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On the afternoon of the fifth day they were camped by the river, Tash went off looking for a better place to fish. ‘There are more good fish in this river,’ he told Josie. ‘I can tell. But they have learned that I am here, and there is so much water for them to hide in.’

‘Good luck, Tash,’ she called after him, and settled down to listen dozily to the sounds of the river.

The kinds of sounds a river makes, as I am sure you know, are the kinds of sounds that make you more conscious of the fact that your bladder is full, and after she had lain resting awhile this outweighed Josie’s desire to keep laying there doing nothing. ‘Bother,’ she said, and got up and walked a little ways away from the stream. Once Josie was further from the stream she could other sounds. There was the crunching of undergrowth underfoot, branches being pulled back and let go: the sounds of someone approaching. Could Tash be back already? No, he had gone upriver, and the sounds were very clearly coming from downriver.

Josie hastily returned to the camp. There was no way to hide their things before whoever it was came this way- before they came this way, for there were two separate pairs of feet. They sounded to Josie much more like men than beasts. And they were very close, the sounds they had made as they approached muted by the swollen river.

‘Hail!’ called a voice. ‘Is someone there?’ It was the first voice of a man Josie had heard since the death of Yustus. It had the gruff, confident tone of the kind of man who lives his life out of doors doing things that do not need a lot of artful thinking or book-learning, but a great willingness to take risks and an easy sort of halfway-decent competence in all manner of practical things. It was the kind of voice she had heard often when she was growing up, and it instantly made her feel smaller again, more like the girl Josephine Furness and less like Josie, Mistress of Telmar.

‘Hail!’ called Josie back, trying to sound strong and confident.

‘Why, it’s a maiden!’ the voice said with some surprise, drawing nearer. There was some broad male laughter. ‘And a northern lass, if my eyes do not deceive me. What possessed you to journey in these wilds, northern lass?’

The two men had walked up swiftly since Josie had admitted her presence, and now stood with her at the edge of the patch of sandy ground where she had made camp. She could smell the stale breath of men who eat a great deal of meat and are not particular about cleaning their teeth, and their sweat, and an oil rather like the oil they had used back home for oiling saddles.

‘I am travelling through,’ said Josie. ‘My companions- companion and I.’

She felt it would not be a good idea to volunteer too much about who she was and where she was going.

‘Why, that is the very thing we and our company are doing,’ said the man who had spoken. He laughed again. ‘Where are you bound? It might be we could travel together.’

‘I would rather not say,’ said Josie.

‘Is something wrong with your eyes?’ asked the second man. He had a more cunning, thoughtful sort of voice that reminded Josie uncomfortably of the magician Yustus.

‘I am blind,’ said Josie.

‘That is a great pity, lass,’ said the first man. ‘That means you cannot see the handsome face of Arishan here. He is accounted a great beauty back at home.’

‘Tell us of your companion,’ said Arishan. ’Is she a northern maiden, like yourself?’

‘No,’ said Josie. ‘He is a man. A big, strong man.’

‘There is just one bed made here,’ pointed out the man named Arishan in his unpleasant oily voice.

‘My companion is my husband,’ said Josie.

‘A fortunate man he must be, to have such a courteous and well-formed wife,’ said the first man.

‘I cannot see any man’s clothing among your things here,’ said Arishan. ‘I hope your husband has not deserted you.’

‘No, he will be back very soon,’ said Josie, starting to feel rattled.

‘Well, we can wait for him, then,’ said Arishan. ‘It will be good to make his acquaintance. No doubt he will see we mean no harm, and feel free to tell us where you are bound.’ He sat down heavily on the bed of blankets that Josie had arranged.

‘Sit down a while, lass, and be hospitable,’ said the first man. ‘There is no need for us to stand here as if we were two watchmen questioning a thief.’

With great reluctance Josie sat down on the opposite side of the ashy firepit from Arishan. The first man plunked himself down next to her.

‘Well,’ said Arishan. ‘We can think of something to do to pass the time until your husband returns.’ Josie could hear him getting something that clattered out of his pockets; a cup and dice, from the sound of it. ‘Do you like games?’

‘No,’ said Josie, shaking her head.

‘I have never seen a girl as white as you, lass,’ said the first man. ‘Are you a Narnian?’

‘No,’ said Josie.

‘Just as well,’ said the man. ‘I have heard it said that Narnian girls look fair enough in most of their parts, but are as dark and hairy as an ape in their nethers.’ He laughed again, and Josie furrowed her brows in anger. ‘I expect your husband could tell us the truth of that, eh, lass?’ He slapped a hand like a slab of salt pork down on Josie’s thigh in an insolent and inappropriate way.

