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If Josie had been by herself she would have sat down and cried and cried; and if Tash had been well she would have curled up in his arms and cried and cried and cried; but he was terribly hurt, and it was up to her to help him. She could not let herself think about what had happened. The most important thing was to take it easy moving through the forest, and not trip over and break her own leg.

Josie felt in front of her and to the sides with her willow switch, pausing every few steps to listen for the sound of the water. The birds made this difficult. There was one particular sort with a parrot-like screech that kept having noisy family arguments in the treetops. She cursed the birds, and she cursed herself. How could she have let herself be captured? How could she have been so stupid as to drink what the brigands gave her? There must have been something she could have done to escape, before- before. She angrily pushed all such thoughts out of her head and concentrated on finding the stream.

Despite her brave talk to Tash, Josie had almost never gone for a walk out of doors alone in country that she had not explored before in company, especially rough country like the sort they were travelling through. Just for a moment, when she first considered how far she already come from Tash, she was struck by a wave of paralysing fear. ‘Get a hold of yourself, girl,’ she told herself firmly. ‘He is waiting for you.’

Josie found the stream, narrowly avoiding tumbling down a steep bank. In full summer there was probably only a tiny trickle of water here, or nothing at all, but when she came there it was flowing well. She filled the canteen, poured cold water on her aching head, and then quickly washed between her legs. A wave of nausea hit her while she tried to get rid of the smell of Ormuz, and she found herself throwing up again on the bank of the stream. ‘Damn that man to Hell,’ she said.

After throwing up she had to wash her face, and while doing this she found that the ruby key around her neck was missing.

‘Damn that man to Hell,’ she said again. ‘Damn him to Hell.’ She wondered for a moment what Tash had actually done to that man, wiped her face dry with her sleeve, and started off determinedly to find her husband, carefully retracing her path.

Josie began calling out to Tash once she reached the edge of the meadow, more and more nervously as she advanced. At last she heard a faint answering cry. It was behind her, and not so far away.

‘Dear Tash,’ she said, moving toward him as fast as she dared.

‘Josie,’ murmured Tash, scrabbling weakly for her hand. She took one of his and gripped it between her two hands. ‘I am here,’ she told him. ‘I am here.’

‘I think I fell asleep,’ said Tash indistinctly.

He was in a bad way. Josie was sure he felt much warmer than he usually did, and she was also sure he had not moved at all while she was away, just lain there in the meadow. She was aghast at how much blood had spilled out on the grass while he lay there. He was still bleeding in so many places. She cleaned the wounds as best she could with the water she had brought. Tash hissed when she cleaned them, but only a little; he was growing too weak.

When Tash’s wounds were clean Josie attempted to bandage them with her spare clothes. The wound in Tash’s arm was not hard to wrap, but the great gash in his side was almost impossible to cover. She tore a dress almost in two with a great deal of effort and wrapped it around him, but there was not enough padding over the wound, and blood had seeped through it before she was finished. It did not seem to have achieved anything, except to hurt Tash a great deal.

‘I’m sorry, Tash,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘I am alright,’ he said, very weakly and indistinctly.

‘No, you are not alright,’ she said. ‘There is no way you will ever get back to Telmar like this. Listen, Tash,’ she said, making a sudden irrevocable decision. ‘I brought an apple with me – one of the magic apples. You must eat it.’

‘I thought you said-‘ began Tash.

‘I would not say so if I didn’t think- if I didn’t-‘ Josie angrily wiped tears from her face. ‘Oh, dear Tash, I am so sorry.’ She had dumped her bag out on the grass to get her clothes to bandage Tash with, and as she had rummaged through them she could smell thescent of the apple on them. It was riper and stronger than when they had begun their journey, but still fresh after who can know how many years.

Josie fetched the apple and brought it to Tash. ‘Tash? Dear Tash?’

Tash croaked a response, but Josie could not tell what he meant to say. ‘Eat this,’ she said to Tash. ‘It will make you feel better. I know I said it was wrong to be immortal, but I would rather do wrong than let you die. Here.’ She held the apple in front of Tash’s beak, but he did not take it.

Tash croaked again, lay still, than raised his head and said three words clearly: ‘Not without you.’

‘Fine,’ said Josie, tears streaming down her face. ‘Fine.’ She took a large bite out of the apple – it was sweet without being cloying and perfectly crisp, with a faint flavour that reminded Josie not of vanilla as such, but of something in the vanilla-bush wind she had smelled as she had tumbled into this new world. She did not swallow the bite, but took it out of her mouth and gave it to Tash.

‘Open,’ she told him, kissing his beak, and he opened his beak a crack and let her put it in his mouth.

Josie took another bite of the apple and swallowed it. At once, she could feel a warmth from it seeping through her whole body, like the warmth of the almost-sherry Ormuz had given her. She pushed the momentary thought of her helplessness away. She was not that person any more. And where that had been an evil warmth, this was a good warmth. She knew it. She felt again that sensation of stepping out into a void, of turning her face toward a storm, that she had when she had agreed to marry Tash.

Josie took a third bite from the apple and fed it to Tash. ‘You will be alright now,’ she told him. ‘We will be alright.’ Tash did not speak, and did not make sounds of pain, and his eyes were closed, but when she put the apple in his mouth he ate it.

Josie kept on in this way alternating bites with Tash until the apple was gone, even the woody core; but she saved the seeds and wrapped them up in the bit of silk the apple had been in.

The warmth spread through Josie and settled in every part of her: to abide there forever, she felt certain. She felt calm and fulfilled, as if she had at last come out of a canyon onto a high plateau where the wind and sun could play freely on her face. It did not seem to matter at that moment at all that she had refused the quest she had been charged with, or that it had foretold by Aslan that her life with Tash would only last a little while, or that she had been raped the night before. She would feel horrible about all those things later, she knew; but at that moment she felt perfectly balanced and in control, satisfied as she had never been satisfied before. She wondered what would happen to her now, and to Tash now, now that they had eaten of the apples that were meant to make them live forever, but she wondered this in a perfectly calm way, like it they were all things that might have happened to characters in a story Gerry was reading to her while she lay safe and warm in bed.

After the last bite of the apple Tash had fallen quite asleep without saying anything, but he already felt less feverish to Josie’s touch, and she could not feel any fresh blood through the bandaged wounds.

‘Tash,’ she said, and kissed his head between his eyes.

She sat beside him, breathing slowly, savouring the feel of the air and the smell of the flowers and the sounds of the meadow around her.

‘I think it is safe to sleep now,’ said Josie to herself. She lay down beside Tash, very carefully so as not to jar any of his wounds, and a moment later was fast in a deep and dreamless sleep.