Fealty 9/29/07 6
I don't own Narnia or the Pevensies or anything else created by C.S. Lewis. Wish I did, but if wishes were horses, I'd still be a terrible rider.
Prologue: Out in the Elements
"Your Majesties, it's time," said a quiet female voice just outside the circle of lamplight. Four young monarchs, wrapped in cloaks, wool garments and warm soft boots, looked eagerly into the shadows. The faint clud-clud of hooves shifting in place on marble flooring sounded in the darkness not far away.
"Thank you, Lady Chavra," said Peter. He lifted the lamp so that it cast its glow down the hallway. Dim gold light briefly captured the shapes of a Cougar and a great horned Owl and then released them back into the darkness. While Narnia was safer than it had been a year ago, some of the Witch's followers still roamed. Whenever any of the kings or queens went outside at night, an honor guard of nocturnal Animals followed. Today, all four of the monarchs were afoot, headed outside toward the sea for a predawn astronomy lesson.
Lucy bounced in place a bit, holding tightly onto Peter's free hand. She was still young enough to delight in the absence of a curfew at dead of night. When Chavra, the court astronomer, had proposed a look at the early morning stars for the older children's astronomy studies, Lucy heard about the trip within moments from one or another of the Birds and insisted on accompanying the kings. She had persuaded the others that the sun rising over the sea would be a simply crucial event for her to witness. Lucy had also been the one to think of the basket of food and hot tea, which Susan now carried.
"Let us be gone, then, before we miss the last moments of full darkness," said Chavra.
The sounds of soft leather boots sweeping across the floor overlaid the near-silence of Imara the Cougar's sheathed paws. The group made its way to the main doorway, where lanterns burned all night. As Chavra reached the oaken door, the night guard, her nephew Titurel, saluted and then lifted the iron bar of the door. Cooler air rushed in as the door slid open. "Safe journey, everyone," said Titurel.
As Chavra led the group along the path, other night-seeing animals fell in behind the Cougar: a few small Cats, a Cacomistle, a Wolf. Most members of the little band heard the sea before catching its scent. Peter's lantern illuminated just enough of the path to show where they should step, and their own deep familiarity with the route did the rest. The moon had long set. Soon everyone stood on the sand, far enough back to avoid the water that lapped along the beach. High tide was several hours away.
"Straight ahead is the Swan, which would be below the horizon if we had looked for it last month," said Chavra. "Seven main stars indicate the body and the neck. The brightest star, Navarra, marks the base of the beak."
"Oh, there it is," said Susan. "It really does look like a swan."
"Yes, after three days of studying the star maps beforehand," said Edmund.
As the Centaur described the other constellations, it seemed to Peter that the stars, heretofore a scattering of glowing points in the night, resolved themselves into patterns. That was the way it always was with astronomy, it seemed. One had to but know what to look for, and the invisible became plain.
"Remember the position of the stars, Your Majesties," said Chavra. "You can steer by them on land or sea, if you only know where to look. Edmund, how does the Swan point to the Spear-Head?"
"Oh…by its wing, I think—oh, I see, because the beak faces east, you can figure north out from that and find the North Star."
"Very good," said Chavra. Peter found himself smiling at the scholarly pleasure in her voice. At times like this it seemed that all those Narnians, the Centaurs and Fauns, the Dryads steeped in the knowledge of plant species, had been lying in wait all these decades just to have Humans with whom to share their learning.
Susan made Peter train the lantern on the basket and handed out bread, cheese, and figs, and dried meat for the carnivores among the group. The sea air made the early breakfast all the more savory. As everyone finished off the last of the food, the stars became fainter. Pale light edged up over the horizon line. Sky and ocean took on tones of velvety gray. Surrounding Peter were a gray Centaur, a gray Cougar, some gray Cats and Owls, and three gray siblings. It was a moment of light without color, but that moment did not last long.
A faraway line of rosy gold and aqua flowed in from the utter East, from the threshold of Aslan's Country countless miles away. As it climbed through the sky ahead of the sun, gray tones shifted into blue and sea-aqua and the white caps of waves. A sharp flash of sunlight slid in along the waves. And there was light.
Now everything was suffused with color, from the radiant streaks of clouds to the sand-brown pelt of the Cougar, the Owls' black-barred plumage, the Centaur's silver hair, held back with celadon-green combs from her face, the deep emerald-toned cloaks worn by the two queens, Edmund's brown eyes. When the waves crested, their undersides glowed.
"They seem like living things," said Susan. And indeed they did: the waves curved and foamed and danced like ranks of horses, they lunged forward like lions pouncing on the sand. Sunlight made golden manes on the foam.
Peter leaned forward eagerly. Did some of the water look more solid, more golden?
Lucy was already running forward, paying no attention to what the dampness of the beach did to her boots. One moment a section of the wave might have been the great Lion, and the next moment it actually was he. Then everyone was following Lucy toward the shoreline, even the Cats. There, Aslan himself stood, shaking glittering beads of water from his mane.
Humans and Animals greeted him in the ways of their kind, the monarchs down on one knee, the Wolf dipping his head, the Centaur leaning back from one forehoof, the Owls spreading their wings in salute.
Aslan advanced toward the group. His mane seemed to collect the sunbeams. "My beloved Narnians," he said, and his voice felt like music across Peter's soul.
"Welcome, Aslan," said Peter.
"Are you studying the sea?" the Lion asked.
"No, the sky, Blessed One," said Chavra. "Their young Majesties need to understand the map of the stars. The land may change, but the constellations do not."
"Well done, Chavra," said Aslan, and it seemed that the dignified Centaur's skin grew pink with pleasure. Peter understood; no matter how high in honor one was, praise from Aslan made one feel like a favored child.
"My lord, I am no expert on the ways of the sea," said Chavra. "Which of us is, after so many years of being bound by ice to the land? But you bring up a good point. We need to know more. Whom should I get to enlighten us?"
"The Mer-folk themselves," said Aslan. "They wish you well, as you know from their presence at your coronation, children, and they are eager to be your full allies."
"We'll have to figure out a place where we both can meet comfortably," said Edmund. "Our next parliament is day after tomorrow." Peter and Susan exchanged small smiles. Both knew the matter would be dealt with thoroughly once Edmund was on the scent.
"I'll ask the Sea-Eagles to send representatives," said Oune the Horned Owl.
One of the smaller Cats said, "Great Lion, there is more that you need of us?" Cats of all sizes always sensed Aslan's wishes best.
Aslan's golden gaze swung toward Peter. "I am sending you someone," said the Lion.
"Sending us someone?" Peter tried to fathom where Aslan was leading him.
"A helper, but someone you will also need to help. Would you do this for me?"
"Of course, Aslan," said Peter. "Anything."
"I depend on your constancy," said Aslan. "Children, I must leave you now. But you know that I think of you always."
Lucy hugged Aslan's neck, causing a low purr to rumble from beneath the topaz fur. Peter allowed his hand to brush across Aslan's mane. The touch warmed him down to his bones. After similar contact with all present, Aslan said farewell, turned from them, and walked nimbly up the rocky strand until he was lost in a stand of trees.
"A helper?" said Susan. "I wonder what species he—or she—will be."
"And to help with what?" said Lucy.
Peter's mind already filled with possibilities, not all of them pleasant. He and his army had already dealt with incursions from the north and from within their own borders. Was something else lying in wait?
"Stop worrying, Peter," said Susan. "I know that look. Aslan himself has just stood with us. Do you think he'd leave us to some danger we couldn't surmount?"
"He certainly hasn't so far," said Peter. "Nevertheless…" He looked out at the advancing waves. "How soon can we find someone to teach us how to swim?"