Chapter 18
The Stone Table
Copyright 2001, John Nelson

The night was filled with stars twinkling above the little dell in which we sheltered for the night, and they seemed close, so close that had I not known better I would have tried to touch them. And they seemed so alive. Evening Thunder said he spoke with the stars, and they with him, and in that setting, out beneath the stars that seemed so close and so alive, I believed that it was truth. I was tired from the day's journey, but I could not sleep. My mind was too full of the things that had transpired. It was hard to tell which occupied my mind the most, the conversation with the children of Lady Beech, or the dance along the trail and my brief vision of the Lion. My conscious mind kept going to the conversation, but soon, without realizing the transition had occurred, I would be back to thinking about the Lion. In the end, long after the others had succumbed, I too fell asleep.

Suddenly, in the middle of the night, without any transition, I found myself to be wide-awake. The stars above me seemed brighter and closer than ever, but that was not what had awakened me. I lay there, perfectly still, and listened. There was not a sound. There was not a bird to be heard, not a rustle of the wind through the leaves. It was as if the entire world had heard the voice too, and was waiting, silent, to hear it again. But there was only silence. Gradually I drifted back into a watchful sleep.

Again I found myself awake, knowing the voice I had heard, not doubting even for an instant that I had heard it or whose voice it was. And I knew that the voice had called me by name. I sat up were I lay. The others were still sleeping silently. Silently? "Dwarfs always snore," I thought to myself. But all was silent as before. I strained my ears, hoping to hear something, anything, anywhere, but there was nothing. It was as if I had no ears at all, or as if my ears were only capable of hearing one sound, a sound that was not present.

"Thomas. Thomas of Lantern Waste." I wakened for the third time. I knew that voice and I knew I had heard it before, even though I could not remember the words it has spoken to me before. The tears that streamed from my eyes blurred the stars. Silence was all around me. I wiped the tears as I stood in the midst of the sleepers. I looked around hoping to see the One to whom the Voice belonged. There was no one there. I moved quickly up the slope to the top of the dell and looked around, but saw nothing. I turned round and round several times, and then without a thought for why I did it, I began to dance. There was no music, but I danced, and after a few moments I began to hear something. It was not the voice I wanted to hear. It was not a voice at all, at least not what I would call a voice. It was a silvery shivery sound that seemed to be all around me as if it came out of the sky itself. And yet, though it was not exactly a voice, I could not doubt that there were words in the sound, and a rhythm in the music of the sky. It was a song, wild beyond the scope of my understanding. I danced with abandon, not seeking to accomplish anything by it. The dance itself was enough. I raised my face and my hands toward the stars and danced. I danced for the voice I longed to hear, for the face I wanted so desperately to see.

The morning light was upon the land and the smell of bacon filled the dell when next I woke. I spoke nothing of my midnight wakenings to my companions. I was not embarrassed by what had occurred. It was more because the event was still too close, too dear, and too personal for words. I was not quite sure how I felt about the events, but at the same time I felt quietness in my heart, as quiet as the night had been, but also a joy as high and clear and pure as the stars, and as piercing and unfathomable as their voices.

We set out after breakfast, continuing an upward path into the highlands, sometimes through forest, sometimes over rolling hills of grass and wild flower, but always upward. It was not far, they said, and we atticipated arriving at the table by noon. I began to wonder what I would find there and what, if anything, it would mean to me. Before starting from my home in Lantern Waste I had intended for this to be a simple little expedition across Narnia, to learn more about the country and it's people, but I had encountered so much already that I did not understand, and so little that I could truly claim to understand. We all seemed in a more solemn mood that morning, even Tumaus. This was a very solemn place we were approaching, it seemed.

And then quite suddenly and without fanfare we were there. The long slope we traversed flattened out gradually onto a broad flat-topped hill with green grass and small white flowers scattered all around. The trees seemed to stand back away from the hilltop on three sides, but on the east side fell away completely, leaving a broad view over the lowlands of Narnia, all the way to the coast. The sky above was blue and cloudless, and like the stars the night before, seemed close enough to reach up and touch. In the middle of the hilltop stood the stone. Beside the stone stood the Centaur, as still as stone himself. Slowly we approached the table. As we drew near I began to see the carving of the table, letters or runes, it seemed, in some strange foreign language. It was strange and unknown, and yet, in some unfathomable way, familiar.

"Welcome." The voice of Evening Thunder broke the silence. "Welcome, Thomas, Hermit of Lantern Waste, Knight of Aslan and Counselor of Narnia. I have come as you requested. Welcome Tumaus Goatfoot, Counselor of Narnia and wise teacher. Your student does well. Welcome Rushlow and Rushtow, sons-of-earth and faithful stewards. Come close and see," he said to Tumaus and to me, indicating the Stone Table. "The sons-of-earth have seen it before, but you, the counselors have not, come and see the gift of the Emperor over the Sea, Aslan's great father."

