On this special night, the twentieth of March, Rex and Zendah had talked about the stars for a long time before going to sleep, so Zendah was not very surprised when she woke with a start to find a shining yellow figure standing beside her bed.
"Rex," she cried, "wake up, Hermes, the Messenger of the gods, is in the room! Do wake up before he goes away!"
Both children sat up in bed and gazed at the figure of the messenger. They noticed the wings on his feet and his staff with the two twisting serpents that father had told them about.
He smiled at them and said "Do you really want to know all about the Zodiac? Father Time says you may come with me and travel to the lands of the Zodiac tonight, if you wish."
"But won't it take ever so long?" asked Zendah, "and what would mother say if she found us gone?"
"Those who pass through the golden entrance gates of the twelve signs just a second before midnight, are able to have all their adventures before the clock strikes twelve--everyone knows at that moment there is no time at all."
"Oh, what fun!" cried both the children, jumping out of bed and dancing wildly around, "do let us start at once."
"Stop a minute," said Hermes with a smile, "you must use your 'star bodies'--those you have now are too heavy--you cannot go to the stars like this."
Then he took them to the window and told them to gaze on the bright Dog Star, Sirius, and to wish with all their might to visit him.
As they did this, they felt a curious sensation of sinking and sinking, and getting smaller and smaller, and tighter and tighter, 'til suddenly-- snap--and there seemed to be two Rexes and two Zendahs, one asleep on the bed and the other very much awake indeed, with a shiny body and a curious cloud of many colours all around it.
"Now you are using your star bodies," said Hermes, "and you will be able to fly with me to the golden gates."
Off they went, flying through space--passing on the way the Moon and many strange things--until they came to the entrance of the lands of the Zodiac. The gates lie just between the Fishes and the Ram.
What wonderful gates they were! White, and yet shining with many colours! Sometimes they seemed to be made of golden fire, sometimes of silver fire; yet when you looked again they appeared quite different. Something of their colour you will see on a cold night when there is a wood fire burning; sometimes you will catch a glimpse of their glitter when the Sun is just sinking to his rest at night.
At a word from Hermes, the gates rolled open and the wondering children entered.
Thousands of beautiful forms surged to meet them.
"The Angels!" whispered Zendah.
Hermes led them toward a white marble temple, which had seven massive steps leading up to the entrance porch. Inside they found a great circular hall with twelve alcoves, in each of which was an angel. The angels were dressed in beautiful robes of different colours and with a shining star on their foreheads.
They could not see very much of their surroundings for the light was too strong; it seemed to change and flash, first one colour and then another. Suddenly it became more dazzling and pure white, and at that moment a voice was heard saying: "What want these mortal children?"
"Oh, Great One, permit us to visit the lands of the twelve signs," cried Hermes, "that these children may return to Earth and tell others of the work of the Zodiac, as did the Wise Men of old."
"That is well chosen," said the voice. "Go, children, and lose not the magic talismans that the Guardians of each sign will give you."
Keeping their faces ever toward the light until they reached the entrance of the hall, Hermes led them out of the temple and brought them to the first gate.
As they went toward this gate, they noticed doors at intervals in the cloudy walls surrounding the entire country; it was toward one of these doors on the left-hand that Hermes took them.
"Behold the entrance to the Sign of the Fishes," he said.
"But why," asked Rex and Zendah, "do we not start at the Sign of the Ram, for we were taught that the Ram came first on the list?"
"Because in Starland everything is reversed.
"If you want to see a beautiful view of the distant country on Earth, you must start at the bottom of a mountain and climb to the top, and, having seen everything, you go down again into the valley and tell your friends all about your journey. Your Earth is like a mirror--and in it is reflected the picture of all that happens in the stars, and you know in a mirror everything is reversed. When you return home and wish to use the talismans given you by the guardians of the Signs, you will begin with the sign of the Ram. Take this scroll and do not lose it, for on it are written the passwords for all the signs; the Keeper of each gate will demand them of you before you can obtain admittance."
