CHAPTER ELEVEN: THE PACE QUICKENS
QUICK as lightning, Rishda Tarkaan leaped back out of reach of the King’s sword. He was no coward, and would have fought single-handed against Tirian and the Dwarf if need were. But he could not take on the Eagle and the Unicorn as well. He knew how Eagles can fly into your face and peck at your eyes and blind you with their wings. And he had heard from his father (who had met Narnians in battle) that no man, except with arrows, or a long spear, can match a Unicorn, for it rears on its hind legs as it falls upon you and then you have its hoofs and its horn and its teeth to deal with all at once. So he rushed into the crowd and stood calling out:
“To me, to me, warriors of The Tisroc, may-he-liveforever. To me, all loyal Narnians, lest the wrath of Tashlan fall upon you!”
While this was happening two other things happened as well. The Ape had not realized his danger as quickly as the Tarkaan. For a second or so he remained squatting beside the fire staring at the newcomers. Then Tirian rushed upon the wretched creature, picked it up by the scruff of the neck, and dashed back to the stable shouting, “Open the door!” Poggin opened it. “Go and drink your own medicine, Shift!” said Tirian and hurled the Ape through into the darkness. But as the Dwarf banged the door shut again, a blinding greenish-blue light shone out from the inside of the stable, the earth shook, and there was a strange noise – a clucking and screaming as if it was the hoarse voice of some monstrous bird. The Beasts moaned and howled and called out “Tashlan! Hide us from him!” and many fell down, and many hid their faces in their wings or paws. No one except Farsight the Eagle, who has the best eyes of all living things, noticed the face of Rishda Tarkaan at that moment. And from what Farsight saw there he knew at once that Rishda was just as surprised, and nearly frightened, as everyone else. “There goes one,” thought Farsight, “who has called on gods he does not believe in. How will it be with him if they have really come?”
The third thing – which also happened at the same moment – was the only really beautiful thing that night. Every single Talking Dog in the whole meeting (there were fifteen of them) came bounding and barking joyously to the King’s side. They were mostly great big dogs with thick shoulders and heavy jaws. Their coming was like the breaking of a great wave on the seabeach: it nearly knocked you down. For though they were Talking Dogs they were just as doggy as they could be: and they all stood up and put their front paws on the shoulders of the humans and licked their faces, all saying at once: “Welcome! Welcome! We’ll help, we’ll help, help, help. Show us how to help, show us how, how. How-how-how?”
It was so lovely that it made you want to cry. This, at last, was the sort of thing they had been hoping for. And when, a moment later, several little animals (mice and moles and a squirrel or so) came pattering up, squealing with joy, and saying “See, see. We’re here,” and when, after that, the Bear and the Boar came too, Eustace began to feel that perhaps, after all, everything might be going to come right. But Tirian gazed round and saw how very few of the animals had moved.
“To me! to me!” he called. “Have you all turned cowards since I was your King?”
“We daren’t,” whimpered dozens of voices. “Tashlan would be angry. Shield us from Tashlan.”
“Where are all the Talking Horses?” said Tirian to the Boar.
“We’ve seen, we’ve seen,” squealed the Mice. “The Ape has made them work. They’re all tied – down at the bottom of the hill.”
“Then all you little ones,” said Tirian, “you nibblers and gnawers and nutcrackers, away with you as fast as you can scamper and see if the Horses are on our side. And if they are, get your teeth into the ropes and gnaw till the Horses are free and bring them hither.”
“With a good will, Sire,” came the small voices, and with a whisk of tails those sharp-eyed and sharp-toothed folk were off. Tirian smiled for mere love as he saw them go. But it was already time to be thinking of other things. Rishda Tarkaan was giving his orders.
“Forward,” he said. “Take all of them alive if you can and hurl them into the stable or drive them into it. When they are all in we will put fire to it and make them an offering to the great god Tash.”
“Ha!” said Farsight to himself. “So that is how he hopes to win Tash’s pardon for his unbelief.”
The enemy line – about half of Rishda’s force – was now moving forward, and Tirian had barely time to give his orders.
