Chapter 15: ASLAN MAKES A DOOR IN THE AIR
AT the sight of Aslan the cheeks of the Telmarine soldiers became the colour of cold gravy, their knees knocked together, and many fell on their faces. They had not believed in lions and this made their fear greater. Even the Red Dwarfs, who knew that he came as a friend, stood with open mouths and could not speak. Some of the Black Dwarfs, who had been of Nikabrik’s party, began to edge away. But all the Talking Beasts surged round the Lion, with purrs and grunts and squeaks and whinneys of delight, fawning on him with their tails, rubbing against him, touching him reverently with their noses and going to and fro under his body and between his legs. If you have ever seen a little cat loving a big dog whom it knows and trusts, you will have a pretty good picture of their behaviour. Then Peter, leading Caspian, forced his way through the crowd of animals.
“This is Caspian, Sir,” he said. And Caspian knelt and kissed the Lion’s paw.
“Welcome, Prince,” said Aslan. “Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?”
“I – I don’t think I do, Sir,” said Caspian. “I’m only a kid.”
“Good,” said Aslan. “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not. Therefore, under us and under the High King, you shall be King of Narnia, Lord of Cair Paravel, and Emperor of the Lone Islands. You and your heirs while your race lasts. And your coronation – but what have we here?” For at that moment a curious little procession was approaching – eleven Mice, six of whom carried between them something on a litter made of branches, but the litter was no bigger than a large atlas. No one has ever seen mice more woebegone than these. They were plastered with mud some with blood too – and their ears were down and their whiskers drooped and their tails dragged in the grass, and their leader piped on his slender pipe a melancholy tune. On the litter lay what seemed little better than a damp heap of fur; all that was left of Reepicheep. He was still breathing, but more dead than alive, gashed with innumerable wounds, one paw crushed, and, where his tail had been, a bandaged stump.
“Now, Lucy,” said Aslan.
Lucy had her diamond bottle out in a moment. Though only a drop was needed on each of Reepicheep’s wounds, the wounds were so many that there was a long and anxious silence before she had finished and the Master Mouse sprang from the litter. His hand went at once to his sword hilt, with the other he twirled his whiskers. He bowed.
“Hail, Aslan!” came his shrill voice. “I have the honour -” But then he suddenly stopped.
The fact was that he still had no tail – whether that Lucy had forgotten it or that her cordial, though it could heal wounds, could not make things grow again. Reepicheep became aware of his loss as he made his bow; perhaps it altered something in his balance. He looked over his right shoulder. Failing to see his tail, he strained his neck further till he had to turn his shoulders and his whole body followed. But by that time his hind-quarters had turned too and were out of sight. Then he strained his neck looking over his shoulder again, with the same result. Only after he had turned completely round three times did he realize the dreadful truth.
“I am confounded,” said Reepicheep to Aslan. “I am completely out of countenance. I must crave your indulgence for appearing in this unseemly fashion.”
“It becomes you very well, Small One,” said Aslan.
“All the same,” replied Reepicheep, “if anything could be done… Perhaps her Majesty?” and here he bowed to Lucy.
“But what do you want with a tail?” asked Aslan.
“Sir,” said the Mouse, “I can eat and sleep and die for my King without one. But a tail is the honour and glory of a Mouse.”
“I have sometimes wondered, friend,” said Aslan, “whether you do not think too much about your honour.”
“Highest of all High Kings,” said Reepicheep, “permit me to remind you that a very small size has been bestowed on us Mice, and if we did not guard our dignity, some (who weigh worth by inches) would allow themselves very unsuitable pleasantries at our expense. That is why I have been at some pains to make it known that no one who does not wish to feel this sword as near his heart as I can reach shall talk in my presence about Traps or Toasted Cheese or Candles: no, Sir – not the tallest fool in Narnia!” Here he glared very fiercely up at Wimbleweather, but the Giant, who was always a stage behind everyone else, had not yet discovered what was being talked about down at his feet, and so missed the point.
“Why have your followers all drawn their swords, may I ask?” said Aslan.
“May it please your High Majesty,” said the second Mouse, whose name was Peepiceek, “we are all waiting to cut off our own tails if our Chief must go without his. We will not bear the shame of wearing an honour which is denied to the High Mouse.”
“Ah!” roared Aslan. “You have conquered me. You have great hearts. Not for the sake of your dignity, Reepicheep, but for the love that is between you and your people, and still more for the kindness your people showed me long ago when you ate away the cords that bound me on the Stone Table (and it was then, though you have long forgotten it, that you began to be Talking Mice), you shall have your tail again.”
