Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Silver Chair: Chapters 3, 4 & 16

 The Seafarer's Last Voyage

This piece of writing was written for the TLC Summer Challenge 2012. It is a surmisal of what was going through Caspian's head the day he set sail on his last voyage from Narnia and of what might have transpired in his conversation with Aslan during that voyage. All characters and the events referred to are not my own, but come from CS Lewis' The Silver Chair or others of The Chronicles of Narnia series.

* * * * * *
Caspian felt old. So old. He had had a good reign, for many years, but the last few had been really hard. At last he was feeling the age which had been creeping up on him almost unawares. What had gone wrong? Why was it going to end so badly? It had been a long time since he last saw the Great Lion, and he wanted so desperately to see him again. Aslan was not a tame lion, he knew that, and it wasn’t often that Caspian had had the pleasure of meeting him face to face. But he desperately needed him now. He needed to speak to him, to ask him why. Why did it have to end like this?

It all started that May, ten years ago now, when his wife had been so cruelly and unexpectedly snatched from him. It had been such a beautiful morning and he had envied his young son and the courtiers who were to travel with her. His royal responsibilities meant he had to stay behind at the Cair, but he loved his wife and son too much to begrudge them these days of pleasure. It was not easy being the wife of the king, and Rilian would have enough experience bearing the burdens of the kingdom when his turn came.

When the news first came back of her death, Caspian felt as though his heart had been ripped from him. Drinian had ridden hard to bring the news in person and it tore at him in a way he hadn't thought possible. His dear bride, whom he had met on that journey to the Eastern Edge of the World so many years ago. Gone. As a young, adventure-hungry king, he thought when he had set out on that journey, that its purpose was to find the Lost Lords. Looking back, he realised that she was what he had really been searching for, and understood why he had not before been able to find a suitable bride.

The daughter of a Star. Few people in Narnia new this in truth. While rumours that the blood of stars ran in her veins abounded, only those who had been on the journey knew just how much this was the case. For her own safety, it had been kept that way. Being the wife of the king put her at risk enough of kidnap or death by enemies of either Caspian himself or Narnia. Knowledge that she was half-star would have made her all the more vulnerable. Of all the fears Caspian had had of how she might be taken from him, the last he expected was poison from a serpent. Yet that is what had happened.

He was always grateful for Drinian’s bringing the news ahead. It gave him time to deal with his grief, immense as it was, before the news was made public. When the party finally arrived carrying his fair Queen on that bier, he had been able to put up at least a front of composure. He knew he had to be strong in front of his subjects. Her death was their grief as much as his and he was expected to lead them by example. It took almost everything he had, but often when something almost impossible is required of you, you find you have the strength - for as long as necessary, anyway.

In private, he could drop the façade and grieve properly, which he did. Drinian and one or two of his other close friends had been there to help him bear his sorrow. It was difficult, but slowly he came to terms with what had happened, and life went on. Running the kingdom went on, and he had so many loyal friends around him that, though he never forgot, the ache in his heart was very often overwhelmed with love and friendship and the loyalty of his subjects.

Things had not gone so well with his young son. From the moment Caspian first saw the boy’s face as he marched home solemnly at the head of the bier, he knew that the child’s grief was worse than his own. Though he had always loved his son, and been so proud of his heir, their relationship had never been as close as that of the boy and his mother.

Those two had a special bond, perhaps for the starrish blood that they shared. But Caspian never envied them, as he realised the boy filled the gaps and brought her joy during times when Caspian’s responsibilities took him from her. And she cared for him and showed him love and attention far more than Caspian was at leisure to do.

The grief on the boy’s face was only the first sign that things were not well with his son. The boy’s behaviour changed markedly too. He was not only torn apart by grief, but bent on revenge. He became moody, lashing out at his servants and anyone who tried to get near him. He spent so much time away from the house, Caspian sometimes wondered if the boy felt partly responsible for what had happened.

Caspian tried speaking to him. But the young prince closed up as soon as he broached the subject. While they had never been exceptionally close, they had always been able to talk in the past: Caspian invested much time discussing with him the responsibilities of the kingdom and the trials and challenges a king has to face. But now it was like there was a wall between them, one Caspian had no idea how to breach.

Caspian had lost both his parents at a very young age. He barely remembered his father at all, and had a few vague but happy memories of his mother. He couldn’t really empathise with his son, though, as he hadn’t been old enough to know her as the boy knew his wife. He remembered his heartache when, some years younger than Rilian was now, his nurse and best friend had been cruelly removed, but he knew that not even that was comparison enough.

In despair, he gave up and hoped that in time things would blow over, the boy would come to terms with his mother’s loss, and life would go on. He asked Drinian to keep and extra eye on the boy (the two were close as it was) and left it at that.

Although Rilian continued his hunts for his mother’s killer, for a while, things did seem to get a little better. The sorrow began to fade from his face and he was willing to speak to Caspian about matters of court life again, though he refused to broach the topic of his mother.

