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Bride of Tash

‘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.

It was a clear night in midsummer, and after a scorchingly hot day the little city of Balan was rapidly cooling off.  Josie – or as it is proper to call her at this point, Queen Josie – was walking in the palace garden. With her walked her two companions: Mirilitha the gazelle and Eunomia (that is, Candytuft), daughter of the sow Primrose.  Mirilitha was a matron of the gazelles now, verging on old age, and walked with a measured elegance far removed from the flitting of her youth. She had come to dwell permanently in Balan with Josie when her children had grown big enough to look after themselves. Eunomia was twelve, which is a solid age when a talking sow ought to be thinking about settling down and raising a family: but she was much cleverer than any of the small group of marriageable talking boars in Calormen, and not wise enough to keep this a secret from them.

It had been nearly twenty years since Josie had fallen into this world. Thirteen years had passed since Tash had stolen into the palace and taken Gerald away; ten years since the twins had been born; and three long months since King Margis had ridden away to the southern marches to challenge the raiders that had been so troublesome in recent years. Ninety-nine long days; Josie had counted.

Queen Josie’s face was creased with care, but it had not turned sour or cruel. King Margis was a good husband; and Mara and Bardas were growing up healthy and bright and well-mannered. She knew her strangeness was still muttered about in the bazaar – her blindness, her rumoured sorceries, her foreign looks and uncanny youthfulness, the strange witchly life she had led before the Prince brought her back to Calormen – but she had worked hard not to make unnecessary enemies, and the many talking beasts that had flocked to Balan in her husband’s reign were her enthusiastic partisans despite the sometimes reluctant praise she gave to Aslan. Life in Balan had been comfortable, and rarely dangerous, and there had been much to do – there had been much she knew that she had not known she knew, lessons a girl had learned in the 20th century that could be profitably applied by a queen to Calormen. Josie felt useful there. She was useful there. Her life in Telmar seemed like a dream, and her life in Australia only a dream within a dream. She still thought of Gerald, every day; but less often of Tash.

There was no jasmine in the palace garden, but a willful breeze brought the scent of it to Josie from somewhere else in the city, and she frowned.

‘There will be word soon, my Queen,’ said Mirilitha, mistaking the reason for her frown. Two days ago a messenger had arrived bearing word that a pitched battle was imminent, and the King had expressed every confidence of success. ‘There will be victory, and then the King will return, if Aslan wills it.’

‘Yes, if Aslan wills it,’ said Josie. The breeze was cool in her face, but it still brought with it that unwelcome scent, with its reminders of things that once were and should not have been.

‘Someone comes,’ said Josie. She could hear wings on the air. Smaller than the wings of an ifrit, but only a little; the wings of a great bird that had no business in settled lands at such an hour. ‘It is Nesher.’ Josie stood by the side of the fountain that had been made in memory of Kurtas, the King’s dead elder brother, and waited for the eagle.

‘My Queen,’ said the bird, bowing before her in an imitation of the human gesture. In the way he spoke these two words Josie knew already the message he brought, and before he could say anything more she reached out a hand to steady herself on the fountain.

‘I fear the King is dead, my Queen,’ said Nesher.

‘Thank you, Nesher,’ said Josie. Her knees wavered, but did not fail her, and she took hold of Mirilitha with her other hand while Nesher told her the story. How the raiders had been prepared for the surprise attack, and fallen unexpectedly on King Margis from behind; how it was said it was Gerald who had slain him, with a spear through the chest; how he had died bravely and quickly, and spoken of her and the children at the last; how the King’s cousin Shomon had withdrawn the army without a rout, and hailed Bardas son of Margis as King, and was returning so that arrangements for his Majesty’s minority could be made. She would remember every word the eagle said later, she knew, and turn them over in her mind and understand them and feel the sourness and bitterness of each one; but as he spoke they were only sounds without meaning. There was only one thing that had meaning, and that was the one fact that her husband was dead at the hand of her son. She stood without any outward sign of emotion, like a Queen carved from stone.

‘My queen?’ It was Eunomia’s voice, and Josie was not sure what question she had asked. ‘Very well,’ she said, agreeing to whatever it had been, and let herself be led back into the palace.


Much later that night Josie sat alone in the Hall of Stars with a dagger on her lap. The night had grown cool enough that the wind through the high open windows of the room raised goose-bumps on her arms. Gerald had liked this room, with its view of the city, the way it caught the wind from the sea, and its walls carved with figures representing the stars. It had been one of the places in Balan he had been happy, before-

Josie sat alone on a sofa of embroidered silk, her bare feet on the cool stone floor, and a table before her with an empty flagon of sweet wine. Her companions had finally left her alone, when she feigned that she was going to sleep; but she had crept back out into the Hall of Stars, and taken out the slim dagger that was said to have belonged to Josfeen of Narnia. She ran her fingers over the flat of the blade, feeling the perfect smoothness of the metal. Josie’s face ached. She rubbed the rough scar at her shoulder, where the talon of Tash had once gripped her, and her thoughts were of numb despair.

No: she could imagine too well the misery of Mirilitha or Eunomia when they found her dead in the morning. And her children – her younger children – she could not leave them. They needed her still. It would be horrible enough when they learned their father was dead.  She would just have to endure. She put the dagger down on the table – no, further away, on the far side of the table.

Josie became aware that there was someone else in the room. Someone very large, and very silent, between her and the open window. A smell of clean fur came to her with the breeze from the window, tinged with strange hints of other things: cinammon and cloves and frankincense and burnt mutton fat and the flowers of her mother’s garden in Western Australia.

‘Aslan?’ she said. For a moment she thought she might be angry, like she had once been angry at the very thought of Aslan, but the little spark of fury flickered and died, having done its work of thawing the numbness inside her.

‘My child,’ said the Lion. His voice was like stone and wine and honey and gold. It was the most beautiful voice Josie had every heard.

‘I am sorry,’ said Josie, and she meant it more than anything she had ever said before.

‘It is not your fault, my child,’ said Aslan.

‘Isn’t it?’ Josie replied, in a small voice. ‘It seems like it is.’

‘The death of Margis is not your fault,’ said Aslan, and at the mention of his name tears swelled up again in Josie’s eyes when she thought she had been beyond crying.

‘You cannot tell your own story,’ said Aslan.  ‘Your story is shaped by the stories of everyone else around you, and they have made it what it is as much as you have. You have done what you were brought here to do.’

‘I could have done it better,’ said Josie. ‘My-‘ She thought of Margis, and Gerald, and Tash, and Blackbriar, and everyone else, and she could not find words to put her thoughts into.

‘It is time to go home,’ said Aslan.

‘Home?’ said Josie.

The breeze was stronger now, and the smell of the sea was strong in it.

‘No,’ Josie protested, standing up and knocking her shin against the table. ‘I need to stay- my babies. They need me.’

‘It is time,’ said Aslan. The air in the room had changed, Josie felt. She felt almost as if she were outside, instead of inside.

‘Please, will they be alright?’ asked Josie.

‘No one is ever told any story but their own,’ said Aslan, in a voice as implacable as the voice of a mountain. ‘We will meet again, my child.’

‘Aslan-‘ called Josie, but then a wave of shockingly cold water hit her. She was bowled backwards, and sent sprawling onto a slick hard surface, her throat and nose burning from the salt water. She instinctively cast about for something to hold onto, and gripped hold of something. She clung to it, kneeling and bent double, while the spray lashed her face, and coughed, unable for a few moments to draw enough breath.

She felt lighter than she had. The old ache in her shoulder was gone, the heaviness in her belly and the stiffness in her back, but the arms that gripped the metal pipe for dear life seemed treacherously weak.  Her clothes were heavy and uncomfortable. And soaked through with cold water.

‘Josie!’ came a frightened voice. ‘Josie?’ A door slammed wildly in the wind somewhere behind her.

‘Miss- Miles-?’ said Josie, very slowly.

‘Thank God!’ said the woman, lurching over to her. ‘Don’t you have the sense to come inside?’ She grabbed Josie’s shoulder.

‘I slipped,’ said Josie.

‘I’ve told you,’ said Miss Miles, breaking off before finishing the thought. A man’s voice called from the door, asking if he could help, and in a few moments Josie had been helped inside, into a warm corridor that rocked back and forth and was filled with strange smells of oil and iron. The sounds of the place jarred her ears. She had forgotten how jagged everything sounded in this world, how the sounds and smells of it were so much made by machines.

She was taken to a little room where Miss Miles helped her undress and dry off and into warm things, and gave her a cup of something hot and sweet to drink. Hot chocolate, she remembered after a little while, the memory of the name goaded out of a dim corner of her mind by the taste and smell of the stuff.

‘Poor Josie! You look like you’ve met a ghost,’ said Miss Miles. ‘Did you bump your head? Maybe I should go and fetch a doctor.’

‘No,’ said Josie, the first words she had managed to speak since being brought inside. ‘I’m fine.’

Miss Miles was not convinced, and went off regardless; no doubt Josie had sounded very odd. She sounded very odd to herself. When Miss Miles had left the room, her fingers felt at the place where the scar on her shoulder had been, and then the girlish flatness of her belly and chest. Could this really be her? This body felt so different. Such a slight, bony, ungainly thing.

Tears welled up in her eyes again as she thought of all that had happened. Of all that she had done.  My children, she thought. My poor children. If only she could have told them something, before she was taken away. She balled her hands up into fists against her face.

‘I will try to do better this time,’ she sobbed to the empty cabin. ‘I promise.’

And the words of the song of the gazelles came into her head, without her wanting them to.

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.

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.

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.

Tash could not understand why the leaders of the beasts had attacked so fiercely, instead of just letting those who wanted to eat the magic food eat it: people always seemed to want to interfere with what other people were doing, whether they were thalarka or humans or talking animals or gods. Tash did not ask Josie why she had decided that they must leave, nor did he try to argue her out of it. It had been clear all along that what Jardil had said was true: that the place of Josie and Gerald was with the other humans. It was also true that it would be much harder for the three of them to live alone in Telmar from now on, after their actions had stirred the beasts of the Vale to such violence. Leaving  was a wise thing to do: this was a precise statement of indisputable fact. But he hated it. Telmar had become his home: the only true home he had ever had. Here Josie was his, and Gerald was his too: but outside they would slip away from him, further and further, and he would be left with no one. This too he knew to be a precise statement of indisputable fact. He did not know whether it would be swiftly or slowly, but he knew it was coming, as sure as a break in the clouds would close again.

