CHAPTER FIVE: PRINCE CORIN
“MY dear sister and very good Lady,” said King Edmund, “you must now show your courage. For I tell you plainly we are in no small danger.”
“What is it, Edmund asked the Queen.
“It is this,” said Edmund. “I do not think we shall find it easy to leave Tashbaan. While the Prince had hope that you would take him, we were honoured guests. But by the Lion’s Mane, I think that as soon as he has your flat denial we shall be no better than prisoners.”
One of the Dwarfs gave a low whistle.
“I warned your Majesties, I warned you,” said Sallowpad the Raven. “Easily in but not easily out, as the lobster said in the lobster pot!”
“I have been with the Prince this morning,” continued Edmund. “He is little used (more’s the pity) to having his will crossed. And he is very chafed at your long delays and doubtful answers. This morning he pressed very hard to know your mind. I put it aside-meaning at the same time to diminish his hopes – with some light common jests about women’s fancies, and hinted that his suit was likely to be cold. He grew angry and dangerous. There was a sort of threatening, though still veiled under a show of courtesy, in every word he spoke.”
“Yes,” said Tumnus. “And when I supped with the Grand Vizier last night, it was the same. He asked me how I like Tashbaan. And I (for I could not tell him I hated every stone of it and I would not lie) told him that now, when high summer was coming on, my heart turned to the cool woods and dewy slopes of Narnia. He gave a smile that meant no good and said, `There is nothing to hinder you from dancing there again, little goatfoot; always provided you leave us in exchange a bride for our prince.'”
“Do you mean he would make me his wife by force?” exclaimed Susan.
“That’s my fear, Susan,” said Edmund: “Wife: or slave which is worse.”
“But how can he? Does the Tisroc think our brother the High King would suffer such an outrage?”
“Sire,” said Peridan to the King. “They would not be so mad. Do they think there are no swords and spears in Narnia?”
“Alas,” said Edmund. “My guess is that the Tisroc has very small fear of Narnia. We are a little land. And little lands on the borders of a great empire were always hateful to the lords of the great empire. He longs to blot them out, gobble them up. When first he suffered the Prince to come to Cair Paravel as your lover, sister, it may be that he was only seeking an occasion against us. Most likely he hopes to make one mouthful of Narnia and Archenland both.”
“Let him try,” said the second Dwarf. “At sea we are as big as he is. And if he assaults us by land, he has the desert to cross.”
“True, friend,” said Edmund. “But is the desert a sure defence? What does Sallowpad say?”
“I know that desert well,” said the Raven. “For I have flown above it far and wide in my younger days,” (you may be sure that Shasta pricked up his ears at this point). “And this is certain; that if the Tisroc goes by the great oasis he can never lead a great army across it into Archenland. For though they could reach the oasis by the end of their first day’s march, yet the springs there would be too little for the thirst of all those soldiers and their beasts. But there is another way.”
Shasta listened more attentively still.
“He that would find that way,” said the Raven, “must start from the Tombs of the Ancient Kings and ride northwest so that the double peak of Mount Pire is always straight ahead of him. And so, in a day’s riding or a little more, he shall come to the head of a stony valley, which is so narrow that a man might be within a furlong of it a thousand times and never know that it was there. And looking down this valley he will see neither grass nor water nor anything else good. But if he rides on down it he will come to a river and can ride by the water all the way into Archenland.”
“And do the Calormenes know of this Western way?” asked the Queen.
“Friends, friends,” said Edmund, “what is the use of all this discourse? We are not asking whether Narnia or Calormen would win if war arose between them. We are asking how to save the honour of the Queen and our own lives out of this devilish city. For though my brother, Peter the High King, defeated the Tisroc a dozen times over, yet long before that day our throats would be cut and the Queen’s grace would be the wife, or more likely, the slave, of this prince.”
“We have our weapons, King,” said the first Dwarf. “And this is a reasonably defensible house.”
“As to that,” said the King, “I do not doubt that every one of us would sell our lives dearly in the gate and they would not come at the Queen but over our dead bodies. Yet we should be merely rats fighting in a trap when all’s said.”
“Very true,” croaked the Raven. “These last stands in a house make good stories, but nothing ever came of them. After their first few repulses the enemy always set the house on fire.”
“I am the cause of all this,” said Susan, bursting into tears. “Oh, if only I had never left Cair Paravel. Our last happy day was before those ambassadors came from Calormen. The Moles were planting an orchard for us . . . oh . . . oh.”
And she buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
“Courage, Su, courage,” said Edmund. “Remember-but what is the matter with you, Master Tumnus?” For the Faun was holding both his horns with his hands as if he were trying to keep his head on by them and writhing to and fro as if he had a pain in his inside.
“Don’t speak to me, don’t speak to me,” said Tumnus. “I’m thinking. I’m thinking so that I can hardly breathe. Wait, wait, do wait.”
There was a moment’s puzzled silence and then the Faun looked up, drew a long breath, mopped its forehead and said:
“The only difficulty is how to get down to our ship-with some stores, too-without being seen and stopped.”
