"WHERE ASLAN IS KING!"
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CHAPTER THIRTEEN
LANTERN AND TREE

The days and months that followed were the most blest I had ever experienced, better than I had ever imagined my life could be. Something had changed, though I was still not sure what it was. I was the head of the council. At first that prospect had frightened me, but as time went on and spring turned toward summer, it began to feel natural and normal. My fear of being on the council, and of leading the council left me. I knew beyond a doubt that it was a serious task, being head of the council. But I knew as well that it was not a task beyond my means. Somehow I knew that Aslan did not give tasks without giving the means to accomplish that task. I did not know how I knew it, I simply did. It was not faith, in the strict sense of the word. It was more a function that I felt operating in me. I believed it because it was true, not because of faith.

It was a time of learning. Once I accepted the charge given me, it became important. It was not an honor only, but a responsibility. I learned because I needed to learn, but also because I wanted to learn. First of all I learned from the rest of the council. That first meeting lasted for many days for I had many questions. I realized that the books Tumaus had lent me, whether he had been aware of it at the time or not, had been part of my preparation for this new task. However, since I did not know of the task at that time I read them lightly, carelessly, without thought for the meaning and only as a curiosity. Now meanings became important and I longed to know the meaning. I was no longer a wayfarer in a strange land, I was now in my homeland, and it was a homeland I knew little about.

The council, as always, was kind and patient with me. One of the most important lessons for me was in regard to the founding of Narnia. I had read it before from the borrowed tomes. I had assumed them to be apocryphal. I did not assume that now, and struggled to understand what they meant. How could the founding of Narnia have been witnessed by people of my own race and yet have no report of it published in my own world? How was it that two people could simply disappear out of our world, never to return, to become the King and Queen of a new world, without a soul noticing they had gone? And yet, here I was, in a kingdom that knew the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve. Here I was, reading books in my own language, written with the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge of the human race. How could I not believe?

One thing I learned in those first days made my burden much lighter. I learned what it meant to be "head" of the council. In my world and in the understanding of those of my race, to be the head meant to be the ruler, to be in some way "over" those for whom you were the head. It meant power and control and dominance. The understanding of the Narnians was quite different. Their use of the word "head" was more like the headwaters of a stream. It was the idea of being a source rather than something that controlled. Like the head of a river supplies and nurtures the stream the head of the council was to supply and nurture the council and in so doing, the land of Narnia. I was not to control the council or the land any more than the upland spring controls the great river approaching the sea. It was a great relief. At the same time it was a burden, but of a different kind, for I felt ill equipped to be the resource of the nurturer for anyone or anything.

When the council left for their homes I was fairly at ease. I was at ease, but I was not idle. I immediately began an effort to know Narnia. I did not want simply to know about her, but to know her. Old Oak was of course a valuable asset, a wealth of knowledge I accessed often, but I was not content to stay at my hermitage and learn from there. A new desire overtook me, possessing me with the need to see what I had only heard of, to experience the breadth of Narnia that others knew. I chose Tumaus to be my guide, and he agreed to accompany me on my journeys though he admitted that his own experience was limited to a rather small part of the north and west of the land, the region around our homes.

Our first adventures were short and easily done, there and back in a day and no more. One of the first places I went to was upland a little from me, nearer the western boundaries of Narnia, and the source of the name for my region of the country, and the name by which I had become known. It only seemed fitting that the Hermit of Lantern Waste should go and see that Lantern. When I had first read of the Lantern and the founding of Narnia I had believed it to by myth, as I had assumed Aslan himself to be myth. Now that I knew Aslan to be a factual certainty, though I still in the truest sense had not put my trust in him, I knew that other things I had considered myth might also be verifiably true. The lantern was actually fairly close to the cave of my friend Tumaus.

It was not at all as I had imagined it from what I had read in the history that Tumaus had loaned me. I had a picture in my mind of a lantern standing in the midst of an open prairie or meadow, with rolling hills in the distance and higher mountains beyond them. There had been a stream of some sort mentioned in that tome as well, but I saw no evidence of one. The lantern we went to stood in the midst of a wood of beach and maple spaced will apart. A narrow forest trail, not much used, ran past the place. To the west the forest seemed to grow dark and dense and tangled, so that in the distance nothing could be seen at all. My biggest surprise, however, was the lamp itself. I had seen pictures of such lamps, but had never in my lifetime seen such a lamp, for they had ceased to be used in my world long before I was born. It was an old gas lamp on a wrought iron post with an iron crossbar below the head. And it was lighted, giving off a faint and feeble light in the middle of the day.

This was the first evidence since entering Narnia of what I would have considered a "modern utility," although it would have been and antique in my own world, and I asked Tumaus how it was supplied with fuel, and who maintained the light, and whose job was it to be the lamplighter, for the site of it reminded me of an old song I had heard as a child.

"No one," he said. "No one does anything to the lamp: It just is."

I told him that made no sense, that being a lamp, and being lighted, it certainly must have someone to tend it. There must be some source of fuel for it's burning. I examined it carefully, and found no apparent fuel supply. It was as if it sat at the head of a natural gas well, but I knew that could not be, for any gas well, even the smallest and most feeble in output would blow away such a timid device or melt it almost instantly. I asked how often it was lighted and was told that it never was, because it always was, that it always had been from the beginning of Narnia. For me it seemed a thing beyond belief, beyond possibility, but there it was. The evidence stood before me and I could not possibly deny it. It was one more thing I could not explain, nor could I deny it. I was very perplexed.

