CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE WONDERS OF THE LAST SEA
VERY soon after they had left Ramandu’s country they began to feel that they had already sailed beyond the world. All was different. For one thing they all found that they were needing less sleep. One did not want to go to bed. nor to eat much, nor even to talk except in low voices. Another thing was the light. There was too much of it. The sun when it came up each morning looked twice, if not; three times, its usual size. And every morning (which gave Lucy the strangest feeling of all) the huge white birds, singing their song with human voices in a language no one knew, streamed overhead and vanished astern on their way to their breakfast at Aslan’s Table. A little later they came flying back and vanished into the east.
“How beautifully clear the water is!” said Lucy to herself, as she leaned over the port side early in the afternoon of the second day.
And it was. The first thing that she noticed was a little black object, about the size of a shoe, travelling along at the same speed as the ship. For a moment she thought it was something floating on the surface. But then there came floating past a bit of stale bread which the cook had just thrown out of the galley. And the bit of bread looked as if it were going to collide with the black thing, but it didn’t. It passed above it, and Lucy now saw that the black thing could not be on the surface. Then the black thing suddenly got very much bigger and flicked back to normal size a moment later.
Now Lucy knew she had seen something just like that happen somewhere else – if only she could remember where. She held her hand to her head and screwed up her face and put out her tongue in the effort to remember. At last she did. Of course! It was like what you saw from a train on a bright sunny day. You saw the black shadow of your own coach running along the fields at the same pace as the train. Then you went into a cutting; and immediately the same shadow flicked close up to you and got big, racing :long the grass of the cutting-bank. Then you came out of the cutting and – Pick! – once more the black shadow had gone back to its normal size and was running along the fields.
“It’s our shadow! – the shadow of the Dawn Treader,” said Lucy. “Our shadow running along on the bottom of the sea. That time when it got bigger it went over a hill. But in that case the water must be clearer than I thought! Good gracious, I must he seeing the bottom of the sea; fathoms and fathoms down.”
As soon as she had said this she realized that the great silvery expanse which she had been seeing (without noticing) for some time was really the sand on the sea-bed and that ail sorts of darker or brighter patches were not lights and shadows on the surface but real things on the bottom. At present, for instance, they were passing over a mass of soft purply green with a broad, winding strip of pale grey in the middle of it But now that she knew it was on the bottom she saw it much better. She could see that bits of the dark stuff were much higher than other bits and were waving gently. “Just like trees in a wind,” said Lucy. “And do believe that’s what they are. It’s a submarine forest.”
They passed on above it and presently the pale streak was joined by another pale streak. “If I was down there,” thought Lucy, “that streak would be just like a road through the wood. And that place where it joins the other Would be a crossroads. Oh, I do wish I was. Hallo! the forest is coming to an end. And I do believe the streak really was a road! I can still see it going on across the open sand. It’s a different colour. And it’s marked out with something at the edges – dotted lines. Perhaps they are stones. And now it’s getting wider.”
But it was not really getting wider, it was getting nearer. She realized this because of the way in which the shadow of the ship came rushing up towards her. And the road she felt sure it was a road now – began to go in zigzags. Obviously it was climbing up a steep hill. And when she held her head sideways and looked back, what she saw was very like what you see when you look down a winding road from the top of a hill. She could even see the shafts of sunlight falling through the deep water on to the wooded valley – and, in the extreme distance, everything melting away into a dim greenness. But some places – the sunny ones, she thought – were ultramarine blue.
She could not, however, spend much time looking back; what was coming into view in the forward direction was too exciting. The road had apparently now reached the top of the hill and ran straight forward. Little specks were moving to and fro on it. And now something most wonderful, fortunately in full sunlight – or as full as it can be when it falls through fathoms of water – flashed into sight. It was knobbly and jagged and of a pearly, or perhaps an ivory, colour. She was so nearly straight above it that at first she could hardly make out what it was. But everything became plain when she noticed its shadow. The sunlight was falling across Lucy’s shoulders, so the shadow of the thing lay stretched out on the sand behind it. And by its shape she saw clearly that it was a shadow of towers and pinnacles, minarets and domes.
“Why! – it’s a city or a huge castle,” said Lucy to herself “But I wonder why they’ve built it on top of a high mountain?”
Long afterwards when she was back in England and talked all these adventures over with Edmund, they thought of a reason and I am pretty sure it is the true one. In the sea, the deeper you go, the darker and colder it gets, and it is down there, in the dark and cold, that dangerous things live – the squid and the Sea Serpent and the Kraken. The valleys are the wild, unfriendly places. The sea-people feel about their valleys as we do about mountains, and feel about their mountains as we feel about valleys. It is on the heights (or, as we would say, “in the shallows”) that there is warmth and peace. The reckless hunters and brave knights of the sea go down into the depths on quests and adventures, but return home to the heights for rest and peace, courtesy and council, the sports, the dances and the songs.
