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fantasy

There was a noise like the Procurator’s tower flying through the air and crashing into another one just like it, and light in colours Tash could not recognise that made his eyes hurt, and a thunderous wind that was unbearably hot and unbearably cold in turn. Stabbing pain struck Tash first in one place, then in all of them, and he would have shrieked like a baby if he had been able to breathe. Tighter than he had ever held anything, he clung to the silver cord.

Something in Tash mastered the worst of the pain and the worst of the chaos, and it seemed to him then that he was being pulled through places that could not possibly exist and that he could not possibly have imagined, one swiftly being replaced by the next.

It was black in all directions, and very cold filled with distant points of brilliant light, and great metal machines were floating through it while some sort of winged men or beast flew about them; then there was a wilderness of yellow sand that clutched at Tash with a horrible grasping dryness, and a thing like a man made out of marsh worms peering up at him through a dome of green glass; there were mountains of something bitterly cold that cracked and fell into a sea of tumultuous grey froth as he passed; there was a forest of leafless trees under a virulent pink sky, through which hordes of things like flying gnawers chased each other, and when he passed close to one of the trees he saw that it had eyes. Then there was an endless city of bronze, its streets thronged with some kind of four-limbed men who looked almost as if they were made out of polished stone, with a black sky that had the same points of light as the first place he had seen, but dimmer.  And then there was a vast plain of brightly-coloured plants, with roughly-hewn stones of great size arranged in innumerable lines and circles on it.  He found himself falling towards the middle of one of these and squeezed his eyes shut so he would not see himself hit the ground.

Then the unimaginable din was replaced by silence, and Tash found himself standing in a field. The only sound was the wind, sighing inexorably through the branches of the plants which extended endlessly in every direction. They came up no higher than Tash’s knees, and were a bewildering variety of colours – green, and blue, and golden, and a vivid red, violet, and silver, tumbled together in such a mad profusion that looking at them made him a little queasy. The sky overhead was a deep blue. In one direction something horribly bright was in the sky, far too bright for Tash to look near, let alone at it. The air was warm and had a bitter flavour, and he found himself taking quick shallow breaths of it.

‘I wonder if there is where I am supposed to be,’ thought Tash. He was disturbed to find that he was no longer clutching the silver cord, though he had been holding on to it with all his strength. ‘At least there is no one here doing anything horrid to me.’ Having nothing better to do, he walked towards the nearest of the standing stones, which was about fifty yards away.  Up close the stone, though left unshaped and unpolished, was carved all over with what seemed to be proofs of theorems in geometry.

‘What a curious thing to do,’ thought Tash, forgetting to worry about the loss of the silver cord or what would become of him in this strange landscape, and peering at the theorems.   It seemed to him, though he was not quite sure, that if he looked away from one and then looked back at again it was a different theorem the second time. Yes, he was almost quite sure. He looked away and looked back at one particular theorem a fourth time. He did not look at it a fifth time, because his attention was distracted by a long note from something like a horn sounding in the distance. He headed off in the direction of the sound to find what might be making it.

Before too long Tash could hear other sounds, the sounds of a group of men approaching him, and he could see them coming across the meadow. They were almost like thalarka, but not quite: they were more feathered, and taller, and Tash had the feeling that without their feathers they would be quite a skinny sort of people. Their feathers were the most beautiful things Tash had yet seen – they had the opalescent quality of looking different colours from different directions and glittered impressively in the bright light. Tash felt drab and grey beside them. There were somewhere between a dozen and a score of them, and they were in a hurry. They all had bright red eyes.

‘Are you the inscrutable powers?’ asked Tash hopefully. This did not seem to be such an unpleasant place, and these people did not seem so very unpleasant.

‘This is the one,’ said one of the men. Several of the others threw a large net over Tash.

There did not seem to be any point in struggling with these men, who were very strong, so he meekly let himself be tied up. Up close, they seemed to come in two kinds: one slightly taller, who wore belts as thickly encrusted with jewels as any of the priests Tash had seen in the Procurator’s tower, and one slightly shorter, who wore collars of some drab metal.