“Yes,” said a Dwarf dryly. “Just as the beggar’s only difficulty about riding is that he has no horse.”
“Wait, wait,” said Mr Tumnus impatiently. “All we need is some pretext for going down to our ship today and taking stuff on board.”
“Yes,” said King Edmund doubtfully.
“Well, then,” said the Faun, “how would it be if your majesties bade the Prince to a great banquet to be held on board our own galleon, the Spendour Hyaline, tomorrow night? And let the message be worded as graciously as the Queen can contrive without pledging her honour: so as to give the Prince a hope that she is weakening.”
“This is very good counsel, Sire,” croaked the Raven.
“And then,” continued Tumnus excitedly, “everyone will expect us to be going down to the ship all day, making preparations for our guests. And let some of us go to the bazaars and spend every minim we have at the fruiterers and the sweetmeat sellers and the wine merchants, just as we would if we were really giving a feast. And let us order magicians and jugglers and dancing girls and flute players, all to be on board tomorrow night.”
“I see, I see,” said King Edmund, rubbing his hands.
“And then,” said Tumnus, “we’ll all be on board tonight. And as soon as it is quite dark-“
“Up sails and out oars-!” said the King.
“And so to sea,” cried Tumnus, leaping up and beginning to dance.
“And our nose Northward,” said the first Dwarf.
“Running for home! Hurrah for Narnia and the North!” said the other.
“And the Prince waking next morning and finding his birds flown!” said Peridan, clapping his hands.
“Oh Master Tumnus, dear Master Tumnus,” said the Queen, catching his hands and swinging with him as he danced. “You have saved us all.”
“The Prince will chase us,” said another lord, whose name Shasta had not heard.
“That’s the least of my fears,” said Edmund. “I have seen all the shipping in the river and there’s no tall ship of war nor swift galley there. I wish he may chase us! For the Splendour Hyaline could sink anything he has to send after her – if we were overtaken at all.”
“Sire,” said the Raven. “You shall hear no better plot than the Faun’s though we sat in council for seven days. And now, as we birds say, nests before eggs. Which is as much as to say, let us all take our food and then at once be about our business.”
Everyone arose at this and the doors were opened and the lords and the creatures stood aside for the King and Queen to go out first. Shasta wondered what he ought to do, but Mr Tumnus said, “Lie there, your Highness, and I will bring you up a little feast to yourself in a few moments. There is no need for you to move until we are all ready to embark.”
Shasta laid his head down again on the pillows and soon he was alone in the room.
“This is perfectly dreadful,” thought Shasta. It never came into his head to tell these Narnians the whole truth and ask for their help. Having been brought up by a hard, closefisted man like Arsheesh, he had a fixed habit of never telling grown-ups anything if he could help it: he thought they would always spoil or stop whatever you were trying to do. And he thought that even if the Narnian King might be friendly to the two horses, because they were Talking Beasts of Narnia, he would hate Aravis, because she was a Calormene, and either sell her for a slave or send her back to her father. As for himself, “I simply dn’t tell them I’m not Prince Corin now,” thought Shasta. “I’ve heard all their plans. If they knew I wasn’t one of themselves, they’d never let me out of this house alive. They’d be afraid I’d betray them to the Tisroc. They’d kill me. And if the real Corin turns up, it’ll all come out, and they will!” He had, you see, no idea of how noble and free-born people behave.
“What am I to do? What am I to do?” he kept saying to himself. “What-hullo, here comes that goaty little creature again.”
The Faun trotted in, half dancing, with a tray in its hands which was nearly as large as itself. This he set on an inlaid table beside Shasta’s sofa, and sat down himself on the carpeted floor with his goaty legs crossed.
“Now, princeling,” he said. “Make a good dinner. It will be your last meal in Tashbaan.”
It was a fine meal after the Calormene fashion. I don’t know whether you would have liked it or not, but Shasta did. There were lobsters, and salad, and snipe stuffed with almonds and truffles, and a complicated dish made of chickenlivers and rice and raisins and nuts, and there were cool melons and gooseberry fools and mulberry fools, and every kind of nice thing that can be made with ice. There was also a little flagon of the sort of wine that is called “white” though it is really yellow.
While Shasta was eating, the good little Faun, who thought he was still dazed with sunstroke, kept talking to him about the fine times he would have when they all got home; about his good old father King Lune of Archenland and the little castle where he lived on the southern slopes of the pass. “And don’t forget,” said Mr Tumnus, “that you are promised your first suit of armour and your first war horse on your next birthday. And then your Highness will begin to learn how to tilt and joust. And in a few years, if all goes well, King Peter has promised your royal father that he himself will make you Knight at Cair Paravel. And in the meantime there will be plenty of comings and goings between Narnia and Archenland across the neck of the mountains. And of course you remember you have promised to come for a whole week to stay with me for the Summer Festival, and there’ll be bonfires and all-night dances of Fauns and Dryads in the heart of the woods and, who knows?-we might see Aslan himself!”
