Read CHAPTER IX.  of Prince Ricardo of Pantouflia being the adventures of Prince Prigio's son , free online book, by Andrew Lang., on ReadCentral.com.

Prigio has an Idea.

A weary and way-worn little bird was Prince Ricardo when he fluttered into the royal study window, in the palace of Pantouflia.  The king was out at a council meeting; knowing that Ricardo had the right things, all in good order, he was not in the least anxious about him.  The king was out, but Semiramis was in ­Semiramis, the great grey cat, sitting on a big book on the top of the library steps.  Now Semiramis was very fond of birds, and no sooner did Ricardo enter and flutter on to a table than Semiramis gathered herself together and made one fell spring at him.  She just caught his tail feather.  In all his adventures the prince had never been in greater danger.  He escaped, but no more, and went flying round the ceiling, looking for a safe place.  Finally he perched on a chandelier that hung from the roof.  Here he was safe; and so weary was he, that he put his head under his wing and fell fast asleep.  He was awakened by the return of the king, who threw himself on a sofa and exclaimed: 

“Oh, that Prime Minister! his dulness is as heavy as lead; much heavier, in fact!”

Then his Majesty lit a cigar and took up a volume; he certainly was a sad bookworm.

Dick now began to fly about the room, brushing the king’s face and trying to attract his notice.

“Poor little thing!” said his Majesty.

And Dick alighted, and nestled in his breast.

On seeing this, Semiramis began to growl, as cats do when they are angry, and slowly approached his Majesty.

“Get out, Semiramis!” said the king; and lifting her by the neck, he put her out of the room and shut the door, at which she remained scratching and mewing.

Dick now crept out of the royal waistcoat, flew to the king’s ear, twittered, pointed out of the window with one claw, and, lying down on his back, pretended to be dead.  Then he got up again, twittered afresh, pointed to the Wishing Cap, and, finally, convinced the king that this was no common fowl.

“An enchanted prince or princess,” said Prigio, “such as I have often read of.  Who can it be?  Not Jaqueline; she could change herself back in a moment.  By the way, where is Jaqueline?”

He rang the bell, and asked the servant to look for the princess.

Semiramis tried to come in, but was caught and shut up downstairs.

After doing this, the man replied that her Royal Highness had not been in the palace all day.

The king rushed to the crystal ball, looked all the world over; but no princess!  He became very nervous, and at that moment Dick lighted on the crystal ball, and put his claw on the very hill where Jaqueline had disappeared.  Then he cocked his little eye at the king.

“Nay, she is somewhere in the unknown centre of South America,” said his Majesty; “somewhere behind Mount Roraima, where nobody has ever been.  I must look into this.”

Then he put on the Wishing Cap, and wished that the bird would assume his natural shape if he was under enchantment, as there seemed too good reason to believe.

Instantly Dick stood before him.

{Instantly Dick stood before him:  p170.jpg}

“Ricardo!” cried the king in horror; “and in this disguise!  Where have you been?  What have you done with Jaqueline?  Where are the Seven-league Boots?  Where is the Sword of Sharpness?  Speak!  Get up!” for Dick was kneeling and weeping bitterly at the royal feet.

“All lost!” said Dick.  “Poor Jaqueline! she was the best girl, and the prettiest, and the kindest.  And the Earthquaker’s got her, and the Giant’s got the other things,” Dick ended, crying bitterly.

“Calm yourself, Ricardo,” said his Majesty, very pale, but calm and determined.  “Here, take a glass of port, and explain how all this happened.”

Dick drank the wine, and then he told his miserable story.

“You may well sob!  Why didn’t you use the Cap of Darkness?  Mere conceit!  But there is no use in crying over spilt milk.  The thing is, to rescue Jaqueline.  And what are we to say to your mother?”

“That’s the worst of it all,” said Dick.  “Mother will break her heart.”

“I must see her at once,” said the king, “and break it to her.”