Before Aslan had finished speaking the new tail was in its place. Then, at Aslan’s command, Peter bestowed the Knighthood of the Order of the Lion on Caspian, and Caspian, as soon as he was knighted, himself bestowed it on Trufflehunter and Trumpkin and Reepicheep, and made Doctor Cornelius his Lord Chancellor, and confirmed the Bulgy Bear in his hereditary office of Marshal of the Lists. And there was great applause.
After this the Telmarine soldiers, firmly but without taunts or blows, were taken across the ford and all put under lock and key in the town of Beruna and given beef and beer. They made a great fuss about wading in the river, for they all hated and feared running water just as much as they hated and feared woods and animals. But in the end the nuisance was over: and then the nicest parts of that long day began.
Lucy, sitting close to Aslan and divinely comfortable, wondered what the trees were doing. At first she thought they were merely dancing; they were certainly going round slowly in two circles, one from left to right and the other from right to left. Then she noticed that they kept throwing something down in the centre of both circles. Sometimes she thought they were cutting off long strands of their hair; at other times it looked as if they were breaking off bits of their fingers – but, if so, they had plenty of fingers to spare and it did not hurt them. But whatever they were throwing down, when it reached the ground, it became brushwood or dry sticks. Then three or four of the Red Dwarfs came forward with their tinder boxes and set light to the pile, which first crackled, and then blazed, and finally roared as a woodland bonfire on midsummer night ought to do. And everyone sat down in a wide circle round it.
Then Bacchus and Silenus and the Maenads began a dance, far wilder than the dance of the trees; not merely a dance for fun and beauty (though it was that too) but a magic dance of plenty, and where their hands touched, and where their feet fell, the feast came into existence sides of roasted meat that filled the grove with delicious smell, and wheaten cakes and oaten cakes, honey and many-coloured sugars and cream as thick as porridge and as smooth as still water, peaches, nectarines, pomegranates, pears, grapes, strawberries, raspberries pyramids and cataracts of fruit. Then, in great wooden cups and bowls and mazers, wreathed with ivy, came the wines; dark, thick ones like syrups of mulberry juice, and clear red ones like red jellies liquefied, and yellow wines and green wines and yellow-green and greenish-yellow.
But for the tree people different fare was provided. When Lucy saw Clodsley Shovel and his moles scuffling up the turf in various places (which Bacchus had pointed out to them) and realized that the trees were going to eat earth it gave her rather a shudder. But when she saw the earths that were actually brought to them she felt quite different. They began with a rich brown loam that looked almost exactly like chocolate; so like chocolate, in fact, that Edmund tried a piece of it, but he did not find it at all nice. When the rich loam had taken the edge off their hunger, the trees turned to an earth of the kind you see in Somerset, which is almost pink. They said it was lighter and sweeter. At the cheese stage they had a chalky soil, and then went on to delicate confections of the finest gravels powdered with choice silver sand. They drank very little wine, and it made the Hollies very talkative: for the most part they quenched their thirst with deep draughts of mingled dew and rain, flavoured with forest flowers and the airy taste of the thinnest clouds.
Thus Aslan feasted the Narnians till long after the sunset had died away, and the stars had come out; and the great fire, now hotter but less noisy, shone like a beacon in the dark woods, and the frightened Telmarines saw it from far away and wondered what it might mean. The best thing of all about this feast was that there was no breaking up or going away, but as the talk grew quieter and slower, one after another would begin to nod and finally drop off to sleep with feet towards the fire and good friends on either side, till at last there was silence all round the circle, and the chattering of water over stone at the Ford of Beruna could be heard once more. But all night Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.
Next day messengers (who were chiefly squirrels and birds) were sent all over the country with a proclamation to the scattered Telmarines – including, of course, the prisoners in Beruna. They were told that Caspian was now King and that Narnia would henceforth belong to the Talking Beasts and the Dwarfs and Dryads and Fauns and other creatures quite as much as to the men. Any who chose to stay under the new conditions might do so; but for those who did not like the idea, Aslan would provide another home. Anyone who wished to go there must come to Aslan and the Kings at the Ford of Beruna by noon on the fifth day. You may imagine that this caused plenty of head-scratching among the Telmarines. Some of them, chiefly the young ones, had, like Caspian, heard stories of the Old Days and were delighted that they had come back. They were already making friends with the creatures. These all decided to stay in Narnia. But most of the older men, especially those who had been important under Miraz, were sulky and had no wish to live in a country where they could not rule the roost. “Live here with a lot of blooming performing animals! No fear,” they said. “And ghosts too,” some added with a shudder. “That’s what those there Dryads really are. It’s not canny.” They were also suspicious. “I don’t trust ’em,” they said. “Not with that awful Lion and all. He won’t keep his claws off us long, you’ll see.” But then they were equally suspicious of his offer to give them a new home. “Take us off to his den and eat us one by one most likely,” they muttered. And the more they talked to one another the sulkier and more suspicious they became. But on the appointed day more than half of them turned up.