‘We have to go, Tash,’ said Josie later that night, clutching one of his hands. ‘I’m sorry.’

No, he wanted to say. No, never, we must stay here. But he did not say anything.

‘I am so sorry about Blackbriar,’ said Josie.

‘It was not meant to be like this,’ said Tash.

‘I’m afraid it was,’ said Josie, and began to cry. Tash wrapped his arms around her.

‘Don’t worry, my Josie,’ said Tash. ‘It will be alright. You are my Josie, Lady Josie of Telmar, whatever happens.’

Josie silently drew close to Tash, and pressed her cheek against his chest, and in a little while they joined together as wife and husband for the last time.

They buried Eyit in the morning, in the garden where Tash had been a statue, in the very place where the panther or leopard or whatever it was had stood frozen in stone for so many years. Next to him they buried Longface, the boar who had died in the battle fighting on the side of Aslan. The sow-women picked flowers until the bushes were quite bare, and strewed them over both graves like a blanket.

‘We will never forget those who died so that we might speak,’ said Primrose, the sow-woman who had done most of the talking for the pigs since their transformation.

The rest of the day was spent in making preparations. Josie put away all the things of the men of Telmar that they could not take with them, to stop them as much as possible from being ruined by the weather. ‘Though I don’t suppose it matters, if no one comes back her for years and years and years,’ she said. Many of the more precious things she had taken down into the secret chamber. There the magic was beginning to fade: she could tell at once.

‘It is not going all at once, but it is going,’ she said. ‘Can you feel it, Tash?’

‘A lot,’ said Tash. The bubble of preserving magic left long ago by Aslan had done what it was needed for, and now it was trickling away, swift enough for him to feel the current of its passing.

‘What will we do with the apples?’ Josie asked Tash, for only the two of them were there in the secret room. But she still spoke in a soft voice, hardly more than a whisper.  ‘Shall we leave them here, or take them with us?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Tash. ‘If we take them, someone will find out about it in the end.’

‘Yes,’ said Josie. ‘Who knows what will happen? There may be other sorcerors who want them. But they may be gone before then – we could help other people with them.’

‘But not very many,’ pointed out Tash. There were only two of the apples left, not enough to bring more than a handful of injured or sick people back from the brink. ‘How would we pick?’

‘Well, if Gerald was hurt,’ said Josie.

‘Of course.’ But they both knew that the apple would not let Gerald live forever, since he had not come into the world from another. One day he would grow old and withered and die, and they would still go on and on, if nothing happened to them. But both of them tried rather a lot not to think too much about the future.

‘Would it make Gerald strong and healthy, if we gave it to him now?’ asked Tash. ‘When he is not sick?’

‘I think so,’ said Josie. ‘I could feel it work on me, even though I was not injured.’

‘Maybe we should do that,’ said Tash.

‘Maybe,’ said Josie, and they stood silently together for a long time in the cool of the secret room, listening to the silence. ‘I will take them,’ said Josie at last. ‘I don’t think they will stay fresh very much longer, now that the magic is fading. So they will just rot away down there. Don’t worry, dear Tash, I will watch over them carefully.’


The next morning, when the transformed beasts of Telmar had regained their proper forms, and were talking beasts of Telmar, they raised a cairn over the place where Blackbriar was buried and set out from the Vale of Telmar. Prince Margis and his four men; Josie and Tash and Gerald; and the talking beasts: Mirilitha and Ofrak, the dogs Cinder and Larkwail, and the five pigs: Primrose, Cabbageheart, Hyacinth and Oakenfoot together, with the ruddy one, Loudrain, walking as near to Josie as he dared. They were all on foot (or hoof, or wing), with the men leading their horses, on the carpet of dry leaves beneath the ancient dark cypresses. The Calormenes, men and beasts, were only too glad to leave: and for Gerald it was simply a grand adventure. But for the others, the leavetaking was tinged with bitterness.

‘You will miss the forest, too,’ said Primrose to Tash. She snuffled behind him at the back of the party, without the fear that the other talking beasts of Telmar showed when Tash drew near.

‘Yes,’ said Tash. ‘I have been happy here. That is the way to my fishing hole, over there.’

‘We call that Agate’s pond,’ said Primrose. ‘Agate was a sow who lived in my grandmother’s time. She liked to wander off from the others, and sun herself by the water there.’

‘Josie is fond of fish,’ said Tash. He looked ahead, and felt an anger that he tried hard to quash. He had handed Gerald to his mother before he dropped back to the end of the party; and so he could not really protest now that Josie had passed the boy on to Prince Margis. Now Gerald was riding on the royal shoulders with great cheerfulness.

‘We cannot catch fish,’ said Primrose unnecessarily. ‘And the ones we find dead are not nice to eat.’

‘Yes,’ said Tash, without really listening, still looking at his son riding on the Prince’s shoulders.

‘I am sure there are many good things beyond the valley,’ said Primrose wistfully after a moment.

‘Yes,’ said Tash. He remembered the last journey he had made along this path, and the feel of his talons cutting through flesh; the taste of the apple of living forever, and the sour smell of desperate hopelessness that had clung to Josie for so long a time after they returned. ‘All the places that lie beyond that I have seen are very nice.’

As for Josie, she too was sunk in dark thoughts for as long as they walked under the cypresses. She had given up fighting, she felt. Instead of willfully trying to do things her own way, and resenting the injustice of all that had happened to her, she had resolved to carry through with what Aslan had proposed for her to do. She felt mostly a horrible guilt that everything might have turned out better for everyone, if she had done what Aslan had wanted her and Tash to do in the first place. Then Blackbriar might be alive, and the others who had died might be alive, and-

‘What’s done is done, silly girl,’ she told herself. ‘You can’t very well wish that Gerald wasn’t there,’ she thought, smiling at the thought of the laughing boy despite her dark thoughts. Yet – she still did wish that Gerald wasn’t there, with a small part of herself that was the same as the small part of Tash that had thought of biting through Prince Margis’ throat.

Josie went on in this way feeling guilty and miserable until she could smell the fragrant woods that lay beyond the Vale of Telmar, and feel the warm breeze from the south. Then it was as if she had walked out of a dark room into the sunlight; she felt happier than she had for a long time, and not in the least guilty or miserable. I have learned that these are the times when it is most important to be very careful and think through what you are doing, or you are liable to make terrible mistakes.

‘I am so happy that you have come with us,’ said Mirilitha to Josie. ‘The gazelles will be so happy to see you, though you were with them such a little time.’

‘I will be happy to see them, too,’ said Josie. ‘I would love to hear them sing again, all together.’

And memories of when the world had been unexpected and beautiful and new flooded back to her, and it was as if the world was like that all over again.

During this journey Loudrain did not walk close beside Josie all the time, but scouted about her as if he alone could guard her from danger. He ran ahead to check the path for places where her feet might trip, and took care to be standing there when she got to those places; and he darted into the bushes to either side, sniffing out the spoor of any beasts that might be troublesome.  The other pigs studiously ignored him.

‘You don’t need to do that,’ Josie told her self-appointed new protector. ‘You will tire yourself out.’

Loudrain snorted in a way that would have been very obnoxious indeed if he had been a man, instead of a talking boar. ‘I want to do what I can,’ he explained, looking as crestfallen as it is possible for a pig to look. ‘But I will do what you say, Lady Josie.’

‘It’s alright,’ she told Loudrain, reaching out to pat him. ‘You can go ahead. But if you do get tired, you must stop and walk alongside us.’

Josie and Tash hardly spoke two words to one another that morning; but neither did they speak with Prince Margis and the other men, walking along speaking only with the talking animals.  Down the tumbled slope they went into the valleys below, which were not so thickly shadowed over with cypresses, and they came now and again through sunny meadows thronging with flowers. The new air made Josie feel alive, but every step also made her feel like she was becoming someone else: each step further from Telmar made her less Josie, Mistress of Telmar, and more somebody else, and she did not know who that person was. In one of the meadows they stopped to eat a meal, and Gerald excitedly explored the strange new place. Mirilitha trotted along beside him, having assigned herself the job of his nanny for the duration, while Tash hung further back, guarding him from afar.

‘Mother! Feel this!’ cried Gerald, running up to her with a flower he had found. Josie felt the soft petals of the flower, and pressed it to her face. ‘That is not a kind we had in Telmar,’ she told him. ‘It smells a little like something I remember, from when I was a little girl, but I can’t remember the name.’ It had been in the very first garden she could remember, before they moved out to Moora, and she moved through her fragmentary pieces of memory of that time with wonder and trepidation.  These flowers had not been blooming before, the last time she had been here.

‘Shall I get more?’ asked Gerald.

‘Yes please, my dear,’ said Josie. A few minutes later found her sitting with a lap full of flowers, feeling unaccountably happy.

Tash looked at her from the edge of the meadow – she was sitting alone in a patch of sunlight in the middle of it – and thought of how much he could not bear to be parted from her, and familar seethings of lust and magic stirred in his blood. If he had been a man, he would have seen how Prince Margis looked at her as well, and he would have narrowed his eyes and resolved to stick close to Josie, and keep Prince Margis at bay: but he was a strange creature from another world, the last of his kind, and he had no great skill at reading the faces of men and women.

‘Lord Tash,’ called Jardil, from the edge of the meadow where the men of Calormen were sitting together. ‘Will you have something to eat?’ He held aloft a loaf of what Tash recognised as his own bread, the bread that Josie had made in the castle of Telmar.

‘No,’ he said, and something dark moved inside him, like a cloud blocking out the stars.


At sunset they came to a place above a bend in a stream, where a great tree falling over some winters ago had made a clearing. The edges of this were tangled with briars and wild roses, and damp underfoot, but a broad sandy space in the middle was clear, and here they made their camp.

‘We should sleep apart,’ Josie said, when Tash came up to her in the gloom. ‘Not far apart, but.’ Tash let his arms droop a little, and bowed his head a little – not in the same way he had been used to do when he was young and useless – and they set their bedrolls a little distant separate, with Gerald between them.

The Calormenes spoke together cheerfully enough – for they were going home – and treated Josie still as Mistress of Telmar, bringing her whatever she wanted as if she were a high-born lady of Calormen. The beasts did the same, as if they were her servants; and especially they watched over Gerald, and sought to amuse him, and cheer him up when he grew tired and cranky.

