CHAPTER FOUR: WHAT HAPPENED THAT NIGHT
THE King was so dizzy from being knocked down that he hardly knew what was happening until the Calormenes untied his wrists and put his arms straight down by his sides and set him with his back against an ash tree. Then they bound ropes round his ankles and his knees and his waist and his chest and left him there. What worried him worst at the moment – for it is often little things that are hardest to stand – was that his lip was bleeding where they had hit him and he couldn’t wipe the little trickle of blood away although it tickled him.
From where he was he could still see the little stable on the top of the hill and the Ape sitting in front of it. He could just hear the Ape’s voice still going on and, every now and then, some answer from the crowd, but he could not make out the words.
“I wonder what they’ve done to Jewel,” thought the King.
Presently the crowd of beasts broke up and began going away in different directions. Some passed close to Tirian. They looked at him as if they were both frightened and sorry to see him tied up but none of them spoke. Soon they had all gone and there was silence in the wood. Then hours and hours went past and Tirian became first very thirsty and then very hungry; and as the afternoon dragged on and turned into evening, he became cold too. His back was very sore. The sun went down and it began to be twilight.
When it was almost dark Tirian heard a light pitter-patter of feet and saw some small creatures coming towards him. The three on the left were Mice, and there was a Rabbit in the middle: on the right were two Moles. Both these were carrying little bags on their backs which gave them a curious look in the dark so that at first he wondered what kind of beasts they were. Then, in a moment, they were all standing up on their hind legs, laying their cool paws on his knees and giving his knees snuffly animal kisses. (They could reach his knees because Narnian Talking Beasts of that sort are bigger than the dumb beasts of the same kind in England.)
“Lord King! dear Lord King,” said their shrill voices, “we are so sorry for you. We daren’t untie you because Aslan might be angry with us. But we’ve brought you your supper.”
At once the first Mouse climbed nimbly up till he was perched on the rope that bound Tirian’s chest and was wrinkling his blunt nose in front of Tirian’s face. Then the second Mouse climbed up and hung on just below the first Mouse. The other beasts stood on the ground and began handing things up.
“Drink, Sire, and then you’ll find you are able to eat,” said the topmost Mouse, and Tirian found that a little wooden cup was being held to his lips. It was only the size of an egg cup so that he had hardly tasted the wine in it before it was empty. But then the Mouse passed it down and the others re-filled it and it was passed up again and Tirian emptied it a second time. In this way they went on till he had quite a good drink, which was all the better for coming in little doses, for that is more thirst-quenching than one long draught.
“Here is cheese, Sire,” said the first Mouse, “but not very much, for fear it would make you too thirsty.” And after the cheese they fed him with oat-cakes and fresh butter, and then with some more wine.
“Now hand up the water,” said the first Mouse, “and I’ll wash the King’s face. There is blood on it.”
Then Tirian felt something like a tiny sponge dabbing his face, and it was most refreshing.
“Little friends,” said Tirian, “how can I thank you for all this?”
“You needn’t, you needn’t,” said the little voices. “What else could we do? We don’t want any other King. We’re your people. If it was only the Ape and the Calormenes who were against you we would have fought till we were cut into pieces before we’d let them tie you up. We would, we would indeed. But we can’t go against Aslan.”
“Do you think it really is Aslan?” asked the King.
“Oh yes, yes,” said the Rabbit. “He came out of the stable last night. We all saw him.”
“What was he like?” said the King.
“Like a terrible, great Lion, to be sure,” said one of the Mice.
“And you think it is really Aslan who is killing the Wood-Nymphs and making you all slaves to the King of Calormen?”
“Ah, that’s bad, isn’t it?” said the second Mouse. “It would have been better if we’d died before all this began. But there’s no doubt about it. Everyone says it is Aslan’s orders. And we’ve seen him. We didn’t think Aslan would be like that. Why, we – we wanted him to come back to Narnia.”
“He seems to have come back very angry this time,” said the first Mouse. “We must all have done something dreadfully wrong without knowing it. He must be punishing us for something. But I do think we might be told what it was!”
“I suppose what we’re doing now may be wrong,” said the Rabbit.
“I don’t care if it is,” said one of the Moles. “I’d do it again.”
But the others said, “Oh hush,” and “Do be careful,” and then they all said, “We’re sorry, dear King, but we must go back now. It would never do for us to be caught here.”
“Leave me at once, dear Beasts,” said Tirian. “I would not for all Narnia bring any of you into danger.”
“Goodnight, goodnight,” said the Beasts, rubbing their noses against his knees. “We will come back – if we can.” Then they all pattered away and the wood seemed darker and colder and lonelier than it had been before they came.
The stars came out and time went slowly on – imagine how slowly – while that last King of Narnia stood stiff and sore and upright against the tree in his bonds. But at last something happened.
Far away there appeared a red light. Then it disappeared for a moment and came back again, bigger and stronger. Then he could see dark shapes going to and fro on this side of the light and carrying bundles and throwing them down. He knew now what he was looking at. It was a bonfire, newly lit, and people were throwing bundles of brushwood on to it. Presently it blazed up and Tirian could see that it was on the very top of the hill. He could see quite clearly the stable behind it, all lit up in the red glow, and a great crowd of Beasts and Men between the fire and himself. A small figure, hunched up beside the fire, must be the Ape. It was saying something to the crowd, but he could not hear what. Then it went and bowed three times to the ground in front of the door of the stable. Then it got up and opened the door. And something on four legs – something that walked rather stiffly – came out of the stable and stood facing the crowd.
