Disclaimer: This story is almost equal parts Ibersteinmm's and mine; though I wrote it, the ideas in it, from small details to the general theme, came of our conversations; and both of us pay humble tribute to the creator of Narnia, who in turn pays tribute to the one who gives all hope.
"Hope is what we crave / and that will never change" - For King and Country, "Crave"
Chapter One: Needing Hope
The tree had fallen. The tree.
The carpenter placed both hands on the planks of wood just beside him, stored in a long, low hall of the stone the dwarfs had built for him. He needed to steady himself. The sons of earth who made his home were burrowing deeper into the earth, for all knew defeat was now coming. The sons of Adam did not have that choice. They could not stay. And so the carpenter would make them ships, ships from the long planks of smooth wood laying beside him. He had already begun, in his workshop, crafting together the ribs of the ship. It was getting too large, and tomorrow centaurs and a giant were coming to carry the wood, workshop, and ribs all to the shore. All Narnia's carpenters were gathering there. They knew what was coming. The tree had fallen.
What followed was war. Winter. The Witch. Any human who did not flee would die. Jadis was jealous of what she was not - human. She would hunt the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve to extinction. Now that the tree had fallen many families were fleeing, even while their fathers continued to fight.
The tree had fallen. Their hope, their safety. The promise Aslan had given them since the second day; bowed to the earth and broken. It would not be long now; the carpenter himself would be leaving, on a ship he had built, for he too was human. But for now he stood and ran his hand along the wood, freely given from the dryads, who as part of their care for the forests uprooted some trees that others could grow (1). Would any new wood grow now?
Wood, wood was beautiful and sturdy, and even in death it still seemed to be living, with its color and running lines from the rings of the tree's life. But every carpenter now grieved that one tree had been lost, the roots and stump burnt, the immense trunk cut down, and the branches twisted and snapped. Every apple had been burned. The moles had brought the tale, those who had fled. The carpenter's fist clenched. What business had they to flee? They were the tree's protectors! They held Narina's hope in their paws, and they'd left it!
But if they had not fled, they would not have lived to bring the news, and the warning. The fist slowly unclenched, straightening once again on the wood. The warning had been needed.
Aslan, the carpenter thought silently, we are losing. What are we to do when we are losing? Stand and fight? Flee? What would You have us do?
He asked in silence, and only silence answered him. He turned to go past his workshop to his house.
His wife had made them food, and they ate in silence. This sorrow had no release in tears.
She did not want to leave Narnia. She grieved as much as him, for the home that would be a memory ending in pain, every hope betrayed. Even with him, the sorrow kept her silent. In silence he mended the fire, and in silence they went to bed. They ran from their sorrow in sleep.
Come, he heard deep in the night. He opened his eyes, and saw the Lion. Golden, lit with a subtle, sure light in the darkness, larger than he had ever imagined. Aslan. Come, he was bid, and Aslan turned and walked through the door, tail whisking behind him.
Surely he was dreaming. But the carpenter stood and followed, for awake or dreaming, Aslan was his King above all High Kings (though he wasn't sure what that title meant, only that he must obey). And he followed the silent paws of the Lion through his house, out the door, stepping into a silent clearing and into a crowd.
Dryads, swaying into bows before the Lion, their leaves rustling; centaurs, bending from the waist, heads also bent; and there, in the front, moles, tears streaming down their cheeks. Aslan breathed on them, and they trembled. The carpenter recognised them as the moles who had run from the Witch's victory. Here, in the presence of the Lion, his breath on their fur. Was there love in His eyes?
Aslan dismissed the crowd, perhaps without a word; the carpenter wasn't sure. Was he dreaming? But the Lion was moving again, towards the edge of the clearing, and still the carpenter followed. With them stayed one centaur, his hooves rustling the grass, towering above the carpenter as they walked. Aslan led them to a tree trunk, larger than the carpenter's hall, laying where it had been dragged to the edge of the clearing. Many of the branches were burned, and the Lion paused before it in sorrow.
But then He turned, and the carpenter fell to his knees before the eyes of the Emperor's Son.
"You asked what should be done, and this is my answer." Aslan's voice was as quiet as their sorrow, but as large as the sky above them, too immense for his heart to hold. "Take the tree and make four thrones, elaborate in the carving, simple in the construction. When you are done, my own will carry them to Cair Paravel. Carve them, then leave, Son of Adam, for this is my second command to you - to flee." And the carpenter bent his head in obedience, though his eyes filled with tears. Aslan turned to the centaur.
"This will be your task. Jadis will come. She will kill all who speak of humans who lived in Narnia. The memory of how Narnia was ruled will fade and only her reign will be remembered, as the old die and the young are born into a kingdom of ice. But I will not leave them without hope. I give you this task, not to tell of how things were, but to tell of how things will be. Tell of the four thrones and the four who will sit in them. When the two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit in those four thrones, it will be the end, not only of the White Witch's reign, but of her life (2)."
And the centaur too bowed, and the carpenter gasped, for the hope sprung strong within him. Hope. Aslan was giving them hope. The tree had fallen, but hope remained. He looked at the Lion and knew with certainty that the winter that was coming would not last forever. Hope would be sight once again, even if he did not know when. And he bowed his head, and felt the breath of the Lion on his forehead. He opened his eyes once again and he was in bed.
He sat up, looking around. All was quiet.
Had it been a dream?
He thought of the certainty he'd had, of the promise that evil would end, and clenched his fists. He'd been so sure. He'd believed. But everything was dark, and he closed his eyes that he might not see it. It'd all been a dream. All of it. He wept, silently, trying not to wake his wife. Hope disappointed made him heartsick (3). After several long, dark hours he fell back asleep.
The next morning when he woke and went outside, at the edge of the clearing was a large, fallen tree. Even from a distance he could see it had been partially burned. Hope, rising, despite him trying to choke it down, made him struggle to breathe. He ran over, trembling, touching the burnt crown. It was a huge tree, bare of fruit. It - it could be. It - he passed the crown, moving towards the trunk. And he sank, trembling, to his knees, when he saw next to the trunk the large pawprint of a lion.
(1) This is actually a fairly normal practice - in a clearing, it's better to plant a few young trees closer together, so none of them bears the brunt of snow or wind alone; but as they get larger and sturdier they crowd each other out, and some have to be cut down.
(2) Quoted from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
(3) A verse from Proverbs paraphrased; it's actually "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." It's been a comfort to me to know that God knows how much waiting for what we long for is difficult.