On the Nature of Wishes
A/N: This is quite a deviation from the norm for me, and rather sad in its way. I'm not sure if it falls into the story arc I've created or not. I'm frankly rather surprised with the whole thing.
The descendants of Peridan ruling Narnia after the Golden Age is borrowed from Thalion King's Daughter's story The Dream Dasher. My deep and heartfelt thanks to my most excellent beta readers as well!
Disclaimer: Narnia and its characters are the property of CS Lewis, Walden Media, and Disney. I'm just borrowing them and I promise to give them back when I'm done. Until the next story, of course.
By the light of the moon he glowed with an unearthly gleam, radiant white and vivid against the darkness of the forest. He seemed little more than a ghostly flash moving among the trees and brush. Elusive, cunning, and wise, the White Stag was used to being pursued and he knew many tricks and schemes to work his way out of ambushes and traps. He knew the penalty of being caught, just as those that chose to pursue him knew the prize of capturing him: a single wish, that rarest of treasures . . . or so most thought.
Where he came from could not be said, nor did anyone know where he went between the times he appeared in Narnia. Some said he disguised himself as a Talking Deer. Others said each time he was seen he was born anew. Still others claimed that he moved through holes and tears and gaps in time, stepping between the irregular folds of space and distance that ran through Narnia's dimension, forever running forward until the end of days when finally he could rest. Which, if any, of the stories was true has never been proven. Once the White Stag had been captured people were always far too busy asking their wish to ask the Stag about himself.
And so it was that twenty years after the disappearance of the Four Kings and Queens of Narnia's Golden Age that the White Stag was again seen in the Western Woods by the Lantern Waste. Word spread swiftly and many were the Narnians who thought to capture the Stag. It was a common reaction. Most of the hunting parties ended up as picnics and dances with music and dancing and too much wine and little hunting being carried out.
Not so one of the hunters. Old he was, and no warrior or woodsman he, but his desire to capture the White Stage burned in his breast with overwhelming need that made him as fleet as his quarry. He knew the area well as befitting one who had lived in the Lantern Waste almost all of his life. He knew every tree and stone, every crag and hill and path. He knew his home better than he knew himself, and he knew himself very well indeed.
In a shallow stream the shining white hart paused to drink, looking for all the world like a piece of the moon fallen to earth and given this swift and graceful form. His rack of antlers flashed like mother-of-pearl as a faint sound caused him to lift his head. He tensed, large ears angled forward as he sensed his pursuer, and in a rush of motion he was gone, dashing off at breakneck speed, intent only on escape.
The White Stag, whose home was unknown, did not know the Lantern Waste so well. He could not know he was being herded and that the trap was sprung. No harm would come to him of course, unless parting with another wish caused him some sort of distress. He ran, leaping and bounding until suddenly he was faced by a sheer wall of stone. To one side more stone arose and to the other the tall briars grew so thickly that he could not barge past unharmed. He paused, staring at the barriers, then resigned himself to his fate and his captor.
"That was well devised, Tumnus, son of Calamus," complimented the White Stag without a hint of rancor. His voice was deep and rich. "Almost two centuries have passed since anyone has managed to capture me."
The tired, gray-haired Faun stepped out of the shadows. He was old for his kind but not ancient. His hair was more gray than brown and now that the chase was over he moved stiffly. His face retained something of his youth, though, in the anxious aspect and bright, questioning eyes.
"So they didn't capture you?" he pressed without a word of greeting. "The kings and queens? They didn't wish that they would leave?"
The Deer looked at him curiously. "Why would they wish such a thing, Faun Tumnus? Save for Aslan they loved nothing more than Narnia, even before themselves, as evidenced by the sacrifices made by both kings. The Pevensies left because Aslan willed that they leave, so that Narnia, by their example, would learn to rule herself." He stepped closer to the old Faun. "Has she?"
"I don't know," was the miserable reply. "I . . . I have not done a good job of living in the present. The grandchildren of Lord Peridan rule Narnia as regents, not kings or queens."
"And how fares Narnia?"
"Well, I suppose. It's not a Golden Age. It's more . . .gilt. An echo of their glory."
"That is not so evil a destiny, I say. Narnia's borders are secure, her people well and happy. What more did the Pevensies wish for?"
"Not all of them. Not all happy."
"And do you think a wish will make you happy again?"
