The winds howl and snow drifts against the windows, but in the great castle of Cair Paravel, Prince Rilian is tucked snug in his bed, waiting for his father to come and say good night.
He doesn't have long to wait, for King Caspian enters the room, and crosses to his son's bedside, sitting down beside him to give him a hug and a kiss, and bid him sweet dreams.
But Prince Rilian has another idea. He draws The Book of Narnian Myths & Legends from under the covers, and hands it to Caspian. "Will you read me a story, Dad?"
"Haven't you already had a story, you imp?" Caspian asks with a fond smile.
"Mama read me one," Rilian admits. "But please! Just one more!"
"Well, just one more, I suppose," Caspian says, taking the book and flipping through it. "Is there a particular one you want to hear?"
"I want a 'when-Peter-was-the-High-King' story!" Rilian says, for those stories are always the most exciting.
Caspian quite agrees with that assessment, and he thumbs through the pages, looking for a good one. "Ah, here's one you'll like, especially tonight." And he puts an arm around his son, and clearing his throat, begins to read...
Once upon a time in Narnia, when Peter was the High King, he and Queen Lucy, and Queen Lucy's dear, good friend Tumnus the Faun traveled to Archenland. It was an unpleasant trip, not due to the company, which was excellent, but because it was a miserable winter. More miserable than they had had since the Witch had been vanquished.
Some of the older Narnians had spent the days since Christmas looking at each other with worried eyes, and muttering darkly about how "there hasn't been a winter this bad since the Witch," and wondering about her return. Of course, they did this well out of the hearing of their monarchs, but still word got back to the Kings and Queens, who were rather disturbed by the rumors and spent many hours discussing how to quell them.
The problem with quelling the rumors was, as King Edmund pointed out repeatedly (rather reasonably, he thought, although his brother and sisters considered it more maddening), was that you couldn't exactly refute the weather, and so people would continue to wonder about the Witch, whether she showed up or not, until spring came.
The winter continued, witchless. But a bad mood seemed to pervade the season and the country.
It was during this time that King Lune of Archenland was to celebrate the anniversary of his coronation. He had naturally invited the Kings and Queens of Narnia to attend the celebration, as Archenland and Narnia were great allies, and their monarchs were good friends. Unfortunately, all four of the monarchs could not attend. Queen Susan was hosting the visiting princesses from the court of Terebinthia, and King Edmund was recovering from a bad cough. So it was decided that the High King Peter and the Queen Lucy would journey to Archenland for the celebration, along with several members of the court, Tumnus the Faun, and Lord Peridan among them.
The High King lead them south along the coast, thinking the weather would be milder, and that the way over the mountains would be easier. But the weather was wild with ever-changing snow and ice, causing many delays and detours. Their progress was slow as they carefully made their way south, with slips on the ice and a bitter cold in their bones, until a storm came as they were finally making their way through the mountain pass.
In the blinding snow and furious wind, it was find shelter or die. Luckily for the Narnians, the mountain was dotted with caves, and King Peter worked hard to lead them all to one, in which they could weather out the storm. But the storm intensified, and by the time they found a cave, they were separated from the others, and it was just King Peter, Queen Lucy, and Tumnus the Faun who stumbled, snow-blind, into the shelter.
All three were quite distressed by the loss of their companions, and Queen Lucy offered many prayers to Aslan that the others would find shelter too. The cave they found themselves in was quite large and had obviously been used by previous travelers in the past, as there was a ring of firestones near the entrance, and heaps of firewood stacked against one wall. King Peter thought this was very lucky indeed, considering all the bad luck they'd had on the journey so far. He lead the horses into the cave, so that they too could rest out the storm, and went to work building a fire.
It's not usually mentioned in adventure stories, but weathering out a storm in a cave is actually quite dull. You can hardly sleep for the cold (for even with a fire, a cave is still very cold and damp) and after a certain point no one feels like talking. So Queen Lucy and Tumnus the Faun decided to warm themselves up with an entertaining exploration of the very large cave, while King Peter stayed near the entrance, hoping that their friends would find them, or that the storm would let up soon, and he'd be able to search for the others.
