CHAPTER FOURTEEN: THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF THE WORLD
Slowly the door opened again and out there came a figure as tall and straight as the girl’s but not so slender. It carried no light but light seemed to come from it. As it came nearer, Lucy saw that it was like an old man. His silver beard came down to his bare feet in front and his saver hair hung down to his heels behind and his robe appeared to be made from the fleece of silver sheep. He looked so mild and grave that once more all the travellers rose to their feet and stood in silence.
But the old man came on without speaking to the travellers and stood on the other side of the table opposite to his daughter. Then both of them held up their arms before them and turned to face the east. In that position the began to sing. I wish I could write down the song, but one who was present could remember it. Lucy said afterwards that it was high, almost shrill, but very beautiful, cold kind of song, an early morning kind of song. And they sang, the grey clouds lifted from the eastern sky a the white patches ‘grew bigger and bigger till it was white, and the sea began to shine like silver. And long afterwards (but those two sang all the time) the east began to turn red and at last, unclouded, the sun came up out the sea and its long level ray shot down the length of the table on the gold and silver sand on the Stone Knife.
Once or twice before, the Narnians had wondered whether the sun at its rising did not look bigger in these seas than it had looked at home. This time they we certain. There was no mistaking it. And the brightness its ray on the dew and on the table was far beyond an. morning brightness they had ever seen. And as Edmu said afterwards, “Though lots of things happened on that trip which sound more exciting, that moment was really the most exciting.” For now they knew that they had truly come to the beginning of the End of the World.
Then something seemed to be flying at them out of the very centre of the rising sun: but of course one couldn’t look steadily in that direction to make sure. But presently the air became full of voices – voices which took up same song that the Lady and her Father were singing, but in far wilder tones and in a language which no one knew And soon after that the owners of these voices could be seen. They were birds, large and white, and they came hundreds and thousands and alighted on everything; the grass, and the pavement, on the table, on your shoulders, your hands, and your head, till it looked as heavy snow had fallen. For, like snow, they not only make everything white but blurred and blunted all shapes. But Lucy, looking out from between the wings of the birds that covered her, saw one bird fly to the Old Man with something in its beak that looked like a little fruit, unless it was a little live coal, which it might have been, for it was too bright to look at. And the bird laid it in the Old Man’s mouth.
Then the birds stopped their singing and appeared to be very busy about the table. When they rose from it again everything on the table that could be eaten or drunk had disappeared. These birds rose from their meal in their thousands and hundreds and carried away all the things that could not be eaten or drunk, such as bones, rinds, and shells, and took their flight back to the rising sun. But now, because they were not singing, the whir of their wings seemed to set the whole air a-tremble. And there was the table pecked clean and empty, and the three old Lords of Narnia still fast asleep.
Now at last the Old Man turned to the travellers and bade them welcome.
“Sir,” said Caspian, “will you tell us how to undo the enchantment which holds these three Narnian Lords asleep.”
“I will gladly tell you that, my son,” said the Old Man. “To break this enchantment you must sail to the World’s End, or as near as you can come to it, and you must come back having left at least one of your company behind.”
“And what must happen to that one?” asked Reepicheep.
“He must go on into the utter east and never return into the world.”
“That is my heart’s desire,” said Reepicheep.
“And are we near the World’s End now, Sir?” asked Caspian. “Have you any knowledge of the seas and lands further east than this?”
“I saw them long ago,” said the Old Man, “but it was from a great height. I cannot tell you such things as sailor need to know.”
“Do you mean you were flying in the air?” Eustace blurted out.
“I was a long way above the air, my son,” replied the Old Man. “I am Ramandu. But I see that you stare at on another and have not heard this name. And no wonder, for the days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and all the constellations have changed.”
“Golly,” said Edmund under his breath. “He’s a retired star.”
“Aren’t you a star any longer?” asked Lucy.
“I am a star at rest, my daughter,” answered Ramandu
“When I set for the last time, decrepit and old beyond all that you can reckon, I was carried to this island. I am not so old now as I was then. Every morning a bird brings me a fire-berry from the valleys in the Sun, and each fire-berry takes away a little of my age. And when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again (for we are at earth’s eastern rim) and once more tread the great dance.”
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of. And in this world you ave already met a star, for I think you have been with Coriakin.”
“Is he a retired star, too?” said Lucy.