‘You should go,’ said Josie, angrily trying to get to her feet, but the man grabbed her roughly and would not let her.

‘Or we could check for ourselves,’ he said, clutching Josie around the middle and chuckling as she kicked futilely. The smell of stale sweat on him was vile.

‘Let me go!’ said Josie, trying to command like the Mistress of Telmar, but sounding shrill and panicked even to herself.

‘Rozek, stop scaring the girl with your rough talk,’ called Arishan. ‘Put her down.’

‘She’s wriggling too much,’ said Rozek.

‘Stop it,’ said the second man in a voice edged with steel. Grumbling, Rozek tossed her to the ground. Josie gathered herself together and sat with her arms and legs curled up protectively, waiting for a chance to make her escape.

‘We have to do this properly,’ said Arishan, in a voice that made Josie’s skin crawl. ‘We cast lots to see who gets first go at the girl. Odd or evens?’

‘Evens,’ growled Rozek. ‘Best out of three.’

Josie heard the cup rattling, and the dice turned out. ‘Six and three,’ said Arishan.

Was that the sound of someone approaching? It was hard to hear noises in the wood over the sounds of the river. Josie strained her ears.

The cup rattled again. ‘Six and one- look upon them and despair,’ said Arishan, with a horrible glee.

‘Bugger,’ said Rozek.

Yes, someone was definitely coming. Josie leapt to hear feet while the brigands were distracted by their dice and charged off towards the noise. ‘Tash!’ she called out. ‘Tash!’

She slipped on an uneven patch of ground and tumbled, scrambled to her feet and ran forward, and then she was suddenly almost trampled by a pony ridden by someone who was not Tash. The pony was as alarmed at nearly trampling her as she was at nearly being trampled. The rider did something vicious to it and it stood still, breathing heavily.

‘Rozek? What’s this?’ called the angry voice of the rider. It was a higher pitch than the voices of Rozek or Arishan, but sounded no less masculine and rough.

‘Found this lass,’ said Rozek, who had given chase and was now catching up. He grabbed hold of Josie’s arm. ‘Says she’s out here with her husband, but won’t say where they’re going.’

‘So you thought you’d chase her all over the wilderness? Orders are to bring any strangers straight to the commander. You know that. ’

‘We were waiting for the fellow to turn up,’ said Arishan, walking up more slowly and somehow sounding reasonable even to Josie’s ears.

‘Yes, and what do you think he’ll do if he comes back to find two louts like you pawing his woman? Whip out his sword first and ask questions later, and he ends up dead and we don’t learn a damned thing from him. Or, more likely, he kills you two and gets clean away, when we’d have him at twelve to one if he had to track you back to the camp. Are you completely stupid? Settle down, you.’ He said this last to Josie, who was struggling to wrench her arm free from Rozek’s grip.

‘I’m fortunate you showed up to deal with things properly, then,’ said Arishan drily. ‘This man may not exist at all. There are only woman’s clothes here.’

‘Shut up,’ said the rider. ‘Get up behind me, lass. Rozek, put her up behind.’

‘She’s blind, Karasp,’ said Rozek, lifting up the struggling Josie like a sack of oats and putting her on the back of the pony.

The rider made a contemptuous noise at the other brigands. ‘Hold on tight,’ he told Josie.

‘Please, can’t you just leave me here?’ she asked, reluctantly putting her arms around the man’s chest. ‘My husband-‘

‘Sorry, lass,’ said Karasp. ‘Orders are to bring any strangers to talk to the commander. Orders these fools seem to have forgotten. Hold on. If you fall off you’ll bash your head in, like as not.’

‘I have ridden before,’ said Josie. Through her fear of what might happen with these coarse men, she felt a pang of melancholy. She had used to ride double with Gerry almost every day.

The pony took off through the woods at a brisk trot for a good twenty minutes, with enough twistings and turnings that Josie was not at all sure which direction they were from the river. Josie could hear the crackling of a fire, and the sound of a good many horses and men – the dozen the rider had mentioned seemed to be about the right number of each. Her arrival had caused quite a stir, from the voices she could hear as she climbed down from the back of the pony. It was obviously completely unexpected to find a girl in the wilderness, with her pale skin adding an additional thrill of exotic detail. Without ado, Karasp hustled her into what seemed to be a large tent. The hubbub outside suddenly dimmed, and she could smell perfume and roast poultry, rather than just wood-smoke and unwashed man and beast.

‘An interesting find, Karasp,’ said a voice. It was probably the least unpleasant voice Josie had heard yet from a man in this new world, a strong resonant voice she could imagine reading from the Bible on Sunday mornings. It sounded friendly enough on the surface, but Josie could tell there was something unyielding and implacable beneath. It was, in a way, an even more frightening voice than Arishan’s. ‘Who is this young lady?’

