"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.