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‘If you have a moment, Lord Tash, might I seek your advice on a few matters?’ asked Jardil.

‘My advice?’ asked Tash, stirred out of his gloomy thoughts. Josie was still away with Prince, and Tash felt uneasy. He would feel uneasy until she was back in his sight again.

‘Yes, Lord Tash,’ said Jardil. His piercing eyes and air of weathered resilience reminded Tash uncomfortably of the renegade thalarka who had driven him from his own world.

‘I suppose so,’ said Tash. He reminded himself that he was Lord Tash, and should act more grandly towards these men. ‘I mean, yes, Jardil of Calormen.’

‘Perhaps we might walk outside?’ suggested Jardil.

They did not walk in the garden where Tash had been a statue for so many years, but in another courtyard, paved in some places and planted in others, where Tash and Josie often let Gerald play. The plants that grew there were without thorns, white flowers with soft fleshy leaves that grew like harmless knives point-upwards from the ground, and frail bushes that draped themselves over the walls and pavement, halfway to being vines. It was also a courtyard surrounded by walls, rather than dropping away in a precipice at one side.

Tash put the boy down to play in a place where he had made a mazy arrangement of bits of broken masonry a few days before Ofrak arrived. Gerald immediately set about improving on his work, leaving the two grown-ups to their boring conversation.

‘What do you want my advice on?’ asked Tash.

The Calormene looked up at him, with the same crafty glint in his eyes that Tash remembered from the priests of his own world.

‘I thought, Lord Tash, that you might be able to render advice in this particular matter, because you have come here from another world – a world I cannot imagine – and everything here must have seemed very strange to you.  For you see, it concerns one who has been taken from one place and put into another, a place which is nearly as different from the first as one world must be from another.’

‘Yes?’ said Tash, puzzled.

‘Lord Tash, some months before we left Balan my Prince was hunting in the desert that lies to the north of the city – a long day’s ride north, where there are no dwellings of men or talking beasts, only endless fields of sand to be seen as far the eye can see in every direction: except perhaps to the north the distant blue mountains of Archenland. There my Prince found one of the great eagles of the desert lying injured. They are magnificent creatures, these eagles; not speaking beasts, but as near as one can approach in terms of intelligence, and the virtues peculiar to thinking beings. One such as Blackbriar is, but without her art of making herself understood. The wing of this eagle was broken, and it was dying of thirst on the sands, and my Prince’s heart was moved to pity. He took the eagle back to Balan with us and saw that it was nursed back to health. It took some time to regain its strength, for it had taken a grievous hurt, but it is a strong-willed creature, and when we left it could fly a little ways in the gardens of the palace. Now, the Prince is very fond of it, and would keep it in the palace, for it is a splendid creature, and biddable to his will. The eagle, for its part, though it cannot speak, it grateful to the Prince, and is happy to do whatever he wishes, to please him.’

Tash still wondered where Jardil was going with this, and crooked his head to listen more attentively when the man paused for emphasis.

‘Now, my thinking, Lord Tash, is that it would be better for the eagle to return to the desert, for until it does so it will never regain the strength it once had, that it needs to soar high in the blue skies of the desert; it will grow flabby and weak in the palace gardens, and what is worse, that it will resent my Prince at the same time that it is grateful, and stay only out of duty, while inside its spirit grows sour. What do you advise, Lord Tash?’

‘I do not know why you would ask me this,’ said Tash. ‘I do not know anything about birds, just because I have feathers. You would be better off asking Ofrak.’

Jardil made a mildly dismissive gesture. ‘Ofrak is in the Prince’s service, and does not have the conviction that a man can have – or you have, my Lord Tash – to let him tell the Prince what he does not want to hear.’

‘Then,’ said Tash, still rather puzzled. ‘I would let the bird do what it wants. If it wants to stay with the Prince because it is grateful, let it stay with the Prince; and if it wants to go back to the desert, let it do that.’

‘Wise advice,’ said Jardil. ‘But it is not a speaking beast; we cannot just ask it what it wants. And, like Ofrak, it feels indebted to the Sons of Frank, and will seek to do what it thinks will please us, rather than what it truly desires; or what is truly best for it.’

Tash was silent then for a long time, watching Gerald with his pieces of stone, while it became quite clear what Jardil was really getting at.

‘You are playing games with me,’ he told Jardil. ‘This is not about an eagle. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.’

‘I am sorry to cause any offence, Lord Tash.’ Jardil bowed deeply before the feathered monster from another world. ‘I think it is important that you ponder this question.’

‘I have done all my pondering,’ growled Tash. Gerald turned to watch in wide-eyed alarm, startled by the anger in his voice.

