"What if our lost lords are lost in there?" Reepicheep asked.
"They'd never sail into such a thing intentionally," Octesian offered.
"Rhoop might," Restimar said. "He always did have a fondness for the unknown and fantastical." After a pause he added, "Also, at night they might not notice they sailed into it."
"So we should avoid it unless we shouldn't and we have no way of knowing which is correct," Caspian said.
"Meaning we go in and hope for the best," Lucy said. There were some frightened murmurs among the crew.
"After we turn around and drop off everyone who doesn't want to come on the dwarves' island," Edmund assured the crew.
The journey back was upwind, and so took longer than the thirteen days it had taken them to arrive at the darkness.
They were amazed at the progress the Dufflepuds and the various refugees who had resettled on the island had made.
The Duffers were glad for the company of anyone but Coriakin, who had taken to solitude and shouting obscenities about how this wasn't the way things ought to be done since his magic had been stripped from him.
The refugees were happy for solid land and abundant food.
Rather than build a traditional village the Dufflepuds had taught the largely human imigrants ways to build in the ground in accordance with nature, and Corikan's house had been repurposed for community use.
It was then that the crew of the Dawn Treader finally learned where the name Dufflepud originated. When not working, and with their original forms restored the Duffer's skipped and ran and frolicked and did anything but ordinary walking, but it was when theydanced that the crew finally understood.
At first the dance seemed awkward, clumsy, as if spending so much time as monopods had robbed them of their ability, but as the dance went on those seeming mistakes took on new form, a beautiful unity of apparent missteps that was anything but discordant. The dance was at once silly and profound, it seemed to carry a deeper meaning that no one could quite place.
The music that accompanied it had the same property, to a lesser degree, an off note would be accompanied by a unified "trip" on the part of the dancers, a sudden change in tempo, on it's own grating to the ear, would be accompanied by apparent confusion of the dancers that somehow always managed to work out into a beauty beyond all expectation, even after the crew took into account that their initial expectations would be surpassed.
"Dufflepud" a corruption of words meaning, "Clumsy Foot," was an affectionate term for a style of dance they had perfected, one which took apparent mistakes and combined them into something beautiful.
When the crew of the Dawn Treader was again ready to leave the crew was slightlylarger than when it had come. Several sailors had no desire to sail into the mysterious darkness, but several of those on the island were young and looking for adventure. A Red Squirrel named Jess was the leader of this group, and it wasn't as if in all their time crammed aboard the ship the refugees had learned nothing of how to operate a ship.
The trip back to the darkness would have been quicker than finding it had been, but preparations had to be made. Drinian practiced navigating the ship blindfolded. Chip logs and hourglasses were broken out to give him constant updates on the ship's speed, and small sea anchors were dropped to tell him of changes in the course. Additionally he assigned a crewmember to make sure he was correctly gauging the passage of time.
Everyone hoped that the lights they brought with them would be powerful enough to drive back enough of the darkness for these measures to work. If the sailors couldn't see to measure knots, to see the angle of the rope to the sea anchor, or to see an hourglass, it would all be for nothing.
Spare oars were sacrificed to fashion a way to keep Reepicheep's coracle directly ahead of the Dawn Treader. He would have a single job. A rock was tied to a rope the length of the Treader's draft. If the rock struck anything he was to call out for them to turn hard.
* * *
When they reached the darkness all took their places. Iisha and their second best with a bow took to the crow's nest. Iisha would have preferred more, but it took a great deal of talent to shoot something you could hear but not see, and she only trusted one other to do it.
Jess, the Squirrel, stood ready to relay information from the crows nest to the deck, if it became necessary to do so silently.
Adah, Caspian, Edmund, Eustace, and Lucy were all to be roving patrols, intended to relay information when sight couldn't, and practiced in not tripping over those who were to stay at their posts.
Drinian took the tiller, a sailor near him with a lantern and an hour glass prepared to count off the minutes, on each side of the ship a sailor with an hour glass, a lantern, and a chip log prepared to call out the speed.
At the stern a sailor with small sea anchors, not intended to slow the ship but merely to use the line to determine how far the ship deviated from a straight path, also armed with a lantern, stood ready.
At the bow Octesian and Restimar positioned themselves with a lantern, hoping to see what lay ahead.
Reepicheep boarded the coracle. The rowers sat at the oars.
The sails had been taken down because Drinian didn't want to risk being blown off course, sailing without seeing was dangerous enough as it was.
When everyone was sure that they were ready, Drinian asked for a heading.
Lucy the valiant answered: "The center."
And so they rowed.
The darkness was cold and encroaching. Only the rowers, kept warm by their exertion, could keep from shivering. Iisha worried that the shaking might be too much to fire a bow straight, and prayed that she wouldn't have to nock an arrow. The lanterns didn't cast their glow far. Even on the darkest night they should have illuminated the entire deck, instead within a few feet there was total darkness.
But, they were enough.
All would have lost track of time if not for the sailor calling it out to Drinian, and the only sounds were those calling out times, speeds, and angles to him combined with the chanting the rowers used to keep in sync. It seemed that only Drinian had an idea of where they were, and as he said, "We're getting close now," a voice cried out.
Not with words, their were no words. There was terror and sadness and the loss of all hope. There was suffering. But there were no words.
For a moment no one spoke, then Reepicheep spoke, "Who calls?" He asked. "We are Narnian," he said, believing it only fitting to give as much information as he asked for.
There was a moment's silence then Reepicheep added, "If you are friend we offer whatever help we may give. If you are foe then know that we do not fear you."
The voice didn't answer, instead it cried, “Mercy! Mercy!"
In unison Octesian and Restimar said, "It's Rhoop."
Lord Rhoop continued, "Even if you are only one more dream, have mercy. Take me on board. Take me, even if you strike me dead. But in the name of all mercies do not fade away and leave me in this horrible land.”
“Where are you?” shouted Caspian. Then he decided it didn't matter. “Come aboard and welcome.”
As soon as they heard his feet hit the deck all heard Rhoop say, “Fly! Fly! About with your ship and fly! Row, row, row for your lives away from this accursed shore.”
The deck tilted and some fell over as Drinian turned the ship as hard as it could turn. He shouted orders for a new sea anchor to be dropped, or rather thrown, so that they could know how far they turned.
The rowers rowed faster.
Reepicheep crawled back on board and when he was confident Drinian was guiding them back the way they had come he gently said, "Compose yourself if you can, and tell us what danger we are fleeing."