"WHERE ASLAN IS KING!"
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CHAPTER NINETEEN
CAIR PARAVEL

Chapter 19
Cair Paravel
Copyright 2002, John Nelson

The sun was still low on the horizon, gleaming brightly in our eyes, creating a sliver of molten gold as wide as we could see which we knew to be the sea. Of Cair Paravel we could see nothing, for the light was too strong and all the land below us but a dim silhouette. We descended from the Hill of the Stone Table toward the lowlands of Narnia. Tumaus was prancing about as we went, whether from the joy of the road or the memory of the she-faun, I could not tell. While I too was happy, I walked instead of romped. The grass was still wet with dew, and I knew myself to be less sure-footed than my friend. The air was fresh and clean, so fresh it made mere breathing a pure delight. Gentle rolling hills presented themselves before us, each a little lower than the one before it, guiding us gently down. Although there were some scattered trees in that direction there was no serious forest for many miles, nearly down to the great river of Narnia. We had got only a couple of miles when we forded a small stream, noisy and fast, flowing from the south. Once across we followed it north for some ways, for the banks on either side were low and the music of the water pleasant.

"What do you know of this castle we are bound for," I asked Tumaus after a while. "Who lives there? Is it a fortress or merely a palace?"

"I have never been there, as you well know," he replied.

"But you must know something of it. Is there nothing in your books about it, or in your legends? How did it come to be?"

"There is very little written of it that I have read," he said. "And what there is doesn't tell much. It is mostly just referred to, rather than described. I do not know the nature of the place, whether, a fortress or a palace. It is said to be strong, and it is said to be tall, but that doesn't say much. Trees may be strong and tall, too, and yet they are neither castles nor fortresses."

I asked again, "And who lives there, since there is no king over Narnia?"

"Aslan is King over Narnia," he said with a sly little smile. "But I know what you mean. No one lives there, as far as I know. It is for a king or a queen to live there, a Son of Adam or a Daughter of Eve. It is not for us to live there."

"Then it is abandoned?" I asked.

"Oh, no! Not abandoned, "he answered. "It is not abandoned. But nobody lives there."

Over the months I had been in Narnian I had gotten used to this kind of seemingly contradictory statement from my little friend. In the beginning it had annoyed me, but now it was just part of the charm of the little fellow's personality, and I knew that if I just let him ramble on for a while he would eventually tell me what I wanted to know.

"I have never been there myself, you know," continuing on with almost a sense of awe and wonder in his voice as he now thought about how far he was from home and the adventure he was engaged in. "Never been so far, not ever," he repeated, quietly. "But I have heard stories of the great castle. Many live near by and many work on the castle and in the castle and all about the castle. It is a busy place, I am told. But no one lives in the castle. That would not be right."

I said nothing but continued to walk along beside my friend. I knew him well enough to know he was not done talking, well enough to know that he had not told me all he knew. Partly I knew because he was no longer prancing about. I knew when he stopped his dancing it meant he was thinking, or perhaps trying to remember something. The sun continued to rise and the day became warm and fine. The dews dried and the mists lifted from the valleys and folds in the land, and a fragrance of rich earth and sweet herbs rose to bless us as the music of the stream played for our ears.

"Most of what I know of the castle is not from books, but from those who come to the dances," he continued after a while. "It is a busy place," he said for a second time. "Cair Paravel is the home of the kings and queens of Narnia, and though we have no king or queen over Narnia at present (accept for Aslan, of course), and we have not had for time out of mind, all is kept in readiness for the time when we will again experience that blessing from Aslan. Only the best craftsmen go to Cair Paravel, and only their best work is good enough for the castle. I have been told many things about the work and what the castle is like, but the words I have heard have not been sufficient to paint a picture for me. Some of the tales are hardly to be believed, but for the fact that Narnians neither brag nor lie."

