Copyright 2001 - John Nelson

Tumaus and I crossed the river at the ford and traveled down the western bank of the Great River. This was a land that neither of us had seen before, and quite different from the valley I had called home since my arrival in Narnia. The woods were soon left behind, giving way to open rolling hills with trees but widely spaced, a parkland setting. Beyond the hills, mountains could be seen in the distance to the south. Across the river the land was much the same, rolling on into the distance until far to the north it rose in dull gray mounds to an unseen upland. To the east the land sloped gently down toward a flat and misty land, gradually disappearing into a mysterious unknown.

The river itself was broad and brown south of the ford and the meeting of the two rivers. There seemed to be a broad and well-worn path beside the river, the closest thing to a road I had seen yet. The path ran quite close to the river in most places, but occasionally turned to navigate around a stand of trees close to the bank, or around soft fenny areas. Occasionally we crossed small streams trickling down from the hills to join the greater water. Flowers abounded in every direction, and sweetness filled the air. Some of the hills seemed crowned with gold, the valleys carpeted in purples, reds, and lush green. It was altogether breathtaking and beautiful, not in an exotic way, but in a simple, homey, country way.

For some time we traveled in silence. I was taking in all I saw around me, but I was also thinking of that seemingly chance meeting at the ford. I wanted to remember all I could of this journey. I wanted to become familiar and at home with my new country. And I needed to remember all I could of the words of Lady Beech. I knew in my own heart I had not done well in the exchange with her, whatever Tumaus might say about it. I knew that I needed counsel. In spite of the fact that I was supposed to be the head of the Council of Aslan I knew I was not wise enough to deal with this new and perplexing situation. I really wanted to talk to the council, and at one point even considered turning back so I could speak with Old Oak as soon as possible.

We had traveled about an hour south of the river meet when Tumaus suddenly spoke. "I am a member of the council, too," he said. It startled me. I had become so absorbed in my own thoughts I had almost forgotten he was with me.

"I'm sorry," I said. "Was I talking out loud? I didn't mean to be."

"No, you weren't, but perhaps you should be. I am a member of the counsel too, and though neither the oldest nor the wisest, perhaps I can help. At the very least I can listen. I hope you are not rethinking your decision to have me on the council, because of the lady's words."

"No, dear friend," I said. "I am would not dream of reconsidering that decision! It may be the only wise thing I have done so far. I am simply troubled. And I guess I am rather embarrassed to let you know how ignorant I am, or how foolish I feel. But you are right. At the very least it was impolite to ignore you. And it was foolish not to take advantage of your wisdom, for I do consider you wise. You have taught me more about Narnia than all the rest. Yours is not the same kind of wisdom as the old ravens, for you have not lived as long, and yours is not the same as the wisdom for the centaurs, for you do not speak to the stars. Your wisdom is easier for me to understand and closer to my own heart. That is why I chose you. What can you tell me, dear friend, and how would you council me in this matter?"

"First," he said with a smile, "I would council you to dance more."

"What! I am serious," I said.

"And so am I," replied Tumaus. "You need to dance more. You need to put it all in the paws of Aslan and dance. You cannot know everything. You cannot solve every problem. You are not Aslan. You should not try to be. Come friend Thomas and dance." He propped his pack against a tree that grew by the river and pulled from it a small wooden flute and began to play. It was a simple tune, and short, and when he began it a second time he started to dance around me. His playing paused but his feet continued the dance. "Come friend Thomas and dance." He began to play again, continuing to dance.

"What would that solve," I said, standing resolutely in the center of the circle he danced around me. "It will solve nothing. And I will feel foolish."

"Come," he said as he hopped and played and danced. "Dance and be a fool. There are none to see you, and what would it matter if there were. We are all the fools, and happy the creature that knows it. Come, dear Thomas, dance and be a fool."

I stood and watched as he danced around me. I had no intention of dancing there on the banks of the river in broad daylight for anyone who passed by to see. Tumaus seemed not to mind. He played his flute and footed it around me; apparently full of glee, and not caring the least little bit what I or anyone else might think of it. He was full of energy but not terribly graceful, not like the dryads and the naiads, nor like the stags and the great cats. Unlike the bears he was light on his feet, but the things his feet did seemed at times not to match what came from his flute. He never stumbled or fell, but at times seemed to be trying to catch up with the music. I began to laugh. He looked so comical. Tumaus began to laugh as well. He laughed so much that he could no longer play his tune. Still he continued to dance, laughing and dancing around me. As we laughed he grabbed my hand and pulled me after him. I was laughing now too hard to resist his persistent invitation. I followed behind him trying to imitate his step, but felt myself as clumsy as a bear lumbering around in a circle. From time to time Tumaus would raise the flute to his lips again to continue the tune, but it no longer sounded much like a tune, and he was never able to continue the effort for long because of the laughter. In the end both of us were laughing too hard to stand. We sat on the ground facing each other; laughing so hard the tears ran down our faces.

