The Road to Glasswater
Kanell raised his eyes and locked gazes with his friend. "We have seen Him, we have seen His glory, and we have seen Him as He really is!" A pre-LWW tale of the restoration of hope and the fulfillment of a prophecy.
"No, three pints is enough for me."
He chuckled. "Indeed? I seem to remember a time when you could chug four pints in half-an-hour."
Kanell gave him a joyless grin. "I was younger then…" And happier too, but he didn't have to say anything for Oreius to understand his friend's unspoken thoughts.
The two companions had been at the Dancing Bull tavern (located on the roadside twenty-one miles from Glasswater) for nigh on forty-five minutes, drinking side-by-side in silence. They had known each other well over half-a-century, were close friends, had fought together under the great Calimus in his last campaign against Jadis before the Ice Queen had shattered the remnants of the Army along the southern border with Archenland. They had fought together afterwards, in the dark years when Jadis solidified her control over Narnia. The resistance, though still alive, had withdrawn to the shadows, the deep parts of the forest, off the weather-beaten paths of the plains. All the while, they waited for Aslan to return, and for the promise, the long-awaited promise, to be fulfilled.
So they waited.
The rebellion that had begun in the 75th year of the Long Winter had disbanded after ten years of guerilla (and occasionally open) warfare, and those who had been part of it had either returned to their homes, been killed by the forces of Otmin, turned to stone by the Witch's sorcery, or were still resisting in their own way.
Oreius and Kanell (both of whom had been leaders in the rebellion) were among the latter. They were not elderly by the standard of their kind – most centaurs lived three centuries and Oreius had just reached the end of his first – but the years of fighting, war, bloodshed, and loss had aged them beyond their physical years, and it seemed as if they had lived multiple lifetimes already. Sick of war, haunted by memories of the past, tired of waiting on a Lion who with each passing year seemed more a myth than reality, weary of holding fast to a prophecy that the nation had been waiting for through a century of hardship, oppression, tyranny, and atrocity – yet they still had not yet reached the plateau of complete surrender. For fifteen years they had wandered the width and breadth of Narnia together, first trudging west, then heading south only to turn northwards, and finally marching to the east through countless miles of snow and ice. Always snow and ice. Nothing, but snow and ice. Never anything, but snow and ice.
They had finally set their eyes on Glasswater, only because it was the one region of Narnia they hadn't been to in their wanderings the past fifteen years. Maybe, just maybe, amongst the serene groves and woods of Glasswater, they would find peace.
But deep within their souls, they knew – there was no peace to be found while endless winter covered the steppes of Narnia, while She remained the tyrant over their land. And for that reason alone (and perhaps because they were both a bit stubborn), they refused to surrender…for now.
But Oreius feared that time was close.
Kanell was close to the end, Oreius could see it. His friend didn't have the will to fight on much longer, and without it ever being said both of them knew they had chosen to plod towards Glasswater only because it was a good place to die…
Maybe it was just as well.
Oreius blinked and slightly shook his head, rousing himself. He had nearly drunk himself into a trance. Glancing over at Kanell, he could tell his friend's mind was far away. "What's on your mind?"
Kanell grunted. "Celer."
"What about him?"
"Just wondering whatever became of him."
Oreius nodded. They hadn't seen the faun since the rebellion disbanded, but he'd been a good comrade and friend before that time. "Probably fishing somewhere along the coastline."
Kanell nodded slowly. "Always loved that, didn't he? Unless Jadis got him by now…" The massive centaur set his mug down and pushed himself away from the bar a bit unsteadily. "You done?"
Oreius nodded again, setting his mug down along with a few coins and a curt nod to the Dwarf bartender. "Aye, let's go."
They tightened the strings of their cloaks as they sauntered past the ogre warriors raucously playing a drinking game at the end of the bar, hiding their broadswords from the orc soldiers standing guard at the door. Oreius nearly collided with a lion cleaning his paws just outside the busy tavern as he exited, mumbling an apology as he and Kanell made their way onto the road.
"You ready?" Kanell asked.
Oreius nodded, tightening his sword belt. It was twenty-one miles to Glasswater, and they had the rest of their lives to get there. "Forward to Glasswater," he quipped, flashing a half-grin at his friend.