When the meal was over the Faun told Shasta to stay quietly where he was. “And it wouldn’t do you any harm to have a little sleep,” he added. “I’ll call you in plenty of time to get on board. And then, Home. Narnia and the North!”
Shasta had so enjoyed his dinner and all the things Tumnus had been telling him that when he was left alone his thoughts took a different turn. He only hoped now that the real Prince Corin would not turn up until it was too late and that he would be taken away to Narnia by ship. I am afraid he did not think at all of what might happen to the real Corin when he was left behind in Tashbaan. He was a little worried about Aravis and Bree waiting for him at the Tombs. But then he said to himself, “Well, how can I help it?” and, “Anyway, that Aravis thinks she’s too good to go about with me, so she can jolly well go alone,” and at the same time he couldn’t help feeling that it would be much nicer going to Narnia by sea than toiling across the desert.
When he had thought all this he did what I expect you would have done if you had been up very early and had a long walk and a great deal of excitement and then a very good meal, and were lying on a sofa in a cool room with no noise in it except when a bee came buzzing in through the wide open windows. He fell asleep.
What woke him was a loud crash. He jumped up off the sofa, staring. He saw at once from the mere look of the room – the lights and shadows all looked different – that he must have slept for several hours. He saw also what had made the crash: a costly porcelain vase which had been standing on the window-sill lay on -the floor broken into about thirty pieces. But he hardly noticed all these things. What he did notice was two hands gripping the window-sill from outside. They gripped harder and harder (getting white at the knuckles) and then up came a head and a pair of shoulders. A moment later there was a boy of Shasta’s own age sitting astride the sill with one leg hanging down inside the room.
Shasta had never seen his own face in a looking-glass. Even if he had, he might not have realized that the other boy was (at ordinary times) almost exactly like himself. At the moment this boy was not particularly like anyone for he had the finest black eye you ever saw, and a tooth missing, and his clothes (which must have been splendid ones when he put them on) were torn and dirty, and there was both blood and mud on his face.
“Who are you?” said the boy in a whisper.
“Are you Prince Corin?” said Shasta.
“Yes, of course,” said the other. “But who are you?”
“I’m nobody, nobody in particular, I mean,” said Shasta. “King Edmund caught me in the street and mistook me for you. I suppose we must look like one another. Can I get out the way you’ve got in?”
“Yes, if you’re any good at climbing,” said Corin. “But why are you in such a hurry? I say: we ought to be able to get some fun out of this being mistaken for one another.”
“No, no,” said Shasta. “We must change places at once. It’ll be simply frightful if Mr Tumnus comes back and finds us both here. I’ve had to pretend to be you. And you’re starting tonight – secretly. And where were you all this time?”
“A boy in the street made a beastly joke about Queen Susan,” said Prince Corin, “so I knocked him down. He ran howling into a house and his big brother came out. So I knocked the big brother down. Then they all followed me until we ran into three old men with spears who are called the Watch. So I fought the Watch and they knocked me down. It was getting dark by now. Then the Watch took me along to lock me up somewhere. So I asked them if they’d like a stoup of wine and they said they didn’t mind if they did. Then I took them to a wine shop and got them some and they all sat down and drank till they feel asleep. I thought it was time for me to be off so I came out quietly and then I found the first boy – the one who had started all the trouble – still hanging about. So I knocked him down again. After that I climbed up a pipe on to the roof of a house and lay quiet till it began to get light this morning. Ever since that I’ve been finding my way back. I say, is there anything to drink?”
“No, I drank it,” said Shasta. “And now, show me how you got in. There’s not a minute to lose. You’d better lie down on the sofa and pretend-but I forgot. It’ll be no good with all those bruises and black eye. You’ll just have to tell them the truth, once I’m safely away.”
“What else did you think I’d be telling them?” asked the Prince with a rather angry look. “And who are you?”
“There’s no time,” said Shasta in a frantic whisper. “I’m a Narnian, I believe; something Northern anyway. But I’ve been brought up all my life in Calormen. And I’m escaping: across the desert; with a talking Horse called Bree. And now, quick! How do I get away?”
“Look,” said Corin. “Drop from this window on to the roof of the verandah. But you must do it lightly, on your toes, or someone will hear you. Then along to your left and you can get up to the top of that wall if you’re any good at all as a climber. Then along the wall to the corner. Drop onto the rubbish heap you will find outside, and there you are.”
“Thanks,” said Shasta, who was already sitting on the sill. The two boys were looking into each other’s faces and suddenly found that they were friends.
“Good-bye,” said Corin. “And good luck. I do hope you get safe away.”
“Good-bye,” said Shasta. “I say, you have been having some adventures.”
“Nothing to yours,” said the Prince. “Now drop; lightlyI say,” he added as Shasta dropped. “I hope we meet in Archenland. Go to my father King Lune and tell him you’re a friend of mine. Look out! I hear someone coming.”