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The Summer Festival, Midwinter

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Tumnus did not normally go outside at night. The thick banks of snow had him sinking mid-leg with each step, and he buried his face deeper in his oversized red muffler, trotting faster behind his uncle, gripping his hand tightly. He’d bear the icy chill gladly, knowing what was to come.

They didn’t speak at all as they walked briskly down rocky hills and through patches of skeletal forests, always sinking into thick banks of white. It was starting to snow, which Tumnus supposed was a good thing. He never quite knew why these trips had to be so rushed, but on this night of the year more so than others, he thought he could hear the trees whispering all around them, even though Domitius never acknowledged it.

Tumnus knew, in theory, that there had been a time when Narnians kept track of time by the changes in the wind. It was not that he was too small to remember the little windmills the Red Dwarves once had to make flour, or the yearly migration of the Birds—but those details had faded with time, and so, more and more as he became a bigger Faun, he found himself relying on the memories of others.

Ten years of winter was a long time. Some things now seemed normal, even though they shouldn’t; the sight of Domitius, his fur soaked, a shovel in one hand and a bucket in the other, digging for frozen crops from years ago; boiling tasteless stews in a cave that never seemed to get warm enough; and the gaps of silence that appeared whenever something prompted a memory from Before.

Domitius hurried them out of the forest and up a slope, his firm grip keeping Tumnus from slipping. In the near-darkness, Domitius’ small dark beard cast his features into strange shadow. His eyes were fixed on the mountain ahead, which loomed dark against the white snow that could not cling to its steep sides.

Some of the Narnians—most of those who had been to the War—said things about Domitius; things that Tumnus did not agree with. Just because Domitius had tried to escape instead of going to war with Tumnus’ father, did not mean he was a bad Faun. There was no one in the world Tumnus trusted more than his uncle; he had come back to find him, and kept Tumnus safe when he had been a small Faun—kept him safe even now.

Even now, as he knocked on the rock wall and waited for a response from the other side. Tumnus knew what to do, of course; he remained behind a skeletal bush, just out of sight. If the door opened, and something wasn’t right on the other side, Tumnus would run—down the hill, into the forest, through the rocks, back to the cave, where he would close the door and never open it for anyone, ever. She could imitate voices, make you think things that weren’t true. But no one ever escaped her… only became stone forever.

Terrible images ran through Tumnus’ mind, and the pause felt eternal as he stood shivering in his muffler, his heart pounding, not making a sound. But then there was a sound of rock against stone, and suddenly a gap appeared, beyond which a light flickered.

A furry, pink nose poked out.

“When Aslan shakes his mane,” came a muffled voice.

“We shall have spring again,” Domitius replied.

The tension in his uncle’s shoulders loosened. He was not wearing anything to ward off the cold. He did not even wear a scarf on this night of the year. Tumnus felt a wave of relief wash over him as he was waved over, and joined his uncle.

The nose poked out further, and with it came a mole. “Ah, Domitius! And little Tumnus. I knew it was you—would’ve known your smell anywhere! Wonderful, wonderful. Come in!”

Unsure about whether he should feel offended or just giddy, Tumnus stepped into the tunnel in the rock and nodded his greetings to the two Red Dwarfs bearing torches that stood just beyond—evidently, the guards and door-pushers assisting Marley the mole. One of them reached out to ruffle Tumnus’ curls. By now, Tumnus was just as tall as the Dwarfs were; by next Summer, they wouldn’t be able to reach his hair anymore.

Just as the Dwarfs made to roll the rock back over the entrance, there was a chirp and a flutter of wings, and Marley stuck out a paw towards the Dwarfs and his nose towards the doorway. Then he said his line again, to which there were a few chirps in response, and finally a whole family of Kingfishers fluttered through, Mr. Kingfisher landing on the stony floor and arranging his feathers in a dignified manner.

He looked up at everyone.  “Hello, boys.”

“Happy Summer!” said Mrs. Kingfisher, and the three Kingfisher sons—all fully grown by now—murmured similar greetings.

“Well, get on then,” Marley waved them good-naturedly down the tunnel. “Still a few more coming, I reckon.”

