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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.’

The project I got distracted into this Christmas holiday was making a dodgy prose translation of Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio’s 1621 play , ‘El Laberinto de Creta’, since I couldn’t find it in English anywhere on the interwebz.

Act One Act Two Act Three

ancient-greece

Scene 1. The Island of Lesbos. Enter Oranteo, Lucindo, and Lauro.

Oranteo: So it is quiet in Lesbos as it is in Crete.

Lauro: It is never quiet to someone who is in love; passion is an avocation that subjects the soul and heart to a blind appetite.

Oranteo: Revenge sears and disquiets me: They have left for Athens, Lucindo; they leave, and challenge the barbarian Teseo. Paris the Trojan be my pledge: Tell him his weapons offend the Prince of Lesbos, Oranteo, dare him, the betrayer and malborn, that I do not believe it to be of Jupiter; Tell him that he was a coward ,and not the audacious victor over the ugly Minotaur; but rather deceitful Ulysses, who importunately killed the son of Poseidon. And tell him that if he fears war because he suspects danger, that I do not challenge him to fight in my land, nor in his land, but on the undulating field of the sea. The theatre that these islands enclose will serve as a place of war, where a ship has a free and secure place to meet the challenge.

Lucindo: I will go to complete your desire in full: but I do not know if you guess the outcome of the battle aright, because in Athens they tell much of the great deeds of Teseo.

Oranteo: All of them are dubious. The tale they tell of his deed with Hercules I do not believe, nor the one where he broke the doors of hell; yes, I believe that he went to Colchis, but it is known that he was with Jason on the first ship. Anyway, I find in the robbery of Medea, the Golden Fleece and the Golden Apples and all that, that he employs theft in all he does; I pledge on the soul that I adore.

Lucindo: Anyway, you want the sea as the field of battle?

Oranteo: Well, who can better give us with due decorum a place of challenge in the first deck of a ship? On board with our own men, and raising the two for the ladders,[1] our skill will have the battle to ourselves, where the cowards have no wings.

Lucindo: And who do you name to judge between you?

Oranteo: The gods of the sea, who will clear crystal halls upon the surf; and from heaven the deities alone. They beautiful nymphs will crown the happy victor with bouquets of coral, and I will be, no doubt, that jealous one equal to the sighs of the stars.

Lucindo: I go to obey you.

Oranteo: And I, spirited Lucindo, wait for my favour from them.

Lucindo: The heavens give you righteous victory!

He goes.          

Oranteo: And should I die, what greater glory? Lauro, I send you to take my word to the people, because the confused noise of the cities offends me. My love aims to live amid the silent solitudes, there I wish to entrust myself to the hunt, and the forests would tell me their truths; because there soft streams murmur there, and not servants of my mad jealousy.

Lauro: In short, you want to live your life in the countryside, wallowing in your sad love for beautiful Ariadna?

Oranteo: I want to spend my loneliness in it: I will follow the wild beasts of the mountain. Also war, because it is her image. For to one who has said goodbye to his joy, loneliness is sweet company.

***

Scene 2. Enter Ariadna, dressed as a (male) shepherd, and Diana,[2] a peasant.

Ariadna: Would you like me to leave, Diana?

Diana: I have conquered the hard rocks, due to having seen such a beast in human beauty. Were you born of tigers?

Ariadna: If I was born of them, I would not have fled from you, but would have gone to you looking ruthless.

Diana: Well, Montano, you have paid me well with your hospitality, in faith, when I found myself lost in the gullies of that meadow. Would to God that the sea had eaten you before you saw the hovels on this shore, because you came to kill me! If I were to fall here as a woman to be buried, would you just laugh at me?

Ariadna: Diana, what can I do, if I do not love?

Diana: Try it and you will know, you traitor.

Ariadna: How is it possible to know? Teach me?

Diana: I don’t believe that it is possible to give instruction in love. But it possible for hope and desire to guide you.

Ariadna: What are hope and desire?

Diana: Desire is for any good, and hope, that is for those who live while they have not reached it.

Ariadna: I do not know rhetoric; speak to me in my own language, that is the philomosophy[3] that the devil taught you.

Diana: Now well, I want to give you a lesson in love, although the art really only is to see, and be seen to please me. Look at me.

Ariadna: I have already looked at you.

Diana: More, I say.

Ariadna: Another look?

Diana: Imagine that you like me, even though I lack beauty.

Ariadna: I am imagining it.

Diana: Now you want to enjoy imagining it.

Ariadna: How?

Diana: With the performance, that is where love entertains.

Ariadne: What performance is that?

Diana: Is there anything more rustic?

Ariadna: I am a fool!

Diana: Either you despise me because I am tedious, or you are the most ignorant of any man born.

Ariadna: So my woes have made me: I will make amends later.

Diana: If you wait like Narcissus to fall in love with yourself, my eyes will make fountains of anger; when you look at me that will be the warning.

Ariadna: Your warning also annoys me. When I see a woman crying, I find myself falling down laughing in sheer pleasure.

Diana: Well may you despise me, but in faith, you will cry yourselfsome day.

Enter Fineo.

Fineo: The cow-yard looks good, you have looked after it well.

Ariadna: What do you want of me? If Diana will let me be.

Fineo: You are always complaining! You never stop these devilish complaints.

Ariadna: She wants me to love her, and I do not love her, nor do I know how

Phineus: Eh. If it were me, I would love her. Get out of here, you!

Ariadna: I should go?

Diana: Not that.

Ariadna: Well, since you don’t want me to…

She goes.

Diana: Oh, ingrate!

Fineo: Stop, listen to Fineo!

Diana: That my desire bores you!

Fineo: Listen to my complaints for a while, instead.

Diana: What do you want?

Fineo: That you stay here, and listen to me for a thousand words.

Diana: No. Do you see where the goats go?

Fineo: Where do they go?

Diana: Up there.

Fineo: Point out the way to Montano. I believe the climb would kill me.

Diana: Don’t wear yourself out, Fineo.I will not like you anymore, if you do not make it so I can marry Montano.

Fineo: Me?

Diana: Yes, you: he will not say no if you beg him.

Fineo: Should this happen, my love will fall down on the ground in his state!

Diana: If you don’t, you are lighting ice on fire.

Fineo: You’re in an amusing mood; promise me a favour for after the marriage. Arranging this would please me, but I don’t dare do it, because I know that Montano is not for marrying.

Diana: What’s wrong with him?

Fineo: A defect.

Diana: Well, your love comes to delude me in vain!

Fineo: By Jupiter, he is not for woman, that is for certain!

Diana: You have uncovered your jealousy, and your jealous interest. You remain a villain.

She leaves.

Fineo: I have told you the truth, and if he changes his mind, there will not be a man Montano anymore.

Ariadna returns.

Ariadna: What is to stop my life?

Fineo: In this I would be careful.

Ariadna: And I am not that. Where did the fool woman go?

Fineo: She has gone already.

Ariadna: How many woes have come to me since Oranteo left!

Fineo: Teseo carried Fedra off, repaying your love by forgetting it.

Ariadna: Would you not go to the city find out what Oranteo intendsl if he has kindled another new love, or if he feels my loneliness? For the shepherds who have gone there a few times say that he landed a few days ago, and holds court there.

Fineo: I will do this to serve you, and because this inclination is founded on reason.

Ariadna: I will repay in full the crime of absence that I injured Oranteo with. When he looks at the state my misery has brought me, and his desire, then all our past love will return to be brought back to life. Here, in this place where that villainous betrayer left me.

But it was a just punishment for Theseus to leave me, because I forgot Oranteo to make love to my enemy, and to the deities of heaven, few have known love.

Fineo: I will go see if there is a place in your love for his sleeplessness.Trust me, My Lady, I serve you loyally.

Ariadna: I know you do.

Fineo: I was born to serve you.

Fineo leaves.

Ariadna: My repentant love has wanted a bastard love, contrary to the first love. He turned to love, that the true fire would be kindled in the hidden guts. They say truly that absence causes forgetfulness, I did wrong and I want to apologise. But I hope to prove that hope is not forgetten and love returns to be what it has been. When this the fire assists the memory, it does not matter that the absence let forgetfulness take hold. He covered the absence with ashes, but as he inhaled the sweet vision, the flame returned to its first essence.

Of course, if this is an accurate representation of how they dress on the island, I don't see how dressing as a man would really have worked.

Of course, if this is an accurate representation of how they dress on the island, I don’t see how dressing as a man would really have worked.

***

Scene 3. Enter Oranteo, Lauro, and Hunters.

Lauro: We cannot follow him: the water is straight ahead.

Oranteo: So he would die in it like me, embraced.[4] Lauro,my sad eyes go into the water.

Lauro: The fields do not divert your anger?

Hunter #1: Pierced with a hard arrow, it was to give poison to the first source.

Oranteo: Ah, of that prisoner with a feeling soul!

Hunter #2: If you want to follow him, it is near the river.

Oranteo: My eyes make it to be by the sea.

Lauro: If you wish to rest, a little shepherd has appeared here.

Ariadna: People of the court to offer consolation for my woe.

Oranteo: Hail, happy shepherd, who lives in the fields with a liberty that you have not lost, because you have not seen beauty, and given your will in bondage to love! Would you have a hunter of wild beasts rest in this forest, where a beast he tracks comes alone to die?

Ariadne: Apollo avail me! What is this illusion that puts love in my eyes?

Oranteo: You do not speak?

Ariadna: It was absorbed in your face, and so enamoured in your elegance, as when we do not see these mountains, that I could hardly could hit on a response to you. Poor and humble huts overshadow the valley you look upon, and it is surrounded by gentle streams and sweet trees; if you want to rest, it has no white marbles, golden frames or crystal glasses; it has black walls, beds of straw, roofs of straw and hard corrugated lanes – there is its architecture in brief.[5]

Oranteo: Lauro, I am not myself, because I have come to imagine that this shepherd looks exactly the same as the most beautiful Ariadna.

Lauro: You are not fooled by love, for in my life I have seen things that appeared more strange. Only the skin, browned by the sun, is the difference between their beauties.

Oranteo: Shepherd, do you know who I am?

Ariadna: Someone suspicious.

Oranteo: Would you like to come with me?

Ariadne: I will not leave the simple life in the green fields for the lies of your court, if you made me Prince of Lesbos.

Oranteo: But is it not better to live with such a gift?

Ariadna: Where everyone is dependent on a Lord’s bounty, everything is bad; it is better to stay here by the tree with its fruit in season, than with silver plate; better to drink from one’s own cupped hands, than from the glass of the golden cup; here, without money, is a place familiar with all that nature gives.

Oranteo: Your ingenuity is equal to your beauty. I am going to rest. You, meanwhile, Lauro, have to collect all of these people, and arrange that with this little shepherd I will dwell in these valleys until Lucindo brings news from Athens.

Ariadna: What do you have in Athens?

Oranteo: An ingrate, that the more I miss the more it kills me.

He goes.

Ariadna: Heavens, I know your great mercy, I praise and bless, while deserving punishment, you have given me liberty and a great prize! This is my beloved Oranteo, who I have paid so badly, who is faithfully in the same state of desire. I am stirred within to see to this duty. Come back, come back, heart, to that which the soul once had. How do I speak to him? What will I do? I am afraid: the shepherds are coming: leave me, fears, which aggrieve faith.

Enter Diana and Doriclea, peasants, and Fabio, Florelo, and Liseno, cowherds.

Fabio: All has to be arranged for the day of the festival.

Liseno: Florelo should bring the flowers and cut laurel from the woods; I will make a rich theatre where the king himself could sit.

Florelo: What’s happening, Montano?

Ariadna: While walking the sheep as they shear the ground, chewing young shoots, I have been making songs.

Diana: Will they be of love?

Ariadna: They could be.

Diana: Yes, but you do not have in your life the one who you should.

Ariadna: You mean you?

Diana: I know it.

Ariadna: If I was ungrateful, it weighs upon me; have you seen the big-chinned[6] king, newly returned from Crete?

Diana: Where?

Ariadna: Not far from here: he has gone hunting wild beasts.

Diana: Watch that he would not hunt you.

Ariadna: Am I a wild beast?

Liseno: While we are talking about things related to kings, you know that our festival, each year at April, has a king and a queen.

Ariadna: Well, what is the point of this king?

Fabio: He commands the shepherds of this mountain, and they obey.

Ariadna: He should be so lucky!

Florelo: Well, don’t think it is a new custom in these mountains. No less than a goddess picks out the king and tests his faith.

Ariadna: A goddess?

Florelo: Behind this mountain, where a river exchanges flowers for pearls and kisses its plants with a silver mouth, there is a very ancient temple, which has almost no doors. And there is a beautiful statue of the renowned Minerva, and to herwe shepherds go crowned with ivy, and we ask that she signal who are to be the king and queen, and she tells him to kiss her foot, because the statue puts her hand on the head of those who are to be king and queen.

Ariadna: In faith, I have to go see it, to see if I am the one it choses.

Liseno: Hopefully you are!

Fabio: Let’s go cut laurels.

Florelo: Let’s go, Diana.

Diana: If you are chosen to be king, what will you command me?

Only Doriclea and Ariadna remain.

Ariadna: No more than that you hate me.

Doriclea: Hear a word aside.

Ariadna: What do you want of me, Doriclea?

Doriclea: Know that I wish so very much to be queen, and as women are subtle when they desire something, I have thought of a certain artifice.

Ariadna: Artifice, of what sort?

Doriclea: They dress the statue of the goddess every year, and this task is entrusted to me. I will put her clothes on you, and you will be in her place; for your handsomeness, Montano, is greater than her beauty; and so you can pick me for me to be queen.

Ariadna: So, you want me to dress as a woman?

Doriclea: What do you lose in doing for me what I want?

Ariadna: Well, you want me to have patience, to be made of marble and on the altar?

Doriclea: Just for a little time.

Ariadna: When I am daring to be the Goddess, don’t you see that they’ll know it’s me?

Doriclea: It is impossible for them, because you will be almost covered with branches and flowers.

Ariadna: Well now, I would like to be a goddess, just so you don’t take me as a coward.

Doriclea: There is no danger: for the people of this country are as rustic as the pines.

Ariadna: It is sensible to obey you, because one in love likes to deny nothing to anyone who asks.

Doriclea: So… who do you love?

Ariadna: Am I not a man?

Doriclea: Diana complains of that.

Ariadna: Where I do not like, it is understood; where I do like…

Doriclea: A little hope – you like me!

Ariadna: Possibly not, because you make me the goddess Minerva.

Doriclea: What does it matter if you are a woman on the outside, if you are a man?

Ariadna: Well said: but indeed, the gods and the beautiful goddesses, is it not good that we love the people of the earth?

They leave.

A statue of Minerva somewhere in Germany.

A statue of Minerva somewhere in Germany.

***

 Scene 4. Teseo and Albante enter.

Teseo: This has given the answer.

Albante: It is very much in agreement with your divine worth.

Teseo: To the necessary point, Albante. As Neptune already knows my exploits with a famous ship for the Golden Fleece. Oranteo, the Prince of Lesbos, has challenged me to a battle, saying neither his land nor mine seems safe. I do not believe this, because I assert that in his own land I might best demonstrate my worth.

Albante: Does he want the sea to be the theatre of this battle?

Teseo: He desires his vile death. Where is the fame that will quieten him: my deeds, my spoils, which would occupy their tongues and eyes? He has sleept, perhaps, through that history with which so many pens are occupied, in which my consecrated name lives in eternal memory, perhaps he has not seen the golden statues, with the defeat of the half-bull monster? I point my arms, and Neptune calms the sea. Aeolus gives me wind, and by the side of the watery element, with this angry arm I stain the crystal saltwater with blood.

Fedra enters, and stops him.

Fedra: What is this, my Lord? Stop: where are you going?

Teseo: My lady, to a crazy challenge. The Prince Oranteo wishes to prove his arms with Teseo, for your sister that the villain adores. I have nothing to hide from you, this journey being such an occasion.

Phaedra: The tears and sighs of a soul in love will make the journey with you. If you die on your journey, your ship will be my grave. My dear, why should an arrogant youth like this make you leave your dearest wife?

Teseo: My Fedra, do not be afraid, for this is an honourable cause; it is not good that a man boasts in proud words, if he cannot do what he claims. Hercules, what would he say? What would Jason and the Thebans say, if it were known in Greece that I did not break up in my strong hands this coward, who just yesterday was recording his first eensy-weensy glimmering of mustache?[7]

Fedra: Well, my sweet, they will say that the remora Fedra stopped you from going to this challenge, because I have embraced you like ivy, like an elm is without arms when they are tied in affectionate knots. Hercules occupies the dais of Iole, that beautiful queen, where they say he is spinning like a timid maid. If they know love, they will see that this is love, not cowardice. Jason left to go to war more than once; and in the same way angry Mars loved, and dropped down to the ground; he put his diamond weapons aside, and the boy Love, naked, played with his helmet and shield. Taken in a steel net, Vulcan showed the conclave of the Gods his fierce appearance, and they mocked his strong hand, although well the most honest would also have been caught in such nets. You have made exploits that can excuse any cowardly suspicions regarding this journey; knowing who you are, hang the sword, for a lion never showed his fangs to tender lambs.

Teseo: Fedra, I cannot leave off going to Lesbos; but I will do a thing which exceeds it in fairness, which is to take you with me, sweet wife, and offer the spoils that I will seize there to your beautiful eyes. Are you agreeable with this prospect? Will you return to the sea?

Fedra: With you my husband, I will happily pass the water of oblivion, and the sandy fields warmed by the sun of sterile Arabia and scorched Libya; I do not want more glory than to accompany you and see you.

Teseo: Come with me, certain of victory, if his name merits this punishment.

Fedra: Now these things show how the heart governs our souls.

They go.

 ***

Scene 5. The shepherds come to the temple, crowned, with music and much joy. They dance.

They made Venus of May [8]

Always an interesting goddess

The shepherds of the island

Have more empire here

As the months of May

Are her best months

And because they are all green

And because the goddess is green

Belisa and Antandra

Would walk to the spring

And the people that would pass

Would sing this joyfully:

“Give for the May

What is beautiful and elegant.”

