"How glad I was to receive your invitation!" said Lucy as she threw her arms around her friend, Mr. Tumnus.
"And glad am I that you have accepted, Queen Lucy. Please, come in. I have all your favorite toasts."
Though Mr. Tumnus' home in the cleft of red rock was one of her very favorite Narnian places, Lucy made no move to enter. Instead her eyes roamed the tree tops and she breathed in deeply.
"Queen Lucy," said Tumnus, placing his hand on her forearm, "is something amiss?"
It was in the faun's nature to worry about his queen, yet after several months in Narnia, such moments with Queen Lucy were increasingly common. In fact, they had drawn comment. Some suggested that of the two kings and two queens, the Narnian land held Lucy closest to her heart. If so, it made sense for her to have such episodes. King Edmund noted that Queen Lucy had always been sensitive; Narnia simply allowed her to be fully who she was always meant to be. Either way, it was worth attending to her moments.
"Can't you smell it?" Lucy asked, her voice a bit dreamy and her eyes not fully focused.
"Smell what, dear queen?"
"How crisp is the air," said Lucy, throwing her arms wide, "and how glorious the leaves! Might we not dine out here amidst the splendor of our friends?"
Indeed, the trees of the forest were trading their verdant shades of palest yellow-green to the brightest limes and jade greens for fiery reds, halos of gold, and comforting oranges, and their dryads all giving bashful bows at the effusive compliment.
"It is indeed fall," said Tumnus, pulling at his short beard.
Lucy's joy tempered at the quality in his voice. "What is wrong? You sound as you did at the end of our first meeting when you told me about the—"
"Let us not even say her name."
Lucy studied her friend's face, then touched her hand to his cheek. "Aslan rules Narnia again. Winter is only a season."
He placed his own hand over hers. "You have enough faith for us both, dear Lucy. May it be enough for all of Narnia."
"Oh, Ed," Lucy whispered. "Where are you?" She longed to shout his name from the top of her lungs. All of the search party did, but they daren't risk it.
"Even a loud sneeze could set off a second avalanche," Rosken, one of the high mountain dwarves, had said.
So Lucy moved slowly, walking as if on eggshells as she scanned the tumbled snow for any sign of her brother. It provide her sufficient time for a good self-scolding. When the kin of the mountain fox had sung, sharing their story of the elusive Winter Tears, she should have known. Why had she let herself assume the risks of these wild wintered mountains would restrain him? From their very first Narnian winter, the possibility of peril had only encouraged him. If only she'd ever been able to suss out why.
She remembered that morn: how the ground wore a coat of snow that covered in its entirety the courtyard of Cair Paravel, such that the sculptures looked like the stalagmites of the river caves.
Previous days had only brought frost or a snow so thin that the sun's strength had burnt it off with an hour. But they knew what that heralded, and had made the most of their days: sailing out, riding on hunts, and visiting friends. Whilst Peter, Susan, and Lucy had taken to wearing coats of increasing warmth, Edmund refused.
"The day's warm," he repeated, looking at them askance, as if they were the odd ones for their layers.
This day the snow did not leave so much as move, blown into corners and against walls by the icy breath of the northern wind. As Edmund watched the way the leaves were whipped into a frenzied vortex near the castle's corner, his comment over breakfast was, "What a day to sail."
She, Peter, and Susan had shuddered and then laughed at such an idea.
"Good one, Ed," said Peter, bumping his shoulder with his brother's.
Lucy thought it a day that called for one to stay inside, to seek out a good book and a fireplace, and to wait for one of the castle cats to seek her out – or at least her warmth. The story of the love between a hare and a fox had so engrossed her, that even as her stomach rumbled, she couldn't bear to set down the book, telling herself just a few more pages…
"There you are, Lucy," called Susan as she joined her sister by the hearth. "Your fire's nearly burned out. I told him I'd find you with your nose buried in a book."
Lucy looked up and blinked, her heart still within the story. "Sorry?"
Susan smiled. "Peter was so sure you must be with Edmund, since you both missed lunch, that he wagered a week's worth of desserts. Come with me? I can't wait to see his face."
Peter's face was indeed troubled when he saw them. "Ed's not with you?"
Indeed, Edmund was nowhere on the grounds, and his horse was in the stable, so he hadn't gone riding.
"What boorishness for him to go off without a word," complained Susan.
A coldness tickled down Lucy's spine, and her voice trembled as she said, "But he did."
