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Gerald does not come into this next part of the story very much, because he was rather quiet and scared for most of it, and too small to do anything on his own account. If there had been any way to leave him behind in the castle safely, Josie and Tash would certainly have done so – they were not such thoughtless parents as that – but their company was few, and they could not spare anyone to mind Gerald except for Mirilitha and Ofrak, who would have been of no use minding Gerald, and no use at all if the castle was overrun by enemies. And there was always the chance that nothing would go wrong.

But Gerald remembered that night forever, more clearly than anything that had gone before in his life. Even when he was an old man he remembered the long shadows cast by the torches, his mother and Prince Margis shining like golden fish, the beasts that crawled out of the forest and became men, the shouts and cries of men and beasts, the blood running in streams over the golden plates, and a man’s dead eyes staring at nothing.

The tables had been carried out to the glade – they did not seem so heavy at first, but had grown weightier and weightier with each step of the long stairs. The halls of Telmar had been stripped of chairs that were in tolerable repair – which also proved heavier than they first appeared – and the food and ornaments that had been stored up for generations in the secret chamber were laid out in splendour. The feast was set in two parts: two rows of plates on the ground for the beasts when they were beasts, and then the victuals set on the tables for the beasts when they were men.

‘This is serving man’s work,’ muttered Karifar, carrying his fifth or sixth chair over his head as he crossed the stream.

‘This is the work you’ll be remembered for,’ said Hurras. ‘Your whole life’ll boil down to one line in a chronicle- ‘among the Prince’s servants at the feast was an ugly son of a ghul called Karifar.’

Through the gap in the trees above the glade the constellation the men of Calormen called the Ship could be seen, all but its stern, and flaming torches were set on tall poles around the edge of the glade.

The Prince and Lady Josie were dressed in the armour that had been left in the secret chamber, and sure enough it fitted them both as well as a fish is fit by its scales. In the firelight the silver chain gleamed as if it were red gold, and flowed like water or fire over their bodies. Jardil looked upon the man he had known as a mewling babe, slow-witted boy, and impetuous youth, and felt the urge to prostrate himself at his feet; and he looked at the foolish and debauched girl who his master had set his designs upon, and knew that he would commit any crime to make her his Queen.

Prince Margis and Lady Josie truly looked like a Master and Mistress of Creation, fitting successors for King Frank and Queen Helen. The whispered echo of Aslan’s ancient charge to man to be rulers over the animals hung about them, and Ofrak said as much.

‘You look most magnificent tonight, Lady Josie,’ said the owl. ‘Like Queen Helen, when she was set to be Lady over all the animals of the world.

‘Thank you,’ said Josie.

Tash also thought Josie had never looked so splendid, and a pang of loss anticipated cut him like a priest’s sacrificial knife.

‘You are very marvellous,’ she said.

‘And how are you, dear Tash?’ said Josie with a bold smile, sword rattling at her side. ‘And my Gerald? I still wish you could have stayed in the castle.’

‘How can I stay in the castle?’ asked Tash. ‘We are together.’

‘Yes,’ said Josie, reaching out a gauntleted hand to grip one of Tash’s lower wrists.

Gerald in turn reached out to leave sticky fingerprints on Josie’s helmet. ‘Mummy shiny.’

‘Yes, she is very shiny,’ said Tash, and gently passed a hand over Josie’s helmet as well, as if he were running his fingers through her hair.

She kissed Gerald and took her place.

Josie felt as impatient as she could ever remember being. The preparations for the feast had reminded of parties she had heard about when she was younger, but had never been to. She had thought more about Australia, as she had thought more about all human things, since the Calormenes had come to Telmar, and the renewed pang of longing for her lost world made her all the more eager for something to happen. She wished Blackbriar would hurry up and return with the dogs of Telmar.

Josie and Margis sat at one table at the far end of the glade with the owl and the gazelle, so that despite their armour they might nevertheless give the impression of being the gracious hosts of the feast. The other men were seated at another table: all except Jardil, who walked the bounds of the glade for the hundredth time.

