CHAPTER TWELVE: THE QUEEN OF UNDERLAND
TWO Earthmen entered, but instead of advancing into the room, they placed themselves one on each side of the door, and bowed deeply. They were followed immediately by the last person whom anyone had expected or wished to see: the Lady of the Green Kirtle, the Queen of Underland. She stood dead still in the doorway, and they could see her eyes moving as she took in the whole situation – the three strangers, the silver chair destroyed, and the Prince free, with his sword in his hand.
She turned very white; but Jill thought it was the sort of whiteness that comes over some people’s faces not when they are frightened but when they are angry. For a moment the Witch fixed her eyes on the Prince, and there was murder in them. Then she seemed to change her mind.
“Leave us,” she said to the two Earthmen. “And let none disturb us till I call, on pain of death.” The gnomes padded away obediently, and the Witch-queen shut and locked the door.
“How now, my lord Prince,” she said. “Has your nightly fit not yet come upon you, or is it over so soon? Why stand you here unbound? Who are these aliens? And is it they who have destroyed the chair which was your only safety?”
Prince Rilian shivered as she spoke to him. And no wonder: it is not easy to throw off in half an hour an enchantment which has made one a slave for ten years. Then, speaking with a great effort, he said:
“Madam, there will be no more need of that chair. And you, who have told me a hundred times how deeply you pitied me for the sorceries by which I was bound, will doubtless hear with joy that they are now ended for ever. There was, it seems, some small error in your Ladyship’s way of treating them. These, my true friends, have delivered me. I am now in my right mind, and there are two things I will say to you. First – as for your Ladyship’s design of putting me at the head of an army of Earthmen so that I may break out into the Overworld and there, by main force, make myself king over some nation that never did me wrong – murdering their natural lords and holding their throne as a bloody and foreign tyrant – now that I know myself, I do utterly abhor and renounce it as plain villainy. And second: I am the King’s son of Narnia, Rilian, the only child of Caspian, Tenth of that name, whom some call Caspian the Seafarer. Therefore, Madam, it is my purpose, as it is also my duty, to depart suddenly from your Highness’s court into my own country. Please it you to grant me and my friends safe conduct and a guide through your dark realm.”
Now the Witch said nothing at all, but moved gently across the room, always keeping her face and eyes very steadily towards the Prince. When she had come to a little ark set in the wall not far from the fireplace, she opened it, and took out first a handful of a green powder. This she threw on the fire. It did not blaze much, but a very sweet and drowsy smell came from it. And all through the conversation which followed, that smell grew stronger, and filled the room, and made it harder to think. Secondly, she took out a musical instrument rather like a mandolin. She began to play it with her fingers – a steady, monotonous thrumming that you didn’t notice after a few minutes. But the less you noticed it, the more it got into your brain and your blood. This also made it hard to think. After she had thrummed for a time (and the sweet smell was now strong) she began speaking in a sweet, quiet voice.
“Narnia?” she said. “Narnia? I have often heard your Lordship utter that name in your ravings. Dear Prince, you are very sick. There is no land called Narnia.”
“Yes there is, though, Ma’am,” said Puddleglum. “You see, I happen to have lived there all my life.”
“Indeed,” said the Witch. “Tell me, I pray you, where that country is?”
“Up there,” said Puddleglum, stoutly, pointing overhead. “I – I don’t know exactly where.”
“How?” said the Queen, with a kind, soft, musical laugh. “Is there a country up among the stones and mortar of the roof?”
“No,” said Puddleglum, struggling a little to get his breath. “It’s in Overworld.”
“And what, or where, pray is this . . . how do you call it. . . Overworld?”
“Oh, don’t be so silly,” said Scrubb, who was fighting hard against the enchantment of the sweet smell and the thrumming. “As if you didn’t know! It’s up above, up where you can see the sky and the sun and the stars. Why, you’ve been there yourself. We met you there.”
“I cry you mercy, little brother,” laughed the Witch (you couldn’t have heard a lovelier laugh). “I have no memory of that meeting. But we often meet our friends in strange places when we dream. And unless all dreamed alike, you must not ask them to remember it.”