‘No wonder the lines were tangled,’ said one of the tallest of the men, coming up to examine Tash closely once he was safely tied up. ‘This one has not even been attuned. Hzghra!’ Tash was not sure at first if this last word was a curse, or somebody’s name, but decided it was a name when one of the shorter ones hurried up. It leaned in close to Tash and examined the hand he had been holding the cord in, then jabbed it without warning with a sharp metal object.

‘Ow!’ said Tash.

‘This one is attuned to Gith-Khash, but only weakly,’ said the shorter man. ‘It has not come completely unattached.’

‘Bring this one to the sorting chamber,’ said the tall thalarka-like man who had said that Tash had not even been attuned. ‘Nine and Ninety Transparent Godlings, what a tangle.’ The men seemed to say something in the same kind of voice, an impatient way of talking with a whistle in it that made it impossible to tell whether they were really irritated or not. Maybe they were all always irritated.

For the first time one of the opalescent thalarka addressed Tash directly. It was the one who had stabbed his hand, and what it said was ‘Do not be very alarmed’.

‘I will try not to be,’ he assured the creature.

Several of the opalescent thalarka-like men picked Tash up then – he had been trussed into a bundle convenient for carrying – and carried him briskly off across the meadow.

‘What purpose do you serve?’ one of the taller ones asked Tash.

‘I don’t know,’ said Tash.

‘Do you know what sphere you originate from?’

‘No,’ said Tash. He would have bowed his head and let his arms droop if he had not been tied up. It occurred to Tash that perhaps the old thalarka who had sent him here did not know what he was doing as well as he thought he did.

Tash was carried to a circle of standing stones, in the centre of which the grass and flowers had been trampled down to packed earth. In the centre of this was what appeared at first to be a pool of water, but as they drew closer it became apparent it was a hole in time and space, like Tash had seen the gnawers make. Instead of just ending, it was bounded neatly with stones. Tash was not very alarmed until it became evident that the almost-thalarka were going to toss him into it; then he did become very alarmed, but he was tied up too tightly to do anything about it.

He flew through the air. There was a very brief tingling and pain as he fell into the void, and then he found himself in a large round stone room. There were some dozens of the thalarka-like men in it, but it was large enough that there was plenty of room between them.  Around the edge were any number of intricate clockwork gadgets, and the walls were covered with carved images – of theorems in geometry, but also of machines, and buildings, and different kinds of men – that were most certainly moving as Tash looked at them.  At the centre of the room was a vertical hole into the void, made somehow into the sides of a triangular block of black stone that slowly turned around. Tash supposed he had got from there to the edge of the room somehow; and also had been untied, since he was standing up and unbound. Some time seemed to be missing from his life, and one of his shoulders stung as if something had bitten it. He rubbed it and this seemed to help a little.

The shortest of the thalarka-like creatures he had yet seen, barely taller than Tash himself, was standing in front of him, holding out a cone with something green in it.

‘What is it?’ asked Tash.

‘Lime ice,’ said the man.

‘Thank you,’ said Tash, sniffing it curiously. It seemed like the kind of thing you could eat, but had no odour of vinegar to it at all.

‘What is this place?’ Tash asked the man who had given him the lime ice.

‘This is the sorting chamber,’ the short almost-thalarka said proudly.

‘What will you do with me?’

‘We will untangle your line from the other lines you have been entangled with, and sort you.’

‘Oh,’ said Tash, understanding this as well as he had understood anything else in this place where nothing made sense.

‘Please,’ said the man. It gestured that Tash should stand someplace other than where he was standing, and he went to the place indicated. It was marked off from the rest of the room with a kind of rope strung between poles, and contained a number of things that looked like they were made to be sat on, though neither of the creatures already there were sitting down. They were peculiar sorts of things. They did not come up much above Tash’s knees, and were evidently the same kind of creature, though they were dressed very differently and the tufts of fibrous material coming out of their heads were different colours and arranged in different ways. Like the feathered men, they had two arms and two legs, and flat sorts of faces with two eyes. One of them had something sticky and glistening on its face, and was making noises that sounded distressed. The other was eating lime ice out of a paper cone and rubbing its shoulder. As Tash approached, the one who was making the distressed noises looked at him and became more distressed, while the other one’s eyes went very wide.

