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‘They changed clothes,’ said Rass. ‘This is the queen.’

He had one hand knotted in the loose cloth at the shoulder of her washer-woman’s robe, and his companion Miftah, like him a ruddy half-ifrit, pointed a spear at her throat. She did not look at either of them, but glared furiously straight ahead at the man who was her true captor.

‘You dyed your hair,’ said this man. He was tall, and lighter-skinned than the barbarians he led, and only an indefinable knowingness in his face hinted that he was far older than the well-preserved forty he appeared. ‘But your eyes would have given you away soon enough.’ The queen’s were pale eyes of a colour somewhere between blue and grey, quite unlike the brown eyes of most men. They were the eyes of a northerner; or of one of the royal house of Calormen.

The disguised queen spat at the barbarian leader.

‘Oh, my queen,’ the barbarian leader laughed. ‘Is that any way to greet your brother?’

‘You killed my father,’ said Queen Mara. ‘You are no brother of mine.’

‘It was in battle I killed him,’ said Gerald. ‘If it was not a fair fight, it was not because I was the one a head taller than him.’ He showed no sign of his proverbial ill-temper, smiling down at the enraged face of his half-sister with exultant triumph. ‘Nor was I the one who descended on his camp before dawn, hoping to find him unawares. He should not have come looking for trouble, if he did not want to find it.’

Queen Mara ignored Gerald’s words. ‘I was not running away,’ she raged, twisting furiously in the grip of Rass. Like Gerald, she was fitter and smoother-faced than befitted her age, and it was whispered that she had inherited strange magic from her sorceress mother. ‘Lord Yevin is coming from the sea. When his army gets here, your ruffians will be driven from the city. You will all die in torments.’

‘And you will have a third husband, will you, my sister?’ said Gerald calmly.

‘I am not your sister,’ snarled Queen Mara. ‘I will see you roasting alive on a fire, son of Tash.’

‘Yes, I am the Son of Tash,’ said Gerald, letting iron creep into his voice. ‘He is inexorable, irresistible, and he will live forever.’

‘May you also live forever, Lord Gerald,’ Rass added enthusiastically, and Miftah hurriedly echoed his prayer.

‘You will not live another week, you unwashed savage,’ growled the Queen, her eyes bright with hatred. She tried to lunge towards Gerald, and Rass grabbed her other shoulder, while Miftah took a step forward so that his spear pressed against her chest.

‘I am master of Calormen now,’ said Gerald. ‘Yevin will never be King in Balan. There will be no more kings in Balan. I will rule, and those who come after me will be of my blood, and this will be Tash-Balan, the city of Tash.’

From a distant corner of the palace there came the sound of a wall collapsing, and then the raucous victory cries of Gerald’s men. Further away, somewhere in the city, rose the inhuman wails of a woman who has just discovered something too horrible for words.

‘You are mad,’ said the Queen. ‘Your so-called father is nothing but a wild beast, and your army of scoundrels will melt away when Yevin gets here. I will see the fingers of your sword arm pulled out, one by one. I will see your ears cropped and your balls crushed-‘

‘See, will you?’ said Gerald, his calm words now dripping with venom. ‘You will not see anything, dear sister.’

‘I am not afraid to die,’ lied Queen Mara. ‘I will be avenged, and you will suffer.’

Gerald nodded to Rass, and he gripped the queen’s arms tightly behind her back. Miftah kept the spear pressed against her chest. Gerald took a step closer, oblivious to the queen’s insults, and barked a laugh.

‘If I am ever tortured, my queen, you will not see it.’

‘No!’ cried the Queen, struggling against her captors like a true child of the royal house of Calormen, but Gerald had a swift hand and a good eye despite his years. Like he might have taken two birds on the wing with two arrows in succession, his dagger darted lightly in at the Queen’s face and turned her pale eyes into pools of dark blood.

Queen Mara did not cry out. She bit her lip until it ran red, and her breathing grew ragged, but she did not cry out. ‘I will still be avenged,’ she said with controlled pride, her face awash with gore. ‘You will not live to enjoy your victory.’

‘Bandage her wounds,’ said Gerald. ‘At the far end of the garden outside this hall you will find a door to an old wine cellar: put her there, and watch over her. I will speak with her in the morning.’

‘Yes, Lord Gerald,’ cried Rass and Miftah with enthusiasm. ‘May you live forever, Lord Gerald’.


October 1st, 1983

Mrs Susan Bowles

Crampton House

Beaconsfield, Bucks


Dear Mrs Bowles,

I am sorry to tell you that my grandmother recently passed away and cannot answer your letter herself. I do not know if she ever intended to answer you, but I do not think that she would be upset with me for writing to you now she is gone since you went to all the trouble. Since it has been more than a year since you wrote I am sure you cannot be holding out much hope for a reply so maybe this will be a pleasant surprise.