Riselo went by and gave

A doubloon for pins

And Fabio gave for slippers

That feet may perform always.

Bato went by and gave nothing,

And shepherdesses, on seeing him

Such a coward in giving [dativo = neo-Latin methinks]

They sang in this way:

“Pass by, pass by, the skinflint

That doesn’t wear white nor is he crowned”

Love passed, and although naked

He would carry hanging from his neck

A quiver of golden arrows

Fletched in white and green

“Give for the May

A knight

Worthy in honour

Though not in money.”

Love, between the shepherdesses,

Would distribute golden arrows,

They would think it was money

And grab them in fistfuls

They would fall in love,

And Venus would die with laughter

To see how the would sang

And they would say by the way:

“I was going to get honey from the beekeeper,[9]

And he is stung by a bee because he does not return.”

 

Liseno: It was sung and danced well.

Floreno: Famously, in faith.

Fabio: How good the jokes were!

Fineo: If love is always broke, why would he be given a go on this occasion?

Diana: So as not to insult the May.

Fineo That is your mother-wit, and it’s not sensible. That is ‘the dance of the skinflint’, and it always works out well for love, as it always it does those who are given what they want for free.

Lauro and Oranteo enter.

Oranteo: Now I go to the temple to see the little shepherd.

Lauro: It is well that you have done so, for it puts the heart at rest.

Oranteo: More Lauro, I marvel more the more I look at him.

Lauro: And I, the more I try, the more it appears he is the likeness of she whom you adore.

Oranteo: Stand here so we can see what they want to do.

Lauro: They will want to offer wreathes and bouquets at the temple.

Oranteo: I cannot see Montano there. If he stayed in the village, it is no longer possible for this to be a festival for me, Lauro.

Diana: Uncover the beautiful image.

Liseno: We will know who is to be king.

Doriclea: Now you have to see how curious I am about it.

A curtain is removed to show Ariadna on the altar in a spear and helmet, with loose hair.

Liseno: In faith, that is a famous thing.

Fabio: I have never seen the like.

Oranteo: Is there anything more lifelike? Lauro, how good is this goddess?

Lauro: As you are so passionate, I agree that the view is as you crave it.

Oranteo: I am greatly angered by your neglect of my warning: look at her well; it appears she has the same beauty, transferred.

Lauro: I say it is such an imitation, that it presents the same portrayal, as a crystal mirror shows the face of the one who looks at it.

Oranteo: Is that truth or a lie?

Lauro: Listen awhile to their council.

Florelo: Sovereign goddess, who will you pick from these shepherds?

Liseno: Blessed so much in love that you give your weapons to Paris, I would be king for you.

Fabio: Reach for all the heads.

Diana: Going so strongly, you’ll trip yourself up.

Fineo: Give the sign to me.

Doriclea: And to me.

The hand of Ariadna points to the heads of Fineo and Doriclea.

Phineus: Yay, I am the king!

Doriclea: And I am the queen.

Fineo: I command…

Fabio: What do you command?

Fineo: That you bear me in a twinkling, I say, on your shoulders, for I don’t want to walk, to where I will make you eat.

Diana: And you don’t command another thing?

Fineo: I command, powerful queen, that you be my wife!

Doriclea: I command that it be truly so.

Fineo: I command that it be possible for it to be so true, as to see if it is a good melon or a bad melon.[10]

Liseno: Command good things.

Fineo: I command that all fools should shut up, and that they are given the precious things that they gain by shutting up.

Fabio: This is asking the impossible.

Fineo: I command that envy leaves off, and goes to virtue, and gives good counsel, not terrible outrages. I command that no woman can ask for money.

Doriclea: Well, how will they do the housework?

Fineo: Do not be importunate, queen, or I will break your head!

Doriclea: Oh! To the queen?

Fineo: And to the devil, if I may break through a word when I’m in my greatness: I command finally that all those who play with me lose; I command that no friend has flattering ways; I command that no one be discreet with confidences; I command that a sonnet have thirty lines.

Fabio: Well, what for?

Fineo: Because poets nowadays need lots of lines; but let us leave off these diverting times, my Queen and Lady, these commands and duties: let us go, and give me your hand.

Doriclea: Sing!

Diana: Where is Montano?

Fineo: Do I smell a king?

Doriclea: You smell a bridegroom.

They go. Lauro and Oranteo remain.

Oranteo: Well said; there will not be a thing more discreet than seizing her.

Lauro: It is an easy thing to take this goddess to your palace. And in it you can contemplate Ariadna.

Oranteo: Be there.

Ariadna: Men, what is this?

Oranteo: It spoke!

Lauro: Yes.

Oranteo: Goddess, if you are offended, pardon; but you appeared to be the same as a mortal beauty that once gave…

Lauro: Sovereign goddess, that gave love advice!

Ariadna: The one you seek, Oranteo, is in these islands; and very soon you will see her. Teseo left her here, because of his wife’s jealousy.

Oranteo: Close, Lauro, the curtain, because the divine goddess has told me what it pleases her to know: she told me Ariadna is here.

Lauro: What great news!

Oranteo: Panchaea , Arabia, and Sabaea give you myrrh and amber. They will kill on your sacred altars oxen, goats and lambs, and even the fiercest bulls, if your fiercnesss required it.

Lucindo enters.

Lucindo: Is the prince here?

Oranteo: Here you hold me, Lucindo my friend.

Lucindo: My lord, all at the palace have witnessed the embassy of the arrogant Teseo, in the person of Albante.

Oranteo: And what does his Arrogance say?

Lucindo: ”Is it possible that Oranteo has such presumption? Tell him that I go to sea, in order to punish his presumptious thoughts.Not in the field of the sea, but in your palace I will enter, and I will kill you, and you will…”

Oranteo: That’s enough. Come with me; we will await him on the beach, I will make your people go on their way with the news of punishment.

Lauro: Absence makes a man daring.

Oranteo: I will have Teseo know that there is valour enough in Oranteo to take his life.

 ***

Scene 6. Enter the king Minos, Feniso, and some people.

Minos: As this is the land of my friend, we may land here.

Feniso: A captain sent word of your coming.

Minos: Where is this challenge that we have heard Oranteo intended with Theseus?

Feniso: What arrogant youth thinks to test himself in the field of the sea with the enchanted force that has robbed me of Ariadne, just to give affront; who sends a challenge, and then waits for his opponent to come.

Minos: Oranteo is very gallant.

Feniso: Sure; but the Duke of Athens is the most notable man who has ever taken arms in Greece: He had Hercules as a companion, and went with Jason to Medea in Colchis.

Minos: Arrogance may blind the most valiant, and the humble may humble the proud.

Oranteo, Lauro, and some people enter.

Oranteo: You come to my islands, King Minos?

Minos: Oh, valourous defense of my honor!

Oranteo: How so, my Lord, without telling me?

Minos: While coming with my soldiers to Athens, the fierce fury of the sea has thrown me in the arms of the wind, and puts me on your shores.

Oranteo: I am glad that it has been so. My islands thank the wind and the sea, because today they are honoured.

They touch.

Minos: Hail! What commoners[11] are these?

Feniso: Some fleeing shepherds, forsaking their villages.

Fabio: Flee this way, Liseno.

Doriclea: Diana, do not stop, there are soldiers on the beach.

Diana: I am trembling to go on, Doriclea.

Minos: What is this, friend shepherds?

Fineo: My Lord, they say the furious Duke of Athens has arrived to destroy these islands.

Minos: Already he has disembarked?

Fineo: With some soldiery –this is quite clear.

Minos: What will we do?

Oranteo: To see how the concert of the sea breaks upon the rocks! But alone would not dare.

Enter Teseo, Albante, Fedra, and some people.

Teseo: There is a person I want to speak with.

Albante: There are people here.[12]

Oranteo: Why do you come to my land in this way?

Teseo: I am lazing here that here you may offer yourself, because you know that Teseo has no dread of human strength; that the divines desire him not even to be afraid of the Gods. Here on the sea, in the court, with weapons as you wanted, I’ll give you to understand that I’ve only ever stolen away Fedra, as my proper wife.

Oranteo: I well know that you beautiful Ariadna in these islands; and as you do not have her, there is no longer a reason to make battle or war.

Minos: If that stops your part of the quarrel, do not think, traitor, that it ceases mine. I am Minos who you with such stealth robbed of his beautiful daughters.

Fineo: What devils brought this king Minos or Minus out of Crete?

Teseo: Well, what do you intend now, if Fedra and I are married, and I have brought Fedra with me?

Fedra: My king and Lord, I am here.

Minos: Daughter, though my soul rejoices, to see you without your sister gives me reason to be sad. Oh, that the Gods had given Teseo and beautiful Ariadna into my hands, or that I had taken this armada of over a hundred sails to the depths!

Oranteo: I will help you now that you have become less arrogant.

Fineo: I want to stop this war. Do you know me, unconquered Duke?

Teseo: Who are you?

Fineo: Can you not tell Fineo?

Teseo: Oh, my Fineo!

Fineo: I have lived in these forests since you left me.

Teseo: And what of Ariadne?

Fineo: She is dead.

Teseo: Dead?

Fineo: Yes, but here is a shepherd here who watches twenty sheep and is something extraordinary. I will bring him, or should I say, her, out of danger. You will laugh, when you return to sea, of this king Cumin-os, kinsman of Caraway.

Teseo: Go with all speed; we Greeks are notable for our industry in such grave business.

Fineo: Wait, while I go for her.

He goes.

Teseo: King Minos, and you, Oranteo, it is not because I am afraid that I acquiesced to give over Ariadna; but only because in these lands she has turned into a shepherd, cheerful and happy to escape from Feniso.

Feniso: From me, why?

Teseo: Because you know that woman, if she hates, will try any nonsense.

Minos: Should Ariadna come, though it be in this guise she seems to prefer, it will be as if she gives me life.

Enter Fineo and Ariadna.

Phineus: Beautiful Ariadna arrives!

Ariadna: It’s not me, don’t you see?

Minos: The living Gods, that is her!

Oranteo: No it isn’t, my Lord; that is a youth that here watches the sheep of this Fineo, who I have seen a thousand times in these forests.

Fedra: How not? Give me your arms.

Ariadna: I beg you to stop: my master is here watching me.

Teseo: Fineo, what joke is this? By Mars, that is Ariadna!

Fineo: Well it is time to be known; all of you give the hands of friendship.

Oranteo: Then what is she?

Fineo: And I, who should I be? Fineo, the greatest friend of Teseo.

Diana: Aiee, Doriclea! Montano is a woman!

Oranteo: Heavens! Today to your glory I will make Lesbos celebrate my story.

Minos: Daughter, I am sorry to see you in such a state; but finding you has given me significant joy. Take the hand of Oranteo, and we will make peace for the feast.

Fineo: Give Doriclea to me.

Doriclea: I am your slave.

Theseus: Here ends the emnity.

Oranteo: And the play.

In one of the proper versions, Ariadne is married to Dionysus at the end: here they are in a wedding chariot, with lots of cats.

In one of the proper versions, Ariadne is married to Dionysus at the end: here they are in a wedding chariot, with lots of cats.

***

[1]subiendo los dos por las escalas’. I have no idea what this refers to.

[2] In one version of the myth, the Goddess Artemis (Diana) is angry with Ariadne, and kills her after she is abandoned on the island. So this Diana is Lope de Vega being very silly and postmodern with the original story.

[3]filomocofia’ which doesn’t seem to be a real word anywhere

[4]abrazado’, which is ‘seared’, but ‘abrasado’ seems to make much more sense.

[5] This would have been performed on a bare stage, hence the necessity for the characters to occasionally describe the scenery like this.

[6]mueso’, which is also defined as ‘an adjective to describe a lamb with very small ears’; as a noun it means ‘morsel’, so it might mean something like ‘scrumptious’.

[7] There is one very short word for this in Spanish.

[8] These lines are attributed to Fedra, but that doesn’t make any sense to me.

[9]la colmenera’, which ought to be ‘lady beekeeper’, but it goes with the masculine pronoun in the next line. Also the verb ‘to get’ used here can mean something rude, so I suspect there is some double entendre here that I don’t understand.

[10]melón o si es badea’, where badea is defined as low quality melon.

[11]This is that word caja again whose meaning I haven’t been able to find.

[12] Henceforth Albante will be known as ‘stating-the-obvious-man’.

Scene 1. Enter Teseo, prisoner.

Teseo: When the little bird sits on her nest through the long angry nights of winter, and waits for the dawn to bathe the mountains in an icy ray, she sees the fields: the straw of the pleasant fields changed to a rich crown of hyacinth and amethyst, as the sun’s rays change the sad night. I have a different destiny: in the cold dark night, in this prison which is my fate, I have no place for hope. Unhappy he who is in a prison so strong that he does not hope for the dawn of day, for it is the night of his death!

Enter Fineo.

Fineo: It would be good if you could give me some glad tidings in this evil time.

Teseo: I do not know, Fineo, of whom you speak in this style. The entrance of the murderous Minotaur draws near. Whoever in their life found glad tidings to give in going to their death!

Fineo: May this unjust sadness leave you, and in this prison you will see more than the sun; mark my words, more: two most beautiful sun. Your situation, or I should say your good fortune (since there is no situation you would wish to engage in that was so miserable), is that there are two beautiful Ladies who are obliged to to see if it possible for you to live or not. At the end of your night you will see two dawns: for coming to see you are the most beautiful Ariadna, daughter of this King Cumin-os, who with such crazy ideas smooths over the insult you have had; and Fedra, her beautiful sister.

Teseo: To see me?

Fineo: Yes.

Teseo: Who told you that my star favours me so?

Fineo: Tonight there are two, after the two there will even be three, and I know the third is love, which is blind and a God. It is true that I moved them with a most illustrious speech, as in the Spanish fashion of the province where I was born. Because serious authors write, they say, that there the greater part of the inhabitants trample over the truth. Ariadna was moved with pity for you, and this has caused her sister to feel the same affection. Now here come the two. They will tell you the rest.

Teseo: Notable news you give me.

Enter Fedra, Ariadna, and a Warden.

Ariadna: Is he here?

Warden: Yes, my Lady.

Ariadna: Why is he in such a dark place?

Warden: The king commanded it, as he is being given to death.

Ariadna: Get out.

Fineo: They are coming to talk to you.

Ariadna: Are you the Duke?

Theseus: Angel, I am the Duke Teseo. No longer a prisoner, because I see that I am in a different heaven. I am free, only captive of your rare beauty, my lady. Here in this night of sadness, that I should receive no lesser glory.

From where, beautiful Ariadna, have you come as the true sun, without any news of the morning reaching me first? It is no longer possible to come to a bothersome death, nor budge good fortune, now that you hold the wheel.

And you, heavenly Fedra, who accompany her beauty, into this dark cell you have made a window to the east. Can you understand how right it is for me to thank you, if only because you have thought to speak to me in my distress? The Gods, who would make you so adventurous, should reward your pity.

Fedro: One who suffers such a severe imprisonment without guilt, surely has hope that heaven will release him.

Teseo: Hope and consolation have reached me at the same time.

Ariadna: Duke, pity and piety, and seeing your illustrious person, most worthily crowned name of your city, has moved my affectionate heart to attempt your rescue, placed as you are in the middle of a well-known danger.

All tonight I have thought about how you could enter and leave that place of so many closed doors. And as always, love is the teacher, and it is usually more subtle in women, I found the best solution. I will give you a golden thread, which you must tie to the doors, for then you able to return following the same path. You cannot lose the door if you follow the thread, and you will end up at the horrific monster, and vanquish it. To do this you must carry three loaves, poisoned so that the beast will lose it senses in that place. Then, with a mace I will give you, long and strong, give that beast death, bathing that uncultivated field in blood.

But because my father will know who gave you the skill to do this thing, and in his angry raving will take vengeance on my love, you must give us your word to take us to your land. If he wishes revenge, and tries war, there it will be possible for you to defend us.

Teseo: I give my word to heaven that you will be, and you are today, my dear, my queen, and my wife. And it is a little prize to give to such as you, when you have given a man life, and yourself a name famous among women. Trust my commitment as a man of good birth, who has come here to face death for the good of his nation: I will not be ungrateful for the good I have received of your hands, my Lady, if I leave alive.

Ariadna: The heavens give you life.

Teseo: You will be Duchess of Athens if I come out of the dark maze alive, and I swear to serve your serene lights, which are like clear arrow-slits through which the Gods of heaven show themselves for mortals to see, as through a golden lattice: and may all heaven fail me if these words of mine should fail.

Ariadna: May heaven protect your life and return you to your native soil.

Theseus: The ship that brought me is only waiting to return with news of what has happened to me; the same ship must take us from here secretly.

Ariadna: I would not want the king to form an evil misconception. Let us go, Fedra, I will see to providing Teseo with the weapons.

Teseo: Already I desire to see the danger.

Fedra: Courage, valiant Duke!

Fedra: Just that voice, beautiful Fedra, is like the sound of the trumpet that gives the warhorse courage.

The two sisters leave.

Teseo: What are you waiting for, fierce tyrants? Come for me.

Fineo: Little by little.

Teseo: With so many crazy favours, I have the world in these hands.

Fineo: Well, do not let it fall. Hold it steadily because it is in a delicate state, and you might break it. Ladies break easily, all daintinesses and annoyances, and feminine things, like Phoenixes from their own flames. They will break with a thousand discretions, purely circumscribed, by exquisite words they go to look at ideas, they will break a thousand times when they are scheming to get the gold of foreign blood, a treasure they once paid for, and they will break… we must shut up, there is great danger in talking.

Teseo: We need to figure out how to get the ship away.

Fineo: Then you count on defeating this fierce Minotaur?

Teseo: I count on having the green laurel of victory girded on my forehead.

Fineo: They tell me that this animal does not stand on protocol, and much evil is to be feared from something that is both man and bull. This beast, which has contempt both for the sky and for the abyss, is like a knight in itself, as fools often are: because it is also a man above the neck, and a bull below, as in Spain the Tagus is very much like both grass and glass. I assure you that myself, I am trembling with fear.