‘What manner of creature are you?’ asked the short pasty creature with the lime ice. ‘I have not seen your like before.’ It was wearing a single black garment that was tied around its middle with a belt and came down to a little below where its knees ought to be.

‘I am a thalarka,’ said Tash, feeling an unworthy satisfaction at being the cause of mystification in someone else for a change.

The creature stared back at Tash in a way that made him uncomfortable. It nodded slowly, and took a bite of its lime ice. It took large, quick bites, as if it was used to eating rarely and in a hurry. ‘I am a human being,’ it said. ‘They call me Number Five Girl, but I call myself Nera.’

‘They call me Tash and I call myself that too,’ said Tash. The other creature that he supposed must be a human being too was slowly making quieter and quieter distressed noises, and rubbing its sticky face. It was wearing complicated garments with tubes around its legs and what seemed to be two or three layers of stuff covering its arms and chest.

‘I don’t know that one’s name,’ said the human being who called herself Nera. ‘I think he comes from somewhere nice.’

Tash nodded.  He would be very distressed as well, if he had come to this strange place from somewhere nice. He took a bite of the lime ice and found it to be very cold, disconcertingly crunchy, and overwhelming in its sweetness, but nevertheless very pleasant.

‘It is like eating snow, isn’t it?’ asked Nera, in a somewhat more friendly tone befitting the camaraderie of fellow lime-ice eaters.

‘I don’t know,’ said Tash. He did not want to admit that he did not know what snow was, so he did not inquire. ‘How is it that we can understand each other?’ he asked. ‘I am bad at understanding women’s language at home.’

Nera shrugged her shoulders. ‘Magic?’ she suggested.

‘What are you doing here?’ Tash asked.

‘My masters,’ said Nera. ‘Put me through to try and swap me with somebody from the other world. That one there who’s crying, I suppose. But we didn’t end up in each other’s worlds, we both ended up here. The bird people said something about our line being tangled up in some other line. My guess is that something went wrong.’ She crumpled up her empty paper cone and let it drop to the floor.

‘I think that might have been me,’ said Tash. ‘They said something about lines being tangled to me, too.’

‘And what are you doing here?’ asked Nera. She had very piercing sorts of eyes.

‘Someone just… sent me here,’ said Tash. ‘I don’t know why.’

Nera nodded in sympathy. ‘It’s pretty bad where you come from, isn’t it?’

Tash nodded in return.

‘What do they call you?’ Nera asked the other small human being, who was just coming to an end of crying in a series of long stuttering sobs. But Tash never found out what is was called, because just then a large group of the thalarka-like men trooped back in, which set it off crying again. The group split into three groups, circled on each of the displaced travellers.

A single very tall man who wore a white crystal between its eyes addressed them.

‘There is no need to exhibit distress. You will soon all be returned to the correct spheres. At the moment we are making the final adjustments to the binding incantations, and the trajectories to return you to your points of translocation will be immanentised very shortly.’

‘Are you sending us back where we came from?’ asked Tash, uneasily.

‘Yes,’ said the very tall man. ‘Send this one first,’ he said, indicating the sticky-faced human who was making all the noise.

‘No!’ said Tash.  He could not bear being sent back to the old thalarka and the gnawers, to the dark labyrinth, the watchful eye of the Overlord and the near certainty of being sacrificed. ‘No!’ He threw his arms in the air, losing grip on his lime ice, and broke free of the knot of men surrounding him.

‘You must be patient,’ said the man who wore the white stone, exasperated. ‘The trajectory immanentisations are not yet complete.’

‘I’m not going back,’ cried Tash. ‘I’m not, I’m not, I’m not!’ He dashed in random directions like a small mire-beast on the road that loses its wits when a cart approaches. The thalarka-like men were hurrying towards him from all over the room now, surrounding him, closing in on him.

‘The portal,’ said Nera, who had somehow broken away from her own group of watchers and was suddenly there at his side.

‘The portal,’ cried Tash, running toward it. If they were sending the crying one first, than the portal ought to lead to its world, surely, the one that was nice.

