Chapter the Fourth: Wassail, Wassail!
A/N: FadedxReality has kindly allowed me to borrow her lovely character Lareyna from her wonderful (though sadly unfinished) story Love is a Battleground to serve as Oreius' date to the ball. The good general is not married yet, but I trust that he will be once FadedxReality gets done with him.
The melody I make use of for this chapter has several names: Wassail Carol, Gloucester Carol, and Gloucester Wassail. It's a traditional English carol and one of my favorites. The melody dates back to the medieval period, the most commonly sung words date back to the 17th century.
My thanks to everyone that has read and reviewed this little foray into Yuletide fluff! I hope all of you have a marvelous holiday season!
A long procession formed behind the heralds. As we moved through Cair Paravel, more and more people joined us until it was a happy throng that wound through the palace. I found myself walking with Peridan and Saera, and I immediately I offered them congratulations.
"High King Peter," Peridan said with absolute seriousness, "you . . . your royal family . . . Narnia have all contrived not only to make us perfectly welcome in this kingdom, but perfectly happy as well. We are forever in your debt."
I shook my head, smiling at his awe. "There is no debt, Peridan. The honors you have received have been well earned, and your service to Narnia speaks louder than words." I looked to where Jaer was fighting to keep Peterkins in place while keeping pace with Susan, then back at our new swordmaster. "I cannot begin to express my gratitude to you and your son for the safe delivery of my sisters this past Mayblossom, sir."
"Service to ones such as you and your royal brother and sisters is no labor, but the greatest of honors," he replied. "For through you I am able to serve Narnia, and thus Aslan."
I bowed my head to show that I appreciated his words. He was a good man, and it had been a fortunate day for Narnia when he and his family had relocated here.
The excited, noisy crowd poured down the grand staircase in the great hall and leaned over the railings on the upper stories to see. There was a sizable group assembled already, because only a few of the escorts for the wassail bowls and their makers had been sent to announce their arrival. The hall was very bright and festive and smelled of the cedar and balsam greens hung in swags and garlands, for tonight's ball was going to be held here, in the largest open area of Cair Paravel. I stood on the landing with my brother and sisters, and Susan kept Jaer at her side.
Waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs was a group of four Dryads so beautiful and stately as to take one's breath away. They were Ebony Dryads, and their coloring was reflected in the black wooden mazers they carried. They had masses of jetty curls that were pulled back from their faces and held in place by living crowns of ebony leaves, and their skin was almost as dark as their hair. Chief among them was a tall woman that moved with the grace and dignity of an empress. Quiet fell through the hall as she glided forward on her tiny, bare feet, and the other three Dryads followed in a row. They climbed the stairs to meet us on the landing and I saw that the other Dryads looked very much like the lady they followed. They were very exotic, with dark eyes and angular faces that were different from most of the Dryads that lived around Cair Paravel. Before the assembly the Dryad bowed, and when she spoke her voice was deep and clear.
"The blessings of Aslan and of the Yuletide upon you, O kings and queens of Narnia, and upon all that you hold dear. I am Mashya and these are my daughters. We come from Mount Selain to bring you a gift of the season."
I returned her bow. "Be welcome at Cair Paravel, gracious lady. Be welcome, daughters of the mountain. Our home is yours."
The three younger dryads smiled at being thus addressed by a king, and the littlest, a mere sapling, tried not to giggle.
"I am Peter, the High King," I continued, my voice carried by the acoustics of the hall. "This is my sister, Queen Susan, my brother, King Edmund, and my sister, Queen Lucy. And allow me to present to you, dear ladies of Mount Selain, and to all of Narnia, Sir Jaer, the White Armor Knight."
