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In Josie’s dream the wind had gotten hold of the loose edge of the tarpaulin, and it was flapping terribly. The rain lashed her face, and the wind swept her voice away, so the men whose job it was to fix the tarpaulin could not hear her instructions. It took a few moments after she awoke for her to realise that the sound of the tarpaulin had not stopped. It was coming from the shuttered window, and she prodded her husband.

‘Tash? Dear Tash?’

Tash mumbled something, and made a clumsy pacifying gesture with an arm at his wife as he slowly flickered into consciousness.

‘There’s something at the window, Tash,’ said Josie, and kissed the soft skin of his throat. ‘Dear Tash, can you see what it is?’ The sound that was not a tarpaulin flapping continued insistently.

Tash opened the shutters. A gust of wind and rain blew into the room – for that part of Josie’s dream had been quite accurate – and with it a very large bird. It was big enough to carry off a small child, and Tash turned instinctively to the corner where Gerald lay, curled up into a ball under his blankets.

‘Josie! It is an owl, I think.’ It was certainly the largest flying creature that had been in that chamber since the ifrits had been freed from their master, years before. Josie sat up in bed and listened to the bird as Tash closed the window and went to stand watch over the sleeping boy.

An owl can be very quiet when it choses, so it sounded disconcertingly as if no one was there at all to Josie. ‘A good evening to you, friend owl,’ she said.

‘Good evening,’ said the owl, hopping closer to Josie. ‘The Lion’s peace be with you. I am sorry to disturb you at this hour, but might I ask- are you Miss Josephine Furness?’

The owl’s voice sounded as exhausted as might be expected from a creature that has been flying through a stormy night. It had that aura of authority that comes not from any natural superiority, but from being the bearer of some important office – a borrowed authority.

‘Yes, I was Miss Furness,’ said Josie, speaking as regally as you can manage when you are sitting up in bed with a blanket held up under your chin. ‘You can call me Josie – er, Lady Josie. This is my husband Tash, and my son Gerald.’

‘My name is Ofrak. It pleases me to meet you more than I can say, Lady Josie.’

Josie could not remember – was that the name of the owl the gazelles had said had brought them news, long before, when she had first come to this world? The unease she had felt at the first entry of the talking bird grew.

‘You are welcome here in Telmar as long as you wish,’ said Josie.

‘You are very generous,’ replied the owl.

‘Oh, I suppose I should get out of bed,’ said Josie, more to herself than anyone else. ’Can you hand me my nightdress, dear Tash? Thank you.’

‘To what do we owe the honour of your visit?’ asked Josie, getting out of bed and into her nightdress.

‘I am a herald of Prince Margis,’ said Ofrak.

At the sound of this name Josie twitched as if she had just heard a human footstep in a room she had just left and knew to be empty. This was a name she was quite sure she remembered. ‘Prince Margis?’

‘Yes. He has sent me ahead to scout out the Vale of Telmar. He will be here in a few days. I think five; certainly no more than a week.’

‘This is unexpected,’ said Josie, swallowing hard.

‘As you may know, Prince Margis had planned to journey here several years ago,’ said the owl, its voice growing more pompous in the way Josie had always halfway imagined an owl might talk. ‘But his Lordship had to postpone this venture when word came to him of his brother’s death, when he had barely reached the edge of the marches. Some time later rumour came to Balan that the sorceror had died, and that a new sorceress had taken over Telmar. It was said even that this new sorceress, begging your pardon, was none other than a girl that had been spoken of by certain talking animals some time before – which was yourself, Miss Josephine – Lady Josie. Last spring Prince Margis had things sufficiently in hand in Balan to set out again on his quest, which he has wisely done so with the aid of certain of the talking animals of Calormen, among which number I am proud to be one.’

While Ofrak had spoken Josie had moved over to where Tash stood and taken his hand. ‘What does the Prince want here?’ she asked.

‘To find the secrets of Telmar. To rescue you, if you are in need of rescue. To do you honour, if you are not. Should you,’ the owl paused, and continued in an apologetic tone, ‘be an enemy, to defeat you.’

‘That is very well,’ said Josie, not feeling at all reassured. ‘You can let Prince Margis know that I am no enemy to him.’

‘Of course, Lady Josie,’ said the owl.

‘Are there many of his party?’ asked Josie.

