I have already mentioned how high the mountains were between Noland and the land of Ix, but at the north of the city of Nole were mountains much higher -- so high, indeed, that they seemed to pierce the clouds, and it was said the moon often stopped on the highest peak to rest. It was not one single slope up from the lowlands, but first there was a high mountain with a level plain at the top, and then another high mountain rising from the level and capped with a second plain, and then another mountain, and so on; which made them somewhat resemble a pair of stairs. So that the people of Nole, who looked upon the North Mountains with much pride, used to point them out as "The Giant's Stairway," forgetting that no giant was ever big enough to use such an immense flight of stairs.
Many people had climbed the first mountain, and upon the plain at its top flocks of sheep were fed; and two or three people boasted they had climbed the second steep; but beyond that the mountains were all unknown to the dwellers in the valley of Noland. As a matter of fact, no one lived upon them; they were inhabited only by a few small animals and an occasional vulture or eagle which nested in some rugged crag. But at the top of all was an enormous plain that lay far above the clouds, and here the Roly-Rogues dwelt in great numbers.
I must describe these Roly-Rogues to you, for they were unlike any other people in all the world. Their bodies were as round as a ball -- if you can imagine a ball fully four feet in thickness at the middle. And their muscles were as tough and elastic as india rubber. They had heads and arms resembling our own, and very short legs, and all these they could withdraw into their ball-like bodies whenever they wished, very much as a turtle withdraws its legs and head into its shell.
The Roly-Rogues lived all by themselves in their country among the clouds, and there were thousands and thousands of them. They were quarrelsome by nature, but could seldom hurt one another because if they fought they could withdraw their arms and legs and heads into their bodies and roll themselves at one another with much fierceness. But when they collided, they would bounce apart again, and little harm was done.
In spite of their savage disposition, the Roly-Rogues had as yet done no harm to anyone but themselves, as they lived so high above the world that other people knew nothing of their existence. Nor did they themselves know, because of the clouds that floated between, of the valleys which lay below them.
But as ill luck would have it, a few days after King Bud's army had defeated the army of Ix, one of the Roly-Rogues, while fighting with another, rolled too near the edge of the plain whereon they dwelt, and bounded down the mountainside that faced Noland. Wind had scattered the clouds, so his fellows immediately rolled themselves to the edge and watched the luckless Roly-Rogue fly down the mountain, bounce across the plain and thence speed down the next mountain. By and by he became a dot to their eyes and then a mere speck, but as the clouds had just rolled away for a few moments, the Roly-Rogues could see, by straining their eyes, the city of Nole lying in the valley far below.
It seemed from that distance merely a toy city, but they knew it must be a big place to show so far away, and since they had no cities of their own, they became curious to visit the one they had just discovered. The ruler of the Roly-Rogues, who was more quarrelsome than any of the rest, had a talk with his chief men about visiting the unknown city. "We can roll down the mountain just as our brother did," he argued.
"But how in the world could we ever get back again?" said one of the chiefs, sticking his head up to look with astonishment at the other.
"We don't want to get back," said the other excitedly. "Someone has built many houses and palaces at the foot of the mountains, and we can live in those if they are big enough and if there are enough of them."
"Perhaps the people won't let us," suggested another chief who was not in favor of the expedition.
"We will fight them and destroy them," retorted the ruler, scowling at the chief as if he would make him ashamed of his cowardice.
"Then we must all go together," said a third chief, "for if only a few go, we may find ourselves many times outnumbered and at last be overcome."
"Every Roly-Rogue in the country shall go!" declared the ruler, who brooked no opposition when once he had made up his mind to a thing.
On the plain grew a grove of big thorn trees bearing thorns as long and sharp as swords, so the ruler commanded each of his people to cut two of the thorns, one for each hand, with which to attack whatever foes they might meet when they reached the unknown valley. Then, on a certain day, all the hundreds and thousands of Roly-Rogues that were in existence assembled upon the edge of their plain and, at the word of their ruler, hurled themselves down the mountain with terrible cries and went bounding away toward the peaceful city of Nole.