Edmund wasn’t a storyteller, but he read aloud nicely. It was one of Lucy’s favorite things to do, to lie back with a blanket by the fireplace and listen to Edmund read The Magic City, or Sherlock Holmes. He didn’t do voices, exactly, but there was a change in the way he said things that let Lucy know Holmes from Watson from Mrs. Hudson very well.
The others still preferred that Lucy tell them stories. Any story. Lucy didn’t think she was a very good storyteller – certainly she sounded nothing like a radio performance – but she would admit that stories stayed in her head pretty well, and she loved the characters so.
It had been about a year after their return from Narnia. They didn’t speak about Narnia all that often, but it was always in the background. It was in the way they greeted each other with “Hullo, Ed!” or “There you are, Su! I’ve been looking for you,” and when their eyes met they knew that they were really saying, “Well met, brother!” and “My Queen, I wouldst enjoy thy company.” It was in their suddenly very polite table manners that their mother blessed the Macready for, and the way they got along better than any other brothers and sisters. As dreadfully as they missed Narnia, it was still like a delightful secret they carried in their pockets – the most delightful secret anyone had ever had.
They were gathered in the girls’ room one evening, and Edmund was reading aloud when Peter, who was sitting on Susan’s bed, threw himself back against her pillows and said, “Ed, I’m sorry, but my brain’s turned to mush this term. Would you mind leaving Holmes and Watson where they are and letting Lucy tell us something that doesn’t require any thinking from me?”
Edmund closed his book without complaint, for Peter had had a hard time of it that term, and they were all sorry for him. It was Christmas hols, and the four of them had only been reunited for three days during which there’d been so much shopping and wrapping and catching up and Christmas parties that they’d had hardly any time to spend with each other. Lucy thought that catching up with someone wasn’t at all as nice as sitting next to them and enjoying their company.
“All right, Peter. What shall I tell you about?” Lucy asked. Susan was brushing her hair. The knots had got out by then, but Lucy adored having her hair brushed and Susan was kind enough to oblige. There were a few suggestions, but they were all shot down by the others. Then Edmund pulled out an old stuffy, Mr. Feathers the Owl, from under his elbow. “Do you remember the Parliament?” he asked.
So Lucy told the story of the Parliament. She sat up straight as Susan put the brush away, and tucked her hair behind her ears. She rested her hands on her lap as she began:
“This is a story about owls. This is also a story about friendship, and disagreements, and high tea, and the High Town, and perhaps it is a story about other things as well.
“In the third year of the reign of High King Peter and the other King and Queens, there came about such a bitter disagreement between the Talking Owls and the Talking Ravens that the argument spread between every other Talking Bird, and out unto the other Talking Animals as well. And the nature of the argument was this: that there had been, time out of mind, A Council of Wisdom that had as its members the chief Dwarf, the River-god, the eldest of the living Hamadryads, the Bull Elephant, both the He and She Ravens, and the He owl. But such had been the harshness of the Long Winter that the Talking Elephants were no longer living, nor had they any offspring to take their place upon the council. And when the Council was reconvened after the death of the Witch, and the triumph of Aslan over the winter, and the coronation of the Kings and Queens, it was put forth by the Owl Greyclaw that, as the Ravens both male and female had their place upon the Council, and as there was no cousin nor any sort of relation to the Elephants, the missing seat should be therefore taken by a She Owl, and moreover it seemed to him to be good counsel, for Owls are naturally given to the forming of committees, and putting to vote most any issue, and all other acts of government.
“Now to this proposal none of the other members would agree, and the Council fell about arguing. And the Ravens especially were resentful of Greyclaw’s words, for it seemed to them that the Owl spoke out of jealousy, and they had always thought him a friend. Many bitter words were spoken between the Ravens and the Owl, and furthermore the rest of the Council was split betwixt the two sides so that there could be no peace.