‘Stop! It is perilous!’ called one of the men.  Nera, with her short legs, could not keep up with Tash, and the almost-thalarka blocked her way, but Tash was inspired by a sudden rush of heroism. Knocking one of the men sprawling – they were strong, but they were not heavy when you got them by surprise, he thought – he swept Nera up in his arms and hurled them both at the hole in space and time.

‘Nine and Ninety-‘ the very tall thalarka-like man who seemed to be in charge began saying. Its words were cut off by the chaos of the void.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Thank you for helping me,’ said Josie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Mmhm’ said Josie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The turning of day and night

Is the maker of events.

The turning of day and night

Is the source of life and death.

The turning of day and night

Is the echo of the song of Creation.

The turning of day and night

Is a soft two-coloured reed,

With which That-Which-Is

Disguises itself with appearances.

Fast and free blows the wind of time,

But Love itself is a wind that stems all winds.

In the tale of Love there are times

Other than the past, the present and the future;

Times for which no names have yet been coined.

Love is the tune that brings

Music to the voice of life.

Love is the light of life.

Love is the fire of life.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Tash was awakened by the silence. For a very long time he had lain there listening to the shuffling and wheezing and jangling and occasional unhappy gabbling of the other sacrifices, and he must finally have fallen asleep, but he awoke with a start to a silence like death. No one stirred. No one wheezed or muttered nonsense words to themselves. It was yet harder to see than it had been, for some kind of thick fog had filled the chamber and the lights on the pillars spent themselves in muddled grey-green blobs and failed to illuminate anything more than a few paces distant.

‘I hope they are not all dead,’ said Tash. It would not really have been any worse for him to be chained up with some hundreds of dead bodies than with some hundreds of sacrifices who were to be killed in a few days at any rate, but it was a horrible thing to imagine, and frightened him every bit as much as it would you or me. He felt at the idiot boys chained to his left and to his right, but could not wake them, nor could he tell for sure whether they were breathing or not. When he moved, his chains clanked, but less than they should have, like they were clanking underwater.

‘I wish I was anywhere else at all,’ thought Tash unhappily.

A moment later things became yet more alarming, for Tash felt something crawling on his arm. It was a quick tickly rasping thing with too many legs, as big as his hand, and he could see it only as the merest flicker of movement in the gloom.

‘I must be still and quiet and maybe it will not bite me,’ said Tash to himself.  He had learned this way of dealing with biting creatures through painful experience. So he sat very still as the something crawled down to his wrist and sat there in an unruly ticklish way like a newborn sister, and as another something of the same sort crawled onto one of his legs and scrabbled to his ankle, and then another, and another, until the rasping things were perched everywhere the chains bound Tash to the stone post. Then they began to gnaw. Not on Tash – for which he was very grateful – but on the fetters that held him. He could feel the patient grinding of their teeth in his bones, an inexorable gnawing that went on and on without ever slowing down or speeding up. He had the feeling that if these creatures with too many legs set their tiny minds to it they would simply keep gnawing forever through anything that was in their way, flesh and bone and metal and stone, year after year and generation after generation, until they had gnawed a tunnel through the world from one side to another.

After a long time the things with too many legs had chewed through all of Tash’s fetters. The chains fell dully to the floor, one by one, and the many-legged things gathered in a vague mass before him. He could see their green eyes shining now, little pinpricks of light in the fog. They were looking at him.

‘It is better to do something than nothing,’ thought Tash, which was one of the proverbs he had heard all his life whenever he had been found doing nothing. He stood up, which was more difficult than he expected. First one of the many-legged creatures darted away into the darkness, then another one.  The remaining green eyes watching him seemed to be brighter. He took a step in the direction the creatures seemed to be going and they took off before him in a rush, their eyes bounding like grith nodules in a pot of boiling water.

As Tash walked away from the pillars where the sacrifices were chained, the fog lifted and the eyes of the creatures grew brighter and brighter. The strange silence also faded, and Tash could hear the scrape of his own feet on the pavement, and the rustle of the many-legged creatures around him. There were more of them than there had been:  more and more, until he could dimly see his injured hand by the glow of their eyes, and the shadows cast by their capering bodies. They were leading him away from the doors to the outside, across the vast chamber, deeper and deeper into the evil-smelling darkness.