The children all looked at one another. The sailing.
"He wouldn't have." Yet even as Peter rejected the possibility, he trotted toward the harbor with Susan and Lucy flanking him.
One of the small sailboats was nowhere to be seen. When they looked out, what they saw was the wind on the water creating white-capped swells that raced the length of the peninsula and beyond to the open sea.
"Oh, he wouldn't have, would he?" asked Susan.
"I wish I could see like the hawks do," said Lucy, cupping her hands around her eyes.
They stared out for what felt an endless time.
"There!" said Peter, pointing about two-thirds of the way up the peninsula. Something white fluttered near the ground. "It might be the sail."
They raced along the shoreline, and Lucy knew the truth Peter hadn't wanted to say. That if it was the sail, then the boat had capsized. And if the boat had capsized… Oh, Aslan, keep him safe.
Perhaps ten yards on, they scrambled up a rise and knocked straight into Edmund, a tumbled heap of limbs.
"You're drenched," cried Susan as they disentangled.
"Y-y-y-yes," chattered Edmund, pushing the plaster of wet hair from his forehead. "Th-th-the b-b-b-boat--"
"Don't talk and take off that shirt," ordered Peter, even as he stripped out of his own.
Edmund's fingers twitched ineffectually, so the girls stepped in, first pulling off the shirt, then doing their best to dry his skin with their pocket handkerchiefs before helping him into Peter's shirt and coat.
"I'd carry you," said Peter, "but I think you're better off walking and keeping your blood moving."
"I'll run ahead," offered Lucy. "There must be blankets in the boat house."
Everything was a blur after that. Lucy remembered Mr. Beaver and Peter at odds over wheath it was best to put Edmund in hot bathwater or if that would kill him. The fact it wouldn't kill a dwarf was rejected as a meaningful standard, so they settled on a warm bed, as many quilts as they could tuck around him, and a roaring fire.
Lucy stayed watch at his bedside, brushing her fingers through his hair. "We nearly lost you, Ed. Don't ever do that again."
"Sorry, Lu," he mumbled. "It was stupid."
She tried not to take notice that he hadn't promised to avoid such future foolishness.
What happened the next winter was equal parts happenstance and heroics. Or at least that's what she had told herself then.
"Now this shall be great fun!" Ed was full of cheer, a broom over one shoulder and the rock in his other hand as they walked toward the river.
Peter gave him a grin, saying, "I can't believe you talked the fauns and satyrs into it."
"Oh, it shall be a mess, shan't it? Those hooves and the ice…" Susan covered her mouth with a gloved hand, as if even saying more would cause harm.
"Like I said, great fun!" said Edmund, returning Peter's grin.
Lucy linked arms with her sister, saying, "It's only curling, Su; it's not like he's teaching them hockey."
Susan gave her a dubious look. "I suppose…"
While what Susan'd envisioned played out, with hooves (and boots) slipping every which way and many a Narnian landing on his or her backside, it was all experienced with good cheer and laughter.
There was a delightful intermission in which steaming hot chocolate was served, accompanied by biscuits studded with almond slivers and laced with almond extract. In addition, the various small fires along the bank were stoked, pan flutes came out, and various fauns, satyrs, and woodland creatures danced.
The dwarves, however, found alternate entertainment. They began using each other as curling stones, seeing how far out they could slide one another. Their cheers grew in volume, along with the occasional crashing sound. Neither Peter or Edmund could resist joining them.
"Oh, dear," said Susan, "I do hope they are being careful."
Then came a booming crack, the type that could not be confused with anything but ice parting. The girls dropped their mugs and ran as they heard the cries of, "Danktrup!"
"He's gone under!"
"Let's get him!"
"Stop!" Peter's voice cut through the din. "Back up! The ice can't hold the weight of all of you."
The crowd followed their king's command, though the murmur of concern continued like the thrum of the fattest cello string.
"We need someone light to reach him," continued Peter.
"That's me," Edmund said. He extended his open hand. "Samder, your broom's the longest; may I? And Peter, don't argue." The satyr handed Edmund the broom and Peter clenched his jaw so hard the muscle along it jumped and twitched.
In a flash, Edmund was on his knees, inching as close as he dared and then a bit further, until when he laid out his body and extended the broom, Danktrup could grasp it. With Peter holding fast to one of Ed's ankles and the brawniest of the dwarves the other, they dragged them backward until Danktrup was back on solid ice.
