"WHERE ASLAN IS KING!"
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Copyright©2001, John Nelson
"But what could her plan be?" asked Rushtow at breakfast the next morning. "How could the Lady Beech be part of a plot? What would this Jadis be about?"
No one answered immediately. The sun was casting brilliant dapples on the breakfast table as it streamed through the maples outside and through the window nearby. The pancakes and sausages made a glorious smell throughout the room, which was just as homely and wonderful as the night before. And yet something had changed, something fundamental, something that would forever change Narnia and these gentle friends. Of the four of us seated there for breakfast, only I knew anything about evil. Tumaus and the dwarfs knew that it was something not to be desired, something their fore-parents had been warned about, who knew how long ago, but they did not know what it was. Since the foundation of their world they had apparently lived in peace. They did not know of wars or famines or crimes or prisons. In all the history of Narnia, as far as I could tell, there had never been a murder, a robbery, a burglary, or a beating. And yet, I remembered, Tumaus had used a word, a word I had not thought much about at the time, only the day before. He said I would have been a "tyrant" had I attempted to force Lady Beech to remain. Where had that word come from? How could he know that word? Was it only a word, or did it mean something to him? I was cautious as I answered.
"It is really hard to know what evil she might be planning," I said, watching to see their response to the use of the word, evil. They seemed not to respond at all. "What do you know of her? Has there been rumor of her before in Narnia?"
"We know nothing," said Rushlow. "We know only what be told of her from the founding day, how she was brought hither from her own desolate and evil world, by a boy of your own world as it might be."
"And," continued Rushtow, "how on that very day, in the very hour as the Great Lion, Aslan, be creating the world, she attempted to do evil, she did, tried to destroy him with a bar of iron, but could do him no harm."
"And," interjected Tumaus, "how she fled to the north and west, out of Narnia and to the very Garden of Aslan, where she again tried to do evil, tempting the Lord Digory to do what was evil as well. And in that she failed again, and fled further out of Narnia."
"We know too," answered Rushlow, in a low voice, "that Aslan said that she would be growing in evil and malice against this land, and that the tree would be our protection, and the tree be gone, gone for sure it be."
I noticed as they talked that each of them used the word "evil". It was plainly a word they spoke with distaste, a word they did not like to use. It was not clear to me what they knew of evil, or how they could know of evil having never experienced evil themselves. In the time I had been in Narnia I had yet to hear a voice raised in anger, see a selfish act committed, or witness a violence of any kind. I needed to know what they thought "evil" was. It was clear that they didn't want any evil, and they had a fear of evil, but were they afraid enough, enough to do something about it. And the question that plagued me was about how much I should tell them. I felt very awkward as I thought of the enormous evils of my own world. Certainly I could not tell them all of that without damaging them forever, betraying the trust they had put in me, betraying the trust Aslan had put in me.
Aslan! At that moment I felt the need for him and the desire for him in a way I never had before. I was ashamed that I had not seen him, even though I knew in my heart and my mind that he had been there. I knew I needed to see him in order to do good and not ill to this precious peaceful land and it's people. I wanted to see him right then, so he could make everything all right, but I knew that I was not in charge of that moment, that I could not wish him into my presence when I wanted him and then wish him away when I was done with him. I knew that if I were to see him it would be in his own good time, and that my only duty was to be ready for his appearing, ready to accept him on his own terms. I was at least wise enough to know I could not control the Lion.
Breakfast was finished and our hosts went about tidying up after with the same exuberance, clatter, and banter as the night before. I spoke softly to Tumaus as they did so, saying that we should soon be on our way, and that I desired much to hear his counsel regarding what we all supposed to be the return of Jadis, and on the topic of evil in general as we traveled. When the dwarfs had finished with their house keeping they brought food to replenish our supplies, though we were hardly in need, and filled our packs even more full than when we had set out from home. And then two more packs were brought forth, packs even larger than our own, which they immediately began to fill with every sort of supply and provision imaginable and unimaginable. I protested that Tumaus and I would never be able to carry such burdens, but they only laughed and said there would be no need for that, that they were coming with us at least as far as the Stone Table, and perhaps further. This was quite unexpected, and not entirely welcome, as I had hoped my conversations with Tumaus to be private. When the brothers were out getting even more I asked Tumaus what to do about it.
"Why," said Tumaus, "say thank you, of course."
"Do you mean that they should go with us," I asked?
"But of course, " he answered, a bit confused by my trepidation. "Why should they not? They are true Narnians. They are faithful and loyal as any beast. They are willing to come. And," he added, "They will probably bring with some of their excellent beer."