They had passed the city and the sea-bed was still rising. It was only a few hundred feet below the ship now. The road had disappeared. They were sailing above an open park-like country, dotted with little groves of brightlycoloured vegetation. And then – Lucy nearly squealed aloud with excitement-she had seen People.
There were between fifteen and twenty of them, and all mounted on sea-horses – not the tiny little sea-horses which you may have seen in museums but horses rather bigger than themselves. They must be noble and lordly people, Lucy thought, for she could catch the gleam of gold on some of their foreheads and streamers of emerald- or orange-coloured stuff fluttered from their shoulders in the current. Then:
“Oh, bother these fish!” said Lucy, for a whole shoal of small fat fish, swimming quite close to the surface, had come between her and the Sea People. But though this spoiled her view it led to the most interesting thing of all.
Suddenly a fierce little fish of a kind she had never seen before came darting up from below, snapped, grabbed, and sank rapidly with one of the fat fish in its mouth. And all the Sea People were sitting on their horses staring up at what had happened. They seemed to be talking and laughing. And before the hunting fish had got back to them with its prey, another of the same kind came up from the Sea People. And Lucy was almost certain that one big Sea Man who sat on his sea-horse in the middle of the party had sent it or released it; as if he had been holdng it back till then in his hand or on his wrist.
“Why, I do declare,” said Lucy, “it’s a hunting party. Or more like a hawking party. Yes, that’s it. They ride out with these little fierce fish on their wrists just as we used to ride out with falcons on our wrists when we were Kings and Queens at Cair Paravel long ago. And then they fly them – or I suppose I should say swim them – at the others.”
She stopped suddenly because the scene was changing. The Sea People had noticed the Dawn Treader. The shoal of fish hard scattered in every direction: the People themselves were coming up to find out the meaning of this big, black thing which had come between them and the sun. And now they were so close to the surface that if they had been in air, instead of water, Lucy could have spoken to them. There were men and women both. All wore coronets of some kind and many had chains of pearls. They wore no other clothes. Their bodies were the colour of old ivory, their hair dark purple. The King in the centre (no one could mistake him for anything but the King) looked proudly and fiercely into Lucy’s face and shook a spear in his hand. His knights did the same. The faces of the ladies were filled with astonishment. Lucy felt sure they had never seen a ship or a human before – and how should they, in seas beyond the world’s end where no ship ever came?
“What are you staring at, Lu?” said a voice close beside her.
Lucy had been so absorbed in what she was seeing that she started at the sound, and when she turned she found that her arm had gone “dead” from leaning so long on the rail in one position. Drinian and Edmund were beside her.
“Look,” she said.
They both looked, but almost at once Drinian said in a low voice:
“Turn round at once, your Majesties – that’s right, with our backs to the sea. And don’t look as if we were talking about anything important.”
“Why, what’s the matter?” said Lucy as she obeyed.
“It’ll never do for the sailors to see all that,” said Drinian. “We’ll have men falling in love with a seawoman, or falling in love with the under-sea country itself, and jumping overboard. I’ve heard of that kind of thing happening before in strange seas. It’s always unlucky to see these people.”
“But we used to know them,” said Lucy. “In the old days at Cair Paravel when my brother Peter was High King. They came to the surface and sang at our coronation.”
“I think that must have been a different kind, Lu,” said Edmund. “They could live in the air as well as under water. I rather think these can’t. By the look of them they’d have surfaced and started attacking us long ago if they could. They seem very fierce.”
“At any rate,” said Drinian, but at that moment two sounds were heard. One was a plop. The other was a voice from the fighting top shouting, “Man overboard!” Then everyone was busy. Some of the sailors hurried aloft to take in the sail: others hurried below to get to the oars; and Rhince, who was on duty on the poop, began to put the helm hard over so as to come round and back to the man who had gone overboard. But by now everyone knew that it wasn’t strictly a man. It was Reepicheep.
“Drat that mouse!” said Drinian. “It’s more trouble than all the rest of the ship’s company put together. If there is any scrape to be got into, in it will get! It ought to be put in irons – keel-hauled – marooned – have its whiskers cut off. Can anyone see the little blighter?”
All this didn’t mean that Drinian really disliked Reepicheep. On the contrary he liked him very much and was therefore frightened about him, and being frightened put him in a bad temper – just as your mother is much angrier with you for running out into the road in front of a car than a stranger would be. No one, of course, was afraid of Reepicheep’s drowning, for he was an excellent swimmer; but the three who knew what was going on below the water were afraid of those long, cruel spears in the hands of the Sea People.