“Out on the left, Jill, and try to shoot all you may before they reach us. Boar and Bear next to her. Poggin on my left, Eustace on my right. Hold the right wing, Jewel. Stand by him, Puzzle, and use your hoofs. Hover and strike, Farsight. You Dogs, just behind us. Go in among them after the sword-play has begun. Aslan to our aid!”
Eustace stood with his heart beating terribly, hoping and hoping that he would be brave. He had never seen anything (though he had seen both a dragon and a seaserpent) that made his blood run so cold as that line of dark-faced bright-eyed men. There were fifteen Calormenes, a Talking Bull of Narnia, Slinkey the Fox, and Wraggle the Satyr. Then he heard twang-and-zipp on his left and one Calormene fell: then twang-andzipp again and the Satyr was down. “Oh, well done, daughter!” came Tirian’s voice; and then the enemy were upon them.
Eustace could never remember what happened in the next two minutes. It was all like a dream (the sort you have when your temperature is over 100) until he heard Rishda Tarkaan’s voice calling out from the distance:
“Retire. Back hither and re-form.”
Then Eustace came to his senses and saw the Calormenes scampering back to their friends. But not all of them. Two lay dead, pierced by Jewel’s horn, one by Tirian’s sword. The Fox lay dead at his own feet, and he wondered if it was he who had killed it. The Bull also was down, shot through the eye by an arrow from Jill and gashed in his side by the Boar’s tusk. But our side had its losses too. Three dogs were killed and a fourth was hobbling behind the line on three legs and whimpering. The Bear lay on the ground, moving feebly. Then it mumbled in its throaty voice, bewildered to the last, “I – I don’t understand,” laid its big head down on the grass as quietly as a child going to sleep, and never moved again.
In fact, the first attack had failed. Eustace didn’t seem able to be glad about it: he was so terribly thirsty and his arm ached so.
As the defeated Calormenes went back to their commander, the Dwarfs began jeering at them.
“Had enough, Darkies?” they yelled. “Don’t you like it? Why doesn’t your great Tarkaan go and fight himself instead of sending you to be killed? Poor Darkies!”
“Dwarfs,” cried Tirian. “Come here and use your swords, not your tongues. There is still time. Dwarfs of Narnia! You can fight well, I know. Come back to your allegiance.”
“Yah!” sneered the Dwarfs. “Not likely. You’re just as big humbugs as the other lot. We don’t want any Kings. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs. Boo!”
Then the Drum began: not a Dwarf drum this time, but a big bull’s hide Calormene drum. The children from the very first hated the sound. Boom – boom – ba-ba-boom it went. But they would have hated it far worse if they had known what it meant. Tirian did. It meant that there were other Calormene troops somewhere near and that Rishda Tarkaan was calling them to his aid. Tirian and Jewel looked at one another sadly. They had just begun to hope that they might win that night: but it would be all over with them if new enemies appeared.
Tirian gazed despairingly round. Several Narnians were standing with the Calormenes, whether through treachery or in honest fear of “Tashlan”. Others were sitting still, staring, not likely to join either side. But there were fewer animals now: the crowd was much smaller. Clearly, several of them had just crept quietly away during the fighting.
Boom – boom – ba-ba-boom went the horrible drum. Then another sound began to mix with it. “Listen!” said Jewel: and then “Look!” said Farsight. A moment later there was no doubt what it was. With a thunder of hoofs, with tossing heads, widened nostrils, and waving manes, over a score of Talking Horses of Narnia came charging up the hill. The gnawers and nibblers had done their work.
Poggin the Dwarf and the children opened their mouths to cheer but that cheer never came. Suddenly the air was full of the sound of twanging bow-strings and hissing arrows. It was the Dwarfs who were shooting and – for a moment Jill could hardly believe her eyes – they were shooting the Horses. Dwarfs are deadly archers. Horse after Horse rolled over. Not one of those noble Beasts ever reached the King.
