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Tash and Prince Margis walked in silence for long minutes through the forest, listening for any change in the texture of sounds of the vale by night. The sounds made by their companions had died away, and amid the calls of the night birds and the wind in the cypresses, the sounds made by other beasts were faint and infrequent. Tash thought the beasts that had fought them were keeping their distance: but he had no way of knowing how long they would stay cowed.  For all he knew, they might decide on another rash attack at any moment. It was not like they were mere mindless beasts. Their doings were as inscrutable to Tash as the doings of any other thinking beings.

A small part of Tash told him how easy it would be to be rid of Prince Margis forever. He could slay him here, in the deeps of the forest, where his body would never be found, and say that the beasts had come upon them: then the men would leave. He pushed the thoughts aside. What would Josie think of him, if he were to do such a thing?

Prince Margis walked behind Tash, taking three quick steps for every two strides of the thalarka.

‘Can you think of any good reason Blackbriar would go this way, Lord Tash?’ he asked in a soft voice. Like Tash, he had judged that their enemies were giving them a wide berth for the moment.

‘I don’t know,’ admitted Tash. ‘It would be a good place to hide for an animal her size. But I don’t know why she would hide, instead of joining us.’

The Hollow was up against the hills on the western side of the Vale of Telmar, opposite the castle, a place where a few acres of ground had given way and fallen into a cave underground some time in the distant past. It was a tumbled mass of stones each as big as a deer or a house, overgrown with brambles, and lying everywhere at least a Tash-length below the level of the surrounding countryside. Tash and Josie had only been there a few times, because it had an evil feel to it, and the smell of the stagnant water that pooled beneath the stones in some places was foul from animals that had fallen into it and died. The Hollow had been the place where the masters of Telmar who were gone and not mourned had thrown their rubbish: broken plates and spoiled mutton and mangled husks of juiced fruit, and also the bodies of the children they killed in their efforts to live forever.  That was where the bones of Nera lay, though Tash did not know it.

‘Maybe there is a hermit pig, or a hermit dog, who dwells out here, who was not part of the pack, and she thought they might come to the feast,’ suggested Margis. ‘But then, if they did not join her, why would she not come back? I am worried for her.’

Tash did not know what to feel. He was being swept along by events greater than he was, as he had been since his adventure began. The magic burned in his bones, brighter and stronger than ever before since the battle at the feast, and while he still blamed Blackbriar for stirring up all this trouble, the more sensible part of him felt that she was just as much a victim blown hither and tither by Aslan’s schemes as he was.

‘I am worried for her, too,’ he said, and found as he said it that he meant it. He walked on a little more swiftly, so that Prince Margis had to break into a jog to keep up with him.

The wind was coming from the west, so Tash smelled the blood first, even before the sky opened up before them. He loped forward the last few dozen paces to the edge of the hollow. The sky above them was cloudless, and blazed with stars. Red Tarva, Lord of Victory, was high in the sky, shining down on them like the eye of the Overlord. On a flat stone a little larger than Tash, poised at the edge of the hollow, lay the body of a dog. Tash knew who it was while it was still nothing more than a pool of dark shadow. She had been torn open from throat to groin, like Tash had torn the boar, and her entrails were spread out across the stone in a horrible bloody mass. Her head was turned upward, lifeless eyes looking upward.

‘No!’ howled Tash. He thought the same thing he had thought when he first saw the broken body of Nera. ‘This is not how it is supposed to be,’ he said. ‘This is not what should have happened.’

‘Indeed not,’ said Prince Margis grimly. He knelt down by the side of Blackbriar’s body, and murmured a blessing. ‘The Lion’s peace go with you, dear friend.’

‘What peace?’ said Tash. ‘She trusted him. She came here to do what he said.’ He cast his head back and forth, looking across the tumbled landscape of the Hollow and back into the forest, hoping to see some enemy that he could tear into pieces. But there was no-one.

‘She has been dead at least an hour,’ said Prince Margis, straightening up. ‘Her killers are long gone. Maybe we have slain them already.’

‘It is not fair,’ said Tash. ‘She trusted the Lion.’

‘No,’ said Prince Margis. ‘It is not fair. But very little is. She came back to Telmar to do a good thing, and she has done it. Poor Onyx. Poor Blackbriar.’ He shook his head. ‘We cannot help her. We should return.’ He looked out over the maze that was the Hollow, to the dark mass of hills beyond. ‘I wonder why she came here.’