‘Beside myself, his Lordship travels with his advisor Jardil, who was his father’s cup companion, five men-at-arms of Balan, and a talking gazelle, Mirilitha.’

The name Mirilitha swam up out of depths of Josie’s memory. Yes, she remembered a Mirilitha – she had been one of the gazelles who had accompanied her on the journey that was supposed to deliver her to this Prince Margis.

‘Mirilitha? Then the gazelles-‘ Josie paused.

‘Brought news of your arrival to Prince Margis, yes. And of your abduction. His Lordship regrets very much that he did not come earlier to your rescue. It was thought at first that you were surely dead – for no stories before speak of anyone who has returned from the grasp of the sorceror’s ifrits. Then the stories came that the sorceror had been slain, and later, that a sorceress ruled in Telmar.’

Josie murmured a meaningless polite reply to the owl. It had been nearly three years of peace, living in the Vale of Telmar in the crumbling castle of the magician Yustus; three years that had not always been easy, years that had sometimes felt to Josie more like being in a prison than being mistress of her own domain, but years that had been uncomplicated by any interruptions from outside the valley. There had been no more earthquakes, no more summons to embark on quests. In those three years Josie had felt smothered sometimes by Tash’s devotion, which had not faded a whit since the night they promised themselves to each other. It did not feel right to have a husband who was always so unquestioningly obedient. And the boy – well, she loved him now, but he had been selfish and demanding from the beginning, as children are when they are very young, and she was too young to be properly patient with him, and it was a rare day even now that she did not remember how cruelly he had been foisted on her, a punishment or a twisted consolation prize for refusing to carry out Aslan’s quest.

Those years were over now, for better or for worse.

There was a stirring from Gerald’s bed, and then an excited voice made it evident that two bright little eyes were staring in an intrigued way at the owl.

‘What is it, Daddy?’ asked the boy.

‘It’s an owl,’ said Tash. ‘A talking owl.’ He picked up the boy and held him up where he could see the bird better.

‘Why?’ asked Gerald.

‘It’s a visitor,’ said Tash. ‘We are going to have visitors.’ And he squeezed his wife’s hand reassuringly.

‘I remember Mirilitha,’ said Josie to Ofrak. ‘She is a fine gazelle.’

‘What’s a gazelle?’ asked Gerald.

‘They are like deer,’ said Tash in a small voice to Gerald. ‘I have never seen one either.’

‘As I said, you are welcome here, Ofrak,’ said Josie. ‘There are rats enough in the castle, God knows – I expect you eat rats? But is there anything else you require?’

‘Rats are fine, Lady Josie,’ said the owl. ‘All I need otherwise is a dry place to rest, thank you very much.’

‘It eats rats?’ said Gerald, his voice tinged with awe.

‘It seems so,’ said Tash. ‘We should not, though.’

‘What do they taste like?’ Gerald asked the visitor.

Josie ignored this exchange and spoke with the owl. ‘When you are rested enough, you may let Prince Margis know that he and his company are also very welcome here. Now, I will show you to a place you can rest. I wonder what hour it is?’

‘My apologies,’ said Ofrak. ‘There are still three hours until dawn.’

‘It is not unknown for us to wake at this hour,’ said Josie. For the first time, she showed that she was aware that Gerald was awake, running her fingers through his hair and smiling ever so slightly.


The last of the clouds that had brought the night’s rain were dissipating in ragged shreds, and the wind shook the leafless branches of the poplars, as Prince Margis and his band followed the path along the little river that Ofrak had said led to the Vale of Telmar. They rode in the steady way of men who have ridden a very long way already and expect to ride a great deal further still, and have no hope of a change of horses in the foreseeable future.

‘There must be some ensorcellment lying about the evil place yet,’ said Prince Margis, with an earnestness creasing the youthful brow of a man used to blithely confronting his enemies head on. ‘Why else would she call the creature her husband?’

‘From the tale the thief told it is the very beast that rescued her from their clutches,’ said his advisor, whose brow was permanently creased from long habit. ‘The gratitude of women is less swayed by incidentals than the corresponding emotion of men, and a deformity that would seem appalling to us, in a woman, would seem but a trifle to a woman, in a man.’

‘True,’ mused Prince Margis. ‘You only have to look at Captain Jorjis and his wives. But still, her husband?’