“And having no agreement in their midst, the Council at last submitted themselves to the judgment of the Kings and Queens. After hearing their quarrel, their majesties thought amongst themselves. And after they had spoken with each other for some few minutes did Queen Susan stand and address her royal siblings, saying, “Good Brothers and Sister, it appears in my mind that having no single Talking Beast of equal sagacity or some relation to the Elephants, it must fall unto the Council of Wisdom to choose a different Beast at each gathering so as to represent all of the Animals.
“The others replied, “Good Sister, you speak wisdom.” And they further agreed that the empty seat must be selected at random, so that no Beast should be favored above any other, and so it was implemented.
“But though he saw the wisdom of the judgment Greyclaw was discontent, for it had been in his heart to win some little place for his people to meet together as Owls are wont, and there to debate and vote and weigh council amongst themselves before the convening of the Great Council, and he went away saddened.”
“He went away in a right snit,” whispered Edmund, but Peter and Susan both said, “Hush!” and Lucy was polite enough to ignore him.
“However his plight touched the heart of Queen Lucy, and she therefore invited him to High Tea to be held the next evening, and also in their company to be her dearest old friend, Mr. Tumnus the Faun, for she knew him to be kind-hearted and of such a listening ear that often troubles were dissolved in the telling. To this Greyclaw accepted right gladly.
“As it was a particularly fine tea, I shall describe it: there were deviled eggs, and paté on grainy toast – one of chicken, and one of rat for the Owl. There were sandwiches of cucumber, ham, and bat, and a plate of cheeses as well as one of summer berries. There was a fine bisque soup with dried crickets or crackly bread, and a lovely quiche. There were tea cakes and fully three kinds of ices, and chocolate biscuits, and scones of both toffee-fruit and orange blossoms, with clotted cream and lemon and strawberry jams, as well as orange-chocolate truffles and spider-jam tarts.
“So fine was the tea party that all unpleasant discussion was put aside to enjoy it. Greyclaw was quite mannerly and a gentlebird when not disquieted, and he spoke many words on the thoughtfulness of the kitchens to have included so much fare fit for Talking Birds. And afterwards so merry were their hearts with the fine food and company that nothing would do but that Mr. Tumnus pull out his little flute and delight both Owl and Queen with a reel, to which they danced most well. Then was Queen Lucy reminded of a poem from her childhood in Spare ‘Oom (though she but little remembered it, Aslan in his wisdom having made all the Kings and Queens’ time there like a dream so that they would not be longing and worrying after responsibilities there), which the Owl quite enjoyed.”
“I say, what poem was that, Lu?” asked Peter. Since he was the High King the others did not shush him, though Susan gave him a dirty look and Edmund rolled his eyes.
“Oh, I know! It was The Owl and the Pussycat, wasn’t it? It must have been!” said Susan.
“Oh yes, I remember! There was a to-do about runcible spoons after that,” said Edmund.
Susan asked, “What is a runcible spoon, anyway? Was that ever solved?” and they broke for a brief reminiscence about Narnian silverware (which had many special spoons and forks and such for the different Beasts and Giants and Centaurs and so on) and food and the dear old Dwarf who had taught them royal table-manners in as nice a way as possible.
Eventually Lucy said, “Did you want me to finish the story still, Peter?”
“My head’s much better, but do, Lucy. You’re quite the best storyteller among us, and I’ve missed talking of Narnia.”
Lucy continued: “After Queen Lucy’s poem Mr. Tumnus did tell many a pleasant jest and clever riddle, and then was Greyclaw persuaded to return with some story or poem of his own. Though he professed to have no head for poetry, still at length he sang a nest-song of such sweet tune and strange words that the Queen afterwards begged him to tell her in every detail what the song was about.”
Here Lucy paused and did her best to sing the song. Like most children’s songs the tune was simple, yet elegant, though not having a bird’s throat she couldn’t reproduce it well.
