Zixi had given up all hope

It is not very far from the kingdom of Noland to the kingdom of Ix. If
you followed the steps of Quavo the minstrel, you would climb the sides
of a steep mountain-range, and go down on the other side, and cross a
broad and swift river, and pick your way through a dark forest. You
would then have reached the land of Ix and would find an easy path into
the big city.

But even before one came to the city he would see the high marble towers
of Queen Zixi’s magnificent palace, and pause to wonder at its beauty.

Quavo the minstrel had been playing his harp in the city of Nole, and
his eyes were sharp; so he had seen many things to gossip and sing
about, and therefore never doubted he would be warmly welcomed by Queen
Zixi.

He reached the marble palace about dusk, one evening, and was bidden to
the feast which was about to be served.

A long table ran down the length of the lofty hall built in the center
of the palace; and this table was covered with gold and silver platters
bearing many kinds of meats and fruits and vegetables, while tall,
ornamented stands contained sweets and delicacies to tickle the palate.

At the head of the table, on a jeweled throne, sat Queen Zixi herself, a
vision of radiant beauty and charming grace.

Her hair was yellow as spun gold, and her wondrous eyes raven black in
hue. Her skin was fair as a lily, save where her cheek was faintly
tinted with a flush of rose-color.

Dainty and lovely, indeed, was the Queen of Ix in appearance; yet none
of her lords or attendants cast more than a passing glance upon her
beauty. For they were used to seeing her thus.

There were graybeards at her table this evening who could remember the
queen’s rare beauty since they were boys; ay, and who had been told by
their fathers and grandfathers of Queen Zixi’s loveliness when they also
were mere children. In fact, no one in Ix had ever heard of the time
when the land was not ruled by this same queen, or when she was not in
appearance as young and fair as she was to-day. Which easily proves she
was not an ordinary person at all.

And I may as well tell you here that Queen Zixi, despite the fact that
she looked to be no more than sixteen, was in reality six hundred and
eighty-three years of age, and had prolonged her life in this
extraordinary way by means of the arts of witchcraft.

I do not mean by this that she was an evil person. She had always ruled
her kingdom wisely and liberally, and the people of Ix made no manner of
complaint against their queen. If there were a war, she led her armies
in person, clad in golden mail and helmet; and in years of peace she
taught them to sow and reap grain, and to fashion many useful articles
of metal, and to build strong and substantial houses. Nor were her taxes
ever more than the people could bear.

Yet, for all this, Zixi was more feared than loved; for every one
remembered she was a witch, and also knew she was hundreds of years old.
So, no matter how amiable their queen might be, she was always treated
with extreme respect, and folks weighed well their words when they
conversed with her.

[Illustration: “‘STOP!’ CRIED THE QUEEN, WITH SUDDEN EXCITEMENT.”]

Next the queen, on both sides of the table, sat her most favored nobles
and their ladies; farther down were the rich merchants and officers of
the army; and at the lower end were servants and members of the
household. For this was the custom in the land of Ix.

Quavo the harpist sat near the lower end; and, when all had been
comfortably fed, the queen called upon him for a song. This was the
moment Quavo had eagerly awaited. He took his harp, seated himself in a
niche of the wall, and, according to the manner of ancient minstrels, he
sang of the things he had seen in other lands, thus serving his hearers
with the news of the day as well as pleasing them with his music. This
is the way he began:

“Of Noland now a tale I’ll sing,
Where reigns a strangely youthful king—
A boy, who has by chance alone
Been called to sit upon a throne.
His sister shares his luck, and she
The fairies’ friend is said to be;
For they did mystic arts invoke
And weave for her a magic cloak
Which grants its wearer—thus I’m told—
Gifts more precious far than gold.

“She’s but to wish, and her desire
Quite instantly she will acquire;
And when she lends it to her friends,
The favor unto them extends.

“For one who wears the cloak can fly
Like any eagle in the sky.
And one did wish, by sudden freak,
His dog be granted power to speak;
And now the beast can talk as well
As I, and also read and spell.
And—”

“Stop!” cried the queen, with sudden excitement. “Do you lie, minstrel,
or are you speaking the truth?”

Secretly glad that his news was received thus eagerly, Quavo continued
to twang the harp as he replied in verse:

“Now may I die at break of day,
If false is any word I say.”

“And what is this cloak like—and who owns it?” demanded the queen,
impetuously.

Sang the minstrel:

“The cloak belongs to Princess Fluff;
’Tis woven of some secret stuff
Which makes it gleam with splendor bright
That fills beholders with delight.”

Thereafter the beautiful Zixi remained lost in thought, her dainty chin
resting within the hollow of her hand and her eyes dreamily fixed upon
the minstrel.