‘It is understandable that you should be angry, Lord Tash,’ said Jardil smoothly. ‘I do not mean to cause you offence.’

‘Good,’ said Tash.

‘Just remember this,’ continued Jardil, speaking slowly and carefully, like a man who was well aware of how easily Tash could tear out his throat. ‘Like the eagle, Lady Josie will never be what is in her power to be if she stays in this place. She will never fly to the heights that she could reach. It is clear, to look at her, that she is already pining, like a bird in a cage, for the skies.  Even if she does not know it herself.’

Tash loomed over Jardil and snarled at him. ‘Aslan is trying to pull us apart. And you – men- want to to take Josie away to the world of men. But we need to be together.’

‘Life is cruel,’ admitted Jardil. He held out his hands in a gesture of patience and sweet reason. ‘You are alone on this world, the one of your kind; but the Lady Josie is not. Gerald,’ he nodded to the boy, who was still watching curiously. ‘He is not. Is it fair for them to live out their lives here?’

Tash could feel the magic in his bones, bright and seething. He had a horrifying feeling of how long living out his life might be, long years without Josie stretching on and on to forever. She would stay too, if she stayed in this world. But Aslan had said they were to be separated. And what of Gerald? A thought he had pushed deep down and tried to forget, that he and Josie had often thought but never spoken of, came to him. Gerald was of this world, not of another world. The apples would not allow him to live forever. Tash glowered at Jardil without moving.

‘Daddy, what’s going on?’ asked Gerald.

‘’Nothing,’ said Tash. ‘Nothing.’

Jardil bowed again, very politely. ‘Thank you for hearing me out, Lord Tash.’ He turned and left Tash and the bow alone in the courtyard.

Gerald watched his back until it disappeared, still intrigued by the Calormene’s long beard. ‘Where’s Mummy?’ he asked.

‘She’ll be back soon,’ said Tash. ‘She’s down by the stream. You were there when she left,’ he added, chiding the boy gently.

‘Are we going to go away with the owl and the gazelle and the men?’ asked Gerald.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Tash. But he felt the cold tickle of honesty at his neck, like the iron of a knife, and said one more word to the boy. ‘Maybe’.


It was the warmest night it had been thus far that year, and moths gathered in the hall in numbers, casting wild shadows on the walls. Outside, the skreeting of a more voluble race of night insects could be heard whenever there was a lull in the conversation. They had gathered again around the long table in the great hall – men and beasts and thalarka, all who dwelled at that time in the ruins of Telmar. The suits of armour had been brought up entire and stood against the wall at the far end of the room, lined up behind Prince Margis and Lady Josie. Jardil sat to the left of the prince, while Tash sat to the right of Lady Josie. Josie had wanted to sit Blackbriar between her and Margis, in the place of honour, but she had not been persuadable, and sat beyond Gerald on the far side of Tash. Gerald had gotten over his initial fear of the woman Blackbriar, and now found her tremendous fun: he had spent most of the afternoon telling her everything about his life in the castle.

‘Is there anything more that needs to be done among the beasts of Telmar before we can set out the feast, Blackbriar?’

Prince Margis spoke to the woman who had until recently been his dog, without any sense of awkwardness, having adapted to the changed circumstances with the man of action’s nimble refusal to think too deeply about things.

‘I have only a little thing to do, my Prince,’ said Blackbriar. ‘It should not delay the preparing of things.’ She spoke very formally and without a trace of the doggish mannerisms that had been so pronounced the first time she had taken on human shape; she too had adapted swiftly. ‘I can go out and speak to the ones I have to speak to tomorrow, when I am a dog again, and be done long before dusk.’

‘We can plan the feast for tomorrow evening, then,’ said Prince Margis. ‘Lady Josie?’

‘If you like,’ said Josie. Her mood had gone up and then down in the few hours since she had returned from her walk with the Prince. She had been cheerful and gracious, unable to keep herself from laughing out loud; but then her own worries had seized her, and the dark and sullen mood Tash had fallen into made it worse, and through dinner she had been a quiet and scowling thing, lost in her own gloomy thoughts.

‘I am sure we will succeed, with Aslan’s help,’ said Prince Margis, smiling broadly.

‘Let us drink to the morrow,’ suggested Jardil. Eyit filled the cups that were empty with some of the sorceror’s wine.

‘To the restoration of the beasts of Telmar, in the Lion’s name,’ he said.

‘The restoration of the beasts of Telmar, in the Lion’s name,’ they all repeated, and the ones with hands lifted their cups and drank.

‘Will you allow me to propose a toast, my Prince?’ offered Ofrak, rather stiffly.

‘Of course,’ said Margis.