“And Greyclaw told the Queen that the song concerned the High Town, that lovely little city in the cliffs and oldest trees – dumb trees, not inhabited ones – that lie between Glasswater and the mountains which border Archenland.
“Then was Queen Lucy so moved in her heart by his gay descriptions that nothing would do but that she must visit it. At once was she offered by Greyclaw as fair and as good a guide as he could find, though the Queen, being so moved by his companionship and his sweet speech of his city, would have none but himself. And having procured permission from the High King-”
“And Edmund having been told he was too big, and not to be a baby about it,” muttered Edmund. The others didn’t blame him for had hadn’t started his growth spurt that year he would have gone as well. As it was none of them were willing to beg a ride from a Flying Horse for so casual a thing as sightseeing, and so Lucy had gone alone.
“-plans were made for that very next evening. Queen Lucy would have been as glad to have seen it by day, but Owls feel about day as most others do about night, and he declared at some length that the only proper way to appreciate the High Town was by the glitter of the moon, and the canopy of stars, and by the little fires each nest had for their dinners and for some warmth, it being then the end of summer, and autumn's coolness touching the air.
“Queen Susan, being of practical mind and sweetly sensible thoughts, bade the dressmakers of Cair Paravel create for Queen Lucy a fine cloak of light weight and full warmth, and having herself made scarf and gloves as a Christmas gift, did give them early to her sister.
“For these Queen Lucy was fully grateful for the air was chilled under the moon, and the Queen thought she might have fallen off her friend's back had she not still, by Queen Susan’s gifts, some warmth in her fingers with which to cling, the flight being long.
“At length, into view came what the Queen at first thought were yellow stars. Then she thought they must be passing by some pond or small lake of which she knew nothing and which was reflecting the night skies. As they flew closer she realized that Greyclaw had gradually increased his altitude in such a gentle manner that they were now indeed very far from the ground, and what she had taken for stars, or reflected stars, were in fact the little fires of the High Town, itself of some great height.
“As gently as he had ascended did that good Owl descend by wide circles, and came to rest upon a roof. I say roof, but that is not so, for in the High Town were no roofs, or else all were roofs. It would be as fair to say all the houses were nests, or all the nests houses. But the nests were not affairs of sticks and twine, rickety and rough. Rather they were solidly and cunningly built, chiefly of willow boughs which sway in the wind yet keep their shape. These were woven together well with strong wool, and daubed with mud from the Glasswater to keep warmth. The walls were in some places but a foot, in others as much as four or five feet, and over this when it was cool was pulled a sort of awning, like that of a rickshaw, and these painted in many bright colours and having on them the Narnian Lion, or Cair Paravel on the sea, or many other motifs. At one end of the nests – and these were oblong, and organic in shape, rather than circular – were little fire pits, and in each one an elegant brazier of Dwarf design.
"On the little walls were many sorts of decorations of differing design. For some there were plates and teacups, and for others some swath of cloth of bright colour or beautiful pattern, and for others still bright bits of glass in curious shapes, or little looking glasses, or strings of glass beads, and from most there was at least one set of such armory as Talking Birds wore to battle, so that the whole city was a delight of secret nooks and little treasures, and when the awnings were pulled back one could look down and admire the curios of one’s neighbors, and be admired in turn by those farther up in the trees or ledges.
“From each of the variously sized nests to its neighbors was a little wooden bridge, and in some places where the next neighbor was some ways away, or when there were a great many in a rough circle, was a little platform to which the bridges converged. Still other platforms were affixed to trees in such a way that one could gradually make one’s way up or down without strain and climbing.
"Greyclaw, a most gracious and thoughtful guide, explained that these bridges were for the sake of the chicks and the elderly, for of course most Talking Birds and Gryffins and such that lived in the High Town had no need. The whole city was so pleasant that Queen Lucy gasped in awe.