It had been evening when they entered the Dancing Bull, and now the sun was gone, leaving the moon in its stead. They walked the moonlit road in silence, they were close enough in spirit by now to walk long distances without having to say anything. Indeed, there was nothing left to say after all the decades that had passed by, and they both knew the road that would lead them to Glasswater would be their last.
"May I join you?" These words, spoken in a deep voice, took them by surprise and brought them to a halt. Looking behind them, they saw the voice belonged to a lion. The same lion, in fact, that had been cleaning his paws when Oreius collided with him as they departed the Dancing Bull. Neither centaur had realized they had been followed.
Oreius found his voice first. "If you wish."
"And if you don't mind dull companions," murmured Kanell.
The lion nodded silently and fell in alongside them. He had an impressive size, Oreius realized as he drew closer, and was larger than most lions in Narnia. "Why, may I ask, do you consider yourself 'dull company'?" their new companion questioned.
From Oreius' side, Kanell began to laugh – a sad laugh, and Oreius could hear the years of pain in his friend's laughter. "Open your eyes, fellow traveler," the massive centaur sighed. "Look about you. Narnia covered in an infinite winter, her defenders slain or in hiding, and deliverance nowhere to be found. How is it that you ask us why we have such a temperament, when you can see all that has befallen our land, all that has occurred in Narnia?"
The lion nodded, almost imperceptibly, keeping his eyes forward on the road. "What things have occurred?"
A bark of laughter elicited from Oreius, and Kanell smiled sadly as he looked down at the lion. "How much time do you have to listen, for 'tis a long and sad tale."
Their new companion grinned in response, though Oreius noticed that his eyes took on a spark of brightness. "Until morning."
Kanell grunted. "That should be enough time…"
And as they walked onwards into the night, their only light the moon, Kanell spoke of all that had befallen Narnia. From the northern invasion of Jadis to the slaying of Swanwhite and all the royal bloodline, from the resistance of Calimus to the ten-year rebellion that had ended nigh on fifteen years previously, Kanell related it all. Oreius remained silent throughout, at times his memories threatening to overwhelm him as he remembered it all again. And on into the night, they slowly made their way closer to Glasswater.
Finally, Kanell fell silent, his voice spent, the years and memories all used up and over. There was now no more to speak of in the past, only the here and now. The lion listened silently, not saying a word, as onward they walked the Glasswater Road. Then Oreius broke the silence. "Why?"
The lion glanced up at him. "Why what, my friend?"
The centaur stopped in his tracks and stared at the lion, his gaze intense and never wavering. "I have served Narnia since I was a colt, scarcely able to handle a blade. I never knew my mother, for Jadis overran the northern border on the day I was born, and the shock proved too much for her to bear. My father, Manthwell, served with General Calimus – I saw him fall, his life blood staining my hands as I clutched his corpse, trying to wake him from his eternal sleep. My friend, Maugrim, one I stood with as we fought our occupiers together, betrayed us and joined the Witch. He is now her 'Captain of the Secret Police', and his longevity is only possible by her witchcraft. My grandfather, Romit, honored chief among our people, was slain like a common criminal by these savages who conquered this land – MY land."
"Both your father and grandfather were brav-" the lion began.
"I'M NOT FINISHED!" Oreius thundered. Kanell laid a hand on his shoulder in silent caution – it would not go well for them if they attracted any of the Witch's servants, and Oreius quieted, though his blazing eyes illuminated the anger and sorrow in his heart. "All this I could have borne, and willingly so, if Narnia only could be free of this curse, free of this wretched woman who dares to call herself 'Queen'," he hissed. "But here we are, Kanell and myself. For all we know, we are the last two in all Narnia who still draw the sword on her behalf – and yet even now..." and here he broke off and locked eyes with Kanell, who saw his gaze and understood it. "Even now, we lose the will to carry on."
"Then why have you not?"
The straightforward question surprised Oreius, forcing him to seek within himself for the answer. "I-I don't know," he finally admitted, somewhat surprised he was being so candid with a stranger. "Something within me…I don't know what it is…but there is a part of me that is not yet willing to surrender to defeat."
