Chapter 10: Silver Starlight
Chapter rating: Low T.
A/N: Well, after MUCH BUSYNESS and side projects, I'm back! Thanks for sticking around, and so much love to everybody who's been favoriting and following and commenting. Also, some thanks are in order: rthstewart for being an AWESOME AMAZING IMAGINATIVE source of support who gives me so many wonderful ideas and inspiration (thanks for helping me establish naturalist Eustace, debatist Edmund, and NATURIST LUCY); and OldFashionedGirl95 for POETRY, betaing, squeeing, and general over-the-shoulder-watching on this chapter. And MANY LATE NIGHT GIGGLES. Ahem. More to come on that front...Anyways, enjoy!
Not all enchantments need to be broken…
Was there a more perfect way to sleep than under the Stars, beneath a canopy of old friends watching over you, and the gentle motion of the waves cradling you? Lucy couldn't imagine anything better, nor a more perfect spot than the one she had secured. She'd had her eye on it since her first rovings over the Dawn Treader, and just as she thought, it made a fine nest with a spectacular view of the heavens overhead, and private from the rest of the ship.
The left dragon wing of the upper deck curled up and around a little alcove wherein were stored a nice pile of canvas sails, nets, and ropes which made as neat a bed as she could hope for. The edge of the wing kept any rain off (although with nights as fair and balmy as these were, she would not need to worry about that at all), while affording her an expanse of Northern and Western sky to gaze upon in peaceful wonder.
Lucy gave a contented sort of sigh. It was just like the nights she used to sleep aboard the Aureal Gazelle,not so long ago really, and not so much further West than they were now. The Stars seemed so much closer somehow, even larger than she had remembered them, and brighter. Oh, it had been too long! How she had missed Ashtiel's brilliance, Ranior's wisdom, Eleluth's fierce kinship…
And to think, Caspian had been worried about her not having a place to sleep! Lucy laughed softly. He had first tried to convince her that there was room for one more hammock in the little cabin, which there decidedly was not, and when she snickered at the thought of Eustace's disgust at more occupants crammed into the "poky little hole," he had to agree with her. "Very well, then, take my bunk!"
Lucy had just grinned at him and tossed her head. "Haven't I taken enough of your lodgings? It would be dreadfully rude of me to put you out again. Thank you very much, but if it's all the same I'll make my nest on-deck, just as I used to do in the old days."
She was not the only one sleeping under the Stars that night. Across the deck she could hear the buzz of voices, too low to distinguish, keeping a lazy stream of conversation long past the night duties were completed. Above her, the faint syllables of Reepicheep singing from the lookout in the dragon's mouth drifted down, a wistful tune that reminded her of an old ballad she had herself sang, a thousand years ago in their time.
Ashtiel seemed to almost dance over her, so bright and twinkling was his Star. He used to appear so on nights that were cold and clear, when she would bundle up and sit upon the shore of the Eastern Sea and sing the lay she had composed for him. It was still a wonder to her that the heavenly beings, with their celestial music of unbearable aching beauty, would find her poor songs pleasing. And yet somehow, they had blessed her offerings and given her wondrous music of the Spheres in return.
Even before she'd come to Narnia, Lucy had always hummed bits of tunes to herself, but it was in those early nights, those nights of lying half-frightened under the expansive darkness knowing she was only one little girl against all the evils out there, that she first sang to the Stars, not even knowing their names, making up melodies and words to fit. It still made her smile to think of the first time one of them had sung back to her. She had been breathless with astonishment, as the glowing figure shimmered against the inky backdrop of the night sky and filled its canvas with a song so cold and sweet and beautiful that she could only listen and weep.
It made her ashamed of her meager ditties, the untrained hummings of a simple Daughter of Eve, that she had dared to offer to these wondrous songsmiths. But far from taking offense at her presumption, they sang back to her and taught her their names and their natures, as different as the Narnian Beasts and Birds themselves. As she grew, so did the songs she sang to them, for she had years and years to spin each ballad as she came to know each Star as a friend.
