Seeing Prince Marvel's party approach, this man ran toward them waving his hands and shouting excitedly:
"Take the other path! Take the other path!"
"And why should we take the other path?" inquired the prince, reining in his steed.
"Because this one leads to the castle of the great sorcerer, Kwytoffle," answered the man.
"But there is where we wish to go," said Marvel.
"What! You wish to go there?" cried the man. "Then you will be robbed and enslaved!"
"Not as long as we are able to fight," laughed the big Wul-Takim.
"If you resist the sorcerer, you will be turned into grasshoppers and June-bugs," declared the man, staring at them in wonder.
"How do you know that?" asked Marvel.
"Kwytoffle says so. He promises to enchant every one who dares defy his power."
"Has any one ever yet dared defy him?" asked Nerle.
"Certainly not!" said the man. "No one wishes to become a June-bug or a grasshopper. No one dares defy him.".
"I am anxious to see this sorcerer," exclaimed King Terribus. "He ought to prove an interesting person, for he is able to accomplish his purposes by threats alone."
"Then let us ride on," said Marvel.
"Dear us! Dear us!" remonstrated the bald-headed Ki; "are we to become grasshoppers, then?"
"We shall see," returned the prince, briefly.
"With your long legs," added the pretty pair of High Ki, laughingly, "you ought to be able to jump farther than any other grasshopper in the kingdom."
"Great Kika-koo!" cried the Ki, nervously, "what a fate! what a terrible fate! And your Highnesses, I suppose, will become June-bugs, and flutter your wings with noises like buzz-saws!"
21. The Wonderful Book of Magic
Whatever their fears might be, none of Prince Marvel's party hesitated to follow him along the path through the forest in search of the sorcerer, and by and by they came upon a large clearing. In the middle of this open space was a big building in such bad repair that its walls were tumbling down in several places, and all around it the ground was uncared for and littered with rubbish. A man was walking up and down in front of this building, with his head bowed low; but when he heard the sound of approaching horses' hoofs he looked up and stared for a moment in amazement. Then, with a shout of rage, he rushed toward them and caught Prince Marvel's horse by the bridle.
"How dare you!" he cried; "how dare you enter my forest?"
Marvel jerked his bridle from the man's grasp and said in return:
"Who are you?"
"Me! Who am I? Why, I am the great and powerful Kwytoffle! So beware! Beware my sorcery!"
They all looked at the man curiously. He was short and very fat, and had a face like a puff-ball, with little red eyes and scarcely any nose at all. He wore a black gown with scarlet grasshoppers and june-bugs embroidered upon the cloth; and his hat was high and peaked, with an imitation grasshopper of extraordinary size perched upon its point. In his right hand he carried a small black wand, and around his neck hung a silver whistle on a silver cord.
Seeing that the strangers were gazing on him so earnestly, Kwytoffle thought they were frightened; so he said again, in a big voice:
"Beware my vengeance!"
"Beware yourself!" retorted the prince. "For if you do not treat us more respectfully, I shall have you flogged."
"What! Flog me!" shouted Kwytoffle, furiously. "For this I will turn every one of you into grasshoppers--unless you at once give me all the wealth you possess!"
"Poor man!" exclaimed Nerle; "I can see you are longing for that flogging. Will you have it now?" and he raised his riding-whip above his head.
Kwytoffle stumbled backward a few paces and blew shrilly upon his silver whistle. Instantly a number of soldiers came running from the building, others following quickly after them until fully a hundred rough-looking warriors, armed with swords and axes, had formed in battle array, facing the little party of Prince Marvel.
"Arrest these strangers!" commanded Kwytoffle, in a voice like a roar. "Capture them and bind them securely, and then I will change them all into grasshoppers!"
"All right," answered the captain of the soldiers; and then he turned to his men and shouted: "Forward--double-quick--march!"
They came on with drawn swords; at first running, and then gradually dropping into a walk, as they beheld Nerle, Wul-Takim, King Terribus and Marvel standing quietly waiting to receive them, weapons in hand and ready for battle.