FictionForest

Chapter 18 – A Clever Conquest

L. Frank BaumOct 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The great dragon still had his eyes closed and was
even snoring in a manner that resembled distant
thunder; but Polychrome was now desperate, because
any further delay meant the destruction of her
friends. She seized the pearl necklace, to which
was attached the great locket, and jerked it with
all her strength.

The result was encouraging. Quox stopped
snoring and his eyelids flickered. So Polychrome
jerked again–and again–till slowly the great
lids raised and the dragon looked at her steadily.
Said he, in a sleepy tone:

“What’s the matter, little Rainbow?”

“Come quick!” exclaimed Polychrome. “Ruggedo has
captured all our friends and is about to destroy
them.”

“Well, well,” said Quox, “I suspected that would
happen. Step a little out of my path, my dear, and
I’ll make a rush for the Nome King’s cavern.”

She fell back a few steps and Quox raised
himself on his stout legs, whisked his long tail
and in an instant had slid down the rocks and made
a dive through the entrance.

Along the passage he swept, nearly filling it
with his immense body, and now he poked his head
into the jeweled cavern of Ruggedo.

But the King had long since made arrangements to
capture the dragon, whenever he might appear. No
sooner did Quox stick his head into the room than
a thick chain fell from above and encircled his
neck. Then the ends of the chain were drawn tight-
-for in an adjoining cavern a thousand nomes were
pulling on them–and so the dragon could advance
no further toward the King. He could not use his
teeth or his claws and as his body was still in
the passage he had not even room to strike his
foes with his terrible tail.

Ruggedo was delighted with the success of his
stratagem. He had just transformed the Rose
Princess into a fiddle and was about to transform
Files into a fiddle bow, when the dragon appeared
to interrupt him. So he called out:

“Welcome, my dear Quox, to my royal
entertainment. Since you are here, you shall
witness some very neat magic, and after I have
finished with Files and Tik-Tok I mean to
transform you into a tiny lizard–one of the
chameleon sort–and you shall live in my cavern
and amuse me.

“Pardon me for contradicting Your Majesty,”
returned Quox in a quiet voice, “but I don’t
believe you’ll perform any more magic.”

“Eh? Why not?” asked the King in surprise.

“There’s a reason,” said Quox. “Do you see this
ribbon around my neck?”

“Yes; and I’m astonished that a dignified dragon
should wear such a silly thing.”

“Do you see it plainly?” persisted the dragon,
with a little chuckle of amusement.

“I do,” declared Ruggedo.

“Then you no longer possess any magical powers,
and are as helpless as a clam,” asserted Quox. “My
great master, Tititi-Hoochoo, the Jinjin,
enchanted this ribbon in such a way that whenever
Your Majesty looked upon it all knowledge of magic
would desert you instantly, nor will any magical
formula you can remember ever perform your
bidding.”

“Pooh! I don’t believe a word of it!” cried
Ruggedo, half frightened, nevertheless. Then he
turned toward Files and tried to transform him
into a fiddle bow. But he could not remember the
right words or the right pass of the hands and
after several trials he finally gave up the
attempt.

By this time the Nome King was so alarmed that
he was secretly shaking in his shoes.

“I told you not to anger Tititi-Hoochoo,”
grumbled Kaliko, “and now you see the result of
your disobedience.”

Ruggedo promptly threw his sceptre at his Royal
Chamberlain, who dodged it with his usual
cleverness, and then he said with an attempt to
swagger:

“Never mind; I don’t need magic to enable me to
destroy these invaders; fire and the sword will do
the business and I am still King of the Nomes and
lord and master of my Underground Kingdom!”

“Again I beg to differ with Your Majesty,” said
Quox. “The Great Jinjin commands you to depart
instantly from this Kingdom and seek the earth’s
surface, where you will wander for all time to
come, without a home or country, without a friend
or follower, and without any more riches than you
can carry with you in your pockets. The Great
Jinjin is so generous that he will allow you to
fill your pockets with jewels or gold, but you
must take nothing more.”

Ruggedo now stared at the dragon in amazement.

“Does Tititi-Hoochoo condemn me to such a fate?”
he asked in a hoarse voice.

“He does,” said Quox.

“And just for throwing a few strangers down the
Forbidden Tube?”

“Just for that,” repeated Quox in a stern, gruff
voice.

“Well, I won’t do it. And your crazy old Jinjin
can’t make me do it, either!” declared Ruggedo. “I
intend to remain here, King of the Nomes, until
the end of the world, and I defy your Tititi-
Hoochoo and all his fairies–as well as his clumsy
messenger, whom I have been obliged to chain up!”

