فصل 08 - 11
- زمان مطالعه 74 دقیقه
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متن انگلیسی فصل
IN THE HOUSE OF THE TISROC
“OH-MY-FATHER-AND-OH-THE-DELIGHT-of-my-eyes,” began the young man, muttering the words very quickly and sulkily and not at all as if the Tisroc were the delight of his eyes. “May you live forever, but you have utterly destroyed me. If you had given me the swiftest of the galleys at sunrise when I first saw that the ship of the accursed barbarians was gone from her place I would perhaps have overtaken them. But you persuaded me to send first and see if they had not merely moved round the point into better anchorage. And now the whole day has been wasted. And they are gone—gone—out of my reach! The false jade, the—” and here he added a great many descriptions of Queen Susan which would not look at all nice in print. For of course this young man was Prince Rabadash and of course the false jade was Susan of Narnia.
“Compose yourself, O my son,” said the Tisroc. “For the departure of guests makes a wound that is easily healed in the heart of a judicious host.”
“But I want her,” cried the Prince. “I must have her. I shall die if I do not get her—false, proud, black-hearted daughter of a dog that she is! I cannot sleep and my food has no savor and my eyes are darkened because of her beauty. I must have the barbarian queen.” “How well it was said by a gifted poet,” observed the Vizier, raising his face (in a somewhat dusty condition) from the carpet, “that deep drafts from the fountain of reason are desirable in order to extinguish the fire of youthful love.” This seemed to exasperate the Prince. “Dog,” he shouted, directing a series of well-aimed kicks at the hindquarters of the Vizier, “do not dare to quote the poets to me. I have had maxims and verses flung at me all day and I can endure them no more.” I am afraid Aravis did not feel at all sorry for the Vizier.
The Tisroc was apparently sunk in thought, but when, after a long pause, he noticed what was happening, he said tranquilly:
“My son, by all means desist from kicking the venerable and enlightened Vizier: for as a costly jewel retains its value even if hidden in a dung-hill, so old age and discretion are to be respected even in the vile persons of our subjects. Desist therefore, and tell us what you desire and propose.” “I desire and propose, O my father,” said Rabadash, “that you immediately call out your invincible armies and invade the thrice-accursed land of Narnia and waste it with fire and sword and add it to your illimitable empire, killing their High King and all of his blood except the queen Susan. For I must have her as my wife, though she shall learn a sharp lesson first.” “Understand, O my son,” said the Tisroc, “that no words you can speak will move me to open war against Narnia.”
“If you were not my father, O ever-living Tisroc,” said the Prince, grinding his teeth, “I should say that was the word of a coward.”
“And if you were not my son, O most inflammable Rabadash,” replied his father, “your life would be short and your death slow when you had said it.” (The cool, placid voice in which he spoke these words made Aravis’s blood run cold.) “But why, O my father,” said the Prince—this time in a much more respectful voice, “why should we think twice about punishing Narnia any more than about hanging an idle slave or sending a worn-out horse to be made into dog’s-meat? It is not the fourth size of one of your least provinces. A thousand spears could conquer it in five weeks. It is an unseemly blot on the skirts of your empire.” “Most undoubtedly,” said the Tisroc. “These little barbarian countries that call themselves free (which is as much as to say, idle, disordered, and unprofitable) are hateful to the gods and to all persons of discernment.” “Then why have we suffered such a land as Narnia to remain thus long unsubdued?”
“Know, O enlightened Prince,” said the Grand Vizier, “that until the year in which your exalted father began his salutary and unending reign, the land of Narnia was covered with ice and snow and was moreover ruled by a most powerful enchantress.” “This I know very well, O loquacious Vizier,” answered the Prince. “But I know also that the enchantress is dead. And the ice and snow have vanished, so that Narnia is now wholesome, fruitful, and delicious.” “And this change, O most learned Prince, has doubtless been brought to pass by the powerful incantations of those wicked persons who now call themselves kings and queens of Narnia.”
“I am rather of the opinion,” said Rabadash, “that it has come about by the alteration of the stars and the operation of natural causes.”
“All this,” said the Tisroc, “is a question for the disputations of learned men. I will never believe that so great an alteration, and the killing of the old enchantress, were effected without the aid of strong magic. And such things are to be expected in that land, which is chiefly inhabited by demons in the shape of beasts that talk like men, and monsters that are half man and half beast. It is commonly reported that the High King of Narnia (whom may the gods utterly reject) is supported by a demon of hideous aspect and irresistible maleficence who appears in the shape of a Lion. Therefore the attacking of Narnia is a dark and doubtful enterprise, and I am determined not to put my hand out farther than I can draw it back.” “How blessed is Calormen,” said the Vizier, popping up his face again, “on whose ruler the gods have been pleased to bestow prudence and circumspection! Yet as the irrefutable and sapient Tisroc has said it is very grievous to be constrained to keep our hands off such a dainty dish as Narnia. Gifted was that poet who said—” but at this point Ahoshta noticed an impatient movement of the Prince’s toe and became suddenly silent.
“It is very grievous,” said the Tisroc in his deep, quiet voice. “Every morning the sun is darkened in my eyes, and every night my sleep is the less refreshing, because I remember that Narnia is still free.” “O my father,” said Rabadash. “How if I show you a way by which you can stretch out your arm to take Narnia and yet draw it back unharmed if the attempt prove unfortunate?”
“If you can show me that, O Rabadash,” said the Tisroc, “you will be the best of sons.”
“Hear then, O father. This very night and in this hour I will take but two hundred horse and ride across the desert. And it shall seem to all men that you know nothing of my going. On the second morning I shall be at the gates of King Lune’s castle of Anvard in Archenland. They are at peace with us and unprepared and I shall take Anvard before they have bestirred themselves. Then I will ride through the pass above Anvard and down through Narnia to Cair Paravel. The High King will not be there; when I left them he was already preparing a raid against the giants on his northern border. I shall find Cair Paravel, most likely with open gates, and ride in. I shall exercise prudence and courtesy and spill as little Narnian blood as I can. And what then remains but to sit there till the Splendor Hyaline puts in, with Queen Susan on board, catch my strayed bird as she sets foot ashore, swing her into the saddle, and then ride, ride, ride back to Anvard?” “But is it not probable, O my son,” said the Tisroc, “that at the taking of the woman either King Edmund or you will lose his life?”
“They will be a small company,” said Rabadash, “and I will order ten of my men to disarm and bind him: restraining my vehement desire for his blood so that there shall be no deadly cause of war between you and the High King.” “And how if the Splendor Hyaline is at Cair Paravel before you?”
