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‘We might not have to worry about being tempted to turn people into stone,’ said Josie. She held up the two halves of finely-made ivory wand that she had found in a drawer in the magician’s bedchamber. It had been a hidden drawer with a very cunningly hidden catch, and she felt very pleased that she had managed to find it. ‘Is this the one that turned you to stone, Tash?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Tash, looming up behind her in a comforting warm way. As she handed him the fragments, she could tell how nervous he was. ‘It could be,’ he said dubiously. ‘Or it could be another one. I did not get a very good look at it.’

‘Don’t worry, Tash,’ she said gently. ‘Nobody’s going to turn you back to stone.’

‘I know,’ said Tash.

How melancholy he sounds, Josie thought. She had become quite good at telling the moods of his strange unmusical voice. She supposed he must be thinking of the past, and all the horrid things that had happened to him. ‘I expect it is the one. If he could have turned me to stone and back again easily, I expect he would have, to save himself the trouble. This must have been important, to have been kept in such a well-hidden place, and we have not found any other wands.’

‘But we haven’t found the apples, either,’ Tash said. ‘So the most secret places of the magician are still secret. From us.’

Josie almost told him about the apples then, since he was so clearly ill at ease. But she paused too long thinking of what to say, and Tash turned away. ‘I am itching. I’m going to bathe.’

‘I wonder how it was broken,’ said Josie softly, putting the pieces of the wand back in the drawer.


Another improper habit Josie and Tash had gotten into was the habit of sitting at the side of each other’s baths and chatting. Josie had not complained the first time Tash had walked in on her bathing – after all, he was naked all the time, and did not seem to think anything of it – and it was another of those liberties which, once taken, cannot be easily taken back. So when Tash went to the great tiled pool that was heated by some artifice of the ifrits to soften his itchy thalarka skin, Josie followed, and sat on the edge of it dabbling her feet.

‘Are you thinking about Nera?’ she asked softly, after they had sat their silently together for a few minutes.

‘No. Yes. I don’t know,’ said Tash. There were splashings as he immersed himself further.

When Josie thought of it, it seemed that Tash had been out of sorts for a few days. Some sadness had gotten hold of him. God knew their future was uncertain enough that it was easy to get stuck in gloomy thoughts. Or maybe he was getting ill. He had been indoors a lot since winter began, with the air too dry from the fire making his skin itch, and there might well be any number of things in this world that disagreed with him.

‘Do you feel well?’ she asked him.

He sat up with a great sloshing of water. ‘I think so.’

Josie decided to change the subject. ‘It was good to get out yesterday. That dog was peculiar though, wasn’t it? If I didn’t know better, I would almost believe it was a talking dog.’

‘It didn’t talk,’ Tash observed.

‘Yes,’ said Josie, splashing a little water at Tash with her foot. ‘I know that. But it didn’t behave at all like the dogs usually do. It seemed like it wanted to tell us something. I thought for a moment it was going to lick my hand. It was close enough that I could feel its breath.’

They had gone outside the castle that day for the first time in a few weeks. It had been a day that was warm enough to give them hope that winter was turning to spring, and the stones along the river were entirely free of snow, while the rest of the forest had a slushy dishevelled appearance. Even though Tash had not caught a pig, and there had been little in the way of nuts to gather, they had been glad to get outside for a time. Then there had been the dog.

‘I just had the peculiar feeling it was trying to tell me something, but it didn’t know how,’ said Josie. ‘Maybe it isn’t from around here, and came into the valley from somewhere else.’

‘It looked like the other dogs,’ said Tash.

Josie supposed Tash was right, even as she splashed him again. Except for acting in such a strange way it had been exactly like all the other wild dogs in the valley, the ones that Zardeenah had said were descended from the men of Telmar who had been transformed by Aslan.

‘Do you think maybe it can think, like a regular talking animal, and is trapped without being able to talk? That would be terrible.’ She shuddered a little at the thought. ‘Maybe next time it will be there again, and we could figure out what it wants.’

Tash was vaguely drifting off again, Josie could tell, not paying any attention to what she was saying. It was probably just as well, she thought, since the dog was not turning out to be a cheering thing to talk about either.


He did not say anything in return, so she splashed him once again. This time, he responded by grabbing her ankle and pulling her irresistibly into the water.

‘Hey!’ she said, spluttering. ‘Why did you that?’ Beneath her feet she could feel Tash’s powerful legs, and her blouse floated up around her armpits.

‘I’m sorry, Josie’ said Tash meekly. ‘I don’t know.’

‘I was just trying to distract you,’ said Josie. ‘You seemed sad.’

‘I’m better now,’ promised Tash, unconvincingly. Josie began to clamber out of the bath.

‘Why don’t you bathe with me?’ asked Tash. ‘There is plenty of room.’

‘It wouldn’t be right,’ said Josie, sitting herself back on the edge.

‘Why?’ asked Tash.

‘Because, you are a boy, and I am a girl.’ She felt her cheeks warming.

‘It is strange for me to think of you as a girl, because you do not speak women’s language,’ said Tash. ‘You are simply Josie. You are not like the girls of the thalarka.’

‘You are not like the boys of my people, either,’ said Josie, truthfully.

‘Do you wonder,’ said Tash after a moment, in what seemed to Josie a plaintive way. ‘That maybe the speaking magic has got it wrong? All we know is that the word I say as ‘girl’ in my language does not fit me, but fits you, but maybe it is the other way around. Maybe we are both the same kind, or two of four kinds that are completely different, and the magic language has gotten confused.’

