فصل 04 - 07
- زمان مطالعه 70 دقیقه
- سطح متوسط
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متن انگلیسی فصل
SHASTA FALLS IN WITH THE NARNIANS
AT FIRST SHASTA COULD SEE NOTHING in the valley below him but a sea of mist with a few domes and pinnacles rising from it; but as the light increased and the mist cleared away he saw more and more. A broad river divided itself into two streams and on the island between them stood the city of Tashbaan, one of the wonders of the world. Round the very edge of the island, so that the water lapped against the stone, ran high walls strengthened with so many towers that he soon gave up trying to count them. Inside the walls the island rose in a hill and every bit of that hill, up to the Tisroc’s palace and the great temple of Tash at the top, was completely covered with buildings—terrace above terrace, street above street, zigzag roads or huge flights of steps bordered with orange trees and lemon trees, roof-gardens, balconies, deep archways, pillared colonnades, spires, battlements, minarets, pinnacles. And when at last the sun rose out of the sea and the great silver-plated dome of the temple flashed back its light, he was almost dazzled.
“Get on, Shasta,” Bree kept saying.
The river banks on either side of the valley were such a mass of gardens that they looked at first like forest, until you got closer and saw the white walls of innumerable houses peeping out from beneath the trees. Soon after that, Shasta noticed a delicious smell of flowers and fruit. About fifteen minutes later they were down among them, plodding on a level road with white walls on each side and trees bending over the walls.
“I say,” said Shasta in an awed voice. “This is a wonderful place!”
“I daresay,” said Bree. “But I wish we were safely through it and out at the other side. Narnia and the North!”
At that moment a low, throbbing noise began which gradually swelled louder and louder till the whole valley seemed to be swaying with it. It was a musical noise, but so strong and solemn as to be a little frightening.
“That’s the horns blowing for the city gates to be open,” said Bree. “We shall be there in a minute. Now, Aravis, do droop your shoulders a bit and step heavier and try to look less like a princess. Try to imagine you’ve been kicked and cuffed and called names all your life.” “If it comes to that,” said Aravis, “what about you drooping your head a bit more and arching your neck a bit less and trying to look less like a war horse?”
“Hush,” said Bree. “Here we are.”
And they were. They had come to the river’s edge and the road ahead of them ran along a many-arched bridge. The water danced brightly in the early sunlight; away to their right nearer the river’s mouth, they caught a glimpse of ships’ masts. Several other travelers were before them on the bridge, mostly peasants driving laden donkeys and mules or carrying baskets on their heads. The children and horses joined the crowd.
“Is anything wrong?” whispered Shasta to Aravis, who had an odd look on her face.
“Oh it’s all very well for you,” whispered Aravis rather savagely. “What would you care about Tashbaan? But I ought to be riding in on a litter with soldiers before me and slaves behind, and perhaps going to a feast in the Tisroc’s palace (may he live forever)—not sneaking in like this. It’s different for you.” Shasta thought all this very silly.
At the far end of the bridge the walls of the city towered high above them and the brazen gates stood open in the gateway which was really wide but looked narrow because it was so very high. Half a dozen soldiers, leaning on their spears, stood on each side. Aravis couldn’t help thinking, “They’d all jump to attention and salute me if they knew whose daughter I am.” But the others were only thinking of how they’d get through and hoping the soldiers would not ask any questions. Fortunately they did not. But one of them picked a carrot out of a peasant’s basket and threw it at Shasta with a rough laugh, saying: “Hey! Horse-boy! You’ll catch it if your master finds you’ve been using his saddle-horse for pack work.”
This frightened him badly for of course it showed that no one who knew anything about horses would mistake Bree for anything but a charger.
“It’s my master’s orders, so there!” said Shasta. But it would have been better if he had held his tongue for the soldier gave him a box on the side of his face that nearly knocked him down and said, “Take that, you young filth, to teach you how to talk to freemen.” But they all slunk into the city without being stopped. Shasta cried only a very little; he was used to hard knocks.
Inside the gates Tashbaan did not at first seem so splendid as it had looked from a distance. The first street was narrow and there were hardly any windows in the walls on each side. It was much more crowded than Shasta had expected: crowded partly by the peasants (on their way to market) who had come in with them, but also with water sellers, sweetmeat sellers, porters, soldiers, beggars, ragged children, hens, stray dogs, and barefooted slaves. What you would chiefly have noticed if you had been there was the smells, which came from unwashed people, unwashed dogs, scent, garlic, onions, and the piles of refuse which lay everywhere.
Shasta was pretending to lead but it was really Bree who knew the way and kept guiding him by little nudges with his nose. They soon turned to the left and began going up a steep hill. It was much fresher and pleasanter, for the road was bordered by trees and there were houses only on the right side; on the other they looked out over the roofs of houses in the lower town and could see some way up the river. Then they went round a hairpin bend to their right and continued rising. They were zigzagging up to the center of Tashbaan. Soon they came to finer streets. Great statues of the gods and heroes of Calormen—who are mostly impressive rather than agreeable to look at—rose on shining pedestals. Palm trees and pillared arcades cast shadows over the burning pavements. And through the arched gateways of many a palace Shasta caught sight of green branches, cool fountains, and smooth lawns. It must be nice inside, he thought.
At every turn Shasta hoped they were getting out of the crowd, but they never did. This made their progress very slow, and every now and then they had to stop altogether. This usually happened because a loud voice shouted out “Way, way, way for the Tarkaan,” or “for the Tarkheena,” or “for the fifteenth Vizier,” or “for the Ambassador,” and everyone in the crowd would crush back against the walls; and above their heads Shasta would sometimes see the great lord or lady for whom all the fuss was being made, lolling upon a litter which four or even six gigantic slaves carried on their bare shoulders. For in Tashbaan there is only one traffic regulation, which is that everyone who is less important has to get out of the way for everyone who is more important; unless you want a cut from a whip or punch from the butt end of a spear.
It was in a splendid street very near the top of the city (the Tisroc’s palace was the only thing above it) that the most disastrous of these stoppages occurred.
“Way! Way! Way!” came the voice. “Way for the White Barbarian King, the guest of the Tisroc (may he live forever)! Way for the Narnian lords.”
Shasta tried to get out of the way and to make Bree go back. But no horse, not even a Talking Horse from Narnia, backs easily. And a woman with a very edgy basket in her hands, who was just behind Shasta, pushed the basket hard against his shoulders, and said, “Now then! Who are you shoving!” And then someone else jostled him from the side and in the confusion of the moment he lost hold of Bree. And then the whole crowd behind him became so stiffened and packed tight that he couldn’t move at all. So he found himself, unintentionally, in the first row and had a fine sight of the party that was coming down the street.
It was quite unlike any other party they had seen that day. The crier who went before it shouting “Way, way!” was the only Calormene in it. And there was no litter; everyone was on foot. There were about half a dozen men and Shasta had never seen anyone like them before. For one thing, they were all as fair-skinned as himself, and most of them had fair hair. And they were not dressed like men of Calormen. Most of them had legs bare to the knee. Their tunics were of fine, bright, hardy colors—woodland green, or gay yellow, or fresh blue. Instead of turbans they wore steel or silver caps, some of them set with jewels, and one with little wings on each side. A few were bare-headed. The swords at their sides were long and straight, not curved like Calormene scimitars. And instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed. One was whistling. You could see that they were ready to be friends with anyone who was friendly and didn’t give a fig for anyone who wasn’t. Shasta thought he had never seen anything so lovely in his life.