“I do not look for that with these winds, O my father.”
“And lastly, O my resourceful son,” said the Tisroc, “you have made clear how all this might give you the barbarian woman, but not how it helps me to the overthrowing of Narnia.”
“O my father, can it have escaped you that though I and my horsemen will come and go through Narnia like an arrow from a bow, yet we shall have Anvard for ever? And when you hold Anvard you sit in the very gate of Narnia, and your garrison in Anvard can be increased by little and little till it is a great host.” “It is spoken with understanding and foresight. But how do I draw back my arm if all this miscarries?”
“You shall say that I did it without your knowledge and against your will, and without your blessing, being constrained by the violence of my love and the impetuosity of youth.”
“And how if the High King then demands that we send back the barbarian woman, his sister?”
“O my father, be assured that he will not. For though the fancy of a woman has rejected this marriage, the High King Peter is a man of prudence and understanding who will in no way wish to lose the high honor and advantage of being allied to our House and seeing his nephew and grand nephew on the throne of Calormen.” “He will not see that if I live forever as is no doubt your wish,” said the Tisroc in an even drier voice than usual.
“And also, O my father and O the delight of my eyes,” said the Prince, after a moment of awkward silence, “we shall write letters as if from the Queen to say that she loves me and has no desire to return to Narnia. For it is well known that women are as changeable as weathercocks. And even if they do not wholly believe the letters, they will not dare to come to Tashbaan in arms to fetch her.” “O enlightened Vizier,” said the Tisroc, “be-stow your wisdom upon us concerning this strange proposal.”
“O eternal Tisroc,” answered Ahoshta, “the strength of paternal affection is not unknown to me and I have often heard that sons are in the eyes of their fathers more precious than carbuncles. How then shall I dare freely to unfold to you my mind in a matter which may imperil the life of this exalted Prince?” “Undoubtedly you will dare,” replied the Tisroc. “Because you will find that the dangers of not doing so are at least equally great.”
“To hear is to obey,” moaned the wretched man. “Know then, O most reasonable Tisroc, in the first place, that the danger of the Prince is not altogether so great as might appear. For the gods have withheld from the barbarians the light of discretion, as that their poetry is not, like ours, full of choice apophthegms and useful maxims, but is all of love and war. Therefore nothing will appear to them more noble and admirable than such a mad enterprise as this of—ow!” For the Prince, at the word “mad,” had kicked him.
“Desist, O my son,” said the Tisroc. “And you, estimable Vizier, whether he desists or not, by no means allow the flow of your eloquence to be interrupted. For nothing is more suitable to persons of gravity and decorum than to endure minor inconveniences with constancy.” “To hear is to obey,” said the Vizier, wriggling himself round a little so as to get his hinder parts further away from Rabadash’s toe. “Nothing, I say, will seem as pardonable, if not estimable, in their eyes as this—er—hazardous attempt, especially because it is undertaken for the love of a woman. Therefore, if the Prince by misfortune fell into their hands, they would assuredly not kill him. Nay, it may even be, that though he failed to carry off the queen, yet the sight of his great valor and of the extremity of his passion might incline her heart to him.” “This is a good point, old babbler,” said Rabadash. “Very good, however it came into your ugly head.”
“The praise of my masters is the light of my eyes,” said Ahoshta. “And secondly, O Tisroc, whose reign must and shall be interminable, I think that with the aid of the gods it is very likely that Anvard will fall into the Prince’s hands. And if so, we have Narnia by the throat.” There was a long pause and the room became so silent that the two girls hardly dared to breathe. At last the Tisroc spoke.
“Go, my son,” he said. “And do as you have said. But expect no help nor countenance from me. I will not avenge you if you are killed and I will not deliver you if the barbarians cast you into prison. And if, either in success or failure, you shed a drop more than you need of Narnian noble blood and open war arises from it, my favor shall never fall upon you again and your next brother shall have your place in Calormen. Now go. Be swift, secret, and fortunate. May the strength of Tash the inexorable, the irresistible be in your sword and lance.” “To hear is to obey,” cried Rabadash, and after kneeling for a moment to kiss his father’s hands he rushed from the room. Greatly to the disappointment of Aravis, who was now horribly cramped, the Tisroc and the Vizier remained.
“O Vizier,” said the Tisroc, “is it certain that no living soul knows of this council we three have held here tonight?”
“O my master,” said Ahoshta, “it is not possible that any should know. For that very reason I proposed, and you in your infallible wisdom agreed, that we should meet here in the Old Palace where no council is ever held and none of the household has any occasion to come.” “It is well,” said the Tisroc. “If any man knew, I would see to it that he died before an hour had passed. And do you also, O prudent Vizier, forget it. I sponge away from my own heart and from yours all knowledge of the Prince’s plans. He is gone without my knowledge or my consent, I know not whither, because of his violence and the rash and disobedient disposition of youth. No man will be more astonished than you and I to hear that Anvard is in his hands.” “To hear is to obey,” said Ahoshta.
“That is why you will never think even in your secret heart that I am the hardest hearted of fathers who thus send my first-born son on an errand so likely to be his death; pleasing as it must be to you who do not love the Prince. For I see into the bottom of your mind.” “O impeccable Tisroc,” said the Vizier. “In comparison with you I love neither the Prince nor my own life nor bread nor water nor the light of the sun.”
“Your sentiments,” said the Tisroc, “are elevated and correct. I also love none of these things in comparison with the glory and strength of my throne. If the Prince succeeds, we have Archenland, and perhaps hereafter Narnia. If he fails—I have eighteen other sons and Rabadash, after the manner of the eldest sons of kings, was beginning to be dangerous. More than five Tisrocs in Tashbaan have died before their time because their eldest sons, enlightened princes, grew tired of waiting for their throne. He had better cool his blood abroad than boil it in inaction here. And now, O excellent Vizier, the excess of my paternal anxiety inclines me to sleep. Command the musicians to my chamber. But before you lie down, call back the pardon we wrote for the third cook. I feel within me the manifest prognostics of indigestion.” “To hear is to obey,” said the Grand Vizier. He crawled backward on all fours to the door, rose, bowed, and went out. Even then the Tisroc remained seated in silence on the divan till Aravis almost began to be afraid that he had dropped asleep. But at last with a great creaking and sighing he heaved up his enormous body, signed to the slaves to precede him with the lights, and went out. The door closed behind him, the room was once more totally dark, and the two girls could breathe freely again.
ACROSS THE DESERT
“HOW DREADFUL! HOW PERFECTLY dreadful!” whimpered Lasaraleen. “Oh darling, I am so frightened. I’m shaking all over. Feel me.”
