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Blackbriar limped into the hall where they were eating breakfast, unseen by Jemin who was meant to be keeping watch over the gate. The first one to notice her was Gerald.

‘Doggie!’ he cried, delighted.

‘Onyx, girl!’ called Prince Margis, pushing his chair back from the table with alacrity.

Blackbriar allowed herself to be gathered into Prince Margis’ arms. ‘She is hurt; been in a fight, to look at her. But none of the wounds seem over deep. I wonder, where has she been?’

‘To see her people, I expect,’ said Josie. ‘I think they – or some of them – might not have taken kindly to her return. Will you bring her over here so she can lick my hand, Prince Margis?’

‘Of course, Lady Josie,’ said the Prince, after a puzzled second. Blackbriar was content to be handed to Josie, and sat calmly enough on the Mistress of Telmar’s lap in a way the wild Blackbriar never would have. Gerald wriggled down from his own chair, a heavy thing which had been pushed against the table so he could not fall out, and padded over to pet the dog.

‘Is it true, that you have been to see your people?’ Yes.

‘You left the other day when we were talking about the secret chamber,’ said Josie. ‘Do you know already what we need to do with it?’ Yes.

‘She says she knows,’ Josie reported. ‘Gerald, that’s enough. Now we must just figure out what she knows.’ She continued more slowly. ‘It would be easiest to turn her into a woman, so-’ Yes –reluctantly, Josie thought, but yes. ‘She can tell us. She says yes. Tash, shall you and I get her a morsel from the chamber?’

‘Truly this will be a marvel,’ enthused Prince Margis. ‘I must say I am curious to see how Onyx will appear as a woman.’ But in his voice was not a little unease, for a man’s dog sees many things that are usually kept hidden from a maidservant.

‘A marvel indeed, my Prince,’ agreed Jardil, concealing any enthusiasm he may have felt.

Josie set the dog back on the floor. ‘Blackbriar, I will meet you in my chambers in a few minutes. I will get a more pleasant morsel for you this time.’


Josie and Tash took a little fragment of birdsflesh from the feast laid out in the secret chamber, and then Josie shooed Tash back to the great hall. ‘You should look after our guests, Tash. I will see to Blackbriar.’

Blackbriar came up and nosed at Josie’s hand, and took the piece of meat from her. Josie sat down on a cushion to wait, and listened to Blackbriar moving about finding a comfortable place near the fire.

‘I am so glad that you made it safely to the human lands, Blackbriar,’ said Josie. ‘And so glad that you made it back safe again.’

‘You said so before,’ said Blackbriar, and as she began speaking her voice was almost a growl, but when she had finished it was the voice she had spoken with when she was a woman before. Last time Josie had not felt anything when Blackbriar transformed, but this time she could feel the magic in her bones: it rang through them, like vibrations through pipes. For a long instant she felt as though she were a musical instrument on which a deep and ancient song were being played, and she remembered how she had first felt when she came into this new world, like she was awake for the first time. She also felt horribly, just at the end of the long instant, as if she were about to throw up; there was a smell in the room that she had not noticed before – that had probably been there forever – but that seemed just at that instant to be unbearably vile, like fish had smelled when she had been pregnant.

‘Are you alright?’ Josie asked.

‘I think so, my Lady Josie,’ said Blackbriar. ‘It is easier knowing what will happen. And my leg does not hurt as much. I mean my arm. It is my arm that does not hurt as much.’

‘That’s good,’ said Josie, not feeling quite able to get up off the cushion yet. ‘Since there are men here, we need to get you tidied up and looking like a proper woman before they see you. I will give you a hand.’

‘You have given me two already,’ said Blackbriar, in a voice serious enough that Josie did not know if she was making a joke or not.

‘I’ll help you,’ Josie said, standing up, still feeling the last echoes of the ancient song ringing in her bones,

‘Thank you,’ said Blackbriar. ’I have spent much more time among men watching what they do, so I should be able to dress like you do easier than before. But I may still need help.’


The Blackbriar who emerged a half hour later with Josie, clad in ill-matched silks that the ifrits had seized from unfortunate caravans many years before, was a more knowing and assured woman than the Blackbriar who had worn her shape before. She had travelled long among men, and learned much of their ways, and as she walked slowly in was careful to avoid any doggish mannerisms. She had the same mane of black hair, which though Josie had taken some pains to comb it was still unruly, and the same face, a shade darker than Jardil’s, but like his it was creased with care. Josie had bandaged her arm, and as she walked in she cradled it protectively. Had Tash a better eye for the things that men notice he would have thought her a vastly more womanish woman than she had been before; but to Margis and the other Calormenes she still looked like a wild, fey thing, more likely to be a djinn or a dryad than a Daughter of Helen. You should remember that though their world seemed already old to them, it was very young compared to ours, and had no races of men that had fallen entirely into savagery.