But there was not time to enjoy it for at once a really dreadful thing happened. The leader of the fair-headed men suddenly pointed at Shasta, cried out, “There he is! There’s our runaway!” and seized him by the shoulder. Next moment he gave Shasta a smack—not a cruel one to make you cry but a sharp one to let you know you are in disgrace—and added, shaking: “Shame on you, my lord! Fie for shame! Queen Susan’s eyes are red with weeping because of you. What! Truant for a whole night! Where have you been?”
Shasta would have darted under Bree’s body and tried to make himself scarce in the crowd if he had had the least chance; but the fair-haired men were all round him by now and he was held firm.
Of course his first impulse was to say that he was only poor Arsheesh the fisherman’s son and that the foreign lord must have mistaken him for someone else. But then, the very last thing he wanted to do in that crowded place was to start explaining who he was and what he was doing. If he started on that, he would soon be asked where he had got his horse from, and who Aravis was—and then, good-bye to any chance of getting through Tashbaan. His next impulse was to look at Bree for help. But Bree had no intention of letting all that crowd know that he could talk, and stood looking just as stupid as a horse can. As for Aravis, Shasta did not even dare to look at her for fear of drawing attention. And there was no time to think, for the leader of the Narnians said at once: “Take one of his little lordship’s hands, Peridan, of your courtesy, and I’ll take the other. And now, on. Our royal sister’s mind will be greatly eased when she sees our young scapegrace safe in our lodging.”
And so, before they were half-way through Tashbaan, all their plans were ruined, and without even a chance to say good-bye to the others Shasta found himself being marched off among strangers and quite unable to guess what might be going to happen next. The Narnian King—for Shasta began to see by the way the rest spoke to him that he must be a king—kept on asking him questions; where he had been, how he had got out, what he had done with his clothes, and didn’t he know that he had been very naughty. Only the king called it “naught” instead of naughty.
And Shasta said nothing in answer, because he couldn’t think of anything to say that would not be dangerous.
“What! All mum?” asked the king. “I must plainly tell you, prince, that this hangdog silence becomes one of your blood even less than the scape itself. To run away might pass for a boy’s frolic with some spirit in it. But the king’s son of Archenland should avouch his deed; not hang his head like a Calormene slave.” This was very unpleasant, for Shasta felt all the time that this young king was the very nicest kind of grown-up and would have liked to make a good impression on him.
The strangers led him—held tightly by both hands—along a narrow street and down a flight of shallow stairs and then up another to a wide doorway in a white wall with two tall, dark cypress trees, one on each side of it. Once through the arch, Shasta found himself in a courtyard which was also a garden. A marble basin of clear water in the center was kept continually rippling by the fountain that fell into it. Orange trees grew round it out of smooth grass, and the four white walls which surrounded the lawn were covered with climbing roses. The noise and dust and crowding of the streets seemed suddenly far away. He was led rapidly across the garden and then into a dark doorway. The crier remained outside. After that they took him along a corridor, where the stone floor felt beautifully cool to his hot feet, and up some stairs. A moment later he found himself blinking in the light of a big, airy room with wide open windows, all looking North so that no sun came in. There was a carpet on the floor more wonderfully colored than anything he had ever seen and his feet sank down into it as if he were treading in thick moss. All round the walls there were low sofas with rich cushions on them, and the room seemed to be full of people; very queer people some of them, thought Shasta. But he had no time to think of that before the most beautiful lady he had ever seen rose from her place and threw her arms round him and kissed him, saying: “Oh Corin, Corin, how could you? And thou and I such close friends ever since thy mother died. And what should I have said to thy royal father if I came home without thee? Would have been a cause almost of war between Archenland and Narnia which are friends time out of mind. It was naught, playmate, very naught of thee to use us so.” “Apparently,” thought Shasta to himself, “I’m being mistaken for a prince of Archenland, wherever that is. And these must be Narnians. I wonder where the real Corin is?” But these thoughts did not help him say anything out loud.
“Where hast been, Corin?” said the lady, her hands still on Shasta’s shoulders.
“I—I don’t know,” stammered Shasta.
“There it is, Susan,” said the King. “I could get no tale out of him, true or false.”
“Your Majesties! Queen Susan! King Edmund!” said a voice: and when Shasta turned to look at the speaker he nearly jumped out of his skin with surprise. For this was one of those queer people whom he had noticed out of the corner of his eye when he first came into the room. He was about the same height as Shasta himself. From the waist upward he was like a man, but his legs were hairy like a goat’s, and shaped like a goat’s and he had goat’s hoofs and a tail. His skin was rather red and he had curly hair and a short pointed beard and two little horns. He was in fact a Faun, which is a creature Shasta had never seen a picture of or even heard of. And if you’ve read a book called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you may like to know that this was the very same Faun, Tumnus by name, whom Queen Susan’s sister Lucy had met on the very first day when she found her way into Narnia. But he was a good deal older now for by this time Peter and Susan and Edmund and Lucy had been Kings and Queens of Narnia for several years.
“Your Majesties,” he was saying, “His little Highness has had a touch of the sun. Look at him! He is dazed. He does not know where he is.”
Then of course everyone stopped scolding Shasta and asking him questions and he was made much of and laid on a sofa and cushions were put under his head and he was given iced sherbet in a golden cup to drink and told to keep very quiet.
Nothing like this had ever happened to Shasta in his life before. He had never even imagined lying on anything so comfortable as that sofa or drinking anything so delicious as that sherbet. He was still wondering what had happened to the others and how on earth he was going to escape and meet them at the Tombs, and what would happen when the real Corin turned up again. But none of these worries seemed so pressing now that he was comfortable. And perhaps, later on, there would be nice things to eat!
Meanwhile the people in that cool airy room were very interesting. Besides the Faun there were two Dwarfs (a kind of creature he had never seen before) and a very large Raven. The rest were all humans; grown-ups, but young, and all of them, both men and women, had nicer faces and voices than most Calormenes. And soon Shasta found himself taking an interest in the conversation. “Now, Madam,” the King was saying to Queen Susan (the lady who had kissed Shasta). “What think you? We have been in this city fully three weeks. Have you yet settled in your mind whether you will marry this dark-faced lover of yours, this Prince Rabadash, or no?” The lady shook her head. “No, brother,” she said, “not for all the jewels in Tashbaan.” (“Hullo!” thought Shasta. “Although they’re king and queen, they’re brother and sister, not married to one another.”)
“Truly, sister,” said the King, “I should have loved you the less if you had taken him. And I tell you that at the first coming of the Tisroc’s ambassadors into Narnia to treat of this marriage, and later when the Prince was our guest at Cair Paravel, it was a wonder to me that ever you could find it in your heart to show him so much favor.” “That was my folly, Edmund,” said Queen Susan, “of which I cry you mercy. Yet when he was with us in Narnia, truly this Prince bore himself in another fashion than he does now in Tashbaan. For I take you all to witness what marvelous feats he did in that great tournament and hastilude which our brother the High King made for him, and how meekly and courteously he consorted with us the space of seven days. But here, in his own city, he has shown another face.” “Ah!” croaked the Raven. “It is an old saying: See the bear in his own den before you judge of his conditions.”
