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|Prince Caspian(Chronicles of Narnia #2) by C.S.Lewis|
"And it is in the presence of these two that you wish to disclose your plan?" said Caspian.
"Yes," said Nikabrik. "And by their help that I mean to execute it."
There was a minute or two during which Trumpkin and the boys could hear Caspian and his two friends speaking in low voices but could not make out what they were saying. Then Caspian spoke aloud.
"Well, Nikabrik," he said, "we will hear your plan."
There was a pause so long that the boys began to wonder if Nikabrik was ever going to begin; when he did, it was in a lower voice, as if he himself did not much like what he was saying.
"All said and done," he muttered, "none of us knows the truth about the ancient days in Narnia. Trumpkin believed none of the stories. I was ready to put them to the trial. We tried first the Horn and it has failed. If there ever was a High King Peter and a Queen Susan and a King Edmund and a Queen Lucy, then either they have not heard us, or they cannot come, or they are our enemies - "
"Or they are on the way," put in Trufflehunter.
"You can go on saying that till Miraz has fed us all to his dogs. As I was saying, we have tried one link in the chain of old legends, and it has done us no good. Well. But when your sword breaks, you draw your dagger. The stories tell of other powers beside the ancient Kings and Queens. How if we could call them up?"
"If you mean Aslan," said Trufflehunter, "it's all one calling on him and on the Kings. They were his servants. If he will not send them (but I make no doubt he will), is he more likely to come himself?"
"No. You're right there," said Nikabrik. "Aslan and the Kings go together. Either Aslan is dead, or he is not on our side. Or else something stronger than himself keeps him back. And if he did come - how do we know he'd be our friend? He was not always a good friend to Dwarfs by all that's told. Not even to all beasts. Ask the Wolves. And anyway, he was in Narnia only once that I ever heard of, and he didn't stay long. You may drop Aslan out of the reckoning. I was thinking of someone else."
There was no answer, and for a few minutes it was so still that Edmund could hear the wheezy and snuffling breath of the Badger.
"Who do you mean?" said Caspian at last.
"I mean a power so much greater than Aslan's that it held Narnia spellbound for years and years, if the stories are true."
"The White Witch!" cried three voices all at once, and from the noise Peter guessed that three people had leaped to their feet.
"Yes," said Nikabrik very slowly and distinctly, "I mean the Witch. Sit down again. Don't all take fright at a name as if you were children. We want power: and we want a power that will be on our side. As for power, do not the stories say that the Witch defeated Aslan, and bound him, and killed him on that very stone which is over there, just beyond the light?"
"But they also say that he came to life again," said the Badger sharply.
"Yes, they say," answered Nikabrik, "but you'll notice that we hear precious little about anything he did afterwards. He just fades out of the story. How do you explain that, if he really came to life? Isn't it much more likely that he didn't, and that the stories say nothing more about him because there was nothing more to say?"
"He established the Kings and Queens," said Caspian.
"A King who has just won a great battle can usually establish himself without the help of a performing lion," said Nikabrik. There was a fierce growl, probably from Trufflehunter.
"And anyway," Nikabrik continued, "what came of the Kings and their reign? They faded too. But it's very different with the Witch. They say she ruled for a hundred years: a hundred years of winter. There's power, if you like. There's something practical."
"But, heaven and earth!" said the King, "haven't we always been told that she was the worst enemy of all? Wasn't she a tyrant ten times worse than Miraz?"
"Perhaps," said Nikabrik in a cold voice. "Perhaps she was for you humans, if there were any of you in those days. Perhaps she was for some of the beasts. She stamped out the Beavers, I dare say; at least there are none of them in Narnia now. But she got on all right with us Dwarfs. I'm a Dwarf and I stand by my own people. We're not afraid of the Witch."
"But you've joined with us," said Trufflehunter.
"Yes, and a lot of good it has done my people, so far," snapped Nikabrik. "Who is sent on all the dangerous !, raids? The Dwarfs. Who goes short when the rations fail? The Dwarfs. Who - ?"
"Lies! All lies!" said the Badger.
"And so," said Nikabrik, whose voice now rose to a scream, "if you can't help my people, I'll go to someone who can."