In a few minutes the Dawn Treader had come round and everyone could see the black blob in the water which was Reepicheep. He was chattering with the greatest excitement but as his mouth kept on getting filled with water nobody could understand what he was saying.
“He’ll blurt the whole thing out if we don’t shut him up,” cried Drinian. To prevent this he rushed to the side and lowered a rope himself, shouting to the sailors, “All right, all right. Back to your places. I hope I can heave a mouse up without help.” And as Reepicheep began climbing up the rope not very nimbly because his wet fur made him heavy – Drinian leaned over and whispered to him,
“Don’t tell. Not a word.”
But when the dripping Mouse had reached the deck it turned out not to be at all interested in the Sea People.
“Sweet!” he cheeped. “Sweet, sweet!”
“What are you talking about?” asked Drinian crossly. “And you needn’t shake yourself all over me, either.”
“I tell you the water’s sweet,” said the Mouse. “Sweet, fresh. It isn’t salt.”
For a moment no one quite took in the importance of this. But then Reepicheep once more repeated the old prophecy:
“Where the waves grow sweet, Doubt not, Reepicheep, There is the utter East.”
Then at last everyone understood.
“Let me have a bucket, Rynelf,” said Drinian.
It was handed him and he lowered it and up it came again. The water shone in it like glass.
“Perhaps your Majesty would like to taste it first,” said Drinian to Caspian.
The King took the bucket in both hands, raised it to his lips, sipped, then drank deeply and raised his head. His face was changed. Not only his eyes but everything about him seemed to be brighter.
“Yes,” he said, “it is sweet. That’s real water, that. I’m not sure that it isn’t going to kill me. But it is the death I would have chosen – if I’d known about it till now.”
“What do you mean?” asked Edmund.
“It – it’s like light more than anything else,” said Caspian.
“That is what it is,” said Reepicheep. “Drinkable light. We must be very near the end of the world now.”
There was a moment’s silence and then Lucy knelt down on the deck and drank from the bucket.
“It’s the loveliest thing I have ever tasted,” she said with a kind of gasp. “But oh – it’s strong. We shan’t need to eat anything now.”
And one by one everybody on board drank. And for a long time they were all silent. They felt almost too well and strong to bear it; and presently they began to notice another result. As I have said before, there had been too much light ever since they left the island of Ramandu – the sun too large (though not too hot), the sea too bright, the air too shining. Now, the light grew no less – if anything, it increased – but they could bear it. They could look straight up at the sun without blinking. They could see more light than they had ever seen before. And the deck and the sail and their own faces and bodies became brighter and brighter and every rope shone. And next morning, when the sun rose, now five or six times its old size, they stared hard into it and could see the very feathers of the birds that came flying from it.
Hardly a word was spoken on board all that day, till about dinner-time (no one wanted any dinner, the water was enough for them) Drinian said:
“I can’t understand this. There is not a breath of wind. The sail hangs dead. The sea is as flat as a pond. And yet we drive on as fast as if there were a gale behind us.”
“I’ve been thinking that, too,” said Caspian. “We must be caught in some strong current.”
“H’m,” said Edmund. “That’s not so nice if the World really has an edge and we’re getting near it.”
“You mean,” said Caspian, “that we might be just well, poured over it?”
“Yes, yes,” cried Reepicheep, clapping his paws together. “That’s how I’ve always imagined it – the World like a great round table and the waters of all the oceans endlessly pouring over the edge. The ship will tip up stand on her head – for one moment we shall see over the edge – and then, down, down, the rush, the speed -“
“And what do you think will be waiting for us at the bottom, eh?” said Drinian.
“Aslan’s country perhaps,” said the Mouse, its eyes shining. “Or perhaps there isn’t any bottom. Perhaps it goes down for ever and ever. But whatever it is, won’t it be worth anything just to have looked for one moment beyond the edge of the world.”
“But look -here,” said Eustace, “this is all rot. The world’s round – I mean, round like a ball, not like a table.”
“Our world is,” said Edmund. “But is this?”
“Do you mean to say,” asked Caspian, “that you three come from a round world (round like a ball) and you’ve never told me! It’s really too bad of you. Because we have fairy-tales in which there are round worlds and I always loved them. I never believed there were any real ones. But I’ve always wished there were and I’ve always longed to live in one. Oh, I’d give anything – I wonder why you can get into our world and we never get into yours? If only I had the chance! It must be exciting to live on a thing like a ball. Have you ever been to the parts where people walk about upside-down?”
Edmund shook his head. “And it isn’t like that,” he added. “There’s nothing particularly exciting about a round world when you’re there.