“Well, not quite the same,” said Ramandu. “It was not quite as a rest than he was set to govern the Duffers. You might call it a punishment. He might have shone for thousands of years more in the southern winter sky if all had gone well.”
“What did he do, Sir?” asked Caspian.
“My son,” said Ramandu, “it is not for you, a son of Adam, to know what faults a star can commit. But come, we waste time in such talk. Are you yet resolved? Will you sail further east and come again, leaving one to return no more, and so break the enchantment? Or will you sail westward?”
“Surely, Sire,” said Reepicheep, “there is no question about that? It is very plainly part of our quest to rescue these three lords from enchantment.”
“I think the same, Reepicheep,” replied Caspian. “And even if it were not so, it would break my heart not to go as near the World’s End as the Dawn Treader will take us. But I am thinking of the crew. They signed on to seek the seven lords, not to reach the rim of the Earth. If we sail east from here we sail to find the edge, the utter east. And not one knows how far it is. They’re brave fellows, but I set signs that some of them are weary of the voyage and long to have our prow pointing to Narnia again. I don’t think should take them further without their knowledge an consent. And then there’s the poor Lord Rhoop. He’s broken man.”
“My son,” said the star, “it would be no use, even though you wished it, to sail for the World’s End with men unwilling or men deceived. That is not how great unenchantments are achieved. They must know where they go and why. But who is this broken man you speak of?”
Caspian told Ramandu the story of Rhoop.
“I can give him what he needs most,” said Ramandu. “I this island there is sleep without stint or measure, and sleep in which no faintest footfall of a dream was ever heard. Let him sit beside these other three and drink oblivion till you return.”
“Oh, do let’s do that, Caspian,” said Lucy. “I’m sure its just what he would love.”
At that moment they were interrupted by the sound of many feet and voices: Drinian and the rest of the ship company were approaching. They halted in surprise whey they saw Ramandu and his daughter; and then, because these were obviously great people, every man uncovered his head. Some sailors eyed the empty dishes and flagons on the table with regret.
“My lord,” said the King to Drinian, “pray send two men back to the Dawn Treader with a message to the Lord Rhoop. Tell him that the last of his old shipmates are here asleep – a sleep without dreams – and that he can share it.”
When this had been done, Caspian told the rest to sit down and laid the whole situation before them. When he had finished there was a long silence and some whispering until presently the Master Bowman got to his feet, and said:
“What some of us have been wanting to ask for a long time, your Majesty, is how we’re ever to get home when we do turn, whether we turn here or somewhere else. It’s been west and north-west winds all the way, barring an occasional calm. And if that doesn’t change, I’d like to know what hopes we have of seeing Narnia again. There’s not much chance of supplies lasting while we row all that way.
“That’s landsman’s talk,” said Drinian. “There’s always a prevailing west wind in these seas all through the late summer, and it always changes after the New Year. We’ll have plenty of wind for sailing westward; more than we shall like from all accounts.”
“That’s true, Master,” said an old sailor who was a Galmian by birth. “You get some ugly weather rolling up from the east in January and February. And by your leave, Sire, if I was in command of this ship I’d say to winter here and begin the voyage home in March.”
“What’d you eat while you were wintering here?” asked Eustace.
“This table,” said Ramandu, “will be filled with a king’s feast every day at sunset.”
“Now you’re talking!” said several sailors.
“Your Majesties and gentlemen and ladies all,” said Rynelf, “there’s just one thing I want to say. There’s not one of us chaps as was pressed on this journey. We’re volunteers. And there’s some here chat are looking very hard at that table and thinking about king’s feasts who were talking very loud about adventures on the day we sailed from Cair Paravel, and swearing they wouldn’t come home till we’d found the end of the world. And there were some standing on the quay who would have given all they had to come with us. It was thought a finer thing then to have a cabin-boy’s berth on the Dawn Treader than to wear a knight’s belt. I don’t know if you get the hang of what I’m saying. But what I mean is that I think chaps who set out like us will look as silly as – as those Dufflepuds – if we come home and say we got to the beginning of the world’s end and hadn’t the heart to go further.”
Some of the sailors cheered at this but some said that that was all very well.
“This isn’t going to be much fun,” whispered Edmund to Caspian. “What are we to do if half those fellows hang back?”
“Wait,” Caspian whispered back. “I’ve still a card to play.”