As caves go, it was quite cave-ish: full of shadows, rocks, and a pleasing lack of human bones. The cave was unusual in that it had a nasty scent, hard to identify until Tumnus and Queen Lucy found the runes carved onto the wall. Dark magic. Peering down one of the tunnels, they could see blue light far down the passage, and a strange icy shimmer in the air. Combined with the runes, what it added up to was clear: there was something very disturbing about this cave.
"Peter!" Queen Lucy called. "Something's wrong in here!"
King Peter turned from the entrance with a worried look. "Lu, it's the only shelter we've got. We can't go."
"We may have to. I'll look. You stay by the entrance with the fire, in case the others show up. Tumnus, come with me," said Queen Lucy as she walked towards the light. The Faun paused only to light a torch, and then trotted after her.
Queen Lucy and Tumnus made their way down the passage, following the shimmering light. The air seemed even colder, and oddly, it felt like a strong wind was blowing inside the mountain, whipping at their cheeks and trying to push them away. But the valiant Queen and the brave Faun persisted, and soon they found themselves in a large cavern. The walls were covered with yet more runes, and the blue light they seen in the tunnel turned out to be a frostfire, and gathered around it were two Dwarfs, and an old, gnarled Dryad, all wreathed in swirling, icy mists.
Luckily, they had not been noticed, and since Queen Lucy and Tumnus realized that this party was up to no good, they quickly hid themselves back in the passage, straining their ears to overhear the discussion taking place around the frostfire. They stared at each other in horror as they heard that the group had raised the storm in the mountains, and had been responsible for most of the storms that dreadful winter, hoping that by bringing on such icy misery, they could raise the White Witch to rule Narnia once again. Here in this cave they had at last found the proper runes to complete the ceremony and bring about the return of the Witch.
"A little more snow," said one Dwarf, fierce looking to the eye.
"A little more ice," said the other Dwarf, even more unpleasant to behold.
"A little more bonechill and the Queen will be with us once again," said the Dryad.
Queen Lucy was relieved that they hadn't gotten to that point yet. "We must tell Peter!" she whispered to Tumnus, wringing her hands anxiously, and the Faun agreed, so they started back down the passage, moving quickly but with great stealth. However, behind them...
"My queen!" hissed one of the Dwarfs in a low voice as the blue light in front of them slowly rose up into a swirling mass of icy mist, so thick as to seem solid. The conspirators bowed.
The White Witch had risen again.
She was without a body, but her spirit was present, and the Dwarfs and Dryad trembled before her. The mass of white cold seemed to survey the room, which grew colder still than the storm that raged outside. "You fools," she said in a hollow voice that echoed around the cavern. "They are here: the Daughter of Eve, the Son of Adam. They are in this very cave!" There wasn't even a question of what the Witch wanted. The conspirators turned as one to run to the only place that their enemies could be. Around the Witch, the icy mists were swirling, and forms were coming into being.
Frost Wraiths, the conspirators' hidden aid. The Witch had been the one thing they'd ever felt something akin to love for, with her eternal winter, and when they'd been approached to aid in her rebirth, cold, dangerous allies had been easily gained. Three of them stepped out and joined the chase, legs morphing and changing like swirling snow as they ran on ahead of the conspirators.
Queen Lucy and Tumnus were almost to the entrance of the cave when they heard the scrabbling behind them. Tumnus, being a Faun, heard it first. His eyes widened. "Your majesty!" he hissed, so that their pursuers couldn't hear. "They've spotted us. Run ahead!"
But Queen Lucy shook her head, drawing the knife that always hung by her side. "Tumnus, you're not armed. You must go ahead and warn Peter." The Faun hesitated for just a moment, then ran, his torch bobbing with his gait and casting terrifying shadows on the wall. Behind him, Queen Lucy gave an angry cry.
Tumnus forced himself not to look back, but as he ran, despite the exertion, he grew colder and colder until he felt he could barely move. That was when he realized that what he thought was icy mist were the Frost Wraiths circling around him.
"Get back, you devils!" he yelled, swinging the only weapon he had, his torch. It should have been an easy kill for them, but when the torch got close they hissed and bolted back. Emboldened by his success, Tumnus swung it at them again and again. Each time the torch came near, the Wraiths swirled and bounded back. Suddenly, they seemed to decide that Tumnus wasn't worth the fight and vanished.
Assuming he'd completely driven them off, Tumnus ran to the High King Peter. But it was not so.