‘We will see some magic tonight,’ said Jemin. ‘See how his Lordship looks: she has already worked some magic on him.’

‘It is the Lion’s magic,’ said Eyit.

‘Yes, we will see some magic, and if we are lucky we will live through it,’ muttered Karifar.

‘If we die,’ said Eyit gravely. ‘We will die in the Lion’s service, and be reborn on the mountain at the world’s end.’

‘There will be death tonight,’ Hurras affirmed. ‘But it will not be our deaths, if the Emperor over the sea wills it so. Alambil is nowhere to be seen, but look how the Lord of Victory crests the trees.’

They spoke together in low voices, and neither the Prince nor his advisor heard a word they said, but Josie’s keen ears heard.

‘Something is coming,’ said Josie.

‘They are coming,’ called the Prince, not loudly, and waved at Jardil to stop wandering about.

‘It is not Blackbriar, I don’t think,’ said Josie. ‘It is some pigs.’

There were three pigs, great fierce-looking black ones, a boar and two sows. The boar gave a cautious look at Tash the hunter, but all three trotted forward with confidence. They made something like a little bow to Prince Margis and Lady Josie, scraping at the ground with their forefeet.

‘The Lion’s peace be upon you,’ said the Prince.

The pigs bowed again, and set to eating the food that had been put out for them, keeping carefully to one of the rows of plates and avoiding the other.

It had been terrible enough for the men of Calormen when Blackbriar had gone away and returned as a woman; but to see the pigs turning into men, their flesh moving like dough shaped by invisible hands, was a vision that would haunt Prince Margis’ dreams forever.

‘It is the Lion’s magic- the Lion’s magic,’ called Eyit, too shrill to be reassuring, when the pigs were formless things that were neither beasts nor men. But in the space of another breath, the three were men. They were hairier even than Blackbriar had been, with legs almost as thick with hair as a faun’s, and the man had a beard of thick black hair that flowed down onto his chest. The two sows had looked much the same before: but it was clear when they were transformed that one was young, a girl of the same age as Josie, while the other was old enough to be her mother.

The older woman was the first to stand on human feet, and the first to speak.

‘The peace of the Lion be with you,’ she said, and a curious smile spread across her face at the sound of her own voice. It was a strong, full, resonant voice that Josie could easily imagine singing hymns while its owner hung up the washing. ‘We thank you, messengers of Aslan. I never dreamed it would be in my life that you came to save us.’ She bowed then again, an ungainly motion that nearly lost her balance. The man and the girl bowed as well, and repeated ‘the peace of the Lion be with you’. Gruffly and haltingly in the man’s case, and shyly in the girl’s.

‘Welcome to the feast of Aslan,’ said Josie. ‘Please, sit and eat as much as you like, like men do.’

The sound of many dogs could be heard in the distance, and Jardil motioned to the men-at-arms, who rose from their table and took up positions to guard the glade. The baying of the dogs drew closer, and then two dogs shot out into the glade and took cover under one of the unoccupied tables.

‘The Lion’s peace be with you, friends,’ said Prince Margis, but there was time for nothing more, because then a pack of dogs burst out in pursuit of the pair: the wild dogs of Telmar that Josie and Tash had heard fighting over the corpse of the sorceror Yustus. At their head was a hound twice as big as Blackbriar, whose white muzzle was streaked already with bright blood.

Prince Margis lunged forward to confront the white-faced hound. Tash stood protectively over his wife and son. Jardil and Jemin stood their ground around the table where the first two dogs had taken refuge, while the other three Calormenes guarded the table where the men who had been pigs sat. Ofrak swooped down on their attackers, swiping their backs with his claws, while Mirilitha pressed herself against Josie’s mailed legs. ‘This is no place for me,’ she said, trembling, and Josie smoothed down the fur on her back.

The snarling of the attacking dogs was deafening and seemed to come from every direction at once. It was the most horrible sound Josie had ever heard. Among the snarls the shouts of the men seemed small and hollow, like empty boats adrift on a rough sea. Josie heard something more; noises in the forest of Telmar, drawing nearer to the glade.

