Walking back from the hunt, with a raw dead duck in each hand and a catapult slung around his neck, Scrubb supposed that he ought to be jolly well used to this by now. Except that he'd had, in the meantime, time to get unused to it, all over again. To the miserable weather, the gentle sleet that was getting in his eyes, to how raw and red with cold his hands were. To the general misery, that he would never think to associate with Narnia, or any other part of Aslan's country.
Except when a Marshwiggle was involved. Of course.
'By heck, lad,' Puddleglum was droning on beside him, as they made their way back to the home marshes of his people, from the still sadder, wilder lands that gave good hunting, and gave, also, a hefty boot-tip to the soul, that was giving Scrubb gyp right about now. 'It's a grand thought, when you come right down to it, that what with scarcity of game, and you tripping over the reeds and into that runnel, and one thing and another, we've only come back with about a tenth of the haul that you'd normally expect, this time of year. What I mean, a wedding feast is one thing, and people do expect it – you can't get out of that.' He pulled at his chin, clearly wondering if one could get out of it, and give one's guests dusty water and a hunk of dry bread for the nuptial feast. Reminding them that all flesh is grass, and a wiggle is born to woe. But he shook his head, and resumed once more.
'But the trouble is,' he said, cocking his head and rubbing his chin the more, with duck-juicy hands, as he gave the matter full, Wiggly philosophical consideration, 'you invite folk to your nuptials, and you bid 'em sit at the wedding platter and fill their bellies with fine chow, lay the tables heavy with ale and mead, and what's the end result?'
Here he turned to Scrubb, as they walked, and slapped him on the shoulder, looked at him expectantly, as if an answer was actually going to be forthcoming. Scrubb did open his mouth to make a polite attempt – Puddleglum being his host, and all that rot – but the gale that was blowing sucked any vague response to rhetoric out of his mouth again, and he gave up. Not to worry, because Puddleglum was not finished. And he raised one finger into the air, and wagged it sternly, to indicate just how serious a point he was about to make.
'Folks having a good time, that's what, Scrubb! Getting merry, loosening up, letting their minds stray away from serious business and the vale of tears that is this life. Relaxing.' If he could have spat in a sombre way, Puddleglum probably would have, at that. 'Last Marshwiggle wedding I went to, Scrubb?' he asked, eyebrows raising so they quite disappeared beneath his sleet-drizzled hat. 'You won't believe this – I couldn't quite myself, and it was my cousin Grisbull's own do, a respectable sober fellow if you ever met one. Studies Heidegger for a bit of light entertainment. But anyway, there was dancing.' He nodded, solemn. 'And not only dancing, either. I was also witness – sad to say – to some undoubted, verifiable flirtation, into the bargain.'
He sucked his teeth, and shook his head – much as if to say, that things had come to a pretty poor pass, and it was a sad day for Marshwiggle respectability and sobriety, when such revelry and dissipation, such degenerate hedonism, was allowed to run riot, at a solemn communal Marshwiggular celebration.
Scrubb summoned up memories of an older female cousin's wedding, back home, in a world full of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. 'Isn't that about standard practice?' he enquired, puzzled. The low communal marsh roundhouse, that was Puddleglum's highly temporary bachelor digs, prior to moving into a larger marital wigwam, was hoving into view, right about now. And he couldn't say that it wasn't a relief. Puddleglum was, overall, a good sort, honestly, but... 'I know that back home, the best man is positively expected to get a bit amorous with the bridesmaids. Just as a mark of respect, you know. Pay 'em little attentions,' he said, vaguely, just as if he had the slightest idea, himself, of what such attentions might be.
Puddleglum coughed, and eyed Scrubb with what looked a lot like misgiving. 'Well, you know. Old Adam and Eve, and all that.' He rolled his eyes expressively, and began to whistle, as if it was preferable to continuing with the conversation.
Scrubb felt oddly nettled, though he couldn't exactly have said why. 'No, I don't know,' he said. The damned ducks were heavy, swinging in his hands. He swivelled around as he walked, and eyeballed Puddleglum sternly. 'What do you mean?'
Puddleglum gave a grimace of alarm, and seemed to put on a spurt of speed, though the roundhouse wasn't hoving any faster into view, through what was fast becoming closer to snow than sleet. 'Oh, the usual things,' he muttered. 'Don't want to say 'over-sexed', or anything, just that...'