I moved closer to the stone, Tumaus by my side. The stone was ancient, if appearances meant anything at all. Though weathered, the cuts and lines, the letters or runes were still very distinct. I tried to discover in my own mind why these strange carvings would look familiar to me, where I might have seen something like them before. They were like the ancient carvings in stone in my old world, things discovered and uncovered by archeologists that have been hidden for thousands of years, remnants of some long past society. They reminded me of the ancient cities of my own world, of the ruins of the Inca where the jungles have reclaimed the cities and grow up in the streets, or of Rome and Athens that have continued to thrive till now today's society lives it's life on a backdrop of antiquity, sharing the same space, but not the same time.

And yet it was very different. This table of stone was very present and suited to its place. It seemed, though very old, not a thing of the past but a thing of the present. There was a sense in my mind that this was the center of Narnia, though I could not have explained why I felt that. It was the foundation, the capstone. I reached out and touched the stone; the letters were carved deep, and I felt in my fingers a power and a presence. And there was more. There was an understanding. Though I could not read the carvings I understood them. They were more familiar that I could ever have imagined. I withdrew my hand and turned to Evening Thunder.

"Yes," he said. "You are correct, those are the very words. They are true words in every world, in yours and in Narnia. The word of Aslan and his father are not one thing here, and something else in another place. They are not changed from the foundation. Only you and I know this, and for now, only you and I need to know." He tuned to Tumaus who was also touching the stone. "And what do you think of it, my little brother?"

"It is wonderful to be sure," Tumaus answered. "I have wanted to see it for ever so long, and am so glad to have come. But what does it mean, and what are we to do here?"

Evening Thunder laughed aloud, a deep rolling centaur's laughed. And I thought, perhaps he gave me a very brief wink, a wink that said, "See, only you and I know," and then he continued on. "Well," he said, "You are here on an adventure to see as much of Narnia as you can see, you and Thomas. The sons-of-earth are here out of support for you, for the love of Narnia, and for the love of Aslan. I am here because Thomas, the Lord of the Council has called for me." There must have been a puzzled look on my face: the centaur looked at me and laughed again.

"You do not know your own power, Thomas, nor do you know the power of Aslan and his creation. You know, do you not, that I speak with the stars, and that they speak with me in return? They heard you last night when you danced beneath them as they sang. You do not know the rare and wonderful gift they gave you. They have bestowed upon you an honor unheard of since First Day, that a Son of Adam should hear their voices. Do not look for that gift again. And as you danced and sang with them you called for guidance and you called my name and the name of Aslan. I am come, in the name of Aslan, to help you." Evening Thunder's revelation caused quite a stir among our little company and I found it necessary to tell them the entire story of my midnight escapade. Tumaus was clearly over-awed by it, but Rushtow and Rushlow took exception to my comments about dwarf snoring. In the end all agreed that it was certainly the voice of Aslan I had heard. Tumaus thought that particularly important since I had no conscience memory of hearing or seeing him at the spring dance where I was confirmed. He concluded that it was the dancing that made the difference. The brothers Rush made much of hearing the star voices, and kept asking what they sounded like, and what they said. They seemed very disappointed that I could not adequately describe the voices, and even more disappointed to learn that I understood nothing that they said or sang.

We all told Evening Thunder of our adventures to that point, especially the encounter at the ford, and our conversations with the children of Lady Beech. He listened intently, but with very little expression on his face. He asked no questions, and seemed in no hurry, content to let us unwind the tale in our own way and at our own pace. When we finished, he was silent. The sun shone bright on the verdant grass, the sky blue and cloudless above us. A light breeze cooled us as it wafted over the top of the hill, and all of Narnia stretched out around us as if in a lazy afternoon nap. Butterflies fluttered by on the breeze and bees buzzed above the white flowers as they went busily about their business of collecting. Evening Thunder stood stock still, saying nothing. There was no way to read his face, to determine what he was thinking. I wanted his wisdom as I had several times since the journey began, and yet did not want to ask for it. I had a sense that if I remained silent myself I would hear all I needed to know, either from Evening Thunder in his own good time, or from that Voice I truly wanted to hear. I sensed this was part of my training and part of a test, although I could not have told you what I was being trained for, nor could I have told you what the test was about.

"What would all of this be about?" muttered Rushlow after several minutes. "Centaurs can listen to the stars, true that would be, and Sons-of-Adam can learn from the Stone, it would seem to be, but dwarfs must hear the words directly to their ears, as ever it would be. What would all this be about? And what are we to be doing now?"

"For the present," said Evening Thunder with another laugh, "we should be eating our lunch. It is past the noon, and all of Aslan's creatures, even centaurs, must nourish their bodies with food and drink. Come, cousins, the time for merriment is now," he said, turning toward the wood to the north and giving a great shout. From beneath the eaves of the trees came several creatures, laden with baskets and panniers and great jugs. Turning again to us he continued, "it is no small matter to feed a centaur, and I knew you were traveling light: my noon meal would take all your provision, even if you ate none. I have arranged my own provision, and more than enough for all. Come, and be merry! My good cousins bring all that is needed."