At last our glee subsided and Tumaus said, "You see, you feel better now. You need to dance more just for the joy of doing so. Your whole problem is that you are afraid of how you might look and what someone else will think of you. You miss the joy because you are afraid of seeming a fool, or because you are afraid of being fooled, which is just as bad. That is why you missed seeing Aslan when he was right before you: You were afraid of being a fool. If you want to see Aslan you need to dance more."

I was indeed in a better mood now, and much more tolerant. I laughed as I asked, "And how will dancing help me to see Aslan?"

"By teaching you that it is okay to be a fool," he replied. "Once you get used to being a fool, once you get over your pride, and get used to appearing foolish, you will be able to see just fine. And trust me, you are off to a great start. You do look uncommonly silly when you try to dance."

We both laughed some more, then had a drink from Tumaus wineskin before continuing down the side of the river. The afternoon was fine and warm without being too hot. It was a perfect day for a long walk. It was a perfect place to take such a walk, and I was beginning to think I also had the perfect companion to walk beside. Once he had completed my lesson in foolishness he seemed content and said no more. He walked along beside me, humming snatches of the tune he had played on his flute. Occasionally he would do a little skip, or dance a couple steps on the path and then return to walking. On one occasion I decided to show him how well I had learned my lesson, and danced a couple steps as well. The difference was that I tripped over a root and landed on my back, sprawled across the path. Both of us had red faces. His was red from laughing, mine from embarrassment.

"So," I said after dusting myself off and continuing on the way. "What do you think of our meeting with Lady Beech? You have been very quiet since my lesson, though you seemed to want to talk about it before. Have you know her long, and do you know her well? Has she done things like this before or is it out of character for her?"

Tumaus paused thoughtfully before answering. "I have seen her many times, usually at the dances and festivals, but I do not know her well. In one things she was perfectly right: I can not know how she feels or what her experience has been. I cannot imagine being bound to the earth, and yet, that is her nature. I think she lives in this area somewhere, but would not know which tree is hers. The dryads can probably tell one from another, but the fauns cannot. It would be hard to say if she has ever done anything unusual like this before, but I have never heard of it happening. Old Oak would know more about that. Trees are his care, you know, both the talking trees and the silent trees. Actually, I have never heard of anyone leaving Narnia."

"And I take it you have never heard of this "wise one" either," I asked.

"No," he said, "I never have."

We walked along in silence again for a while. The sun was now beyond the hills and trees to the west of us and the air was beginning to cool. Ahead of us and to the west, back from the river a small distance, we saw what looked like a thicker stand of trees than we had seen since we crossed the river and headed south. We decided to head in that direction, hoping to find a more sheltered place to spend the night. The day had been nice, but it was still early in the summer, and the night would probably be cold. We continued to talk about the lady and our conversation with her, but it seemed we gained little from the discussion. Neither Tumaus nor I could shed much light on the matter. I asked if anyone in Narnia might have knowledge of what lay beyond the north of the land, whether any map might exist, or any report of some past adventurer who might of explored that region. I thought back to the history I had learned of my own world, how in every generation there seemed to be men who for whatever need of mind or spirit seemed destined to stretch the bounds and bonds laid upon them and traverse the unknown.

"I suppose," answered Tumaus, "that if such things exist they must be at Cair Paravel, the ancient castle of the kings down on the coast. There were men in Narnia in the past, King Frank and Queen Helen and their descendants. Some of them where surely adventurers, for it was they who settled Archenland. Perhaps there were some among them that traveled into the north, but if there were I have not heard or read of them. I have never been so far as Cair Paravel myself, of course, but it is suppose to be a place of great splendor and wonder. If any would know of maps or of travel in the northern waste, I suppose they would be there."

"Travel in the wilds?" said a completely different voice. "What on earth would one want to do that for? The voice, and the dwarf who owned it, stepped from behind a large white pine to our right. "Giants and wolves and ghosts are there, if tales be true. But you are taking quite the wrong path, if that be your goal. Rushlow, I am, and who might you be?" he said extending his thick, strong hand. His eyes twinkled from beneath his bushy red brows. His ruddy complexion almost a match for his deep red hair and beard.