“Come on,” said Aravis, who was trembling herself. “They’ve gone back to the new palace. Once we’re out of this room we’re safe enough. But it’s wasted a terrible time. Get me down to that water-gate as quick as you can.” “Darling, how can you?” squeaked Lasaraleen. “I can’t do anything—not now. My poor nerves! No: we must just lie still a bit and then go back.”
“Why back?” asked Aravis.
“Oh, you don’t understand. You’re so unsympathetic,” said Lasaraleen, beginning to cry. Aravis decided it was no occasion for mercy.
“Look here!” she said, catching Lasaraleen and giving her a good shake. “If you say another word about going back, and if you don’t start taking me to that water-gate at once—do you know what I’ll do? I’ll rush out into that passage and scream. Then we’ll both be caught.” “But we shall both be k-k-killed!” said Lasaraleen. “Didn’t you hear what the Tisroc (may he live forever) said?”
“Yes, and I’d sooner be killed than married to Ahoshta. So come on.”
“Oh you are unkind,” said Lasaraleen. “And I in such a state!”
But in the end she had to give in to Aravis. She led the way down the steps they had already descended, and along another corridor and so finally out into the open air. They were now in the palace garden which sloped down in terraces to the city wall. The moon shone brightly. One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them; so that Aravis (though she remembered them years later) had only a vague impression of gray lawns, quietly bubbling fountains, and the long black shadows of cypress trees.
When they reached the very bottom and the wall rose frowning above them, Lasaraleen was shaking so that she could not unbolt the gate. Aravis did it. There, at last, was the river, full of reflected moonlight, and a little landing stage and a few pleasure boats.
“Good-bye,” said Aravis, “and thank you. I’m sorry if I’ve been a pig. But think what I’m flying from!”
“Oh Aravis darling,” said Lasaraleen. “Won’t you change your mind? Now that you’ve seen what a very great man Ahoshta is!”
“Great man!” said Aravis. “A hideous groveling slave who flatters when he’s kicked but treasures it all up and hopes to get his own back by egging on that horrible Tisroc to plot his son’s death. Faugh! I’d sooner marry my father’s scullion than a creature like that.” “Oh Aravis, Aravis! How can you say such dreadful things; and about the Tisroc (may he live forever) too. It must be right if he’s going to do it!”
“Good-bye,” said Aravis, “and I thought your dresses lovely. And I think your house is lovely too. I’m sure you’ll have a lovely life—though it wouldn’t suit me. Close the door softly behind me.”
She tore herself away from her friend’s affectionate embraces, stepped into a punt, cast off, and a moment later was out in midstream with a huge real moon overhead and a huge reflected moon down, deep down, in the river. The air was fresh and cool and as she drew near the farther bank she heard the hooting of an owl. “Ah! That’s better!” thought Aravis. She had always lived in the country and had hated every minute of her time in Tashbaan.
When she stepped ashore she found herself in darkness for the rise of the ground, and the trees, cut off the moonlight. But she managed to find the same road that Shasta had found, and came just as he had done to the end of the grass and the beginning of the sand, and looked (like him) to her left and saw the big, black Tombs. And now at last, brave girl though she was, her heart quailed. Supposing the others weren’t there! Supposing the ghouls were! But she stuck out her chin (and a little bit of her tongue too) and went straight toward them.
But before she had reached them she saw Bree and Hwin and the groom.
“You can go back to your mistress now,” said Aravis (quite forgetting that he couldn’t, until the city gates opened next morning). “Here is money for your pains.”
“To hear is to obey,” said the groom, and at once set off at a remarkable speed in the direction of the city. There was no need to tell him to make haste: he also had been thinking a good deal about ghouls.
For the next few seconds Aravis was busy kissing the noses and patting the necks of Hwin and Bree just as if they were quite ordinary horses.
“And here comes Shasta! Thanks be to the Lion!” said Bree.
Aravis looked round, and there, right enough, was Shasta who had come out of hiding the moment he saw the groom going away.
“And now,” said Aravis. “There’s not a moment to lose.” And in hasty words she told them about Rabadash’s expedition.
“Treacherous hounds!” said Bree, shaking his mane and stamping his hoof. “An attack in time of peace, without defiance sent! But we’ll grease his oats for him. We’ll be there before he is.”
“Can we?” said Aravis, swinging herself into Hwin’s saddle. Shasta wished he could mount like that.
“Brooh-hoo!” snorted Bree. “Up you get, Shasta. Can we! And with a good start too!”
“He said he was going to start at once,” said Aravis.
“That’s how humans talk,” said Bree. “But you don’t get a company of two hundred horse and horsemen watered and victualed and armed and saddled and started all in a minute. Now: what’s our direction? Due North?” “No,” said Shasta. “I know about that. I’ve drawn a line. I’ll explain later. Bear a bit to our left, both you horses. Ah—here it is!”
“Now,” said Bree. “All that about galloping for a day and a night, like in stories, can’t really be done. It must be walk and trot: but brisk trots and short walks. And whenever we walk you two humans can slip off and walk too. Now. Are you ready, Hwin? Off we go. Narnia and the North!” At first it was delightful. The night had now been going on for so many hours that the sand had almost finished giving back all the sun-heat it had received during the day, and the air was cool, fresh, and clear. Under the moonlight the sand, in every direction and as far as they could see, gleamed as if it were smooth water or a great silver tray. Except for the noise of Bree’s and Hwin’s hoofs there was not a sound to be heard. Shasta would nearly have fallen asleep if he had not had to dismount and walk every now and then.
This seemed to last for hours. Then there came a time when there was no longer any moon. They seemed to ride in the dead darkness for hours and hours. And after that there came a moment when Shasta noticed that he could see Bree’s neck and head in front of him a little more clearly than before; and slowly, very slowly, he began to notice the vast gray flatness on every side. It looked absolutely dead, like something in a dead world; and Shasta felt quite terribly tired and noticed that he was getting cold and that his lips were dry. And all the time the squeak of the leather, the jingle of the bits, and the noise of the hoofs—not Propputty-propputty as it would be on a hard road, but Thubbudy-thubbudy on the dry sand.
At last, after hours of riding, far away on his right there came a single long streak of paler gray, low down on the horizon. Then a streak of red. It was the morning at last, but without a single bird to sing about it. He was glad of the walking bits now, for he was colder than ever.