'Then don't say it!' Scrubb yelped, feeling utterly insulted on behalf of his species, his world and his social milieu. 'Bloody cheek!' He took a minute to recover from that unwarranted outrage. Then he took a deep breath, and reminded himself that it was a Marshwiggle he was dealing with. These things were relative, after all. Holding hands at the picture house and sharing a malted shake at the Kardomah would probably constitute racy goings-on, in the MW scheme of the universe. No earthly point taking rampant offence, especially since he'd only been yanked back into Narnia in order to help the dratted wiggle celebrate his impending nuptials. Allowances must be made. It had to be a jolly stressful period of one's life, the run-up to one's impending marriage.
Coo. Scrubb could barely imagine it, in fact. He scrabbled around in his mind, for the nearest thing he had to a female who might one day stand him in good stead as a wife and helpmeet. Pole was the first to spring to mind, not surprising as she was really his only female friend. Not that they weren't jolly careful to keep quiet about that at Experiment House – or St. Caspian's, as it was now known, with a new headmistress, vastly pruned staff and a few choice expulsions amongst the pupils. The dear old school might be new, revamped, and a dashed sight pleasanter for most of its clientèle – but there were still some points at which the rank and file as a whole drew the line. Excessively pally relations between the sexes being one of them. Pole was a dashed good sort, all told. But still, the thought of being yoked to her for life, coming home from the office and having her in a pinny, cooking something up after consultations with the daily woman, and complaining to him about a couple of whiny snot-nosed kids, and the school fees going up again this year... Well. Bally hell. One drew the line also, Scrubb felt.
So really, Puddleglum was a man in sore need of sympathy, and it wasn't as if he didn't generally seem to feel himself so. Scrubb schooled himself to repress his own indignation, and express himself appropriately, as they struggled up sleety, scrubby banks of reed and sedge, before they'd even have to fight over the bulwarks and the fencing, ducks in hand and the wiggle wigwam village in the distance.
'Not long to go now, eh?' he said, repressing an internal shudder. 'Bit of a thought, isn't it? You'll be a married man before you know it. Feeling a bit apprehensive?' Possibly his eyes might have got a bit soulful, what with the depth of the sympathy that was welling up in his frankly quite tender heart – tender, and sentimental in a manly fashion, whatever rot Pole liked to allege and throw at him.
At any rate Puddleglum looked a trifle surprised, as he made use of the unfair advantage of his ridiculously long legs to scissor-walk over the wire fences. 'What for, Scrubb?' he asked. 'Marriage, it's a grand thing, for man or Marshwiggle. Sobers him up! No more of the skylarking frivolity, the single man's lackadaisical approach to life. No, get the ring on her finger and it's all real and earnest – deadly earnest – from that point in! My Maggie, she'll be keeping me up to the mark, you mark my words, Scrubb!' And Puddleglum smacked his rubbery lips, in what seemed to Scrubb to be genuine anticipation. 'A toe out of line and she'll be waiting for me with the rolling pin behind the front door, you'll see! Once the honeymoon's over, that is,' he hastened to add, 'because a grace period, that's traditional. I expect human ways must be a bit similar,' he went on, quite chatty, and quite unnerving for Scrubb. 'While there's still regular tupping and a bit of mooning and spooning, I don't doubt she'll go easy on me. And so much the worse for me, for it'll soften me up, and make the coming period of correction and sufferance all the harder, I don't doubt. But once the spoonful of honey's done with, Scrubb! That's the life for a man, properly under the thumb and experiencing the lash of a Wiggle-woman's tongue, if he so much as steps one webbed toe out of line! Kept in order, and his halted tongue scoured with salt if he forgets his place! And no more of the connubial two-step, except on high days and holidays, and even then in full regalia with a nightie that buttons up to the chin!'
