by the1hobbit and elecktrum, who tender their apologies to all parties involved.
Chapter the First: Feis
Unless he can fell a live oak tree, no man can truly call himself a man.
How this rumor got started was a mystery – Bacchus, trickster and reveler, was the most likely source - but it sounded so impressive and challenging that those in the group who wished to be called men and were sober enough to understand took up the test. They got nowhere very quickly, a fact lost on all participants save one.
Phillip watched the enthusiastic but misguided group straining against a live oak that had been among the first acorns to fall the autumn following Narnia's creation. The tree was vast and proud and ancient with long, twisting branches too heavy and huge to spread up, and so they spread out on the earth. It had been home to generations of Birds and Animals and father of countless trees. Fortunately for all the would-be men involved, it was also devoid of a dryad. It ignored the children crowding around its trunk and went on with the business of trying to provide them with enough oxygen to clear their muddled brains. It was a losing battle to be sure, but the oak was patient.
"But what if I don't want to be called a Man?" Phillip asked Celer. "I'm perfectly content to call myself a Stallion. Isn't it much the same thing?"
The Faun captain, bent upon being called a man, snapped back, "And what proof do you have of your stallion-hood lest you can fell an oak with your bare . . . hooves?" he finished, only now seeming to realize Horses didn't have hands.
"What has the oak done to question my stallion-ness that I should attack it? There's no Dryad within and if there were, I doubt she would offer insult to this band."
"Exactly! Now shut up and try to knock over the damn tree!"
Phillip gaped at this extraordinary logic (or lack thereof) before heading back toward the boulder pitch to see if Edmund was in any condition to explain any of this.
They were gathered in the area of the Shuddering Woods for the annual Stag Feis. It was one of Narnia's more ad hoc celebrations. Ostensibly the feis was a show of bravery and daring and a rite of passage for young bucks to succeed and gain the right to woo a doe. In practice it was too many males of all sorts gathered together for one function and none too sure what to do with so much posturing - or 'Warrior bravado' as some of them liked to call it – in one place at one time. Wine only served to augment their bluster and give the rest of Narnia a day or two of peace as they recovered from their hangovers.
The day had started harmlessly enough. Word had gone out that the young male Deer were invited to the feis. The concept was a simple one – gather together, drink, talk, drink some more, beat each other to a pulp, drink, don't die, then pray the doe you have eyes for makes them back. The end.
Most of it was good fun. The old bucks took the time to teach the younger ones the finer points of head butting and hoof slashing and the proper way to bellow and blat out a love song (the Elks were particularly musical). Most ladies of Narnia – including the does- avoided the feis. It was too garish and unrefined a pastime for their tastes and the does stayed clear for tradition's sake, leaving the bucks their supposed mysteries even though they talked about nothing else but the Stag Feis for the month before and after. The men of Narnia, however, were a different matter entirely. To them it was all manly bonding and a rare chance to scratch and joke and not worry about insulting any tender sentiments. They placed bets, ate and drank without any form or manners and tended to have a jolly good time.
It hadn't taken much persuasion for Peter and Edmund, who called all Narnians their cousins and felt themselves honorary Deer for the sake of said jolly good time, to entice Jaer Peridanson to accompany them. While neither of Narnia's kings had ever been to a Stag Feis before, they had heard the rumors about what sort of party it tended to be and were eager for a night of unalloyed maleness. Jaer's younger brother, Jaerin, had begged to go as well, but his mother had quashed his hopes, declaring him too young. In vain did Jaerin argue that it was just a herd of Deer getting together to butt heads. Lady Saera had met enough Deer about Cair Paravel's court to know the feis would degenerate into something fueled by male egos and drunken stupidity, and being a wise woman, she did not choose to risk both of her sons and deprive her lord and husband of an heir. Jaer was told to keep a close eye on the kings, and Jaerin's pleas to be allowed to go keep an eye on his brother were ignored.
They had set out from Cair Paravel with a good-sized party. There were Dogs and Birds and Centaurs and Fauns and Satyrs and a Camel and Bulls and even few Gryphons and a Unicorn, Travers. For the most part they had spruced up a bit and they set out sober even if they didn't intend to return that way. It wasn't until Edmund pointed it out that they realized all the Talking Animals and Magical Beasts represented were bachelors (some more eligible than others). The party had grown as they drew closer to the Shuddering Woods until they were surrounded by a veritable herd of Narnian males, most of them Deer of various sorts, most of them talking, all of them excited by the feis.