Teseo: And I cannot fear after seeing Ariadna?

Fineo: And the two you have to take with you?

Teseo: Needs must.

Fineo: My god, the two of them make a wild cargo, and who can complain about the sea! But because you are able to lead and are not scared of the weight, they can go in the saddlebags, one in the back, and the other in front.

They go.

Ariadna giving Theseus the golden thread.

Ariadne giving Theseus the golden thread.

***

Scene 2. Outside the Labyrinth of Crete. Enter prince Oranteo and Lauro.

Oranteo: The king of Crete writes me, seeing that my army has sallied forth.

Lauro: He is troubled by fear.

Oranteo: That is because of my vengeance. Fame, which interprets all things, anticipated the day of my departure, so it was destined that even as he first saw my ships, she would persuade him to grave fears. No flag would flutter in the wind, no pennant would threaten the water, nor would the reeving set the topsail high, nor the pilot plot our path to when the echo of the bellicose instrument would sound on the Cretan beach: and fear would returns to the backs of the people who would lead there.

Seeing his letter, in which he offered to give me the beautiful Ariadna in marriage, I have joyfully returned to Crete to be married. Sometimes the soft peace, that does not attempt war, is the best policy. Love dismantles the strongest armour, because from its first birth it is as naked as a child, and blind. Laying down the club, we may cry: long live peace and quiet. It is true that before I surrender to Minos I want to know if the wily fellow, made ill-tempered by the royal bastard, has plotted tricks here in Crete; if it is deception, then the carved masts, and the canvas by the restless waves, will grasp the sea with a new armada, and with two grievances I will draw the sword.

Lauro: My Lord, you have done well to go secretly to know if he has cheated you, beaten by your sedulous fame and your threatening forethought.

Oranteo: There is the Labyrinth shining resplendently in the middle of the field, the work of Daedalus, which you can see surpasses the work of the celebrated Archimedes; in it the Minotaur is imprisoned, who is sustained by defeated Athens, ever since it surrendered the presumption of its battlements to Minos, crowned with laurels. No satyr, faun or centaur has been seen, no monster of the Libyan sands, so terrible and of such prodigious fame.

Lauro: Sad the Greeks who are named to such a fate!

Oranteo: See how, through grilles and from balconies, the people look at the well-formed man who has entered the Labyrinth.

Lauro: If you sit here, my Lord, you may look upon him with pity fair.

Oranteo: He enters armed.

Lauro: At such a time, how can bronze or even diamond arm a man?

Oranteo: I pity his person and his bravery. Let us leave, Lauro, to see to the challenge.

Teseo and Fineo, with a mace, enter alongside.

Teseo: Show the mace, Fineo, and favour me to Mars.

Fineo: I am trembling to see you in such danger, Teseo.

Teseo: What a strange destiny of war: but it little irks me, if I have vanquished my fortune, which is the greatest monster on the earth.

Fineo: I have not seen this beast except in pictures, my Lord, but with your heroic courage, what monster out of Libya could make you fear? Apollo, the God so skilled and valiant, killed the snake named Python with bow and arrows; Hercules, because Jupiter gave him strength, killed the fierce Hydra, which was honoured afterwards in the sphere of fixed stars. But if those two here saw this fierce monster, they would surrender arrows and steel to the courage I see in you.

Teseo: If from this challenge I emerge a man equal to Hercules, to Jason, to the Greek Telamon, how much should the homeland owe me thanks?

Fineo: What an animal that has put you in such a spot!

Teseo: Love sends me audiciously to face this.

Fineo: What is born of a woman like this beast! Moreover, of who could it be born but a being of the same kind? There is just as much to be surprised by in those born to anger, flattery, lies, and in a monster to cause trouble. By God! That is not more strange than the character of one who serves two, and will deceive them both. If you have seen the monster of jealousy, believe me, bellicose Duke, it makes the Minotaur look as beautiful as the heavens. If you saw ingratitude, you would say it was the greater monster, and it is not a small love that makes the eternal soul uneasy.

Teseo: I want to tie the golden thread here.

Fineo: Jupiter go with you: I cannot go on to witness your courage. I feel sorry and I cry.

Teseo: Holy deities, favour me; Mars, favour me; please, I ask, and to you I pray, my love, because you have overcome all the Gods of love. Favour me, beautiful Ariadna,you who gave me these weapons, because you say that you will conquer like a sovereign deity! If I get out of the snares here where I contemplate my death, I will make your neck a temple, and garland it with my arms.

Theseus goes.

Oranteo: Has the Athenian entered?

Lauro: He entered to the applause of the people.

Oranteo: And already my sun has left his balcony from the east. Come on, Lauro, let us see if we can see amyhting without being found out; for in our absence I fear the things we do not know.

Lauro: Love, my Lord, everything is fear.

Fineo: Already the people, hurting for the brave Teseo, leave their windows and grilles; all are assured of his death. But I think he has arrived at the square that is at the centre of the labyrinth, and is there with the other valiant Greeks.They will not go meekly through the corridors to be fodder for this half-man, half-bull, no matter how barbarous and fierce!

Oh heaven, to lose my good master to the hands of a bull! I am about to go in. Will I? I guess I am not afraid, so long as I don’t lose the golden thread. If I lose the gold, it is not possible, because a woman’s monster without gold is a thing out of fairy stories. Even in business here, we will never guess right, we will never be able to do anything right, if we lose the thread of gold that has gone with the women. No noise can be heard now.

Oh, Pasife of Hell, whyever did you make a bullman, and not a manstag! Because deer are cowards, and although armed, they will flee; but bulls are brave, more so than men who are a mixture of many things. The night is deep, and his lights ignite the moon in the sky, and now two shapes are coming here: If they are the shadows of fear! But now, what can I fear?

Fedra and Ariadna enter, dressed as men, with capes and swords.

Not dressed as men in this picture, though.

Not dressed as men in this picture, though.

 

Fedra: He went in good spirits.

Ariadna: I come in the spirit of hope, which sustains my body.

Fedra: With this costume, we will go to await safely at the door of the Labyrinth, until we see what heaven decides.

Ariadna: Is someone there?

Fedra: There is something – Ariadna, it moved.

Ariadna: It must be Fineo.

Fedra: We are nearly there.

Ariadna: Fineo!

Fineo: My name has been called.Woe! Good spirits: I am glad you have arrived! Who goes?

Ariadna: You don’t know?

Fineo: I know your voice, and I think if it were known that you were at the same door as Teseo, it would be part of causing a most glorious defeat.

Ariadne: I am sorry I was not here earlier.

Fineo: I sense a noise within the gates.

Ariadne: If there is noise in there, then the monster is dead.

Fedra: I think so.

Teseo emerges.

Teseo: Thanks be to the high gods that I have come out alive from the blind Labyrinth! Who goes there?

Fineo: Two angels and Fineo.

Teseo: Ariadna and Fedra?

Fineo: Yes.

Teseo: Beautiful lights of heaven!

Fineo: Softly, do not speak of lights: for this darkness is better.

Ariadna: Teseo, to see you alive has placed me in as much glory, as I was placed in sorrow and torment by my fear; I want to give my arms to you as my husband.

Teseo: I cannot yet answer you with joy.

Fedra: Though I am the least of those that have augmented your fortune, Teseo, instead of thanks I ask for your arms.

Teseo: In them, beautiful Fedra, you hold the heart of its owner.

Ariadne: How did your bliss come about?

Teseo: I tied the golden thread, and entering the Labyrinth, I went around a thousand streets by infinite detours; when I would think I would be in the centre of the labyrinth, I would be most far from it, and near when I was far. Finally, I arrived at a place where there was a little square, where the Minotaur was lying between various bones. There I saw a corpse, and I imagined that within a short time my own dead body would join it. But my soul cheered within me, and I approached the horrible monster, which put itself on all fours and looked at me, dreadful and fierce; then I threw those loaves to him, and he, given them, began to swallow his death in the enciphered venom. Spiritedly I raised my mace, and with the first blows, with two horrendous bellows, I knocked the monster to the ground. I left the grass bathed in foam and blood, and seizing the tip of the thread, followed it back to the door.

Ariadna: Thanks to the high Gods! But, gallant Teseo, there is great danger, and need for great audacity. We must go to the sea. My proud father will certainly sense that we are not at home, and there will be no apology or remedy that will let us get away with our lives.

Teseo: The ship stays in port with my friends and servants.

Fedra: Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get going.

Teseo: Come, my Lady. And you, Fedra, take the hand of Fineo.

Fineo: I will be the Morning Star today, leading the sun with my hand!

They leave.

Theseus with Ariadne and Phaedra, obviously looking for trouble.

Theseus with Ariadne and Phaedra, obviously looking for trouble.

 

Minos, Oranteo, Lauro and Polineces enter.

Minos: A remarkable affront has been given.

Oranteo: My Lord, I did not think, that I would come here without anyone knowing, until in Crete I found it was known that my absence had cause t to be forgotten, but, as I am here already, sir, you know how I am yours; give me your hand to kiss.

Minos: By the sovereign Gods, I give infinite thanks for our peace, Oranteo.

Oranteo: I only wish to serve you.

Minos: Today Ariadna will be your wife; for that is a good use of my daughter. I will console Feniso by giving him Fedra.

Oranteo: And I will take your honest hand.

Feniso enters.

Feniso: Write of fame in stone, steel or in gilded bronze, a deed of great valour.

Minos: What are you talking about, Feniso my friend?

Pheniso: It is Teseo, my Lord. He has the victory that heaven wanted: he is Teseo, victor.

Minos: Well, how did he get in?

Feniso: I do not know how he entered. I know that Daedalus begged to come in, and came, and saw that his industry had been in vain, because in the middle of the square he found the dead Minotaur.

Minos: By Mars, who has plotted this deception!

Feniso: If it was a conspiracy, threaten his invidious life, and he will tell you the truth.

Minos: Call Teseo, too.

Soldiers: He has not reached the city; he thinks that this trophy is not likely to win your friendship.

Minos: The Greek has done well to flee and not to try my wrath.

Oranteo: To help you in your sorrow, I pray, that my love may be of merit.

Minos: Call to my daughters, for today Fedra will have in Feniso a noble husband, and Ariadna must be Oranteo’s.

Oranteo: May the powerful heaven increase your power!

Feniso: May your dominion spread from the south to the cold north!

Minos: With such sons-in-law, I hope to make war on the world.

Oranteo: Today I wish to tell you my intent: You have no son, king Minos, and for this reason your successor must be named from the husbands of your two daughters.

Minos: I wish you two to govern this realm together.

Oranteo: If I may ask, it would be better served whole, whether it is yours or mine. If divided, I despair of pleasure and peace, because love and lordship do not permit company.

Feniso: Neither would I like it: I have enough mettle to govern all of Crete.

Oranteo: And I for the government of the world, if it were subject to my valour.

Minos: Move on, sons-in-law! I am alive, so what is your trouble?

Polineces enters.

Polineces: There is no sign of your daughters in the palace.

Minos: What do you say?

Polineces: Things have gone very badly, if what they say about him coming was true.

Minos: Be warned well, Polineces, there is my death in what you say.

Polineces: I say, my Lord, that the weddings these two expect, are turned completely into unhappy tragedies, because it appears that Teseo has carried the girls away by sea.

Minos: How does it appear to you, Oranteo?

Oranteo: It is not possible to promise anything without the will of heaven.

Minos: Was there ever such great audacity? He came to avenge Athens; but I feel it is impossible he meant well regarding my daughters, considering his origin. Pasife, mother of a bull, how is it possible that you bred these girls who go with such dignity and royal decorum? I go to follow him, though the sea is heavy, by Mars who I worship! I am Minos; the ways of the sea I know well, though they are uncertain. Look out, Teseo thief!

He goes.

Feniso: I have lost the kingdom, but not the desire.

Oranteo: Aiee, Lauro, I have made blunders!

Lauro: That Ariadna has forgotten you, and goes with Teseo!

Oranteo: If Fedra is in love, which is the thing that I believe most likely – to ease my fear- and she takes Ariadna with her, then we do not blame Ariadna. But if she is moving with her… Oh, my vain hope! Oh, my contrary star! Love may not give him the things of love, but I will think that in his love they will accomodate great shortcomings, because to fear the worst is a sensible condition. Come with me, that we may make war on Athens for vengeance.

Lauro: You think there is something to fear from a woman?

Oranteo: Yes, Lauro, for at the centre of this whole thing is a woman.

They leave.

***

 Scene 3. The Isle of Lesbos.[1] Teseo and Fineo enter, disembarking.

Teseo: The sea has treated us badly.

Fineo: The sea, who does it ever treat well? I don’t know who in the world it has not given sorrow.

Teseo: I took harbour in these islands because they look toward the land.

Fineo: Well, , it was well advertised that they are not warlike here.

Teseo: I am fearful to enter Lesbos.

Fineo: It was right to land here; it appears the sea is the judge, of what is cast within it.

Teseo: Pretend that you are the judge, and make me confess.

Fineo: What are we afraid of?

Teseo: Having no peace.

Fineo: Why?

Teseo: Because there are two women.

Fineo: Two men and one woman are often seen; but it is astonishing to see two women and one man, because that is not usually seen.

Teseo: Enamoured married men, don’t they serve two women?

Fineo: Yes, but their pleasures are empty and taste of water.

Teseo: We have to leave one.

Fineo: Where?

Teseo: In these islands.

Fineo: Good!

Teseo: Good, or bad, I am full of love, and do not have time to argue.

Fineo: Why should it matter if you are full of love, seeing who you have become? To forsake women is not a decent thing for men of your worth; and Fedra does not deserve to be abandoned.

Teseo: You are a fool, not understanding how I am going to deal with the problem.

Fineo: Fedra?

Teseo: Fedra, well.

Fineo: What are you saying?

Teseo: That I adore Fedra. Fineo, and that it is not right to be scandalised of a righteous desire. On the road of the sea, I fell in love with Fedra.

Fineo: If righteous or unrighteous it was to fall in love, I do not want to dispute; but to leave Ariadna: this is a vile deed, my Lord, unworthy of your status, and a villainous ingratitude. Ariadna gave you your life on a remarkable occasion, and it is not right that you repay her so.

Teseo: You talk to me in such a way?

Fineo: I am your servant, but I am a honourable Athenian.

Teseo: Villain, I would give you death.

Fineo: You will not kill me as a monster of ugly flattery, but as honest Fineo, who was born in your house; and if I flee your fury, it is only out of respect of the bread I ate with your father, and my Lord: otherwise I am glad to stay for such an occasion of honour.

Teseo: Watch out.

Fineo: You have passion, and you will regret killing me.

Fineo flees, and Ariadna and Fedra enter, with two or three servant Musicians.

Ariadna: What is it, my dear?

Teseo: Here I asked an islander what cities or what towns adorned this district; and for some reason or other, he said many arrogant things to me, about how he would take our lives and how we should not turn our backs.

Ariadna: Well how, being a foreigner, were you to know that travellers were supposed to be humble here?

Fedra: Teseo might not have remembered that we had left the sea.

Teseo: This green meadow is adorned with many flowers, inviting the eye and making the soul rejoice; sit down here, and listen to the sound of water falling, to give an instant tribute from these high rocks to the sea. They will sing something for Ariadna to sleep to, because the sea has treated her so poorly.

Ariadna: Jealousy has treated me worse.

Musicians: What songs should we play, my Lord?

Ariadna: You can sing of jealousy.

Fedra: Jealousy is not for singing, but for crying.

Ariadna: Some cry and others sing.

They sit and the Musicians sing.

Musicians: A bad night has given me jealousy; such as she has who I have made jealous.

What a bad night that has given me your jealousy! Filida mine!

Oh, God, if ever arrived the day when I see that you have decieved me!

All the night has passed with a thousand dreams and sleeplessnesses;

The jealousies woke me, and I commanded love,

Like the love she has who I gave love to.

Teseo: Is Ariadna asleep?

Fedra: She sleeps.

Teseo: Fedra, so adored of my soul and of my eyes, get up.

Fedra: What words are these?

Teseo: Soon you will see the love you owe me: get up. Ahoy, noble-hearted greeks! Hie, to the beach!

Fedra: What are you saying?

Teseo: That you will go from here in my arms.

Fedra: Sister, sister, Ariadna!

He takes her in arms, and Ariadna wakes.[2]

Ariadna: It seems that I hear my name, and I am glad, because otherwise I would be alone with a thousand heartaches from the dream that pierced my soul. I dreamed that a brown goshawk drew a dove from the nest where I was sleeping, and that it took her in its wings over the waters of the seato a distant shore. Oh, my dearest Teseo! Oh, my Lord, my hope, my husband! He does not respond? Where is he? No-one speaks to me? No-one is with me here? Aiee, it was not for nothing that my heart was fearful! He has taken my sister, he has left me sleeping, but has awakened my anxieties.

From this rock I will see if my suspicions have deceived me: there is the boat. Oh, heavens! Already it is far out over the sea, all the sails extended with the wind of my hope – though it should not be necessary, the wind of my sighs is enough! Oh, cruel Greek! Oh, betrayer! How well, ingrate, you have repaid me for the life you owe me! Oh, Fedra, also ingrate! Although I cannot believe that you are complicit in the cause of my death. If Teseo takes you by force, sister, I am going to throw curses, and they will stop you from going with him, because they would not catch you like they catch betrayers. More, may God grant that on the day he disembarks in his homeland, his greatest friend will kill him in your his own house! I do not know what I shall do. What I see makes me lose heart; what I leave destroys me; what I feel unmans me.

Fineo enters.

Ariadna: Someone comes.

Fineo: I hear voices. Have Fedra and Ariadna gone to the beach? Oh, heaven! Beautiful Lady Ariadna!

Ariadna: Who calls my name in my misery?

Fineo: You, my Lady, miserable?

Ariadna: Miserable, because Teseo has left me, and taken away my sister.

Fineo: I am furious to here that. I tried to stop him from doing such a vile deed, and he drew his sword on me. I turned my face to him, and with justice, because to turn your back to a traitor is to face him, in as much as they have a face. He carried out his wish: do not cry, beloved Lady. That, in short, is mother Earth, stepmother of the Sea. It is the island of Lesbos.