Hermes bade them farewell and left them to continue their journey, but told them with his merry laugh that they would see him when they least expected him.
Before they knocked at the Gate of the Fishes they stood for a few minutes looking at it--for it was so difficult to see where to knock. The sides of the gate were like two great waves and between them appeared lines of shifting water, never still for one moment, and shining with all the colours you see in a deep sea shell. Circling round and round, in the centre of the gate, were two fishes following each other, one copper coloured and one looking like zinc. In the middle of this beautiful gate was a priceless pearl, wonderful in shape and colour, which reflected as in a mirror, a face--changing continuously. At one moment this face was so hideous, while at the next so dazzlingly beautiful, that one could hardly bear to look at it.
Zendah noticed a sea-shell trumpet lying at the foot of the gate.
"Blow it," said Rex, "they always sound a trumpet at the entrance of a giant's castle in the fairy tales we have read." Zendah blew the shell trumpet. A soft note sounded, and all the movement ceased; the fishes stopped swimming round and formed themselves on either side of the pearl, just like this:
"Who demands entrance?" cried a voice. "Let him give the password."
"Rex and Zendah from Earth," they said, "and the Password is love."
"Then by virtue of love, enter Rex and Zendah," echoed many voices, and the gates swung slowly open.
As the gates rolled back, Zendah looked at Rex with astonishment and exclaimed, "Look Rex, look, it is nearly all sea!" They found themselves standing on the silvery sand of a seashore, and as far as they could see there were miles and miles of rippling waves, dotted about with many small islands. Far out at sea on the largest island stood a castle constructed of mother-of-pearl.
A beautiful little boat soon drew up at their feet with two children on board, one a boy who had hair of a flaxen colour and the other a girl, so fair that her hair shone like silver.
The boat was in the shape of a flying fish and they learned that it could rise out of the water and fly in the air at the wish of the steersman.
"Oh, do let us see it fly," cried Rex as they took their seats at one end. The boat slowly rose into the air, then dipped into the waves, and then rose again, for it did not seem able to climb to any great height above the water. The children were shown that it was driven by electricity. In the bottom of the boat were copper-plates just under the seat of the girl who steered. She wore curious sandals; the left foot had a copper sole and the right sole was made of zinc, and when she wanted the boat to rise she pressed with both feet, but only with the right foot if she wanted to sink onto the waves again, while pressure on the copper sole brought the boat to a standstill. They heard curious music as they glided along, and not seeing any birds, they asked where it came from.
"It is the fishes," they were told. "They are quite tame and they sing to us, for we have no birds in the Land of the Fishes."
Passing numbers of small boats like the one they were in, they soon arrived at the Pearly Castle, and embarking on a small quay, walked up a path made of different kinds of shells between rows of girls clad in cloaks of pale mauve. Their shoes were most beautiful, and nearly all the jewels they wore were on their feet.
There were no bright colours anywhere in the castle. The walls were of white marble and pearl-shell; the pillars appeared to be moonstones. It reminded them of the mist they had once seen on an early morning at the seaside, with the Sun shining through. All the walls and pillars gave out a musical note when they were touched, and everyone they met in the passages had a musical instrument.
After passing through many halls and twisting stairways, they at last stood in the throne room and saw King Neptune. His throne was made of a massive sea shell, with cushions of violet silk. In his hand he held a long wand of some white, shining metal, at the top of which were three branches, each tipped with a pearl.
"Neptune's trident," they whispered to each other.
He bade them welcome and turned to a beautiful lady who stood at his side, and asked her to show the children the wonders of this country.
"Queen Venus spends many hours in this land helping me," he said, "and she understands children much better than I do."
They were taken from room to room in the castle; in one they found an orchestra of many children, each child playing a different instrument, yet the music was the most beautiful they had ever heard. One or two sat quietly in a corner, seemingly doing nothing.
"Why are they not playing with the others, have they been naughty?" asked Rex. "Hush," said Venus, "they are listening to the angels' music, and presently they will write it down for the others to play."
In another room they found everyone busy writing, and every now and then as a child would stop and appear to be thinking hard a little cloud with hundreds of tiny pictures in it would gather over its head.
