The Tunnel Under the Desert

The Shaggy Man leaped to his feet and stared at the beaver King.
“What!” he exclaimed. “You discovered the Nome King’s tunnel under the
Deadly Desert?”

“Oh, yes,” replied the beaver King. “We have known for some time of its
existence and location.”

“But this is wonderful!” gasped the Shaggy Man. “Our troubles are all
over. All we have to do is walk through the tunnel to the Emerald
City!”

“No,” said the King of the Fairy Beavers. “It isn’t as easy as that.
You must remember we still have Glinda’s Barrier of Invisibility to
contend with.”

“Hmmmmm,” said the Shaggy Man seating himself, “that is true. But there
might be some way we could get past that barrier. Tell me, how did you
happen to discover the Nome King’s tunnel?”

“We stumbled onto it accidentally when one of our burrows led into it,”
explained the beaver King. “We followed it to the Kingdom of the Nomes
where the tunnel opens into one of the Nome King’s mines. There was a
company of Nomes working there, and the ill-natured creatures hurled
diamonds at us. In fact the Nomes were so discourteous that we have
never since entered that section of the tunnel.”

“But if you knew the tunnel led to Oz in the other direction, why
didn’t you follow it?” asked Twiffle.

“Because we also know Ozma’s wishes, and we respect them,” replied the
beaver King quietly. “But certainly Ozma would not object to the Shaggy
Man and his friends using the tunnel. And since the Shaggy Man has so
kindly invited me to visit Oz, I feel perfectly free to accompany him.”

“Then you know the story of the tunnel the Nome King built under the
Deadly Desert to the Emerald City?” asked the Shaggy Man.

“Our fairy powers keep us informed of important happenings not only in
Oz but in all other parts of the world,” replied the beaver King.

Twink and Tom knew the story, too. They had read how the Nome King,
seeking revenge on Ozma and Dorothy because they had once conquered
him, set his Nomes to burrowing a tunnel from the Nome Kingdom to the
Emerald City. When it was finished, Roquat the Red (as the Nome King
was known then) and a horde of evil allies marched through the tunnel,
intent on conquering and laying waste all of Oz. Ozma refused to fight,
but instead gathered all her closest friends about her in the garden
near the Fountain of Oblivion, where the invaders were about to break
through from the tunnel. The famous Scarecrow of Oz had given Ozma the
idea that had saved her from the necessity of fighting. The tunnel was
hot and dry, and Ozma had used her magic powers to scatter dust through
the underground passage. As a result, when the Nome King and his allies
came bursting through the earth they were consumed with a terrible
thirst. The first thing they saw was the Fountain of Oblivion. Just
as the Scarecrow had planned, they all dashed to the fountain and
drank. The waters of this fountain cause anyone who drinks of it to
lose all memory of his former life. Consequently the Nome King and all
his allies became as harmless as little children, having forgotten
their former evil lives. Ozma had sent them back by means of the Magic
Belt to their own lands, and then closed the earth over the tunnel’s
entrance into her garden. Soon after that Glinda had laid down the
Magic Barrier of Invisibility over the Deadly Desert, which Ozma hoped
would prevent any other invaders from attacking the Land of Oz.

“Trying to get through the tunnel really seems the only thing to do,”
said the Shaggy Man thoughtfully. “That will be far better than just
sitting and waiting for Ozma to return to the Emerald City–I have no
idea how long she plans to visit with Glinda. I suppose the only thing
we can do is try to deal with the Barrier of Invisibility when we come
to it. Perhaps your Majesty’s magic could overcome it?”

The Beaver King was thoughtful. “Perhaps,” he said. “But you must
remember Glinda’s magic is very powerful. We may discover that the
desert is just as impassable underground as it is above ground. So
don’t let us raise our hopes too high, my friends. At any rate,” he
concluded, “we will undertake the journey in the morning, and then we
shall know.”

The beaver King led his guests into his throne room where comfortable
seats were provided. Next a troop of beaver acrobats came running
into the throne room. They wore brightly colored tights and put on a
performance of such skill and daring that Twink and Tom were delighted.
The animals were amazingly agile and some of their tumbling tricks were
so droll that even Twiffle laughed aloud.

“I never saw anything to beat this at the circus,” Tom confided to
Twink as the twins loudly applauded.

When the entertainment was over it was growing late, and, saying he
had some work to do in his magic workshop, in preparation for the
journey in the morning, the beaver King led his guests to a suite of
beautifully furnished sleeping rooms. Twink and Tom were not a bit
surprised that the beaver King should work while they slept. Indeed,
they wondered if anyone in this busy little kingdom ever took time off
to rest.

“As soon as you lie down on the beds,” the beaver King told Twink and
Tom, “you will be lulled to sleep by the most beautiful music in the
world.” With that he closed the door softly and left them.

Twink and Tom were in their beds in no time at all, eager to hear the
music the beaver King had promised them.

No sooner had their heads touched the pillows than they heard it. It
was like the sleepy murmuring of a thousand voices. There were no
words, only a soft whisper that seemed to come from a great distance
and yet was close by–was everywhere. Twink closed her eyes, and the
wordless music sang of green meadows under a golden sun, of mountain
rills that tripped from stone to stone down to beautiful valleys, of
great rivers that flowed through the hearts of vast lands–and finally
of the sea itself, singing eternally of endless wonders.

Just before Tom dropped off to sleep he said: “Twink, I know what
it is. The beaver King said it was the most beautiful music in the
world–and it is–”

“I know,” said Twink sleepily. “It’s the music of running water.”