Then it came, only a month later, though it had felt much longer; the week that brought Caspian’s second tragedy. He knew that first day when the boy came home, having been out all day, with his horse still fresh, that something was wrong. He had also seen something different in his face. Not the grief or weariness, but something new. And it frightened Caspian terribly. Drinian said he had seen that look before, on the faces of sailors who claimed to have seen visions; visions of great evil - of sea serpents more dangerous than that which had hounded the Dawn Treader all those years ago; more dangerous because there was something evil behind them - something magic.

Capsian brushed it off as sailor’s talk but he feared there was some truth in it. It had been suspected all along that it was more than poison which had killed his wife; that something magic had been at work then. Caspian had the horrible feeling he was dealing with something beyond his experience and for the first time began to wish desperately that Aslan would reappear.

Eight days later, the news of the boy’s disappearance came to him. It hit him harder than he would have thought possible. When Drinian asked for an audience with him and told him of their journey to the spring the day before, Caspian could hardly think straight. He felt an emotion he had never experienced before, at least not in this form. A black rage. As he turned his back on the man, he saw the battle-axe before him, beckoning him. Picking it up, he began to rush at Drinian, barely aware of what he was doing.

Then suddenly, everything began to slow in a whirl before his mind. He saw his wife on the bier, his son’s face. Then his son being brought to him, a new born infant. Then he was on Ramandu’s Island, and there was the tall girl in her blue mantle carrying the candle light. The light of the candle grew bigger until all he could see was the glow of orange and yellow. The colours swirled together and an indistinct figure began to solidify and become clearer. It was the face of a golden lion and it was roaring, baring its terrible teeth. The roar rose to a crescendo in Caspian’s ears. He suddenly came to himself and found he was bearing down on his friend with a battle-axe. He stopped, and threw the axe away as quickly as possible. He looked at the face of his dear friend and broke down.

“I have lost my queen and my son: shall I lose my friend also?” (He’d have lost more than his friend, he knew, but didn’t say this).

After the moment Caspian had seen Aslan’s face, everything became clear again. He remembered he had a kingdom to run, and while he missed his son bitterly, as he continued to miss his wife, he knew life must go on.

There was a chance that the boy was still alive, and so he allowed many champions to go in search of him. He was overwhelmed with the courage and loyalty of his subjects, especially when it became clear that this was a dangerous task. Those who set out were away for a long time and Caspian began to realise that they would likely never return.

He knew he had to do something about it. There was no guarantee his son was alive and for countless subjects to risk almost certainly getting captured, if not killed, for the sake of the boy, made no sense. And so, though it pained him to do so, he eventually issued the ban. No more searches were allowed.

More often now, Caspian began to wish Aslan would come and explain to him what should be done. He even wished that something miraculous would happen, like the Kings and Queens of Narnia of old reappearing, but he knew that was a wish in vain. The children only came when they were really needed. The loss of one boy was hardly equal to a curse of eternal winter, the oppression of the old Telmarine regime on the Old Narnians or even the loss of Seven noble Lords. Besides, he knew Peter and Susan were forbidden from returning and suspected the same was true for Edmund and Lucy after their last visit. The days of the Pevensie children were over.

The years wore on and again time began to make the aching less, and the affairs of the realm and his friends brought him joy. The land was at peace and Caspian was almost content. The only thing that worried him was the lack of an heir. Trumpkin was too old, as was Drinian. Though he had a handful of younger loyal Lords and Knights (those who had not been lost on the search for Rilian), none of them stood out as someone he could trust. He wished more and more that he could see Aslan again.

And then he heard of the sighting. A lion had been seen on Terebinthia. Whether or not it was Aslan, no one knew for sure. But Caspian had to know. And so the order was made and preparations begun for his journey.

The day had finally arrived bright and clear. He stood at the gang plank to bid farewell to his subjects. He knew that, if he did not find Aslan, and the Lion did not send him back, he would sail on. He wanted to see the Island where he had met his beloved again. Her father might even still be there, younger than last time; perhaps he would have advice for the king. But Caspian was tired of ruling and only his awareness of his responsibility held him to the people.

As he looked over at the loyal crowds, he tried to smile. Quite far back, and standing off to one side he saw two figures. They seemed like a young boy and a girl. They were talking to each other and not looking in his direction. There was something familiar about the boy, but he couldn’t place it.

Just then, Trumpkin came up in his donkey chair and he told him to take care of the kingdom well, to keep his head and (as a last thought) should Aslan or children from the other World miraculously appear, to do exactly what they said.

He then made a speech to the audience, thanking them for their loyalty over the years and assuring them that he hoped to come back with news from Aslan himself. Then he turned and made his way on board the ship.

This was it. As the ship began to make its way out into the open sea, he turned to look at the shrinking shoreline. Would he ever see Narnia again?

* * * * * *

Lord Regent Trumpkin, Lord Drinian and King Caspian X

* * * * * *
It was only the fifth day after setting out from Narnia, and they would soon reach the shores of Terebinthia. Caspian had wished to bypass Galma, but his advisors suggested they stop there as it would be his final voyage to his subject isles, and the people would appreciate seeing their king one last time. In a way he was glad of the visit. He had had opportunity to speak to many of his subjects, who thanked him greatly for his many years’ service, and they had held a feast in his honour that evening. Among those he met was an elderly woman, not many years younger than himself. Beneath her healthy but wrinkled skin, she bore the hint of feint freckles, and she wore a splendid pair of glasses that accented her hazel eyes. The daughter of Galma's previous duke, she was now married to a kindly doctor, whom he also met, and had served many years as his assistant nurse. Together they had been a blessing to many of the sick and injured of Galma.

