Now this was exactly the right way to manage Edmund, only no one had ever thought of trying to do it before.
He stood for a moment looking at the cockatrice; the cockatrice looked at Edmund out of the corner of his eye and began to snore very loudly, and Edmund understood, once and for all, that the cockatrice wasn’t going to put up with any nonsense. He respected the cockatrice very much from that moment, and set off at once to do exactly as he was told–for perhaps the first time in his life.
Though he had played truant so often, he knew one or two things that perhaps you don’t know, though you have always been so good and gone to school regularly. For instance, he knew that a drakling is a dragon’s baby, and he felt sure that what he had to do was to find the third of the three noises that people used to hear coming from the mountains. Of course, the clucking had been the cockatrice, and the big noise like a large gentleman asleep after dinner had been the big dragon. So the smaller rumbling must have been the drakling.
He plunged boldly into the caves and searched and wandered and wandered and searched, and at last he came to a third door in the mountain, and on it was written THE BABY IS ASLEEP. Just before the door stood fifty pairs of copper shoes, and no one could have looked at them for a moment without seeing what sort of feet they were made for, for each shoe had five holes in it for the drakling’s five claws. And there were fifty pairs because the drakling took after his mother, and had a hundred feet–no more and no less. He was the kind called Draco Centipedis in the learned books.
Edmund was a good deal frightened, but he remembered the grim expression of the cockatrice’s eye, and the fixed determination of his snore still rang in his ears, in spite of the snoring of the drakling, which was, in itself, considerable. He screwed up his courage, flung the door open, and called out: “Hello, you drakling. Get out of bed this minute.”
The drakling stopped snoring and said sleepily: “It ain’t time yet.”
“Your mother says you are to, anyhow; and look sharp about it, what’s more,” said Edmund, gaining courage from the fact that the drakling had not yet eaten him.
The drakling sighed, and Edmund could hear it getting out of bed. The next moment it began to come out of its room and to put on its shoes. It was not nearly so big as its mother; only about the size of a Baptist chapel.
“Hurry up,” said Edmund, as it fumbled clumsily with the seventeenth shoe.
“Mother said I was never to go out without my shoes,” said the drakling; so Edmund had to help it to put them on. It took some time, and was not a comfortable occupation.
At last the drakling said it was ready, and Edmund, who had forgotten to be frightened, said, “Come on then,” and they went back to the cockatrice.
The cave was rather narrow for the drakling, but it made itself thin, as you may see a fat worm do when it wants to get through a narrow crack in a piece of hard earth.
“Here it is,” said Edmund, and the cockatrice woke up at once and asked the drakling very politely to sit down and wait. “Your mother will be here presently,” said the cockatrice, stirring up its fire.
The drakling sat down and waited, but it watched the fire with hungry eyes.
“I beg your pardon,” it said at last, “but I am always accustomed to having a little basin of fire as soon as I get up, and I feel rather faint. Might I?”
It reached out a claw toward the cockatrice’s basin.
“Certainly not,” said the cockatrice sharply. “Where were you brought up? Did they never teach you that ‘we must not ask for all we see’? Eh?”
“I beg your pardon,” said the drakling humbly, “but I am really very hungry.”
The cockatrice beckoned Edmund to the side of the basin and whispered in his ear so long and so earnestly that one side of the dear boy’s hair was quite burnt off. And he never once interrupted the cockatrice to ask why. But when the whispering was over, Edmund–whose heart, as I may have mentioned, was very tender–said to the drakling: “If you are really hungry, poor thing, I can show you where there is plenty of fire.” And off he went through the caves, and the drakling followed.
When Edmund came to the proper place he stopped.
There was a round iron thing in the floor, like the ones the men shoot the coals down into your cellar, only much larger. Edmund heaved it up by a hook that stuck out at one side, and a rush of hot air came up that nearly choked him. But the drakling came close and looked down with one eye and sniffed, and said: “That smells good, eh?”
“Yes,” said Edmund, “well, that’s the fire in the middle of the earth. There’s plenty of it, all done to a turn. You’d better go down and begin your breakfast, hadn’t you?”
So the drakling wriggled through the hole, and began to crawl faster and faster down the slanting shaft that leads to the fire in the middle of the earth. And Edmund, doing exactly as he had been told, for a wonder, caught the end of the drakling’s tail and ran the iron hook through it so that the drakling was held fast. And it could not turn around and wriggle up again to look after its poor tail, because, as everyone knows, the way to the fires below is very easy to go down, but quite impossible to come back on. There is something about it in Latin, beginning: “Facilis descensus.”
So there was the drakling, fast by the silly tail of it, and there was Edmund very busy and important and very pleased with himself, hurrying back to the cockatrice.
“Now,” said he.
“Well, now,” said the cockatrice. “Go to the mouth of the cave and laugh at the dragon so that she hears you.”
Edmund very nearly said “Why?” but he stopped in time, and instead, said: “She won’t hear me–”
“Oh, very well,” said the cockatrice. “No doubt you know best,” and he began to tuck himself up again in the fire, so Edmund did as he was bid.
And when he began to laugh his laughter echoed in the mouth of the cave till it sounded like the laughter of a whole castleful of giants.
And the dragon, lying asleep in the sun, woke up and said very crossly: “What are you laughing at?”
“At you,” said Edmund, and went on laughing. The dragon bore it as long as she could, but, like everyone else, she couldn’t stand being made fun of, so presently she dragged herself up the mountain very slowly, because she had just had a rather heavy meal, and stood outside and said, “What are you laughing at?” in a voice that made Edmund feel as if he should never laugh again.
Then the good cockatrice called out: “At you! You’ve eaten your own drakling–swallowed it with the town. Your own little drakling! He, he, he! Ha, ha, ha!”
And Edmund found the courage to cry “Ha, ha!” which sounded like tremendous laughter in the echo of the cave.
“Dear me,” said the dragon. “I thought the town stuck in my throat rather. I must take it out, and look through it more carefully.” And with that she coughed–and choked–and there was the town, on the hillside.