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CHAPTER EIGHT: IN THE HOUSE OF THE TISROC

“OH-my-father-and-oh-the-delight-of-my-eyes,” began the young man, muttering the words very quickly and sulkily and not at all as if the Tisroc were the delight of his eyes. “May you live for ever, but you have utterly destroyed me. If you had given me the swiftest of the galleys at sunrise when I first saw that the ship of the accursed barbarians was gone from her place I would perhaps have overtaken them. But you persuaded me to send first and see if they had not merely moved round the point into better anchorage. And now the whole day has been wasted. And they are gone – gone – out of my reach! The false jade, the-” and here he added a great many descriptions of Queen Susan which would not look at all nice in print. For of course this young man was Prince Rabadash and of course the false jade was Susan of Narnia.

  “Compose yourself, O my son,” said the Tisroc. “For the departure of guests makes a wound that is easily healed in the heart of a judicious host.”

  “But I want her,” cried the Prince. “I must have her. I shall die if I do not get her- false, proud, black-hearted daughter of a dog that she is! I cannot sleep and my food has no savour and my eyes are darkened because of her beauty. I must have the barbarian queen.”

  “How well it was said by a gifted poet,” observed the Vizier, raising his face (in a somewhat dusty condition) from the carpet, “that deep draughts from the fountain of reason are desirable in order to extinguish the fire of youthful love.”

  This seemed to exasperate the Prince. “Dog,” he shouted, directing a series of well-aimed kicks at the hindquarters of the Vizier, “do not dare to quote the poets to me. I have had maxims and verses flung at me all day and I can endure them no more.” I am afraid Aravis did not feel at all sorry for the Vizier.

  The Tisroc was apparently sunk in thought, but when, after a long pause, he noticed what was happening, he said tranquilly:

  “My son, by all means desist from kicking the venerable and enlightened Vizier: for as a costly jewel retains its value even if hidden in a dung-hill, so old age and discretion are to be respected even in the vile persons of our subjects. Desist therefore, and tell us what you desire and propose.”

  “I desire and propose, O my father,” said Rabadash, “that you immediately call out your invincible armies and invade the thrice-accursed land of Narnia and waste it with fire and sword and add it to your illimitable empire, killing their High King and all of his blood except the queen Susan. For I must have her as my wife, though she shall learn a sharp lesson first.”

  “Understand, O my son,” said the Tisroc, “that no words you can speak will move me to open war against Narnia.”

  “If you were not my father, O ever-living Tisroc, ” said the Prince, grinding his teeth, “I should say that was the word of a coward.”

  “And if you were not my son, O most inflammable Rabadash,” replied his father, “your life would be short and your death slow when you had said it.” (The cool, placid voice in which he spoke these words made Aravis’s blood run cold.)

  “But why, O my father,” said the Prince – this time in a much more respectful voice, “why should we think twice about punishing Narnia any more than about hanging an idle slave or sending a worn-out horse to be made into dog’smeat? It is not the fourth size of one of your least provinces. A thousand spears could conquer it in five weeks. It is an unseemly blot on the skirts of your empire.”

  “Most undoubtedly,” said the Tisroc. “These little barbarian countries that call themselves free (which is as much as to say, idle, disordered, and unprofitable) are hateful to the gods and to all persons of discernment.”

  “Then why have we suffered such a land as Narnia to remain thus long unsubdued?”

  “Know, O enlightened Prince,” said the Grand Vizier, “that until the year in which your exalted father began his salutary and unending reign, the land of Narnia was covered with ice and snow and was moreover ruled by a most powerful enchantress.”

  “This I know very well, O loquacious Vizier,” answered the Prince. “But I know also that the enchantress is dead. And the ice and snow have vanished, so that Narnia is now wholesome, fruitful, and delicious.”

  “And this change, O most learned Prince, has doubtless been brought to pass by the powerful incantations of those wicked persons who now call themselves kings and queens of Narnia.”

  “I am rather of the opinion,” said Rabadash, “that it has come about by the alteration of the stars and the operation of natural causes.”

  “All this,” said the Tisroc, “is a question for the disputations of learned men. I will never believe that so great an alteration, and the killing of the old enchantress, were effected without the aid of strong magic. And such things are to be expected in that land, which is chiefly inhabited by demons in the shape of beasts that talk like men, and monsters that are half man and half beast. It is commonly reported that the High King of Narnia (whom may the gods utterly reject) is supported by a demon of hideous aspect and irresistible maleficence who appears in the shape of a Lion. Therefore the attacking of Narnia is a dark and doubtful enterprise, and I am determined not to put my hand out farther than I can draw it back.”