‘Now I am somewhere else, as I wished,’ thought Tash. ‘It is better, I suppose. How this chamber goes on and on. ’

If it had been outside and lit, it would doubtless have seemed no great expanse, smaller than many of the grith fields in which Tash had spent his life; but it was inside and dark, so seemed to be without beginning or end.

But at last it did end: stone walls closed in around Tash, and the air grew damper and less evil-smelling. The creatures danced around him, steering him first one way and then another through what seemed to be a maze of passages, sometimes down, sometimes up, but more often down. The air grew damper yet, and the walls Tash came close to were slick with slime. Once they passed over a thunderous stream of water, and another time Tash had to climb over a statue that had fallen over to block the way. Tash would have liked to stop and examine the statue more closely, for he had never been so close to any of the great carven images which the Tower was decorated, but the many-legged creatures became so terribly agitated when he bent down to peer at it that he judged it unwise.

‘After all if I scare them away I will have no light at all, and will never be able to find my way anywhere in the dark,’ he thought. And he followed the creatures on, and on, and on, through the maze.

Tash was dizzy from watching the green eyes of the creatures, and weary from not being able to stop and ponder things, and feeling rather sore from one particular place he had been clouted that had not seemed such a big deal at the time, when the passage he was following ended abruptly in a wall.

Several of the creatures took off excitedly into the darkness, while others scrabbled up the walls and even clung to the ceiling above Tash’s head. Before he had time to think of much of anything at all he saw a light that was not dancing and green. It was a bluish light like fire that was very bright – really too bright to look at directly – and it traced a line along the wall in front of him, from the floor to somewhere well above his head. Then it grew wider and wider, and was a door opening into a room, where everything was too bright to see. Of course the light poured out of this room as well, so it was just as impossible to see anything outside, but Tash was vaguely aware of the many-legged creatures capering into the room like mad things. A slightly darker patch loomed out of the brightness, took Tash by an arm and steered him into the room, less roughly than he was accustomed to.

‘Stand still,’ said a voice. ‘Don’t fall over.  And straighten up.’ It was the voice of a very old thalarka, and it spoke the words very carefully, as if they were made out of something fragile and would break if spoken too roughly.

Tash did his best to follow these sensible instructions. Little by little his eyes adjusted and he could make out the source of the voice.  The unbearable brightness came after all from a rather small lamp, which filled the room with wavering blue light and a sickly sweet smell. The lamp hung from the ceiling above a stone table covered with mysterious devices, which under normal circumstances Tash would have been inordinately curious about. There were books, too, like the ones the tax collectors carried, but instead of one there were scores, stacked on the table and on shelves on the far wall. Clinging to the walls – and the shelves – were very many of the things with too many legs, shifting ceaselessly about and rustling like a crowd of villagers on a festival day. In some curious way Tash was quite sure that they were paying attention to the old thalarka; that he was their Overlord, and that their mindless whispering meant something very like ‘sweeter than narbul venom is it to serve the Overlord’. In the lamplight the eyes that had lit Tash’s way were nearly invisible, buried deep in their wrinkled beastly faces, and they looked every bit as horrid as Tash had first imagined in the darkness.

The thalarka had one withered arm and one blind eye, and stood hunched over so that this eye was level with Tash’s eyes though if he had stood straight he would have been rather tall. He wore a necklace with a sigil of reddish-black stones, and with his remaining good eye he studied Tash with a furious silent intensity.

‘Yes… yes,’ the old thalarka said to himself. ‘You will do.’

It was better to be told that he would do, than to be told he was perfectly and completely useless, Tash thought. He bowed his head and let his arms droop, but he let his arms droop less than he usually did when his elders spoke to him, and when he bowed his head he kept one eye peeking at what the old thalarka was doing.

‘You don’t appear to be witless,’ said the old thalarka, keeping his eye on Tash while picking up a complicated metal instrument from the table. The lamplight reflected prettily from it. ‘Can you talk?’

‘Yes, Much-Knowing and Venerable Antiquated One,’ said Tash. ‘What does that thing do?’

