "for I know nothing at all of the ways of men outside the forest in which I have always dwelt. But thieves are bad people, I am quite sure, and since Wul-Takim is the king of thieves he must be by far the worst man on this island."
Then he saw, through the bars of the gate, that a great cavern lay beyond, in which were stacked treasures of all sorts: rich cloths, golden dishes and ornaments, gemmed coronets and bracelets, cleverly forged armor, shields and battle-axes. Also there were casks and bales of merchandise of every sort.
The gate appeared to have no lock, so Prince Marvel opened it and walked in. Then he perceived, perched on the very top of a pyramid of casks, the form of a boy, who sat very still and watched him with a look of astonishment upon his face.
"What are you doing up there?" asked the prince.
"Nothing," said the boy. "If I moved the least little bit this pile of casks would topple over, and I should be thrown to the ground."
"Well," returned the prince, "what of it?"
But just then he glanced at the ground and saw why the boy did not care to tumble down. For in the earth were planted many swords, with their sharp blades pointing upward, and to fall upon these meant serious wounds and perhaps death.
"Oh, ho!" cried Marvel; "I begin to understand. You are a prisoner."
"Yes; as you will also be shortly," answered the boy. "And then you will understand another thing—that you were very reckless ever to enter this cave."
"Why?" inquired the prince, who really knew little of the world, and was interested in everything he saw and heard.
"Because it is the stronghold of the robber king, and when you opened that gate you caused a bell to ring far down on the hillside. So the robbers are now warned that an enemy is in their cave, and they will soon arrive to make you a prisoner, even as I am."
"Ah, I see!" said the prince, with a laugh, "It is a rather clever contrivance; but having been warned in time I should indeed be foolish to be caught in such a trap."
With this he half drew his sword, but thinking that robbers were not worthy to be slain with its untarnished steel, he pushed it back into the jeweled scabbard and looked around for another weapon. A stout oaken staff lay upon the ground, and this he caught up and ran with it from the cave, placing himself just beside the narrow opening that led into this rock-encompassed plain. For he quickly saw that this was the only way any one could enter or leave the place, and therefore knew the robbers were coming up the narrow gorge even as he had himself done.
Soon they were heard stumbling along at a rapid pace, crying to one another to make haste and catch the intruder. The first that came through the opening received so sharp a blow upon the head from Prince Marvel's oak staff that he fell to the ground and lay still, while the next was treated in a like manner and fell beside his comrade.
Perhaps the thieves had not expected so sturdy an enemy, for they continued to rush through the opening in the rocks and to fall beneath the steady blows of the prince's staff until every one of them lay senseless before the victor. At first they had piled themselves upon one another very neatly; but the pile got so high at last that the prince was obliged to assist the last thieves to leap to the top of the heap before they completely lost their senses.
I have no doubt our prince, feeling himself yet strange in the new form he had acquired, and freshly transported from the forest glades in which he had always lived, was fully as much astonished at his deed of valor as were the robbers themselves; and if he shuddered a little when looking upon the heap of senseless thieves you must forgive him this weakness. For he straightway resolved to steel his heart to such sights and to be every bit as stern and severe as a mortal knight would have been.
Throwing down his staff he ran to the cave again, and stepping between the sword points he approached the pile of casks and held out his arms to the boy who was perched upon the top.
"The thieves are conquered," he cried. "Jump down!"
"I won't," said the boy.
"Why not?" inquired the prince.
"Can't you see I'm very miserable?" asked the boy, in return; "don't you understand that every minute I expect to fall upon those sword points?"
"But I will catch you," cried the prince.
"I don't want you to catch me," said the boy. "I want to be miserable. It's the first chance I've ever had, and I'm enjoying my misery very much."
This speech so astonished Prince Marvel that for a moment he stood motionless. Then he retorted, angrily:
"You're a fool!"
"If I wasn't so miserable up here, I'd come down and thrash you for that," said the boy, with a sigh.
This answer so greatly annoyed Prince Marvel that he gave the central cask of the pyramid a sudden push, and the next moment the casks were tumbling in every direction, while the boy fell headlong in their midst.
But Marvel caught him deftly in his arms, and so saved him from the sword points.
"There!" he said, standing the boy upon his feet; "now you are released from your misery."
"And I should be glad to punish you for your interference," declared the boy, gloomily eying his preserver, "had you not saved my life by catching me. According to the code of honor of knighthood I can not harm one who has saved my life until I have returned the obligation. Therefore, for the present I shall pardon your insulting speeches and actions."
"But you have also saved my life," answered Prince Marvel; "for had you not warned me of the robbers' return they would surely have caught me."
"True," said the boy, brightening up; "therefore our score is now even. But take care not to affront me again, for hereafter I will show you no mercy!"
Prince Marvel looked at the boy with wonder. He was about his own size, yet strong and well formed, and he would have been handsome except for the expression of discontent upon his face. Yet his manner and words were so absurd and unnatural that the prince was more amused than angered by his new acquaintance, and presently laughed in his face.
"If all the people in this island are like you," he said, "I shall have lots of fun with them. And you are only a boy, after all."
"I'm bigger than you!" declared the other, glaring fiercely at the prince.
"How much bigger?" asked Marvel, his eyes twinkling.
"Oh, ever so much!"
"Then fetch along that coil of rope, and follow me," said Prince Marvel.
"Fetch the rope yourself!" retorted the boy, bluntly. "I'm not your servant." Then he put his hands in his pockets and coolly walked out of the cave to look at the pile of senseless robbers.
Prince Marvel made no reply, but taking the coil of rope on his shoulder he carried it to where the thieves lay and threw it down beside them. Then he cut lengths from the coil with his sword and bound the limbs of each robber securely. Within a half-hour he had laid out a row of thieves extending half way across the grassy plain, and on counting their number he found he had captured fifty-nine of them.
This task being accomplished and the robbers rendered helpless, Prince Marvel turned to the boy who stood watching him.
"Get a suit of armor from the cave, and a strong sword, and then return here," he said, in a stern voice.
"Why should I do that?" asked the boy, rather impudently.
"Because I am going to fight you for disobeying my orders; and if you do not protect yourself I shall probably kill you."
"That sounds pleasant," said the boy. "But if you should prove my superior in skill I beg you will not kill me at once, but let me die a lingering death."
"Why?" asked the prince.
"Because I shall suffer more, and that will be delightful."
"I am not anxious to kill you, nor to make you suffer," said Marvel, "all that I ask is that you acknowledge me your master."
"I won't!" answered the boy. "I acknowledge no master in all the world!"