[Illustration: “SHE MADE A SOLEMN VOW THAT SHE WOULD SECURE THE MAGIC
CLOAK WITHIN A YEAR.”]

And Quavo, judging that his news had brought him into rare favor, told
more and more wonderful tales of the magic cloak, some of which were
true, while others were mere inventions of his own; for newsmongers, as
every one knows, were ever unable to stick to facts since the world
began.

All the courtiers and officers and servants listened with wide eyes and
parted lips to the song, marveling greatly at what they had heard. And
when it was finally ended, and the evening far spent, Queen Zixi threw a
golden chain to the minstrel as a reward and left the hall, attended by
her maidens.

Throughout the night which followed, she tossed sleeplessly upon her
bed, thinking of the magic cloak and longing to possess it. And when the
morning sun rose over the horizon, she made a solemn vow that she would
secure the magic cloak within a year, even if it cost her the half of
her kingdom.

Now the reason for this rash vow, showing Zixi’s intense desire to
possess the cloak, was very peculiar. Although she had been an adept at
witchcraft for more than six hundred years, and was able to retain her
health and remain in appearance young and beautiful, there was one thing
her art was unable to deceive, and that one thing was a mirror.

[Illustration: “QUEEN ZIXI LEFT THE HALL ATTENDED BY HER MAIDENS.”]

To mortal eyes Zixi was charming and attractive; yet her reflection in a
mirror showed to her an ugly old hag, bald of head, wrinkled, with
toothless gums and withered, sunken cheeks.

For this reason the queen had no mirror of any sort about the palace.
Even from her own dressing-room the mirror had been banished, and she
depended upon her maids and hair-dressers to make her look as lovely as
possible. She knew she was beautiful in appearance to others; her maids
declared it continually, and in all eyes she truly read admiration.

But Zixi wanted to admire herself; and that was impossible so long as
the cold mirrors showed her reflection to be the old hag others would
also have seen had not her arts of witchcraft deceived them.

Everything else a woman and a queen might desire Zixi was able to obtain
by her arts. Yet the one thing she could _not_ have made her very
unhappy.

As I have already said, she was not a bad queen. She used her knowledge
of sorcery to please her own fancy or to benefit her kingdom, but never
to injure any one else. So she may be forgiven for wanting to see a
beautiful girl reflected in a mirror, instead of a haggard old woman in
her six hundred and eighty-fourth year.

Zixi had given up all hope of ever accomplishing her object until she
heard of the magic cloak. The powers of witches are somewhat limited;
but she knew that the powers of fairies are boundless. So if the magic
cloak could grant any human wish, as Quavo’s song had told her was the
case, she would manage to secure it and would at once wish for a
reflection in the mirror of the same features all others beheld—and then
she would become happy and content.

Now, as might be expected, Queen Zixi lost no time in endeavoring to
secure the magic cloak. The people of Ix were not on friendly terms with
the people of Noland; so she could not visit Princess Fluff openly; and
she knew it was useless to try to borrow so priceless a treasure as a
cloak which had been the gift of the fairies. But one way remained to
her—to steal the precious robe.

So she began her preparations by telling her people she would be absent
from Ix for a month, and then she retired to her own room and mixed, by
the rules of witchcraft, a black mess in a silver kettle, and boiled it
until it was as thick as molasses. Of this inky mixture she swallowed
two teaspoonfuls every hour for six hours, muttering an incantation each
time. At the end of the six hours her golden hair had become brown and
her black eyes had become blue; and this was quite sufficient to
disguise the pretty queen so that no one would recognize her. Then she
took off her richly embroidered queenly robes, and hung them up in a
closet, putting on a simple gingham dress, a white apron, and a plain
hat such as common people of her country wore.

[Illustration: “OF THIS INKY MIXTURE SHE SWALLOWED TWO TEASPOONFULS
EVERY HOUR FOR SIX HOURS.”]

When these preparations had been made, Zixi slipped out the back door of
the palace and walked through the city to the forest; and, although she
met many people, no one suspected that she was the queen.

It was rough walking in the forest; but she got through at last, and
reached the bank of the river. Here a fisherman was found, who consented
to ferry her across in his boat; and afterward Zixi climbed the high
mountain and came down the other side into the kingdom of Noland.

She rented a neat little cottage just at the north gateway of the city
of Nole, and by the next morning there was a sign over the doorway which
announced:

MISS TRUST’S
ACADEMY OF WITCHERY
FOR YOUNG LADIES.

Then Zixi had printed on green paper a lot of handbills which read as
follows:

Miss Trust,

A pupil of the celebrated Professor Hatrack of Hooktown-on-the-Creek,
is now located at Woodbine Villa (North Gateway of Nole), and is
prepared to teach the young ladies of this city the _Arts of
Witchcraft_ according to the most modern and approved methods. Terms
moderate. References required.

