Tumbling Down

Chapter One

Your Stories and Mine

The day was bright and Lucy was smiling as she and Tumnus made their way through the Western Wood. It was the first walk she'd had time for in the past month, and Tumnus was glad to finally have her to himself. All those court meetings, all those feasts and balls—they took a toll on friendship. But today she was his, and that was all that mattered to him right then.

"Tell me again," she begged, and she seemed closer to nine than to twenty-one, "the story of how Aslan sung Narnia into being."

"You've heard it thousands of times," Tumnus began with an indulgent smile as Lucy slowed to walk at his side, blue eyes looking up into his face, "and it's a rather long story."

"Oh," she sighed, "it's my very favorite story, though! And we have time still! We haven't even had lunch yet."

"I don't know why I should tell you," he said, and she pouted her lips. He nearly took her face in his hands, but he contained himself in time.

"I command you to tell me again," she said in a loud, bossy voice. "I am your Queen and you must do all I say."

"Very well," he conceded, and he began the story. The two continued through the wood, his voice clear and strong as he painted again for her the picture of nothing, until Aslan arrived. Before her eyes, a world burst into life. "It was very much like winter changing to spring," he finished the tale the same way he always did.

"It's such a lovely story," Lucy breathed, still in rapture. Tumnus chuckled at the love she had for every tale he told.

"Now you tell me one," Tumnus insisted. "Go on. One you heard when you were a child."

"All those stories are silly," Lucy said dismissively, but Tumnus gently prodded her in the side with his index finger.

"Those are my favorite kind," he said, and she smiled and began one of the stories she loved best. Part of her, he mused, was still a child indeed. He liked that best about her.

"Once upon a time," she began, and this time it was he who listened spell-bound, "there was a little girl whose mother died."

They stepped over fallen trees and muddy patches as she told the story of Cinder-Ella, the girl so abused by her wicked stepmother but who got the Prince in the end. Tumnus tried his hardest to not ask questions; she always laughed at how much he interrupted, how much else he wanted to know about—where did Cinder-Ella come from? What were her stepsisters' names? What color were her eyes? What was the spell the fairy used?

"You ask so many questions," Lucy exclaimed with a smile.

"I like knowing the whole story," Tumnus replied sheepishly.

They stopped for lunch. Tumnus opened the basket he had been carrying; some of the servants of Cair Paravel had packed it for them this morning. They ate together in silence; it always made Tumnus proud, that Lucy would eat before him. He had seen her at public dinners and feasts; she could hardly swallow anything.

"I hate eating in front of crowds," she confided. "It makes me feel as though I'm being judged."

She finished her sandwich first. He watched her mouth move as she chewed and the way her throat flexed as she swallowed. She looked at him oddly.

"Why are you staring at me?" She asked, a strange smile on her lips.

"Am I?" He managed to sound distracted. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize." And he sighed internally with relief when she seemed satisfied with that answer.

"It's awfully hot today," she remarked, pouring herself lemonade from the jug packed in their basket.

"Strange weather for so early in spring," Tumnus agreed. Her lips, curled around the rim of her silver cup, were like a flower opening. He felt his mouth open and close without a sound. She didn't seem to notice.

"Shall we go swimming?"

"Now?" Tumnus asked. "The water will be freezing."

"So what?" Lucy asked, a smile on her mouth. "You've got all that fur, you shan't be cold." He winced internally. He hated when she mentioned the difference between them. "Come on. Don't be such a girl."

"Are you insulting your gender again?" He smirked, rising to his hooves as she stood up as well, smoothing her dress. "For shame."

"Whatever you say, Susan," Lucy said with a mocking grin, and when he lunged for her she shrieked and darted away. She went crashing through the brush, laughing, her long golden braid flying behind her as she went. He darted after her.

"Where do you think you're going to?" He shouted after her, his hooves quick amid the leaf litter. "I'm faster than you are."

"Maybe so, goat-man," she sang out somewhere ahead of him, "but I have the advantage of age!"

"Oh, you're asking for it," he shouted again, voice growing hoarse, and he lowered his head as he charged after her, shoving brushwood aside.

He finally caught her at the edge of the trees, where branches began to thin. He reached out and wrapped his hand around her wrist, jerking her back towards him. She squealed and writhed in his grasp but she admitted defeat, her heaving chest against his as he held her against her will.

"I told you I would catch you," he said.

"You always do," she replied, completely unapologetic and out of breath. He laughed and released her and the two continued together to the river bank. The water was calmer here as they approached the sandy bank, he a little ways behind her. "Here is good."

"If you say so," he teased, and she turned, sticking out her tongue at him. His nimble fingers found the pins in her hair and he pulled them loose, causing her long braid to fall free. "Good enough. But you'll get your dress all wet."

"No, I won't," she said with a grin, "as I won't be wearing it."

