CHAPTER SEVEN: MAINLY ABOUT DWARFS
THE two Calormene soldiers at the head of the column, seeing what they took for a Tarkaan or great lord with two armed pages, came to a halt and raised their spears in salute.
“O My Master,” said one of them, “we lead these manikins to Calormen to work in the mines of The Tisroc, may-he-live-forever. “
“By the great god Tash, they are very obedient,” said Tirian. Then suddenly he turned to the Dwarfs themselves. About one in six of them carried a torch and by that flickering light he could see their bearded faces all looking at him with grim and dogged expressions. “Has The Tisroc fought a great battle, Dwarfs, and conquered your land?” he asked, “that thus you go patiently to die in the salt-pits of Pugrahan?”
The two soldiers glared at him in surprise but the Dwarfs all answered, “Aslan’s orders, Aslan’s orders. He’s sold us. What can we do against him?”
“Tisroc indeed!” added one and spat. “I’d like to see him try it!”
“Silence, dogs!” said the chief soldier.
“Look!” said Tirian, pulling Puzzle forward into the light. “It has all been a lie. Aslan has not come to Narnia at all. You have been cheated by the Ape. This is the thing he brought out of the stable to show you. Look at it.”
What the Dwarfs saw, now that they could see it close, was certainly enough to make them wonder how they had ever been taken in. The lion-skin had got pretty untidy already during Puzzle’s imprisonment in the stable and it had been knocked crooked during his journey through the dark wood. Most of it was in a big lump on one shoulder. The head, besides being pushed sideways, had somehow got very far back so that anyone could now see his silly, gentle, donkeyish face gazing out of it. Some grass stuck out of one corner of his mouth, for he’d been doing a little quiet nibbling as they brought him along. And he was muttering, “It wasn’t my fault, I’m not clever. I never said I was.”
For one second all the Dwarfs were staring at Puzzle with wide open mouths and then one of the soldiers said sharply, “Are you mad, My Master? What are you doing to the slaves?” and the other said, “And who are you?” Neither of their spears was at the salute now – both were down and ready for action.
“Give the password,” said the chief soldier.
“This is my password,” said the King as he drew his sword. “The light is dawning, the lie broken. Now guard thee, miscreant, for I am Tirian of Narnia.”
He flew upon the chief soldier like lightning. Eustace, who had drawn his sword when he saw the King draw his, rushed at the other one: his face was deadly pale, but I wouldn’t blame him for that. And he had the luck that beginners sometimes do have. He forgot all that Tirian had tried to teach him that afternoon, slashed wildly (indeed I’m not sure his eyes weren’t shut) and suddenly found, to his own great surprise, that the Calormene lay dead at his feet. And though that was a great relief, it was, at the moment, rather frightening. The King’s fight lasted a second or two longer: then he too had killed his man and shouted to Eustace, “‘Ware the other two.”
But the Dwarfs had settled the two remaining Calormenes. There was no enemy left.
“Well struck, Eustace!” cried Tirian, clapping him on the back. “Now, Dwarfs, you are free. Tomorrow I will lead you to free all Narnia. Three cheers for Aslan!”
But the result which followed was simply wretched. There was a feeble attempt from a few Dwarfs (about five) which died away all at once: from several others there were sulky growls. Many said nothing at all.
“Don’t they understand?” said Jill impatiently. “What’s wrong with all you Dwarfs? Don’t you hear what the King says? It’s all over. The Ape isn’t going to rule Narnia any longer. Everyone can go back to ordinary life. You can have fun again. Aren’t you glad?”
After a pause of nearly a minute a not-very-nice-looking Dwarf with hair and beard as black as soot said: “And who might you be, Missie?”
“I’m Jill,” she said. “The same Jill who rescued King Rilian from the enchantment and this is Eustace who did it too – and we’ve come back from another world after hundreds of years. Aslan sent us.”
The Dwarfs all looked at one another with grins; sneering grins, not merry ones.
“Well,” said the Black Dwarf (whose name was Griffle), “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”
“That’s right, that’s right,” growled the other Dwarfs. “It’s all a plant, all a blooming plant.”
“What do you mean?” said Tirian. He had not been pale when he was fighting but he was pale now. He had thought this was going to be a beautiful moment, but it was turning out more like a bad dream.
“You must think we’re blooming soft in the head, that you must,” said Griffle. “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in again the next minute. We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see! Look at him! An old moke with long ears!”
“By heaven, you make me mad,” said Tirian. “Which of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape’s imitation of the real Aslan. Can’t you understand?”
“And you’ve got a better imitation, I suppose!” said Griffle. “No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”
“I have not,” said Tirian angrily, “I serve the real Aslan.”
