CHAPTER FOURTEEN: THE PLANTING OF THE TREE
“WELL done,” said Aslan in a voice that made the earth shake. Then Digory knew that all the Narnians had heard those words and that the story of them would be handed down from father to son in that new world for hundreds of years and perhaps forever. But he was in no danger of feeling conceited for he didn’t think about it at all now that he was face to face with Aslan. This time he found he could look straight into the Lion’s eyes. He had forgotten his troubles and felt absolutely content.
“Well done, son of Adam,” said the Lion again. “For this fruit you have hungered and thirsted and wept. No hand but yours shall sow the seed of the Tree that is to be the protection of Narnia. Throw the apple towards the river bank where the ground is soft.”
Digory did as he was told. Everyone had grown so quiet that you could hear the soft thump where it fell into the mud.
“It is well thrown,” said Aslan. “Let us now proceed to the Coronation of King Frank of Narnia and Helen his Queen.”
The children now noticed these two for the first time. They were dressed in strange and beautiful clothes, and from their shoulders rich robes flowed out behind them to where four dwarfs held up the King’s train and four rivernymphs the Queen’s. Their heads were bare; but Helen had let her hair down and it made a great improvement in her appearance. But it was neither hair nor clothes that made them look so different from their old selves. Their faces had a new expression, especially the King’s. All the sharpness and cunning and quarrelsomeness which he had picked up as a London cabby seemed to have been washed away, and the courage and kindness which he had always had were easier to see. Perhaps it was the air of the young world that had done it, or talking with Aslan, or both.
“Upon my word,” whispered Fledge to Polly. “My old master’s been changed nearly as much as I have! Why, he’s a real master now.”
“Yes, but don’t buzz in my ear like that,” said Polly. “It tickles so.”
“Now,” said Aslan, “some of you undo that tangle you have made with those trees and let us see what we shall find there.”
Digory now saw that where four trees grew close together their branches had all been laced together or tied together with switches so as to make a sort of cage. The two Elephants with their trunks and a few dwarfs with their little axes soon got it all undone. There were three things inside. One was a young tree that seemed to be made of gold; the second was a young tree that seemed to be made of silver; but the third was a miserable object in muddy clothes, sitting hunched up between them.
“Gosh!” whispered Digory. “Uncle Andrew!”
To explain all this we must go back a bit. The Beasts, you remember, had tried planting and watering him. When the watering brought him to his senses, he found himself soaking wet, buried up to his thighs in earth (which was quickly turning into mud) and surrounded by more wild animals than he had ever dreamed of in his life before. It is perhaps not surprising that he began to scream and howl. This was in a way a good thing, for it at last persuaded everyone (even the Warthog) that he was alive. So they dug him up again (his trousers were in a really shocking state by now). As soon as his legs were free he tried to bolt, but one swift curl of the Elephant’s trunk round his waist soon put an end to that. Everyone now thought he must be safely kept somewhere till Aslan had time to come and see him and say what should be done about him. So they made a sort of cage or coop all round him. They then offered him everything they could; think of to eat.
The Donkey collected great piles of thistles and threw them in, but Uncle Andrew didn’t seem to care about them. The Squirrels bombarded him with volleys of nuts but he only covered his head with his hands and tried to keep out of the way. Several birds flew to and fro deligently dropping worms on him. The Bear was especially kind. During the afternoon he found a wild bees’ nest and instead of eating it himself (which he would very much like to have done) this worthy creature brought it back to Uncle Andrew. But this was in fact the worst failure of all. The Bear lobbed the whole sticky mass over the top of the enclosure and unfortunately it hit Uncle Andrew slap in the face (not all the bees were dead). The Bear, who would not at all have minded being hit in the face by a honeycomb himself, could not understand why Uncle Andrew staggered back, slipped, and sat down. And it was sheer bad luck that he sat down on the pile of thistles. “And anyway,” as the Warthog said, “quite a lot of honey has got into the creature’s mouth and that’s bound to have done it some good.” They were really getting quite fond of their strange pet and hoped that Aslan would allow them to keep it. The cleverer ones were quite sure by now that at least some of the noises which came out of his mouth had a meaning. They christened him Brandy because he made that noise so often.
In the end, however, they had to leave him there for the night. Aslan was busy all that day instructing the new King and Queen and doing other important things, and could not attend to “poor old Brandy”. What with the nuts, pears, apples, and bananas that had been thrown in to him, he did fairly well for supper; but it wouldn’t be true to say that he passed an agreeable night.
“Bring out that creature,” said Aslan. One of the Elephants lifted Uncle Andrew in its trunk and laid him at the Lion’s feet. He was too frightened to move.
“Please, Aslan,” said Polly, “could you say something to – to unfrighten him? And then could you say something to prevent him from ever coming back here again?”
“Do you think he wants to?” said Aslan.
“Well, Aslan,” said Polly, “he might send someone else. He’s so excited about the bar off the lamp-post growing into a lamp-post tree and he thinks – “
“He thinks great folly, child,” said Aslan. “This world is bursting with life for these few days because the song with which I called it into life still hangs in the air and rumbles in the ground. It will not be so for long. But I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good! But I will give him the only gift he is still able to receive.”
