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I love not man the less but nature more

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I love not man the less but nature more
Chapter 1 -- The Great Lay

ooOOoo

Written for Anastigmat for the 2011 Narnia Fic Exchange.  The story includes characters from the collected works of Anastigmat, and though consistent thematically with her phenomenal Breaking the Borders, is not compliant with it.  The rituals described are adapted from numerous myths, pagan rites, and religious traditions.  Citations are in my Livejournal. 

ooOOoo

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.
~George Gordon, Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

 

"And we beasts remember, even if Dwarfs forget, that Narnia was never right except when a Son of Adam was King. … It's not Men's country … but it's a country for a man to be King of. … I tell you, we don't change, we beasts … We don't forget."
Prince Caspian, Chapter 5

 

“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

ooOOoo

It had been a trying day. Too cold for spring, too warm for snow, but just right for mud. They were confident that this first true Spring was coming. They could all feel the creeping warmth in the ground and the softness in the air, and see the longer, brighter days. Still, there was a restive fretfulness in the Narnians, particularly among the Talking Beasts and the Beings of the Wood – the Fauns, the Satyrs, and the evergreen Dryads who were awake all Winter.

When Susan had asked of the growing edginess, their archivist, Fidria, had swished her tail irritably and looked over her spectacles, communicating that the Centauress expected more coherent thought from her student.

"Can you not see it? Smell it?"

"No, I cannot," Susan had said. Narnians always forgot that English schoolchildren, even if Kings and Queens, were still Human and did not smell or hear as Beasts did, or see a Birds did.

"It is the first proper end to Winter, Queen Susan. Even apart from the anxiety of the White Witch, which is still very fresh, your subjects are eager to rediscover the ruts, heats, and blooms that will come with the first natural Spring in over 100 years."

It took Susan long moments to realize that Fidria was not speaking of the ruts wheels made in mud, the warmth of summer days, and flower gardens.

For not the first time, Susan wondered when she would be Narnian enough for Narnia. Narnians would say the smooth was easy, but the rough was better. She wasn't quite sure how that helped, but a Narnian would say it whenever Susan had ever tried to articulate the occasional discomfort that arose with her adaptation to Narnia and its incongruities with her old life.

"And with this important first Spring approaching, it is time to look to the Regalia, your Majesty."

Fidria flicked her tail again when Susan could not contain her sigh.

"Must we?" Susan asked.

She loathed that book and its many (many, many) instructions on the proper deportment, ceremonies, and expectations for the Narnian Monarch. Really, in a land where most of its citizens wore no clothing at all and there were hairs, feathers, and the pervasive smell of wet livestock everywhere, the stuffy Regalia did not fit. The tome discussed, in exhaustive detail, everything from the songs to be sung at Midsummer and the Harvest Festival, to the proper invocations to Aslan for investiture of Knights and Guards, to the protocol for who should thrown the first snowball in the Great Snow Dance. She conceded some of the information was useful since it described for the ignorant Monarchs what the Narnians all knew for memory in their oral traditions. Other instruction, however, was so very, very ludicrous, she suspected that librarians in centuries past were having one on their current, and humourless, archivist. Really, did anyone care whether the pavenders or the poultry were served first in the New Year banquet – did the priority of fish or fowl matter in Narnia?

"We must," Fidria replied firmly. "Has no one spoken to you yet of the Great Bonding?" She clopped over to the shelf where the book was shelved and returned to Susan's desk.

Regalia landed on the table with a distressing, ominous thud.

"No, I've not heard of it," Susan said, opening the detested book.

"The Great Bonding is the ritual by which a Human Monarch is bonded to Narnia as leader, protector, healer, builder, provider, and mate. "

"Aslan crowned us," Susan said patiently. "Isn't anything else redundant?"

Fidria snorted – fortunately Human-like rather than Horse. She turned the pages to the back of the book, which was a part Susan had never bothered with before as no one had yet insisted that it contained minutiae a Monarch simply must know.

"Aslan presided at your coronation. You rule by his will, by his prescription, and by conquest. But Humans were not part of Aslan's first Great Song. You came from Elsewhere, then and now. Ever since King Frank and Queen Helen, the Great Bonding bridges this distance and binds the worthy Human Monarch to Narnia and to Narnians themselves."

Susan turned the exquisitely drawn pages of the Regalia. She remembered the Coronation of King George well enough to see that what the book depicted here was nothing like that crowning and anointing. The illustrations were very old. They showed different groups of Narnians with a single Human, sometimes male, sometimes female, engaged in different activities which, Susan knew from the study of other Narnian texts, could be literal or symbolic of something else. There were fine pictures of what looked to be a dramatic performance, a deer hunt, a lake, a white horse, a fire, eggs, and thick smoke.

"These pages illustrate the Narnian King or Queen undergoing the challenges of the ritual," Fidria said.

She nodded, unsurprised at the number and variety of the tasks depicted. Given Narnia's often fractious factions, each group would likely have insisted upon its own ritual specific to its culture and practices. Dwarfs would not bond with a Monarch as a Bird would, Naiads would differ from Centaurs, who would differ from the Carnivores, who would differ from the grazing Beasts or small woodland Beasts.

"What of when there is more than one Monarch?"

Fidria twitched her flanks, the equivalent of an unconcerned shrug, and adjusted her spectacles.

"As you are all bonded by blood, it could be one of you for all. Or you and the High King might divide the challenges between you as you co-rule."

"And Edmund and Lucy?"

"The Great Bonding requires the consent of one full grown. The challenges are demanding. The King Edmund and Queen Lucy will be bound by what you and the High King do now. They might also renew that commitment by undertaking them together several Springs from now, after her Majesty has had her first heat."

After nearly a year in Narnia, Susan managed to avoid the wince. This was just the way most of the Narnians were. And why not when readiness was so obvious to them? Humans were the odd exception and the concept that "mating" was embarrassingly private was as foreign to Narnians as an aeroplane.

She let the comment pass and turned from the picture of a woman by a frigid-looking lake to a full, two page spread, richly illustrated in green, gold, red and brown. It was a right tangle to sort out. Slowly, the shapes resolved into the leafy boughs and blossoms of Dryads twining with Fauns and Satyrs – a scene not uncommon in the art of the Beings of the Wood. In the writhing midst, there was a Human, male, his soft, pink flesh a stark, vulnerable contrast to the bark, leaves and hair enveloping him. The expressions on Narnians and Human were wildly ecstatic. The King had one hand on a Satyr's horn, his other hand clutched a Dryad's branch and the three of them were… oh…

Susan felt the blush rise in her cheeks. She hurriedly closed the book. No, Lucy and Edmund would most certainly not be participating in the Great Bonding rituals this year.

OOooOO

Fidria's timing had been, once again, perfect. No sooner did Susan leave the Library with the Regalia, to find Peter then Peter appeared, seeking both her and the Regalia. The High King had received several queries about beginning preparations for the Great Bonding, including a meeting with a very serious delegation of ancient, somber Dryads and Centaurs. Even the old Yew Crone had awoken and come to Cair Paravel to entreat the High King to undertake the first Great Bonding since Queen Swanwhite, which the Crone remembered well and lectured upon at great length. Other Narnians had gushed to Edmund and Lucy of the Great Bonding, and quizzed them on whether the High King, the Queen Susan, or both, would perform the challenges.

With events and gossip rapidly overtaking them, Susan gave Peter the Regalia, provided a brief description, and left him to contemplate the illustrations in the privacy of his office while she distracted Edmund and Lucy over supper – a late winter meal of salted fish, bacon, carrots and potatoes, again.

Peter joined them after a while, looking more at ease than Susan had expected, and certainly more so than she had felt. They shared with Lucy and Edmund what they had learned of the Great Bonding, to a point.

Edmund was marginally disappointed that he would not participate this year, and very interested in the explanation that Human Monarchs, though they ruled by will of Aslan, were not of Narnia and so might prove their bonded commitment to her separately.

"Fidria said that Narnia is not a land of Humans, nor is she for Humans?" Edmund asked, picking over his fish.

"Yes," Susan replied, stirring her own food and taking a grudging bite She tried to set an example but they were all weary of dried fish.

"It's curious," Edmund said, shoving his plate away and grabbing the last bread from the basket instead. "The Narnians strongly desire Human rule even though so many of our Human rules don't apply in Narnia."

"What do you mean?" Susan asked, thinking of the two page picture of the lusty Revel in the Regalia.

Edmund shrugged. "That Trees own themselves and we ask permission of the Naiads for their water or the leave of the local Wolf pack before hunting deer in their territory. Killing a Talking Beast would be murder; killing a dumb one is not. There's no school for children, or…"

"And that is splendid, isn't it?" Lucy exclaimed, clapping her hands. "Whatever rules there are should be ones that are right for Narnia, don't you think?" Lucy did not enjoy her lessons at all. "The Great Bonding sounds lovely and really it means so very much to the Narnians! I do think building a nest without hands or ambushing dumb prey from above would be terrific fun!"

"Because they both require tree climbing?" Peter asked.

Lucy laughed. "And no silly spelling lessons needed for either!"

As she was wont to do (especially after a vigorous day, though she had none but vigorous days), Lucy nodded off before the table was cleared. One of the Dryads and the Dwarfess housekeeper carried the tired Queen to bed. Susan wanted to speak to Peter alone, but she had to be exceedingly cautious because if Edmund caught wind of it, he would either refuse to leave until he fell asleep in mid-sentence, or pretend to amble off to bed and then sneak a listen.

So Susan made a point of expounding, at length, on the Spring planting plans. Peter understood her ploy, for he launched, equally earnestly, into discussion with Edmund about the dock construction necessary to accommodate the galleon they had ordered built in Galma, with delivery before Summer. It was technical, important, and too detailed for end-of-day, after dinner conversation. The result was predictable. Edmund, enthusiastically bursting with work plans, schematics and budgets, trundled off to the Library so that he could report on the project in the morning. A Faun of the night staff followed to keep him company and would see him to bed, eventually.

The sounds of their animated discussion faded as the two climbed the Great Hall stairs toward the Library.

"He shall hopefully be asleep before moonrise," Peter said, rising and offering his arm to her. "Shall we talk more of the planting schedules in my office?"

Susan nodded, set her hand on Peter's arm and, in the other hand, held her cup of wine. Wine would help get them both through the discussion of the Great Bonding and the expectation that one of them would participate in the debauchery of the Revel. No, she corrected herself firmly. I must not characterize it so. This is Narnia, not England. We rule a land that is not ours.

Peter's office was his private retreat, to the extent anything could be private in Narnia. He did not conduct business here - there was only one chair and a lounger, which Peter immediately claimed by falling into and sprawling all over it. Susan took the uncomfortable chair across from him and the Regalia sat between them on the table.

"Since you are still nursing that wine, I should fortify as well." Peter reached for the skin he kept within arm's length on the bookshelf, uncorked it, and splashed Dwarf Lightning into an earthenware cup.

In barely a year's time, Peter had learned to rule and to kill, to use a sword and a shield, to drink as the Satyrs, swear as the Dwarfs, and dance as the Fauns. Susan had learned most of these same things, though she wielded a bow rather than sword, drank wine, and could not stomach Lightning. And now was it time to learn to love as the Dryads did?

"So, this Great Bonding," Peter began. He leaned forward and opened the Regalia to the first illustration of what looked to be a storytelling. "These are the final steps that make the foreign Human Monarch Narnian?"

"Yes. It is like a series of marriage ceremonies, of a sort." Yet another way in which Narnia was so very much not like England. Susan pushed the thought aside. "The rituals, there are ten of them, are specific to particular groups of Narnians."

"The eagerness and enthusiasm are understandable," Peter said. "As was explained to me, in exhaustive detail," he said, grimacing and taking a sip of his drink, "every newly crowned, adult Monarch from Frank and Helen to Swanwhite has undergone some version of this in the first Spring of his or her rule. The Centaur elders told me that Jadis tried to complete the rituals to demonstrate her humanity. The Narnians refused to acknowledge it and she eventually gave up."

Peter turned the page and pointed to the illustration of a Human male running with a Wolf pack after a deer. "Some of these seem simple enough in concept, though not execution. On the other wing, I have no idea what this one is." He gestured to a picture of a lizard crawling about a bonfire.

Deliberately, he turned to the final pages, the illustration of the woodland Revel. Susan felt her colour rise again and looked away, taking a shaky sip of her wine.

"When I saw this, I spoke to Aslan," Peter said.

"That was well thought of, Peter." Susan was ashamed she had not thought of it. "What did he say?"

"As you would expect." Peter's smile was brittle. They could not be angry at Aslan; frustration was another matter. "I tried to explain that some things would be easier if we knew how long we were to be here."

"And then he growled at you for saying that?"

"What must be done, must be done right and well," Peter said in a somber tone that mimicked Aslan's own musically solemn voice and words. He raised his cup, took a deep drink, and Susan saw a slight tremor in his hand.

"But must this be done?" Surely, Aslan would never order such a thing.

Peter shook his head. "No, on the contrary, Aslan was clear that it was my decision to participate; or yours, of course, if you wish to undertake it." He fingered the pages, and gently turned them back to the strange ones with the smoke and the eggs. "Which is all fine, until you perceive the strength of the Narnian sentiment."

"This is very important to them."

Peter nodded. "It's part of their history long denied. One of the Wolves practically wagged her tail off when she discussed it with me. The Dryad and Centaur delegation was most earnest in the entreaties."

"With Aslan, we delivered them," Susan said. "But in the Great Bonding, we become one of them."

"Yes," Peter said. "It binds us to them and to the Monarchs that came before us."

And if the Monarchs before them had done so then, by Aslan, she and Peter could as well.

"It never goes smooth," Peter said, echoing the apt Narnian adage and her own thoughts on it of earlier. "I suppose if these did not test us, they would not be challenges."

Susan thought maybe they could do with fewer challenges. "We will divide them up," she said. "I wanted to keep Edmund and Lucy from this, but I know that is foolish. They will be bound as we are, and so should participate to the extent the ritual permits."

"We could not stop them," Peter said with a quiet huff of laughter. "And we should not. I think actually they have less need of this Great Bonding than you and I."

"You have noticed that, too?"

"That Lucy is completely unconcerned with the coupling Fauns while you still blush?" Peter said, making her flush a little again with embarrassment. "Or that Edmund no longer takes any notice of the naked Dryads and Mer-women?"

"Perhaps he is too young to care?"

Peter snorted. "Most assuredly not," and Susan was very glad she had not been privy to whatever had led to that revelation. "Regardless, someone – I'm sure you can guess who – in the interest of furthering my education, has been threatening to send Dryads to my rooms," Peter said.

"That was uncalled for," Susan snapped angrily. She'd give that Satyr a piece of her mind and an arrow point as well.

"Well, when he thought my reticence was for females, I then had to decline male Dryads as well."

Susan Pevensie would have been appalled. Queen Susan giggled.

With a knowing smirk, Peter turned back to the illustration of the woodland Narnians and their King cavorting in intimate lovers' embraces.

"So you wish to undertake the Revel ritual?" Susan finally asked when it seemed Peter was going to let the silence drag on.

He sighed and leaned back in the lounger. "Back in England, Peter Pevensie would have said, can't a chap even see a girl without his sister nosing about his private business?"

"I see no girl in that illustration, Peter Pevensie. And we are Monarchs in Narnia. There is no private business for us here."

"The illusion of having private business, then."

Susan took a deep breath, for there was their answer and she let the Queen she had become speak. "I will not ask you to do what I would not, my King and brother." She managed to keep her voice steady and formal. "Though I admit that I do not wish to do this thing yet," she amended firmly. "I do not think ill of you and do not want you to feel ashamed of your desire to do this, for yourself and for Narnia."

"Thank you, my sister." Peter leaned forward and clasped her hands. "If we are judged, so too are our subjects, and I do not believe that to be the right course at all. I can find no fault in it when I would do this for love of Narnia and the Narnians do this for love of me."

Susan looked down at their clasped hands and saw the jagged scrape across his knuckles taken during a rough training exercise. Though Edmund's had been the most profound, Narnia had changed them all, in ways that were subtle and deep. "It is as Edmund and Lucy said at supper."

"It is."

Humans ruled Narnia, but Narnia was not a land for Humans. Step lightly here. Love well. She put a hand to her brother's cheek. "I am proud of you, Peter, and respect you, but…"

Susan lowered her hand and turned to the page with the illustration of the cold lake.

"Yes, my sister?" Peter asked suspiciously.

"I shall do the swimming challenge," Susan said, making a point of sounding very arch.

Her brother scowled, rightly imputing her mockery. "I am not that bad."

"Peter, we must, at all costs, keep you far from water. You mix with water as oil does, which is to say, not at all."

ooOOOoo

The birdsong in the predawn was the sign waited for. The Songbirds had returned from their wintering as the weather warmed. One morning that still seemed very dark to poor Human sight, the Birds began to sing and welcomed the early, creeping light on the horizon that only their keen eyes could see.

Peter stayed in his study that day and in a fit of desperation for solitude, Susan joined him after luncheon and stayed there. They did not speak a word to one another all afternoon though Peter could feel the building excitement in the castle. Just when he would have lit a lamp, Lucy pounded on the door and told them all was ready.

Edmund joined them at the Palace entry, as excited as Lucy, though he was not bouncing as she was. The four of them descended the steps on to the great lawn. They were greeted by a throng of Narnians– Dryads, Dwarfs, Talking Beasts, Centaurs and all the others. Birds roosted in the Trees.

"I've not seen this many Narnians since Beruna," Susan murmured. If there had been any doubt of their commitment to the ritual, it evaporated here as Peter saw just how many of their humble subjects had traveled to Cair Paravel to witness the beginning of the first Great Bonding in over 100 years.

As the first Star glimmered in the sky, they gathered to begin the first challenge of the Great Bonding.

The stage had been prepared. The Dryads had given dead wood for a brisk fire to warm against the Spring night chill. Lit torches formed a ring where the play would be performed.

They took their seats on the lawn and Peter felt the crowd press around them. The earthy scents of Beasts and green smell of the Dryads and other Beings of the Wood rose with smoke from the fires.

An old Mole shuffled forward into the light. His tiny eyes blinked unseeing. "Your Majesties, I am Tiresias. Tonight begins the Great Bonding by which you shall become one with the Talking Beasts and Beings of Narnia. Your first challenge is to listen and attend that you might understand."

Tiresias' voice rose and fell into the sing song tone of the great Narnian epics.

"Come now Gentle Beasts, Good Beings of Wood, Water, and Stone, come now Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, that might you hear The Great Lay of Narnia. To my pups I told this tale, as I learned it from my Dam, as she from hers, back generation upon generation. The Great Lay of Narnia has been told since the day Aslan sang Narnia into being. The Gentle Beasts tell the tale in cave, nest, and den, in wood, mountain, meadow, and pond, so that we might remember it. For though Dwarfs build, and Birds fly, and Fauns dance, Naiads flow, and Dryads green, the Good Beasts of Narnia remember. So, Friends, heed my words. Stop and listen with your sensitive heart so that all may know The Great Lay of Narnia. Harken to me now."

"It begins thus.

"At first, there was the Great Nothing, a black emptiness. And then into the Great Nothing, Aslan began to sing. Cold, tingling, silvery voices joined Aslan's Great Song and then at once a thousand points of light leaped out. And so there were single stars, the Moon, constellations, and planets, bigger and brighter than any seen before.

"And then Aslan changed his tune, louder and more triumphant. And so, the Sun rose for the first time on an earth of many colours and hues. Again, the Great Song changed. It became gentle, rippling music and where Aslan walked, grass grew and spread like a pool. The Lion sang deep and strong and the trees grew. The Lion sang light and bright and flowers grew. "

As Tiresias spoke and sang, the small Talking Beasts shuffled forward to act out in pantomime the words. Peter glanced at Susan and she looked serene; Lucy was enchanted; Edmund's mouth was twitching, and not without reason. It took effort to not smile as a little Hedgehog lumbered back and forth, swinging his head and pretending to be the Great Lion singing Narnia into being. While there were Dryads who could act the part of Trees, this was for and by their smaller, less imposing subjects – the Moles, Rabbits, Voles, Squirrels, and others. The old Badger had no resemblance to a stately Tree at all. No one dared laugh.

Around them, Peter felt the assembly tense for what came next.

"The grass began to bubble, like water in a pot," Tiresias sang. The Beasts in the audience picked up the words so familiar to them, and echoed them, in a soft chorus, "Like water in a pot."

"The land swelled into humps and then from each hump there came out a beast of Narnia."

"We came from each hump," the Beasts repeated.

The acting Beasts, waving and flapped their paws and tails, pretended to be deer, dogs, great cats, songbirds, bees, and the other animals born that day. A Mouse was the elephant.

"For the first time, Aslan was silent. He went to and fro among the beasts, choosing some, but not others. And those he chose, he changed.

"We changed."

"There was a flash of fire and Aslan spoke."

The Beasts all joined Tiresias to say the words.

"Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking Trees. Be Talking Beasts. Be divine Waters. Out of dumb beasts we were taken and into them we can return."

There was a great, reverent silence.

Then, Tiresias gathered them with his sing song voice and began again and told of the Jackdaw's first joke. The laughing mood of the assembly turned somber when Tiresias told of the evil that had entered Narnia. Aslan instructed Lord Digory and Lady Polly that as the Humans had brought Jadis into Narnia, now they would labour to repair that evil.

In hearing the blind Mole sing, Peter felt an overwhelming humility. This was not a wrong he or his siblings had wrought. The Narnians loved them and felt no bitterness that it was this outsider race of Humans from beyond the confines of their brand new world who had brought Jadis into Narnia. Peter did not feel guilt, but he felt responsibility. He glanced again at Susan and saw her nod her understanding. The Great Bonding that brought the Human Monarch closer to Narnia healed that first wrong perpetrated the day Narnia was born.

