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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘It is time to go home,’ said Aslan.

‘Home?’ said Josie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I slipped,’ said Josie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the tale of Love there are times

Other than the past, the present and the future;

Times for which no names have yet been coined.