THE THREE SLEEPERS
THE wind never failed but it grew gentler every day till at length the waves were little more than ripples, and the ship glided on hour after hour almost as if they were sailing on a lake. And every night they saw that there rose in the east new constellations which no one had ever seen in Narnia and perhaps, as Lucy thought with a mixture of joy and fear, no living eye had seen at all. Those new stars were big and bright and the nights were warm. Most of them slept on deck and talked far into the night or hung over the ship's side watching the luminous dance of the foam thrown up by their bows.
On an evening of startling beauty, when the sunset behind them was so crimson and purple and widely spread that the very sky itself seemed to have grown larger, they came in sight of land on their starboard bow. It came slowly nearer and the light behind them made it look as if the capes and headlands of this new country were all on fire. But presently they were sailing along its coast and its western cape now rose up astern of them, black against the red sky and sharp as if it was cut out of cardboard, and then they could see better what this country was like. It had no mountains but many gentle hills with slopes like pillows. An attractive smell came from it - what Lucy called "a dim, purple kind of smell", which Edmund said (and Rhince thought) was rot, but Caspian said, "I know what you mean."
They sailed on a good way, past point after point, hoping to find a nice deep harbour, but had to content themselves in the end with a wide and shallow bay. Though it had seemed calm out at sea there was of course surf breaking on the sand and they could not bring the Dawn Treader as far in as they would have liked. They dropped anchor a good way from the beach and had a wet and tumbling landing in the boat. The Lord Rhoop remained on board the Dawn Treader. He wished to see no more islands. All the time that they remained in this country the sound of the long breakers was in their ears.
Two men were left to guard the boat and Caspian led the others inland, but not far because it was too late for exploring and the light would soon go. But there was no need to go far to find an adventure. The level valley which lay at the head of the bay showed no road or track or other sign of habitation. Underfoot was tine springy turf dotted here and there with a low bushy growth which Edmund and Lucy took for heather. Eustace, who was really rather good at botany; said it wasn't, and he was probably right; but it was something of very much the same kind.
When they had gone less than a bowshot from the shore, Drinian said, "Look! What's that?" and everyone stopped.
"Are they great trees?" said Caspian.
"Towers, l think," said Eustace.
"It might be giants," said Edmund in a lower voice.
"The way to find out is to go right iv among them," said Reepicheep, drawing his sword and pattering off ahead of everyone else.
"I think it's a ruin," said Lucy when they had got a good deal nearer, and her guess was the best so far. What they now saw was a wide oblong space flagged with smooth stones and surrounded by grey pillars but unroofed. And from end to end of it ran a long table laid with a rich crimson cloth that came down nearly to the pavement. At either side of it were many chairs of stone richly carved and with silken cushions upon the seats. But on the table itself there was set out such a banquet as had never been seen, not even when Peter the High King kept his court at Cair Paravel. There were turkeys and geese and peacocks, there were boars' heads and sides of venison, there were pies shaped like ships under full sail or like dragons and elephants, there were ice puddings and bright lobsters and gleaming salmon, there were nuts and grapes, pineapples and peaches, pomegranates and melons and tomatoes. There were flagons of gold and silver and curiouslywrought glass; and the smell of the fruit and the wine blew towards them like a promise of all happiness.
"I say!" said Lucy.
They came nearer and nearer, all very quietly.
"But where are the guests?" asked Eustace.
"We can provide that, Sir," said Rhince.
"Look!" said Edmund sharply. They were actually within the pillars now and standing on the pavement. Everyone looked where Edmund had pointed. The chairs were not all empty. At the head of the table and in the two places beside it there was something - or possibly three somethings.
"What are those?" asked Lucy in a whisper. "It looks like three beavers sitting on the table."
"Or a huge bird's nest," said Edmund.
"It looks more like a haystack to me," said Caspian.
Reepicheep ran forward, jumped on a chair and thence on to the table, and ran along it, threading his way as nimbly as a dancer between jewelled cups and pyramids of fruit and - ivory salt-cellars. He ran right up to the mysterious grey mass at the end: peered, touched, and then called out:
"These will not fight, I think."
Everyone now came close and saw that what sat in those three chairs was three men, though hard to recognize as men till you looked closely. Their hair, which was grey, had grown over their eyes till it almost concealed their, faces, and their beards had grown over the table, climbing pound and entwining plates and goblets as brambles; entwine a fence, until, all mixed in one great mat of hair, they flowed over the edge and down to the floor. And from their heads the hair hung over the backs of their chairs so that they were wholly hidden. In fact the three men were; nearly all hair.
