The Voyage of Dawn Treader
A/N: I'm taking great license with astronomy and the motions of the heavenly bodies in Narnia in this story. All mistakes, inaccuracies, and gaping flaws in my total lack of research are mine and mine alone. This story was inspired by the lunar eclipse of August 2007, which left me awed at the sheer beauty of the skies. Enjoy.
Part One: Sunset
The sun was dipping low on the western horizon and the evening breeze that filled the Dawn Treader's sail sped the small ship along at a measured pace that was neither so fast that one had to watch their footing nor so slow as to make the heat of a long, hot day bothersome. It was a perfect end to a perfect day of sailing on a gentle sea, made all the better by the change that had occurred in my cousin since we departed Dragon Island.
Since Aslan had freed him not only of his dragon form, but also of the worst aspects of his upbringing, Eustace Clarence Scrubb had turned from a nosy, obnoxious prat with no imagination or regard for the people around to someone who was genuinely trying to learn how to care and be a decent chap. I found I rather liked this revised version of my cousin. Eustace had a sharp mind and an unfortunate name and I was willing to go any length to help him in his quest to be pleasing company for the first time in his life. It was a quest I had taken once myself, and so I gladly took pains to smooth his path, just as Peter had done for me all those years ago.
Reepicheep had lately given Eustace several lessons in the game of chess. The good Mouse was a renowned fighter, but when it came to chess he was quite a romantic player, risking all on wild gambits and rarely thinking far enough ahead to come up with a decent strategy. He was a knight, a tactician, living and fighting in the moment, and he played chess in a similar fashion. I knew that Eustace, who had an understated passion for science, would quickly see the mathematical possibilities of the game and shape into a decent player. We were playing then, and drinking watered wine, and I was scaling back my game so as not to frighten my cousin away or trigger a storm of foul temper. I remembered well how awful it was to lose every game, which I had done for about five years straight, and so I was willing to sacrifice some of my dignity to keep Eustace in a good humor.
"The ship's tail is incorrect," Eustace said abruptly.
I looked up with a small, "Hmm?" If he was trying to divert my attention it wouldn't work well. I had played against some formidable opponents in the past and not even Ettin Giants could distract me from my game. That didn't seem to be the case because he was looking past me and past Drinian by the tiller. I turned, following his gaze to the looped dragon's tail of carved wood decorating the stern of the Dawn Treader.
"The ship's tail," he repeated. "It's anatomically impossible. I never could have done that when I had a tail."
Lucy was approaching with more wine for us and Reepicheep was close beside her. She heard our cousin's comment. It was as close to a joke as we had ever heard out of Eustace and the fact that he was willing to make light of having been turned into a dragon made us both laugh aloud. He frowned and I realized he had been serious, but upon reflection he didn't grow cross or insulted, praise be to the Lion, but slowly smiled as he realized his comment had been rather amusing.
"Actually," I said, moving my knight so that Eustace couldn't help but capture my herald, "Dawn Treader, the real Dawn Treader, probably could have."
Lucy nodded. "But he didn't have wings."
"He had antlers," I said to distract Reepicheep from commenting on my deliberate attempts to lose.
"Hold on, Edmund," chirped Eustace, capturing my herald as planned. He set the piece aside before asking, "Are you saying Dawn Treader was the name of a person?"
Lucy was smiling at the secret we shared. "Not a person, Eustace. Dawn Treader was a Dragon."
"And not just any kind of dragon," I added, setting myself up to lose a pawn. "Not a wyrm or a drake or even a salamander. Dawn Treader was - is - the Celestial Dragon. He is the messenger of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea."
"You met him?"
At this breathless exclamation we all looked up to see Caspian had joined us as well. Narnia's king had wide eyes and his face betrayed his astonishment. It was evident he recognized the name beyond this spry little ship he commanded.
"He came to Cair Paravel," I replied, and Caspian sighed in awe, looking at us with renewed respect. Lucy and I weren't just the stuff of legends, we were the embodiment of history and mythology in the land where we had reigned and I had just added another layer to our legacy.
Reepicheep's ears and whiskers were well forward as he drank in this lore, looking between Narnia's past and present, and, if he could have known it, her future. His dark eyes glittered at the mention of an adventure, he eagerly piped, "Just King, Valiant Queen, I beg that Your Majesties share this tale with us! Why, the very ship hums in delight to know the history of its own worthy name!"
I smirked at his exaggeration, but his desire was clear: Reepicheep longed to hear this story.
"There was no sword fighting, Master Mouse, and very little excitement," I warned. Upon reflection I felt compelled to add, "It was actually rather sad."
A tale of tragedy and sorrow was enough to capture the Mouse's imagination utterly and he sat down beside Eustace, curling his tail around his pink feet, waiting. Caspian also drew closer, fetching a stool for Lucy to sit on while he sat on the deck with the rest of us.
"Glenstorm said the night that Dawn Treader arrived was the only time in history that Narnia has had a lunar eclipse," said Caspian, no less eager than the Mouse.
"It was," I said. "We have to be glad of that."
"How can there be no lunar eclipses?" quizzed Eustace, our game of chess forgotten.
There would be no escaping Eustace puzzling over the scientific aspects of the story. I barely understood the discipline behind it myself, and I had been taught by the wisest of a wise people. I didn't want to get into the motion of the heavenly bodies around a flat world. It had little to do with the story anyway, as it was something I could comprehend but not explain to satisfaction. When heavenly bodies had minds of their own the accepted laws Eustace held dear could not be enforced.
"The spheres move differently in Narnia than in Spare Oom, Eustace. Suffice to say they only have solar eclipses. Lu, maybe you should tell it," I suggested. "You're a better story teller than I am. I'll start talking like a judge and put everyone to sleep."
Lucy smiled knowingly. "You're very good at speaking, Ed. I'll help you."
"All right." I nodded my agreement and began. "It was the fifth year of our reign -"
"Fourth," Lucy corrected.
"The fourth, surely!"
"Fifth. It was the year following the Ogre invasion. Remember? Methalain crushed Peter for his seventeenth birthday?"
Lucy shuddered at the memory, ceding me the victory. Reepicheep tensed in renewed excitement and I automatically knew what tomorrow night's entertainment would consist of. Then again, story telling was not exactly an unpleasant way to spend an evening. I noticed that Drinian and a few other sailors within earshot had grown rather quiet, listening in on the tale. It occurred to me that they most likely would know nothing of the nature of the universe around them. Deliberately, I raised my voice a bit so they could hear me better. I began anew, calling to mind the way the scholars in Cair Paravel used to write history as to make it even more interesting than anything that could be made up.
"So," I said, beginning the tale in accordance to the classical Narnian tradition. Great speaking, as the poets used to say. It was so easy, so comfortable to slip back into the courtly mode of speech that was more familiar to me than the speech of a schoolboy from Finchley. I looked past the immediate circle to address the listening sailors. "Listen well, ye men of Narnia, and you, good my cousin, and you, dear and loyal friends. It was the fourteenth day in the month of Fairdawn in the year 1004 that the Celestial Dragon, Dawn Treader, the Sun Grazer, the Sky Walker, and the Storm-Bringer by name and title, came from Over Sea to the Palace of the Four Thrones. It was a stifling hot night in early summer . . ."