The bold speech of Nerle's made the two damsels laugh at the same time, an_heir sweet laughter sounded like rippling strains of harmonious music. Bu_he two Ki-Ki frowned angrily, and the two Ki looked at the boy in surprise,
as if wondering at his temerity.
"Who are these strangers?" asked the pretty High Ki, speaking together as al_he twins of Twi did; "and why are they not mates, but only half of eac_ther?"
"These questions, your Supreme Highnesses," said the blond-haired pair of Ki-
Ki, "we are unable to answer."
"Perhaps, then, the strangers can answer themselves," said the little maids,
smiling first upon the Ki-Ki and then upon the prisoners.
Prince Marvel bowed.
"I am from the great outside world," said he, "and my name is Prince Marvel.
Until now I have never seen people that live in pairs, and speak in unison,
and act in the same way and think the same thoughts. My world is much bigge_han your world, and in it every person is proud to think and act for himself.
You say I am only a 'half,' but that is not so. I am perfect, without _ounterpart; my friend Nerle is perfect without a counterpart, and it i_ourselves who are halved. For in the Land of Twi no person is complete o_erfect without its other half, and it seems to take two of you to make on_an—or one maid."
The sweet faces of the twin High Ki grew thoughtful at this speech, and the_aid:
"Indeed, it may be you are right. But it is our custom in Twi to do everythin_ouble and to live double." Then, turning to the Ki, they asked: "Why have yo_rought these strangers here?"
"To ask your Supreme Highnesses to permit them to return again to the worl_rom whence they came," answered the Ki, both of them regarding their suprem_ulers earnestly.
But here the Ki-Ki spoke up quickly in their mild voices, saying:
"That is not our idea, your Highnesses. We, the Ki-Ki of Twi, think it bes_he strangers should be put to death. And we pray your Supreme Highnesses t_avor our wish."
The two little maids looked from the Ki to the Ki-Ki, and frowned and poute_heir rosy lips in evident perplexity.
But Nerle whispered to Prince Marvel:
"It's all up with us! I know very well why her royal doublets always favor_he Ki-Ki. It's because they are young and handsome, while the Ki are old an_gly. Both of her will condemn us to death—you see if she don't!"
This seemed somewhat mixed, but Nerle was in earnest, and Prince Marvel, wh_ad not forgotten his fairy lore, began to weave a silent spell over the hea_f the nearest twin High Ki. But just as it was completed, and before he ha_ime to work the spell on the other twin, the Ki-Ki grew impatient, an_xclaimed:
"We beg your Highnesses not to keep us waiting. Let us have your decision a_nce!"
And the twin maidens raised their fair heads and replied. But the reply was o_uch a nature that both the old Ki and both the young Ki-Ki staggered backwar_n amazement. For one of the twin High Ki said:
"They shall die!"
And the other twin High Ki said at the same instant:
"They shall NOT die!"
Had twin thunderbolts fallen through the twin roofs of the twin palaces an_truck the twin Ki and the twin Ki-Ki upon their twin heads it would hav_reated no more stupendous a sensation than did this remark. Never before ha_ny two halves of a twin of the Land of Twi thought differently or spoke_ifferently. Indeed, it startled the two maidens themselves as much as it di_heir hearers, for each one turned her head toward the other and, for th_irst time in her life, looked into the other's face!
This act was fully as strange as their speech, and a sudden horrible though_ame into the startled heads of the twin Ki and the twin Ki-Ki: THE HIGH KI O_WI WAS NO LONGER ONE, BUT TWO. AND THESE TWO WERE THINKING AND ACTING EAC_NDEPENDENT OF THE OTHER!
It is no wonder the shock rendered them speechless for a time, and they stoo_waying their four bodies, with their eight eyes bulging out like those o_ishes and their four mouths wide open, as if the two pairs had become on_uartet.
The faces of the two maids flushed as they gazed upon each other.
"How DARE you contradict me?" asked one.
"How dare you contradict ME?" demanded the other, and not only were thes_uestions asked separately, but the accent on the words was different. An_heir twin minds seemed to get farther apart every moment.
"I'm the High Ki of Twi!" said one.
"You're not! I'M the High Ki!" retorted the other.
"The strangers shall die!" snapped one.
"They shall live!" cried the other. "My will is supreme."
"It's not! MY will is supreme," returned the other twin.
The bald heads of the ancient Ki were bobbing in amazement, first to one mai_nd then toward the other. The blond hairs of the two Ki-Ki were standin_lmost on end, and their eyes stared straight before them as if stupefied wit_stonishment. Nerle was bellowing with rude laughter and holding his sides t_eep from getting a stitch in them, while Prince Marvel stood quietl_ttentive and smiling with genuine amusement. For he alone understood what ha_appened to separate the twin High Ki.
The girls did not seem to know how to act under their altered conditions.
After a time one of them said:
"We will leave our dispute to be settled by the Ki and the Ki-Ki."
"Very well," agreed the other.
"Then I say your half is right," declared the Ki-Ki, both their righ_orefingers pointing to the maiden who had condemned the strangers to death.
"And I decide that your half is right," exclaimed the Ki, both their tremblin_orefingers pointing to the maiden who had said the strangers should live.
"Well?" said one girl.
"Well?" said the other.
"The powers of the Ki and the Ki-Ki are equal," said the first. "We are n_earer a settlement of our dispute than we were before."
"My dear young ladies," said Prince Marvel, politely, "I beg you will tak_ime to think the matter over, and see if you can not come to an agreement. W_re in no hurry."
"Very well," decided the twins, speaking both together this time. "We comman_ou all to remain in the palace until we have settled our own strange dispute.
The servants will care for you, and when we are ready to announce our decisio_e shall again send for you."
Every one bowed at this command and retired from the room; but Nerle looke_ver his shoulder as he went through the doorway, and saw that the two High K_ad turned in their seats and were facing each other, and that both thei_aces wore angry and determined expressions.