MFB45: The Stone Table

The sun was bright and hot as they rode to the Stone Table the next day, prodding the Horses to choose paths that ran under the shade of the trees as often as possible. Per was quite sore from the previous day’s riding, as was Edmund, but neither wished to let on to the other that his thighs were aching. Mercifully, it was not a long ride to their destination, but as they neared the hill of the Stone Table, the party grew somber. Edmund was reflecting on the events that had led up to Aslan’s death, as well as how his sisters had described the torture and humiliation the great Lion had endured.

It was on my behalf — on my account, he thought, biting his lip. He could remember very clearly the sound of the Witch sharpening her knife that night, preparing to slit his throat. If the rescue party had arrived a minute later, he would have been dead. Even after he had been taken to Aslan’s camp, the Witch had come to demand his life — which, as the Pevensies had discovered to their horror, was rightfully hers, since Edmund had betrayed his siblings, the good Narnians, and Aslan himself to become a traitor. She had only relinquished her claim on his blood when Aslan had offered to die in his stead.

Edmund was glad that he had not known then what a terrible bargain the great Lion had struck with the Witch — he would have felt wretched, and might have botched the one task that Peter had entrusted to him for the battle the next day. At the thought of his beloved brother, he felt a strong twinge in his breast, but right now his heart was so full of pain at what his foolishness had cost Aslan that his own sorrow seemed a trivial thing by comparison.

The Great Wood thinned out as they started climbing a rise covered in soft turf. The trees that towered over them were stately trees such as elms and oaks, with a few pines in between, standing straight and tall like columns in a cathedral. Then they came out into the open where the slope grew steeper, and after a few minutes more they arrived at the top of a hill which gave them a view (to their left and east) of the Sea. If they had stopped to look closely, they might have caught a glimpse of Cair Paravel further north along the shore, but their attention was fixed upon the Stone Table before them on the crest of the hill. Without a word, the two boys and the Faun slipped off of the Horses’ backs to advance on foot.

As they drew near enough to make out the strange writing carved into the broken Table, Edmund felt a shiver run through him despite the heat of the midday sun. He knew that the Witch’s hold over him had been broken, much like the Table itself had been cracked asunder when the Deep Magic had been overruled by the even Deeper Magic, releasing Aslan from Death; still, he could not help shuddering at how very nearly he had been slain upon the Stone Table himself, his throat slit open as he was left to bleed, unable to scream or even beg for mercy, until his life had ebbed completely.

Lost in such morbid thoughts, he did not notice the slight rustling of the grass around the base of the Table. He approached it, halted, and was reaching out to trace the mysterious markings upon its surface when a shrill voice rang out from somewhere below.

“Halt! Who goes there? Do not dare touch the Stone Table unworthily, unless you may answer for your deeds by your sword!”

Edmund’s hand had flown to his hilt in a flash, which was why the Voice had issued its last challenge. Edmund finally spotted the owner of the Voice, standing barely taller than the clumps of grass growing about the Table, and gaped for a moment.

“You’re a… a Mouse,” he said in some surprise. He had never seen one before — at least, not a Talking Mouse.

“Melchisedeek, chief of my people,” the Mouse piped in response. “And whether you are an overgrown Dwarf or a stunted Tree Spirit, be forewarned that my sword is as sharp as any in Narnia and twice as quick if you would dishonour the great Stone Table, upon which Aslan destroyed the power of the evil White Witch once and for all!”

“My good Master Melchisedeek,” Mr. Tumnus said with some haste, “perhaps you do not recognize my companions to be two Sons of Adam — they have been rare enough in this land during the accursed winter of the Witch, so it is no wonder — but of your courtesy mind the sauciness of your address, for this personage is none other than King Edmund, brother to the High King Peter himself.”

At that the Mouse started, took a step or two back (placing him entirely under the shadow of the Table), and bowed deeply to his liege lord.

“My humblest apologies, Your Majesty,” Melchisedeek said in an abashed tone. “The good Faun is correct in that we have not seen any Sons of Adam in this part of Narnia, and so I mistook Your Highness for some vagrant creature with ill intentions towards this relic of Aslan’s return. For — if it please Your Majesty — I and my people have betook upon ourselves the duty and honour of guarding it against any who would attempt to repair it in the hopes of reinstating even a portion of the Witch’s former authority, as well as from those who would destroy it altogether and thereby erase a valuable, visible reminder of Aslan’s supremacy over all such usurpers.”