It was her one sorrow that she could never remember the glorious music of these Spheres; their beauty and power were too bright, and Lucy was left with only the distant echo of their refrains, the vague memory of a memory. She strained to remember, thinking sometimes that the harmonies were right there, just out of reach, and she couldn't touch them for all that she tried.
What she did remember, though, were the songs she herself had crafted, joyfully and humbly, throughout the years. Lucy tilted her head back against her canvas pillow, the long-practiced lines flooding back under the watchful eagerness of the Stars—had they been waiting all this time for her songs again? Ashtiel winked at her, as if urging her to sing his now.
The tune was still as keen to her as the night it had first come to her, a frightened little girl in the wilderness of the Western Wilds, hearing the distant howl of wer-wolves and the wicked cries of Hags and who knew what else. She'd been too proud to crawl over to Peter's bedroll and cower next to him like a child with bad dreams, as she might have done a year ago, a month ago even.
To shut out the fearful noises, she had hummed a simple tune to herself, and whispered pleading words for help from the brilliant kindly-looking star that shone through the trees. "O White Wayfarer— she'd sung under her breath, knowing the listening ears would hear and making up the words as she went. Warm-twinkling bright-star, who watches on high, Look down on me, incline your ear.
From the blackness around her, the faint cry of something terrible echoed, but Lucy kept her eyes fixed on the ever-growing light of the star above her. Bend to my song, and shine on me, as in the howling dark I wander, so small a wayfarer in these wild black woods.
Somehow, as she sang, concentrating on what words should come next, Lucy did not feel so afraid anymore. The Star was listening, she knew. Surround me in the shelter of your starbeams. O Night-star, watch over me.
The dark wood had grown silvery-light, and that night Ashtiel had come down to her and sung his song to the Valiant Queen who trembled on the forest floor.
Now the soft slap of the waves against the keel was in place of the howl of wer-wolves, and the motion of the ship under her was more soothing than the crunch of leaves in a forest bed. But the words still came back to Lucy, the song she had sung a thousand times to Ashtiel when she had come to know his name, his place in the sky. In memory of that simple song she had offered him as a child, she had not changed much when she set that stanza down, lovingly decorating its pneums with points of brilliant color and embellishment.
Gazing at her first friend of the Narnian Heavens, Lucy sang once more the lay of the Leopard Watchman. Overhead, Ashtiel shimmered and seemed to grow even bigger and brighter, and Lucy smiled and waved, feeling like a little girl again saying hello to her old friend, too happy to speak.
Then another point of light caught her eye: below the Leopard, a collection of Stars had appeared, just in view. What...? There were no such constellation around the Leopard! She stared at the pattern, trying to trace any familiar shapes that would give her a clue as the Stars' identity. No, these were none she had ever seen before; they had a hard sparkling edge, like the cut edge of a jewel in sunlight, but no comfortable twinkle of familiarity, of warmth and Narnian-ness.
Further to the East, another unknown sprinkling of bold lights was rising, a mystifying presence there. Who were these new Stars? She was sure she had never seen them before, and she knew the Stars nearly as well as any Centaur.
Lucy drew a deep breath, feeling as though strangers were suddenly invading her company of friends and watchers. It gave her a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach, to think that perhaps no living eye had ever seen these Stars, neither Centaurs nor Dryads nor Narnian Queen or King. They were interlopers on the horizon, beings she did not know, and she had no idea if they were friendly as her dear Stars were. Were they going to crowd out the constellations she knew, one by one, the further East they went?
It was a terrifying thought. Looking for comfort, Lucy twisted her head to look once more at the familiar faces in the sky. Unconsciously she pressed the blanket closer around her, up under her chin, and inhaled, but it smelled like soap and the wood of the locker it had been stored in. Not at all like...
She sighed and turned over.
By the next night, the evening carousings in the Poky Little Hole had resumed, and Eustace was in fine form that night. Of course, Edmund knew exactly what he was getting them into, bringing up the common opinion aboard the Treader as to what was at the World's End.