“And when Greyclaw had shown her the Meeting Tree, which is a sort of town square with the largest of platforms, and the clever pully system for water which fed into a series of marvelous fountains upon the cliffs, and the great cooking braziers which were a sort of grill which any could use, and many other delights, he invited the Queen to a light dinner before she departed, for it was then nearing dawn.
“He then took her to his home, in which he lived alone, for his dear wife had died shortly before the Battle of Beruna. The Queen was moved to tears by his love for her, and Greyclaw, having some need of a listening ear though the grief was not fresh, did speak on about his wife’s cunning and beauty and wisdom, and did show Queen Lucy the strands of light-catching beads and little mirrors cut in pleasant shapes and framed about with silver or bronze that he had brought her during their courtship.
“They had a pleasant meal of cold meats and cheese, washed with a good Narnian wine and clear water, after which Greyclaw thought his heart would burst if he did not one last time plead the case of his people before the Queen, and the Queen heard him out with good cheer, for she thought to herself that there must be some matter here or else the Owl would not be so distraught. And when she had heard all that he could say about the ways of the Owls, and how, though with merriment and kindness their ways were accepted by other Talking Birds, yet they alone would meet at night (as was right and proper for Owls), she did agree with him that there must be some place for the Owls to hold parliament together that would not interrupt the sleep of their surrounding Griffin and Raven and Robin and Eagle and other such feathered neighbors.
“Then did she recall a tower some little journey from Cair Paravel. 'Twas thought to be a lookout tower once, but was now in little use, though King Edmund had eloquently and effectively championed the repairing of it against some future need. In this place did she propose the Owls hold Parliament at their will, and asked only that the chief Owl, which was Greyclaw, be informed of all comings and going and decisions made there and report them duly to the Council of Wisdom, to which he agreed with a good heart for he had no wish for the appearance of secrecy or furtiveness.
“And thus in due time it came to be, and there reigned a peace between the Owls and other Talking Birds, and a peace also was there in the Council of Wisdom.”
Peter and Susan and Edmund burst out clapping. “Oh, well done!” exclaimed Susan, and Edmund said, “I wish I’d been able to go, but I almost feel as if I have been, now.”
Lucy blushed with happiness at their praise. It had felt grand to be telling a Narnian story, and at times she had almost felt she was there again, telling a story at some feast or hunting party. She almost expected to feel silk and fine wool under her fingers and slippers on her feet instead of itchy wool and stiff Oxford shoes.
“I’ve always wondered,” said Edmund, holding Mr. Feathers, “If you remembered when you tried to make a tree-house for your owl here. You were very little.”
Lucy shook her head. “Did I?”
Susan said quickly “Oh, don’t bring that up, Ed. I hate to think of it.”
“What could possibly be so awful?” asked Lucy.
“Then you don’t remember at all?” Peter asked her. “I’m afraid the rest of us will never forget it. You must have been, what, three? Or four?”
“Four,” said Edmund, and put his arm around Susan’s shoulder kindly. “It was just before my sixth birthday.”
“You were such a quiet child when you weren’t laughing, always content to play with some stuffy or doll for hours, having little adventures or teas,” Susan told her. “We were out in the garden, all four of us, playing with a ball, I think. You were reading a story to Mr. Feathers in the corner, and I suppose we just forgot about you.”
“That was my fault,” said Edmund. “Pete and I had a fight over the rules of our game, and we went in to have Mum referee. You must have come in with us, Susan.” And his taking the blame on showed how changed he was, for the old, spiteful Edmund would have been quick to point fingers at one of the others.
“Well,” said Susan, “maybe an hour later I was passing by the window and I heard you making the queerest sort of sound –- a sort of keening. I think you were too brave to scream even then, or else you had given up shouting for help. I rushed out and found you clinging for life to one of the branches of our oak tree, at least twelve feet off the ground.” Susan shivered. “I shall never forget that sound. Your little hands were white. I must have shouted for the others, but I don’t remember. I ran out to, I don’t know, to catch you maybe. I was so sure your arms would give out before I reached you. It took me ages to cross the garden. And I’d hurt my knee playing ball – that was the disagreement, Ed. You thought I ought to be disqualified, but Peter said I could play well enough on one leg – and couldn’t work it enough to climb up after you.”
