Lady Aurex led Ozma and Dorothy along a street to a pretty marble house nea_o one edge of the great glass dome that covered the village. She did no_peak to the girls until she had ushered them into a pleasant room, comfortably furnished, nor did any of the solemn people they met on the stree_enture to speak.
When they were seated Lady Aurex asked if they were hungry, and finding the_ere summoned a maid and ordered food to be brought.
This Lady Aurex looked to be about twenty years old, although in the Land o_z where people have never changed in appearance since the fairies made it _airyland—where no one grows old or dies—it is always difficult to say ho_any years anyone has lived. She had a pleasant, attractive face, even thoug_t was solemn and sad as the faces of all Skeezers seemed to be, and he_ostume was rich and elaborate, as became a lady in waiting upon the Queen.
Ozma had observed Lady Aurex closely and now asked her in a gentle tone:
"Do you, also, believe me to be an impostor?"
"I dare not say," replied Lady Aurex in a low tone.
"Why are you afraid to speak freely?" inquired Ozma.
"The Queen punishes us if we make remarks that she does not like."
"Are we not alone then, in this house?"
"The Queen can hear everything that is spoken on this island—even th_lightest whisper," declared Lady Aurex. "She is a wonderful witch, as she ha_old you, and it is folly to criticise her or disobey her commands."
Ozma looked into her eyes and saw that she would like to say more if sh_ared. So she drew from her bosom her silver wand, and having muttered a magi_hrase in a strange tongue, she left the room and walked slowly around th_utside of the house, making a complete circle and waving her wand in mysti_urves as she walked. Lady Aurex watched her curiously and, when Ozma ha_gain entered the room and seated herself, she asked:
"What have you done?"
"I've enchanted this house in such a manner that Queen Coo-ee-oh, with all he_itchcraft, cannot hear one word we speak within the magic circle I hav_ade," replied Ozma. "We may now speak freely and as loudly as we wish, without fear of the Queen's anger."
Lady Aurex brightened at this.
"Can I trust you?" she asked.
"Ev'rybody trusts Ozma," exclaimed Dorothy. "She is true and honest, and you_icked Queen will be sorry she insulted the powerful Ruler of all the Land o_z."
"The Queen does not know me yet," said Ozma, "but I want you to know me, Lad_urex, and I want you to tell me why you, and all the Skeezers, are unhappy.
Do not fear Coo-ee-oh's anger, for she cannot hear a word we say, I assur_ou."
Lady Aurex was thoughtful a moment; then she said: "I shall trust you, Princess Ozma, for I believe you are what you say you are—our supreme Ruler.
If you knew the dreadful punishments our Queen inflicts upon us, you would no_onder we are so unhappy. The Skeezers are not bad people; they do not care t_uarrel and fight, even with their enemies the Flatheads; but they are s_owed and fearful of Coo-ee-oh that they obey her slightest word, rather tha_uffer her anger."
"Hasn't she any heart, then?" asked Dorothy.
"She never displays mercy. She loves no one but herself," asserted Lady Aurex, but she trembled as she said it, as if afraid even yet of her terrible Queen.
"That's pretty bad," said Dorothy, shaking her head gravely. "I see you've _ot to do here, Ozma, in this forsaken corner of the Land of Oz. First place, you've got to take the magic away from Queen Coo-ee-oh, and from that awfu_u-dic, too. My idea is that neither of them is fit to rule anybody, 'caus_hey're cruel and hateful. So you'll have to give the Skeezers and Flathead_ew rulers and teach all their people that they're part of the Land of Oz an_ust obey, above all, the lawful Ruler, Ozma of Oz. Then, when you've don_hat, we can go back home again."
Ozma smiled at her little friend's earnest counsel, but Lady Aurex said in a_nxious tone:
"I am surprised that you suggest these reforms while you are yet prisoners o_his island and in Coo-ee-oh's power. That these things should be done, ther_s no doubt, but just now a dreadful war is likely to break out, and frightfu_hings may happen to us all. Our Queen has such conceit that she thinks sh_an overcome the Su-dic and his people, but it is said Su-dic's magic is ver_owerful, although not as great as that possessed by his wife Rora, befor_oo-ee-oh transformed her into a Golden Pig."
"I don't blame her very much for doing that," remarked Dorothy, "for th_latheads were wicked to try to catch your beautiful fish and the Witch Ror_anted to poison all the fishes in the lake."
"Do you know the reason?" asked the Lady Aurex.
"I don't s'pose there was any reason, 'cept just wickedness," replied Dorothy.
"Tell us the reason," said Ozma earnestly.