It could not be said that Scrubb suffered unduly during this dreamily ecstatic peroration to the wonders and woes of Marshwiggle matrimony. The reason being, that his fingers were lodged firmly in his ears for the latter portion of it, since even the beginning had been a dose of gall quite sufficient to rend him down to the very soul, chill his vitals and harrow him clean through to the marrow. The fact that this posture brought two dead ducks slapping up rhythmically against his sleet-frozen cheeks was not sufficient discouragement to have him remove his digits and de-stopper his ears. Not against the frightful revelations of Marshwiggle intimate life that he strongly feared might be further forthcoming. In fact it was not until several successive peeks at Puddleglum's unusually animated rubbery green-grey features revealed that he'd ceased in his fount of unwanted confidence, and simply lapsed into an equally unusually happy silence, that Scrubb judged it safe to let his auricular regions be open and receptive to further sound-waves.
Even so, and with Puddleglum's hymnal on the joys of matrimony evidently ceased – but still, perhaps not ended – Scrubb thought it'd likely be a jolly good idea to give the fiendish blighter something else to think on. They might be on the home straight with the finish line in view, but Scrubb believed fervently in prophylactic measures, when it came to avoiding the full flood of sentimentality and Marshwiggle masochism.
And besides, it was entirely true, when he remembered something he'd internally objected to, before Puddleglum had got him off the scent, what with his blissful paean on husbanding and submission. 'I don't know what you're worrying about, anyway, Puds, you soft ha'porth,' he remonstrated, very severe indeed in his relief. 'Whatever we bring in from the hunt is going to be extremely surplus to requirements at this point. Your Maggie, she gave me a look in the larder, and in the wedding feast room, and in the cold-store, what's more. Your table's going to be ruddy groaning, old fellow. By the time everyone's finished feasting, you're going to have to widen the doors to let the little piggies out. What the heck are you worrying about?' Even though, as the very words left his frozen lips, he knew exactly what futility it was, to ask such a question of a Marshwiggle. A Marshwiggle never worried: the whole pack and boiling of them relished the possibility of bad news far too much for that.
'Ah, it never hurts, lad, to have a little extra for the table,' Puddleglum argued. But his face was dim and distracted, as he opened up the inner gate of his homesteading, panting a little against the cold flakes that were beginning to make their inexorable way down in earnest upon their wool-clad heads. 'A Marsh-wiggle must provide for his lady, and make a fine show of it, if she's not to find him wanting and run off with his cousin, or his second cousin, or his grandfather. And in any case, it's likely enough that – well, Scrubb, it's a near-certainty, and I make no bones in saying so – that half the spread you've seen'll be rotted through by the morrow, and have to be thrown out. The pig's trotters'll wind up on the compost heap, the jellied eels'll be fit only for the hounds, and the marshweed jelly – ah, lad, and you've never tasted marshweed jelly, what treat you'll miss – will most surely have curdled before we ever get spoonful one down our greedy gullets. It'll be a scanty wedding-breakfast, sure enough, and there's no helping it. I may as well face up to it and shoulder the blame now. No doubt my Maggie'll take one look at the wedding feast and regret that she ever hand-fasted with me, ever agreed to be my bride, my love, my only – '
A Marshwiggle couldn't be mournful without thoroughly enjoying it: without a note of relish in his voice. Or, at the least, that was what Scrubb, based on long, arduous, bitter experience, had always assumed. He was proved wrong, now. Puddleglum's woe, cutting sharp and keen through the air just like the icy flakes melting in a puddling chill on his cheeks as they strode, faster towards Puddleglum's home, was audibly, bitingly real. However baseless and idiotic it might be. It was quite disagreeable to hear, from a chum: and Scrubb wasn't having any of it.
'What utter rot,' he snapped out, with what he was pleased to recognise as a bracing lack of sympathy. 'I saw you and your Maggie – Madam Margerwull, I should say – together, when I arrived. I'm not likely to forget it, what with the pair of you being the first ones to greet me, when Aslan decided the wedding feast wouldn't be complete without me, and I found myself neatly excised from old Hicketty's French conjugations and landed in the middle of the cow byre! Lumme, but I'd have liked to see his face when I disappeared from view,' Scrubb mused paranthetically. 'Just as he was pressing me for a fuller explication of the subjunctive of 'to admire' in relation to Catherine Deneuve. Sadistic old bugger, one only hopes that the shock of it all winds him up in an asylum for the pedagogically unhinged and violently demented.'