Mashya smiled graciously, and she looked upon Jaer in his splendid armor with glittering eyes. A small gasp swept through the assembly at my last statement, and everyone strained to catch a glimpse of Jaer even though they all knew what he looked like. Many of the four-footed Animals stood on their hind legs to see better. Quite a few Talking Birds and Bats took to the air to get a look at him, and I could only hope the Flying Squirrels did not forget the injunction leveled against them that forbid them from trying to fly indoors. We did not need any more mid-air collisions with such a crowd filling the hall. Jaer blushed at all the attention and at the raspy call of an old Macaw dame that declared him almost as handsome as his armor (which for Birds is a pretty compliment, though they normally say feathers instead of armor). When the din settled down to a low buzz, Mashya spoke.
"We are honored to be presented to you, O blessed kings and queens, and to so brave and worthy a warrior as this knight of ancient accord." She balanced the bowl in one hand to gesture gracefully. "This is my first grown, Corva, my second grown, Tafara, and she that sprang up at the start of your reign, Rishna."
Each daughter bowed and cast us a dazzling smile, careful of the large black bowls they carried.
"With your permission, High King, we would give you and yours a gift from both mountain and glen, from water and earth and skies, from all that is Narnia, to all that is Narnia. Warmed by the sun, fed by the earth, refreshed by the waters, we grow in the peace secured by Aslan and preserved by Your Majesties. Old traditions have been renewed, old honor has been served, and the magic of the land has returned. And so let us take up our part and offer you these mazers, formed from the heart of an ebony tree in our grove, to serve out the wassail at this year's Christmas celebration. Let us wish you and all of Narnia good health and prosperity and all the joy of this season."
Stepping forward, she offered me the shining black mazer. It was elegant in its simplicity and surprisingly heavy in my hands. I bowed in thanks as Corva glided a few steps forward to present Susan with a slightly smaller bowl. Tafara flashed Edmund a playful smile as she handed over her gift, and Rishna and Lucy exchanged a quick giggle over the last, smallest mazer.
"We thank you, Mashya, and your daughters. Our thanks, too, to your escort. Tonight is the White Armor Ball. Will you all stay and celebrate with us?"
A great, happy shout rose up from the crowd, almost demanding that the newcomers stay for the ball. With a brilliant smile, Mashya bowed in acceptance for herself, her daughters, and everyone that had accompanied them to Cair Paravel.
Jaerin was rather scandalized when I decided to take a nap not long after we left the great hall. He seemed to think it was somehow beneath a king's dignity to have a lie-down. I knew better than he did, though, about how late we would be at the ball, and I wanted to enjoy the entire thing. It had been a long time since we'd held a ball and this was the grandest one yet. There would be music and dancing, then a banquet, then more dancing, and so on all the night through. From tonight all the way to the thirty-third day of Yule there would be endless festivities and diversions and feasts as we celebrated the season. A century and more had passed since such a celebration, and there was much to be made up for.
After such an early morning and rigorous workout on the training grounds, I felt no shame in retiring to my room to snatch a few hours of sleep. Susan shooed Lucy off to get some rest, promising to wake us all in time for tea. It seemed my head barely touched the pillow before Silvo was rousing me. My Faun valet was smiling, and I could hear the indistinct and unhappy sounds of a Just King being likewise wakened by Martil. Edmund growled and muttered and sat up in his bed with his hair sticking every which way and a savage hiss on his lips. I laughed and whipped a pillow at him. He let it knock him back into the bed and he lay there unmoving, sprawled out with the pillow over his head.
"Ugh!" was his entire – and rather delayed – response.
"Come, brother!" I called, not about to get any closer. I knew him too well. This was when he was at his most dangerous. "We've tea to drink and food to eat and guests to entertain and a ball to attend with feasting and music and dancing and-"
"Singing," came a muffled moan from the lump on the other bed.
Armed with another pillow, I ventured closer. "La! And singing! Up!"
An indignant shout rose up as I smacked him with the pillow, and snatching up one of his own, he launched himself at me. We were shouting and laughing and suddenly Lucy was there, roused by our shouts and equipped with her own lacy weapon of war. Taking no sides, she smacked both of us soundly with her cushion. We were laughing too hard for the fight to last long, and I was glad to see that Edmund was awake and somewhat civil.
"Tea is in an hour," said Lucy, leaving the field in triumph. "We're taking it with our teachers and the palace staff in the dining room."
