To the death.
Something was wrong.
Oreius slowed, looking upwards, scanning the rocks for an answer. But Edmunds forces were in already positionthat was not it.
Then he saw the boys expressiondark eyes fixed, in horror, on something behind the centaurand Oreius turned, knowing that his worst fear had been realised: Peter had been thrown from his dying steed. And, although the boy was already struggling, dazedly, to his feet, the White Witch, with her rabble of goblins, trolls and minotaurs, was closing fast.
In moments she would be upon him.
That Jadis planned to kill the son of Adamto deal the death blow with her own handOreius had no doubt. If Peter Pevensie were to die, the prophecy could never be fulfilled.
Are you with me?To the death.
The centaur glanced at the warrior beside himthe rhinoceros understood his Generals unspoken command and, without a seconds delay, the pair charged, past their uncrowned kingignoring the boys anguished cry of Stop!gathering momentum as they sped towards the enemy, Oreius readying his sword, his comrade clearing the way, untiljust yards from the Witchs chariotthe brave rhino fell and, in his death throes, rolled into the centaurs path.
Oreius leapedcleared the bodyand hit the ground galloping.
A minotaur surged forward to meet him.
Oreius raised his sword, bracing himself for the collision.
They met head onbut the centaur, using his greater height and agility, dashed the enemys battleaxe aside and, without so much as breaking his stridethough the monster was trying to drag him downturned his upper body and buried his longsword deep between its shoulder blades, then galloped on, drawing his second sword and holding it in a double-fisted grip.
A satyr threw itself in front of himOreius swept it away.
Then he leapedover the ice bears, over the chariotbringing his sword down in a mighty cut that should have stricken the White Witchs head from her shoulders.
But his edge met nothing but air.
Had the Witch used her magic to deflect the blow?
Oreius wheeled, swinging his longsword in a great overhand arc
The Witch found a chink in his armour
And, suddenly, all was white.
But the blindness passed quickly.
Oreiuss forelegs hit the ground and he staggered, briefly thrown off balance by the sudden change in the world around him.
The gorge, the Witch and her foul army, Peterall had disappearedall had been replaced by dense foresthe looked upwardsby trees, taller than anything he had ever seen and decked in strange, blood-red leaves
Oreius remembered the cut of the White Witchs blade.
His hands flew to his chest but found nothing, except naked fleshno wound, no armour.
Was he dead?
Then where were the rest of the fallen? Where was the rhinoceros?
Oreius scanned the forest.
To the north and west he saw nothing. But to the south
Hiding in the trees to the south was a slender, graceful daughter of Eve.
At first she thought it must be an illusiona trick of the light that had somehow plunged the horses head into shadow making it seem as though the rider and his steed were a single being.
Then the rider moved, clenching his fist and holding it to his chest, bowing his body in greeting.
And Eowyn smileda huge, childlike smileand, stepping out into the clearing, approached the strange creature, one hand outstretched.
She moved slowly, afraid that he might run. But horse-man stayed quite still, arms crossed over his chest, and she walked right up to him and, with dreamlike wonder, she ran her hand over the smooth dark coat at his shoulder, explored the long, thick mane that rose up his back and curved under his belly, and stroked the smooth, pink skin of his human-like torso.
He was real.
His horse body was built for strength and speed, its proportions something between a warhorse of Rohan and a swift elven stallion. His human chest and arms were heavily muscled (indeed, Eowyn had never seen their like), his face was both human and horse-likewith long, pointed nose, broad jaw and beautiful horse ears!
What are you? she whispered.
The daughter of Eve was enchantingsmall and goldenshe moved like a warm breeze through tall grass, her little hand fluttering over his skin like a mayfly
Oreius kept perfectly still, anxious not to frighten her away.
What are you?
I am a centaur.
He said it slowly, gently, but still she jumped back, clasping her hand as though it had been burned, staring up at him, wide-eyed. After a moment she asked, very quietly, Are there others like you?
Of course. Oreius frowned. That is There are many of us in Narnia. We are great warriors.
What is Narnia?
The Land of Narnia. My home.
I have not heard of it. She gestured towards the trees. This is Eryn Carantaur, the Great Red Forest.
It is beautiful, he said. And he meant it, though rolling plains and open sky were a centaurs natural habitat.