“You did shout,” said Edmund. “You sounded so awful that I ran and screamed up the stairs for Peter. I got there a little before him, and tried to climb up myself but I’ve no idea how you got up there on your own, Lu. I couldn’t find foot holds anywhere, and the trunk was too large around to use my legs – like a rope, you know.”
“When I came out Susan was shouting at me to bring a blanket for you to fall in, and Edmund ran and did that,” Peter said. “I had to get a running leap, and I scratched up my arm on the bark. We’d never climbed that tree before, you know, so we didn’t know any useful places to grab or place our feet. Actually, I think I still have a bit of a scar,” and here he sat up and worked his sleeve back on his right arm. He had to hold it the right way in the light for Lucy to see the faint, silvery scratches on his inner arm.
After they had all taken a look, Peter continued, “Susan was telling you it would be all right, and to keep holding on for her sake, and you never said a word but you were white as a sheet. So I just kept climbing until I could get a good grip on you, and then all the sudden you looked right up at me and said, ‘Pete,’ and you had these big eyes as a baby, you know. Big, trusting eyes. And it was so scary to realize you trusted me so much that I almost started crying.”
“Did you?” asked Susan. “I never would have guessed. You looked absolutely brave and calm. I kept thinking that I just needed to keep it together like you were. I was picturing little Lucy falling down like a dropped doll and –” she cut herself off. “Anyway, it was horrid, Lucy, the way you could have been hurt. It really was my fault for not collecting you when we went in. That was always my job.”
Lucy doubted that Mum had ever given Susan any such job, and thought that it must have been one Susan took on herself. She remembered the way Susan had pushed her up that tree when the wolf had attacked them by the river the day they had first met Aslan, and how Susan hadn’t been able to find her way to a high enough branch and had almost been killed. Susan had never thought anything of it though, so Lucy kept silent.
“I kept inching over on that branch until I was sitting next to you,” said Peter, “and had one arm around the trunk. And Susan kept telling you not to reach for me yet, and that I knew what I was doing which was a good thing because I was too terrified to say it myself and if you had reached for me we would have both fallen. And then I reached down and you just clung to my hands like anything as I pulled you up.”
“And then you were stuck in the tree because Peter didn’t know how to get down all of the way with both of you, so Susan and I had to get the ladder down from its hooks in the garden shed, which took a bit. And then I climbed to the top of the ladder while Su held it steady and you got on Pete’s back and he climbed down to the lowest branch that could hold you both, and handed you off to me.” Edmund said. “You were heavy, but you weren’t scared at all by then.”
“And then I cried all over you,” said Susan.
“I did too, a little,” Edmund confessed.
“And then you cried,” said Peter, “because we’d left Mr. Feather’s up the tree, and I had to climb back up and fetch him.”
They all laughed at this.
“I shall thank my lucky stars as long as I live that I happened to look out that window, Lucy,” said Susan.
Peter and Edmund said nothing, but Peter squeezed Lucy’s shoulder so hard that it hurt a little, though she didn’t complain, and Edmund’s face was white from the memory.
“Well what I want to know,” said Lucy, “is whyever didn’t you fetch Father and Mother?”
“Oh,” chorused Susan and Peter, and Edmund looked stunned. “Do you know, I never thought of it,” said Susan. “We were always the four of us, even then.”
“I would have ended up climbing the tree anyway,” added Peter in agreement.
Edmund shrugged. “I just felt so guilty for leaving you alone in the first place to get ideas like putting the stuffy owl in the tree. You always got ideas like that when I wasn’t around to stop them.”
Lucy looked around at the earnest expressions on their faces. And then she laughed and hugged them all, and proclaimed them dears.