I noticed that the last document I worked on was titled: Characterizing the Properties of a Translational Regulator Expressed in Mouse Brain, and decided it was high time to remedy that. Enjoy! :) The Eve of Christmas Eve
The Eve of Christmas Eve
I looked up from my hunched little ball as the heavy, wooden door creaked open. Another man spending his night in prison, with Christmas so near? I thought to myself dully, painfully raising myself and blowing on my numb hands.
I appraised the person who had just entered. A mere youth, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and he hadn't stumbled in (as I certainly had)—he walked in serenely, calmly, as though prison was a mere trifle. Though prison, I mused, was not a truly correct term—this was a small outhouse where they lodged petty criminals for as short a time as one day to as long as a week, guarded by Dogs.
The youth sat across from me, erect and proud, though it was certainly very cold in the little cell, his breath rising in misty spirals. I watched him closely, my interest piqued. Who was he? And what had he done to deserve a night in jail? Surely one who held himself with such dignity had never committed a crime in his life.
But even as I scrutinized him, the greatest surprise of all presented itself—the boy smiled at me.
And so shocked was I by that simple gesture, when I had seen nothing these past few days but hunger on my children's faces, and despair in every movement my wife made, that I did the only thing I could think of—I smiled back.
It is the eve of Christmas Eve, and celebrations at Cair Paravel are in full swing. Tumnus sips a cup of wonderfully frothy mead and watches the couples dance, dressed in their gayest clothes. Holly and mistletoe bedeck the archways. The evergreen dryads are the prettiest guests of all—red and golden ribbons stream from their green hair.
Tumnus chuckles into his goblet as Queen Susan dances past with a young faun half her height, who seems so dazed by his good fortune that he can barely control his flying hooves. King Peter is laughing gaily as he talks with the Beavers. But where are the youngest royals?
Every year, on the eve of Christmas Eve, King Edmund and Queen Lucy disappear, and the two remaining siblings refuse to say where they go. It is a Paravel mystery, and one the subjects have accepted as unsolvable.
Tumnus has not yet accepted Peter's and Susan's silences as an answer, but decides to let it be. Just for tonight.
"Who are you?" I rasped, surprised at the hoarseness of my voice. I had been in this miserable cell for but a day and a night, but winter was cold in Narnia.
Instead of answering, the youth asked me a question in his turn. "Who are you?" he countered, and I knew—knew, with all certainty—that he was not merely asking for my name. His voice was sober and calm, and spoke of wisdom beyond his years, as though he had experienced in his short existence what many men do not live through in a lifetime.
Who was I? A poor woodcutter, longing for some comfort… A criminal… A man whose dreams had been disappointed many times… A failure as a husband and as a father…? And as I recognized that I was, indeed, all these and more, I had to stifle back a self-pitying sob.
I settled on the easiest answer. "I am Darien," I said.
"Why are you here, Darien?"
I looked up sharply, but there was no condemnation in his eyes.
"I stole a loaf of bread for my family." The confession took even me by surprise, but there had been no pity in the youth's eyes any more than there had been condemnation, as I had feared there would be. Perhaps it was that that had given me courage; I was not a man to be pitied.
"Did you manage to feed your family before you were caught?"
I began to grow irritated. Who did he think he was, to ask such prying questions?
"Why are you here?" I imitated him, frowning.
He was silent for a long time, and then a faint, sad smile graced his features.
"I am here on an errand of mercy, Master Darien."
It is the eve of Christmas Eve. As Susan dances, secretly reveling in her beautiful gown and the admiring glances that come her way, she finds herself almost wishing that Edmund and Lucy were part of the celebrations. She knows exactly what they would be doing, if they were present—Lucy would be prancing around with Mr. Tumnus, laughing at old memories and fears, and Peter would be cajoling Edmund into dancing, knowing full well that Edmund, the nimblest dancer of the siblings, was deathly afraid of the dance floor.
But she keeps herself from truly wishing it, because she knows that the task they perform this night, every year, is far more important than glances or laughter or beautiful gowns.
"Come," said the youth, before I could question his strange words, "tell me of your family."
I could see that not a single word would deflect his interest, so I answered him. "I have two daughters and a son, all younger than seven years. My wife concocts the most delicious squash soup to be had from here to Calormen." When there was squash to cook, I thought, disheartened.
"And they are hungry." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes," I said curtly, more frustrated with myself than with him now. "There is no food to be had, no one wishes to buy wood off a criminal, and if only—if only I could have a second chance—I could create a new start for my family. I wish for nothing more."
He was silent for a moment, digesting my outburst, and remarked, "So this is not your first time in prison?"
"No. It is my second time. I stole food for my family the first time as well."
"And you wish for a second chance? What would you do with such a second chance?"
I could not quite understand why I was unburdening myself to a strange youth, but something about my odd companion encouraged confidences—as if I knew that, somehow, he would not judge me.
"I would invest my money in something worth investing, and I would feed my children and care for my wife, as a husband should, without having to resort to stealing. I would do anything to be a good husband and father to them," I said softly, not unaware of the desperate note in my voice. "Anything."
I could feel the youth's impenetrable eyes on me even as I turned away, swiping angrily at my face. To my surprise, however, two warm hands gripped my shoulders and raised me up. I found myself looking into clear depths. The youth gazed at me for a long time, until finally relaxing and smiling.
