The greatest wizard in Narnia sat alone in his house in the trees.
They were some of the oldest trees in Narnia; in fact, most of them were almost a thousand years old, which meant they were some of the very first trees to appear in this world. And deep in this ancient forest there lay the wizard's best protected secret, a secret he had shared with no one, and intended to share with no one. It was a secret so important that he had used his strongest spells to protect it and the forest around it; spells that had kept even the White Witch at bay for a hundred years, and hadn't let the White Winter touch the forest with its frosty breath.
And now the winter was over and four children ruled Narnia; for children with no magical powers had ended the hundred years of winter, something which even he with his magic hadn't been able to do. And the Great Lion had crowned them Kings and Queens; they were now to rule over all of Narnia, including this secret forest. The forest of the magician.
He wouldn't let this happen until he drew breath.
It was outrageous. How could four children who knew nothing about this world rule it? How could they make the right choices, when they had no experience, no powers, no magic like he did? They were naïve, stupid, simple, they were just children, and they were not fit for ruling a kingdom.
And now the wizard stood alone in his house in the trees that protected his most important secret, and he was waiting for his guests to arrive.
Those four children had the impertinence to request a meeting with him. He would give them the satisfaction. Perhaps he could even convince him that they didn't deserve to be kings and queens, and that they should give back the power that wasn't rightfully theirs.
Suddenly something broke his train of thought. He stood up, a faint smile on his face; the enchantments around the forest told him that the children were approaching. He straightened his robe, brushed a few non-existing specks of dust, and left his house.
The trees in this forest were tall, grew wide apart, and had no low branches; they looked more like pillars, supporting the canopy of leaves far overhead. The canopy itself was so thick that the sun barely shone through it and the whole wood was illuminated by an eerie green light, barely enough to make the outlines of the trees visible in the dusk. It was so dark one could hardly believe it was noon. The air was heavy and still and carried in it the smell of ancient times and the absence of change.
Either the wizard was walking unnaturally fast, or he did some magic trick, but in five minutes he was already at the eastern borders of his dominion. Here the trees were smaller and their leaves let more sunlight through, but the wizard flinched; it was too bright for his eyes, who were more accustomed to the gloom of his home. But despite the light there was still no grass on the forest floor, not even bushes; and for someone coming from the outside this part of the woods would still look dark and unwelcoming.
After a while four figures appeared among the distant shadows of the trees. The wizard smirked: they had come alone, as requested.
"Good day, Your Majesties," he called when they were close enough to hear him.
"Good day to you, too, sir," answered the eldest, a blonde boy with blue eyes; the magician presumed he was the High King, Peter. He looked no more than sixteen; hardly deserving of his title. What was Aslan thinking, crowning these children as his sovereigns?
He threw a quick glance at the others—they seemed even younger. There was another boy, shorter than Peter and with dark hair: King Edmund, and two girls, obviously Queen Susan and Queen Lucy. Queen Lucy looked no older than ten, and she had such childish naivety and simpleness written on her face that the wizard could barely suppress a frown. And these were the people who defeated the White Witch, whose return Narnia had been expecting for a century? It was even worse than he thought.
He let none of his contempt show on his face, though, as he bowed deeply, his hands joined together in his sleeves and his long white beard slightly brushing the ground.
"Welcome to my humble abode, Your Majesties. If you will follow me, my house is only a bit further in. There we may talk as King Peter requested."
"Lead the way, then," the King said.
The return walk was longer, because the magician didn't want to use any tricks. He wanted their unworthy eyes to feast on the perfection he had created with his magic. For this was indeed perfection; the forest never changed, the leaves of the trees never fell, nothing was ever born or died in here. He had made time itself freeze, and he could help but feel proud of that. He wanted them to appreciate his power, although they were still young and probably didn't understand anything of what they saw.
As they went further in and the sunlight was replaced by the green gloom of the thick canopy of leaves, he knew the Kings and Queens grew more and more excited. He could hear them whispering to each other and turning their heads to look around. After hesitating for a moment, he whispered a few words and listened as their voices grew louder and louder to his ears, until he could hear them as if they were talking right behind him.
"It's really dark in here," one of the girls said.
"I know," that was probably Peter. "It's really creepy."
"Yes," the other boy said. "And can you smell the air? It smells as if its been in a room that hasn't been ventilated in a thousand years."
"It's awful," a girl concluded, and they all voiced their agreement. "I bet those trees are sleeping so deep their dryads have forgotten how to talk."
