IT was dreadfully hot, even high up in the air, where the prince hung invisible. Great burning stones were tossed up by the volcano, and nearly hit him several times.
Moreover, the steam and smoke, and the flames which the Firedrake spouted like foam from his nostrils, would have daunted even the bravest man. The sides of the hill, too, were covered with the blackened ashes of his victims, whom he had roasted when they came out to kill him. The garden-engine of poor little Alphonso was lying in the valley, all broken and useless. But the Firedrake, as happy as a wild duck on a lonely loch, was rolling and diving in the liquid flame, all red-hot and full of frolic.
“Hi!” shouted the prince.
The Firedrake rose to the surface, his horns as red as a red crescent-moon, only bigger, and lashing the fire with his hoofs and his blazing tail.
“Who’s there?” he said in a hoarse, angry voice. “Just let me get at you!”
“It’s me,” answered the prince. It was the first time he had forgotten his grammar, but he was terribly excited.
“What do you want?” grunted the beast. “I wish I could see you”; and, horrible to relate, he rose on a pair of wide, flaming wings, and came right at the prince, guided by the sound of his voice.
Now, the prince had never heard that Firedrakes could fly; indeed, he had never believed in them at all, till the night before. For a moment he was numb with terror; then he flew down like a stone to the very bottom of the hill, and shouted:
“Well,” grunted the Firedrake,” what’s the matter? Why can’t you give a civil answer to a civil question?”
“Will you go back to your hole and swear, on your honour as a Firedrake, to listen quietly?”
“On my sacred word of honour,” said the beast, casually scorching an eagle that flew by into ashes. The cinders fell, jingling and crackling, round the prince in a little shower.
Then the Firedrake dived back, with an awful splash of flame, and the mountain roared round him.
The prince now flew high above him, and cried:
“A message from the Remora. He says you are afraid to fight him.”
“Don’t know him,” grunted the Firedrake.
“He sends you his glove,” said Prince Prigio, “as a challenge to mortal combat, till death do you part.”
Then he dropped his own glove into the fiery lake.
“Does he?” yelled the Firedrake. “Just let me get at him!” and he scrambled out, all red-hot as he was.
“I’ll go and tell him you’re coming,” said the prince; and with two strides he was over the frozen mountain of the Remora.