At first, I was speechless. I felt like I was being roused out of a wonderful dream. Worse than that, it felt like a wonderful dream that suddenly and without warning takes a turn and becomes a horrible nightmare. I could not even remember the steps that had brought me to the middle of the field. I could not remember becoming the center of the dance. I had been singing and dancing and enjoying the circles. Ah, the circles! Was that the pattern? Had the circle been slowly, subtly moving me toward the center? In my mind I had been moving upward and inward, seeking the pattern, looking for the meaning. Was this what I had found?

"You cannot do this!" I shouted when I finally found my voice. Everything was still. Everyone was silent. My voice sounded small, and hollow. "You cannot do this," I whispered, but it sounded loud in the still of the night. "Old Oak," I pleaded, "tell them they cannot do this."

"But they must do it. We must do it. You are chosen by Aslan, and you are a son of Adam."

"But I don't even believe in this Aslan of yours!"

"It doesn't matter, he believes in you. And we believe in him. It is enough, for now."

"That makes no sense at all," I protested. "It makes no sense."

No one moved from their place. The moon shone brightly on their faces and glistened in their eyes. Everything was still. Everyone was silent. I was suddenly aware that Tumaus was standing beside me in the center of the circle.

The old she-raven spoke. "Tumaus son of Tumal, as this son of Adam does not believe in Aslan or the Emperor-over-sea, will you swear for him, accepting on yourself the curse and the shame should he fail to be true as a Knight of Cair Paravel and councilor to the Table of Aslan?"

Without hesitation, Tumaus said, "I will."

"No!" I shouted in a small hollow voice. "No," I whispered in a voice that echoed off the moon.

Swiftwing sprang into the air and circled over the heads of the Narnians. In a clear voice that all could hear he declared, "Tumaus son of Tumal has sworn an oath for the Hermit of Lantern Waste, unbeliever though he be, to confer upon him the office of Knight and Counselor. Will you, the people of Narnia, accept this oath from Tumaus son of Tumal, and will you accept the Hermit as your knight and counselor?"

With a resounding shout the people, as with one voice, said, "We will!"

"You cannot, you must not." My lips moved but I heard no sound coming out.

The eagle spoke again. "Will you, the people of Narnia, support Sir Thomas of Lantern Waste, Knight of Cair Paravel, Counselor of the Table of Aslan, and Tumaus son of Tumal who has sworn an oath for the unbeliever? Will you uphold and encourage them in their attempt to honor this vow, will you fight with them against the enemies of Narnia and enemies of Aslan in every just cause?"

As one voice the answer came from the encircling crowd, "may the curse and the shame be upon our own heads, ours and our children's and their children's, if we fail to do so."

I looked at Evening Thunder, expecting, hoping that he would move to squelch this foolishness as he had done in the fall, but he was motionless, saying nothing. His arms were crossed over his bare chest and his eyes looked directly into mine, but he did nothing and said nothing. His gaze was intense, neither angry nor glad, but simply resolved. I knew that no one was going to help me. I knew that in spite of the vast crowd of people, I was completely alone. I looked around at each one of the council in turn, trying to find a way out of what they wanted me to do. The two old ravens seemed to be asleep on the back of the centaur. Fleet stood with head erect and with unflinching eyes looked at me. Old Oak stood with arms outstretched, smiling. At least I now understood why he was so insistent on my being there. Gimbelthorp the dwarf stood with his elbow on the head of the large ax that hung from his belt. He was not one of the dwarfs that had built my cabin, and I really didn't know him. He looked very stern. Darktail sat on one of Old Oak's limbs, eyes wide with wakefulness, and only an occasional twittering to-who coming from his direction. The eagle continued to circle silently overhead. I dared not look at Tumaus.

Evening Thunder began to move toward me. Sable and Shadow roused and fluttered to the ground. The centaur stood immediately before me. All I could hear was my own heart beating. "Give me your knife, Sir Thomas." His voice was strong, unwavering, without any hint of emotion.

I was numb. The air was still. No one moved. My hand went to my belt and took my knife from its sheath. It felt strangely heavy to my hand. I lifted it and held it out to the centaur. My only hope was that he would use it to kill me, that he would stop the wild beating of my heart with a single stroke of his massive and muscular arms. He held the knife before me. The moon reflected from it with an intense radiance that made it appear that the knife itself was glowing, giving off light. I stared at the moonlit lion on the handle. It seemed so large. It seemed so real. He raised the knife, placing the flat of the silver-white blade against my forehead. It felt cold and it felt hot. It felt as if it had breath and life of its own. Something stirred in me, something I understood, but could not identify. It was something I knew, but could not explain.

The centaur's voice was strong and deep and drowned out the beating of my heart. "The blessing of Aslan and his father the Emperor Over Sea is now upon you, Sir Thomas of Lantern Waste, son of Adam, Hermit and Knight of the Kingdom of Narnia and of Cair Paravel, member of the Council of Aslan. You will be a blessing to Narnia and to Archenland and to all their peoples if you walk in the paths of Aslan, if you accept the adventure he sets before you. May his breath be upon you."

Evening Thunder removed the blade from my forehead and turned to Tumaus who stood beside me. I watched as the centaur shifted the blade in his hand until he was holding onto the hilt, the blade, and the point of the long knife toward my friend. Tumaus neither moved nor spoke. The centaur carefully placed the sharp point on the faun's chest with enough pressure to make a small indent but not enough to draw blood. "And you, Tumaus son of Tumal have sworn for the unbeliever, to vouchsafe his life and his service, and to be accountable for his service to the land of Narnia under Aslan the High King above all kings. You will be blessed in measure with Sir Thomas. His blessing will be your blessings. You will be cursed in double measure should you fail him, should you fail your oath, or should he fail in the oath you have sworn for him. May the breath of Aslan be upon you and upon your descendants."

I took a deep breath and noticed that I had not been breathing. The light was blurry in my eyes. Apparently I had also been crying. My face was wet. I could not remember the last time I had cried, over anything. I wiped my eyes and looked around. Evening Thunder was holding out my knife to me, hilt toward me. I took it, silently, and put it back in its sheath. As I looked down I noticed something else. On my tunic was a red lion rampant, where none had been before. All around us the crowd began dancing again, slowly, in circles moving outward from the center. The council still stood around me. They were silent. The moon still shone down from above. I turned to each one of them, they all smiled kindly at me, in silence. I looked again toward the rest of the people who continued to move away, some into the woods, some down the valley. The dance was over.

Copyrightę2001, John Nelson



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