Actions

Work Header

From the grove of cypress and yellow rose

Work Text:

"Tumnus, the disappointment; it's been awhile since you've stood in front of me," said Jadis, her voice gentle and conversational. "Tumnus, the traitor. I suppose once you've betrayed your father, it comes more easily a second time."

Tumnus didn't look up from his crumpled heap on the stone floor in front of her; he didn't dare speak to defend himself. It was cold, but he was nearly too wretched to shiver. He'd been forced to run, Maugrim and his squad chasing him with sharp white teeth and grinning jaws, and his shoulder was ripped from where a wolf had dragged him the last bit, his companions grinning with red teeth as Tumnus bounced and scraped over rocks and down banks, to be spat out on the stones in front of the Witch.

"Stand up, traitor," she said. Tumnus shivered and tried to shrink smaller for a moment, desperately trying to think of a way out of the situation, or perhaps a shred of courage left to defy her. There was nothing left but terror and he rose slowly to his feet. He had nothing left; no hope, no joy, and nothing with which to bargain.

"Out that window there," she said, "on that very field, that's where your father died."

Tumnus looked, and it looked just like any other bare white ground. It was hard to imagine it green with grass, trampled and blackened with blood from the battle his father had fought. He wondered if the bones were still there, lying wrapped in the Witch's great blanket of white. He wondered if they slept peacefully, coddled in the earth and far from the nightmare of waking life.

"Your father's life was worth every cup of tea and crumpet I've provided for you," she said. Tumnus's stomach rebelled at the thought, as she twisted the knife of that old wound. "He was an honourable faun; how disappointing that his son proved to not even be useful."

He heard her utter the word behind him, felt the stone seize him in its grasp. He took one last breath of the freezing air, his eyes desperately looking for the slightest hint of green. The Witch laughed and he was gone.

>>>>

Tumnus was brought forth at midsummer, from under a tangle of yellow roses nestled in the bend of a small, sweet stream. His father was scratched and his arms ran with blood from a multitude of little cuts as he drew Tumnus out of the undergrowth and into the world. His father held him high under the trees, under the bright blue sky barely visible through the heavy green branches.

"Thus comes Tumnus, son of Philamnos, son of Pan," he said. "I have called him forth from this place, a genius of this land; Tumnus of the grove of cypress and yellow rose."

In his hands, Tumnus squirmed and blinked, a small cry escaping him before he was tucked back safely against Philamnos's chest and soothed. Philamnos sucked a particularly bad scratch on one hand. It was worth it, though, to bring forth a son. He was filled with pride and contentment. The land was rich and the child strong. He would grow to make merry in the woods and fields, to dance with Bacchus, to press close to the side of the Lion.

"Come, child," said Philamnos, stroking Tumnus's tiny head, covered in tight curling hair and the merest buds of his horns. Tumnus caught one of his bleeding fingers and gripped it tightly. Philamnos smiled down at him fondly and carried him out of the grove, threading through the trees on his little cloven hooves, nodding here and there to other fauns, to dryads, to the occasional Talking Beast. A few stopped to admire the fauntling in his arms.

"You belong to the land, little faun," said Philamnos, shaking the finger that Tumnus still held. "The Great Gods gave you life from me, from me and the wild woods, and now I get to take you home and feed you warm milk and watch you grow, and one day you might draw forth another fauntling, perhaps. For the days come and go, the seasons change, the stars wheel, but the land holds us close, little faun."

He sang quietly as he walked, a soft song of the dancing trees and living waters, the simple joys of a faun in the wild woods, until he rounded a corner and found a centaur waiting for him in a clearing. The song died on his lips in surprise. Centaurs loved the mountains and the moorlands, and it wasn't common to find one here in the forests. This one was white, as pale as snow, with red lips and even more haughtiness in her bearing than most.

"Greetings, Philamnos," she said. He murmured a greeting in turn. She nodded towards the fauntling in his arms.

"I see this one has drawn blood already," she continued. "He'll spill more of yours, one day, this child drawn from the yellow roses."

"Aslan himself told me to go to the grove and father this child," Philamnos said stiffly. He did not want to hear any prophecy, certainly not on a day made only for delight.

"The ways of the Lion are not written clearly in the stars," she said. "I merely tell you what the stars tell me, and they say that this fauntling shall betray you in a great war."

