After their evening tea, Lucy, Susan, and Peter also travel to Narnia. The first step of their investigation is to seek out Mr. Tumnus’ home. There they find only a note ominous upon the door:
Closed – by order of the White Witch, under Ordinance 1219.
“Well, that’s a thing,” says Peter.
“We are too late,” says Susan.
“Let’s ask those beavers what happened,” Lucy says. She points at Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who are skulking in the shadows nearby.
“I say,” calls Peter. “Can you talk?”
“Not that there’s been much point in talking,” frets Mr. Beaver.
“Animals,” clucks Mrs. Beaver. “Everyone’s animals these days. But maybe Aslan will fix things.”
“I remember the days of Aslan,” says Mr. Beaver. “Why, people had moral authority then.”
“But he’s not a tame lion,” says Mr. Beaver.
“Yes. He showed those witches in Washington what for!”
“But he left us.”
“He left us.”
“Oh!” cries Mr. Beaver. “What’s the use? Who is Digory Ketterley?”
For all that the beavers’ words were cold and despairing, still there was a fire lit in each of the children’s hearts; for the beavers had spoken the name Aslan, and that name warmed the children from within.
“Please,” says Peter. “Tell me of Aslan.”
“There’s rumors he’s back, though,” says Mr. Beaver. He looks suddenly sharp and cunning. “If he’s back, you’d tell him to stay, wouldn’t you? He can’t just abandon us forever! Not him, not the humans, you can’t just leave, we need you! We’re just talking animals! We don’t even have opposable thumbs!”
“That’s true,” Lucy says. “Their hands are quite clever but not really up to maintaining a modern industrial society.” She thinks about this. “Still, some kind of prosthetic might be possible.”
“If he’s back,” says Mrs. Beaver, “then it’s at the Stone Table you’ll be meeting him. That’s where that kind of pow-wow always happens. Frightful place. Exploiting the workers, that’s what it is. Still, I suppose you have to have people like you. Heads for industry and all that.”
“He’s a lion,” says Mr. Beaver. “The lion, if you know what I mean.”
“We’re not that bad,” says Mrs. Beaver. Her voice is suddenly pleading. “It’s just that we don’t have any thumbs, you see.”
“I do,” says Peter. “Strangely enough, I do.”
So they travel to the Stone Table, with the beavers nervously trailing behind.
Aslan is there.
It is hard to look upon Aslan. He is clean and tall and great and beautiful. His eyes shine with intelligence. Yet there is something in him that makes all of them suddenly humble, and to uncomfortably look down.
“You talk to him,” Lucy says, to Peter. “You’re the oldest.”
So Peter does.
“Sir,” he says, “I love you.”
“Yes,” agree Lucy and Susan, nodding their heads.
“That is flattering,” rumbles the great lion.
“No,” says Peter. “It is earned. It is the coin I trade you for your virtue.”
“Perhaps,” says Aslan. He laughs, rich and deep. “Yet . . . you have mislaid one of your number, Peter Pevensie.”
“Edmund?” says Peter. “I’m sure he’s around here somewhere. Probably planning a railroad.”
“Ah,” says Aslan.
“Oh,” cries Lucy, for she sees what the others do not—the sadness hidden in the lion’s face. “What is it?” she asks.
“Listen,” says Aslan.
They listen. They hear the jingle of a distant bell, and the sound of a sleigh.
“It is the white witch,” says Aslan.
The witch’s sleigh emerges from the trees and stops. The witch stares at Aslan for a good long time. Then, one by one, the witch, the dwarf, and Edmund get down from the sleigh. The dwarf inclines his head, just slightly, to the lion. Edmund bows low. But the witch just stares, and her eyes are strangely dead.
“You came back,” says the witch. The words sound hollow and empty in the air.
The witch raises her chin, bluffly. “I have a tycoon,” she says. “He’s a boy genius. He belongs to me.”
“I will take him from you,” says Aslan.
“You can’t,” cries the witch. “I need him. Narnia needs him.”
“I will take Narnia from you,” says Aslan.
“Ah,” sighs the lion. Then he turns, and his shoulders sink, and he begins to walk to the Stone Table. “I will show him what you are.”
The witch’s eyes come to life and grow very keen indeed.
“You’ll do it, then? The sacrifice?” she asks.
Aslan casts a look back over his shoulder, and the witch goes still.
“I do not make sacrifices,” rumbles the lion.
“You could almost see her blood growing cold,” Edmund will say later. “Blue beneath the white. She was terrified of him.”
The lion lays himself down on the table. “Peter,” he says. “Have you a sword?”
Though only 13, Peter is a general in the military of three separate countries, and so he answers, “A dress sword.”
“Then draw it,” says Aslan, “and cut open my heart.”
“I can’t,” says Peter.