So Tash found himself useless again, but in a way he had never been useless before: he was useless because there was nothing for him to do.

A long time after the camp had fallen silent, Tash could hear Josie lying on the other side of Gerald, breathing as if she were awake. He had become very good at telling whether she was awake or not in the time they had been together. Besides Josie and himself, Tash was certain that only Ofrak was awake; but the bird had no need to sit by the fire and warm his hands. He was high in the trees, or above the trees, now here and now there, a finer guard by night than any human could ever be. Tash shuffled out of his blankets and over to Josie’s side, staying hunched over instead of standing all the way up, half-crawling like he was some kind of six-legged creature. He could not have said why he walked this way, any more than he could have explained why he suddenly needed to talk to Josie. He plucked at Josie’s shoulder through her blanket, and she rolled over to face him.

‘What is it, Tash?’ she asked. He could hear the distance in her voice, the brittleness that had been growing by slow degrees ever since they had turned their back on Blackbriar long ago and headed back to Telmar – the brittleness that had grown so much more swiftly since Ofrak had batted at their window, that was now like a shell hiding Josie from him.

‘I don’t know,’ said Tash.

‘We can’t talk here,’ said Josie softly. ‘Let’s- let’s go for a walk.’ She held out a hand and Tash helped her to her feet, and they walked slowly hand in hand to an edge of the clearing and then a little further, into the maze of briars beyond, trying to be as silent as possible. The night insects helped: they were loud, much louder than they ever were in Telmar, and the chatter of the stream over the stones in the ravine below helped too. They were not far from the camp, but these noises meant they could do anything short of shout without waking the others. Josie’s hand trembled in Tash’s hand as they walked along, and it seemd to Tash as if her heart was beating much too swiftly, like the heart of some frightened small animal.

Under the thickets the leaf mould had a thick decayed odour, which mingled with the scent of the wild roses. And the moon was full: so to Tash the whole scene was as if painted in silver paint.

Josie let go of Tash and took a half step away from him, moving slowly and carefully so as not to catch herself on the briars.

‘I’m so sorry, dear Tash,’ said Josie.

‘What have you done?’ asked Tash. He was angry – still angry – but not at Josie. He was angry at everything else that was spoiling this world, where for a time things had been going so well for him.

‘Things I shouldn’t have done,’ said Josie. ‘Things we shouldn’t have done, Tash. I always knew it was wrong. But I did it anyways. It wasn’t fair on you, because you didn’t understand – you couldn’t. You aren’t a man, you don’t come from my world. But I did understand, and I shouldn’t – I shouldn’t.’

She spoke these disconnected fragments quickly and clearly and if she were trying not to cry, as if she were making a report to a policeman.

‘We can’t be betrothed, Tash. We can’t be married. It’s not right.’

Tash looked at Josie’s face, dry in the moonlight, the sadness in it making it more like the face of poor dead Nera, and he thought how much he loved her.

‘We are married,’ said Tash, slowly. ‘It is done.’

Josie shook her head violently. ‘No,’ she said. ‘We aren’t really. It is not allowed.’

‘Maybe it is not allowed on your world,’ said Tash, still slowly and calmly. ‘But you said once, maybe in this one-‘

Josie cut him off.  ‘Bother what I said. I was wrong. I was very wrong. Very, very wrong. I shouldn’t have done it. I wanted you, so I did it, knowing I shouldn’t. It was unfair to you.’

‘I wanted you to,’ said Tash.

‘You don’t understand,’ said Josie, raising her voice a little for the first time.

‘I know,’ said Tash. And he would have let his arms droop and bowed his head, even a few days before, but he had been growing brittle inside at the same time as Josie had been growing brittle outside, and he stood up straight.

‘You don’t know,’ said Josie, and the bitterness in her voice was like the dark spaces between the stars. She began to make her way further on through the thicket, parallel to the stream; away from the camp, not towards it.

‘Why should it not be allowed?’ growled Tash, following her. ‘Who said it should be forbidden?’

Then he saw the Lion. It was washing its paws on the other side of the stream.

‘No,’ he cried, and forged ahead of Josie, crashing heedlessly through the bushes and sending stones flying from under his feet. ‘Don’t take her away! Don’t!’

‘What are you doing?’ called Josie, who had nearly been knocked over as Tash ran by. ‘Tash! Tash!’

Tash did not heed her, but crashed on down the slope, until he fell more than stepped into the stream. His foot slipped on a stone, and he crashed over sideways into the cold water.

He raised his head. The lion was standing on a rock in the middle of the stream, looking down at him. Josie was still calling him; but her voice was faint and it was impossible to tell what she was saying, as if she was much further away than she could possibly be. It was as if he had fallen into a well of silence.

The Lion said no word to Tash, but he did not have to. His meaning was clearer than any words Tash had ever heard. Follow me, his face was saying. This is not your story anymore, the Lion was saying. But there is still time to chose the way I wish you to chose, to take the path without Josie in which you are a forgotten hero. Cross the stream, and leave Josie forever, and follow me. Tash knew all this in an instant, looking up at the face of Aslan, and in an instant he rejected it.

‘No,’ said Tash. ‘Why should you decide?’ He picked himself out of the water. The magic of the apple burned bright in his bones- the apple stolen, but not by him; the apple given him by Josie- and he was angry; angrier than he had ever been before. He launched himself at the Lion with an inarticulate howl of rage.

Aslan batted Tash aside with a single great velvetted paw, and set him sprawling over the pebbled bed of the stream again. When  Tash stood up Aslan was gone, and the sounds of the forest had come flooding back.


Josie did not know how she could have done anything else. It was hard on Tash. She had become a cruel woman, she knew, and whichever way she turned she burned with guilt. She believed what she had said to Tash, that she had done wrong before, but she also knew that she was doing wrong now. There is no perfect path through life, she thought , bitter at the unfairness of it. There was no broad road of flowers and cool breezes that you could safely walk along without hurting anyone. All choices were bad: some were just worse than others.

Josie held on tight to Gerald – Gerald, who had been distraught at the noise and the sudden disappearance of his parents, and was snuffling softly into her shoulder. She rocked him back and forth. ‘No, the bad dogs and the bad pigs have not come back,’ she said. ‘It’s alright. It’s alright, Gerry.’ And she kept on rocking him back and forth and telling him lies while Prince Margis and his men returned with Tash, and while Tash had a snarling one-sided quarrel with the Prince.

‘Why did you run off like that?’ Josie asked Tash when he approached, smelling of cold wet feathers.  She could feel the closeness of him as he loomed over her, like the wall of the secret garden in Telmar. Gerald sniffed, and sniffed again, and had time to gulp a breath of air before sniffing again, all the while looking up at the creature he called father.

‘The lion,’ said Tash. ‘I saw the lion. This is his doing.’

‘Maybe,’ said Josie. That is what the people who belong in this world would certainly say, she said to herself. Everything that happens here happens because Aslan wills it to.

‘I saw him,’ said Tash. ‘He wants me to go away.’

She should not have picked tonight to tell Tash, she told herself. She should have waited longer, until a better time. But was any time better than any other? It had all become so tangled and uncomfortable.

‘You don’t have to go away,’ said Josie. But her voice did not sound very convincing to her own ears. Tash did not seem to notice.

‘Can I have Gerald?’ he asked.

‘I don’t think you have quite calmed down,’ said Josie. But Gerald stretched out his arms and wriggled and said ‘Daddy.’

‘In a little while,’ said Josie, sharply.

‘Daddy!’ called the boy, and wriggled in Josie’s arms with a great wriggling.

‘Bother the child,’ grumbled Josie. ‘Here, then. But stay close.’

‘Yes, Josie,’ said Tash. His voice was again infuriatingly obedient, and she passed the boy up to him.

‘Stay close,’ said Josie again. ‘And he has to go back to sleep, so don’t get him all excited.’

‘Yes, my Josie,’ said Tash, and took Gerald- still moistly snuffling through the last of his unhappiness –away toward the other side of the campfire.

Josie made her way back to her sleeping place, slow and careful so as not to trip or get lost in the unfamiliar surroundings. She was almost there when she heard someone following her.

‘Prince Margis?’ she said, without turning around.

‘Lady Josie.’ He took a few steps nearerer, and she could smell him clearly. Fresh sweat from the sudden scramble down the ravine after Tash’s cries, but mostly the old sweat that clung to his clothes after the day’s walk, and the perfumed oil that he had taken to wearing in Telmar to replace the stock he had exhausted during his journey. It was one that reminded Josie of Zardeenah, rather than Yustus.

‘I am fine,’ she told him. ‘We were just speaking.’

‘I am glad to hear it, my Lady,’ said Margis, stepping closer to Josie. ‘He said he saw the Lion.’

‘I did not hear anything,’ said Josie. ‘If he was there, he was very quiet. And he did not stick around to say anything. I expect it was a lion, rather than the Lion.’

‘I have never heard of one so far north,’ said Margis. ‘But perhaps.’ He paused a little while, and Josie could hear leaves crunching under his feet as he shifted them about. ‘It pains me to see you upset, my Lady. Is there any that I can do?’

‘No,’ said Josie. ‘Nothing that will help. My problem is of my own making, and it is up to me to sort it out.’

‘You are weeping,’ said Margis softly. He reached out a hand and dabbed away a tear from Josie’s cheek. Once again, as had happened when they were at the stream, and before, at the banquetting hall, something like an electric shock ran through Josie.  The ancient magic stirred in her blood; and the yet more ancient magic, that goes back to the primordial slime a billion years before men.

‘I will be alright,’ she said. ‘I should not cry. I am stronger than that.’

‘You are strong indeed,’ said Margis. He tooked her hand between his two hands and held it close to his chest, and she did not pull away. Big long-fingered hands he had, leathery without being over-calloused, and her hand was folded completely away inside them. ‘You will do great things in Calormen, Josie. You have done great things already in this world; but you have only just begun.’

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.’

Gerald does not come into this next part of the story very much, because he was rather quiet and scared for most of it, and too small to do anything on his own account. If there had been any way to leave him behind in the castle safely, Josie and Tash would certainly have done so – they were not such thoughtless parents as that – but their company was few, and they could not spare anyone to mind Gerald except for Mirilitha and Ofrak, who would have been of no use minding Gerald, and no use at all if the castle was overrun by enemies. And there was always the chance that nothing would go wrong.

