Then the beasts will become the masters and the people their slaves."
"What good would that do us?" asked Bru the Bear.
"It would save you from slavery, for one thing, and you could enjoy all the fine things of Oz people have."
"Beasts wouldn't know what to do with the things people use," said the Gray Ape.
"But this is only part of my plan," insisted the Nome. "Listen to the rest of it. We two Li-Mon-Eags are powerful magicians. When you have conquered the Oz people we will transform them all into beasts, and send them to the forests to live, and we will transform all the beasts into people, so they can enjoy all the wonderful delights of the Emerald City."
For a moment no beast spoke. Then the King said: "Prove it."
"Prove what?" asked Ruggedo.
"Prove that you can transform us. If you are a magician transform the Unicorn into a man. Then we will believe you. If you fail, we will destroy you."
"All right," said the Nome. "But I'm tired, so I'll let my comrade make the transformation."
Kiki Aru had stood back from the circle, but he had heard all that was said. He now realized that he must make good Ruggedo's boast, so he retreated to the edge of the clearing and whispered the magic word.
Instantly the Unicorn became a fat, chubby little man, dressed in the purple Gillikin costume, and it was hard to tell which was the more astonished, the King, the Bear, the Ape or the former Unicorn.
"It's true!" shorted the man-beast. "Good gracious, look what I am! It's wonderful!"
The King of Beasts now addressed Ruggedo in a more friendly tone.
"We must believe your story, since you have given us proof of your power," said he. "But why, if you are so great a magician, cannot you conquer the Oz people without our help, and so save us the trouble?"
"Alas!" replied the crafty old Nome, "no magician is able to do everything. The transformations are easy to us because we are Li-Mon-Eags, but we cannot fight, or conquer even such weak creatures as the Oz people. But we will stay with you and advise and help you, and we will transform all the Oz people into beasts, when the time comes, and all the beasts into people."
Gugu the King turned to his Counselors.
"How shall we answer this friendly stranger?" he asked.
Loo the former Unicorn was dancing around and cutting capers like a clown.
"On my word, your Majesty," he said, "this being a man is more fun than being a Unicorn."
"You look like a fool," said the Gray Ape.
"Well, I FEEL fine!" declared the man-beast.
"I think I prefer to be a Bear," said Big Bru. "I was born a Bear, and I know a Bear's ways. So I am satisfied to live as a Bear lives."
"That," said the old Nome, "is because you know nothing better. When we have conquered the Oz people, and you become a man, you'll be glad of it."
The immense Leopard rested his chin on the log and seemed thoughtful.
"The beasts of the forest must decide this matter for themselves," he said. "Go you, Rango the Gray Ape, and tell your monkey tribe to order all the forest beasts to assemble in the Great Clearing at sunrise to-morrow. When all are gathered together, this mixed-up Beast who is a magician shall talk to them and tell them what he has told us. Then, if they decide to fight the Oz people, who have declared war on us, I will lead the beasts to battle."
Rango the Gray Ape turned at once and glided swiftly through the forest on his mission. The Bear gave a grunt and walked away. Gugu the King rose and stretched himself. Then he said to Ruggedo: "Meet us at sunrise to-morrow," and with stately stride vanished among the trees.
The man-unicorn, left alone with the strangers, suddenly stopped his foolish prancing.
"You'd better make me a Unicorn again," he said. "I like being a man, but the forest beasts won't know I'm their friend, Loo, and they might tear me in pieces before morning."
So Kiki changed him back to his former shape, and the Unicorn departed to join his people.
Ruggedo the Nome was much pleased with his success.