At one end of the glade Aslan had caused to be set up two stakes of wood, higher than a man’s head and about three feet apart. A third, and lighter, piece of wood was bound across them at the top, uniting them, so that the whole thing looked like a doorway from nowhere into nowhere. In front of this stood Aslan himself with Peter on his right and Caspian on his left. Grouped round them were Susan and Lucy, Trumpkin and Trufflehunter, the Lord Cornelius, Glenstorm, Reepicheep, and others. The children and the Dwarfs had made good use of the royal wardrobes in what had been the castle of Miraz and was now the castle of Caspian, and what with silk and cloth of gold, with snowy linen glancing through slashed sleeves, with silver mail shirts and jewelled sword-hilts, with gilt helmets and feathered bonnets, they were almost too bright to look at. Even the beasts wore rich chains about their necks. Yet nobody’s eyes were on them or the children. The living and strokable gold of Aslan’s mane outshone them all. The rest of the Old Narnians stood down each side of the glade. At the far end stood the Telmarines. The sun shone brightly and pennants fluttered in the light wind.
“Men of Telmar,” said Aslan, “you who seek a new land, hear my words. I will send you all to your own country, which I know and you do not.”
“We don’t remember Telmar. We don’t know where it is. We don’t know what it is like,” grumbled the Telmarines.
“You came into Narnia out of Telmar,” said Aslan. “But you came into Telmar from another place. You do not belong to this world at all. You came hither, certain generations ago, out of that same world to which the High King Peter belongs.”
At this, half the Telmarines began whimpering, “There you are. Told you so. He’s going to kill us all, send us right out of the world,” and the other half began throwing out their chests and slapping one another on the back and whispering, “There you are. Might have guessed we didn’t belong to this place with all its queer, nasty, unnatural creatures. We’re of royal blood, you’ll see.” And even Caspian and Cornelius and the children turned to Aslan with looks of amazement on their faces.
“Peace,” said Aslan in the low voice which was nearest to his growl. The earth seemed to shake a little and every living thing in the grove became still as stone.
“You, Sir Caspian,” said Aslan, “might have known that you could be no true King of Narnia unless, like the Kings of old, you were a son of Adam and came from the world of Adam’s sons. And so you are. Many years ago in that world, in a deep sea of that world which is called the South Sea, a shipload of pirates were driven by storm on an island. And there they did as pirates would: killed the natives and took the native women for wives, and made palm wine, and drank and were drunk, and lay in the shade of the palm trees, and woke up and quarrelled, and sometimes killed one another. And in one of these frays six were put to flight by the rest and fled with their women into the centre of the island and up a mountain, and went, as they thought, into a cave to hide. But it was one of the magical places of that world, one of the chinks or chasms between chat world and this. There were many chinks or chasms between worlds in old times, but they have grown rarer. This was one of the last: I do not say the last. And so they fell, or rose, or blundered, or dropped right through, and found themselves in this world, in the Land of Telmar which was then unpeopled. But why it was unpeopled is a long story: I will not tell it now. And in Telmar their descendants lived and became a fierce and proud people; and after many generations there was a famine in Telmar and they invaded Narnia, which was then in some disorder (but that also would be a long story), and conquered it and ruled it. Do you mark all this well, King Caspian?”
“I do indeed, Sir,” said Caspian. “I was wishing that I came of a more honourable lineage.”
“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”
“And now,” said Aslan, “you men and women of Telmar, will you go back to that island in the world of men from which your fathers first came? It is no bad place. The race of those pirates who first found it has died out, and it is without inhabitants. There are good wells of fresh water, and fruitful soil, and timber for building, and fish in the lagoons; and the other men of that world have not yet discovered it. The chasm is open for your return; but this I must warn you, that once you have gone through, it will close behind you for ever. There will be no more commerce between the worlds by that door.”