Tumnus had to stop himself from skipping down the tunnel as if he were a little Faun again, instead of walking down it with the others. Even Domitius looked pleased, stopping to shake the snow off his head before laying a hand on Tumnus’ shoulder and gently pressing him forwards. In the glimmering torchlight, his expression finally seemed softer—more open, something like the kind-eyed painting of Tumnus’ own father, which Tumnus sometimes fished out of its place among the Things from Before to look at when his uncle was asleep.

The tunnel opened up into a large cave—the largest cave in Narnia, he was sure. The mountain seemed to open up, arching so high that the ceiling of red rock disappeared into the darkness, the only evidence of enclosure the thick pillars and cavernous passages at the very end of the cave, which was so wide that Tumnus estimated a whole family of giants could have easily made their home there. And on another side, there was a once-familiar gurgling sound—an underground stream which flowed out of the center of the mountain, throwing soft puffs of steam into the air.

The cave was warmer even than Tumnus and Domitius’ cave was once the fire got roaring. It was humid, too, but that was a pleasant contrast to the dry, cold air outside. Still, it all would have been very dark and terrifying if it hadn’t been for the roaring bonfire in the center of the smooth cave floor, around which nearly a hundred Narnians were gathered.

Everyone Tumnus knew was there—the Foxes, the Leopards, the Beavers, the Centaurs, the Satyrs, and all the Fauns; the Hares, the Owls, and of course, the Eagles. A group of Dwarfs was busy piling more wood onto the fire; evidently wood that had been left to dry somewhere for a long period of time, because the bonfire sparked and burned so brightly that it lit up the entire cave with its dancing flames, the smoke disappearing into the tunneling chimneys that opened out of the cave’s ceiling. The Satyrs were passing around small bits of food and drink to everyone who arrived, and birds flew to and fro around the assembly, chirping cheerful melodies.

It was the Summer Festival, the night that Tumnus eagerly awaited every year. The one night where he felt properly Narnian.

Domitius was approached by many as they neared the gathering, and it was easy for Tumnus to slip away to where the Foxes were. There weren’t many Narnians his age besides the Fox brothers, who were about as old as Tumnus himself.

“Tumnus!” they cheered as they saw him approach, bounding up to him and running laps around his legs, their reddish fur shining in the firelight. “We thought you mightn’t come!”

“Of course I did!” Tumnus said, taking a sip of the drink the Satyrs had given him. It was sweet, and so much better than anything Tumnus ate or drank during the rest of the year.

“I think they’ll let you dance with the other Fauns, now. Mother told us we could start reading this year, too.”

Tumnus felt a thrill go through him. Was he finally old enough? He was certainly taller.

They chatted and joked for some time, roaming the cave to say hello to whoever they met and trying to persuade the Satyrs to give them more food. Domitius and Mr. Kingfisher sat with a group of Fauns and a few Talking Beasts, sharing drinks and laughter, although Tumnus noticed that many kept a watchful eye on the tunnel entrance—perhaps just in case.

Over the next hour, Narnians continued to file into the cave, joining in the festivities, shaking off weariness and cold to relive a life barely remembered. Pipes and drums were soon at hand, and a cheery tune began, and Tumnus felt his heart soar so high with the music that he thought he might never find his way back to the ground.

It was only when Marley and the Dwarfs emerged from the tunnel that the music and eating came to a sudden halt. The cave felt eerily quiet for a moment, but then the hushed crowed gathered together, leaving food and drinks aside, gripping instruments more firmly, and arranged itself in a large semicircle facing the Roost, where the three Eagles were perched.

Tumnus had heard stories about the larger Birds after the War; they had been the ones that told Domitius about what had happened to his father. They had also been her greatest targets—hunted down by the most terrible arrows, because she hated anything that flew, anything that could get away, anything that could see beyond all the ice. Most of the greater Birds had gone, disappearing over the wall of ice long ago. But the Eagles had stayed, and they now stood solemnly on the Roost, a crevice in the cave wall. Around them, treasures lay carefully cushioned in hay; treasures that would only be opened tonight, their secrets revealed to Narnia every Summer Festival—books, thickly-bound tomes and carefully-salvaged papers. It was all that was left of Cair Paravel’s Royal Library.