The lion, now reclining on the roadside, seemed strangely calm – Oreius couldn't quite make sense of it, but this lion was…different, in a manner of speaking. "Do you yet cling to hope that Narnia will be restored?" the lion asked.
Kanell snorted. "Hope." He spat the word out. "It forsook Narnia decades ago. In fac-"
"Yes." Oreius cut his friend off. He didn't understand what was happening here on the road to Glasswater, but he felt strangely compelled to be honest with the lion. "Yes, I still have a measure of hope in me, however faint. I still…" and he stumbled over what he was about to say, "however daft it may seem to still hold to it…I still hold out hope that…" admit it, Oreius, "that the Lion will return." Aye, that's it. "I still hold to that hope, for indeed, I have nothing left to hold onto beside it."
At his side, Kanell was silent, but slowly nodded in assent. "Aye," and Oreius could hear the emotion in his friend's voice. "It's all we have left. But oh," and Kanell raised a clenched fist to the sky, "that these days should be ours, that we should be the ones to see Narnia suffer."
When the surprise passed, and the two centaurs realized the lion was no longer reclining, but standing, bristling with anger (and he appeared larger than he had seemed before), they instinctively took a step back on the road.
The lion shook his mane, slightly calmer though still visibly angry. "Can you not see? Have you not heard? It was not hope that abandoned Narnia, but Narnia that abandoned its hope! 'Twas not Aslan who betrayed Narnia, but 'twas Narnia who betrayed Him, and rejected Him, and made a mockery of those who still trusted in Him!" As the lion continued his tirade, Oreius became aware that, in spite of his shock, he felt not affronted, nor afraid, nor angry. Indeed, to his surprise, he wanted to hear more…
"Have you not read the bards of old? Have you not learned the prophecies from the ancient times? Have you not finally understood that Narnia must suffer, that she must languish in darkness before she can reclaim the light? Was this not prophesied? Has not Aslan always kept His word?" The lion stepped back, breathed the night air in deeply. "You who are slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets of times past have spoken! Was it not necessary for Narnia to suffer these things before entering into her glory?"
Their companion fell silent. It was then Oreius noticed the stillness of the air, the lack of a breeze, the deadness of the surroundings. They were alone on a snow-covered dirt road, a sparse forest covered with ice on either side of them, no sign of any living thing around them. Yet Oreius could sense all around him an…he couldn't grasp it right away…an anticipation – aye, that was the word – as if nature itself was waiting for a grand occurrence in order to spring back into life.
Kanell stirred beside him, and for the first time in months, Oreius saw a glimpse of the old fire come back to his friend's eyes. "Teach us," the centaur said, his tone urgent, his eyes silently begging the lion to continue. "I know not who you are, or why we have met you here on this road to Glasswater – but I pray you, walk with us and tell us what your words mean."
The lion – it was then Oreius finally realized he didn't know the creature's name – softened, and slowly nodded. "Indeed, I shall. Come, let us walk the road to Glasswater," and though he couldn't explain it, Oreius began to understand that the lion wasn't just referring to the literal road. Eagerly, Kanell fell in beside the lion, and Oreius did as well, two centaurs with open ears and – for the first time in months – hope in their hearts.
Onward they walked into the night, the lion in the middle with a centaur on either side of him, teaching them, quoting ancient proverbs and sayings long forgotten, even from the days of King Frank I himself, revealing their meaning, weaving history together from a time when Narnia worshipped the Emperor Over The Sea and his Son, the great Lion, to the days when Narnians forgot the teachings of their forebears and forgot the Lion their nation had once called Sovereign. He recalled to their minds the great deeds of Narnians long ago, the mighty warriors who called on Aslan's name and brought fire and sword to the evildoers and wicked ones, all to the glory of the Lion. He summoned up the days not so long past, when Narnians turned to their own devices and spurned the Lion in whose name their forefathers had drawn both sword and breath. And yet, he never for a moment failed to remind them of the promise, the great promise of salvation when Aslan would return and restore His people to Himself, and fill the four thrones which sat silent and empty within the battered walls of long-abandoned Cair Paravel.
At length, the lion stopped. "I'm beginning to grow hungry," to which Oreius instantly replied, "We have bread – nothing else, but it was fresh when we bought it. Please, take some."