Lucy settled onto the cushions of her perch next to Caspian's hammock and shared amused glances with him as the two cousins debated.
"It's all rot," said Eustace with a firm shake of his head. "We can't just fall off the edge, as you'd know jolly well if you knew anything about Einstein!"
"You don't think Einstein would have some additions to his theory if he ever came to Narnia?" said Edmund, grinning.
"That's irrelevant. Physics doesn't change just because we're in another world. If I jump off the side of this boat, I'll still crash into the sea."
"That's Newton, idiot, not Einstein."
Eustace screwed up his face. "I know the difference between Newton and Einstein! My point is, special relativity ensures that any free fall would be inertial motion. Assuming there's an edge at all. Which I doubt."
"Who is this Einstein fellow?" asked Caspian, raising an eyebrow. "And should I be following all this?"
"No," said Edmund firmly. "Eustace's just showing off."
"Showing off?" choked Eustace. He spluttered for a moment. "You think we could bloody fall off the edge of the world and you're blithering about showing off?"
"Nobody's worried," said Edmund. "It's just a possibility."
"It's all in Einstein!" Eustace insisted. "We'll see it coming long before it would actually happen! The speed of light is constant, regardless of the gravitational pull - " He began fishing around in his pockets, no doubt for something to draw it all out on.
Dreamily, Lucy chanted,
"There was once a young lady named Bright
Whose speed was far faster than light
She went out one day
In the usual way
And returned home the previous night."
Edmund snorted. "Oh, Lu."
"That sounds very well," said Caspian. "Is it a riddle?"
"That's not how relativity works!" shouted Eustace.
"Think of all the adventures you could have if it did!" said Lucy.
"Dreadfully confusing ones," said Edmund.
"I'd like to meet this young lady," said Caspian, grinning at Lucy. "Her talent could be quite useful."
"If I knew her myself, I'd introduce you," said Lucy. "And we could all go tramping around the world and be back in time for dinner."
"Am I the only one taking this seriously?" demanded Eustace.
"Pretty much," said Edmund.
By now, Eustace had produced a bit of pencil and little black notebook with pages that were very wrinkled as though they'd been waterlogged. He scribbled furiously and launched into a long lecture that was punctuated with frequent exclamations of uniform motion and rotational masses, at which point Edmund argued against the likelihood that Narnia was a rotational mass, and Caspian observed drily that Doctor Cornelius would be very sad to miss such a meeting of scientific minds.
Lucy just shook her head at the idea of calculating about the End of the World, and raised her eyebrows at Caspian as the other two continued to debate whether general relativity would have any effect on a Narnian ship. "Even without a round world, we still must be moving through luminiferous aether!" Eustace was insisting.
"Now you are showing off," said Edmund.
Caspian grinned and quietly draped a blanket around her shoulders. Lucy hid her smile in the soft folds of the fabric.
Still invigorated from the merriment of the evening, Lucy was too thoroughly awake to nod off easily, though she could see by the position of the Stars that it was past midnight. She nestled down further into the pile of sails, soaking in the peacefulness around her. The night was still and clear, the moon nearly full and casting a silvery glow over the entire Dawn Treader, turning the purple mainsail a lustrous rippling argent.The sweet-salty smell of the zephyrs that filled the evening air set her dreaming, as the night breezes from the waves blew across the ship and cooled the sun-warmed deck. She breathed in deeply, reflecting that there could not be a more moment than right now.
The sound of steps on the floorboards outside the little alcove made her sit up. Who would be about so late? Lucy strained to see a figure emerge in the darkness, illuminated only by the moonlight and faint lantern-light.
She smiled as she recognized the visitor. "Couldn't sleep?"
"Hungry," Caspian explained sheepishly, gesturing to the little bundle in his hand. "Didn't fancy a ham as a midnight snack. Care to share?"
Lucy was not at all opposed to the company. "I can smell the sweet cakes from here. I would be very glad to share in the spoils."
