[personal profile] gmtaslash
Title: If A Tree Falls
Author: [personal profile] gmtaslash, principally Trojie
Fandom: Chronicles of Narnia (takes place during the Golden Age, the beginning of Prince Caspian and the end of The Last Battle. Bookverse).
Rating: G
Disclaimer: If we were C.S. Lewis, the Narnia books wouldn't have been for children.
Notes: Written for the great and glorious [livejournal.com profile] sedri, who posted Trojie a copy of The Crafting of Narnia, which this fic is inspired by. The plants mentioned are those used in the decoration of the armour etc of the four Pevensie children in the Disney film 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' (but the fic is still more bookverse than movieverse). Betaed by Bridget.
Warnings: Things this doesn't contain (that our fic usually does): Angst, Mansex and Angsty Mansex. Yes folks, completely gen. And with what might pass for a happy ending if you squint.

They planted a garden on the day of their coronation, an icon of green, beautiful Narnia liberated, containing long-lived symbols of the child-monarchs, supposed to grow as they did over the years. They planted oak for Peter, ash for Susan, birch for Edmund, fireflower for Lucy. Strength, protection, redemption and healing, the dryads and centaurs told them.

It's very pretty, Edmund thinks. It's a very pretty garden, a very pretty story, and that's all it is. He doesn't trust it. He doesn't trust a lot of things, but this seems to be just another show of that side of Narnia he can't help but be exasperated by. The side that waited a hundred years to throw off their tyrant, because some elements of the fairytale hadn't turned up yet. Two extra swords, an extra archer and a little girl with a magic potion didn't actually turn that battle. Neither did they bring Spring back. The battle was won by Narnian courage, Narnian blood and Narnian steel, and Aslan, who was only kept from the land by people's lack of faith in him.

Narnia could have been out from under the Witch's yoke fifty years ago, but they didn't bother to try until all the bits of the story were in place.

It seems to Edmund that they're trying to set down another tale for some time in the next one hundred years. Probably some legend will arise about how some miscellaneous object carved from the boughs of Peter's oak tree will save the land from some nebulous peril. Something nice and vague and widely interpretable.

Edmund doesn't have too much time to ponder on the futility of symbolism and the nature of floriography as their reign goes on, and the trees grow out behind the castle for years before he has further cause to think about them. In fact it's fifteen years after the coronation before he finally thinks about it again; when the Moles and the Squirrels decide that the grounds of Cair Paravel could use a spruce-up and a general reworking.

However, having obtained permission to do the work, they cannot agree on anything, and so he's been asked by an exasperated Susan, who is busy with a thousand and one other things, to adjudicate.

When he finally gets around to that particular portion of the castle, it is to find the oak and the birch hopelessly intertwined - planted too close, they lean on each other and fight for space and for light - and the ash afflicted by a blight. Only the fireflower is thriving.

And therein lies the difficulty with this kind of symbolism - if you put stock in it, then what else could it possibly mean to you that the oak that represents your High King relies on the neighbouring birch - his younger brother - to stand up straight, or that the birch in turn clings stubbornly to the oak? Or worse, what meaning could you draw from the brown and curling leaves of your Queen? What good meaning could you draw?

'Cut them down,' Edmund says, thinking to stop this before someone sees omens in the fate of the trees. 'You could easily fit another fountain or something in here, or extend the space you wanted to put that orchard in.'

There is an outcry at the idea of cutting down living trees - even the sickly ash - especially ones so important, so meaningful. Edmund has to restrain the urge to roll his eyes. Instead, Dryads are called in to see what can be done for the poor trees, and their position is incorporated into the design for the desired orchard.

The next day, a White Stag is sighted in Lantern Waste, and the kings and queens give chase. And after that, of course, Edmund has other things to worry about than plants and their meanings.