“Friends,” said Frostplume, her voice ringing throughout the cave. “Welcome to the Summer Festival.”

There was a low cheer from the Satyrs, whose mood had been somewhat bolstered by the wine, but most of the Narnians just nodded, some even bowing their heads or putting arms around their children.

“Ten years ago,” Frostplume continued. “Calamity fell upon our lands. For ten years, we have endured the Long Winter, and the White Witch’s unspeakable tyranny.” She looked to her brothers, whose heads were bowed. “We Eagles were forced to retreat to this cave—and to our grief, remove ourselves from the people of Narnia, to keep the treasures of Cair Paravel safe. We have turned away friends and offered no refuge, and for this we are profoundly sorry. But it is in this way that Narnia’s legacy has endured for ten years. And we shall endure one hundred more if we must.

“It is only tonight that we open this cave to all Narnians, regardless of their part in this tragedy—to celebrate with us the time that would have been Summer. To remember who we were—nay, who we are. For Narnia remembers. And no matter how much snow, ice and cruelty are piled upon our people, we preserve the wisdom imparted by our ancestors—and by the Lion.”

Then another eagle swooped down, and plucking from the bonfire a burning branch, lit a torch that stood against the cave wall, revealing the most beautiful and awe-striking painting Tumnus had ever seen: the Lion, his mighty head surrounded by flame—or was it just the golden lines of his mane?

But as always, it was the eyes that struck Tumnus the most: so kindly, so heartbroken, so utterly unmovable.

A ripple went through the crowd at the sight of the Lion, and then a mournful melody began on a flute somewhere. The chant began, first quietly, then so loud that Tumnus felt as if the walls of the cave shook:

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

Tumnus found that there were tears falling down his cheeks, although he was not quite sure why. He had never met Aslan himself, of course—the last time the Lion had been seen in Narnia had been long before Tumnus had any memory. But he felt something familiar stir within him—not as if he knew Aslan… but rather as if Aslan knew him.

And the music—the music filled his veins until he felt sparks coming from his fingers, and he knew, suddenly, why Fauns danced under moonlight in the grass until the sun rose, in the times Before. The greatness of the feeling was too large to contain; it must be released into the world, marked upon the earth in footprints, raised into the sky with dance.

The drums began soon after, and there was movement everywhere. The Summer Festival had begun, now in earnest. Without reaching out, Tumnus found hands to hold, and suddenly he was drawn into the same circle he had seen Domitius be drawn into year after year—found that his feet knew the dance already, that he spun to a tune so beautiful and so mournful he felt he might die of the beauty of it.

Fauns and Satyrs swayed and spun, and the Talking Beasts flitted in and out of the circle, sometimes dancing in their own groups. Tumnus saw the Foxes run a loop around his legs before disappearing to the other side of the cave, where the Centaurs stood speaking in solemn tones. And the Eagles brought the large tomes down from the Roost one by one, to be reverently pored over by all alike.

Tumnus looked at the beaming faces all around him, at the Fauns and Satyrs much older than him, some so old Tumnus was surprised they could even walk, and felt immensely proud to be a Faun. Then he looked up, forgetting that it was not the heavens that opened up above—but in the darkness, one could almost imagine that the cave’s ceiling was just a starless night sky.

For a moment it almost seemed possible to forget that the Witch had ever come to Narnia.

The magic could only hold for so long, however. There was no grass beneath their feet, no breeze to stir their hair. Tumnus caught a few Fauns shooting wistful looks at the stream, as if they had hope that a naiad might emerge from her slumber and join the fray. There were no trees. And as he broke off from the dancing to find something to drink some time later, Tumnus noticed absences for the first time: the Kangaroo family, Chlodber the Bear, the father of one of the Dwarf guards. He knew better than to ask where they were.

But as he wove through groups of Centaurs reading aloud, and laughing creatures busy drinking and storytelling, Tumnus heard hushed voices near one of the small elevations in the cave. Ahead, upon a rock, sat Domitius, Mr. Kingfisher and an old Satyr, along with one of the Red Dwarfs and a Beaver. The Dwarf was glowering as he stared at the crowd.