Ariadna: Of Lesbos?

Fineo: What scares you?

Ariadna: A man I was so unjustly ungrateful to, just as Teseo has been to my love and my hope.

Fineo: You will be in disguise, my Lady, and will have the power, disguised and with me at your side, to find a remedy, with confidence secure that you have the help of heaven.

Ariadna: There they see some houses of badly hewn pine logs, covered with dry straw.

Fineo: Without doubt they are fishermen, who laugh at fortune with their small boats. Blessed is he who fishes for little fishes with dark nets, and does not command the world full of sad cares!

Ariadne: In those poor huts we will think of a remedy – or at least, for those who can find no help for pain, a quick death. Decree no memorials, no requests, remove sorrows, cure without medicines, and without fondness give gifts.

Fineo: Teseo has been very Greek.

Ariadne: They are famed throughout the world as betrayers.

Fineo: By good luck, your misfortune was not greater… Thanks be to high heaven!

Ariadna: So many miseries I have given myself, that a body leaves with honour for where the soul rises.

Ariadne being abandoned on Naxos.

Ariadne being abandoned on Naxos.

 

Ariadne left behind on Naxos, painted a couple of hundred years later, included just because it has spotted cats in it.

Ariadne left behind on Naxos, painted a couple of hundred years later, included just because it has spotted cats in it.

***

[1] In all the traditional stories, the abandonment of Ariadne happens on Naxos, not Lesbos.

[2] This words were attributed to Fedra, but I think they have to be a stage directions.

 

Scene 1. Outside the city of Megara. Enter Minos, king of Crete; Feniso, a captain, and soldiers.

Minos: Of the glories reached by human pleasure, Feniso, the first is vengeance, and the second is victory. Today I have had both: victory over Niso and vengeance for Androgeo.

The Athenians killed my son, and now holy Jupiter wishes my sorrows to be consoled by this other thing. My child was given to death: but your child killed you, Niso; and with this act she has given me the strongest and noblest city of Greece.

Since we first encircled its walls, the sun ran three laps from Aries to Pisces: But if for a thousand centuries the sun ran from the Golden Fleece to the Silver Scales, spreading the rays of his treasure it, I would not be enjoying vengeance now, had treason not given us the gate.

The parricide Cila killed her father the king for me, and I gave her a promise it would be unworthy to fulfill. She promised to surrender me the city, and she kept her promise, but I did not think she would have done it so cruelly. No love can be right that would send such a woman to Crete. A cruelty so great is not the duty of love’s subjects.

We have entered the city, and although she has given me the gate, I owe her nothing. We kings love victory, the important thing – whether given by treason or loyalty – but it is only natural to hate the traitor.

Feniso: Undefeated king, had Cila misled by her love, not opened the door, it would not have been possible to conquer the city. Because gallant Teseo, and all the other full-blooded Greeks, guarded it, greedy to win honour and spoils.

Believing she would be your wife, Cila gave you in one day the city, victory, and vengeance.

Now, I do not know if it is good for you to leave her waiting like this.

Minos: Everything is the work of the Gods, including our happiness: Nemesis, angry goddess of vengeance, wished that Cila lose her senses in madness and love, and that I be avenged for the death of Androgeo.

Feniso: Then you have left her desire sufficiently mocked, because, without love, there is nothing good in human life.

Enter Cila, a lady

Cila: Is the king here?

Feniso: Here she is.

Minos: What will I do?

Feniso: Hear her out, my Lord.

Cila: King Minos, master of the high walls of Crete, now victorious over the intolerable men of Athens: well do you know– and I can testify the same – that you would not have been able to catch a sight of those famous gates for many years. Your armed camp would remain outside Megara, without power to attack it, like the sun remains from when the dawn begins to give life to all those things that are hidden in the shadows, until the time the stars come making a crown of stars for the dark night, putting diamonds for its head; in the freezing cold winter, in warm sleepy days of summer, like the sun your camp would remain.

Not until I saw from the wall – to my true misfortune – a gallant on a warhorse dashing back and forth, as they paint Mars in the Fifth Sphere, armoured in glossy gorget and golden shinguards. I would give the many-feathered white helmet to those brilliant aspects and to his swift wings. You were playing with my affections with such grace, that you only had to turn your face for you to carrry away with you half my soul, leaving the other part for your return, as obedient to your eyes as your horse to the spur. With this vision I passed a thousand whole nights, finding my soul in dangerous war, until love conquered my reason and my strength, and I offered to give you, Minos, the city and my open soul if you were to take me with you.

And you, as if there were no gods to punish vice and reward virtue, would speak false words to me, broken words that speak to me, words that you break and give to the winds .

But guard yourself, you go into dangerous storms: they are in my sighs and in the sea of my eyes. For you, while he slept – what bloody cruelty! – I cut my own father’s throat and poured out his blood, the same blood he gave to my veins. I gave you the keys, and you entered the city, from which you could plunder more gold than the dawn sees when she combs herself with ivory.

Now you repay me well for a love so great: you would leave me in the land I have sold you, land that is soaked in the blood of my father. You will not do it. You were not born in the Libyan forests, nor suckled by wild beasts in the mountains of Thessaly. But if you were to go, like these, one thing comforts me: there is no misery in life that will be in death.

Minos: Cila, this grieves me very much. In short, for me you have betrayed everything, I hear you.

I wanted revenge on Athens, but not such a harsh one; I would have had a better vengeance that was not bound up with infamy. The truth is I gave my word, and I would have kept it if you had done your part in a better way. I never wished for you to kill the king; in doing so, you have lost all that you hoped to accomplish. What tale would the world tell of me, Cila, if I took you to Crete, but that I was giving you new weapons and new murderous instructions? Is it just that I call you wife, and bring such infamy on such a glorious captain because of your whims? No, Cila, I am not going to make myself infamous for your sake, nor would it be fair to divorce Pasife, my wife. Beyond that, if I carried your treacherous heart in my ship, it would cause the sea to tremble. Better you endure the land that raised you, not the sea; for the sacred sea will not consent. I will take my Gods with me, and they will also be angry.

Cila: What justice they give me with this insane punishment! So at the end, you leave me?

Minos: I cannot take you with me. I want calm seas to sail to my homeland without fear, Cila.

Cila: May the heavens show their anger such that you will never see such a chance, nor your homeland, nor see the fierce sea calm. O winds, leave your dark cave, and disturb both the waters,[1] until the moon is not secure in her blue mantle. You go to your beautiful daughters in relation, not in person, or you would take off your crown to be their vile vassal. And although you have gained these walls and been given your glorious vengeance, this memory dishonours the glory of your past. And if absence is often the subtle thief of honour, you are the vilest man ever born of woman. You cannot count all your offenses; all men would be ashamed to have so many. As men who deserve women, they would not accompany you without coming to despise you.

She goes.

Minos: What fierce anger!

Feniso: An angry woman indeed. What does she hope to achieve?

Minos: Infamy and dishonour is a disgrace to women, and she thinks that it must be of men as well, captain; and though absences can breed love, they never have for me.

Call upon the leaders of Athens, so that we may treat with them and leave them in liberty, but with the same condition: that they have acknowledged me as Lord.

Feniso: Such tribute will be the fruit of this venture.

Minos: With this I think to return to the homeland that feels my absence so harshly.

Feniso: For three years, great Lord, it has missed your presence.

Scylla rejected by Minos after killing her father.

Scylla rejected by Minos after killing her father.

 

Enter Polineces.

Polineces: Where is Minos?

Minos: Here, O renowned Polineces! Did you have a good journey from Crete?

Polineces: Thanks be to the heaven that that puts my mouth at your feet.

Minos: Get up. What about Crete?

Polineces: It is in peace, on the shoulders of your fame.

Minos: My daughters?

Polineces: Apollo can see no more beautiful in all of Asia.

Minos: The queen? You turn your face away? Why have you shut up? What is this? Answer me.

Polineces: My lord, it is not possible for me to answer you.

Minos: Why do you say this?

Polineces: I’m afraid, my Lord.

Minos: Is she dead?

Polineces: Would it please heaven!

Minos: I have remarkable suspicions of some wild accident.

Polineces: From pole to pole, a greater misfortune has not been seen.

Minos: The queen! Worse than death? What? Speak.I give you license, even if her case is the most outrageous in all the world.

Polineces: Your anger gives you strength, and it is not possible for me to make more excuses. I will break the , though love would be mute, honor deaf, the world blind, the sun without light, so as not to go crazy.

Know that Pasife -heavens above! – went for a short time to a forest on a certain day. On this day your cowherds were leading down the cows to where the glassy waters of a courtly stream murmur about some elms, where with lazy steps they could put off their thirst amid the shoots of grass. Pasife set her eyes upon a white and red bull, less than three years old, more tame than sullen, painted with various marks on his backs, more beautiful than anything but the stars and the sun. Points like the waning-moon on his face, a short nose and neck, eyes of emerald; with a red swirl like a riotous skein of gold where he had not tested the yoke.

Pasife fell in love with this animal, giving amazement to Crete, and there are opinions that it is mighty Jupiter, coming again as he came to the beautiful Europa, who gave her heroic name to the third part of the world, having fallen in love but stealthily coming in the form of a white bull. For certain, only he could find in his desires to perform in such a way. Pasife, anyway, has given birth – if it is Jupiter’s – to a monster half bull and half man.

It is a public scandal, and from various parts men come to see this frightening prodigy of nature, but all are agreed that it is the son of Jupiter-being through some prodigious effect made himself known to Pasiphae in the form of a white bull. So it is well understood by the wise and by the learned philosophers. Such is the force that has the imagination of all. It has grown in two years so large, so fierce and so severe, like a bull in how it writes its jealousy on the green trees, striking blows that shake them and make the thicket echo.

Jupiter can insult anyone: that’s why I named Jupiter the owner of this feat; if it was not to be his, I would shortly lose sense and life. No one less than Jupiter could have, in the form of strong Anfitrión, defeated the chastity of Alcmene and begotten the son who has won such high spoils, the great Theban Hercules, who before the down had grown on his lip is said had done such valorous deeds greater than his father’s.

Minos: Say no more of my disgrace and misfortune, tragic ambassador. My country has been good to me, and I have never seen it ungrateful, and the owner of my evil is Jupiter. Eclipsing the sun’s pure fire, turning off the lamp of Phoebe,[2] because it is impossible to see a moral man staining my honour eternally with such a monster. That fantasy of a white bull, in which Jupiter came transformed to Pasife, a shock to royal propriety, and you say has begotten the monster on her, that fantasy is a treasure that removes offence and saves the divine honour. But the vulgar have never judged well, and chose to see everything in the most discreditable light. I have had my vengeance, I have defeated Athens, but I will have to cry for my shame.

Feniso: Here are their strongest defenders.

Enter Teseo, Albante, and Fineo servant of Teseo.

Teseo: Here you have us, great Minos, the vanquished.

Albante: Here you have us, Lord, your vassals.

Minos: Valourous Teseo, noble Albante, do not call me your vanquisher. For heaven has taken victory from my hands with an event full of portents. In my house a monster is born in my absence. In the absence of a husband, Athenians. And without one how can a monster be born? How many evils are born in the world, cruel children of absence. You are avenged because Pasife has born a child half-human and half-bull, an infamous feat attributed to lecherous Jupiter, scandalous deity of such high name, but it has the baseness of a work of man. If a king made such a mistake they would say he was unworthy of the sceptre. If I did not arrange to have the lascivious God of the heavens transformed into a bull, I would have quit the honourable life of sacred honour: because when adultery is secret, it cannot bring about such condemnation

But do not think that does not concern us here; for in tribute I wish you to give ten of your men each your, to be devoured and eaten by this monster of Pasife.

Teseo: You will be obeyed as you have commanded.

Minos: On returning from this prison to your own walls, deliver to your homeland the tale of my wretchedness, as hard as it is to comprehend such a hard life.

They leave, but Teseo, Albante, and Fineo stay.

Pasiphae and the Bull

Probably the most decorous picture I could find of Pasiphae and the bull.

Teseo: Well, that was strange.

Albante: Strange. And that he takes vengeance on us for something that was not our fault.

Fineo: Ten men for a wild beast, a beastly tribute for a year: ask that he resolve on one, as there is not much sense in a tribute so importunate.

Albante: He will not have it; he shows no feeling in setting out this way.

Fineo: So that lady, his wife, fell in love with a white bull without propriety; would it not be better to want tribute in gold? What fault is that of Athens? Oh, women! What won’t you do?

Teseo: Respect the good ladies, fool.

Fineo: Now bulls run about, full of strange cravings? Oh, my Lord, such are the harms done under the cape of religion! They say Gods pretend to be bulls. A cute invention! It’s the same as going to the temple. I go to the temple, I contemplate, I give offerings, and inside the temple it is all vice and error, as it is told in this example.

Teseo: We need to think how a man could give such a thing, when we reach that place, but I do not think we will find that we can buy a life for money.

Fineo: Why not? You will find thousands- like the deaf, say -who will prefer a short and fat life, like a pig’s, and you will be able to pay them. There are those who use their lives only in vice, who will not amount to anything whether they live a long time or a short time, who are only good for fullfilling what is wanted. I’ve seen a man so bad that for a month of pleasure he sells six years of life.

Teseo: Those who seek such lives, I call beasts.

Albante: It seems to me, Teseo, that to minimise[3] the deaths from this ugly tribute, lots should be cast so that all would face the same chance.

Teseo: Well said; in general, all men will have hope that way, and the law will be the same, for it is not law if it does not reach both commoners and nobles.

Fineo: By heaven, no man will stick around in Athens!

Teseo: I will, for the law is greater than everyone.

Fineo: Minos is a fool.

Albante: He will love taking vengeance.

Teseo: Taking vengeance is possible.

Fineo: Would it not be wiser for this Minos, or Cumin-os,[4] to kill this angry monster, for isn’t he concerned for his reputation if it hangs about? Is he crazy?

Teseo: Possibly he is.

Fineo: He will do well through his wife’s weakness; because of that bull he must have weapons on his head. And today it is known that through this white bull, the unfortunate husband who has been cuckolded, is turned into a bull.

They leave.

***

Scene 2. The Palace of Minos. Oranteo, Prince of Lesbos, and Ariadna ,daughter of Minos, enter.

Ariadna: I cannot express my pain more strongly.

Oranteo: I am not complaining of love, for love cannot injure; I am complaining, not of that high subject; but because I was not sensible in loving so confidently, a cause that has never stopped producing such effects.

Ariadna: If my father wants to give me as wife to Feniso, because of how he has served him, it would be better pay him with my death. The best I can hope for.now is to suffer the penalty that I have attained through my foolish confidence, but, in my excuse, love and hope have always been as good as blind men are as guides. Father writes that they will give me to this fierce captain for his services in the wars, banishing all my peace. If Minos, my father, makes this mistake, I know the effect it will have at once. As obedience is commanded, I’ll obey; but in your absence I promise my life will be short. It is not possible to resist, but I am not afraid; for if I can not resist, I know well that I can die instead. Without you I do not want to live, as well you can believe me, for when there is love, there is no strength greater than that of the thinnest woman.

Oranteo: My beautiful Ariadna, pure as the dawn, beautiful, centre of the happy soul that has you for its sky! Now my joy is over and my sadness has begun. Firmly I set myself to endure your grievances, for who will live without the sight of your rare beauty? I am so grateful to see that you feel this way, but my torment grows as even my duty grows. You would not feel so strongly, seeing me in this sad state, if you were going to forget me.

Ariadna: Then does it sorrow you, sir, that you owe me this love?

Oranteo: What can I owe you, but what I have paid? Your display has disconcerted my senses, my lady. Feeling these hurts so sure and certain, comes as news of what has been. Who has lost so much good in this unjust change, who will have confidence staying on this occasion, who believed they had possession of it with a bare hope? But if this is my destiny, that you and I are to be divided, then to withdraw from you my whole life will but prolong my death. All my troubles are arranged: it is not possible for their angers to triumph with such spoils, once I took the palm. There is more left in your soul than is set aside in your eyes.Contrary fortune intends to use me to show her power, which has no power to make what it does not want eternally for you: Always the absent owner who is absent, as you have always been to it, and for consolation I will have that you and are suffering the same, that nothing can be a greater woe after having lost you.

On these fears that are killing me, swear that you hold me in your soul, and that when you are near to forgetting me, remember how much good you could give me, you who put me in this state, Today I remain unpromised, and my happiness is fretful. I was not as happy as I am unhappy.

He goes.

Ariadna: Where do you go with such threatening absence, owner of my venturesome soul? Forgetfulness is so obstinate, perhaps because memory has no patience. Your presence threatens insolently: but sight is turned aside, it returns to your strong love, which cold blood has no taste to resist. Love, when it has given spoils, does not change the passion moving the heavens: they see the souls if they do not see the eyes. Those who play at love are sleepless, but in absence there is nothing for anger, except for that which turns love to jealousy.

Enter Fedra , sister of Ariadna.

Spoiler: in this picture she is Queen of Athens

Here is a picture of Fedra.

 

Fedra: You care about such things? Did you not hear the salute given at the sea today at dawn?

Ariadna: Tell me in the evening. What can come to me to equal the good that I have lost on parting with Oranteo, or to satisfy the desire?

Phaedra: What if they say it’s the king?

Ariadna: A very great evil, if Feniso comes with him!

Phaedra: Love’s law never holds over his own blood.

Ariadna: Oh, Fedra, there is no consolation for such a grave pain, because Oranteo’s absence is to love like a burning bolt out of heaven to a tree! Just like a tree is changed from green hope to something bare of its leaves and branches, scorched with flames, in the same way when love is struck with absence, though there are icy fires, it turns the green of hope into the blue of jealousy.

Fedra: I am sorry to see you in such a state. But if this beastly absence can overcome the resistance of love, the same will happen to you: if he forgets you, you will forget him.

Ariadna: Love judges what is present, and I presume that in absence I will love more, grieving more. What voices are those?

Fedra: I believe the King approaches.

Ariadna: I hope and wish it were my death coming instead.

