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The Little Soldier
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At such an unexpected sight many men would have turned and run for their lives;
but the little soldier, though he was so small, had a true soldier's heart.
He only made one step backwards, and grasped the hilt of his sword.
'Don't unsheath it,' said the serpent. 'I have been waiting for you, as it is you who must deliver me.'
'Who are you?'
'My name is Ludovine, and I am the daughter of the King of the Low Countries.
Deliver me, and I will marry you and make you happy for ever after.'
Now, some people might not have liked the notion of being made happy
by a serpent with the head of a woman, but the Kinglet had no such fears. And, besides,
he felt the fascination of Ludovine's eyes, which looked at him as a snake looks at a little bird. They were beautiful green eyes, not round like those of a cat, but long and almond-shaped,
and they shone with a strange light,
and the golden hair which floated round them seemed all the brighter for their lustre.
The face had the beauty of an angel, though the body was only that of a serpent.
'What must I do?' asked the Kinglet.
'Open that door. You will find yourself in a gallery with a room at the end just like this.
Cross that, and you will see a closet, out of which you must take a tunic,
and bring it back to me.'
The little soldier boldly prepared to do as he was told.
He crossed the gallery in safety,
but when he reached the room he saw by the light of the stars eight hands on a level with his face, which threatened to strike him.
And, turn his eyes which way he would, he could discover no bodies belonging to them.
He lowered his head and rushed forward amidst a storm of blows, which he returned with his fists. When he got to the closet, he opened it, took down the tunic, and brought it to the first room.
'Here it is,' he panted, rather out of breath.