‘More are coming,’ shouted Josie.

Whitejaw and Margis knew each other to be the leaders, and circled one another like man and monster have since stories began to be told. The sword gave Prince Margis a better reach, and he had been trained in its use since he was a snot-nosed boy little older than Gerald, so as long as he kept the beast at distance he had nothing to fear from his fangs; but Whitejaw had lived his life in the forests of Telmar, and despite being speechless had a cunning much greater than a mere beast.

The dogs that had hidden under the table, emboldened, had emerged to fight at the side of Jardil, and already two of their enemies lay dead on the grass.

A boar charged out from the undergrowth then, its flank torn, and plunged directly into battle, biting the neck of one of the dogs that was menacing Eyit. There was a crack of bone, and the dog went limp. The naked man-pigs had been fighting as best as they could along the Calormenes, kicking out at the dogs and throwing cutlery at them, but without much effect.

Another boar hurtled into the glade, nearly through to the other side before it slowed enough to turn and join the first boar in defending its kindred. It was the swiftest thing Gerald had ever seen that was not a bird.

‘The dogs are losing! They are being pushed back!’ cried Mirilitha excitedly.

‘There are more,’ said Josie, and petted the gazelle again to try and keep her calm. ‘Tash, I think you had best hand Gerald to me.’

‘As you wish,’ said Tash, and he passed the boy to the strange gleaming Mistress of Telmar who stood beside him. She stood there with a distant grim determination as the battle went on around her; it was only because she was listening as hard as she could, but it made her expression very like the expression of a true sorceress.

Then the pigs were upon them: a dozen or more large, fierce boars, and they drove straight for the man-pigs and their defenders, sending the table with the magic food flying. One that was particularly large and bristly charged at the sow-girl, and would have torn her throat out, but Eyit pushed in front of her in time. Eyit struck the boar with his sword, but at close quarters could not strike deep enough to slow it down; and then it had knocked him to the ground, and bit at his belly, swift and vicious.

Hurras and Karifar were pressed too hard by other boars to come to Eyit’s aid, but Tash strode forward, lifting his taloned hands high, throwing long monstrous shadows. A smaller boar was in his way, and he picked it bodily up and threw it aside; then he faced the great black boar. It lifted its bloody snout from Eyit and glared at him with murderous bright eyes.

‘It is not fair,’ cried Tash, and the words of rage were as good a war cry as any. The boar stood his ground and lunged at Tash’s legs. He was swifter, but Tash was stronger, and could ignore the pain of the deep gash in his calf. One pair of arms grabbed the giant boar’s neck, and another his haunch, and as it twisted in Tash’s grip he lifted it in the air and ripped its belly open with his beak, from throat to groin like you do with a knife when you are butchering a goat, so its entrails fell out in a steaming rush to the ground.

‘Praise the Lion!’ cried Hurras.

A moment later there was another triumphant cry, from Prince Margis, and a whimper that was cut off. Whitejaw had chanced a leap at the Prince’s throat, but Margis had stood his ground and aimed his sword true, and struck the leader of the dogs fair in the chest before his jaws could close.

Their attackers ran off then, not whining like the mere dumb animals of our own world would, but silently. Karifar and Jemin pursued them with violent cries as far as the edge of the glade, and cut down two more of the boars who tried to run. Tash went furthest of all, breaking and tearing the bodies of their fleeing enemies until he was called back by Josie.

Eyit was dead. The great boar had bitten through an artery, and he had bled out into a broad dark patch on the grass. Hurras knelt beside him, his head bowed. ‘He is gone, my Prince.’

‘Alas!’ said Prince Margis, removing his helmet and kneeling down beside Eyit’s body. ‘You are in Aslan’s country now.’

‘It is as he wanted,’ said Hurras. And he looked around bitterly at the feasting glade that had been a battlefield.

One of the two boars who had come to fight on their side was also dead; but of the survivors, none had very grievous injuries. Worst was the man-boar with the spreading beard, who had forgotten he was not a boar anymore and waded too rashly into the battle. He sat dizzily on the ground, comforted by the sow-women, with blood trickling from half a dozen bite wounds.

