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They were camped by the water-hole where Shoab son of Amidanab had planted the apricot tree. The little tree had grown wild and straggly since Josie had seen it before, and though she kept an eye out for the hedgehog’s home she could not remember exactly where it had been, and saw no sign of it. Perhaps the hermit had died, or perhaps the country had just grown too busy for him and he had moved away. It had been an uncomfortable journey. The memories of all this country- on their outward journey with Blackbriar, and then on their return – were sour with lost happiness, or unendurable with hurt and shame.

Tash’s memories were just as painful, for the same reasons. He too had tried and failed to spot the house of Shoab son of Amidanab as they journeyed. During the journey he had shunned the company of both men and talking beasts. The beasts understood that men should keep the company of men; and the men understood that beasts should keep the company of their own kind. He was neither: and neither could understand how it was between him and Josie and Gerald. They were his people; they had given his life usefulness. The anger swelled and seethed inside him like the futile waves of an ocean, and Josie’s refusal to let him touch her as he had before made it three times worse. In his calmer moments Tash reassured himself that at least no-one was trying to sacrifice him to anyone, and that he was for all practical purposes immortal, if what the sorceror had said could be believed. So by the standards of the world of the thalarka he was immeasurably blessed, and had nothing to be unhappy about; but in the new world he required different things to be happy. He was not the Tash he had been.

While the others rested at the end of the day – the Calormenes laughing as they prepared the cooking fire, the talking pigs noisily playing some game among themselves – Tash stomped off into the open woodland around the water hole, pounding shrubs into broken pieces beneath his feet and uprooting saplings in a heedless unfocussed violence. He could not see any way out. He had reached the place that comes at least once in every life, where there is nothing that can be done but to endure, and he found it as hard as we all do. Josie would not listen to him. Josie would barely talk to him. Josie would not touch him. And they had not yet come to the land of the men. What would happen when they came properly to the land of Calormen, where he was a monster? His thoughts went around and around, and found no resting place, like slaves chained to a wheel.

A rabbit that was passing by on the eastern side of Tash saw him striding furiously along the crest of a rise, silhoutted against the golden sky of sunset. She ran off to tell her brothers and sisters of the terrible thing that stalked the land: but she had given much the same warning too many times before, so they paid her no mind.

‘Would you walk with me a while?’ Margis had asked Josie, and she had set yes. She had brought Gerald along to walk as well as he could on his plump little legs. Unlike the rest of them, he had been carried all day, being too slow to walk while proper travelling was going on.

Josie wanted mostly to get out of being in a crowd of people, she told herself. She was used to a much more solitary kind of life than she had had on this journey. After a long day of travelling Josie was happy enough to stick to her son’s pace, and merely wander slowly up the gentle rise  beyond the water hole to a little circle of old trees. Here the air was not as still as it was by the water hole, and a breeze brought stories of what lay in the lands beyond: a hint of smoke, and aromatic leaves something like camphor, and the distinctive smell of air that has been baked over hot stones and then let cool.  Gerald squatted down to play with some dry branches. He had been more quiet on this trip than Josie was used to- no doubt because he was taking so many new things in, she thought. When he did speak, it was usually to misbehave. Tash had always spoiled him dreadfully, she thought, and now both the men and the beasts were doing the same.

‘You can play there, Gerry,’ said Josie. ‘Don’t go away.’

‘I will watch him,’ promised Margis.

Josie shuffled a few steps away from Gerald and reached out to feel the bark of one of the trees.

‘They are something like olive trees, but not quite the same,’ said Margis. ‘I have journeyed much, but I am not learned in tree lore.’

‘They seem like they have been planted here on purpose,’ said Josie, slowly making her way around the circle from one tree to the next.

‘Come, sit down a moment,’ said Margis. He helped Josie to sit down on the stump that occupied the single gap in the circle, where one of the broad-boled trees had been felled many years before. His hands on her arms were reassuring and comfortable. He sat down next to her, and she was acutely aware of exactly where he was, and what he was.

‘Life is all so complicated,’ she sighed. ‘I don’t seem to have gotten any of it right.’ From the direction of the camp, a horse nickered in apparent agreement.

‘It does not have to be complicated,’ said Margis, and kissed her cheek. When she did not protest, he turned her head gently aside and kissed her on the lips. She felt a rush of blood go to her ears, and was suddenly intensely aware of every part of her body.The feeling of Margis’ lips on her skin – that had not felt any lips save Gerald’s for so many years – was almost unendurably sweet.

‘You should not do that,’ she scolded him.

‘Ah, I have loved you since I met you, Josie,’ said the crown prince of Calormen. ‘I cannot bear to hear you speak ill of youself, when I know that next to you I am nothing but an unworthy worm.’

‘You aren’t an unworthy worm, and I don’t believe you think you are, either,’ said Josie, wriggling away to open a handsbreadth of open space between herself and Margis. ‘You are just saying that so I will tell you are not.’

‘No,’ said Margis, laying his hand back on Josie’s forearm. She did not move it away. ‘I am saying whatever nonsense comes into my had, to get you to stop being sunk in sadness, because you are too fine and brave and glorious to be sad, and I will say and do anything I can to stop you from being sad.’ He kissed her again, harder this time; Josie could feel the moistness of his mouth, and taste his humanness. His smell filled her nostrils, and the touch of his hands on her skin was like the first cool breeze after a stinking hot day.

‘You must not,’ protested Josie, without moving. ‘I am-‘ she was not sure what she was. ‘I- ‘ She had made a promise; but is was not right for her to make such a promise. It had been a mistake. She had told Tash as mch, at the beginning of this journey. ‘You are very foolish,’ she told Margis.

