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|The Silver Chair(Chronicles of Narnia #4) by C.S.Lewis|
Jill had to pinch herself to keep awake, for she knew that if she dozed on Glimfeather's back she would probably fall off. When at last the two owls ended their flight, she climbed stiffly off Glimfeather and found herself on flat ground. A chilly wind was blowing and they appeared to be in a place without trees. "Tu-whoo, tu-whoo!" Glimfeather was calling. "Wake up, Puddleglum. Wake up. It is on the Lion's business."
For a long time there was no reply. Then, a long way off, a dim light appeared and began to come nearer. With it came a voice.
"Owls ahoy!" it said. "What is it? Is the King dead? Has an enemy landed in Narnia? Is it a flood? Or dragons?"
When the light reached them, it turned out to be that of a large lantern. She could see very little of the person who held it. He seemed to be all legs and arms. The owls were talking to him, explaining everything, but she was too tired to listen. She tried to wake herself up a bit when she realized that they were saying goodbye to her. But she could never afterwards remember much except that, sooner or later, she and Scrubb were stooping to enter a low doorway and then (oh, thank heavens) were lying down on something soft and warm, and a voice was saying:
"There you are. Best we can do. You'll lie cold and hard. Damp too, I shouldn't wonder. Won't sleep a wink, most likely; even if there isn't a thunderstorm or a flood or the wigwam doesn't fall down on top of us all, as I've known them do. Must make the best of it - " But she was fast asleep before the voice had ended.
When the children woke late next morning they found that they were lying, very dry and warm, on beds of straw in a dark place. A triangular opening let in the daylight.
"Where on earth are we?" asked Jill.
"In the wigwam of a Marsh-wiggle," said Eustace.
"A Marsh-wiggle. Don't ask me what it is. I couldn't see it last night. I'm getting up. Let's go and look for it."
"How beastly one feels after sleeping in one's clothes," said Jill, sitting up.
"I was just thinking how nice it was not to have to dress," said Eustace.
"Or wash either, I suppose," said Jill scornfully. But Scrubb had already got up, yawned, shaken himself, and crawled out of the wigwam. Jill did the same.
What they found outside was quite unlike the bit of Narnia they had seen on the day before. They were on a great flat plain which was cut into countless little islands by countless channels of water. The islands were covered with coarse grass and bordered with reeds and rushes. Sometimes there were beds of rushes about an acre in extent. Clouds of birds were constantly alighting in them and rising from them again-duck, snipe, bitterns, herons. Many wigwams like that in which they had passed the night could be seen dotted about, but all at a good distance from one another; for Marsh-wiggles are people who like privacy. Except for the fringe of the forest several miles to the south and west of them, there was not a tree in sight. Eastward the flat marsh stretched to low sand-hills on the horizon, and you could tell by the salt tang in the wind which blew from that direction that the sea lay over there. To the North there were low pale-coloured hills, in places bastioned with rock. The rest was all flat marsh. It would have been a depressing place on a w et evening. Seen under a morning sun, with a fresh wind blowing, and the air filled with the crying of birds, there was something fine and fresh and clean about its loneliness. The children felt their spirits rise.
"Where has the thingummy got to, I wonder?" said Jill.
"The Marsh-wiggle," said Scrubb, as if he were rather proud of knowing the word. "I expect-hullo, that must be him." And then they both saw him, sitting with his back to them, fishing, about fifty yards away. He had been hard to see at first because he was nearly the same colour as the marsh and because he sat so still.
"I suppose we'd better go and speak to him," said Jill. Scrubb nodded. They both felt a little nervous.
As they drew nearer, the figure turned its head and showed them a long thin face with rather sunken cheeks, a tightly shut mouth, a sharp nose, and no beard. He was wearing a high, pointed hat like a steeple, with an enormously wide flat brim. The hair, if it could be called hair, which hung over his large ears was greeny-grey, and each lock was flat rather than round, so that they were like tiny reeds. His expression was solemn, his complexion muddy, and you could see at once that he took a serious view of life.