Early the next morning Shaggy and his friends found a steaming hot
breakfast waiting for them in their rooms. No sooner had they finished
than the King of the Fairy Beavers appeared to lead them to the Nome
King’s tunnel. They followed the King through several miles of weaving
and twisting beaver burrows, until at last they stood at the entrance
of the tunnel. Shaggy had noted that the King bore on his back, like
a tiny knapsack, a small bundle. Now he saw that the twenty young
beavers, who were waiting at the tunnel’s entrance to undertake the
journey with them, bore similar though smaller bundles on their backs.
In addition, each of the young beavers carried a pine torch to light
the way through the dark tunnel.

At a signal from the beaver King, the torch-bearing beavers advanced
into the tunnel and the journey was on.

“How far are we from the Deadly Desert?” inquired the Shaggy Man.

“Not more than a mile,” answered the beaver King. “We will know when
we reach the Desert, because of the heat radiated downward by the
sands. The tunnel is not far from the surface–no more than twenty
feet, I would judge.”

The tunnel was hewn from solid rock, but the floor of it was smooth, so
the travelers were able to proceed at a good rate of speed. They all
noticed that the heat increased perceptibly the closer they came to the
shifting sands above them.

“Whee-ew!” exclaimed the Shaggy Man. “This is no place for a pleasure
trip. I can see why the Nome King was thirsty when he got out of here.”

They were now directly under the Deadly Desert and the heat radiated
by the shifting sands above them was intense. But Twink and Tom
were lightly dressed, so they didn’t mind the heat so much. Twiffle
naturally paid not the slightest attention to the temperature. The
beavers who were used to underground heat moved swiftly forward.

The pine torches of the young beavers cast flickering shadows on the
rough stone walls about the travelers. But suddenly the light of the
torches dimmed and faded in a greater brilliance.

The torch-bearing beavers stopped in their tracks and were chattering
excitedly among themselves, waiting for the beaver King and his party
to catch up with them.

The travelers hurried forward and found to their amazement that the new
light came from a rift in the rock roof. Sunlight was shining down into
the tunnel!

But no sooner had they recovered from this surprise than they were
overwhelmed by another. Directly ahead of them, blocking their passage
through the tunnel, was a group of the strangest people they had ever
seen.

These beings were human in shape, yet they seemed to be made of flame.
The living fire that formed their bodies varied in hue from a deep,
glowing red to light orange and yellow, while their finger-tips, eyes,
and features gave off blue and greenish colored flames.

There were perhaps ten of the creatures, standing side by side so that
the beaver King and his friends found their way completely blocked by
this wall of living flame. Waves of heat radiated from their flaming
bodies, and Twink and Tom had to blink their eyes several times to
become accustomed to the glare of flame and light.

“Halt! You can go no further. Turn back at once to whence you came.”
One of the flame folk was speaking. He appeared to be their leader,
since he was taller than his companions and his eyes glowed much more
fiercely than the rest.

“Who are you?” asked the beaver King calmly.

“We are Dwellers of the Desert. We live on the shifting sands on the
surface. Occasionally we visit the oasis just above, where there is
no sand, but blue grass that glows with blue flame,” the flame being
answered.

“An oasis on the Deadly Desert?” asked the Shaggy Man incredulously.

“Certainly. Did you ever hear of a desert that didn’t have an oasis?”
replied the fire creature.

“Maybe not,” muttered the Shaggy Man. “And I suppose the flame grass
keeps the deadly sand from shifting into the tunnel.”

“Exactly,” replied the fire creature. “But we are not concerned
with sand in the tunnel. There are other things much more
objectionable–yourselves, for instance.”

“How did you find out about the tunnel?” asked the beaver King,
ignoring the fire being’s insult.

“Not that it is any of your business, but we were aware of the tunnel’s
existence while the Nome King was building it. After he returned to
his own silly kingdom, we burned our way down through the rocks from
the oasis above.”

“Why did you do that?” persisted the beaver King.

The leader of the fire creatures hesitated for a moment then replied
in an angry voice: “Because we enjoy the coolness of the tunnel. By
contrast it makes the fiery sands of the desert even more pleasant.
Now, be on your way back where you came from or we will advance upon
you and blast you to cinders.”

“My, what a fiery tempered fellow,” said Shaggy.

This seemed to infuriate the fire creature and he was about to leap
toward Shaggy when the beaver King stepped forward, holding out his
beechwood wand. Instantly, from the tip of the wand there came forth a
spray of water that showered on the row of fire creatures. As soon as
it touched their flaming bodies, the water hissed into steam.

The effect on the fire beings was amazing. They uttered loud howls of
pain and fright and leaped like flames from a great fire into the air
and through the rift in the rock. Their cries resounded as they dashed
over the oasis to roll in the flaming sands of the desert.

“Come,” urged the beaver King, “let us hurry, although I do not think
there is any danger of pursuit.”

The young beavers went first, followed by Shaggy and his friends. They
hurried until they had passed out of sight of the sunlight that flowed
down the rift into the tunnel.

“I guess that’s the first time those critters ever saw water,” said the
Shaggy Man grinning.

“The water didn’t hurt them,” said the beaver King, “and the burning
sands will soon restore whatever heat they lost. Nevertheless, I don’t
think they will cause us any further annoyance.”

They walked ahead rapidly hour after hour with the young beavers
lighting the way through the Nome King’s tunnel.

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