"Is this open treason, Dwarf?" asked the King.
"Put that sword back in its sheath, Caspian," said Nikabrik. "Murder at council, eh? Is that your game? Don't be fool enough to try it. Do you think I'm afraid of you? There's three on my side, and three on yours."
"Come on, then," snarled Trufflehunter, but he was immediately interrupted.
"Stop, stop, stop," said Doctor Cornelius. "You go on too fast. The Witch is dead. All the stories agree on that. What does Nikabrik mean by calling on the Witch?"
That grey and terrible voice which had spoken only once before said, "Oh, is she?"
And then the shrill, whining voice began, "Oh, bless his heart, his dear little Majesty needn't mind about the White Lady - that's what we call her - being dead. The Worshipful Master Doctor is only making game of a poor old woman like me when he says that. Sweet Mastery Doctor, learned Master Doctor, who ever heard of a witch that really died? You can always get them back."
"Call her up," said the grey voice. "We are all ready. Draw the circle. Prepare the blue fire."
Above the steadily increasing growl of the Badger and Cornelius's sharp "What?" rose the voice of King Caspian like thunder.
"So that is your plan, Nikabrik! Black sorcery and the calling up of an accursed ghost. And I see who your companions are-a Hag and a Werewolf!"
The next minute or so was very confused. There was an animal roaring, a clash of steel; the boys and Trumpkin rushed in; Peter had a glimpse of a horrible, grey, gaunt creature, half man and half wolf, in the very act of leaping upon a boy about his own age, and Edmund saw a badger and a Dwarf rolling on the floor in a sort of cat fight. Trumpkin found himself face to face with the Hag. Her nose and chin stuck out like a pair of nut-crackers, her dirty grey hair was flying about her face and she had just got Doctor Cornelius by the throat. At one slash of Trumpkin's sword her head rolled on the floor. Then the light was knocked over and it was all swords, teeth, claws, fists, and boots for about sixty seconds. Then silence.
"Are you all right, Ed?"
"I - I think so," panted Edmund. "I've got that brute Nikabrik, but he's still alive."
"Weights and water-bottles!" came an angry voice. "It's me you're sitting on. Get off. You're like a young elephant."
"Sorry, D.L.F.," said Edmund. "Is that better?"
"Ow! No!" bellowed Trumpkin. "You're putting your ' boot in my mouth. Go away." `
"Is King Caspian anywhere?" asked Peter.
"I'm here," said a rather faint voice. "Something bit me."
They all heard the noise of someone striking a match. It was Edmund. The little flame showed his face, looking pale and dirty. He blundered about for a little, found the candle (they were no longer using the lamp, for they had run out of oil), set it on the table, and lit it. When the flame rose clear, several people scrambled to their feet. Six faces blinked at one another in the candlelight.
"We don't seem to have any enemies left," said Peter. "There's the Hag, dead." (He turned his eyes quickly away from her.) "And Nikabrik, dead too. And I suppose this thing is a Werewolf. It's so long since I've seen one. Wolf's head and man's body. That means he was just turning from man into wolf at the moment he was killed. And you, I suppose, are King Caspian?"
"Yes," said the other boy. "But I've no idea who you are."
"It's the High King, King Peter," said Trumpkin.
"Your Majesty is very welcome," said Caspian.
"And so is your Majesty," said Peter. "I haven't come to take your place, you know, but to put you into it." ,
"Your Majesty," said another voice at Peter's elbow. He turned and found himself face to face with the Badger.
Peter leaned forward, put his arms round the beast and kissed the furry head: it wasn't a girlish thing for him to do, because he was the High King.
"Best of badgers," he said. "You never doubted us all through."
"No credit to me, your Majesty," said Trufflehunter. "1'm a beast and we don't change. I'm a badger, what's more, and we hold on."
"I am sorry for Nikabrik," said Caspian, "though he hated me from the first moment he saw me. He had gone sour inside from long suffering and hating. If we had won quickly he might have become a good Dwarf in the days of peace. I don't know which of us killed him. I'm glad of that."
"You're bleeding," said Peter.
