CHAPTER SIX: A GOOD NIGHT’S WORK
ABOUT four hours later Tirian flung himself into one of the bunks to snatch a little sleep. The two children were already snoring: he had made them go to bed before he did because they would have to be up most of the night and he knew that at their age they couldn’t do without sleep. Also, he had tired them out. First he had given Jill some practice in archery and found that, though not up to Narnian standards, she was really not too bad. Indeed she had succeeded in shooting a rabbit (not a Talking rabbit, of course: there are lots of the ordinary kind about in Western Narnia) and it was already skinned, cleaned, and hanging up. He had found that both the children knew all about this chilly and smelly job; they had learned that kind of thing on their great journey through Giant-Land in the days of Prince Rilian. Then he had tried to teach Eustace how to use his sword and shield. Eustace had learned quite a lot about sword fighting on his earlier adventures but that had been all with a straight Narnian sword. He had never handled a curved Calormene scimitar and that made it hard, for many of the strokes are quite different and some of the habits he had learned with the long sword had now to be unlearned again. But Tirian found that he had a good eye and was very quick on his feet. He was surprised at the strength of both children: in fact they both seemed to be already much stronger and bigger and more grown-up than they had been when he first met them a few hours ago. It is one of the effects which Narnian air often has on visitors from our world.
All three of them agreed that the very first thing they must do was to go back to Stable Hill and try to rescue Jewel the Unicorn. After that, if they succeeded, they would try to get away Eastward and meet the little army which Roonwit the Centaur would be bringing from Cair Paravel.
An experienced warrior and huntsman like Tirian can always wake up at the time he wants. So he gave himself till nine o’clock that night and then put all worries out of his head and fell asleep at once. It seemed only a moment later when he woke but he knew by the light and the very feel of things that he had timed his sleep exactly. He got up, put on his helmet-and-turban (he had slept in his mail shirt), and then shook the other two till they woke up. They looked, to tell the truth, very grey and dismal as they climbed out of their bunks and there was a good deal of yawning.
“Now,” said Tirian, “we go due North from here – by good fortune ’tis a starry night – and it will be much shorter than our journey this morning, for then we went round-about but now we shall go straight. If we are challenged, then do you two hold your peace and I will do my best to talk like a curst, cruel, proud lord of Calormen. If I draw my sword then thou, Eustace, must do likewise and let Jill leap behind us and stand with an arrow on the string. But if I cry `Home’, then fly for the Tower both of you. And let none try to fight on – not even one stroke after I have given the retreat: such false valour has spoiled many notable plans in the wars. And now, friends, in the name of Aslan let us go forward.”
Out they went into the cold night. All the great Northern stars were burning above the tree-tops. The North-Star of that world is called the Spear-Head: it is brighter than our Pole Star.
For a time they could go straight towards the Spear-Head but presently they came to a dense thicket so that they had to go out of their course to get round it. And after that -for they were still overshadowed by branches – it was hard to pick up their bearings. It was Jill who set them right again: she had been an excellent Guide in England. And of course she knew her Narnian stars perfectly, having travelled so much in the wild Northern Lands, and could work out the direction from other stars even when the Spear-Head was hidden. As soon as Tirian saw that she was the best pathfinder of the three of them he put her in front. And then he was astonished to find how silently and almost invisibly she glided on before them.
“By the Mane!” he whispered to Eustace. “This girl is a wondrous wood-maid. If she had Dryad’s blood in her she could scarce do it better.”
“She’s so small, that’s what helps,” whispered Eustace. But Jill from in front said: “S-s-s-h, less noise.”
All round them the wood was very quiet. Indeed it was far too quiet. On an ordinary Narnia night there ought to have been noises – an occasional cheery “Goodnight” from a Hedgehog, the cry of an Owl overhead, perhaps a flute in the distance to tell of Fauns dancing, or some throbbing, hammering noises from Dwarfs underground. All that was silenced: gloom and fear reigned over Narnia.
After a time they began to go steeply uphill and the trees grew further apart. Tirian could dimly make out the wellknown hill-top and the stable. Jill was now going with more and more caution: she kept on making signs to the others with her hand to do the same. Then she stopped dead still and Tirian saw her gradually sink down into the grass and disappear without a sound. A moment later she rose again, put her mouth close to Tirian’s ear, and said in the lowest possible whisper, “Get down. Thee better.” She said thee for see not because she had a lisp but because she knew the hissing letter S is the part of a whisper most likely to be overheard. Tirian at once lay down, almost as silently as Jill, but not quite, for he was heavier and older. And once they were down, he saw how from that position you could see the edge of the hill sharp against the star-strewn sky. Two black shapes rose against it: one was the stable, and the other, a few feet in front of it, was a Calormene sentry. He was keeping very ill watch: not walking or even standing but sitting with his spear over his shoulder and his chin on his chest. “Well done,” said Tirian to Jill. She had shown him exactly what he needed to know.
They got up and Tirian now took the lead. Very slowly, hardly daring to breathe, they made their way up to a little clump of trees which was not more than forty feet away from the sentinel.
“Wait here till I come again,” he whispered to the other two. “If I miscarry, fly.” Then he sauntered out boldly in full view of the enemy. The man started when he saw him and was just going to jump to his feet: he was afraid Tirian might be one of his own officers and that he would get into trouble for sitting down. But before he could get up Tirian had dropped on one knee beside him, saying:
“Art thou a warrior of the Tisroc’s, may he live for ever? It cheers my heart to meet thee among all these beasts and devils of Narnians. Give me thy hand, friend.”
Before he well knew what was happening the Calormene sentry found his right hand seized in a mighty grip. Next instant someone was kneeling on his legs and a dagger was pressed against his neck.
“One noise and thou art dead,” said Tirian in his ear. “Tell me where the Unicorn is and thou shalt live.”
“B – behind the stable, O My Master,” stammered the unfortunate man.
“Good. Rise up and lead me to him.”
As the man got up the point of the dagger never left his neck. It only travelled round (cold and rather ticklish) as Tirian got behind him and settled it at a convenient place under his ear. Trembling he went round to the back of the stable.
Though it was dark Tirian could see the white shape of Jewel at once.
“Hush!” he said. “No, do not neigh. Yes, Jewel, it is I. How have they tied thee?”
“Hobbled by all four legs and tied with a bridle to a ring in the stable wall,” came Jewel’s voice.
“Stand here, sentry, with your back to the wall. So. Now, Jewel: set the point of your horn against this Calormene’s breast.”
“With a good will, Sire,” said Jewel.
“If he moves, rive him to the heart.” Then in a few seconds Tirian cut the ropes. With the remains of them he bound the sentry hand and foot. Finally he made him open his mouth, stuffed it full of grass and tied him up from scalp to chin so that he could make no noise, lowered the man into a sitting position and set him against the wall.
“I have done thee some discourtesy, soldier,” said Tirian. “But such was my need. If we meet again I may happen to do thee a better turn. Now, Jewel, let us go softly.”
He put his left arm round the beast’s neck and bent and kissed its nose and both had great joy. They went back as quietly as possible to the place where he had left the children. It was darker in there under the trees and he nearly ran into Eustace before he saw him.
“All’s well,” whispered Tirian. “A good night’s work. Now for home.”
They turned and had gone a few paces when Eustace said, “Where are you, Pole?” There was no answer. “Is Jill on the other side of you, Sire?” he asked.
“What?” said Tirian. “Is she not on the other side of your”
It was a terrible moment. They dared not shout but they whispered her name in the loudest whisper they could manage. There was no reply.
“Did she go from you while I was away?” asked Tirian.
“I didn’t see or hear her go,” said Eustace. “But she could have gone without my knowing. She can be as quiet as a cat; you’ve seen for yourself.”
At that moment a far off drum beat was heard. Jewel moved his ears forward. “Dwarfs,” he said.
“And treacherous Dwarfs, enemies, as likely as not,” muttered Tirian.
“And here comes something on hoofs, much nearer,” said Jewel.
The two humans and the Unicorn stood dead still. There were now so many different things to worry about that they didn’t know what to do. The noise of hoofs came steadily nearer. And then, quite close to them, a voice whispered:
“Hallo! Are you all there?”
Thank heaven, it was Jill’s.
“Where the devil have you been to?” said Eustace in a furious whisper, for he had been very frightened.