"Then you must fight," declared the prince, gravely. "If you win, I will promise to serve you faithfully; and if I conquer you, then you must acknowledge me your master, and obey my commands."
"Agreed!" cried the boy, with sudden energy, and he rushed into the cave and soon returned clad in armor and bearing a sword and shield. On the shield was pictured a bolt of lightning.
"Lightning will soon strike those three girls whose champion you seem to be," he said tauntingly.
"The three girls defy your lightning!" returned the prince with a smile. "I see you are brave enough."
"Brave! Why should I not be?" answered the boy proudly. "I am the Lord Nerle, the son of Neggar, the chief baron of Heg!"
The other bowed low.
"I am pleased to know your station," he said. "I am called Prince Marvel, and this is my first adventure."
"And likely to be your last," exclaimed the boy, sneeringly. "For I am stronger than you, and I have fought many times with full grown men."
"Are you ready?" asked Prince Marvel, for answer.
Then the swords clashed and sparks flew from the blades. But it was not for long. Suddenly Nerle's sword went flying through the air and shattered its blade against a wall of rock. He scowled at Prince Marvel a moment, who smiled back at him. Then the boy rushed into the cave and returned with another sword.
Scarcely had the weapons crossed again when with a sudden blow Prince Marvel snapped Nerle's blade in two, and followed this up with a sharp slap upon his ear with the flat of his own sword that fairly bewildered the boy, and made him sit down on the grass to think what had happened to him.
Then Prince Marvel's merry laugh rang far across the hills, and so delighted was he at the astonished expression upon Nerle's face that it was many minutes before he could control his merriment and ask his foeman if he had had enough fight.
"I suppose I have," replied the boy, rubbing his ear tenderly. "That blow stings most deliciously. But it is a hard thought that the son of Baron Neggar should serve Prince Marvel!"
"Do not worry about that," said the prince; "for I assure you my rank is so far above your own that it is no degradation for the son of Neggar to serve me. But come, we must dispose of these thieves. What is the proper fate for such men?"
"They are always hanged," answered Nerle, getting upon his feet.
"Well, there are trees handy," remarked the prince, although his girlish heart insisted on making him shiver in spite of his resolve to be manly and stern. "Let us get to work and hang them as soon as possible. And then we can proceed upon our journey."
Nerle now willingly lent his assistance to his new master, and soon they had placed a rope around the neck of each thief and were ready to dangle them all from the limbs of the trees.
But at this juncture the thieves began to regain consciousness, and now Wul-Takim, the big, red-bearded king of the thieves, sat up and asked:
"Who is our conqueror?"
"Prince Marvel," answered Nerle.
"And what army assisted him?" inquired Wul-Takim, curiously gazing upon the prince.
"He conquered you alone and single-handed," said Nerle.
Hearing this, the big king began to weep bitterly, and the tear-drops ran down his face in such a stream that Prince Marvel ordered Nerle to wipe them away with his handkerchief, as the thief's hands were tied behind his back.
"To think!" sobbed Wul-Takim, miserably; "only to think, that after all my terrible deeds and untold wickedness, I have been captured by a mere boy! Oh, boo-hoo! boo-hoo! boo-hoo! It is a terrible disgrace!"
"You will not have to bear it long," said the prince, soothingly. "I am going to hang you in a few minutes."
"Thanks! Thank you very much!" answered the king, ceasing to weep. "I have always expected to be hanged some day, and I am glad no one but you two boys will witness me when my feet begin kicking about."
"I shall not kick," declared another of the thieves, who had also regained his senses. "I shall sing while I am being hanged."
"But you can not, my good Gunder," protested the king; "for the rope will cut off your breath, and no man can sing without breath."
"Then I shall whistle," said Gunder, composedly.
The king cast at him a look of reproach, and turning to Prince Marvel he said:
"It will be a great task to string up so many thieves. You look tired. Permit me to assist you to hang the others, and then I will climb into a tree and hang myself from a strong branch, with as little bother as possible."
"Oh, I won't think of troubling you," exclaimed Marvel, with a laugh. "Having conquered you alone, I feel it my duty to hang you without assistance—save that of my esquire."
"It's no trouble, I assure you; but suit your own convenience," said the thief, carelessly. Then he cast his eye toward the cave and asked: "What will you do with all our treasure?"
"Give it to the poor," said Prince Marvel, promptly.
"Oh, the poorest people I can find."
"Will you permit me to advise you in this matter?" asked the king of thieves, politely.
"Yes, indeed; for I am a stranger in this land," returned the prince.
"Well, I know a lot of people who are so poor that they have no possessions whatever, neither food to eat, houses to live in, nor any clothing but that which covers their bodies. They can call no man friend, nor will any lift a hand to help them. Indeed, good sir, I verily believe they will soon perish miserably unless you come to their assistance!"
"Poor creatures!" exclaimed Prince Marvel, with ready sympathy; "tell me who they are, and I will divide amongst them all your ill-gotten gains."
"They are ourselves," replied the king of thieves, with a sigh.
Marvel looked at him in amazement, and then burst into joyous laughter.
"Yourselves!" he cried, greatly amused.
"Indeed, yes!" said Wul-Takim, sadly. "There are no poorer people in all the world, for we have ropes about our necks and are soon to be hanged. To-morrow we shall not have even our flesh left, for the crows will pick our bones."
"That is true," remarked Marvel, thoughtfully. "But, if I restore to you the treasure, how will it benefit you, since you are about to die?"
"Must you really hang us?" asked the thief.
"Yes; I have decreed it, and you deserve your fate."
"Because you have wickedly taken from helpless people their property, and committed many other crimes besides."
"But I have reformed! We have all reformed—have we not, brothers?"
"We have!" answered the other thieves, who, having regained their senses, were listening to this conversation with much interest.
"And, if you will return to us our treasure, we will promise never to steal again, but to remain honest men and enjoy our wealth in peace," promised the king.
"Honest men could not enjoy treasures they have stolen," said Prince Marvel.
"True; but this treasure is now yours, having been won by you in fair battle. And if you present it to us it will no longer be stolen treasure, but a generous gift from a mighty prince, which we may enjoy with clear consciences."
"Yet there remains the fact that I have promised to hang you," suggested Prince Marvel, with a smile, for the king amused him greatly.
"Not at all! Not at all!" cried Wul-Takim. "You promised to hang fifty-nine thieves, and there is no doubt the fifty-nine thieves deserved to be hung. But, consider! We have all reformed our ways and become honest men; so it would be a sad and unkindly act to hang fifty-nine honest men!"
"What think you, Nerle?" asked the Prince, turning to his esquire.