There was silence for a moment. Then a burly, decent looking fellow among the Telmarine soldiers pushed forward and said:
“Well, I’ll take the offer.”
“It is well chosen,” said Aslan. “And because you have spoken first, strong magic is upon you. Your future in that world shall be good. Come forth.”
The man, now a little pale, came forward. Aslan and his court drew aside, leaving him free access to the empty doorway of the stakes.
“Go through it, my son,” said Aslan, bending towards him and touching the man’s nose with his own. As soon as the Lion’s breath came about him, a new look came into the man’s eyes – startled, but not unhappy – as if he were trying to remember something. Then he squared his shoulders and walked into the Door.
Everyone’s eyes were fixed on him. They saw the three pieces of wood, and through them the trees and grass and sky of Narnia. They saw the man between the doorposts: then, in one second, he had vanished utterly.
From the other end of the glade the remaining Telmarines set up a wailing. “Ugh! What’s happened to him? Do you mean to murder us? We won’t go that way.” And then one of the clever Telmarines said:
“We don’t see any other world through those sticks. If you want us to believe in it, why doesn’t one of you go? All your own friends are keeping well away from the sticks.”
Instantly Reepicheep stood forward and bowed. “If my example can be of any service, Aslan,” he said, “I will take eleven mice through that arch at your bidding without a moment’s delay.”
“Nay, little one,” said Aslan, laying his velvety paw ever so lightly on Reepicheep’s head. “They would do dreadful things to you in that world. They would show you at fairs. It is others who must lead.”
“Come on,” said Peter suddenly to Edmund and Lucy. “Our time’s up.”
“What do you mean?” said Edmund.
“This way,” said Susan, who seemed to know all about it. “Back into the trees. We’ve got to change.”
“Change what?” asked Lucy.
“Our clothes, of course,” said Susan. “Nice fools we’d look on the platform of an English station in these.”
“But our other things are at Caspian’s castle,” said Edmund.
“No, they’re not,” said Peter, still leading the way into the thickest wood. “They’re all here. They were brought down in bundles this morning. It’s all arranged.”
“Was that what Aslan was talking to you and Susan about this morning?” asked Lucy.
“Yes – that and other things,” said Peter, his face very solemn. “I can’t tell it to you all. There were things he wanted to say to Su and me because we’re not coming back to Narnia.”
“Never?” cried Edmund and Lucy in dismay.
“Oh, you two are,” answered Peter. “At least, from what he said, I’m pretty sure he means you to get back some day. But not Su and me. He says we’re getting too old.”
“Oh, Peter,” said Lucy. “What awful bad luck. Can you bear it?”
“Well, I think I can,” said Peter. “It’s all rather different from what I thought. You’ll understand when it comes to your last time. But, quick, here are our things.”
It was odd, and not very nice, to take off their royal clothes and to come back in their school things (not very fresh now) into that great assembly. One or two of the nastier Telmarines jeered. But the other creatures all cheered and rose up in honour of Peter the High King, and Queen Susan of the Horn, and King Edmund, and Queen Lucy. There were affectionate and (on Lucy’s part) tearful farewells with all their old friends – animal kisses, and hugs from Bulgy Bears, and hands wrung by Trumpkin, and a last tickly, whiskerish embrace with Trufflehunter. And of course Caspian offered the Horn back to Susan and of course Susan told him to keep it. And then, wonderfully and terribly, it was farewell to Aslan himself, and Peter took his place with Susan’s hands on his shoulders and Edmund’s on hers and Lucy’s on his and the first of the Telmarine’s on Lucy’s, and so in a long line they moved forward to the Door. After that came a moment which is hard to describe, for the children seemed to be seeing three things at once. One was the mouth of a cave opening into the glaring green and blue of an island in the Pacific, where all the Telmarines would find themselves the moment they were through the Door. The second was a glade in Narnia, the faces of Dwarfs and Beasts, the deep eyes of Aslan, and the white patches on the Badger’s cheeks. But the third (which rapidly swallowed up the other two) was the grey, gravelly surface of a platform in a country station, and a seat with luggage round it, where they were all sitting as if they had never moved from it – a little flat and dreary for a moment after all they; had been through, but also, unexpectedly, nice in its own way, what with the familiar railway smell and the English sky and the summer term before them.
“Well!” said Peter. “We have had a time.”
“Bother!” said Edmund. “I’ve left my new torch in Narnia.”