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In almost all places it is uncomfortably cold to sleep out of doors in your clothes, and Josie found that the Lion’s Pool was one of them, even with her heavy coat. The scents of the night flowers were different, and the breeze brought no trace of smoke or sheep, but the night had the same feel as cold clear winter nights at home. She tried to curl up into a little ball and go on sleeping when she woke up, but tired as she was she could not manage, and had to get up and stomp backwards and forwards on the soft grass to keep warm. Her thoughts went around and around without getting anywhere. She was in a land with talking animals.  For ‘some important reason’, the gazelle had said. She did not know what would happen to her here, and whether she would ever get back.  She thought of all the little ways she had done people wrong, and how she might now never have a chance to make them right. She worried about how terrible Miss Miles would feel when she found out she was gone, and then how she might get in terrible trouble for carelessly leaving Josie to stumble over a railing into the ocean. She wondered what her father would think when he got the news. Around and around Josie’s thoughts went, just like they had the night before she had left home to go to England.

By and by the birds began to sing – first one that had a melancholy sort of whistle, and then more and more, none of them familiar. Josie felt the breeze pick up, a breeze that was a little warmer and was heavy with the same vanilla bush smell of the dandelion-like flowers she had smelled the day before.  And because you cannot worry forever about things you cannot help when there are things you can do something about that you should, Josie realised that she was really very hungry, and worried about finding something to eat.

‘The gazelle – Arabitha – seemed to know something about people,’ Josie said to herself. ‘So they’ll know I can’t eat grass. Maybe they’ll know something about where to find fruit and nuts that human eat. And there might be fish. I hope they don’t talk. That would be horrible. The birds don’t seem to talk; so probably the fish won’t talk. Stop rambling, Josie.’

Then she heard the sound of great many hooves coming from the same direction as the warm wind. With the dawn came a crowd of gazelles, a couple of dozen, who arranged themselves in front of her in an orderly fashion like a school assembly. The lady gazelles and the smaller children were in one place, with the larger children off to the sides, the boys on one and the girls on the other. Out in front in the place where the headmistress would be in a school assembly was who could only be Caladru, prince of the gazelles.

‘The Lion’s peace be upon you, Lady Josie, Daughter of Helen’, said Caladru, in a voice that put Josie in mind of a bass clarinet. ‘I bid you welcome to the March Plains of Sha, on behalf of all the talking animals who dwell here, and put myself and all my people at your disposal. We have always done all that was in our power to aid the Sons of Frank and Daughters of Helen when they had need to call upon us.’

Josie had not imagined such an occasion being made of her arrival. ‘Thank you, your majesty’ she said, as politely as she could, and curtsied in the direction of Caladru. This seemed like an inadequate reply to Caladru’s grand welcome, but she could not think of exactly what else she should say. After a long pause filled with the shuffling of youthful gazelle hooves Caladru continued.

‘My daughter says that you have come from the sea, Lady Josie, and that you were summoned to the Lion’s Pool on a quest, and now seek guidance on how to proceed further. My Aunt Radamatha knows many tales of the quests that have been made by the Lords and Ladies of Creation since the world was made, and I have asked her to listen to your tale and to provide you with what advice she can.’

‘I am at your service, Lady Josie,’ said another voice, the mellow golden voice of someone who has recently retired wealthy from singing on the stage, a voice that made Josie think of comfortably warm indoor afternoons on a cold day.

‘Thank you,’ said Josie. ‘I suppose I must have been brought here, since I didn’t do anything to bring myself. I was on a ship, and I fell overboard, and then I ended up here without there being anything in between that I can remember. There isn’t anything like this place in the whole world that I know – we don’t have any talking animals there, except birds that copy what people say, and in stories that people have made up.’

There was a loud murmuring of shifting feet and whispered conversations, just like there would be at a school assembly, and Caladru silenced it in almost the same way that a headmistress would, by raising his voice to say something very firmly and slowly with a hint of sharpness to it.

‘We will now leave the Lady Josie to discuss these matters with Radamatha,’ said Caladru. ‘We will remain at a courteous distance, Lady Josie, in readiness should you require anything further.’

‘Thank you very much, your majesty,’ said Josie.

‘It has been our Honour, my Lady,’ said Prince Caladru, and he withdrew in a stately fashion, most of his clan following in disorder very  like children dismissed from a school assembly. One only drew closer to Josie, and she was sure this was Radamatha, who had spoken before with the mellow golden voice. When she was close Josie found that she smelled rather like a sheep. Not unpleasantly, and with a wild deserty something as well; Josie thought of frankincense and myrrh.

‘Thank you for helping me,’ said Josie.

‘I will do what I can,’ said the gazelle with the golden voice. ‘I have seldom spoken with men, and never anyone like you, Lady Josie.’