‘With respect, my Prince,’ said Jardil. ‘If she truly is from another world, who knows what may be expected or excused in a woman of power?’

‘Surely not, Jardil,’ said the Prince. ‘You must not entertain such thoughts. It must be some misunderstanding of speech.’

‘It may be,’ said Jardil.

‘But the child. How could she come by the child?’ mused Prince Margis, his brow still uncharacteristically troubled.

‘The way such things happen is well established,’ said Jardil drily.

‘But how could- who could- never mind.’ For they had reached a narrow stony place, and it was needful to ride in single file.

Jardil did not approve of speaking of such things in front of the common soldiers. The news the owl had brought had been alarming, true, but one could not expect a woman who had come from another world to be in any way ordinary. You could not demand a woman obey ordinary rules, when she had bested a sorceror who had been feared for hundreds of years. The best that one could hope for was that she was fundamentally honourable, and receptive to the proposal the Prince Margis brought. After all, one could not heave a stone in Balan without striking a demure virgin of good family: but there was only one Lady Josie of Telmar. If only the Prince would think more strategically, and less romantically, thought Jardil. The advisor would have sighed, if he was not so used to divorcing his interior life from his outward actions.

Prince Margis proceeded first up the narrow path, with the boldness proper to Princes of Calormen. His dog, a black bitch he had befriended in the Marches some years before, scampered up alongside him. Jardil followed, with Ofrak perched imperturbably asleep atop his saddlebags, and behind him the slim gazelle Mirilitha. The five men at arms brought up the rear, loyal men of Calormen who had served the household of the King from their earliest youth, hopeful that they were reaching a comfortable stopping place but alert to any mischance.

It had been a long journey with very little comfort in it, and a great deal of miserable weather, but Prince Margis had kept his beard neatly trimmed and his hair oiled, and expected his company to do the same. Prince Margis himself, while a very fit and well-proportioned man, was no more handsome than the ordinary run of his people (the average man of Calormen of that time was much fitter than an average Englishman of our time, for they had not yet acquired slaves or any of the other things that incline a people to lethargy). Most of Prince Margis’s loyal manservants would have been judged more handsome than he, if they were dressed in the same finery. The prince had a helpful harmless sort of face – a face that would have suited a waiter rather than a prince; and you would have never taken him for a headwaiter. When he was called upon to act as a prince he wore quite a different face over this first face, like a mask, but it did not fit him naturally.

Jardil had been handsome in his youth, but was one of those men who do not age into what is called distinguished, but become creased and gaunt through worry. He did not lament it. Life was complicated enough without the distractions of youth.

‘Lord Jardil?’

‘Mirilitha?’ Jardil replied coolly to the gazelle, who had come up to walk beside his horse as the path broadened again.

‘If you will forgive me speaking to you as if I too were a Son of Frank, what do you think of Ofrak’s news?’ The animal cast her head about in her nervous gazelle fashion.

‘I am not sure I follow you, Mirilitha.’ Jardil looked straight ahead. Overhead cypress trees, gnarled and ancient, blocked out the sun. He did not like this place.

‘Lady Josie,’ the gazelle paused. ‘You have lived a long time, Lord Jardil, and had many dealings with many Sons of Frank and Daughters of Helen in that time. Lady Josie was friendly when I met her, long before, but do you think she will still be friendly? Do you think she will agree to return with the Prince?’

Jardil did not wholly approve that Mirilitha and Ofrak had been brought along on this journey. He saw the usefulness of having them, and went along with Prince Margis’ designs without complaint, as he also saw the usefulness in many other things of which he did not wholly approve, and went along with them. He was a practical man. He was also a political man, and he hid his disapproval well, indeed so well that both the talking beasts were more likely to confide in him than in any of the others. It was still necessary for them to maintain a proper deference towards men, of course.

‘Nothing is ever certain,’ said Jardil. ‘But from Ofrak’s report, the Lady Josie has her wits about her, and I think she will see the wisdom in the Prince’s proposal.’

‘I did not mean any disrespect to the Lady Josie,’ said Mirilitha humbly.

‘I am sure you did not, Mirilitha,’ replied Jardil. ‘But there is no profit in asking me these questions. All will be made clear soon enough.’

‘Yes, Lord Jardil,’ said Mirilitha.

The prince’s company walked forward silently through the forest, the shadows growing thicker as the sun descended behind the mountains.