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This story set out to tell you about Tash and Josie and their story together. I had intended to go on to tell you how they came into each other’s stories afterward, when they were mostly only memories of Josie and memories of Tash to each other, but what happened afterward is mostly sad, and as bitter as soap, and there is a great deal of it. And if you have read anything before about Narnia you will also have a good idea of how it ends up, when all is said and done. So I will skip ahead to the end of Josie’s time in Calormen in two big steps, one, two, as if I were wearing seven league boots; and if there is anything more that needs to be said I can always come back and tell you about it some other time.

Tash was not there at the battle that last night. He was more than ten leagues distant from his army, in rocky hills south of the place that would one day be called Azim Balda, walking alone. A few times a year he would set out by himself, for the presence of others grew burdensome to him, and his temper short. Rather than grow angry, and kill someone he would regret killing later, it was his habit to leave his followers to look after themselves and spend a few long days and nights hunting in empty places, until his anger ebbed. Tonight red Tarva, Lord of Victory, was high in the sky, and a mere trickle of muddy water ran sluggishly over the rocks where a merry stream flowed in more pleasant seasons. Tash’s skin itched with a fierce intensity, as it had when he had first come to this world, for he had not stopped to wet it, but had followed the spoor of the white stag since just after dawn of the day before.  He was close now: he could smell that it was weary. It would still give him a fight worth the trouble, more than any of the lesser beasts of prey in this part of the country, but it was growing too tired to run.

‘Very soon,’ he said to himself, and in that moment he felt almost happy.

The men who had gathered around Tash numbered in the hundreds now, and they were more than a mere band of raiders: they were the nucleus of a people, with their own customs and their own jargon. They went into battle calling Tash’s name, whether they had been robbers before, or fishermen, or half-ifrit children disowned by their fathers to beg on the streets.

After the fight at the circle of trees, Tash had wandered by himself in the wilderness for some years before he made up his mind to get Gerald back. He had needed allies at first to free Gerald, surrounded as his son was by so many thousands of men and beasts of Calormen: so he had gathered allies. First had been the brigand he had caught on the edge of the desert. This man had known Tash, for he was one of the band who had once captured Josie; and for this Tash had been going to tear out his bowels. But he had begged for mercy. ‘Great Tash,’ he said, ‘Glorious Tash,’ he had said. ‘Spare me, and I will serve you.’ His name was Lomar, and he had served Tash as he had promised, until the night three years ago when he had been killed in battle with King Margis’ men.

Yes, Tash had gathered the first of his followers himself: but he had not had to seek them out for a long time. Men had sought him out, ever since his first raid on Balan. Those who returned alive from that raid boasted of his strength, of how he could tell what his enemies would do before they did it, of how the spears of the king’s men had broken against his chest and left no mark, of how he had torn the vizier Jardil open from throat to groin with one swipe of his arm. They heard, too, tales of how it had been he, and not King Margis nor his witch, who had defeated the sorceror of Telmar and restored the power of speech to the beasts there; and they heard the tale of how he alone had defied the Lion. While there were many dwellers on the marches of Calormen who had always bridled at the presumption of the Kings at Balan, the name of Aslan was honoured in all those lands, and it might be wondered that defying him would bring any glory to Tash: but those who gathered under his banner resented Aslan for the same reason that Tash and Josie had. He was the one who allowed their lives to be miserable, or worse, made the rules that forced them into misery. He was a God who intervened in his creation: but not to help them, never to help them, for they were some of the many thousands of nameless sufferers whose names are recorded in no chronicles of Narnia. The followers of Tash were broken men and women of many kinds, though mostly human. Some thirsted for justice, and some did not care. There were good men among them, and vile ones. Tash had not meant to gather an army and a people on the wild marches of Calormen. They had built up around him like mud on boots, drawn by the power that they felt in him, and now they moved on inexorably whether he willed it or not, driven by the inscrutable logic of crowds. They had Gerald to lead them now, and Keziah, and Zarduk, and needed him only to cry out ‘Tash! Tash!’ when he came to them, and clang their weapons together to make a noise in his honour.

The white stag had gone this way, Tash was certain, up this narrow path to the summit of the stony hill, and there was no sign that it had come down.  With great impatient strides, Tash forged up after it. Then he stopped, for he was not alone. Stretched out on a rock, half his height again above the level of Tash’s eyes, lay the Lion. It could not have been mistaken for any mere lion: it was Aslan, who had spoken with Tash in the lost dream-like chamber where the Books of Tash had been kept.