"Why, the rogue seems to speak truth," said Nerle, scratching his head with a puzzled air, "yet, if he speaks truth, there is little difference between a rogue and an honest man. Ask him, my master, what caused them all to reform so suddenly."
"Because we were about to die, and we thought it a good way to save our lives," replied the robber king.
"That's an honest answer, anyway," said Nerle. "Perhaps, sir, they have really reformed."
"And if so, I will not have the death of fifty-nine honest men on my conscience," declared the prince. Then he turned to Wul-Takim and added: "I will release you and give you the treasure, as you request. But you owe me allegiance from this time forth, and if I ever hear of your becoming thieves again, I promise to return and hang every one of you."
"Never fear!" answered Wul-Takim, joyfully. "It is hard work to steal, and while we have so much treasure it is wholly unnecessary. Moreover, having accepted from you our lives and our fortunes, we shall hereafter be your devoted servants, and whenever you need our services you have but to call upon us, and we will support you loyally and gladly."
"I accept your service," answered the prince, graciously.
And then he unbound the fifty-nine honest men and took the ropes from their necks. As nightfall was fast approaching the new servants set to work to prepare a great feast in honor of their master. It was laid in the middle of the grassy clearing, that all might sit around and celebrate the joyous occasion.
"Do you think you can trust these men?" asked Nerle, suspiciously.
"Why not?" replied the prince. "They have been exceedingly wicked, it is true; but they are now intent upon being exceedingly good. Let us encourage them in this. If we mistrusted all who have ever done an evil act there would be fewer honest people in the world. And if it were as interesting to do a good act as an evil one there is no doubt every one would choose the good."
6. The Troubles of Nerle
That night Prince Marvel slept within the cave, surrounded by the fifty-nine reformed thieves, and suffered no harm at their hands. In the morning, accompanied by his esquire, Nerle, who was mounted upon a spirited horse brought him by Wul-Takim, he charged the honest men to remember their promises, bade them good by, and set out in search of further adventure.
As they left the clearing by the narrow passage that led between the overhanging rocks, the prince looked back and saw that the sign above the gate of the cave, which had told of the thieves' treasure house, had been changed. It now read as follows:
WUL-TAKIM KING OF HONEST MEN ——— HIS PLEASURE HOUSE WALK IN
"That is much better," laughed the prince. "I accomplished some good by my adventure, anyway!"
Nerle did not reply. He seemed especially quiet and thoughtful as he rode by his master's side, and after they had traveled some distance in silence Prince Marvel said:
"Tell me how you came to be in the cave of thieves, and perched upon the casks where I found you."
"It is a sad story," returned Nerle, with a sigh; "but since you request me to tell it, the tale may serve to relieve the tedium of your journey.
"My father is a mighty baron, very wealthy and with a heart so kind that he has ever taken pleasure in thrusting on me whatever gift he could think of. I had not a single desire unsatisfied, for before I could wish for anything it was given me.
"My mother was much like my father. She and her women were always making jams, jellies, candies, cakes and the like for me to eat; so I never knew the pleasure of hunger. My clothes were the gayest satins and velvets, richly made and sewn with gold and silver braid; so it was impossible to wish for more in the way of apparel. They let me study my lessons whenever I felt like it and go fishing or hunting as I pleased; so I could not complain that I was unable to do just as I wanted to. All the servants obeyed my slightest wish: if I wanted to sit up late at night no one objected; if I wished to lie in bed till noon they kept the house quiet so as not to disturb me.
"This condition of affairs, as you may imagine, grew more and more tedious and exasperating the older I became. Try as I might, I could find nothing to complain of. I once saw the son of one of our servants receive a flogging; and my heart grew light. I immediately begged my father to flog me, by way of variety; and he, who could refuse me nothing, at once consented. For this reason there was less satisfaction in the operation than I had expected, although for the time being it was a distinct novelty.
"Now, no one could expect a high-spirited boy to put up with such a life as mine. With nothing to desire and no chance of doing anything that would annoy my parents, my days were dreary indeed."
He paused to wipe the tears from his eyes, and the prince murmured, sympathetically: "Poor boy! Poor boy!"
"Ah, you may well say that!" continued Nerle. "But one day a stranger came to my father's castle with tales of many troubles he had met with. He had been lost in a forest and nearly starved to death. He had been robbed and beaten and left wounded and sore by the wayside. He had begged from door to door and been refused food or assistance. In short, his story was so delightful that it made me envy him, and I yearned to suffer as he had done. When I could speak with him alone I said: 'Pray tell me how I can manage to acquire the misfortunes you have undergone. Here I have everything that I desire, and it makes me very unhappy.'
"The stranger laughed at me, at first; and I found some pleasure in the humiliation I then felt. But it did not last long, for presently he grew sober and advised me to run away from home and seek adventure.
"'Once away from your father's castle,' said he, 'troubles will fall upon you thick enough to satisfy even your longings.'
"'That is what I am afraid of!' I answered. 'I don't want to be satisfied, even with troubles. What I seek is unsatisfied longings.'
"'Nevertheless,' said he, 'I advise you to travel. Everything will probably go wrong with you, and then you will be happy.'
"I acted upon the stranger's advice and ran away from home the next day. After journeying a long time I commenced to feel the pangs of hunger, and was just beginning to enjoy myself when a knight rode by and gave me a supply of food. At this rebuff I could not restrain my tears, but while I wept my horse stumbled and threw me over his head. I hoped at first I had broken my neck, and was just congratulating myself upon the misfortune, when a witch-woman came along and rubbed some ointment upon my bruises, in spite of my protests. To my great grief the pain left me, and I was soon well again. But, as a slight compensation for my disappointment, my horse had run away; so I began my journey anew and on foot.
"That afternoon I stepped into a nest of wasps, but the thoughtless creatures flew away without stinging me. Then I met a fierce tiger, and my heart grew light and gay. 'Surely this will cause me suffering!' I cried, and advanced swiftly upon the brute. But the cowardly tiger turned tail and ran to hide in the bushes, leaving me unhurt!
"Of course, my many disappointments were some consolation; but not much. That night I slept on the bare ground, and hoped I should catch a severe cold; but no such joy was to be mine.
"Yet the next afternoon I experienced my first pleasure. The thieves caught me, stripped off all my fine clothes and jewels and beat me well. Then they carried me to their cave, dressed me in rags, and perched me on the top of the casks, where the slightest movement on my part would send me tumbling among the sword points. This was really delightful, and I was quite happy until you came and released me.
"I thought then that I might gain some pleasure by provoking you to anger; and our fight was the result. That blow on the ear was exquisite, and by forcing me to become your servant you have made me, for the first time in my life, almost contented. For I hope in your company to experience a great many griefs and disappointments."