The old thalarka raised the instrument to his eye and looked through it at Tash, making a clicking noise in his throat. He adjusted a knob on its side, took it down and adjusted another knob, then raised it to his eye again. Tash watched these proceedings with fascination. He had not really expected the old thalarka to answer his question, but after making a few more adjustments he said something that must have been an answer.

‘It uses certain little known properties of solar radiation to estimate the eckward component of the aetheric vibrations.’

‘I don’t understand,’ said Tash. ‘Much-Knowing and Venerable Antiquated One,’ he added hastily after a moment.

‘Of course you don’t,’ said the old thalarka. ‘If you did, you wouldn’t be chained up under the Procurator’s tower waiting to be sacrificed. You would be the apprentice of one of my rivals, and I would have brought you here to persuade you betray them. Or perhaps to torture you to death, as a warning to your master not to interfere with my plans.’

‘I see,’ said Tash. ‘Much-Knowing and Venerable Antiquated One.’

‘Don’t look so alarmed,’ said the old thalarka, setting down the instrument and picking up another one – still keeping his one eye fixed on Tash. ‘I have no interest in torturing you to death. It is quite clear that you are an ignorant peasant.’ This new instrument seemed to contain some kind of liquid, which could be ejected in a very thin stream through a small tube when the old thalarka pressed a lever.  He did this once, spraying a little of the liquid into the air, and the many-legged creatures seemed to find it of great interest. They began to seethe more rapidly, and a few dropped from the walls to scuttle across the floor.

‘What is that?’ asked Tash, forgetting to add ‘Much-Knowing and Venerable Antiquated One’.

‘Aetheric essence,’ said the old thalarka. Slowly and carefully, he traced a circle with the oil on the floor between himself and Tash about a body-length across. The things with too many legs dropped to the floor in numbers and began to cluster along the circle, climbing on top of each other in their eagerness to be close to it. Tash could hear the grinding sound of their teeth in his bones. It was a very unpleasant sound. It began to smell oddly, like the taste Tash got in his mouth sometimes when he had been clouted over the head.

‘What are they?’ asked Tash.

‘Gnawers,’ said the old thalarka.

‘I have never seen them before,’ said Tash.

‘They are forbidden,’ the old thalarka replied. For the first time, he took his eye of off Tash, to do something fiddly with one of the most complicated looking devices while he consulted one of the books on his table. ‘The penalty for keeping them is death by fire.’

‘Aren’t you afraid I’m going to tell on you? No, you’re not. Oh.’ For the first time Tash considered that there might possibly be worse things than being sacrificed to the glory of the Overlord. The odd smell was stronger now, and the sound of the gnawers gnawing, without becoming any louder, grated more and more insistently on Tash’s mind so that he found it hard to think of anything else. He glanced at the door, considering and then instantly dismissing dashing to it and running off in the dark.

‘What do they gnaw?’ asked Tash after a pause.

‘Everything.  Plants. Stones. Men. Even – if encouraged properly – the very tissue of space and time.’ The old thalarka carefully adjusted a knob on the device, glancing every now and again to the book. It was open to a picture, rather than rows of ideographs, Tash saw – some kind of tangle of circles within circles within circles that he wished he could look at more closely.

‘Is that what they’re doing?” asked Tash. ‘Much-knowing…’

‘Oh, you are too clever by half,’ said the old thalarka, amused. ‘Of course. Of course that is what they are doing.’ All the gnawers had clustered in a thick writhing mass around the circle of oil that the old thalarka had made, crawling over one another and sometimes biting through each other’s legs by mistake. The air above them was starting to waver, like the air above the smokeless fires that were kindled in the temples.

Tash asked the question then that had first popped into his mind when he had been brought into the room, but kept being pushed back when he thought of other questions. ‘What are you going to do to me?’

‘Don’t you worry about that,’ said the old thalarka. ‘It will be much more interesting than being sacrificed. Hold out your hands.’

‘Why?’ asked Tash. But he held out his hands, being accustomed to obeying orders. The old thalarka picked a length of silvery cord up from the table and tossed one end across to Tash.

‘You don’t want to let go of that. Just keep holding on, and everything will be fine.’   The old thalarka’s one eye glistened with excitement. He had kept hold of the other end of the cord, which now passed directly over the circle of gnawers.