The Stag considered. "That depends upon the wish." He drew closer to the Faun, an aura of silver light accompanying him. "Do not trifle with wishes, Tumnus. They are great and powerful things. They can change the world or a life or a destiny. That is why there are so few granted, and why I can only grant one at a time. Few people understand their nature. I do. All too well, I understand. Wishes are best used sparingly and spread thinly so that many may partake of their gift. Rarely do they show themselves to be what was expected. Unless chosen with great care they tend to twist back upon the one who asks."
Tumnus barely heard, and spoke the deepest desire in his heart. "I wish the Pevensies would return. I wish the Kings and Queens would return to Cair Paravel and the Golden Age to continue. I wish . . . Lucy would come back."
The White Stag stared at him, and after a very long pause he said, "Faun Tumnus, I beg you reconsider such a wish."
"It's what I want!" argued Tumnus, anguished.
"What you want, Tumnus son of Calamus, runs contrary to the will of Aslan. It is not for us to question or fathom his choices, and things cannot happen over again in a like manner. The Four were here for many years. They ruled well and wisely and brought Narnia to heights of glory and power never before conceived. You had your time with them and that time has passed. Is that not enough?"
"How could it be?" demanded the Faun. There were tears in his eyes. "They were my friends. She was my friend. My best friend. I loved her more dearly than I have ever loved anyone or anything!"
Silence was the only answer. The Hart pawed the earth for a moment, drawing a deep breath that he let out in a sigh. It was the White Stag's turn to seem old, but he was old and wise and strong and not driven by desire. "Two stories I have for your ears, Faun Tumnus. I beg you listen well and learn about the true nature of wishes. One actor was selfless, the other selfish. Hear what their desire wrought.
"The first story took place during the reign of Queen Aliss the Joyous. There was a drought throughout most of Narnia in the fourth year after she assumed the throne. It was hard upon the inhabitants of Narnia, especially the ones dependent upon the bounty of the forest and field to see them through the winter. I was resting not far from the Stone Table when a Squirrel kit jumped upon me from a branch above and claimed he had caught me. I saw no reason to argue and asked him what it was he wanted to wish for. The Squirrel, whose name was Tanglefoot, was no more than a year old. After some thought he asked me for a walnut. I asked what he intended to do with it and he said he would give it to his mother because she had to forage far afield to feed his family. A walnut would help because she always came home exhausted with her labor.
"I told him one walnut wasn't very much and since he had a whole wish of his own to use he might ask for more. Tanglefoot considered and held up his paws and asked if he could have one for each toe. I asked him why that many and he said he knew that was how many people were in his family and if he had that many walnuts, each of them could have one and his mother could rest for a day.
"I promised him that his wish would be granted and that on the morrow he would have the first of his walnuts. Satisfied, Tanglefoot returned to his home by the Stone Table. The next day a young Walnut Dryad sought shelter in the little brace of trees where Tanglefoot lived. She was, of course, made welcome by the Squirrels and she planted her roots there and flourished. The next year she had a daughter, and the year after another and so on until there were as many Walnuts living in the grove as Tanglefoot had toes. His family never had to forage again and to this day his descendants and those of the first Dryad live together in harmony."
The Stag paused, blinking his blue eyes at the Faun. He could not tell if Tumnus heard and understood what he was being told.
"The second story happened almost a century earlier. This was during the reign of King Harold the Second and Queen Zeyan the Fair. Keit, River God of the Muskenon River, had twelve daughters. They were lovely as Naiads are and each had her features and traits to mark her as a beauty. The youngest was Mir, and she was not satisfied with simply being lovely. Vain and jealous, she wished to be the loveliest of all of Keit's daughters. She seized my leg as I was drinking in the Muskenon and demanded a wish. I tried to dissuade her, but she refused to listen to reason and demanded that I make her the most beautiful Naiad in the river.
"What choice had I? I granted her wish for it is my purpose in life. Soon after there was a flood. The eldest of her sisters was washed away and lost. Three other sisters were dashed against the rocks. One broke her nose and it never healed straight. Another gashed her face and bore the scar all her days. The last tore her ear so badly that the local healer had to cut it away. Sickness robbed another sister of her hair, and made another girl wrinkled. A fisher bit yet another, and so on until Mir was the loveliest Naiad not by having been made prettier than what had been already granted her, but only because her sisters had been so reduced and made miserable. Too late she saw the sin and folly of her desire to outshine her sisters. Her guilt allowed her no rest, and finally she ran into the woods. She got lost and could not find more water and so in despair she died, alone and grieving.