Gerald ran eagerly up toward her as she entered, then stopped uncertainly while still some distance away and retreated back to Tash, uncharacteristically quiet.

‘I greet you, my Prince,’ said Blackbriar, in a voice with a woody quality that made her seem even more like a dryad. ‘My Lord Jardil. My Lord Tash.’ She made little bows to each one as she spoke, then made a general bow of greeting that took in the other occupants of the hall.

‘The peace of the Lion be with you, Blackbriar,’ said Prince Margis. ‘You have been a faithful companion to me. It is strange to see you in this form.’

‘It is strange to see you with the eyes of this form, my Prince,’ said Blackbriar, turning the corners of her lips upwards with conscious attention to what each individual muscle in her face was doing. ‘I bring word from the Lion. I have met him.’

‘Is- is he here?’ asked Prince Margis, with boyish wonder.

Jardil’s usually imperturbable face was briefly clouded with foreboding; the other men showed excitement and awe, while Mirilitha’s movements spoke of mingled hope and terror. Like Josie, her recognition of the goodness of Aslan was mingled with a deep-seated fear of the predator God. Ofrak was asleep, and no one had thought to wake him. Any observer would have found only Tash wholly unreadable. He was thinking of the last time he had spoken with Aslan; of the warning, and everything that had followed from it. He felt a strange wave of giddiness; the magic of the apple stirring in his blood, though he did not know it.

‘No, he is not here,’ said Blackbriar. ‘He spoke to me on the journey here, a few days ago. He was in the guise of a cat, as I saw him once before. He told me what must be done, to make my people talking beasts again. So that is where I went, to tell them, when you went to – that place.’ She held herself stiffly. ‘And why I am in this shape, so you may know too.’

Tash dreaded what she might say, so was not impatient for her to get to the explanation; and Prince Margis was still overcome with amazement at her transformation and the mention of Aslan.

‘The food needs to be set up in the forest. The Lion says you will know the place- my Prince, and the Lady Josie. Then it may be that some of my people will come. They must eat of the food to become men, like I am, and then eat again of the food while they are men, and then they will be able to speak ever afterwards, they and their children. The Lion says that others will come to try and stop them; and then you must protect the feast. You, my Prince, and the Lady Josie.’

Prince Margis nodded. ‘The others- are they beasts, like yourself, Blackbriar?’

‘Some of them will be, my Prince,’ said Blackbriar. Her undamaged arm was visibly trembling, and her face was crumpled with anxiety, and the Prince looked on her with a gaze full of pity.

‘Please sit down, my faithful servant,’ he said. He motioned for Eyit to fetch the newly woman-shaped Blackbriar water and food. ‘I surmise that your visit to your people did not turn out well?’

‘I know one of those who will attack us,’ she said. ‘The leader of the pack, Whitejaw. He will have nothing to do with this- and will lead many of the dogs of Telmar to oppose us, if things stay as they are.’

‘Shall I go to speak them? Myself, and the Lady Josie? Perhaps we might persuade them? There can be no race of beasts that does not have some respect for the Sons of Frank.’

‘It might be tried,’ said Blackbriar, but her tone suggested this would be hopeless. It seemed suddenly colder in the great hall. ‘A few of my people I think will come – a few listened and remembered the old tales. Cinder, Deerwater – how strange it sounds to make their names into speech!’ She restrained herself with an effort from chewing at her injured arm. ‘But I fear most have forgotten, and will follow Whitejaw, to their own destruction.’

‘There is something more,’ said Tash. Compared to the speech of the humans, his voice sounded as harsh as the screech of a crow. He could hear a deeper sorrow in Blackbriar’s word, something more than her sorrow for her people, something in the rhythm and tone of her words that was not a human sadness.

‘Yes, Lord Tash,’ said Blackbriar, bowing her head so that long hanks of dark hair fell over her eyes. ‘I must still go and speak to the pigs: so the Lion says. There is a long hatred between my people and them.’

‘Then shall we go with you?’ asked Prince Margis.

‘No, thank you, my Prince,’ said Blackbriar. ‘They know men are hunters. They will flee before you draw near.’

‘There is still something more,’ growled Tash suspiciously.

‘No,’ said Blackbriar, looking away from him. She tore gratefully into the bread Eyit had brought her, filling her mouth so that she could not speak.

‘Very well then,’ said Margis. ‘This entreaty of Blackbriar to the pigs will take some little time yet, and we cannot set up the feast yet, but there is much we can do to get things in readiness. We can bring everything up from the treasure chamber; and there is the question of where to set the feast. Have you a place in mind, Lady Josie?’ He looked to the archway leading from the hall, where Josie still stood, having followed a little behind Blackbriar when she entered the hall and remained standing while she spoke, a fly on the wall of her own castle.

‘I don’t know,’ said Josie.

‘It needs to be a site that can readily be defended,’ said Jardil, taking the opportunity to instruct the young Mistress of Telmar. ‘And at no great distance from the castle, both for ease of access and the likelihood that it will then lie in territory unclaimed by the other tribe of beasts.’