"This fauntling is my son," said Philamnos, nettled by the arrogance of the centaur in seeking him out with the child not an hour old, whether her stars spoke true or not. "He shall live by the land, as I have done, and he shall remember the land holds us close and brings us our only joys. What are wars and betrayals to us?"

"The stars do not say," the centaur replied.

"The stars speak in riddles," Philamnos retorted. "I shall raise this child in the name of the Lion, and the stars can wheel to their heart's content."

The centaur nodded. Philamnos watched her canter away with a frown. He was a faun, a creature of the woods and fields, and he gave his love and delight to the world. He had no time for these stargazing, solemn creatures and their portents and prophecies. All things would come to pass or would not. He shook himself and looked down at Tumnus, sleeping now in his arms. His son, born between him and the little corner of land, hemmed in with cypresses and a little stream, with yellow roses blooming in a shaft of sun. His son was at this moment perfect, and Philamnos kissed his head gently and continued home.

>>>>

"Sit down," said Lucy, gesturing to the little chair on the other side of the fire from hers. She carried the tea tray herself, a homely thing crowded with a little blue teapot and a plate of crumpets ready to toast.

Tumnus sat down, not quite at ease. Snow fell outside the window but the fire in the hearth was bright and cheerful. Lucy handed him a cup of tea, just how he liked it, and knelt in front of the fire with the toasting fork. The scene was cozy, domestic, and yet he wasn't comfortable.

Lucy shuffled round on the hearthrug, two golden crumpets in the fork, which she dropped onto a plate, and sucked her finger into her mouth ruefully.

"One day I'll toast something without burning myself," she said. "Be a dear and butter these, will you?"

Taking the plate and putting it on the table next to him, Tumnus reached for the butter and mechanically scraped the knife over it, smoothing the butter over the crumpet and watching it melt into the tiny, delicious holes. He paused, knife hovering over the plate, as he realised why he was so nervous. Today was the tenth anniversary of the day he'd first met Lucy. He dropped the knife, the clatter of metal loud in the tiny room. Lucy turned and looked at him in surprise.

"Tumnus?" she asked.

He forced a smile to his face. "It's nothing," he said.

"Are you unwell?" she persisted.

"No, just thinking."

She dropped the toasting fork on the carpet and crawled closer.

"Tell me," she said. Tumnus tried to find a way to resist, but his craven soul wilted under the look of concern in her eyes. He'd never been able to withstand things, from the threat of the Witch to the pressure of his fate, to the kind compassion in Lucy's eyes.

"It's ten years since we met, your Majesty," he said. "On a snowy day just like this one."

"That's not something to look guilt-stricken about," she said, reaching for the discarded toasting fork and turning back to the fire, relieved. "Unless you're feeling old all of a sudden, but I saw you dancing in the snow yesterday, so I doubt it's that."

"No, fauns generally live a long time," he said, controlling his voice with an effort. He returned to buttering the crumpets, smoothing the knife over them in long, controlled strokes. Lucy hummed as she continued toasting.

Tumnus had always waited for Lucy to turn against him, to fully realise the enormity of what he'd tried to do to her. Her blithe unconcern had always baffled him. He'd assumed that she was too young to understand, that she would grow cold as she got older and fully grasped his guilt. The shame ate at him, even as she welcomed him to Cair Paravel, as she grew into a laughing young queen and he into her trusted advisor.

"Your majesty, I have never begged your forgiveness for what I did," he said, putting the knife down and blurting out his words before he could reconsider.

She shuffled around again and stared at Tumnus. He met her eyes for a fleeting moment before his dropped to the carpet between them. For long years he had waited for her to speak, for the recriminations and demands to know why he'd tried to sell her to the Witch. He was tired of waiting; he wanted the certainty of her disappointment in him.

"You never needed my forgiveness," said Lucy. He shook his head mutely. Her hands, bigger than his now and calloused from her bow, took his. "You don't," she insisted. "You rethought your decision before anything had happened to me, so the only person who needs to forgive you is yourself."

He shook his head again, wanting to pour out the long tale of all his treachery, but he couldn't. He snuck a glance at Lucy again, seeing her bright young face as it had been that cold day ten years ago.

"Would I have kept you around if I hadn't trusted you?" she asked. "For all the books in your cave, you are a little silly."