My grandmother chose not to reply to your letter for reasons of her own, but I can assure you that your letter affected her deeply, and she was the one who told me off when I did not take it seriously. (As you may or may not know, my grandmother was blind from birth. In the past few years I have been the one who has read her letters for her and to whom she dictated her replies).

I will answer your last question first. You said you were interested in the particulars of my grandmother’s life: where she came from, what she did, what she thought about things.

My grandmother Josephine Westcott was a remarkable woman. She was born in a country town a little north of Perth in 1897. Her parents I think were both born in England but had met in Western Australia. She had one sister, Geraldine, who was four or five years older than her. When my grandmother was about 13 years old her mother and sister were killed in a carriage accident. I cannot imagine how terrible this must have been for her though from what you wrote in your letter I know you know only too well.

She could not live by herself so was sent back to England to live with her father, who had deserted the family some years before. He was the kind of unsuccessful speculator of the kind that were very common here around the turn of the century. At any rate, my grandmother did not get on with him at all, and soon showed herself to be extraordinarily stubborn and strong-willed in escaping his authority. There was no possible way she could live independently; but what she could do was persuade a man much better off than her father to marry her at a scandalously young age. My grandmother – a penniless girl from the colonies, and completely blind – contracted a marriage with a man twenty-five years her elder, a Major Milton. He appears to have been very much in love with her and to have refused her nothing. He was killed in WWI, leaving my grandmother a comfortably well-off widow at the age of 21. I am afraid I really know very little about these years of my grandmother’s life. Would you believe that my mother was thirty years old before she learned that my grandmother had been married before?

Around 1920 my grandmother returned alone to Perth, very self-assured and old for her years, where she married a solicitor – Allen Westcott, my grandfather. My uncle Edward was born in 1921, my uncle Louis in 1924, and my mother in 1930. My mother says she thinks my grandparents’ marriage was happy enough, although it was always very clear that my grandmother was boss of the family. She was a stern mother, my mother says, and they never really got on. She did not approve of my father, for instance, and there was a complete break between her and my mother for some years over him. (I am sad to say that my grandmother was correct.  I don’t approve of my father either). I always got along well with my grandmother, though God knows she was stern enough with me at times as well. She did not like to have anyone see her sad, or out of control, and it was good that she was spared the worst indignities of old age – she stayed healthy and independent right up until the end, when she died unexpectedly in her sleep. I had expected her to go on and on and to celebrate her hundredth birthday.

As to her opinions, she was outwardly conventional, and my mother was brought up an Anglican. At heart though, I think she followed the convention of Josephine Westcott, and nothing else.  I can still see her telling me what she told me when she caught me doing something foolish because my friends suggested it when I was about eight years old: “I don’t care what anybody else thinks, Clare- if everyone thinks it’s wrong and you know it’s right, that doesn’t matter. But this is something you know is wrong. You make the decisions you know are right, and stick to them.”

She told me once that all our religion and science were no better than trying to fit the ocean in a teacup. “The universe is too big and complicated for us to understand. The best that we can do is live in it.” That was in a very rare philosophical moment when she had had a few too many glasses of port, the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. He died in 1957, shortly before I was born, and shortly before he was due to retire.

About the time my mother was born my grandfather had the house built where my grandmother lived the rest of her life.  She never liked to travel far, but while my grandfather lived they went on very regular trips into the country, a day or so’s drive distant, where she could smell the gum trees and feel the emptiness. After he died she stayed in the house that was really too big for her with my uncle Louis (he never married and died a few years ago) and then alone. She loved the birds in the garden, and sitting listening to the distant sound of the sea and the closer sounds of traffic, and having uncle Louis or myself read to her. I don’t know that she was happy – she had lost too many people close to her – but she was never openly unhappy and never once complained.

Now, to your first questions, about places called “Calormen” and “Tashbaan”. My grandmother just went quiet when I read you asking if she had ever been to those places, and if she was willing to tell you of the time she spent there. As I said before she told me off for making fun of these questions. I could not find those places in the atlas, though I suppose they are somewhere in the Middle East? From what I know of my grandmother’s life she only ever made the two trips to England and back when she was quite young. (Though she was always rather mysterious about that period of her life).

I probably would not be writing this letter if I had not heard her mention ‘Calormen’ several times since she received your letter – as if it had wakened memories that had long been sleeping. I cannot remember her ever mentioning it at all before.

For instance, I brought her some pistachio fudge earlier this year, and she said, ‘This is a very Calormen sort of food.’ I think she said it to herself when she thought I had already left the room. Another time a few months ago she said of a leather bottle in a Turkish style that my friend Robert had brought back from holiday that it was ‘the kind of thing they had in Calormen’. More recently than that I heard her reciting a poem to herself – I am afraid I cannot remember any of the words – and when I asked her about it she said it was a gazelle song from Calormen. But she did not tell me anything more about that place.