Then suddenly the sun rose and everything changed in a moment. The gray sand turned yellow and twinkled as if it was strewn with diamonds. On their left the shadows of Shasta and Hwin and Bree and Aravis, enormously long, raced beside them. The double peak of Mount Pire, far ahead, flashed in the sunlight and Shasta saw they were a little out of the course. “A bit left, a bit left,” he sang out. Best of all, when you looked back, Tashbaan was already small and remote. The Tombs were quite invisible: swallowed up in that single, jagged-edge hump which was the city of the Tisroc. Everyone felt better.
But not for long. Though Tashbaan looked very far away when they first saw it, it refused to look any further away as they went on. Shasta gave up looking back at it, for it only gave him the feeling that they were not moving at all. Then the light became a nuisance. The glare of the sand made his eyes ache: but he knew he mustn’t shut them. He must screw them up and keep looking on ahead at Mount Pire and shouting out directions. Then came the heat. He noticed it for the first time when he had to dismount and walk: as he slipped down to the sand the heat from it struck up into his face as if from the opening of an oven door. Next time it was worse. But the third time, as his bare feet touched the sand he screamed with pain and got one foot back in the stirrup and the other half over Bree’s back before you could have said knife.
“Sorry, Bree,” he gasped. “I can’t walk. It burns my feet.” “Of course!” panted Bree. “Should have thought of that myself. Stay on. Can’t be helped.”
“It’s all right for you,” said Shasta to Aravis who was walking beside Hwin. “You’ve got shoes on.”
Aravis said nothing and looked prim. Let’s hope she didn’t mean to, but she did.
On again, trot and walk and trot, jingle-jingle-jingle, squeak-squeak-squeak, smell of hot horse, smell of hot self, blinding glare, headache. And nothing at all different for mile after mile. Tashbaan would never look any further away. The mountains would never look any nearer. You felt this had been going on for always—jingle-jingle-jingle, squeak-squeak-squeak, smell of hot horse, smell of hot self.
Of course one tried all sorts of games with oneself to try to make the time pass: and of course they were all no good. And one tried very hard not to think of drinks—iced sherbet in a palace at Tashbaan, clear spring water tinkling with a dark earthy sound, cold, smooth milk just creamy enough and not too creamy—and the harder you tried not to think, the more you thought.
At last there was something different—a mass of rock sticking up out of the sand about fifty yards long and thirty feet high. It did not cast much shadow, for the sun was now very high, but it cast a little. Into that shade they crowded. There they ate some food and drank a little water. It is not easy giving a horse a drink out of a skin bottle, but Bree and Hwin were clever with their lips. No one had anything like enough. No one spoke. The Horses were flecked with foam and their breathing was noisy. The children were pale.
After a very short rest they went on again. Same noises, same smells, same glare, till at last their shadows began to fall on their right, and then got longer and longer till they seemed to stretch out to the Eastern end of the world. Very slowly the sun drew nearer to the Western horizon. And now at last he was down and, thank goodness, the merciless glare was gone, though the heat coming up from the sand was still as bad as ever. Four pairs of eyes were looking out eagerly for any sign of the valley that Sallowpad the Raven had spoken about. But, mile after mile, there was nothing but level sand. And now the day was quite definitely done, and most of the stars were out, and still the Horses thundered on and the children rose and sank in their saddles, miserable with thirst and weariness. Not till the moon had risen did Shasta—in the strange, barking voice of someone whose mouth is perfectly dry—shout out: “There it is!”
There was no mistaking it now. Ahead, and a little to their right, there was at last a slope: a slope downward and hummocks of rock on each side. The Horses were far too tired to speak but they swung round toward it and in a minute or two they were entering the gully. At first it was worse in there than it had been out in the open desert, for there was a breathless stuffiness between the rocky walls and less moonlight. The slope continued steeply downward and the rocks on either hand rose to the height of cliffs. Then they began to meet vegetation—prickly cactus-like plants and coarse grass of the kind that would prick your fingers. Soon the horse-hoofs were falling on pebbles and stones instead of sand. Round every bend of the valley—and it had many bends—they looked eagerly for water. The Horses were nearly at the end of their strength now, and Hwin, stumbling and panting, was lagging behind Bree. They were almost in despair before at last they came to a little muddiness and a tiny trickle of water through softer and better grass. And the trickle became a brook, and the brook became a stream with bushes on each side, and the stream became a river and there came (after more disappointments than I could possibly describe) a moment when Shasta, who had been in a kind of doze, suddenly realized that Bree had stopped and found himself slipping off. Before them a little cataract of water poured into a broad pool: and both the Horses were already in the pool with their heads down, drinking, drinking, drinking. “O-o-oh,” said Shasta and plunged in—it was about up to his knees—and stooped his head right into the cataract. It was perhaps the loveliest moment in his life.
It was about ten minutes later when all four of them (the two children wet nearly all over) came out and began to notice their surroundings. The moon was now high enough to peep down into the valley. There was soft grass on both sides of the river, and beyond the grass, trees and bushes sloped up to the bases of the cliffs. There must have been some wonderful flowering shrubs hidden in that shadowy undergrowth for the whole glade was full of the coolest and most delicious smells. And out of the darkest recess among the trees there came a sound Shasta had never heard before—a nightingale.
Everyone was much too tired to speak or eat. The Horses, without waiting to be unsaddled, lay down at once. So did Aravis and Shasta.
About ten minutes later the careful Hwin said, “But we mustn’t go to sleep. We’ve got to keep ahead of that Rabadash.”
“No,” said Bree very slowly. “Mustn’t go sleep. Just a little rest.”
Shasta knew (for a moment) that they would all go to sleep if he didn’t get up and do something about it, and felt that he ought to. In fact he decided that he would get up and persuade them to go on. But presently; not yet: not just yet … Very soon the moon shone and the nightingale sang over two horses and two human children, all fast asleep.
It was Aravis who awoke first. The sun was already high in the heavens and the cool morning hours were already wasted. “It’s my fault,” she said to herself furiously as she jumped up and began rousing the others. “One wouldn’t expect Horses to keep awake after a day’s work like that, even if they can talk. And of course that Boy wouldn’t; he’s had no decent training. But I ought to have known better.” The others were dazed and stupid with the heaviness of their sleep.
“Heigh-ho—broo-hoo,” said Bree. “Been sleeping in my saddle, eh? I’ll never do that again. Most uncomfortable—”
“Oh come on, come on,” said Aravis. “We’ve lost half the morning already. There isn’t a moment to spare.”
“A fellow’s got to have a mouthful of grass,” said Bree.
“I’m afraid we can’t wait,” said Aravis.
“What’s the terrible hurry?” said Bree. “We’ve crossed the desert, haven’t we?”
