When the soldiers of Queen Zixi ran away, they fled in so many different directions that the bewildered queen could not keep track of them. Her horse, taking fright, dashed up the mountainside and tossed Zixi into a lilac bush, after which he ran off and left her. One would think such a chain of misfortunes could not fail to daunt the bravest. But Zixi had lived too many years to allow such trifles as defeat and flight to ruin her nerves; so she calmly disentangled herself from the lilac bush and looked around to see where she was.
It was very quiet and peaceful on this part of the mountainside. Her glittering army had disappeared to the last man. In the far distance she could see the spires and turreted palaces of the city of Nole, and behind her was a thick grove of lilac trees bearing flowers in full bloom. This lilac grove gave Zixi an idea. She pushed aside some of the branches and entered the cool, shadowy avenues between the trees.
The air was heavy with the scent of the violet flowers, and tiny hummingbirds were darting here and there to thrust their long bills into the blossoms and draw out the honey for food. Butterflies there were, too, and a few chipmunks perched high among the branches. But Zixi walked on through the trees in deep thought, and presently she had laid new plans. For since the magic cloak was so hard to get, she wanted it more than ever.
By and by she gathered some bits of the lilac bush and dug some roots from the ground. Next she caught six spotted butterflies, from the wings of which she brushed off all the round, purple spots. Then she wandered on until she came upon a little spring of water bubbling from the ground, and filling a cup-shaped leaf of the tatti-plant from the spring, she mixed her bark and roots and butterfly-spots in the liquid and boiled it carefully over a fire of twigs; for tatti-leaves will not burn so long as there is water inside them.
When her magical compound was ready, Zixi muttered an incantation and drank it in a single draught. A few moments later, the witch-queen had disappeared, and in her place stood the likeness of a pretty young girl dressed in a simple white gown with pink ribbons at the shoulders and a pink sash around her waist. Her light-brown hair was gathered into two long braids that hung down her back, and she had two big, blue eyes that looked very innocent and sweet. Besides these changes, both the nose and the mouth of the girl differed in shape from those of Zixi; so that no one would have seen the slightest resemblance between the two people, or between Miss Trust and the girl who stood in the lilac grove.
The transformed witch-queen gave a sweet, rippling laugh and glanced at her reflection in the still waters of the spring. And then the girlish face frowned, for the image staring up at her was that of a wrinkled, toothless, old hag. "I really must have that cloak," sighed the girl, and then she turned and walked out of the lilac grove and down the mountainside toward the city of Nole.
The Princess Fluff was playing tennis with her maids in a courtyard of the royal palace when Jikki came to say that a girl wished to speak with her Highness. "Send her here," said Fluff.
So the witch-queen came to her in the guise of the fair young girl, and bowing in a humble manner before the princess she said, "Please, your Highness, may I be one of your maids?"
"Why, I have eight already!" answered Fluff, laughing.
"But my father and mother are both dead, and I have come all the way from my castle to beg you to let me wait upon you," said the girl, looking at the little princess with a pleading expression in her blue eyes.
"Who are you?" asked Fluff.
"I am daughter of the Lord Hurrydole, and my name is Adlena," replied the girl, which was not altogether falsehood, because one of her ancestors had borne the name Hurrydole, and Adlena was one of her own names.
"Then, Adlena," said Fluff brightly, "you shall certainly be one of my maids, for there is plenty of room in the palace, and the more girls I have around me, the happier I shall be."
So Queen Zixi, under the name of Adlena, became an inmate of the king's palace, and it was not many days before she learned where the magic cloak was kept. But the princess gave her a key to a drawer and told her to get from it a blue silk scarf she wished to wear, and directly under the scarf lay the fairy garment. Adlena would have seized it at that moment had she dared, but Fluff was in the same room, so she only said, "Please, princess, may I look at that pretty cloak?"
"Of course," answered Fluff, "but handle it carefully, for it was given me by the fairies."
So Adlena unfolded the cloak and looked at it very carefully, noting exactly the manner in which it was woven. Then she folded it again, arranged it in the drawer, and turned the key, which the princess immediately attached to a chain which she always wore around her neck.
That night, when the witch-queen was safely locked in her own room and could not be disturbed, she called about her a great many of those invisible imps that serve the most skillful witches, commanding them to weave for her a cloak in the exact likeness of the one given Princess Fluff by the fairies. Of course the imps had never seen the magic cloak, but Zixi described it to them accurately, and before morning they had woven a garment so closely resembling the original that the imitation was likely to deceive anyone.
Only one thing was missing, and that was the golden thread woven by Queen Lulea herself, and which gave the cloak its magic powers. Of course the imps of Zixi could not get this golden thread, nor could they give any magical properties to the garment they had made at the witch's command, but they managed to give the cloak all of the many brilliant colors of the original, and Zixi was quite satisfied.
The next day Adlena wore this cloak while she walked in the garden. Very soon Princess Fluff saw her and ran after the girl, crying indignantly, "See here! What do you mean by wearing my cloak? Take it off instantly!"
"It isn't your cloak. It is one of my own," replied the girl calmly.
"Nonsense! There can't be two such cloaks in the world," retorted Fluff.