But Gerald remembered that night forever, more clearly than anything that had gone before in his life. Even when he was an old man he remembered the long shadows cast by the torches, his mother and Prince Margis shining like golden fish, the beasts that crawled out of the forest and became men, the shouts and cries of men and beasts, the blood running in streams over the golden plates, and a man’s dead eyes staring at nothing.

The tables had been carried out to the glade – they did not seem so heavy at first, but had grown weightier and weightier with each step of the long stairs. The halls of Telmar had been stripped of chairs that were in tolerable repair – which also proved heavier than they first appeared – and the food and ornaments that had been stored up for generations in the secret chamber were laid out in splendour. The feast was set in two parts: two rows of plates on the ground for the beasts when they were beasts, and then the victuals set on the tables for the beasts when they were men.

‘This is serving man’s work,’ muttered Karifar, carrying his fifth or sixth chair over his head as he crossed the stream.

‘This is the work you’ll be remembered for,’ said Hurras. ‘Your whole life’ll boil down to one line in a chronicle- ‘among the Prince’s servants at the feast was an ugly son of a ghul called Karifar.’

Through the gap in the trees above the glade the constellation the men of Calormen called the Ship could be seen, all but its stern, and flaming torches were set on tall poles around the edge of the glade.

The Prince and Lady Josie were dressed in the armour that had been left in the secret chamber, and sure enough it fitted them both as well as a fish is fit by its scales. In the firelight the silver chain gleamed as if it were red gold, and flowed like water or fire over their bodies. Jardil looked upon the man he had known as a mewling babe, slow-witted boy, and impetuous youth, and felt the urge to prostrate himself at his feet; and he looked at the foolish and debauched girl who his master had set his designs upon, and knew that he would commit any crime to make her his Queen.

Prince Margis and Lady Josie truly looked like a Master and Mistress of Creation, fitting successors for King Frank and Queen Helen. The whispered echo of Aslan’s ancient charge to man to be rulers over the animals hung about them, and Ofrak said as much.

‘You look most magnificent tonight, Lady Josie,’ said the owl. ‘Like Queen Helen, when she was set to be Lady over all the animals of the world.

‘Thank you,’ said Josie.

Tash also thought Josie had never looked so splendid, and a pang of loss anticipated cut him like a priest’s sacrificial knife.

‘You are very marvellous,’ she said.

‘And how are you, dear Tash?’ said Josie with a bold smile, sword rattling at her side. ‘And my Gerald? I still wish you could have stayed in the castle.’

‘How can I stay in the castle?’ asked Tash. ‘We are together.’

‘Yes,’ said Josie, reaching out a gauntleted hand to grip one of Tash’s lower wrists.

Gerald in turn reached out to leave sticky fingerprints on Josie’s helmet. ‘Mummy shiny.’

‘Yes, she is very shiny,’ said Tash, and gently passed a hand over Josie’s helmet as well, as if he were running his fingers through her hair.

She kissed Gerald and took her place.

Josie felt as impatient as she could ever remember being. The preparations for the feast had reminded of parties she had heard about when she was younger, but had never been to. She had thought more about Australia, as she had thought more about all human things, since the Calormenes had come to Telmar, and the renewed pang of longing for her lost world made her all the more eager for something to happen. She wished Blackbriar would hurry up and return with the dogs of Telmar.

Josie and Margis sat at one table at the far end of the glade with the owl and the gazelle, so that despite their armour they might nevertheless give the impression of being the gracious hosts of the feast. The other men were seated at another table: all except Jardil, who walked the bounds of the glade for the hundredth time.

‘We will see some magic tonight,’ said Jemin. ‘See how his Lordship looks: she has already worked some magic on him.’

‘It is the Lion’s magic,’ said Eyit.

‘Yes, we will see some magic, and if we are lucky we will live through it,’ muttered Karifar.

‘If we die,’ said Eyit gravely. ‘We will die in the Lion’s service, and be reborn on the mountain at the world’s end.’

‘There will be death tonight,’ Hurras affirmed. ‘But it will not be our deaths, if the Emperor over the sea wills it so. Alambil is nowhere to be seen, but look how the Lord of Victory crests the trees.’

They spoke together in low voices, and neither the Prince nor his advisor heard a word they said, but Josie’s keen ears heard.

‘Something is coming,’ said Josie.

‘They are coming,’ called the Prince, not loudly, and waved at Jardil to stop wandering about.

‘It is not Blackbriar, I don’t think,’ said Josie. ‘It is some pigs.’

There were three pigs, great fierce-looking black ones, a boar and two sows. The boar gave a cautious look at Tash the hunter, but all three trotted forward with confidence. They made something like a little bow to Prince Margis and Lady Josie, scraping at the ground with their forefeet.

‘The Lion’s peace be upon you,’ said the Prince.

The pigs bowed again, and set to eating the food that had been put out for them, keeping carefully to one of the rows of plates and avoiding the other.

It had been terrible enough for the men of Calormen when Blackbriar had gone away and returned as a woman; but to see the pigs turning into men, their flesh moving like dough shaped by invisible hands, was a vision that would haunt Prince Margis’ dreams forever.

‘It is the Lion’s magic- the Lion’s magic,’ called Eyit, too shrill to be reassuring, when the pigs were formless things that were neither beasts nor men. But in the space of another breath, the three were men. They were hairier even than Blackbriar had been, with legs almost as thick with hair as a faun’s, and the man had a beard of thick black hair that flowed down onto his chest. The two sows had looked much the same before: but it was clear when they were transformed that one was young, a girl of the same age as Josie, while the other was old enough to be her mother.

The older woman was the first to stand on human feet, and the first to speak.

‘The peace of the Lion be with you,’ she said, and a curious smile spread across her face at the sound of her own voice. It was a strong, full, resonant voice that Josie could easily imagine singing hymns while its owner hung up the washing. ‘We thank you, messengers of Aslan. I never dreamed it would be in my life that you came to save us.’ She bowed then again, an ungainly motion that nearly lost her balance. The man and the girl bowed as well, and repeated ‘the peace of the Lion be with you’. Gruffly and haltingly in the man’s case, and shyly in the girl’s.

‘Welcome to the feast of Aslan,’ said Josie. ‘Please, sit and eat as much as you like, like men do.’

The sound of many dogs could be heard in the distance, and Jardil motioned to the men-at-arms, who rose from their table and took up positions to guard the glade. The baying of the dogs drew closer, and then two dogs shot out into the glade and took cover under one of the unoccupied tables.

‘The Lion’s peace be with you, friends,’ said Prince Margis, but there was time for nothing more, because then a pack of dogs burst out in pursuit of the pair: the wild dogs of Telmar that Josie and Tash had heard fighting over the corpse of the sorceror Yustus. At their head was a hound twice as big as Blackbriar, whose white muzzle was streaked already with bright blood.

Prince Margis lunged forward to confront the white-faced hound. Tash stood protectively over his wife and son. Jardil and Jemin stood their ground around the table where the first two dogs had taken refuge, while the other three Calormenes guarded the table where the men who had been pigs sat. Ofrak swooped down on their attackers, swiping their backs with his claws, while Mirilitha pressed herself against Josie’s mailed legs. ‘This is no place for me,’ she said, trembling, and Josie smoothed down the fur on her back.

The snarling of the attacking dogs was deafening and seemed to come from every direction at once. It was the most horrible sound Josie had ever heard. Among the snarls the shouts of the men seemed small and hollow, like empty boats adrift on a rough sea. Josie heard something more; noises in the forest of Telmar, drawing nearer to the glade.

‘More are coming,’ shouted Josie.

Whitejaw and Margis knew each other to be the leaders, and circled one another like man and monster have since stories began to be told. The sword gave Prince Margis a better reach, and he had been trained in its use since he was a snot-nosed boy little older than Gerald, so as long as he kept the beast at distance he had nothing to fear from his fangs; but Whitejaw had lived his life in the forests of Telmar, and despite being speechless had a cunning much greater than a mere beast.

The dogs that had hidden under the table, emboldened, had emerged to fight at the side of Jardil, and already two of their enemies lay dead on the grass.

A boar charged out from the undergrowth then, its flank torn, and plunged directly into battle, biting the neck of one of the dogs that was menacing Eyit. There was a crack of bone, and the dog went limp. The naked man-pigs had been fighting as best as they could along the Calormenes, kicking out at the dogs and throwing cutlery at them, but without much effect.

Another boar hurtled into the glade, nearly through to the other side before it slowed enough to turn and join the first boar in defending its kindred. It was the swiftest thing Gerald had ever seen that was not a bird.

‘The dogs are losing! They are being pushed back!’ cried Mirilitha excitedly.

‘There are more,’ said Josie, and petted the gazelle again to try and keep her calm. ‘Tash, I think you had best hand Gerald to me.’

‘As you wish,’ said Tash, and he passed the boy to the strange gleaming Mistress of Telmar who stood beside him. She stood there with a distant grim determination as the battle went on around her; it was only because she was listening as hard as she could, but it made her expression very like the expression of a true sorceress.

Then the pigs were upon them: a dozen or more large, fierce boars, and they drove straight for the man-pigs and their defenders, sending the table with the magic food flying. One that was particularly large and bristly charged at the sow-girl, and would have torn her throat out, but Eyit pushed in front of her in time. Eyit struck the boar with his sword, but at close quarters could not strike deep enough to slow it down; and then it had knocked him to the ground, and bit at his belly, swift and vicious.

Hurras and Karifar were pressed too hard by other boars to come to Eyit’s aid, but Tash strode forward, lifting his taloned hands high, throwing long monstrous shadows. A smaller boar was in his way, and he picked it bodily up and threw it aside; then he faced the great black boar. It lifted its bloody snout from Eyit and glared at him with murderous bright eyes.

‘It is not fair,’ cried Tash, and the words of rage were as good a war cry as any. The boar stood his ground and lunged at Tash’s legs. He was swifter, but Tash was stronger, and could ignore the pain of the deep gash in his calf. One pair of arms grabbed the giant boar’s neck, and another his haunch, and as it twisted in Tash’s grip he lifted it in the air and ripped its belly open with his beak, from throat to groin like you do with a knife when you are butchering a goat, so its entrails fell out in a steaming rush to the ground.

‘Praise the Lion!’ cried Hurras.