Are there others like you?
She looked up at him, surprised. I am just a woman. Then she smiled. Oh, you mean I live here in the elven colony with my husband, Legolas, and our friends. The elves tend the Forest, and the rest of uswell, we shelter in their grace. She smiled. Would you like to come home with meyou could break your journey for a while
Oreius considered her offer. He did not know how he had arrived in the forest, did not know how he wouldif he couldreturn to Narnia. But he could think of no better way to spend this strange, unreal time than in the company of such a lovely creature.
His voice startled her.
She had been treating him like an animala horse with a human face. It was not until he spoke to herwith a beautiful, deep voice, in slightly-accented Westronthat she fully realised how badly she was behaving, stroking a noble, self-aware beinga man in all but form!
She pulled her hand away, blushing deeply.
But he did not seem to mind.
And when he agreed to come home with her, Eowyn realised that he was just as fascinated by her as she was by him.
It is that way, she said, pointing towards the south. About half a mile. And she thanked the gods that she had decided to walk, for she was not sure how a horse-man might react to the sight of a woman on horseback. My name is Eowyn.
And mine is Oreius. He took a step towards her.
Sparks crackled around his hooves.
Eowyn jumped back, startled.
Oreius took another step. This time, the sparks fell upon a patch of dry leaves, and they smoldered, sending up several thin, spiralling columns of smoke before catching light with a sudden burst of orange flame.
Quickly, Eowyn lifted her skirts and stamped out the fire. What is happening?
I do not know
We must get away from here, she said. We must get back to the city and tell Legolas about this. If fires are starting in the forest She raised her hands in dismay, and Oreius had a sudden vision of her lovely body, blackened by flame. Legolas will know what to do. Come
Climb up on my back.
She frowned at him.
I can run faster than a child of Adam or Eve, he explained, even with you upon my back. Climb up, quickly.
A warm glowlike the sunsetspread across her lovely face. Wellif you are sure.
He was prepared to lower himself to the ground for her, but she placed a hand on his shoulder and, raising her skirt with the other, she mounted him with surprising ease, and sat astride him, light as air.
Hold on to my waist, he said, and he felt her little hands grasp him. Are you ready?
Yes. Her voice was very quiet.
He was so broad that she could not see forwards without clasping her arms tightly round his chest and leaning over his shoulder, resting her cheek against his long, dark hair. He smelled both of horse and of warrior, and when he broke into a gallop, and his hard muscles moved between her legs
Eowyn leaned back.
She did not need to see where they were going.
Oreius plunged through the forest, sparks flying at every step.
Stop! cried Eowyn. Stop! Stop! It is following us!
The centaur stopped dead, automatically rearing up on his hind legs to break his forward motion.
It is us, gasped the woman, clinging to him as he dropped to all fours. The fire is following us
Oreius turned and stared in dismay at the trail of flame he had left in his wake. No, he said. It is I who do not belong here. It is following me. I He suddenly remembered Narnia, frozen for so long, and all the White Witchs victims, turned to cold stone. She struck mesent me hereremoved all my warmth from Narnia, and sent it here And every time I touch the ground, more of it escapes
He stepped forward (carefully placing his hooves on bare rock), sending showers of sparks in all directions. See? You must return to your home alone, Eowyn, daughter of Eve. And I must stay here
But Eowyn slid from his back. You cannot just stay herewhat will you eat? You will not survive. She looked up at him, her grey eyes sparkling with unshed tears. Then, Legolas! she said. I will bring Legolas. He will help.
Oreius smiled, sadly. How?
I do not know. But that is what elves dothey help living creatures. Stay here. I will be back soon. She took a few steps, then turned back. GimliGimli will make metal plates for your feet. Or something. We will think of somethingsome way. I promise. Stay here.
And she lifted her skirts and set off at a run.
By the time she returned, with her tall, silver-grey husband and his small, chestnut friendneither of them sons of AdamOreius was already feeling the pull.
Oreius? She ran up to him. What is happening to you?
The centaur smiled down at her fading form. I am leaving
No! She threw her arms about him, but his solid body passed through her wispy limbs.
This is goodness, Eowyn, he said. This is Aslans doing. He brought his fist up to his chest and bowed deeply. Farewell, Eowyn, fair daughter of Eve