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|The Silver Chair(Chronicles of Narnia #4) by C.S.Lewis|
"All right, all right. You needn't shout. I'm not so deaf as all that. What do you mean by coming here to tell me that nobody's been killed? Why should anyone have been killed?"
"Better tell him I'm Eustace," said Scrubb.
"The boy's Eustace, my lord," hooted the Owl as loud as it could.
"Useless?" said the Dwarf irritably. "I dare say he is. Is that any reason for bringing him to court? Hey?"
"Not useless," said the Owl. "EUSTACE."
"Used to it, is he? I don't know what you're talking about, I'm sure. I tell you what it is, Master Glimfeather; when I was a young Dwarf there used to be talking beasts and birds in this country who really could talk. There wasn't all this mumbling and muttering and whispering. It wouldn't have been tolerated for a moment. Not for a moment, Sir. Urnus, my trumpet please - "
A little Faun who had been standing quietly beside the Dwarf's elbow all this time now handed him a silver eartrumpet. It was made like the musical instrument called a serpent, so that the tube curled right round the Dwarf's neck. While he was getting it settled the Owl, Glimfeather, suddenly said to the children in a whisper:
"My brain's a bit clearer now. Don't say anything about the lost Prince. I'll explain later. It wouldn't do, wouldn't do, Tu-Whoo! Oh what a to-do!"
"Now," said the Dwarf, "if you have anything sensible to say, Master Glimfeather, try and say it. Take a deep breath and don't attempt to speak too quickly."
With help from the children, and in spite of a fit of coughing on the part of the Dwarf, Glimfeather explained that the strangers had been sent by Aslan to visit the court of Narnia. The Dwarf glanced quickly up at them with a new expression in his eyes.
"Sent by the Lion Himself, hey?" he said. "And from m'm - from that other Place - beyond the world's end, hey?"
"Yes, my lord," bawled Eustace into the trumpet.
"Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve, hey?" said the Dwarf. But people at Experiment House haven't heard of Adam and Eve, so Jill and Eustace couldn't answer this. But the Dwarf didn't seem to notice.
"Well, my dears," he said, taking first one and then the other by the hand and bowing his head a little. "You are very heartily welcome. If the good King, my poor Master, had not this very hour set sail for Seven Isles, he would have been glad of your coming. It would have brought back his youth to him for a moment - for a moment. And now, it is high time for supper. You shall tell me your business in full council tomorrow morning. Master Glimfeather, see that bedchambers and suitable clothes and all else are provided for these guests in the most honourable fashion. And - Glimfeather - in your ear - "
Here the Dwarf put his mouth close to the Owl's head and, no doubt, intended to whisper: but, like other deaf people, he wasn't a very good judge of his own voice, and both children heard him say, "See that they're properly washed."
After that, the Dwarf touched up his donkey and it set off towards the castle at something between a trot and a waddle (it was a very fat little beast), while the Faun, the Owl, and the children followed at a rather slower pace. The sun had set and the air was growing cool.
They went across the lawn and then through an orchard and so to the North Gate of Cair Paravel, which stood wide open. Inside, they found a grassy courtyard. Lights were already showing from the windows of the great hall on their right and from a more complicated mass of buildings straight ahead. Into these the Owl led them, and there a most delightful person was called to look after Jill. She was not much taller than Jill herself, and a good deal slenderer, but obviously full grown, graceful as a willow, and her hair was willowy too, and there seemed to be moss in it. She brought Jill to a round room in one of the turrets, where there was a little bath sunk in the floor and a fire of sweet-smelling woods burning on the flat hearth and a lamp hanging by a silver chain from the vaulted roof. The window looked west into the strange land of Narnia, and Jill saw the red remains of the sunset still glowing behind distant mountains. It made her long for more adventures and feel sure that this was only the beginning.