"We'll be there!" I promised.
Edmund just muttered and snarled and let Martil do his job.
As Silvo fetched my clothes he coached us both on things to notice. I knew nothing of fashion and rarely paid attention to clothing or hair or style unless something was very far out of the common way. Once he figured this out (after about a week in my service), Silvo had taken it upon himself to correct this deficiency. For grand events such as this, he primed both me and Edmund with information gleaned from his close relationships with the ladies-in-waiting.
"Queen Susan's gown is new, and she chose the color specifically to match her eyes. Queen Lucy's dress is the same she wore to the banquet marking the start of winter, however her sash is new and she is particularly proud of her shoes because her lady Avraiva embroidered them with beads for her." As he spoke the Faun toweled my hair dry and then came at me with a comb as fiercely as Lucy had come at me with her pillow. "Both of your royal sisters will have their hair styled in a new manner, my kings, and Queen Susan will be wearing the jeweled hair combs you gave her for her last birthday."
Edmund grinned. "You're a lifesaver, Silvo."
And so it was that, upon greeting our sisters before heading out to tea, I was able to declare,
"I say, Susan, you look smashing! Have I seen that gown before?"
Not to be outdone, Edmund exclaimed, "Lucy, what's that on your slippers? They're sparkling."
I don't know if our sisters ever figured out that we were fed information, but at least we never were accused of being boors and failing to compliment them.
The day was whiled away with good food and good company. Sir Jaer was presented time and again to this person and that until he couldn't even try to keep names and titles straight. I think he was still stunned at the day's events, but he moved about in a happy daze, especially since Susan had told him that as guest of honor at the ball tonight he wasn't expected to do much more than enjoy himself. Eventually Lucy claimed him for a little while, and when she sent a page to fetch her lute I knew what she was about.
Eventually it came time to get ready for the ball and for once Edmund and I needed to devote a sizable amount of time to getting dressed since we were going in armor. The armorers had laid hold of our gear during our nap to polish it and check for damage, just as they did every day. I studied my suit of mail and plate and wondered aloud,
"Do you think we'll actually be able to dance like this?"
"I hope not," Edmund grumbled. He smiled at my expression. "Peter, if we can fight, run, tumble, ride, and sleep in our armor, I'm quite certain we won't have any excuses not to dance in it as well. You may want to put aside your leggings and just wear your greaves, though."
"I suppose you're right." I agreed, unable to suppress a smirk. I enjoyed dancing whereas he had to be dragged bodily onto the floor by his partner (though once he started dancing he could and would go on all night).
We helped each other don our armor just as we always did. For us it had become part of our morning ritual, a familiar and comforting routine, though it was odd to gear up in our bedroom and not the armory. The tabards our valets set before us were heavy white cloth, and even the lion on them was embroidered in white thread. Swords and knives, each one with a tale to tell, were belted on, and lastly we set our crowns upon our heads.
"Well?" I asked.
"Very fetching," was Edmund's response, making me wonder why I bothered asking. With a grumble I pushed him out the door so that we could collect the girls.
They were lovely in their flowing white gowns. Their dresses were plain but splendidly made. Both queens had their hair up and they wore crowns made of holly and mistletoe. Lucy carried the lute we gave her on her last birthday and she was almost dancing already, so excited was she to be opening the ball.
The hall was already crowded, with the musicians and servants in place and the sweet, spiced scent of wassail mixing in with the smell of evergreens. The predominant color was white. Armor flashed on the men and some of the women and holly and evergreens abounded, decorating hair and tails and wrists in lieu of flowers or jewelry. A great cheer rose up as we entered the hall, and we left Lucy alone on the landing and made our way to the floor. Almost immediately – because everyone was eager for the celebration to start – I was handed the ebony mazer Mashya had brought. I held it steady as a Faun poured in a long, steaming stream of wassail. It smelt of apples and cinnamon and ale and citrus, all that was best of the season. Besides me, Edmund and Susan likewise held their bowls ready.
