Shift & co. continue toying with the Narnians’ hopes and fears, but they’re also toying with powers beyond their reckoning.Shift announces that “Tashlan” is so angry about the “wicked beast” that’s been impersonating him that he won’t come out of the stable anymore.  The Dwarfs come out of the woodwork to heckle them about it, of course, but as it happens, he actually has a response:

“You Dwarfs think you’re very clever, don’t you? But not so fast. I never said you couldn’t see Tashlan. Anyone who likes can see him.”

The whole assembly became silent. Then, after nearly a minute, the Bear began in a slow, puzzled voice:

“I don’t quite understand all this,” it grumbled, “I thought you said –“

You thought!” repeated the Ape. “As if anyone could call what goes on in your head thinking. Listen, you others. Anyone can see Tashlan. But he’s not coming out. You have to go in and see him.

Have I mentioned how much I hate Shift?

Having given them hope, naturally he has to replace it with fear somehow. He stipulates first that they can only see Tashlan one at a time, and then happens to mention that he’s been in a bad mood lately and is liable to eat anyone who comes in. Tirian concludes that there’s probably an armed Calormene waiting inside.  Ginger volunteers to “see Tashlan”, but evidently he finds more than he expected.

“Now, Ginger,” said the Captain. “Enough of that noise. Tell them what thou hast seen.”

“Aii – Aii – Aaow – Awah,” screamed the Cat.

“Art thou not called a Talking Beast?” said the Captain. “Then hold thy devilish noise and talk.”

[…]

“Look, look!” said the voice of the Bear. “It can’t talk. It has forgotten how to talk! It has gone back to being a dumb beast. Look at its face.” Everyone saw that it was true. […]

“Mercy! Mercy!” wailed the Beasts. “Spare us, Lord Shift, stand between us and Aslan, you must always go in and speak to him for us. We daren’t, we daren’t.”

Fools rush in, and pay the price for their arrogance. Unfortunately, the display of real power only serves to increase the Ape’s hold over the Narnians.  He’s a false prophet for a false god, but he’s offending two very real and powerful beings in the process, and that’s my only consolation.

Then we get a new twist when a Calormene soldier named Emeth earnestly desires to enter the stable.

“My Father,” said Emeth. “Truly I am younger than thou, yet I also am of the blood of the Tarkaans even as thou art, and I also am the servant of Tash. Therefore…”

“Silence,” said Rishda Tarkaan. “Am I not thy Captain? Thou hast nothing to do with this stable. It is for the Narnians.”

“Nay, my Father,” answered Emeth. “Thou hast said that their Aslan and our Tash are all one. And if that is the truth, then Tash himself is in yonder. And how then sayest thou that I have nothing to do with him? For gladly would I die a thousand deaths if I might look once upon the face of Tash.”

In all their lies and cunning, the Tarkaan and Ginger actually accomplished something that may not have happened otherwise: Moving a devout follower of Tash to wonder if Aslan really is just “for the Narnians.”

Then Shift starts picking potentially dangerous Beasts to “meet Tashlan”, and Tirian finally loses patience, stepping out to rally the Narnians to his side.

Next time: The pace quickens…

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