The Chronicles of Narnia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This story is based on the Chronicles of Narnia series, written by Clive Staples Lewis. The characters and locations used therein, with one or two notable exceptions, are entirely his. I claim no rights thereto. I just thought it would be interesting to write a story that explains where the peculiar prophecies the beavers quoted to the four Pevensie children originated. It’s a story I’ve been itching to tell for a while, now. It finally gelled tonight, so I had to write it all down. Now, I share it with you. I hope you enjoy it.
Queen Swanwhite I of Narnia sat upon the last of four ornately-carved, white, marble thrones in the great hall of the castle at Cair Paravel and shivered. Her right ankle throbbed dully, occasionally favoring her with a sharp stab of pain that stole her breath, as though the little, white viper that had delivered the wound had returned for seconds. The wound still bled, although much more sluggishly than it had at first, and, without having to look, the pale, little queen knew that her right shoe and stocking were soaked with her blood. A breath of cold air brushed her skin and ruffled her elaborately-dressed, white hair. Idly, the queen glanced at the nearest window. Small flurries of snow, like tiny feathers, had begun to fall past the pane of glass. Swanwhite smiled sadly. Snow in May. She knew without having to look that it would be the same beyond every window. This was one of the signs she’d been instructed to look for. The sign that her task was nearly complete. The sign that the war was over. Jadis had won.
She remembered the first time she’d ever met Jadis, though that hadn’t been the name the woman had given. Swanwhite had been thirteen years old at the time and she hadn’t liked the stranger from the very first. There was something about her that made Swanwhite think of a hunting cobra, just waiting for the perfect moment to strike. She was as polite to her as she’d been taught to be, of course, when her father introduced the woman.
“Swan,” her father, King Frank VII, had smiled, “This is Jade. She’s going to take the place of our executioner. Executioner Jade, my daughter and heir, the princess Swanwhite.”
Jadis was taller than the tallest woman Swanwhite had ever met. Swanwhite was petite and built like a little china doll. Jadis’ eyes were an icy blue where Swanwhite’s were a violet that was almost pink. Jadis’ skin was very pale, paler than Swanwhite’s, which, compared with Jadis’, was slightly pink. The only part of the stranger’s face that didn’t seem pale was her mouth, which reminded the young princess of newly shed blood. Her hair, by contrast was almost golden. Swanwhite’s hair was the pure white of a swan’s feathers. It was for this that her mother had named her with her dying breath.
Swanwhite had dropped the careful curtsy she’d been taught to give to people of a rank just beneath her own. Jadis smiled and curtsied low and gracefully to the young princess in return, but Swanwhite saw no kindness or even interest in the smile at all. It was as though the woman were nothing more than an ice sculpture given life.
That very day, word was brought that the fabled Tree of Protection was dying. Strangely, her father had scoffed, choosing to send Swanwhite to investigate, rather than going himself as he would normally have done. It was while she’d slept on the way that Swanwhite had the first of many visions.
She is standing in a clearing near a large tree with silvery bark and apples strangely brown with tarnish. Beside the tree stands a great lion, larger than any lion she has ever seen. He gazes at her as if waiting for her to speak.
She sinks to her knees at the feet of the great lion. “Aslan,” she breathes, knowing without really knowing how she knows that this is his name. “How may I serve you?”
“Gather this fruit for me,” instructs the lion, pawing a fallen piece in her general direction. “Store it carefully. Tell no one that you are doing this or why. I will tell you what to do with it at a later time.”
“As you command, Aslan,” she agrees obediently.
That was when she awoke. Unlike most dreams she’d had up to that point, though, she remembered every detail of this one perfectly. When she arrived at the Tree of Protection she wasn’t surprised in the least to find that it looked precisely the way it had in her dream. She commanded that a large barrel and a shovel be brought to her. She then told everyone to leave and spent the afternoon filling the barrel with rotting fruit and burying it near a bush, not too far away.
When that was done, she carefully examined the tree. The bark, though still silvery, peeled off far too easily, like paper. There were also places here and there where a kind of dark sap oozed out from beneath the bark, giving it the look of something old and sick. Swanwhite tried but could not remember exactly how old the tree was supposed to be. She did remember the story her nurse had told her, once, about how the tree had been planted by the great lion, Aslan, to protect the kingdom from a terrible evil. When she’d returned home, she reported the condition of the tree to her father, carefully leaving out the peculiar vision. Her father had reacted as if she wasn’t really there.
Over the next three years, things got progressively worse. Swanwhite’s father seemed to lose track of whole days, even weeks. There even seemed to be times when he didn’t know his daughter at all. He fought it, valiantly, however, trying to rule as wisely as he could while he waited for his daughter to reach her majority. Furthermore, though not often enough to rouse anyone else’s suspicions, a servant once thought to be fiercely loyal to King Frank would be revealed as a traitor and just as quickly executed on the stone table, as the Law of Aslan written on its surface demanded. Swanwhite had her own suspicions, of course. She thought that these previously loyal servants had been corrupted by the almost ever-present executioner calling herself Jade. She had no proof, though. Try as she might, she could never seem to find any.
As the days turned into years, Swanwhite’s visions began to grow more and more frequent. She hid them as well as she could, all the while trying to remember any information they imparted and follow any instructions they gave. Peculiarly, she felt very much as if she were leading two lives: One, the sweet, loving, vulnerable princess; the other, the careful, cautious servant of Aslan.