"Good morning, Guests," he said. "Though when I say good I don't mean it won't probably turn to rain or it might he snow, or fog, or thunder. You didn't get any sleep, I dare say.
"Yes we did, though," said Jill. "We had a lovely night."
"Ah," said the Marsh-wiggle, shaking his head. "I see you're making the best of a bad job. That's right. You've been well brought up, you have. You've learned to put a good face on things."
"Please, we don't know your name," said Scrubb.
"Puddleglum's my name. But it doesn't matter if you forget it. I can always tell you again."
The children sat down on each side of him. They now saw that he had very long legs and arms, so that although his body was not much bigger than a dwarf's, he would be taller than most men when he stood up. The fingers of his hands were webbed like a frog's, and so were his bare feet which dangled in the muddy water. He was dressed in earthcoloured clothes that hung loose about him.
"I'm trying to catch a few eels to make an eel stew for our dinner," said Puddleglum. "Though I shouldn't wonder if I didn't get any. And you won't like them much if I do."
"Why not?" asked Scrubb.
"Why, it's not in reason that you should like our sort of victuals, though I've no doubt you'll put a bold face on it. All the same, while I am a catching of them, if you two could try to light the fire - no harm trying - ! The wood's behind the wigwam. It may be wet. You could light it inside the wigwam, and then we'd get all the smoke in our eyes. Or you could light it outside, and then the rain would come and put it out. Here's my tinder-box. You won't know how to use it, I expect."
But Scrubb had learned that sort of thing on his last adventure. The children ran back together to the wigwam, found the wood (which was perfectly dry) and succeeded in lighting a fire with rather less than the usual difficulty. Then Scrubb sat and took care of it while Jill went and had some sort of wash - not a very nice one - in the nearest channel. After that she saw to the fire and he had a wash. Both felt a good deal fresher, but very hungry.
Presently the Marsh-wiggle joined them. In spite of his expectation of catching no eels, he had a dozen or so, which he had already skinned and cleaned. He put a big pot on, mended the fire, and lit his pipe. Marsh-wiggles smoke a very strange, heavy sort of tobacco (some people say they mix it with mud) and the children noticed the smoke from Puddleglum's pipe hardly rose in the air at all. It trickled out of the bowl and downwards and drifted along the ground like a mist. It was very black and set Scrubb coughing.
"Now," said Puddleglum. "Those eels will take a mortal long time to cook, and either of you might faint with hunger before they're done. I knew a little girl - but I'd better not tell you that story. It might lower your spirits, and that's a thing I never do. So, to keep your minds off your hunger, we may as well talk about our plans."
"Yes, do let's," said Jill. "Can you help us to find Prince Rilian?"
The Marsh-wiggle sucked in his cheeks till they were hollower than you would have thought possible. "Well, I don't know that you'd call it help," he said. "I don't know that anyone can exactly help. It stands to reason we're not likely to get very far on a journey to the North, not at this time of the year, with the winter coming on soon and all. And an early winter too, by the look of things. But you mustn't let that make you down-hearted. Very likely, what with enemies, and mountains, and rivers to cross, and losing our way, and next to nothing to eat, and sore feet, we'll hardly notice the weather. And if we don't get far enough to do any good, we may get far enough not to get back in a hurry."
Both children noticed that he said "we", not "you", and both exclaimed at the same moment. "Are you coming with us?"
"Oh yes, I'm coming of course. Might as well, you see. I don't suppose we shall ever see the King back in Narnia, now that he's once set off for foreign parts; and he had a nasty cough when he left. Then there's Trumpkin. He's failing fast. And you'll find there'll have been a bad harvest after this terrible dry summer. And I shouldn't wonder if some enemy attacked us. Mark my words."
"And how shall we start?" said Scrubb.
"Well," said the Marsh-wiggle very slowly, "all the others who ever went looking for Prince Rilian started from that same fountain where the Lord Drinian saw the lady. They went north, mostly. And as none of them ever came back, we can't exactly say how they got on."
