THE CONQUEST OF NOLAND

King Bud and Princess Fluff were leading very happy and peaceful lives
in their beautiful palace. All wars and dangers seemed at an end, and
there was nothing to disturb their content.

All the gold that was needed the royal purse-bearer was able to supply
from his overflowing purse. The gigantic General Tollydob became famous
throughout the world, and no nation dared attack the army of Noland. The
talking dog of old Tallydab made every one wonder, and people came many
miles to see Ruffles and hear him speak. It was said that all this good
fortune had been brought to Noland by the pretty Princess Fluff, who was
a favorite of the fairies; and the people loved her on this account as
well as for her bright and sunny disposition.

[Illustration: “THE GREAT BALL STRUCK THE FIELD NEAR THEM.”]

King Bud caused his subjects some little anxiety, to be sure; for they
never could tell what he was liable to do next, except that he was sure
to do something unexpected. But much is forgiven a king; and if Bud made
some pompous old nobleman stand on his head, to amuse a mob of people,
he would give him a good dinner afterward and fill his purse with gold
to make up for the indignity. Fluff often reproved her brother for such
pranks, but Bud’s soul was flooded with mischief, and it was hard for
him to resist letting a little of the surplus escape now and then.

After all, the people were fairly content and prosperous, and no one was
at all prepared for the disasters soon to overtake them.

One day, while King Bud was playing at ball with some of his courtiers
on a field outside the city gates, the first warning of trouble reached
him. Bud had batted a ball high into the air, and while looking upward
for it to descend he saw another ball bound from the plain at the top of
the North Mountains, fly into the air, and then sink gradually toward
him. As it approached, it grew bigger and bigger, until it assumed
mammoth proportions; and then, while the courtiers screamed in terror,
the great ball struck the field near them, bounced high into the air,
and came down directly upon the sharp point of one of the palace towers,
where it stuck fast with a yell that sounded almost human.

For some moments Bud and his companions were motionless through surprise
and fear; then they rushed into the city and stood among the crowd of
people which had congregated at the foot of the tower to stare at the
big ball impaled upon its point. Once in a while, two arms, two short
legs, and a head would dart out from the ball and wiggle frantically,
and then the yell would be repeated and the head and limbs withdrawn
swiftly into the ball.

It was all so curious that the people were justified in staring at it in
amazement; for certainly no one had ever seen or heard of a Roly-Rogue
before, or even known such a creature existed.

Finally, as no one else could reach the steeple-top, Aunt Rivette flew
into the air and circled slowly around the ball. When next its head was
thrust out, she called:

“Are you a mud-turtle or a man?”

“I’ll show you which, if I get hold of you,” answered the Roly-Rogue,
fiercely.

“Where did you come from?” asked Aunt Rivette, taking care the wiggling
arms did not grab her.

[Illustration: “‘WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?’ ASKED AUNT RIVETTE.”]

“That is none of your business,” said the RolyRogue. “But I didn’t
intend to come, that you may depend upon.”

“Are you hurt?” she inquired, seeing that the struggles of the creature
made him spin around upon the steeple-point like a windmill.

“No, I’m not hurt at all,” declared the Roly-Rogue; “but I’d like to
know how to get down.”

“What would you do if we helped you to get free?” asked Aunt Rivette.

“I’d fight every one of those idiots who are laughing at me down there!”
said the creature, its eyes flashing wickedly.

“Then you’d best stay where you are,” returned old Rivette, who flew
back to earth again to tell Bud what the Roly-Rogue had said.

“I believe that is the best place for him,” said Bud; “so we’ll let him
stay where he is. He’s not very ornamental, I must say, but he’s very
safe up there on top of the steeple.”

“We might have him gilded,” proposed the old woman, “and then he’d look
better.”

“I’ll think it over,” said the king, and he went away to finish his ball
game.

The people talked and wondered about the queer creature on the steeple,
but no one could say where it came from or what it was; they were
naturally much puzzled.

The next day was bright with sunshine; so, early in the forenoon, Bud
and Fluff had the royal cook fill their baskets with good things to eat,
and set out to picnic on the bank of the river that separated Noland
from the kingdom of Ix. They rode ponies, to reach the river sooner than
by walking; and their only companions were Tallydab, the lord high
steward, and his talking dog, Ruffles.

It was after this picnic party had passed over the mountain, and were
securely hidden from any one in the city of Nole, that the ruler of the
Roly-Rogues and his thousands of followers hurled themselves down from
their land above the clouds and began bounding toward the plain below.

The people first heard a roar that sounded like distant thunder; and
when they looked toward the North Mountains they saw the air black with
tiny bouncing balls that seemed to drop from the drifting clouds which
always had obscured the highest peak.

But, although appearing small when first seen, these balls grew rapidly
larger as they came nearer; and then, with sharp reports like
pistol-shots, they began dropping upon the plain by dozens and hundreds
and then thousands.

