The four lords of the forest were holding solemn council in a small clearing when they saw two strange beasts approaching them--beasts the like of which they had never seen before.
Not one of the four, however, relaxed his dignity or showed by a movement that he was startled. The great Leopard crouched at full length upon a fallen tree-trunk. Bru the Bear sat on his haunches before the King; Rango the Gray Ape stood with his muscular arms folded, and Loo the Unicorn reclined, much as a horse does, between his fellow-councillors. With one consent they remained silent, eyeing with steadfast looks the intruders, who were making their way into their forest domain.
"Well met, Brothers!" said one of the strange beasts, coming to a halt beside the group, while his comrade with hesitation lagged behind.
"We are not brothers," returned the Gray Ape, sternly. "Who are you, and how came you in the forest of Gugu?"
"We are two Li-Mon-Eags," said Ruggedo, inventing the name. "Our home is in Sky Island, and we have come to earth to warn the forest beasts that the people of Oz are about to make war upon them and enslave them, so that they will become beasts of burden forever after and obey only the will of their two-legged masters."
A low roar of anger arose from the Council of Beasts.
"WHO'S going to do that?" asked Loo the Unicorn, in a high, squeaky voice, at the same time rising to his feet.
"The people of Oz," said Ruggedo.
"But what will WE be doing?" inquired the Unicorn.
"That's what I've come to talk to you about."
"You needn't talk! We'll fight the Oz people!" screamed the Unicorn. "We'll smash 'em; we'll trample 'em; we'll gore 'em; we'll--"
"Silence!" growled Gugu the King, and Loo obeyed, although still trembling with wrath. The cold, steady gaze of the Leopard wandered over the two strange beasts. "The people of Oz," said he, "have not been our friends; they have not been our enemies. They have let us alone, and we have let them alone. There is no reason for war between us. They have no slaves. They could not use us as slaves if they should conquer us. I think you are telling us lies, you strange Li-Mon-Eag--you mixed-up beast who are neither one thing nor another."
"Oh, on my word, it's the truth!" protested the Nome in the beast's shape. "I wouldn't lie for the world; I--"
"Silence!" again growled Gugu the King; and somehow, even Ruggedo was abashed and obeyed the edict.
"What do you say, Bru?" asked the King, turning to the great Bear, who had until now said nothing.
"How does the Mixed Beast know that what he says is true?" asked the Bear.
"Why, I can fly, you know, having the wings of an Eagle," explained the Nome. "I and my comrade yonder," turning to Kiki, "flew to a grove in Oz, and there we heard the people telling how they will make many ropes to snare you beasts, and then they will surround this forest, and all other forests, and make you prisoners. So we came here to warn you, for being beasts ourselves, although we live in the sky, we are your friends."
The Leopard's lip curled and showed his enormous teeth, sharp as needles. He turned to the Gray Ape.
"What do YOU think, Rango?" he asked.
"Send these mixed beasts away, Your Majesty," replied the Gray Ape. "They are mischief-makers."
"Don't do that--don't do that!" cried the Unicorn, nervously. "The stranger said he would tell us what to do. Let him tell us, then. Are we fools, not to heed a warning?"
Gugu the King turned to Ruggedo.
"Speak, Stranger," he commanded.
"Well," said the Nome, "it's this way: The Land of Oz is a fine country. The people of Oz have many good things--houses with soft beds, all sorts of nice-tasting food, pretty clothes, lovely jewels, and many other things that beasts know nothing of. Here in the dark forests the poor beasts have hard work to get enough to eat and to find a bed to rest in. But the beasts are better than the people, and why should they not have all the good things the people have? So I propose that before the Oz people have the time to make all those ropes to snare you with, that all we beasts get together and march against the Oz people and capture them.