The lion is silent.
Peter’s face contorts with a terrible grief and shame. “You cannot ask this. It is too much.”
“Do you know,” asks the lion, “how spring comes to Narnia?”
Peter looks at Susan, who is the closest to a natural scientist amongst the Pevensie children.
“It’s usually fairly standardized,” Susan says.
“When it is a winter such as this,” says Aslan, “brought by sin compounded upon sin, incompetence compounding inefficiency, the king must give his life to break the winter cold. This is the thing that the witch could never do.”
“But how can you sacrifice your life?” weeps Peter.
The lion’s words are terrible, and they lash at Peter like the winter cold. “Have I not told you, Son of Adam? Have you no ears? I do not make sacrifices.”
“I’m sorry,” whispers Peter.
“I am not sacrificing my life,” says Aslan. “I am exchanging it for a thing of greater value. I do this for the animals, that they may know another spring; for the centaurs, and the women of the wood and well, and the fauns, and the unicorns; and for Edmund, who was tasted the Turkish Delight and cannot otherwise be redeemed.”
“Din’t taste it,” says Edmund. “Just touched it. Maybe with my tongue. Just a little. But not really tasting.”
Peter looks at Edmund.
“I do not do this thing,” rumbles Aslan, “because you are unworthy and small. You are not. I do not do this thing to save an evil land. It is not. I do this because Narnia is good. I do this because you are good. I do this because you are worth this to me. Because in a world that seems very dark I will prove to you that you are worthy of my life.”
Peter is still looking at Edmund.
“It’s good metal!” protests Edmund quietly. “Lighter and stronger than steel, and I bet it’s faster-pouring too. You’d’ve tasted it too.”
“I see,” says Peter. For he does.
“And now you understand,” says Aslan. And he rests his head upon the table and closes his eyes to wait.
Peter hesitates a long moment. Then in one motion he draws his sword and strikes the lion’s heart, and the blood of the king pours down onto the ice to bring the thaw. Lucy, playing seppuku second as she has always done—for Susan is too delicate for blood—strikes off the lion’s head to end his pain.
“At last,” says the witch. “It shall be spring.”
Peter looks up at her. His eyes are clouded with tears and lion’s blood.
“All shall know it,” the witch exults. “It shall be my greatest triumph!”
Peter twitches. He starts to move. But it is Edmund who is standing next to the witch that moment, Edmund whose breath is as hot as a lion’s breath upon the witch’s face, Edmund whose child’s features have gone as cold and hard as Plummer Metal Rails.
“You?” he says. “You would take credit for this?”
Lucy is aware, as she has never been aware, of how terrible Edmund’s anger is, and how frail is the power of the witch.
“You would sully this?”
And Edmund has taken the witch by the arm and pulled her around until she is face to face with the lion and the blood.
“This is what you wanted? This is your work?”
“I only wanted to bring the spring,” says the witch. “I only wanted fairness. I only wanted Narnia to live. I did what was best for everyone—”
The lion’s last breath rattles out, and in the face of that strepitus something breaks within the witch’s mind. She confronts at last what she has always known and never spoken in the silence of her soul—that her rule is not one of governance but of destruction, that she has longed not so much to bring the spring but to bring down Aslan and revel in his death, that it is true what has been said, that such creatures as herself are not the oil but the grit in the engine of the world.
She tears her arm free from Edmund’s grasp and runs.
There is a silence.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got a job for a dwarf?” asks the dwarf. “I’m a bit of a bastard, and I’ll charge you through the nose, but I drive a meaner sleigh than anyone else in the business.”
It is a moment of brightness through the clouds of sorrow, and Peter laughs. “I suppose I’ll be needing—”
Then the reality hits, again, that Aslan is dead, and his words run out.
The four Pevensie children sink down onto the ground, and numbly, in the snow, as the distant rivers crack and rumble with the thaw, they wait for dawn.
“Is there any chance he might come back?” Susan asks, in the last hours of the night.
“It was a fatal blow,” whispers Lucy, unhappy with her own medical judgment yet unwilling to abandon it. “We could clone him, perhaps, but I’d say brain death set in within minutes.”
“Then why do we wait?” asks Susan.
“Because Aslan is Aslan,” says Peter. “A is A. The world cannot survive without him. We are dependent upon the world. Therefore, we must assume that he will return, not because it is reasonable, but because it is the only viable alternative for us.”
“We do not need Narnia,” says Edmund. “We can go home. Surely, for there is love, there is an Aslan there.”
Peter blushes a little.
“I closed the door to the wardrobe,” says Peter, “while we were inside.”
Edmund lets out a long, pained breath. “I see.”
“Then we must hope,” says Lucy, “for without him, there is nothing left to hope for.”
And then it is the dawn.