On and on he lead them into dark shadows out into pale moonlight. Getting their feet wet with the heavy dew he looked somehow different from the Aslan they knew. His tail and his head hung low and he walked slowly as if he were very, very tired. Then when they were crossing a wide open place where there were no shadows for them to hide in he stopped and looked around. It was no good trying to run away so they came towards him. When they were closer he said,
“Oh children, children why are you following me?” “We couldn’t sleep,” said Lucy. And then felt sure that she say no more and that Aslan knew all they had been thinking.
“Please may we come with you wherever you’re going,” asked Susan. “Well-” said Alsan and seemed to be thinking. Then he said, “I should be glad of company to-night. Yes, you may come, if you will promise to stop when I tell you, and after that leave me to go alone.”
“Oh thank you, thank you” and “We will,” said the two girls.
Forward they went again and one of the girls walked on each side of the Lion. But how slowly he walked! And his great, royal head drooped so that his nose nearly touched the grass. Presently he stumbled and gave a low moan.
“Aslan! Dear Aslan! SaidLucy, “what is wrong? Can’t you tell us?
“Are you ill, dear Aslan?” asked Susan.
“No,” said Aslan. “I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so I can feel you are there and let us walk like that.”
And so the girls did what they would never have dared to do without his permission, but hat they had longed to do ever since they first saw him- buried their cold hands in the beautiful sea of fir and stroked it and, in so doing, walked with him. And presently they saw that they were going with him up the slope of the hill on which the stone table stood. They went up at the side where the trees came furthest up, and when they got to the last tree (it was one that had some bushes about it) Alsan stopped and said,
“Oh children, children. Here you must stop. And whatever happens, do not let yourselves be seen. Fairwell.”
A great crowd of people where standing all around the stone table. And though the moon was shining many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke. But such people! Ogres with monsterous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures who I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let your read this book- Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, and Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses and Ettins. In fact here were all those who were on the witches side and whom the Wolf had summoned at her command. And right in the middle, standing by the table, was the Witch herself.
A howl and a gibber of dismay went up from the creatures when they first saw the great Lion pacing towards them, and for a moment even the Witch seemed to be struck with fear. Then she recovered herself and gave a wild fierce laugh.
“The fool, she cried. The fool has come. Bind him fast.”
Lucy and Susan held their breath waiting for Aslan’s roar and his spring upon his enemies. But it never came. Four hags, grinning at leering, yet also (at first) hanging back and half afraid of what they had to do, had approached him. “Bind him, I say!” repeated the White Witch. The hags made a dart at him and shrieked with triumph when they found that he made no resistance at all. Then others- evil dwarfs and apes- rushed in to help them and between them they rolled the huge Lion round on his back and tied all his four paws together. Shouting and cheering as if they had done something brave, though, had the Lion chosen, one of those paws could have been death of them all. But he made no noise, even when the enemies, straining and tugging, pulled the cords so tight that they cut into his flesh. Then they began to drag him towards the Stone Table.
“Stop,” said the witch, “Let him first be shaved.”
Another roar of mean laughter went up from her followers as an ogre with a pair of shears came forward and squatted down by Aslan’s head. Snip-snip-snip went the shears and masses of curling glod began to fall to the ground. Then the ogre stood back and the children watching from their hiding-place, could see the face of Aslan looking all small and different without his mane. The enemies saw the difference.
“Why he is only a great cat after all!” cried one.
Is that what we were afraid of?” said another
And they surged around him jeering at him. Saying things like “Puss Puss! Pour pussy,” and “How many mice have you caught today, Cat? And would you like a saucer of milk Pussums?”
“Oh how can they?” said Lucy, tears streaming down her cheeks. “The brutes, the brutes!” For now that the first shock was over, the shorn face of Aslan looked to her braver, and more beautiful, and more patient than ever.
“Muzzle him!” said the Witch. And even now, as they worked about his face putting on the muzzle, one bite from his jaws would have cost two of three of them their hands. But he never moved. And this seemed to enrage all that rabble. Everyone was at him now. Those who had been afraid to come near him even after he was bound began to find thire courage, and for a few minutes the two girls coud not even see him- so thickly was he surrounded by the whole crowd of creatures kicking him, hitting him, and spitting on him jeering at him.
At last the rabble had had enough of this. They began to drag the bound and muzzled Lion to the Stone Table, some pulling and some pushing. He was so huge that even when they got him there it took all their efforts to hoist him on to the surface of it. Then there was more tying and tightening of cords.
“The cowards! The cowards!” sobbed Susan. Are they still afraid of him even now?”
When once Aslan had been tied (and tied so that he was really a mass of cords) on the flat stone, a hush fell on the crowd. Four hags holding four torches, stood at the corners of Table. The Witch bared her arms as she had bared them the previous night when it had been Edmund instead of Aslan. The she began to whet her knife. It looked to the children, when the gleam of the torchlight fell on it, as if the knife were made of stone not steel and it was of a strange evil shape.