"Yes, I'm bitten," said Caspian. "It was that - that wolf thing." Cleaning and bandaging the wound took a long time, and when it was done Trumpkin said, "Now. Before everything else we want some breakfast."
"But not here," said Peter.
"No," said Caspian with a shudder. "And we must send someone to take away the bodies."
"Let the vermin be flung into a pit," said Peter. "But the Dwarf we will give to his people to be buried in their own fashion."
They breakfasted at last in another of the dark cellars of Aslan's How. It was not such a breakfast as they would have chosen, for Caspian and Cornelius were thinking of venison pasties, and Peter and Edmund of buttered eggs and hot coffee, but what everyone got was a little bit of cold bear-meat (out of the boys' pockets), a lump of hard cheese, an onion, and a mug of water. But, from the way they fell to, anyone would have supposed it was delicious.
THE HIGH KING IN COMMAND
"Now," said Peter, as they finished their meal, "Aslan and the girls (that's Queen Susan and Queen Lucy, Caspian) are somewhere close. We don't know when he will act. In his time, no doubt, not ours. In the meantime he would like us to do what we can on our own. You say, Caspian, we are not strong enough to meet Miraz in pitched battle?"
"I'm afraid not, High King," said Caspian. He was liking Peter very much, but was rather tongue-tied. It was much stranger for him to meet the great Kings out of the old stories than it was for them to meet him.
"Very well, then," said Peter, "I'll send him a challenge to single combat." No one had thought of this before.
"Please," said Caspian, "could it not be me? I want to avenge my father."
"You're wounded," said Peter. "And anyway, wouldn't he just laugh at a challenge from you? I mean, we have seen that you are a king and a warrior but he thinks of you as a kid."
"But, Sire," said the Badger, who sat very close to Peter and never took his eyes off him. "Will he accept a . challenge even from you? He knows he has the stronger . army."
"Very likely he won't," said Peter, "but there's always the chance. And even if he doesn't, we shall spend the best part of the day sending heralds to and fro and all that. By then Aslan may have done something. And at least I can inspect the army and strengthen the position. I will send the challenge. In fact I will write it at once. Have you pen and ink, Master Doctor?"
"A scholar is never without them, your Majesty," answered Doctor Cornelius.
"Very well, I will dictate," said Peter. And while the Doctor spread out a parchment and opened his ink-horn and sharpened his pen, Peter leant back with half-closed eyes and recalled to his mind the language in which he had written such things long ago in Narnia's golden age.
"Right," he said at last. "And now, if you are ready, Doctor?"
Doctor Cornelius dipped his pen and waited. Peter dictated as follows:
"Peter, by the gift of Aslan, by election, by prescription, and by conquest, High King over all Kings in Narnia, Emperor of the Lone Islands and Lord of Cair Paravel, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion, to Miraz, Son of Caspian the Eighth, sometime Lord Protector of Narnia and now styling himself King of Narnia, Greeting. Have you got that?"
"Narnia, comma, greeting," muttered the Doctor. "Yes, Sire."
"Then begin a new paragraph," said Peter. "For to prevent the effusion of blood, and for the avoiding all other inconveniences likely to grow from the wars now levied in our realm of Narnia, it is our pleasure to adventure our royal person on behalf of our trusty and well-beloved Caspian in clean wager of battle to prove upon your Lordship's body that the said Caspian is lawful King under us in Narnia both by our gift and by the laws of the Telmarines, and your Lordship twice guilty of treachery both in withholding the dominion of Narnia from the said Caspian and in the most abhominable, - don't forget to spell it with an H, Doctor - bloody, and unnatural murder of your kindly lord and brother King Caspian Ninth of that name. Wherefore we most heartily provoke, challenge, and defy your Lordship to the said combat and monomachy, and have sent these letters by the hand of our well beloved and royal brother Edmund, sometime King under us in Narnia, Duke of Lantern Waste and Count of the Western March, Knight of the Noble Order of the Table, to whom we have given full power of determining with your Lordship all the conditions of the said battle. Given at our lodging in Aslan's How this XII day of the month Greenroof in the first year of Caspian Tenth of Narnia.