The first night in Narnia was easy. The weather was mild, like the best of early summer, and Aslan was there. Frank and Nellie slept together under the stars, listening to the sounds of the newly created world, the echoes, Frank said, of the song of creation.
It astonished Nellie how easily she accepted the talking animals, the fauns, the dryads and the other strange creatures. Her mother used to put a bowl of milk out for the brownies, but she'd never really thought about the possibility of thinking creatures who weren't human. She suspected that some-- most-- of her peace with all the new things she was encountering came from the Lion. He expected her to respond to these beings as people, and she couldn't imagine disappointing him.
The second night, after the coronation, was harder. Nellie had begun to realize how little they had to start with-- no house, no bedding, not even a change of clothes unless she counted the fancy robes for the coronation. No soap, no pots or pans, no needle or thread, nothing, in fact, but what they stood up in and a great wilderness filled with creatures for which she and Frank were now responsible. She took her concerns to Frank who took her-- and them-- to Aslan.
"Please, sir," Frank said, and Nellie knew that if he'd had a hat instead of a crown he be twisting it in his hands. "We're worried."
Nellie nodded firmly to show that she agreed with Frank.
"Worried, son of Adam? Why ever should you be worried?" The great lion met Frank's eyes then met Nellie's.
"Well, it's like this--" Frank broke off, and Nellie could tell that he was thinking that it was foolish to question Aslan.
"It's like this," Nellie said, gathering all her courage. "I can sew and make clothes, but I need pins and needles and thread and cloth. Frank can plow a field, but he needs a plow and harness and a beast to pull it all. We can't ask that of Strawberry-- of Fledge-- now. There's a lot like that." She nodded again, reassuring herself. "We have to build a house, too, before winter comes, and we don't have tools for that. I don't know if Frank even knows how to build a house." She twisted her hands in her skirt. "We're neither of us afraid of hard work, but, please, sir, is there something you could do to help?"
Aslan moved closer and touched his face to Nellie's.
She relaxed a little, knowing that she hadn't disappointed him.
"Never be afraid to ask for help, Queen Helen," Aslan said, his voice rumbling through her. "It is well done and well thought of. Because you have asked, I will give you what you need to start your life. Husband it well. It will not be replaced until you or your subjects can find the means to do so. Because you have asked, I will give certain of your subjects knowledge of how to spin and weave, how to make glass and other such skills as may be needed. To you, yourselves, the knowledge of how to build a sturdy house and how to provide for yourselves for the winter.
"Even as I said to the talking animals, to the fauns and dryads and centaurs and dwarfs, the dumb beasts of this world are yours to do with as you will as long as you use them gently. Your ancestors learned to make such creatures theirs, so shall you." Aslan drew in a deep breath. His roar, when it came, seemed to make the whole world shake.
Nellie pressed her hands against her ears, trying to still the echoes of that roar that rang in her head. Every echo seemed to leave behind more knowledge, more skills that her hands and body remembered. She felt stuffed full.
The roar became a song.
Hearing it, Nellie regretted again not being present for the song of creation. She could tell that hearing it had changed Frank, had strengthened the parts of him she loved and had made him more sure of himself. This song was simple, a short, repeating melody, and it ended too soon. Nellie was sure she could have listened to it for hours, even days, without giving her attention to anything else.
"Oh," she said when the song ended. "Oh." She couldn't manage more.
The lion laughed gently and nudged her with his nose. "Oh, indeed, daughter. Your ability to know joy will make you much loved by your subjects. Hold tight to it and share it with all around you."
Nellie wasn't quite sure how both to hold something tight and to share it, but she thought she'd puzzle it out some way.
Frank cleared his throat. "Best we put all of this away somewhere," he said, waving one hand at the pile of goods that now surrounded them. "Some of our people have been exploring. Maybe one of them's found a cave."
Nellie didn't want to stop looking at Aslan, but she knew Frank was talking good sense. "Yes," she said. "Someone's sure to have found something. It would be a pity to lose anything to rain." She looked up at the clear sky where stars were just starting to show.
"The weather will continue clear for a week," Aslan told them. "After that, rain will come as it comes. You will have to advise your subjects as to what it is and why it's necessary."
Nellie nodded. She thought there would be a lot of things like that. The newly created creatures were all so innocent. They had words and an instinctive grasp of the fundamentals of life, but every moment was still full of discoveries. Frank had already had to warn several creatures to be careful of rivers for fear of drowning. Most of them had been created knowing how to swim, but they hadn't been created knowing about currents and rocks and rapids.
On the third day, Aslan left them. He said he would always be with them, that they would know his presence even when they couldn't see him. Nellie wasn't sure how that would work, but she had to admit that, when she thought about him, she felt warm, stronger and more sure. Frank told her privately that he reckoned that Aslan was as close to being God as made no difference. Nellie wasn't sure about that, either, but she couldn't see who else could sing a world and its inhabitants into being.
