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The Spell Begins To Break

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"And now," said Father Christmas, "for your presents. There is a new and better sewing machine for you, Mrs. Beaver. I will drop it in your house as I pass."

"If you please, sir," said Mrs. Beaver, making a curtsey. "It's locked up."

"Locks and bolts make no difference to me," said Father Christmas. "And as for you, Mr. Beaver, when you get home you will find your dam finished and mended and all the leaks stopped and a new sluice gate fitted."

Mr. Beaver was so pleased that he opened his mouth very wide and then found he couldn't say anything at all.

"Laurence, Adam's son," said Father Christmas.

"Yes, sir," said Laurie, stepping forward. Mary stepped beside him and rested her hand on his shoulder; after a moment, Stephen moved to stand at Laurie's left.

Father Christmas smiled at them and handed Laurie a little bottle of what looked like glass (but people said afterwards that it was made of diamond) and a small dagger. "These are your presents, and they are tools, not toys," he said. "In this bottle there is a cordial made of the juice of one of the fire-flowers that grow in the mountains of the sun. If you or any of your friends are hurt, a few drops of this will restore you. And the dagger is to defend yourself at great need. For you are not to be in the battle."

"Why, sir," said Laurie, "I think -- I don't know -- but I think I could be brave enough."

"That is not the point," Father Christmas said. "But battles are ugly when children fight."

Mary's hand tightened on Laurie's shoulder, and Stephen made a small noise that might have been a cough, or a swallowed word.

"Stephen, Adam's son," said Father Christmas next. "These are for you." He handed him a bow, a quiver full of arrows, and a little ivory horn. "You stand at a step back and watch over your family from behind. The bow will help you in that task. It does not easily miss. And when you put this horn to your lips and blow it, then, wherever you are, I think help of some kind will come to you."

Stephen slung the quiver over his shoulder and the horn around his waist.

Last of all, Father Christmas said, "Mary, Eve's daughter."

Mary let go of Laurie and stepped forward. "Here, sir," she said.

Father Christmas turned to his sledge for a moment and withdrew a shield and a sword. The shield was the color of silver and across it there ramped a red lion, as bright as blood at the moment it wells from a pricked finger. The hilt of the sword was of gold, it had a sheath and a sword belt and everything it needed, and it was just the right size and weight for Mary to use.

He handed her the shield immediately but held the sword a minute longer.

"To bear a sword into battle is a grave thing, and more so for a woman than a man. You challenge not only your foes but their sense of how the world is stitched together. You risk not only death but violation," said Father Christmas. "But women are as brave as men, and all people have the duty and the right to choose how to spend their time, their talent, and their faith. Therefore, Mary Pevensie, knowing all this: will you take up the sword, to live and die by its edge and honor? Or will you forge another path?"

Father Christmas balanced the sheathed blade across his palms.

Mary's free arm hovered uncertainly in the air. "Do you think...?" she said, half turning to face Stephen and Laurie. "Would it be...?"

Laurie nodded enthusiastically.

Stephen shrugged. "It's not our choice. Don't do what you think other people want. Do what you think is right. Remember?"

"What if I'm wrong?" asked Mary, but her eyes were fixed on the sword with naked longing.

Mr. Beaver cleared his throat. Mrs. Beaver stepped on his paw before he could say anything. "Hush," she whispered. "Let the girl choose her own story."

Mary took the sword.

She gripped it awkwardly in her right hand, the shield hanging loosely from her left arm, looking rather like a small girl playing dress-up in her father's clothes. And then a curious thing happened. As the others watched, she drew a deep breath and straightened. She buckled the sword around her waist and hung the shield on her back, over her borrowed coat. And of a sudden, the sword seemed to fit.

She looked, Stephen thought, like Mary again: the older sister he'd been searching for since she went off to school and came home twisting in on herself.

Laurie darted over and hugged her. "Merry Christmas," he said as Mary tugged him closer and ruffled his golden hair.

"You have chosen," said Father Christmas with a solemn air. "Bear your gifts well. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. And now" -- here he suddenly looked less grave -- "here is something for the moment for you all!" He brought out (perhaps from the big bag at his back, but nobody quite saw him do it) a large tray containing five cups and saucers, a bowl of lump sugar, a jug of cream, and a great big teapot all sizzling and piping hot. Then he cried out, "Merry Christmas! Long live the true king!" and cracked his whip, and he and the reindeer and the sledge and all were out of sight before anyone realized that they had started.

Mary had just drawn her sword from its sheath and was looking at it in wonder when Mrs. Beaver said, "Now then, now then! Don't stand gawking there 'til the tea's got cold. Come and help to carry the tray down and we'll have breakfast. What a mercy I thought of bringing the bread knife."

So down the steep bank they went and back to the cave. Mr. Beaver cut some of the bread and ham into sandwiches, Mrs. Beaver poured out the tea, and they all enjoyed themselves. But Mary sat silent at the edge of the cave with the sunlight pouring over her shoulders and a solemn joy in her eyes, and long before the others had finished enjoying themselves, she said, "We should be moving on now."