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."
"I beg your pardon," said the Owl. "I was just nabbing a bat. There's nothing so sustaining, in a small way, as a nice plump little bat. Shall I catch you one?"
"No, thanks," said Jill with a shudder.
He was flying a little lower now and a large, black looking object was looming up towards them. Jill had just time to see that it was a tower - a partly ruinous tower, with a lot of ivy on it, she thought - when she found herself ducking to avoid the archway of a window, as the Owl squeezed with her through the ivied cobwebby opening, out of the fresh, grey night into a dark place inside the top of the tower. It was rather fusty inside and, the moment she slipped off the Owl's back, she knew (as one usually does somehow) that it was quite crowded And when voices began saying out of the darkness from every direction "Tuwhoo! Tu-whoo!" she knew it was crowded with owls. She was rather relieved when a very different voice said:
"Is that you, Pole?"
"Is that you, Scrubb?" said Jill.
"Now," said Glimfeather, "I think we're all here. Let us hold a parliament of owls."
"Tu-whoo, tu-whoo. True for you. That's the right thing to do," said several voices.
"Half a moment," said Scrubb's voice. "There's something I want to say first."
"Do, do, do," said the owls; and Jill said, "Fire ahead."
"I suppose all you chaps-owls, I mean," said Scrubb, "I suppose you all know that King Caspian the Tenth, in his young days, sailed to the eastern end of the world. Well, I was with him on that journey: with him and Reepicheep the Mouse, and the Lord Drinian and all of them. I know it sounds hard to believe, but people don't grow older in our world at the same speed as they do in yours. And what I want to say is this, that I'm the King's man; and if this parliament of owls is any sort of plot against the King, I'm having nothing to do with it."
"Tu-whoo, tu-whoo, we're all the King's owls too," said the owls.
"What's it all about then?" said Scrubb.
"It's only this," said Glimfeather. "That if the Lord Regent, the Dwarf Trumpkin, hears you are going to look for the lost Prince, he won't let you start. He'd keep you under lock and key sooner."
"Great Scott!" said Scrubb. "You don't mean that Trumpkin is a traitor? I used to hear a lot about him in the old days, at sea. Caspian - the King, I mean - trusted him absolutely."
"Oh no," said a voice. "Trumpkin's no traitor. But more than thirty champions (knights, centaurs, good giants, and all sorts) have at one time or another set out to look for the lost Prince, and none of them have ever come back. And at last the King said he was not going to have all the bravest Narnians destroyed in the search for his son. And now nobody is allowed to go."
"But surely he'd let us go," said Scrubb. "When he knew who I was and who had sent me."
("Sent both of us," put in Jill.)
"Yes," said Glimfeather, "I think, very likely, he would. But the King's away. And Trumpkin will stick to the rules. He's as true as steel, but he's deaf as a post and very peppery. You could never make him see that this might be the time for making an exception to the rule."
"You might think he'd take some notice of us, because we're owls and everyone knows how wise owls are," said someone else. "But he's so old now he'd only say, `You're a mere chick. I remember you when you were an egg. Don't come trying to teach me, Sir. Crabs and crumpets!'"
This owl imitated Trumpkin's voice rather well, and there were sounds of owlish laughter all round. The children began to see that the Narnians all felt about Trumpkin as people feel at school about some crusty teacher, whom everyone is a little afraid of and everyone makes fun of and nobody really dislikes.
"How long is the King going to be away?" asked Scrubb.
"If only we knew!" said Glimfeather. "You see, there has been a rumour lately that Aslan himself has been seen in the islands - in Terebinthia, I think it was. And the King said he would make one more attempt before he died to see Aslan face to face again, and ask his advice about who is to be King after him. But we're all afraid that, if he doesn't meet Aslan in Terebinthia, he'll go on east, to Seven Isles and Lone Islands - and on and on. He never talks about it, but we all know he has never forgotten that voyage to the world's end. I'm sure in his heart of hearts he wants to go there again."
"Then there's no good waiting for him to come back?" said Jill.
"No, no good," said the Owl. "Oh, what a to-do! If only you two had known and spoken to him at once! He'd have arranged everything - probably given you an army to go with you in search of the Prince."
Jill kept quiet at this and hoped Scrubb would be sporting enough not to tell all the owls why this hadn't happened. He was, or very nearly. That is, he only muttered under his breath, "Well, it wasn't my fault," before saying out loud:
"Very well. We'll have to manage without it. But there's just one thing more I want to know. If this owls' parliament, as you call it, is all fair and above board and means no mischief, why does it have to be so jolly secret - meeting in a ruin in dead of night, and all that?"
"Tu-whoo! Tu-whoo!" hooted several owls. "Where should we meet? When would anyone meet except at night?"
"You see," explained Glimfeather, "most of the creatures in Narnia have such unnatural habits. They do things by day, in broad blazing sunlight (ugh!) when everyone ought to be asleep. And, as a result, at night they're so blind and stupid that you can't get a word out of them. So we owls have got into the habit of meeting at sensible hours, on our own, when we want to talk about things."
"I see," said Scrubb. "Well now, let's get on. Tell us all about the lost Prince." Then an old owl, not Glimfeather, related the story.