He sputtered uselessly as she stripped unceremoniously down to a camisole and white drawers. "Lucy," he finally said, voice strangled, "what are you doing?"

"Going swimming," she replied, and with that she stepped out into the river and dove under. He sighed, his face red and his stomach tight. He followed her in tentatively, although he would not submerge his head as she did.

She surfaced, tossing back her long hair and gasping for breath. Her blue eyes opened wide, water clinging to the lashes like tears.

"What's the matter?" she asked, treading water. She was out much farther than he had realized and though he knew she was a strong swimmer he was still seized with worry.

"I can't swim," he said lamely. She laughed, and then realized he was serious.

"What, not at all?"

"Not at all." He swallowed, smiled nervously. "I thought you knew."

"No," she said slowly. "You've been swimming with us before."

"I don't swim, though," he said. "I wade."

"I'm sorry," she said, looking like she meant it. "I didn't realize."

"It's quite all right," he assured her. He stood up to his knees in the water, the current lapping around him. "I don't mind watching you."

Thus it was that sunset found them: Tumnus sitting in the water, waves gentle around his chest; Lucy swimming farther out, splashing him, singing. When she got too close, he tugged on her braid sharply. Water nymphs joined the young queen, and their shrieks filtered through the woods. The wind came up but nothing deterred Lucy from the water. Her hair was dark with the water, her skin wrinkling on her hands and feet. Tumnus' own fingers were pruney and finally he stood, shaking the water from his fur, and told her it was time to go.

"Oh, must we?" she protested, but he was firm.

"It's almost dark," he said, and she sighed and swam towards him, and then walked as her feet touched the sandy bottom. She rose out of the river like some kind of goddess, and Tumnus felt himself blushing as she emerged. Noticing his eyes, she giggled and crossed her arms over her chest. She wrung out her braid and tossed it over her shoulder. He helped her button her dress, and taking the basket on his arm, they headed towards Cair Paravel.

He told her stories as they walked—everything he could think of. He made up the last one, for lack of things to say. She was tired, her feet tripping over roots, and he finally took her arm to steady her. Her lids drooped and her eyes were dark. She stumbled up the great marble steps, and he handed her the basket and scooped her up in his arms, swaying precariously with her weight. As always at Cair Paravel, the smell of the ocean was strong, and in the distance he could hear the faint sound of mermen singing out on the water.

He knocked lightly at her bedroom door and her maidservant came out, holding a candle and smiling gently. Tumnus liked Cera. Rosy and lithe, she reflected her mother-tree, and she loved Lucy well. She was a good girl, a little slow, but kind enough.

"I'm returning your Queen, no worse for wear," he said grandly, setting Lucy on her feet.

"I'll get her nightclothes," replied, and went within the chambers again, closing the door partly behind her.

Lucy yawned hugely, and Tumnus steadied her with a hand against the small of her back.

"Thank you for seeing me home," Lucy murmured, sleep threatening to overtake her at any moment.

"I live here too, now," he reminded her, and the two laughed gently together.

"I shall see you tomorrow for tea?" She asked, voice softer than usual, hazy with fatigue.

"Of course," he replied. She seemed to wake a little, and she hesitated before she allowed him to hug her.

"Thank you for spending the day with me," she murmured against his ear as they embraced. "I don't know when I've had a better time." She pulled back slightly and Tumnus felt the ghost of her lips pressing, tentatively, against the corner of his mouth. He pulled back sharply, surprised. She did as well, looking guilty; with a "Well, goodnight," she retreated to her room and left Tumnus quite alone in the hall.

"It seems your day went well." A low voice behind him startled him, causing him to jump and wheel around to face the speaker. For a moment Tumnus thought it was Peter as his rooms lay in that direction, but the footfalls told him differently. "I have no need to ask." The shadowy bulk was vague in the dark hall, but Tumnus knew who stood before him.

"Aslan," Tumnus said humbly, dropping to one knee. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you."

"I don't blame you," Aslan said gently. "Your eyes were full of our youngest Queen." Tumnus flushed with guilt.

"Every day she seems more royal," he mumbled, by way of excuse. "Sometimes I wonder if she is the same girl I met so long ago." Aslan regarded him calmly with yellow eyes, and chose to not comment.

"The times coming up shall be hard for Cair Paravel," he said finally, after a silence had come over the castle again. Tumnus shifted from hoof to hoof, feeling awkward in the great lion's presence. "Your relationships will be strained. You love will be stretched. But do not fear—for everything will be all right at the season's end."

"What do you mean?" Tumnus' voice was worried. "Will something unfortunate happen to Queen Lucy?"

"Nothing that love can't fix," Aslan said with a smile, and Tumnus blinked and the lion was gone.

Tumnus said nothing before returning to his room for the night. He lay awake, staring at the sea through his open window, and sleep did not claim him though he was sorely tired.