‘What do you want?’ asked Tash, with an uncertainty that would have disappointed those of his followers who eagerly recounted tales of how he had defied omnipotence.

‘Nothing,’ said Aslan.

‘Then you should go away,’ said Tash. ‘It is over between us.’

‘This is my world,’ said Aslan, in a voice that might have sounded petulant if it had not been so deep and resonant and filled with divine power and compassion. ‘Everything that is in it is part of my lawful charge. It will not be over between us, Tash, until the sea is poured away and the sky is rolled up like a carpet. Even then it will not be over between us.’

Tash thought with horror of the long empty years ahead of him, and said nothing. He held his shoulders high and turned his head slightly to gaze into the face of the lion.

‘I am sending her back to her own world,’ said Aslan.

‘It is no concern of mine,’ said Tash.

‘I cannot send you back to your own world,’ said Aslan. ‘The world you knew is ended. But I have allotted it to you, and arranged it so that one day when your power has grown enough that you can endure there, you can find you way back, if you wish.’

‘Why do you play these games with us?’ said Tash. ‘Why bring us into this world and torture us? You are as bad as the Overlord.’

Aslan did not take any offence at this comparison, but looked at Tash with soft dark eyes. They glistened in a strange way in the dim starlight.

‘You are only one thread in a picture woven of many other threads,’ said Aslan. ‘Prince Margis is one such thread, and Josephine Furness, and Fleetpaw who you slew in Telmar. Could you see the picture, you could see the wisdom and the beauty of it: but it is not given to anyone to see the whole picture at this time, except for my Father and I; not while the worlds endure.’

‘That is no proper answer at all,’ growled Tash. ‘It is just playing games with words.’

‘Is it?’ Aslan asked Tash, and his voice was greater than the voice he had before, far greater, brighter than suns and heavier, with infinities of space and time behind it.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of this world? Tell me, Tash, if you understand. Do you know who fixed the dimensions of this world, or who measured it? The nature of the stones it sits upon? Who set them in place, while the morning stars sang together, and the spirits of the void shouted for joy in words that were not yet words?’

‘Do you know who set bonds on the sea when it gushed forth from the womb of its mother? Do you know her name? Where you there when I made clouds as garments for the sea, and set a border of breaking waves around its fierceness, and peopled it with men for which this speech will never have names? Can you say to the sea: this far you may come, and no further, and will it heed your command?’

‘Have you commanded the day to show itself? Have you sung forth the dawn? Have you called out the beams of the sun, so that they make bare the secret places of the world? Have you brought to light the hidden wickedness of men and beasts? Or the hidden sources of the sea? Have you walked in the deep places where no light comes, or on the heights where the sky is black at midday? ‘

‘Can you part the gates of death, Tash? Can you see beyond the gates of that-not-yet-made? Have you counted out the worlds as numberless as drops of rain in a storm, and the stones in their riverbeds? Tell me, if you say my talk of a pattern is only playing games with words. Which is the path that leads to the place where light lives, and which leads to the home of darkness? Can you guide all creatures to their homes, and call them by their true names? For before light was, or darkness was, I am.

The great voice of the Lion thundered down on Tash, and it seemed to him that these words as the Lion spoke them were being spoken at countless times and in countless places, to countless people like him and unlike him, but at the same time they were words only spoken once; they were words bound to no one time and place, which had their being in eternity. Not Frank, nor Helen, not Digory and Polly, nor the Queen Jadis herself, ever heard Aslan speak in that voice: it was a voice that would not be heard in Narnia again for thousands of years.

‘I know I am useless,’ said Tash. ‘You are not the first to tell me that. Before you I am nothing. And of course I do not understand the things you understand, and cannot do the things that you can do. But you have brought me here, and set me on this path, the one I read about in that book. There is nothing inside me but dust now. There was a kind of fire in me: but nothing is left now but ashes. I submit. I have submitted.’

Tash had it in him still to defy omnipotence, as his followers said, and he did not bow his head or let his arms droop, even as he said these words.

‘Your story will go on for a long time,’ said Aslan, and Tash was quite certain that the glistening in the Lion’s eyes was tears. ‘Your thread will not be cut.’

‘I made my choice,’ said Tash. ‘And now I will play my part in your game. What else can I do?’ He stared unblinking into the face of the one who had sung the stars into being.

A cloud passed over Tarva, and there was a clattering of hooves that let Tash know the white stag had caught the scent of the Lion. Ten leagues to the northeast, King Margis gave the order to attack Tash’s camp.