A moment later there was another triumphant cry, from Prince Margis, and a whimper that was cut off. Whitejaw had chanced a leap at the Prince’s throat, but Margis had stood his ground and aimed his sword true, and struck the leader of the dogs fair in the chest before his jaws could close.

Their attackers ran off then, not whining like the mere dumb animals of our own world would, but silently. Karifar and Jemin pursued them with violent cries as far as the edge of the glade, and cut down two more of the boars who tried to run. Tash went furthest of all, breaking and tearing the bodies of their fleeing enemies until he was called back by Josie.

Eyit was dead. The great boar had bitten through an artery, and he had bled out into a broad dark patch on the grass. Hurras knelt beside him, his head bowed. ‘He is gone, my Prince.’

‘Alas!’ said Prince Margis, removing his helmet and kneeling down beside Eyit’s body. ‘You are in Aslan’s country now.’

‘It is as he wanted,’ said Hurras. And he looked around bitterly at the feasting glade that had been a battlefield.

One of the two boars who had come to fight on their side was also dead; but of the survivors, none had very grievous injuries. Worst was the man-boar with the spreading beard, who had forgotten he was not a boar anymore and waded too rashly into the battle. He sat dizzily on the ground, comforted by the sow-women, with blood trickling from half a dozen bite wounds.

One of the boars who had attacked them and was injured did not flee, but collapsed at Josie’s feet, as though throwing himself on her mercy. Josie put out a hand to ward the others away from him.

‘It stinks of blood,’ she said, so softly that only Mirilitha could hear.

‘I am sorry for my kindred,’ said the sow-woman, leaving the side of the boar-man. ‘I wish they had joined us in joy, and not come to destroy and to slay.’ And she got down on her hands and knees by the body of Eyit and nuzzled his dead face with hers, for she had no knowledge of the ways of men.

‘It was none of your doing,’ said Josie. ‘I am glad you came.’

‘We are glad you came,’ said Prince Margis. ‘We must see to the others.’

The men and Tash dragged away the bodies of the beasts, and Eyit’s body was set carefully aside, and the feast was restored as best they could. It was a ghastly thing to eat among all those corpses, with the stink of blood so strong; but they had no choice but to finish the thing they had begun. The two dogs who had fought on their side ate and became a man and woman, neither old nor young, who seemed to be a couple, and they shyly and wondering exchanged greetings with the Lady of Telmar and the Prince of Calormen. The boar who had come upon them like an arrow sprung from a bow turned into a tall man with an unkempt reddish beard, who looked about himself in wonder but did not speak. The boar who had sought Josie’s protection ate also, and became a jowly man with thick arms and legs.

‘I am sorry, my Lord and Lady,’ he said, bowing his bloodied head toward Josie. ‘I should not have bared my teeth to the Sons of Frank.’

‘Your life should be forfeit,’ the sow-woman told him. ‘These men should roast you on a spit.’

‘We could never do that to any of you,’ said Josie earnestly. ‘Not since we found out what you were.’

‘You can serve us better in life than in death,’ said Prince Margis sternly. ‘Have you all eaten of Aslan’s food while in the shape of men? Then you should come with us. I feel it will not be safe for you to remain in the forest.’

The beasts who were men for a time voiced their agreement to the Prince.

‘What of Blackbriar?’ asked Josie. ‘Blackbriar is not yet here.’ She turned her head to face the dog couple, who were sitting with their arms around each other, looking awed and overwhelmed.

‘She went to make the final part of the magic,’ said the bitch-woman, in a voice that was higher and sharper than Blackbriar’s.

Gerald, who had been stunned into silence through the noise and terror of battle, broke down and began to wail.

‘Should we go help her?’ asked Josie. ‘Where has she gone? We had not heard anything of another part of the magic.’

The bitch-woman looked from side to side, as if uncertain which question to answer first. ‘I am sorry, Lady Josie,’ she said, drooping her head. ‘She went to the Hollow. It may be you can help here there.’

‘You should go,’ said Josie to Prince Margis. She turned toward her husband. ‘With Tash. He can show you the way. I will go back with Gerald.’

‘It is perhaps not wise to divide our forces, but these people need to be kept safe,’ advised Jardil. ‘So there may be no choice. Is it far to this hollow, Lady Josie?’

‘It is about three miles west,’ said Josie.

Jardil nodded. ‘I had rather you had more men at your side, my Prince. But you and Tash are the two strongest warriors among us, and if any two may win through, it will be the two of you.’

‘I do not think our enemies will be overeager to attack us again, at any rate,’ said Prince Margis. ‘They are leaderless, and we have caused them grievous hurt.’

‘I hope you are right, my Lord,’ said Jardil. ‘Lady Josie, if you will come with me?’

‘Be careful, dear Tash,’ said Josie, making a hurried farewell. ‘Take the Prince by the best way to the Hollow.’

‘Yes, my Josie,’ said Tash. He strode into the shadowed forest, the Prince of Calormen following close behind. Jaridl and Josie led the rest of the party up into the castle, leaving food and furniture behind. Only one damask tablecloth of all the things that had been set out for the feast was brought back, for they had wrapped the body of Eyit in it.

‘If you have a moment, Lord Tash, might I seek your advice on a few matters?’ asked Jardil.

‘My advice?’ asked Tash, stirred out of his gloomy thoughts. Josie was still away with Prince, and Tash felt uneasy. He would feel uneasy until she was back in his sight again.

‘Yes, Lord Tash,’ said Jardil. His piercing eyes and air of weathered resilience reminded Tash uncomfortably of the renegade thalarka who had driven him from his own world.

‘I suppose so,’ said Tash. He reminded himself that he was Lord Tash, and should act more grandly towards these men. ‘I mean, yes, Jardil of Calormen.’

‘Perhaps we might walk outside?’ suggested Jardil.

They did not walk in the garden where Tash had been a statue for so many years, but in another courtyard, paved in some places and planted in others, where Tash and Josie often let Gerald play. The plants that grew there were without thorns, white flowers with soft fleshy leaves that grew like harmless knives point-upwards from the ground, and frail bushes that draped themselves over the walls and pavement, halfway to being vines. It was also a courtyard surrounded by walls, rather than dropping away in a precipice at one side.

Tash put the boy down to play in a place where he had made a mazy arrangement of bits of broken masonry a few days before Ofrak arrived. Gerald immediately set about improving on his work, leaving the two grown-ups to their boring conversation.

‘What do you want my advice on?’ asked Tash.

The Calormene looked up at him, with the same crafty glint in his eyes that Tash remembered from the priests of his own world.

‘I thought, Lord Tash, that you might be able to render advice in this particular matter, because you have come here from another world – a world I cannot imagine – and everything here must have seemed very strange to you.  For you see, it concerns one who has been taken from one place and put into another, a place which is nearly as different from the first as one world must be from another.’

‘Yes?’ said Tash, puzzled.

‘Lord Tash, some months before we left Balan my Prince was hunting in the desert that lies to the north of the city – a long day’s ride north, where there are no dwellings of men or talking beasts, only endless fields of sand to be seen as far the eye can see in every direction: except perhaps to the north the distant blue mountains of Archenland. There my Prince found one of the great eagles of the desert lying injured. They are magnificent creatures, these eagles; not speaking beasts, but as near as one can approach in terms of intelligence, and the virtues peculiar to thinking beings. One such as Blackbriar is, but without her art of making herself understood. The wing of this eagle was broken, and it was dying of thirst on the sands, and my Prince’s heart was moved to pity. He took the eagle back to Balan with us and saw that it was nursed back to health. It took some time to regain its strength, for it had taken a grievous hurt, but it is a strong-willed creature, and when we left it could fly a little ways in the gardens of the palace. Now, the Prince is very fond of it, and would keep it in the palace, for it is a splendid creature, and biddable to his will. The eagle, for its part, though it cannot speak, it grateful to the Prince, and is happy to do whatever he wishes, to please him.’

Tash still wondered where Jardil was going with this, and crooked his head to listen more attentively when the man paused for emphasis.

‘Now, my thinking, Lord Tash, is that it would be better for the eagle to return to the desert, for until it does so it will never regain the strength it once had, that it needs to soar high in the blue skies of the desert; it will grow flabby and weak in the palace gardens, and what is worse, that it will resent my Prince at the same time that it is grateful, and stay only out of duty, while inside its spirit grows sour. What do you advise, Lord Tash?’

‘I do not know why you would ask me this,’ said Tash. ‘I do not know anything about birds, just because I have feathers. You would be better off asking Ofrak.’

Jardil made a mildly dismissive gesture. ‘Ofrak is in the Prince’s service, and does not have the conviction that a man can have – or you have, my Lord Tash – to let him tell the Prince what he does not want to hear.’

‘Then,’ said Tash, still rather puzzled. ‘I would let the bird do what it wants. If it wants to stay with the Prince because it is grateful, let it stay with the Prince; and if it wants to go back to the desert, let it do that.’

‘Wise advice,’ said Jardil. ‘But it is not a speaking beast; we cannot just ask it what it wants. And, like Ofrak, it feels indebted to the Sons of Frank, and will seek to do what it thinks will please us, rather than what it truly desires; or what is truly best for it.’

Tash was silent then for a long time, watching Gerald with his pieces of stone, while it became quite clear what Jardil was really getting at.

‘You are playing games with me,’ he told Jardil. ‘This is not about an eagle. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.’

‘I am sorry to cause any offence, Lord Tash.’ Jardil bowed deeply before the feathered monster from another world. ‘I think it is important that you ponder this question.’

‘I have done all my pondering,’ growled Tash. Gerald turned to watch in wide-eyed alarm, startled by the anger in his voice.

‘It is understandable that you should be angry, Lord Tash,’ said Jardil smoothly. ‘I do not mean to cause you offence.’

‘Good,’ said Tash.

‘Just remember this,’ continued Jardil, speaking slowly and carefully, like a man who was well aware of how easily Tash could tear out his throat. ‘Like the eagle, Lady Josie will never be what is in her power to be if she stays in this place. She will never fly to the heights that she could reach. It is clear, to look at her, that she is already pining, like a bird in a cage, for the skies.  Even if she does not know it herself.’

Tash loomed over Jardil and snarled at him. ‘Aslan is trying to pull us apart. And you – men- want to to take Josie away to the world of men. But we need to be together.’