Tash held the end of the cord tightly. It was comforting, despite everything that had been happened, to be told that everything would be fine if he just held on to it. ‘What does it do?’ he asked.

The old thalarka did not answer, but shifted from one foot to another in his enthusiasm, alternately gazing proudly at the seething gnawers and examining a dial on one of his devices. And a moment later Tash had forgotten that he had asked any such thing.

It was very like when the door had opened. There was a crack of bright light, but it was a crack in the air above the gnawers, rather than a crack in the wall. It swiftly got wider and brighter, and then everything inside it fell out of the world.  That was the only way Tash could ever explain it afterwards.  A little piece of the universe had been gnawed away at the edges, and it had fallen off into something else. The gnawers stopped gnawing; most of them scuttled backwards, while a few slipped over the edge of the void and were instantly whisked away.

Tash’s eyes refused to tell him what was going on in the space above the circle. It was black and piercingly white at the same time, and it seemed to be in ceaseless motion, but not in any direction that Tash had ever encountered before. The silver cord he held disappeared into one side of it, swaying gently, and reappeared on the other.  At the edge of the void the air was shimmering, and seemed to be rushing swiftly like water in a millrace; but the space itself he could not manage to get his thoughts around.

‘Magnificent,’ exclaimed the old thalarka. ‘Exceptional. Look at how smooth the interface is! How stable the aetheric flux! If only Zmaar could see me now. If Tzorch knew how much I have surpassed him. The old fool!‘

The whole thing was so fascinating that Tash forgot to be terrified, and stopped attending to what the old thalarka was saying. He tugged at the cord, ever so gently, to see what would happen. Nothing did. It was as if the void was an immovable object. He stared into the absence of universe, willing himself to make some sense of it. The old thalarka was quite right: whatever else this was, it was certainly more interesting than being sacrificed.

‘Is that clear?’ asked the old thalarka sharply.

‘Yes,’ said Tash without conviction, having no idea what the old thalarka had just said.

‘I am sure the powers – inscrutable as They are – will find you an equitable exchange,’ said the old thalarka, his eyes glistening with triumph. ‘Do not let go of the cord.’

‘Y-‘ Tash began. The old thalarka gave his cord the tiniest of tugs, and Tash’s cord was pulled into the void with inexorable force, as if it was attached to a cart that had fallen over the edge of a cliff. Inwards, upwards, and otherwards, Tash was instantly and irresistibly dragged into a place where nothing made sense.

Cover BoT smlIt may seem that we have not been writing very much over the last six months or so, and this is both true, in terms of publishing things, and not true, in terms of projects that have been trickling along the background.  In my case, I have been working on “The Changing Man,” a teen fic novel set in the universe of “Misfortune“, and also on the second volume of Aronoke,  More recently I have started a story about a traveller boy in the world of Tsai, called “Sky’s the Limit” (which may never see the light of day), whereas Chris has been diverted into completing his Narnia fan-fiction story, Bride of Tash.

Today I put up the first chapters of Bride of Tash at fanfiction.net, and also at Archive of Our Own, which is a fan fiction site frequented by our children.  There are great drosses of trash to be found on fanfiction collection sites such as these, mostly in the style of “What would happen if Major Character X had the hots for Major Character Y?” but there are occasional gems to be found floating in this sea of mediocre slush.

Bride of Tash can also be found here, in the Freebies section, where it will be updated prior to other postings.

 

ArcheAge is an up-and-coming sandbox MMO which has been in production for some time.  It floundered about for a good long time, having difficulties finding a company to bring it to the west, but Trion Games eventually took it up.  Even now, only vague snippet of information are forthcoming regarding it, although what has been promised is enticing – ships, wagons, player-built housing, large-scale battles, player-judged legal system, prisons… I wonder if it will actually all come to fruition, and not be the vast disappointment previous games (Vanguard, for example) that have promised such wide-ranging systems have been.

Bare-chested male toons fishing in boats and riding donkeys?  No problem.

 

 

 

“Leaving Loris” is now available on Amazon as a kindle version.

Print version will be available soon.