  “How blessed is Calormen,” said the Vizier, popping up his face again, “on whose ruler the gods have been pleased to bestow prudence and circumspection! Yet as the irrefutable and sapient Tisroc has said it is very grievous to be constrained to keep our hands off such a dainty dish as Narnia. Gifted was that poet who said -” but at this point Ahoshta noticed an impatient movement of the Prince’s toe and became suddenly silent.

  “It is very grievous,” said the Tisroc in his deep, quiet voice. “Every morning the sun is darkened in my eyes, and every night my sleep is the less refreshing, because I remember that Narnia is still free.”

  “O my father,” said Rabadash. “How if I show you a way by which you can stretch out your arm to take Narnia and yet draw it back unharmed if the attempt prove unfortunate?”

  “If you can show me that, O Rabadash,” said the Tisroc, “you will be the best of sons.”

  “Hear then, 0 father. This very night and in this hour I will take but two hundred horse and ride across the desert. And it shall seem to all men that you know nothing of my going. On the second morning I shall be at the gates of King Lune’s castle of Anvard in Archenland. They are at peace with us and unprepared and I shall take Anvard before they have bestirred themselves. Then I will ride through the pass above Anvard and down through Narnia to Cair Paravel. The High King will not be there; when I left them he was already preparing a raid against the giants on his northern border. I shall find Cair Paravel, most likely with open gates, and ride in. I shall exercise prudence and courtesy and spill as little Narnian blood as I can. And what then remains but to sit there till the Splendour Hyaline puts in, with Queen Susan on board, catch my strayed bird as she sets foot ashore, swing her into the saddle, and then, ride, ride, ride back to Anvard?”

  “But is it not probable, O my son,” said the Tisroc, “that at the taking of the woman either King Edmund or you will lose his life?”

  “They will be a small company,” said Rabadash, “and I will order ten of my men to disarm and bind him: restraining my vehement desire for his blood so that there shall be no deadly cause of war between you and the High King.”

  “And how if the Splendour Hyaline is at Cair Paravel before you?”

  “I do not look for that with these winds, O my father.”

  “And lastly, O my resourceful son,” said the Tisroc, “you have made clear how all this might give you the barbarian woman, but not how it helps me to the over-throwing of Narnia.”

  “O my father, can it have escaped you that though I and my horsemen will come and go through Narnia like an arrow from a bow, yet we shall have Anvard for ever? And when you hold Anvard you sit in the very gate of Narnia, and your garrison in Anvard can be increased by little and little till it is a great host.”

  “It is spoken with understanding and foresight. But how do I draw back my arm if all this miscarries?”

  “You shall say that I, did it without your knowledge and against your will, and without your blessing, being constrained by the violence of my love and the impetuosity of youth.”

  “And how if the High King then demands that we send back the barbarian woman, his sister?”

  “O my father, be assured that he will not. For though the fancy of a woman has rejected this marriage, the High King Peter is a man of prudence and understanding who will in no way wish to lose the high honour and advantage of being allied to our House and seeing his nephew and grand nephew on the throne of Calormen.”

  “He will not see that if I live for ever as is no doubt your wish,” said the Tisroc in an even drier voice than usual.

  “And also, O my father and O the delight of my eyes,” said the Prince, after a moment of awkward silence, “we shall write letters as if from the Queen to say that she loves me and has no desire to return to Narnia. For it is well known that women are as changeable as weathercocks. And even if they do not wholly believe the letters, they will not dare to come to Tashbaan in arms to fetch her.”

  “O enlightened Vizier,” said the Tisroc, “bestow your wisdom upon us concerning this strange proposal.”

  “O eternal Tisroc,” answered Ahosta, “the strength of paternal affection is not unknown to me and I have often heard that sons are in the eyes of their fathers more precious than carbuncles. How then shall I dare freely to unfold to you my mind in a matter which may imperil the life of this exalted Prince?”

  “Undoubtedly you will dare,” replied the Tisroc.

  “Because you will find that the dangers of not doing so are at least equally great.”

