"WHERE ASLAN IS KING!"
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CHAPTER TWELVE
THE HERMIT AND THE COUNCIL

I moved from sleeping to waking without any noticeable threshold. There was no sudden awareness of light or day or sound, but rather a gradual transition from one state to the other. My thoughts were awakened as slowly as my body. Both body and mind felt heavy, lethargic, and slow. I tried to put together the sequence of events that had brought me to this moment, but I could not. The past day seemed not to fit into my thought process in a coherent manner. The events of the previous night blurred together. I could pick out individual moments, but they did not bring me to this moment. It was like I was awaking directly from the dance. A hopeful thought flickered through my mind. "Perhaps I am waking from the dance. Perhaps I only dreamed it." It was indeed a hopeful thought.

I continued to lie on the pillow-soft bed. My body felt numb and I didn't want to move. I listened. Somewhere, not far away, I heard the sound of birds, common ordinary birds. I listened, but heard nothing else. There was no sound of singing, no sound of any crowd, no click-clack of tiny hooves. Even though my eyes remained closed I could tell it was light. I sniffed the air. Nothing. No smell of cooking. Again I tried to bring my thoughts as far as going to bed the night before, but I could not. I went step by step through the evening before, through the meal, through the dance, through the ceremony. I could go no further. There was nothing more. I was awakening from that point. It was a dream, I concluded. Tumaus would be here soon. We would spend the day together. The dance would be tonight.

I opened my eyes and breathed a deep sigh of relief. I rolled over on my side. My clothes were laid out on the chair by the bed, just as I had left them, the pants across the seat, the tunic over the back of the chair, my belt and knife hung on the back. My comfort, my relief, disappeared in an instant. On the breast of my tunic was a red lion rampant, where none had been before. It took me some time to force myself from the bed. I still could not fill in the space, the time between that awful ceremony and getting into bed and falling asleep. I dressed slowly, deliberately. I paid special attention to the knife as I put it on. It did not seem any different. Certainly it did not have the unusual weight it seemed to have the night before. I wondered what I would find when I opened my door. I imagined all the people of Narnia standing there, silently waiting for me, waiting for me to do something. I dared not think of what that something might be. My stomach was churning. I was in no mood for breakfast. I gritted my teeth and opened the door.

The field was empty outside my cabin. The light was full, the sun high in the morning sky. It was much later than I had thought. On the porch and around Old Oak sat and stood those I had been introduced to as being the council, The Council of Aslan. Everyone was as silent are the morning. It was one of those truly awkward moments, when everyone knows they ought to say something, but simply cannot come up with the right words, and when everyone is intimidated by the thought that they might say the wrong words.

"Root and twig!" exclaimed Old Oak at last. "What is the matter with us? Where are our manners? Are we not talking creatures? Good morning, Sir Thomas, and welcome to the Counsel of Aslan."

I looked around at all the group, one by one as I tried to measure my response to the greeting I had received. Sable and Shadow, along with Darktail the owl where perched in the rafters of the porch. Gimbelthorp sat in my chair on the end of the porch. Fleet and Evening Thunder stood either side of Old Oak, and Swiftwing sat in his topmost branches, preening. There was nothing in their expressions that gave me even a hint of what they were thinking. I knew that the response I made to Old Oak's greeting would set the tone, not only for the conversation that would inevitably follow, but also for years to come. I wanted very much to be calm. I wanted very much to remain their friend. I wanted very much to set some boundaries and some limits. I took a deep breath.

"Listen, I'm still not sure what happened last night. I'm not sure what it means, and I'm not sure what to think about it. I am sure of one thing, however. You are not going to call me 'Sir', not 'Sir Thomas,' not 'Sir' anything. If that is what you think I am, some kind of nobility, fine. If titles and such mean something to you, that's okay. If there is some job or expectation that goes with the title, we can talk about it. But you are not to address me in that way. You may call me Thomas, if you wish. You may call me the Hermit. But you are not to call me by any title whatever. If you do I will not answer. Are we clear about that?"

