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Fantasy

The snow crunches under my feet as I struggle with a mouthful of pine needles.

“Well, at least the trees haven’t changed,” I mutter, “and it’s still freezing.”

I push back branches until I can see my way ahead. Snowflakes drift down, but not enough to blind me. Catching some stray ones on my tongue, I blink away the rest. In front of me, closer than I remember, the old glow casts shadows in the surrounding wood.

“I guess that’s as good a place as any to start,” I whisper. Pulling my borrowed fur coat closer around my shoulders, I head for the light. Wind rattles the trees, sneaking down my collar to send the chill inside me.

“Should’ve come back in the summer,” I grumble. “Clear oceans, warm breezes, sailing.”

The wind reaches an uncanny howl, almost throwing me against the lamp-post. I blink up at the light, still shining behind frosted glass, and press my fingers against the metal.

“It’s still here.” The wind calms, and the trees seem to lean closer. Somewhere nearby, a bird sings out. I don’t have to look to know it’s a redbird.

“Of course it’s still here. Where else would it be?”

I turn. He’s standing behind me, at an angle to the lamp-post, so that the light catches the outline of his shorts and jumper. I can’t help smiling.

“Should I go back for another coat?” I ask. “If you haven’t noticed, it’s cold.”

He nods. “Of course it’s cold. You picked the wrong time to come back, you know.”

The wind turns my sigh to a shiver. “I know. Any chance of some tea?”

He nods again, and I catch just the hint of a smile. “I’ve come to take you to tea. The others insisted we leave some for you.”

He walks away. I run after him, almost catching my feet on the edge of my coat, and we leave the wood behind. Snow doesn’t fall as steadily, even though rocks are slick underfoot. By the time we turn into the familiar cave, I’m no longer iced through. He enters first, to arrange the logs in the already-burning fireplace. I adjust the cups and saucers, removing the lid of the teapot and sniffing the leaves inside.

“Not as large a spread as usual,” I remark. “But still, it’s here.”

He lifts the kettle to fill the teapot. Steam curls around my fingers as I replace the lid, and soon I’m too warm for my coat. Shrugging away the fur, I pull my chair closer to the table. He does the same, and we wait for the tea to steep.

“So the others insisted on the tea, did they?” I try to meet his gaze when I ask the question, but he’s staring into the fire. “And they sent you?”

When he finally looks up at me, I can’t read his expression. “They thought I should come.” As I pour his tea, he adds, “You haven’t come back for a long time.”

I try to smile. “You didn’t used to be this—” I search for the word, but the right one doesn’t come. “You’ve never been like this before. I thought you wouldn’t change.”

He sips his tea without adding any sugar. “Even here, things change.”

I drop two lumps in my cup and slowly stir the tea. “So it matters that I didn’t come back?”

He breaks a biscuit over his cup, but he doesn’t eat it. “In a way, it does matter. You’re not the only one who comes back, but—”

“But you’re lonely,” I prompt. He doesn’t answer right away, and I take a long drink of tea.

“Well, not exactly.” He slides his saucer across the tablecloth, and I fill his cup. “We still meet the others who come back, but we missed you.”

I refill my own teacup. “Don’t you say that to everyone?” He doesn’t answer, and I laugh softly. “Don’t worry, I think I understand. They all matter.”

He adds a lump of sugar to his cup and sips his tea. “More and more are coming back. Some of us wonder why, but I know there must be a reason.”

I take half his uneaten biscuit and crumble the edges. “People come back when they’re tired or afraid, when they need hope. So many need hope now.”

He crumbles the other half of the biscuit. “And they don’t just come back here, either. I’m sure there are other places.”

I smile at him over the edge of my teacup. “No wonder you’re the wise one.”

He almost blushes, but I can’t tell in the firelight. “I still don’t know why you came back to this time. Unless the summer holidays are unbearably hot—”

I laugh. “Sometimes they are. But I really wanted to see the lamp-post again. There’s something reassuring about it, still standing there in a snowy clearing.”