‘Please, just Josie,’ she said. ‘Lady Josie sounds like someone old and important.’

‘That is fine, Josie,’ said Radamatha. ‘But your proper name is something different again, is it not?”

‘Yes,’ said Josie. ‘My proper name is Josephine Furness. The Furness is from my father’s name.’ She felt she should be encouraging to the young gazelle, so she smiled and said, ‘It is a bit of a mouthful for Arabitha to remember.’

‘A mouthful,’ repeated Radamatha, as if the expression were unfamiliar to her.

‘You are hungry,’ she said abruptly, in quite a different tone. ‘I fear my nephew does not think of such things. Of course it is the right thing to first ask a Daughter of Helen whether she wishes something to eat, and show her where some may be found. If you will come along with me?’

Josie walked along with Radamatha, feeling the first warmth of the sun on her face and hands. It should have felt like a dream, walking with a talking gazelle in another world, but it felt more as if her life in Australia had been the dream. She felt more truly real, more truly alive, than she could remember feeling since she was very young.  There were many things she wanted to ask, but she could not decide where to start, and it felt so pleasant just being alive.

‘If you wish, Josie, I can tell you the tale of how Aslan appeared in this place,’ said Radamatha.

The same wild feeling of fear mingled with longing ran through Josie.

‘You see, it is the other story that I know about a Daughter of Helen who came from far away, and this place, and Aslan, who is the one who makes all wonderful and unlikely things happen in this world, and I think it is connected in some way to the story that you are in now. But you don’t know about Aslan.’  Radamatha said this last in the same tone of voice she had used when she had said Josie was hungry.

‘No, I don’t’ said Josie. ‘I’m afraid I don’t know anything at all about this place.’

They stopped so Josie could disentangle her skirts, which had snagged on a thorny bush. ‘I am sorry, Josie’ said Radamatha. ‘I did not think of that. We can go around over here, instead.’

‘Aslan is the great Lion who was there on the day that the world was made,’ said Radamatha.  ‘He does not grow older, and he does not die, but only goes away for a time to some other place, and comes back when he is needed again. When the world was made he spoke to the talking animals and set them apart from the other animals, to watch over them and guide them rightly. And he brought from another place the first of the race of Men, King Frank and Queen Helen, to watch over all the talking animals and guide them rightly, in the same way as the talking animals watch over the dumb animals. That is how things are done in the northern countries still. This is a fig tree.’

‘Thank you,’ said Josie. ‘We have figs where I come from.’ She reached into the branches and felt about until her hand closed on a fig, which felt as if it were ripe. She plucked it and brought it to her nose. She had never been particularly fond of figs, but this morning it smelled more delicious than any fruit she had ever had. ‘But things are different here than in the northern countries?’ she asked.

‘All these lands were settled by restless animals and restless men’ said Radamatha. ‘Talking animals and men are few and thinly scattered here, and these lands have always been the refuge of those who do not like being watched over. Here there is no one king to rule over all the Sons of Frank, and most talking animals seek to live in the lands where the Daughters of Helen are not, so that they might suit themselves.’ There was a touch of rueful amusement in her voice as she said this last, as if she knew that the gazelles of the March Plain of Sha bore a little of the blame for the state of affairs she described. ‘The worst of all the men who did not want to be ruled by the Kings of the North once lived north and west of here, beyond the mountains, in a land called Telmar.’

‘Mmhm,’ said Josie, plucking another fig while she chewed the last bite of the first one.

‘The men of Telmar learned how to do evil things that the King would have forbidden them to do; things that Aslan had forbidden their ancestors to do. One of the things they learned was how to make people do what they wanted using magic. Then one of their wizards travelled north to Narnia – that is the land of the Kings whose fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers were all Kings, back to the time of King Frank – and put a spell on a boy there, so that he would leave his home and come away to Telmar after a certain time had passed.  I don’t know why the wizard put a spell on the boy to make him want to go away to Telmar. When the boy snuck away to go to Telmar his sister followed him and tried to get him to come back. She talked with him, and fought with him, and though nothing she tried was any use she did not give up but stayed with him, hoping to turn him back. And they came here.’

‘Mmhm’ said Josie.

‘They were very hungry and thirsty when they came here, for it had been a bad summer, and many of the pools on the plain had dried up, and there were even fewer animals and men dwelling in this land than there are today. They ate and drank and recovered their strength, and the girl was trying again to break the spell the wizard had put over her brother when they heard the men of Telmar approaching from the west, and she prepared herself to fight them so that they might not have her brother, and in the proper form of the story is remembered all the things she said then. But when it seemed most hopeless the Lion, Aslan, appeared from the east. He defeated the Men of Telmar and broke the spell over the boy. Then he took the boy and the girl with him into Telmar, and they were with him when he defeated them and turned them all into dumb beasts to punish them for their wickedness. And afterwards the boy was the last king to rule over the south as well as the north, before the men of the south had their own kings, and he had the form of the Lion carved here.’