Now they were back at sea, and Caspian sat in his cabin, staring at the gold lion head on the wall, praying that Aslan would grant that he see him one last time. As he sat there, the face seemed to come alive and he remembered of the last time Aslan had appeared to him at sea, near the World’s End. His heart began to beat faster.

“Aslan, is that you?” he managed to whisper.

The lion’s face was more life-like now, and he looked into its eyes. Last time those eyes had been full of disappointment and sorrow, so that it tore at the young king’s heart. This time, there was still sorrow, but of a different, gentler kind.

“Caspian,” said the head.

“Oh, it is you,” cried the old king, not bothering to hold back the tears - tears he’d refrained from shedding in front of his subjects for so long. He’d had so much he wanted to tell the Lion, but now that he was here, there were no words. And he realised words were hardly necessary.

“My son…” he finally managed, “My son is lost. He was lost to me before ever he vanished. He was lost the day my wife…” The king could not continue. He didn’t try.

He just looked at the Lion and saw in his eyes a sorrow deeper than his own. Nothing more needed to be said at that moment.

At last, the Lion spoke, “I know. I know it hurts. For your sake, I wish it could have been otherwise, but had I stopped the one harm, a worse would have befallen all of Narnia. It had to be this way. One day you will understand the reason why.”

“When?” asked Caspian, not with disrespect, but with the broken heart of a weary man, “I’ve waited these ten years, hoping to see reason - to learn why - how much longer before I can understand?”

Aslan looked at him with something that seemed like a mixture of pity and joy. “Sooner than you realise, my dear Caspian. Indeed, very soon now.”

Caspian realised there was something ominous in these words, yet at the same time his heart leapt with anticipation.

After another long silence, he asked the thing that was most on his heart, “Why my son, though? I could bear the loss of my wife, though I loved her more dearly than my own life. I knew always that the blood of the stars flowed in her veins, and would rather her departure was before mine than long after. But why the boy? Not yet come to manhood, with a kingdom to rule? Could not I have been taken in his place, and he be left to rule, to fall in love, to marry and to bear an heir to continue the line?”

Aslan growled slightly, not in anger, but admonition, at this. “You forget who the true king of Narnia is,” he corrected. “I would never leave her leaderless without reason. Sometimes I think you care too much for your line - your dynasty.”

Caspian dropped his head, fairly admonished, “You’re right, of course. Though I had not realised before now. What is my line in the scheme of history? You can raise up a new king when you need to. Why, you can bring a ruler from another world as before. Sometimes I forget that I come from a line of usurpers; conquerors. By all rights I should never have been king.”

“Narnia is ruled by the one I chose. Just as you appoint those who rule over your subject isles. I told you once that you come from a lineage with honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor. That remains true.”

“It does, Aslan,” replied the King. “You speak the truth and I thank you for putting up with someone so forgetful and ungrateful as me.” There was another pause.

“But come. Now I have reminded you of your place, be of cheer. For your line will continue longer than you realise. Even now, I have sent children from the world of the High Kings and Queens of Old to rescue your son. He is not lost, but simply ensnared. He was lured away by the same creature that killed your wife. In the guise of a beautiful woman, she enchanted him and keeps him in her secret kingdom below the earth, forgetful of who he is. She has promised him a kingdom if he joins with her in conquest, not knowing that the kingdom she promises him is that which he should inherit by right.”

Caspian gasped. “Why do you tell me this? I would rather my grey head went to the grave thinking him dead, than knowing this awful truth.”

“Badly treated, yes,” responded Aslan, “But not harmed. He is still whole. And when the children I have sent, along with a faithful Marsh-wiggle, find him, they will free him fully of his enchantment. He will be fit to rule Narnia. These years of imprisonment have strengthened his character. The boy who was kidnapped would not have made a good king. He was young and unstable. His heart was full of revenge and bitterness. And even were this not so, you know better than most that it is no small task to rule a kingdom while still a child. The man that will return will make a good ruler. He will be gentle and just and Narnia will enjoy peace under his rule, which will begin sooner than he would want.”

Caspian understood what Aslan meant by these last words. He was not sad. He had lived a long life, and good, for the most part. Knowing that his son was alive and would soon be well, erased the only regret he had.

“I am ready,” said Caspian at last. “I thought I was ready, back on the voyage of the Dawn Treader, but my life was only beginning then. Now I want to see your country for real, knowing that Narnia has no further need of me.”

“You still have some time,” answered the Lion. “Command your sailors to turn sail and return to Narnia. You will arrive in time to bid farewell to your son.”

Until now, Caspian had been planning to continue his journey to the World’s End. But he realised now that it was not by that means that he would enter Aslan’s Country. He would take the short path. But he was content. He would see his son one last time. And then, he would go home.

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