"Oh no! You must not do that. Certainly not! Do not even think of it." I had told Old Oak about my concerns and my thought of slipping away for a few days. He lectured me sternly. "You must do no such thing. You would offend everyone deeply. You have chosen to live in a very special place and this place has chosen you. It is a place where very special things take place. You have received the blessing of Evening Thunder, and the friendship of all the creatures. Root and twig, son of Adam, you would shame me if you ran away now! How could I ever hold my branches up? No, you must not do this thing."

I told him that I didn't want to seem ungrateful, and I certainly didn't want to shame him. I was concerned, I said, about all the press of people, and that they might do something foolish. He gave me a quizzical look, squinted his eyes a bit, his brow becoming knotted and furrowed, and asked me what I meant. It was really hard to explain. As a matter of fact, when I tried to explain my fears out loud, they sounded rather silly, even to me. And worse yet, my words sounded rather egotistical even in my own ears, as if I really expected that they would try to make me a king.

"You have nothing to fear, son of Adam. They will do no such thing. No one will ever again suggest that you be king of Narnia. The centaur has spoken. It is done with."

I hesitated, and apparently looked a little doubtful. He asked what the problem was now. I asked how he could be so sure they would remember what the centaur said, and even if they remembered, how could he be so sure they would continue to pay any attention to what he said. I knew things to be otherwise in my own world. I knew that in my world things were seldom final and that the questions and suggestions were often made over and over again, until at last those making the suggestions succeeded simply by wearing down the opposition.

"Root and twig!" he thundered. "Did you not hear me, son of Adam? It was the centaur that spoke! He speaks to the stars themselves. To not listen to the words of the centaur would be, well, it would be like ignoring the voice of Aslan himself. What Narnian would dare to do that? No, son of Adam, you have naught to fear, at least not on that account."

It was a strange thing. Although I did not myself believe in Aslan, it was a great comfort to me that everyone else did. I put my faith, not in the person of Aslan, but in the fact that they put their faith in the person of Aslan, whether he was real or not. It put my mind at ease, and I began looking forward to the great dance. I got as much information as I could from Old Oak and Tumaus about what I should be doing, and what to expect, but in some ways they were not much help at all.

"Well," said Tumaus, "of course it is like the dance in the fall. But no, not really much like it at all. The dancing will be about the same, except that it doesn't start or end the same, and the steps in the middle are different, too. But other than that, it is about the same. Of course, the same people will be there, expect for the one's who could not make it in the autumn, and the ones who cannot come in the spring. And there will be more of them, of course." He paused, looked sidelong at me, assumed that conspiratorial posture, and whispered, "Of course, what we are all hoping is that He will be here himself. That would make it very different, and very wonderful."

I decided I would just have to wait and see. But while I waited I was not idle. I got my garden in, so the moles would know that I had used their gift wisely. I tended the hives, and though it was still early, managed to restock my honey supply, slightly, with hope of having something for the bears. I cleaned out my cabin thoroughly, and even managed to tidy up a bit outside, though Old Oak did not see the point of it, even thought it a peculiar thing to do. I was ready, or what I thought was ready, five days before the full moon. I was up early that morning. After one last sweep of the porch, and a little smoothing of the path to my step, I changed into my Narnian clothes that Father Christmas had given me. I pulled the rocker out onto the front stoop and sat down to wait. Old Oak was not at home. That is, his tree was there beside the porch, but he was not there. So I sat and rocked. By noon no one had come, so I brought my lunch out onto the porch and ate there, so I could see the crowd begin to arrive. In the middle of the afternoon I went down to the stream to fill my water jugs. I walked as quickly as I could, not wanting to miss anyone, and was all in a sweat by the time I got back to the empty cabin. There was no movement or sound the entire day but for the breeze in the grass and the bees buzzing back and forth to the hive. The stars were already twinkling in the deep purple sky: Old Oak had not returned. I went inside and went to bed, strangely disappointed.

The following morning I again was out early standing vigil over the field. I was really annoyed that Old Oak was not there, especially after his speech about how I would shame him if I ran off. "What about him", I asked myself. The morning passed much as the day before. Nothing happened. The sun rode across the clear blue sky and began to descend toward the trees. I went again for water, this time at a more leisurely pace. I could not help but wonder where everyone was. I could not help but wonder at this feeling of lack, or loss, I was having because they were not there. I was a hermit after all! I chose to live alone, and I liked it. So why did I suddenly need to have these people around me, especially given my earlier fears, especially given my continuing fear that they associated my coming with the arrival of their mythical lion?