“That’s very true, Sallowpad,” said one of the Dwarfs. “And another is, Come, live with me and you’ll know me.”
“Yes,” said the King. “We have now seen him for what he is: that is, a most proud, bloody, luxurious, cruel, and self-pleasing tyrant.”
“Then in the name of Aslan,” said Susan, “let us leave Tashbaan this very day.”
“There’s the rub, sister,” said Edmund. “For now I must open to you all that has been growing in my mind these last two days and more. Peridan, of your courtesy look to the door and see that there is no spy upon us. All well? So. For now we must be secret.”
Everyone had begun to look very serious. Queen Susan jumped up and ran to her brother. “Oh, Edmund,” she cried. “What is it? There is something dreadful in your face.”
“MY DEAR SISTER AND VERY GOOD LADY,” said King Edmund, “you must now show your courage. For I tell you plainly we are in no small danger.”
“What is it, Edmund?” asked the Queen.
“It is this,” said Edmund. “I do not think we shall find it easy to leave Tashbaan. While the Prince had hope that you would take him, we were honored guests. But by the Lion’s Mane, I think that as soon as he has your flat denial we shall be no better than prisoners.” One of the Dwarfs gave a low whistle.
“I warned your Majesties, I warned you,” said Sallowpad the Raven. “Easily in but not easily out, as the lobster said in the lobster pot!”
“I have been with the Prince this morning,” continued Edmund. “He is little used (more’s the pity) to having his will crossed. And he is very chafed at your long delays and doubtful answers. This morning he pressed very hard to know your mind. I put it aside—meaning at the same time to diminish his hopes—with some light common jests about women’s fancies, and hinted that his suit was likely to be cold. He grew angry and dangerous. There was a sort of threatening, though still veiled under a show of courtesy, in every word he spoke.” “Yes,” said Tumnus. “And when I supped with the Grand Vizier last night, it was the same. He asked me how I liked Tashbaan. And I (for I could not tell him I hated every stone of it and I would not lie) told him that now, when high summer was coming on, my heart turned to the cool woods and dewy slopes of Narnia. He gave a smile that meant no good and said, There is nothing to hinder you from dancing there again, little goatfoot; always provided you leave us in exchange a bride for our prince.’” “Do you mean he would make me his wife by force?” exclaimed Susan.
“That’s my fear, Susan,” said Edmund. “Wife: or slave which is worse.”
“But how can he? Does the Tisroc think our brother the High King would suffer such an outrage?”
“Sire,” said Peridan to the King. “They would not be so mad. Do they think there are no swords and spears in Narnia?”
“Alas,” said Edmund. “My guess is that the Tisroc has very small fear of Narnia. We are a little land. And little lands on the borders of a great empire were always hateful to the lords of the great empire. He longs to blot them out, gobble them up. When first he suffered the Prince to come to Cair Paravel as your lover, sister, it may be that he was only seeking an occasion against us. Most likely he hopes to make one mouthful of Narnia and Archenland both.” “Let him try,” said the second Dwarf. “At sea we are as big as he is. And if he assaults us by land, he has the desert to cross.”
“True, friend,” said Edmund. “But is the desert a sure defense? What does Sallowpad say?”
“I know that desert well,” said the Raven. “For I have flown above it far and wide in my younger days” (you may be sure that Shasta pricked up his ears at this point). “And this is certain; that if the Tisroc goes by the great oasis he can never lead a great army across it into Archenland. For though they could reach the oasis by the end of their first day’s march, yet the springs there would be too little for the thirst of all those soldiers and their beasts. But there is another way.” Shasta listened more attentively still.
“He that would find that way,” said the Raven, “must start from the Tombs of the Ancient Kings and ride northwest so that the double peak of Mount Pire is always straight ahead of him. And so, in a day’s riding or a little more, he shall come to the head of a stony valley, which is so narrow that a man might be within a furlong of it a thousand times and never know that it was there. And looking down this valley he will see neither grass nor water nor anything else good. But if he rides on down it he will come to a river and can ride by the water all the way into Archenland.” “And do the Calormenes know of this Western way?” asked the Queen.
“Friends, friends,” said Edmund, “what is the use of all this discourse? We are not asking whether Narnia or Calormen would win if war arose between them. We are asking how to save the honor of the Queen and our own lives out of this devilish city. For though my brother, Peter the High King, defeated the Tisroc a dozen times over, yet long before that day our throats would be cut and the Queen’s grace would be the wife, or more likely, the slave, of this prince.” “We have our weapons, King,” said the first Dwarf. “And this is a reasonably defensible house.”
“As to that,” said the King, “I do not doubt that every one of us would sell our lives dearly in the gate and they would not come at the Queen but over our dead bodies. Yet we should be merely rats fighting in a trap when all’s said.”
“Very true,” croaked the Raven. “These last stands in a house make good stories, but nothing ever came of them. After their first repulses the enemy always set the house on fire.”
“I am the cause of all this,” said Susan, bursting into tears. “Oh, if only I had never left Cair Paravel. Our last happy day was before those ambassadors came from Calormen. The Moles were planting an orchard for us … oh … oh.” And she buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
“Courage, Su, courage,” said Edmund. “Remember—but what is the matter with you, Master Tumnus?” For the Faun was holding both his horns with his hands as if he were trying to keep his head on by them and writhing to and fro as if he had a pain in his inside.
“Don’t speak to me, don’t speak to me,” said Tumnus. “I’m thinking. I’m thinking so that I can hardly breathe. Wait, wait, do wait.”
There was a moment’s puzzled silence and then the Faun looked up, drew a long breath, mopped its forehead and said:
“The only difficulty is how to get down to our ship—with some stores, too—without being seen and stopped.”
“Yes,” said a Dwarf dryly. “Just as the beggar’s only difficulty about riding is that he has no horse.”
“Wait, wait,” said Mr. Tumnus impatiently. “All we need is some pretext for going down to our ship today and taking stuff on board.”
“Yes,” said King Edmund doubtfully.
“Well, then,” said the Faun, “how would it be if your majesties bade the Prince to a great banquet to be held on board our own galleon, the Splendor Hyaline, tomorrow night? And let the message be worded as graciously as the Queen can contrive without pledging her honor: so as to give the Prince a hope that she is weakening.” “This is very good counsel, Sire,” croaked the Raven.
“And then,” continued Tumnus excitedly, “everyone will expect us to be going down to the ship all day, making preparations for our guests. And let some of us go to the bazaars and spend every minim we have at the fruiterers and the sweetmeat sellers and the wine merchants, just as we would if we were really giving a feast. And let us order magicians and jugglers and dancing girls and flute players, all to be on board tomorrow night.” “I see, I see,” said King Edmund, rubbing his hands.
“And then,” said Tumnus, “we’ll all be on board tonight. And as soon as it is quite dark—”
“Up sails and out oars—!” said the King.