When Arlon was fairly small, about the age when Humen children are all arms and legs and intervening hungry bits, an old Ruhurdh, more crumpled and twisted and decrepitly ancient than most of its stunted, hairy breed, appeared in the village.   It was obviously a beggar, an itinerant pauper with no possessions besides the greasy hide bag which it wore slung over one shoulder, a tattered artefact studded with improbable and gruesome amulets and tied with oiled bits of sinew.

The creature (for who could call it a person?) stumbled into the village with a rolling uneven gait like a peg-leg sailor’s.  The youngsters, Arlon amongst them, threw groek dung and dead locusts and bits of stick, but their missiles glanced off the stranger’s hide and fell into the dust, and the expression on the gnarled hairy face didn’t change at all.  The whitened turned eyes below the deep hood didn’t flicker, not even when a large groek-pat bounced off the ugly flattened Ruhurdh nose.  The children continued in their sport despite this lack of response.  Strangers were few and far between and any amusement was better than the endless routine of village life.  Surely, if they persisted, they would get a reaction soon.

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After Udan had shown to his legions the helmet of the elder ones, he commanded that a city be built there on the banks of the Mouy, to preserve the memory of the five holy women and to stand guard over the approaches to Mira-Thosh. He bade settle there eightscore hundred of his soldiers, the veterans of many a campaign in the east and in the west. And Udan commanded that a road be built from Ar-Sadrun’s city of Guth Arul to the new city on the Mouy, to bind the new lands together like beads on a cord.

– From the Chronicle of Udan

 

Murud did not share his commander’s dislike of the folk of Thoss. It could not be denied that they smelled differently, that they were differently shaped, and that their morality (as far as he could see) rested on very different foundations; but there were many things about them which he thought admirable. Their keeping to themselves, which had been styled a vice, seemed laudable – there was much to be said in favour of a race that refused so steadfastly to meddle with the affairs of others. The restrained manner in which they conducted their occasional business with the outside world; the absence of quarrelling among them; the neat rows in which they planted their fruiting trees and laid out the bones of their dead; these were things that appealed to Murud, who valued order and the absence of discord. These were the chief values of his own people, and these were the values that they had imposed on their neighbours, and then on more distant lands, and more distant lands still. At the cost of many thousands of lives they had brought those virtues here, across a great ocean and many ranges of mountains, to find them already practised. Practised without any sign of the Thudun urge to force them on other  people, it seemed; and this seemed to Murud both singular and praiseworthy.

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A young Cirilman brought Absolom his fish on the terrace.  The human nodded to show his thanks, taking the bowl.  He smiled, and the Cirilman imitated him, opening his broad lipless mouth slightly to show a hundred needle-like teeth.  Absolom could not read its monochrome eyes.  “Thank you”, he added.  “Cjir-jhai yimmikor.”

The Cirilman backed away slowly as he spoke, its mouth now closed, its head rocking from side to side with amusement.  It bowed rapidly from the waist.  “Dai yim’.”

Absolom sat cross legged near the edge of the terrace, his back to the other diners.  Balancing the bowl between his ankles, he began breaking the fish into pieces and discarding the bones.  The black skin of the fish was sticky, and his fingers were soon smeared with it , but the flesh beneath was white and firm.  Before eating any, he smelt it with care, alert for the bitter tang of ehorot or hjan.  He had told the victualler to cook his food, instead of adding the alkaloid spices customary among the Cirilmen, but did not trust his command of their language.  It was better to be cautious this far from home.

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You have heard that it was said. Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

 

This happened up near the Macintyre river two days walk southwest of Boggabilla. It is good country there with water and pasture in all but the worst years. There isn’t any good describing the scenery because either you know what it looks like there or you don’t. If you don’t there is no way to write it so you can see it as it really is so it will all be made-up in your head any way so you may as well make it up as you like. Writing scenery is a dull game. As dull as an axe that has been used to cut down a tree with ant-hill made under the bark like they have away up north on the other side of the Empire. The trouble is you don’t know where to stop. You can write that there was a creek about so wide flowing from this direction to that direction, and one tree of such a kind on the bank about so many paces from the man who speaks first, and another tree of a different kind so many paces away from him in another direction, and then another, and you can go on describing the scenery forever and never get to any point. Whatever. But if you have been there you will know what it looks like.

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