“In the stable,” gasped Jill, but it was the sort of gasp you give when you’re struggling with suppressed laughter.
“Oh,” growled Eustace, “you think it funny, do you? Well all I can say is -“
“Have you got Jewel, Sire?” asked Jill.
“Yes. Here he is. What is that beast with you?”
“That’s him,” said Jill. “But let’s be off home before anyone wakes up.” And again there came little explosions of laughter.
The others obeyed at once for they had already lingered long enough in that dangerous place and the Dwarf drums seemed to have come a little nearer. It was only after they had been walking Southward for several minutes that Eustace said:
“Got him? What do you mean?”
“The false Aslan,” said Jill.
“What?” said Tirian. “Where have you been? What have you done?”
“Well, Sire,” said Jill. “As soon as I saw that you’d got the sentry out of the way I thought hadn’t I better have a look inside the stable and see what really is there? So I crawled along. It was as easy as anything to draw the bolt.
Of course it was pitch black inside and smelled like any other stable. Then I struck a light and – would you believe it? – there was nothing at all there but this old donkey with a bundle of lion-skin tied on to his back. So I drew my knife and told him he’d have to come along with me. As a matter of fact I needn’t have threatened him with the knife at all. He was very fed up with the stable and quite ready to come – weren’t you, Puzzle dear?”
“Great Scott!” said Eustace. “Well I’m – jiggered. I was jolly angry with you a moment ago, and I still think it was mean of you to sneak off without the rest of us: but I must admit – well, I mean to say – well it was a perfectly gorgeous thing to do. If she was a boy she’d have to be knighted, wouldn’t she, Sire?”
“If she was a boy,” said Tirian, “she’d be whipped for disobeying orders.” And in the dark no one could see whether he said this with a frown or a smile. Next minute there was a sound of rasping metal.
“What are you doing, Sire?” asked Jewel sharply.
“Drawing my sword to smite off the head of the accursed Ass,” said Tirian in a terrible voice. “Stand clear, girl.”
“Oh don’t, please don’t,” said Jill. “Really, you mustn’t. It wasn’t his fault. It was all the Ape. He didn’t know any better. And he’s very sorry. And he’s a nice Donkey. His name’s Puzzle. And I’ve got my arms round his neck.”
“Jill,” said Tirian, “you are the bravest and most woodwise of all my subjects, but also the most malapert and disobedient. Well: let the Ass live. What have you to say for yourself, Ass?”
“Me, Sire?” came the Donkey’s voice. “I’m sure I’m very sorry if I’ve done wrong. The Ape said Aslan wanted me to dress up like that. And I thought he’d know. I’m not clever like him. I only did what I was told. It wasn’t any fun for me living in that stable. I don’t even know what’s been going on outside. He never let me out except for a minute or two at night. Some days they forgot to give me any water too.”
“Sire,” said Jewel. “Those Dwarfs are coming nearer and nearer. Do we want to meet them?”
Tirian thought for a moment and then suddenly gave a great laugh out loud. Then he spoke, not this time in a whisper. “By the Lion,” he said, “I am growing slow witted! Meet them? Certainly we will meet them. We will meet anyone now. We have this Ass to show them. Let them see the thing they have feared and bowed to. We can show them the truth of the Ape’s vile plot. His secret’s out. The tide’s turned. Tomorrow we shall hang that Ape on the highest tree in Narnia. No more whispering and skulking and disguises. Where are these honest Dwarfs? We have good news for them.”
When you have been whispering for hours the mere sound of anyone talking out loud has a wonderfully stirring effect. The whole party began talking and laughing: even Puzzle lifted up his head and gave a grand Haw-hee-haw-hee-hee; a thing the Ape hadn’t allowed him to do for days. Then they set off in the direction of the drumming. It grew steadily louder and soon they could see torchlight as well. They came out on one of those rough roads (we should hardly call them roads at all in England) which ran through Lantern Waste. And there, marching sturdily along, were about thirty Dwarfs, all with their little spades and mattocks over their shoulders. Two armed Calormenes led the column and two more brought up the rear.
“Stay!” thundered Tirian as he stepped out on the road. “Stay, soldiers. Whither do you lead these Narnian Dwarfs and by whose orders?”