“And so to sea,” cried Tumnus, leaping up and beginning to dance.
“And our nose Northward,” said the first Dwarf.
“Running for home! Hurrah for Narnia and the North!” said the other.
“And the Prince waking next morning and finding his birds flown!” said Peridan, clapping his hands.
“Oh Master Tumnus, dear Master Tumnus,” said the Queen, catching his hands and swinging with him as he danced. “You have saved us all.”
“The Prince will chase us,” said another lord, whose name Shasta had not heard.
“That’s the least of my fears,” said Edmund. “I have seen all the shipping in the river and there’s no tall ship of war nor swift galley there. I wish he may chase us! For the Splendor Hyaline could sink anything he has to send after her—if we were overtaken at all.” “Sire,” said the Raven. “You shall hear no better plot than the Faun’s though we sat in council for seven days. And now, as we birds say, nests before eggs. Which is as much as to say, let us all take our food and then at once be about our business.”
Everyone arose at this and the doors were opened and the lords and the creatures stood aside for the King and Queen to go out first. Shasta wondered what he ought to do, but Mr. Tumnus said, “Lie there, your Highness, and I will bring you up a little feast to yourself in a few moments. There is no need for you to move until we are all ready to embark.” Shasta laid his head down again on the pillows and soon he was alone in the room.
“This is perfectly dreadful,” thought Shasta. It never came into his head to tell these Narnians the whole truth and ask for their help. Having been brought up by a hard, closefisted man like Arsheesh, he had a fixed habit of never telling grown-ups anything if he could help it: he thought they would always spoil or stop whatever you were trying to do. And he thought that even if the Narnian King might be friendly to the two horses, because they were Talking Beasts of Narnia, he would hate Aravis, because she was a Calormene, and either sell her for a slave or send her back to her father. As for himself, “I simply daren’t tell them I’m not Prince Corin now,” thought Shasta. “I’ve heard all their plans. If they knew I wasn’t one of themselves, they’d never let me out of this house alive. They’d be afraid I’d betray them to the Tisroc. They’d kill me. And if the real Corin turns up, it’ll all come out, and they will!” He had, you see, no idea of how noble and free-born people behave.
“What am I to do? What am I to do?” he kept saying to himself. “What—hullo, here comes that goaty little creature again.”
The Faun trotted in, half dancing, with a tray in its hands which was nearly as large as itself. This he set on an inlaid table beside Shasta’s sofa, and sat down himself on the carpeted floor with his goaty legs crossed.
“Now, princeling,” he said. “Make a good dinner. It will be your last meal in Tashbaan.”
It was a fine meal after the Calormene fashion. I don’t know whether you would have liked it or not, but Shasta did. There were lobsters, and salad, and snipe stuffed with almonds and truffles, and a complicated dish made of chicken livers and rice and raisins and nuts, and there were cool melons and gooseberry fools and mulberry fools, and every kind of nice thing that can be made with ice. There was also a little flagon of the sort of wine that is called “white” though it is really yellow.
While Shasta was eating, the good little Faun, who thought he was still dazed with sunstroke, kept talking to him about the fine times he would have when they all got home; about his good old father King Lune of Archenland and the little castle where he lived on the southern slopes of the pass. “And don’t forget,” said Mr. Tumnus, “that you are promised your first suit of armor and your first war horse on your next birthday. And then your Highness will begin to learn how to tilt and joust. And in a few years, if all goes well, King Peter has promised your royal father that he himself will make you Knight at Cair Paravel. And in the meantime there will be plenty of comings and goings between Narnia and Archenland across the neck of the mountains. And of course you remember you have promised to come for a whole week to stay with me for the Summer Festival, and there’ll be bonfires and all-night dances of Fauns and Dryads in the heart of the woods and, who knows?—we might see Aslan himself!” When the meal was over the Faun told Shasta to stay quietly where he was. “And it wouldn’t do you any harm to have a little sleep,” he added. “I’ll call you in plenty of time to get on board. And then, Home. Narnia and the North!”
Shasta had so enjoyed his dinner and all the things Tumnus had been telling him that when he was left alone his thoughts took a different turn. He only hoped now that the real Prince Corin would not turn up until it was too late and that he would be taken away to Narnia by ship. I am afraid he did not think at all of what might happen to the real Corin when he was left behind in Tashbaan. He was a little worried about Aravis and Bree waiting for him at the Tombs. But then he said to himself, “Well, how can I help it?” and, “Anyway, that Aravis thinks she’s too good to go about with me, so she can jolly well go alone,” and at the same time he couldn’t help feeling that it would be much nicer going to Narnia by sea than toiling across the desert.
When he had thought all this he did what I expect you would have done if you had been up very early and had a long walk and a great deal of excitement and then a very good meal, and were lying on a sofa in a cool room with no noise in it except when a bee came buzzing in through the wide open windows. He fell asleep.
What woke him was a loud crash. He jumped up off the sofa, staring. He saw at once from the mere look of the room—the lights and shadows all looked different—that he must have slept for several hours. He saw also what had made the crash: a costly porcelain vase which had been standing on the windowsill lay on the floor broken into about thirty pieces. But he hardly noticed all these things. What he did notice was two hands gripping the windowsill from outside. They gripped harder and harder (getting white at the knuckles) and then up came a head and a pair of shoulders. A moment later there was a boy of Shasta’s own age sitting astride the sill with one leg hanging down inside the room.
Shasta had never seen his own face in a looking-glass. Even if he had, he might not have realized that the other boy was (at ordinary times) almost exactly like himself. At the moment this boy was not particularly like anyone for he had the finest black eye you ever saw, and a tooth missing, and his clothes (which must have been splendid ones when he put them on) were torn and dirty, and there was both blood and mud on his face.
“Who are you?” said the boy in a whisper.
“Are you Prince Corin?” said Shasta.
“Yes, of course,” said the other. “But who are you?”
“I’m nobody, nobody in particular, I mean,” said Shasta. “King Edmund caught me in the street and mistook me for you. I suppose we must look like one another. Can I get out the way you’ve got in?”
“Yes, if you’re any good at climbing,” said Corin. “But why are you in such a hurry? I say: we ought to be able to get some fun out of this being mistaken for one another.”
“No, no,” said Shasta. “We must change places at once. It’ll be simply frightful if Mr. Tumnus comes back and finds us both here. I’ve had to pretend to be you. And you’re starting tonight—secretly. And where were you all this time?”
“A boy in the street made a beastly joke about Queen Susan,” said Prince Corin, “so I knocked him down. He ran howling into a house and his big brother came out. So I knocked the big brother down. Then they all followed me until we ran into three old men with spears who are called the Watch. So I fought the Watch and they knocked me down. It was getting dark by now. Then the Watch took me along to lock me up somewhere. So I asked them if they’d like a stoup of wine and they said they didn’t mind if they did. Then I took them to a wine shop and got them some and they all sat down and drank till they fell asleep. I thought it was time for me to be off so I came out quietly and then I found the first boy—the one who had started all the trouble—still hanging about. So I knocked him down again. After that I climbed up a pipe onto the roof of a house and lay quiet till it began to get light this morning. Ever since that I’ve been finding my way back. I say, is there anything to drink?” “No, I drank it,” said Shasta. “And now, show me how you got in. There’s not a minute to lose. You’d better lie down on the sofa and pretend—but I forgot. It’ll be no good with all those bruises and black eye. You’ll just have to tell them the truth, once I’m safely away.” “What else did you think I’d be telling them?” asked the Prince with a rather angry look. “And who are you?”