As for ‘Tashbaan’, I never heard her say that name, but I did on one occasion not long before she died hear her say the word ‘Tash’. This was the only time I ever saw my grandmother cry. I heard a noise and went to see if anything was the matter, and when I put on the lights she was holding the leather bottle. ‘Poor Tash,’ she was saying. ‘Poor dear Tash.’ I put my arms around her and asked what was wrong, thinking she might have had news somehow that one of her friends had died. (She did have quite a few friends who wrote her, though none who were particularly close and I could not recall any named Natasha). I can’t remember exactly what she said, and I asked her who Tash was. Then she said something very strange.

‘I have buried three husbands,’ my grandmother said. ‘I should have been true to the first.’

I said I did not understand, which I still don’t, and she said she was sorry to bother me with her problems, and not to mind her foolish chatter, and asked me when I was going to get married by way of changing the subject. ‘Did you really have three  husbands?’ I asked her, not expecting her to answer me. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Four husbands. Two here, and two there. Poor Tash.’ I asked her where there was, but she sent me to get her some tea, and when I came back she was quite in control of herself and would not return to the subject no matter what. I would have thought only that my poor grandmother was starting to confuse things she had heard in stories with what was real, if it were not that this seemed to have been brought on by the bottle she said was like a Calormen thing, and she spoke of Tash which was like the other name you mentioned in your letter. So I think, strange as it may seem, that my grandmother did know of these places you asked her about, and that before she met my father her life was stranger than we ever imagined.

So little information must be frustrating for you, and I am sorry my grandmother could not reply to you herself. But I thought you should know that the names you mentioned did have some meaning to her, even if we will never know what it was.

I wish you all the best, and I am curious to know more about these places. If you felt able to tell me what you know about them I would be most grateful.

Yours Sincerely,

Clare Fenoli


Tash strode away south with great strides. He did not need to walk; he could be where he wanted to be instantly by magic. Over long ages the magic he had once eaten had eaten him, had grown within him and beyond him like the germ at the heart of a seed grows into a tree, and he saw and heard with things that were not eyes or ears, and felt the world about him as if he were a thousand independent wandering Tashes. Magic suffused him, had changed every atom of his body.

But he remembered – yes, he remembered. And when he remembered, sometimes he liked to walk like a mortal, and go through the world as a mortal would go through it. There was a fear in the world as he walked that was not just a fear of him. The birds were hushed, and the very clattering of the streams sounded muted; he could feel the trees cringing as he went by. A greyness was spreading through everything: colour and life were leaking from the world. The birds knew the end was coming. The deer that fled at his approach knew the end was coming.

‘But they do not know how near,’ he said to himself. ‘They do not know how near.’

Tash remembered this world as he had first seen it, from the top of the wall of the hidden garden. The wall Aslan had destroyed. It had seemed so beautiful and new then, so full of hope and potential. But there was nothing here. No joy, no light, no peace, no respite from pain. No certainty of anything but that fate would shape things to a cruel end. No love. There had been love once; but that had been ages of the world ago, and the Tash who had loved was as dead as if he were dry bones in a forgotten tomb.

Tash paid no attention to the man in his arms. He had long since ceased struggling and screaming and had fallen limp. He was ephemeral, of no consequence, and he was a fool. He had thought that there was nothing more than what he could see and touch with his own hands.

‘And there is so much more,’ said Tash. ‘So very much more.’

A cold wind blew, almost a gale, and the tops of the trees began to bend. This was the wind that would not cease, Tash knew. Soon the earth would tremble, like it had trembled once before, and it would not stop until all the dwellings of his worshippers were cast down, Tash knew. And then the world would be swept clean.

‘I go, as commanded, as ever, to my appointed place,’ said Tash.

The wind grew stronger. A young squirrel called out in terror, seeking its mother. Tash walked to the hole in the world with one final step that was a thousand leagues. This place had always seemed dead, here in the depths of the desert, a circle of standing stones in the centre of which a hole in space and time now pulsed. The void slid away from Tash’s immortal senses as it had once slid away from his mortal ones – it was white, it was black, and it was loud, it was silent.

It had seemed dead, but it had not been a dead place. Tash could feel the life in the spiny desert plants, in the beetles and scorpions that crouched in the sand. There were footprints on the edge of the circle, beginning to blow away in the wind. Footprints of a gazelle. They would all be gone soon, and this place would be truly dead.

Tash did not think then of his long ages of dominion, of the empires that had worshipped him or the tyrants who had called him ancestor. He did not think of all the blood that had been shed in his name, and of how he had been lifted up to a little less than a God. He thought instead of a frightened girl who had sought comfort in his arms, and a rash promise made in an evil magician’s castle.

‘Josie,’ he said.

Then he stepped through into the void, and took his lawful prey back to his own place, his own world, where a palace of bone floated on a lifeless sunless sea.