MFB46: Of Mice and Men and Monarchs

You’ve probably no notion of how noisy dining with a group of Talking Mice can be, what with all of them asking at once in their shrill little voices to pass the salt or the butter or what-not; and in addition to the entire tribe of Mice, there were the other Creatures who lived in the area — Rabbits and Squirrels and Deer as well as Tree Spirits and Water Nymphs — who had heard or seen the royal party settling down for lunch and had eagerly brought forth offerings from their own provisions with which to honour their young king. By the time they had all congregated, it was quite a crowd that sat down in the lush turf just under the shade of the forest.

Edmund had been pondering something as he munched on the nuts and berries that the Squirrels had generously provided, and in a relative lull in the conversation he managed to mention it to Mr. Tumnus.

“I say, I thought I’d met all of the different folk in Narnia,” he said in an undertone, “but why haven’t I ever met any Talking Mice before?”

“To be honest, Your Majesty, even I — born and bred a Narnian — didn’t know that there were any Talking Mice. Although I’ve seen a good number of the ordinary sort,” the Faun confessed.

Melchisedeek, having overheard their mumbled conversation (for of course he had wonderfully large, velvety ears) piped up in response.

“If it please Your Majesty, it is my understanding that my people have only recently been bestowed the gift of Speech,” he said, standing up to give a little bow and twirling two of his whiskers with a dainty paw. “As our woodland neighbors have informed us, we had long been considered the least of Beasts, to be shooed and chased with impunity (even for sport) until the defeat of the White Witch by Aslan. Previous to that day, we were as insensible as any other dumb animal; but upon that morning we awoke to the sound of a great roar which shook the foundations of the earth and cast all who heard it into a mortal dread, and when we finally dared to draw breath and look around about us, we straightway began speaking in the manner of true Narnians — that is, in the tongue of Men, even as you hear us now. It was as though our former lives had been a dream, and we stood to greet one another as new-born children, much to the amazement of the other good Creatures of the forest.
“Not long after, we learned that the rule of the wicked Witch had been broken by the selfsame magic of Aslan as had broken yonder Stone Table; and, since our awakening as Talking Beasts had coincided with that blessed event, we have assumed these three happy years that the power of the Even Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time was so great as to have exceeded its purpose and over-spilled across our small colony (for in our previous size we had lived in this field surrounding the Table, nearer to it than any other living Creatures), giving us the speech and stature commensurate to other Talking Beasts. It is owing to this inestimable gift from Aslan that we have betook upon ourselves the guarding of the Table, as those late-born into Narnian citizenship and, by the grace of Aslan, honoured to wield our swords in even the smallest way to serve Him.”

“I see it now,” Edmund replied, comprehension dawning in his mind. “Since you were still ordinary mice at the time, of course you wouldn’t remember… but it is my great pleasure to inform you that it was not by mere chance or coincidence that your people were made Talking Mice.” All other conversations stopped as those assembled looked at their monarch in surprise, the Mice with anticipation. “My sisters — Queen Susan and Queen Lucy — followed Aslan to the Table that night and saw everything that befell him. Well, almost all… they couldn’t bear to watch when he was actually killed… But once the White Witch and her minions had left to prepare for battle, the girls drew near and kept vigil over his body until the next morning. They’ve told me that as they wept, they saw some tiny things crawling over the Great Lion — little field mice — and tried at first to chase them away. But then they noticed that the mice were only trying to release Aslan from the cords that bound him, gnawing through the ropes until all of them could be pulled off to leave him free.” Edmund looked at each of the Mice in turn as they absorbed what he had told them, their noses and whiskers quivering. “I think it’s safe to say that Aslan knew what you had done for him and made you Talking Mice as a reward. In fact I’m quite sure of it. It’s just the sort of thing he would do.”

The Mice were pleased beyond words, rightfully proud of their accomplishment (although Melchisedeek was quick to point out that the Witch’s ropes could hardly have contained Aslan when he had broken the chains of Death itself), and their neighbors were almost equally pleased to learn of it as well. After a few whispered words with Mr. Tumnus and Per, Edmund returned his attention to the Chief Mouse.

“Of your courtesy, Melchisedeek, lend me your sword,” he said, rising to stand in the sunlit field. “And order your twelve warriors — the honour guard of the Stone Table — to assemble themselves behind you.”

The Creatures all hushed their chattering again, sensing that King Edmund was about to do something important, even though most (especially the younger Beasts) were unsure what it might be. Taking Melchisedeek’s tiny sword, Edmund pointed it towards the Stone Table that was visible at the rise of the hill.

