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13. The Hidden Kingdom of Twi
Knowing that at last they were free to roam according to their desire, the travelers rode gaily along the paths, taking but scant heed of their way.
"Our faces are set toward new adventures," remarked the prince. "Let us hope they will prove more pleasant than the last."
"To be sure!" responded Nerle. "Let us hope, at any rate, that we shall suffer more privations and encounter more trouble than we did in that mountainous Kingdom of Spor." Then he added: "For one reason, I regret you are my master."
"What is that reason?" asked the prince, turning to smile upon his esquire.
"You have a way of overcoming all difficulties without any trouble whatsoever, and that deprives me of any chance of coming to harm while in your company."
"Cheer up, my boy!" cried Marvel. "Did I not say there are new adventures before us? We may not come through them so easily as we came through the others."
"That is true," replied Nerle; "it is always best to hope." And then he inquired: "Why do you stop here, in the middle of the path?"
"Because the path has ended rather suddenly," answered Marvel. "Here is a thick hedge of prickly briers barring our way."
Nerle looked over his master's shoulder and saw that a great hedge, high and exceedingly thick, cut off all prospect of their advancing.
"This is pleasant," said he; "but I might try to force our way through the hedge. The briers would probably prick me severely, and that would be delightful."
"Try it!" the prince returned, with twinkling eyes.
Nerle sprang from his horse to obey, but at the first contact with the briers he uttered a howl of pain and held up his hands, which were bleeding in a dozen places from the wounds of the thorns.
"Ah, that will content you for a time, I trust," said Marvel. "Now follow me, and we will ride along beside the hedge until we find an opening. For either it will come to an end or there will prove to be a way through it to the other side."
So they rode alongside the hedge for hour after hour; yet it did not end, nor could they espy any way to get through the thickly matted briers. By and by night fell, and they tethered their horses to some shrubs, where there were a few scanty blades of grass for them to crop, and then laid themselves down upon the ground, with bare rocks for pillows, where they managed to sleep soundly until morning.
They had brought a supply of food in their pouches, and on this they breakfasted, afterward continuing their journey beside the hedge.
At noon Prince Marvel uttered an exclamation of surprise and stopped his horse.
"What is it?" asked Nerle.
"I have found the handkerchief with which you wiped the blood from your hands yesterday morning, and then carelessly dropped," replied the prince. "This proves that we have made a complete circle around this hedge without finding a way to pass through it."
"In that case," said Nerle, "we had better leave the hedge and go in another direction."
"Not so," declared Marvel. "The hedge incloses some unknown country, and I am curious to find out what it is."
"But there is no opening," remonstrated Nerle.
"Then we must make one. Wouldn't you like to enjoy a little more pain?"
"Thank you," answered Nerle, "my hands are still smarting very comfortably from the pricks of yesterday."
"Therefore I must make the attempt myself," said the prince, and drawing his sword he whispered a queer word to it, and straightway began slashing at the hedge.
The brambles fell fast before his blade, and when he had cut a big heap of branches from the hedge Nerle dragged them to one side, and the prince began again.
It was marvelous how thick the hedge proved. Only a magic sword could have done this work and remained sharp, and only a fairy arm could have proved strong enough to hew through the tough wood. But the magic sword and fairy arm were at work, and naught could resist them.
After a time the last branches were severed and dragged from the path, and then the travelers rode their horses through the gap into the unknown country beyond.
They saw at first glance that it was a land of great beauty; but after that one look both Prince Marvel and Nerle paused and rubbed their eyes, to assure themselves that their vision was not blurred.
Before them were two trees, exactly alike. And underneath the trees two cows were grazing - each a perfect likeness of the other. At their left were two cottages, with every door and window and chimney the exact counterpart of another. Before these houses two little boys were playing, evidently twins, for they not only looked alike and dressed alike, but every motion one made was also made by the other at the same time and in precisely the same way. When one laughed the other laughed, and when one stubbed his toe and fell down, the other did likewise, and then they both sat up and cried lustily at the same time.
At this two women - it was impossible to tell one from the other - rushed out of the two houses, caught up the two boys, shook and dusted them in precisely the same way, and led them by their ears back into the houses.