Enter Minos, Feniso, soldiers and commoners.[5]

Minos: Cast those flags on the ground, befitting a captain without honour.

Feniso: Do not give offence to heaven, in presuming Zeus means your dishonour.

Ariadna: I hope your daughters can give you comfort, father and lord, whose honourable neck and arms have conquered so many kingdoms.

Minos: I come victorious, my honour lost.Where is the cruel woman?

Fedra: Fleeing your fury.

Minos: Daughters, I come as you see me. It is right for love to forgive, as it right for honour to be offended.

Ariadna: She has nothing to relieve your disgust.

Minos: Leave me here while I undertake revenge; not on the All-Powerful, no, that is not my place, but on the cruel woman who has offended me…

Feniso: Beware of heaven.

Minos: I do not ask for life anymore. Hail! Call Daedalus to me!

Fedra: Here comes the engineer who is most respected in all Greece – nor has any greater been seen in Asia.

Daedalus: May the Gods give prosperity to your deeds.

Minos: Daedalus, friend, how can you expect prosperity for the deeds of an unhappy man, when to console his sorrows they blame All-Powerful Jupiter for them, while it was Mars, envious of my arms and victories, who took revenge to cast a shadow over my glories? Have you seen the monster that has dishonoured the beautiful Pasife, contrary to nature, and is now here so ugly, savage, and deformed?

Daedalus: Yes, great lord.

Minos: How do I make a building to enclose this beast, of such subtle ingenuity and artifice, that one who goes into it cannot come out again?

Daedalus: After you wrote me to say that was your intention, that you wanted to confine this ferocious monster, famed as the bull of Minos, or Minotaur, I made and studied various designs, and of such models and artifacts I have selected these to present to you, as you had forewarned, so if you find any of these designs depicted agreeable, you can have them executed in stone and wood.

A curtain is carried in on which is a canvas showing the plan of the labyrinth, with the Minotaur within.

Minos: By the Gods, this is something worthy of your ingenuity! Tell me, is this the fate of the fierce monster?

Daedalus: Yes, my Lord, the monster is portrayed here, in the middle of this square. This is the gate, but there is no way to find it again once it is entered.

Minos: Well! To execute this design, peerless Daedalus, is a thing that will give you fame the world over as the most supreme and ingenious artificer – and me fame as the most unhappy man.

Daedalus: Soon you will walk these corridors and see them.

Minos: I would kill the Minotaur – but I fear the wrath of great Jupiter, if the beast is his child. As far as I care it makes no difference: it is child of envy and misfortune.

They leave.

A Plan of the Labyrinth

The Labyrinth, a plan therof, by Daedalus Esq.

***

Scene 3. Athens. Teseo and Fineo enter.

Fineo: I don’t want to console you.

Teseo: There is no consolation for this evil.

Fineo: You are angry at heaven.

Teseo: Today they have commanded me to embark.

Fineo: That of more than six thousand different names, yours is picked!

Teseo: Strong evil! Strong misfortune!

Fineo: You may have the good luck to hide.

Teseo: It would not be fitting, nor would they thank me for it. Oh, for evil, for so much evil, has my name been picked.

Fineo: How can it be that a man so valiant and so noble goes to be fodder for a beast?

Teseo: Because the republic is just, just because I am more valuable it must not do an unjust thing simply. Here in Athens, with equal justice and sparing none, good and evil are dealt on rich and poor alike. These ways of government differ from others, unjust and odious, where the powerful get away with what they want. Woe to the kingdom where the poor must suffer force, and the rich have the power to twist the law!

Fineo: I do not understand what this thing called justice is: surely with those who are noble, there are just exceptions.

Teseo: You must be speaking mischief.

Fineo: It’s only natural. There is a wise saying, that only in death is there equal justice for all. Anyway, what do you think of setting out to die?

Teseo: If it suits his homeland, a nobleman has an obligation to die.

Fineo: It is inevitable that your lively courage will accompany you..

Teseo: You are a loyal servant, Phineus, noble and spirited. At least, if fate has fitted me to die, my kindness has been the cause of my death. Let us go, the ship awaits, and the sea promises a calm journey.

Fineo: Better it should be troubled with all known storms…

Teseo: I will not reach salvation, since there is such a wind.

Fineo: Travelling to evil, no one has ever lacked for a fair wind.

They leave.

***

 Scene 4. The palace at Lesbos. Enter Oranteo and Lauro.

Lauro: What did you ask me, what unjust thing are you complaining about?

Oranteo: I am complaining of having lost my dear wife! I am complaining of the stars, which do not care if they forget. Oh, Lauro! I lived in Crete, in love with Ariadna, waiting for the day when the cruel Minos grew weary of the military government, and my hope was he would give me all he possessed. The tyrant writes that he has given her to Feniso in marriage. Feniso, from whose hand he owes his glorious reputation, with the intent to make him king of Crete, exchanging the captain’s lance for a sceptre. Minos did wrong, to ignore my love, I who am Prince of Lesbos and descendant of the divine Gods.

Lauro: I understand that, if you want to play it safe, this is the end of your hopes of conquest.

Oranteo: Lauro, if she is married, what hope remains to me? I am dead. May it please the angry heaven, to suck down their ships at harbour, and pour the raging waves over their victorious flags!

Lauro: They are short curses, but the heavens have a greater, for if you look at what has come in the post you will see that a monster of dishonour has come to Crete.

Oranteo: I have seen that fierce and frightening Minotaur, Lauro. For it they have made a Labyrinth – for that is the name given to that site where its infamy lies, and also the eternal fame of that great master, distinguished Daedalus, skilled in all arts – and in its intricate circles men are lost, unable to find the exit, condemned to death, served up to the beast to provide it sustenance and life. I have had clear warning of the monster from a host of people.

Now to the Labyrinth tall ships will go to destroy it, in so many words. I will quit this life and rob Feniso of his jewel, as the Greeks came as thieves to Troy. Come, and we will give a voice to fame, canvas to the sea, a subject to Mars, and to the fire of love more fuel.

Lauro: And advice is all you have to help you.

Oranteo: Giving advice to one in love, is like giving life to a flame by blowing on it.

They leave.

***

Scene 5. Outside the Labyrinth of Crete. Enter Minos, Ariadna, Fedra, Feniso and Daedalus.

Minos: The construction is excellent.

Ariadna: It is impossible to find its equal in all of Greece.

Fedra: And as news of it spreads to various nations, the wings of its fame will be given new feathers.

Daedalus: I think, undefeated Lord, that the Labyrinth were not a less impressive thing than the Minotaur, that monster of nature.

Minos: I will have you given a proper award for the work you have done – and I think, also to Icarus, your son.

Fedra: Undefeated King, here comes an ambassador from Athens.

Enter Teseo and Fineo.

Teseo: I am not an ambassador, though I suppose my nobility might give occasion to my homeland to charge me with such an important office. I am Teseo, and though I was a rich Duke among my people, fate has fitted me to be the vilest of my country. I have come to die, and with that it can be said that I am nothing. If I am more, it is by the esteem of losing my life for my countrymen: those citizens who gave you sure and certain word that they would give you each year in tribute ten men for this beast. I am, King Minos, one of these, and I tell you that out of loyalty I make no defense. And it is my honour to present myself on foot to you, for my life weighs on me, and by risking this I am counting on heaven giving me something. What do you want of me?

Minos: Teseo, you could not show more clearly the strength of the heart that beats in your noble chest. I am sorry that it is you, who the past wars have made illustrious in my estimation; but Athens desires it, and you are loyal to her. Feniso, take the Duke to a tower, while the monster sustains his arrogance.

Teseo: I’m glad to know that you mean to conceal your dishonour in such a way.

Teseo goes, and Ariadna clutches at Fineo.

Ariadne: Tell, who is that?

Fineo: Who?

Ariadna: Who just passed by, what should I call him?

Fineo: Oh, my most beautiful queen! When has my mouth deserved to kiss the happy sand where you set your feet, although it is mixed up with pearls?

Ariadna: Is this Duke Teseo?

Fineo: This is he of whom they recounts such dreadful deeds; this is he who went with Jason on the proud sea to Colchis to rob Medea; this is he who entered Hell with Hercules, the Greek, and presented diverse things to the beautiful Proserpina: for the heat that one always has in the summer festivals, a splendid little fan, and because she was disposed to dress in the spanish fashion, six cuffs like little bucklers, for in Hell they also like to uncover their wrists; this is he who helped to kill the centaurs, at the wedding table of the wedding of Hipodamia, this…

Ariadna: Enough, this is Teseo, of whose fame there has been no little news in Greece. I pity to see his youth, his fairness and his gentleness.

Fineo: God have pity on your soul for this piety, for through it can be known, great Lady, your goodness and nobility.And certainly it is wrong to throw a man to a beast, or to a fool, which I think amounts to the same thing. There will be no easy remedy, because he is taking on his conscience by killing a young man to be a morsel, like he was setting a donkey loose in a field of melons.

Ariadna: Oh, sister, who could give life to this young man!

Fineo: Well, you might, if you try it.

Ariadna: I will try it without hesitation.

Fineo: Yes, by God! For this you have a loving slave to your loveliness and your beauty.

Ariadna: Is he married?

Fineo: No, he is not married. They say God does not wish that he should see such sickness. I say sickness, a sickness of patience.

Ariadne: Come talk to me tonight.

Fineo: Man has no good that does not come from the hands of woman. May you be blessed a thousand times! But when the tail of Mars is turned, and the devil is released, every man save his face, I mean to say, his head.

***

[1]tantos las aguas”. I think this may refer to the oceans above and below the world in the ancient Greek cosmology

[2] That is, the moon.

[3]excusar’. I can’t find any historical meaning that makes sense, but I think it has to be something like this.

[4]cominos’ ‘Cumin’ was the first translation I found; there is a word ‘comino’, meddler, but that would have to be ‘unos cominos’, some meddlers, to make sense, and it recurs later in a context that makes it obvious that it does mean cumin here. Lope de Vega has probably written it just to make sure we know Fineo is the wacky sidekick, and as an example of a running gag that isn’t funny.

[5]cajas’. I cannot find this word anywhere meaning anything but ‘boxes’, or, very recently, ‘fighter planes’, and would just leave it as ‘boxes’ here, except Minos uses it much later addressing some villagers.

 

In the morning they gathered again in the grand hall of the half-ruinous castle of Telmar.

‘Ofrak has told us your reason for coming here, Prince Margis,’ said Josie, standing up straight at one end of the long table. ‘But I think there is another one.’

Margis glanced at Jardil, who kept his attention politely focussed on the bejewelled Mistress of Telmar. Ofrak perched magisterially at the Prince’s left, apparently pleased that his name had been mentioned.

Josie went on. ‘You know that Aslan came here long ago because the men of this place were wicked, and turned them into dumb beasts. There is a place here that was set aside then – by the Lion – for restoring them when the time was right. Restoring their descendants, that is. I think that is why you have come, even if you did not know it, and why Blackbriar is here.’ Josie felt she was not explaining things very well.

Prince Margis nodded respectfully. ‘I have long dreamed of coming to this place to do some great deed, not knowing for certain what it was I might be called upon to do. So what you say is not unwelcome to me.’

‘I do not know exactly what you are supposed to do, but I know that you and I both have a part somehow in restoring the men of Telmar, using the things in the place Aslan set aside,’ Josie continued. ‘Blackbriar is one of them. That is why she went off to seek the lands of men.’

‘I always thought she was an exceptional creature,’ said Margis cheerily. ‘Have I not always said there was no other like her, Jardil? Please, Lady Josie, tell us the tale of this place set aside by Aslan.’

‘I can tell you the tale –but I do not know the beginning. I was given the key to the place by one of the ifrits, when they left. That is the key you returned to me.’ Josie paused then for a long moment.

‘Maybe we should just show them,’ said Tash. Even as he said this, Tash regretted saying it. He did not want the strangers in the secret places of the castle.

‘Indeed, if you wish, Lady Josie,’ said Prince Margis. ‘Showing is twelve score times telling, as we say in our country.’

‘Yes,’ said Josie. ‘Yes, let us go there. I will show you the place and tell you what we know of it, and then I will tell you how we defeated the sorceror.’ She let Tash take her hand, and they left the hall in as grand a manner as they could manage, followed by Prince Margis and his advisors.

***

In the hidden chamber of the castle Prince Margis eagerly went forth onto the dais, marvelling at the mysteries left behind by the immortal Lion who was said to be son of the Emperor Beyond the Sea. ‘Did you ever imagine you would see such wondrous magic?’ he asked Jardil, peering with keen interest at the viands that had been miraculously preserved as fresh as the hour they were made for hundreds of years.

‘Never, my Lord,’ Jardil replied.

While Jardil followed Margis no more than a pace or two distant, Ofrak hung back, reluctant to perch on anything that might have been touched by Aslan. Mirilitha hung yet further back, at the bottom of the stair, and from her manner would have fled back to the surface if she had not found it so difficult to traverse them. The black bitch – Blackbriar, or Onyx as Prince Margis called her- had stayed well away from the hidden chamber.

Tash and Josie stood side by side at the edge of the dais where the box of apples was. While the men’s lanterns cast long wavering shadows around the room, Tash held his dimmer lamp higher and stiller, providing most of the useful light in the chamber. Gerald clung to Tash, wide-eyed; he had not been in the chamber before, and was troubled by a thought that he could not put into words, that the whole of the ground underneath his feet might be riddled with rooms full of mysterious things, both wonderful and terrible.

‘It truly is a marvel, my Prince,’ said Jardil. There was something like awe in the voice of the cynical old courtier. ‘To my eye, this armour looks like it would fit you better than any suit of mail made by your father’s smiths. And this other, it is as though it were crafted expressly for the Lady Josie.’

‘It is splendid,’ said Margis. ‘And more than splendid. It is humbling to think that such a destiny has been set before us.’ He lifted one of the goblets from the table and turned it from side to side in the light, then set it down again. ‘But I wonder what precisely it is we are to do. Do you know anything of the will of Aslan in this matter, Lady Josie?’

‘Not exactly,’ said Josie. ‘We tried before, feeding some of the food to Blackbriar to see if it would make her into a talking animal. Instead it turned her into a woman, but only for a little while, and then she turned back.’

Prince Margis could not help making an exclamation of amazement. ‘By the Lion’s wounds!’

Josie held tightly on to Tash. ‘She turned back; so there is more to it than that. Perhaps we are meant to bring the beasts whose ancestors were the men of Telmar here; or bring the whole feast out to them. I don’t know. But I think there must be something more than that – with the armour.’

‘Yes, such mail is hardly necessary to preside over a feast, unless it is unruly indeed,’ said Margis. ‘But you would agree, Lady Josie, that a good place to start would be to seek out these beasts, and speak with them?’

‘They don’t speak,’ Tash pointed out helpfully.

‘Doggie,’ said Gerald.

‘Of course, Lord Tash,’ said the Prince. ‘Speak to them, rather. For I understand from what the Lady Josie has said that they can understand speech? And that she can understand to a degree what they might wish to make known?’

‘Blackbriar sought us out,’ said Josie. ‘And we worked out together a way for her to answer my questions. I think the others will understand us; but I do not know if they will make any effort to answer.’

‘We will have to be most encouraging, then, Lady Josie,’ said the Prince. ‘I expect- Blackbriar – can act as our intermediary.’

‘I think so,’ said Josie.

‘Are they all dogs?’ asked Margis. ‘The tales I have heard tell that the men of Telmar were turned into dumb beasts, but they do not say what kind.’

‘There were dogs, and pigs,’ said Josie. ‘I don’t know much about the pigs, and whether the dogs can understand them or not. But there are many of them in the valley.’

‘You should not look so downcast, my Lady Josie,’ said the Prince. ‘We will do this thing that Aslan has charged us with. It is destiny.’

‘She does not look downcast,’ said Tash, stroking Josie’s face.

‘Piggie,’ said Gerald, and followed his father’s lead with his own sticky hand.

‘A trick of the light, it must have been,’ said Prince Margis, with a little bow. ‘My apologies for such forwardness, Lady Josie.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Josie, her fingers going unbidden to the ruby key that hung on a golden chain around her neck.

‘What is kept there?’ asked the Prince, taking a step towards the Mistress of Telmar and indicating the box of magic apples with a nod of his head.

‘More foodstuffs, preserved by the magic of this place,’ said Josie. ‘But left here by the sorceror, not the Lion – not Aslan. So no part of the things Aslan left behind.’

‘It is marvellous, is it not?’ said Margis. He gazed intently at Josie’s face in a way that Tash did not like. ‘The power of the sorceror was great, but even he did not dare to ruin any of these things that were touched by the power of the Lion. We are fortunate that there is so great a power working for good in the world.’

‘There is strong magic in here,’ said Josie. ‘I think it would have been hard for the sorceror to come close to it.’

‘If Aslan is so powerful, why did he not destroy the sorceror?’ asked Tash.

‘Who can say, Lord Tash?’ said Prince Margis, spreading his arms wide and smiling a rueful smile. ‘It is not as if he were a tame lion. But since the world began, there has been evil unpunished, and virtue unrewarded.’

‘It was we who destroyed the sorceror,’ said Tash. ‘The Lady Josie, and I, and the ifrits.’

‘I would most like to hear your tale, Lord Tash, if you wish to tell it,’ replied Margis courteously. ‘I am sure the accounts of the sorceror’s end that have come as far as Balan are but garbled traveller’s tales.’

‘Mummy?’ said Gerald, tangling his sticky hand in Lady Josie’s hair.

‘I’m alright, Gerry,’ said Josie, in a small sniffly voice. ‘Ow.’

‘By your leave, Lady Josie, do you think we might remove the suits of armour from this room?’ asked Jardil. ‘They seem to be made to fit your Ladyship and Prince Margis as you are at this very moment, and it may be intended that you are to wear them when you go out to meet with the beasts.’

‘As you wish,’ said Josie. ‘I think – I think this must be the time.’

How very young she still is, thought Jardil. And how uncertain she sounds. She does not like this treasure chamber, nor this talk of the Lion. She is not of this world, and doubtless has hidden powers. The Prince is foolish to play at being in love with her. But still, she is only a girl. There was no way they could leave her here, with the monster: it would not be right. And her boy deserved to grow up among men.