There was a general nodding of heads in the affirmative. From above I heard, "Tu-who, will do," and both of the ravens croaked an ascent. I was really quite surprised that there was no commotion, no argument over it. They all seemed to be waiting. It was as if there was some expectation that I would do something, or say something. I said nothing. They all remained in their places, watching me. The silence grew deep and rich and soon I could hear even the blades of grass in the field as they gently rubbed against each other in the gentle breeze. I turned and stepped off the porch into the field. The dew had long since dried. The sun overhead was warm on my face. It was going to be a beautiful spring day, or at least it would be without that pack of creatures at my back. I walked further out into the field, in part to see what they would do, what they would say, and in part to gain a little time, a little space.

I attempted again to organize my mind, to come up with the sequence of events that had brought me to this moment. There was still that gigantic hole. What had taken place in that span of time after Evening Thunder gave my knife back, and the point at which I awoke in my bed? There was something there, I was sure. I was convinced that it must be something significant, but I could not bring it forward in my mind. I did not know how long I had been wandering about in the grass, thinking, but suddenly remembered the council, sitting on my porch, apparently waiting for me. I listened carefully. There was no sound of voices, only the creak, creak of my rocker as Gimblethorp rocked gently back and forth, accompanied by the occasional flutter of wings. I turned and walked back to the porch. It was time to face the council and find out what all of this was about. All were sitting, just as before. If they were growing impatient, none of them showed it.

Somehow I knew it was up to me to begin, though I didn't know how, and I didn't know why. I was horribly afraid. It was not a physical fear, the fear that I would be set upon, injured, killed. It was a much more complex fear, the kind of fear one has knowing they ought to speak in defense of an ideal or a friend, but have no idea want the consequences of that action will be. It was the fear of losing control, the fear of becoming involved in something unknown and powerful and potentially self-consuming. It was the fear of being taken in and of being fooled. And mixed into it all was the fear of appearing foolish and ignorant, the fear of being misunderstood and rejected, the fear of making a fool of oneself. I looked again from face to face. All I saw there told me I had nothing to fear, but that did not in the least diminish the fear I felt. I was really glad at that moment that I had decided against breakfast.

"Well," I said at last. "So this is the council, the Council of Aslan. I guess you better tell me what it is all about. What is it that you decide? When do you meet? Who is the head of this council?"

Everyone's attention turned to Evening Thunder. In his clear, deep voice the centaur responded. "We meet when called by Aslan, or when there is a need within Narnia to do so. There is no regular time. We often meet at the Hill of the Stone Table, though that is merely habit and not a matter of edict or law. The subject will vary according to the need of the time. It may be a matter of the defense of Narnia, such as in the day when the Tree of Protection died. It may be in regard to relations with our neighbors, or disputes between the different people of Narnia, though that is a rare occasion. As a matter of fact, we do not meet often. This is a very peaceful place and it is very seldom needed."

"But you met just a week ago," I said. "Old Oak told me. What is the threat, the emergency that you met concerning? Why are you meeting again today, on my porch? And who is in the head of this council?"

This time it was Old Oak that answered. "There is no threat, no emergency. It is more of a, well, a situation, I guess. We needed to confer, to decide. We had all received a message, a word from Aslan, but we wanted to be sure that we heard what we thought we heard. We wanted the word to be confirmed by our fellows. It is not that we distrust the word of Aslan, let me make that clear. Speaking only for myself, I wanted to make sure that I was truly following Aslan, and not listening to my own wishful thinking."

"But," I said, "that still does not tell me what it was about. If it was not an emergency, what was the situation? What did you think you heard, and why did you doubt it? Why are you meeting again today, and for heaven's sake, who is the head of this council?"

Gimblethorp rose from my rocker and stood in front of me. "The meeting was about you, son of Adam. We had to make sure that we were doing the will of Aslan concerning you. We needed to speak with Evening Thunder: he speaks with the stars, you know. You must understand that none of us had ever met a son of Adam before. We knew from the words of the centaur that you were not to be our king. But we had, or thought we had, received a word about you, a word from Aslan about you. We all believed that you were to be on the Council of Aslan, we believed it to be the will of Aslan. When we met, we learned from Old Oak about the gifts that Father Christmas had brought you, and knew from that alone that you had the favor Aslan, his blessing if you will."

My stomach churned and my mouth was dry. This was the kind of thing I feared though I did not know what my fear had been about. I felt as if there was no ground under my feet, nothing firm on which to stand. I sought for wise words, words that would help me escape an unwelcome fate, but what came out was simply, "What did you decide, and who is the head of this council?" My voice seemed thin and shallow and faint.

