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I'll Take the High Road

Chapter Text

The young Mole who was running messages that night woke Pattertwig out of a sound sleep to call him to the innermost chamber of the How. There King Caspian was meeting with his trusted counselors: Doctor Cornelius, Trumpkin, Trufflehunter, and Nikabrik. They wasted no time, but told Pattertwig that they had decided to summon aid by blowing the magic Horn of Queen Susan.

“We plan to wind the Horn at daybreak,” said Doctor Cornelius, “and we need to be prepared in case help does not come here to the How. Trumpkin will go to Cair Paravel, at the river’s mouth, and you, Pattertwig, will travel to the Lantern Waste, where the Kings and Queens of old first came to Narnia.”

“It is a perilous undertaking, so we ask only for volunteers,” added the young king.

“I care not for peril! I am swift and I can travel far without setting foot to ground, above the very heads of the enemy. I will go!” said Pattertwig, immediately. “My King, I will not fail you!” He would have said more, but Nikabrik cut him off. 

“Yes, Pattertwig, we know all that. That’s why I suggested you. You’re fast and you’re trustworthy, and you’re not much use in battle, so off you go.” Another Squirrel would have been offended, but Pattertwig and Nikabrik were old friends, and he knew that the Dwarf’s tough shell concealed a sound kernel. Besides, it was true that Pattertwig was not a fighter. Unlike the Mice he did not carry a weapon, so the best he could do in battle was to perch in a tree and throw missiles at the enemy, missiles too small to hinder most Men. So Pattertwig was employed mainly as a scout—one of the best in the king’s army, certainly, but not irreplaceable.

Pattertwig was eager to be away, but he did his best to curb his impatience while he discussed his route with Trufflehunter. The Lantern Waste lay west and north, and the shortest route was through lands thickly populated by Men. Not only that, but west of Beruna the Great River looped far to the south, and the most direct route to his destination would have him cross the river twice. This they judged too dangerous, so instead they agreed that he would travel through the woods south of the Great River until he came to the Archen River, which flowed into the Great River midway between Beaversdam and Beruna. The Archen should be easy enough to cross, but then he would have to go overland for several miles before he reached the relative safety of the Western Woods. This would be the most dangerous part of the journey.

“But it’s not far from where the Mice live,” Trufflehunter pointed out. “Perhaps there will be someone who can help you find your way safely to the woods.” After that Pattertwig would be able to travel in the trees again—the avenues of long branches that Squirrels call the High Road. Before reaching the Lantern Waste he would have to cross yet another river, the one that flowed down from Cauldron Pool into the Great River at Beaversdam, but at this time of year, when the water was low and slow, he should be able to swim across it without difficulty.

 

Pattertwig left the How before daybreak. He swarmed up a nearby oak and chose a branch that supported him easily, feeling the slight give and creak beneath his feet as he ran along it. Without deliberate thought, he knew how close to the tip of the branch he could go before losing too much of the resistance that would help propel him into the next tree. He pushed off with his hind legs, his tail arcing out behind, his forepaws reaching for the tip of the opposite branch; and then he landed and let his momentum carry him forward without a pause. He scampered in toward the trunk and out along another limb to leap to the next tree. He did it over and over again: speed, spring, alight, rebound: from oak to beech to ash. This was what a Squirrel was made to do! These were his home woods, and he knew them well.

By the time the king winded the Horn Pattertwig had gone many miles, so far that he would not have been able to hear it if it had been an ordinary horn. It was midmorning already, and he wondered why Caspian had waited so long to blow the Horn. But there was no mistaking it: clear and strong, a sound beyond sound. Pattertwig sat still on the branch for a moment, feeling it resonating in his flesh and bone. The Horn was not calling him, but he sensed its pull. It was calling somebody, and whoever it was, they would come. 

And someone must be there to meet them! He roused himself and hurried on. Not long after hearing the Horn he detoured slightly to the south to visit a tall beech where he kept one of his caches. There he rested briefly and ate his fill. He had far to go if he was to complete his overland leg and reach the woods on the far side of the Archen by sundown. He did not wish to be caught out in the open when night fell.

 

Pattertwig came to the edge of the woods at around noon. Before him lay the shallow gorge of the Archen River, where Glenstorm and his family lived (but of course now they were all at Aslan’s How). Willows and alders grew at the bottom of the gorge, but Pattertwig had been here many times before and knew there were no trees whose branches reached far enough over the river for him to cross it using the High Road. He would have to set foot to the ground. At least there were no Men about (there were few in this part of the country in any case, and many had been called away to the battle). He descended carefully to the earth and then ran quickly down into the gorge. When he reached the woods he climbed again, and then he worked his way downstream until he found the place where Glenstorm’s daughter Arrowleaf had placed stepping stones, artfully arranged to look natural, for the use of Dwarfs, who were not by nature swimmers, and the smaller Beasts.

Pattertwig descended to a low branch and leapt from it to the first boulder. Reflexively he sought purchase, but there was none: the stone was hard and smooth and wet with spray, and he skidded and slipped before finding his balance. The leap to the next stone took him out of the shadow of the trees and into the full sunlight. He leapt again, paws scrabbling against the stone. A hawk’s cry somewhere to the south made him freeze. There were few birds of prey large enough to threaten him, but some instincts of a dumb squirrel remained buried deep within his brain.

He forced himself into another leap, but he slipped again and this time could not recover. He slid off the stone and splashed into a shallow channel between two rocks. Choking and spluttering, he struggled to the surface, very glad that none of his friends were here to witness his clumsiness.

The rocks on either side were too steep and slick to climb, but the current was sluggish here, and Pattertwig thought perhaps it would be simpler to swim the rest of the way. So he paddled out into the pool below the stepping stones and struck out across the river. 

As he neared the middle of the river he found that the current was stronger than he had thought, and he felt himself being carried downstream ever more swiftly as the Archen ran down toward its confluence with the Great River. He was a strong swimmer, but he knew that if he allowed himself to be swept into the Great River he would be lost. He tried not to think of this as he struggled grimly against the current. Finally he reached the shallows on the opposite side. But there was no riverbank here, only steep, jagged rocks, and he had to swim downstream still further before he found a place where he could climb out.

Pattertwig dragged himself onto a bit of shingled beach and shook himself to drive the water from his fur, but he could not rest for more than a moment. He bounded over to the nearest tree and clawed his way up the trunk, back in his own element again, and traveled the High Road across the western side of the gorge.