"Those were all my father's books," he said.

"It's just confessions all around today, isn't it?" she said. Her fingers tightened on his hands and she continued, dropping her voice to a whisper. "I always thought, when I met you, that it was just luck to meet you in the snow like that, under the lamplight. But when I met the Lion, I was sure that he meant for me to come through first, alone, to see the world with my own eyes before being plunged into its politics. Narnia will always be that still day, with the lightest, fluffiest snow, and your merry tales and the perfect afternoon tea, and so I get to love it even when trade negotiations pall. Narnia is alive to me."

Tumnus looked up and met her eyes fully now. She was beautiful, outlined in firelight, warm and vital, and the cold, hard, defensive shell around his heart seemed to crack suddenly. He smiled and she smiled back at him.

"Then I shall eat these crumpets with a lighter heart," he said.

"Good," she said. "I don't toast crumpets for just anyone."

>>>>

The moon hung huge in the sky, above the eastern horizon even as the last shreds of colour edged the western hills. Tumnus watched his father walk forward, to the centre of the circle, and shove his burning torch into the towering pile of wood. A shout went up from all gathered there; dryads rubbing shoulders with dwarves, beasts slowly mingling. Tumnus clenched his hands and winced slightly. They were still a little blistered and scraped from getting in the last of all the harvests.

Tumnus stood a little back from the crowd, a cup of mead in his hand. Another shout was heard, wild music playing and the sound of singing, but it came from the trees nearby. The assembled crowd cheered as Bacchus and his maenads tumbled out of the woods to join the throng. They were laughing, faces bright with wine and mirth, and a sort of joy that seemed to come from the very spring of the earth under their feet.

"Why so solemn, child?" asked a voice at Tumnus's side. He jumped and spilled mead on his hand. "My apologies," continued the voice, and Tumnus turned to see an older faun next to him, pipes in one hand, horn in the other.

"Not at all," said Tumnus, remembering his manners. He sucked the mead from his fingers and wondered why the older faun had sought him out. He'd become used to the sideways looks, the whispers that followed him in the woodland. His father had even broken down and told him of the prophecy, and after that Tumnus had welcomed the avoidance. It was better than being pitied.

"So, why aren't you dancing?" asked the other, gesturing at the dance that was just forming.

"No one wants to dance with the traitor," Tumnus said. "Or future traitor, at least. I haven't done it yet, but I shall, so they say."

"Ah, I see." The other faun seemed unfazed by speaking with a future traitor. Tumnus would have wondered at it, but his bitterness was fresh and sharp tonight, inflamed by the mead. "A centaur, a prophecy at birth, that sort of thing?"

"Yes," said Tumnus, not bothering to sugar coat it.

"And do you feel traitorous?"

"Not right now, but who knows when I shall feel the urge?"

"I don't imagine that treachery is the sort of thing that comes upon one out of the blue," said the other faun, "but I'm just a faun, so what would I know?"

"Fate, is, apparently, inescapable," said Tumnus.

"Well, if there is fate in this land, it's not the Lion working the loom and shuttle. He's not the tapestry sort, I'd say."

"Father!" called Philamnos, striding away from the fire towards them. He greeted the faun next to Tumnus with a kiss before bowing low. "And you have met my son already, I see."

Tumnus stared back from one to the other, his humiliation now acute. He'd just confessed his eventual treachery in front of the Great God Pan himself. He wished the ground would open up and take him back into her embrace, but he steeled himself to smile instead.

"Forgive me, Great God," he said.

"There is nothing to forgive, child. You were born in darkening days, and some starry ramblings are eating at you like a blight before harvest, or a frost during blossom. You were born of this land, though, and the joy of this land is inside you. Cling to it."

Tumnus bowed low, before he was raised up and kissed. His father pulled him close and kissed him too, and Tumnus felt the second-hand guilt leave him, letting him feel the peace and happiness of the land rise up through his hooves in a way it hadn't for a while. There was still the itch between his shoulder blades that spoke of a fateful arrow seeking its target, but he could put it aside for one night. He would dance as a faun should dance, and leave the weight of his fate for the morning.

"I shall dance," he said.