"Peter, why do you suppose only bachelors are in attendance to the feis?" Edmund asked as the party arrived to their destination.
Peter shot him a look that tried to say ohh poor Edmund, you'll learn, but the resulting expression looked more as if Peter was suddenly and unaccountably saddle sore. Edmund was trying to think of how to diplomatically phrase such a delicate inquiry when both he and Peter were saved by Ward Garrideb, a Gorilla and youngest of the three Garrideb brothers, all of whom were present.
"Because, Sire, sometimes things . . . get out of hand - or mayhap I should say hoof - at the Stag Feis," he said, the voice of experience. "No apron strings are allowed, Sons of Adam, for no Man or Beast of Narnia has survived the aftermath of a scornful wife. It's just safer for all. Besides, no bachelor wants to listen to a husband when he's in his cups. It would totally throw off our ideals of finding a wife."
Edmund stared at him, not sure whether he should laugh or nod in approval of such wise assessment of the feis.
"Ah, exactly what I was going to say, good sir!" exclaimed Peter, slapping Edmund on the back as if this explained all and heading off to join Jaer. Both young men went to help with the setup of some of the tents and wine barrels and generally got in the way. Edmund watched them go for a moment, and then shook his head and looked to his Horse, Phillip.
"I'm not sure this is the wisest thing we've ever done," he admitted softly.
"Nor yet the most foolish, Edmund," said the good Horse. He nudged his Boy with his nose. "Go. Celebrate. You'll find me sober for the ride home."
Glad that at least one Narnian present was bent on temperance (and knowing full well that at this moment, he did not count himself among them), Edmund smiled and resolved to enjoy something new (not that Peter being dense or Jaer being thoughtful was anything new). More bachelors of all sorts were arriving and the Shuddering Wood was soon filled to capacity with the finest collection of manly beauty as had been seen in Narnia since the last Stag Feis.
Edmund made his way over to his brother, ready to help in setting up as Jaer and Peter set the example. As he was passing close by them, though, he overheard Celer laughing with Arthur Ravenwolf and paused, intrigued.
". . . then King Peter came running over asking to help, and fearing for all of our sanity, I told him to hold a rope and Jaer a stake and stand off by the old fire pit."
"What are they for, one of the smaller tents?" wondered Arthur.
"No, just one of the wagons, I didn't think they could mess up with that, unless of course the wagon decides to magically run off." Celer caught Arthur's eye. "They're Sons of Adam! We can't trust them to put up a tent that will stay up!"
When the black Wolf agreed, Edmund laughed outright and continued over to his brother, feeling smug.
"What are you two doing?" he asked with mirth in his voice.
"Unlike some younger brothers I could name, we're helping," Peter replied with clueless - and rather superior - mirth.
"You are indeed, good my brother, I'm sure. Well while you're 'helping,' I'm going to help myself to some wine."
"Lazy daisy!" Peter responded, yelling at Edmund's back as the Just King wandered off to start in on his own festivities. At the High King's criticism the dark-haired youth staggered as if pierced by many arrows.
"Your stinging barbs wound me most deeply, Pete!" lamented Edmund, and to show his depth of hurt, he filled a cup and stood back to watch his brother and friend labor away.
It was still daytime, and things began quickly as wine prompted them to sing badly and talk of women and boast of brave deeds, which soon lead to physical contests of all sorts. Several families of squirrels that made their homes in the nearby trees showered them with rotten nuts and rocks and twigs throughout the feis in a vain attempt to get them to shut up and move to another clearing. All that happened was that Peter got splashed by wine when one of the acorns landed in his goblet, and to the amusement of all, he just went on drinking before tossing the acorn in Master Roblang's cup, a Red Dwarf of the Cair's smithy, who likewise finished his wine and passed it on and so on until almost everyone there had partaken of the acorn.
As dusk fell, the most fashionable show of prowess was the throwing of a boulder (or the attempted pushing of the same by a team of Mice lead by Skeepomeep) for distance. This made sense in their slightly wine-addled brains, just as singing the same verse of a love song over and over made sense to Frinnit Nez, a Parrot who erroneously believed he had perfect pitch and a voice suited to any sort of singing.