‘Life is cruel,’ admitted Jardil. He held out his hands in a gesture of patience and sweet reason. ‘You are alone on this world, the one of your kind; but the Lady Josie is not. Gerald,’ he nodded to the boy, who was still watching curiously. ‘He is not. Is it fair for them to live out their lives here?’

Tash could feel the magic in his bones, bright and seething. He had a horrifying feeling of how long living out his life might be, long years without Josie stretching on and on to forever. She would stay too, if she stayed in this world. But Aslan had said they were to be separated. And what of Gerald? A thought he had pushed deep down and tried to forget, that he and Josie had often thought but never spoken of, came to him. Gerald was of this world, not of another world. The apples would not allow him to live forever. Tash glowered at Jardil without moving.

‘Daddy, what’s going on?’ asked Gerald.

‘’Nothing,’ said Tash. ‘Nothing.’

Jardil bowed again, very politely. ‘Thank you for hearing me out, Lord Tash.’ He turned and left Tash and the bow alone in the courtyard.

Gerald watched his back until it disappeared, still intrigued by the Calormene’s long beard. ‘Where’s Mummy?’ he asked.

‘She’ll be back soon,’ said Tash. ‘She’s down by the stream. You were there when she left,’ he added, chiding the boy gently.

‘Are we going to go away with the owl and the gazelle and the men?’ asked Gerald.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Tash. But he felt the cold tickle of honesty at his neck, like the iron of a knife, and said one more word to the boy. ‘Maybe’.


It was the warmest night it had been thus far that year, and moths gathered in the hall in numbers, casting wild shadows on the walls. Outside, the skreeting of a more voluble race of night insects could be heard whenever there was a lull in the conversation. They had gathered again around the long table in the great hall – men and beasts and thalarka, all who dwelled at that time in the ruins of Telmar. The suits of armour had been brought up entire and stood against the wall at the far end of the room, lined up behind Prince Margis and Lady Josie. Jardil sat to the left of the prince, while Tash sat to the right of Lady Josie. Josie had wanted to sit Blackbriar between her and Margis, in the place of honour, but she had not been persuadable, and sat beyond Gerald on the far side of Tash. Gerald had gotten over his initial fear of the woman Blackbriar, and now found her tremendous fun: he had spent most of the afternoon telling her everything about his life in the castle.

‘Is there anything more that needs to be done among the beasts of Telmar before we can set out the feast, Blackbriar?’

Prince Margis spoke to the woman who had until recently been his dog, without any sense of awkwardness, having adapted to the changed circumstances with the man of action’s nimble refusal to think too deeply about things.

‘I have only a little thing to do, my Prince,’ said Blackbriar. ‘It should not delay the preparing of things.’ She spoke very formally and without a trace of the doggish mannerisms that had been so pronounced the first time she had taken on human shape; she too had adapted swiftly. ‘I can go out and speak to the ones I have to speak to tomorrow, when I am a dog again, and be done long before dusk.’

‘We can plan the feast for tomorrow evening, then,’ said Prince Margis. ‘Lady Josie?’

‘If you like,’ said Josie. Her mood had gone up and then down in the few hours since she had returned from her walk with the Prince. She had been cheerful and gracious, unable to keep herself from laughing out loud; but then her own worries had seized her, and the dark and sullen mood Tash had fallen into made it worse, and through dinner she had been a quiet and scowling thing, lost in her own gloomy thoughts.

‘I am sure we will succeed, with Aslan’s help,’ said Prince Margis, smiling broadly.

‘Let us drink to the morrow,’ suggested Jardil. Eyit filled the cups that were empty with some of the sorceror’s wine.

‘To the restoration of the beasts of Telmar, in the Lion’s name,’ he said.

‘The restoration of the beasts of Telmar, in the Lion’s name,’ they all repeated, and the ones with hands lifted their cups and drank.

‘Will you allow me to propose a toast, my Prince?’ offered Ofrak, rather stiffly.

‘Of course,’ said Margis.

‘Thank you. I suggest, then, that we drink to the good health of our gracious hostess, the Lady Josie, without whom our quest would have been in vain.’ He made an owl’s bow to Josie, a very neat and tidy and courteous gesture.

‘The Lady Josie,’ they repeated, and drank again.

Now, the thing about these meals where many people sit around large tables and make toasts and try to be on their best behaviour is that very little interesting is said; even if people are on only halfway good behaviour, like Josie and Tash on this occasion, they are likely to hold their tongues and try to put on a brave face. So little will be lost be skipping ahead to later that night, when Josie was helping Blackbriar get ready for bed. Tash was in anothe rroom, keeping Gerald (who had had too many sweets) occupied as a first step toward eventually getting him to sleep.

Josie helped Blackbriar set up a bed that would be suitable for laying down in as a woman and waking up in as a dog.

‘He had a message for you, Lady Josie,’ said Blackbriar. ‘The Lion, Aslan.’

‘I thought he might,’ said Josie. ‘What does he want to say to me?’

‘He says he will speak to you himself one day,’ Blackbriar sounded uncomfortable, and less in control of her doggish nature.’ He did not tell me your story, because he says that nobody is told any story but their own: but he says he thinks of you always, and to tell you that he understands you better than you know.’

Josie flew into a temper.

‘I don’t believe a word of it. He doesn’t understand me at all. How can he? He is an all-powerful magical lion. Where was he when – when Nera was killed? Or the Prince’s brother was killed? Or when Zardeenah’s sisters were sold off as slaves? Why doesn’t he stop these things from happening? He saves some people, and lets other people die, and some people can sail through life without having to do anything, but other people he puts impossible burdens on and asks to do impossible things. How can he understand me?’

Josie could almost hear Blackbriar cringing away from her voice, like a dog that has been hit with a shoe for making a mess on the rug.

‘I am sorry- sorry to be insolent, Lady Josie,’ said the woman who had been a dog reproachfully. ‘But I don’t think you should talk about Aslan like that.’

Josie felt sorry for Blackbriar, but was still being swept away by a river of righteous rage. She did her best to calm down and not upset her further, without much success.

‘Oh- I am sorry, Blackbriar,’ she said. ‘I don’t mean to make you miserable. I will do what Aslan wants me to this time. I will. But not because I want to. Only because I am caught in a trap where I have to do this to help your people. He can boss me around if he likes, and let horrible things happen to me- make horrible things happen to me, for all I know. But I’m not going to let him pretend he understands me.’

Blackbriar was making odd snuffling noises, and it took Josie a moment to realise that she was crying, in a half-woman half-dog kind of way.

‘Oh, Blackbriar,’ she said again, feeling her way over to her. ‘I’m sorry- please don’t cry.’  She put her arms around her, and she flinched, the held herself still. ‘I’m sorry. I really am. I promise not to say such things, since they hurt you.’

‘Lady Josie,’ said Blackbriar, and sniffed, and sniffed again.

‘Blackbriar,’ said Josie.

‘Aslan says,’ she went on between snuffles, ‘that what is going to happen- to remember that it isn’t your fault.’

Josie choked back a violent urge to say that of course it wasn’t her fault, it was Aslan’s fault, and only hugged Blackbriar tighter.

‘That’s alright,’ she said after a moment.

This seemed to reassure Blackbriar, and her snuffles got quieter and further between. She wiped her face on her shoulder.

‘Did Aslan say something bad was going to happen?’ asked Josie, trying to be gentle, but unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

‘That- that is not part of your story,’ said Blackbriar.

‘If you say so,’ said Josie. ‘I think we are all in the same story together, whether we like it or not.’

‘I promise I will explain later, Lady Josie,’ said Blackbriar. ‘If I possibly can. I’m sorry.’

‘You don’t have to be sorry, Blackbriar,’ said Josie. ‘If you’re not supposed to tell me, you’re not supposed to tell me.’

Josie felt trapped and powerless like she had so many times before in her life, tangled up in a plot arranged by powers immeasurably greater than she was. It was as if she were a fish out of water, floundering for breath. She angrily told herself not to feel like that. She was not a blind girl that nobody wanted anymore. She was the Mistress of Telmar. She had a son; she had a husband. She was supposed to be someone in this world, she was supposed to be playing a part in a glorious heroic quest. But the world was still closed in around her like a narrow box, and she could not think of any way out of it.

‘I will explain if I can,’ promised Blackbriar again. ‘I will make everything freshly-scented.’

‘Freshly-scented is a very nice way to put it,’ said Josie, giving the woman’s shoulders a squeeze. ‘We would say ‘clear’, usually.’

‘This is where I we first met Blackbriar,’ said Josie. ‘I think it was this place.’ She had crossed the stream with Prince Margis and gone a little downstream on the other side, on a path that she knew well through the brambles, to a place where the grass was short and tufty under the trees. ‘Tash saw her before I heard her; she came from the side away from the river, over there.’ The ground felt good under her feet here: not too soft, and not too hard, like the bed of the baby bear in the story.

‘This might be a good place then, you are thinking?’ said Prince Margis, his voice warm and sympathetic.

‘Yes,’ said Josie. ‘I think it will do as well as any.’

Josie could hear Prince Margis’ footsteps paced about the glade. ‘It is close to the castle, that is true; I fancy I could almost shout back and forth and talk with Karifar on the battlements from here. And it will be difficult for enemies to come up from the stream side. It is exposed to the thick of the forest on the other side, but that is a sword that cuts either way: it may embolden our timid friends as well as our enemies.’

‘The only other place as near by is larger, but it is still a bit squashy underfoot from the snowmelt,’ said Josie. ‘It is probably even more hemmed in by the forest than this clearing. Do you want go there?’

‘Not yet, Lady Josie’ said Margis. ‘I wish to have more of a look around here first.’

‘As you wish, Prince Margis,’ Josie replied with the same formality, and stood in a patch of warm sunlight on the edge of the glade while the Prince continued to poke about in the bushes at the edge of the clearing – much like Blackbriar had done, Josie thought.

Margis had insisted on steadying her arm when they crossed the stream – which was reasonable enough, she knew; though she knew the stepping stones very well, and was well-used to making the crossing alone, it would surely be alarming to watch for someone who was not used to going about unsighted, and to see her do it for the first time and not help her she supposed a man would have to be a very great cad indeed. So it had been an entirely reasonable thing to do. But she had felt his touch again like something electric and dangerous, and it had made her conscious again of the singing of the ancient magic in her bones, a music that she could only just feel, but that had not yet entirely died away after being reawakened by Blackbriar’s transformation. She had been careful, since they had crossed the stream, to keep a good distance between herself and the Prince.