The lion smiled, a wide grin on his features. "Will you join me? I enjoy dining with friends."
"Of course," Kanell replied, withdrawing the loaf of bread from the pouch slung across his back and handing it to Oreius. Oreius unsheathed a dagger from his side, and cut the loaf into several pieces, handing one back to Kanell. "Wait," said the lion as Kanell was raising the bread to his mouth. "Allow me first to bless the bread."
It was an unusual request, and Kanell first glanced at Oreius, who shrugged and nodded, before lowering the bread down to the lion, who raised his right paw, placed it gently on the bread, and murmured.
The language he spoke was foreign to centaur ears.
Oreius felt a rush of anticipation fly through his body until it seemed to reach the very core of his being. His blade slipped through his fingers, falling to the snow without his notice. A fleeting look at Kanell revealed his friend was experiencing the same emotions, but then Kanell raised the bread to his lips and ate it.
A flash of light.
The forest becoming green and alive.
Their eyes were opened.
They saw Him for who He was.
And though they had never seen Him before, all in one brilliant glorious moment, they recognized Him.
He stood before them, arrayed in all His glory, while they stood silently in mute wonder and adoration. He spoke to them just once in His dazzling state, smiling on them and saying, "On the shores below Cair Paravel, await My coming."
Then He vanished from their sight.
The scene before them returned to how it had been. The ice and snow reappeared to their sight, the light was gone, replaced by darkness only broken by the moon. Alone on the road to Glasswater, they stood in soundless awe.
When he finally was able, Oreius looked about him frantically, trying to make sense of all that had just occurred. His eyes finally landed on Kanell, who was still staring at the place where they had finally seen Him. Oreius took a step toward his old comrade, opened his mouth to speak, but no words came forth. There were nothing he could say, for nothing earthly could describe what had just happened.
Then Kanell spoke, his words issuing low and quick, his eyes still fastened on the spot where He had finally revealed Himself. "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road? Did not our long-buried hopes come alive as He explained the old ways to us? Were we not touched in the very depths of ourselves whenever He looked upon us?" Kanell raised his eyes and locked gazes with his friend. "We have seen Him, we have seen His glory, and we have seen Him as He truly is!"
Oreius staggered forward, his four legs quivering with the revelation he had just seen, and grasped his friend's shoulders. Kanell did the same, and the two old companions, old rebels of days gone by, veterans of countless skirmishes, stared into each other's eyes in continued wonder at the majesty they had beheld. With the memory still burning in their minds, Kanell's shoulders began to shake, his head falling to his chest, and he wept audibly in delirious happiness. Oreius laughed aloud, clutching his sobbing friend to his chest with one arm while raising the other to the sky. "WE HAVE SEEN HIM!" he shouted, sending the call with all the strength in his lungs. "WE HAVE SEEN HIM IN ALL HIS MAJESTY, AND HE IS HERE!" Let all the power of the Witch come now – I care not, for I will follow the Lion!
After a moment of ecstasy, Kanell dashed the tears from his eyes and clutched his friend's arm. "He gave—He gave instructions."
"Aye, that He did." Oreius couldn't stop beaming, his heart filled to overflowing with joy. "We are to await His coming on the shores of Cair Paravel!"
Kanell flashed a full smile, the first Oreius had seen from him in five years. "Then we shall wait. Come, my old friend, let us see which of us can reach Cair Paravel first," he said with a laugh before bolting northward in the direction of the Cair.
Oreius laughed aloud again, all his troubles gone like a vapor. He retrieved his blade from the snow, sheathed it, tightened his sword belt, and galloped after the sound of Kanell's hoofbeats toward Cair Paravel.
A/N: The Chronicles of Narnia were written to be a spiritual/religious allegory in the Christian tradition, and in C.S. Lewis's awe-inspiring tradition I have attempted to continue his legacy in that regard. If you want to know which Bible story I have co-opted in this story, you'll have to crack open a Bible and find out, because I won't be giving that away. But please review this fic and let me know what you think and if you've figured out which Biblical story this fic is based on.
P.S. Elecktrum kindly beta'd this story for me and allowed me to use a few of her original characters. Please check her material out - if you like my work, you'll love hers, because she is a much better storyteller than I am.