“There’s no time,” said Shasta in a frantic whisper. “I’m a Narnian, I believe; something Northern anyway. But I’ve been brought up all my life in Calormen. And I’m escaping: across the desert; with a talking Horse called Bree. And now, quick! How do I get away?” “Look,” said Corin. “Drop from this window onto the roof of the verandah. But you must do it lightly, on your toes, or someone will hear you. Then along to your left and you can get up to the top of that wall if you’re any good at all as a climber. Then along the wall to the corner. Drop onto the rubbish heap you will find outside, and there you are.” “Thanks,” said Shasta, who was already sitting on the sill. The two boys were looking into each other’s faces and suddenly found that they were friends.
“Good-bye,” said Corin. “And good luck. I do hope you get safe away.”
“Good-bye,” said Shasta. “I say, you have been having some adventures.”
“Nothing to yours,” said the Prince. “Now drop; lightly—I say,” he added as Shasta dropped. “I hope we meet in Archenland. Go to my father King Lune and tell him you’re a friend of mine. Look out! I hear someone coming.”
SHASTA AMONG THE TOMBS
SHASTA RAN LIGHTLY ALONG THE ROOF on tiptoes. It felt hot to his bare feet. He was only a few seconds scrambling up the wall at the far end and when he got to the corner he found himself looking down into a narrow, smelly street, and there was a rubbish heap against the outside of the wall just as Corin had told him. Before jumping down he took a rapid glance round him to get his bearings. Apparently he had now come over the crown of the island-hill on which Tashbaan is built. Everything sloped away before him, flat roofs below flat roofs, down to the towers and battlements of the city’s Northern wall. Beyond that was the river and beyond the river a short slope covered with gardens. But beyond that again there was something he had never seen the like of—a great yellowish-gray thing, flat as a calm sea, and stretching for miles. On the far side of it were huge blue things, lumpy but with jagged edges, and some of them with white tops. “The desert! the mountains!” thought Shasta.
He jumped down onto the rubbish and began trotting along downhill as fast as he could in the narrow lane, which soon brought him into a wider street where there were more people. No one bothered to look at a little ragged boy running along on bare feet. Still, he was anxious and uneasy till he turned a corner and there saw the city gate in front of him. Here he was pressed and jostled a bit, for a good many other people were also going out; and on the bridge beyond the gate the crowd became quite a slow procession, more like a queue than a crowd. Out there, with clear running water on each side, it was deliciously fresh after the smell and heat and noise of Tashbaan.
When once Shasta had reached the far end of the bridge he found the crowd melting away; everyone seemed to be going either to the left or right along the river bank. He went straight ahead up a road that did not appear to be much used, between gardens. In a few paces he was alone, and a few more brought him to the top of the slope. There he stood and stared. It was like coming to the end of the world for all the grass stopped quite suddenly a few feet before him and the sand began: endless level sand like on a sea shore but a bit rougher because it was never wet. The mountains, which now looked further off than before, loomed ahead. Greatly to his relief he saw, about five minutes’ walk away on his left, what must certainly be the Tombs, just as Bree had described them; great masses of mouldering stone shaped like gigantic beehives, but a little narrower. They looked very black and grim, for the sun was now setting right behind them.
He turned his face West and trotted toward the Tombs. He could not help looking out very hard for any sign of his friends, though the setting sun shone in his face so that he could see hardly anything. “And anyway,” he thought, “of course they’ll be round on the far side of the farthest Tomb, not this side where anyone might see them from the city.”
There were about twelve Tombs, each with a low arched doorway that opened into absolute blackness. They were dotted about in no kind of order, so that it took a long time, going round this one and going round that one, before you could be sure you had looked round every side of every tomb. This was what Shasta had to do. There was nobody there.
It was very quiet here out on the edge of the desert; and now the sun had really set.
Suddenly from somewhere behind him there came a terrible sound. Shasta’s heart gave a great jump and he had to bite his tongue to keep himself from screaming. Next moment he realized what it was: the horns of Tashbaan blowing for the closing of the gates. “Don’t be a silly little coward,” said Shasta to himself. “Why, it’s only the same noise you heard this morning.” But there is a great difference between a noise heard letting you in with your friends in the morning, and a noise heard alone at nightfall, shutting you out. And now that the gates were shut he knew there was no chance of the others joining him that evening. “Either they’re shut up in Tashbaan for the night,” thought Shasta, “or else they’ve gone on without me. It’s just the sort of thing that Aravis would do. But Bree wouldn’t. Oh, he wouldn’t—now, would he?” In this idea about Aravis Shasta was once more quite wrong. She was proud and could be hard enough but she was as true as steel and would never have deserted a companion, whether she liked him or not.
Now that Shasta knew he would have to spend the night alone (it was getting darker every minute) he began to like the look of the place less and less. There was something very uncomfortable about those great, silent shapes of stone. He had been trying his hardest for a long time not to think of ghouls: but he couldn’t keep it up any longer.
“Ow! Ow! Help!” he shouted suddenly, for at that very moment he felt something touch his leg. I don’t think anyone can be blamed for shouting if something comes up from behind and touches him; not in such a place and at such a time, when he is frightened already. Shasta at any rate was too frightened to run. Anything would be better than being chased round and round the burial place of the Ancient Kings with something he dared not look at behind him. Instead, he did what was really the most sensible thing he could do. He looked round; and his heart almost burst with relief. What had touched him was only a cat.
The light was too bad now for Shasta to see much of the cat except that it was big and very solemn. It looked as if it might have lived for long, long years among the Tombs, alone. Its eyes made you think it knew secrets it would not tell.
“Puss, puss,” said Shasta. “I suppose you’re not a talking cat.”
The cat stared at him harder than ever. Then it started walking away, and of course Shasta followed it. It led him right through the tombs and out on the desert side of them. There it sat down bolt upright with its tail curled round its feet and its face set toward the desert and toward Narnia and the North, as still as if it were watching for some enemy. Shasta lay down beside it with his back against the cat and his face toward the Tombs, because if one is nervous there’s nothing like having your face toward the danger and having something warm and solid at your back. The sand wouldn’t have seemed very comfortable to you, but Shasta had been sleeping on the ground for weeks and hardly noticed it. Very soon he fell asleep, though even in his dreams he went on wondering what had happened to Bree and Aravis and Hwin.
He was wakened suddenly by a noise he had never heard before. “Perhaps it was only a nightmare,” said Shasta to himself. At the same moment he noticed that the cat had gone from his back, and he wished it hadn’t. But he lay quite still without even opening his eyes because he felt sure he would be more frightened if he sat up and looked round at the Tombs and the loneliness: just as you or I might lie still with bedclothes over our heads. But then the noise came again—a harsh, piercing cry from behind him out of the desert. Then of course he had to open his eyes and sit up.