‘You are right, this place will do as any,’ said Margis. ‘And it seems no more likely to harbour unwelcome surprises than anywhere else in the Vale of Telmar.’ His footsteps approached Josie.

‘It should hold a pleasant memory for Blackbriar,’ said Josie. ‘Are we decided, then?’

‘I am decided if you are decided,’ said Margis calmly.

‘It hardly seems worth the trouble of coming out here especially.’

‘Ah, but Aslan told Blackbriar that we would know the right place, so it must be important.’ Margis was standing quite close to Josie now. ‘I would not call it a pleasant glade, but it seems more pleasant than most of this Vale. It is rather a grim place.’

‘I suppose it is,’ said Josie, remembering the last time she had left the Vale of Telmar. ‘I suppose the evil the men of Telmar did has left a mark on it. Maybe it will be better after the beasts are changed back.’

‘It is not right for you to live your life in a place that is so marked with evil,’ said Margis. ‘It is so dark and cheerless.’

‘We will not stay here forever,’ said Josie. It was what she and Tash had said to each other, when they parted from Blackbriar on the road to the lands of men. But they were more buried in Telmar now than they had ever been, since her tears had first fallen on his stone body.

‘And your son,’ said Margis sympathetically. ‘It is not good for him to grow up alone, in such a place.’

‘He is not alone,’ said Josie. ‘But, yes, I understand.’ She understood very well what she seemed to be. She understood very well what she was. She hardened her voice. ‘I do not wish to discuss such matters.’

‘As you wish, Lady Josie,’ said Margis. ‘I apologise if I have given offence.’ He seemed to be standing very close to her now, and she lifted a hand suspiciously, more suddenly and expansively than she usually would to smooth back her hair. Her hand did not brush Prince Margis.

‘There is no need,’ said Josie. ‘We should best return now.’

‘Of course, Lady Josie,’ said Margis courteously.

In her haste Josie missed a step on recrossing the stream, and would have fallen into the water if Margis had not caught her. He kept hold of her arm as they crossed the rest of the stepping stones, and left it lightly there as they made their way along the by now well-worn path to where the once-hidden stairs led upward to the castle. She was aware, so very aware, as they walked along, of the gentle pressure of his fingers on the flesh of her arm, with only a thin bit of silk between them. She was aware too of the ancient magic, clearer and more insistent than every before.

‘Why should you care what I do, Prince Margis?’ Josie asked him, pausing at the base of the stairs.

‘You know I sent Ofrak ahead to seek you out, Lady Josie. It has always been in my mind, since I knew you were here, to meet you should I ever follow in the footsteps of my ancestors to Telmar. It is no small thing for the world for someone such as you to come into it. I do not think it has happened since the world began.’ Prince Margis squeezed Josie’s arm gently, than withdrew his hand.

‘That is not an answer to my question.’

‘Patience, I beg of you. I think- I know- that you could do much good in the world, because of who you are, beyond this task that the Lion has set us.’

A shiver ran through Josie at the sound of the word ‘us’, and she felt her bones trembling.

‘What could I do?’ asked Josie. ‘I am not truly a sorceress, as you must know by now. I have just been lucky to have this place fall into my hands. I am only an ordinary – woman.’

‘Yes, Lady Josie. You do not have the look of a sorceress, Jardil says. He has seen a few men who are- or who have meddled in such matters, let us say- and they have a knowing look to them, an experienced look, that you do not have. But there is still magic about you, Lady Josie; heavy magic, even if you do not know it yet. Jardil says so, and I see it in you too.’ Josie went to protest, but Prince Margis talked on over the top of her. ‘But that is not the most important thing, Josie, even if you had no magic at all, hidden or overt, you can still do much, because of who you are. You are a pure-blooded Daughter of Helen- or should I say, Sister of Helen, because your mother and grandmother never set foot on this world. You are of the race of men who were set by Aslan to rule over the animals, unmingled with dryad or ifrit or river god or any of the other creatures who are like men but are not men. It is a little thing, perhaps, but it is a wondrous thing to the imagination in this world. Not all of the beasts will care, as not all of the men care: maybe only a few. But those who are wise enough to know the difference are powerful among the beasts, and they will respect you when they do not respect such as I. Men and beasts are divided in this land, and you could unite them.’

‘Is that it, then?’ protested Josie. ‘You hope to – to use me, so that Calormen will rule the beasts, as well as the men?’

‘No one could, or would, use you, Lady Josie. That is not what I mean to say. I hope rather that of your own will, you would decide to do such a thing. To unite the men and the beasts, as it was meant to be.’

Josie could remember Tash saying that Aslan had said much the same thing. It still sounded to her as if the Prince wanted her to push forward his own schemes, but she let herself be mollified by his protest. ‘I’m sorry to speak harshly,’ she said.

‘And I am sorry to be the occasion of your harshness, Lady Josie,’ said Prince Margis. ‘You need not apologise: I am used to ladies who are free to speak their mind, like my own sister. But wait,’ he said, laying a hand on Josie’s arm again as she took a step toward the stairs. ‘That you are a pure Sister of Helen out of the old world is not the most important thing, not in my own thoughts, Lady Josie. Now that I have seen you, and know for myself the truth that you are no sorceress with a twisted soul, but a lady fair and young and good, it pains my heart to think of you abiding forever in this grim place, where so much evil has been done. I wish to see you among your own people, in a cheerful and pleasant place. You and your son also.’

Josie shook her head. ‘I know that what you say is true, though you flatter me more than is proper. This is my place. For now, at least, I cannot take Tash into the lands of men.’

‘It need not be so,’ said Margis. ‘We who have met the Lord Tash know he is no monster, but a brave traveller from another world. He will be honoured in Balan.’

But Josie could hear in Margis’ voice that he did not truly believe what he was saying, and she shook her head again.

‘You are used to different kinds of people here, perhaps,’ said Josie. ‘More than my own world. But I still do not think, from what I have heard of the ways of men here, that Tash could be welcome among you.’

‘You judge Calormen without giving us a fair hearing,’ said Prince Margis.

‘Maybe I do,’ said Josie. She started slowly up the stairs to the castle. ‘There is no point speaking of such things now. Let us put on this feast for the beasts of Telmar, first.’

Blackbriar limped into the hall where they were eating breakfast, unseen by Jemin who was meant to be keeping watch over the gate. The first one to notice her was Gerald.

‘Doggie!’ he cried, delighted.

‘Onyx, girl!’ called Prince Margis, pushing his chair back from the table with alacrity.

Blackbriar allowed herself to be gathered into Prince Margis’ arms. ‘She is hurt; been in a fight, to look at her. But none of the wounds seem over deep. I wonder, where has she been?’

‘To see her people, I expect,’ said Josie. ‘I think they – or some of them – might not have taken kindly to her return. Will you bring her over here so she can lick my hand, Prince Margis?’

‘Of course, Lady Josie,’ said the Prince, after a puzzled second. Blackbriar was content to be handed to Josie, and sat calmly enough on the Mistress of Telmar’s lap in a way the wild Blackbriar never would have. Gerald wriggled down from his own chair, a heavy thing which had been pushed against the table so he could not fall out, and padded over to pet the dog.

‘Is it true, that you have been to see your people?’ Yes.

‘You left the other day when we were talking about the secret chamber,’ said Josie. ‘Do you know already what we need to do with it?’ Yes.

‘She says she knows,’ Josie reported. ‘Gerald, that’s enough. Now we must just figure out what she knows.’ She continued more slowly. ‘It would be easiest to turn her into a woman, so-’ Yes –reluctantly, Josie thought, but yes. ‘She can tell us. She says yes. Tash, shall you and I get her a morsel from the chamber?’

‘Truly this will be a marvel,’ enthused Prince Margis. ‘I must say I am curious to see how Onyx will appear as a woman.’ But in his voice was not a little unease, for a man’s dog sees many things that are usually kept hidden from a maidservant.

‘A marvel indeed, my Prince,’ agreed Jardil, concealing any enthusiasm he may have felt.

Josie set the dog back on the floor. ‘Blackbriar, I will meet you in my chambers in a few minutes. I will get a more pleasant morsel for you this time.’


Josie and Tash took a little fragment of birdsflesh from the feast laid out in the secret chamber, and then Josie shooed Tash back to the great hall. ‘You should look after our guests, Tash. I will see to Blackbriar.’

Blackbriar came up and nosed at Josie’s hand, and took the piece of meat from her. Josie sat down on a cushion to wait, and listened to Blackbriar moving about finding a comfortable place near the fire.

‘I am so glad that you made it safely to the human lands, Blackbriar,’ said Josie. ‘And so glad that you made it back safe again.’

‘You said so before,’ said Blackbriar, and as she began speaking her voice was almost a growl, but when she had finished it was the voice she had spoken with when she was a woman before. Last time Josie had not felt anything when Blackbriar transformed, but this time she could feel the magic in her bones: it rang through them, like vibrations through pipes. For a long instant she felt as though she were a musical instrument on which a deep and ancient song were being played, and she remembered how she had first felt when she came into this new world, like she was awake for the first time. She also felt horribly, just at the end of the long instant, as if she were about to throw up; there was a smell in the room that she had not noticed before – that had probably been there forever – but that seemed just at that instant to be unbearably vile, like fish had smelled when she had been pregnant.

‘Are you alright?’ Josie asked.

‘I think so, my Lady Josie,’ said Blackbriar. ‘It is easier knowing what will happen. And my leg does not hurt as much. I mean my arm. It is my arm that does not hurt as much.’

‘That’s good,’ said Josie, not feeling quite able to get up off the cushion yet. ‘Since there are men here, we need to get you tidied up and looking like a proper woman before they see you. I will give you a hand.’

‘You have given me two already,’ said Blackbriar, in a voice serious enough that Josie did not know if she was making a joke or not.

‘I’ll help you,’ Josie said, standing up, still feeling the last echoes of the ancient song ringing in her bones,

‘Thank you,’ said Blackbriar. ’I have spent much more time among men watching what they do, so I should be able to dress like you do easier than before. But I may still need help.’