"Do you know why it is here?" I asked my friend. He seemed surprised that I would even ask.

"No," he responded, "of course not. It is there because that is where it grew and it never has died. Perhaps someday it will die, as all things do. But I do not know when that might be or how long such things might live, for there is not another in the entire world. This is the only one. And know one has ever said it has a purpose, a reason for being here. It just is. It is not a thing of this world, but of your world, so if you do not know it's meaning or its purpose I doubt that anyone here will either."

I asked, since this was very near to the spot where Narnia was founded, where the animals were given voice, if the Tree of Protection were still here. Tumaus took me to the spot were it had once grown, by the banks of a small swift stream hidden in the woods a little east and a little south of the lamp post. It was a spot you could pass many times and not know you were near if you were not looking for it. It was a place that seemed to have no recent care taken of it, though apparently there had been at one time, for there was a small pillar of rock, deeply engraved, that stood beside the tree. But now the tree was dead. It stood beside the stone, still sound of wood but barren of any leaves though all around it grew green. The tree itself was of a species unknown to me, and no other like it grew around it. For whatever reason, the tree had never reseeded itself; there were no progeny of the Tree of Protection. Beside the tree beneath its outstretched but barren branches the stone remained, with the proclamation: "This is the Tree for the Protection of Narnia, sown by the hand of Lord Digory, Son of Adam, by the command of Aslan, and against the powers of Jadis of Charn. Aslan, protect us still."

It seemed to me a holy place, and important place, though now untended. I cleared away some brush and weed that had grown around the base of the pillar, beginning to obscure it. There were small white flowers growing nearby, and I carefully transplanted and put some of them in a small bed about the stones. Tumaus did not understand why I would do such a thing. I told him it was a custom of my people to put flowers in such places, places that honored the dead. He still did not see the point of doing so.

We began slowly back to my cabin, talking as we went, for the day had given me more questions than answers. The lamppost, the tree of protection, and Jadis were all tied together, that was certain. She had brought the seed that became the lamppost with her from the world of men, if the legend were true. The tree had been sown by a boy from the world of men as a means of protecting against her. The tree had died. "How long," I asked, "has the tree been dead? It looks untended, but the tree itself, the wood still seems sound."

"I am not sure," he replied. "I know it has died during my lifetime, but I do not know when. I remember going there once with my father when I was only a small faun, and it was alive then. I do not know if any know exactly when it died or what the cause was. I am afraid we took the Tree of Protection for granted, and did not tend it as we ought."

"What," I asked Tumaus, "protects Narnia now?"

"I suppose Aslan himself is our protection," Tumaus shrugged, seemingly unconcerned about the implication raised by the fact that the tree given by Aslan for that purpose had ceased to exist. In one sense I admired his faith in Aslan as protector, but in another I was appalled by his lack of concern.

"What about this Jadis of Charn?" I asked. "Do you think she will return, now that the tree is gone? Was it not for protection from Jadis that the tree was planted in the first place? Does anyone know what has become of her? She sounds like a very nasty character."

"No, I don't think anyone knows," said Tumaus. His tone continued to be light-hearted, as if he had no concerns at all in the matter. "Perhaps she has lost interest in us, it has been, after all, a very long time. Perhaps the northern giants were more to her liking, or the people beyond the great desert. She may not even be in the world anymore. Maybe she found a way to leave and return to her own world, or another she would fancy better. Maybe she has died. It was a very long time ago."

"But," said I, "the book you gave me said she ate the apple from the tree in Aslan's garden. And according to the book, Aslan said she would receive her heart's desire of unending life. Do you not believe that?"

It was a very curious conversation we had on the way home, for I found myself arguing in favor of things I had up to that point chosen to disbelieve. I was shocked that my friend, who had such a devoted belief in Aslan seemed to have either no belief in, or no concern over the great evil that had attempted to invade Narnia on the first day. I knew that part of this attitude was due to the high level of trust he placed in Aslan, but to have no concern at all, and no consciousness of the possible consequences seemed very foolish. And worse yet, it seemed that he simply would not admit to his mind any thought of the evil that might still be there, hidden, lurking somewhere, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting land. I, on the other hand, was very concerned, perhaps because more than anyone else in the land I knew about evil and what evil could do. I had seen the destructive power in my own world and shuddered to think of what would happen if those kinds of powers were unleashed on this gentle land and its gentle creatures. I knew also that I did not know all I should know about this Jadis of Charn, nor about Narnia. I knew I must continue to learn, that this little trip was only the beginning of what I needed to know. I could not explain why, but felt that I had been directed to do so, not by the council, which never laid any burden upon me, but by something higher, something I could not explain, something I could not remember.

It was shortly after this first little excursion that word came concerning the death of Sable and Shadow, the elder Ravens of the council. They had apparently passed from the world in their sleep, side by side, quite peacefully. The council came together once more, where I learned that it was for me to appoint their successors. There were no guidelines for the choice, except they must be "true Narnians, faithful to Aslan." I chose Tumaus as one, though I was told a faun had never been on the council before. For the other, with some prompting from Old Oak, I picked Berrymere, head of the great bears, and the one who had given me the gift of the beehives.

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