‘Thank you. I suggest, then, that we drink to the good health of our gracious hostess, the Lady Josie, without whom our quest would have been in vain.’ He made an owl’s bow to Josie, a very neat and tidy and courteous gesture.

‘The Lady Josie,’ they repeated, and drank again.

Now, the thing about these meals where many people sit around large tables and make toasts and try to be on their best behaviour is that very little interesting is said; even if people are on only halfway good behaviour, like Josie and Tash on this occasion, they are likely to hold their tongues and try to put on a brave face. So little will be lost be skipping ahead to later that night, when Josie was helping Blackbriar get ready for bed. Tash was in anothe rroom, keeping Gerald (who had had too many sweets) occupied as a first step toward eventually getting him to sleep.

Josie helped Blackbriar set up a bed that would be suitable for laying down in as a woman and waking up in as a dog.

‘He had a message for you, Lady Josie,’ said Blackbriar. ‘The Lion, Aslan.’

‘I thought he might,’ said Josie. ‘What does he want to say to me?’

‘He says he will speak to you himself one day,’ Blackbriar sounded uncomfortable, and less in control of her doggish nature.’ He did not tell me your story, because he says that nobody is told any story but their own: but he says he thinks of you always, and to tell you that he understands you better than you know.’

Josie flew into a temper.

‘I don’t believe a word of it. He doesn’t understand me at all. How can he? He is an all-powerful magical lion. Where was he when – when Nera was killed? Or the Prince’s brother was killed? Or when Zardeenah’s sisters were sold off as slaves? Why doesn’t he stop these things from happening? He saves some people, and lets other people die, and some people can sail through life without having to do anything, but other people he puts impossible burdens on and asks to do impossible things. How can he understand me?’

Josie could almost hear Blackbriar cringing away from her voice, like a dog that has been hit with a shoe for making a mess on the rug.

‘I am sorry- sorry to be insolent, Lady Josie,’ said the woman who had been a dog reproachfully. ‘But I don’t think you should talk about Aslan like that.’

Josie felt sorry for Blackbriar, but was still being swept away by a river of righteous rage. She did her best to calm down and not upset her further, without much success.

‘Oh- I am sorry, Blackbriar,’ she said. ‘I don’t mean to make you miserable. I will do what Aslan wants me to this time. I will. But not because I want to. Only because I am caught in a trap where I have to do this to help your people. He can boss me around if he likes, and let horrible things happen to me- make horrible things happen to me, for all I know. But I’m not going to let him pretend he understands me.’

Blackbriar was making odd snuffling noises, and it took Josie a moment to realise that she was crying, in a half-woman half-dog kind of way.

‘Oh, Blackbriar,’ she said again, feeling her way over to her. ‘I’m sorry- please don’t cry.’  She put her arms around her, and she flinched, the held herself still. ‘I’m sorry. I really am. I promise not to say such things, since they hurt you.’

‘Lady Josie,’ said Blackbriar, and sniffed, and sniffed again.

‘Blackbriar,’ said Josie.

‘Aslan says,’ she went on between snuffles, ‘that what is going to happen- to remember that it isn’t your fault.’

Josie choked back a violent urge to say that of course it wasn’t her fault, it was Aslan’s fault, and only hugged Blackbriar tighter.

‘That’s alright,’ she said after a moment.

This seemed to reassure Blackbriar, and her snuffles got quieter and further between. She wiped her face on her shoulder.

‘Did Aslan say something bad was going to happen?’ asked Josie, trying to be gentle, but unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

‘That- that is not part of your story,’ said Blackbriar.

‘If you say so,’ said Josie. ‘I think we are all in the same story together, whether we like it or not.’

‘I promise I will explain later, Lady Josie,’ said Blackbriar. ‘If I possibly can. I’m sorry.’

‘You don’t have to be sorry, Blackbriar,’ said Josie. ‘If you’re not supposed to tell me, you’re not supposed to tell me.’

Josie felt trapped and powerless like she had so many times before in her life, tangled up in a plot arranged by powers immeasurably greater than she was. It was as if she were a fish out of water, floundering for breath. She angrily told herself not to feel like that. She was not a blind girl that nobody wanted anymore. She was the Mistress of Telmar. She had a son; she had a husband. She was supposed to be someone in this world, she was supposed to be playing a part in a glorious heroic quest. But the world was still closed in around her like a narrow box, and she could not think of any way out of it.

‘I will explain if I can,’ promised Blackbriar again. ‘I will make everything freshly-scented.’

‘Freshly-scented is a very nice way to put it,’ said Josie, giving the woman’s shoulders a squeeze. ‘We would say ‘clear’, usually.’