There had been trouble in the Forest of Gugu that morning. Chipo the Wild Boar had bitten the tail off Arx the Giraffe while the latter had his head among the leaves of a tree, eating his breakfast. Arx kicked with his heels and struck Tirrip, the great Kangaroo, who had a new baby in her pouch. Tirrip knew it was the Wild Boar's fault, so she knocked him over with one powerful blow and then ran away to escape Chipo's sharp tusks. In the chase that followed a giant porcupine stuck fifty sharp quills into the Boar and a chimpanzee in a tree threw a cocoanut at the porcupine that jammed its head into its body.
All this was against the Laws of the Forest, and when the excitement was over, Gugu the Leopard King called his royal Counselors together to decide how best to punish the offenders.
The four lords of the forest were holding solemn council in a small clearing when they saw two strange beasts approaching them--beasts the like of which they had never seen before.
Not one of the four, however, relaxed his dignity or showed by a movement that he was startled. The great Leopard crouched at full length upon a fallen tree-trunk. Bru the Bear sat on his haunches before the King; Rango the Gray Ape stood with his muscular arms folded, and Loo the Unicorn reclined, much as a horse does, between his fellow-councillors. With one consent they remained silent, eyeing with steadfast looks the intruders, who were making their way into their forest domain.
"Well met, Brothers!" said one of the strange beasts, coming to a halt beside the group, while his comrade with hesitation lagged behind.
"We are not brothers," returned the Gray Ape, sternly. "Who are you, and how came you in the forest of Gugu?"
"We are two Li-Mon-Eags," said Ruggedo, inventing the name. "Our home is in Sky Island, and we have come to earth to warn the forest beasts that the people of Oz are about to make war upon them and enslave them, so that they will become beasts of burden forever after and obey only the will of their two-legged masters."
A low roar of anger arose from the Council of Beasts.
"WHO'S going to do that?" asked Loo the Unicorn, in a high, squeaky voice, at the same time rising to his feet.
"The people of Oz," said Ruggedo.
"But what will WE be doing?" inquired the Unicorn.
"That's what I've come to talk to you about."
"You needn't talk! We'll fight the Oz people!" screamed the Unicorn. "We'll smash 'em; we'll trample 'em; we'll gore 'em; we'll--"
"Silence!" growled Gugu the King, and Loo obeyed, although still trembling with wrath. The cold, steady gaze of the Leopard wandered over the two strange beasts. "The people of Oz," said he, "have not been our friends; they have not been our enemies. They have let us alone, and we have let them alone. There is no reason for war between us. They have no slaves. They could not use us as slaves if they should conquer us. I think you are telling us lies, you strange Li-Mon-Eag--you mixed-up beast who are neither one thing nor another."
"Oh, on my word, it's the truth!" protested the Nome in the beast's shape. "I wouldn't lie for the world; I--"
"Silence!" again growled Gugu the King; and somehow, even Ruggedo was abashed and obeyed the edict.
"What do you say, Bru?" asked the King, turning to the great Bear, who had until now said nothing.
"How does the Mixed Beast know that what he says is true?" asked the Bear.
"Why, I can fly, you know, having the wings of an Eagle," explained the Nome. "I and my comrade yonder," turning to Kiki, "flew to a grove in Oz, and there we heard the people telling how they will make many ropes to snare you beasts, and then they will surround this forest, and all other forests, and make you prisoners. So we came here to warn you, for being beasts ourselves, although we live in the sky, we are your friends."
The Leopard's lip curled and showed his enormous teeth, sharp as needles. He turned to the Gray Ape.
"What do YOU think, Rango?" he asked.
"Send these mixed beasts away, Your Majesty," replied the Gray Ape. "They are mischief-makers."
"Don't do that--don't do that!" cried the Unicorn, nervously. "The stranger said he would tell us what to do. Let him tell us, then. Are we fools, not to heed a warning?"
Gugu the King turned to Ruggedo.
"Speak, Stranger," he commanded.
"Well," said the Nome, "it's this way: The Land of Oz is a fine country. The people of Oz have many good things--houses with soft beds, all sorts of nice-tasting food, pretty clothes, lovely jewels, and many other things that beasts know nothing of. Here in the dark forests the poor beasts have hard work to get enough to eat and to find a bed to rest in. But the beasts are better than the people, and why should they not have all the good things the people have? So I propose that before the Oz people have the time to make all those ropes to snare you with, that all we beasts get together and march against the Oz people and capture them. Then the beasts will become the masters and the people their slaves."