Whilst this drama was going on, Susan turned to the crowd and commanded, "Off, everyone off the ice! Find blankets! Stoke the fire!" It was she who put the blanket around Danktrup's shoulders, fussing and clucking over the son of earth like a mother, though he was at least thrice her age.
Lucy watched as Edmund was also pulled toward the heat. She told herself the manic grin was just adrenaline and the odd gleam in his eyes was the reflected firelight.
Then there was last year. Lucy had known something was amiss when Ed stayed home instead of going on the hunt with Peter. He'd made noises about not being a fan of winter – given the previous years, that wasn't impossible. But still. Something didn't ring true.
Peter had left before dawn. Had it been a battle, they would have been up and seen him off, but it was sport, so they'd settled for well-wishes the night prior. She and Susan had given him a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and encouragement to be safe. Whereas he and Edmund exchanged hearty back slaps, with Edmund adding, "Be glad I'm not going. Now you'll have a chance on the hunt."
"Thanks, Ed. Such a sport."
Given all that, Lucy had expected to see Edmund at breakfast. When she learnt he'd eaten quickly and been off, unease took his seat at the table. She'd eaten as speedily as she might without drawing Susan's notice. She didn't want to cause her sister undue concern.
As soon as she excused herself, she searched Cair Paravel from top to bottom. This was not like before. It wasn't. It was nothing like that first winter when he'd gone sailing.
Then she'd found him.
He turned to her, and for a moment there was a flicker of embarrassment. Like she'd caught him sneaking cakes before dinner, but then he flashed her the smile he gave his troops. The one when he wanted them to feel included in a special secret.
"Perfect timing! You're about to see my inaugural run!"
"Run? With those things on your feet? Shouldn't you be outside?"
"Not at all! These are carpet skates. Christmas gift from the dwarves, remember?"
"I remember the gift… and that you were rather secretive about it. Quite sure none of us knew they were for the carpets." Indeed, what had the dwarves been thinking, making indoor skates?
Again, the flicker of something meant to be hidden, then the even brighter smile.
"Eh, you know Peter. He'd be dour and responsible about it - and where would I be then? Been waiting ages for him to be away."
"It's going to be great, Lu. Ready?"
And before she could say another word, he pushed off. The look of joy on his face as he picked up speed was a delight. Until his eyes widened, and then she realized why – one couldn't stop on carpet like in snow. Before he could abort, he was flying down the stairs, the tips of the skates catching in the banister, tumbling head over heels down the flight and straight into several suits of armor.
Lucy dropped her books and ran to him. "Ed!"
He sat up, rubbing his temples. In a muffled voice, he said, "I'm fine. Nothing but my pride hurt." Running his tongue across his lip, he found blood, and with a lick, smiled. "Well, and my nose. Don't suppose you've got your cordial on you, eh, Lu?"
She sighed, knowing that even if she'd had her cordial, it couldn't fix what was truly broken.
Ears still ringing from the avalanche's roar, Edmund ran his hand over the snow-covered cave mouth and marveled. By the grace of Aslan he'd glimpsed this haven just as he'd heard the mountain's first rumble. Diving head first had gotten him to safety – and left him with a burning scrape on his chin.
The snow was so thick that he was in complete darkness. He had his tinder box with him, but as he felt around the floor, there was precious little in here but dirt. He considered continuing on his hands and knees until he either found kindling or the back of the cave. But then he reminded himself: the first thing to do in an emergency was stop and properly assess the situation. Panic was the true enemy.
While light would be nice, it wasn't necessary. While a fire would have been even nicer, it wasn't necessary either. His clothes were reasonably dry and warm – ever since that first winter, he was quite sure Su and Lu had issued specific orders that no one was to allow the king to leave the castle between October and March without at least four layers.
Given that he had no idea what dangers might lurk in the pitch black of an uncharted cave, it was best to stop, think, and then think again before taking any action. Surely the chattering titmice who had been keeping him company had flown back for help. For now he'd wait for rescue. If that didn't come, then he'd move on to plan B.
With nothing to see, his eyes burned; his eyelids were heavy-laden and reluctant to lift each time he blinked. When he felt his chin touch his chest, he startled. To sleep was to court death. He stretched his limbs, focusing on the feeling of the pull and release, of his spine popping into place. It was then he realized he could see, if dimly.
