CHAPTER TWELVE: STRAWBERRY’S ADVENTURE
DIGORY kept his mouth very tight shut. He had been growing more and more uncomfortable. He hoped that, whatever happened, he wouldn’t blub or do anything ridiculous.
“Son of Adam,” said Aslan. “Are you ready to undo the wrong that you have done to my sweet country of Narnia on the very day of its birth?”
“Well, I don’t see what I can do,” said Digory. “You see, the Queen ran away and – “
“I asked, are you ready?” said the Lion.
“Yes,” said Digory. He had had for a second some wild idea of saying “I’ll try to help you if you’ll promise to help my Mother,” but he realized in time that the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with. But when he had said “Yes,” he thought of his Mother, and he thought of the great hopes he had had, and how they were all dying away, and a lump came in his throat and tears in his eyes, and he blurted out:
“But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another. But I have to think of hundreds of years in the life of Narnia. The Witch whom you have brought into this world will come back to Narnia again. But it need not be yet. It is my wish to plant in Narnia a tree that she will not dare to approach, and that tree will protect Narnia from her for many years. So this land shall have a long, bright morning before any clouds come over the sun. You must get me the seed from which that tree is to grow.”
“Yes, sir,” said Digory. He didn’t know how it was to be done but he felt quite sure now that he would be able to do it. The Lion drew a deep breath, stooped its head even lower and gave him a Lion’s kiss. And at once Digory felt that new strength and courage had gone into him.
“Dear son,” said Aslan, “I will tell you what you must do. Turn and look to the West and tell me what do you see?”
“I see terribly big mountains, Aslan,” said Digory, “I see this river coming down cliffs in a waterfall. And beyond the cliff there are high green hills with forests. And beyond those there are higher ranges that look almost black. And then, far away, there are big snowy mountains all heaped up together – like pictures of the Alps. And behind those there’s nothing but the sky.”
“You see well,” said the Lion. “Now the land of Narnia ends where the waterfall comes down, and once you have reached the top of the cliffs you will be out of Narnia and into the Western Wild. You must journey through those mountains till you find a green valley with a blue lake in it, walled round by mountains of ice. At the end of the lake there is a steep, green hill. On the top of that hill there is a garden. In the centre of that garden is a tree. Pluck an apple from that tree and bring it back to me.”
“Yes, sir,” said Digory again. He hadn’t the least idea of how he was to climb the cliff and find his way among all the mountains, but he didn’t like to say that for fear it would sound like making excuses. But he did say, “I hope, Aslan, you’re not in a hurry. I shan’t be able to get there and back very quickly.”
“Little son of Adam, you shall have help,” said Aslan. He then turned to the Horse who had been standing quietly beside them all this time, swishing his tail to keep the flies off, and listening with his head on one side as if the conversation were a little difficult to understand.
“My dear,” said Aslan to the Horse, “would you like to be a winged horse?”
You should have seen how the Horse shook its mane and how its nostrils widened, and the little tap it gave the ground with one back hoof. Clearly it would very much like to be a winged horse. But it only said:
“If you wish, Aslan – if you really mean – I don’t know why it should be me – I’m not a very clever horse.”
“Be winged. Be the father of all flying horses,” roared Aslan in a voice that shook the ground. “Your name is Fledge.”
The horse shied, just as it might have shied in the old, miserable days when it pulled a hansom. Then it roared. It strained its neck back as if there were a fly biting its shoulders and it wanted to scratch them. And then, just as the beasts had burst out of the earth, there burst out from the shoulders of Fledge wings that spread and grew, larger than eagles’, larger than swans’, larger than angels’ wings in church windows. The feathers shone chestnut colour and copper colour. He gave a great sweep with them and leaped into the air.
Twenty feet above Aslan and Digory he snorted, neighed, and curvetted. Then, after circling once round them, he dropped to the earth, all four hoofs together, looking awkward and surprised, but extremely pleased.
“Is it good, Fledge?” said Aslan.
“It is very good, Aslan,” said Fledge.
“Will you carry this little son of Adam on your back to the mountainvalley I spoke of?”
“What? Now? At once?” said Strawberry – or Fledge, as we must now call him – “Hurrah! Come, little one, I’ve had things like you on my back before.
Long, long ago. When there were green fields; and sugar.”
“What are the two daughters of Eve whispering about?” said Aslan, turning very suddenly on Polly and the Cabby’s wife, who had in fact been making friends.
“If you please, sir,” said Queen Helen (for that is what Nellie the cabman’s wife now was), “I think the little girl would love to go too, if it weren’t no trouble.”
“What does Fledge say about that?” asked the Lion.
“Oh, I don’t mind two, not when they’re little ones,” said Fledge. “But I hope the Elephant doesn’t want to come as well.”
The Elephant had no such wish, and the new King of Narnia helped both the children up: that is, he gave Digory a rough heave and set Polly as gently and daintily on the horse’s back as if she were made of china and might break. “There they are, Strawberry – Fledge, I should say. This is a rum go.”
“Do not fly too high,” said Aslan. “Do not try to go over the tops of the great ice-mountains. Look out for the valleys, the green places, and fly through them. There will always be a way through. And now, begone with my blessing.”
“Oh Fledge!” said Digory, leaning forward to pat the Horse’s glossy neck. “This is fun. Hold on to me tight, Polly.”
Next moment the country dropped away beneath them, and whirled round as Fledge, like a huge pigeon, circled once or twice before setting off on his long westward flight. Looking down, Polly could hardly see the King and the Queen, and even Aslan himself was only a bright yellow spot on the green grass. Soon the wind was in their faces and Fledges wings settled down to a steady beat.
All Narnia, many-coloured with lawns and rocks and heather and different sorts of trees, lay spread out below them, the river winding through it like a ribbon of quicksilver. They could already see over the tops of the low hills which lay northward on their right; beyond those hills a great moorland sloped gently up and up to the horizon. On their left the mountains were much higher, but every now and then there was a gap when you could see, between steep pine woods, a glimpse of the southern lands that lay beyond them, looking blue and far away.
“That’ll be where Archenland is,” said Polly.
“Yes, but look ahead!” said Digory.
For now a great barrier of cliffs rose before them and they were almost dazzled by the sunlight dancing on the great waterfall by which the river roars and sparkles down into Narnia itself from the high western lands in which it rises. They were flying so high already that the thunder of those falls could only just be heard as a small, thin sound, but they were not yet high enough to fly over the top of the cliffs.
“We’ll have to do a bit of zig-zagging here,” said Fledge. “Hold on tight.”
He began flying to and fro, getting higher at each turn. The air grew colder, and they heard the call of eagles far below them.
“I say, look back! Look behind,” said Polly.
There they could see the whole valley of Narnia stretched out to where, just before the eastern horizon, there was a gleam of the sea. And now they were so high that they could see tiny-looking jagged mountains appearing beyond the northwest moors, and plains of what looked like sand far in the south.
“I wish we had someone to tell us what all those places are,” said Digory.
“I don’t suppose they’re anywhere yet,” said Polly. “I mean, there’s no one there, and nothing happening. The world only began today.”
“No, but people will get there,” said Digory. “And then they’ll have histories, you know.”
“Well, it’s a jolly good thing they haven’t now,” said Polly. “Because nobody can be made to learn it. Battles and dates and all that rot.”
Now they were over the top of the cliffs and in a few minutes the valley land of Narnia had sunk out of sight behind them. They were flying over a wild country of steep hills and dark forests, still following the course of the river. The really big mountains loomed ahead. But the sun was now in the travellers’ eyes and they couldn’t see things very clearly in that direction. For the sun sank lower and lower till the western sky was all like one great furnace full of melted gold; and it set at last behind a jagged peak which stood up against the brightness as sharp and flat as if it were cut out of cardboard.
“It’s none too warm up here,” said Polly.
“And my wings are beginning to ache,” said Fledge. There’s no sign of the valley with a Lake in it, like what Aslan said. What about coming down and looking out for a decent spot to spend the night in? We shan’t reach that place tonight.”