‘Thank you for telling me the story,’ said Josie. She thought what you have probably thought yourself about similar sorts of stories, that it was in some ways rather unsatisfactory story, in the way the boy and girl had just gone along without managing to do anything useful until Aslan appeared and fixed everything. ‘But that is what most stories in real life seem to be like,’ she thought to herself. ‘People are dragged along by things that happen to them, and other people who are much more powerful than they are come in at the end and decide whether the ending will be happy or miserable.’

‘I don’t know that the story can have much to do with me, Radamatha. No one persuaded me to come here, and I haven’t followed anyone – I just appeared. And you say that these men of Telmar were defeated long ago, so there doesn’t appear to be any great trouble. Not that I could do anything about it anyway.’

Radamatha took a step closer, close enough that Josie could feel the warmth of her breath.

‘You appearing is not the only thing that has happened,’ said Radamatha. ‘I have not yet told my nephew, but an owl came from the Northeast the night before last and told me that a man of Balan is coming this way – Balan is the place of men where the Kings of the South who are closest to Narnia rule. He is the one whose brother will be ninth of the Kings over Balan if he lives. The owl told me that he has heard of the treasures and secrets of Telmar, and thinks it would be great and heroic to go and find them. Maybe you are supposed to tell him not to.’

‘Maybe,’ said Josie dubiously. ‘Why would he listen to me?’

‘His name is Margis,’ said Radamatha. ‘Margis was also the name of the boy in the story. And I did not tell you the name of the girl in the story – it was Jozfeen.’

‘That is a funny coincidence,’ said Josie slowly, feeling like something with too many legs was crawling on her back.

‘I don’t think it is one of those,’ said Radamatha. ‘It is a wonderful and unlikely thing.’

‘So it is the doing of…’ Josie could not quite bring herself to say the name.

‘Of Aslan, yes. If you wish, Josie, you can tell me more of your story now, but I think you are here because you are meant to speak with this Margis, and persuade him not to go to Telmar, like Jozfeen sought to persuade the other Margis not to go to Telmar.’

‘I will tell you a little about me,’ said Josie. She was still hungry, but she thought she had probably had as many figs as were good for her. She wiped her hands on her skirts in a way that would have gotten her scolded at home and sat down under the fig tree.  Radamatha sat down beside her, and Josie told her all about growing up with mother and Gerry in a little town in Western Australia, and Miss Harker at the blind school, and how Ada Plummer – who was a year younger than Josie – was a terrible nuisance but it was hardly an excuse for being so unpleasant back to her. And she told Radamatha about the accident, and how she was being sent away to England to her father over the ocean when she had fallen into this new world.

‘I cannot keep all those countries straight,’ said Radamatha. ‘You have so many of them in your world. And these ships you speak of, that burn stones to move against the wind.’ She made a snorting gazelle gesture of amazement.

‘It already seems so far away,’ said Josie. ‘Like a dream.’ She paused a long time, listening to the birds and the milling gazelles, the wind in the trees, the splash of something in the pool that might have been a frog. The sun was already warm enough that she felt she would be more comfortable in the shade. ‘This is a lovely place,’ she said to Radamatha. ‘I don’t want anything bad to happen to it. I don’t see why it should be me, but I can’t think of any idea that is better than yours. I suppose we have to go and meet this Margis.’

Radamatha got to her feet. ‘Even if I am wrong, Josie, you will be better off among other men, rather than gazelles. The men of Balan are kinder to outsiders than other men of the south. Shall I tell Caladru?’

‘We could go and tell him together,” said Josie. ‘It seems the proper thing to do, somehow.’

So Josie and Radamatha trooped across the meadow and Radamatha told Caladru of their decision in quite a formal way, and Josie did her best to keep up, and there was a discussion in which Caladru decided exactly who would be in the party sent to guide Josie, and what each of them should be responsible for. Josie found it very interesting at the time but it would not be so interesting to put down all the details now. At the end it was decided that Radamatha should stay behind with the herd, but that Josie should go with Murbitha, who liked to listen to Radamatha’s stories and was her apprentice, and Mirinitha, who was very good at finding water and hearing the approach of things that were trying to be quiet, and also two of the young gentleman gazelles, Zadru and Kodoru, who had a way of talking over the top of each other that made it hard for Josie to tell them apart. They were nearly at the age when it was the custom of the gazelles for boys to go off and find their own way in the world and see if they could collect a herd of their own, and they had recently spent a good deal of time wandering off to the northeast – which coincidentally was the direction Margis was said to be coming from – preparing themselves for this journey.