These handbills she hired a little boy to carry to all the aristocratic
houses in Nole, and to leave one on each door-step. Several were left on
the different door-steps of the palace, and one of these came to the
notice of Princess Fluff.

“How funny!” she exclaimed on reading it. “I’ll go, and take all my
eight maids with me. It will be no end of fun to learn to be a witch.”

Many other people in Nole applied for instruction in “Miss Trust’s
Academy,” but Zixi told them all she had no vacancies. When, however,
Fluff and her maids arrived, she welcomed them with the utmost
cordiality, and consented to give them their first lesson at once.

When she had seated them in her parlor, Zixi said:

“If you wish to be a witch,
You must speak an incantation:
You must with deliberation
Say: ‘The when of why is which!’”

“What does that mean?” asked Fluff.

“No one knows,” answered Zixi; “and therefore it is a fine incantation.
Now, all the class will please repeat after me the following words:

“Erig-a-ma-role, erig-a-ma-ree;
Jig-ger-nut, jog-ger-nit, que-jig-ger-ee.
Sim-mer-kin, sam-mer-kin, sem-mer-ga-roo;
Zil-li-pop, zel-li-pop, lol-li-pop-loo!”

They tried to do this, but their tongues stumbled constantly over the
syllables, and one of the maids began to laugh.

“Stop laughing, please!” cried Zixi, rapping her ruler on the table.
“This is no laughing matter, I assure you, young ladies. The science of
witchcraft is a solemn and serious study, and I cannot teach it you
unless you behave.”

“But what’s it all about?” asked Fluff.

“I’ll explain what it’s about to-morrow,” said Zixi, with dignity. “Now,
here are two important incantations which you must learn by heart before
you come to to-morrow’s lesson. If you can speak them correctly and
rapidly, and above all very distinctly, I will then allow you to perform
a wonderful witchery.”

She handed them each a slip of paper on which were written the
incantations, as follows:

Incantation No. 1.
(To be spoken only in the presence of a black cat.)

This is that, and that is this;
Bliss is blest, and blest is bliss.
Who is that, and what is who;
Shed is shod, and shud is shoe!

Incantation No. 2.
(To be spoken when the clock strikes twelve.)

What is which, and which is what;
Pat is pet, and pit is pat;
Hid is hide, and hod is hid;
Did is deed, and done is did!

“Now, there is one thing more,” continued Zixi; “and this is very
important. You must each wear the handsomest and most splendid cloak you
can secure when you come to me to-morrow morning.”

This request made Princess Fluff thoughtful all the way home, for she at
once remembered her magic cloak, and wondered if the strange Miss Trust
knew she possessed it.

She asked Bud about it that night, and the young king said:

“I’m afraid this witch-woman is some one trying to get hold of your
magic cloak. I would advise you not to wear it when she is around, or,
more than likely, she may steal it.”

[Illustration: “‘NOW, THERE IS ONE THING MORE,’ CONTINUED ZIXI, ‘AND
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.’”]

So Fluff did not wear her magic cloak the next day, but selected in its
place a pretty blue cape edged with gold. When she and her maids reached
the cottage, Zixi cried out angrily:

“That is not your handsomest cloak. Go home at once and get the other
one!”

“I won’t,” said Fluff, shortly.

“You must! You must!” insisted the witch-woman. “I can teach you nothing
unless you wear the other cloak.”

“How did you know I had another cloak?” asked the princess,
suspiciously.

“By witchcraft, perhaps,” said Zixi, mildly. “If you want to be a witch
you must wear it.”

“I don’t want to be a witch,” declared Fluff. “Come, girls, come; let’s
go home at once.”

“Wait—wait!” implored Zixi, eagerly. “If you’ll get the cloak I will
teach you the most wonderful things in the world! I will make you the
most powerful witch that ever lived!”

“I don’t believe you,” replied Fluff; and then she marched back to the
palace with all her maids.

But Zixi knew her plot had failed; so she locked up the cottage and went
back again to Ix, climbing the mountain and crossing the river and
threading the forest with angry thoughts and harsh words.

[Illustration: “‘THAT IS NOT YOUR HANDSOMEST CLOAK. GO HOME AT ONCE AND
GET THE OTHER ONE!’”]

Yet the queen was more determined than ever to secure the magic cloak.
As soon as she had reëntered her palace and by more incantations had
again transformed her hair to yellow and her eyes to black and dressed
herself in her royal robes, she summoned her generals and counselors and
told them to make ready to war upon the kingdom of Noland.