The Blackbriar who emerged a half hour later with Josie, clad in ill-matched silks that the ifrits had seized from unfortunate caravans many years before, was a more knowing and assured woman than the Blackbriar who had worn her shape before. She had travelled long among men, and learned much of their ways, and as she walked slowly in was careful to avoid any doggish mannerisms. She had the same mane of black hair, which though Josie had taken some pains to comb it was still unruly, and the same face, a shade darker than Jardil’s, but like his it was creased with care. Josie had bandaged her arm, and as she walked in she cradled it protectively. Had Tash a better eye for the things that men notice he would have thought her a vastly more womanish woman than she had been before; but to Margis and the other Calormenes she still looked like a wild, fey thing, more likely to be a djinn or a dryad than a Daughter of Helen. You should remember that though their world seemed already old to them, it was very young compared to ours, and had no races of men that had fallen entirely into savagery.

Gerald ran eagerly up toward her as she entered, then stopped uncertainly while still some distance away and retreated back to Tash, uncharacteristically quiet.

‘I greet you, my Prince,’ said Blackbriar, in a voice with a woody quality that made her seem even more like a dryad. ‘My Lord Jardil. My Lord Tash.’ She made little bows to each one as she spoke, then made a general bow of greeting that took in the other occupants of the hall.

‘The peace of the Lion be with you, Blackbriar,’ said Prince Margis. ‘You have been a faithful companion to me. It is strange to see you in this form.’

‘It is strange to see you with the eyes of this form, my Prince,’ said Blackbriar, turning the corners of her lips upwards with conscious attention to what each individual muscle in her face was doing. ‘I bring word from the Lion. I have met him.’

‘Is- is he here?’ asked Prince Margis, with boyish wonder.

Jardil’s usually imperturbable face was briefly clouded with foreboding; the other men showed excitement and awe, while Mirilitha’s movements spoke of mingled hope and terror. Like Josie, her recognition of the goodness of Aslan was mingled with a deep-seated fear of the predator God. Ofrak was asleep, and no one had thought to wake him. Any observer would have found only Tash wholly unreadable. He was thinking of the last time he had spoken with Aslan; of the warning, and everything that had followed from it. He felt a strange wave of giddiness; the magic of the apple stirring in his blood, though he did not know it.

‘No, he is not here,’ said Blackbriar. ‘He spoke to me on the journey here, a few days ago. He was in the guise of a cat, as I saw him once before. He told me what must be done, to make my people talking beasts again. So that is where I went, to tell them, when you went to – that place.’ She held herself stiffly. ‘And why I am in this shape, so you may know too.’

Tash dreaded what she might say, so was not impatient for her to get to the explanation; and Prince Margis was still overcome with amazement at her transformation and the mention of Aslan.

‘The food needs to be set up in the forest. The Lion says you will know the place- my Prince, and the Lady Josie. Then it may be that some of my people will come. They must eat of the food to become men, like I am, and then eat again of the food while they are men, and then they will be able to speak ever afterwards, they and their children. The Lion says that others will come to try and stop them; and then you must protect the feast. You, my Prince, and the Lady Josie.’

Prince Margis nodded. ‘The others- are they beasts, like yourself, Blackbriar?’

‘Some of them will be, my Prince,’ said Blackbriar. Her undamaged arm was visibly trembling, and her face was crumpled with anxiety, and the Prince looked on her with a gaze full of pity.

‘Please sit down, my faithful servant,’ he said. He motioned for Eyit to fetch the newly woman-shaped Blackbriar water and food. ‘I surmise that your visit to your people did not turn out well?’

‘I know one of those who will attack us,’ she said. ‘The leader of the pack, Whitejaw. He will have nothing to do with this- and will lead many of the dogs of Telmar to oppose us, if things stay as they are.’

‘Shall I go to speak them? Myself, and the Lady Josie? Perhaps we might persuade them? There can be no race of beasts that does not have some respect for the Sons of Frank.’

‘It might be tried,’ said Blackbriar, but her tone suggested this would be hopeless. It seemed suddenly colder in the great hall. ‘A few of my people I think will come – a few listened and remembered the old tales. Cinder, Deerwater – how strange it sounds to make their names into speech!’ She restrained herself with an effort from chewing at her injured arm. ‘But I fear most have forgotten, and will follow Whitejaw, to their own destruction.’

‘There is something more,’ said Tash. Compared to the speech of the humans, his voice sounded as harsh as the screech of a crow. He could hear a deeper sorrow in Blackbriar’s word, something more than her sorrow for her people, something in the rhythm and tone of her words that was not a human sadness.

‘Yes, Lord Tash,’ said Blackbriar, bowing her head so that long hanks of dark hair fell over her eyes. ‘I must still go and speak to the pigs: so the Lion says. There is a long hatred between my people and them.’

‘Then shall we go with you?’ asked Prince Margis.

‘No, thank you, my Prince,’ said Blackbriar. ‘They know men are hunters. They will flee before you draw near.’

‘There is still something more,’ growled Tash suspiciously.

‘No,’ said Blackbriar, looking away from him. She tore gratefully into the bread Eyit had brought her, filling her mouth so that she could not speak.

‘Very well then,’ said Margis. ‘This entreaty of Blackbriar to the pigs will take some little time yet, and we cannot set up the feast yet, but there is much we can do to get things in readiness. We can bring everything up from the treasure chamber; and there is the question of where to set the feast. Have you a place in mind, Lady Josie?’ He looked to the archway leading from the hall, where Josie still stood, having followed a little behind Blackbriar when she entered the hall and remained standing while she spoke, a fly on the wall of her own castle.

‘I don’t know,’ said Josie.

‘It needs to be a site that can readily be defended,’ said Jardil, taking the opportunity to instruct the young Mistress of Telmar. ‘And at no great distance from the castle, both for ease of access and the likelihood that it will then lie in territory unclaimed by the other tribe of beasts.’

Prince Margis waved a dismissal. ‘Yes, yes, Jardil. That is all perfectly clear. I can do that much myself; but Aslan expects Lady Josie to decide. For all we know she has been chosen expressly for the task, and brought from another world to this place in order to carry it out.’

It seemed unlikely to Tash that this could be a particularly important part of the duty Aslan expected Josie to carry out, and Josie evidently felt the same. Josie walked slowly to the table and stood between Tash and the Prince. ‘I am honoured, Prince Margis,’ she said uncomfortably. ‘I do not think it can be as important as all that. And it was to be both of us who chose the place for the feast, as Blackbriar said.’

‘Perhaps we could venture out together and find a place then,’ said Prince Margis amiably. ‘Bearing in mind all that Jardil has said, of course.’ He nodded at his advisor in a conciliatory way.

‘I will come with you, my Prince,’ offered Blackbriar.

‘I know the valley well,’ said Tash. ‘I will come with you too.’

‘Of course, Lord Tash,’ said Prince Margis courteously.

‘We will not take long,’ said Josie. ‘And it would be better if Gerald stayed here. So if you do not mind staying behind, dear Tash?’

Tash bowed his head and let his arms droop. ‘As you wish,’ he growled.

‘Do not worry, dear Tash. It is our valley, and no harm will come to me. It will just be an easier task without Gerald, and I would not like to leave him Mirilitha with him alone, he would trample all over her.’

‘The dogs will smell Blackbriar, and be angry,’ Tash pointed out.

‘I will stay behind,’ said Blackbriar hurriedly.

‘Please, dear Tash,’ said Josie. ‘I would rather Gerald not go into the forest right now. Perhaps I am worried, like you are worried, but I promise we will be alright.’

‘As you wish,’ Tash growled, but less obstinately than before.

‘Thank you, dear Tash,’ said Josie. ‘I will get ready.’ She kissed Tash’s beak and disappeared back through the archway.

The woman who had been a dog sat at the table and ate her meal like the men she had carefully watched eat for the past few years; and Gerald climbed back into one of the chairs of heavy black wood and kicked his feet while he played with little torn pieces of bread, setting them in rows in some game whose rules seemed at each moment perfectly clear, though he could not have explained them. The leader of the men who had always been men sat and looked over the table from one end, his face calm, his eyes bright with excitement; at the other end of the table Tash hunched, like a great grey fish-eagle brooding over a nest of sticks. Unseen beyond the blue sky the stars rolled slowly overhead, the stars that had been so terrifying to Tash when he first saw them and were now so familiar. His bones itched with stolen magic. There was a sense of one world passing and another coming into being. A door was opening into a terrifying void, and irresistibly Tash was being pulled through it. Then it would slam shut behind him, inexorable and final.


‘It was magic,’ Jemin protested. ‘The bitch snuck in by magic. The sorceress hid her, just like she changed her into a woman.’

‘Rat’s shit,’ replied Hurras, pouring feed into the black mare’s manger from a sack. ‘You just weren’t looking.’

‘I was looking,’ said Jemin.

‘At your cock, maybe,’ said Karifar, with a coarse laugh. ‘Thinking of that slattern in Arza Kol.’

‘The king would have had you flogged if you missed so much as a rat crossing the lines,’ growled Hurras, ignoring Karifar’s boorishness. ‘You’re lucky the Prince is merciful.’

‘It is different here,’ said Jemin, glaring at Karifar. ‘It’s not the same as manning a guardpost against bandits. Even if it wasn’t magic, this ruin is full of hidden ways.’

Hurras grunted and went on working, by his manner showing that he took a dim view of Jemin’s excuse. The hall that had been made over for use as a stable was warm in the afternoon sun, and heavy with the smell of horse. Eyit raked up dung silently in the corner. Karifar idled, waiting for Hurras to empty the sack so he could go fill it again. Unspoken words hung in the air, as palpable as the horse-stink.

‘The Prince knows what he is doing,’ said Hurras. ‘We will be back in Arza Kol by midsummer’s eve, with all the treasures of Telmar. Magic or no magic.’

‘I don’t deny it,’ said Karifar. ‘But there will be trouble yet.’

‘Of course there will be trouble,’ agreed Hurras, tossing the empty sack at Karifar with a forcefulness that was almost savage. ‘That’s why we’re here.’

‘Agreed,’ said Karifar, clutching the sack.

‘The bitch won’t be much trouble,’ said Hurras, with the air of someone who has seen much trouble and knows well who is most likely to cause it. ‘Neither will the sorceress. It will be the beast. Tash.’

‘Lord Tash,’ said Eyit from the corner.

‘So be it, and the Lion save us,’ said Karifar, spitting on the floor. ‘Lord fucking Tash. Witch’s dugs, there will be trouble.’