Sable the old he-raven fluttered down from the rafters and perched on Gimblethorp's shoulder. "Son of Adam, when last the council met, I was the head of the council. We came together hoping to have instruction from our friend and prophet the centaur. The only word he had for us was that the will of Aslan would be revealed to us at the Dance of Spring. We came, with great expectation and were not disappointed. You were certainly confirmed."

"How," I said weakly, "how was I confirmed. And who is now the head of this council."

Each one there looked at me, and then at each other, nodding to each other, knowingly, gravely. My fear was again rising in my throat. My mind was racing, searching desperately for the missing pieces of the night before. What happened after Tumaus swore on my behalf? How did I get back to my cabin? How had I been confirmed as a member of this strange council of Aslan? Images of the night before flashed through my memory. The naiads and the dryads. The dance. The wonderful water. The pattern, the circles. The ceremony. The swearing. The knife. The tears. Then there was nothing. The images faded to blackness, a dark hole, and a void with no end.

"How was I confirmed?" My voice seemed barely audible. "Who is the head of the council?"

The old raven roused himself, extended his dark wings and struggled to regain his perch next to his wife in the rafters. Gimblethorp turn away from me and returned to the chair on the porch and Swiftwing glided down to from his perch and stood before me. "Son of Adam, Hermit of Lantern Waste, Aslan himself has confirmed you. You are his choice to be on his council. You are his choice to be the head of the council."

My stomach churned. My mind raced. I felt as if my heart were about to break out of my chest. "How do you know this?" My voice quivered, struggling to get past the strangling constriction in my throat. "Do you somehow just feel that is what he wants you to do? Do you hear voices, or see visions, or what? Is this something the stars tell you," I asked, looking to the centaur.

"No, Thomas," he replied. "He told us directly, in person. And he told you, too, though you do not know it. He appeared to us, and to you last night. You saw him yourself, though your mind has not perceived what your eyes have seen."

The black hole in my memory rose up before me, a gaping maw to swallow me, to suck me into itself. I looked into it with fear and with a trembling heart and saw nothing, nothing at all. I went through all the steps that brought me to that point, to the edge of memory, but could go no further. "I don't remember," I mumbled. "What happened last night, after Tumaus swore for me? And where is he, where is Tumaus?"

"Tumaus," said Fleet, "is not a member of the council."

"If Swiftwing is speaking the truth, if I am indeed the head of this council, then I want him to be here, member of not. Swiftwing," I said with as much command in my voice as I could muster, "go and find Tumaus. Bring him here, or send him here as fast as his little feet can bring him. We will do nothing until he arrives."

Without hesitation or question Swiftwing spread his wings and leaped into the air. He circled once gaining altitude then headed off above the trees in the direction of the faun's woodland cave. No one else said a word. It seemed that they meant what they said, that I was indeed the head of this strange council. What that meant I was not sure. I was determined to keep my word and do nothing until Tumaus arrived, or at least until Swiftwing returned with word of him. I left the porch and again headed out into the field. I walked down to the stream below the field and knelt to take a drink. It was as crystal clear as always, but I was disappointed: I had hoped it would have at least a hint of the wonder and strength of the night before. And yet I was cheered and strengthened though it was not the same. I liked this place. I liked this life. What would be so terrible if I just went along? Perhaps I was upset over nothing. The council didn't seem to do much or to demand much. There seemed to be no threat to be answered or foe to be fought. Perhaps it was mostly a ceremonial thing.

I did not know how long I was out by the stream, walking back and forth, thinking and debating with myself. Time seemed to have paused, or at least to have slowed dramatically. I seemed neither tired nor hungry though I had not eaten all day, since the night before. Then as I turned something caught my eye and I looked up. Swiftwing was returning. As I climbed the bank from the stream and turned toward the cabin I noticed that the sun had advanced far from the noon, it was late in the day. Above the edge of the forest the eagle wheeled and circled. As I watched, a small figure appeared beneath the edge of the trees and started across the field. Tumaus came trotting quickly across the field toward the cabin. We arrived at the front porch at about the same time. The little faun was red in the face and breathing hard from his rapid trip. I felt badly as he stood panting and gasping. Slowly he regained his breath and his composure.

"Sir Thomas," he wheezed at last, "I came as quickly as I could trot, as soon as Swiftwing came for me. I know it would have been faster to let him carry me, but I am horribly afraid of heights. How may I serve you?"