The dragon smiled again, but it was not the sort
of smile that made Ruggedo feel very happy.
Instead, there was something so cold and merciless
in the dragon’s expression that the condemned Nome
King trembled and was sick at heart.

There was little comfort for Ruggedo in the fact
that the dragon was now chained, although he had
boasted of it. He glared at the immense head of
Quox as if fascinated and there was fear in the
old King’s eyes as he watched his enemy’s
movements.

For the dragon was now moving; not abruptly, but
as if he had something to do and was about to do
it. Very deliberately he raised one claw, touched
the catch of the great jeweled locket that was
suspended around his neck, and at once it opened
wide.

Nothing much happened at first; half a dozen
hen’s eggs rolled out upon the floor and then the
locket closed with a sharp click. But the effect
upon the nomes of this simple thing was
astounding. General Guph, Kaliko, Pang and his
band of executioners were all standing close to
the door that led to the vast series of
underground caverns which constituted the
dominions of the nomes, and as soon as they saw
the eggs they raised a chorus of frantic screams
and rushed through the door, slamming it in
Ruggedo’s face and placing a heavy bronze bar
across it.

Ruggedo, dancing with terror and uttering
loud cries, now leaped upon the seat of his
throne to escape the eggs, which had rolled
steadily toward him. Perhaps these eggs, sent
by the wise and crafty Tititi-Hoochoo, were in
some way enchanted, for they all rolled directly
after Ruggedo and when they reached the
throne where he had taken refuge they began
rolling up the legs to the seat.

This was too much for the King to bear. His
horror of eggs was real and absolute and he made a
leap from the throne to the center of the room and
then ran to a far corner.

The eggs followed, rolling slowly but steadily
in his direction. Ruggedo threw his sceptre at
them, and then his ruby crown, and then he drew
off his heavy golden sandals and hurled these at
the advancing eggs. But the eggs dodged every
missile and continued to draw nearer. The King
stood trembling, his eyes staring in terror, until
they were but half a yard distant; then with an
agile leap he jumped clear over them and made a
rush for the passage that led to the outer
entrance.

Of course the dragon was in his way, being
chained in the passage with his head in the
cavern, but when he saw the King making toward him
he crouched as low as he could and dropped his
chin to the floor, leaving a small space between
his body and the roof of the passage.

Ruggedo did not hesitate an instant. Impelled
by fear, he leaped to the dragon’s nose and then
scrambled to his back, where he succeeded in
squeezing himself through the opening. After
the head was passed there was more room and
he slid along the dragon’s scales to his tail and
then ran as fast as his legs would carry him to
the entrance. Not pausing here, so great was his
fright, the King dashed on down the mountain
path, but before he had gone very far he
stumbled and fell.

When he picked himself up he observed that no
one was following him, and while he recovered his
breath he happened to think of the decree of the
Jinjin–that he should be driven from his Kingdom
and made a wanderer on the face of the earth.
Well, here he was, driven from his cavern in
truth; driven by those dreadful eggs; but he would
go back and defy them; he would not submit to
losing his precious Kingdom and his tyrannical
powers, all because Tititi-Hoochoo had said he
must.

So, although still afraid, Ruggedo nerved
himself to creep back along the path to the
entrance, and when he arrived there he saw the six
eggs lying in a row just before the arched
opening.

At first he paused a safe distance away to
consider the case, for the eggs were now
motionless. While he was wondering what could be
done, he remembered there was a magical charm
which would destroy eggs and render them harmless
to nomes. There were nine passes to be made and
six verses of incantation to be recited; but
Ruggedo knew them all. Now that he had ample time
to be exact, he carefully went through the entire
ceremony.

But nothing happened. The eggs did not
disappear, as he had expected; so he repeated the
charm a second time. When that also failed, he
remembered, with a moan of despair, that his magic
power had been taken away from him and in the
future he could do no more than any common mortal.

And there were the eggs, forever barring him
from the Kingdom which he had ruled so long with
absolute sway! He threw rocks at them, but could
not hit a single egg. He raved and scolded and
tore his hair and beard, and danced in helpless
passion, but that did nothing to avert the just
judgment of the Jinjin, which Ruggedo’s own evil
deeds had brought upon him.

From this time on he was an outcast–a wanderer
upon the face of the earth–and he had even
forgotten to fill his pockets with gold and jewels
before he fled from his former Kingdom!

 

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