When she had had her bath, and brushed her hair, and put on the clothes that had been laid out for her - they were the kind that not only felt nice, but looked nice and smelled nice and made nice sounds when you moved as well - she would have gone back to gaze out of that exciting window, but she was interrupted by a bang on the door.
"Come in," said Jill. And in came Scrubb, also bathed and splendidly dressed in Narnian clothes. But his face didn't look as if he were enjoying it.
"Oh, here you are at last," he said crossly, flinging himself into a chair. "I've been trying to find you for ever so long."
"Well, now you have," said Jill. "I say, Scrubb, isn't it all simply too exciting and scrumptious for words." She had forgotten all about the signs and the lost Prince for the moment.
"Oh! That's what you think, is it?" said Scrubb: and then, after a pause, "I wish to goodness we'd never come."
"Why on earth?"
"I can't bear it," said Scrubb. "Seeing the King Caspian - a doddering old man like that. It's - it's frightful."
"Why, what harm does it do you?"
"Oh, you don't understand. Now that I come to think of it, you couldn't. I didn't tell you that this world has a different time from ours."
"How do you mean?"
"The time you spend here doesn't take up any of our time. Do you see? I mean, however long we spend here, we shall still get back to Experiment House at the moment we left it - "
"That won't be much fun."
"Oh, dry up! Don't keep interrupting. And when you're back in England - in our world - you can't tell how time is going here. It might be any number of years in Narnia while we're having one year at home. The Pevensies explained it all to me, but, like a fool, I forgot about it. And now apparently it's been about seventy years Narnian years - since I was here last. Do you see now? And I come back and find Caspian an old, old man."
"Then the King was an old friend of yours!" said Jill. A horrid thought had struck her.
"I should jolly well think he was," said Scrubb miserably. "About as good a friend as a chap could have. And last time he was only a few years older than me. And to see that old man with a white beard, and to remember Caspian as he was the morning we captured the Lone Islands, or in the fight with the Sea Serpent - oh, it's frightful. It's worse than coming back and finding him dead."
"Oh, shut up," said Jill impatiently. "It's far worse than you think. We've muffed the first Sign." Of course Scrubb did not understand this. Then Jill told him about her conversation with Aslan and the four signs and the task of finding the lost prince which had been laid upon them.
"So you see," she wound up, "you did see an old friend, just as Aslan said, and you ought to have gone and spoken to him at once. And now you haven't, and everything is going wrong from the very beginning."
"But how was I to know?" said Scrubb.
"If you'd only listened to me when I tried to tell you, we'd be all right," said Jill.
"Yes, and if you hadn't played the fool on the edge of that cliff and jolly nearly murdered me - all right, I said murder, and I'll say it again as often as I like, so keep your hair on - we'd have come together and both known what to do."
"I suppose he was the first person you saw?" said Jill. "You must have been here hours before me. Are you sure you didn't see anyone else first?"
"I was only here about a minute before you," said Scrubb. "He must have blown you quicker than me. Making up for lost time: the time you lost."
"Don't be a perfect beast, Scrubb," said Jill. "Hallo! What's that?"
It was the castle bell ringing for supper, and thus what looked like turning into a first-rate quarrel was happily cut short. Both had a good appetite by this time.
Supper in the great hall of the castle was the most splendid thing either of them had ever seen; for though Eustace had been in that world before, he had spent his whole visit at sea and knew nothing of the glory and courtesy of the Narnians at home in their own land. The banners hung from the roof, and each course came in with trumpeters and kettledrums. There were soups that would make your mouth water to think of, and the lovely fishes called pavenders, and venison and peacock and pies, and ices and jellies and fruit and nuts, and all manner of wines and fruit drinks. Even Eustace cheered up and admitted that it was "something like". And when all the serious eating and drinking was over, a blind poet came forward and struck up the grand old tale of Prince Cor and Aravis and the horse Bree, which is called The Horse and his Boy and tells of an adventure that happened in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Cair Paravel. (I haven't time to tell it now, though it is well worth hearing.)