"I am Thomas of Lantern Waste," I said, offering my hand in return. "This is my companion Tumaus. We are not traveling to the wilds, but to the Hill of the Stone Table, and then perhaps on to the mouth of the river and the castle of Cair Paravel."

"Ah," he said, "I thought you might be he! Not hard to guess at when there is only one Son of Adam in the neighborhood, is it? And on the council now too, I hear. I am the brother of Rushtow, one of the dwarfs that helped in the building of your cabin. I have not been to the last two dances in the Lantern Waste, but will be there for the next, I assure you. To The Hill you be going," he said it a voice full of reverence. "On the Lions business, no doubt." Then in a louder voice he continued, "but where are my manners! You will need a place to sleep tonight, no doubt. Our place is small, but you are as welcome as you may be. Rushtow will be surprised, that he will be. Come, come, come. Follow me now, the way be not far, but we should go afore it is too dark to see. Come, Thomas of Lantern Waste. Come Tumaus Goatfoot. You shall be my guest in the house of Rushlow and Rushtow."

I began to object, but Tumaus plucked at my elbow and whispered softly, "It is not the habit of dwarfs to invite strangers into their dwellings, especially over night. If they do, they mean it, and would be offended to be refused."

Fortunetly, Rushlow did not hear my objection or Tumaus' correction. He was still talking busily about what an honor it would be, and how jealous his brother would be that he had not been the one to invite us, and then started aloud making plans for our dinner. "We have a full larder, yes, it be full to the brim. Anything you want is there, ah yes. Fish from the river and fowl from the sky and sheep from the field. Oh, it is time for a feast, and a feast it will be. And a new keg of beer that goes smooth down." He was walking ahead of us now through the wood and away from the river. He talked loudly as he went, turning his head occasionally, nodding and waving us onward. Considering the short length of his legs he moved at an eager speed, eager to be home before dark, more eager still to show his find to his brother who awaited him.

It took about twenty minutes steady going to get to their house. It was in a small clearing in the middle of the maple wood we had seen from the distance. It looked much like my own cabin though smaller, and obviously older. The logs of its walls had long ago stained gray with the weather, the cedar roof to a lighter gray, bleached by the sun. Smoke was rising from the chimney and a warm yellow glow streamed from the windows. As we approached, homey smells of a wood fire and coffee brewing and food cooking filled the air. I suddenly discovered how hungry I was, from walking and dancing, and yes, from laughing. Rushlow made straight for the door and opened it with a flourish. His brother began to berate him for being late, but Rushlow interrupted him in mid-sentence and said: "Look, brother, at what I have found wandering by the banks of the river. It is Thomas of Lantern Waste and Tumaus Goatfoot! And good that I found them, else they be lying in the woods all the night, cold and hungry. That they would be, for certain. You have never given your friend how to find you, that you haven't, for certain." It was plain the Rushlow was enjoying the look on his brothers face, a look of bewilderment.

It took Rushtow only moments to recover himself and come to greet us, shaking our hands with a firm and muscular grip and saying, "Welcome, welcome to our little home indeed, humble though it be. I hope this brother of mine has given you kind welcome. I've tried to teach him good manners, but he is a slow learner, he is, and that for certain. Don't just stand there," he said turning to his grinning brother. "Some water to wash up with is what travelers need, as quick as ever may be. And get you out to the root cellar and find us some more 'tatos, while I put some more mutton on the fire! Sit, sit," he said, again to us. "Rest and wait, while we get some water and some food as quick as may be." He indicated low chairs in front of the fire. "Here, let me take those packs from you, as my brother ought have done if he were half the host he thinks I should be. And there is a sturdy peg here beside the fireplace where you may hang your bow. No, no, please hang it yourself, a great bow it is, a gift from Father Christmas himself, as it may be, it would be too great an honor for me."

The house was small indeed, made for dwarf stature not man's stature. It is good that I am not a large man or it would have been far worse. In some ways it was like the cave of Tumaus, but with one saving grace. Whereas the roof of the cave was one solid mass, the roof of the dwarfs had open rafters, allowing several places at which I could stand at full height without knocking my head. The chairs were low, as for a human child, but wide, to fit the girth of the dwarfs, so there was little discomfort in using them. It was a welcome and homely place, filled with warmth and light, filled with good cheer and delightful smells. It seemed only a moment before Rushlow had returned with a basin of water and clean towels. Rushtow, who had a pint of the promised beer in each hand, followed him immediately. He set the mugs on the table between us and stood back, as if expecting us to try it immediately. From the expression of expectation on the faces of the brothers it was plain to see who the brewers were. I took a sip and said with all sincerity, "Ah, very good."