"Well, your Majesty, once—a long time ago—the Flatheads and the Skeezers wer_riendly. They visited our island and we visited their mountain, an_verything was pleasant between the two peoples. At that time the Flathead_ere ruled by three Adepts in Sorcery, beautiful girls who were not Flatheads, but had wandered to the Flat Mountain and made their home there. These thre_depts used their magic only for good, and the mountain people gladly mad_hem their rulers. They taught the Flatheads how to use their canned brain_nd how to work metals into clothing that would never wear out, and many othe_hings that added to their happiness and content.
"Coo-ee-oh was our Queen then, as now, but she knew no magic and so ha_othing to be proud of. But the three Adepts were very kind to Coo-ee-oh. The_uilt for us this wonderful dome of glass and our houses of marble and taugh_s to make beautiful clothing and many other things. Coo-ee-oh pretended to b_ery grateful for these favors, but it seems that all the time she was jealou_f the three Adepts and secretly tried to discover their arts of magic. I_his she was more clever than anyone suspected. She invited the three Adept_o a banquet one day, and while they were feasting Coo-ee-oh stole thei_harms and magical instruments and transformed them into three fishes—a gol_ish, a silver fish and a bronze fish. While the poor fishes were gasping an_lopping helplessly on the floor of the banquet room one of them sai_eproachfully: 'You will be punished for this, Coo-ee-oh, for if one of u_ies or is destroyed, you will become shrivelled and helpless, and all you_tolen magic will depart from you.' Frightened by this threat, Coo-ee-oh a_nce caught up the three fish and ran with them to the shore of the lake, where she cast them into the water. This revived the three Adepts and the_wam away and disappeared.
"I, myself, witnessed this shocking scene," continued Lady Aurex, "and so di_any other Skeezers. The news was carried to the Flatheads, who then turne_rom friends to enemies. The Su-dic and his wife Rora were the only ones o_he mountain who were glad the three Adepts had been lost to them, and they a_nce became Rulers of the Flatheads and stole their canned brains from other_o make themselves the more powerful. Some of the Adepts' magic tools had bee_eft on the mountain, and these Rora seized and by the use of them she becam_ witch.
"The result of Coo-ee-oh's treachery was to make both the Skeezers and th_latheads miserable instead of happy. Not only were the Su-dic and his wif_ruel to their people, but our Queen at once became proud and arrogant an_reated us very unkindly. All the Skeezers knew she had stolen her magi_owers and so she hated us and made us humble ourselves before her and obe_er slightest word. If we disobeyed, or did not please her, or if we talke_bout her when we were in our own homes she would have us dragged to th_hipping post in her palace and lashed with knotted cords. That is why we fea_er so greatly."
This story filled Ozma's heart with sorrow and Dorothy's heart wit_ndignation.
"I now understand," said Ozma, "why the fishes in the lake have brought abou_ar between the Skeezers and the Flatheads."
"Yes," Lady Aurex answered, "now that you know the story it is easy t_nderstand. The Su-dic and his wife came to our lake hoping to catch th_ilver fish, or gold fish, or bronze fish—any one of them would do—and b_estroying it deprive Coo-ee-oh of her magic. Then they could easily conque_er. Also they had another reason for wanting to catch the fish—they feare_hat in some way the three Adepts might regain their proper forms and the_hey would be sure to return to the mountain and punish Rora and the Su-dic.
That was why Rora finally tried to poison all the fishes in the lake, at th_ime Coo-ee-oh transformed her into a Golden Pig. Of course this attempt t_estroy the fishes frightened the Queen, for her safety lies in keeping th_hree fishes alive."
"I s'pose Coo-ee-oh will fight the Flatheads with all her might," observe_orothy.
"And with all her magic," added Ozma, thoughtfully.
"I do not see how the Flatheads can get to this island to hurt us," said Lad_urex.
"They have bows and arrows, and I guess they mean to shoot the arrows at you_ig dome, and break all the glass in it," suggested Dorothy.
But Lady Aurex shook her head with a smile.
"They cannot do that," she replied.
"I dare not tell you why, but if the Flatheads come to-morrow morning you wil_ourselves see the reason."
"I do not think they will attempt to harm the island," Ozma declared. "_elieve they will first attempt to destroy the fishes, by poison or some othe_eans. If they succeed in that, the conquest of the island will not b_ifficult."
"They have no boats," said Lady Aurex, "and Coo-ee-oh, who has long expecte_his war, has been preparing for it in many astonishing ways. I almost wis_he Flatheads would conquer us, for then we would be free from our dreadfu_ueen; but I do not wish to see the three transformed fishes destroyed, for i_hem lies our only hope of future happiness."
"Ozma will take care of you, whatever happens," Dorothy assured her. But th_ady Aurex, not knowing the extent of Ozma's power—which was, in fact, not s_reat as Dorothy imagined—could not take much comfort in this promise.
It was evident there would be exciting times on the morrow, if the Flathead_eally attacked the Skeezers of the Magic Isle.