He settled down beside her on the nest of canvas and nets and handed over one of the honey-sweetened pastries. "So this is what you so easily gave up my cabin for," he teased as he began to partake. "Edmund said you'd found a dragon's wing as your new home."
"I hadn't thought I could be any happier than I already was," said Lucy, "but sleeping under the Stars, I think I am just about the luckiest girl in the world." She glanced at Caspian in between bites of the flaky cake. The moonlight was glancing off his golden hair in a very distracting way and gave a kind of ethereal softness to his face. It was no different than appreciating beauty in any other form, she told herself, allowing her gaze to linger a little longer than necessary on the snowy whiteness of his shirt, the lean grace of his form curled next to her...
Lucy cleared her throat. "You should try it sometime. It's a wonderful place to stargaze."
"Better than simply standing on deck?" he challenged, returning her evaluating glance with a quirk of his brow.
"Oh yes! No need to crane your neck to look up, and then when you are simply laying under the blanket of the skies, it is – well – here!" Lucy gave an impish grin and finished the cake. "Better to see it for yourself than explain it." She impulsively took hold of his arm and tugged him down with her.
Caspian laughed as they collapsed against the canvas in a heap. Lucy found herself breathless not just with laughter but from her boldness at getting Caspian flat on his back next to her. She threw him an amused glance, only to find he was turned in her direction, looking at her and not the Stars at all. Even in the silvery light, she could see his expression was full of joy and contentment, and something else she dared not name.
Lucy had not thought through the effects of her impulsive actions. Her arm was still tangled with his, her hand against soft linen and warm muscle underneath, and her attention was thoroughly distracted from her intended purpose in dragging him down. She felt light-headed. "You're not going to see any Stars facing this way," she said, her voice hitching slightly.
"Are you so sure?" said Caspian with a little smile.
Lucy caught her breath. "Yes, quite sure! Now look."
The heavens were a much less dangerous field of vision, and they had a wonderful calming effect on her wildly beating pulse, though she could not quite forget the points of contact where she and Caspian still touched.
The Stars seemed very near tonight. Lucy tipped her head back to take them all in for a moment, trying to decide where to start. The strange new constellations nagged at the edge of her view, and she pushed the thought of them away in favor of her old friends. "Look, there's the Ship, do you see it?"
"The three stars in a row there? It's beautiful...so brilliant tonight."
"Those are the Three Sisters, who sail the night sky and light the way for adventurers – Tethys, Thalassa, and Thetis. They're the mast, and around them their children form the sails. Their lovers are the sides of the ship – Straton and Pangiotakis and Nikator." She pointed to each Star in turn, recalling their stories, their songs, the memories they brought.
"It always gives me a thrill to see the Ship return to the sky each year, for then I know summer's coming, and the holidays and the wonderful times then." As she spoke, Lucy faltered a bit, but pressed on. "Even when we'd forgotten why the summer was the holidays, we still knew it was, somehow."
"When the days are long and the nights are warm, and there is no end to the adventures you can have," said Caspian, and she nodded, feeling a smile tug at her lips. He knew.
"So there's that. And the Hammer you know, to the left and up from the Ship."
"I know its shape, but not its stars. You are a better student of the heavens than I."
"I'm no scholar, not like the Centaurs. But the Stars are my friends, and I know and love them all dearly."
"All of them? There are a great many stars, Lucy."
"I had a lifetime to know them," she whispered. Her throat suddenly tight with emotion, Lucy felt Caspian's hand slide down her arm to wrap around her fingers. She clung to his hand, grateful for his wordless support.
Silence fell between them for a few moments, as Lucy took deep breaths and looked once more at the canopy surrounding them overhead. Though there was wistfulness in this reverie, there was joy there too. The night was too peaceful, the glide of the Dawn Treader upon the waves too soothing to be troubled long.
She smiled as she felt Caspian's thumb brushing over her palm in soft comforting strokes. His voice broke through the darkness. "Tell me which is your favorite."
