Disclaimer: by all the claims of paper and patents, Narnia is not mine. By all claims of love and joy, I am Narnia's.
Beta'd once again by trustingHim17, who is an incredible person and did so many of these ahead of time so I could post but take most of December off. Thank you so much!

Christmas with the Marshwiggles Part II
(A second lesson in celebrating Christmas with pessimists.)

The next few days were the strangest mixture of laughter and hidden, exasperated sighs for Susan. Their guests, up with the earliest of Cair Paravel's residents, had come to breakfast predicting their dyes would exude fumes poisonous for humans, or that the dye would weaken the stems of the berries till they broke and none would be left for decorating. They left to go re-decorate the decorations by dyeing them shortly after.

"Well," said Lucy at last, "at least they enjoyed their breakfast." Susan raised her eyebrows, and Lucy nodded towards the plates. "Look, they ate everything on them."

It was true. That was Susan's first lesson with her guests. She began to look at what they were doing, rather than what they were saying. The two spent the entire day dyeing berries, and though they verbally worried that none of the dye would hold, they sat back at supper, eating contentedly. Leo (finally clean, after a full day spent splashing in the sea, Por informed her) stayed well away from the two. Susan stopped by the chair where the Leopard perched.

"Are you well, good cousin?" she checked.

Leo looked up, his tail swishing slightly between him and the chair's back. "Yes, my Queen. I merely am no longer fond of the smell, and it still emanates from their clothing." Susan nodded, concealing her smile; the smell had nearly knocked her over when she'd greeted them, and it would have been worse for the Leopard. "They will be good for us, I think," Leo said, looking towards their guests. Por, who had been speaking about something (Susan was pretty sure she didn't want to know what) with Edmund, came running back, but paused when he saw his brother. Susan motioned him forward.

"Why do you think they will be good for us?" she asked Leo. Por's ears twitched forward.

"We remembered how much we had to thank Aslan for, that first Christmas. I thought less of it the next; still less, later. But to have them around reminds me how much goes right, as Aslan's own are on their thrones, and His seasons follow each other through our world."

Susan looked towards their guests too. The Marshwiggles were nodding dolefully at something a Dryad was saying; and the Dryad was laughing, exclaiming. Perhaps there was something in what Leo said.

"Thank you, good cousin," she replied, excusing herself. She went to ready herself for bed, but sat at the window, staring out at the wintery landscape, pondering the past few days. The first day had gone well; the next, however, they had begun decorating. And her heart still hurt with the idea that the places she usually made so beautiful would be covered in their dark, dour decorations. That all the beautiful things she loved would stay in storage, unseen, unused, their magic absent.

But the gift the Marshwiggles had already given to Leo, and perhaps to others - that would be worth that sacrifice. For that gift had a beauty of its own.

And they had already given much laughter, which was a Christmas gift indeed. Susan sighed, getting up and going to bed.

For all the gifts they gave, she found herself still craving the one she didn't expect to have.

Aware now that the two Marshwiggles were early risers, Susan rose early herself. She found the Marshwiggles in the storerooms, sorting the branches into piles. She noted wryly that the type they favored drooped and were darker than the ones she would have chosen.

"Good morning. Where are you going to decorate first?" she asked, as cheerfully as she could.

"The ballroom," Gloomcloud said. "It's the largest, and if we run out of time, as we're sure to, it will look ok half-done."

"Perfect!" Susan agreed. "I will work on the hallways, then?"

"You'll get a cold in a draft and have to skip the ball, I would think, but it must be done."

"Ask anyone you need for any help you'd like." Susan, scooping up a handful of their discarded branches, hurried out before they could change their minds. The hallways, at least, would be welcoming and breathtaking.

She stayed out of the ballroom all morning, spending most of her time in the hallways, though she ducked out to check the courtyard, which Peter and Edmund had agreed to decorate. They had the trees up and decorated, but the first time she came out, she found them in the middle of a snowball fight, with Leo, Por, and the three Wolf cubs who had adopted them* egging the two brothers on.

"We're decorating the courtyard with branches, not snowballs," she informed them, then ducked as a snowball flew over her head. "Peter!"

"I mistook you for Lucy!"

"That's not much better!" Susan scooped and formed her own snowball, hurling it at Edmund who'd been attempting to sneak up at her. He dodged, and, true to the Marshwiggles predictions, slipped on the steps, falling headfirst into a drift. Rena jumped right on top of him, giggling, and he rolled to throw her off, but the heavy Wolf didn't budge.

"Peter, help!" he gasped, and Peter and Susan ran forward, laughing, shoving the Wolf away, only to fall under the weight of her siblings. Leo and Por, joining, whirled the snow with their paws till all the (former) decorators were blind.

"Enough!" Susan called at last, shivering in her wet clothing. Peter began to take off his warm cloak, but Susan shook her head, teeth chattering. "I'm going inside. Try to have the rest done before you find another fight, if you would?"