It was for the first time since coming to Narnia getting the hint of some kind of hierarchy or class structure. I had thought at first that the Council of Aslan was such a structure, but quickly discovered that it was not. The council was not a government or a decision making group: it simply counseled. "Who is it that decides who is qualified to work there and who decides what work is to be accepted for the castle?" I asked. "Is there a committee of some sort, or a craftsmen's guild that votes on such things? Is there some book of codes and specifications that sets a standard to be followed?"

"Oh, no!" he replied quickly. "It is not at all like that. No one decides, everyone decides, and each decides." He fell quiet again as we continued on, and he neither danced nor pranced. It seemed that his brow furrowed slightly, as if deep in thought. I smiled. If it had taken some effort for me to get used to Tumaus and his way, if I had at times struggled to become accustomed to Narnian ways, it must have been even more a struggle for my friend. He had lived here all his life and took its people and its way for granted. Now he was faced, often, with explaining it's ways to a stranger, and a stranger who thought in very different ways than he did. I smiled and put my hand gently on his shoulder and walked along the path beside him. We walked on for some time, ever up and down, but always more down than up, always with the stream to our left, sometimes close and sometimes far off and barely audible as it cut through the gentle hills. At last we came again to the great river. It flowed shallow and wide and noisy at that point between low banks of willow trees spaced wide. Under the trees we spread our lunch. We had the remains of the provisions brought for the party the day before, complimented by a bit of Tumaus's wonderful wine.

As we lay in the dappled sunlight under the trees listening to the song of the river Tumaus began to explain again. "It is rather like my wine," he said. "Some of it is good, and some of it is very good, and sometimes it is really excellent. I know the difference when I taste it, and I do not try to fool myself into thinking that all of it is excellent. There is even some, though not as often now as in the beginning, that is not fit to drink, and I apologize to the ground as I pour it out. I drink the good wine with my meals every day, and save the very good for special days, or for an especially good meal that deserves to be celebrated in a special way. The excellent wine I save for guests and give as gifts. No one else has ever tasted my good wine, and very few have even sampled my very good wine. Only the best is to be shared. It is the same at Cair Paravel. Craftsmen only bring their best, nothing less will do. And it is confirmed and celebrated by the others. It is affirmed. If a Son of Adam is ever King over Narnia in my day, I hope to bring the most excellent wine I have even made."

"Would that bring you fame, or wealth, to be the wine maker to the King?"

"Certainly not!" he said with some heat. "It would be my gift. No one receives anything in return for their work at the castle. The work is its own reward. It is enough and more than enough to be there and to give your gift."

This was a very strange world I have fallen into, where people did their best because they were able to and because they wanted to, and not because someone forced them to, or paid them to. And at the same time it seemed suddenly to me that this was the way things ought to be, and that the motives and methods of my own world were somehow twisted and perverted. I wondered if I have ever truly given a gift in my life. I wondered if I had even done my best at anything. How could I if the entire motive for doing it was wrong to begin with? I suddenly felt quite ashamed. My eye fell on the hilt of my sword that lay beside me on the ground. It was magnificent! I always knew that, but now I thought I was beginning to understand it a little better. It was a gift, and to be a gift in Narnia meant that it had to be excellent. It had to be the best. And I suddenly felt that the gift also had a claim on the one who received it. It was not enough to carry this excellent sword about on my hip. To live up to the gift I too had to be, or become, excellent. Even the gift of Tumaus laid claim upon me. It was not enough to drink his excellent wine: I had to be, I had to become, an excellent friend. To be a good friend was not enough. More was demanded. I looked at my friend and wondered how I could ever live up to that claim. I begin to feel I had never done anything "excellent" in my life.

I looked at my friend. He showed no evidence of resentment from my comment about gaining wealth or fame from his gifts. It was with him as if the offense had never occurred. Shortly he was up and packing our things, and there was a light spring in his step. As we continued our journey down the great river he pulled his flute from his pack and began playing and dancing as we went. I knew he had told me all he could and all he wanted to, and I began with clumsy step and heavy to dance with him.