As Nerle concluded his story Prince Marvel turned to him and grasped his hand.
"Accept my sympathy!" said he. "I know exactly how you feel, for my own life during the past few centuries has not been much different."
"The past few centuries!" gasped Nerle. "What do you mean?"
At this the prince blushed, seeing he had nearly disclosed his secret. But he said, quickly:
"Does it not seem centuries when one is unhappy?"
"It does, indeed!" responded Nerle, earnestly. "But please tell me your story."
"Not now," said Prince Marvel, with a smile. "It will please you to desire in vain to hear a tale I will not tell. Yet I promise that on the day we part company I shall inform you who I am."
7. The Gray Men
The adventurers gave no heed to the path they followed after leaving the cave of the reformed thieves, but their horses accidentally took the direction of the foot-hills that led into the wild interior Kingdom of Spor. Therefore the travelers, when they had finished their conversation and begun to look about them, found themselves in a rugged, mountainous country that was wholly unlike the green plains of Heg they had left behind.
Now, as I have before said, the most curious and fearful of the island people dwelt in this Kingdom of Spor. They held no friendly communication with their neighbors, and only left their own mountains to plunder and rob; and so sullen and fierce were they on these occasions that every one took good care to keep out of their way until they had gone back home again.
There was much gossip about the unknown king of Spor, who had never yet been seen by any one except his subjects; and some thought he must be one of the huge giants of Spor; and others claimed he was a dwarf, like his tiny but ferocious dart-slingers; and still others imagined him one of the barbarian tribe, or a fellow to the terrible Gray Men. But, of course, no one knew positively, and all these guesses were very wide of the mark. The only certainty about this king was that his giants, dwarfs, barbarians and Gray Men meekly acknowledged his rule and obeyed his slightest wish; for though they might be terrible to others, their king was still more terrible to them.
Into this Kingdom of Spor Prince Marvel and Nerle had now penetrated and, neither knowing nor caring where they were, continued along the faintly defined paths the horses had found. Presently, however, they were startled by a peal of shrill, elfish laughter, and raising their eyes they beheld a horrid-looking old man seated upon a high rock near by.
"Why do you laugh?" asked Prince Marvel, stopping his horse.
"Have you been invited? Tell me—have you been invited?" demanded the old man, chuckling to himself as if much amused.
"Invited where?" inquired the prince.
"To Spor, stupid! To the Kingdom of Spor! To the land of King Terribus!" shrieked the old man, going into violent peals of laughter.
"We go and come as we please," answered Prince Marvel, calmly.
"Go—yes! Go if you will. But you'll never come back—never! never! never!" The little old man seemed to consider this such a good joke that he bent nearly double with laughing, and so lost his balance and toppled off the rock, disappearing from their view; but they could hear him laugh long after they had passed on and left him far behind them.
"A strange creature!" exclaimed the prince thoughtfully.
"But perhaps he speaks truth," answered Nerle, "if, in fact, we have been rash enough to enter the Kingdom of Spor. Even my father, the bravest baron in Heg, has never dared venture within the borders of Spor. For all men fear its mysterious king."
"In that case," replied Prince Marvel, "it is time some one investigated this strange kingdom. People have left King Terribus and his wild subjects too much to themselves; instead of stirring them up and making them behave themselves."
Nerle smiled at this speech.
"They are the fiercest people on the Enchanted Island," said he, "and there are thousands upon thousands who obey this unknown king. But if you think we dare defy them I am willing to go on. Perhaps our boldness will lead them into torturing me, or starving me to death; and at the very least I ought to find much trouble and privation in the Kingdom of Spor."
"Time will determine that," said the prince, cheerfully.
They had now ridden into a narrow defile of the mountains, the pathway being lined with great fragments of rock. Happening to look over his shoulder Prince Marvel saw that as they passed these rocks a man stepped from behind each fragment and followed after them, their numbers thus constantly increasing until hundreds were silently treading in the wake of the travelers.
These men were very peculiar in appearance, their skins being as gray as the rocks themselves, while their only clothing consisted of gray cloth tunics belted around the waists with bands of gray fox-hide. They bore no weapons except that each was armed with a fork, having three sharp tines six inches in length, which the Gray Men carried stuck through their fox-hide belts.
Nerle also looked back and saw the silent throng following them, and the sight sent such a cold shiver creeping up his spine that he smiled with pleasure. There was no way to avoid the Gray Men, for the path was so narrow that the horsemen could not turn aside; but Prince Marvel was not disturbed, and seemed not to mind being followed, so long as no one hindered his advance.
He rode steadily on, Nerle following, and after climbing upward for a long way the path began to descend, presently leading them into a valley of wide extent, in the center of which stood an immense castle with tall domes that glittered as if covered with pure gold. A broad roadway paved with white marble reached from the mountain pass to the entrance of this castle, and on each side of this roadway stood lines of monstrous giants, armed with huge axes thrust into their belts and thick oak clubs, studded with silver spikes, which were carried over their left shoulders.
The assembled giants were as silent as the Gray Men, and stood motionless while Prince Marvel and Nerle rode slowly up the marble roadway. But all their brows were scowling terribly and their eyes were red and glaring—as if they were balls of fire.
"I begin to feel very pleasant," said Nerle, "for surely we shall not get away from these folks without a vast deal of trouble. They do not seem to oppose our advance, but it is plain they will not allow us any chance of retreat."
"We do not wish to retreat," declared the prince.
Nerle cast another glance behind, and saw that the Gray Men had halted at the edge of the valley, while the giants were closing up as soon as the horses passed them and now marched in close file in their rear.
"It strikes me," he muttered, softly, "that this is like to prove our last adventure." But although Prince Marvel might have heard the words he made no reply, being evidently engaged in deep thought.
As they drew nearer the castle it towered above them like a veritable mountain, so big and high was it; and the walls cast deep shadows far around, as if twilight had fallen. They heard the loud blare of a trumpet sounding far up on the battlements; the portals of the castle suddenly opened wide, and they entered a vast courtyard paved with plates of gold. Tiny dwarfs, so crooked that they resembled crabs, rushed forward and seized the bridles of the horses, while the strangers slowly dismounted and looked around them.
While the steeds were being led to the stables an old man, clothed in a flowing robe as white in color as his beard, bowed before Prince Marvel and said in a soft voice:
The prince stretched his arms, yawned as if tired with his ride, and then glared upon the old man with an expression of haughty surprise.