Coming up the hill from the north (we had approached from the northeast) was a merry band of creatures, all laden with provisions. There was a little gray donkey with a small keg hung on each side of his body and a large sack upon his back. There were several large dogs with panniers that flopped and flapped against their bodies as they dashed to and fro, sniffing this and chasing that, and yapping as they came. Much to the delight of Tumaus, there was a faun in the little party who held many wrapped parcels in her arms as she trotted along. The last to arrive was one I already knew. Slowly, over the crest of the hill, appeared the head and then the body of Stonetower. Even though I knew him to be kind and gentle and a friend, it was still rather a shock to see him appear, somewhat like an apparition rising out of the forest. In truth, he carried more than all the rest together, and the feast would have been much poorer had he not been there, especially for Evening Thunder.

When all had arrived Evening Thunder and Tamallia, the little she-fawn, helped in unlading the rest and a grand feast was laid between the table and the southern edge of the hill. The centaur chose the spot "between the gift of the Emperor and the sight of the sea." As the centaur had promised, there was enough and more for everyone. No more was said in counsel, in regard to the journey or our tale, while the meal lasted. There was a great deal of joy and merriment. Stonetower's deep laugh rumbled over the hilltop from time to time, often accompanied by the joyous braying of Shadow the donkey. When I had eaten my fill I lay back, sighed contentedly, and gazed at the clouds passing overhead. Some time passed, and perhaps I dozed a bit, influenced by the food and drink and the gentle breeze. I raised myself to my elbows and found the fauns, the dogs, and the dwarfs playing some game of tag all around the Table. Stonetower was lying on the ground with a gentle snore coming from his open mouth. Evening Thunder stood alone at the east of the hill, looking out over the land to the sea. I rose and went to him.

Evening Thunder stood still as the stone as I approached. He neither turned his head nor spoke when I stood beside him, but stood gazing out from the top of the hill. I followed his gazed out over the woods and fields below us, out to a line of silver-blue almost at the edge of sight, that I knew to be the great sea. A winding silver shape that I assumed to be the great river joined the line of silver blue, and where they met was a distant shape I had never seen before. "That is where you must go," said the centaur when he spoke at last. Then turning toward me he continued. "That is Cair Parevel, castle of the kings and queens of Narnia, built by the descendants of King Frank and Queen Helen who came out of the world of men, Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve, on First Day. Long has it been empty, preserved and maintained by the peoples of Narnia against the day in which it will again be put to it's rightful use as the home of the kings, the throne of the queens. And you need have no fear in going there," he continued as if reading my mind. "There is no throne there for you, and no home there either. Your home will be the Lantern Waste while your life in Narnia continues. You must go there and learn what you are to do."

"And what might that be?" I asked.

"I certainly do not know. If I knew that I could tell you myself and not send you after knowledge. There are books there, written by the sons of men that may shed some light on your quest. Perhaps you will gain some insight into the nature of Jadis of Charn, who also came on First Day by the folly of Adam's race. Perhaps King Frank himself made some note concerning her that would give you a hint or a clue that will help you. It may be that something in the history of the old wars with the giants of the north will give you knowledge or hope. I do not know these things myself and cannot teach you."

"Have you never read from any of those books yourself," I asked?

"No, of course not, I read the stars and listen to their speech. Of the tomes of men I know nothing."

I was surprised. I had assumed with all the wisdom ascribed the centaur that he would be familiar with such books as there were in the land of Narnia. It was a total shock that he could not read. "But," I said, "You know of the runes on the Stone Table, you know what they mean. How can that be?"

"Son of Adam, do you still not understand? The stone and it's words are not the work and words of men. They are the work and the words of the Emperor over Sea. It is the language the stars speak and so I know them. That you should know them too is wonderment to me. It is perhaps for this reason that the stars spoke to you last night, and perhaps that event is not so singular as I first supposed. I have no way to judge that. No, the words of men are not my domain; they are your gift and your responsibility. Tomorrow you must go on the Cair Paravel and see what knowledge awaits you there."

It was decided that Tumaus and I would go on to the castle the following day. Evening Thunder recommended a certain path to us and went over it with me several times to make sure I would remember it. It was plain that it would do know good to give the instructions to the faun, since he knew nothing of the geography of this area, and also because he was quite obviously smitten with the she-faun, and was paying little attention to anything else. The rest of the day and evening was merry, spent in games and dancing and eating again in the evening. We slept on the open hilltop under the too-near stars.

I had trouble getting to sleep, tired though I was. I lay looking at the stars, hoping that they would again speak to me, and wondering what I would find in the castle by the sea. I woke several times during the night, but on each occasion heard no voices, neither the voice I wanted most to hear, nor the voices of the stars. Each time I woke I heard the crickets chirping and the dwarfs snoring, and knew I would hear nothing else that night. We all woke early, and after a light breakfast went our separate ways. The supply party, including the centaur and Tamallia, turned northward toward their homes. The dwarfs returned to their cottage, not without many fond good-byes, well wishes, and invitations to visit again. Tumaus and I turned east to the sea, although he did take one last longing look and the departing she-faun.



Copyright © 2001 John Nelson, Hermit of Lantern Waste.
Created - September 7, 2001