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15. The High Ki of Twi
"Tell me, Prince, are we awake or asleep?" asked Nerle, as soon as they were alone.
"There is no question of our being awake," replied the prince, with a laugh. "But what a curious country it is - and what a funny people!"
"We can't call them odd or singular," said the esquire, "for everything is even in numbers and double in appearance. It makes me giddy to look at them, and I keep feeling of myself to make sure there is still only one of me."
"You are but half a boy!" laughed the prince - "at least so long as you remain in the Land of Twi."
"I'd like to get out of it in double-quick time," answered Nerle; "and we should even now be on the other side of the hedge were it not for that wicked pair of Ki-Ki, who are determined to kill us."
"It is strange," said the prince, thoughtfully, "that the fierce-looking old Ki should be our friends and the gentle Ki-Ki our enemies. How little one can tell from appearances what sort of heart beats in a person's body!"
Before Nerle could answer the two doors opened and two pairs of soldiers entered. They drew two small tables before the prince and two before Nerle, and then other pairs of twin soldiers came and spread cloths on the tables and set twin platters of meat and bread and fruit on each of the tables. When the meal had been arranged the prisoners saw that there was enough for four people instead of two; and the soldiers realized this also, for they turned puzzled looks first on the tables and then on the prisoners. Then they shook all their twin heads gravely and went away, locking the twin doors behind them.
"We have one advantage in being singular," said Nerle, cheerfully; "and that is we are not likely to starve to death. For we can eat the portions of our missing twins as well as our own."
"I should think you would enjoy starving," remarked the prince.
"No; I believe I have more exquisite suffering in store for me, since I have met that gentle pair of Ki-Ki," said Nerle.
While they were eating the two captains came in and sat down in two chairs. These captains seemed friendly fellows, and after watching the strangers for a while they remarked:
"We are glad to see you able to eat so heartily; for to-morrow you will probably die."
"That is by no means certain," replied Marvel, cutting a piece from one of the twin birds on a platter before him - to the extreme surprise of the captains, who had always before seen both birds carved alike at the same time. "Your gray-bearded old Ki say we shall not die."
"True," answered the captains. "But the Ki-Ki have declared you shall."
"Their powers seem to be equal," said Nerle, "and we are to be taken before the High Ki for judgment."
"Therein lies your danger," returned the captains, speaking in the same tones and with the same accents on their words. "For it is well known the Ki-Ki has more influence with the High Ki than the Ki has."
"Hold on!" cried Nerle; "you are making me dizzy again. I can't keep track of all these Kis."
"What is the High Ki like?" asked Prince Marvel, who was much interested in the conversation of the captains. But this question the officers seemed unable to answer. They shook their heads slowly and said:
"The High Ki are not visible to the people of Twi. Only in cases of the greatest importance are the High Ki ever bothered or even approached by the Ki and the Ki-Ki, who are supposed to rule the land according to their own judgment. But if they chance to disagree, then the matter is carried before the High Ki, who live in a palace surrounded by high walls, in which there are no gates. Only these rulers have ever seen the other side of the walls, or know what the High Ki are like."
"That is strange," said the prince. "But we, ourselves, it seems, are to see the High Ki to-morrow, and whoever they may chance to be, we hope to remain alive after the interview."
"That is a vain hope," answered the captains, "for it is well known that the High Ki usually decide in favor of the Ki-Ki, and against the wishes of the old Ki."
"That is certainly encouraging," said Nerle.
When the captains had gone and left them to themselves, the esquire confided to his master his expectations in the following speech:
"This High Ki sounds something terrible and fierce in my ears, and as they are doubtless a pair, they will be twice terrible and fierce. Perhaps his royal doublets will torture me most exquisitely before putting me to death, and then I shall feel that I have not lived in vain."
They slept in comfortable beds that night, although an empty twin bed stood beside each one they occupied. And in the morning they were served another excellent meal, after which the captains escorted them again to the twin palaces of the Ki and the Ki-Ki.