"Come," he said, "let us go."
I was confused and slightly teary after my confession. "Go? Go where?"
And to my utter amazement, he pulled a key out of his pocket, unlocked the wooden door, and flung it wide open. "Home," he said. Glancing back at me, he grinned and nonchalantly strolled out the door.
After a moment of hesitation, I followed him into the night, wondering where the Dogs had gone.
It is the eve of Christmas Eve, and Peter wishes, as he does every year, that he could spend it as Edmund and Lucy do. But it his duty to be present at this celebration as the symbol of the kings and queens, as the image of those who defeated the Winter and brought Christmas back. He knows that they four are a sign of reassurance that Spring will come again, and Narnia still needs that reassurance, despite the Witch's fall years ago.
"Come, Peter, your turn!" calls Susan merrily, and he is suddenly swept onto the dance floor, both siblings whirling around and laughing breathlessly. Spectators smile to see such hearty, happy souls.
And though Peter is happy and is enjoying himself, he still wishes that he was with Edmund and Lucy, despite it all.
"How do you know where I live?" I demanded breathlessly. The coldness of the night and the brisk walk had reduced me to a shivered sort of pant, but during the ten-minute walk, I had realized that the youth was leading me towards my own house.
He gestured towards the poor little log cabin, a sudden merriness in his eyes, and said, simply, as if his answer explained all, "These are the Western Woods." And with that baffling statement, he quietly opened the door and crossed the threshold.
I was amazed. From the open door drifted the sound of laughter and music, and the lovely smell of… squash soup? I rushed in, sighing in contentment as warmth washed over me.
There was my wife, humming, stirring a pot from whence floated the delightful smells, her back to me. And there, on our table, was food of every kind, from roast chicken to venison to pavender, the rainbow-colored fish of Cair Paravel. My children were eating, blissful looks on their thin faces, and a fire was crackling merrily on our hearth fire. What a lovely change it made to the usual picture I arrived to every night—cold hands and cold feet, an empty table, and a wife listless with hunger!
My children had noticed me. "Father, father!" they cried, hurtling into my arms, and I felt a thrill go through me. This was how I had always envisioned my life to be—it could only be a dream, but I was determined to enjoy it as much as I possibly could before waking.
My wife spun around, love lighting her eyes when she saw me. "Oh, Darien!" And she was running to me just as quickly as the children had, and she was in my arms, and we were all a happy, laughing mess of arms and legs.
When we had finally disentangled ourselves, I asked my wife, "What is all this?"
She silently turned and nodded, and there I saw, in a corner of the room, the youth who had helped me out of prison earlier, his arm around a fair-haired girl with laughing eyes that were, at the moment, filled with tears.
I came up to them and gripped their hands tightly. "Thank you," I said, my voice choked with emotion. "Thank you."
The girl shook the tears out of her eyes and said, "Happy Christmas, Master Darien."
My wife, who had come up beside me without me noticing, now spoke. "This—this lady"—I realized that she did not know the girl's name any more than I knew the youth's—"came with food and drinks and a cartload of wood, and she set the table and helped us and told us many merry tales. She said you would come home tonight, but I did not dare believe it—" My wife broke down.
"Tonight is not for tears," the youth said, when we had finally composed ourselves. "Let us enjoy this feast!"
We all sat down and ate, and it warmed my heart to see my family so happy. If I could only give them this everyday—if I could only—
After our petite banquet, we sat by the fire and told stories, my beautiful children's faces lighting up as the young girl began telling them of the four kings and queens who had come as children and vanquished the terrible Witch. My mind could not have been further away from our kings and queens, however, who seemed as distant to me as Cair Paravel was from the woods I lived in—I was watching the picture of love before my eyes, my heart almost breaking as I thought about what the next day would bring, hope quenched, happiness gone.
"Master Darien?" I shook myself out of my reverie and looked around for the person who had called my name. It was the youth; he sat beside me and said, simply and seriously, "I believe you should have your second chance." Before I understood what he meant, he pressed a heavy money bag into my hand.
I opened my mouth to protest, but he smiled and only said, "Use it well." Then he stood up and went to sit beside the girl once more, who put her head to the side and beamed at us.
I could feel my eyes beginning to close, and let out a sleepy chuckle as my youngest daughter nodded into slumber, a thumb in her mouth. My wife was leaning against me, and I could hear our two strange visitors singing softly,
"Day is coming to its close,
Stars are singing,
Think no more of tears or sighs,
And sleep to Aslan's lullaby…"
Aslan's lullaby… And before I drifted off to sleep, I thought I heard a deep voice, almost a purr, saying in my ear, Be well, my child…
It is late into the night, but couples dance with the same grace and enthusiasm, joyful, untiring. Mr. Beaver watches and thinks of two guests who should be present, but never are—not on the eve of Christmas Eve.
He looks up at Peter with a furrowed brow. "Peter, where are Edmund and Lucy?"
Peter says nothing and falls into contemplation for a while before finally saying, softly, "Mr. Beaver, they are saving a soul."
A/N: The short verse is my own, though the format was taken from one of Clive Barker's fabulous poems. I'm aware that this piece isn't really... well... up to par with the rest of my stories (at least, to my mind) but I'm still easing myself into the Narnia fandom, so forgive any mistakes and ill-chosen words. I do hope you enjoyed it enough to leave a review, though!