Tiresias's song continued and he told of Polly and Digory's great journey on the Winged Horse, Fledge, their encounter with Jadis, and finally the planting of the Tree of Protection. Tiresias sang of Aslan's calling of Helen from beyond the limits of the world. Two Rats played the parts King Frank and Queen Helen and the mood again became very serious as Aslan delivered his instruction.

"Can you raise food from the earth?" Tiresias asked the Rats. "Can you rule these creatures kindly and fairly, remembering that they are not slaves but Talking Beasts and free subjects?"

Tiresias's words were directed to the players, but Peter found he was nodding his assent to this charge to Aslan's first rulers. A glance showed that Susan, Edmund and Lucy were all also nodding their agreement.

"And would you raise your children and grandchildren to do the same?"

To concentrate on the ceremony, Peter pushed aside, for now, the implications of that daunting charge from Aslan to Frank and Helen. Children and grandchildren, heirs, securing a line of Kings and Queens to follow. This too would be their duty to the Narnians. If they did not, all this would come to nothing.

"And if enemies came against the land and there was war, would you be the first in the charge and the last in the retreat?"

The Rats, bold creatures, raised their fists and whisked their tails about.

Tiresias then sang of the great Narnian Kings and Queens who followed, each undertaking the Great Bonding. The blind Mole told of King Gale who slew the Dragon, King Frank III and his Queen Matilde, who raised Cair Paravel, Prince Col founder of Archenland, Queen Eleanore, the first to repel the Northern Giants, and doomed Swanwhite, who was the last Queen before the Winter came.

The moon waxed and waned. Lucy rested her head on Edmund's shoulder. Green eyes glowed in the dark beyond the light cast by the dimming torches and the fire.

Tiresias' song ended when the Four appeared in the snowy Lantern Waste. A Vole had had the honour of portraying the Queen Lucy and at the conclusion she bowed so deeply she teetered. Lucy put out a hand to keep the Vole from falling over. She kissed Lucy's hand and then the Vole and the other Beast players shuffled back to join the audience.

The blind Mole stood alone in the patch of firelight.

"And so, Gentle Beasts, the Four Humans before you delivered us from our ancient enemy. Aslan called them and they came. They come from the land of King Frank and Queen Helen, from the land beyond sea and sky and the Great Waterfall. They are in Narnia, they serve Narnia, they rule Narnia, but they were not born of Narnia."

With that cue, Peter rose, Susan beside him. Edmund helped Lucy to her feet. They stood before their subjects and the blind Mole.

"Who seeks the Great Bonding with Narnia?" Tiresias asked.

"I do," Peter responded, pitching his voice as low and as solemn as he could.

"I do," Susan repeated, sounding so adult, Peter almost did not recognize her.

"And you, Queen Lucy and King Edmund, do you allow High King Peter and Queen Susan to act in your stead and to bind you to Narnia as they will be?"

"I do!" Lucy said so happily there were titters of laughter.

Edmund's voice cracked a little as he spoke his assent. "I do."

An Oak Dryad, newly awakened from her Winter sleep, stepped forward, carrying a large leaf. She stopped in front of Lucy, who drew her dagger. Lucy bit her lip and pricked her finger on the knife. Peter smiled at her bravery for she barely flinched as drops of her blood fell on to the leaf the Dryad held. Lucy handed her knife to Edmund and he did the same, cutting his finger and adding his blood to Lucy's on the leaf.

Edmund gave the knife to Susan who had thought carefully about where to administer a cut that would not trouble her in the challenges to come. It was awkward, and more painful, but she deftly pricked the top of her hand and added her blood to the leaf.

The knife, Lucy's gift from Father Christmas, was cool in his hand when Peter took it from Susan. The blood of his brother and sisters stained the blade. The knife was so sharp he did not even feel the cut until the blood was already welling from his palm. He let his own blood drop to the leaf to mix with the blood of the others. Lucy solemnly took her knife back and bent down to wipe the bloodied blade on the grass. There was a sigh among those silently watching as the mingled blood of the Four Monarchs was given to the Narnian earth.

The Dryad offered the leaf to Susan. His sister dipped her finger into the blood caught and pooled on the leaf and rubbed it on her own forehead. The dark blood was sticky and warm as Peter did the same.

"By this sharing, the act of one binds you all," Tiresias said. "The second challenge is tomorrow. Tomorrow, the Monarch shall die."