One of the boars who had attacked them and was injured did not flee, but collapsed at Josie’s feet, as though throwing himself on her mercy. Josie put out a hand to ward the others away from him.

‘It stinks of blood,’ she said, so softly that only Mirilitha could hear.

‘I am sorry for my kindred,’ said the sow-woman, leaving the side of the boar-man. ‘I wish they had joined us in joy, and not come to destroy and to slay.’ And she got down on her hands and knees by the body of Eyit and nuzzled his dead face with hers, for she had no knowledge of the ways of men.

‘It was none of your doing,’ said Josie. ‘I am glad you came.’

‘We are glad you came,’ said Prince Margis. ‘We must see to the others.’

The men and Tash dragged away the bodies of the beasts, and Eyit’s body was set carefully aside, and the feast was restored as best they could. It was a ghastly thing to eat among all those corpses, with the stink of blood so strong; but they had no choice but to finish the thing they had begun. The two dogs who had fought on their side ate and became a man and woman, neither old nor young, who seemed to be a couple, and they shyly and wondering exchanged greetings with the Lady of Telmar and the Prince of Calormen. The boar who had come upon them like an arrow sprung from a bow turned into a tall man with an unkempt reddish beard, who looked about himself in wonder but did not speak. The boar who had sought Josie’s protection ate also, and became a jowly man with thick arms and legs.

‘I am sorry, my Lord and Lady,’ he said, bowing his bloodied head toward Josie. ‘I should not have bared my teeth to the Sons of Frank.’

‘Your life should be forfeit,’ the sow-woman told him. ‘These men should roast you on a spit.’

‘We could never do that to any of you,’ said Josie earnestly. ‘Not since we found out what you were.’

‘You can serve us better in life than in death,’ said Prince Margis sternly. ‘Have you all eaten of Aslan’s food while in the shape of men? Then you should come with us. I feel it will not be safe for you to remain in the forest.’

The beasts who were men for a time voiced their agreement to the Prince.

‘What of Blackbriar?’ asked Josie. ‘Blackbriar is not yet here.’ She turned her head to face the dog couple, who were sitting with their arms around each other, looking awed and overwhelmed.

‘She went to make the final part of the magic,’ said the bitch-woman, in a voice that was higher and sharper than Blackbriar’s.

Gerald, who had been stunned into silence through the noise and terror of battle, broke down and began to wail.

‘Should we go help her?’ asked Josie. ‘Where has she gone? We had not heard anything of another part of the magic.’

The bitch-woman looked from side to side, as if uncertain which question to answer first. ‘I am sorry, Lady Josie,’ she said, drooping her head. ‘She went to the Hollow. It may be you can help here there.’

‘You should go,’ said Josie to Prince Margis. She turned toward her husband. ‘With Tash. He can show you the way. I will go back with Gerald.’

‘It is perhaps not wise to divide our forces, but these people need to be kept safe,’ advised Jardil. ‘So there may be no choice. Is it far to this hollow, Lady Josie?’

‘It is about three miles west,’ said Josie.

Jardil nodded. ‘I had rather you had more men at your side, my Prince. But you and Tash are the two strongest warriors among us, and if any two may win through, it will be the two of you.’

‘I do not think our enemies will be overeager to attack us again, at any rate,’ said Prince Margis. ‘They are leaderless, and we have caused them grievous hurt.’

‘I hope you are right, my Lord,’ said Jardil. ‘Lady Josie, if you will come with me?’

‘Be careful, dear Tash,’ said Josie, making a hurried farewell. ‘Take the Prince by the best way to the Hollow.’

‘Yes, my Josie,’ said Tash. He strode into the shadowed forest, the Prince of Calormen following close behind. Jaridl and Josie led the rest of the party up into the castle, leaving food and furniture behind. Only one damask tablecloth of all the things that had been set out for the feast was brought back, for they had wrapped the body of Eyit in it.