The moon was shining brightly. The Tombs—far bigger and nearer than he had thought they would be—looked gray in the moonlight. In fact, they looked horribly like huge people, draped in gray robes that covered their heads and faces. They were not at all nice things to have near you when spending a night alone in a strange place. But the noise had come from the opposite side, from the desert. Shasta had to turn his back on the Tombs (he didn’t like that much) and stare out across the level sand. The wild cry rang out again.
“I hope it’s not more lions,” thought Shasta. It was in fact not very like the lion’s roars he had heard on the night when they met Hwin and Aravis, and was really the cry of a jackal. But of course Shasta did not know this. Even if he had known, he would not have wanted very much to meet a jackal.
The cries rang out again and again. “There’s more than one of them, whatever they are,” thought Shasta. “And they’re coming nearer.”
I suppose that if he had been an entirely sensible boy he would have gone back through the Tombs nearer to the river where there were houses, and wild beasts would be less likely to come. But then there were (or he thought there were) the ghouls. To go back through the Tombs would mean going past those dark openings in the Tombs; and what might come out of them? It may have been silly, but Shasta felt he had rather risk the wild beasts. Then, as the cries came nearer and nearer, he began to change his mind.
He was just going to run for it when suddenly, between him and the desert, a huge animal bounded into view. As the moon was behind it, it looked quite black, and Shasta did not know what it was, except that it had a very big, shaggy head and went on four legs. It did not seem to have noticed Shasta, for it suddenly stopped, turned its head toward the desert, and let out a roar which re-echoed through the Tombs and seemed to shake the sand under Shasta’s feet. The cries of the other creatures suddenly stopped and he thought he could hear feet scampering away. Then the great beast turned to examine Shasta.
“It’s a lion, I know it’s a lion,” thought Shasta. “I’m done. I wonder will it hurt much. I wish it was over. I wonder does anything happen to people after they’re dead. O-o-oh! Here it comes!” And he shut his eyes and teeth tight.
But instead of teeth and claws he only felt something warm lying down at his feet. And when he opened his eyes he said, “Why, it’s not nearly as big as I thought! It’s only half the size. No, it isn’t even quarter the size. I do declare it’s only the cat!! I must have dreamed all that about its being as big as a horse.” And whether he really had been dreaming or not, what was now lying at his feet, and staring him out of countenance with its big, green, unwinking eyes, was the cat; though certainly one of the largest cats he had ever seen.
“Oh, Puss,” gasped Shasta. “I am so glad to see you again. I’ve been having such horrible dreams.” And he at once lay down again, back to back with the cat as they had been at the beginning of the night. The warmth from it spread all over him.
“I’ll never do anything nasty to a cat again as long as I live,” said Shasta, half to the cat and half to himself. “I did once, you know. I threw stones at a half-starved mangy old stray. Hey! Stop that.” For the cat had turned round and given him a scratch. “None of that,” said Shasta. “It isn’t as if you could understand what I’m saying.” Then he dozed off.
Next morning when he woke, the cat was gone, the sun was already up, and the sand hot. Shasta, very thirsty, sat up and rubbed his eyes. The desert was blindingly white and, though there was a murmur of noises from the city behind him, where he sat everything was perfectly still. When he looked a little left and west, so that the sun was not in his eyes, he could see the mountains on the far side of the desert, so sharp and clear that they looked only a stone’s throw away. He particularly noticed one blue height that divided into two peaks at the top and decided that it must be Mount Pire. “That’s our direction, judging by what the Raven said,” he thought, “so I’ll just make sure of it, so as not to waste any time when the others show up.” So he made a good, deep straight furrow with his foot pointing exactly to Mount Pire.
The next job, clearly, was to get something to eat and drink. Shasta trotted back through the Tombs—they looked quite ordinary now and he wondered how he could ever have been afraid of them—and down into the cultivated land by the river’s side. There were a few people about but not very many, for the city gates had been open several hours and the early morning crowds had already gone in. So he had no difficulty in doing a little “raiding” (as Bree called it). It involved a climb over a garden wall and the results were three oranges, a melon, a fig or two, and a pomegranate. After that, he went down to the river bank, but not too near the bridge, and had a drink. The water was so nice that he took off his hot, dirty clothes and had a dip; for of course Shasta, having lived on the shore all his life, had learned to swim almost as soon as he had learned to walk. When he came out he lay on the grass looking across the water at Tashbaan—all the splendor and strength and glory of it. But that made him remember the dangers of it too. He suddenly realized that the others might have reached the Tombs while he was bathing (“and gone on without me, as likely as not”), so he dressed in a fright and tore back at such speed that he was all hot and thirsty when he arrived and so the good of his bathe was gone.
Like most days when you are alone and waiting for something this day seemed about a hundred hours long. He had plenty to think of, of course, but sitting alone, just thinking, is pretty slow. He thought a good deal about the Narnians and especially about Corin. He wondered what had happened when they discovered the boy who had been lying on the sofa and hearing all their secret plans wasn’t really Corin at all. It was very unpleasant to think of all those nice people imagining him a traitor.
But as the sun slowly, slowly climbed up to the top of the sky and then slowly, slowly began going downward to the West, and no one came and nothing at all happened, he began to get more and more anxious. And of course he now realized that when they arranged to wait for one another at the Tombs no one had said anything about How Long. He couldn’t wait here for the rest of his life! And soon it would be dark again, and he would have another night just like last night. A dozen different plans went through his head, all wretched ones, and at last he fixed on the worst plan of all. He decided to wait till it was dark and then go back to the river and steal as many melons as he could carry and set out for Mount Pire alone, trusting for his direction to the line he had drawn that morning in the sand. It was a crazy idea and if he had read as many books as you have about journeys over deserts he would never have dreamed it. But Shasta had read no books at all.
Before the sun set something did happen. Shasta was sitting in the shadow of one of the Tombs when he looked up and saw two horses coming toward him. Then his heart gave a great leap, for he recognized them as Bree and Hwin. But the next moment his heart went down into his toes again. There was no sign of Aravis. The Horses were being led by a strange man, an armed man pretty handsomely dressed like an upper slave in a great family. Bree and Hwin were no longer got up like pack-horses, but saddled and bridled. And what could it all mean? “It’s a trap,” thought Shasta. “Somebody has caught Aravis and perhaps they’ve tortured her and she’s given the whole thing away. They want me to jump out and run up and speak to Bree, and then I’ll be caught too! And yet if I don’t, I may be losing my only chance to meet the others. Oh I do wish I knew what had happened.” And he skulked behind the Tomb, looking out every few minutes, and wondering which was the least dangerous thing to do.
ARAVIS IN TASHBAAN
WHAT HAD REALLY HAPPENED WAS THIS. When Aravis saw Shasta hurried away by the Narnians and found herself alone with two horses who (very wisely) wouldn’t say a word, she never lost her head even for a moment. She grabbed Bree’s halter and stood still, holding both the horses; and though her heart was beating as hard as a hammer, she did nothing to show it. As soon as the Narnian lords had passed she tried to move on again. But before she could take a step, another crier (“Bother all these people,” thought Aravis) was heard shouting out, “Way, way, way! Way for the Tarkheena Lasaraleen!” and immediately, following the crier, came four armed slaves and then four bearers carrying a litter which was all a-flutter with silken curtains and all a-jingle with silver bells and which scented the whole street with perfumes and flowers. After the litter, female slaves in beautiful clothes, and then a few grooms, runners, pages, and the like. And now Aravis made her first mistake.