‘That-‘ said Josie, and paused. She did not know for sure that Tash had any of the particular attributes that she knew men to have. He did not seem to have any of the attributes that women had. Maybe he was right, and they were just two completely different sorts of creature, and it was ridiculous for her to feel the way she had been feeling. But short of asking Tash to describe himself, which she could not bring herself to do, she had no way of knowing. She pulled her knees up to her chest, since it was cold sitting around in soaking wet clothes. ‘Maybe you are right.’

‘I do not know, but it could be,’ said Tash. ‘You look cold. You should come in the water.’

Jose laughed. ‘My dunking seems to have cheered you up, anyways. No, I will go and get dry, and see about making tea.’

‘Yes, Josie,’ said Tash.


Tash watched Josie go, casting long distorted Josie shadows on the tiled floor. He wanted to be with her all the time, to see her and smell her and touch her, but he did not think it wise to tell her this. He hoped his friend was not displeased with him. He had not meant to be bothersome, and had told the truth when he said he did not know why he had been out of sorts. Things just seemed more irksome than they usually were. He found it hard to sit still, and the castle seemed close and stuffy: the trip outside the day before should have made this better, but it had only made it seem more like a cage when they were back in. If he had been you or me he would have thought that all the horrible things that had been done in the castle of Telmar, and all the foul magics, had seeped into the stone of the place and poisoned its sprit, and he would have been right: but Tash did not think this. For every acre of the world of the thalarka, where he had come from, had been filled with cruelty and evil magic for thousands of years.

‘Don’t be foolish, Tash,’ he told himself. ‘This is the best place you have ever been in, and there is no reason for it to change, so you should be happy.’

But there were other people on this world, he recalled, and this castle was a splendid thing to have. They needed to be ready to defend this place if anyone came to take it from them. To take it from Josie, Mistress of Telmar. He would feel better if they had found the wand for turning people into stone. Or something else that was powerful and magic. He did not like the dog that he had pretended not to be interested in. It was something new, coming when they had everything sorted out, and might be the first of other new things that would upset everything. If he saw the dog when Josie wasn’t looking, he would chase it away, he promised himself.

‘Maybe it is more foolish not to worry about things changing,’ Tash said to himself, letting himself sink back into the water, resolved to hold on to what he had with all that was in his power.


That night Tash held Josie close, and played with her hair with one hand, and rubbed her arm with another hand, sometimes up to the shoulder, and rubbed her leg with yet another hand, sometimes up to the top of her thigh. His hands did not do these things as if he were making love to her, but only every now and again, because he wanted to feel the Josieness of her and keep her close to him. But Josie felt herself warming all over, and swell in hidden places that she could not name, and she let herself be patted by Tash’s almost-human thalarka hands until she started to tremble, and then she suddenly twisted out of Tash’s embrace.

‘This won’t do, Tash,’ she said.

‘What?’ said Tash, not so very puzzled.

‘We should not be doing this.’

‘Because you are a girl and I am a boy?’ said Tash.

‘I don’t know if it would matter what we were,’ Josie sat up and smoothed out her nightdress. ‘We should not be doing this sort of thing at all, unless we were betrothed.’

‘Could we be that?’ asked Tash, hopefully.

‘No,’ said Josie. ‘You would have to be human, and I would have to be a good deal older.’

‘Oh,’ said Tash. This did not seem fair; but then, very little in the universe ever had.

‘I ought to sleep at a distance from you. There are enough blankets to keep us warm in this place.’

‘I will help you,’ said Tash, submitting to his fate. He got up uncomplainingly and began to help Josie set up another bed of blankets on the other side of the fireplace.

‘I will do what you say,’ said Tash, when a cosy bed of blankets had been made for Josie at the other side of the room. ‘But it is only because we are not that thing, and not because you wish me to go?’

‘Of course I don’t wish you to go,’ said Josie. ‘You are my true friend.’

‘Thank you,’ said Tash. ‘You are my true friend also.’

When they had said goodnight to each other again Tash settled back down, feeling reassured by Josie’s promise. He would go out the next day and try hunting again, he told himself, and bring back a pig for Josie, and they have as much roast pork as they could eat. He felt the warmth that Josie had left in the blankets and drew comfort from the animal smell of her, the smell that had once been so strange and was now so familiar.

Josie lay uneasily in her still cool new bed, feeling bad for pushing Tash away. The way he had accepted his rejection made her feel worse. She did not want to lord over him as Mistress of Telmar, but be his friend and companion on whatever strange adventures they were to have in this world.


‘Yes, Josie?’

‘There is something I have to tell you.’ She sat up again.

‘The apples – I know where they are,’ she said. ‘They are in the hidden chamber, preserved by the same magic that preserves the other things there. I saw them when we went down there.’

‘Oh,’ said Tash.

‘I hope you will forgive me, dear Tash. I was worried about telling, because, well, I suppose if I tell the truth I did not yet trust you entirely. But now I trust you entirely.’ And as she said these words she knew they were true.

‘It is good,’ said Tash. ‘The more secrets of this place we know, the stronger we will be.’

‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,’ said Josie.

‘It was right of you not to tell me until you were sure,’ said Tash.

‘Thank you, dear Tash,’ said Josie. She felt uncomfortably that Tash was just accepting whatever she did because she was Josie, Mistress of Telmar. And she still felt just as breathless and excited as she had when she had wriggled out of Tash’s arms. She lay as still as she could and tried to think of calming things that were not warm and strong and scented of jasmine.


‘Yes, Tash?’

‘I am glad that we will be together.’

‘Me too,’ said Josie.

‘I would not like ever to be apart from you.’

‘I would not like ever to be apart from you, either,’ said Josie, turning over.

I suppose this means that Tash and I are betrothed after a fashion, she thought, when she considered what they had just said to one another. It was a very awkward thought, but not an entirely unpleasant one. Holding it in her mind and considering it from different directions she eventually drifted off to sleep.