Although the wizard didn't know what she meant by this, it was obvious that they couldn't appreciate the beauty of what they saw. He couldn't take any more of their uneducated and insulting blabbering, so he said in a loud voice, startling all of them, "What are Your Majesties talking about?"
"Err... nothing," said the younger boy, Edmund.
"We were just admiring the trees," said the ten-year-old girl, Lucy. " We were wondering what their dryads looked like." There was a long pause, and Lucy added, a little nervous because of the wizard's lack of response, "Have you seen them, sir?"
"The dryads," she repeated.
"Dryads?" he stopped and turned around to face them. They stopped as well, huddling a bit closer together; now they could definitely tell by the tone of his voice that he was frustrated. "What nonsense are you talking, child? What are dryads?"
His eyes gleamed with poorly disguised anger; the previous politeness had vanished completely. But their surprise at his question overcame their fear.
"What do you mean? Don't you know what dryads are?" asked Lucy, an incredulous expression on her face; apparently, she was bent on continuing with this childish blabbering. That irritated him to no end.
"They are the spirits of the trees that can take human form and talk to people," Susan added.
"What is this foolishness?" the voice of the wizard thundered, for he was just as fickle and impatient as he was powerful. Now he seemed to tower over the children, his eyes gleaming with rage. The shadows around them grew darker and thicker and they grabbed each other's hands. "Trees don't talk! Trees aren't alive! Everybody knows that, you silly girl!"
"But they do, I've seen them—"
"Shhh," Peter said, covering her mouth with his hand and pulling her closer. "Lucy, don't irritate him any more. OW!" She had bit his hand and pushed it away, and was now walking away from her siblings.
"Sir, haven't you seen them?"
"Lucy!" Susan shouted.
"But they do talk! I've seen them dance all night with the Fauns and—"
The four children exchanged a glance that was full of astonishment.
"You don't know what Fauns are, too?"
He gave Lucy a look of utter contempt, but that didn't seem to scare her any more. He was slightly taken aback.
"Sir, have you ever been outside this forest?"
"No, of course not," he replied, and there was less anger in his voice now. "But what is there to see? The world outside is full of imperfect beings and plants: they're all sorts of sizes and shapes and they are so fragile and they die and wither away. But here," he made a gesture that encompassed the entire view before them, "here nothing dies, not even the leaves of the trees. Here everything is eternal."
"But, sir," Lucy went on, ignoring Susan's signals to shut up, "you couldn't be further from the truth! The world outside is beautiful, with the trees, the flowers, the animals, the wind, the clouds; true, here the leaves of the trees may never fall, but outside, they do, and they grow anew in the spring and it's even more beautiful than before. And the meadows are so colourful when the first flowers bloom, and there's light, light everywhere, and the sky—"
"But they die! Everything dies out there!" This time it sounded more like a wail, as if he was desperately looking for approval and confirmation.
"Well, true, but... that's what makes it even more beautiful."
He stared at her for quite a while, and for a minute she feared she might've gone too far. But then the shadows dissipated and the man seemed to shrink back to his normal size.
"So you really don't like it here?"
"Well, not really, but—"
"No," Lucy interjected firmly. "It's all so sleepy and heavy and still in here. It seems as if nothing ever changes."
"But that is the beauty of it!" the wizard protested and again it sounded as if he was pleading for their approval rather than arguing. "That's what perfection is! Don't you see?"
Lucy shook her head. "No, sir, it's not. I may be young and foolish, but this much I know. This is exactly what the White Witch thought, although she made it eternal winter instead. Perfection is the blooming of the flowers in the spring, the first snow in the winter, the dying of the leaves in the autumn. Perfection is everything doing what it was meant to do: and here it's a cycle, a cycle of constant change. You've imprisoned the trees in a timeless moment, but that's not what they were meant to be; they were meant to die eventually and give birth to new trees. And this is not perfection, this is... this is torture."
Now the magician looked so miserable and downhearted that the four children couldn't help feeling sorry for him. Lucy was even bold enough to reach out and grab his hand, which then hung limp in her grasp. He probably hadn't even noticed; so lost in thought he was.
Something in their words rose long forgotten feelings and tugged at rusty heartstrings. Just a moment ago he was so sure of his world, and now it was falling apart right before his eyes. He looked up at the trees: they had never so much as rustled with their leaves, and now he learned they were supposed to move around, talk and even dance.
Finally, he let loose a grim sigh and said, sitting down on the ground, "Tell me more about your world."