They had very little time to miss Aslan. On the third day, the hard work began. Frank and Nellie picked a place to build their house, close enough to water for hauling it to be easy, on high enough ground not to get caught in a flood, near enough to the Tree to check on it regularly.
Frank started by digging a cellar. They'd want one for storing food. Some of the dwarfs came and helped, especially with lining the walls with stone. They even made stairs of stone and earth.
Nellie spent her time gathering food. She gathered mushrooms and asparagus and early berries. She thought about setting snares for rabbits, but she feared catching some of the smaller talking animals. They were so few, just two of each kind, that any accident could kill a whole species. After making sure there were no talking fish, Nellie did set traps for fish. The traps were a challenge to make with the tools she had available, but she expected them to be worth the effort.
As she waded back to shore after setting the first trap in a fast flowing creek, a voice said, "What are you doing, Queen Helen?"
She looked around for a moment before she remembered to look down. She was still used to voices coming from people her own size. The speaker was a hedgehog, whether the male or the female Nellie had no idea and wasn't sure it was polite to ask.
"Trying to catch fish," Nellie replied. There was no cost to being civil, and none of the creatures had ever seen anyone doing the things she and Frank were doing to build and survive. "We humans eat fish."
"Do they taste good?" The hedgehog quivered a bit, eagerness to know filling its voice.
"I think so. You might not. Humans eat a lot of things hedgehogs don't."
The hedgehog seemed to mull that over. "It can't be very nice for the fish."
Nellie sat down on the grass. She could spare a little time from her search for food. "I don't suppose it is. Nothing likes to be eaten. We're all as we were made, though, eating what we were made to eat. If we don't eat, we starve, and that's not very nice either."
The hedgehog shook itself, rippling its quills. "I don't like being hungry. Why did Aslan make us to get hungry?"
Nellie thought that was a good question, but she didn't think she should say that. "I'm sure he had reasons. Maybe the world works better that way." She'd never really thought about it before. Hunger for humans could, she supposed, be explained by the Fall, but the creatures of Narnia hadn't fallen nor had all the animals back in her own world. Everything felt hunger. "I suppose it lets us know that we're alive. A lot of being alive is uncomfortable."
"I like being alive." The hedgehog sounded thoughtful. "Will we ever become not-alive?"
"Eventually." Nothing Aslan had said gave Nellie the impression that any of Narnia's creatures were immortal. She supposed that the river gods and some of the nature spirits might be. They were tied to things that wouldn't end until Narnia did. "It's called dying. The part of yourself that makes you you leaves your body and goes to heaven." She faltered. What would heaven be like for a talking hedgehog? She wasn't really clear as to what heaven was like for humans except that it was supposed to be everything nice. "Heaven is where Aslan comes from." That seemed safe enough. He couldn't possibly come from anywhere else. "You just mustn't go before your time. That's why Frank-- King Frank-- and I want you all to be careful. It won't be time for any of us for years and years." How long did hedgehogs live? Nellie had no idea. Would it be the same for a talking hedgehog?
"It seems to me there's a lot we don't know."
"We'll find out, little by little." Nellie wanted to put a hand on the hedgehog, but she wasn't sure how that would be taken. She had to remember that these were not animals, not really. "King Frank and I will share what we know. We just don't always realize what you don't know."
That night, Nellie said to Frank as they lay next to each other on the ground, preparing to sleep, "It's like having dozens of children. There's so much they need to know, and there's only us to tell them."
Frank pulled her closer. "We'll tell them. I think that's part of the job."
"But who'd tell them if we weren't here? Aslan couldn't stay. Does he even think about such things?" She felt sorry as soon as she'd said the words. Of course, Aslan thought about what the creatures needed to know in all the practical details. If Frank and Nellie hadn't been available, he'd have found another way. "Do you think he knew, before you came here I mean, that you'd be coming? Were we always part of the plan?"
Frank thought about that for a moment. "He wasn't surprised," he said at last. "I don't think anything surprises him. At the same time, we had choices. It could've been some other cabbie who picked up that fare. We might've gone into a different pool in that forest. Digory might have chosen not to ring that bell. The Witch might have chosen Aslan, even with everything she'd done. She'd have to be willing to change, but I think he wouldn't turn her away."
Nellie closed her eyes. "I don't want to think about the Witch. She's wicked, and she's out there somewhere, hating us." She hadn't seen the Witch, but she'd heard enough about her, from Frank and from Aslan, to fear her. "Some people are just born wrong."
"Do you really think there are people beyond God's mercy?"
She took this as another sign of the profound changes in Frank. Before Narnia, he never would have asked that question. "No," she said with some hesitation. After a moment, she added, "I do think there's some as can't ask. It's not in how they're made, and they're those as need it most."
"We'll teach our children to ask," Frank told her. "All of our children, the ones you'll bear and the ones Aslan has entrusted to us."
Comforted by that thought, Nellie fell asleep.