As soon as they touched the ground they bounded upward again, like
rubber balls the children throw upon the floor; but each bound was less
violent than the one preceding it, until finally within the streets of
the city and upon all the fields surrounding it lay the thousands of
Roly-Rogues that had fallen from the mountain-peak.

At first they lay still, as if stunned by their swift journey and
collision with the hard earth; but after a few seconds they recovered,
thrust out their heads and limbs, and scrambled upon their flat feet.

Then the savage Roly-Rogues uttered hoarse shouts of joy, for they were
safely arrived at the city they had seen from afar, and the audacious
adventure was a success.

It would be impossible to describe the amazement of the people of Nole
when the Roly-Rogues came upon them.

Not only was the descent wholly unexpected, but the appearance of the
invaders was queer enough to strike terror to the stoutest heart.

Their round bodies were supported by short, strong legs having broad,
flattened feet to keep them steady. Their arms were short, and the
fingers of their hands, while not long, were very powerful.

But the heads were the most startling portions of these strange
creatures. They were flat and thick on the top, with leathery rolls
around their necks; so that, when the head was drawn in, its upper part
rounded out the surface of the ball. In this peculiar head the
Roly-Rogue had two big eyes as shiny as porcelain, a small stubby nose,
and a huge mouth. Their strange leather-like clothing fitted their
bodies closely and was of different colors—green, yellow, red, and
brown.

Taken altogether, the Roly-Rogues were not pretty to look at; and
although their big eyes gave them a startled or astonished expression,
nothing seemed ever to startle or astonish them in the least.

When they arrived in the valley of Nole, after their wonderful journey
down the mountains, they scrambled to their feet, extended their long
arms with the thorns clasped tight in their talon-like fingers, and
rushed in a furious crowd and with loud cries upon the terror-stricken
people.

The soldiers of Tollydob’s brave army had not even time to seize their
weapons; for such a foe, coming upon them through the air, had never
been dreamed of.

And the men of Nole, who might have resisted the enemy, were too much
frightened to do more than tremble violently and gasp with open mouths.
As for the women and children, they fled screaming into the houses and
bolted or locked the doors, which was doubtless the wisest thing they
could have done.

[Illustration: “AS FOR THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN, THEY FLED SCREAMING INTO
THE HOUSES.”]

General Tollydob was asleep when the calamity of this invasion occurred;
but hearing the shouts, he ran out of his mansion and met several of the
Roly-Rogues face to face. Without hesitation the brave general rushed
upon them; but two of the creatures promptly rolled themselves against
him from opposite directions, so that the ten-foot giant was crushed
between them until there was not a particle of breath left in his body.
No sooner did these release him than two other Roly-Rogues rolled toward
him; but Tollydob was not to be caught twice, so he gave a mighty jump
and jumped right over their heads, with the result that the balls
crashed against each other.

This made the two Roly-Rogues so angry that they began to fight each
other savagely, and the general started to run away. But other foes
rolled after him, knocked him down, and stuck their thorns into him
until he yelled for mercy and promised to become their slave.

Tullydub, the chief counselor, watched all this from his window, and it
frightened him so greatly that he crawled under his bed and hid, hoping
the creatures would not find him. But their big round eyes were sharp at
discovering things; so the Roly-Rogues had not been in Tullydub’s room
two minutes before he was dragged from beneath his bed, and prodded with
thorns until he promised obedience to the conquerors.

The lord high purse-bearer, at the first alarm, dug a hole in the garden
of the royal palace and buried his purse so no one could find it but
himself. But he might have saved himself this trouble, for the
Roly-Rogues knew nothing of money or its uses, being accustomed to
seizing whatever they desired without a thought of rendering payment for
it.

Having buried his purse, old Tillydib gave himself up to the invaders as
their prisoner; and this saved him the indignity of being conquered.

[Illustration: “OTHER FOES ROLLED AFTER HIM AND KNOCKED HIM DOWN.”]

The lord high executioner may really be credited with making the only
serious fight of the day; for when the Roly-Rogues came upon him,
Tellydeb seized his ax, and, before the enemy could come near, he
reached out his long arm and cleverly sliced the heads off several of
their round bodies.

The others paused for a moment, being unused to such warfare and not
understanding how an arm could reach so far.

But, seeing their heads were in danger, about a hundred of the creatures
formed themselves into balls and rolled upon the executioner in a
straight line, hoping to crush him.

They could not see what happened after they began to roll, their heads
being withdrawn; but Tellydeb watched them speed toward him, and,
stepping aside, he aimed a strong blow with his ax at the body of the
first Roly-Rogue that passed him. Instead of cutting the rubber-like
body, the ax bounced back and flew from Tellydeb’s hand into the air,
falling farther away than the long arm of the executioner could reach.
Therefore he was left helpless, and was wise enough to surrender without
further resistance.