‘Anyone would be a fool for you, Lady Josie,’ said Margis, stroking her cheek.

‘Bunny,’ said Gerald. He scampered over to a place on the edge of the circle of trees to wave a branch that was not an olive branch at the rabbit that crouched there watching him with unaccustomed bravery – or perhaps it was only a stone.  Josie could not see, and Margis was not watching.

‘That’s nice, Gerry,’ said Josie, and then Margis kissed her again, more hungrily than before, and hugged her close to him. It was so marvellous to be pressed up against him, Josie felt, and so wrong, she thought. She pushed all the thoughts of how wrong it was angrily away and responded to Margis’ kisses with equal hunger. The Prince’s hands moved over her shoulders, her neck, her thighs; one settled on a breast, which he held gently but resolutely, as if it were some small animal that he had just rescued from a cat. Wherever Margis touched her, she became more gloriously awake.The ancient magic hummed in her bones, and the yet more ancient magic. She felt like an instrument on which the eternal song of life was being played.

‘Daddy!’ said Gerald cheerfully. ‘Come see the bunny.’

Josie pushed Margis away, her face burning with shame. Margis stood; and she stood a second afterward, and at that moment Tash strode into the centre of the circle of trees, like a ghost appearing at a party.

‘He is not your father, my little man,’ said Margis calmly, with a cruelty that was as terrible as Tash’s furious silence.

‘He is not your little man!’ cried Tash, in a voice that recalled a thousand generations of cruel thalarka priests and overseers. ‘And Josie is not yours either.’ He swung forward, body and four arms at once, and they would have come to blows then if the Prince has not quickly stepped out of the way. Tash loomed over the Prince, his arms twitching.

‘She is the Lady of Telmar,’ said Tash. ‘You cannot touch her.’

There was time for one breath, and Margis opened his mouth to speak.

‘He can if I let him,’ said Josie. Her voice trembled, but grew firmer as she went along. ‘I am sorry, Tash. You and I are not the same kind. What we had is over.’

‘Over,’ said Tash. ‘You promised.’ He stepped across to Josie, and Margis moved to put himself between him and her.

‘I should not have,’ said Josie. ‘I’m sorry.‘

‘Lady Josie belongs among her own kind,’ began Prince Margis.

‘It is your doing,’ said Tash, in a fury. ‘You and the Lion.’ He swiped Margis aside with one taloned arm. Prepared though he was, and skilled in the arts of war, Margis could do nothing to dodge or parry the blow, and was sent sprawling.

With an inarticulate cry, Josie scrambled to Margis, feeling her way on hands and knees. ‘Tash, no!’  She felt Margis’ face, and found he was still breathing, though he had been knocked out cold. His face was awash with blood from a cut along his cheekbone as long as Josie’s thumb.  ‘Go and get help,’ she commanded Tash angrily. ‘You can’t go around hitting people like that.’

‘You can’t go around breaking promises,’ said Tash, more furious than Josie had ever known him. He kicked at the ground without noticing what he was doing, spraying Josie and Margis with dirt and fallen leaves.

‘Gerry! Run and get help!’ called Josie. Gerald had been hiding behind a tree since the shouting began, and now he pelted back toward the water hole at his mother’s words.

‘You cannot just break your promise,’ said Tash, grabbing Josie and dragging her away from Margis. He held her well off the ground with all four arms, as if displaying her for sacrifice in one of the temples of his own world.

‘Please, Tash – I’m-‘

‘Don’t say you are sorry again!’ said Tash, shaking Josie. His talons sank deeper into her shoulders and hips than he intended, drawing blood, and she cried out in pain. ‘I don’t want to hear that you are sorry!’ The bones in her shoulder cracked.

‘Tash- please- you are hurting me- dear Tash.’

‘Why can he touch you? Why can I not touch you? I have served you well, my Josie. I have served you well.’

‘I know I hurt you, but you are hurting me. Please- please stop it. Stop it. Please.’

Tash stomped around within the circle of trees like a wounded animal, seemingly without caring where he put his feet. Josie hoped he would not crush Prince Margis.

She tried her best to sound like the true Mistress of Telmar through her pain and fear and shame. ‘Put me down,’ she commanded, in a voice like stone.

Tash gave one more inhuman cry, horrible to hear, lifting Josie above his head. He snapped his great beak shut. An inch closer and he would have disembowelled his wife, but instead she felt herself descending – roughly, but not as roughly as she might have – to be left sprawled in the place where Gerald had seen the rabbit.

‘It is over,’ said Tash, in a dead voice that seemed to come from ten thousand miles away.

‘It is over,’ repeated Josie. Dirty and bruised and bleeding, she gathered herself together and sat up. At that moment the beating of wings sounded overhead. ‘My prince? Lady Josie? Are you in danger?’ came the voice of Ofrak.

‘You should go,’ said Josie to Tash, in a savage whisper.

‘It is over,’ said Tash again.


Tash looked down at his beloved Josie, disshevelled and bloody at his hands, and with horror he remembered reading in the Books of Tash how he would look down at his beloved Josie, disshevelled and bloody at his hands. An appalling sense of hopelessness swallowed him. His destiny had come for him. It had been irresistible; it had been inexorable; and now all that remained was to follow where it led him.

‘My Prince?’ called Ofrak, fluttering down at his master’s side. The voices of men and beasts and the hurrying sound of many feet approached.

Tash looked down at Josie for the last time.

‘Go,’ hissed Josie.

Tash left.