“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, my dear Mouse,” Edmund said sincerely, “and it gives me great comfort to know that such valiant Creatures as yourself are keeping watch over the Stone Table. It occurs to me now that we ought to have commissioned some noble Narnians for this very task, but I can think of none more worthy of it than those who would elect to do so of their own volition and generosity — for which I thank you most heartily, as would my esteemed brother, were he here.”

The Mouse was almost at a loss for words at this gracious speech from King Edmund, and begged that the King and his party spend their repast (for it was almost the noon hour) in the company of his people. Several other Mice had appeared as they were speaking — the twelve honour guards that Melchisedeek had appointed out of the fiercest of his warriors — and the travelers realised that if any interloper approached the Table with ill intent, he would be startled by the presence of so many invisible guardians popping out of the tall grasses or, if his actions warranted it, have his feet skewered by as many tiny but razor-sharp swords.

Mr. Tumnus and Melchisedeek made the formal introductions on either side, and while Edmund tried in vain to remember all of the names of the Mice (he despaired of ever distinguishing them, for they were each as bright-eyed and sleek-furred as any other), Per stared at the Creatures with undisguised joy on his face. They stood barely as tall as his knees but were so solemn, dignified, and grown-up that he wished he were as small as they so he could be more at ease in their midst. The Horses bent their long faces down to the ground to greet the smaller Beasts eye-to-eye, and Edmund had to stifle a laugh when he noticed that the Mice were scarcely larger than the Horses’ heads.

After several of the Mice had scurried off to procure what delicacies they had at their disposal with which to entertain the King and his party, Edmund took a slow walk around the Stone Table, studying the crack which had split it into two pieces as well as the dark stains upon its surface which even years of exposure to the rains had not availed to cleanse. Per followed in his wake, also observing the marks on the Table, wondering what his Knight was thinking.

“These runes… I can’t read them, but I remember the Witch saying that they decreed that all traitors — like me — were hers to kill,” Edmund finally spoke, breaking the silence. “The same Law was carved on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill (the Centaurs think it’s in Aslan’s Country) as well as on the scepter of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. I don’t know if the inscription still remains in those other places, but apparently the Deep Magic stated that if the White Witch were ever cheated out of her rightful prey, all Narnia would be destroyed by fire and water. She had been in Narnia since the dawn of Time and, as Mr. Beaver put it, was the Emperor’s hangman.”

The Horses, Mice, Mr. Tumnus, and Per all listened with rapt attention, although most of them had heard the story (or at least parts of it) before, since the young king’s words carried the weight of not only his own life but also the life, and death, of Aslan himself.

“I remember that night, before I was rescued, she wanted to kill me on this Stone Table. She said it was where it had always been done (the execution of traitors, I mean) and was the proper place for it,” Edmund continued. “After the way I had told her everything I knew about Aslan’s plans — not to mention given you away, Mr. Tumnus, when you had been so kind to my sister, even at the risk of being found out by the Witch — it would have been no more than I deserved to have my throat slit upon this Stone.”

The Mice’s ears twitched and stood upright, but otherwise the only movement was the soft breeze bending the stalks of the grass.

“I had been a selfish, poisonous little beast… I mean like the dumb brutes that live back in my own world, of course, although even they probably behave better towards their own kind than that. Aslan knew exactly what I had done… how rotten I’d been towards Lucy about her ‘imaginary world,’ and then, when I’d found out that she hadn’t been lying about it, how I’d turned around and lied to Peter and Susan because I didn’t want to admit that I’d been wrong. I even tried to trick them into going to the Witch’s house when we all got here together… I told myself that she wasn’t as bad as everyone said she was, and for a while I managed to half-believe it, too; but when Aslan asked me if I’d really believed it, I knew he was right — I had known all along, in my heart of hearts, that she was wicked and would do terrible things to Peter and the others. And yet I wanted her to be cruel to Peter because I was sore about his scolding me, when he’d been perfectly right to do so. I didn’t even care what she did to my sisters… all I cared about was myself. I wanted to be a king so I could do whatever I pleased.”