This having been decided the herd dispersed over the meadow by the side of the Lion’s Pool, grazing in a disorderly way, with nobody taking pains anymore to stay politely away from Josie, and most of them coming in close to look at her and ask her questions and see if there was anything useful they could do.

‘There is another tree over here that has something you might want to eat on it,’ said Murbitha, who had a shy sort of voice. ‘You can hold on to me if you like and I will lead you there.’Murbitha was quite nice to hold on to, with fur more like a well-kept dog than a sheep, and the tree which was on the drier edge of the meadow had a lot of leathery low-hanging fruit. ‘I have seen the Sons of Frank break them open,’ said Murbitha. ‘There are juicy things inside.’ Josie did this, and found that there were indeed lots of juicy things inside, stuck together like the little bits of a raspberry with seeds that you could eat.  They were very nice indeed. These fruit were pomegranates, which Josie had not had before, and she found them every bit as messy to eat as you did the first time you had them.

Alabitha came eagerly up to Josie and introduced her sisters. ‘We were quarreling yesterday and I ran off by myself, which is how I found you,’ she said. ‘I suppose when they tell the story of how you came here they will tell how I was the first to find you?’

‘I suppose they will,’ said Josie, with a laugh.

‘Your feet are different than they were then,’ said Alabitha.

‘I took off my shoes and stockings,’ said Josie. ‘It is nicer to walk on the grass without them.’  She wiggled her toes to demonstrate.

‘It must be very strange to wear all those things,’ said Alabitha. ‘I don’t think I would like it. Are you going to take off any more?’

‘No,’ said Josie. Though it was almost tempting. Being proper sort of clothes for going to dinner on a liner, they were not at all the most comfortable things to be wearing out of doors on a warm day. ‘I am very used to it,’ said Josie. ‘It should feel very strange to me if I was not wearing them, and I would be horribly embarrassed if anyone else came by. Any other human being, that is. Not to mention sunburned.’

‘I see,’ said Alabitha, still fascinated by Josie’s toes.  ‘I know you are looking for good things to eat,’ she said. ‘There are some plants that grow by the water that are very nice.’

‘Please, show me,’ said Josie. These turned out to be things a bit like spring onions that Alabitha and her sisters assured her were extremely tasty, but when Josie ate one she found it much nastier than the nastiest spring onion she had eaten and had to drink rather a lot of water to get the taste out of her mouth.  Not everything in this new world was pleasant.

‘I’m sorry, but I don’t think those are food for people like me,’ Josie admitted.

Alabitha was so downcast at this that Josie felt she had to give her a hug, but this turned out to be another difference between humans and gazelles. Alabitha leapt away in a panic of flailing hooves, and then apologised profusely from a safe distance. ‘I am so sorry, Lady Josie, it just felt that I was trapped. I am so sorry. Please forgive me.’

‘It’s quite alright,’ said Josie. ‘I should have asked first.’

Josie felt rather queasy in the afternoon from eating nothing but fruit all day, and sat down to rest in a shady place where she could dabble her feet in the pool. As the shadows grew longer the gazelles drew closer together, and after a while they danced. First the boys and young men, then the girls and young women, and then all of them together, hooves stamping in unison in a completely different way from the heavy thump of horses in harness or the chaotic scramble of a flock of sheep. Then they did something completely different from any of the dumb animals of Josie’s world: a thing she should have expected from their voices, but which came as a complete surprise regardless. They sang. The young lady gazelles began first, and then the young gentlemen joined in with a different theme that ran along beside the first one, and then the older ladies joined in with a slower sort of tune that seemed to carry both of the first two along with it, and finally Caladru added his voice. It was the most beautiful singing Josie had ever heard and she never found the words to describe it properly.

The turning of day and night

Is the maker of events.

The turning of day and night

Is the source of life and death.

The turning of day and night

Is the echo of the song of Creation.

The turning of day and night

Is a soft two-coloured reed,

With which That-Which-Is

Disguises itself with appearances.

Fast and free blows the wind of time,

But Love itself is a wind that stems all winds.

In the tale of Love there are times

Other than the past, the present and the future;

Times for which no names have yet been coined.

Love is the tune that brings

Music to the voice of life.

Love is the light of life.

Love is the fire of life.

 

When Josie was starting to doze off the four who were to be her companions trotted up to her. A few of the older gazelles were still softly singing, and the air had the feel of night.

‘We will stay with you from now on until we reach the Sons of Frank,’ said Murbitha and Mirilitha.

‘We will watch over you while you rest, Josie, and you need not fear,’ said Zadru and Kodoru.

‘Thank you all,’ said Josie. And the four gazelles lay down around on four sides, so she was a good deal warmer that night than she had been the night before, and felt safe and comfortable in a way she had not felt since her mother had started having her turns.

 

[The Gazelle’s song is adapted from lines in ‘The Mosque of Cordoba’, by Muhammad Iqbal]