But when they get back, ah, that's a different matter. They struggle through to the ruined castle, and one of the clues that leads Edmund to realise that this truly is Cair Paravel is the design of the orchard, its rows of trees with that oak, ash and birch at their heart, and the fireflower growing all around. He sees that the Dryads did do as they promised, or at least they had tried. The oak and the birch are no longer resting upon each other's boughs; they stand free and tall. But the ash still sickens - the blight now revealed as a rot, one bough fallen to reveal a soft, ragged black core to the trunk. They are all large, well-grown trees now, and thanks to Dryad magic, much older than they would live to be in mundane England's woods. The fireflower carpets the grove, just like it did all those years ago - it certainly hasn't suffered for a thousand years of their absence. But even so, it is running to seed now.

Wondering again about symbolism, Edmund concedes that maybe he and Peter did lean on each other, did compete, a thousand years ago. And that they don't so much any more - they're secure in their places now.

But it must be coincidence, like astrology and the Tarot, like the mystic mumbo-jumbo that gypsy women peddle, because he looks at Susan, tall, strong Susan, and knows, knows there cannot be a canker in her heart. And Lucy is back in her element now, a fish returned to water, breathing free and easy and joyous as Queen Lucy once more, a maiden in full bloom with no hint of tiredness or faded glory.

They leave Cair Paravel soon after that, and they fight their way through the forests between the Glasswater and the Stone Table - now a great stronghold called Aslan's How. The trees are awakening again, the Dryads come to their aid in the great battle, the second Edmund has fought at Beruna. Every one he sees is another reminder to him that they are ancient, they are magical, they are a people in their own right, the trees of Narnia, and there is no way that the trees, with their great age and their long heritage, could be playing out the tiny story of four children. The trees have their own lives to live.

The third time Edmund sees the trees, things are very different. Narnia is gone, but lives on in Aslan's Country, a glorious replica, perfect in every detail. And he is restored to his throne, and Peter and Lucy to theirs, and all around them is their court of kings and queens, Birds and Beasts, Naiads and Dryads, and Aslan shines like the sun in the evening light as they take their places at Cair Paravel like they did on the day, so long ago, when Spring came again to Narnia.

Afterwards, Edmund slips out of the jubilation for a walk. The night is dusky, cool and still, and he finds himself in the orchard, wandering around, touching the bark of the fruit trees like he'd never seen or felt them before. Everything feels new here.

He will not go to the middle of the orchard. He will not see those trees.

He is afraid of what he will see. One throne in Cair Paravel sits empty - what if one tree in the garden is fallen?

What does it mean if it is? Does it mean anything at all?

'Son of Adam,' says a deep voice from behind him. 'Turn around.'

Aslan pads into view, his golden fur patterned with fallen blossom. Behind him, the moon rising steadily overhead, are three trees in a bed of fireflower. The great cat rubs his head gently against the ash-tree, inviting Edmund to come closer, to look. To understand.

'It's healed,' Edmund says. His fingers trace scarred bark, searching for the sickness he knows was there.

'Not quite,' says Aslan. 'But it is healing. One day it will be whole and strong again. One day it will grace the garden with its full beauty once more. As your sister may, with time.'

Bile rises in Edmund's throat. 'She's not like this,' he says. 'She was never rotten.'

'The trees are an allegory,' says Aslan. 'Susan is not rotten, nor does she bear leaves, nor fruit, nor flowers. But like a tree, she was planted here far from the soil she grew in as a sapling. And like this tree, for a while she thrived. But in the end perhaps Narnia was not the soil or the climate for her.'

'But one day it might be?'

'This is my country. It is Narnia, but greater. Healthier and stronger. See how the ash tree begins to recover already? So it may be with Queen Susan in the end.'

'I still don't like it,' Edmund says.

'You could never like anything that presented your fate as being preordained,' Aslan points out. 'That is your nature. But you also seek to learn from your surroundings. Learn from this, Edmund the Just. You have seen Narnia in three ages, in three of her darkest hours, and perhaps of all those to have done so, you have seen the truest of them. You know that nothing is forever, and perhaps this leads you to think that nothing good can ever last. Think on it a little more, Son of Adam. See what the trees have to tell you.'

'And what is that?' Edmund asks.

'That for every Winter there is a Spring.'
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