There was a broad path beside the river, and apparently well traveled. After a time we began to meet others traveling west along the path. They all offered friendly greeting and wished us good journey under the protection of Aslan. It was not far, they said, to Cair Paravel, but none could tell how far, for as far as I could figure, none in Narnia had any means or words for measuring distance. We saw creatures of all kinds headed away from the castle: bears and dwarfs, moles and hedgehogs, dogs and rabbits, and many others. Before long we also saw other traveling east toward the castle, some ahead of us and some behind us on the path. Tumaus saw this, as a promising sign for where Narnians are gathered there is sure to be some sort of celebration, feast, or dance. About two hours after our lunch we overtook three sturdy dwarfs pulling a small cart laden with a very large piece of stone and sturdy though they were, they were struggling. They had come from far in the north, from the very edge of Narnia, dragging their cart all the way, often over poor roads or no road at all. The cart was beginning to sag beneath the load and the wheels no longer rolled true. They had searched long and far to find this piece of stone with which to repair a portion of the castle. Having found it they would not suffer any other to cart if for them, nor would any other shape the stone. It was to be their gift. I asked if I might be allowed at least to help them draw the cart so their strength might be conserved for the work that still lay ahead of them. After a short private consultation they accepted the offer, along with a portion of our food to strengthen them and a cup of Tumaus's wine to cheer them. At the first sip they declared the wine excellent, and "fit for the king."

Nibbleblock, Nobbleblock, and Nubbleblock were their names, and we remained with them the rest of the day. Tumaus would play his flute and danced about as the rest of us as we pulled on the stubborn and failing cart. It was well taken by the dwarfs for they knew it was meant to encourage and cheer them. The sun was well to the west, though not yet to the horizon when we came out of the last stand of trees along the river and saw the castle rising before us on the shore of the sea. It was on a small rise with water on three sides. Before the castle on the west was a large expanse of lawn. Small tents and pavilions stood on the lawn at the edge of the trees, and into the forest itself. The tents were not crowded all together, but were nicely laid out with plenty of space between one tent and its neighbors, and while not exactly in lines or rows, very orderly, in a Narnian sort of way. There was a narrow lawn down to the sand on the shore to both the north and south of the castle, but on the east the castle wall stood right to the edge of the water.

The castle was indeed tall and strong, though it could not truly be called a fortress. It's outside walls had many windows, some high up and some low to the ground. There were towers on either side of the open gate, and while good archers might defend the gate for some time, they were part of the castle itself, as were the walls, and not a separate fortress wall. There were several tall towers at various points about the castle; all with pointed roofs and gaily-colored flags and streamers top most. There seemed to be no guards at the gate, no one to challenge any who wanted to enter, and creatures of all sort moved constantly in and out of the gates, some with burdens and tools, some without. I began immediately to move toward the gate, but Tumaus held back, and the three dwarfs stopped all together. I asked my friend why he hesitated. I would have thought, for him much more than for me, there would have been an eagerness to proceed, and excitement to enter the castle at once.

"I do not wish," he said in a soft and slightly trembling voice, "to ruin the moment with haste. I would not be able to see it all before the light failed, and I want to take it all in at once, as a single experience. No, do not diminish its wonder with haste."

The three dwarf brothers agreed, and I certainly was not about to argue with them. The brothers had brought their own tent with them, which they set up as close to the castle as they thought "felt respectful," as they wanted to be as close to their work as possible. Tumaus and I had brought no tent, but had slept under the stars each night. The weather was fine, and it would have been no problem for us to continue with our previous practice. But somehow it just did not feel right to do so. We walked amidst the little city of tents, and received friendly greeting from all. Many friends were there that I had met previously at the dances in Lantern Waste. Some invited us in, which in most cases would be have been clearly impossible, as the creatures that inhabited them were of far smaller stature than my own, and all offered us food and drink, which could not be refused. In the end we accepted lodging for the night with a family of red dwarfs. I was hesitant at first, remembering that all dwarfs snore, and most rather loudly, but by the time I finally laid my head on the pillow late into the night I was too tired to be kept awake by any amount of noise.

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"WHERE ASLAN IS KING!"
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Copyright © 2001 John Nelson, Hermit of Lantern Waste.
Created - March 25, 2001