It was mid morning before all preparations were made and we left the house of the dwarf brothers. We had, it seemed been on the correct path to the Stone Table, for the path we had followed from the river to the clearing was the beginning of that road. The brothers went before me, and Tumaus followed after. The path was narrow with trees close on either side and we went in file, one after the other, which made conversation more difficult. At one point I had shouted ahead, asking if the brothers knew Lady Beech well, for I had understood her to live in the neighborhood.
"Yes," shouted one of them, "she would be a neighbor, that she would be."
"But," shouted the other, "how well could a dwarf be knowing tree goddess, anyway. For their nature and ours be not the same, by the gift of Aslan at the very beginning, and so it would be."
And so it was that just about mid day they led Tumaus and me to the home of Lady Beech. It was a pleasant glade not far from the main path we traveled on, slightly open to the south, growing with thistle and wild flowers. A lovely beech tree grew there, stately and tall as the lady herself, but she was not at home and did not respond to our call. I had hoped that she had changed her mind from the day before, but was not surprised to find it not so. There were other smaller beech trees growing round about, but the glade was silent in the noonday sun. We found a place to sit in the shade of Lady Beech's tree and had a fine lunch of cold mutton and cheese, homemade bread, and a bit of the dwarf's jug of beer. After lunch we all leaned back on our packs and gazed at the sky. The dwarfs lighted their pipes, and we began to talk.
I could think of no good way to begin the conversation that I wished to have with them. There are some things that simply admit no subtle approach, no natural lead in, and the topic of their knowledge of evil was one such. Tumaus and the dwarfs had been talking about the distance to the stone table, and the last time they had gone there and what we should find. Even when the discussion turned to Lady Beech and the pleasant glade we were in, there was no natural access to the subject I wanted to discuss. So at last I simply said, "What do you know about evil?"
"We know it would be the worst thing that could happen to Narnia, and that it would be," answered Rushtow. "Worst as could be," he added.
"And," said Tumaus, "we know that it is what Aslan does not want for us. It is what he warned our great-fore-bearers about on First Day."
This was getting nowhere, and so I asked them "What do you think evil would do if it came to Narnia? What would it look like, what would it do? What would it do to you?" They had to think about this for a while. My worst fears where coming to pass: They knew the word, but little more. They knew that evil should not happen, but they did not know why. And what was I to do?
"I think," said Tumaus when at last he spoke, "that evil would keep us from seeing Aslan. It would keep us, or try to keep us from hearing his voice or following him."
"That must be," exclaimed Rushtow. "Be it not written that on First Day she did not want to hear the Song of Aslan, the song of creating? Does it not say she tried to kill him? That must be, friend Tumaus!"
"And," continued his brother, "would that not be what she would do again, to try and kill him, or at least to keep him out, so we could not see or hear him either? Would that not be?"
"Is that why you do not see him," asked Tumaus quietly, turning to me. "Is it because you know too much about evil?"
I was stunned by his question. It was not an accusation. There was nothing of anger or malice or distrust in the question. It was simply a question, as innocent as any other, as innocent as asking if I were hungry, or thirsty, or tired. I hardly knew what to say, I had not thought about it in those terms before. I was tempted to be defensive; after all, I was not evil and had done nothing evil in Narnia. In the end the gentleness of my friend's question overcame me and I answered quietly, "Perhaps it is part of the reason. I know, that because of the evil I have seen in my own world, I find it harder to trust. That is one of the things that evil does: It keeps people, even friends from trusting each other the way they should. It makes people selfish and greedy. In my world the bears would have hoarded the honey they found and not given it to me. And if evil enters Narnia, perhaps that would happen here as well."
"Be that what causes wars," asked Rushlow.
If I was stunned before, I was shocked now. "How do you know about war," I asked. "What do you know about war?"
"Not much would I be knowing," answered the dwarf. "Not much at all. It is said there is a sage, a storyteller, and a minstrel as he might be, at the great castle on the sea that sings of such things, and terrible they be. Terrible tales they be, of a war in the long past, when the son of the son of King Frank fought against giants of the north. Never have I heard him, but he would be there, so they say."
Suddenly I was startled by a movement seen only in the corner of my eye, a movement to my left, and a movement to my right. I glanced quickly and was amazed to see several slender female forms, lithe and limber, pale and yellow-green, obviously the spirits of trees, and obviously the spirits of beech trees. They were very like the one I had come to know as Lady Beech, yet shorter, thinner, and somehow younger than she. There were a dozen or more gathered around us. I was startled, but not afraid; for I knew from experience there was nothing to fear from the trees. And yet there was something in their faces I had not seen before.