About ten years ago, it appeared, when Rilian, the son of Caspian, was a very young knight, he rode with the Queen his mother on a May morning in the north parts of Narnia. They had many squires and ladies with them and all wore garlands of fresh leaves on their heads, and horns at their sides; but they had no hounds with them, for they were maying, not hunting. In the warm part of the day they came to a pleasant glade where a fountain flowed freshly out of the earth, and there they dismounted and ate and drank and were merry. After a time the Queen felt sleepy, and they spread cloaks for her on the grassy bank, and Prince Rilian with the rest of the party went a little way from her, that their tales and laughter might not wake her. And so, presently, a great serpent came out of the thick wood and stung the Queen in her hand. All heard her cry out and rushed towards her, and Rilian was first at her side. He saw the worm gliding away from her and made after it with his sword drawn. It was great, shining, and as green as poison, so that he could see it well: but it glided away into thick bushes and he could not come at it. So he returned to his mother, and found them all busy about her.
But they were busy in vain, for at the first glance of her face Rilian knew that no physic in the world would do her good. As long as the life was in her she seemed to be trying hard to tell him something. But she could not speak clearly and, whatever her message was, she died without delivering it. It was then hardly ten minutes since they had first heard her cry.
They carried the dead Queen back to Cair Paravel, and she was bitterly mourned by Rilian and by the King, and by all Narnia. She had been a great lady, wise and gracious and happy, King Caspian's bride whom he had brought home from the eastern end of the world. And men said that the blood of the stars flowed in her veins. The Prince took his mother's death very hardly, as well he might. After that, he was always riding on the northern marches of Narnia, hunting for that venomous worm, to kill it and be avenged. No one remarked much on this, though the Prince came home from these wanderings looking tired and distraught. But about a month after the Queen's death, some said they could see a change in him. There was a look in his eyes as of a man who has seen visions, and though he would be out all day, his horse did not bear the signs of hard riding. His chief friend among the older courtiers was the Lord Driman, he who had been his father's captain on that great voyage to the east parts of the earth.
One evening Drinian said to the Prince, "Your Highness must soon give over seeking the worm. There is no true vengeance on a witless brute as there might be on a man. You weary yourself in vain." The Prince answered him, "My Lord, I have almost forgotten the worm this seven days." Drinian asked him why, if that were so, he rode so continually in the northern woods. "My lord," said the Prince, "I have seen there the most beautiful thing that was ever made." "Fair Prince," said Drinian, "of your courtesy let me ride with you tomorrow, that I also may see this fair thing." "With a good will," said Rilian.
Then in good time on the next day they saddled their horses and rode a great gallop into the northern woods and alighted at that same fountain where the Queen got her death. Drinian thought it strange that the Prince should choose that place of all places, to linger in. And there they rested till it came to high noon: and at noon Drinian looked up and saw the most beautiful lady he had ever seen; and she stood at the north side of the fountain and said no word but beckoned to the Prince with her hand as if she bade him come to her. And she was tall and great, shining, and wrapped in a thin garment as green as poison. And the Prince stared at her like a man out of his wits. But suddenly the lady was gone, Driman knew not where; and the two returned to Cair Paravel. It stuck in Drinian's mind that this shining green woman was evil.
Drinian doubted very much whether he ought not to tell this adventure to the King, but he had little wish to be a blab and a tale-bearer and so he held his tongue. But afterwards he wished he had spoken. For next day Prince Rilian rode out alone. That night he came not back, and from that hour no trace of him was ever found in Narnia nor any neighbouring land, and neither his horse nor his hat nor his cloak nor anything else was ever found. Then Drinian in the bitterness of his heart went to Caspian and said, "Lord King, slay me speedily as a great traitor: for by my silence I have destroyed your son." And he told him the story. Then Caspian caught up a battle-axe and rushed upon the Lord Drinian to kill him, and Drinian stood still as a stock for the death blow. But when the axe was raised, Caspian suddenly threw it away and cried out, "I have lost my queen and my son: shall I lose my friend also?" And he fell upon the Lord Drinian's neck and embraced him and both wept, and their friendship was not broken.
Such was the story of Rilian. And when it was over, Jill said, "I bet that serpent and that woman were the same person."
"True, true, we think the same as you," hooted the owls.
"But we don't think she killed the Prince," said Glimfeather, "because no bones - "
"We know she didn't," said Scrubb. "Aslan told Pole he was still alive somewhere."
"That almost makes it worse," said the oldest owl. "It means she has some use for him, and some deep scheme against Narnia. Long, long ago, at the very beginning, a White Witch came out of the North and bound our land in snow and ice for a hundred years. And we think this may be some of the same crew."
"Very well, then," said Scrubb. "Pole and I have got to `Find this Prince. Can you help us?"
"Have you any clue, you two?" asked Glimfeather.
"Yes," said Scrubb. "We know we've got to go north. And w e know we've got to reach the ruins of a giant city."
At this there was a greater tu-whooing than ever, and noise of birds shifting their feet and ruffling their feathers, and then all the owls started speaking at once. They all explained how very sorry they were that they themselves could not go with the children on their search for the lost Prince "You'd want to travel by day, and we'd want to travel by night," they said. "It wouldn't do, wouldn't do." One or two owls added that even here in the ruined tower it wasn't nearly so dark as it had been when they began, and that the parliament had been going on quite long enough. In fact, the mere mention of a journey to the ruined city of giants seemed to have damped the spirits of those birds. But Glimfeather said:
"If they want to go that way - into Ettinsmoor - we must take them to one of the Marsh-wiggles. They're the Only people who can help them much."
"'True, true. Do," said the owls.
"Come on, then," said Glimfeather. "I'll take one. Who'll take the other? It must be done tonight."
"I will: as far as the Marsh-wiggles," said another owl.
"Are you ready?" said Glimfeather to Jill.
"I think Pole's asleep," said Scrubb.
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