Chapter 14: HOW ALL WERE VERY BUSY
A LITTLE before two o’clock Trumpkin and the Badger sat with the rest of the creatures at the wood’s edge looking across at the gleaming line of Miraz’s army which was about two arrow-shots away. In between, a square space of level grass had been staked for the combat. At the two far corners stood Glozelle and Sopespian with drawn swords. At the near corners were Giant Wimbleweather and the Bulgy Bear, who in spite of all their warnings was sucking his paws and looking, to tell the truth, uncommonly silly. To make up for this, Glenstorm on the right of the lists, stock-still except when he stamped a hind hoof occasionally on the turf, looked much more imposing than the Telmarine baron who faced him on the left. Peter had just shaken hands with Edmund and the Doctor, and was now walking down to the combat. It was like the moment before the pistol goes at an important race, but very much worse.
“I wish Aslan had turned up before it came to this,” said Trumpkin.
“So do I,” said Trufflehunter. “But look behind you.”
“Crows and crockery!” muttered the Dwarf as soon as he had done so. “What are they? Huge people – beautiful people – like gods and goddesses and giants. Hundreds and thousands of them, closing in behind us. What are they?”
“It’s the Dryads and Hamadryads and Silvans,” said Trufflehunter. “Aslan has waked them.”
“Humph!” said the Dwarf. “That’ll be very useful if the enemy try any treachery. But it won’t help the High King very much if Miraz proves handier with his sword.”
The Badger said nothing, for now Peter and Miraz were entering the lists from opposite ends, both on foot, both in chain shirts, with helmets and shields. They advanced till they were close together. Both bowed and seemed to speak,, but it was impossible to hear what they said. Next moment, the two swords flashed in the sunlight. For a second the clash could be heard but it was immediately drowned because both armies began shouting like crowds at a football match.
“Well done, Peter, oh, well done!” shouted Edmund as he saw Miraz reel back a whole pace and a half. “Follow it up, quick!” And Peter did, and for a few seconds it looked as if the fight might be won. But then Miraz pulled himself together – began to make real use of his height and weight “Miraz! Miraz! The King! The King!” came the roar of the Telmarines. Caspian and Edmund grew white with sickening anxiety.
“Peter is taking some dreadful knocks,” said Edmund.
“Hullo!” said Caspian. “What’s happening now?”
“Both falling apart,” said Edmund. “A bit blown, expect. Watch. Ah, now they’re beginning again, more scientifically this time. Circling round and round, feeling each other’s defences.”
“I’m afraid this Miraz knows his work,” muttered the Doctor. But hardly had he said this when there was such a clapping and baying and throwing up of hoods among the Old Narnians that it was nearly deafening.
“What was it? What was it?” asked the Doctor. “My old eyes missed it.”
“The High King has pricked him in the arm-pit,” said Caspian, still clapping. “Just where the arm-hole of the hauberk let the point through. First blood.’
“It’s looking ugly again now, though,” said Edmund. “Peter’s not using his shield properly. He must be hurt in the left arm.”
It was only too true. Everyone could see that Peter’s shield hung limp. The shouting of the Telmarines redoubled.
“You’ve seen more battles than I,” said Caspian. “Is there any chance now?”
“Precious little,” said Edmund. “I suppose he might just do it. With luck.”
“Oh, why did we let it happen at all?” said Caspian.
Suddenly all the shouting on both sides died down. Edmund was puzzled for a moment. Then he said, “Oh, I see. They’ve both agreed to a rest. Come on, Doctor. You and I may be able to do something for the High King.’ They ran down to the lists and Peter came outside the ropes to meet them, his face red and sweaty, his chest heaving.
“Is your left arm wounded?” asked Edmund.
“It’s not exactly a wound,” Peter said. “I got the weight of his shoulder on my shield – like a load of bricks and the rim of the shield drove into my wrist. I don’t think it’s broken, but it might be a sprain. If you could tie it up very tight I think I could manage.”
While they were doing this, Edmund asked anxiously. “What do you think of him, Peter?”