This was a terrible task; but the queen had such just confidence in her Prigio that she soon dried her tears, remarking that Heaven would not desert Jaqueline, and that the king would find a way out of the trouble.

His Majesty retired to his study, put his head in his hands, and thought and thought.

“The thing is, of course,” he said, “to destroy the Earthquaker before he wakens; but how?  What can kill such a monster?  Prodding him with the sword would only stir him up and make him more vicious.  And I know of no other beast we can set against him, as I did with the Fire-beast and the Ice-beast, when I was young.  Oh, for an idea!”

Then his mind, somehow, went back to the Council and the ponderous stupidity of the Prime Minister.

“Heavier than lead,” said the king.  “By George!  I have a plan.  If I could get to the place where they keep the Stupidity, I could carry away enough of it to flatten out the Earthquaker.”

Then he remembered how, in an old Italian poem, he had read about all the strange lumber-room of odd things which is kept in the moon.  That is the advantage of reading:  Knowledge is Power; and you mostly get knowledge that is really worth having out of good old books which people do not usually read.

“If the Stupidity is kept in stock, up in the moon, and comes from there, falling naturally down on the earth in small quantities, I might obtain enough for my purpose,” thought King Prigio.  “But ­how to get to the moon?  There are difficulties about that.”

But difficulties only sharpened the ingenuity of this admirable king.

“The other fellow had a Flying Horse,” said he.

By “the other fellow” King Prigio meant an Italian knight, Astolfo, who, in old times, visited the moon, and there found and brought back the common sense of his friend, Orlando, as you may read in the poem of Ariosto.

“Now,” reasoned King Prigio, “if there is a Flying Horse at all, he is in the stables of the King of Delhi.  I must look into this.”

Taking the magic spy-glass, the king surveyed the world from China to Peru, and, sure enough, there was the famous Flying Horse in the king’s stable at Delhi.  Hastily the king thrust his feet into the Shoes of Swiftness ­so hastily, indeed, that, as the poet says, he “madly crammed a left-hand foot into a right-hand shoe.”  But this, many people think, is a sign of good luck; so he put the shoes on the proper feet, and in a few minutes was in the presence of the Great Mogul.

The monarch received him with some surprise, but with stately kindness, and listened to Prigio while he explained what he wanted.

“I am only too happy to assist so adventurous a prince,” remarked the Great Mogul.  “This is like old times!  Every horse in my stable is at your service, but, as you say, only the Flying Horse is of any use to you in this expedition.”

He clapped his hands, the Grand Vizier appeared, and the king gave orders to have the Flying Horse saddled at once.  He then presented King Prigio with a large diamond, and came down into the courtyard to see him mount.

“He’s very fresh,” said the groom who held the bridle; “has not been out of the stable for three hundred years!”

Prigio sprang into the saddle among the salaams of the dusky multitude, and all the ladies of the seraglio waved their scented handkerchiefs out of the windows.

The king, as he had been instructed, turned a knob of gold in the saddle of the Flying Horse, then kissed his hand to the ladies, and, giving the steed his head, cried, in excellent Persian: 

“To the moon!”

Up flew the horse with an easy action, and the king’s head nearly swam with the swiftness of the flight.  Soon the earth below him was no bigger than a top, spinning on its own axis (see Geography books for this), and, as night fell, earth was only a great red moon.

{King Prigio on the Flying Horse:  p178.jpg}

Through the dark rode King Prigio, into the silver dawn of the moon.  All now became clear and silvery; the coasts of the moon came into sight, with white seas breaking on them; and at last the king reached the silver walls, and the gate of opal.  Before the gate stood two beautiful ladies.  One was fair, with yellow locks, the colour of the harvest moon.  She had a crown of a golden snake and white water-lilies, and her dress now shone white, now red, now golden; and in her hand was the golden pitcher that sheds the dew, and a golden wand.  The other lady was as dark as night ­dark eyes, dark hair; her crown was of poppies.  She held the ebony Wand of Sleep.  Her dress was of the deepest blue, sown with stars.  The king knew that they were the maidens of the bright and the dark side of the moon ­of the side you see, and of the side that no one has ever seen, except King Prigio.  He stopped the Flying Horse by turning the other knob in the saddle, alighted, and bowed very low to each of the ladies.