‘She looks like she has been sacrificed,’ said Tash. He was still angry, but his loud initial rage was subsiding into a deeper bitterness. ‘Sacrificed, to the greater glory of the Lion.’

‘He is not a tame Lion,’ said Prince Margis. ‘But no, I don’t think it is that.’ Decisively, he put the death of Blackbriar behind him, as he had put the death of Eyit behind him earlier that evening. ‘Let us look around; perhaps there is some clue here to what happened.’

There were pawprints aplenty, where the ground was not stone, or covered with dry leaves – enough for a dozen dogs – but neither Tash nor Prince Margis could read any story in them. After a few minutes of fruitless searching in the darkness it was obvious that there was nothing they could learn.

‘We should not leave her,’ said Prince Margis. He gathered up the broken ruin that had been Blackbriar in his arms. Clad in the golden magical armour that Aslan had left for him, he began slowly walking back to the castle, Tash now walking a pace behind him.

‘We cannot let Gerald see her,’ said Tash. ‘He is fond of her.’

‘Of course,’ said Prince Margis.

Prince Margis bore the body of Blackbriar back to the feasting glade, and Tash tore a hole in the earth for it, and afterwards turned a heavy table on top of it.

‘We can build a cairn over her later,’ said Prince Margis.


Josie was standing waiting for them at the top of the stairs, with one hand on Mirilitha’s back, and Ofrak perched on her shoulder, like a figure of a goddess on a coin. Her face was set and without expression. The wardrobes and chests of the Sorceror had been ransacked for clothes to fit the beasts who were men until morning, and the sow-woman stood now on one side of Josie, and the red-bearded boar man on the other side, with the others ranged awkwardly behind her.

‘Blackbriar is dead,’ said Josie, before Prince Margis or Tash had a chance to say anything.

‘Yes,’ said Tash. ‘I fear so,’ said Prince Margis at the same time.

‘Cinder admitted it,’ said Josie.

‘Did she kill her?’ asked Tash. He looked at the tear-streaked faces of the beasts, trying to tell which one was the dog-woman who had spoken to Josie after the battle.

‘No.’ Josie shook her head. ‘It was the last part of the magic. The beasts of Telmar could only be restored if one of them sacrificed themselves for the others. Let themselves be killed. So Blackbriar let herself be killed.’ She wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

‘We did not want her to go,’ said the dark-haired woman who was Cinder, timidly. ‘We told her she did not have to. But she said we did not understand, and that it was the deep magic from the dawn of time. She said Aslan told her.’

‘I still do not understand,’ said the man by Cinder’s side.

‘Of course not,’ said Tash, looking angrily through them. ‘No one can understand. It is all madness. They are all the same, the Overlords of worlds.’

‘We cannot know what the Lion knows,’ said Prince Margis mildly. ‘Perhaps he saw that this was the only way, and all others were worse. It is a sad business,’ he continued. ‘We have lost good men and beasts tonight. But we have – if it is the will of the Emperor over the Sea – restored these men- these beasts- of Telmar.’ He nodded to the gathered men and women who had been pigs and dogs. ‘And it is the doing of Blackbriar. We should honour her memory, and the memory of the others who have fallen.’

‘It is all of your doing,’ said the sow-woman, going down on her knees before the Prince. ‘We do not deserve it.’

‘Perhaps not,’ said Prince Margis, lifting her back to her feet. ‘But many times I have been done a kindness I did not deserve, so it is just that I repay the favour.’

‘We should slay them all,’ said Tash. ‘All the beasts who did this, so none remain.’

‘No,’ said Josie. ‘They are not all evil. Some are led astray: and some are too young, or too old. And all are the kindred of these,’ she waved to indicate the beasts around her.

‘What will happen to them, then?’ said Tash.

The owl, usually reticent to speak in the presence of humans, piped up first. ‘They will sink deeper and deeper into being mere beasts, now that the ones who remembered the stories of what they were are gone,’ said Ofrak. ‘Until they are truly no different from any other dumb beast.’ He bowed his head.

‘And what about them?’ said Tash, gesturing to the newly-restored talking beasts. ‘When they are beasts again, how will they live among their families who hate them?’

‘They will come with us,’ said Prince Margis, with a regal solemnity that even Tash could feel, and that instilled all the talking beasts with awe. ‘To Calormen.’

‘Yes,’ said Josie, nodding in agreement. ‘To Calormen.’

‘Then we are going?’ Tash asked.

Josie laid a hand on one of his arms. ‘I think we must, dear Tash. Dearest Tash.’