But no, he was mithering: and there was still that look of slightly lost, real, intolerable distress deep in Puddleglum's dim little muddy eyes. Which wasn't what you wanted to see, in the eyes of a man about to take a short walk up the aisle to jump off the nuptial dock, not when he was a bit of a pal at any rate. Awkwardly, Scrubb forced himself to reach out, to give old Pudders a slap on the back. 'Your Maggie, she's one of the sound ones, old chap. The way she dragged me out of that cow byre, well... I'm not likely to forget it, that's all.' And at the memory Scrubb was in fact forced to wince just a bit, because, although as the first, and finest, example of Marshwiggle femininity that Scrubb had ever encountered, Scrubb had the greatest respect for Puddleglum's intended, well.... (He had rather assumed, without considering it greatly, up until that point, that Marshwiggles surely continued their species via some means of asexual reproduction, involving pollen and pods, rather like trees and ferns.) Well. She was a well-muscled Marshwomanwiggle, and if Scrubb ever met her down a dark alley and she found herself feeling like cutting his throat and stealing his purse, then he'd not have a cat in hell's chance, he was quite assured of it.
Scrubb had a feeling that Puddleglum saw his promised lady-wife in a rather different light, though. And he grabbed the old goon's long, leathery-webbed hand, and patted it, clammy and rubbery as it might be, frog-like and moist, but still a friend's paw for a' that. 'And from moment one,' Scrubb assured him earnestly, 'I saw the way she looked at you. You needn't worry that she's going to get cold feet or give you the old heave-ho, my man. I saw the love-light in her eyes, and that's a fact. You can take that to the bank. You can – '
Puddleglum wrenched his hand away, though, and Scrubb didn't have his attention any longer either. Because their journey was getting dashed close to its end, and thank God, with the ducks round his neck getting clammier and more dribbly with every step. But here was the round-house where Puddleglum was awaiting communion with his Marshwiggle bride, coming up three, two-fifty yards away now. And here the broad low door opening up – why such low dwellings for Marshwiggles, why such head-fracturing ceilings? But one did have to remember that they liked to be miserable and to suffer, and presumably planned their architecture accordingly. But yes, the door opened and Madam Margerwull poked her head out, and Scrubb slowed his steps, came almost to a dead halt, and watched their reunion.
Not long to wait for it either, because Puddleglum set off at a hop and a wiggle, in a hurry to meet his lady-love with the fruits of his labour in his long-fingered hands, his sacrifice and tribute to her feminine charms. And yes, clear enough he saw different things when he looked at his Maggie, things that Scrubb would never be blessed to see from looking upon her long thin greenish-tinged rubbery face, so like to Puddleglum's own that on first glimpse he'd half-assumed them kissing cousins. The light in his eyes, and the warmth in Puddleglum's face... Well. He was a Marshman transfigured. And if Scrubb didn't know better, and had been soft enough to go mooning about writing poems to his male friends – well, beyond that one to Mallin Junior, and he had the justification of the swimming gala for that – then he'd almost have called the old buffer handsome.
Almost. Steady on. There was only so much that transfiguring joy could do, for Marshwiggle features.
And as to what his affianced bride, Maggie Margerwull of the Marshwiggles of the Northern Narnian Marsh, saw, as she stood in front of the bridal dwelling and held out her hands, Puddleglum marching and galumphing and maybe, here and there, hopping towards her... Scrubb could see it all over her face, and it stopped him in his tracks, damn right it did. It made the last thirty-six hours worthwhile, all of it. Being jerked out of school and into Narnia, volunteered for best man duties, playing hunt-the-duck for a wedding feast that was already going to leave everyone stuffed to the gills for the next six months...
No, well. Maggie held her hands out for her man, and Scrubb watched Puddleglum step in close, and grab them, and lean in for a soft chaste kiss. Perhaps Scrubb's eyes were a bit damp as he watched, immobilized in the shadows of a scrubby bit of bush, discreetly averting his eyes from their moment. He'd jolly well have been ready to have words, via fists, with anyone who suggested it. Nobody could prove a thing, he thought.
And the drizzling marsh damp, the soggy brace of ducks around his neck, the Marshwiggle bridesmaids he'd be expected to show a bit of smooth romantic moves, the Narnian visit that wasn't like any Narnian visit he'd ever expected, none of it mattered a bit.
Love, it was, on their faces, hand-fasted. He was becoming a sentimental old bugger, and Aslan had a lot to answer for. But Scrubb didn't care a bit.