She flew the coop when still quite young
My love, my dove, my darling one!
But golden plumage hid her faithless heart
My love, my dove, forever apart.
And so on and on until no one but the disgruntled Squirrels heard him anymore.
"Come, come Celer! You must drink more! This is no time to be keeping your senses! This will be your last feis!" a young Faun by the name of Hawkings yelled.
And with this declaration that one of their number was soon to be bound by the dreaded apron strings, the feis grew somber. A score of bachelors gathered around Captain Celer as if it was the Faun's funeral, many of them having congratulated him just a few weeks prior when he announced his betrothal to a Nymph named Layla. Unable to control his grief at this joyful news, Arthur Ravenwolf threw his head back and let out a mournful howl.
"I'm just getting married, not dying!" argued Celer as more voices joined the Wolf's lament. Very soon it sounded as if a large portion of the male population of Narnia was going to Aslan's Country in the noisiest manner possible.
"Same difference," Sir Leszi, one of the most formidable swordsmen in the army, said woefully, rather deep in his cups. There was a pause as they gazed at the grizzled Faun, awed that he was still upright. He relieved them of their astonishment a few moments later when he toppled over, crashing to the ground near the base of the live oak. Hawkings poked him with a stick to no avail, and so they left him there as a decoration.
"To Sir Celer! One of the best bachelors we ever had!" a Pangolin named Samalamadindim cried, raising his cup in salute to the fallen and soon-to-be fallen.
"Sir Celer!" many others shouted at various intervals, some not sure what they where toasting. Most enjoyed any excuse to down more wine, while others just added to the swan song. Things were getting close to manly tears of wine-induced grief (nothing unusual for a Stag Feis), but just as night and tears started to fall, a loud voice rang through the assembly, waking up many.
"Why, 'tis far too somber of a mood for a feis! Not enough alcohol and too much sense and sobriety are to blame! A small problem and one I can help set to rights!"
Peter had just tossed (or tried to) his own boulder and, turning away from the disappointing effect of gravity upon a chunk of flying granite and the critical audience of his peers, looked at the newcomer curiously. "Who's he?" he asked the assembly at large.
A young boy (or so he seemed) with unruly hair and a wild look in his dark eyes stood in their midst. The hide of an unfortunate Faun was slung around his waist and thrown over his shoulder, and his curling black hair was crowned with grapes vines and leaves and fruit. His feet were bare, his skin was dusky, and he flashed shining white teeth in a wide grin as he took in the revelry.
"Bacchus, my king!" the demi-god called with a rather manic laugh, gesturing widely and bowing slightly to the kings of Narnia. At a loss, Peter and Edmund bowed back, casting one another alarmed and warning looks as they straightened. Neither had any notion of what this might mean, nor were they eager to find out, given that this boy was garbed in one of their former subjects. As they were rather fond of all present, they could only hope Bacchus was not intent on updating his wardrobe.
Bacchus was enjoying being the center of attention, and he got straight to the business of whipping up the crowd. "I heard there was a gathering, a party that could not be overlooked, a gathering of strength! Of bravery! Of men! And yet, here I find you moping like maids! Have I been sent astray? Is this the wrong party? Are there not men in Narnia?"
"Celer's getting married!" lamented Arthur. The realization was suddenly too great for him to bear and he howled out the loss of one of his fellow bachelors, throwing himself on the ground in anguish.
A wide grin lit the wild boy's face and he pointed straight at the Engaged One. "But he's not married yet!"
"Oh, dear," breathed Edmund as a mighty shout rose up at this reminder, shaking the night and causing the Squirrels to send down another hail of moldy nuts and twigs.
"This can't be good," affirmed Jaer, not looking away for a moment as he leaned down to lift a metal ewer of wine that had been set well out of range of boulders hurled.
"Be on your guard," said Peter, fishing a twig out of his goblet, "and pass the wine."
"La," Edmund agreed, holding out his wooden cup for Jaer to pour out the last drops.
Bacchus sparked at the quiet request. "Wine, High King? Please, allow me."
He gestured, and suddenly Jaer staggered as the ewer was filled to overflowing.