Prince Margis waved a dismissal. ‘Yes, yes, Jardil. That is all perfectly clear. I can do that much myself; but Aslan expects Lady Josie to decide. For all we know she has been chosen expressly for the task, and brought from another world to this place in order to carry it out.’

It seemed unlikely to Tash that this could be a particularly important part of the duty Aslan expected Josie to carry out, and Josie evidently felt the same. Josie walked slowly to the table and stood between Tash and the Prince. ‘I am honoured, Prince Margis,’ she said uncomfortably. ‘I do not think it can be as important as all that. And it was to be both of us who chose the place for the feast, as Blackbriar said.’

‘Perhaps we could venture out together and find a place then,’ said Prince Margis amiably. ‘Bearing in mind all that Jardil has said, of course.’ He nodded at his advisor in a conciliatory way.

‘I will come with you, my Prince,’ offered Blackbriar.

‘I know the valley well,’ said Tash. ‘I will come with you too.’

‘Of course, Lord Tash,’ said Prince Margis courteously.

‘We will not take long,’ said Josie. ‘And it would be better if Gerald stayed here. So if you do not mind staying behind, dear Tash?’

Tash bowed his head and let his arms droop. ‘As you wish,’ he growled.

‘Do not worry, dear Tash. It is our valley, and no harm will come to me. It will just be an easier task without Gerald, and I would not like to leave him Mirilitha with him alone, he would trample all over her.’

‘The dogs will smell Blackbriar, and be angry,’ Tash pointed out.

‘I will stay behind,’ said Blackbriar hurriedly.

‘Please, dear Tash,’ said Josie. ‘I would rather Gerald not go into the forest right now. Perhaps I am worried, like you are worried, but I promise we will be alright.’

‘As you wish,’ Tash growled, but less obstinately than before.

‘Thank you, dear Tash,’ said Josie. ‘I will get ready.’ She kissed Tash’s beak and disappeared back through the archway.

The woman who had been a dog sat at the table and ate her meal like the men she had carefully watched eat for the past few years; and Gerald climbed back into one of the chairs of heavy black wood and kicked his feet while he played with little torn pieces of bread, setting them in rows in some game whose rules seemed at each moment perfectly clear, though he could not have explained them. The leader of the men who had always been men sat and looked over the table from one end, his face calm, his eyes bright with excitement; at the other end of the table Tash hunched, like a great grey fish-eagle brooding over a nest of sticks. Unseen beyond the blue sky the stars rolled slowly overhead, the stars that had been so terrifying to Tash when he first saw them and were now so familiar. His bones itched with stolen magic. There was a sense of one world passing and another coming into being. A door was opening into a terrifying void, and irresistibly Tash was being pulled through it. Then it would slam shut behind him, inexorable and final.


‘It was magic,’ Jemin protested. ‘The bitch snuck in by magic. The sorceress hid her, just like she changed her into a woman.’

‘Rat’s shit,’ replied Hurras, pouring feed into the black mare’s manger from a sack. ‘You just weren’t looking.’

‘I was looking,’ said Jemin.

‘At your cock, maybe,’ said Karifar, with a coarse laugh. ‘Thinking of that slattern in Arza Kol.’

‘The king would have had you flogged if you missed so much as a rat crossing the lines,’ growled Hurras, ignoring Karifar’s boorishness. ‘You’re lucky the Prince is merciful.’

‘It is different here,’ said Jemin, glaring at Karifar. ‘It’s not the same as manning a guardpost against bandits. Even if it wasn’t magic, this ruin is full of hidden ways.’

Hurras grunted and went on working, by his manner showing that he took a dim view of Jemin’s excuse. The hall that had been made over for use as a stable was warm in the afternoon sun, and heavy with the smell of horse. Eyit raked up dung silently in the corner. Karifar idled, waiting for Hurras to empty the sack so he could go fill it again. Unspoken words hung in the air, as palpable as the horse-stink.

‘The Prince knows what he is doing,’ said Hurras. ‘We will be back in Arza Kol by midsummer’s eve, with all the treasures of Telmar. Magic or no magic.’

‘I don’t deny it,’ said Karifar. ‘But there will be trouble yet.’

‘Of course there will be trouble,’ agreed Hurras, tossing the empty sack at Karifar with a forcefulness that was almost savage. ‘That’s why we’re here.’

‘Agreed,’ said Karifar, clutching the sack.

‘The bitch won’t be much trouble,’ said Hurras, with the air of someone who has seen much trouble and knows well who is most likely to cause it. ‘Neither will the sorceress. It will be the beast. Tash.’

‘Lord Tash,’ said Eyit from the corner.

‘So be it, and the Lion save us,’ said Karifar, spitting on the floor. ‘Lord fucking Tash. Witch’s dugs, there will be trouble.’