"They are writing stories and poetry," said Venus, answering the children's unspoken question. "All those little pictures are the ideas that come to them."
Leaving these rooms and passing down the castle steps, they came into a courtyard where there were all sorts of animals, some lame, some with bad ears, birds with broken legs or wings, and many others with different complaints. Children of all ages were trying to mend their broken limbs or heal their wounds. Rex and Zendah looked up at their guide with questioning eyes.
"When any animals get hurt on Earth, they come here to be cured," said Venus, looking rather stern. "Children, too, must come here to learn to be kind and loving to all animals, for here are found the hospitals where both men and animals may be cured.
"But before you go, I will show you something very precious," said Venus. Stepping into another flying fish boat like the first, they were taken to an island near the Pearly Castle.
It was quite small and almost entirely covered by a circular glass temple, guarded by two knights in shining armour, with shields bearing the emblem of a silver cup on a blue background. They, too, demanded the password, and being given it, allowed the children to pass.
There was nothing inside, except an altar at one end and a large mirror. On the altar shone a brilliant light like the full Moon; within this they could faintly see a crystal cup which sparkled as a diamond, or perhaps it was more like the Sun shining through a dewdrop.
"Children," said Venus, "when King Arthur came to live among the stars, he brought with him the Magic Cup, which has the power of giving everyone what he most wishes for. But you must be certain that you really know what you want. It must be something you can share with those you love. It will never go back to Earth again until people stop quarreling with each other." Pointing to the mirror, she said, "In this, if your eyes are strong enough, you can see everything that has ever happened or will happen. I will give you a small magic mirror like this one, Zendah, and if you use it well, when you are in difficulties, you will be able to see exactly what to do.
"Rex, wear this pearl, and when you do, remember the password of this land and so help to bring the Holy Cup back to Earth once more."
Very quietly, they almost tiptoed back to the temple porch, carrying their gifts with them, and re-entered the flying boat, leaving Queen Venus, with a smile on her face, standing on the steps. Soon they were back on the seashore by the gate of the Land of the Fishes, and once outside, they turned to look for the Land of the Water Carrier, sometimes known as "the Man with the Pitcher."
The children now stood outside the second gate.
This was quite different from the first; it seemed to be made of quickly-moving clouds, but above them could be seen a great green globe with a star in the middle.
Rex found a rod that seemed all alive, lying by the gate, and the instructions in the scroll told him to use it to gain admittance.
"I can't see anywhere to knock," he said to Zendah, but as he raised it in his hand, a flash like lightning flew from the top of the rod toward the green globe above the gate. Suddenly the shifting clouds cleared away and they saw that the globe rested on a tall green pillar. Across the middle of the gate were two snakes, a silver one at the top and another of bronze underneath--like this:
Carved above the snakes was the symbol of two hands clasped together.
"Who comes to challenge the Keeper of the Long Distances?" cried a voice.
"Rex and Zendah from the Earth," they answered.
"Give the Password."
"Brotherhood," replied Rex.
"Advance, Rex and Zendah, through the Spirit of Brotherhood, into the Land of the Water Carrier."
Back clanged the gates.
The two children found themselves at the beginning of a wide road, which stretched as far as the eyes could see straight in front of them. On either side were five other roads, dividing the country into eleven sections, on each of which stood beautiful buildings.
Soon they saw coming in the distance, a man dressed in a close-fitting garment of some material that they had never seen before. It looked like chain armour, and though it was not metal, yet it shone like purple, green, and orange scales of a snake. Over this he wore a cloak that was made of many-coloured squares. Round his ankles he had jeweled bands that shone as the rod at the gate. He welcomed the children to his country and invited them to go with him to see the King.
He clapped his hands above his head, and instantly a silvery flying machine glided down, and they all stepped in. Off they flew, high above the great central road, arriving at the castle with a speed almost as quick as thought itself. Tall men, dressed like their guide, stood at each side of the long flight of steps, and each one clasped his hands together in salutation as they passed.