Queen Lucy, who was a valiant fighter, had already slain one Dwarf and was holding her own against the other Dwarf and the Dryad, old gnarled things that they were. But when the Frost Wraiths reappeared, this time targeting the Daughter of Eve the Witch had ordered them to seek, the tables turned.
Queen Lucy had no torch, and her limbs were quickly weighed down with cold. Panting with the effort, she continued to try and slice her enemies, but her limbs were too heavy to move. The Dwarf and the Dryad grabbed her on either side and carried her to the Witch, presenting her to the mass of white cold with evil smiles. "Your majesty, we have the Daughter of Eve."
The Witch's anger was terrible, even body-less as she was. Her hollow voice seemed to rock the entire cavern "Fools! Where is the Son of Adam? You were to bring them both to me!" Queen Lucy was brave and did not tremble (although being frozen as she was, she would very much have liked to, especially since she was so worried that Tumnus had not been able to alert King Peter), but the Witch's next words filled her with great fear. "It is no matter. This one will do. Say the spells, and then I will make short work of the Son of Adam."
"No!" Queen Lucy screamed, but she was ignored and left frozen beside the frostfire, as the remaining Dwarf and Dryad began to the prepare the spells. Unfortunately for the conspirators, the Dwarf Queen Lucy had slain was the one with the most talent for magic, and these two seemed to be having trouble making sure the spell was correct. They argued with each other over how to properly pronounce the words, and whether a drop of Queen Lucy's blood was needed for the Witch to possess her body, or if one of her hairs would do instead.
It seemed that trying to do the spell with the Witch present made them very nervous. So nervous, in fact, that they almost let the frostfire burn out, and when that happened, the icy white swirl that was the Witch begin to flicker and dissipate. Queen Lucy held her breath, hoping that the fire would go out, but the Dwarf caught it at the last moment, and the blue flames flared up again.
"My queen," the Dryad said. "We are ready to begin."
And the Queen Lucy despaired (for even one as brave as she had moments of weakness) when the Dwarf and Dryad started to say the words of the spell that would allow the White Witch to take control of her body. A Frost Wraith hissed in pleasure and swirled in from above to stroke Queen Lucy's cheek mockingly.
With a whistle as it shot through the air, a burning arrow struck the Wraith in what could be called its chest, before it could touch Queen Lucy. A roar like a glacier collapsing filled the cave and the wraith vanished.
Queen Lucy desperately wanted to turn her head to see what was happening as more arrows joined the last one, each tipped with fire. The other two Wraiths swirled and dissipated to avoid them, but the Dryad was not so lucky as one hit her arm, the old wood catching fire. Screaming, she ran towards the Witch as if she would save her. When you are dying, sometimes you make terrible decisions.
The Dryad fell down, frozen to death, the fire consuming her body fizzling out.
The flaming arrows continued to fly and Queen Lucy could hear the sounds of battle, of blades clashing and voices crying out with the effort of the fight, and occasionally in pain. Before long, Queen Lucy saw the body of the second Dwarf drop to the floor in front of her, and as the burning arrows destroyed each of the remaining Wraiths, she could feel her body slowly start to thaw. She finally turned her head to see Tumnus the Faun standing behind her, clutching a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other, a torch burning at his feet. He smiled at her, and Queen Lucy felt quite relieved.
The conspirators were gone, but the Witch remained, still floating in an icy cloud above the blue fire. Her voice echoed out into the cavern, seductive and dangerous. "Son of Adam, here you are at last. All that was missing from this moment was you. Have you finally come to surrender? To join me? Come closer, and let me look at you. We can end this game now, you know."
King Peter wasn't hidden. It was hard to hide when you hold a fiercely burning torch. But he stepped out into better view and Queen Lucy could see by the blood staining his shirt that the Dwarf had injured him during their fight. "No! I will never join you," said the High King with contempt, his voice echoing as loudly as the Witch's had. He held out his sword, standing straight and proud. "But you are right on one point. This will end now."
The Witch's mocking laugh was terrible. "Do you think just because I am without a body, I am powerless against you, Peter? I still have my magic -- and I cannot be injured. Sadly for you, you can." And with that, a great icicle appeared out of thin air, hurtling at the High King. He dodged it, but others appeared, flying at him, and he could not dodge them all, and the Witch's laughter rang out each time King Peter was hit.