Lucy gave a little sigh of happiness. "My favorite is there – the Leopard." As always, Ashtiel was glinting down over them, watching the lands and seas as he had done for a thousand years and more. She followed the Cat's graceful leap in the sky with one hand, while keeping the other curled around Caspian's. "The bright one is Ashtiel, and Ranior is to his left; they are the Leopard's eye and head. Eleluth is beside them, and her Starmaiden, forming the flanks and legs; Keto is the tail."
Caspian followed the tracings of her finger, leaning his head close to hers to see each mark from her angle. "I remember the Leopard – Doctor Cornelius said it had one of the most recognizable patterns and can be seen almost year-round. It's one of my favorites as well. Don't you think its stars shine a kindly warmth?"
"I've always thought so, even as a child, before I knew their names," said Lucy. The same sense of connection she had felt the other night was once more settling over her. Caspian too had felt the warmth of the Leopard's light, had traced its familiar pattern overhead and watched its Great Dance in the heavens. "My first song was to Ashtiel, for he seemed to me such a friendly Star, one that might watch over me when my way was dark. I knew somehow he would hear me, and though I didn't know anything about the Stars, I still sang to him with every bit of myself."
"Do you still remember the song?"
This made her laugh. "I have sung it a thousand times. It's a simple song, but it reminds us both of the little girl-Queen who first sang it in her time of need."
Caspian's hand tightened around hers. "That is a beautiful image, Lucy, but...reminds us both?"
"I told you, Ashtiel is my friend, my first among the Stars."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I have met him," she said. "Oh, Caspian, I wish I could show you! The Stars—they are not just points of light—they're real! They can walk and talk among us if they choose. It is always a very great honour when they do so."
She heard an intake of breath beside her. "And you have? Walked with them?"
Lucy turned her head to look at Caspian, smiling. "I've danced with them, which is the most wonderful thing of all."
Across his face was written astonishment, curiosity, and an eagerness that was almost envy. "You continue to amaze me," he said with deep fervency. "You have seen and known so many wonders. In such a short lifetime, you have experienced things no living man has dreamt of…"
What he said was true—she had been blessed with a lifetime of memories. Lucy felt deeply humbled. "I wish I could share them—it seems selfish to keep all these things to myself."
"You can share them with me," said Caspian softly. "I would be glad to hear of them all." He cupped her hand in his own, as if she held her memories there and might spill them into his hand.
Words were harder. "Where to start?" she said, half to herself.
"Start with the song to Ashtiel," he urged. "It is a song from your heart, is it not?"
Lucy searched his eyes wonderingly. "How did you know?"
They were dark, intent on her face lifted toward him. "The way you spoke of it. With such passion, joy...There is a story behind it, one that means a great deal to you."
That he had been able to sense all this from just a few brief words...Lucy was overwhelmed. Clinging tightly to his fingers, she told him as well as she could of the night she had first learned that Narnian Stars could walk and talk among them. The wind seemed to catch her voice and carry it upwards and around them, setting her song upon the wind:
O White Wayfarer—
Leopard's lightfooted lookout, who watches the world
Look down on me, incline your ear, bend to my song
and shine on me, as in the silver starlight I wander
so far from the tree-woven forests of home.
Faring once more in the shelter of your starbeams—
O Ashtiel, watch over me.
The bright Watcher stood his post throughout the night, shining tenderly over the golden-haired King and Queen who lay murmuring and then slumbering peacefully on the deck of the dragon-prowed Narnian vessel.
And the Queen's enchantment? Did it need to be broken? Or did it simply need to be fulfilled?
A/N: So, I played fast and loose with the conversation from the end of VDT about Narnian geography, the End of the World, and discussions of Earth's physics. Hope you don't mind...Eustace's application of Einsteinian relativity was just TOO good to pass up.
All poetry in this chapter is courtesy of OldFashionedGirl95, Poet-in-Residence Extraordinaire. She was very kind to lend me both free verse AND limericks, free of charge!
If you haven't already, remember to sign up for alerts and then make my entire week and leave a review, and I promise I will squee with delight when I see a "New review" email in my inbox. Love!