Walking away, he heard his father's voice lowered already, speaking of the shadows on the edges of the land, of the unquiet of the earth. He pushed it aside and was swept up into the dance with simple joy. A maenad brushed her lips over his in an uncomplicated kiss of pleasure and delight, and another poured him wine and drank with him. The night was bright and clear, full of the bittersweet happiness of autumn.

>>>>

Tumnus waited in the courtyard of what might, one day, be destined to be a palace. The air was chilly, but he didn't move. He was terrified, knowing he'd get only one chance to make the bargain he'd come here for. The Witch swept grandly out of what might, he supposed, be her imperial tent. Certainly, she was much grander than her surroundings. He didn't move or speak, hardly daring to breathe, as she came to a halt in front of him.

"What brings you here, faun?" she asked.

"I come to make a bargain," said Tumnus.

She laughed, and the air around him seemed to almost freeze for just a moment, cutting deeper than ever into his skin. He gathered his courage and stayed very still.

"You come to betray your father, Tumnus, son of Philamnos?" she asked. "What makes you think I have need of you."

"I do not come to betray him," he replied. "I know he will die tomorrow, betrayed by another. You have no need of me for that."

"Then why come, little faun? Do you imagine I will give you an honourable death? I will let my wolves tear your father to pieces and scatter his bones, so why should I give you more?"

"You have already given me a long, dishonourable living death," said Tumnus. "It has dug itself into my hide like a persistent burr since my birth, clinging close to my skin and naming my treachery. I know I shall be blamed for my father's death; your false prophecy was a long poison. But you need me now."

"And why is that, little faun?"

"I am Tumnus, of the grove of cypress and yellow rose, where the four shall stand forth for an age as golden as the flesh of the apple." He smiled, a bleak, wintry thing. "When the Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve step forth into Narnia, I shall find them. You know this."

"I know this," the Witch hissed. He saw her fingers curl into claws, but found, in a detached way, that his terror was distant now. He knew that death at the Witch's hands now would be as kind as any other end could be for him.

"Then let this land alone," he said. "My father's army is already betrayed; with them dies the armed resistance of this land. If you destroy the woods, as you have been doing, then your people will suffer too. You chop the trees and leave the small folk to die; will you have a realm of matchsticks?"

"I have killed an entire world before," she said. "Why should I balk at destroying this one?"

"You want this land; I don't know why," Tumnus said. "I want this land to live, because I am the land. I shall bring you the children. Let the land live."

He waited while Jadis considered, though he knew she would agree. He didn't know why. He was just a faun, not a very wise or strong one, bargaining as best he could for the life of his land. He thought of his father, probably walking around the perimeter of their little camp, looking up at the same stars and breathing the same cold air. He wished he could be folded into his arms one more time, and kissed on the forehead, and hear his father's voice in his ears, telling him again the story of how the Lion told him it was time to have a son.

>>>>

Tumnus hadn't been to his grove for many a long year. He had half expected brambles to run riot around the little bend in the stream that ran down to the river, so the beauty of the early spring morning took his breath away. Long wisps of fog still clung to the open bits of ground and hung round the knees of the cypresses that edged one side of the tiny clearing. Some had fallen in winters past, opening the glade. The stream spilled over a rockfall in a never ending cascade, and, where once a tangle of roses had bloomed yellow, a tiny apple tree thrust its way towards the gap in the branches above.

Walking forward, Tumnus rested his hand on the rough bark of a branch, letting the soft pink blossom surround him like a halo of new hope. He leaned his head next to his hand, and tears slowly slipped down his cheeks.

He'd spent so many years thinking of the shame of his betrayal, but here, in the damp stillness of a spring morning, he felt only the joy of the leaves in the thin sun, the joy of the roots in the deep earth. He felt only the lightness of his heart, to beat for the sake of love itself.

"Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be speaking beasts. Be divine waters," said a voice behind him. He turned, and the Lion waited there for him. He ran to his side, pressing against that warm golden fur, burying his face in his mane. There was no need to speak; the Lion knew how far he had fallen, knew what he'd taken from the Witch and what he'd given. He knew the bargain Tumnus had driven, and all that went into that and came from it. As Tumnus cried into the Lion's mane, he felt like the hard knot of his bargain with Jadis had been severed.

"I made this land to love," Aslan said, "and who better than you, Tumnus, son of Philamnos, to do so? As you can see, even the grove of cypress and rose can rise to a new spring."