She knew Lasaraleen quite well—almost as if they had been at school together—because they had often stayed in the same houses and been to the same parties. And Aravis couldn’t help looking up to see what Lasaraleen looked like now that she was married and a very great person indeed.
It was fatal. The eyes of the two girls met. And immediately Lasaraleen sat up in the litter and burst out at the top of her voice.
“Aravis! What on earth are you doing here? Your father—”
There was not a moment to lose. Without a second’s delay Aravis let go the Horses, caught the edge of the litter, swung herself up beside Lasaraleen and whispered furiously in her ear.
“Shut up! Do you hear! Shut up. You must hide me. Tell your people—”
“But darling—” began Lasaraleen in the same loud voice. (She didn’t in the least mind making people stare; in fact she rather liked it.)
“Do what I tell you or I’ll never speak to you again,” hissed Aravis. “Please, please be quick, Las. It’s frightfully important. Tell your people to bring those two horses along. Pull all the curtains of the litter and get away somewhere where I can’t be found. And do hurry.”
“All right, darling,” said Lasaraleen in her lazy voice. “Here. Two of you take the Tarkheena’s horses.” (This was to the slaves.) “And now home. I say, darling, do you think we really want the curtains drawn on a day like this? I mean to say—”
But Aravis had already drawn the curtains, enclosing Lasaraleen and herself in a rich and scented, but rather stuffy, kind of tent.
“I mustn’t be seen,” she said. “My father doesn’t know I’m here. I’m running away.”
“My dear, how perfectly thrilling,” said Lasaraleen. “I’m dying to hear all about it. Darling, you’re sitting on my dress. Do you mind? That’s better. It is a new one. Do you like it? I got it at—”
“Oh, Las, do be serious,” said Aravis. “Where is my father?”
“Didn’t you know?” said Lasaraleen. “He’s here, of course. He came to town yesterday and is asking about you everywhere. And to think of you and me being here together and his not knowing anything about it! It’s the funniest thing I ever heard.” And she went off into giggles. She always had been a terrible giggler, as Aravis now remembered.
“It isn’t funny at all,” she said. “It’s dreadfully serious. Where can you hide me?”
“No difficulty at all, my dear girl,” said Lasaraleen. “I’ll take you home. My husband’s away and no one will see you. Phew! It’s not much fun with the curtains drawn. I want to see people. There’s no point in having a new dress on if one’s to go about shut up like this.” “I hope no one heard you when you shouted out to me like that,” said Aravis.
“No, no, of course, darling,” said Lasaraleen absentmindedly. “But you haven’t even told me yet what you think of the dress.”
“Another thing,” said Aravis. “You must tell your people to treat those two horses very respectfully. That’s part of the secret. They’re really Talking Horses from Narnia.”
“Fancy!” said Lasaraleen. “How exciting! And oh, darling, have you seen the barbarian queen from Narnia? She’s staying in Tashbaan at present. They say Prince Rabadash is madly in love with her. There have been the most wonderful parties and hunts and things all this last fortnight. I can’t see that she’s so very pretty myself. But some of the Narnian men are lovely. I was taken out on a river party the day before yesterday, and I was wearing my—” “How shall we prevent your people telling everyone that you’ve got a visitor—dressed like a beggar’s brat—in your house? It might so easily get round to my father.”
“Now don’t keep fussing, there’s a dear,” said Lasaraleen. “We’ll get you some proper clothes in a moment. And here we are!”
The bearers had stopped and the litter was being lowered. When the curtains had been drawn Aravis found that she was in a courtyard-garden very like the one that Shasta had been taken into a few minutes earlier in another part of the city. Lasaraleen would have gone indoors at once but Aravis reminded her in a frantic whisper to say something to the slaves about not telling anyone of their mistress’s strange visitor.
“Sorry, darling, it had gone right out of my head,” said Lasaraleen. “Here. All of you. And you, doorkeeper. No one is to be let out of the house today. And anyone I catch talking about this young lady will be first beaten to death and then burned alive and after that be kept on bread and water for six weeks. There.” Although Lasaraleen had said she was dying to hear Aravis’s story, she showed no sign of really wanting to hear it at all. She was, in fact, much better at talking than at listening. She insisted on Aravis having a long and luxurious bath (Calormene baths are famous) and then dressing her up in the finest clothes before she would let her explain anything. The fuss she made about choosing the dresses nearly drove Aravis mad. She remembered now that Lasaraleen had always been like that, interested in clothes and parties and gossip. Aravis had always been more interested in bows and arrows and horses and dogs and swimming. You will guess that each thought the other silly. But when at last they were both seated after a meal (it was chiefly of the whipped cream and jelly and fruit and ice sort) in a beautiful pillared room (which Aravis would have liked better if Lasaraleen’s spoiled pet monkey hadn’t been climbing about it all the time) Lasaraleen at last asked her why she was running away from home.
When Aravis had finished telling her story, Lasaraleen said, “But, darling, why don’t you marry Ahoshta Tarkaan? Everyone’s crazy about him. My husband says he is beginning to be one of the greatest men in Calormen. He has just been made Grand Vizier now old Axartha has died. Didn’t you know?”
“I don’t care. I can’t stand the sight of him,” said Aravis.
“But, darling, only think! Three palaces, and one of them that beautiful one down on the lake at Ilkeen. Positively ropes of pearls, I’m told. Baths of asses’ milk. And you’d see such a lot of me.”
“He can keep his pearls and palaces as far as I’m concerned,” said Aravis.
“You always were a queer girl, Aravis,” said Lasaraleen. “What more do you want?”
In the end, however, Aravis managed to make her friend believe that she was in earnest and even to discuss plans. There would be no difficulty now about getting the two horses out of the North gate and then on to the Tombs. No one would stop or question a groom in fine clothes leading a war horse and a lady’s saddle horse down to the river, and Lasaraleen had plenty of grooms to send. It wasn’t so easy to decide what to do about Aravis herself. She suggested that she could be carried out in the litter with the curtains drawn. But Lasaraleen told her that litters were only used in the city and the sight of one going out through the gate would be certain to lead to questions.
When they had talked for a long time—and it was all the longer because Aravis found it hard to keep her friend to the point—at last Lasaraleen clapped her hands and said, “Oh, I have an idea. There is one way of getting out of the city without using the gates. The Tisroc’s garden (may he live forever!) runs right down to the water and there is a little water-door. Only for the palace people of course—but then you know, dear” (here she tittered a little) “we almost are palace people. I say, it is lucky for you that you came to me. The dear Tisroc (may he live forever!) is so kind. We’re asked to the palace almost every day and it is like a second home. I love all the dear princes and princesses and I positively adore Prince Rabadash. I might run in and see any of the palace ladies at any hour of the day or night. Why shouldn’t I slip in with you, after dark, and let you out by the water-door? There are always a few punts and things tied up outside it. And even if we were caught—” “All would be lost,” said Aravis.
