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‘This is where I we first met Blackbriar,’ said Josie. ‘I think it was this place.’ She had crossed the stream with Prince Margis and gone a little downstream on the other side, on a path that she knew well through the brambles, to a place where the grass was short and tufty under the trees. ‘Tash saw her before I heard her; she came from the side away from the river, over there.’ The ground felt good under her feet here: not too soft, and not too hard, like the bed of the baby bear in the story.

‘This might be a good place then, you are thinking?’ said Prince Margis, his voice warm and sympathetic.

‘Yes,’ said Josie. ‘I think it will do as well as any.’

Josie could hear Prince Margis’ footsteps paced about the glade. ‘It is close to the castle, that is true; I fancy I could almost shout back and forth and talk with Karifar on the battlements from here. And it will be difficult for enemies to come up from the stream side. It is exposed to the thick of the forest on the other side, but that is a sword that cuts either way: it may embolden our timid friends as well as our enemies.’

‘The only other place as near by is larger, but it is still a bit squashy underfoot from the snowmelt,’ said Josie. ‘It is probably even more hemmed in by the forest than this clearing. Do you want go there?’

‘Not yet, Lady Josie’ said Margis. ‘I wish to have more of a look around here first.’

‘As you wish, Prince Margis,’ Josie replied with the same formality, and stood in a patch of warm sunlight on the edge of the glade while the Prince continued to poke about in the bushes at the edge of the clearing – much like Blackbriar had done, Josie thought.

Margis had insisted on steadying her arm when they crossed the stream – which was reasonable enough, she knew; though she knew the stepping stones very well, and was well-used to making the crossing alone, it would surely be alarming to watch for someone who was not used to going about unsighted, and to see her do it for the first time and not help her she supposed a man would have to be a very great cad indeed. So it had been an entirely reasonable thing to do. But she had felt his touch again like something electric and dangerous, and it had made her conscious again of the singing of the ancient magic in her bones, a music that she could only just feel, but that had not yet entirely died away after being reawakened by Blackbriar’s transformation. She had been careful, since they had crossed the stream, to keep a good distance between herself and the Prince.

‘You are right, this place will do as any,’ said Margis. ‘And it seems no more likely to harbour unwelcome surprises than anywhere else in the Vale of Telmar.’ His footsteps approached Josie.

‘It should hold a pleasant memory for Blackbriar,’ said Josie. ‘Are we decided, then?’

‘I am decided if you are decided,’ said Margis calmly.

‘It hardly seems worth the trouble of coming out here especially.’

‘Ah, but Aslan told Blackbriar that we would know the right place, so it must be important.’ Margis was standing quite close to Josie now. ‘I would not call it a pleasant glade, but it seems more pleasant than most of this Vale. It is rather a grim place.’

‘I suppose it is,’ said Josie, remembering the last time she had left the Vale of Telmar. ‘I suppose the evil the men of Telmar did has left a mark on it. Maybe it will be better after the beasts are changed back.’

‘It is not right for you to live your life in a place that is so marked with evil,’ said Margis. ‘It is so dark and cheerless.’

‘We will not stay here forever,’ said Josie. It was what she and Tash had said to each other, when they parted from Blackbriar on the road to the lands of men. But they were more buried in Telmar now than they had ever been, since her tears had first fallen on his stone body.

‘And your son,’ said Margis sympathetically. ‘It is not good for him to grow up alone, in such a place.’

‘He is not alone,’ said Josie. ‘But, yes, I understand.’ She understood very well what she seemed to be. She understood very well what she was. She hardened her voice. ‘I do not wish to discuss such matters.’

‘As you wish, Lady Josie,’ said Margis. ‘I apologise if I have given offence.’ He seemed to be standing very close to her now, and she lifted a hand suspiciously, more suddenly and expansively than she usually would to smooth back her hair. Her hand did not brush Prince Margis.

‘There is no need,’ said Josie. ‘We should best return now.’

‘Of course, Lady Josie,’ said Margis courteously.