“Daring mortal! what make you here?” they asked.

And then the king told them about Jaqueline and the Earthquaker, and how he needed a great weight of Stupidity to flatten him out with.

The ladies heard him in silence, and then they said: 

“Follow us,” and they flew lightly beside the Flying Horse till they had crossed all the bright side of the moon, above the silver palaces and silver seas, and reached the summit of the Mountains of the Moon which separate the bright from the dark side.

“Here I may go no further,” said the bright lady; “and beyond, as you see, all is darkness and heavy sleep.”

Then she touched Prigio with her golden wand with twisted serpents, and he became luminous, light raying out from him; and the dark lady, too, shone like silver in the night:  and on they flew, over black rocks and black rivers, till they reached a huge mountain, like a mountain of coal, many thousand feet high, for its head was lost in the blackness of darkness.  The dark Moon-Lady struck the rock with her ebony wand, and said, “Open!” and the cliffs opened like a door, and they were within the mountain.

“Here,” said the dark lady, “is the storehouse of all the Stupidity; hence it descends in showers like Stardust on the earth whenever this mountain, which is a volcano, is in eruption.  Only a little of the Stupidity reaches the earth, and that only in invisible dust; yet you know how weighty it is, even in that form.”

“Indeed, madam,” said the king, “no one knows it better than I do.”

“Then make your choice of the best sort of Stupidity for your purpose,” said the dark lady.

And in the light which flowed from their bodies King Prigio looked round at the various kinds of Solid Stupidity.  There it all lay in masses ­the Stupidity of bad Sermons, of ignorant reviewers, of bad poems, of bad speeches, of dreary novels, of foolish statesmen, of ignorant mobs, of fine ladies, of idle, naughty boys and girls; and the king examined them all, and all were very, very heavy.  But when he came to the Stupidity of the Learned ­of dull, blind writers on Shakspeare, and Homer, and the Bible ­then King Prigio saw that he had found the sort he wanted, and that a very little of it would go a long way.  He never could have got it on the saddle of the Flying Horse if the dark lady had not touched it with her ebony wand, and made it light to carry till it was wanted for his purpose.  When he needed it for use, he was to utter a certain spell, which she taught him, and then the lump would recover its natural weight.  So he easily put a great block on his saddle-bow, and he and the dark lady flew back till they reached the crest of the Mountains of the Moon.  There she touched him with her ebony wand, and the silver light which the bright lady had shed on him died from his face and his body, and he became like other men.

“You see your way?” said the dark lady, pointing to the bright moon of earth, shining far off in the heavens.

Then he knelt down and thanked her, and she murmured strange words of blessing which he did not understand; but her face was grave and kind, and he thought of Queen Rosalind, his wife.

Then he jumped on the Flying Horse, galloped down and down, till he reached his palace gate; called for Ricardo, set him behind him on the saddle, and away they rode, above land and wide seas, till they saw the crest of the hollow hill, where Jaqueline was with the Earthquaker.  Beyond it they marked the glittering spires and towers of Manoa, the City of the Sun; and “Thither,” said King Prigio, who had been explaining how matters stood, to Ricardo, “we must ride, for I believe they stand in great need of our assistance.”

“Had we not better go to Jaqueline first, sir?” said Ricardo.

“No,” said the king; “I think mine is the best plan.  Manoa, whose golden spires and pinnacles are shining below us, is the City of the Sun, which Sir Walter Raleigh and the Spaniards could never find, so that men have doubted of its existence.  We are needed there, to judge by that angry crowd in the marketplace.  How they howl!”