He drinks the rest of his tea, pushing away his cup and saucer. “If you really wanted a holiday, you could have come to the in-between times. We could explore islands, track down a dragon or two, finally catch that stag—but only for his wishes.”

I finish my tea and toss the biscuit crumbs into the fire. “We had plenty of adventures, didn’t we? I won’t deny that in-between times were—wonderful.”

He empties the dregs of the teapot into the flames. “But you can’t fill the in-between times anymore, can you?”

I shake my head. “I don’t have much time for making my own stories. Why do you think it’s been so long?”

He gives me a long look. “You’re getting to be grown up, aren’t you?”

I chuckle. “Well, not entirely. I still found my way back here, didn’t I?” He looks away, but I keep talking. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget this place.”

He breathes deeply. “We all hope you’ll remember.”

For a long moment, we sit in silence. Then I reach for my coat.

“Well, I really should be getting back.” I slide my arms into the fur sleeves and settle my collar. “Thanks awfully for the tea.”

“Thanks awfully?” He opens the door, letting in the wind. “Do you still talk like that?”

Now I’m the one blushing, or maybe it’s just the cold. “I think you said something very like it, one of these times.”

We step out into the snow. The wind quiets, but the trees still sway gently. I hear the redbird again as it flits across our path. When we reach the lamp-post, he stops.

“Thanks awfully for opening our book again,” he whispers.

“You’re welcome, of course.” I glance over my shoulder. The path home is open, but I look back to the lamp-post. “Edmund?”

The lamplight catches his smile. “Yes, reader?”

I smile back. “Thanks for the tea.”

July 23, 2020 21:53

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8 comments

Maya Reynolds
00:20 Jul 24, 2020

Oh, so it was Edmund (obviously Mr. Tumnus would never be wearing shorts and a jumper)! Unique take on the prompt :)

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Philip Clayberg
02:58 Dec 31, 2020

I was hoping Mr. Tumnus would appear, an open umbrella and paper-wrapped packages in his arms. Thank you for the return to Narnia. It's been a long time I've reread the books (I only skip the first half of the 7th book; and I still wish that Susan hadn't been banished from Narnia). I'm guessing that your story is set sometime before the White Witch's winter spell was broken by Aslan. They'd better be careful, because Fenris Ulf and the Witch's Secret Police are on the lookout for human children. Or maybe that's why Edmund is there? Is ...

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17:19 Dec 31, 2020

I'm glad you liked this one! It was a bit of an experiment--the narrator was meant to be someone actually reading the story, and as they read, they entered Narnia. I chose Edmund because he's one of my favorite characters, though an interaction with Mr. Tumnus would have been fun! I was assuming that the time of entry was a normal Narnian winter, after the end of the Witch's winter, and that the reader's adventure wasn't part of the set stories. Otherwise, Edmund would indeed have been in his nasty stage, working for the Witch

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Philip Clayberg
21:52 Dec 31, 2020

That's one way to get drawn into a book. Almost like the age books in the "Myst" games. Ah. I didn't think about that, because (according to the books), Edmund doesn't return to Narnia until all four of them returned in "Prince Caspian" (when they were magically transported from a train platform to Narnia). But this is your story, not C.S. Lewis', so of course Edmund might've gone back for a visit between the end of "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" and "Prince Caspian". And, because he doesn't mention it in "Prince Caspian", he m...

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22:49 Jan 02, 2021

Yes, the "little secret" was part of the idea behind the story. I'll bet they've had plenty of adventures we don't know about!

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Philip Clayberg
02:16 Jan 03, 2021

If you're willing to write more of their adventures, you'll have at least one reader who will want to read them. Maybe they travel north and/or underground (like in "The Silver Chair") or south (in the opposite direction of the main characters in "The Horse and His Boy") or east to the islands (like in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader") or maybe to the Wood Between Worlds (like in "The Magician's Nephew") where they could travel to different worlds by using rings and/or jumping in pools in the wood.

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23:59 Jan 03, 2021

There's plenty of opportunities, that's for sure!

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