“Friends and fellow Narnians: as you well know, I was a traitor to Narnia almost from the moment I first stepped foot in it, and as such my life was forfeit; I should have been slain upon that Stone Table as the White Witch’s rightful prey.” Even the Birds in the Trees paused their whistling songs at this, plunging the clearing and the forest into an unnatural calm. “But by the grace of Aslan — and for no other reason than his kindness — he was slain in my stead. He knew of the Deeper Magic, it’s true, but that makes his sacrifice no less costly.” Edmund took a bracing breath and lowered the sword. “That day on the field of battle, Aslan himself knighted me into the Noble Order of the Table — I, the unworthy, the traitor, and the least deserving of his favour. Not only that, but he also made me a king over Creatures far nobler and braver than I, including these Mice you see before you. It is my solemn duty, then, as well as my greatest honour and privilege” — here he knelt on one knee on the grass — “to bestow the same order of knighthood upon these valiant Mice. Approach, my good Melchisedeek, if you would swear to serve Aslan with your whole heart, until your every last tooth and nail and breath are spent!”

Melchisedeek did approach with a good will and swore his fealty to Aslan, the High King, and King Edmund himself; but before the good Mouse could kneel (as was proper) Edmund gently placed the blade across his shoulders and dubbed him Sir Melchisedeek of the Noble Order of the Table, charged to be Chief of the Royal Guard of the Stone Table. The other twelve Mice he also knighted and placed under the command of Melchisedeek (or “Sir Mel” as he was often called thereafter). The tiny Creatures’ eyes flashed with fierce joy upon their monarch’s every pronouncement, and when all had been knighted, the rest of the Mice and the other Narnians present broke out into a spontaneous cheer.

“Long live Aslan! Long live King Peter! Long live King Edmund!” they shouted, making the open spaces between the Trees ring with their voices.

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It was to the sound of those same voices crying out their farewells that the royal party mounted again and resumed their journey north and west to the Great River. They rode rather hard and fast since they had spent so much time at the Table, halting for the night at a pleasant dell near the River where the Horses would have plenty of grass to eat. The sun was nearing the end of its daily journey, so they had little light with which to set up camp, but luckily they did not need to fuss much. Per lit some kindling with a tinder-box in no time, and when Edmund and Mr. Tumnus were gathering some dead branches from the woods, several Dryads appeared and (once they knew who Edmund was) gladly brought armloads of wood that their fellows had shed.

News spread through the forest quickly, as they had already found out that day, and soon there were several Dwarfs pressing mugs of cold beer into their hands and offering to build them a proper shelter. (Mr. Tumnus seemed to enjoy the beer immensely but it made the boys sneeze.) As politely as he knew how, Edmund prevented the Dwarfs from constructing anything more than a small roof made of woven boughs. Some Owls flew down in the midst of the commotion, promising to keep watch over them while they slept, and a Bear and his wife (Mr. and Mrs. Bruin) lumbered into the dell with great pawfuls of ripe berries. Then several Satyrs showed up and began piping, causing Edmund to give up all hope of turning in early for the night. Both he and Per were sore from all their riding and too tired to hide it; however, they did appreciate the hot cauldron of stew that the Dwarfs had set up over their cooking-fire, and tucked in with relish.

“King Edmund! King Edmund!” came some excited voices over the Satyrs’ singing. Several small forms approached overhead, jumping from branch to branch among the Trees. When they scampered down to stand at his heels, Edmund saw that they were Squirrels.

“King Edmund! What a pleasure!” said one of them, who looked to be the oldest.

“The pleasure is entirely mine,” Edmund replied, blushing at how they all gazed upon him with unveiled adoration.

“We remember, we remember,” two of the smaller ones spoke up at once. “That awful Witch tried to turn us into stone,” one said, and the other corrected, “She did turn us into stone, but we’re all right now — Aslan un-stoned us!”

“Oh!” Edmund cried, realising who they were. “You’re the ones we met… So you really are all right now!”

“Yes, yes!” they laughed as they ran around him in dizzying circles to prove how all right they were.

“We remember, King Edmund — you tried to stop the Witch from casting her spell,” came the more subdued voice of their mother. “She could have just as easily turned you into stone, too, but you tried to save us. We shall never forget it, Your Majesty.”

The two older Squirrels bowed deeply, their tails forming identical exclamation points in the air, as Edmund felt his face turn red-hot at the memory.

“Yes, well… fat lot of good it did,” he mumbled. “But I’m glad you weren’t left to be stone statues forever! Wasn’t there a Fox with you, and some Satyrs? Are they all right, too?”

