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to weaken. Finally, he could control himself no longer and gave a loud sneeze.

At that sneeze, one of the wooden actors, who until then had looked miserably sad, smiled happily and, leaning toward Pinocchio, whispered to him, “Good news, my brother! Fire-Eater has sneezed, and that's a sign that he feels sorry for you. You're saved!”

Strangely, whereas most people cry when they feel sorry for someone, Fire-Eater had the strange quirk of sneezing each time he was moved to pity.

But after sneezing, Fire-Eater, mean as ever, shouted at Pinocchio, “Stop crying! It gives me a funny feeling down here in my stomach and…Achoo! Achoo!” Two loud sneezes finished his speech.

“Are your father and mother still living?” asked Fire-Eater.

“My father, yes. My mother I have never known.”

“You never knew your mother? Then who raised and nurtured you?”

“My kind, loving father. He's like a father and mother to me.”

“Your father must be a very good man. I think he would suffer terribly if I were to use you as firewood. Poor old man! I feel sorry for him! Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!” Three more sneezes sounded, louder than ever. “However, I should be sorry for myself, too, right now. My fine dinner is spoiled. I have no more wood for the fire, and the lamb chop is only half cooked. Never mind. In your place I'll burn some other puppet. Guards!”

At the call, two security guards affiliated with the theater appeared. They were tall and wore helmets on their heads. In their hands they carried very large swords—the type favored by medieval knights.

Fire-Eater said to them, “Some of our bit part players are not true thespians. For them acting is merely an avocation. Take one of them and bring him here to throw on the fire. I want my lamb chop well done!”

With unthinking subservience, the guards carried out the order. As they approached the fire, the new victim was so frightened that his legs doubled up under him and he fell to the floor. Pinocchio, at that heartbreaking sight, threw himself at the feet of Fire-Eater and, weeping bitterly, asked in a pitiful voice that could scarcely be heard, “Have pity on my wooden brother, I beg of you, sir!”

“There are no sirs here!”

“Have pity, Your Excellency!”

On hearing himself addressed as Your Excellency, Fire-Eater sat up very straight in his chair, stroked his long beard, and, becoming suddenly calm, smiled and said to Pinocchio, “What would you like me to do?”

“I beg for mercy for my poor brother, who has never done the least harm in his life.”

“There's no mercy here, Pinocchio. Even though you've wreaked havoc in my theater, I've spared you. But

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