It’s another one of those characters: The wise old man that’s a veritable fountain of wisdom. I’m starting to wonder if it’s even possible for Lewis to write one of these books without one. Not that I’m complaining, of course – I’ll quote half his lines, anyway.
Our heroes see Rabadash’s army approaching from the desert, so they race toward the pass between Archenland and Narnia. Hwin told them so.
“Quick! Quick!” shouted Aravis. “We might as well not have come at all if we don’t reach Anvard in time. Gallop, Bree, gallop. Remember you’re a war horse.”
It was all Shasta could do to prevent himself from shouting out similar instructions; but he thought, “The poor chap’s doing all he can already,” and held his tongue. And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could; which is not quite the same thing.
They discover that Bree is in fact capable of moving faster when a lion shows up. Funny how they keep running into lions, don’t you think? Anyhow, Bree is too mad with fright to listen to Shasta (or something), so Shasta jumps off and tries to help Aravis and Hwin with the lion, which is rapidly gaining on them. The lion claws Aravis, but then just runs away when Shasta yells at it. Clearly this is not at all important…
The titular hermit greets them, and no, I don’t believe they ever explain who (or what) he is.
“I am the Hermit of the Southern March. And now, my son, waste no time on questions, but obey. This damsel is wounded. Your horses are spent. Rabadash is at this moment finding a ford over the Winding Arrow. If you run now, without a moment’s rest, you will still be in time to warn King Lune.”
Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt that he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.
Thus, Shasta runs off to the next chapter, while the rest of the crew recuperate with the Hermit. Aravis is in surprisingly good condition, considering that she was just attacked by a lion.
“It must have been a very strange lion; for instead of catching you out of the saddle and getting his teeth into you, he has only drawn his claws across your back. Ten scratches: sore, but not deep or dangerous.”
“I say!” said Aravis. “I have had luck.”
“Daughter,” said the Hermit, “I have now lived a hundred and nine winters in this world and have never yet met any such thing as Luck. There is something about all this that I do not understand: but if ever we need to know it, you may be sure that we shall.”
The next day, when Aravis goes out to talk with the Horses, she finds Bree being all melodramatic, talking about returning to slavery in Calormen because he disgraced himself by running away from the lion, especially when Shasta turned back to help the other two. The truth is, none of them really know what it’s like to live in a casteless society, and so Aravis (and Bree) would scorn Shasta for being a peasant, and Hwin still defers to Aravis on disagreements (even though she’s proven her own wisdom time and again). They’re confused and anxious about the future, and freedom grows increasingly frightening.
Then the Hermit steps in and sets Bree straight:
“My good Horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit. No, no, cousin. Don’t put back your ears and shake your mane at me. If you are really so humble as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses. Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another.”
So now Bree at least has the tools to become a humbler person (even if he’s not quite ready to give up his pride yet), Hwin is already becoming a bit more confident, and Aravis…well, Aravis still needs to know a few things that the Hermit alluded to before she can really accept the life before her.
Next time: The Unwelcome Fellow Traveler