“Little Swine,” shrieked Eustace, dancing in his rage. “Dirty, filthy, treacherous little brutes.” Even Jewel said, “Shall I run after those Dwarfs, Sire, and spit ten of them on my horn at each plunge?” But Tirian with his face as stern as stone, said, “Stand fast, Jewel. If you must weep, sweetheart (this was to Jill), turn your face aside and see you wet not your bow-string. And peace, Eustace. Do not scold, like a kitchen-girl. No warrior scolds. Courteous words or else hard knocks are his only language.”
But the Dwarfs jeered back at Eustace. “That was a surprise for you, little boy, eh? Thought we were on your side, did you? No fear. We don’t want any Talking Horses. We don’t want you to win any more than the other gang. You can’t take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”
Rishda Tarkaan was still talking to his men, doubtless making arrangements for the next attack and probably wishing he had sent his whole force into the first. The drum boomed on. Then, to their horror, Tirian and his friends heard, far fainter as if from a long way off, an answering drum. Another body of Calormenes had heard Rishda’s signal and were coming to support him. You would not have known from Tirian’s face that he had now given up all hope.
“Listen,” he whispered in a matter-of-fact voice, “we must attack now, before yonder miscreants are strengthened by their friends.”
“Bethink you, Sire,” said Poggin, “that here we have the good wooden wall of the stable at our backs. If we advance, shall we not be encircled and get sword-points between our shoulders?”
“I would say as you do, Dwarf,” said Tirian. “Were it not their very plan to force us into the stable? The further we are from its deadly door, the better.”
“The King is right,” said Farsight. “Away from this accursed stable, and whatever goblin lives inside it, at all costs.”
“Yes, do let’s,” said Eustace. “I’m coming to hate the very sight of it.”
“Good,” said Tirian. “Now look yonder to our left. You see a great rock that gleams white like marble in the firelight. First we will fall upon those Calormenes. You, maiden, shall move out on our left and shoot as fast as ever you may into their ranks: and you, Eagle, fly at their faces from the right. Meanwhile we others will be charging them. When we are so close, Jill, that you can no longer shoot at them for fear of striking us, go back to the white rock and wait. You others, keep your ears wide even in the fighting. We must put them to flight in a few minutes or else not at all, for we are fewer than they. As soon as I call Back, then rush to join Jill at the white rock, where we shall have protection behind us and can breathe awhile. Now, be off, Jill.”
Feeling terribly alone, Jill ran out about twenty feet, put her right leg back and her left leg forward, and set an arrow to her string. She wished her hands were not shaking so. “‘That’s a rotten shot!” she said as her first arrow sped towards the enemy and flew over their heads. But she had another on the string next moment: she knew that speed was what mattered. She saw something big and black darting into the faces of the Calormenes. ‘that was Farsight. First one man, and then another, dropped his sword and put up both his hands to defend his eyes. Then one of her own arrows hit a man, and another hit a Narnian wolf, who had, it seemed, joined the enemy. But she had been shooting only for a few seconds when she had to stop. With a flash of swords and of the Boar’s tusks and Jewel’s horn, and with deep baying from the dogs, Tirian and his party were rushing on their enemies, like men in a hundred yards’ race. Jill was astonished to see how unprepared the Calormenes seemed to be. She did not realize that this was the result of her work and the Eagle’s. Very few troops can keep on looking steadily to the front if they are getting arrows in their faces from one side and being pecked by an eagle on the other.
“Oh well done. Well done!” shouted Jill. The King’s party were cutting their way right into the enemy. The Unicorn was tossing men as you’d toss hay on a fork. Even Eustace seemed to Jill (who after all didn’t know very much about swordsmanship) to be fighting brilliantly. The Dogs were at the Calormenes’ throats. It was going to work! It was victory at last – With a horrible, cold shock Jill noticed a strange thing. Though Calormenes were falling at each Narnian sword-stroke, they never seemed to get any fewer. In fact, there were actually more of them now than when the fight began. There were more every second. They were running up from every side. They were new Calormenes. These new ones had spears. There was such a crowd of them that she could hardly see her own friends. Then she heard Tirian’s voice crying:
“Back! To the rock!”
The enemy had been reinforced. The drum had done its work.