"Dead?" said Caspian.
"I think not, Sire," said Reepicheep, lifting one of their hands out of its tangle of hair in his two paws. "This one is warm and his pulse beats."
"This one, too, and this," said Drinian.
"Why, they're only asleep," said Eustace.
"It's been a long sleep, though," said Edmund, "to let their hair grow like this."
"It must be an enchanted sleep," said Lucy. "I felt the moment we landed on this island that it was full of magic. Oh! do you think we have perhaps come here to break it?"
"We can try," said Caspian, and began shaking the nearest of the three sleepers. For a moment everyone thought he was going to be successful, for the man breathed hard and muttered, "I'll go eastward no more. Out oars for Narnia." But he sank back almost at once into a yet deeper sleep than before: that is, his heavy head sagged a few inches lower towards the table and all efforts to rouse him again were useless. With the second it was much the same. "Weren't born to live like animals. Get to the east while you've a chance - lands behind the sun," and sank down. And the third only said, "Mustard, please," and slept hard.
"Out oars for Narnia, eh?" said Drinian.
"Yes," said Caspian, "you are right, Drinian. I think our quest is at an end. Let's look at their rings. Yes, these are their devices. This is the Lord Revilian. This is the Lord Argoz: and this, the Lord Mavramorn."
"But we can't wake them," said Lucy. "What are we to do?"
"Begging your Majesties' pardons all," said Rhince, "but why not fall to while you're discussing it? We don't see a dinner like this every day."
"Not for your life!" said Caspian.
"That's right, that's right," said several of the sailors.
"Too much magic about here. The sooner we're back on board the better."
"Depend upon it," said Reepicheep, "it was from eating this food that these three lords came by a seven years' sleep."
"I wouldn't touch it to save my life," said Drinian.
"The light's going uncommon quick," said Rynelf.
"Back to ship, back to ship," muttered the men.
"I really think," said Edmund, "they're right. We can decide what to do with the three sleepers tomorrow. We daren't eat the food and there's no point in staying here for the night. The whole place smells of magic - and danger."
"I am entirely of King Edmund's opinion," said Reepicheep, "as far as concerns the ship's company in general. But I myself will sit at this table till sunrise."
"Why on earth?" said Eustace.
"Because," said the Mouse, "this is a very great adventure, and no danger seems to me so great as that of knowing when I get back to Narnia that I left a mystery behind me through fear."
"I'll stay with you, Reep," said Edmund.
"And I too," said Caspian.
"And me," said Lucy. And then Eustace volunteered also. This was very brave of him because never having read of such things or even heard of them till he joined the Dawn Treader made it worse for him than for the others.
"I beseech your Majesty - " began Drinian.
"No, my Lord," said Caspian. "Your place is with the ship, and you have had a day's work while we five have idled." There was a lot of argument about this but in the end Caspian had his way. As the crew marched off to the shore in the gathering dusk none of the five watchers, except perhaps Reepicheep, could avoid a cold feeling in the stomach.
They took some time choosing their seats at the perilous table. Probably everyone had the same reason but no one said it out loud. For it was really a rather nasty choice. One could hardly bear to sit all night next to those three terrible hairy objects which, if not dead, were certainly not alive in the ordinary sense. On the other hand, to sit at the far end, so that you would see them less and less as the night grew darker, and wouldn't know if they were moving, and perhaps wouldn't see them at all by about two o'clock no, it was not to be thought of. So they sauntered round and round the table saying, "What about here?" and "Or perhaps a bit further on," or, "Why not on this side?" till at last they settled down somewhere about the middle but nearer to the sleepers than to the other end. It was about ten by now and almost dark. Those strange new constellations burned in the east. Lucy would have liked it better if they had been the Leopard and the Ship and other old friends of the Narnian sky.
They wrapped themselves in their sea cloaks and sat still and waited. At first there was some attempt at talk but it didn't come to much. And they sat and sat. And all the time they heard the waves breaking on the beach.
After hours that seemed like ages there came a moment when they all knew they had been dozing a moment before but were all suddenly wide awake. The stars were all in quite different positions from those they had last noticed. The sky was very black except for the faintest possible greyness in the east. They were cold, though thirsty, and stiff. And none of them spoke because now at last something was happening.