I caught myself, and checked my anger: he had not been there when I made my speech about my new titles. I told him that there would be no titles used in addressing me, now or ever. I told him that I had not called him because I was the head of the council, but rather because he was my friend. I asked Gimblethorp to give him my chair. I sat on the floor of the porch in front of him. The dwarf sat down heavily beside me.

"Now," I said, "tell me what happened after the swearing ceremony ended. Tell it plainly. Tell me as a friend. No one is to interrupt you or correct you. No one is to add to what you say."

Tumaus began at the end of the ceremony. I recognized that part of his story. I remembered receiving my knife back and putting it back in its sheath. I remembered the rest of the crowd beginning to leave, quietly going in little groups, going in various directions. Then he began telling of an event that I did not know. I knew that he was not making it up, I knew it was true: I knew it resided in that black hole of memory I had not been able to enter all day. Even while I knew it was true, his story stirred nothing in my mind, only in my heart. And in my heart, I did feel a stirring. I knew it was true, and I wanted it to be true, but I could remember none of it.

"The crowd had already begun to leave," said Tumaus, "when he came. I did not see him come: he was simply there. My heart felt the thrill, then my ears heard his roar, and then my eyes beheld the desire of my heart. Aslan himself was there in our midst. The crowd heard his roar and returned at once in a circle around Aslan and around us. He came to us, at the center first, you and me and the council. All of the council knelt in front of him. So did I as best I could, for as you can imagine, fauns do not kneel very well, but that seemed not to bother him at all. He knew that my heart was kneeling. He came to each of the council, breathed on them, licked their forehead with a strong lion's kiss, and spoke quiet words to them that no other could hear. He came also to me, though I am not on the council and did the same. I felt so strong from his breath, so comforted by his kiss, and so challenged by his words. It was more than I have ever dreamed of, and so much more than I deserve. Then he came to you. You were still standing, staring in front of you. It was if you did not see him at all. You did not kneel. You said nothing. Aslan did to you as to the others. When he breathed on you, you seemed to breath deeply. You seemed to smile a little and to relax your stance, but nothing else. Aslan rose up and kissed you as well. He spoke words to you that none of us could hear. After that he spoke aloud so all could hear. 'This son of Adam, Thomas of Lantern Waste shall from henceforth be head of my council in Narnia, until death takes him, until he returns to the world of men, or until I release him from his task. Honor him as you would honor me.' Then he gathered himself and leaped into the crowd, going through the crowd so that all could touch him and kiss him and talk to him. The rest of us watched with joy as he bounded through the crowd. Except for you. You still did not move or respond. Old Oak suggested that I take you to your cabin, and I did so. When I returned he told me that the council would meet today. I stayed until Aslan was gone, and then went to my home."

There was no doubt that it was true. I had only to look at the faces of the others to confirm it. There was something about them that was different, though I did not notice it before. There was something about me that was different, though I did not know what it was. I realized that I had been crying, though I did not know why. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say. I expected that they would somehow look down on me for what I had done, or what I had not done, in meeting Aslan. And while I knew what Tumaus said was true, there was a sense in which I still did not believe in Aslan. It bothered me that I could not believe, and it bothered me that I had no memory of it. It should have been the most vivid memory of my life, but it simply was not there.

"Tu-who," the silence was broken by Darktail's voice. "Tu-who, much to do. How about some food. My eyes hurt from all the light, but now it is getting dark and I feel much better, except for hunger. I can catch enough mice out in the field for all of us, if you wish."

All of us respectfully declined the owl's gracious offer. He took no offense. "Tu-who, do as you do," he said, and fluttered out over the field. Now that the subject had been raised, all of us felt hungry. Gimblethorp and Tumaus went into the cabin to fix food for those of us that liked what Old Oak referred to as man-food. The rest wandered off to find their own provisions. I remained on the porch looking out over the field and the woods and the darkening sky. I loved being here. I loved these strange creatures that had so quickly become my friends. I was totally amazed at their unshakable acceptance. I was frustrated by that hole in my memory, which was beginning to feel like a hole in my soul. They believed in Aslan, and they believed in me. For the moment, it was enough.

Copyrightę2001, John Nelson

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"WHERE ASLAN IS KING!"
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Copyright © 2001 John Nelson, Hermit of Lantern Waste.
Created - March 25, 2001 ~ Revised April 21, 2001