"WHERE ASLAN IS KING!"
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ENCOUNTER AT THE FORD
Copyright ©2001- John Nelson
In the weeks that followed I was away from home a lot. Tumaus and I went to the Caldron Pool at the foot of the great waterfall, the very edge of Narnia according to what I had read. We also went about to those Tumaus and Old Oak knew to be living in our area, for I wanted to know not only the land, but the people as well. Everywhere I went I was greeted with the greatest hospitality and courtesy. My new title had preceded me, but I learned to be gentle in letting them know that I preferred to be addressed without any title. It was but a short time later that I decided to continue my exploration of this new land that I now called home, and this people I had somehow been invested with a certain responsibility for. Again I summoned Tumaus to go with me, though he himself admitted that he had never been so far as I intended to go and did not know the way. Old Oak said not to worry, that there was no place between the western waterfall and the great sea that we could get too far lost. And even if we should lose our way there would certainly be many to guide us and to show us hospitality. Besides, he told us, the weather was warm and nothing worse that an occasional rain should befall us. That was easy for him to say; he liked standing in the rain.
It was my intent to follow the river at the foot of my own hill down to the great River of Narnia, then follow that east and south for some distance before ascending into the rolling hills of central Narnia and across to a place they called the Hill of the Stone Table. Although it had not been used since I had come on the counsel, Old Oak had told me that meetings were often held there. He told me other things about it too, much of which I did not understand. What I did understand was that it was considered a very solemn place a place nearly as old as the Lantern in the woods.
The table, according to Old Oak, stood on the broad top of the eastern most hill in a long range of hills and highlands that began in the foothills of the mountains of Archenland and curved around toward the north and east. The top of it was above the forests around to the east, and to the east one could see all the way to the great sea. The table itself was old beyond reckoning. The legs of the table, and the edges of the table were apparently carved with figures or runes of some sort, though no one seemed to be able to read them or understand them. Even the centaur did not know their meaning. I was astounded by that revelation, since he obviously knew a great deal and was held in great reverence for his knowledge and wisdom. If he did not know, who would know?
We left early on a bright morning in the late spring. It would take two days, according to Old Oaks calculations, assuming that we didn't' wander, turn aside, or get interested in too many other things by the way. I said that I just might do any of those things and that I did not in the least intend to follow any sort of a schedule. Tumaus and I each carried a pack with provision for several days, including some of the fruits of his winemaking labors from the previous winter, and a bedroll. In addition, I carried my bow and quiver of arrows. As always my knife, the gift from Father Christmas, hung at my side. Even though it was early in the year and no fruit would be on the trees, we were not worried about provisions should we be delayed, for all of Narnia practiced a level and style of hospitality that would leave no stranger in need, let alone a friend.
We followed the north bank of the stream even though our path would eventually turn to the south by the Great River. The river god had told us of a broad and shallow ford not far from the meeting place of the great river and another smaller stream that flowed out of the north east from the hill country that bordered the Ettenmoors. I wanted to explore the wood on the north of the river, having not been that way before. Tumaus did not object, but said he saw little point in it since there was not really much to see, and that the land would be less steep and thereby easier to traverse on the south of the river. To the north of the river the land was steeper and more rugged as it slope upward out of the peaceful land of Narnia and into the wilderness beyond. As we traveled on I began to doubt the wisdom of my choice. The land was rougher than I anticipated and deep gullies crossed our path from time to time. Some of the gullies were soft and marshy at the bottom, still moist from the spring run-off from the upland snows. Others had little streams, some mere threads of water, that came down to feed the river. The land was not really difficult enough to be dangerous, though we often broke a sweat climbing the far side of the gully we had descended into. There seemed to be no talking trees in the area through which we were traveling, for none hailed us as we passed and we heard nothing but the normal noise of the wind through the leaves.
A little before noon we came out of the woods and began descending a gentle slope down to the ford before the meeting of the rivers. As the river god had told us, we saw the other stream, a smaller river, descending a little valley between two high hills. The land the beyond the other river, to the east and north, was more steep and rocky than any we had seen, but before us and to the right it opened out into a broad valley. The stream became wide and shallow and the voice of the river became loud and chattering as it passed over and among the stony ford. We could see plainly where we were to cross. We sat on the last low ridge before the river and ate our lunch while enjoying the voice of the river and the breeze and the sun on our faces. Tumaus ill concealed his excitement. He would soon be leaving his familiar and traveling into parts of Narnia he had never before seen.
"Why," I asked, "have you never been to any of these places, like the Stone Table and the great castle and the sea shore?"
"I'm not sure," he answered. "I guess I had no reason to go. I've read about them. I guess that seemed enough. And no one ever asked me to go with them before."
"You could have asked someone to go with you, had you wanted," I said.
"Oh, no, I don't think I could have done that," he replied. I thought, but was not quite sure, that he might be blushing when he said it. His complexion was always rather ruddy anyway.
We had finished our lunch and packed away our light provisions when we meet the first traveler we had seen all day. Looking out to the south we could see the traveler coming, tall and thin, and walking in long determined strides. There was hardly a pause at the edge of the river as the traveler waded the ford immediately. It was not until she was nearly across that I recognized Lady Beech. She appeared not to see us and continued walking, turning a little to the east and north toward the other valley we had seen, and toward the steep hills and the mountains beyond. When she came nearly level with us and about fifty feet away I hailed her. There was a slight pause, and a slight turn of the head, and then she made to continue on with no acknowledgement. I hailed her again, calling out her name. She stopped, paused as if deciding what to do, and then turned and greeted me.
"I'm sorry," she apologized as she came toward us. "I did not recognized you at first." This puzzled me greatly, for I was of the opinion that I was the first human she had ever seen. It was unlikely that I would be mistaken for any other creature in the area as well, being much taller than a dwarf, much shorter than any of the tree spirits, and much thinner than any bear. I said nothing about it to her, however. I told her that we were going to the Hill of the Stone Table, and asked if she could join us.
"No," she said, "I am not able to now." She looked toward the other valley, the valley with the stream that descended between the two high hills, the direction she had been traveling. "I have an, . . . well, an errand I am going on. I am going north, and you will be turning south. Our paths do not lay the same way." She did not look at me all the time she was saying these words. Although I did not know a lot about the countryside, apart from my own little valley, I was of the opinion, informed by Old Oak and the counsel, that the place we stood was just about the last inhabited area in Narnia towards the north, and beyond there, into the hills and mountains, and into the Ettenmoors beyond, was barren and desolate waste, inhabited only by giants and wild animals.
"Why," I asked, "would you have an errand to the north. Is it not beyond the boundaries of Narnia? Is it not inhabited only by giants and wild things?"
"Well," she said, still not quite looking at me, "perhaps it is not an errand, exactly. It is more of an….., an exploration, an adventure. I hope to learn something." She seemed restive, eager to go upon her way, and not much interested in explaining her path or her purpose. I just looked at her, saying nothing. She looked at me at last, but not for long, then turned and looked again into the north. "I am going to seek the Wise One," she said.
"I have never heard of the Wise One," said I. "Who might that be? I thought the centaurs were considered the wisest of all Narnians. Is the one you seek wiser than the centaurs?"
"The Wise One is not Narnian," said she. "She is far older than the centaurs and has lived for many ages of men. She is seated high above Narnia, and from her place can see all that happens here and in Archenland, and beyond. I wish to learn from her."
"Is she a Dryad then?" I asked.
She gave me a sideways glance, almost, I thought, a look of disdain. "No, of course not," she said with a bit of edge to her voice. "Unlike me, she is free to come and go as she pleases, not tied to some tree and rooted to the ground." There seemed to be a bit of sadness, and more than a hint of longing in her voice. She was quiet again, for what seemed to me to be a very long time. I was not really sure what to say. I knew so little about her. I knew that I could not understand her feelings.
Finally Tumaus spoke up. "And what do you hope to learn from this wise one, assuming she exists, assuming she can be found."
Her voice sounded dreamy, almost far off, distant, when she answered. "I want to see the things I cannot see and to be wiser than I know how to be. I hope to be free from that which holds me to the earth and restrains me. I wish to be a spirit free and unbounded."
"You mean free from your tree?" asked Tumaus. There was a look of surprise on his face and a sound of shock in his voice. "But that is who you are! That is what a Dryad is. Could you still be who you are without being all that you were made by Aslan to be?"
"And what would you know of it, little goat foot?" The contempt in her voice was obvious now. "You are free to come and go as you please, to dance in the moon light with no concern. No one has ever tried to cut you down, like this man here nearly did to me! You cannot possibly know what it is like!"
I was stunned by her speech and her tone. I tried to answer in a quiet way, but heard my own voice trembling as I spoke. "You are right. We cannot know how you feel. Do you know, however, if it can really be done, can a Dryad change her nature and become separate from the tree of which she is the spirit? Has it ever been done before, that you know of?"
"I do not know," was her answer, in a little calmer voice. "I do not know, but how would one ever know but that they try. Is that not how great deeds are done? Is that not how we grow, by daring to do what our dreams whisper in our ears? Would you have me deny what I feel in my heart? Should I pretend my dreams and visions of something more, something better, do not exist?"
"What are your dreams?" asked Tumaus. "Have you spoken to the centaur about them? Centaurs are wise in dreams and visions and the great dance of the heavens. Perhaps Evening Thunder could help you."
"I have not spoken to the centaur," she said. "He has no more idea of my feelings and what I endure than you do, wise though he may be in his own way. As for my dreams, they began two winters ago, and have grown stronger since. The first dreams were of a woman, tall and beautiful, fair skinned and lovely, with a sweet voice and gentle words, who came and sat beside me in my winters sleep. She spoke kind words and sang gentle songs, songs of freedom, songs of the dance of life. In some of the dreams she would also dance around me, inviting me to join with her, but try as I may I could not for I was rooted to the earth and could not break free, even for a brief time to dance with her. Then my tears would flow and I would wake, not fully, but in winter wakefulness, and find the ice from my tears coating my smooth bark. In the other dreams, which have grown more frequent this past winter, I was standing high on the mountains looking out across the world, seeing beyond Narnia, even into the land beyond the seas. I am strong and straight and free, though I know, somehow in my heart, that I have long outlived the tree that was my roots.