Before them, beyond the pillars, there was the slope of a low hill. And now a door opened in the hillside, and light appeared in the doorway, and a figure came out, and the door shut behind it. The figure carried a light, and this light was really all that they could see distinctly. It came slowly nearer and nearer till at last it stood right at the table opposite to them. Now they could see that it was a tall girl, dressed in a single long garment of clear blue which left her arms bare. She was bareheaded and her yellow hair hung down her back. And when they looked at her they thought they had never before known what beauty meant.
The light which she had been carrying was a tall candle in a silver candlestick which she now set upon the table. If there had been any wind off the sea earlier in the night it must have died down by now, for the flame of the candle burned as straight and still as if it were in a room with the windows shut and the curtains drawn. Gold and silver on the table shone in its light.
Lucy now noticed something lying lengthwise on the table which had escaped her attention before. It was a knife of stone, sharp as steel, a cruel-looking, ancient looking thing.
No one had yet spoken a word. Then - Reepicheep first, and Caspian next - they all rose to their feet, because they felt that she was a great lady.
"Travellers who have come from far to Aslan's table," said the girl. "Why do you not eat and drink?"
"Madam," said Caspian, "we feared the food because we thought it had cast our friends into an enchanted sleep.
"They have never tasted it," she said.
"Please," said Lucy, "what happened to them?"
"Seven years ago," said the girl, "they came here in a ship whose sails were rags and timbers ready to fall apart. There were a few others with them, sailors, and when they came to this table one said, `Here is the good place. Let us set sail and reef sail and row no longer but sit down and end our days in peace!' And the second said, `No, let us re-embark and sail for Narnia and the west; it may be that Miraz is dead.' But the third, who was a very masterful man, leaped up and said, `No, by heaven. We are men and Telmarines, not brutes. What should we do but seek adventure after adventure? We have not long to live in any event. Let us spend what is left in seeking the unpeopled world behind the sunrise.' And as they quarrelled he caught up the Knife of Stone which lies there on the table and would have fought with his comrades. But it is a thing not right for him to touch. And as his fingers closed upon the hilt, deep sleep fell upon all the three. And till the enchantment is undone they will never wake."
"What is this Knife of Stone?" asked Eustace.
"Do none of you know it?" said the girl.
"I - I think," said Lucy, "I've seen something like it before. It was a knife like it that the White Witch used when she killed Aslan at the Stone Table long ago."
"It was the same," said the girl, "and it was brought here to be kept in honour while the world lasts."
Edmund, who had been looking more and more uncomfortable for the last few minutes, now spoke.
"Look here," he said, "I hope I'm not a coward - about eating this food, I mean - and I'm sure I don't mean to be rude. But we have had a lot of queer adventures on this voyage of ours and things aren't always what they seem. When I look in your face I can't help believing all you say: but then that's just what might happen with a witch too. How are we to know you're a friend?"
"You can't know," said the girl. "You can only believe or not."
After a moment's pause Reepicheep's small voice was heard.
"Sire," he said to Caspian, "of your courtesy fill my cup with wine from that flagon: it is too big for me to lift. I will drink to the lady."
Caspian obeyed and the Mouse, standing on the table, held up a golden cup between its tiny paws and said, "Lady, I pledge you." Then it fell to on cold peacock, and in a short while everyone else followed its example. All were very hungry and the meal, if not quite what you wanted for a very early breakfast, was excellent as a very late supper.
"Why is it called Aslan's table?" asked Lucy presently.
"It is set here by his bidding," said the girl, "for those who come so far. Some call this island the World's End, for though you can sail further, this is the beginning of the end."
"But how does the food keep?" asked the practical Eustace. ?
"It is eaten, and renewed every day," said the girl. "This you will see."
"And what are we to do about the Sleepers?" asked Caspian. "In the world from which my friends come" (here, he nodded at Eustace and the Pevensies) "they have a story of a prince or a king coming to a castle where all the people lay in an enchanted sleep. In that story he could not dissolve the enchantment until he had kissed the Princess."
"But here," said the girl, "it is different. Here he cannot kiss the Princess till he has dissolved the enchantment."
"Then," said Caspian, "in the name of Aslan, show me how to set about that work at once."
"My father will teach you that," said the girl.
"Your father!" said everyone. "Who is he? And where?"
"Look," said the girl, turning round and pointing at the door in the hillside. They could see it more easily now, for while they had been talking the stars had grown fainter and great gaps of white light were appearing in the greyness of the eastern sky.