“But we’re not in Archenland yet,” said Aravis. “And we’ve got to get there before Rabadash.”
“Oh, we must be miles ahead of him,” said Bree. “Haven’t we been coming a shorter way? Didn’t that Raven friend of yours say this was a short cut, Shasta?”
“He didn’t say anything about shorter,” answered Shasta. “He only said better, because you got to a river this way. If the oasis is due North of Tashbaan, then I’m afraid this may be longer.”
“Well I can’t go on without a snack,” said Bree. “Take my bridle off, Shasta.”
“P-please,” said Hwin, very shyly, “I feel just like Bree that I can’t go on. But when Horses have humans (with spurs and things) on their backs, aren’t they often made to go on when they’re feeling like this? and then they find they can. I m-mean—oughtn’t we to be able to do more even, now that we’re free. It’s all for Narnia.” “I think, Ma’am,” said Bree very crushingly, “that I know a little more about campaigns and forced marches and what a horse can stand than you do.”
To this Hwin made no answer, being, like most highly bred mares, a very nervous and gentle person who was easily put down. In reality she was quite right, and if Bree had had a Tarkaan on his back at that moment to make him go on, he would have found that he was good for several hours’ hard going. But one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself.
So they had to wait while Bree had a snack and a drink, and of course Hwin and the children had a snack and a drink too. It must have been nearly eleven o’clock in the morning before they finally got going again. And even then Bree took things much more gently than yesterday. It was really Hwin, though she was the weaker and more tired of the two, who set the pace.
The valley itself, with its brown, cool river, and grass and moss and wild flowers and rhododendrons, was such a pleasant place that it made you want to ride slowly.
THE HERMIT OF THE SOUTHERN MARCH
AFTER THEY HAD RIDDEN FOR SEVERAL hours down the valley, it widened out and they could see what was ahead of them. The river which they had been following here joined a broader river, wide and turbulent, which flowed from their left to their right, toward the east. Beyond this new river a delightful country rose gently in low hills, ridge beyond ridge, to the Northern Mountains themselves. To the right there were rocky pinnacles, one or two of them with snow clinging to the ledges. To the left, pine-clad slopes, frowning cliffs, narrow gorges, and blue peaks stretched away as far as the eye could reach. He could no longer make out Mount Pire. Straight ahead the mountain range sank to a wooded saddle which of course must be the pass from Archenland into Narnia.
“Broo-hoo-hoo, the North, the green North!” neighed Bree: and certainly the lower hills looked greener and fresher than anything that Aravis and Shasta, with their southern-bred eyes, had ever imagined. Spirits rose as they clattered down to the water’s-meet of the two rivers.
The eastern-flowing river, which was pouring from the higher mountains at the western end of the range, was far too swift and too broken with rapids for them to think of swimming it; but after some casting about, up and down the bank, they found a place shallow enough to wade. The roar and clatter of water, the great swirl against the horses’ fetlocks, the cool, stirring air and the darting dragonflies filled Shasta with a strange excitement.
“Friends, we are in Archenland!” said Bree proudly as he splashed and churned his way out on the Northern bank. “I think that river we’ve just crossed is called the Winding Arrow.”
“I hope we’re in time,” murmured Hwin.
Then they began going up, slowly and zigzagging a good deal, for the hills were steep. It was all open, park-like country with no roads or houses in sight. Scattered trees, never thick enough to be a forest, were everywhere. Shasta, who had lived all his life in an almost treeless grassland, had never seen so many or so many kinds. If you had been there you would probably have known (he didn’t) that he was seeing oaks, beeches, silver birches, rowans, and sweet chestnuts. Rabbits scurried away in every direction as they advanced, and presently they saw a whole herd of fallow deer making off among the trees.
“Isn’t it simply glorious!” said Aravis.
At the first ridge Shasta turned in the saddle and looked back. There was no sign of Tashbaan; the desert, unbroken except by the narrow green crack which they had traveled down, spread to the horizon.
“Hullo!” he said suddenly. “What’s that?”
“What’s what?” said Bree, turning round. Hwin and Aravis did the same.
“That,” said Shasta, pointing. “It looks like smoke. Is it a fire?”
“Sand-storm, I should say,” said Bree.
“Not much wind to raise it,” said Aravis.
“Oh!” exclaimed Hwin. “Look! There are things flashing in it. Look! They’re helmets—and armor. And it’s moving: moving this way.”
“By Tash!” said Aravis. “It’s the army. It’s Rabadash.”
“Of course it is,” said Hwin. “Just what I was afraid of. Quick! We must get to Anvard before it.” And without another word she whisked round and began galloping North. Bree tossed his head and did the same.
“Come on, Bree, come on,” yelled Aravis over her shoulder.
This race was very grueling for the Horses. As they topped each ridge they found another valley and another ridge beyond it; and though they knew they were going in more or less the right direction, no one knew how far it was to Anvard. From the top of the second ridge Shasta looked back again. Instead of a dust-cloud well out in the desert he now saw a black, moving mass, rather like ants, on the far bank of the Winding Arrow. They were doubtless looking for a ford.
“They’re on the river!” he yelled wildly.
“Quick! Quick!” shouted Aravis. “We might as well not have come at all if we don’t reach Anvard in time. Gallop, Bree, gallop. Remember you’re a war horse.”
It was all Shasta could do to prevent himself from shouting out similar instructions; but he thought, “The poor chap’s doing all he can already,” and held his tongue. And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could; which is not quite the same thing. Bree had caught up with Hwin and they thundered side by side over the turf. It didn’t look as if Hwin could possibly keep it up much longer.
At that moment everyone’s feelings were completely altered by a sound from behind. It was not the sound they had been expecting to hear—the noise of hoofs and jingling armor, mixed, perhaps, with Calormene battle-cries. Yet Shasta knew it at once. It was the same snarling roar he had heard that moonlit night when they first met Aravis and Hwin. Bree knew it too. His eyes gleamed red and his ears lay flat back on his skull. And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast—not quite as fast—as he could. Shasta felt the change at once. Now they were really going all out. In a few seconds they were well ahead of Hwin.
“It’s not fair,” thought Shasta. “I did think we’d be safe from lions here!”
He looked over his shoulder. Everything was only too clear. A huge tawny creature, its body low to the ground, like a cat streaking across the lawn to a tree when a strange dog has got into the garden, was behind them. And it was nearer every second and half second.