In her haste Josie missed a step on recrossing the stream, and would have fallen into the water if Margis had not caught her. He kept hold of her arm as they crossed the rest of the stepping stones, and left it lightly there as they made their way along the by now well-worn path to where the once-hidden stairs led upward to the castle. She was aware, so very aware, as they walked along, of the gentle pressure of his fingers on the flesh of her arm, with only a thin bit of silk between them. She was aware too of the ancient magic, clearer and more insistent than every before.

‘Why should you care what I do, Prince Margis?’ Josie asked him, pausing at the base of the stairs.

‘You know I sent Ofrak ahead to seek you out, Lady Josie. It has always been in my mind, since I knew you were here, to meet you should I ever follow in the footsteps of my ancestors to Telmar. It is no small thing for the world for someone such as you to come into it. I do not think it has happened since the world began.’ Prince Margis squeezed Josie’s arm gently, than withdrew his hand.

‘That is not an answer to my question.’

‘Patience, I beg of you. I think- I know- that you could do much good in the world, because of who you are, beyond this task that the Lion has set us.’

A shiver ran through Josie at the sound of the word ‘us’, and she felt her bones trembling.

‘What could I do?’ asked Josie. ‘I am not truly a sorceress, as you must know by now. I have just been lucky to have this place fall into my hands. I am only an ordinary – woman.’

‘Yes, Lady Josie. You do not have the look of a sorceress, Jardil says. He has seen a few men who are- or who have meddled in such matters, let us say- and they have a knowing look to them, an experienced look, that you do not have. But there is still magic about you, Lady Josie; heavy magic, even if you do not know it yet. Jardil says so, and I see it in you too.’ Josie went to protest, but Prince Margis talked on over the top of her. ‘But that is not the most important thing, Josie, even if you had no magic at all, hidden or overt, you can still do much, because of who you are. You are a pure-blooded Daughter of Helen- or should I say, Sister of Helen, because your mother and grandmother never set foot on this world. You are of the race of men who were set by Aslan to rule over the animals, unmingled with dryad or ifrit or river god or any of the other creatures who are like men but are not men. It is a little thing, perhaps, but it is a wondrous thing to the imagination in this world. Not all of the beasts will care, as not all of the men care: maybe only a few. But those who are wise enough to know the difference are powerful among the beasts, and they will respect you when they do not respect such as I. Men and beasts are divided in this land, and you could unite them.’

‘Is that it, then?’ protested Josie. ‘You hope to – to use me, so that Calormen will rule the beasts, as well as the men?’

‘No one could, or would, use you, Lady Josie. That is not what I mean to say. I hope rather that of your own will, you would decide to do such a thing. To unite the men and the beasts, as it was meant to be.’

Josie could remember Tash saying that Aslan had said much the same thing. It still sounded to her as if the Prince wanted her to push forward his own schemes, but she let herself be mollified by his protest. ‘I’m sorry to speak harshly,’ she said.

‘And I am sorry to be the occasion of your harshness, Lady Josie,’ said Prince Margis. ‘You need not apologise: I am used to ladies who are free to speak their mind, like my own sister. But wait,’ he said, laying a hand on Josie’s arm again as she took a step toward the stairs. ‘That you are a pure Sister of Helen out of the old world is not the most important thing, not in my own thoughts, Lady Josie. Now that I have seen you, and know for myself the truth that you are no sorceress with a twisted soul, but a lady fair and young and good, it pains my heart to think of you abiding forever in this grim place, where so much evil has been done. I wish to see you among your own people, in a cheerful and pleasant place. You and your son also.’

Josie shook her head. ‘I know that what you say is true, though you flatter me more than is proper. This is my place. For now, at least, I cannot take Tash into the lands of men.’

‘It need not be so,’ said Margis. ‘We who have met the Lord Tash know he is no monster, but a brave traveller from another world. He will be honoured in Balan.’

But Josie could hear in Margis’ voice that he did not truly believe what he was saying, and she shook her head again.

‘You are used to different kinds of people here, perhaps,’ said Josie. ‘More than my own world. But I still do not think, from what I have heard of the ways of men here, that Tash could be welcome among you.’

‘You judge Calormen without giving us a fair hearing,’ said Prince Margis.

‘Maybe I do,’ said Josie. She started slowly up the stairs to the castle. ‘There is no point speaking of such things now. Let us put on this feast for the beasts of Telmar, first.’