A great wailing or howling went up, so loud that Tirian could hear some of the words.
“Aslan! Aslan! Aslan!” cried the Beasts. “Speak to us. Comfort us. Be angry with us no more.”
From where Tirian was he could not make out very clearly what the thing was; but he could see that it was yellow and hairy. He had never seen the Great Lion. He had never seen a common lion. He couldn’t be sure that what he saw was not the real Aslan. He had not expected Aslan to look like that stiff thing which stood and said nothing. But how could one be sure? For a moment horrible thoughts went through his mind: then he remembered the nonsense about Tash and Aslan being the same and knew that the whole thing must be a cheat.
The Ape put his head close up to the yellow thing’s head as if he were listening to something it was whispering to him. Then he turned and spoke to the crowd, and the crowd wailed again. Then the yellow thing turned clumsily round and walked – you might almost say, waddled – back into the stable and the Ape shut the door behind it. After that the fire must have been put out for the light vanished quite suddenly, and Tirian was once more alone with the cold and the darkness.
He thought of other Kings who had lived and died in Narnia in old times and it seemed to him that none of them had ever been so unlucky as himself. He thought of his great-grandfather’s great-grandfather King Rilian who had been stolen away by a Witch when he was only a young prince and kept hidden for years in the dark caves beneath the land of the Northern Giants. But then it had all come; right in the end, for two mysterious children had suddenly appeared from the land beyond the world’s end and had rescued him so that he came home to Narnia and had a long and prosperous reign. “It’s not like that with me,” said Tirian to himself. Then he went further back and: thought about Rilian’s father, Caspian the Seafarer, whose wicked uncle King Miraz had tried to murder him and how Caspian had fled away into the woods and lived among the Dwarfs. But that story too had all come right in the end: for Caspian also had been helped by children – only there were four of them that time – who came from somewhere beyond the world and fought a great battle and set him on his father’s throne. “But it was all long ago,” said Tirian to himself. “That sort of thing doesn’t happen now.” And then he remembered (for he had always been good at history when he was a boy) how those same four children who had helped Caspian had been in Narnia over a thousand years before; and it was then that they had done the most remarkable thing of all. For then they had defeated the terrible White Witch and ended the Hundred Years of Winter, and after that they had reigned (all four of them together) at Cair Paravel, till they were no longer children but great Kings and lovely Queens, and their reign had been the golden age of Narnia. And Aslan had come into that story a lot. He had come into all the other stories too, as Tirian now remembered. “Aslan – and children from another world,” thought Tirian. “They have always come in when things were at their worst. Oh, if only they could now.”
And he called out “Aslan! Aslan! Aslan! Come and help us now.”
But the darkness and the cold and the quietness went on just the same.
“Let me be killed,” cried the King. “I ask nothing for myself. But come and save all Narnia.”
And still there was no change in the night or the wood, but there began to be a kind of change inside Tirian. Without knowing why, he began to feel a faint hope. And he felt somehow stronger. “Oh Aslan, Aslan,” he whispered. “If you will not come yourself, at least send me the helpers from beyond the world. Or let me call them. Let my voice carry beyond the world.” Then, hardly knowing that he was doing it, he suddenly cried out in a great voice:
“Children! Children! Friends of Narnia! Quick. Come to me. Across the worlds I call you; I Tirian, King of Narnia, Lord of Cair Paravel, and Emperor of the Lone Islands!”
And immediately he was plunged into a dream (if it was a dream) more vivid than any he had had in his life.
He seemed to be standing in a lighted room where seven people sat round a table. It looked as if they had just finished their meal. Two of those people were very old, an old man with a white beard and an old woman with wise, merry, twinkling eyes. He who sat at the right hand of the old man was hardly full grown, certainly younger than Tirian himself, but his face had already the look of a king and a warrior. And you could almost say the same of the other youth who sat at the right hand of the old woman. Facing Tirian across the table sat a fair-haired girl younger than either of these, and on either side of her a boy and girl who were younger still. They were all dressed in what seemed to Tirian the oddest kind of clothes.
But he had no time to think about details like that, for instantly the younger boy and both the girls started to their feet, and one of them gave a little scream. The old woman started and drew in her breath sharply. The old man must have made some sudden movement too for the wine glass which stood at his right hand was swept off the table: Tirian could hear the tinkling noise as it broke on the floor.
Then Tirian realized that these people could see him; they were staring at him as if they saw a ghost. But he noticed that the king-like one who sat at the old man’s right never moved (though he turned pale) except that he clenched his hand very tight. Then he said:
“Speak, if you’re not a phantom or a dream. You have a Narnian look about you and we are the seven friends of Narnia.”
Tirian was longing to speak, and he tried to cry out aloud that he was Tirian of Narnia, in great need of help. But he found (as I have sometimes found in dreams too) that his voice made no noise at all.
The one who had already spoken to him rose to his feet. “Shadow or spirit or whatever you are,” he said, fixing his eyes full upon Tirian. “If you are from Narnia, I charge you in the name of Aslan, speak to me. I am Peter the High King.”
The room began to swim before Tirian’s eyes. He heard the voices of those seven people all speaking at once, and all getting fainter every second, and they were saying things like, “Look! It’s fading.” “It’s melting away.” “It’s vanishing.” Next moment he was wide awake, still tied to the tree, colder and stiffer than ever. The wood was full of the pale, dreary light that comes before sunrise, and he was soaking wet with dew; it was nearly morning.
That waking was about the worst moment he had ever had in his life.