But he only smiled to himself and thought: "A year and a day will soon pass away!"
Now when Keo returned to his mother safe and well every member of his tribe was filled with joy, for the Jolly One was a general favorite. But when he told them that in a year and a day he must again become the slave of the black man, they began to wail and weep, and so many were their tears that the river rose several inches.
Of course Keo only laughed at their sorrow; but a great meeting of the tribe was called and the matter discussed seriously.
"Having sworn by the tusks of his grandfather," said Uncle Nikki, "he must keep his promise. But it is our duty to try in some way to rescue him from death or a life of slavery."
To this all agreed, but no one could think of any method of saving Keo from his fate. So months passed away, during which all the royal hippopotamuses were sad and gloomy except the Jolly One himself.
Finally but a week of freedom remained to Keo, and his mother, the queen, became so nervous and worried that another meeting of the tribe was called. By this time the laughing hippopotamus had grown to enormous size, and measured nearly fifteen feet long and six feet high, while his sharp tusks were whiter and harder than those of an elephant.
"Unless something is done to save my child," said the mother, "I shall die of grief."
Then some of her relations began to make foolish suggestions; but presently Uncle Nep, a wise and very big hippopotamus, said:
"We must go to Glinkomok and implore his aid."
Then all were silent, for it was a bold thing to face the mighty Glinkomok. But the mother's love was equal to any heroism.
"I will myself go to him, if Uncle Nep will accompany me," she said, quickly.
Uncle Nep thoughtfully patted the soft mud with his fore foot and wagged his short tail leisurely from side to side.
"We have always been obedient to Glinkomok, and shown him great respect," said he. "Therefore I fear no danger in facing him. I will go with you."
All the others snorted approval, being very glad they were not called upon to go themselves.
So the queen and Uncle Nep, with Keo swimming between them, set out upon their journey. They swam up the river all that day and all the next, until they came at sundown to a high, rocky wall, beneath which was the cave where the might Glinkomok dwelt.
This fearful creature was part beast, part man, part fowl and part fish. It had lived since the world began. Through years of wisdom it had become part sorcerer, part wizard, part magician and part fairy. Mankind knew it not, but the ancient beasts knew and feared it.
The three hippopotamuses paused before the cave, with their front feet upon the bank and their bodies in the water, and called in chorus a greeting to Glinkomok. Instantly thereafter the mouth of the cave darkened and the creature glided silently toward them.
The hippopotamuses were afraid to look upon it, and bowed their heads between their legs.
"We come, O Glinkomok, to implore your mercy and friendly assistance!" began Uncle Nep; and then he told the story of Keo's capture, and how he had promised to return to the black man.
"He must keep his promise," said the creature, in a voice that sounded like a sigh.
The mother hippopotamus groaned aloud.
"But I will prepare him to overcome the black man, and to regain his liberty," continued Glinkomok.
"Lift your right paw," commanded Glinkomok. Keo obeyed, and the creature touched it with its long, hairy tongue. Then it held four skinny hands over Keo's bowed head and mumbled some words in a language unknown to man or beast or fowl or fish. After this it spoke again in hippopotamese:
"Your skin has now become so tough that no man can hurt you. Your strength is greater than that of ten elephants. Your foot is so swift that you can distance the wind. Your wit is sharper than the bulthorn. Let the man fear, but drive fear from your own breast forever; for of all your race you are the mightiest!"
Then the terrible Glinkomok leaned over, and Keo felt its fiery breath scorch him as it whispered some further instructions in his ear.