‘There seems no reason to delay,’ agreed Margis brightly.

‘Then you must go and speak with Blackbriar,’ said Tash. ‘Right? Right?’ The voice of the creature was harsh, Jardil thought, like the voice of an old hawker in the market.

‘Yes,’ said Josie. ‘We will all go and speak with Blackbriar.’

‘Of course, if the Lady Josie desires it,’ said Prince Margis, with a bow, and started for the stairs. Mirilitha went before him, as quickly as she could manage, and Ofrak followed a little way behind him.

Jardil brought up the rear, staying behind a moment longer to detach some pieces of the suit of mail that seemed to be made to fit Prince Margis. He saw how Josie nudged Tash with her elbow, and inclined her head, and how the creature understood this unspoken command. While two of Tash’s arms continued to hold Josie’s son, the other two picked up the wooden box and carried it from the treasure chamber. Like so many things he had observed over his life, Jardil made a note to himself to be sure to remember this box which Josie had made little of, then taken care to remove from the chamber when the Prince’s attention was elsewhere.

When they emerged from the treasure chamber, they could not find Blackbriar. She was not where they had left her sunning herself in a courtyard. Josie called to her, and Prince Margis called to her, and she did not come. The men searched all the parts of the castle where she had been, and Tash strode out by himself to search the more distant, ruinous parts of the castle. Ofrak flew wide circles high above the stronghold of Telmar and could see nothing.

‘Though it is too bright for my eyes,’ he admitted in a crestfallen way, reporting back to Lady Josie and Prince Margis on the terrace outside the grand hall. ‘I may well have missed her.’

‘The doggie has gone away,’ said Gerald, who was sitting playing with some jewels for marbles.

‘The doggie will come back,’ assured Josie, with a confidence she did not feel.

‘Yes,’ agreed Gerald, with absolute certainty. ‘The doggie will come back.’

‘You sound very sure, my little man,’ said Margis, crouching down on his haunches and ruffling the boy’s hair. ‘I hope you are right.’

‘I am Lord Gerald,’ said Gerald defensively. ‘I am right.’

‘Very well, my Lord Gerald,’ said Prince Margis, with a laugh that would have made Gerald furious if he had been a very little bit older. ‘Perhaps, my Lady Josie, the bitch knows better than we what we are to do at this juncture. It does not seem as if any enemy stole in here and led her away; so if she is walking into peril it is of her own will. I will hope that she is as sensible as we have found her to be until now, and will return safely soon.’

‘You are probably right,’ said Josie. ‘Gerry, come here.’ She gathered her son, who did not insist on being called ‘Lord Gerald’ by his mother, up into her arms.

‘With your leave, Lady Josie, and my Lord Margis’ said Jardil. ‘You had said, Lady Josie, you would relate the tale of how you and Lord Tash vanquished the sorceror, and came into possession of Telmar and its secrets. While we wait for Blackbriar to return, perhaps we might sit by the fire and listen to your tale?’

‘That is probably wise,’ said Josie. ‘Come, Gerry, we will tell the men our story.’

‘Yes,’ said Gerald, very solemnly.

The men, as well as Ofrak the owl and Mirilitha the gazelle, settled down to listen to Josie’s tale of how they had vanquished the sorceror, and she began to tell it. The one big thing she did not mention at all in her story was the apples that gave strength and youth, and let you live forever if you had come from another world. This did leave a curiously-shaped gap in her story, but it seemed enough that an evil sorceror would want to move into a body as young and fair as hers, once her eyes were restored.

‘It is a dreadful thing, that he should have sought to treat you so,’ Prince Margis had said vehemently.

‘Most assuredly,’ Jardil had agreed. ‘But meaning no offence, Lady Josie, it is passing strange that he should seek to take your body for his own, when so many strong men could have easily been taken by his servants.’

‘I do not know,’ Josie had said unconvincingly.

‘If I may venture, sir,’ said Ofrak. ‘It may be that the whiteness of Lady Josie, and the fact that she was brought here from another world, put the sorceror in mind of the White Queen. You see,’ he bobbed his own white head in a polite bow to Josie, ‘She also came here, so the tales say, from another world. She was the most powerful magician that the world had seen. I have seen her likeness carved in many places here, and I have heard tales that she once tarried in Telmar, and was held in honour by the evil men who dwelled here.’

‘It may be,’ said Jardil.

‘What happened to her?’ asked Josie.

‘No one knows,’ replied Ofrak. ‘They say she could not die. At least, that is the story. She is said to have lived for hundreds of years.’

‘If this is true,’ said Prince Margis. ‘Which, Lady Josie, I doubt – I have talked over these matters with Ofrak before, and also with old men who knew stories of Telmar in Balan, before we left – if this is true, it does not mean that she could not be killed by an accident, or an enemy. I think this is why she has not been heard of for a very long time.’

‘Let us hope this has happened,’ said Jardil.

‘Yes,’ said Ofrak. ‘Of course.’

***

Tash, alone among the company, had no desire for Blackbriar to return. He wished the dog and the men and the owl and the gazelle would finish their business in Telmar as quickly as possible and go away, and waiting for this to happen made him impatient and ill-tempered. He could not remember exactly what he had read in the Books of Tash – a kind of darkness had settled on his memories of what he had read of his future life, and he could only remember the things he had read after he had lived them, never before. He did not remember exactly, but he felt that he was coming to a place in the story where he would do heroic things that others would take the credit for, or else do horrible things that he would regret forever. This feeling had come upon him like the itch of dry winter skin when Ofrak had first fluttered into his bedchamber, and had only become worse since then. Dim shapeless masses of memory waited a little way ahead of him, memories of things he had read that would soon become real, and he felt that there was nothing he could do to avoid them.

Tash had gone off alone to look for Blackbriar amid the shadowed corners of the ruins where he had once found the way to the Books of Tash, and came back to the great hall where the fire had been built high just in time to hear Prince Margis call Gerald ‘my little man’ again.

Gerald was sitting on Josie’s lap where she sat, close by the Calormenes in a pool of turbulent golden light by the fire. He had just interjected something into the story Josie was telling, and Margis had leant forward to tousle his hair, putting his head closer to Josie’s than Tash liked.

‘Surely you were not yet there, my little man,’ said the human Prince.

‘He is not your little man,’ growled Tash. ‘He is mine.’

One of the Calormene men-at-arms- the round-faced one, Hurras – laughed shortly at this, and Jardil turned an angry glare on him; but Tash did not notice, for his fury was centred on Prince Margis. Without willing it, he lifted his arms high and clenched and unclenched his taloned hands menacingly, and Margis’ men at arms stepped forward to defend their master.

‘It is only a figure of speech,’ said Josie. ‘Of course he is yours. Tash, don’t be silly.’

‘I meant no offence, Lord Tash,’ said Margis, looking up at Tash with calm dark eyes. ‘I crave your pardon.’

Tash lowered his arms slowly. ‘I suppose I am sorry,’ he said. Jardil made a cutting gesture, and the men-at-arms stepped back.

‘Mummy is telling the story of how you bit off the sorceror’s hand,’ said Gerald helpfully.

Tash bowed his head to the boy.

‘Lady Josie was telling how she would certainly have lived a short and cruel life as slave to the sorceror, if you had not been there,’ added Prince Margis.

‘It is all fine, dear Tash,’ said Josie. ‘Will you sit awhile with us, while I tell the rest of it?’ she asked.

‘Not now,’ said Tash. ‘May I take Gerald?’

‘Of course, dear Tash,’ said Josie, setting her hands so as to lift her son up to Tash.

‘I want to hear the rest of the story,’ said Gerald.

‘When the Lady Josie has finished, dear Tash,’ asked Prince Margis. ‘Would you be so kind as to tell us your own tale, of how you came to be in Telmar?’

‘Later,’ said Tash shortly. ‘Come, Gerald. Mummy can tell you later.’

‘I will put in all the parts I have had to leave out in talking to these men,’ Josie whispered to Gerald.

‘No,’ said Gerald, shaking his head obstinately. ‘I want to stay.’

Josie and Tash had spent a busy few days putting the castle into order to receive visitors. The hall where Blackbriar had once slept was swept out, bedding was arranged there, and wood made ready for the fireplace. Another hall that had seemed like it might once have been a banqueting hall, where the roof only leaked in the strongest rains, was readied with heavy chairs of polished wood and tapestries to be a fit place for holding conference in. Food and drink as suitable for entertaining a prince as could be managed was collected. Many of the nicer things that the ifrits had collected for Yustus were long gone; Turkish delight, for instance, was only a fond memory, and it was a long time since Josie had eaten yogurt or fresh apricots. But they had sugared fruits and pickled vegetables in plenty, a great quantity of roast venison, and enough flour remained for Josie to bake years’ worth of bread. Throughout the preparations for the visit Gerald contrived to be wherever he would be most in the way. He found the flurry of activity most exciting.

‘Daddy, is the owl coming back?’ he asked Tash. ‘Will it bring the gazelle?’

‘That is what he said, little one,’ Tash replied. ‘The owl will be back, and the gazelle too, and some men.’

‘Like you?’ asked Gerald.

‘More like you, but grown up,’ explained Tash. He lifted Gerald onto his shoulder. ‘Try imagining you are about this high, that is what they will be like.’

‘Ooh,’ said Gerald, and laughed.

Josie made sure that she had her finest silks and jewels picked out to wear while the Prince was visiting, and selected things for Tash and Gerald to wear as well.

‘You will have to wear something,’ she told Tash. ‘Even if it is really only a curtain pinned up, we can make it seem splendid. It would be too shameful if you were naked.’

‘As you wish,’ said Tash. ‘I will ornament myself with jewels too. And Gerald: there is that golden ring thing that will look nice on his head.’

‘So long as he does not take it off and lose it somewhere,’ said Josie. But then she laughed, a little nervously. ‘What an old woman I am becoming,’ she said. ‘As if it mattered. There is more jewellery here than we could ever wear.’

Tash said nothing. Of course, being immortal, in principle they would have plenty of time to wear all the jewellery, even if every room of the castle was crammed full of the stuff. But their days together were destined to be short – the Books of Tash had said so, and Aslan had confirmed it. He did not like to think of how short they might be.

During those days Tash played cheerfully with the boy, and was gentle with his wife, and worked hard getting the castle in order without complaint; but inside he felt every moment as if he was teetering on the edge of a black well of fear. All that he had here had been under threat since he had read the Books of Tash, like a village on the edge of a steep mountain that is sure one day to give way in a landslide. And now the earth was trembling, and soon a great wave of stone and earth would sweep the village away.

‘I will not give them up,’ he told himself. ‘I will not.’

***

The Mistress of Telmar and her retinue – that is, Tash and Gerald – met with Prince Margis and his company at the base of the hill, where the hidden path to the castle began. Tash and Gerald had watched eagerly at the window for the visitors’ approach, so they were in position in plenty of time.

‘Are those horses?’ asked Gerald.

‘I think so,’ answered Tash.

Certainly Gerald had never seen so many people and beasts coming purposefully up to him, and found it quite marvellous and exciting until they were a little too close, when his face crumbled into unhappiness and he hid against Tash’s chest.

‘There is a dog with them,’ Tash said to Josie in a low rumbling voice. ‘I think it might be Blackbriar.’

‘Indeed,’ said Josie, her voice shaking a little.

The riders stopped a good ten paces short of Josie and dismounted. ‘The peace of the Lion be with you, Lady Josie,’ said the first of them, a young man who could only have been Prince Margis. Tash noticed that the Prince and the other men who were with him kept their eyes politely fixed on Josie, but could not help watching him out of the corner of their eyes. They do not know what I am, thought Tash. And they are scared of me. Thinking this made him feel bolder and more cheerful. The men were not dressed all that differently from the brigands he had fought a few years before, though they were better groomed, and all of them except Prince Margis seemed to be concentrating mainly on controlling their horses. Tash knew the horses were frightened of him, too, and the men being frightened of him made the horses more frightened.

‘Greetings to you, Prince Margis,’ said Josie, sounding to Tash very grand and in control of everything. ‘Allow me to introduce my husband, Tash, and my son, Gerald.’

‘It is an honour, Lady Josie,’ said the Prince, inclining his head slightly in a royal bow. Josie responded in the same way. ‘These are my companions: my advisor, Arkalan Jardil; my men-at-arms, Jemin, Hurras, Karifar, and Eyit; Ofrak who is known to you, and Mirilitha.’ As each of the men or beasts were named, they made a sign of obeisance to the Mistress of Telmar.

It was all uncomfortably formal, but the dog chose that moment to come forward and nose about Josie’s feet. She crouched down to pat it. ‘Blackbriar! Is that you?’ The dog licked her hand.

Gerald had begun to peek out again, very cautiously. ‘Doggie,’ he observed.

‘I call her Onyx,’ said Prince Margis.

‘I am quite sure that she is the dog we knew as Blackbriar, though,’ said Josie. ‘Yes, Gerald, it is definitely a doggie. One I did not think I would meet here again.’ She straightened and brushed her hands on her skirts.

Tash watched the men. They did not know what to make of Josie, and they did not know what to make of him. In turn, they reminded him uncomfortably of the brigands. They are not at all the same, he told himself. They look the same, that is all. Gerald must have picked up Tash’s unease, since he began to wriggle and complain.

‘You are welcome in Castle Telmar, Prince Margis,’ said Josie. ‘You and yours, for as long as you wish. Please come in and we will show you to your rooms.’

‘You are a generous hostess, Lady Josie,’ replied Prince Margis. ‘I am most grateful.’

‘We do not have many servants – any servants, really – so all we have is simple, but I hope you will find it sufficient,’ said Josie.

‘We have been sleeping out of doors for months,’ said Prince Margis cheerfully. ‘Four walls and a roof will be luxury enough.’

Josie led the way on into the castle. Tash wanted to walk beside her, but he did not want to get too close to the horses and scare them, so he let the men and their horses go by with plenty of room and brought up the rear with Mirilitha.

‘This lady is a gazelle,’ said Tash to Gerald. ‘If you are quiet and good, maybe she will let you pat her.’

‘Yes, that’s right,’ said Mirilitha. The gazelle did not seem anywhere near as afraid of Tash as the men were. Maybe to her he was not all that different from a human, Tash thought.

‘I am Gerald,’ said Gerald to the gazelle. He held out a hand in her direction, and Tash held him so that he could run his hand over Mirilitha’s fur.

‘Gerald looks very like the Lady Josie,’ said Mirilitha.

‘I look like me,’ said Gerald defensively.

‘Yes, you do, little one,’ admitted the gazelle. ‘No one could mistake you for anyone else.’

‘He is curious about gazelles,’ said Tash. ‘So am I. You are smaller than I thought you would be.’

‘That is fair, Lord Tash,’ said Mirilitha. ‘You are larger than I thought.’

They passed through the narrow doorway that had been closed in the time of the evil magician, and started up the broad winding stairway to the castle proper.

‘No one has called me Lord Tash before,’ said Tash, thinking how very odd it sounded.

‘Since you are the consort of Lady Josie, I thought it would be your proper title,’ said Mirilitha. ‘I am sorry if I have it wrong. I am still quite new at dealing with the Sons of Frank and Daughters of Helen, and here-‘ she looked for a moment like she was going to bolt off in a nervous gazelle manner. ‘Here it is different again.’

‘I do not mind at all being called Lord Tash,’ said Tash.

‘Am I Lord Gerald?’ asked Gerald.

‘I think you are the young Master,’ said Mirilitha. ‘Young Master Gerald.’

‘I like Lord Gerald better,’ said Gerald.

***

The travellers were shown to their rooms, and Prince Margis pronounced himself amazed by the splendours of the castle. ‘To think that it was made hundreds of years ago,’ he said. ‘Balan was scarcely a huddle of mud huts at that time.’

After the horses were seen to and the men tidied up it was time for lunch, so there was a feast of cold roast venison and pickled vegetables in the banqueting hall. As Josie was not fond of wine herself, she had plenty to share with the travellers, and she made sure that their cups were full.

The food may not have been splendid, but they ate off golden plates the Telmarines had left. The Telmarines had used spoons, but no forks, so Josie had gotten in the habit of eating with her fingers and figured she could do it quite tidily. She could not see what her human visitors were doing, but if her manners were terrible, they had the good sense not to complain.

There was an unspoken agreement not to speak of anything of great importance just yet. Prince Margis conversed with the natural politeness of nobility; Josie replied with what felt to her like ungainly awkwardness; and the others- Margis’ advisor Jardil, the men-at-arms, and still more the two talking beasts – kept the polite silence of underlings. Josie found this most unnerving. She was not at all used to being the centre of attention at a formal meal.

Eventually they had emptied their plates and refilled their cups. ‘With your pardon, Lady Josie,’ said Prince Margis. ‘There is one thing I should not delay any longer. I know we have much to discuss, and it would be best to put off discussing it until the morrow, but there is this one thing.’

‘Of course, Prince Margis,’ said Josie. Gerald had fallen asleep during lunch, and was comfortably tucked away on a pile of blankets in the corner.

‘I have something that I believe is yours,’ said Margis, removing something from a pouch.

‘What is it?’ asked Josie.

‘The ruby key,’ Tash replied in his profoundly unmusical voice, before Prince Margis could say anything. ‘They key to the secrets of Telmar.’

‘Yes, Lady Josie. I do not know whether it is in truth the key to the secrets of Telmar, but I was told it belonged to you.’

Josie realised she was gritting her teeth, and forced her face to relax into a smile with an effort. ‘Thank you, Prince Margis.’

He leant across the table to put the key in front of her, and she lifted her hands to take it from him. As their hands touched she felt all the hairs on her arm stand up on end. It was if he had passed her something invisible and dangerous and powerful, along with the key.

‘How did you come by this key?’ she asked, keeping her voice carefully controlled.