Again the astonished travelers rubbed their eyes, and then Prince Marvel looked at Nerle and said:
"I thought at first that I saw everything double, but there seems to be only one of YOU."
"And of you," answered the boy. "But see! there are two hills ahead of us, and two paths lead from the houses over the hills! How strange it all is!"
Just then two birds flew by, close together and perfect mates; and the cows raised their heads and "mooed" at the same time; and two men - also twins - came over the two hills along the two paths with two dinner-pails in their hands and entered the two houses. They were met at the doors by the two women, who kissed them exactly at the same time and helped them off with their coats with the same motions, and closed the two doors with two slams at the same instant.
Nerle laughed. "What sort of country have we got into?" he asked.
"Let us find out," replied the prince, and riding up to one of the houses he knocked on the door with the hilt of his sword.
Instantly the doors of both houses flew open, and both men appeared in the doorways. Both started back in amazement at sight of the strangers, and both women shrieked and both little boys began to cry. Both mothers boxed the children's ears, and both men gasped out:
"Who - who are you?"
Their voices were exactly alike, and their words were spoken in unison. Prince Marvel replied, courteously:
"We are two strangers who have strayed into your country. But I do not understand why our appearance should so terrify you."
"Why - you are singular! There is only half of each of you!" exclaimed the two men, together.
"Not so," said the prince, trying hard not to laugh in their faces. "We may be single, while you appear to be double; but each of us is perfect, nevertheless."
"Perfect! And only half of you!" cried the men. And again the two women, who were looking over their husbands' shoulders, screamed at sight of the strangers; and again the two boys, who were clinging to their mothers' dresses in the same positions, began to cry.
"We did not know such strange people existed!" said the two men, both staring at the strangers and then wiping the beads of perspiration from their two brows with two faded yellow handkerchiefs.
"Nor did we!" retorted the prince. "I assure you we are as much surprised as you are."
Nerle laughed again at this, and to hear only one of the strangers speak and the other only laugh seemed to terrify the double people anew. So Prince Marvel quickly asked:
"Please tell us what country this is?"
"The Land of Twi," answered both men, together.
"Oh! the Land of Twi. And why is the light here so dim?" continued the prince.
"Dim?" repeated the men, as if surprised; "why, this is twilight, of course."
"Of course," said Nerle. "I hadn't thought of that. We are in the long hidden Land of Twi, which all men have heard of, but no man has found before."
"And who may you be?" questioned the prince, looking from one man to the other, curiously.
"We are Twis," they answered.
"Twis - inhabitants of Twi."
"It's the same thing," laughed Nerle. "You see everything twice in this land."
"Are none of your people single?" asked Prince Marvel.
"Single," returned the men, as if perplexed. "We don't understand."
"Are you all double? - or are some of you just one?" said the prince, who found it difficult to put his question plainly.
"What does 'one' mean?" asked the men. "There is no such word as 'one' in our language."
"They have no need of such a word," declared Nerle.
"We are only poor laborers," explained the men. "But over the hills lie the cities of Twi, where the Ki and the Ki-Ki dwell, and also the High Ki."
"Ah!" said Marvel, "I've heard of your High Ki. Who is he?"
The men shook their heads, together and with the same motion.
"We have never seen the glorious High Ki," they answered. "The sight of their faces is forbidden. None but the Ki and the Ki-Ki has seen the Supreme Rulers and High Ki."
"I'm getting mixed," said Nerle. "All this about the Ki and the Ki-Ki and the High Ki makes me dizzy. Let's go on to the city and explore it."
"That is a good suggestion," replied the prince. "Good by, my friends," he added, addressing the men.
They both bowed, and although they still seemed somewhat frightened they answered him civilly and in the same words, and closed their doors at the same time.
So Prince Marvel and Nerle rode up the double path to the hills, and the two cows became frightened and ran away with the same swinging step, keeping an exact space apart. And when they were a safe distance they both stopped, looked over their right shoulders, and "mooed" at the same instant.
Turn to the next chapter: 14. The Ki and the Ki-Ki