He bowed his great head rather sadly, and breathed into the Magician’s terrified face. “Sleep,” he said. “Sleep and be separated for some few hours from all the torments you have devised for yourself.” Uncle Andrew immediately rolled over with closed eyes and began breathing peacefully.
“Carry him aside and lay him down,” said Aslan. “Now, dwarfs! Show your smith-craft. Let me see you make two crowns for your King and Queen.”
More Dwarfs than you could dream of rushed forward to the Golden Tree. They had all its leaves stripped off, and some of its branches torn off too, before you could say Jack Robinson. And now the children could see that it did not merely look golden but was of real, soft gold. It had of course sprung up from the half-sovereigns which had fallen out of Uncle Andrew’s pocket when he was turned upside down; just as the silver had grown up from the half-crowns. From nowhere, as it seemed, piles of dry brushwood for fuel, a little anvil, hammers, tongs, and bellows were produced. Next moment (how those dwarfs loved their work!) the fire was blazing, the bellows were roaring, the gold was melting, the hammers were clinking. Two Moles, whom Aslan had set to dig (which was what they liked best) earlier in the day, poured out a pile of precious stones at the dwarfs’ feet. Under the clever fingers of the little smiths two crowns took shape – not ugly, heavy things like modern European crowns, but light, delicate, beautifully shaped circles that you could really wear and look nicer by wearing. The King’s was set with rubies and the Queen’s with emeralds.
When the crowns had been cooled in the river Aslan made Frank and Helen kneel before him and he placed the crowns on their heads. Then he said, “Rise up King and Queen of Narnia, father and mother of many kings that shall be in Narnia and the Isles and Archenland. Be just and merciful and brave. The blessing is upon you.”
Then everyone cheered or bayed or neighed or trumpeted or clapped its wings and the royal pair stood looking solemn and a little shy, but all the nobler for their shyness. And while Digory was still cheering he heard the deep voice of Aslan beside him, saying:
Everyone in that crowd turned its head, and then everyone drew a long breath of wonder and delight. A little way off, towering over their heads, they saw a tree which had certainly not been there before. It must have grown up silently, yet swiftly as a flag rises when you pull it up on a flagstaff, while they were all busied about the coronation. Its spreading branches seemed to cast a light rather than a shade, and silver apples peeped out like stars from under every leaf. But it was the smell which came from it, even more than the sight, that had made everyone draw in their breath. For a moment one could hardly think about anything else.
“Son of Adam,” said Aslan, “you have sown well. And you, Narnians, let it be your first care to guard this Tree, for it is your Shield. The Witch of whom I told you has fled far away into the North of the world; she will live on there, growing stronger in dark Magic. But while that Tree flourishes she will never come down into Narnia. She dare not come within a hundred miles of the Tree, for its smell, which is joy and life and health to you, is death and horror and despair to her.”
Everyone was staring solemnly at the Tree when Aslan suddenly swung round his head (scattering golden gleams of light from his mane as he did so) and fixed his large eyes on the children. “What is it, children?” he said, for he caught them in the very act of whispering and nudging one another.
“Oh – Aslan, sir,” said Digory, turning red, “I forgot to tell you. The Witch has already eaten one of those apples, one of the same kind that Tree grew from.” He hadn’t really said all he was thinking, but Polly at once said it for him (Digory was always much more afraid than she of looking a fool.)
“So we thought, Aslan,” she said, “that there must be some mistake, and she can’t really mind the smell of those apples.”
“Why do you think that, Daughter of Eve?” asked the Lion.
“Well, she ate one.”
“Child,” he replied, “that is why all the rest are now a horror to her. That is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. The fruit is good, but they loathe it ever after.”
“Oh I see,” said Polly. “And I suppose because she took it in the wrong way it won’t work for her. I mean it won’t make her always young and all that?”
“Alas,” said Aslan, shaking his head. “It will. Things always work according to their nature. She has won her heart’s desire; she has unwearying strength and endless days like a goddess. But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it. All get what they want; they do not always like it.”
“I – I nearly ate one myself, Aslan,” said Digory. “Would I – “
“You would, child,” said Aslan. “For the fruit always works – it must work – but it does not work happily for any who pluck it at their own will. If any Narnian, unbidden, had stolen an apple and planted it here to protect Narnia, it would have protected Narnia. But it would have done so by making Narnia into another strong and cruel empire like Charn, not the kindly land I mean it to be. And the Witch tempted you to do another thing, my son, did she not?”
“Yes, Aslan. She wanted me to take an apple home to Mother.”
“Understand, then, that it would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.”
And Digory could say nothing, for tears choked him and he gave up all hopes of saving his Mother’s life; but at the same time he knew that the Lion knew what would have happened, and that there might be things more terrible even than losing someone you love by death. But now Aslan was speaking again, almost in a whisper:
“That is what would have happened, child, with a stolen apple. It is not what will happen now. What I give you now will bring joy. It will not, in your world, give endless life, but it will heal. Go. Pluck her an apple from the Tree.”
For a second Digory could hardly understand. It was as if the whole world had turned inside out and upside down. And then, like someone in a dream, he was walking across to the Tree, and the King and Queen were cheering him and all the creatures were cheering too. He plucked the apple and put it in his pocket. Then he came back to Aslan.
“Please,” he said, “may we go home now?” He had forgotten to say “Thank you”, but he meant it, and Aslan understood.