"I follow no one!" said he, proudly. "I am Prince Marvel, sirrah, and if the owner of this castle wishes to see me I shall receive him here, as befits my rank and station."
The man looked surprised, but only bowed lower than before.
"It is the king's command," he answered.
"Yes; you are in the castle of King Terribus, the lord and ruler of Spor."
"That is different," remarked the prince, lightly. "Still, I will follow no man. Point out the way and I will go to meet his Majesty."
The old man extended a lean and trembling finger toward an archway. Prince Marvel strode forward, followed by Nerle, and passing under the arch he threw open a door at the far end and boldly entered the throne-room of King Terribus.
8. The Fool-Killer
The room was round, with a dome at the top. The bare walls were of gray stone, with square, open windows set full twenty feet from the floor. Rough gray stone also composed the floor, and in the center of the room stood one great rock with a seat hollowed in its middle. This was the throne, and round about it stood a swarm of men and women dressed in rich satins, velvets and brocades, brilliantly ornamented with gold and precious stones. The men were of many shapes and sizes—giants and dwarfs being among them. The women all seemed young and beautiful.
Prince Marvel cast but a passing glance at this assemblage, for his eye quickly sought the rude throne on which was seated King Terribus.
The personal appearance of this monster was doubtless the most hideous known in that age of the world. His head was large and shaped like an egg; it was bright scarlet in color and no hair whatever grew upon it. It had three eyes—one in the center of his face, one on the top of his head and one in the back. Thus he was always able to see in every direction at the same time. His nose was shaped like an elephant's trunk, and swayed constantly from side to side. His mouth was very wide and had no lips at all, two rows of sharp and white teeth being always plainly visible beneath the swaying nose.
King Terribus, although surrounded by so splendid a court, wore a simple robe of gray cloth, with no ornament or other finery, and his strange and fearful appearance was strongly contrasted with the glittering raiment of his courtiers and the beauty of his ladies in waiting.
When Prince Marvel, with Nerle marching close behind, entered the great room, Terribus looked at him sharply a moment, and then bowed. And when he bowed the eye upon the top of his head also looked sharply at the intruders.
Then the king spoke, his voice sounding so sweet and agreeable that it almost shocked Nerle, who had expected to hear a roar like that from a wild beast.
"Why are you here?" asked Terribus.
"Partly by chance and partly from curiosity," answered Prince Marvel. "No one in this island, except your own people, had ever seen the king of Spor; so, finding myself in your country, I decided to come here and have a look at you."
The faces of the people who stood about the throne wore frightened looks at the unheard of boldness of this speech to their terrible monarch. But the king merely nodded and inquired:
"Since you have seen me, what do you think of me?"
"I am sorry you asked that question," returned the prince; "for I must confess you are a very frightful-looking creature, and not at all agreeable to gaze upon."
"Ha! you are honest, as well as frank," exclaimed the king. "But that is the reason I do not leave my kingdom, as you will readily understand. And that is the reason I never permit strangers to come here, under penalty of death. So long as no one knows the King of Spor is a monster people will not gossip about my looks, and I am very sensitive regarding my personal appearance. You will perhaps understand that if I could have chosen I should have been born beautiful instead of ugly."
"I certainly understand that. And permit me to say I wish you were beautiful. I shall probably dream of you for many nights," added the prince.
"Not for many," said King Terribus, quietly. "By coming here you have chosen death, and the dead do not dream."
"Why should I die?" inquired Prince Marvel, curiously.
"Because you have seen me. Should I allow you to go away you would tell the world about my ugly face. I do not like to kill you, believe me; but you must pay the penalty of your rashness—you and the man behind you."
Nerle smiled at this; but whether from pride at being called a man or in pleasurable anticipation of the sufferings to come I leave you to guess.
"Will you allow me to object to being killed?" asked the prince.
"Certainly," answered the king, courteously. "I expect you to object. It is natural. But it will do you no good."
Then Terribus turned to an attendant and commanded:
"Send hither the Fool-Killer."
At this Prince Marvel laughed outright.
"The Fool-Killer!" he cried; "surely your Majesty does me little credit. Am I, then, a fool?"
"You entered my kingdom uninvited," retorted the king, "and you tell me to my face I am ugly. Moreover, you laugh when I condemn you to death. From this I conclude the Fool-Killer is the proper one to execute you. Behold!"
Marvel turned quickly, to find a tall, stalwart man standing behind him. His features were strong but very grave, and the prince caught a look of compassion in his eye as their gaze met. His skin was fair and without blemish, a robe of silver cloth fell from his shoulders, and in his right hand he bore a gleaming sword.
"Well met!" cried Marvel, heartily, as he bowed to the Fool-Killer. "I have often heard your name mentioned, but 'tis said in the world that you are a laggard in your duty."
"Had I my way," answered the Fool-Killer, "my blade would always drip. It is my master, yonder, who thwarts my duty." And he nodded toward King Terribus.
"Then you should exercise your right on him, and cleave the ugly head from his shoulders," declared the prince.
"Nay, unless I interfered with the Fool-Killer," said the king, "I should soon have no subjects left to rule; for at one time or another they all deserve the blade."
"Why, that may be true enough," replied Prince Marvel. "But I think, under such circumstances, your Fool-Killer is a needless servant. So I will rid you of him in a few moments."
With that he whipped out his sword and stood calmly confronting the Fool-Killer, whose grave face never changed in expression as he advanced menacingly upon his intended victim. The blades clashed together, and that of the Fool-Killer broke short off at the hilt. He took a step backward, stumbled and fell prone upon the rocky floor, while Prince Marvel sprang forward and pressed the point of his sword against his opponent's breast.
"Hold!" cried the king, starting to his feet. "Would you slay my Fool-Killer? Think of the harm you would do the world!"
"But he is laggard and unfaithful to his calling!" answered the prince, sternly.
"Nevertheless, if he remove but one fool a year he is a benefit to mankind," declared the king. "Release him, I pray you!"
Then the victor withdrew his sword and stood aside, while the Fool-Killer slowly got upon his feet and bowed humbly before the king.
"Go!" shouted Terribus, his eye flashing angrily. "You have humiliated me before my enemy. As an atonement see that you kill me a fool a day for sixty days."
Hearing this command, many of the people about the throne began to tremble; but the king paid no attention to their fears, and the Fool-Killer bowed again before his master and withdrew from the chamber.
9. The Royal Dragon of Spor
"Now," said Terribus, regarding the prince gloomily, "I must dispose of you in another way."
For a moment he dropped his scarlet head in thought. Then he turned fiercely upon his attendants.
"Let the Wrestler come forward!" he shouted, as loudly as his mild voice would carry.