"What good would that do us?" asked Bru the Bear.
"It would save you from slavery, for one thing, and you could enjoy all the fine things of Oz people have."
"Beasts wouldn't know what to do with the things people use," said the Gray Ape.
"But this is only part of my plan," insisted the Nome. "Listen to the rest of it. We two Li-Mon-Eags are powerful magicians. When you have conquered the Oz people we will transform them all into beasts, and send them to the forests to live, and we will transform all the beasts into people, so they can enjoy all the wonderful delights of the Emerald City."
For a moment no beast spoke. Then the King said: "Prove it."
"Prove what?" asked Ruggedo.
"Prove that you can transform us. If you are a magician transform the Unicorn into a man. Then we will believe you. If you fail, we will destroy you."
"All right," said the Nome. "But I'm tired, so I'll let my comrade make the transformation."
Kiki Aru had stood back from the circle, but he had heard all that was said. He now realized that he must make good Ruggedo's boast, so he retreated to the edge of the clearing and whispered the magic word.
Instantly the Unicorn became a fat, chubby little man, dressed in the purple Gillikin costume, and it was hard to tell which was the more astonished, the King, the Bear, the Ape or the former Unicorn.
"It's true!" shorted the man-beast. "Good gracious, look what I am! It's wonderful!"
The King of Beasts now addressed Ruggedo in a more friendly tone.
"We must believe your story, since you have given us proof of your power," said he. "But why, if you are so great a magician, cannot you conquer the Oz people without our help, and so save us the trouble?"
"Alas!" replied the crafty old Nome, "no magician is able to do everything. The transformations are easy to us because we are Li-Mon-Eags, but we cannot fight, or conquer even such weak creatures as the Oz people. But we will stay with you and advise and help you, and we will transform all the Oz people into beasts, when the time comes, and all the beasts into people."
Gugu the King turned to his Counselors.
"How shall we answer this friendly stranger?" he asked.
Loo the former Unicorn was dancing around and cutting capers like a clown.
"On my word, your Majesty," he said, "this being a man is more fun than being a Unicorn."
"You look like a fool," said the Gray Ape.
"Well, I FEEL fine!" declared the man-beast.
"I think I prefer to be a Bear," said Big Bru. "I was born a Bear, and I know a Bear's ways. So I am satisfied to live as a Bear lives."
"That," said the old Nome, "is because you know nothing better. When we have conquered the Oz people, and you become a man, you'll be glad of it."
The immense Leopard rested his chin on the log and seemed thoughtful.
"The beasts of the forest must decide this matter for themselves," he said. "Go you, Rango the Gray Ape, and tell your monkey tribe to order all the forest beasts to assemble in the Great Clearing at sunrise to-morrow. When all are gathered together, this mixed-up Beast who is a magician shall talk to them and tell them what he has told us. Then, if they decide to fight the Oz people, who have declared war on us, I will lead the beasts to battle."
Rango the Gray Ape turned at once and glided swiftly through the forest on his mission. The Bear gave a grunt and walked away. Gugu the King rose and stretched himself. Then he said to Ruggedo: "Meet us at sunrise to-morrow," and with stately stride vanished among the trees.
The man-unicorn, left alone with the strangers, suddenly stopped his foolish prancing.
"You'd better make me a Unicorn again," he said. "I like being a man, but the forest beasts won't know I'm their friend, Loo, and they might tear me in pieces before morning."
So Kiki changed him back to his former shape, and the Unicorn departed to join his people.
Ruggedo the Nome was much pleased with his success.
"To-morrow," he said to Kiki Aru, "we'll win over these beasts and set them to fight and conquer the Oz people. Then I will have my revenge on Ozma and Dorothy and all the rest of my enemies."
"But I am doing all the work," said Kiki.
"Never mind; you're going to be King of Oz," promised Ruggedo.
"Will the big Leopard let me be King?" asked the boy anxiously.
The Nome came close to him and whispered:
"If Gugu the Leopard opposes us, you will transform him into a tree, and then he will be helpless."
"Of course," agreed Kiki, and he said to himself: "I shall also transform this deceitful Nome into a tree, for he lies and I cannot trust him."