“Aren’t you going to say anything, Reep?” whispered Lucy.
“No. Why should your Majesty expect it?” answered Reepicheep in a voice that most people heard. “My owns plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.”
“Hear, hear,” said a sailor, “I’ll say the same, barring the bit about the coracle, which wouldn’t bear me.” He added in a lower voice, “I’m not going to be outdone by a mouse.”
At this point Caspian jumped to his feet. “Friends,” he said, “I think you have not quite understood our purpose. You talk as if we had come to you with our hat in our hand, begging for shipmates. It isn’t like that at all. We and our royal brother and sister and their kinsman and Sir Reepicheep, the good knight, and the Lord Drinian have an errand to the world’s edge. It is our pleasure to choose from among such of you as are willing those whom we deem worthy of so high an enterprise. We have not said that any can come for the asking. That is why we shall now command the Lord Drinian and Master Rhince to consider carefully what men among you are the hardest in battle, the most skilled seamen, the purest in blood, the most loyal to our person, and the cleanest of life and manners; and to give their names to us in a schedule.” He paused and went on in a quicker voice, “Aslan’s mane!” he exclaimed. “Do you think that the privilege of seeing the last things is to be bought for a song? Why, every man that comes with us shall bequeath the title of Dawn Treader to all his descendants, and when we land at Cair Paravel on the homeward voyage he shall have either gold or land enough to make him rich all his life. Now – scatter over the island, all of you. In half an hour’s time I shall receive the names that Lord Drinian brings me.”
There was rather a sheepish silence and then the crew made their bows and moved away, one in this direction and one in that, but mostly in little knots or bunches, talking.
“And now for the Lord Rhoop,” said Caspian.
But turning to the head of the table he saw that Rhoop was already there. He had arrived, silent and unnoticed, while the discussion was going on, and was seated beside the Lord Argoz. The daughter of Ramandu stood beside him as if she had just helped him into his chair; Ramandu stood behind him and laid both his hands on Rhoop’s grey head. Even in daylight a faint silver light came from the hands of the star. There was a smile on Rhoop’s haggard face. He held out one of his hands to Lucy and the other to Caspian. For a moment it looked as if he were going to say something. Then his smile brightened as if he were feeling) some delicious sensation, a long sigh of contentment came from his lips, his head fell forward, and he slept.
“Poor Rhoop,” said Lucy. “I am glad. He must have had terrible times.” ‘
“Don’t let’s even think of it,” said Eustace.
Meanwhile Caspian’s speech, helped perhaps by some magic of the island, was having just the effect he intended. A good many who had been anxious enough to get out of the voyage felt quite differently about being left out of it. And of course whenever any one sailor announced that he had made up his mind to ask for permission to sail, the ones who hadn’t said this felt that they were getting fewer and more uncomfortable. So that before the half-hour was nearly over several people were positively “sucking up” to Drinian and Rhince (at least that was what they called it at my school) to get a good report. And soon there were only three left who didn’t want to go, and those three were trying very hard to persuade others to stay with them. And very shortly after that there was only one left. And in they end he began to be afraid of being left behind all on his own and changed his mind.
At the end of the half-hour they all came trooping back to Aslan’s Table and stood at one end while Drinian and Rhince went and sat down with Caspian and made their report; and Caspian accepted all the man but that one who’d had changed his mind at the last moment. His name was Pittencream and he stayed on the Island of the Star all the time the others were away looking for the World’s End, and he very much wished he had gone with them. He wasn’t the sort of man who could enjoy talking to Ramandu and Ramandu’s daughter (nor they to him), and it rained a good deal, and though there was a wonderful feast on the Table every night, he didn’t very much enjoy it. He said it gave him the creeps sitting there alone (and in the rain as likely as not) with those four Lords asleep at the end of the Table. And when the others returned he felt so out of things that he deserted on the voyage home at the Lone Islands, and went and lived in Calormen, where he told wonderful stories about his adventures at the End of the World, until at last he came to believe them himself. So you may say, in a sense, that he lived happily ever after. But he could never bear mice.
That night they all ate and drank together at the great table between the pillars where the feast was magically renewed: and next morning the Dawn Treader set sail once more just when the great birds had come and gone again.
“Lady,” said Caspian, “I hope to speak with you again when I have broken the enchantments.” And Ramandu’s daughter looked at him and smiled.