“Madam,” said the Prince sternly, “I have already told your Grace that I am the King’s son of Narnia.”
“And shalt be, dear friend,” said the Witch in a soothing voice, as if she was humouring a child, “shalt be king of many imagined lands in thy fancies.”
“We’ve been there, too,” snapped Jill. She was very angry because she could feel enchantment getting hold of her every moment. But of course the very fact that she could still feel it, showed that it had not yet fully worked.
“And thou art Queen of Narnia too, I doubt not, pretty one,” said the Witch in the same coaxing, half-mocking tone.
“I’m nothing of the sort,” said Jill, stamping her foot. “We come from another world.”
“Why, this is a prettier game than the other,” said the Witch. “Tell us, little maid, where is this other world? What ships and chariots go between it and ours?”
Of course a lot of things darted into Jill’s head at once: Experiment House, Adela Pennyfather, her own home, radio-sets, cinemas, cars, aeroplanes, ration-books, queues. But they seemed dim and far away. (Thrum thrum – thrum – went the strings of the Witch’s instrument.) Jill couldn’t remember the names of the things in our world. And this time it didn’t come into her head that she was being enchanted, for now the magic was in its full strength; and of course, the more enchanted you get, the more certain you feel that you are not enchanted at all. She found herself saying (and at the moment it was a relief to say):
“No. I suppose that other world must be all a dream.”
“Yes. It is all a dream,” said the Witch, always thrumming.
“Yes, all a dream,” said Jill.
“There never was such a world,” said the Witch.
“No,” said Jill and Scrubb, “never was such a world.”
“There never was any world but mine,” said the Witch.
“There never was any world but yours,” said they.
Puddleglum was still fighting hard. “I don’t know rightly what you all mean by a world,” he said, talking like a man who hasn’t enough air. “But you can play that fiddle till your fingers drop off, and still you won’t make me forget Narnia; and the whole Overworld too. We’ll never see it again, I shouldn’t wonder. You may have blotted it out and turned it dark like this, for all I know. Nothing more likely. But I know I was there once. I’ve seen the sky full of stars. I’ve seen the sun coming up out of the sea of a morning and sinking behind the mountains at night. And I’ve seen him up in the midday sky when I couldn’t look at him for brightness.”
Puddleglum’s words had a very rousing effect. The other three all breathed again and looked at one another like people newly awaked.
“Why, there it is!” cried the Prince. “Of course! The blessing of Aslan upon this honest Marsh-wiggle. We have all been dreaming, these last few minutes. How could we have forgotten it? Of course we’ve all seen the sun.”
“By Jove, so we have!” said Scrubb. “Good for you, Puddleglum! You’re the only one of us with any sense, I do believe.”
Then came the Witch’s voice, cooing softly like the voice of a wood-pigeon from the high elms in an old garden at three o’clock in the middle of a sleepy, summer afternoon; and it said:
“What is this sun that you all speak of? Do you mean anything by the word?”
“Yes, we jolly well do,” said Scrubb.
“Can you tell me what it’s like?” asked the Witch (thrum, thrum, thrum, went the strings).
“Please it your Grace,” said the Prince, very coldly and politely. “You see that lamp. It is round and yellow and gives light to the whole room; and hangeth moreover from the roof. Now that thing which we call the sun is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky.”
“Hangeth from what, my lord?” asked the Witch; and then, while they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story.”
“Yes, I see now,” said Jill in a heavy, hopeless tone. “It must be so.” And while she said this, it seemed to her to be very good sense.
Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, “There is no sun.” And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. “There is no sun.” After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together. “You are right. There is no sun.” It was such a relief to give in and say it.
“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.
“No. There never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children.
For the last few minutes Jill had been feeling that there was something she must remember at all costs. And now she did. But it was dreadfully hard to say it. She felt as if huge weights were laid on her lips. At last, with an effort that seemed to take all the good out of her, she said:
“Aslan?” said the Witch, quickening ever so slightly the pace of her thrumming. “What a pretty name! What does it mean?”
“He is the great Lion who called us out of our own world,” said Scrubb, “and sent us into this to find Prince Rilian.”