“Yes, and surely it’s about time for supper?” said Digory.
So Fledge came lower and lower. As they came down nearer to the earth and among the hills, the air grew warmer and after travelling so many hours with nothing to listen to but the beat of Fledge’s wings, it was nice to hear the homely and earthy noises again – the chatter of the river on its stony bed and the creaking of trees in the light wind. A warm, good smell of sun-baked earth and grass and flowers came up to them. At last Fledge alighted. Digory rolled off and helped Polly to dismount. Both were glad to stretch their stiff legs.
The valley in which they had come down was in the heart of the mountains; snowy heights, one of them looking rosered in the reflections of the sunset, towered above them.
“I am hungry,” said Digory.
“Well, tuck in,” said Fledge, taking a big mouthful of grass. Then he raised his head, still chewing and with bits of grass sticking out on each side of his mouth like whiskers, and said, “Come on, you two. Don’t be shy. There’s plenty for us all.”
“But we can’t eat grass,” said Digory.
“H’m, h’m,” said Fledge, speaking with his mouth full. “Well – h’m – don’t know quite what you’ll do then. Very good grass too.”
Polly and Digory stared at one another in dismay.
“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.
“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.
“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.
“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”
“But what on earth are we to do?” asked Digory.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Fledge. “Unless you try the grass. You might like it better than you think.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” said Polly, stamping her foot. “Of course humans can’t eat grass, any more than you could eat a mutton chop.”
“For goodness’ sake don’t talk about chops and things,” said Digory. “It only makes it worse.”
Digory said that Polly had better take herself home by ring and get something to eat there; he couldn’t himself because he had promised to go straight on his message for Aslan, and, if once he showed up again at home, anything might happen to prevent his getting back. But Polly said she wouldn’t leave him, and Digory said it was jolly decent of her.
“I say,” said Polly, “I’ve still got the remains of that bag of toffee in my jacket. It’ll be better than nothing.”
“A lot better,” said Digory, “But be careful to get your hand into your pocket without touching your ring.”
This was a difficult and delicate job but they managed it in the end. The little paper bag was very squashy and sticky when they finally got it out, so that it was more a question of tearing the bag off the toffees than of getting the toffees out of the bag. Some grown-ups (you know how fussy they can be about that sort of thing) would rather have gone without supper altogether than eaten those toffees. There were nine of them all told. It was Digory who had the bright idea of eating four each and planting the ninth; for, as he said, “if the bar off the lamp-post turned into a little light-tree, why shouldn’t this turn into a toffee-tree?” So they dibbled a small hole in the turf and buried the piece of toffee. Then they ate the other pieces, making them last as long as they could. It was a poor meal, even with all the paper they couldn’t help eating as well.
When Fledge had quite finished his own excellent supper he lay down. The children came and sat one on each side of him leaning against his warm body, and when he had spread a wing over each they were really quite snug. As the bright young stars of that new world came out they talked over everything: how Digory had hoped to get something for his Mother and how, instead of that, he had been sent on this message. And they repeated to one another all the signs by which they would know the places they were looking for – the blue lake and the hill with a garden on top of it. The talk was just beginning to slow down as they got sleepy, when suddenly Polly sat up wide awake and said “Hush!”
Everyone listened as hard as they could.
“Perhaps it was only the wind in the trees,” said Digory presently.
“I’m not so sure,” said Fledge. “Anyway – wait! There it goes again. By Aslan, it is something.”
The horse scrambled to its feet with a great noise and a great upheaval; the children were already on theirs. Fledge trotted to and fro, sniffing and whinnying. The children tip-toed this way and that, looking behind every bush and tree. They kept on thinking they saw things, and there was one time when Polly was perfectly certain she had seen-a tall, dark figure gliding quickly away in a westerly direction. But they caught nothing and in the end Fledge lay down again and the children re-snuggled (if that is the right word) under his wings. They went to sleep at once. Fledge stayed awake much longer moving his ears to and fro in the darkness and sometimes giving a little shiver with his skin as if a fly had lighted on him: but in the end he too slept.