"Is that what is happening to our mother?" asked one of the spirits. "Is it evil that has taken her away?" asked another.
And though I was sure in my heart of the answer I asked, "And who is your mother?"
"The one you call Lady Beech," said she. "We heard you call out to her when you came here, and have heard all your speech since, and we are horribly afraid. She has gone from here, without a word to us. It is not the time for any festival or dance that she should be gone to, and it is the time for tending and caring for the trees that are her charge, and the time for training us. She has been strange and distant of late, speaking often to herself, it seems. And we have had dreams; dreams that remind us now of what you call evil. Before we were troubled by them, but now we are afraid."
"And she said nothing to you about where she would be going?" asked Rushlow.
"No, sir, not a word."
"And these dreams of evil that you had, what were they like?" I asked. "And what am I to call you?"
"I am Lythewind, daughter of Lady Beech," said the one who had spoken first to me. We have all had the same dreams, which is a strange thing, that all should dream alike." Lythewind's sisters here nodded and murmured their agreement with her. "In dreams we have seen a lady, tall and pale and beautiful who would bid us away from here, to a place we do not know. And she has promised us a different life than the one we know." As the four of us listened, Lythewind told us essentially the dreams that her mother had told to Tumaus and me the day before, accept that there was no mention of a token, nor any indication that she or any of her sisters seriously considered going to seek the Wise One, although she apparently had used that same name.
"Ah," said Rushtow when the story was finished, "There be more to this witch's plan that we thought, and that for sure. How many more has she talked to, I cannot help but be wondering? And what would be her plan now?"
"I'm sure I don't know," I said after a thoughtful pause. "But it seems she is very interested in the Talking Trees. That may be a help to us in the end. It could be very helpful," I said, turning to Lythewind and her sisters, "if these ladies are brave and willing to help. It would help all of Narnia, and perhaps save your mother too, though there is no promise of that. At the very least, it will perhaps help to save yourselves, though it could be dangerous as well."
"We will do what we can for Narnia, and for Aslan," said Lythewind and her sisters. "But what can we do? We must stay and tend the trees as best we can in our mother's absence. We can go on no great quest."
"That is well," I said. "I think no great journey is needed from you. It will be best to do just as you have said. Tend the trees. Do everything that would normally be done, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to call attention to you in any way. This "wise one" that has approached you is thoroughly evil and very dangerous, if she is indeed who we think she is." I continued by telling them of our conversation with their mother, and the conversations with Tumaus and the dwarfs concerning the entire situation, including our guess that this wise one was indeed the ancient enemy of Aslan and Narnia from the beginning day of Narnia. "What we need most is to know more about this woman and what she is up to. Since she has been here before and found success with your mother, it is likely, I think, that she may return here again, hoping to sway the rest of you, or a least some of you. Listen carefully to every word and remember, but do not be swayed, do not go that way. Instead, remember, and send word to me. I will get word to Swiftwing, and he or other talking birds will come periodically to see if there is any message to be taken. Do not challenge this witch or argue with her: listen only. Do not give her any hint that you do not believe her, but do not give in to her or follow after her. Can you do that?"
"Yes," answered Lythewind, and all her sisters nodded and murmured in agreement. "We can and we must and we will."
I was happy as we repacked our provisions. I still was not sure how much of evil these people understood, but it seemed they understood enough, at least for the present. They knew enough to be afraid of it, and they knew enough to stand against it, or at the least to make an attempt to stand against it. That was for the moment the best I could hope for: It would have to be enough. There was also, in me, a strange and indefinable sense that I had somehow stepped closer to Aslan. I still had not seen him with my eyes, but it felt as if somehow he had been there. It felt like I was doing what he would want me to do. And yet I knew that was not enough. It was not enough for me, and I knew that it was not enough for him.
We had stayed in the glade much longer than we had planned, and the sun was well to the west before we bade farewell to the talking trees and proceeded back to the main trail to make our way again toward the stone table. It was now unlikely that we would see the hill of the Stone Table that day.
Copyright © 2001
"WHERE ASLAN IS KING!"
HOME HERMIT OF LANTERN WASTE NARNIAN ART VERSE & SONG
NARNIAN LINKS OTHER TALES
Created - April 15, 2001 ~ Revised April 26, 2001