When they were dragging themselves upstairs to bed, yawning their heads off, Jill said, "I bet we sleep well, tonight"; for it had been a full day. Which just shows how little anyone knows what is going to happen to them next.
A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS
IT is a very funny thing that the sleepier you are, the longer you take about getting to bed; especially if you are lucky enough to have a fire in your room. Jill felt she couldn't even start undressing unless she sat down in front of the fire for a bit first. And once she had sat down, she didn't want to get up again. She had already said to herself about five times, "I must go to bed", when she was startled by a tap on the window.
She got up, pulled the curtain, and at first saw nothing but darkness. Then she jumped and started backwards, for something very large had dashed itself against the window, giving a sharp tap on the glass as. it did so. A very unpleasant idea came into her head - "Suppose they have giant moths in this country! Ugh!" But then the thing came back, and this time she was almost sure she saw a beak, and that the beak had made that tapping noise. "It's some huge bird," thought Jill. "Could it be an eagle?" She didn't very much want a visit even from an eagle, but she opened the window and looked out. Instantly, with a great whirring noise, the creature alighted on the window-sill and stood there filling up the whole window, so that Jill had to step back to make room for it. It was the Owl.
"Hush, hush! Tu-whoo, tu-whoo," said the Owl. "Don't make a noise. Now, are you two really in earnest about what you've got to do?"
"About the lost Prince, you mean?" said Jill. "Yes, we've got to be." For now she remembered the Lion's voice and face, which she had nearly forgotten during the feasting and story-telling in the hall.
"Good!" said the Owl. "Then there's no time to waste.
You must get away from here at once. I'll go and wake the other human. Then I'll come back for you. You'd better change those court clothes and put on something you can travel in. I'll be back in two twos. Tu-whoo!" And without waiting for an answer, he was gone.
If Jill had been more used to adventures, she might have doubted the Owl's word, but this never occurred to her: and in the exciting idea of a midnight escape she forgot her sleepiness. She changed back into sweater and shorts there was a guide's knife on the belt of the shorts which might come in useful - and added a few of the things that had been left in the room for her by the girl with the willowy hair. She chose a short cloak that came down to her knees and had a hood ("just the thing, if it rains," she thought), a few handkerchiefs and a comb. Then she sat down and waited.
She was getting sleepy again when the Owl returned.
"Now we're ready," it said.
"You'd better lead the way," said Jill. "I don't know all these passages yet."
"Tu-whoo!" said the Owl. "We're not going through the castle. That would never do. You must ride on me. We shall fly."
"Oh!" said Jill, and stood with her mouth open, not much liking the idea. "Shan't I be too heavy for you?"
"Tu-whoo, tu-whoo! Don't you be a fool. I've already carried the other one. Now. But we'll put out that lamp first."
As soon as the lamp was out, the bit of the night which you saw through the window looked less dark - no longer black, but grey. The Owl stood on the window-sill with his back to the room and raised his wings. Jill had to climb on to his short fat body and get her knees under the wings and grip tight. The feathers felt beautifully warm and soft but there was nothing to hold on by. "I wonder how Scrubb liked his ride!" thought Jill. And just as she was thinking this, with a horrid plunge they had left the window-sill, and the wings were making a flurry round her ears, and the night air, rather cool and damp, was flying in her face.
It was much lighter than she expected, and though the sky was overcast, one patch of watery silver showed where the moon was hiding above the clouds. The fields beneath her looked grey, and the trees black. There was a certain amount of wind - a hushing, ruffling sort of wind which meant that rain was coming soon.
The Owl wheeled round so that the castle was now ahead of them. Very few of the windows showed lights. They flew right over it, northwards, crossing the river: the air grew colder, and Jill thought she could see the white reflection of the Owl in the water beneath her. But soon they were on the north bank of the river, flying above wooded country.
The Owl snapped at something which Jill couldn't see.
"Oh, don't, please!" said Jill. "Don't jerk like that. You nearly threw me off."