"We've got to start by finding a ruined city of giants," said Jill. "Aslan said so."
"Got to start by finding it, have we?" answered Puddleglum. "Not allowed to start by looking for it, I suppose?"
"That's what I meant, of course," said Jill. "And then, when we've found it-"
"Yes, when!" said Puddleglum very drily.
"Doesn't anyone know where it is?" asked Scrubb.
"I don't know about Anyone," said Puddleglum. "And I won't say I haven't heard of that Ruined City. You wouldn't start from the fountain, though. You'd have to go across Ettinsmoor. That's where the Ruined City is, if it's anywhere. But I've been as far in that direction as most people and I never got to any ruins, so I won't deceive you."
"Where's Ettinsmoor?" said Scrubb.
"Look over there northward," said Puddleglum, pointing with his pipe. "See those hills and bits of cliff? That's the beginning of Ettinsmoor. But there's a river between it and us; the river Shribble. No bridges, of course."
"I suppose we can ford it, though," said Scrubb.
"Well, it has been forded," admitted the Marsh-wiggle.
"Perhaps we shall meet people on Ettinsmoor who can tell us the way," said Jill.
"You're right about meeting people," said Puddleglum.
"What sort of people live there?" she asked.
"It's not for me to say they aren't all right in their own way," answered Puddleglum. "If you like their way."
"Yes, but what are they?" pressed Jill. "There are so many queer creatures in this country. I mean, are they animals, or birds, or dwarfs, or what?"
The Marsh-wiggle gave a long whistle. "Phew!" he said. "Don't you know? I thought the owls had told you. They're giants."
Jill winced. She had never liked giants even in books, and she had once met one in a nightmare. Then she saw Scrubb's face, which had turned rather green, and thought to herself, "I bet he's in a worse funk than I am." That made her feel braver.
"The King told me long ago," said Scrubb - "that time when I was with him at sea-that he'd jolly well beaten those giants in war and made them pay him tribute."
"That's true enough," said Puddleglum. "They're at peace with us all right. As long as we stay on our own side of the Shribble, they won't do us any harm. Over on their side, on the Moor - Still, there's always a chance. If we don't get near any of them, and if none of them forget themselves, and if we're not seen, it's just possible we might get a long way."
"Look here!" said Scrubb, suddenly losing his temper, as people so easily do when they have been frightened. "I don't believe the whole thing can be half as bad as you're making out; any more than the beds in the wigwam were hard or the wood was wet. I don't think Aslan would ever have sent us if there was so little chance as all that."
He quite expected the Marsh-wiggle to give him an angry reply, but he only said, "That's the spirit, Scrubb. That's the way to talk. Put a good face on it. But we all need to be very careful about our tempers, seeing all the hard times we shall have to go through together. Won't do to quarrel, you know. At any rate, don't begin it too soon. I know these expeditions usually end that way: knifing one another, I shouldn't wonder, before all's done. But the longer we can keep off it-"
"Well, if you feel it's so hopeless," interrupted Scrubb, "I think you'd better stay behind. Pole and I can go on alone, can't we, Pole?"
"Shut up and don't be an ass, Scrubb," said Jill hastily, terrified lest the Marsh-wiggle should take him at his word.
"Don't you lose heart, Pole," said Puddleglum. "I'm coming, sure and certain. I'm not going to lose an opportunity like this. It will do me good. They all say - I mean, the other wiggles all say-that I'm too flighty; don't take life seriously enough. If they've said it once, they've said it a thousand times. 'Puddleglum,' they've said, `you're altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You've got to learn that life isn't all fricasseed frogs and eel pie. You want something to sober you down a bit. We're only saying it for your own good, Puddleglum.' That's what they say. Now a job like this - a journey up north just as winter's beginning, looking for a Prince that probably isn't there, by way of a ruined city that no one has ever seen - will be just the thing. If that doesn't steady a chap, I don't know what will." And he rubbed his big frog-like hands together as if he were talking of going to a party or a pantomime. "And now," he added, "let's see how those eels are getting on."