“I don’t like seeing them here,” he was saying in a low voice. “They’ve no place in this gathering.”

Tumnus, unseen by the others, followed the Dwarf’s line of sight and noticed a small group of Wolves sitting nearby, tails wagging to the rhythm of the music.

The old Satyr shook his head disapprovingly, looking up from the book in his lap. “The Festival is for all Narnians, Groudkin. The Wolves are Narnians too.”

The Dwarf snorted. “Are they? Is the Witch a Narnian, then? What?” he said brusquely, as everyone around him shot him looks. “Who’s to say they haven’t sold us out already?”

Domitius sighed, turning the cup in his hand over and over. He had been dancing too, until recently. Tumnus wondered why he had stopped. “They wouldn’t.”

“And yet they reap the benefits of their service,” Mr. Kingfisher piped up, his feathers in disarray and he jumped where he stood on the rock. “Nest-destroyers, winter-bringers, life-takers! I agree, Groudkin. Anyone in service of the Witch has forfeited all claim to being Narnian, in my opinion.”

“Well-fed, is what they are,” the Beaver said grimly. “Did you know that they get flour, biscuits, and tea, in exchange for Narnian lives?”

“There’s no use in stirring up controversy,” Domitius said firmly. “Everyone is doing what they have to, to survive. You don’t know what they are fighting.”

Groudkin let out a harsh laugh. “Aye, to survive. While others die in their place.”

From where he stood, Tumnus could not see the look in Domitius’ face, but he saw the Dwarf look away quickly, as if realizing that he had overstepped a boundary. There was dead silence for a moment, only broken by the piping of flutes.

“This is the way it is, now,” the old Satyr said finally.

Mr. Kingfisher shook his wings uncomfortably, and a few moments later flew off with the excuse of speaking to a Robin. Groudkin eventually ambled off as well with a gruff nod. Only the old Satyr and the Beaver remained. Tumnus, frozen by a strange mix of curiosity and irritation at the Dwarf’s implied insult, remained where he stood.

The Beaver fidgeted, tail tapping against the stone. “They want to make it complicated, when it’s all very straightforward. The Centaurs predicted it the year she arrived.” He sniffed in the direction of the Wolves. “Whose side will they be on, when Aslan comes? Because he will come—let’s not forget:

When Adam's flesh and Adam's bone,

Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,

The evil time will be over and done.”

Domitius turned his head, and Tumnus saw him frown sharply. “Don’t say those words here.”

The Beaver grit his teeth. “Where should I say them, then? Here’s the only place where it won’t get me killed.”

The old Satyr waved a hand. “Prophecies do nothing for us at the moment. There are more pressing matters to attend to. Domitius, do you have enough food?”

“We will make do,” Domitius bowed slightly.

The old Satyr sighed, shooting a disapproving look at the Beaver. “You and Groudkin are worried about the wrong things. Haven’t you noticed the lack of younglings?”

The Beaver looked away. “Nesting is hard in winter. There’s no use in bringing children to this world to freeze.”

“And she’s counting on that,” said the Satyr. “Why bother setting her Wolves on us when she can just let us die out, one lost spring after another? And with the nymphs and dryads all gone…” He sighed, and gave Domitius a pointed look. “We need to take care of the few young ones we do have.”

The Satyr looked around, and Tumnus ducked behind a rock before he would be seen, still straining his ears to hear. “Don’t let him get rebellious.”

“Tumnus is intelligent. He will keep himself alive.”

The Beaver snorted. “You’d rather kill his spirit. What use is that—” he nodded towards the painting of the Lion on the cave wall, “—if we’re going to ignore the second part of the prophecy? You make your children compliant to her and there’ll be no Narnia left for when Aslan returns.”

No one said anything in response, so Tumnus crept away.

Back to the circle and back to the dancing, he let his mind get lost in the music as they spun circles around the bonfire, explored the cave with dancing feet, and pretended, for a short time, that there was no winter in Narnia, and that there was nothing to fear.