Disclaimer: I own neither the Chronicles of Narnia nor the title of this work, the former of which belongs to C.S. Lewis and the latter of which belongs to G.K. Chesterton.
A/N: This semester has been a long road for me, my friends, but here we are at Christmas again. This will be my fifth Christmas to post a Christmas story. Last year was rather a cop-out...I simply added a somewhat dark chapter about Mrs. Beaver to Splendor and called it good enough.
But not this year. No, this year you get something of substance (at least, I like to think so). This story is a little more personal than some I've posted lately, or even during previous Christmases. You may find it strange because it is written in second person (most commonly found in "Choose Your Own Adventure" novels-"You do this, you do that", etc). I apologize if it jars you-I have found writing this way to be very good at communicating emotion and connection. You are not just reading about Peter Pevensie this Christmas. You are Peter Pevensie.
I also have no idea about the time-frame and whether or not Peter would 1) actually be old enough to go to war, or 2) fly on a mission over France on Christmas Eve. Call it AU if you like-I apologize for any historical inaccuracies I made as well. Look past them if you can (or correct me in a review if you feel it is too glaring an error to pass up-I know you're out there, you WWII historians).
God willing, I'll have more to write about Christmas this December. The G.K. Chesterton from which I get my title is full of gems of inspiration. Regardless, I hope you have a very happy Christmas-but even more, that you will have a meaningful Christmas. A Christmas that shatters your world and allows the God who sent his Son to Earth to make you new. Long live Aslan. And Merry Christmas!
Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.
Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but the truth.
-from The Wise Man, by G.K. Chesterton
all things but the truth
You are in France when the world shatters.
It is a night as frigid and fragile as an icicle wand. The dark seeps out of shadowed corners, flinching back from a gray sky that barely mutes the silver gleam from the swollen moon. Glitters of light appear on the snow and on snarls of barbed wire whenever the clouds part to let the singing light shine through.
You are in hiding—shot down over a country inhabited by hostiles, a countryside ravaged by the devices of one man in a fight fueled by his hatred. Somehow you got out of your plane and pulled your parachute free before it was too late. You jerked the cord and watched as your faithful fighter burst into flames and sank toward the earth, streaming black smoke and letting out a final high-pitched whine. Meeting a tree on the way to the ground and waking up (after being struck unconscious) with an acutely aching leg, you managed to find a makeshift crutch in the forest and have been heading West since daybreak—West, toward home.
Somehow you find a village that hasn't been overtaken by the enemy—a quiet little place, with a church's belfry stabbing up into the frosty night air. You are panting, breath billowing out in white wisps, the cold air hurting your lungs. So cold—and yet, you should've expected it. Your leg hurts. Your head hurts. Head injuries can be particularly dangerous and if you don't think fast and find a place to sleep for the night—someplace safe, someplace warm—the shock might set in and leave you to die, out in the cold December night.
It strikes your scattered mind as ironic, for today…what is today? You'd volunteered (one of ten men, and none with families but you) to fly on Christmas Eve—a simple reconnaissance mission, hoping and praying that you'd get through (on Christmas Eve) without opposition.
And you'd been shot down. Your family won't be told until New Years. That's a mercy, at least. They don't know you volunteered for another mission—they think you are celebrating at an air station somewhere in the south of England. Safe. Warm. Happy.
You slump against a building, head pounding, leg throbbing with ache. Your fingers feel frozen; your vision has black circles threatening to swallow up the waking world. You are tired. So tired. But Peter Pevensie isn't about to give up just because he's been shot down in some godforsaken land. After all, you think, raising your head and feeling the night air wash over you (coldcoldcold), it is Christmas.
You think of another weary man, ages and ages ago, and of another starry night in which that man's world was turned upside down. Suddenly your head jerks up, as if pulled by some supernatural force, and you see the stars—the stars, whirling about your head, clouds peeled away, moon swallowing you up in a fog of gleaming golden glory.
And then the bells begin to ring.
"It is time!" they cry, silvery voices filling the night with song and light from across two thousand years. "It is time!"
The pealing carillons paralyze you—your breath catches in your throat and something you have buried deep within you comes awake. How foolish it is to bury living parts of us, for there will come a time when a startling thought, a moment of intense recollection, will raise the former self from the depths of its grave.
It is thus now, save that self had been buried gradually, as other layers of years became the new face of the man called Peter Pevensie. You did not hastily shovel pile upon pile of rotting soil over your past (like one of your sisters, afraid someone will unknowingly unearth the remains of What Was) nor do you carefully dust the past off each day (like another of your sisters, daily dedicating the will to preserving and maintaining what was left of the life before the change). You lack the deliberation of each—you simply left well enough alone and moved on as was needed, for kings of Narnia are not nearly as useful as RAF ensigns in the middle of a World War.
Yet by doing so, you have run this risk—that in such moments (when the beauty rises up and stares you in the face, the beauty of Golden Eyes and stars and remembrances of things you never experienced, but which changed the world in mighty ways) your entire identity is shaken to the core.
The bells' ring is strong enough to break your heart into tiny bits and fling each shard to the wind. All you can think of in this moment of perilous beauty is that you never did make up with Susan. (And while you're on good terms with the others, supposing you never see them again?) There was so much left to say. So much you left undone. And now, worse than the feeling of broken bones in your leg or a broken mind is the broken feeling inside—the knowledge that you have done your best at life and even so have failed. That you are not strong enough to do this on your own (not just war—not just Coming Back to England—not just being a king, but Life)—and that is hard, for you have always tried to be strong enough.
So you depended on your own power. You went on with your life and forgot the Truth—forgot the heart-rhythm, the drum beating in tune to Aslan's song, the reason your brother is at this moment alive and well and at home asleep in bed, rosy-cheeked, breath smelling like peppermint and gingerbread with the Christmas Carols still ringing in his ears. You have gone on living in this world, but not Living. Not living the life you were meant to live—because that is a life in which living takes more than just your own strength.
"Aslan," you whisper, rubbing your face with your cold hands and falling to your knees (there are lights around you now, in some of the houses, and murmurs coming from that doorway there), "Forgive me."
Because now you remember that it was never your duty to be strong. To succeed. To save the day. It was only Him—his glory, his power and might and beauty and holiness and righteousness that, even as the High King, full of majesty and power, you have never been able and never will be able to match. It is only that you forget sometimes, forget that just because you haven't betrayed a kingdom like Edmund, or renounced your faith like Susan, you are still a sinner just like them.
"Forgive me," you breathe again, imperfect and beautifully broken—for in the pain of a broken heart comes peace, comes renewal.
You see starlight shining from a gleaming spot of brightness like the conjunction that took place during your coronation—a coming together of Peace and Justice. You see the heavens bursting with song, feel the earth tremble as the mighty announcement of Heavenly Beings sends shepherds cowering behind rocks and trees. Hear thunder rumble as the shadow of a cross covers the world in darkness…and then there is light.
Warmth from the open door breathes across your face, and a wild, mysterious perfume comes with it, filling your lungs and bringing tears springing to your eyes.
"My son," murmurs the Voice, past the weariness and the ringing in your ears. "All is forgiven. Remember me, and be at rest."
And it is then, in the middle of war-torn France, before you are taken in by murmuring French villagers, that your world is shattered.
(And made new.)