“Oh darling, don’t get so excited,” said Lasaraleen. “I was going to say, even if we were caught everyone would only say it was one of my mad jokes. I’m getting quite well known for them. Only the other day—do listen, dear, this is frightfully funny—”
“I meant, all would be lost for me,” said Aravis a little sharply.
“Oh—ah—yes—I do see what you mean, darling. Well, can you think of any better plan?”
Aravis couldn’t, and answered, “No. We’ll have to risk it. When can we start?”
“Oh, not tonight,” said Lasaraleen. “Of course not tonight. There’s a great feast on tonight (I must start getting my hair done for it in a few minutes) and the whole place will be a blaze of lights. And such a crowd too! It would have to be tomorrow night.”
This was bad news for Aravis, but she had to make the best of it. The afternoon passed very slowly and it was a relief when Lasaraleen went out to the banquet, for Aravis was very tired of her giggling and her talk about dresses and parties, weddings and engagements and scandals. She went to bed early and that part she did enjoy: it was so nice to have pillows and sheets again.
But the next day passed very slowly. Lasaraleen wanted to go back on the whole arrangement and kept on telling Aravis that Narnia was a country of perpetual snow and ice inhabited by demons and sorcerers, and she was mad to think of going there. “And with a peasant boy, too!” said Lasaraleen. “Darling, think of it! It’s not Nice.” Aravis had thought of it a good deal, but she was so tired of Lasaraleen’s silliness by now that, for the first time, she began to think that traveling with Shasta was really rather more fun than fashionable life in Tashbaan. So she only replied, “You forget that I’ll be nobody, just like him, when we get to Narnia. And anyway, I promised.” “And to think,” said Lasaraleen, almost crying, “that if only you had sense you could be the wife of a Grand Vizier!” Aravis went away to have a private word with the horses.
“You must go with a groom a little before sunset down to the Tombs,” she said. “No more of those packs. You’ll be saddled and bridled again. But there’ll have to be food in Hwin’s saddle-bags and a full water-skin behind yours, Bree. The man has orders to let you both have a good long drink at the far side of the bridge.” “And then, Narnia and the North!” whispered Bree. “But what if Shasta is not at the Tombs.”
“Wait for him of course,” said Aravis. “I hope you’ve been quite comfortable.”
“Never better stabled in my life,” said Bree. “But if the husband of that tittering Tarkheena friend of yours is paying his head groom to get the best oats, then I think the head groom is cheating him.”
Aravis and Lasaraleen had supper in the pillared room.
About two hours later they were ready to start. Aravis was dressed to look like a superior slave-girl in a great house and wore a veil over her face. They had agreed that if any questions were asked Lasaraleen would pretend that Aravis was a slave she was taking as a present to one of the princesses.
The two girls went out on foot. A very few minutes brought them to the palace gates. Here there were of course soldiers on guard but the officer knew Lasaraleen quite well and called his men to attention and saluted. They passed at once into the Hall of Black Marble. A fair number of courtiers, slaves and others were still moving about here but this only made the two girls less conspicuous. They passed on into the Hall of Pillars and then into the Hall of Statues and down the colonnade, passing the great beaten-copper doors of the throne room. It was all magnificent beyond description; what they could see of it in the dim light of the lamps.
Presently they came out into the garden-court which sloped downhill in a number of terraces. On the far side of that they came to the Old Palace. It had already grown almost quite dark and they now found themselves in a maze of corridors lit only by occasional torches fixed in brackets to the walls. Lasaraleen halted at a place where you had to go either left or right.
“Go on, do go on,” whispered Aravis, whose heart was beating terribly and who still felt that her father might run into them at any corner.
“I’m just wondering …” said Lasaraleen. “I’m not absolutely sure which way we go from here. I think it’s the left. Yes, I’m almost sure it’s the left. What fun this is!”
They took the left hand way and found themselves in a passage that was hardly lighted at all and which soon began going down steps.
“It’s all right,” said Lasaraleen. “I’m sure we’re right now. I remember these steps.” But at that moment a moving light appeared ahead. A second later there appeared from round a distant corner, the dark shapes of two men walking backward and carrying tall candles. And of course it is only before royalties that people walk backward. Aravis felt Lasaraleen grip her arm—that sort of sudden grip which is almost a pinch and which means that the person who is gripping you is very frightened indeed. Aravis thought it odd that Lasaraleen should be so afraid of the Tisroc if he were really such a friend of hers, but there was no time to go on thinking. Lasaraleen was hurrying her back to the top of the steps, on tiptoes, and groping wildly along the wall.
“Here’s a door,” she whispered. “Quick.”
They went in, drew the door softly behind them, and found themselves in pitch darkness. Aravis could hear by Lasaraleen’s breathing that she was terrified.
“Tash preserve us!” whispered Lasaraleen. “What shall we do if he comes in here. Can we hide?”
There was a soft carpet under their feet. They groped forward into the room and blundered onto a sofa.
“Let’s lie down behind it,” whimpered Lasaraleen. “Oh, I do wish we hadn’t come.”
There was just room between the sofa and the curtained wall and the two girls got down. Lasaraleen managed to get the better position and was completely covered. The upper part of Aravis’s face stuck out behind the sofa, so that if anyone came into that room with a light and happened to look in exactly the right place they would see her. But of course, because she was wearing a veil, what they saw would not at once look like a forehead and a pair of eyes. Aravis shoved desperately to try and make Lasaraleen give her a little more room. But Lasaraleen, now quite selfish in her panic, fought back and pinched her feet. They gave it up and lay still, panting a little. Their own breath seemed dreadfully noisy, but there was no other noise.
“Is it safe?” said Aravis at last in the tiniest possible whisper.
“I—I—think so,” began Lasaraleen. “But my poor nerves—” and then came the most terrible noise they could have heard at that moment: the noise of the door opening. And then came light. And because Aravis couldn’t get her head any further in behind the sofa, she saw everything.
First came the two slaves (deaf and dumb, as Aravis rightly guessed, and therefore used at the most secret councils) walking backward and carrying the candles. They took up their stand one at each end of the sofa. This was a good thing, for of course it was now harder for anyone to see Aravis once a slave was in front of her and she was looking between his heels. Then came an old man, very fat, wearing a curious pointed cap by which she immediately knew that he was the Tisroc. The least of the jewels with which he was covered was worth more than all the clothes and weapons of the Narnian lords put together: but he was so fat and such a mass of frills and pleats and bobbles and buttons and tassels and talismans that Aravis couldn’t help thinking the Narnian fashions (at any rate for men) looked nicer. After him came a tall young man with a feathered and jeweled turban on his head and an ivory-sheathed scimitar at his side. He seemed very excited and his eyes and teeth flashed fiercely in the candlelight. Last of all came a little hump-backed, wizened old man in whom she recognized with a shudder the new Grand Vizier and her own betrothed husband, Ahoshta Tarkaan himself.
As soon as all three had entered the room and the door was shut, the Tisroc seated himself on the divan with a sigh of contentment, the young man took his place, standing before him, and the Grand Vizier got down on his knees and elbows and laid his face flat on the carpet.
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