The castle was filled with beautiful statues and ornaments of all kinds, so many that there was not time to notice their variety.
"Rex," whispered Zendah, "it is like the British Museum only much nicer."
On they went into the largest hall and at last they stood before the throne, which was formed of many strange metals. The carpet on which it stood, and the curtains behind it, were made of alternate squares of green and orange. An old man with a serious face and a long white beard, was seated on the throne. He wore a dark green robe, along the edge of which were chrysolites, and sprays of holly with many red berries, while under this was a fine white linen vest. He held an hourglass in his hand, and at his side stood a dark, handsome man with piercing eyes, and a crown that seemed to flash with brilliant rays of fire. His robe, too, seemed to change colour every time one looked at it.
"Welcome, children," said the old King. "You know me by name, for I am Father Time, sometimes called Saturn. Here in the Land of the Water Carrier I leave much of my work to be done by King Uranus, who is older than I though he looks younger! He will show you the wonders of this land."
"Let us go to the mines first," said Uranus, coming down from his place near the throne. Leaving the palace they again entered a flying machine, and skimming across-country to some mountains, they alighted in a very short time.
He took them inside a mountain where there were some very deep caves in which men were working with curious machinery, unlike any they had ever seen.
"These are radium mines," he said. "See!" and he touched a knob on a machine near one of the walls of the cave. At once a sword-like arm came down and cut an opening in the rock. Out rushed a stream of sparkling metal that shone as the Sun. It seemed all alive and the children could not look at it for more than a moment.
"Do we have any of that metal on Earth?" asked Rex.
"Yes, but not very much. We put an abundance into your Earth when it was very young, but now nearly all the sparkle has come back here, and there is only a dull heavy metal left that you call lead, but that really belongs to another land."
"What a pity, I like this better," said Zendah.
"Some day men will find out how to turn lead back again into radium; but it will not be just yet," said Uranus smiling.
Leaving the caves they climbed to the top of the mountain where stood a glass-domed building, the entrance door of which was reached by hundreds of steps. There they saw all sorts of flying machines being made.
In one corner, they noticed a number of people standing on high pillars, stretching out their arms, jumping off, and floating to the ground, just as if they had wings.
"What are they doing?" asked Zendah.
"They are practicing flying without machines; everyone could fly even now if he would learn to use his star body properly, but without that it is not easy."
Outside once more, in a beautiful valley, they found marble quarries, with men and women carving statues; some were only just begun, others were nearly finished.
Zendah wished so much to be able to do this herself, that Uranus gave her a tiny tool and told her when she got home to try, but to practice with clay first.
"I would much rather send messages across the air," asserted Rex.
The children were taken into yet another building, where there were numerous wires running from wall to wall. Here Rex noticed a large plate of ebony, with silver knobs all round the edge and was told to press one and wish hard. "Think of the message you wish to send and it will reach the other end," said Uranus.
"Only think?" asked Rex. "Is that all?"
"Yes, that is all, but you must think hard and at the same time look into this mirror at the side."
Rex thought of his mother and wished her to know what a glorious time they were having.
He saw his mother sitting by the fire at home, and then he saw a little ball of light, filled with pictures of their adventures, fly like lightning until it came close to her, when it seemed to burst and disappear.
She smiled and said to herself, "What a good dream the children are having."
"Some day," said Uranus, "people will not need wires to send messages to each other, but will just sit down, think hard and the messages will arrive at the other end. Children will be able to send them much better than grown-up people."
"Are there any other interesting things that the people of this land can do?" asked Zendah.
"Yes, those people over there are designing wonderful cathedrals and other beautiful buildings, and there," pointing to another hall, "they are learning to chain the lightning and make it work machines instead of using coal or gas."
Great flames were flying from place to place, sometimes the whole building shook--it was often like a great firework display! They saw the sparks flash as thousands of shining balls went from one place to another. These balls appeared in different colours varying in accordance with the height from which they were seen. Those on the bottom were red and yellow changing to green, while those at the top were blue and purple. A man stood on one side of the hall and stretched out his hand toward some machine on the opposite side. As he did this a stream of coloured fire seemed to jump from his fingers, and then the machine started without any other help.