He looked forward again and saw something which he did not take in, or even think about. Their way was barred by a smooth green wall about ten feet high. In the middle of that wall there was a gate, open. In the middle of the gateway stood a tall man, dressed, down to his bare feet, in a robe colored like autumn leaves, leaning on a straight staff. His beard fell almost to his knees.
Shasta saw all this in a glance and looked back again. The lion had almost got Hwin now. It was making snaps at her hind legs, and there was no hope now in her foam-flecked, wide-eyed face.
“Stop,” bellowed Shasta in Bree’s ear. “Must go back. Must help!”
Bree always said afterward that he never heard, or never understood this; and as he was in general a very truthful horse we must accept his word.
Shasta slipped his feet out of the stirrups, slid both his legs over on the left side, hesitated for one hideous hundredth of a second, and jumped. It hurt horribly and nearly winded him; but before he knew how it hurt him he was staggering back to help Aravis. He had never done anything like this in his life before and hardly knew why he was doing it now.
One of the most terrible noises in the world, a horse’s scream, broke from Hwin’s lips. Aravis was stooping low over Hwin’s neck and seemed to be trying to draw her sword. And now all three—Aravis, Hwin, and the lion—were almost on top of Shasta. Before they reached him, the lion rose on its hind legs, larger than you would have believed a lion could be, and jabbed at Aravis with its right paw. Shasta could see all the terrible claws extended. Aravis screamed and reeled in the saddle. The lion was tearing her shoulders. Shasta, half mad with horror, managed to lurch toward the brute. He had no weapon, not even a stick or a stone. He shouted out, idiotically, at the lion as one would at a dog. “Go home! Go home!” For a fraction of a second he was staring right into its wide-opened, raging mouth. Then, to his utter astonishment, the lion, still on its hind legs, checked itself suddenly, turned head over heels, picked itself up, and rushed away.
Shasta did not for a moment suppose it had gone for good. He turned and raced for the gate in the green wall which, now for the first time, he remembered seeing. Hwin, stumbling and nearly fainting, was just entering the gate: Aravis still kept her seat but her back was covered with blood.
“Come in, my daughter, come in,” the robed and bearded man was saying, and then, “Come in, my son,” as Shasta panted up to him. He heard the gate closed behind him; and the bearded stranger was already helping Aravis off her horse.
They were in a wide and perfectly circular enclosure, protected by a high wall of green turf. A pool of perfectly still water, so full that the water was almost exactly level with the ground, lay before him. At one end of the pool, completely overshadowing it with its branches, there grew the hugest and most beautiful tree that Shasta had ever seen. Beyond the pool was a little low house of stone roofed with deep and ancient thatch. There was a sound of bleating and over at the far side of the enclosure there were some goats. The level ground was completely covered with the finest grass.
“Are—are—are you,” panted Shasta. “Are you King Lune of Archenland?”
The old man shook his head. “No,” he replied in a quiet voice, “I am the Hermit of the Southern March. And now, my son, waste no time on questions, but obey. This damsel is wounded. Your horses are spent. Rabadash is at this moment finding a ford over the Winding Arrow. If you run now, without a moment’s rest, you will still be in time to warn King Lune.” Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one. But all he said out loud was: “Where is the King?”
The Hermit turned and pointed with his staff. “Look,” he said. “There is another gate, right opposite to the one you entered by. Open it and go straight ahead: always straight ahead, over level or steep, over smooth or rough, over dry or wet. I know by my art that you will find King Lune straight ahead. But run, run: always run.” Shasta nodded his head, ran to the northern gate and disappeared beyond it. Then the Hermit took Aravis, whom he had all this time been supporting with his left arm, and half led, half carried her into the house. After a long time he came out again.
“Now, cousins,” he said to the Horses. “It is your turn.”
Without waiting for an answer—and indeed they were too exhausted to speak—he took the bridles and saddles off both of them. Then he rubbed them both down, so well that a groom in a King’s stable could not have done it better.
“There, cousins,” he said, “dismiss it all from your minds and be comforted. Here is water and there is grass. You shall have a hot mash when I have milked my other cousins, the goats.”
“Sir,” said Hwin, finding her voice at last, “will the Tarkheena live? Has the lion killed her?”
“I who know many present things by my art,” replied the Hermit with a smile, “have yet little knowledge of things future. Therefore I do not know whether any man or woman or beast in the whole world will be alive when the sun sets tonight. But be of good hope. The damsel is likely to live as long as any her age.” When Aravis came to herself she found that she was lying on her face on a low bed of extraordinary softness in a cool, bare room with walls of undressed stone. She couldn’t understand why she had been laid on her face; but when she tried to turn and felt the hot, burning pains all over her back, she remembered, and realized why. She couldn’t understand what delightfully springy stuff the bed was made of, because it was made of heather (which is the best bedding) and heather was a thing she had never seen or heard of.
The door opened and the Hermit entered, carrying a large wooden bowl in his hand. After carefully setting this down, he came to the bedside, and asked:
“How do you find yourself, my daughter?”
“My back is very sore, father,” said Aravis, “but there is nothing else wrong with me.”
He knelt beside her, laid his hand on her forehead, and felt her pulse.
“There is no fever,” he said. “You will do well. Indeed there is no reason why you should not get up tomorrow. But now, drink this.”
He fetched the wooden bowl and held it to her lips. Aravis couldn’t help making a face when she tasted it, for goats’ milk is rather a shock when you are not used to it. But she was very thirsty and managed to drink it all and felt better when she had finished.
“Now, my daughter, you may sleep when you wish,” said the Hermit. “For your wounds are washed and dressed and though they smart they are no more serious than if they had been the cuts of a whip. It must have been a very strange lion; for instead of catching you out of the saddle and getting his teeth into you, he has only drawn his claws across your back. Ten scratches: sore, but not deep or dangerous.” “I say!” said Aravis. “I have had luck.”
“Daughter,” said the Hermit, “I have now lived a hundred and nine winters in this world and have never yet met any such thing as Luck. There is something about all this that I do not understand: but if ever we need to know it, you may be sure that we shall.” “And what about Rabadash and his two hundred horse?” asked Aravis.
“They will not pass this way, I think,” said the Hermit. “They must have found a ford by now well to the east of us. From there they will try to ride straight to Anvard.”
“Poor Shasta!” said Aravis. “Has he far to go? Will he get there first?”
“There is good hope of it,” said the old man.
Aravis lay down again (on her side this time) and said, “Have I been asleep for a long time? It seems to be getting dark.”