Instantly a tall blackamoor advanced from the throng and cast off his flowing robe, showing a strong figure clad only in a silver loincloth.
"Crack me this fellow's bones!" commanded Terribus.
"I beg your Majesty will not compel me to touch him," said Prince Marvel, with a slight shudder; "for his skin is greasy, and will soil my hands. Here, Nerle!" he continued, turning to his esquire, "dispose of this black man, and save me the trouble."
Nerle laughed pleasantly. The black was a powerfully built man, and compared with Nerle and the prince, who had but the stature of boys, he towered like a very giant in size. Nevertheless, Nerle did not hesitate to spring upon the Wrestler, who with a quick movement sent the boy crashing against the stone pavement.
Nerle was much bruised by the fall, and as he painfully raised himself to his feet a great lump was swelling behind his left ear, where his head had struck the floor, and he was so dizzy that the room seemed swimming around him in a circle. But he gave a happy little laugh, and said to the prince, gratefully:
"Thank you very much, my master! The fall is hurting me delightfully. I almost feel as if I could cry, and that would be joy indeed!"
"Well," answered the prince, with a sigh, "I see I must get my hands greased after all"—for the black's body had really been greased to enable him to elude the grasp of his opponents.
But Marvel made a quick leap and seized the Wrestler firmly around the waist. The next moment, to the astonishment of all, the black man flew swiftly into the air, plunged through one of the open windows high up in the wall, and disappeared from view. When the king and his people again turned their wondering eyes upon the prince he was wiping his hands carefully upon a silk handkerchief.
At this sight a pretty young girl, who stood near the throne, laughed aloud, and the sound of her laughter made King Terribus very angry.
"Come here!" he commanded, sternly. The girl stepped forward, her face now pale and frightened, while tear-drops trembled upon the lashes that fringed her downcast eyes. "You have dared to laugh at the humiliation of your king," said Terribus, his horrid face more crimson than ever, "and as atonement I command that you drink of the poisoned cup."
Instantly a dwarf came near, bearing a beautiful golden goblet in his crooked hands.
"Drink!" he said, an evil leer upon his face.
The girl well knew this goblet contained a vile poison, one drop of which on her tongue would cause death; so she hesitated, trembling and shrinking from the ordeal.
Prince Marvel looked into her sweet face with pitying eyes, and stepping quickly to her side, took her hand in his.
"Now drink!" he said, smiling upon her; "the poison will not hurt you."
She drank obediently, while the dwarf chuckled with awful glee and the king looked on eagerly, expecting her to fall dead at his feet. But instead the girl stood upright and pressed Marvel's hand, looking gratefully into his face.
"You are a fairy!" she whispered, so low that no one else heard her voice. "I knew that you would save me."
"Keep my secret," whispered the prince in return, and still holding her hand he led her back to her former place.
King Terribus was almost wild with rage and disappointment, and his elephant nose twisted and squirmed horribly.
"So you dare to thwart my commands, do you!" he cried, excitedly. "Well, we shall soon see which of us is the more powerful. I have decreed your death—and die you shall!"
For a moment his eye roved around the chamber uncertainly. Then he shouted, suddenly:
"Ho, there! Keepers of the royal menagerie—appear!"
Three men entered the room and bowed before the king. They were of the Gray Men of the mountains, who had followed Prince Marvel and Nerle through the rocky passes.
"Bring hither the Royal Dragon," cried the king, "and let him consume these strangers before my very eyes!"
The men withdrew, and presently was heard a distant shouting, followed by a low rumbling sound, with groans, snorts, roars and a hissing like steam from the spout of a teakettle.
The noise and shouting drew nearer, while the people huddled together like frightened sheep; and then suddenly the doors flew open and the Royal Dragon advanced to the center of the room.
This creature was at once the pride and terror of the Kingdom of Spor. It was more than thirty feet in length and covered everywhere with large green scales set with diamonds, making the dragon, when it moved, a very glittering spectacle. Its eyes were as big as pie-plates, and its mouth—when wide opened—fully as large as a bath-tub. Its tail was very long and ended in a golden ball, such as you see on the top of flagstaffs. Its legs, which were as thick as those of an elephant, had scales which were set with rubies and emeralds. It had two monstrous, big ears and two horns of carved ivory, and its teeth were also carved into various fantastic shapes—such as castles, horses' heads, chinamen and griffins—so that if any of them broke it would make an excellent umbrella handle.
The Royal Dragon of Spor came crawling into the throne-room rather clumsily, groaning and moaning with every step and waving its ears like two blankets flying from a clothesline.
The king looked on it and frowned.
"Why are you not breathing fire and brimstone?" he demanded, angrily.
"Why, I was caught out in a gale the other night," returned the Dragon, rubbing the back of its ear with its left front paw, as it paused and looked at the king, "and the wind put out my fire."
"Then why didn't you light it again?" asked Terribus, turning on the keepers.
"We—we were out of matches, your Majesty!" stammered the trembling Gray Men.
"So—ho!" yelled the king, and was about to order the keepers beheaded; but just then Nerle pulled out his match-box, lit one of the matches, and held it in front of the Dragon's mouth. Instantly the creature's breath caught fire; and it began to breathe flames a yard in length.
"That's better," sighed the Dragon, contentedly. "I hope your Majesty is now satisfied."
"No,—I am not satisfied!" declared King Terribus. "Why do you not lash your tail?"
"Ah, I can't do that!" replied the Dragon. "It's all stiffened up with rheumatism from the dampness of my cave. It hurts too much to lash it."
"Well, then, gnash your teeth!" commanded the king.
"Tut—tut!" answered the Dragon, mildly; "I can't do that, either; for since you had them so beautifully carved it makes my teeth ache to gnash them."
"Well, then, what are you good for?" cried the king, in a fury.
"Don't I look awful? Am I not terrible to gaze on?" inquired the Dragon, proudly, as it breathed out red and yellow flames and made them curl in circles around its horns. "I guess there's no need for me to suggest terror to any one that happens to see me," it added, winking one of the pie-plate eyes at King Terribus.
The king looked at the monster critically, and it really seemed to him that it was a frightful thing to behold. So he curbed his anger and said, in his ordinary sweet voice:
"I have called you here to destroy these two strangers."
"How?" asked the Dragon, looking upon Prince Marvel and Nerle with interest.
"I am not particular," answered the king. "You may consume them with your fiery breath, or smash them with your tail, or grind them to atoms between your teeth, or tear them to pieces with your claws. Only, do hurry up and get it over with!"
"Hm-m-m!" said the Dragon, thoughtfully, as if it didn't relish the job; "this one isn't Saint George, is it?"