Finding no one else to resist them, the Roly-Rogues contented themselves
with bounding against the terrorized people, great and humble alike, and
knocking them over, laughing boisterously at the figures sprawling in
the mud of the streets.

And then they would prick the bodies of the men with their sharp thorns,
making them spring to their feet again with shrieks of fear, only to be
bowled over again the next minute.

But the monsters soon grew weary of this amusement, for they were
anxious to explore the city they had so successfully invaded. They
flocked into the palace and public buildings, and gazed eagerly at the
many beautiful and, to them, novel things that were found. The mirrors
delighted them, and they fought one another for the privilege of
standing before the glasses to admire the reflection of their horrid
bodies.

They could not sit in the chairs, for the round bodies would not fit
them; neither could the Roly-Rogues understand the use of beds. For when
they rested or slept the creatures merely withdrew their limbs and
heads, rolled over upon their backs, and slept soundly—no matter where
they might be.

The shops were all entered and robbed of their wares, the Roly-Rogues
wantonly destroying all that they could not use. They were like
ostriches in eating anything that looked attractive to them; one of the
monsters swallowed several pretty glass beads, and some of the more
inquisitive of them invaded the grocery-shops and satisfied their
curiosity by tasting of nearly everything in sight. It was funny to see
their wry faces when they sampled the salt and vinegar.

[Illustration: “STEPPING ASIDE, TELLYDEB AIMED A STRONG BLOW WITH HIS AX
AT THE BODY OF THE FIRST ROLY-ROUGE.”]

Presently the entire city was under the dominion of the Roly-Rogues, who
forced the unhappy people to wait upon them and amuse them; and if any
hesitated to obey their commands, the monsters would bump against them,
pull their hair, and make them suffer most miserably.

Aunt Rivette was in her room at the top of the palace when the
Roly-Rogues invaded the city of Nole. At first she was as much
frightened as the others; but she soon remembered she could escape the
creatures by flying; so she quietly watched them from the windows. By
and by, as they explored the palace, they came to Aunt Rivette’s room
and broke in the door; but the old woman calmly stepped out of her
window upon a little iron balcony, spread her great wings, and flew away
before the Roly-Rogues could catch her.

Then she soared calmly through the air, and having remembered that Bud
and Fluff had gone to the river on a picnic, she flew swiftly in that
direction and before long came to where the children and old Tallydab
were eating their luncheon, while the dog Ruffles, who was in good
spirits, sang a comic song to amuse them.

They were much surprised to see Aunt Rivette flying toward them; but
when she alighted and told Bud that his kingdom had been conquered by
the Roly-Rogues and all his people enslaved, the little party was so
astonished that they stared at one another in speechless amazement.

“Oh, Bud, what shall we do?” finally asked Fluff, in distress.

“Don’t know,” said Bud, struggling to swallow a large piece of sandwich
that in his excitement had stuck fast in his throat.

“One thing is certain,” remarked Aunt Rivette, helping herself to a
slice of cake, “our happy lives are now ruined forever. We should be
foolish to remain here; and the sooner we escape to some other country
where the Roly-Rogues cannot find us, the safer we shall be.”

“But why run away?” asked Bud. “Can’t something else be done? Here,
Tallydab, you’re one of my counselors. What do you say about this
affair?”

Now the lord high steward was a deliberate old fellow, and before he
replied he dusted the crumbs from his lap, filled and lighted his long
pipe, and smoked several whiffs in a thoughtful manner.

“It strikes me,” said he at last, “that by means of the Princess Fluff’s
magic cloak we can either destroy or scatter these rascally invaders and
restore the kingdom to peace and prosperity.”

[Illustration: “‘BUT WHERE’S THE CLOAK?’ ASKED THE DOG.”]

“Sure enough!” replied Bud. “Why didn’t we think of that before?”

“You will have to make the wish, Bud,” said Fluff, “for all the rest of
us have wished, and you have not made yours yet.”

“All right,” answered the king. “If I must, I must. But I’m sorry I have
to do it now, for I was saving my wish for something else.”

“But where’s the cloak?” asked the dog, rudely breaking into the
conversation. “You can’t wish without the cloak.”

“The cloak is locked up in a drawer in my room at the palace,” said
Fluff.

“And our enemies have possession of the palace,” continued Tallydab,
gloomily. “Was there ever such ill luck!”

“Never mind,” said Aunt Rivette, “I’ll fly back and get it—that is, if
the Roly-Rogues haven’t already broken open the drawer and discovered
the cloak.”

“Please go at once, then!” exclaimed Fluff. “Here is the key,” and she
unfastened it from the chain at her neck and handed it to her aunt. “But
be careful, whatever you do, that those horrible creatures do not catch
you.”

“I’m not afraid,” said Aunt Rivette, confidently. And taking the key,
the old lady at once flew away in the direction of the city of Nole,
promising to return very soon.