‘A thief was captured, stealing from goatherds at the edge of the great desert. He had this key on him. He was brought to Balan for punishment, and when he was questioned, he admitted that he been part of band that had taken it from a woman far to the northwest – near Telmar, near here. It was a pale young woman, he said, one who had no business being in such a wild country. He said then that their band had been set upon by a monster – begging your pardon, er, Lord Tash – that had taken the girl, and slain a dozen of the band, and that he had been one of the few who escaped with his life.’

‘That makes sense,’ said Josie slowly. ‘Thank you for bringing it back.’

‘It was no more than six,’ said Tash modestly. ‘I am quite sure.’

Josie turned the ruby key over and over in her fingers, reacquainting herself with it. ‘I should put it on a chain, instead of just a bit of ribbon,’ she said, more to herself than anyone else. She set the key back down on the table in front of her. ‘Tash?’ she reached out a hand to take one of his, feeling more ill at ease than before.

‘Well, I am happy to put off any discussion of weighty matters until the morrow,’ said Prince Margis cheerily. ‘But I could not rest with that burning in my pouch, knowing it to be yours.’

‘Thank you again,’ said Josie. She squeezed Tash’s hand.

‘May I fill your cup, Lady Josie?’ asked the Prince.

Josie flinched. ‘No, thank you.’ The return of the key had brought the circumstances in which it was taken from her vividly back to mind. She clutched on to Tash as though his hand was all that kept her from falling into an abyss.

‘As you wish, Lady Josie,’ replied the Prince.

‘I think the Lady Josie may be tired, my Prince,’ said Jardil smoothly. ‘I find I am also weary after our long journey. And there are some few tasks we must still accomplish this afternoon.’

‘Er -of course,’ said Prince Margis. ‘Perhaps you will be so kind as to excuse us, Lady Josie?’

‘Yes, certainly,’ said Josie. ‘Please make yourselves at home in the castle. You are quite right. I find I am quite tired after all the excitement.’ She picked up the key and stood. ‘Thank you.’

***

That evening Margis and Jardil walked together in the garden where Tash had once been a statue. Only the statue of the queen remained now, tumbled and broken into pieces on the ground, and the lawn that the ifrits had kept in good repair was a wilderness of weeds with a few well-worn trails running through it. Beyond the edge where the garden fell precipitously away, the sun was setting in a blaze of colour – for there were great fires or dust storms far away, and since midday the horizon had been hidden in haze.

‘Jardil, she is more beguiling than ever I imagined,’ said Prince Margis with earnest enthusiasm. ‘There is something about her. When our hands touched, it was as if I touched fire. Oh, she is strange, Jardil, very strange and perilous, but I feel I am half in love with her already.’

Jardil walked on for a moment before answering. He plucked a dead twig from the honeysuckle vine and rolled it between his fingers. ‘But there is Tash, the creature she calls her husband.’

‘In truth, I never dreamed to see such a thing,’ said Margis, ‘I still cannot believe it. She does not seem ensorcelled. It truly seems as if she commands the beast. And she- she-‘ Margis shook his head in honest bewilderment. ‘Jardil, can it really but that she- that they-‘

‘Would it make any difference to your designs, my Prince?’ asked Jardil. ‘We know she is not a virgin. She has a son.’

Margis regarded the sunset. It looked as if the edge of the world had caught fire. ‘No,’ he said, slowly and carefully. ‘No, I suppose it would not. As I said, I am already half in love with her. No, two-thirds.’

‘Well then, you must go on as you had planned,’ said Jardil.

‘Yes,’ said Margis. There was another long moment before he spoke again to his advisor.

‘Jardil, do you think she cannot be parted from him?’

‘I know the ways of a man with a woman, my Prince, and I know you well, and I judge there will be no great difficulty in parting her from the creature; but parting the creature from her, that will be another matter.’

‘Ah,’ said Margis, gazing at the sunset.

***

At the same time Tash and Josie were talking in the chambers where the evil magician had once lived. The curtains were drawn and no light was lit, but Tash was well used to the gloom.

‘I did not expect it,’ said Josie. ‘I suppose it is a sign. A sign that we have to open up the secret chamber and do something with the things there. And Blackbriar is here. It has to be a sign. Do you think it is a sign, Tash? A second chance, to set things right with the animals here and finish what Aslan wanted?’

‘He wanted you to go away,’ said Tash, smoothing the hair back from Josie’s forehead.

‘Maybe he has changed his mind. Since we made it clear we weren’t going, he made sure that these men came here – with the key, and with the dog.’ She sounded more frightened than she had allowed herself to sound in the presence of the Calormenes.

‘I don’t know,’ said Tash.

‘Maybe once we do what we are supposed to do, they will go again, and-‘ Josie fell silent.

‘And then it could stay like this,’ said Tash. ‘It would be good. I will hope.’ But it was hard to hope, since he had read the Books of Tash, and felt his destiny rumbling down upon him. ‘It could be you are right, and Aslan has changed his mind, and we are not doomed after all.’

‘Can you hear Gerald?’ asked Josie suddenly.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Tash.

‘I think I do,’ said Josie. ‘I will go get him.’ She rose hastily from their bed, threw a wrap around her shoulders, and went into the next room where the boy lay sleeping.

In Josie’s dream the wind had gotten hold of the loose edge of the tarpaulin, and it was flapping terribly. The rain lashed her face, and the wind swept her voice away, so the men whose job it was to fix the tarpaulin could not hear her instructions. It took a few moments after she awoke for her to realise that the sound of the tarpaulin had not stopped. It was coming from the shuttered window, and she prodded her husband.

‘Tash? Dear Tash?’

Tash mumbled something, and made a clumsy pacifying gesture with an arm at his wife as he slowly flickered into consciousness.

‘There’s something at the window, Tash,’ said Josie, and kissed the soft skin of his throat. ‘Dear Tash, can you see what it is?’ The sound that was not a tarpaulin flapping continued insistently.

Tash opened the shutters. A gust of wind and rain blew into the room – for that part of Josie’s dream had been quite accurate – and with it a very large bird. It was big enough to carry off a small child, and Tash turned instinctively to the corner where Gerald lay, curled up into a ball under his blankets.

‘Josie! It is an owl, I think.’ It was certainly the largest flying creature that had been in that chamber since the ifrits had been freed from their master, years before. Josie sat up in bed and listened to the bird as Tash closed the window and went to stand watch over the sleeping boy.

An owl can be very quiet when it choses, so it sounded disconcertingly as if no one was there at all to Josie. ‘A good evening to you, friend owl,’ she said.

‘Good evening,’ said the owl, hopping closer to Josie. ‘The Lion’s peace be with you. I am sorry to disturb you at this hour, but might I ask- are you Miss Josephine Furness?’

The owl’s voice sounded as exhausted as might be expected from a creature that has been flying through a stormy night. It had that aura of authority that comes not from any natural superiority, but from being the bearer of some important office – a borrowed authority.

‘Yes, I was Miss Furness,’ said Josie, speaking as regally as you can manage when you are sitting up in bed with a blanket held up under your chin. ‘You can call me Josie – er, Lady Josie. This is my husband Tash, and my son Gerald.’

‘My name is Ofrak. It pleases me to meet you more than I can say, Lady Josie.’

Josie could not remember – was that the name of the owl the gazelles had said had brought them news, long before, when she had first come to this world? The unease she had felt at the first entry of the talking bird grew.

‘You are welcome here in Telmar as long as you wish,’ said Josie.

‘You are very generous,’ replied the owl.

‘Oh, I suppose I should get out of bed,’ said Josie, more to herself than anyone else. ’Can you hand me my nightdress, dear Tash? Thank you.’

‘To what do we owe the honour of your visit?’ asked Josie, getting out of bed and into her nightdress.

‘I am a herald of Prince Margis,’ said Ofrak.

At the sound of this name Josie twitched as if she had just heard a human footstep in a room she had just left and knew to be empty. This was a name she was quite sure she remembered. ‘Prince Margis?’

‘Yes. He has sent me ahead to scout out the Vale of Telmar. He will be here in a few days. I think five; certainly no more than a week.’

‘This is unexpected,’ said Josie, swallowing hard.

‘As you may know, Prince Margis had planned to journey here several years ago,’ said the owl, its voice growing more pompous in the way Josie had always halfway imagined an owl might talk. ‘But his Lordship had to postpone this venture when word came to him of his brother’s death, when he had barely reached the edge of the marches. Some time later rumour came to Balan that the sorceror had died, and that a new sorceress had taken over Telmar. It was said even that this new sorceress, begging your pardon, was none other than a girl that had been spoken of by certain talking animals some time before – which was yourself, Miss Josephine – Lady Josie. Last spring Prince Margis had things sufficiently in hand in Balan to set out again on his quest, which he has wisely done so with the aid of certain of the talking animals of Calormen, among which number I am proud to be one.’

While Ofrak had spoken Josie had moved over to where Tash stood and taken his hand. ‘What does the Prince want here?’ she asked.

‘To find the secrets of Telmar. To rescue you, if you are in need of rescue. To do you honour, if you are not. Should you,’ the owl paused, and continued in an apologetic tone, ‘be an enemy, to defeat you.’

‘That is very well,’ said Josie, not feeling at all reassured. ‘You can let Prince Margis know that I am no enemy to him.’

‘Of course, Lady Josie,’ said the owl.

‘Are there many of his party?’ asked Josie.

‘Beside myself, his Lordship travels with his advisor Jardil, who was his father’s cup companion, five men-at-arms of Balan, and a talking gazelle, Mirilitha.’

The name Mirilitha swam up out of depths of Josie’s memory. Yes, she remembered a Mirilitha – she had been one of the gazelles who had accompanied her on the journey that was supposed to deliver her to this Prince Margis.

‘Mirilitha? Then the gazelles-‘ Josie paused.

‘Brought news of your arrival to Prince Margis, yes. And of your abduction. His Lordship regrets very much that he did not come earlier to your rescue. It was thought at first that you were surely dead – for no stories before speak of anyone who has returned from the grasp of the sorceror’s ifrits. Then the stories came that the sorceror had been slain, and later, that a sorceress ruled in Telmar.’

Josie murmured a meaningless polite reply to the owl. It had been nearly three years of peace, living in the Vale of Telmar in the crumbling castle of the magician Yustus; three years that had not always been easy, years that had sometimes felt to Josie more like being in a prison than being mistress of her own domain, but years that had been uncomplicated by any interruptions from outside the valley. There had been no more earthquakes, no more summons to embark on quests. In those three years Josie had felt smothered sometimes by Tash’s devotion, which had not faded a whit since the night they promised themselves to each other. It did not feel right to have a husband who was always so unquestioningly obedient. And the boy – well, she loved him now, but he had been selfish and demanding from the beginning, as children are when they are very young, and she was too young to be properly patient with him, and it was a rare day even now that she did not remember how cruelly he had been foisted on her, a punishment or a twisted consolation prize for refusing to carry out Aslan’s quest.

Those years were over now, for better or for worse.

There was a stirring from Gerald’s bed, and then an excited voice made it evident that two bright little eyes were staring in an intrigued way at the owl.

‘What is it, Daddy?’ asked the boy.

‘It’s an owl,’ said Tash. ‘A talking owl.’ He picked up the boy and held him up where he could see the bird better.

‘Why?’ asked Gerald.

‘It’s a visitor,’ said Tash. ‘We are going to have visitors.’ And he squeezed his wife’s hand reassuringly.

‘I remember Mirilitha,’ said Josie to Ofrak. ‘She is a fine gazelle.’

‘What’s a gazelle?’ asked Gerald.

‘They are like deer,’ said Tash in a small voice to Gerald. ‘I have never seen one either.’

‘As I said, you are welcome here, Ofrak,’ said Josie. ‘There are rats enough in the castle, God knows – I expect you eat rats? But is there anything else you require?’

‘Rats are fine, Lady Josie,’ said the owl. ‘All I need otherwise is a dry place to rest, thank you very much.’

‘It eats rats?’ said Gerald, his voice tinged with awe.

‘It seems so,’ said Tash. ‘We should not, though.’

‘What do they taste like?’ Gerald asked the visitor.

Josie ignored this exchange and spoke with the owl. ‘When you are rested enough, you may let Prince Margis know that he and his company are also very welcome here. Now, I will show you to a place you can rest. I wonder what hour it is?’

‘My apologies,’ said Ofrak. ‘There are still three hours until dawn.’

‘It is not unknown for us to wake at this hour,’ said Josie. For the first time, she showed that she was aware that Gerald was awake, running her fingers through his hair and smiling ever so slightly.

***

The last of the clouds that had brought the night’s rain were dissipating in ragged shreds, and the wind shook the leafless branches of the poplars, as Prince Margis and his band followed the path along the little river that Ofrak had said led to the Vale of Telmar. They rode in the steady way of men who have ridden a very long way already and expect to ride a great deal further still, and have no hope of a change of horses in the foreseeable future.

‘There must be some ensorcellment lying about the evil place yet,’ said Prince Margis, with an earnestness creasing the youthful brow of a man used to blithely confronting his enemies head on. ‘Why else would she call the creature her husband?’

‘From the tale the thief told it is the very beast that rescued her from their clutches,’ said his advisor, whose brow was permanently creased from long habit. ‘The gratitude of women is less swayed by incidentals than the corresponding emotion of men, and a deformity that would seem appalling to us, in a woman, would seem but a trifle to a woman, in a man.’

‘True,’ mused Prince Margis. ‘You only have to look at Captain Jorjis and his wives. But still, her husband?’

‘With respect, my Prince,’ said Jardil. ‘If she truly is from another world, who knows what may be expected or excused in a woman of power?’

‘Surely not, Jardil,’ said the Prince. ‘You must not entertain such thoughts. It must be some misunderstanding of speech.’

‘It may be,’ said Jardil.

‘But the child. How could she come by the child?’ mused Prince Margis, his brow still uncharacteristically troubled.

‘The way such things happen is well established,’ said Jardil drily.

‘But how could- who could- never mind.’ For they had reached a narrow stony place, and it was needful to ride in single file.

Jardil did not approve of speaking of such things in front of the common soldiers. The news the owl had brought had been alarming, true, but one could not expect a woman who had come from another world to be in any way ordinary. You could not demand a woman obey ordinary rules, when she had bested a sorceror who had been feared for hundreds of years. The best that one could hope for was that she was fundamentally honourable, and receptive to the proposal the Prince Margis brought. After all, one could not heave a stone in Balan without striking a demure virgin of good family: but there was only one Lady Josie of Telmar. If only the Prince would think more strategically, and less romantically, thought Jardil. The advisor would have sighed, if he was not so used to divorcing his interior life from his outward actions.

Prince Margis proceeded first up the narrow path, with the boldness proper to Princes of Calormen. His dog, a black bitch he had befriended in the Marches some years before, scampered up alongside him. Jardil followed, with Ofrak perched imperturbably asleep atop his saddlebags, and behind him the slim gazelle Mirilitha. The five men at arms brought up the rear, loyal men of Calormen who had served the household of the King from their earliest youth, hopeful that they were reaching a comfortable stopping place but alert to any mischance.

It had been a long journey with very little comfort in it, and a great deal of miserable weather, but Prince Margis had kept his beard neatly trimmed and his hair oiled, and expected his company to do the same. Prince Margis himself, while a very fit and well-proportioned man, was no more handsome than the ordinary run of his people (the average man of Calormen of that time was much fitter than an average Englishman of our time, for they had not yet acquired slaves or any of the other things that incline a people to lethargy). Most of Prince Margis’s loyal manservants would have been judged more handsome than he, if they were dressed in the same finery. The prince had a helpful harmless sort of face – a face that would have suited a waiter rather than a prince; and you would have never taken him for a headwaiter. When he was called upon to act as a prince he wore quite a different face over this first face, like a mask, but it did not fit him naturally.

Jardil had been handsome in his youth, but was one of those men who do not age into what is called distinguished, but become creased and gaunt through worry. He did not lament it. Life was complicated enough without the distractions of youth.

‘Lord Jardil?’

‘Mirilitha?’ Jardil replied coolly to the gazelle, who had come up to walk beside his horse as the path broadened again.

‘If you will forgive me speaking to you as if I too were a Son of Frank, what do you think of Ofrak’s news?’ The animal cast her head about in her nervous gazelle fashion.

‘I am not sure I follow you, Mirilitha.’ Jardil looked straight ahead. Overhead cypress trees, gnarled and ancient, blocked out the sun. He did not like this place.

‘Lady Josie,’ the gazelle paused. ‘You have lived a long time, Lord Jardil, and had many dealings with many Sons of Frank and Daughters of Helen in that time. Lady Josie was friendly when I met her, long before, but do you think she will still be friendly? Do you think she will agree to return with the Prince?’

Jardil did not wholly approve that Mirilitha and Ofrak had been brought along on this journey. He saw the usefulness of having them, and went along with Prince Margis’ designs without complaint, as he also saw the usefulness in many other things of which he did not wholly approve, and went along with them. He was a practical man. He was also a political man, and he hid his disapproval well, indeed so well that both the talking beasts were more likely to confide in him than in any of the others. It was still necessary for them to maintain a proper deference towards men, of course.

‘Nothing is ever certain,’ said Jardil. ‘But from Ofrak’s report, the Lady Josie has her wits about her, and I think she will see the wisdom in the Prince’s proposal.’

‘I did not mean any disrespect to the Lady Josie,’ said Mirilitha humbly.

‘I am sure you did not, Mirilitha,’ replied Jardil. ‘But there is no profit in asking me these questions. All will be made clear soon enough.’

‘Yes, Lord Jardil,’ said Mirilitha.

The prince’s company walked forward silently through the forest, the shadows growing thicker as the sun descended behind the mountains.

If Josie had been by herself she would have sat down and cried and cried; and if Tash had been well she would have curled up in his arms and cried and cried and cried; but he was terribly hurt, and it was up to her to help him. She could not let herself think about what had happened. The most important thing was to take it easy moving through the forest, and not trip over and break her own leg.

Josie felt in front of her and to the sides with her willow switch, pausing every few steps to listen for the sound of the water. The birds made this difficult. There was one particular sort with a parrot-like screech that kept having noisy family arguments in the treetops. She cursed the birds, and she cursed herself. How could she have let herself be captured? How could she have been so stupid as to drink what the brigands gave her? There must have been something she could have done to escape, before- before. She angrily pushed all such thoughts out of her head and concentrated on finding the stream.