Lucy searched the crowd, smiling when she spotted Jaer. I saw her gesture enthusiastically and a moment later our White Armor Knight joined her. She whispered to him and he nodded before setting off at a trot to where the musicians sat ready. I saw him lay hold of his violin and he hurried back to join Lucy on the landing. Smiling and radiant, my littlest sister adjusted her crown of holly more firmly on her head before she tuned her lute a final time. Beside her, splendid in his new mail and white tabard, Sir Jaer did the same. At Lucy's nod he tucked the instrument under his chin. A happy silence fell as everyone turned to listen as the two musicians skillfully played the tune of the carol and started the dance. They played it twice through, swaying to the simple tune, before Lucy began singing in her sweet soprano and accompanying herself all the while:
Be welcome dear friends to our White Armor Ball!
Be there any revelers here in this hall?
Dance now and sing, let your wit flow free!
And drink a wassail toast with me!
The tune was ancient, dating back to the reign of King Frank I and Queen Helen, but the words were all newly written for the occasion. A great cheer rose up from all sides as Lucy curtsied and Sir Jaer bowed and the game began. Lucy hurried down the stairs to join us and receive the plain wooden bowl from Mashya. The rest of the musicians joined in and Sir Giles, from his post on the steps, gave us our chorus:
Wassail, wassail, a toast to the crown!
Two kings and two queens who cast winter down
They vanquished the cold and set springtime free
With our wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee!
The verse wasn't entirely correct, but it didn't matter. Along with my brother and sisters, I lifted my wooden mazer in salute and took a drink of the strong wassail within - it was sweet and spicy and rich and I drank only a mouthful before passing the bowl to Cyn, captain of the Gryphon scouts. Everyone would drink from the bowls tonight, uniting us in song and spirit . . . and spirits. Giles nodded to Edmund as the crowd repeated the chorus, and my brother drew deep breath and caught up the song with a salute to Narnia. He gestured so widely his hand smacked my chest as his high, clear voice filled the hall.
Now drink to the north land with rivers so fair!
Her mountains and glens, from Caldron to Cair
From Lamp Post and Lawn, to the glistening sea,
With our wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee!
"Oh, very poetic, Ed," I commented, earning myself another smack.
There were cheers of approval from many throats and Susan seized my hand and we waltzed through the chorus. Wearing armor certainly made dancing interesting, because with a sword on I took up more space than normal and I had to be careful not to hit anyone by mistake. As everyone fell to dancing, Giles dashed about and organized the next stanza. To my surprise, the Fox joined a group on the stairs comprised of Oreius, Kanell, Celer, and Peridan. All of them were flushed with drink and merrier than I had ever seen them as their deep voices boomed out:
Ye brave Knights of Narnia, stay for a while!
The Lion, the Table, the Arrow, the Vial!
Most daring of all, sure none can compare
To our aspects or skills or ladies so fair!
Each knight sang out the name of his order, and each sang the last line to his wife or sweetheart. There was so much laughter that everyone missed the chorus and the musicians had to play an extra round to allow us to catch up. The respective ladies - Marion, Lareyna, Xati, Lela, and Saera - all shook their heads and threw their hands (or tails, or both) in the air and gave up trying to get their men folk to behave. The ladies all turned to the nearest man and seized them for a dance partner. That was how I ended up dancing with Lady Marion, taking tiny steps as I held her paws in my hands.
Beside me, Edmund was laughing so hard that he leaned on Jaer for support, and I wasn't in much better shape. Someone handed him one of the wassail bowls and he took a drink before handing it over to me. He dashed into the happy crush to dance a few steps with Xati, and I gaped in surprise to see Susan very carefully waltzing with a Bear. I held the bowl steady as a Satyr page refilled it. Giles, meanwhile, ran through the crowd and moments later a group of majestic women stepped to the foot of the stairs. It was Mashya and her graceful daughters, and they joined hands as they sang:
All sons and all daughters now lift your bowls high!
Give thanks to the seasons, the earth and the sky
Sun, stars, and rain all waken the seeds
To the fruits, the grains, the flowers, and weeds!