It was very wonderful, but Uranus only shook his head when Rex asked him how it was done.
"You will find out some day, my child," he said, "if you think hard enough." Then taking them to the entrance gate he gave Rex a tiny magic bridge which, he said, would enable him to send his thoughts like lightning wherever he wished, if he but held it and used the password. To Zendah, he gave a pendant made of two snakes, like those on the gate, each holding a sapphire in its mouth.
They never knew how they got outside that land. Suddenly they saw a flash of light, the ground shook, and--they were in front of the next gate, that of the Sea-Goat.
The next gate was very still--not a movement of any kind. It looked heavy and solid, and its central ornament was a mountain with a tiny building at the highest point. The pillars were carved with goats' heads and at their bases a border of fishes' tails.
Rex was uncertain as to how to gain admittance, as he could not see a knocker nor a bell, nor even a rod with which to strike the gate.
Zendah suddenly said, "There is a very, very tiny keyhold, quite high up in the gate, Rex, but I don't think we can reach it, and then even if we could, we have no key. However, you might climb on to my shoulder and see if you can reach the keyhole."
Rex did so, but still it was out of reach. He jumped down again and the children stood looking at each other in dismay.
"This is tiresome," said Rex, glancing up at the gate. "Look at those letters, Zendah, I did not see them at first."
They were surprised to see right across the gate the words, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
Suddenly Zendah noticed a huge stone close by the gate. There was a streak of light coming from under it, so she said, "Let's try and move this stone and then perhaps we shall find the way in." They pushed together at it for some minutes and when it moved they found beneath it a white stone box.
Inside was a tiny key made of a dull, heavy-looking metal, and it really was heavy, for together they could hardly lift it. After tugging for some minutes they dropped it to get their breath. Then Zendah took hold of the key with both hands and as she did so Rex cried out, "Zendah, Zendah, you are growing taller and taller!" He watched her shoot up like a bean stalk and put the key in the lock. As she did this she suddenly found herself to be her natural size. Then they heard a voice.
"Who has found the secret of the entrance into the Land of the Sea-Goat?"
They replied, "Rex and Zendah."
"Perseverance," they answered.
"Enter Rex and Zendah by perseverance."
Very, very slowly this gate rolled back, and a cold wind made them shiver as they stood on the threshold.
What a sight met their eyes! Range after range of mountains, some snow-clad, and some all gray rocks. The Sun was just rising and as they looked the mountains changed from gray to beautiful shades of blue and purple, and as he rose higher in the heavens they gradually became pink and orange, just as their own hill did in winter.
"I think it is rather cold here," said Zendah, stamping her feet, "but I do like climbing mountains."
They turned round as they heard footsteps, and found that an elderly woman with gray hair had come to meet them.
She carried a staff in her hand and wore a short mountaineering dress of greenish material, belted with a dark brown, leather belt.
"You will not find this land easy," she said, bowing gravely to the children, "but I will give you the goat's feet power and you will be able to climb." So saying, she touched their feet with her staff, and much to their surprise, they found that this made some difference for afterwards they could climb the mountain sides quite easily.
"What would have happened if you had not touched our feet with your staff?" asked Zendah.
"You would have found your knees bending, and you would always have been falling down, and so might never have reached the top of the mountain," she said.
Up and up they climbed, passing on their way huge beech trees; here and there were men cutting down some of them, ready to be taken to workshops lower down on the mountain.
Near the top they entered a beautiful garden set out with ordered rows of poplar and yew trees that Rex thought were just like a lot of soldiers drilling. In the centre was a black palace that shone like polished marble, but they were told that it was made of jet.
In the Jet Palace they found King Saturn, who smiled as they entered his great hall, and who told them that this was his house where he was most often to be found.
"I am afraid you will not find the Sea-Goat's Land so interesting until you are grown up," he said, and turning to a young man who was sitting at his side, and whose hair was like that of Rex, he added, "You will have all our wonders explained to you by my son Mars, who is young and will be glad of an excuse to be doing something instead of sitting still beside me all day!"
Mars jumped up with a smile, and off they went, peeping as they passed into several rooms of the palace where they saw men and women talking, and talking, and talking, until you would have thought they must be tired of so much chattering.
In another room they saw people surrounded by books and rolls of papers with hundreds of red and green seals hanging to them; there were books on the shelves, books on the tables, books on the floors in heaps; you could hardly see the people themselves for books!
"Some of these people are learning all about laws so that they may be able to show their kings how to rule their countries," explained Mars, "and the others are writing them down, to be stored for many people to read, if ever they want to, in museums and libraries." The children thought this seemed a little dull so Mars took them outside the palace where they saw hundreds of goats, big goats and little goats, gray goats, white goats, and piebald goats, running up and down the mountain and never slipping nor falling as they jumped from crag to crag.
"Are there no other animals here?" asked Zendah.
Mars showed them some deep pools near the foot of one of the mountains; and there they saw hundreds of crocodiles.
"I don't like those at all, nor their smell," cried Zendah. Mars laughed. "Shut your eyes," he commanded, and he spoke some magic word. "Now open them." When she did so all the crocodiles had turned to goats and were scrambling out of the pool as fast as they could.
Further on they came to a crack in the mountain, and creeping inside they stepped on to a kind of lift--anyway it seemed like a lift for it was a little room with seats on one side. And after they sat down the whole place went suddenly dark and--swish--bump--their breath was nearby taken away, and then they saw a faint light.
"Be very, very quiet, if you wish to see the gnomes at work," Mars whispered, as they stepped out of the lift and crept along a narrow passage. Soon they were standing on a ledge of rock looking down on a cave below.
There were hundreds of little brown men running about, some looking after great fires, over which were boiling cauldrons of metal. Others were wheeling tanks about, out of which they poured the hot metal into cracks in the rocks.
"What are they doing?" whispered Rex.
"They are pouring lead into the veins of the rocks, so that it will run down to Earth, and men will be able to find lead mines if they dig deep enough. The metals in any land have first to be put there by the gnomes before you can find them. Now come and see what we do with the trees you saw being cut down on the mountain slopes."
They passed into a large building in which were great circular saws cutting tree trunks into smooth slabs. Some were being polished until they were like mirrors and the children could see their faces in them. Everywhere all kinds of things were being made of wood--tables and toys, boats and boxes. In one corner a man was fitting minute, many-coloured squares and triangles to form a pattern that looked like a carpet.
"What a time it takes him," sighed Zendah, thinking how she disliked sitting still for very long in the house.
"He has been making that for eighty-four years," replied Mars. "You see one who needs much patience to do it, and that is one of the things people come here to learn."
The children were beginning to feel tired with their climbing, for the power of the magic staff was commencing to wear off, so Mars carried them up a very steep mountain whose top seemed to reach right up above the clouds. At last they stood at the door of a crystal building with five sides like a star. Over the door were the words,
In the entrance hall sat an old man near a window that stretched from the floor right up to the ceiling. The window was open at the top, and a large telescope pointed to the starry heavens. He was surrounded by tables littered with books and papers inscribed with circles and queer figures. As Mars took the children to him, he looked up from the calculations he was making.
"Birthdays please," was all he said.
"March 27th, November 26th," replied Rex and Zendah together. He laughed. "One at a time please." He then entered their names in a big book at his side. Wondering why he wanted their birthdays, they stood watching him, but he went back to his writing and they saw Mars waiting at the door for them.
Leaving this ante-chamber, they arrived at the entrance of the main hall, and were told to follow him slowly and quietly. In the centre hung a lamp, suspended from the roof by a gold chain that shone as it swung slightly to and fro in the breeze from the door. Underneath it stood a table, on the legs of which were carved snakes, and upon it, lying on a purple cushion, was a large book bound with white velvet. There were several locks and chains attached and on its cover were the words in letters of gold:
A green angel knelt at each corner while another stood behind the lamp, watching to see that it never went out.