“There were indeed, Your Majesty. The Fox (Mr. Fields was his name) has since departed for Aslan’s Country, but the Satyrs who were with us then — Aemenus and Flauvius — should be coming close behind us. We sent them word the moment we heard that you were here.”

The Satyrs did indeed come trotting up not long after, bearing bottles of their best wine (which the boys had to mix with the cool river-water before they could drink it without spluttering). Mr. Tumnus joined the Satyrs in their dance while everybody else clapped or sang, and Per was overjoyed when the youngest of the Squirrels — a baby born earlier that spring — curled up and fell asleep in his arms.

After so much riding, and eating, and strong wine (even though they’d diluted it), Edmund could not stay awake for long, and when his head finally slipped off of his hand where it had been resting, the kind Creatures saw immediately that their monarch needed to rest and began bowing and taking their leave. The little shelter that the Dwarfs had built kept him from seeing the stars above, which was just as well, since they would only have reminded him of Peter; and, lying back-to-back with his squire (who had relinquished the tiny Squirrel to its mother in resignation, having been yawning his own head off), he fell asleep much more comfortably and in much better spirits than the night before.

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They arrived at Beaversdam the next morning, about an hour before high noon, which meant that they were just in time to help Mr. Beaver catch some fish for their dinner. Mrs. Beaver was thrilled to know that Edmund had made the trip especially to see them and, after the requisite introductions, she claimed Per to help her in her tiny kitchen.

“Why, if these aren’t the britches I made for King Peter more than two years ago!” she exclaimed, noticing what the boy was wearing when he accidentally spilt some water on it. “My dear child, what a mercy Father Christmas gave me that new sewing machine! I have some good, strong cloth, too, so I’ll have a new pair made up for you before you can say ‘Jack Robinson.’ But first things first: pass me that fork, dearie, and I’ll see if the potatoes are done.”

Edmund had half expected them to crowd into the Beavers’ little house to eat, leaving the Horses outside (for you could hardly get one of them in, let alone all three), but since Mr. Otter and his family had been invited as well as the Weasels (who had five children still at home), Mr. Beaver used his hatchet to split several fallen trees lengthwise to make a crude sort of table, around which they sat cross-legged like a picnic. And it was the very nicest sort of picnic, with freshly fried fish and hot potatoes and bread (Mrs. Weasel had brought several baskets of buns) and butter; with beer for the grown-ups to drink and cold, creamy milk for the children. The Robin — the very same Robin as had guided the Pevensie children when they had all first come to Narnia — had seen their party coming and flown ahead to tell the Beavers, which was why they had been able to alert their neighbors as well. He and his wife warbled their greetings to the travelers but had to leave to attend to their business: their chicks were not quite old enough to leave the nest yet, which meant that both of them were busy collecting worms and caterpillars and other treats (although you might think them rather nasty) to feed their growing brood.

Mrs. Beaver lost no time in putting her sewing machine to good use. While Mr. Beaver chatted with Edmund and Mr. Tumnus, she was measuring Per for new trousers and shirts, even though she had to stand on tiptoes on a stool to do so. She waved off the boy’s protests with a wrinkled paw while marking off her tape measure with one of the pins she was holding between her lips.

“Nonsense, my dear,” she finally said when her mouth was free of pins. “I enjoy sewing, and you obviously need some sturdy clothes of your own. King Peter has been none too gentle with his, although I suppose it can’t be helped when you’re the High King and must always be running off to fight Giants and Hags and such. And he’s a Boy, which is almost as bad as a Man — beggin’ your pardon, King Edmund, but I only meant for tearing up one’s clothes. I wouldn’t know what to do if Mr. Beaver had to wear clothes, too, but thankfully he only needs his tool belt, and that’s mended easily enough.”

Once she was done with her measuring, Per was free to romp about with the Weasel children, who were delighted with their new playmate. The little ones wanted to play in the water, though, and Per wondered if that might not be too undignified for a royal squire. He approached Edmund hesitantly (for the young king was in the middle of a discussion with Mr. Otter and Mr. Weasel about a possible Harpy in the Western Wild) to ask, and was waiting for an opportune moment.

“Here, my dear — give me your shirt,” Mrs. Beaver said without preamble, coming up to the startled boy with her paw outstretched. “If you’re going to splash about in the river, you might as well keep it dry, and I can take the pattern off of it.”

“You’d best do as she says,” Edmund laughed. “I’ll join you in a moment.”

Having his knight’s permission, Per happily gave his shirt to Mrs. Beaver and joined the Weasel children in the still waters of the dam.

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