There the two pairs of rulers met them and headed the long procession of soldiers toward the palace of the High Ki. First came a band of music, in which many queer sorts of instruments were played in pairs by twin musicians; and it was amusing to Nerle to see the twin drummers roll their twin drums exactly at the same time and the twin trumpets peal out twin notes. After the band marched the double Ki-Ki and the double Ki, their four bodies side by side in a straight line. The Ki-Ki had left their musical instruments in the palace, and now wore yellow gloves with green stitching down the backs and swung gold-headed canes jauntily as they walked. The Ki stooped their aged shoulders and shuffled along with their hands in their pockets, and only once did they speak, and that was to roar "Great Kika-koo!" when the Ki-Ki jabbed their canes down on the Ki's toes.
Following the Ki-Ki and the Ki came the prince and Nerle, escorted by the twin captains, and then there were files of twin soldiers bringing up the rear.
Crowds of twin people, with many twin children amongst them, turned out to watch the unusual display, and many pairs of twin dogs barked together in unison and snapped at the heels of the marching twin soldiers.
By and by they reached the great wall surrounding the High Ki's palace, and, sure enough, there was never a gate in the wall by which any might enter. But when the Ki and the Ki-Ki had blown a shrill signal upon two pairs of whistles, they all beheld two flights of silver steps begin to descend from the top of the wall, and these came nearer and nearer the ground until at last they rested at the feet of the Ki. Then the old men began ascending the steps carefully and slowly, and the captains motioned to the prisoners to follow. So Prince Marvel followed one of the Ki up the steps and Nerle the other Ki, while the two Ki-Ki came behind them so they could not escape.
So to the top of the wall they climbed, where a pair of twin servants in yellow and green - which seemed to be the royal colors - welcomed them and drew up the pair of silver steps, afterward letting them down on the other side of the wall, side by side.
They descended in the same order as they had mounted to the top of the wall, and now Prince Marvel and Nerle found themselves in a most beautiful garden, filled with twin beds of twin flowers, with many pairs of rare shrubs. Also, there were several double statuettes on pedestals, and double fountains sending exactly the same sprays of water the same distance into the air.
Double walks ran in every direction through the garden, and in the center of the inclosure stood a magnificent twin palace, built of blocks of white marble exquisitely carved.
The Ki and the Ki-Ki at once led their prisoners toward the palace and entered at its large arched double doors, where several pairs of servants met them. These servants, they found, were all dumb, so that should they escape from the palace walls they could tell no tales of the High Ki.
The prisoners now proceeded through several pairs of halls, winding this way and that, and at last came to a pair of golden double doors leading into the throne-room of the mighty High Ki. Here they all paused, and the Ki-Ki both turned to the prince and Nerle and said:
"You are the only persons, excepting ourselves and the palace servants, who have ever been permitted to see the High Ki of Twi. As you are about to die, that does not matter; but should you by any chance be permitted to live, you must never breathe a word of what you are about to see, under penalty of a sure and horrible death."
The prisoners made no reply to this speech, and, after the two Ki-Ki had given them another mild look from their gentle blue eyes, these officials clapped their twin hands together and the doors of gold flew open.
A perfect silence greeted them, during which the double Ki and the double Ki-Ki bent their four bodies low and advanced into the throne-room, followed by Prince Marvel and Nerle.
In the center of the room stood two thrones of dainty filigree work in solid gold, and over them were canopies of yellow velvet, the folds of which were caught up and draped with bands of green ribbon. And on the thrones were seated two of the sweetest and fairest little maidens that mortal man had ever beheld. Their lovely hair was fine as a spider's web; their eyes were kind and smiling, their cheeks soft and dimpled, their mouths shapely as a cupid's bow and tinted like the petals of a rose. Upon their heads were set two crowns of fine spun gold, worked into fantastic shapes and set with glittering gems. Their robes were soft silks of pale yellow, with strings of sparkling emeralds for ornament.
Anything so lovely and fascinating as these little maids, who were precisely alike in every particular, neither Prince Marvel nor Nerle had ever dreamed could exist. They stood for a time spellbound and filled with admiration, while the two pairs of rulers bowed again and again before the dainty and lovable persons of their High Ki.
But it was hard for Nerle to keep quiet for long, and presently he exclaimed, in a voice loud enough to be heard by all present:
"By the Great Kika-koo of our friends the Ki, these darling High Ki of Twi are sweet enough to be kissed!"
Turn to the next chapter: 16. The Rebellion of the High Ki