‘Arishan found her by the river,’ said Karasp. ‘About half a league upstream. Apparently she’s blind. She says she’s travelling with her husband, but hasn’t said where they’re bound. Arishan said there were only woman’s clothes where she was camped.’

‘I see,’ said the commander. Josie could hear him stepping closer to her, and knew she was being scrutinised.

‘Young lady, my name is Ormuz, and my companions and I are bound on a voyage of discovery,’ he said in a friendly tone. ‘To make a long story short, word has come to us in a distant land that the mage of Telmar is dead and his slaves flown, so the treasures of Telmar lie open to be taken by anyone. Such a chance comes only once in a lifetime, if that.’ Ormuz paused, and added in the same friendly voice, as if he was an old friend of the family being introduced to Josie in her mother’s parlour. ‘You see, I am quite open about who I am, and what my business is. If you could do me the honour of replying in kind, in as much as you are able, it would be a fair and courteous act.’

‘I,’ said Josie. ‘I am not able to tell you my business.’

‘That’s too bad,’ said Commander Ormuz. ‘Karasp, fetch a seat for our guest, and something for her to eat. I will get her something to drink myself.’

Karasp found something like a camp-stool for Josie and she reluctantly sat down on it.

‘If you are not free to tell me your business, perhaps you would be good enough to tell me your name?’ Josie could hear the commander getting bottles and cups from a chest, pouring out two drinks.

‘My name is Miss Furness,’ said Josie.

‘Like furnace?’ said the commander. ‘It is a curious name, but not an ill-favoured one. I know of no place in the world where it would be customary to name such a fair lady after such an instrument of smoke and fire, but the world is large. Here.’ He pressed into Josie’s hand a largish tumbler of something that smelled rather like sherry. ‘You must have had a hard time of it. Drink.’

Josie warily took a sip and found that it almost immediately warmed her right through.

‘It must be very difficult travelling in these lands without being able to see,’ said the commander. ‘Your husband must be very brave and resourceful, to bring you on such a journey. Set it down there Karasp, yes.’ The brigand Karasp set a plate with some kind of roast bird on it down next to Josie.

‘He is,’ said Josie.

‘You are a fortunate woman,’ said Ormuz. ‘Though to look at you, you are hardly more than a child. Have you been married long?’

‘A few months,’ said Josie.

‘Arranged, or a love match?’

‘Love,’ said Josie.

‘And your husband takes you away into the very deepest wilderness? I am beginning to sense an elopement.’ The brigand Ormuz chuckled softly and lowered his voice, as if he was letting Josie into a secret. ‘Did your father take unkindly to your attachment to this man? You so young, and he such a reckless adventurer?’

‘No,’ said Josie. ‘It was not like that.’ The sherry – or whatever it was- made her feel less like a poor captive, and more like the bold Josie, Mistress of Telmar, who she wanted to be. Imprudently, she took another sip.

‘Still, yours must be a fine story,’ said Ormuz. ‘I am looking forward to your husband’s return, so I can see for myself who has won your heart and led you into such dangerous wilds so far from your family and home.’

Josie let this pass. She did not want to be asked any more difficult questions about Tash, and was feeling bold, so she changed the subject. ‘Your men were horrible- that Arishan, and Rozek. They were going to – to rape me. They were rolling dice for me.’

‘I am sorry, Miss Furness,’ said Ormuz, sounding stern and concerned. ‘Rest assured, they will be punished. Not to excuse them in any way, but I am afraid I had to cast my net rather wide in order to put this expedition together, and a few of my men are unsuited for civilised company. When your husband arrives, I will have them flogged in his presence.’

‘Good,’ said Josie. She took another drink of the almost-sherry, and found to her surprise that the tumbler was empty.

‘You should let me go,’ she said. ‘Back to my camp. Tash- my husband- will be unhappy if he does not find me there.’

‘I am sorry, Miss Furness,’ said Ormuz. ‘In light of what you have told me about the scoundrels in my employ, I am inclined to keep you here where they cannot cause you any more trouble. I hope you do not mind. May I refill your cup?’

Josie did not actually say she did not want her cup refilled, so in a moment she found that it had been, and she could not help taking another mouthful. She was feeling quite warm through now, and very brave and queenly.

‘He will not be pleased to find me here,’ she said. ‘It would be better for you if you brought me back.’

‘I am sure he will be displeased,’ said the commander apologetically. ‘But I will explain everything to him, and I am sure he will understand.’

‘Oh,’ said Josie, taking another drink. She supposed what the commander was saying made a kind of sense.