"No, no!" exclaimed the king, irritably; "it's Prince Marvel. Do get to work as soon as possible."
"Prince Marvel—Prince Marvel," repeated the Dragon. "Why, there isn't a prince in the whole world named Marvel! I'm pretty well posted on the history of royal families, you know. I'm afraid he's Saint George in disguise."
"Isn't your name Prince Marvel?" inquired the king, turning to the boyish-looking stranger.
"It is," answered Marvel.
"Well, it's mighty strange I've never heard of you," persisted the Dragon. "But tell me, please, how would you prefer to be killed?"
"Oh, I'm not going to be killed at all," replied the prince, laughing.
"Do you hear that, Terribus?" asked the Dragon, turning to the king; "he says he isn't going to be killed."
"But I say he is!" cried Terribus. "I have decreed his death."
"But do you suppose I'm going to kill a man against his will?" inquired the Dragon, in a reproachful voice; "and such a small man, too! Do you take me for a common assassin—or a murderer?"
"Do you intend to obey my orders?" roared the king.
"No, I don't; and that's flat!" returned the Dragon, sharply. "It's time for me to take my cough medicine; so if you've nothing more to say I'll go back to my cave."
"Go, go, go!" shrieked the king, stamping his foot in passion. "You've outlived your usefulness! You're a coward! You're a traitor! You're a—a—a—"
"I'm a dragon and a gentleman!" answered the monster, proudly, as the king paused for lack of a word; "and I believe I know what's proper for dragons to do and what isn't. I've learned wisdom from my father, who got into trouble with Saint George, and if I fought with this person who calls himself Prince Marvel, I'd deserve to be a victim of your Fool-Killer. Oh, I know my business, King Terribus; and if you knew yours, you'd get rid of this pretended prince as soon as possible!"
With this speech he winked at Prince Marvel, turned soberly around and crawled from the room. One of the keepers got too near and the Dragon's breath set fire to his robe, the flames being with difficulty extinguished; and the gold ball on the end of the Dragon's tail struck a giant upon his shins and made him dance and howl in pain.
But, aside from these slight accidents, the monster managed to leave the throne-room without undue confusion, and every one, including the king, seemed glad to be rid of him.
10. Prince Marvel Wins His Fight
When the door had closed on the Royal Dragon, King Terribus turned again to Prince Marvel, while his crimson face glowed with embarrassment, and his front eye rolled with baffled rage as he thought how vain had been all his efforts to kill this impudent invader of his domains.
But his powers were by no means exhausted. He was a mighty king—the mightiest of all in the Enchanted Island, he believed—and ways to destroy his enemies were numerous.
"Send for a hundred of my Gray Men!" he suddenly cried; and a courtier ran at once to summon them. The Gray Men would obey his orders without question, he well knew. They were silent, stubborn, quick, and faithful to their king. Terribus had but to command and his will would be obeyed.
They entered the room so quietly that Nerle never knew they were there until he turned and found the hundred gray ones standing close together in the center of the hall. Then Prince Marvel came to Nerle's side and whispered something in his ear.
"Will you obey my orders?" they heard the king ask. And the Gray Men, with their eyes fixed upon their master, nodded all their hundred heads and put their hands upon the dangerous three-tined forks that were stuck in every one of the hundred belts.
Prince Marvel handed one end of a coiled rope to Nerle, and then they both sprang forward and ran around the spot where the hundred Gray Men stood huddled together. Then they were pulled closer together than before—closer, and still closer—for the prince and Nerle had surrounded them with the rope and were tying the two ends together in a tight knot. The rope cut into the waists of those on the outside, and they pressed inward against their fellows until there was scarcely space to stick a knife-blade between any two of them. When the prince had tied the rope firmly King Terribus, who had been looking on amazed, saw that his hundred Gray Men were fastened together like a bundle of kindling-wood, and were unable to stir hand or foot.
And, while he still gazed open-mouthed at the strange sight, Prince Marvel tilted the bundle of men up on its edge and rolled it out of the door. It went rolling swiftly through the courtyard and bounded down the castle steps, where the rope broke and the men fell sprawling in all directions on the marble walk.
King Terribus sighed, for such treatment of his Gray Men, whom he dearly loved, made him very unhappy.
But more than ever was he resolved to kill these impudent strangers, who, in the very heart of his kingdom where thousands bowed to his will, dared openly defy his power. So, after a moment's thought, Terribus beckoned to a dwarf who, robed in gay and glittering apparel, stood near his throne.
"Summon the royal Dart Slingers!" he said, with a scowl.
The little man bowed and hastened away, to return presently with twenty curiously crooked dwarfs, each armed with a sling and a quiver full of slender, sharp-pointed darts.
"Slay me these strangers!" exclaimed the king, in his gruffest voice.
Now Nerle, when he beheld these terrible Dart Slingers, of whom he had heard many tales in his boyhood, began to shiver and shake with fright, so that his teeth rattled one upon another. And he reflected: "Soon shall I be content, for these darts will doubtless pierce every part of my body."
The dwarfs formed a line at one side of the gloomy throne-room, and Prince Marvel, who had been earnestly regarding them, caught Nerle by the arm and led him to the opposite wall.
"Stand close behind me and you will be safe," he whispered to his esquire.
Then each dwarf fixed a dart in his sling, and at a word from their chief they all drew back their arms and launched a shower of the sharp missiles at the strangers.
Swift and true they sped, each dart intended to pierce the body of the youthful knight who stood so calm before them. Prince Marvel had raised his right arm, and in his hand was a small leather sack, with a wide mouth. As the darts flew near him a strange thing happened: they each and all swerved from their true course and fell rattling into the leathern sack, to the wonder of the royal slingers and the dismay of King Terribus himself.
"Again!" screamed the king, his usually mild voice hoarse with anger.
So again the dwarfs cast their darts, and again the leathern sack caught them every one. Another flight followed, and yet another, till the magic sack was packed full of the darts and not a dwarf had one remaining in his quiver.
Amid the awed silence of the beholders of this feat the merry laughter of Prince Marvel rang loud and clear; for the sight of the puzzled and terrified faces about him was very comical. Plucking a dart from the sack he raised his arm and cried:
"Now it is my turn. You shall have back your darts!"
"Hold!" shouted the king, in great fear. "Do not, I beg you, slay my faithful servants." And with a wave of his hand he dismissed the dwarfs, who were glad to rush from the room and escape.
Nerle wiped the tears from his eyes, for he was sorely disappointed at having again escaped all pain and discomfort; but Prince Marvel seated himself quietly upon a stool and looked at the scowling face of King Terribus with real amusement.