“Tough,” said Peter. “Very tough. I have a chance if can keep him on the hop till his weight and short wind come against him – in this hot sun too. To tell the truth, I haven’t much chance else. Give my love to – to everyone at home, Ed, if he gets me. Here he comes into the lists again
So long, old chap. Good-bye, Doctor. And I say, Ed, say something specially nice to Trumpkin. He’s been a brick.”
Edmund couldn’t speak. He walked back with the Doctor to his own lines with a sick feeling in his stomach.
But the new bout went well. Peter now seemed to be able to make some use of his shield, and he certainly made good use of his feet. He was almost playing Tig with Miraz now, keeping out of range, shifting his ground, making the enemy work.
“Coward!” booed the Telmarines. “Why don’t you stand up to him? Don’t you like it, eh? Thought you’d come to fight, not dance. Yah!”
“Oh, I do hope he won’t listen to them,” said Caspian.
“Not he,” said Edmund. “You don’t know him – Oh!” for Miraz had got in a blow at last, on Peter’s helmet. Peter staggered, slipped sideways, and fell on one knee. The roar of the Telmarines rose like the noise of the sea. “Now, Miraz,” they yelled. “Now. Quick! Quick! Kill him.” But indeed there was no need to egg the usurper on. He was on top of Peter already. Edmund bit his lips till the blood came, as the sword flashed down on Peter. It looked as if it would slash off his head. Thank heavens! It had glanced down his right shoulder. The Dwarf-wrought mail was sound and did not break.
“Great Scott!” cried Edmund. “He’s up again. Peter, go it, Peter.”
“I couldn’t see what happened,” said the Doctor. “How did he do it?”
“Grabbed Miraz’s arm as it came down,” said Trumpkin, dancing with delight. “There’s a man for you! Uses his enemy’s arm as a ladder. The High King! The High King! Up, Old Narnia!”
“Look,” said Trufflehunter. “Miraz is angry. It is good.” They were certainly at it hammer and tongs now: such a flurry of blows that it seemed impossible for either not to be killed. As the excitement grew, the shouting almost died away. The spectators were holding their breath. It was most horrible and most magnificent.
A great shout arose from the Old Narnians. Miraz was a down – not struck by Peter, but face downwards, having tripped on a tussock. Peter stepped back, waiting for him to rise.
“Oh bother, bother, bother,” said Edmund to himself. “Need he be as gentlemanly as all that? I suppose he must. Comes of being a Knight and a High King. I suppose it is what Aslan would like. But that brute will be up again in a minute and then -”
But “that brute” never rose. The Lords Glozelle and Sopespian had their own plans ready. As soon as they saw their King down they leaped into the lists crying, “Treachery! Treachery! The Narnian traitor has stabbed him in the back while he lay helpless. To arms! To arms, Telmar!”
Peter hardly understood what was happening. He saw two big men running towards him with drawn swords. Then the third Telmarine had leaped over the ropes on his; left. “To arms, Narnia! Treachery!” Peter shouted. If all three had set upon him at once he would never have spoken again. But Glozelle stopped to stab his own King dead where he lay: “That’s for your insult, this morning,” he whispered as the blade went home. Peter swung to face Sopespian, slashed his legs from under him and, with the back-cut of the same stroke, walloped off his head Edmund was now at his side crying, “Narnia, Narnia! The Lion!” The whole Telmarine army was rushing toward them. But now the Giant was stamping forward, stooping low and swinging his club. The Centaurs charged. Twang, twang behind and hiss, hiss overhead came the archery of Dwarfs. Trumpkin was fighting at his left. Full battle was joined.
“Come back, Reepicheep, you little ass!” shouted Peter. “You’ll only be killed. This is no place for mice.” But the ridiculous little creatures were dancing in and out among the feet of both armies, jabbing with their swords. Many a Telmarine warrior that day felt his foot suddenly pierced as if by a dozen skewers, hopped on one leg cursing the pain, and fell as often as not. If he fell, the mice finished him off; if he did not, someone else did.
But almost before the Old Narnians were really warmed to their work they found the enemy giving way. Toughlooking warriors turned white, gazed in terror not on the Old Narnians but on something behind them, and then flung down their weapons, shrieking, “The Wood! The Wood! The end of the world!”