The Hermit was looking out of the only window, which faced north. “This is not the darkness of night,” he said presently. “The clouds are falling down from Stormness Head. Our foul weather always comes from there in these parts. There will be thick fog tonight.” Next day, except for her sore back, Aravis felt so well that after breakfast (which was porridge and cream) the Hermit said she could get up. And of course she at once went out to speak to the Horses. The weather had changed and the whole of that green enclosure was filled, like a great green cup, with sunlight. It was a very peaceful place, lonely and quiet.
Hwin at once trotted across to Aravis and gave her a horse-kiss.
“But where’s Bree?” said Aravis when each had asked after the others health and sleep.
“Over there,” said Hwin, pointing with her nose to the far side of the circle. “And I wish you’d come and talk to him. There’s something wrong, I can’t get a word out of him.”
They strolled across and found Bree lying with his face toward the wall, and though he must have heard them coming, he never turned his head or spoke a word.
“Good morning, Bree,” said Aravis. “How are you this morning?”
Bree muttered something that no one could hear.
“The Hermit says that Shasta probably got to King Lune in time,” continued Aravis, “so it looks as if all our troubles are over. Narnia, at last, Bree!”
“I shall never see Narnia,” said Bree in a low voice.
“Aren’t you well, Bree dear?” said Aravis.
Bree turned round at last, his face mournful as only a horse’s can be.
“I shall go back to Calormen,” he said.
“What?” said Aravis. “Back to slavery!”
“Yes,” said Bree. “Slavery is all I’m fit for. How can I ever show my face among the free Horses of Narnia?—I who left a mare and a girl and a boy to be eaten by lions while I galloped all I could to save my own wretched skin!” “We all ran as hard as we could,” said Hwin.
“Shasta didn’t!” snorted Bree. “At least he ran in the right direction: ran back. And that is what shames me most of all. I, who called myself a war horse and boasted of a hundred fights, to be beaten by a little human boy—a child, a mere foal, who had never held a sword nor had any good nurture or example in his life!” “I know,” said Aravis. “I felt just the same. Shasta was marvelous. I’m just as bad as you, Bree. I’ve been snubbing him and looking down on him ever since you met us and now he turns out to be the best of us all. But I think it would be better to stay and say we’re sorry than to go back to Calormen.” “It’s all very well for you,” said Bree. “You haven’t disgraced yourself. But I’ve lost everything.”
“My good Horse,” said the Hermit, who had approached them unnoticed because his bare feet made so little noise on that sweet, dewy grass. “My good Horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit. No, no, cousin. Don’t put back your ears and shake your mane at me. If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses. Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another. And now, if you and my other four-footed cousin will come round to the kitchen door we’ll see about the other half of that mash.” ELEVEN
THE UNWELCOME FELLOW TRAVELER
WHEN SHASTA WENT THROUGH THE gate he found a slope of grass and a little heather running up before him to some trees. He had nothing to think about now and no plans to make: he had only to run, and that was quite enough. His limbs were shaking, a terrible stitch was beginning in his side, and the sweat that kept dropping into his eyes blinded them and made them smart. He was unsteady on his feet too, and more than once he nearly turned his ankle on a loose stone.
The trees were thicker now than they had yet been and in the more open spaces there was bracken. The sun had gone in without making it any cooler. It had become one of those hot, gray days when there seem to be twice as many flies as usual. Shasta’s face was covered with them; he didn’t even try to shake them off—he had too much else to do.
Suddenly he heard a horn—not a great throbbing horn like the horns of Tashbaan but a merry call, Ti-ro-to-to-ho! Next moment he came out into a wide glade and found himself in a crowd of people.
At least, it looked a crowd to him. In reality there were about fifteen or twenty of them, all gentlemen in green hunting-dress, with their horses; some in the saddle and some standing by their horses’ heads. In the center someone was holding the stirrup for a man to mount. And the man he was holding it for was the jolliest, fat, apple-cheeked, twinkling-eyed King you could imagine.
As soon as Shasta came in sight this King forgot all about mounting his horse. He spread out his arms to Shasta, his face lit up, and he cried out in a great, deep voice that seemed to come from the bottom of his chest:
“Corin! My son! And on foot, and in rags! What—”
“No,” panted Shasta, shaking his head. “Not Prince Corin. I—I—know I’m like him … saw his Highness in Tashbaan … sent his greetings.”
The King was staring at Shasta with an extraordinary expression on his face.
“Are you K-King Lune?” gasped Shasta. And then, without waiting for an answer, “Lord King—fly—Anvard—shut the gates—enemies upon you—Rabadash and two hundred horse.”
“Have you assurance of this, boy?” asked one of the other gentlemen.
“My own eyes,” said Shasta. “I’ve seen them. Raced them all the way from Tashbaan.”
“On foot?” said the gentleman, raising his eyebrows a little.
“Horses—with the Hermit,” said Shasta.
“Question him no more, Darrin,” said King Lune. “I see truth in his face. We must ride for it, gentlemen. A spare horse there, for the boy. You can ride fast, friend?”
For answer Shasta put his foot in the stirrup of the horse which had been led toward him and a moment later he was in the saddle. He had done it a hundred times with Bree in the last few weeks, and his mounting was very different now from what it had been on that first night when Bree had said that he climbed up a horse as if he were climbing a haystack.
He was pleased to hear the Lord Darrin say to the King, “The boy has a true horseman’s seat, Sire. I’ll warrant there’s noble blood in him.”
“His blood, aye, there’s the point,” said the King. And he stared hard at Shasta again with that curious expression, almost a hungry expression, in his steady gray eyes.
But by now the whole party was moving off at a brisk canter. Shasta’s seat was excellent but he was sadly puzzled what to do with his reins, for he had never touched the reins while he was on Bree’s back. But he looked very carefully out of the corners of his eyes to see what the others were doing (as some of us have done at parties when we weren’t quite sure which knife or fork we were meant to use) and tried to get his fingers right. But he didn’t dare to try really directing the horse; he trusted it would follow the rest. The horse was of course an ordinary horse, not a Talking Horse; but it had quite wits enough to realize that the strange boy on its back had no whip and no spurs and was not really master of the situation. That was why Shasta soon found himself at the tail end of the procession.
Even so, he was going pretty fast. There were no flies now and the air in his face was delicious. He had got his breath back too. And his errand had succeeded. For the first time since the arrival at Tashbaan (how long ago it seemed!) he was beginning to enjoy himself.
He looked up to see how much nearer the mountain tops had come. To his disappointment he could not see them at all: only a vague grayness, rolling down toward them. He had never been in mountain country before and was surprised. “It’s a cloud,” he said to himself, “a cloud coming down. I see. Up here in the hills one is really in the sky. I shall see what the inside of a cloud is like. What fun! I’ve often wondered.” Far away on his left and a little behind him, the sun was getting ready to set.