Mr. Tumnus moved as though to speak, but Edmund waved his hand and silenced him.

“You may excuse my actions as having been caused by her enchanted food — faugh! I’ll never eat Turkish Delight again! — but that’s a kindness I don’t deserve. It might have made me more stubborn, more bent on having my own way, but the truth is, I had that sort of selfishness growing inside of me already. I see that now… If I hadn’t come to Narnia and been forced to learn my lesson, I would have grown up to be just like the White Witch — not a despot of a whole country, but a bully and a tyrant over anyone I could control. In a way, it was good that I’d met the White Witch — she gave me a taste of my own medicine, so to speak.”

“You did suffer cruelly at her hands, Your Majesty,” Phillip interjected with a quiet whinny. “You mustn’t be so hard on yourself…”

Edmund shook his head. “No… I’m being no harder than I deserve. After you and the others had rescued me, I was relieved to be safe and fed and warm again, of course, but I still hadn’t learned my lesson — not really. I’d been humbled by finding out the hard way how wrong my judgment had been, but it was still hard to swallow having to admit that I’d been wrong. In the battle, I might have helped things by breaking the Witch’s wand, but even that was something I’d done (at least in part) to prove to Peter that I was the better man… that I would be a better king — which is all rot, of course. It took nearly getting killed a second time to teach me to do as I’m told! Like the Centaurs say, ‘One who cannot obey the orders of his betters will never be entrusted to command.’ I’m still struggling with it, mind you, but at least I know where I’d gone wrong before…”

Reaching out to the Stone Table, Edmund touched it for the first time, running a finger along its cool edge. “I didn’t realise exactly how much I owed Aslan until my sisters told me about… about how the Witch had killed him, here on this Table. In my place. You may think I’d suffered much at her hands, Phillip, but it was nothing compared to what Aslan had to endure… when he had done nothing to deserve such treatment, either. He knew that it was the only way to break the power of the Deep Magic with the even Deeper Magic — from before the dawn of Time, before the Witch had come to Narnia — but still, it must have been horrible… And he did it for me. The traitor. The wretched liar and selfish brute who was ready to hand over his own brother and sisters, and anybody else he could, for the sake of getting what he wanted. It hardly matters whether it was for some enchanted sweets or to become king of Narnia under the White Witch (not that she would’ve kept her promise, anyhow!) — it was a dastardly thing to do in any case. I was the worst of Creatures, and yet Aslan was willing to die in my stead. I’d done nothing to deserve his kindness. If he had simply allowed me to live, and kept me chained up in a dungeon somewhere, I still would have owed him my life. To have him make me a king of Narnia is… is so much more than I ever had a right to dream of…”

Overwhelmed anew by the greatness of Aslan’s magnanimity, Edmund paused until he had regained control of his emotions. Swallowing hard, he turned to his friends.

“I stand before you as king, not because of noble blood, much less noble deeds, but because Aslan gave me a second chance to live and to do what is right this time. And so I pledge to you, along with all the other good Creatures of Narnia, to strive to be the best king that I can be, as a meager way of repaying a debt that can never be repaid. I ask you to hold me to my oath and correct me should I turn aside or even be in danger of doing so, on your honour and for the sake of Aslan, who rules graciously over us all.”

“Aye, Your Majesty, we will,” the Faun and the Horses replied solemnly. Per was rather tongue-tied, being unused to such weighty matters, but he gazed back into his Knight’s eyes with the promise of any and all aid that he might proffer. The Mice were awestruck as well, but their furry faces shone with pride and delight in their newly-acquainted monarch. It was almost as momentous an occasion for Edmund as his coronation had been, and he was relieved to have made his little speech, for it had sorted out his own thoughts as well.

The Mice who had been sent to fetch refreshments returned just then, and so the group descended from the crest of the hill to a spot under the shade of the trees, sitting in a circle with the contingent of Mice while the Horses stood a few paces away, content to munch on the sweet grass. The Creatures had generously opened up their larders of cheese, nuts, and bread (though the buns were so small as to fit into Edmund and Per’s mouths in one bite) and had called upon their fellows to come see the young king, so it was a very large and merry assembly that gathered there where, only a few short years ago, Aslan’s army had pitched their tents in preparation for the great battle.


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