‘I am glad you like the wine,’ said Ormuz. ‘I had it from a caravan near Teebeth. I have carried it a very long way, hoping for an appropriate guest to serve it to.’

‘Thank you,’ said Josie. ‘It is rather sweet.’ She tasted the inside of her mouth. There was some subtle flavour in the wine that she recognised, but could not place exactly, a bitter but not entirely unpleasant undertone.

‘Tell me,’ said commander Ormuz suddenly, in a sharper voice. ‘What do you know of Telmar?’

‘Nothing,’ said Josie. ‘Well, nothing besides that there was an evil magician there who commanded ifrits, who was the last of the men of Telmar who had been turned into beasts by Aslan long ago.’

‘That is the story that the wise tell in my country, as well, Miss Furness,’ said Ormuz. ‘Where did you hear this tale?’

‘A gazelle told me,’ said Josie.

‘A gazelle!’ Ormuz laughed. ‘Tell me, Miss Furness- would you be surprised to hear that the place Telmar lies no great distance from here?’

‘No,’ said Josie. ‘I mean, yes.’ She was starting to feel a little lightheaded.

‘No, indeed,’ said Ormuz. ‘Perhaps a week’s journey north of here. Perhaps even less. According to the tales I have heard, we are almost there. We go to seek its treasures. Does your husband, or whoever you are travelling with, perhaps go to seek the same thing?’

‘No,’ said Josie. She set her face in a way that was meant to look proud and defiant. She felt suddenly as if the tent was spinning around her.

‘I feel dizzy,’ said Josie. She set down her tumbler, which was empty again.

‘Perhaps you drank the wine too quickly,’ suggested Ormuz. ‘If you are not used to it, it is easy to do. Just answer my question, and then you can lie down and rest until your head clears. Are you going to Telmar?’

‘No,’ said Josie.

‘Are you certain?’ said the commander. His voice was close now, smooth and unyielding and implacable and not friendly at all.

‘I won’t let you have it,’ snapped Josie unreasonably. Her voice sounded blurry and odd to herself, so she repeated her words. ‘I won’t let you have it.’

‘I am in the habit of having whatever I want,’ said Ormuz, with a chilling calmness. ‘I should not be so confident if I were you.’

‘It is mine,’ said Josie angrily. ‘I am Mistress of Telmar. We defeated the magician, and we can defeat you.’ She went to stand, and found it more of a struggle to get up than she expected.

‘You are mysterious, that is certain,’ said Ormuz. He took her arm and dragged her to her feet. ‘I do not suppose there is one part of truth in twenty of what you have told me. And there is some power to you, I can see that. But enough to hold Telmar against my company? I think not.’

Ormuz was leading her deeper into the tent. She felt something soft beneath her feet, and struggled to keep her balance. ‘Let me go,’ she said angrily, jerking her arm away from him. He let her go, but she found she could not stand alone, and slumped to her knees on what seemed to be a pile of blankets.

‘So you have already reached Telmar?’ said Ormuz. ‘How many are there of your company? Tell me more of this husband of yours.’

‘He is strong and brave,’ said Josie. ‘We will stop you.’ At least, that is what she meant to say, but her voice did not obey her, and she was not sure what she ended up saying.

‘I am still in doubt as to whether you have a husband at all,’ said the brigand leader. He grabbed Josie’s ankle and pulled her leg out so that she fell backwards on the blankets. Feebly, she tried to get up, but she could do no more than raise herself on her elbows. She could feel the warmth of whatever had been in the drink filling her veins, filling her bones, making her slow and soft as before it had made her rash and heedless. ‘Your insolence has made me angry, Miss Furnace,’ said Ormuz.

‘We will stop you,’ Josie tried to say again, but her mouth would not obey her.

She could smell Ormuz close to her face now, rank animal sweat beneath his perfume. ‘I may have given you too much, too fast,’ he was saying. He made a little noise to chide himself. ‘There is probably no point asking you any more questions tonight, but there is time enough to teach you not to be so insolent, before your wits flee you entirely.’

Josie felt the loathesome touch of the brigand’s hands on her legs, shoving her skirts upward. She wanted to curse the brigand and claw at his eyes, to drive her knee up between his legs and kick him viciously, but could only mumble at him and flail feebly.

‘What lovely white skin you have, Miss Furnace,’ said Ormuz. ‘It is a shame you cannot see yourself, but I suppose that saves you from vanity.’

Tash, Josie tried to call out. Tash, help me! Tash, Tash, Tash! ‘Tash,’ she managed to say, in a strangled whisper.

‘You little Narnian whore,’ Ormuz growled, in quite a different voice than he had used before, with no smoothness in it at all.