More laughter erupted as the ladies glided away into the crowd, and I could see Edmund dancing with Tafara a few moments later. I drank quickly and set the bowl down for the Cat pages take a sip before passing it on to one of Susan's Nymph ladies-in-waiting. The Ebony Dryads were replaced by Peterkins. The little Fox climbed a step or two for a better view and faced the crowd, waiting for the chorus to end so he could sing his verse. He drew a deep breath and -
Nothing. We could tell that in his excitement, he'd forgotten the words he had composed. He stood there, astonished at himself as the horns and flutes and strings and drums wore on without him. When the tune came around again he tried once more, drawing a deep breath and then frowning. He gave a little whining 'Oh!' of disappointment and self-disgust as memory failed him completely. There was good-hearted laughter and cheers for the Fox, who after all was only a year old. He slunk back to his mother to be comforted and I saw Susan lean over to talk to him and reassure him. In moments he was laughing and chasing his sisters again. I reached out and swept into my arms the first lady I encountered – in this case, Rien. We waltzed through the chorus, and as the verse ended I spun her around so she could enjoy the feel of her gown sweeping about her legs. I felt Rhindon smack into someone, and I immediately turned to apologize.
"I have been knighted once already," Oreius reminded, moving out of range. He cast me a rare smile before stepping back into the dance.
Sir Jaer was the next one appointed, and he took Peterkins' place on the stair. He did not sing, but he had his violin and upon it he played a variation upon the melody we had been singing. He twisted the song back upon itself, enriching and compounding each note, building the music's complexity until he played multiple notes for every one we had sung. It was amazing to hear, and for that brief stanza Jaer seemed to lose himself in the creation of beauty.
I caught Giles' attention and pointed to Edmund and myself. I elbowed my brother with a loud clank of armor and he nodded and we searched the crowd for our sisters. Both were dancing, Lucy having set her lute aside to dance with a Mouse while Susan was partnered with Jaerin. Lion be praised, but Peridan's younger son was having the time of his life and he actually looked disappointed when I cut in on him.
I caught Susan's hand as she swept past and I twirled her around. A few feet away, Edmund, flushed with drink and pleasure, fell to one knee at Lucy's feet and together we sang in harmony:
And here's to our good queens in lily-white gowns
Such grace and such beauty bids scarce to be found!
Their crowns they are made of the evergreen tree
With our wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee!
Both girls curtsied deeply, delighted. Seizing them as partners, we waltzed through the chorus, singing all the while. Then Susan and Lucy drew close together to give us their response.
A health to our good kings who with sword and shield
Stand fast 'gainst our foes and never do yield!
Stand fast 'gainst our foes and keep our land free
With our wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee!
Happily we bowed to the queens. This time I danced with Lucy a few steps before the four of us dashed up the stars and stood together to sing:
Now tell us, O Narnia, of your newly named knight!
Such valor in battle though his armor be white!
The legends will sing of his daring so keen
As he plied his blade in defense of two queens!
Jaer had one of the mazers in hands and he snorted and almost choked at being made the subject of our verse. He hastily passed the bowl off to Kanell while Xati slapped him between the shoulder blades as he coughed, almost flattening him. I stayed on the steps as my siblings returned to the crowd, and at a word from Sir Giles, Kanell delivered the mazer to my hands. I saw my family collect their wassail bowls as well, and when the chorus and laughter ended I raised my voice in song, singing slowly and with deep feeling:
Now hail to the Lion, our Highest of Kings
Roar out to the Son and the warmth that he brings!
His blessings abound, so join in our hymn
With hearts full of love, we'll drink now to him!
I brought the nearly-empty bowl to my lips and drank to Narnia's creator as the final chorus rang out. The wassail was rich and sweet and warm, like summer, like Aslan. All the way down to the last drop I drank, while below me my siblings finished off their bowls as well. A little breathless, I smiled at the assembly. Lifting the bowl high, I gave a final call,
And from every Narnian in the hall came a hearty, full-throated shout in reply: