"You have dared to laugh at the humiliation of your king," said Terribus, his horrid face more crimson than ever, "and as atonement I command that you drink of the poisoned cup."
Instantly a dwarf came near, bearing a beautiful golden goblet in his crooked hands.
"Drink!" he said, an evil leer upon his face.
The girl well knew this goblet contained a vile poison, one drop of which on her tongue would cause death; so she hesitated, trembling and shrinking from the ordeal.
Prince Marvel looked into her sweet face with pitying eyes, and stepping quickly to her side, took her hand in his.
"Now drink!" he said, smiling upon her; "the poison will not hurt you."
She drank obediently, while the dwarf chuckled with awful glee and the king looked on eagerly, expecting her to fall dead at his feet. But instead the girl stood upright and pressed Marvel's hand, looking gratefully into his face.
"You are a fairy!" she whispered, so low that no one else heard her voice. "I knew that you would save me."
"Keep my secret," whispered the prince in return, and still holding her hand he led her back to her former place.
King Terribus was almost wild with rage and disappointment, and his elephant nose twisted and squirmed horribly.
"So you dare to thwart my commands, do you!" he cried, excitedly. "Well, we shall soon see which of us is the more powerful. I have decreed your death--and die you shall!"
For a moment his eye roved around the chamber uncertainly. Then he shouted, suddenly:
"Ho, there! Keepers of the royal menagerie--appear!"
Three men entered the room and bowed before the king. They were of the Gray Men of the mountains, who had followed Prince Marvel and Nerle through the rocky passes.
"Bring hither the Royal Dragon," cried the king, "and let him consume these strangers before my very eyes!"
The men withdrew, and presently was heard a distant shouting, followed by a low rumbling sound, with groans, snorts, roars and a hissing like steam from the spout of a teakettle.
The noise and shouting drew nearer, while the people huddled together like frightened sheep; and then suddenly the doors flew open and the Royal Dragon advanced to the center of the room.
This creature was at once the pride and terror of the Kingdom of Spor. It was more than thirty feet in length and covered everywhere with large green scales set with diamonds, making the dragon, when it moved, a very glittering spectacle. Its eyes were as big as pie-plates, and its mouth--when wide opened--fully as large as a bath-tub. Its tail was very long and ended in a golden ball, such as you see on the top of flagstaffs. Its legs, which were as thick as those of an elephant, had scales which were set with rubies and emeralds. It had two monstrous, big ears and two horns of carved ivory, and its teeth were also carved into various fantastic shapes--such as castles, horses' heads, chinamen and griffins--so that if any of them broke it would make an excellent umbrella handle.
The Royal Dragon of Spor came crawling into the throne-room rather clumsily, groaning and moaning with every step and waving its ears like two blankets flying from a clothesline.
The king looked on it and frowned.
"Why are you not breathing fire and brimstone?" he demanded, angrily.
"Why, I was caught out in a gale the other night," returned the Dragon, rubbing the back of its ear with its left front paw, as it paused and looked at the king, "and the wind put out my fire."
"Then why didn't you light it again?" asked Terribus, turning on the keepers.
"We--we were out of matches, your Majesty!" stammered the trembling Gray Men.
"So--ho!" yelled the king, and was about to order the keepers beheaded; but just then Nerle pulled out his match-box, lit one of the matches, and held it in front of the Dragon's mouth. Instantly the creature's breath caught fire; and it began to breathe flames a yard in length.
"That's better," sighed the Dragon, contentedly. "I hope your Majesty is now satisfied."
"No,--I am not satisfied!" declared King Terribus.