  “To hear is to obey,” moaned the wretched man. “Know then, O most reasonable Tisroc, in the first place, that the danger of the Prince is not altogether so great as might appear. For the gods have withheld from the barbarians the light of discretion, as that their poetry is not, like ours, full of choice apophthegms and useful maxims, but is all of love and war. Therefore nothing will appear to them more noble and admirable than such a mad enterprise as this of ow!” For the Prince, at the word “mad”, had kicked him again.

  “Desist, O my son,” said the Tisroc. “And you, estimable Vizier, whether he desists or not, by no means allow the flow of your eloquence to be interrupted. For nothing is more suitable to persons of gravity and decorum than to endure minor inconveniences with constancy.”

  “To hear is to obey,” said the Vizier, wriggling himself round a little so as to get his hinder parts further away from Rabadash’s toe. “Nothing, I say, will seem as pardonable, if not estimable, in their eyes as this – er – hazardous attempt, especially because it is undertaken for the love of a woman. Therefore, if the Prince by misfortune fell into their hands, they would assuredly not kill him. Nay, it may even be, that though he failed to carry off the queen, yet the sight of his great valour and of the extremity of his passion might incline her heart to him.”

  “That is a good point, old babbler,” said Rabadash. “Very good, however it came into your ugly head.”

  “The praise of my masters is the light of my eyes,” said Ahoshta. “And secondly, O Tisroc, whose reign must and shall be interminable, I think that with the aid of the gods it is very likely that Anvard will fall into the Prince’s hands. And if so, we have Narnia by the throat.”

  There was a long pause and the room became so silent that the two girls hardly dared to breathe. At last the Tisroc spoke.

  “Go, my son,” he said. “And do as you have said. But expect no help nor countenance from me. I will not avenge you if you are killed and I will not deliver you if the barbarians cast you into prison. And if, either in success or failure, you shed a drop more than you need of Narnian noble blood and open war arises from it, my favour shall never fall upon you again and your next brother shall have your place in Calormen. Now go. Be swift, secret, and fortunate. May the strength of Tash the inexorable, the irresistible be in your sword and lance.”

  “To hear is to obey,” cried Rabadash, and after kneeling for a moment to kiss his father’s hands he rushed from the room. Greatly to the disappointment of Aravis, who was now horribly cramped, the Tisroc and Vizier remained.

  “O Vizier,” said the Tisroc, “is it certain that no living soul knows of this council we three have held here tonight?”

  “O my master,” said Ahoshta, “it is not possible that any should know. For that very reason I proposed, and you in your wisdom agreed, that we should meet here in the Old Palace where no council is ever held and none of the household has any occasion to come.”

  “It is well,” said the Tisroc. “If any man knew, I would see to it that he died before an hour had passed. And do you also, O prudent Vizier, forget it. I sponge away from my own heart and from yours all knowledge of the Prince’s plans. He is gone without my knowledge or my consent, I know not whither, because of his violence and the rash and disobedient disposition of youth. No man will be more astonished than you and I to hear that Anvard is in his hands.”

  “To hear is to obey,” said Ahoshta.

“That is why you will never think even in your secret heart that I am the hardest hearted of fathers who thus send my first-born son on an errand so likely to be his death; pleasing as it must be to you who do not love the Prince. For 1 see into the bottom of your mind.”

  “O impeccable Tisroc,” said the Vizier. “In comparison with you I love neither the Prince nor my own life nor bread nor water nor the light of the sun.”

  “Your sentiments,” said the Tisroc, “are elevated and correct. I also love none of these things in comparison with the glory and strength of my throne. If the Prince succeeds, we have Archenland, and perhaps hereafter Narnia. If he fails – I have eighteen other sons and Rabadash, after the manner of the eldest sons of kings, was beginning to be dangerous. More than five Tisrocs in Tashbaan have died before their time because their eldest sons, enlightened princes, grew tired of waiting for their throne. He had better cool his blood abroad than boil it in inaction here. And now, O excellent Vizier, the excess of my paternal anxiety inclines me to sleep. Command the musicians to my chamber. But before you lie down, call back the pardon we wrote for the third cook. I feel within me the manifest prognostics of indigestion.”

  “To hear is to obey,” said the Grand Vizier. He crawled backwards on all fours to the door, rose, bowed, and went out. Even then the Tisroc remained seated in silence on the divan till Aravis almost began to be afraid that he had dropped asleep. But at last with a great creaking and sighing he heaved up his enormous body, signed to the slaves to precede him with the lights, and went out. The door closed behind him, the room was once more totally dark, and the two girls could breathe freely again.

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