“Where’s he? Who’s he? Show him to us!” said several Dwarfs.
“Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?” said Tirian. “Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion.”
The moment those words were out of his mouth he realized that he had made a false move. The Dwarfs at once began repeating “not a tame lion, not a tame lion,” in a jeering sing-song. “That’s what the other lot kept on telling us,” said one.
“Do you mean you don’t believe in the real Aslan?” said Jill. “But I’ve seen him. And he has sent us two here out of a different world.”
“Ah,” said Griffle with a broad smile. “So you say. They’ve taught you your stuff all right. Saying your lessons, ain’t you?”
“Churl,” cried Tirian, “will you give a lady the lie to her very face?”
“You keep a civil tongue in your head, Mister,” replied the Dwarf. “I don’t think we want any more Kings – if you are Tirian, which you don’t look like him – no more than we want any Aslans. We’re going to look after ourselves from now on and touch our caps to nobody. See?”
“That’s right,” said the other Dwarfs. “We’re on our own now. No more Aslan, no more Kings, no more silly stories about other worlds. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.” And they began to fall into their places and to get ready for marching back to wherever they had come from.
“Little beasts!” said Eustace. “Aren’t you even going to say thank you for being saved from the salt-mines?”
“Oh, we know all about that,” said Griffle over his shoulder. “You wanted to make use of us, that’s why you rescued us. You’re playing some game of your own. Come on you chaps.”
And the Dwarfs struck up the queer little marching song which goes with the drum-beat, and off they tramped into the darkness.
Tirian and his friends stared after them. Then he said the single word “Come,” and they continued their journey.
They were a silent party. Puzzle felt himself to be still in disgrace, and also he didn’t really quite understand what had happened. Jill, besides being disgusted with the Dwarfs, was very impressed with Eustace’s victory over the Calormene and felt almost shy. As for Eustace, his heart was still beating rather quickly. Tirian and Jewel walked sadly together in the rear. The King had his arm on the Unicorn’s shoulder and sometimes the Unicorn nuzzled the King’s cheek with his soft nose. They did not try to comfort one another with words. It wasn’t very easy to think of anything to say that would be comforting. Tirian had never dreamed that one of the results of an Ape’s setting up as a false Aslan would be to stop people from believing in the real one. He had felt quite sure that the Dwarfs would rally to his side the moment he showed them how they had been deceived. And then next night he would have led them to Stable Hill and shown Puzzle to all the creatures and everyone would have turned against the Ape and, perhaps after a scuffle with the Calormenes, the whole thing would have been over. But now, it seemed, he could count on nothing. How many other Narnians might turn the same way as the Dwarfs?
“Somebody’s coming after us, I think,” said Puzzle suddenly.
They stopped and listened. Sure enough, there was a thump-thump of small feet behind them.
“Who goes there!” shouted the King.
“Only me, Sire,” came a voice. “Me, Poggin the Dwarf. I’ve only just managed to get away from the others. I’m on your side, Sire: and on Aslan’s. If you can put a Dwarfish sword in my fist, I’d gladly strike a blow on the right side before all’s done.”
Everyone crowded round him and welcomed him and praised him and slapped him on the back. Of course one single Dwarf could not make a very great difference, but it was somehow very cheering to have even one. The whole party brightened up. But Jill and Eustace didn’t stay bright for very long, for they were now yawning their heads off and too tired to think about anything but bed.
It was at the coldest hour of the night, just before dawn, that they got back to the Tower. If there had been a meal ready for them they would have been glad enough to eat, but the bother and delay of getting one was not to be thought of. They drank from a stream, splashed their faces with water, and tumbled into their bunks, except for Puzzle and Jewel who said they’d be more comfortable outside. This perhaps was just as well, for a Unicorn and a fat, full-grown Donkey indoors always make a room feel rather crowded.
Narnian Dwarfs, though less than four feet high, are for their size about the toughest and strongest creatures there are, so that Poggin, in spite of a heavy day and a late night, woke fully refreshed before any of the others. He at once took Jill’s bow, went out and shot a couple of wood pigeons. Then he sat plucking them on the doorstep and chatting to Jewel and Puzzle. Puzzle looked and felt a good deal better this morning. Jewel, being a Unicorn and therefore one of the noblest and delicatest of beasts, had been very kind to him, talking to him about things of the sort they could both understand like grass and sugar and the care of one’s hoofs. When Jill and Eustace came out of the Tower yawning and rubbing their eyes at almost half past ten, the Dwarf showed them where they could gather plenty of a Narnian weed called Wild Fresney, which looks rather like our wood-sorrel but tastes a good deal nicer when cooked. (It needs a little butter and pepper to make it perfect, but they hadn’t got these.) So that what with one thing and another, they had the makings of a capital stew for their breakfast or dinner, whichever you choose to call it. Tirian went a little further off into the wood with an axe and brought back some branches for fuel. While the meal was cooking – which seemed a very long time, especially as it smelled nicer and nicer the nearer it came to being done – the King found a complete Dwarfish outfit for Poggin: mail shirt, helmet, shield, sword, belt, and dagger. Then he inspected Eustace’s sword and found that Eustace had put it back in the sheath all messy from killing the Calormene. He was scolded for that and made to clean and polish it.