At last she drew near. She stood by Aslan’s head. Her face was working and twitching with passion, but looked up at the sky, still quiet, neither angry nor afraid, but a little sad. Then, just before she gave the blow, she stooped down and said in a quivering voice,
“And now, who has won? Fool, did you think that by all this you would save the human traitor? Now I will kill you and instead of him as our pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased. But when you are dead what will prevent me from killing him as well? And who will take him our of my hand then? Understand that you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life and you have not saved his. In that knowledge, despair and die.”
The children did not see the actual moment of the killing. They couldn’t bear to look and had covered their eyes.
The story doesn’t end there just as the Christmas story is only the beginning of the Christ story.
(From chapter 15):
As soon as the wood was silent again Susan crept out into the open hill-top. The moon was getting low and the thin clouds were passing across it, but still they could see the shape of the lion laying dead in his bonds. And down they both knelt and kissed his cold face and stroked his beautiful fir, what was left of it and cried till the could cry no more. And then they looked at each other and held each others hands for lonliness and cried again. And then again were silent. At last Lucy said,
“I can’t bear to look at that horrible muzzle. I wonder if I could take it off?”
So they tried. And after a lot of working at it, (for their fingers were cold and it was now the darkest part of the night) they succeeded. And when they saw his face without it they burst out crying again and kissed it and fondled it and wiped away the blood and foam as well as they could. And it was all the more lonely and hopeless and horrid than I know how to describe.
“I wonder, could we untie him as well? Said Susan presently. But the enemies out pure spitefulness had drawn the cords so tight that the girls could make nothing of the knots.
I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been- if you’ve been up all night, and cried til you have no more tears left in you- you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing is ever going to happen again. At any rate that was how it felt to these two. Hours and hours seemed to go by in this dead clam, and they hardly noticed that they were getting colder and colder. But at last Lucy noticed two other things. One was that the sky on the East side of the hill was a little less dark than it had been an hour ago. The other was some tiny movement going on in the grass at her feet. At first she took no interest in this. What did it matter? Nothing mattered now! But at last she saw what whatever-it-was that had begun to move up the upright stones of the Stone Table. And now whatever-they-were were moving about on Aslan’s body. She peered closer. They were little grey things.
“Ugh!” said Susan from the other side of the table. “How beastly! They are horrid little mice crawling all over him. Go away you little beasts!” And she raised her hand to frighten them away. “Wait!” said Lucy who had been looking at them more closely still, can you see what they are doing?”
Both girls bent down and stared.
“I do believe!” said Susan. “But how queer! They ’re nibbling away at the cords.”
“That’s what I thought,” said Lucy. “I think they’re friendly mice. Poor little things- they don’t realize he’s dead. They think it’ll do some good untying him.”
It was quite definitely lighter by now. Each of the girls noticed for the first time the white face of the other. They could see the mice nibbling away; dozens and dozens, even hundreds of little field mice. And at last, one by one, the ropes were all gnawed through.
The sky in the East was whitish by now and the stars were getting fainter- all except the very big one low down on the eastern horizon. They felt colder than they had been all night. The mice crept away again.
The girls cleared away the remains of gnawed ropes. Aslan looked more like himself without them. Every moment his dead faced looked nobler, as the light grew and they could see it better.
In the wood behind them a bird gave a chuckling sound. It had been so still for hours and hours that it startled them. Then another bird answered it. Soon there were birds singing all over the place.
It was quite definitely early morning now, not late night.
“I am so cold,” said Lucy.
“So am I said Susan. Let’s walk about a bit.”
“What’s that? Said Lucy clutching Susan’s arm.
“I – I feel afraid to turn around,” said Susan something awful is happening.
“They’re doing something worse to him,” said Lucy. “Come on!” And she turned pulling Susan around with her.
The rising of the sun had made everything looked so different- all the colors and shadows were changed- that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.
“Oh, oh, oh!” cried the tow girls rushing back to the table.
“Oh, it’s too bad, sobbed Lucy; “they might have left the body alone.”
“Who has done it?” Susan cried. “What does it mean? Is it magic?”
“Yes!” said a great voice behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked around. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
“Oh Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.
“Aren’t you dead then,” said Lucy.
“Not now,” said Aslan.
“You not- not a-? asked Susan in a shaky voice. She couldn’t bring herself to say the word ghost.
Aslan stooped his golden head and licked her forhead. The warmth of his breath and a rich sort of smell that seemed to hang about his hair came over her.
“Do I look it?” he said.
“Oh you’re real, you’re real Oh Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were something calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic there’s magic deeper still that she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back into stillness darkenss before time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who has committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”
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