"This is the book in which all the knowledge of the world is written in every language," said Mars. "It is locked with seven locks, and the little key you found at the gate unlocks one of them, but until you have visited all the lands of the Zodiac, you will not be able to read any of its pages."
"The lamp is like Aladdin's, and is able to give you all you wish for; before you leave, Father Time will give you a little copy of it, and tell you how to use it."
Mars carried them back down the mountain side, to the Jet Palace, and Father Time smiled when he saw them. Reading their thoughts, he said, "So you want to be able to read the Book of Wisdom, children? So you shall, some day. Now I give to you, Zendah, a copy of the lamp; you must find out where to rub it, and how many times, and then you must both use it, together with the password. You, Rex, may wear this five-pointed star made of jade, to remind you of this land."
Mars took them to the palace gates and they waved their hands to him, and ran together down the mountain side, arriving at the entrance much more quickly than they expected. But then it is easier to run down a mountain than up!
They were not certain what they really thought of the Land of the Sea-Goat, for as Zendah said, things were so puzzling there, and also, it was rather cold.
The children were very glad when they stood before the next gate, for even outside it looked warm and welcoming.
It reminded them of mother's fire when she had a great wood log burning in the winter, for first blue and then green flames seemed to dart across it.
There were moving figures on this gate as there were on the first, but they could not see them well, because of the flickering lights that flitted across its surface.
The only thing they could see clearly, was a scroll with some silvery letters near the top of the gate. Looking at this carefully, after, a time they saw these to be: Aim at the Star and hit the Moon.
"What do you think that means?" asked Rex.
"It has something to do with shooting," replied Zendah, "and we must find something to shoot with." so they looked round and soon found a very, very small bow hanging on one side of the gate, and a small quiver of arrows on the other.
"We cannot both use it at once," explained Rex. "I think I am the better shot." so he took the bow and aimed with an arrow at the gate. But it missed and hit the left pillar. Aiming again he hit the right-hand one.
"I thought you were the better shot," laughed Zendah. "Try aiming higher."
So Rex aimed at a place over the top of the gate, and found he hit a small shield just below the scroll which he had not noticed. Immediately the whole gate lighted up, and in the centre could be seen a great fiery arrow.
On each side was a figure, half man and half horse; the one dressed in beautiful armour, and the other in rough skins, like a savage.
A voice demanded the Password, and they replied. "Freedom."
"Enter freely, Rex and Zendah, into the Land of the Archer," rang the answer. As in the other lands the gates opened immediately. A young man dressed in a short blue tunic, with bare legs and sandals, like the ancient Greeks, ran up to them. He held with a leash, two elegant greyhounds. Raising his right hand in salute, he welcomed them, and bade them follow him.
It was a beautiful country with rolling plains of grass surrounded with little ranges of hills. Here and there were graceful temples with gleaming pillars of different coloured stone, like those that are still to be seen in Greece and Rome.
Putting a silver whistle to his lips, their guide blew a clear note and immediately up rushed four beautiful horses.
"Can you ride?" he asked.
"Oh yes," cried the children, for they had often ridden bareback round the fields at home.
Rex mounted on a black horse, while Zendah had a white one and their guide stood upright, with one foot on a brown horse and one on a gray, the reins in his hands guiding all four horses. Off they went, with a merry shout, and the horses flew as the wind along the roads and over the downs.
There were no saddles and they clung to the horses' manes, for they went so quickly it took all their attention to save themselves from falling.
Everywhere they saw crowds of horses, of all colours and sizes, chasing and racing over the downs, some with riders, some with men's heads and bodies down to their waists. There were many dogs also enjoying the fun.
They drew up suddenly in front of a courtyard paved with squares of black and white stone.
Dismounting, the young man tied the reins of the horses to a ring on one of the gate posts. They followed him up the centre of the courtyard to a curious building made of a shining white metal, with nine sides, and nine windows in each of the sides. There did not seem to be a way in, unless one could fly through a window!
Around each window was a stone border carved with queer leaves and signs, and on the top of each, something that looked like a bird rising out of flames.