"Off you go with you," said Rushtow to his brother. "Them 'tatos won't walk in here by themselves, you know. And bring some more onions while you are out there."

"Off with yourself!" exclaimed Rushlow. "That leg of lamb won't be cooking itself either. And make some more coffee while you be about it."

It was hard to keep from laughing aloud at the brothers. It was plain that they liked each other very much, and just as plain that they could not and would not admit to it. Yet if either had been insulted or attacked, it was certain that the other would come instantly to his defense without so much as a thought about it. There was a great deal of bustle and bother and noise as the brothers fixed the food and set the table for their guests. Rushlow had to make a second trip to the root cellar, for in his haste he forgot the extra onions. They were an odd and merry pair, as jovial and good-natured as any could wish for in a host, and the food was excellent and well worth the wait. The mutton was done to perfection and the potatoes, onions, carrots, breads, and puddings made it a delightful meal. The brothers made sure our mugs were never less than half full. When we had all had our fill the brothers quickly whisked everything away and with an enormous and continuous clatter washed and put away the dishes. Tumaus and I offered to help, but the dwarfs would not hear of it. For all the clatter, and their constant gentle banter, they were quickly done.

They pulled up a couple of low stools beside the fire, in front of the chairs they had provided for us, and when they had filled their mugs and lighted their pipes, they began to converse with us. We talked about the weather and the changing of the seasons, about the goings on in our own neighborhoods (not really much to talk about there), and about the different people we all knew. They asked about our journey. There was not much to tell for I did not mention our meeting with Lady Beech, and Tumaus mercifully left out any reference to my dancing. The conversation had begun to lag a bit. All of us were feeling comfortable and well contented following our meal. The glow of the fire, the smell of dwarf pipes, and the effect of the mellow beer, had lulled us into a soft and gentle mood. I stared dreamily into the fire, my mind drifting pleasantly without effort or conscious thought. The warmth reminded me of the sun on my face, the flickering light brought to mind the dapple of light filtering down through a canopy of leaves, and I was at peace.

I was hovering on the very edge of sleep when I became slowly aware that the others were talking again. It really was not making much impression on me, just a low rhythmic noise in the background that touched my ears, but not my mind. "Mun bosh foggle mun bunsh," came the sound from out of the fire. "Ford mosly beech boggle water babbling," a voice seemed to say. "North tree hill the valley river," another seemed to respond. "Lady white bridge north wild," came another. "Do you know anything of the Wise One," asked Tumaus, and I was fully awake.

"Well," replied Rushlow with a side-long glance at his brother," I have not heard that name, but I have seen strange signs in the snow these two winters past as it may be. And Rushtow here has perhaps seen one that might be she. This winter last, as it were, and as you describe her too." I sat up in my chair at this, but said nothing, still not quite trusting my sleepy ears. Rushlow noted my attentiveness and continued. "I have seen footprints in the snow, and not the track of animals, as might be in any winter. And not the prints of Dryads for they be asleep most the winter and go unshod, like the beasts, they do. No, these were human in size, no dwarf feet would be making these, that they wouldn't be," he said in answer to the question in my eyes. "Long they were, and narrow they be: longer than yours, son of Adam, yet not so wide."

"And what is it that Rushtow has seen," I asked quietly.

"I cannot be sure," the dwarf replied. "It was nearly dark in the midst of winter and the snow was falling, as often it would be in the winter. And she would be a distance off, if it were she indeed. It was near the south edge of this wood. She moved, quickly I thought, toward the river."

"Did she say anything to you," I asked.

"Nay, that she did not. Silent as the grave she be, and quick as a shadow flitting between the trees. She was soon out of sight. I thought not of it again until brother here told me of the tracks he had seen, and that put me in mind of her again, it did. I hope I have not done ill. Should I have come to the council at once?"

After a brief pause during which only the fire spoke in crackles and pops I said, "No, you have done well. I myself saw tracks like you have seen, in my own valley in Lantern Waste, but did not see any significance to them. I suppose we are all thinking the same thing, aren't we?" Three heads nodded gravely up and down. In a whisper Tumaus said, "She has come back."

Copyright 2001 - John Nelson



Copyright © 2001 John Nelson, Hermit of Lantern Waste.
Created - April 15, 2001 ~ Revised April 21, 2001