And they told him. Now all four of them joined in, talking excitedly over each other. They told him of the sunrise and sunset, and he thought gloomily that the only light these trees had seen was this green twilight; they told him of the mountains with their steep slopes and snow-capped peaks, and he looked grimly at the perfectly flat forest floor; they told him of the flowers, of the breeze, of the sea, of the clouds, of all the creatures and wonders of this world that he had never seen, despite all his might; and he stood there and listened as his entire knowledge and his world tumbled in ruins. And when he couldn't take it any more, for their stories seemed to have no end, he raised his hand to interrupt them and said three simple words which sealed his fate: "You should go."
They sat there, staring at him for a while, and then he repeated, "Go!"
He made a strange and complicated gesture with both his hands and the four children, the four Kings and Queens vanished in thin air. Then he covered his face with his hands and stood like this, unmoving, for hours.
The strongest wizard in Narnia walked among the sleeping trees.
Now, more than ever, he felt their age pressing down on him with the weight of a thousand years.
He reached a place where the tree trunks retreated behind him to form a circular clearing. But even here, beneath the starlit sky, no grass grew; instead the earth was covered with thousands of roots, surfacing above the dry soil and coiling and wriggling around each other like a thousand snakes. And in the centre of the clearing, before his very eyes, stood the wizard's greatest secret.
It was the oldest tree in Narnia, the Predecessor of all trees, the Father of all the woods in the world. It was the first tree that Aslan had brought to life. Its trunk was ten times thicker than those of the surrounding trees, its roots a hundred times deeper and longer, its crown a hundred times bigger. It towered before him like a mountain.
Somehow he had always known it was alive. Perhaps it was because he had been draining its power to sustain all of his spell for hundreds of years now; and that had created a strange, but not unexpected connection between them. The wizard closed his eyes and prepared himself for what he was about to do. He reached deep into his magic, deeper than he ever had before, to the part he had always known to be there, always sensed it watching and feeling, and the part he had never explored. He reached deeper and called, shouted with all his might the strongest spell for awakening a sleeping being that he knew.
When he opened his eyes again, he held his breath at the magnificent sight that was revealed before him.
There was a man, taller than any man he had ever seen, and much older; although he didn't have a beard, wrinkles or any other signs of old age, there was something in his posture, in the lines of his face, and in his eyes, those deep, ancient eyes, that said he was much older than anything else on this earth. His movements were slow, patient, majestic, resembling a tree that swayed in the wind.
The greatest Dryad of Narnia slowly bowed his head, finally fixing his gaze upon the small human that stood before him.
"You know why I woke you," said the wizard.
"Yes," replied the tree with a voice like the rumbling of rocks down a steep slope. "I Know. Why?" That simple question echoed with the strength of an earthquake.
"Because it's not worth it any more. The time of the great spells and wizards of Narnia is over. It's time to let go."
"But You Know This Will Kill You As Well."
"Yes," the wizard nodded, a sad smile on his face. "I know."
A long silence followed, which neither Dryad nor man broke.
"Thank You," the Tree finally spoke.
"You're welcome," responded the wizard. "I have one final request, though, before I do it."
The Tree said nothing, but it looked like it was encouraging the wizard to go on.
The wizard's next words sounded so childish and so pleading that he himself was surprised to hear saying them; they were something he had never spoken before in his entire life.
"Will you be my friend? I've always wanted to have a friend."
The Tree was still silent.
"You don't have to be my best friend. Simply a friend. I just want to have a taste of their world before I go. There's so much I've missed," he added, the sad smile returning to his face.
There was a long pause. Then the Tree nodded slowly and gracefully.
"I Will Be Honoured To Be Your Friend."
"Thank you," the wizard beamed. "Thank you," he whispered again and sat down no the ground. The Tree slowly bent its ancient knees and sat down next to him.
Then he began a long and complicated incantation, and every word sounded as powerful as the gale that makes the trees bend and sway. And indeed as he sang it, a wind started blowing through the woods, and the leaves of the trees started turning yellow and falling to the ground; and the wind grew stronger and picked up the dead leaves and they danced and swirled around the wizard in the air that hadn't moved for a thousand years. And as he sat among the dying trees, next to his first and closest friend, the greatest wizard in the world smiled as the darkness of the forest dissipated and the moonlight shone upon the ground; he smiled as he finished the incantation and the trees around him started falling down, their trunks rotten by the thousand years of stillness; and he smiled as death came for him and for his best friend, taking them forever away from that world of shadows and light, of autumn and spring, of beginnings and endings.
He smiled, for he had finally tasted perfection.