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In which King Loc undertakes a terrible journey
Having left the well of wisdom, King Loc went to his treasure house and out of a casket, of which he alone had the key, he took a ring which he placed on his finger. The stone set in the ring emitted a brilliant light, for it was a magic stone of whose power we shall learn more further on. Thereupon King Loc went to his palace, put on a travelling cloak and thick boots and took a stick; then he started on a journey across crowded streets, great highways, villages, galleries of porphyry, torrents of rock-oil, and crystal grottoes, all of which communicated with each other through narrow openings.
He seemed lost in deep meditation and he uttered words that had no meaning. But he trudged on doggedly. Mountains obstructed his path and he climbed the mountains. Precipices opened under his feet and he descended into the precipices; he forded streams, he crossed horrible regions black with the fumes of sulphur. He trudged across burning lava on which his feet left their imprint; he had the appearance of a desperately dogged traveller. He penetrated into gloomy caverns into which the water of the ocean oozed drop by drop, and flowed like tears along the sea wrack, forming pools on the uneven ground where countless crustaceans increased and multiplied into hideous shapes. Enormous crabs, crayfish, giant lobsters and sea spiders crackled under the dwarfs feet, then crawled away leaving some of their claws behind, and in their flight rousing horrible molluscs and octopuses centuries old that suddenly writhed their hundred arms and spat fetid poison out of their bird-beaks. And yet King Loc went on undaunted. He made his way to the ends of these caverns, through the midst of a heaped up chaos of shelled monsters armed with spikes, with double saw-edged nippers, with claws that crept stealthily up to his neck and bleared eyes on swaying tentacles. He crept up the sides of the cavern by clinging to the rough surface of the rocks and the mailed monsters crept with him, but he never faltered until he recognised by touch a stone that projected from the centre of the natural arch. He touched the stone with his magic ring and suddenly it rolled away with a horrible crash, and at once a glory of light flooded the cavern with its beautiful waves and put to flight the swarming monsters bred in its gloom.
As King Loc thrust his head into the opening through which daylight poured, he saw George of Blanchelande in his glass dungeon where he was lamenting grievously as he thought of Honey-Bee and of earth. For King Loc had undertaken this subterranean journey only to deliver the captive of the nixies.
But seeing this huge dishevelled head, frowning and bearded, watching him from under his tunnel, George believed himself to be menaced by a mighty danger and he felt for the sword at his side forgetting that he had broken it against the breast of the woman with the green eyes. In the meantime King Loc examined him curiously.
"Bah," said he to himself, "it is only a child!" And indeed he was only an ignorant child, and it was because of his great ignorance that he had escaped from the deadly and delicious kisses of the Queen of the Nixies. Aristotle with all his wisdom might not have done so well.
"What do you want, fathead?" George cried, seeing himself defenceless, "why harm me if I have never harmed you?"
"Little one," King Loc replied in a voice at once jovial and testy, "you do not know whether or not you have harmed me, for you are ignorant of effects and causes and reflections, and all philosophy in general. But we'll not talk of that. If you don't mind leaving your tunnel, come this way."
George at once crept into the cavern, slipped down the length of the wall, and as soon as he had reached the bottom he said to his deliverer:
"You are a good little man; I shall love you for ever; but do you know where Honey-Bee of Clarides is?"
"I know a great many things," retorted the dwarf, "and especially that I don't like people who ask questions."
Hearing this George paused in great confusion and followed his guide in silence through the dense black air where the octopuses and crustaceans writhed. King Loc said mockingly:
"This is not a carriage road, young prince."
"Sir," George replied, "the road to liberty is always beautiful, and I fear not to be led astray when I follow my benefactor."
Little King Loc bit his lips. On reaching the gallery of porphyry he pointed out to the youth a flight of steps cut in the rock by the dwarfs, by which they ascend to earth.
"This is your way," he said, "farewell."
"Do not bid me farewell," George replied, "say I shall see you again. After what you have done my life is yours."
"What I have done," King Loc replied, "I have not done for your sake, but for another's. It will be better for us never to meet again, for we can never be friends."
"I would not have believed that my deliverance could have caused me such pain," George said simply and gravely, "and yet it does. Farewell."
"A pleasant journey," cried King Loc, in a gruff voice.
Now it happened that these steps of the dwarfs adjoined a deserted stone quarry less than a mile from the castle of Clarides.
"This young lad," King Loc murmured as he went on his way, "has neither the wisdom nor the wealth. Truly I cannot imagine why Honey-Bee loves him, unless it is because he is young, handsome, faithful and brave."
As he went back to the town he laughed to himself as a man does who has done some one a good turn. As he passed Honey-Bee's cottage he thrust his big head into the open window just as he had thrust it into the crystal tunnel, and he saw the young girl, who was embroidering a veil with silver flowers.
"I wish you joy, Honey-Bee," he cried.
"And you also, little King Loc, seeing you have nothing to wish for and nothing to regret."
He had much to wish for, but, indeed, he had nothing to regret. And it was probably this which gave him such a good appetite for supper. Having eaten a huge number of truffled pheasants he called Bob.
"Bob," said he, "mount your raven; go to the Princess of the Dwarfs and tell her that George or Blanchelande, long a captive of the nixies, has this day returned to Clarides."
Thus he spoke and Bob flew off on his raven.
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