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There were only two irritating things about the next few days. First, the gazelles were all much swifter than Josie and did not find it easy to slow themselves down, so they spent a good deal of the time darting off ahead or to the side on extra journeys. Even Murbitha, who made a point of keeping close by Josie at all times, had a disconcerting habit of walking in circles around her as they talked. They could not help it, she knew: they were just a different kind of creature. But their swiftness made her feel very slow and lumpish and irritable. The other irritating thing was that she did not have anything to carry water in, and while the gazelles had no trouble at all going without a drink for a whole day between waterholes, the time between drinks was much longer than Josie had ever been used to out of doors and she finished every day thirsty and sore in the head. She asked Murbitha about gourds, but it was the wrong time of year to find dry ones, and digging out the middle of a rock-hard pumpkin a bit smaller than her fist with a sharp stick made a very unsatisfactory canteen.

On the other hand, Josie felt herself growing stronger each day. She would not have dreamed that she could spend all day walking in the sun and awake each morning feeling able to get up and do it again. After a few unpleasantnesses her digestion had adjusted to eating almost nothing but fruit. She had a goal to work toward, and did not think about what would happen after they met up with Margis and the men, nor did she often worry about those she had left behind on her own world. The land they walked over was flat, with soft grass underfoot and hardly any fallen logs to trip over, and the gazelles were excellent company when they were not wandering off. Mirilitha told her the names of the stars, and Murbitha told her stories of the doings of Caladru’s people since they had first come to the March Plain of Sha, and Zadru and Kodoru told her what bird made what sound, and what plant was good for what ailment. They were a gossipy people, and what they loved to talk about best was what other gazelles who were not there were doing, so they all enjoyed being away from the tribe for this reason. Josie learned much more than she needed to about which of Caladru’s wives was in favour, and which ones spoilt their children the worst, and who was sneaking off to meet whom.

At night they always sang. Usually Murbitha only sang a little, and then Mirilitha and the two young gentleman gazelles sung in turn. When Josie first listened carefully to the words, she felt her cheeks grow hot. ‘Are they courting her?’ she whispered to Murbitha.

‘Not in a serious way,’ the gazelle replied. ‘They will get in each other’s way too much for anything dangerous to happen. Even so, if Mirilitha does not foal we will pretend not to notice.’

‘Oh,’ said Josie, blushing more strongly.

‘Properly, our herd is too large, Josie. When Radamatha was my age it was three or four smaller herds that only met at festivals. But Caladru will not hear of it. So his hold has to be looser than it should be, to keep the young males from challenging him.’

Josie thought for a moment. ‘So… when you are of age, you all marry Caladru?’

‘Yes,’ said Murbitha. ‘I have been with the Prince already, so it would be a greater insult for Kodoru or Zadru to court me. But Mirilitha has not.’

‘But you were standing with the young ladies, when you were all together,’ said Murbitha. ‘I thought it was just the older ones with the children who were Caladru’s wives.’

‘And when I bear a child, then I will stand with them,’ said Murbitha. ‘That is how it is done. But I do not intend to for some years yet.’

‘I don’t quite understand,’ said Josie.

‘Radamatha says I should learn all that she knows before I am distracted with a foal. I cannot refuse the Prince, but if I feel stirrings within me, there is a plant with white hairs on the leaves that I can eat. Radamatha showed me where it grows, in the shady hollows on rocky ground.’

Josie felt a strange prickling at the back of her neck, like she too was a leaf covered with white hairs. ‘I don’t like to think of such things,’ she said.

‘You should, though,’ said Murbitha. ‘You are going to dwell among the Sons of Frank. Their ways are not so different from ours.’


The next day they were met by a pair of talking rock-badgers  – ‘Hyraxes, if you please,’ they said when they introduced themselves. Their voices were deeper than Josie would have expected for creatures of their size.

“We heard there was a Daughter of Helen abroad in the land, and Tabsoon and I thought we should come and pay our respects,” said Shafana, the lady hyrax. She stood comfortably on her hind legs and came up to Josie’s navel. Her husband stood a few paces behind and to the side, leaning against a tree. “Yes, when I heard from Ofrak the owl, I told Shafana, here’s a chance that won’t come again soon, we should put a basket together and give the Lady a proper welcome.’

‘Thank you very much,’ said Josie, taking the basket Shafana offered.

‘We reckoned you would be tired of eating grass, travelling with the Sons of Tsvi and Daughters of Tsviah, fine folk as they are,’ said Tabsoon.

‘We hope you like it,’ said Shafana.