They had come to a rough kind of road by now and were making very good speed. But Shasta’s horse was still the last of the lot. Once or twice when the road made a bend (there was now continuous forest on each side of it) he lost sight of the others for a second or two.
Then they plunged into the fog, or else the fog rolled over them. The world became gray. Shasta had not realized how cold and wet the inside of a cloud would be; nor how dark. The gray turned to black with alarming speed.
Someone at the head of the column winded the horn every now and then, and each time the sound came from a little farther off. He couldn’t see any of the others now, but of course he’d be able to as soon as he got round the next bend. But when he rounded it he still couldn’t see them. In fact he could see nothing at all. His horse was walking now. “Get on, Horse, get on,” said Shasta. Then came the horn, very faint. Bree had always told him that he must keep his heels well turned out, and Shasta had got the idea that something very terrible would happen if he dug his heels into a horse’s sides. This seemed to him an occasion for trying it. “Look here, Horse,” he said, “if you don’t buck up, do you know what I’ll do? I’ll dig my heels into you. I really will.” The horse, however, took no notice of this threat. So Shasta settled himself firmly in the saddle, gripped with his knees, clenched his teeth, and punched both the horse’s sides with his heels as hard as he could.
The only result was that the horse broke into a kind of pretense of a trot for five or six paces and then subsided into a walk again. And now it was quite dark and they seemed to have given up blowing that horn. The only sound was a steady drip-drip from the branches of the trees.
“Well, I suppose even a walk will get us somewhere sometime,” said Shasta to himself. “I only hope I shan’t run into Rabadash and his people.”
He went on for what seemed like a long time, always at a walking pace. He began to hate that horse, and he was also beginning to feel very hungry.
Presently he came to a place where the road divided into two. He was just wondering which led to Anvard when he was startled by a noise from behind him. It was the noise of trotting horses. “Rabadash!” thought Shasta. He had no way of guessing which road Rabadash would take. “But if I take one,” said Shasta to himself, “he may take the other: and if I stay at the crossroads I’m sure to be caught.” He dismounted and led his horse as quickly as he could along the right-hand road.
The sound of the cavalry grew rapidly nearer and in a minute or two Shasta realized that they were at the crossroads. He held his breath, waiting to see which way they would take.
There came a low word of command “Halt!” then a moment of horsey noises—nostrils blowing, hoofs pawing, bits being champed, necks being patted. Then a voice spoke.
“Attend, all of you,” it said. “We are now within a furlong of the castle. Remember your orders. Once we are in Narnia, as we should be by sunrise, you are to kill as little as possible. On this venture you are to regard every drop of Narnian blood as more precious than a gallon of your own. On this venture, I say. The gods will send us a happier hour and then you must leave nothing alive between Cair Paravel and the Western Waste. But we are not yet in Narnia. Here in Archenland it is another thing. In the assault on this castle of King Lune’s, nothing matters but speed. Show your mettle. It must be mine within an hour. And if it is, I give it all to you. I reserve no booty for myself. Kill me every barbarian male within its walls, down to the child that was born yesterday, and everything else is yours to divide as you please—the women, the gold, the jewels, the weapons, and the wine. The man that I see hanging back when we come to the gates shall be burned alive. In the name of Tash the irresistible, the inexorable—forward!” With a great cloppitty-clop the column began to move, and Shasta breathed again. They had taken the other road.
Shasta thought they took a long time going past, for though he had been talking and thinking about “two hundred horse” all day, he had not realized how many they really were. But at last the sound died away and once more he was alone amid the drip-drip from the trees.
He now knew the way to Anvard but of course he could not now go there: that would only mean running into the arms of Rabadash’s troopers. “What on earth am I to do?” said Shasta to himself. But he remounted his horse and continued along the road he had chosen, in the faint hope of finding some cottage where he might ask for shelter and a meal. He had thought, of course, of going back to Aravis and Bree and Hwin at the hermitage, but he couldn’t because by now he had not the least idea of the direction.
“After all,” said Shasta, “this road is bound to get somewhere.”
But that all depends on what you mean by somewhere. The road kept on getting to somewhere in the sense that it got to more and more trees, all dark and dripping, and to colder and colder air. And strange, icy winds kept blowing the mist past him though they never blew it away. If he had been used to mountain country he would have realized that this meant he was now very high up—perhaps right at the top of the pass. But Shasta knew nothing about mountains.
“I do think,” said Shasta, “that I must be the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world. Everything goes right for everyone except me. Those Narnian lords and ladies got safe away from Tashbaan; I was left behind. Aravis and Bree and Hwin are all as snug as anything with that old Hermit: of course I was the one who was sent on. King Lune and his people must have got safely into the castle and shut the gates long before Rabadash arrived, but I get left out.” And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.
What put a stop to all this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries. He bit his lip in terror. But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.
The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it. But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him. That couldn’t be imagination! Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.
If the horse had been any good—or if he had known how to get any good out of the horse—he would have risked everything on a breakaway and a wild gallop. But he knew he couldn’t make that horse gallop. So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him. At last he could bear it no longer.
“Who are you?” he said, scarcely above a whisper.
“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.
“Are you—are you a giant?” asked Shasta.
“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”
“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not—not something dead, are you? Oh please—please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!” Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”
Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.
“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and—”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” “Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.
Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.
The mist was turning from black to gray and from gray to white. This must have begun to happen some time ago, but while he had been talking to the Thing he had not been noticing anything else. Now, the whiteness around him became a shining whiteness; his eyes began to blink. Somewhere ahead he could hear birds singing. He knew the night was over at last. He could see the mane and ears and head of his horse quite easily now. A golden light fell on them from the left. He thought it was the sun.
He turned and saw, pacing beside him, taller than the horse, a Lion. The horse did not seem to be afraid of it or else could not see it. It was from the Lion that the light came. No one ever saw anything more terrible or beautiful.
Luckily Shasta had lived all his life too far south in Calormen to have heard the tales that were whispered in Tashbaan about a dreadful Narnian demon that appeared in the form of a lion. And of course he knew none of the true stories about Aslan, the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-the-sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia. But after one glance at the Lion’s face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn’t say anything but then he didn’t want to say anything, and he knew he needn’t say anything.
The High King above all kings stooped toward him. Its mane, and some strange and solemn perfume that hung about the mane, was all round him. It touched his forehead with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met. Then instantly the pale brightness of the mist and the fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared. He was alone with the horse on a grassy hillside under a blue sky. And there were birds singing.
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