"It will be lovely, I promise," Edmund said seriously. Susan looked at him and smiled.

"I'm sure it will."

It was. The courtyard, with seven trees along each wall, decorated with strings of bright red berries and glass-enclosed candles hanging from green branches, took Susan's breath away. The hallways, with bright red tapestries and green branches, and hung with Dwarf-made colored glass lanterns that filled the halls with every color Narnians had ever seen, filled her with delight as she walked them.

She did not enter the ballroom, nor the Great Hall, where the feast would be held. Those were the Marshwiggles' domain, and for tonight, she wanted to enjoy the beauty that was everywhere she and her siblings had decorated. She and Lucy skipped through the halls, giggling as they kept out of the cooks' and maids' way. Peter and Edmund found them there, and each grabbed a sister, dancing her through the rainbow-lit hallways. The boys accidentally shoved them into red tapestries at times when they spun the girls too far, it's true, but Lucy told them the tapestries made very nice cushions, and their evening was spent laughing.

It was a wonderful, wonderful Christmas Eve night.

The four siblings went to their separate rooms soon after, to put the finishing touches on their presents for their private gift-giving tomorrow, and then settled in to sleep.

The next morning, after a lovely breakfast, Susan took a deep breath and made her way to the ballroom. She hesitated outside the door. But she had to see, to know, before the guests arrived. She opened the door. She stepped inside - and closed her eyes in defeat.

The walls were hung with grey tapestries between the windows; all the windows were covered in black curtains, darkening the room. Green boughs drooped over every window and around the sides, framing the curtains. Attached to the branches were berries, but the berries were almost black, thanks to the coloring of the curtains.

Glass balls hung in many different places, smooth, clear, and altogether colorless. From them hung ribbons of a dark, deep green. There was no red anywhere. It was, Susan decided, a decidedly Marshwiggle room.

"It's not enough," said a gloomy voice behind her. "There wasn't enough dye." Susan turned to see Doldrum standing in the hall behind her, and for once the Marshwiggle's stance matched her tone, her hands by her sides, and her head bowed. Susan felt a twinge of guilt for the barrels she'd seen Leo knock over.

"We could send for more," she offered, after a moment. Surely the ballroom couldn't look any worse.

"It wouldn't arrive in time," Doldrum said defeatedly.

"Well," said Susan, taking another moment to think. "How about mixing the red berries with the dark ones? I think it would make a lovely contrast."

Doldrum's head came up, tilting to the side as she considered. "It would be bright," she said doubtfully.

"Many Narnians enjoy bright colors," Susan encouraged.

"They do. It will hurt their eyes, no doubt, and make them want to leave far sooner, but perhaps we could mix some of the red berries in."

"Would you like my help?" Susan offered.

"You have other things to do, I would think," but Doldrum had stood straighter, and Susan took that as a yes. She spent the rest of the day with the two Marshwiggles - who were, she discovered, experts at twisting in berry stems, and at placing them just so. They alternated the dark berries with the bright ones, and Susan admitted it did, in the end, look lovely, especially around the goblets in the Great Hall. There they had decorated with brighter green tapestries, and it did not look depressing, especially since the food itself would add so much color. But Susan was scrambling for an idea to add to the ballroom.

"Do you think we could add silver string?" she asked the Marshwiggles suddenly. "Twirling it around all the branches, to make them more secure, and to add more light?"

The Marshwiggles thought about it for a moment, glancing at each other.

"It will take too long, and the guests would arrive while we're still decorating," Gloomcloud put in, but Susan could see his fingers twitching.

"And it would probably look bad with the red," Doldrum agreed. "But Her Majesty wants to try it."

"Only if you'd like it," Susan added quickly. She did, truly, want the Marshwiggles to enjoy their stay, and they had seemed happy - odd as that sounded for a Marshwiggle - with all they had done.

"Silver would fit for a castle." Doldrum was now looking around. "Where would we find some?"

Susan got the silver-colored string, glinting in the light, from an older storeroom with the help of one of the maids. She recruited several Squirrels and Birds, and the silver was twisted around curtains, branches, and tapestries in short order, and to her delight, the Marshwiggles added more and more of it, without ever adding too much. With the red berries and the sparkling string, the ballroom became much more cheerful - as cheerful as the Marshwiggles truly were.

And somehow, Susan thought, looking around, it still looked like a very Marshwiggle room, with its own, quieter beauty. A beauty that still satisfied her soul.

And now she was ready for it to begin, the first Marshwiggle Christmas. Together, with her siblings and their two honored guests, the six stood in a colorful hall and waited for the first of their guests to arrive for this, the Cair's first Marshwiggle Christmas, with its glorious mix of happy pessimism and dour beauty.


*from my story Kidnapped.

A/N: And this concludes my Christmas stories for this year. Thank you so much for reading them - I mean that. It's so much more fun to write when I know people enjoy reading these. I did want to let people know I'll be taking a break through the next few weeks, but I should start posting again the second week in January. Till then: Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one!