"But there are," persisted Adlena. "How could I get the one in your drawer when the key is around your own neck?"
"I'm sure I don't know," admitted the princess, beginning to be puzzled. "But come with me into my rooms. If my fairy cloak is indeed in the drawer, then I will believe you."
So they went to the drawer, and of course found the magic cloak, as the cunning Zixi had planned. Fluff pulled it out and held the two up together to compare them, and they seemed to be exactly alike. "I think yours is a little the longer," said Adlena, and threw it over the shoulders of the princess. "No, I think mine is the longer," she continued, and removing the magic cloak, put her own upon Fluff. They seemed to be about the same length, but Adlena kept putting first one and then the other upon the princess until they were completely mixed, and the child could not have told one from the other.
"Which is mine?" she finally asked in a startled voice.
"This, of course," answered Adlena, folding up the imitation cloak which the imps had made and putting it away in the drawer. Fluff never suspected the trick, so Zixi carried away the magic cloak she had thus cleverly stolen, and she was so delighted with the success of her stratagem that she could have screamed aloud for pure joy. As soon as she was alone and unobserved, the witch-queen slipped out of the palace, and carrying the magic cloak in a bundle under her arm, ran down the streets of Nole and out through the gate in the wall and away toward the mountain where the lilac grove lay.
"At last!" she kept saying to herself. "At last I shall see my own beautiful reflection in a mirror, instead of that horrid old hag!"
When she was safe in the grove, she succeeded by means of her witchcraft in transforming the girl Adlena back into the beautiful woman known throughout the kingdom of Ix as Queen Zixi. And then she lost no time in throwing the magic cloak over her shoulders. "I wish," she cried in a loud voice, "that my reflection in every mirror will hereafter show the same face and form as that in which I appear to exist in the sight of all mortals!"
Then she threw off the cloak and ran to the crystal spring, saying, "Now, indeed, I shall at last see the lovely Queen Zixi!" But as she bent over the spring, she gave a sudden shriek of disappointed rage, for glaring up at her from the glassy surface of the water was the same fearful hag she had always seen as the reflection of her likeness! The magic cloak would grant no wish to a person who had stolen it.
Zixi, more wretched than she had ever been before in her life, threw herself down upon her face in the lilac grove and wept for more than an hour, which is an exceedingly long time for tears to run from one's eyes. And when she finally arose, two tiny brooks flowed from the spot and wound through the lilac trees, one to the right and one to the left. Then, leaving the magic cloak -- to possess which she had struggled so hard and sinfully -- lying unheeded upon the ground, the disappointed witch-queen walked slowly away and finally reached the bank of the great river.
Here she found a rugged old alligator who lay upon the bank, weeping with such bitterness that the sight reminded Zixi of her own recent outburst of sorrow. "Why do you weep, friend?" she asked, for her experience as a witch had long since taught her the language of the beasts and birds and reptiles.
"Because I cannot climb a tree," answered the alligator.
"But why do you wish to climb a tree?" she questioned, surprised.
"Because I can't," returned the alligator, squeezing two more tears from his eyes.
"But that is very foolish!" exclaimed the witch-queen scornfully.
"Oh, I don't know," said the alligator. "It doesn't strike me that it's much more foolish than the fancies some other people have."
"Perhaps not," replied Zixi more gently, and walked away in deep thought.
While she followed the river bank to find a ferry across, the dusk fell, and presently a gray owl came out of a hollow in a tall tree and sat upon a limb, wailing dismally. Zixi stopped and looked at the bird. "Why do you wail so loudly?" she asked.
"Because I cannot swim in the river like a fish," answered the owl, and it screeched so sadly that it made the queen shiver.
"Why do you wish to swim?" she inquired.
"Because I can't," said the owl, and buried its head under its wing with a groan.
"But that is absurd!" cried Zixi with impatience.
The owl had an ear out and heard her. So it withdrew its head long enough to retort, "I don't think it's any more absurd than the longings of some other folks."
"Perhaps you are right," said the queen, and hung her head as she walked on. By and by she found a ferryman with a boat, and he agreed to row her across the river. In one end of the boat crouched a little girl, the ferryman's daughter, and she sobbed continually, so that the sound of the child's grief finally attracted Zixi's attention. "Why do you sob?" questioned the queen.
"Because I want to be a man," replied the child, trying to stifle her sobs.
"Why do you want to be a man?" asked Zixi curiously.
"Because I'm a little girl," was the reply.
This made Zixi angry. "You're a little fool!" she exclaimed loudly.
"There are other fools in the world," said the child, and renewed her sobs.
Zixi did not reply, but she thought to herself, "We are all alike -- the alligator, the owl, the girl, and the powerful Queen of Ix. We long for what we cannot have, yet desire it not so much because it would benefit us as because it is beyond our reach. If I call the others fools, I must also call myself a fool for wishing to see the reflection of a beautiful girl in my mirror when I know it is impossible. So hereafter I shall strive to be contented with my lot."
This was a wise resolution, and the witch-queen abided by it for many years. She was not very bad, this Zixi, for it must be admitted that few have the courage to acknowledge their faults and strive to correct them as she did.