I was inside fixing myself some supper when I heard the familiar click-clack of small hooves on my porch, and the cheery voice of Tumaus. I told him I should have known he would be the first to arrive at a party. "That may be true," he said, "but it remains to be seen. I was just passing by on my way home and thought I'd say hello."

He seemed surprised that I assumed he would be there for the party. "That's still the third day from now," he said. "I may indeed be the first to arrive, but this is too early even for me. But if you are inviting me, I would be happy to sit down to dinner with you."

As we ate I told him of my fruitless two-day vigil, and with my annoyance at Old Oak. Tumaus laughed, loudly, when I told him that I thought everyone would come early, as they did in the fall. He laughed so long that I began to get rather annoyed by it. I demanded to know why he was laughing at me.

"I'm not laughing at you," he said between gasps for air. "I am laughing at all of us. It is the most delicious misunderstanding." He laughed some more before gaining his composure again. "Oh, dear me. My goodness I wish I could have seen you out there waiting." He had another fit of laughter. "My, my, how foolish of us. No, my friend, I'm not laughing at you, but at how silly the rest of us have been. We just assumed you knew, and of course, you didn't, you couldn't know. Oh, I can't wait to tell the others: they will be so embarrassed, but they will laugh at themselves, that is for sure!"

I still wasn't getting it. I was no longer angry for his laughter at my expense, but I certainly was confused. "I don't understand," I said.

"No, no, of course you don't. That's the entire point. You thought that because everyone was here five days early for the fall dance that they would be equally early for the spring dance. You did not realize that the only reason they were early was that Evening Thunder had called them to come and help you, just as he said. They were only here that early because of you. I feel so foolish," he said, and went off into another long, good-natured laugh.

"But how can that be?" I asked. "The trees were already here when I arrived, and the animals began arriving almost as soon as Evening Thunder had spoken. And they came from all over Narnia, so they said."

"Yes, yes, of course they did," answered Tumaus. "Evening Thunder had called them many days before, some almost a fortnight before, for they had a long way to travel to get here. And some still didn't make it until the day of the dance."

"You have been drinking too much of your own wine," I exclaimed. "You must be drunk. I had only arrived the day before it all happened. And you want me to believe that he called for help two weeks before? You are either drunk or crazy!"

"No, really, truly, he did. He called for the help, just as he said he had. You remember what he said."

"Yes, I remember," I countered. "But how could he call for help before I arrived? You want me to believe his call for help went out before I was even in Narnia, when I was in a completely different world. It's not like I made reservations, you know."

"He is a centaur," said Tumaus. "He listens to the stars, and the stars dance at the feet of Aslan, and of the Emperor Over The Sea. He knew you would be here, and he knew when: he knew you would need help, so he called for it, and the help came, just as he said it would. Centaurs are prophets and seers, and Evening Thunder is a centaur. He is the centaur. And he knows. And we have played the most wonderful joke on ourselves. This will be the stuff of stories for years to come, I'm afraid: how all of Narnia played the fool, and how the son of Adam kept vigil because of it."

I still didn't find it nearly as funny as Tumaus did, but I laughed with him, anyway. At least I knew why no one had come, and I knew that they would not until the day of the great festival, though a few might wander in the evening before. I was uncomfortable, however, with the lore concerning the centaur and his supposed powers. It seemed too much like horoscopes and fortune-tellers; a sham and a scheme to defraud gullible people. But at the same time I could not imagine how this could have been used to defraud anyone, least of all me. If anything I had derived great benefit from it. Maybe it was just the thing with the lion, that bothered me. Tumaus seemed to connect that lion myth with everything!

We talked a little more, and then Tumaus left to return to his cave, with a promise to return on the day of the dance, as early as could be, so that I would have company while I waited. As he walked off across the field I could still hear him laughing quietly to himself, and saying, "Oh, Tumaus, you certainly have played the fool."

Copyrightę2001, John Nelson



Copyright © 2001 John Nelson, Hermit of Lantern Waste.
Created - March 25, 2001 ~ Revised April 21, 2001