He was standing out in the grassy place before the cottage while he thought these things. Twilight was coming on apace and a star or two was already out, but the remains of the sunset could still be seen in the west. Not far away the stranger’s horse, loosely tied to an iron ring in the wall of the donkey’s stable, was grazing. Shasta strolled over to it and patted its neck. It went on tearing up the grass and took no notice of him.
Then another thought came into Shasta’s mind. “I wonder what sort of a man that Tarkaan is,” he said out loud. “It would be splendid if he was kind. Some of the slaves in a great lord’s house have next to nothing to do. They wear lovely clothes and eat meat every day. Perhaps he’d take me to the wars and I’d save his life in a battle and then he’d set me free and adopt me as his son and give me a palace and a chariot and a suit of armour. But then he might be a horrid cruel man. He might send me to work on the fields in chains. I wish I knew. How can I know? I bet this horse knows, if only he could tell me.”
The Horse had lifted its head. Shasta stroked its smooth-as-satin nose and said, “I wish you could talk, old fellow.”
And then for a second he thought he was dreaming, for quite distinctly, though in a low voice, the Horse said, “But I can.”
Shasta stared into its great eyes and his own grew almost as big, with astonishment.
“How ever did you learn to talk?” he asked.
“Hush! Not so loud,” replied the Horse. “Where I come from, nearly all the animals talk.”
“Wherever is that?” asked Shasta.
“Narnia,” answered the Horse. “The happy land of Narnia—Narnia of the heathery mountains and the thymy downs, Narnia of the many rivers, the plashing glens, the mossy caverns and the deep forests ringing with the hammers of the Dwarfs. Oh the sweet air of Narnia! An hour’s life there is better than a thousand years in Calormen.” It ended with a whinny that sounded very like a sigh.
“How did you get here?” said Shasta.
“Kidnapped,” said the Horse. “Or stolen, or captured whichever you like to call it. I was only a foal at the time. My mother warned me not to range the Southern slopes, into Archenland and beyond, but I wouldn’t heed her. And by the Lion’s Mane I have paid for my folly. All these years I have been a slave to humans, hiding my true nature and pretending to be dumb and witless like their horses.”
“Why didn’t you tell them who you were?”
“Not such a fool, that’s why. If they’d once found out I could talk they would have made a show of me at fairs and guarded me more carefully than ever. My last chance of escape would have been gone.”
“And why —” began Shasta, but the Horse interrupted him.
“Now look,” it said, “we mustn’t waste time on idle questions. You want to know about my master the Tarkaan Anradin. Well, he’s bad. Not too bad to me, for a war horse costs too much to be treated very badly. But you’d better be lying dead tonight than go to be a human slave in his house tomorrow.”
“Then I’d better run away,” said Shasta, turning very pale.
“Yes, you had,” said the Horse. “But why not run away with me?”
“Are you going to run away too?” said Shasta.
“Yes, if you’ll come with me,” answered the Horse. “This is the chance for both of us. You see if I run away without a rider, everyone who sees me will say “Stray horse” and be after me as quick as he can. With a rider I’ve a chance to get through. That’s where you can help me. On the other hand, you can’t get very far on those two silly legs of yours (what absurd legs humans have!) without being overtaken. But on me you can outdistance any other horse in this country. That’s where I can help you. By the way, I suppose you know how to ride?”
“Oh yes, of course,” said Shasta. “At least, I’ve ridden the donkey.”
“Ridden the what?” retorted the Horse with extreme contempt. (At least, that is what he meant. Actually it came out in a sort of neigh—“Ridden the wha-ha-ha-ha-ha.” Talking horses always become more horsy in accent when they are angry.)
“In other words,” it continued, “you can’t ride. That’s a drawback. I’ll have to teach you as we go along. If you can’t ride, can you fall?”
“I suppose anyone can fall,” said Shasta.
“1 mean can you fall and get up again without crying and mount again and fall again and yet not be afraid of falling?”
“I—I’ll try,” said Shasta. “Poor little beast,” said the Horse in a gentler tone. “I forget you’re only a foal. We’ll make a fine rider of you in time. And now—we mustn’t start until those two in the but are asleep. Meantime we can make our plans. My Tarkaan is on his way North to the great city, to Tashbaan itself and the court of the Tisroc —”
“I say,” put in Shasta in rather a shocked voice, “oughtn’t you to say ‘May he live for ever’?”
“Why?” asked the Horse. “I’m a free Narnian. And why should I talk slaves’ and fools’ talk? I don’t want him to live for ever, and I know that he’s not going to live for ever whether I want him to or not. And I can see you’re from the free North too. No more of this Southern jargon between you and me! And now, back to our plans. As I said, my human was on his way North to Tashbaan.”
“Does that mean we’d better go to the South?”
“I think not,” said the Horse. “You see, he thinks I’m dumb and witless like his other horses. Now if I really were, the moment I got loose I’d go back home to my stable and paddock; back to his palace which is two days’ journey South. That’s where he’ll look for me. He’d never dream of my going on North on my own. And anyway he will probably think that someone in the last village who saw him ride through has followed us to here and stolen me.”
“Oh hurrah!” said Shasta. “Then we’ll go North. I’ve been longing to go to the North all my life.”
“Of course you have,” said the Horse. “That’s because of the blood that’s in you. I’m sure you’re true Northern stock. But not too loud. I should think they’d be asleep soon now.”
“I’d better creep back and see,” suggested Shasta.
“That’s a good idea,” said the Horse. “But take care you’re not caught.”
It was a good deal darker now and very silent except for the sound of the waves on the beach, which Shasta hardly noticed because he had been hearing it day and night as long as he could remember. The cottage, as he approached it, showed no light. When he listened at the front there was no noise. When he went round to the only window, he could hear, after a second or two, the familiar noise of the old fisherman’s squeaky snore. It was funny to think that if all went well he would never hear it again. Holding his breath and feeling a little bit sorry, but much less sorry than he was glad, Shasta glided away over the grass and went to the donkey’s stable, groped along to a place he knew where the key was hidden, opened the door and found the Horse’s saddle and bridle which had been locked up there for the night. He bent forward and kissed the donkey’s nose. “I’m sorry we can’t take you,” he said.
“There you are at last,” said the Horse when he got back to it. “I was beginning to wonder what had become of you.”
“I was getting your things out of the stable,” replied Shasta. “And now, can you tell me how to put them on?”
For the next few minutes Shasta was at work, very cautiously to avoid jingling, while the Horse said things like, “Get that girth a bit tighter,” or “You’ll find a buckle lower down,” or “You’ll need to shorten those stirrups a good bit.” When all was finished it said:
“Now; we’ve got to have reins for the look of the thing, but you won’t be using them. Tie them to the saddle-bow: very slack so that I can do what I like with my head. And, remember—you are not to touch them.”
“What are they for, then?” asked Shasta.
“Ordinarily they are for directing me,” replied the Horse. “But as I intend to do all the directing on this journey, you’ll please keep your hands to yourself. And there’s another thing. I’m not going to have you grabbing my mane.”