Their guide made a curious low sound, and suddenly the whole front opened, and they found themselves looking into a stable made entirely of a purple stone, polished like glass.
"Look, Rex, look!" cried Zendah, "it is Pegasus, the flying horse!"
Indeed it was, for coming toward them was the most beautiful white horse they had ever seen. His coat shone like silk and just behind his shoulders were two great silvery wings, which he kept folded along his back, except when he was flying. Zendah reached up and gently stroked his nose.
"Can he take us for a ride?" she asked.
"I do not believe you could manage him yet," said their guide, shaking his head, "and if you could not, as he can fly everywhere, even to all the other stars that you can hardly see, he might take you to some star from which you would find it very difficult to get back.
"When you have learned all the passwords, then perhaps you will be able to call him and ride along the Milky Way. You will be given a tin whistle by our King; you will not find it easy to blow the right note to call Pegasus, but when you can, he will come and you will be able to have your ride."
After leaving the stable, they went down to a plain of most beautiful short grass and moss, a real velvet lawn. All around were raised banks covered with turf, standing one above the other, like steps.
Children, men and women were sitting on these slopes, watching others in the central space, taking part in all sorts of races and games.
"How jolly and good-tempered they all seem," said Rex after they had watched one of the races, "they don't seem to mind a bit if they win or lose."
Just then they caught sight of two boys who did seem to mind! They had just run a race and had come to the winning post about the same time and they were standing disputing as to which of them had won the wreath of fig leaves that was the prize.
The young man came up to them and said, "If you cannot agree about it, we will go to the King." Calling for two more horses for these boys, they all mounted and off they went again over the green plains, until they came to a castle which had nine towers with curious sharp pointed spires. Men with long robes and white wigs met them and went before them, from the entrance to the main hall.
Here they saw, sitting on his throne, the jolliest king they had ever met, with a rosy face and twinkling blue eyes.
"He surely must be some relation to Old King Cole," thought the children, for he looked as if he were always just on the point of laughing, even when he was serious!
It was impossible to feel sad when you looked at him; you had to feel happy.
The pages in attendance showed Rex and Zendah to some cushions on the steps near the throne, and after bowing to the king, who gave them one of his jolly smiles, they sat down.
Two more pages brought forward the disputing boys, and King Jupiter, for that was his name, looked serious for a few minutes while he listened to their story.
"How foolish you are," he said. "It does not matter in the least who arrived at the winning post first, so long as you both ran your best. You know the motto over the entrance to this land: 'Everyone can aim at the Star, but not until you have had much practice can you expect to hit it.'"
So he divided the wreath between me two and they were quite satisfied. King Jupiter rose from his throne and clapped his hands.
"Bring in the banquet, and let my merry musicians play their best music, so that we may show Rex and Zendah how the subjects of King Jupiter can be merry and happy."
In a few minutes tables appeared, and great dishes of fruit and cakes and sweets were set before them. There was an abundance of everything; everyone tried to make the children feel at home and showered them with presents of figs and apricots to take away with them. They did not know which to do first--thank everyone, eat their fruit, or listen to me music, which was very beautiful. Just then an old man, who was sitting at one end of me table, rose and held up his hand. Everyone stood up, and he said, "Let us sing our usual song of thanks to the angels, for helping us to grow all these beautiful fruits." A glorious hymn of praise was sung by all, after which the children were taken back before the throne of King Jupiter.
There Zendah received the promised whistle, and Rex received a nine-pointed star made of a carbuncle, and, much to their disappointment, they were told it was time for them to go.
Never before had they been anywhere where everyone was so generous, nor any place they were so sorry to leave.
At last their guide brought their horses to the palace door, and they mounted. This time he let them guide their own horses back to the gate. Hundreds of the people rode with them to see them off. As they stood outside and the gates gradually closed, they heard voices crying, "Goodbye, goodbye, come again soon, we shall be so glad to see you."
"I do love this Land of the Archer," said Zendah.
"Of course you do," retorted Rex. "It's your own sign!"