Despite her brave talk to Tash, Josie had almost never gone for a walk out of doors alone in country that she had not explored before in company, especially rough country like the sort they were travelling through. Just for a moment, when she first considered how far she already come from Tash, she was struck by a wave of paralysing fear. ‘Get a hold of yourself, girl,’ she told herself firmly. ‘He is waiting for you.’

Josie found the stream, narrowly avoiding tumbling down a steep bank. In full summer there was probably only a tiny trickle of water here, or nothing at all, but when she came there it was flowing well. She filled the canteen, poured cold water on her aching head, and then quickly washed between her legs. A wave of nausea hit her while she tried to get rid of the smell of Ormuz, and she found herself throwing up again on the bank of the stream. ‘Damn that man to Hell,’ she said.

After throwing up she had to wash her face, and while doing this she found that the ruby key around her neck was missing.

‘Damn that man to Hell,’ she said again. ‘Damn him to Hell.’ She wondered for a moment what Tash had actually done to that man, wiped her face dry with her sleeve, and started off determinedly to find her husband, carefully retracing her path.

Josie began calling out to Tash once she reached the edge of the meadow, more and more nervously as she advanced. At last she heard a faint answering cry. It was behind her, and not so far away.

‘Dear Tash,’ she said, moving toward him as fast as she dared.

‘Josie,’ murmured Tash, scrabbling weakly for her hand. She took one of his and gripped it between her two hands. ‘I am here,’ she told him. ‘I am here.’

‘I think I fell asleep,’ said Tash indistinctly.

He was in a bad way. Josie was sure he felt much warmer than he usually did, and she was also sure he had not moved at all while she was away, just lain there in the meadow. She was aghast at how much blood had spilled out on the grass while he lay there. He was still bleeding in so many places. She cleaned the wounds as best she could with the water she had brought. Tash hissed when she cleaned them, but only a little; he was growing too weak.

When Tash’s wounds were clean Josie attempted to bandage them with her spare clothes. The wound in Tash’s arm was not hard to wrap, but the great gash in his side was almost impossible to cover. She tore a dress almost in two with a great deal of effort and wrapped it around him, but there was not enough padding over the wound, and blood had seeped through it before she was finished. It did not seem to have achieved anything, except to hurt Tash a great deal.

‘I’m sorry, Tash,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘I am alright,’ he said, very weakly and indistinctly.

‘No, you are not alright,’ she said. ‘There is no way you will ever get back to Telmar like this. Listen, Tash,’ she said, making a sudden irrevocable decision. ‘I brought an apple with me – one of the magic apples. You must eat it.’

‘I thought you said-‘ began Tash.

‘I would not say so if I didn’t think- if I didn’t-‘ Josie angrily wiped tears from her face. ‘Oh, dear Tash, I am so sorry.’ She had dumped her bag out on the grass to get her clothes to bandage Tash with, and as she had rummaged through them she could smell thescent of the apple on them. It was riper and stronger than when they had begun their journey, but still fresh after who can know how many years.

Josie fetched the apple and brought it to Tash. ‘Tash? Dear Tash?’

Tash croaked a response, but Josie could not tell what he meant to say. ‘Eat this,’ she said to Tash. ‘It will make you feel better. I know I said it was wrong to be immortal, but I would rather do wrong than let you die. Here.’ She held the apple in front of Tash’s beak, but he did not take it.

Tash croaked again, lay still, than raised his head and said three words clearly: ‘Not without you.’

‘Fine,’ said Josie, tears streaming down her face. ‘Fine.’ She took a large bite out of the apple – it was sweet without being cloying and perfectly crisp, with a faint flavour that reminded Josie not of vanilla as such, but of something in the vanilla-bush wind she had smelled as she had tumbled into this new world. She did not swallow the bite, but took it out of her mouth and gave it to Tash.

‘Open,’ she told him, kissing his beak, and he opened his beak a crack and let her put it in his mouth.

Josie took another bite of the apple and swallowed it. At once, she could feel a warmth from it seeping through her whole body, like the warmth of the almost-sherry Ormuz had given her. She pushed the momentary thought of her helplessness away. She was not that person any more. And where that had been an evil warmth, this was a good warmth. She knew it. She felt again that sensation of stepping out into a void, of turning her face toward a storm, that she had when she had agreed to marry Tash.

Josie took a third bite from the apple and fed it to Tash. ‘You will be alright now,’ she told him. ‘We will be alright.’ Tash did not speak, and did not make sounds of pain, and his eyes were closed, but when she put the apple in his mouth he ate it.

Josie kept on in this way alternating bites with Tash until the apple was gone, even the woody core; but she saved the seeds and wrapped them up in the bit of silk the apple had been in.

The warmth spread through Josie and settled in every part of her: to abide there forever, she felt certain. She felt calm and fulfilled, as if she had at last come out of a canyon onto a high plateau where the wind and sun could play freely on her face. It did not seem to matter at that moment at all that she had refused the quest she had been charged with, or that it had foretold by Aslan that her life with Tash would only last a little while, or that she had been raped the night before. She would feel horrible about all those things later, she knew; but at that moment she felt perfectly balanced and in control, satisfied as she had never been satisfied before. She wondered what would happen to her now, and to Tash now, now that they had eaten of the apples that were meant to make them live forever, but she wondered this in a perfectly calm way, like it they were all things that might have happened to characters in a story Gerry was reading to her while she lay safe and warm in bed.

After the last bite of the apple Tash had fallen quite asleep without saying anything, but he already felt less feverish to Josie’s touch, and she could not feel any fresh blood through the bandaged wounds.

‘Tash,’ she said, and kissed his head between his eyes.

She sat beside him, breathing slowly, savouring the feel of the air and the smell of the flowers and the sounds of the meadow around her.

‘I think it is safe to sleep now,’ said Josie to herself. She lay down beside Tash, very carefully so as not to jar any of his wounds, and a moment later was fast in a deep and dreamless sleep.

 

Tash had felt the same sense of relief Josie had when they bid goodbye to Blackbriar and turned their faces back towards Telmar, a sense that he was turning back to a nest of safety in a dangerous and irritating world. The empty blue lands had called to him, and part of him would have liked to stride out across them, seeing new places each day and meeting peculiar new people; but the greater part of him wanted only to return to the place where he had a good idea of where everything was, and people were unlikely to bother him, and he could curl up with Josie whenever they liked.

This camp by the riverside was a good something-in-between, and he had quite enjoyed their brief holiday there. It was a pity that Josie was still so tired, and had stayed behind at their camp, he thought: but she was never patient with fishing anyway, and she would be pleased with what he had found for her when he came back.

Tash had spent longer than he had expected to, cheerfully tracking the big fish to their deep lurking pool and gathering two of them. By the time he returned to Josie the cloudless sky was a pink shading to grey, and the birds of evening were making their first tentative forays across it. He tarried a little to watch them from time to time, fascinated; they were such interesting creatures, like nothing he had known on his old world.

Josie had not yet lit the fire, Tash noticed as he drew nearer. Perhaps she had fallen asleep? He hurried on, feeling uneasy, and became very much more so when he found no sign of Josie at the camp.

‘Josie?’ he called out. ‘Josie!’

Tash cast about for any signs of his wife. In one place the bracken underfoot seemed to have been trampled by some large creature; in a soft patch of earth by the river, there was the booted footprint of a man. Strangers had been here. Josie had gone with them. No, she had been taken. She would not have gone willingly. She would not have left everything so scattered about. And he could smell that she had been afraid.

The light was failing, and it was not clear which way the strangers had gone. Tash crouched down at the edge of the camp, put his arms over his head and tried to think. He had come from upriver and had heard or seen nothing; perhaps they had come from downriver? If any of them were still near, they were sure to find him; he had shouted lfor Josie loud enough. He crouched for a few long minutes, forcing himself to breathe slowly, listening as hard as he could. He heard nothing but the birds and the river. When no one came, he got to his feet and struck off into the shadowy forest.

Tash saw the fire of the brigands’ camp about three hours into the night after he had walked a wide circle through the woods, frightening woodland creatures as he passed them by. While he walked he had forced himself to stay calm, to conserve his energy, making himself into an instrument for finding Josie, but when he saw the light he began to seethe with rage. Who were these men, to take his Josie? Tash quickened his stride and moved towards the flickering flames, dimly aware of the voices of men and the noises of beasts already alarmed at his approach.

‘Halt!’ called a voice. ‘Name yourself, if you are man or talking beast.’ It was the voice of a human man, but Tash could tell nothing more about it.

‘Where is Josie?’ Tash called in response.

‘Put down your weapons, and advance slowly,’ said the voice. Then it said, ‘By the Lion!’, for Tash had not slowed at all on being told to halt, but had continued to stride angrily on, and his bulk had just become visible on the edge of the firelight. Horses whinnied in alarm, and men scurried for their weapons. They were dark men like Yustus, Tash saw, but most were taller and more heavyset than he had been, and they wore unkempt beards.

‘Halt!’ called one of the men, pointing a complicated sort of bow at Tash.

‘Where is Josie?’ called Tash again, his voice rising to an inhuman roar.

‘What is that beast?’ called one of the men. ‘He is a monster from Telmar,’ said another, and raised his hands to his face in a sign to ward off evil. But the men who had more of their wits about them had swords in their hands, or arrows notched to bowstrings, so there were a good half-dozen weapons pointed at Tash by the time he was near enough to feel the heat of the fire.

‘I don’t know of any Josie,’ said a smooth voice that seemed to hold less fear than the others. The man who belonged to this voice had come striding up swiftly at the first sounds of alarm, and now stood closer to Tash than any of the men who had their weapons trained on him. This man had a beard that was more neatly trimmed than the others, and wore a polished leather breastplate with the image of some insect embossed on it. He spoke as if he met apparitions such as Tash as a matter of course, and held his curved sword in a way that somehow contrived to be neither defensive nor aggressive. A leader must never show fear before his followers, Tash remembered learning on the world of the Thalarka. This one is afraid of me, like the others, but he cannot show it.

‘Is Josie a creature like yourself? Or is it a man you seek?,’ asked the smooth-voiced man. ‘For it might be that we seek the same man. Tell me more, and it may be we can help one another.’

The man stepped took another step closer, keeping his eyes fixed on Tash and his voice calm and steady. ‘We are looking-‘ he began, but he did not finish.

Tash could smell Josie on the smooth-voiced man. With a cry of inarticulate rage, he lashed out. The man was quick with his sword, and brought his blade in position to block Tash’s blow, but the strength that would have stopped a strong human warrior’s swordarm was not enough to stop Tash. The sword cut deep into Tash’s arms, and in one of them stopped at bone; but the other arm carried through and struck the man’s throat, with force enough that things inside it splintered. The man staggered backward, dropping his weapon, gurgling and clutching at the air.

‘Kill it!’ called a man. Tash felt arrows tearing into his flesh, and heard the sickening sound they made as they stuck there. The bowmen had encircled him, so they could not fire high for fear of hitting one another, and most of their shots struck him in the legs.

One man was bolder than the others and came at Tash with his sword. The blade stabbed deep into Tash’s side a little above his waist. Without thinking, Tash brought his beak down into the man’s neck, cutting through artery and windpipe in a single swift bite. The intrepid swordsman’s momentum carried him forward and he fell behind Tash, fountaining blood.

Tash had never been in so much pain, but he did not care. He kicked at the fire, sending up a storm of dancing sparks. Another arrow sank deeply into his back. The taste of the brigand’s blood was sweet in his mouth.

‘Where is Josie?’ he shouted.

‘Keep your distance,’ said one of the men, waving the others back. ‘Keep shooting it. It is too strong.’

The horses were maddened by Tash’s violence and now one broke free of its bonds, kicking wildly and careening wildly off into the darkness. Curses, screams, and inarticulate conflicting orders filled the air. The tear in Tash’s side burned and bled.

Tash pounced to the nearest of the brigands, a bowman who was fumbling to notch another arrow to his bowstring, and broke both his arms in one motion, twisting them like saplings.

‘Where is Josie?’ he cried again. ‘Where is she?’ More arrows struck Tash, but no other swordsman dared to come near. He grabbed a tentpole and drove it through the chest of one of the bowmen who was not standing quite far enough away.

‘The monster will kill us all,’ called one of the men.

Inexorably, irresistibly, heedless of his wounds, Tash hacked his way through the camp, searching for his wife. The brigands fell away before him. The man whose arms Tash had broken wailed in agony. Red foam bubbled from the mouth of the one Tash had impaled with the tentpole.

‘In the commander’s tent,’ called a man with an angular face, one of those who had held back from the fight. ‘The wine-red tent. The girl is in there.’

Tash tore into the big wine-red tent, which was still too small for him to stand upright in. On a bed of blankets at the rear of it Josie lay insensible, her legs showing white in the darkness. She smelled of the smooth-voicced man.

‘Josie?’ Tash gathered her up. She lay limply in his arms, but she groaned at the sound of his voice, and he could not see any wound on her. She was alive.

A wild exultant happiness welled up in Tash. ‘Sweeter than narbul venom is it to serve the Mistress of Telmar,’ he intoned in a soft voice, wrapping his arms around Josie to protect her. He did not leave the tent the way he entered – he could hear the men coming cautiously closer to the front – but instead tore his way through the cloth at the back, bringing the tent down behind him as he fled. A few steps further they were in darkness, and Tash loped off towards the river.

At first Tash did not think of the pain at all in his joy at having Josie back. After a very little while, though, he found he could only carry her with three arms. The fourth, the one the leader of the brigands had struck with his sword, hung stiff and useless. The cries of the men carried a long way in the still night, but it did not seem that they were following, and they grew fainter and fainter as Tash crashed through the darkness. At the river side he paused. He needed to set Josie down to do two things: to gather up their things, and to remove the arrows sticking into him. The one in his back was the worst, for he wrenched it sideways as he pulled it out, and afterwards it hurt him even more than the wound in his side. It was hard to gather up Josie and start again, harder than he had thought it would be; his arms and legs felt too heavy, and he felt dizzy. And he hurt, worse and worse.

After he forded the river Tash could no longer run, only walk. With Josie clutched unconscious to his chest he walked on until dawn, then for two hours after, while the birds sang and the sun shone down on meadows carpeted with blue and white flowers. The world occasionally spun giddily around him or bucked unexpectedly, but he ignored this and walked on.

Tash had never been in so much pain for so long, and he had rarely been so tired, but he was not miserable. It was true that he had failed in allowing Josie to be captured, but he had not been at all useless in rescuing her. He had not failed Josie as he had failed Nera. He had cut through the brigands who had captured Josie: inexorably, irresistibly, and he had saved his wife. Now he would go home with her and be safe. He clung to this thought as he walked on, and it kept him happy despite all his pain.

Tash did not feel sorry for the brigands, and think that any of them might have been poor farmers’ sons impressed against their will, with doting sisters at home who would cry when they heard they were dead. Chances are that none of them were, at any rate; and if humans are not often brought up to think of their enemies in such a way, thalarka were brought up even less so when Tash was growing up.

The pain from the wound in Tash’s side had somehow spread to that whole side of his body, and from time to time he had to stop entirely as a spasm of pain went through him.

‘Tash?’ said Josie muzzily.

‘Josie?’ Tash clutched her a bit more tightly to him, and turned to look at her. Her face was paler than usual and she looked thoroughly miserable.

‘I am so glad you are here, dear Tash,’ she said, in a small weak voice. ‘I love you. Can you put me down? I feel sick.’

‘I love you,’ said Tash tenderly, carefully setting Josie down on the grass. She did not stand, or even sit properly at first, but slumped forward, holding her face just off the ground with her hands. She threw up, and then very slowly and carefully stood up, with Tash helping as much as he could manage.

‘Bleh,’ said Josie. ‘Oh, I am so glad you are here.’ She sounded a little better, Tash thought. It was so very very good to hear her voice again, even if it seemed further away then usual.

‘How are you?’ Tash asked her. ‘Did they hurt you?’

‘My head hurts, I feel ill, and – your arm is all over blood, Tash. Poor Tash. Oh, I am so sorry.’ Josie sounded very alarmed.

‘I am alright,’ said Tash. This was not true. The wound in his side had hurt him more and more as he walked, and the flow of blood from it had not stopped, trickling all the way to his feet.

‘No, you are hurt,’ said Josie. She felt him over gently, finding many of his wounds. ‘You are all over blood. Poor Tash. This one is very deep.’ He twitched and hissed at her gentlest touch, the pain making it hard for him to keep standing. ‘Oh, poor Tash, you have been hurt terribly. You must sit down.’

‘I can keep going,’ said Tash. ‘I want to get home.’

‘You are shaking,’ said Josie. ‘And over warm. Sit. Put the packs down.’

Tash obeyed. It was very easy to sit down when he began. The soft grass seemed to drag him to it. The ground rocked gently beneath him, and above him clouds made lazy circles in the painfully blue sky. In the end he found himself more lying down than sitting.

‘What happened to you?’ Tash asked Josie. He lay with his eyes closed, happy that Josie was there, waiting to hear her voice again.

Josie did not answer Tash’s question. ‘There is no water in the canteen,’ she said after a moment. ‘Is there any water near?’

‘There was a stream not long ago,’ said Tash. ‘I will take you there.’

‘No,’ said Josie firmly. ‘I think I can hear it. I will be very careful; you don’t have to worry about me. I feel much better now.’

‘I wish you could stay,’ he said mournfully.

‘I am not going far,’ she said. ‘I will be right back. Just rest for a while, dear Tash, I will be back before you know it.’ She kissed the soft downy bit of his neck and left, and he was very sorry that she was leaving, but he did not complain.

Tash listened to Josie moving slowly off across the meadow, breaking a switch from a willow, and then moving more slowly into the forest. He felt very heavy. The world, which had not rocked or spun for a while after he lay down, started to move again. He found if he stayed very still and tried to breathe very shallowly it seemed to hurt a little bit less. He tried hard to concentrate on doing this, at the same time listening hard for the sounds of Josie in the distance.