But soon neither their cries nor the sound of weapons could be heard any more, for both were drowned in the ocean-like roar of the Awakened Trees as they plunged through the ranks of Peter’s army, and then on, in pursuit of the Telmarines. Have you ever stood at the edge of a great wood on a high ridge when a wild south-wester broke over it in full fury on an autumn evening? Imagine that sound. And then imagine that the wood, instead of being fixed to one place, was rushing at you; and was no longer trees but huge people; yet still like trees because their long arms waved like branches and their heads tossed and leaves fell round them in showers. It was like that for the Telmarines. It was a little alarming even for the Narnians. In a few minutes all Miraz’s followers were running down to the Great River in the hope of crossing the bridge to the town of Beruna and there defending themselves behind ramparts and closed gates.
They reached the river, but there was no bridge. It had disappeared since yesterday. Then utter panic and horror fell upon them and they all surrendered.
But what had happened to the bridge?
Early that morning, after a few hours’ sleep, the girls had waked, to see Aslan standing over them and to hear his voice saying, “We will make holiday.” They rubbed their eyes and looked round them. The trees had all gone but could still be seen moving away towards Aslan’s How in a dark mass. Bacchus and the Maenads – his fierce, madcap girls – and Silenus were still with them. Lucy, fully rested, jumped up. Everyone was awake, everyone was laughing, flutes were playing, cymbals clashing. Animals, not Talking Animals, were crowding in upon them from every direction.
“What is it, Aslan?” said Lucy, her eyes dancing and her feet wanting to dance.
“Come, children,” said he. “Ride on my back again today.”
“Oh, lovely!” cried Lucy, and both girls climbed on to the warm golden back as they had done no one knew how many years before. Then the whole party moved off Aslan leading, Bacchus and his Maenads leaping, rushing, and turning somersaults, the beasts frisking round them, and Silenus and his donkey bringing up the rear.
They turned a little to the right, raced down a steep hill, and found the long Bridge of Beruna in front of them. Before they had begun to cross it, however, up out of the water came a great wet, bearded head, larger than a man’s, crowned with rushes. It looked at Aslan and out of its mouth a deep voice came.
“Hail, Lord,” it said. “Loose my chains.”
“Who on earth is that?” whispered Susan.
“I think it’s the river-god, but hush,” said Lucy.
“Bacchus,” said Aslan. “Deliver him from his chains.”
“That means the bridge, I expect,” thought Lucy. And so it did. Bacchus and his people splashed forward into the shallow water, and a minute later the most curious things began happening. Great, strong trunks of ivy came curling up all the piers of the bridge, growing as quickly as a fire grows, wrapping the stones round, splitting, breaking, separating them. The walls of the bridge turned into hedges gay with hawthorn for a moment and then disappeared as the whole thing with a rush and a rumble collapsed into the swirling water. With much splashing, screaming, and laughter the revellers waded or swam or danced across the ford (“Hurrah! It’s the Ford of Beruna again now!” cried the girls) and up the bank on the far side and into the town.
Everyone in the streets fled before their faces. The first house they came to was a school: a girls’ school, where lot of Narnian girls, with their hair done very tight and ugly tight collars round their necks and thick tickly stockings on their legs, were having a history lesson. The sort of “History” that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.
“If you don’t attend, Gwendolen,” said the mistress, and stop looking out of the window, I shall have to give you an order-mark.”
“But please, Miss Prizzle -” began Gwendolen.
“Did you hear what I said, Gwendolen?” asked Miss Prizzle.
“But please, Miss Prizzle,” said Gwendolen, “there’s a LION!”
“Take two order-marks for talking nonsense,” said Miss Prizzle. “And now -” A roar interrupted her. Ivy came curling in at the windows of the classroom. The walls became a mass of shimmering green, and leafy branches arched overhead where the ceiling had been. Miss Prizzle found she was standing on grass in a forest glade. She clutched at her desk to steady herself, and found that the desk was a rose-bush. Wild people such as she had never even imagined were crowding round her. Then she saw the Lion, screamed and fled, and with her fled her class, who were mostly dumpy, prim little girls with fat legs. Gwendolen hesitated.