But the Witch was so busy attacking King Peter that she forgot Queen Lucy and Tumnus. Luckily Queen Lucy knew how to stop her. "Tumnus!" she said. "Quickly, gather up as many icicles as you can!"
Tumnus hurried to do so, and Queen Lucy, moving slowly as the frost was still in bones, stacked the icicles he collected on the frostfire. They did not melt, since frostfire burns cold, but Queen Lucy also added the Faun's remaining arrows and his bow, and lit those with Tumnus' torch. As the real, warm fire blazed up, the icicles began to melt, and the frostfire started to sputter out.
Just in time, too, for King Peter had fallen to his knees under the Witch's icy assault. He was blocking the flying icicles with his sword as best he could, but he was battered and bruised and bleeding. The icy cloud of the Witch was swirling around him, mocking and laughing. "You see, Peter, without the Lion here, you cannot defeat me! Narnia will be mine again, and I...I will...."
But no one ever knew what the Witch intended to do, because right in the middle of her threat, the frostfire went out, and with it went the Witch. The icy cloud dissolved into nothing, and Queen Lucy ran to where King Peter lay on the ground, gravely injured. "Hang on, Peter," she whispered, fumbling with the cordial strapped to her belt. At last she opened it, and poured just one drop in his mouth. One drop was all it took, and the healing began before Queen Lucy's eyes.
After a few anxious moments, as the ice melted all around them, King Peter smiled tiredly at his sister. "I told her we'd end it. Good work, Lu."
Queen Lucy gave him a tight hug. "Good work, Peter." She was still very cold and felt exhausted, but she got to her feet and she and Tumnus slowly helped the High King down the passage way, back to the entrance of the cave, where, to their great delight, they found the rest of their friends.
They had weathered the storm in another cave, quite close by, and once the storm ended (when the Frost Wraiths were destroyed, although the others didn't know that) they had come looking for King Peter and Queen Lucy and Tumnus. Luckily, the fire King Peter had lit was still burning, so they had found the cave quite easily.
The others were shocked to see the High King injured and Queen Lucy half frozen. As the two sat by the fire and warmed up, Tumnus told the story of the Witch's attempted return. After hearing the tale of grave danger, Lord Peridan insisted they continue their journey to Anvard immediately. "While it is wonderful that you vanquished the Witch again, your majesties, I think it would be a mistake to stay here in this place of dark magic. There may be other Frost Wraiths about, and we wouldn't want to run into any more of those."
The others all felt this was a sensible plan, and while both King Peter and Queen Lucy would have quite enjoyed a good long rest by the fire, neither really wanted to stay in the terrible cave much longer. So they all wrapped up again, and mounted their horses, and soon were on their way through the pass, and down the mountain trail into Archenland. With the Frost Wraiths gone, the weather, though still cold, was much milder, and they made good time, and arrived at Anvard by nightfall.
King Lune welcomed the High King and Queen Lucy and all their courtiers, and upon hearing their tale, urged them to their rooms to rest, and sent physicians to attend King Peter. After a hot meal and a good night's sleep, King Peter was much improved (all Queen Lucy needed was a warm bath). His health was quickly restored, and the High King and the Valiant Queen and the Faun Tumnus were hailed as heroes throughout the lands, for once again defeating the White Witch.
But ever after, the High King was haunted by vengeful Frost Wraiths who wanted to punish him for the loss of their brethren. And winters in Narnia to this day are often long and hard.
Rilian sighs happily when the story is over. "Is that true, Dad? Is that why this winter is so bad?"
"I think that's the 'myth' part of the story. Certainly no Frost Wraiths have been seen in Narnia for hundreds of years."
"Was King Peter always haunted by Frost Wraiths? Or is that part a myth too?" Rilian asks.
Caspian considers this thoughtfully. "Well, I never noticed any Frost Wraiths around when I knew him..."
"Maybe you just didn't see them!" Rilian says, fighting off a very large yawn.
"It's possible, I suppose." Caspian kisses his son's head. "Now you must sleep, or your mother will be very cross with me, for keeping you up."
"Goodnight, Dad." Rilian snuggles down under the covers as his father puts out the lamp. Tomorrow, when the storm is over, he will convince his guard to let him hunt for Frost Wraiths, he decides, so he can find out if the legend is true.