All this while Jill went to and fro, sometimes stirring the pot and sometimes looking out enviously at the Donkey and the Unicorn who were contentedly grazing. How many times that morning she wished she could eat grass!
But when the meal came everyone felt it had been worth waiting for, and there were second helpings all round. When everyone had eaten as much as he could, the three humans and the Dwarf came and sat on the doorstep, the four-footed ones lay down facing them, the Dwarf (with permission both from Jill and from Tirian) lit his pipe, and the King said:
“Now, friend Poggin, you have more news of the enemy, belike, than we. Tell us all you know. And first, what tale do they tell of my escape?”
“As cunning a tale, Sire, as ever was devised,” said Poggin. “It was the Cat, Ginger, who told it, and most likely made it up too. This Ginger, Sire – oh, he’s a slyboots if ever a cat was – said he was walking past the tree to which those villains bound your Majesty. And he said (saving your reverence) that you were howling and swearing and cursing Aslan: `language I wouldn’t like to repeat’ were the words he used, looking ever so prim and proper you know the way a Cat can when it pleases. And then, says Ginger, Aslan himself suddenly appeared in a flash of lightning and swallowed your Majesty up at one mouthful. All the Beasts trembled at this story and some fainted right away. And of course the Ape followed it up. There, he says, see what Aslan does to those who don’t respect him. Let that be a warning to you all. And the poor creatures wailed and whined and said, it will, it will. So that in the upshot your Majesty’s escape has not set them thinking whether you still have loyal friends to aid you, but only made them more afraid and more obedient to the Ape.”
“What devilish policy!” said Tirian. “This Ginger, then, is close in the Ape’s counsels.”
“It’s more a question by now, Sire, if the Ape is in his counsels,” replied the Dwarf. “The Ape has taken to drinking, you see. My belief is that the plot is now mostly carried on by Ginger or Rishda – that’s the Calormene captain. And I think some words that Ginger has scattered among the Dwarfs are chiefly to blame for the scurvy return they made you. And I’ll tell you why. One of those dreadful midnight meetings had just broken up the night before last and I’d gone a bit of the way home when I found I’d left my pipe behind. It was a real good ‘un, an old favourite, so I went back to look for it. But before I got to the place where I’d been sitting (it was black as pitch there) I heard a cat’s voice say Mew and a Calormene voice say `here . . . speak softly,’ so I just stood as still as if I was frozen. And these two were Ginger and Rishda Tarkaan as they call him. `Noble Tarkaan,’ said the Cat in that silky voice of his, `I just wanted to know exactly what we both meant today about Aslan meaning no more than Tash.’ `Doubtless, most sagacious of cats,’ says the other, `you have perceived my meaning.’ `You mean,’ says Ginger, `that there’s no such person as either.” “All who are enlightened know that,’ said the Tarkaan. `Then we can understand one another,’ purrs the Cat. `Do you, like me, grow a little weary of the Ape?’ `A stupid, greedy brute,’ says the other, `but we must use him for the present. Thou and I must provide for all things in secret and make the Ape do our will.’ `And it would be better, wouldn’t it,’ said Ginger, `to let some of the more enlightened Narnians into our counsels: one by one as we find them apt. For the Beasts who really believe in Aslan may turn at any moment: and will, if the Ape’s folly betrays his secret. But those who care neither for Tash nor Aslan but have only an eye to their own profit and such reward as The Tisroc may give them when Narnia is a Calormene province, will be firm.’ `Excellent Cat,’ said the Captain. `But choose which ones carefully.”‘
While the Dwarf had been speaking the day seemed to have changed. It had been sunny when they sat down. Now Puzzle shivered. Jewel shifted his head uneasily. Jill looked up.
“It’s clouding over,” she said.
“And it’s so cold,” said Puzzle.
“Cold enough, by the Lion!” said Tirian, blowing on his hands. “And faugh! What foul smell is this?”
“Phew!” gasped Eustace. “It’s like something dead. Is there a dead bird somewhere about? And why didn’t we notice it before?”
With a great upheaval Jewel scrambled to his feet and pointed with his horn.
“Look!” he cried. “Look at it! Look, look!”
Then all six of them saw; and over all their faces there came an expression of uttermost dismay.