“You’ll stay with us, sweetheart?” said Aslan.
“Oh, may I? Thank you, thank you,” said Gwendolen. Instantly she joined hands with two of the Maenads, who whirled her round in a merry dance and helped her take off some of the unnecessary and uncomfortable clothes that she was wearing.
Wherever they went in the little town of Beruna it was the same. Most of the people fled, a few joined them. When they left the town they were a larger and a merrier company.
They swept on across the level fields on the north bank, or left bank, of the river. At every farm animals came out to join them. Sad old donkeys who had never known joy grew suddenly young again; chained dogs broke their chains; horses kicked their carts to pieces and came trotting along with them – clop-clop – kicking up the mud and whinnying.
At a well in a yard they met a man who was beating a boy. The stick burst into flower in the man’s hand. He tried to drop it, but it stuck to his hand. His arm became a branch, his body the trunk of a tree, his feet took root. The boy, who had been crying a moment before, burst out laughing and joined them.
At a little town half-way to Beaversdam, where two rivers met, they came to another school, where a tiredlooking girl was teaching arithmetic to a number of boys who looked very like pigs. She looked out of the window and saw the divine revellers singing up the street and a stab of joy went through her heart. Aslan stopped right under the window and looked up at her.
“Oh, don’t, don’t,” she said. “I’d love to. But I mustn’t. I must stick to my work. And the children would be frightened if they saw you.”
“Frightened?” said the most pig-like of the boys. “Who’s she talking to out of the window? Let’s tell the inspector she talks to people out of the window when she ought to be teaching us.”
“Let’s go and see who it is,” said another boy, and they all came crowding to the window. But as soon as their mean little faces looked out, Bacchus gave a great cry of Euan, euoi-oi-oi-of and the boys all began howling with fright and trampling one another down to get out of the door and jumping out of the windows. And it was said afterwards (whether truly or not) that those particular little boys were never seen again, but that there were a lot of very fine little pigs in that part of the country which had never been there before.
“Now, Dear Heart,” said Aslan to the Mistress, and she jumped down and joined them.
At Beaversdam they re-crossed the river and came east again along the southern bank. They came to a little cottage where a child stood in the doorway crying. “Why are you crying, my love?” asked Aslan. The child, who had never seen a picture of a lion, was not afraid of him. “Auntie’s very ill,” she said. “She’s going to die.” Then Aslan went to go in at the door of the cottage, but it was too small for him. So, when he had got his head through, he pushed with his shoulders (Lucy and Susan fell off when he did this) and lifted the whole house up and it fell backwards and apart. And there, still in her bed, though the bed was now in the open air, lay a little old woman who looked as if she had Dwarf blood in her. She was at death’s door, but when she opened her eyes and saw the bright, hairy head of the lion staring into her face, she did not scream or faint. She said, “Oh, Aslan! I knew it was true. I’ve been waiting for this all my life. Have you come to take me away?”
“Yes, Dearest,” said Aslan. “But not the long journey yet.” And as he spoke, like the flush creeping along the underside of a cloud at sunrise, the colour came back to her white face and her eyes grew bright and she sat up and said, “Why, I do declare I feel that better. I think I could take a little breakfast this morning.”
“Here you are, mother,” said Bacchus, dipping a pitcher in the cottage well and handing it to her. But what was in it now was not water but the richest wine, red as red-currant jelly, smooth as oil, strong as beef, warming as tea, cool as dew.
“Eh, you’ve done something to our well,” said the old woman. “That makes a nice change, that does.” And she jumped out of bed.
“Ride on me,” said Aslan, and added to Susan and Lucy, “You two queens will have to run now.”
“But we’d like that just as well,” said Susan. And off they went again.
And so at last, with leaping and dancing and singing, with music and laughter and roaring and barking and neighing, they all came to the place where Miraz’s army stood flinging down their swords and holding up their hands, and Peter’s army, still holding their weapons and breathing hard, stood round them with stern and glad faces. And the first thing that happened was that the old woman slipped off Aslan’s back and ran across to Caspian and they embraced one another; for she was his old nurse.