“What is a lion?” asked the Witch.
“Oh, hang it all!” said Scrubb. “Don’t you know? How can we describe it to her? Have you ever seen a cat?”
“Surely,” said the Queen. “I love cats.”
“Well, a lion is a little bit – only a little bit, mind you like a huge cat – with a mane. At least, it’s not like a horse’s mane, you know, it’s more like a judge’s wig. And it’s yellow. And terrifically strong.”
The Witch shook her head. “I see,” she said, “that we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You’ve seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to be called a lion. Well, ’tis a pretty makebelieve, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my lord Prince, that art a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed of such toys? Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan. And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But, first, to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams.”
The Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half closed; the strength all gone from them; the enchantment almost complete. But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing. He knew it wouldn’t hurt him quite as much as it would hurt a human; for his feet (which were bare) were webbed and hard and coldblooded like a duck’s. But he knew it would hurt him badly enough; and so it did. With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. And three things happened at once.
First, the sweet heavy smell grew very much less. For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good bit of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone’s brain far clearer. The Prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes.
Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice, utterly different from all the sweet tones she had been using up till now, called out, “What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I’ll turn the blood to fire inside your veins.”
Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum’s head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.
“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
“Oh, hurrah! Good old Puddleglum!” cried Scrubb and Jill. But the Prince shouted suddenly, “Ware! Look to the Witch.”
When they did look their hair nearly stood on end.
The instrument dropped from her hands. Her arms appeared to be fastened to her sides. Her legs were intertwined with each other, and her feet had disappeared. The long green train of her skirt thickened and grew solid, and seemed to be all one piece with the writhing green pillar of her interlocked legs. And that writhing green pillar was curving and swaying as if it had no joints, or else were all joints. Her head was thrown far back and while her nose grew longer and longer, every other part of her face seemed to disappear, except her eyes. Huge flaming eyes they were now, without brows or lashes. All this takes time to write down; it happened so quickly that there was only just time to see it. Long before there was time to do anything, the change was complete, and the great serpent which the Witch had become, green as poison, thick as Jill’s waist, had flung two or three coils of its loathsome body round the Prince’s legs. Quick as lightning another great loop darted round, intending to pinion his sword-arm to his side. But the Prince was just in time. He raised his arms and got them clear: the living knot closed only round his chest – ready to crack his ribs like firewood when it drew tight.
The Prince caught the creature’s neck in his left hand, trying to squeeze it till it choked. This held its face (if you could call it a face) about five inches from his own. The forked tongue flickered horribly in and out, but could not reach him. With his right hand he drew back his sword for the strongest blow he could give. Meanwhile Scrubb and Puddleglum had drawn their weapons and rushed to his aid. All three blows fell at once: Scrubb’s (which did not even pierce the scales and did no good) on the body of the snake below the Prince’s hand, but the Prince’s own blow and Puddleglum’s both on its neck. Even that did not quite kill it, though it began to loosen its hold on Rilian’s legs and chest. With repeated blows they hacked off its head. The horrible thing went on coiling and moving like a bit of wire long after it had died; and the floor, as you may imagine, was a nasty mess.
The Prince, when he had breath, said, “Gentlemen, I thank you.” Then the three conquerors stood staring at one another and panting, without another word, for a long time. Jill had very wisely sat down and was keeping quiet; she was saying to herself, “I do hope I don’t faint or blub – or do anything idiotic.”
“My royal mother is avenged,” said Rilian presently. “This is undoubtedly the same worm that I pursued in vain by the fountain in the forest of Narnia, so many years ago. All these years I have been the slave of my mother’s slayer. Yet I am glad, gentlemen, that the foul Witch took to her serpent form at the last. It would not have suited well either with my heart or with my honour to have slain a woman. But look to the lady.” He meant Jill.
“I’m all right, thanks,” said she.
“Damsel,” said the Prince, bowing to her. “You are of a high courage, and therefore, I doubt not, you come of a noble blood in your own world. But come, friends. Here is some wine left. Let us refresh ourselves and each pledge his fellows. After that, to our plans.”
“A jolly good idea, Sir,” said Scrubb.