The monarch of Spor had never before been so foiled and scorned by any living creature. Defeated and humbled before his own people, he bowed his crimson head on his hands and sullenly regarded his foe with his top eye. Then it was that the idea came to him that no ordinary mortal could have thwarted him so easily, and he began to fear he was dealing—perhaps unawares—with some great magician or sorcerer. That a fairy should have assumed a mortal form he never once considered, for such a thing was until then unheard of in the Enchanted Island of Yew. But with the knowledge that he had met his master, whoever he might prove to be, and that further attempts upon the stranger's life might lead to his own undoing, King Terribus decided to adopt a new line of conduct, hoping to accomplish by stratagem what he could not do by force. To be sure, there remained his regiment of Giants, the pride of his kingdom; but Terribus dreaded to meet with another defeat; and he was not at all sure, after what had happened, that the giants would succeed in conquering or destroying the strangers.
"After all," he thought, "my only object in killing them was to prevent their carrying news of my monstrous appearance to the outside world; so if I can but manage to keep them forever in my kingdom it will answer my purpose equally well."
As the result of this thought he presently raised his head and spoke to Prince Marvel in a quiet and even cheerful voice.
"Enough of these rude and boisterous games," said he, with a smile that showed his white teeth in a repulsive manner. "They may have seemed to my people an ill welcome to my good friend, Prince Marvel; yet they were only designed to show the powers of the mighty magician who has become my guest. Nay, do not deny it, Prince; from the first I guessed your secret, and to prove myself right I called my servants to oppose you, being sure they could not do you an injury. But no more of such fooling,—and pray forgive my merry game at your expense. Henceforth we shall be friends, and you are heartily welcome to the best my kingdom affords."
With this speech Terribus stepped down from his throne and approached Prince Marvel with outstretched hand. The prince was not at all deceived, but he was pleased to see how cunningly the king excused his attempts to kill him. So he laughed and touched the hand Terribus extended, for this fairy prince seemed to have no anger against any mortal who ventured to oppose him.
The strangers were now conducted, with every mark of respect, to a beautiful suite of apartments in the castle, wherein were soft beds with velvet spreads, marble baths with perfumed waters, and a variety of silken and brocaded costumes from which they might select a change of raiment.
No sooner had they bathed and adorned themselves fittingly than they were summoned to the king's banquet hall, being escorted thither by twelve young maidens bearing torches with lavender-colored flames.
The night had fallen upon the mountains outside, but the great banquet hall was brilliant with the glow of a thousand candles, and seated at the head of the long table was King Terribus.
Yet here, as in the throne-room, the ruler of Spor was dressed in simplest garments, and his seat was a rough block of stone. All about him were lords and ladies in gorgeous array; the walls were hung with rare embroideries; the table was weighted with gold platters and richly carved goblets filled with sweet nectars. But the king himself, with his horrid, ugly head, was like a great blot on a fair parchment, and even Prince Marvel could not repress a shudder as he gazed upon him.
Terribus placed his guest upon his right hand and loaded him with honors. Nerle stood behind the prince's chair and served him faithfully, as an esquire should. But the other servants treated Nerle with much deference, noting in him an air of breeding that marked him the unusual servant of an unusual master.
Indeed, most curious were the looks cast on these marvelous men who had calmly walked into the castle of mighty Terribus and successfully defied his anger; for in spite of his youthful appearance and smiling face every attendant at the banquet feared Prince Marvel even more than they feared their own fierce king.
11. The Cunning of King Terribus
The days that followed were pleasant ones for Prince Marvel and Nerle, who were treated as honored guests by both the king and his courtiers. But the prince seemed to be the favorite, for at all games of skill and trials at arms he was invariably the victor, while in the evenings, when the grand ball-room was lighted up and the musicians played sweet music, none was so graceful in the dance as the fairy prince.
Nerle soon tired of the games and dancing, for he had been accustomed to them at his father's castle; and moreover he was shy in the society of ladies; so before many weeks had passed he began to mope and show a discontented face.
One day the prince noticed his esquire's dismal expression of countenance, and asked the cause of it.
"Why," said Nerle, "here I have left my home to seek worries and troubles, and have found but the same humdrum life that existed at my father's castle. Here our days are made smooth and pleasant, and there is no excitement or grief, whatever. You have become a carpet-knight, Prince Marvel, and think more of bright eyes than of daring deeds. So, if you will release me from your service I will seek further adventures."
"Nay," returned the prince, "we will go together; for I, too, am tired of this life of pleasure."
So next morning Marvel sought the presence of King Terribus and said:
"I have come to bid your Majesty adieu, for my esquire and I are about to leave your dominions."
At first the king laughed, and his long nose began to sway from side to side. Then, seeing the prince was in earnest, his Majesty frowned and grew disturbed. Finally he said:
"I must implore you to remain my guests a short time longer. No one has ever before visited me in my mountain home, and I do not wish to lose the pleasure of your society so soon."
"Nevertheless, we must go," answered the prince, briefly.
"Are you not contented?" asked Terribus. "Ask whatever you may desire, and it shall be granted you."
"We desire adventures amid new scenes," said Marvel, "and these you can not give us except by permission to depart."
Seeing his guest was obstinate the king ceased further argument and said:
"Very well; go if you wish. But I shall hope to see you return to us this evening."
The prince paid no heed to this peculiar speech, but left the hall and hurried to the courtyard of the castle, where Nerle was holding the horses in readiness for their journey.
Standing around were many rows and files of the Gray Men, and when they reached the marble roadway they found it lined with motionless forms of the huge giants. But no one interfered with them in any way, although both Prince Marvel and Nerle knew that every eye followed them as they rode forward.
Curiously enough, they had both forgotten from what direction they had approached the castle; for, whereas they had at that time noticed but one marble roadway leading to the entrance, they now saw that there were several of these, each one connecting with a path through the mountains.
"It really doesn't matter which way we go, so long as we get away from the Kingdom of Spor," said Prince Marvel; so he selected a path by chance, and soon they were riding through a mountain pass.
The pleased, expectant look on Nerle's face had gradually turned to one of gloom.
"I hoped we should have a fight to get away," he said, sadly; "and in that case I might have suffered considerable injury and pain. But no one has injured us in any way, and perhaps King Terribus is really glad to be rid of us."
"With good reason, too, if such is the case," laughed Marvel; "for, mark you, Nerle, the king has discovered we are more powerful than he is, and had he continued to oppose us, we might have destroyed his entire army."
On they rode through the rough hill paths, winding this way and that, until they lost all sense of the direction in which they were going.