"Hellooo," he called, thinking it must be rescue. But the light was coming from the back of the cave. "Hello? Is someone there?"
He should have felt afraid, but then again, he should probably have felt a whole range of emotions. But every winter brought a numbness to his soul, as if her icy fingers were holding his heart tight. He stood – as the light shared how the cave's structure was indeed tall enough for his stature - though rather narrow. Calling this a cave was an overstatement. More like a tunnel or a shaft… Who knew? Perhaps this was the home of the Winter Tears.
When the tunnel widened, he found himself in a cavern, as high and bright as the London Cathedral. Except instead of stained glass windows, the walls glittered like a thousand shards of ice. Examining the wall revealed that it neither ice nor glass; these were diamonds. Diamonds as big as his fist. Prying one from the wall, he brushed away the dirt and marveled at its clarity.
"Son of Adam," came a voice from behind him.
Edmund spun. "Aslan!" The lion was so large he filled the tunnel's opening, and Edmund tried not to ask how that could be.
"Why are you here?"
"I was seeking the Winter Tears."
"And you have found them. But that was not truly what brought you here."
Edmund stood, mouth agape. It was bad form to argue with Aslan, and yet what was he to say? He had been questing for the elusive Winter Tears of which the fox kin sang.
"Why are you here?" Aslan asked again.
"There was an avalanche. I took shelter." Perhaps that was what he meant by asking why here?
"No, Edmund, King of Narnia. Why are you here?"
Edmund stopped at that. He owed Aslan to at least think about it before he answered again.
"I don't know," he said slowly. "I was feeling that numbness. I wanted to have an adventure. I wanted to feel."
The look on Aslan's face was so sad, tears slid down Edmund's face. As those tears touched the diamond, it turned red as blood.
"You know I forgave you in full measure, do you not?"
There was a long quiet. "Was that not good enough?"
"Was my word not good enough?"
Edmund wanted to say yes. At least his head did. Perhaps even his heart. But his guts twisted and he could only pant. Then the bile roiled in him. "Why must there be winter? Why can't it be summer all the time! Then I wouldn't be numb!"
While Edmund could only look down his nose in cross-eyed shock, trying to see the mouth – his mouth – that had said these words, Aslan didn't even blink.
"It is neither winter nor the dark magic you fear still lurks inside that makes you numb, my son. When it was always winter, it was always winter without Christmas. But without allowing winter its season…"
"… there would never be Christmas either."
Something near a purr – or an earthquake -- rumbled from him. Then the lion stepped closer. Though it was Aslan, his feet and legs required a stern talking-to for Edmund to keep them from running off. He stood so close that Edmund could feel his radiating warmth, as if his tawny skin were sun-soaked beach sand; his breath was like the salt-sprayed wind. Edmund wasn't sure if he stood in Aslan's presence for a moment or a millennium; all that he knew was a warmth, a heat that caused his skin to flush and a sweat to cover him.
Then, as if waking from a terrible fever, he murmured, "If it were always summer, there'd be no Easter, either, would there?"
Again, the rumbling purr, a chuff of pleasure. "Everything in its season." Aslan then stepped to the side, nodding toward the tunnel. "Now it is time for your return."
Edmund moved briskly, then stopped and turned back. "Aren't you coming with me?"
"I am always with you."
"Riiight… but the cave mouth is sealed." Until that moment, Edmund had not realized a lion could cock an eyebrow. "Right. What was I thinking?" He lifting the stone, which pulsed with warmth. "And this?"
"It is yours. Remember."
"Thank you." And knowing the time of questions was over, Edmund returned the way he had come, and before the back light had disappeared, a faint light was before him.
"Oh, Ed," Lucy whispered, turning in a circle. "Where are you?" She saw a flick of sunlight reflect on something more than snow and moved as quickly as her snowshoes would carry her, even as she realized she was going back the way she had come.
Impossible. In the midst of deep and deadly snow, her old tracks stopped. In their place was a bare patch of ground. No, that wasn't right. It wasn't bare, but filled with verdant grass and flowers – red tulips, orange lilies, yellows daffodils, violets, even blue bonnets!
Behind it all was the mouth of a cave. How could it be?
Then someone stepped out of the shadows, his hand shading his eyes from the bright light, looking all around.
"Lucy!" he called.
"Edmund? You're alive?"
He laughed, a rumbly laugh that reminded her of Aslan.
"I am, Lu, I really am."