"And so you see, Faun Tumnus, the awesome power of wishes? We are too small, we mortal beings, to hold such things to ourselves. A greater purpose must be served for wishes to come true. And so I beg you, reconsider."
"I can't. I can't let go. All I want is for the Four to return and restore Narnia again."
Another sigh escaped the pearly white Deer. "Tell me, Faun Tumnus, if Queen Lucy the Valiant stood here in your place, what would she wish for?"
Tumnus considered, wiping his eyes with a hand that trembled. "She would . . . she would wish for everyone to be happy and take joy in music and dance."
"And King Edmund the Just, her brother?"
Tumnus flinched slightly. There had been no love lost between him and the younger king, though over the years they had built a relationship of sorts. It had been based on respect, not friendship or liking. He swallowed and said, "He would wish for all Narnians to receive fair treatment and protection."
"And the Gentle Queen Susan?"
He spoke without hesitation. "She would wish for all Narnians to be content and protected from want."
The Stag nodded in agreement. "And Peter, High King over all Kings of Narnia? What would be his wish?"
"King Peter would wish to keep Narnia safe and secure against any that would do her harm."
"Why do you not wish for one of these things, then?"
"Why won't you grant what I ask?"
"I can. Given no choice, I will. But consider the consequences, Tumnus, and remember my warnings. Do not be selfish with your wish."
The Faun shook his head. "I want our monarchs back! I want all that they would wish for us! I want my friend back. How is that selfish?"
"Time flows very differently between Narnia and Spare Oom, Tumnus, but it always goes forward, never backwards. Queen Lucy returned to her home world by the same way she came, almost to the moment she left."
"What difference would that make?"
"None to you, perhaps, who love her so absolutely. It might not even matter to her. But . . . she is a child again. The Four came for a purpose and left for the same reason. Can you not accept that?"
"But I don't have to accept that," argued Tumnus, his voice soft and shrewd. He would not meet his companion's eye.
The Hart stared at him, then lowered his head sadly. "I wish you would."
"You know what I wish, good Stag."
With one last pleading look, the White Stag raised his head, looking at the sky. "Your wish . . . will be granted."
Tumnus closed his eyes, letting his breath out in a sigh of relief. "Thank you."
"Do not thank me!" snapped the Deer, his pearly antlers flashing in the moonlight as he tossed his head. He stamped a hoof in fury. "Fool! Selfish, selfish fool! You can lie to me. You can lie to yourself! But remember this, Faun Tumnus, son of Calamus, you cannot lie to Aslan!"
Taken aback, Tumnus stared in shock at this reaction. "What do you mean?"
"Fool! The kings and queens will return to restore Narnia - after it has been invaded and conquered and subjugated for centuries!"
"What?" breathed Tumnus, going as pale as the Stag's snowy flanks. "How can you know these things?"
"Because I know the workings and nature of wishes." The magical White Stag gazed up at the stars with longing. "Hear me now, since you refused to hear me before! Your wish will lie dormant for many, many years, gathering strength. Then one day it will stir the people of Telmar to raise arms against this land. Your wish will be granted, Tumnus, but not in your life and not in the way you expected. The price will be bloody and cruel."
"What?" he gasped again, unable to grasp the words. "But . . . but I . . ."
"You wished for them to return. It was not for Narnia's benefit that you wished so, but for your own comfort. You did not heed my words. You did not say when. You did not say why. All you thought was to go back, and the river of time only flows forward."
"No! No! That can't be!"
"Take heart. Aslan knows every thought, every moment. Never doubt that. It may very well be that you are merely his instrument at this moment, setting into motion his plans for Narnia's future."
Tumnus shook his head, sinking down to the ground. "I cannot have done this."
The Deer huffed. Remorse was late in coming to the Faun. "He knows, Tumnus, and had he wished otherwise he would have intervened."
"Mighty Aslan," wept the Faun, "what have I done?"
The White Stag looked at him with equal amounts of sympathy and disgust. "You have set Narnia upon a new path. Now pray that she does not get so lost that she cannot find her way through the darkness. Farewell."
"What?" he asked again. "You're leaving? Can't you undo this?"
"My duty has been discharged. Your wish has been granted. Why would I undo what I have done? Have you heard nothing I've said? You cannot go back, only forward, the same as I."
"But I've doomed Narnia!"
"And in the same breath you protected her by sending her greatest monarchs to her aid and wishing for the land's restoration." He shook his head. "How much better it would have been if you had but wished your queen the happiness she would have wished you."
And he stepped away into the night.