Josie felt through the basket and found she liked enough of it to manage quite a cheerful reply. There were some small freshly killed lizards in it, and also rather a lot of grubs, and some twisted roots that seemed quite unlike food; but also some quite recognisable onions and a great many nuts and seeds that would doubtless be very tasty.

‘It is just what I wanted,’ said Josie politely.  The two hyraxes beamed with pleasure.

‘The nutmegs are just there for flavouring the grubs,’ said Shafana. ‘You mustn’t try to eat them whole.’

‘Did Ofrak speak to you of the other men, my good hyraxes?’ asked Murbitha.

‘She said they were still about two days man-walk off, camped at the stone thing made by the old King,’ said Tabsoon. ‘It looked like they might be there a while. I suppose men like to hang about man things.’

‘It is good that they are staying still,’ said Murbitha. ‘It will make it easier to catch up with them.’

‘Yes,’ said Josie, uncertainly.

‘We thank you for everything, but we should really get going – it is a long way to the next waterhole,’ said Murbitha.

‘Yes, I suppose we must,’ said Josie. ‘Thank you again.’

‘We wish you a very good journey, my Lady,’ said Shafana. ‘I hope you will end up somewhere pleasant soon, and not have to travel again.’

‘Yes, my Lady,’ said Tabsoon. ‘Travelling is terrible hard work, and we never do it if we can.’ Josie thought there might have been just a tinge of disapproval in his voice, as if he thought the proverbially wandering gazelles had dragged her off on a long trip for no particularly good reason.

‘I am in good company,’ said Josie. ‘And your gifts will make my trip more comfortable. But I am afraid I still have a very long way to go.’

‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Helen,’ said Shafana, misunderstanding her. ‘Every journey has its ending, and you’re among friends in this country.’

Josie smiled. ‘Yes, you’re quite right. Everyone here has been very good to me.’


The next day was the warmest yet, with another long walk across a dusty plain to water, and Josie was thoroughly miserable when they got there. ‘Look on the bright side, Josie,’ she told herself. ‘Tomorrow you will be among human beings again.’ It did not seem very like a bright side, despite the promise of warm food, blankets, and someone who might be able to fix her shoe.  Friendly talking animals were one thing; but a party of strange foreign men were a different thing entirely. Especially if what Murbitha had implied was true, and the Prince of the humans of Balan was anything like the Prince of gazelles. She was not old enough to worry about such things in Australia; but even in her own world some foreigners married their women off at an ungodly age.

‘Well, look on the other bright side,’ she told herself, trying again. ‘There is a proper deep pool here, not just a muddy puddle, so you can have a wash and clean your clothes and be something like a presentable human being when you meet the Prince tomorrow. Your hair will still be a ghastly mess, of course, but there is no help for that.’

You probably know how you can go on and on wearing the same sweaty clothes day after day if you are busy without noticing, and also how good it feels to finally get out of them and get clean again. Josie gave her clothes a good rinse in the pool, wrung them out, and hung them up to dry on a few bushes.  It was a pool in a shady spot and was still very cold, so that she could not quite get used to it after being in it for a few minutes, even though she did her usual habit of plunging her whole self under the water at once to get in. Josie would not have called the bottom of the pool pebbly, exactly; it was stones, some of them rather sharp, that were covered with slimy growing things, so after she had given herself a quick scrub all over she trod water and floated on her back in turns.

‘It is a luxury to be cold, on a day like this,’ she told herself. But it was not a luxury she found she could enjoy very long. So before her clothes had gotten anything like dry, she got dressed and returned to the gazelles. As she approached she heard they were quarrelling and he hung back, not wanting to intrude. They seemed to be quarrelling about her.

‘I know what Radamatha said, Murbitha,’ Mirilitha was saying. ‘What I am saying that Radamatha is wrong.’

‘So you would have her live with us for how long? Doing what?’

‘As long as it takes. If Aslan meant her to help the men, she would have appeared among the men. But she appeared among us. It has to be a sign.’


‘Radamatha’s wits are as dry as her udders.’

‘Who are you to talk, Mirilitha? You are hardly weaned!’

‘Peace, peace,’ interrupted Kodoru and Zadru.

‘Oh, it’s very well for you to say ‘peace’, but I am right and she is wrong, and how can there be peace between wrong and right?’ said Mirilitha indignantly.

The musical voices of the gazelles always became much more bleating and goatlike when they quarelled. Josie sighed and turned away. Breaking off a switch from one of the little willows that grew by the side of the pool, she felt her way cautiously in the opposite direction. This was the most pleasant place they had come to since the Lion’s Pool, but there was no broad meadow next to it with fruiting trees, only a plain of dry grass that cracked beneath her feet. She would go for a walk, just a little walk, and maybe by the time she came back they would have finished arguing about her. She walked into the wind, and their voices soon faded.