"Do you not see," she continued, "that I must go and seek the Wise One? I must know if these things are possible. How could I live, how could I be happy not knowing?"
"Is the wise one the woman you have seen in your dreams?" I asked. "How can you be sure that she truly exists and is not merely a dream? How do you know that she lives in the northern wilderness beyond Narnia? How do you hope to find her?"
"She has told me where to find her."
"You have seen her in waking?" asked Tumaus.
"No," she replied in a still quieter very. "Not awake. In a dream early in the spring she told me her name and the way to go. She said that lest I doubt my dream when I woke that she would leave a token at my feet, at the base of my tree. Then in my dream she showed her token to me, a white stone, white as the snow, thin and flat and carved on one side with the figure of a bridge. And when I woke the token was indeed laying at my feet. I have waited nearly two months since my spring waking, considering carefully what I should make of these signs, and what to do about them. I must follow the signs and discover the meaning of my dreams."
"Do you still have the token?" I asked. "May I see it?"
"Yes, I have," she said, with what seemed a suspicious tone to her voice. "But what concern is that of yours? Do you not trust my word?"
"Certainly I trust your word," I said. "I have no cause whatever to disbelieve you. Yet here we are, two members of the Counsel of Aslan. And here we are with something unheard of in Narnia, as far as I can tell. I wish to see it that I might report to the council what this thing might be and seek the wisdom of those who know more than I."
"Well," she said, the hard edge coming back into her voice, "when it comes to things unheard of in Narnia, who has every heard of a faun, and a man who does not even believe in Aslan being on the council? Still, here it is, if you think you will know anything by seeing it."
She handed the token to me. It was just as she had said. I had not doubted her word, but wished to see the engraving on the stone. It was in my thought that perhaps the carving would be one known to Tumaus, or one of the other members of the council. The bridge portrayed on the token was a stone bridge, a huge sweeping arch above a deep chasm. I showed it to Tumaus and then handed it back to the lady who quickly hid it away.
"I may be only a little faun, " said Tumaus, "but I do not think this council you have taken for yourself is wise. It would be as if I decided two hooves where not enough and tried to grow into a centaur. It could not be done, and the thought of it growing in me would only make me miserable. I am better to dance the steps that Aslan has given me than to attempt a dance not meant for me."
I was surprised to hear my friend speak out so boldly. I was also surprised that the lady paid little attention to him, saying only the he must choose his own path and she must choose hers. I had rather expected an outburst, but there was none. After a brief pause she said, "Well, neither of us is making any progress toward their goal. I must move on to mine, and leave you to your own." With that, she turned to leave.
"Lady Beech," I said, "will you not reconsider? Will you not at least delay a few days and meet with the Council of Aslan? I do not have the wisdom to council you in this matter, yet I am ill at ease over this course you have chosen. It does not seem right. It does not seem like it is something that would please Aslan."
See turn again toward me, slowly. She smiled, but it was not a smile of joy or a smile of friendship. "And what would an unbeliever like you know about what would please Aslan? No, I was not there, but I have heard. Even when he stood before you and spoke to you, you could not see him, you refused to believe in him. Do not talk to me about Aslan. You have nothing to say to me in that regard. As for the council, why should I seek wisdom from them, two-footers and four-footers, and wing-soarers who go where they want and when they want, and one old decaying stump who wants everything to remain always as they have been in the past. No, I will no longer delay. I will go now."
Immediately she turned and proceeded north. Tumaus called after her, blessing her in Aslan's name, but she neither turned nor acknowledged it in any way. We continued to watch as she followed the smaller stream, until she ascended the steep valley and went out of sight beyond the first hill.
"I fear I have done ill," I said to my friend.
"What more could you do," he responded. "You could not restrain her. You would have no right to do so, for she is a free creature created by Aslan. If you had tried you should have become a tyrant and caused still more damage."
"I should have spoken more wisely," I said.
"How could you speak more wisely? You have not trusted Aslan. You have done the best you can, and until you truly see Aslan you can do no better."
I knew that he was right. There was no blame in his voice. For Tumaus it was just the way it was. In my heart, however, there was blame, for I knew it was my own fault that I had not seen Aslan. I knew that he existed, and I knew he had been there. I knew he had chosen me and spoken to me, but I did not know him, and that was the difference.
"Still," I said, "I needed to do better, and I feel that evil will come because of it." With that we turned to the south, crossed to ford, and journeyed beside the Great River of Narnia in search of the hill of the Stone Table.
Copyright©2001, John Nelson
"WHERE ASLAN IS KING!"
HOME HERMIT OF LANTERN WASTE NARNIAN ART VERSE & SONG
NARNIAN LINKS OTHER TALES
Created - April 14, 2001 ~ Revised April 21, 2001