There had been quarrelling about what to do with her at home, too, after the accident, Josie remembered bitterly. She did not like reliving the memory, and tried to squash it down. She walked on a bit further, swinging her switch wildly in front of her.

Then she heard the flapping: a sudden flapping of very large wings, coming from what seemed to be straight above her head.

‘Josie!’ a gazelle called from the distance. Had she really walked that far?

‘Murbitha!’ she called back, as the flapping grew louder. At that moment hands reached out of the air and grabbed her arms. ‘Help me!’ The hands dragged her up into the sky as if she were a paper doll. Other hands grabbed her ankles, and the air rushed past her in what seemed a gale, whipping her cries away.  Voices of gazelles crying out for her were dim and panicked in the distance.  Josie twisted and bucked to try and free herself, but the hands held her as if they were made of steel.

‘Do you want us to drop you, little girl?’ said a voice. It was not a pleasant voice. ‘You would break into a thousand pieces. Be still.’

Evil-sounding laughter sounded around her. ‘Do you remember how the doe squealed, Eber?’ The one who spoke let go of her ankle for an instant, then snatched it out of the air again.

‘And the rabbits – don’t forget the rabbits!’ said the one at her other ankle.

‘This one is very soft,’ said the ankle-dropper, kneading her calf nastily with another hand. The hands of the things were dry and hot – not hot enough to burn, but far warmer than any living thing Josie had ever touched. Her arms and legs were pulled out painfully to the corners of a square, as if she was about to be torn apart by wild horses, and the creatures were carrying her almost flat, so that he head was only just above the level of her feet.

‘It is a long time since we caught a man,’ said one of her captors.

‘This is the sort called woman,’ said another one.

‘It will not be long until the next one,’ said the first one who spoke, the one who was called Eber. ‘This is the one the master has been waiting for. I can feel it in my marrow.’

‘Very soft, and very white,’ said the ankle-dropper with the wandering hand. ‘And it flaps too much.’ Josie’s skirts were whipping about in the wind, hard enough to sting when they struck her.

‘Where are you taking me?’ asked Josie. The wind buffeting her face made it hard to talk.

‘You will see soon enough,’ said Eber. ‘Don’t worry, little girl, we will leave those whining goats far behind.’

‘I thought the one the master is waiting for would be taller,’ said the one who had pointed out that Josie was a woman.

‘I can feel it in my marrow,’ said Eber, in a voice that was very unpleasant indeed. ‘This is the one.’

‘Be brave’, Josie told herself. ‘Not long ago you thought you were going to be drowned, and that turned out okay.’ She was growing cold, despite the heat radiating from her captors. They seemed too warm to be any natural kind of creature. Their hands felt near enough human hands, but she did not like to think what the rest of them would be like.

Josie’s ears were starting to hurt with the wind, and she let it blow the coarse conversation of the creatures away unmeaning, trying to will time to pass quickly. It grew colder and colder. She ached terribly all over. She was carried through the air until she could not take it any longer, and then she screamed and cursed at the creatures carrying her. They only laughed at her, and flew on, and on, and on.


The wind finally stopped, and Josie was somewhere much warmer, and then she was dropped onto what seemed to be a carpet. She struggled up onto her hands and knees, but could neither stand nor sit because of the shooting pains in her limbs. Her ears ached horribly, and her head ached horribly, and her lips were chapped, and she was horribly thirsty. She had only ever been so miserable once before, when she had been very sick.

Josie could hear the crackling of a wood fire, and smell roast pork and a nasty sort of perfume. The creatures who had carried her were still nearby, but they had stopped their gibing and seemed to be standing quietly, like they were expected to be on their best behaviour.

‘Now, aren’t you a picture?’ said a voice. If the inhuman voices of the flying creatures had been unpleasant, this voice was even more unpleasant for being human. It was the voice of a man who used it mainly for giving orders to things that were not men, and for cursing to himself when things went awry – never for anything courteous or friendly. It was a voice that was trying to be friendly and courteous now, and the strain it put on it was painful. Josie tried to say something back, but coughed instead.

‘Put her in a chair,’ commanded the voice, and Josie was picked up again by two of the flying creatures and put in an upholstered chair.

‘You have come here from another world, yes?’ asked the man’s voice, drawing closer to her. The nasty perfume seemed to hang more thickly around the voice.

Josie was in no mood to be polite and answer questions. ‘Who are you?’ she said angrily. ‘Where is this?’

‘I am Yustus, the last man in Telmar,’ said the voice, with a pride that would have sounded rather grand if it was not at the same time so bitter and cheerless. ‘And this is – was – Telmar, the jewel of the South.’