Then, out of the blue, a week before Swanwhite’s sixteenth birthday, “Jade” vanished. Her disappearance was so complete she might have been a figment of everyone’s imagination. King Frank seemed to recover a little of his strength and his advisers all relaxed, believing that the worst of the King’s peculiar illness had gone.
Two days following Swanwhite’s birthday, not to mention her first ever marriage proposal, the young princess was awakened by a terrible dream, in which a small, white snake had entered her father’s sleeping chamber and bitten him on the neck while he slept. She’d run to her father’s chambers, arriving far too late. The king was already growing black in the face. A week later, King Frank VII was interred in the royal tombs and the next day, Swanwhite was crowned queen.
The visions came fast and furious after that and Swanwhite no longer made any effort to hide them, aware that the strange reasons she gave for her peculiar commands were earning her the nickname of Swanwhite the Strange or, worse still, Swanwhite the Insane. In a dream on the day of her coronation, Aslan had appeared to her seated between four white, marble thrones set on the dais where the throne of her forebears stood. He had given her several instructions, not the least of which was to commission the thrones he was showing her, along with a collection of signs to watch for. Four years later, word came that the person that had called herself Jade was really Jadis, the great evil from the dawn of time, and that she was advancing on Cair Paravel with an army of evil creatures.
Swanwhite already had her instructions. She ordered her army out to meet Jadis, then sent for the barrel of rotting silver fruit, which she’d moved to the castle the week following the beginning of her reign. She next supervised the placement of the four new thrones and the removal of the old one, which she had placed in the tomb near her father’s coffin. Then, knowing her army would fail to stop the advancing witch, she had dismissed the entire castle staff and completed the remainder of the preparations herself. She was just finishing when she’d felt a sharp stab just above her right ankle and seen a little white snake, very like the one she knew had killed her father, starting to slither away. She quickly stamped on the little thing, crushing it to death. Then the weakness came and she’d collapsed into the throne in which she now sat.
Swanwhite knew she should be dead, now; knew Jadis expected to find nothing but a corpse lying in here. She still lived, though. There was one last instruction to complete. Then, at last, she could rest. Footsteps on the marble flooring of the empty hall announced her visitor’s arrival far better than any herald could have done. Then, in walked Jadis, pale as death and dressed, for all the world, as a queen. In her hand she carried a wand made of silver and crystal.
“You found him, I see,” Swanwhite began, smiling through a sudden stab of pain that reached from her ankle clear to her knee. Early in her reign, Aslan had informed her in a vision that Jadis was seeking the White Wizard, the creator of a particularly powerful wand, no doubt the wand Jadis now carried.
“I sent a messenger to you,” Jadis replied lightly. “I hope he arrived.”
“Worry not,” the pale, little queen replied, raising the hem of her skirt with some difficulty to show the now horribly swollen, blood-soaked ankle, “your messenger arrived just fine. I regret there’s nothing left of him, though.” She dropped her skirt and gestured to the squashed snake drooling blood onto the floor nearby.
“Then you must have some very powerful magic, Swanwhite,” Jadis replied, frowning slightly, “I expected you to die some time ago.”
“I bear a message for you, as well, Jadis,” the young queen replied, trembling as a sudden wave of cold swept over her. “From Aslan. I have been promised that I will not die until I have delivered it in full.”
“You’ll have difficulty delivering any message at all as a statue,” Jadis growled, twirling the wand as she stepped forward. Unable to move, Swanwhite, nevertheless, smiled beatifically. When Jadis was within twenty feet of the throne, she stopped, a horrified look sweeping over her face. Reflexively, she covered her nose and mouth with her free hand, her stomach heaving in obvious revulsion.
“You should know that I spent the hour before your messenger arrived,” Swanwhite smiled, “coating these with juice from the rotting fruit of the Tree of Protection. Doesn’t it smell divine?”
Jadis heaved again, stumbling back several steps as she did so.
“You cannot come anywhere near them, I fear,” Swanwhite continued. “You must content yourself with watching me die from afar.”
Jadis stepped back a little further, then looked up with pure hatred in her ice blue eyes.
“You will have your wish, Jadis,” Swanwhite declared, adjusting herself in the throne on which she sat. “Once I am dead, Narnia will be in your power for almost a hundred years. You have that time to repent of your evil and to prove to Aslan that you can rule his land in wisdom. However, I have been given a little rhyme for you. I think you’ll like it.
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
“Poor deluded queen,” Jadis purred, “Narnia is mine, now. Aslan cannot come here ever again.”
Swanwhite began to laugh, a kind of helpless laugh that filled the room with its joyful echoes. “You really think you have the power,” she giggled, “to prevent Aslan from returning to the realm he created with his own paws. I’ve never seen such hubris in one person before. I wonder what you’ll think of the other rhyme I was asked to give you. Listen.
When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,
The evil time will be over and done.”
“And what, exactly,” Jadis asked with only a trace of irritation, “is that supposed to mean?”
“Worry not,” Swanwhite replied, feeling suddenly tired and dizzy. Her right foot felt quite numb now, as if it no longer existed, “I will explain. One day, when you are certain you have nothing to worry about, four Human children, two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, will arrive in Narnia from the world of men. They will appear in the west, not far from where you yourself entered the realm. Their arrival will be your death knell, Jadis. For, when they are crowned kings and queens of Narnia, it will mean the end, not only of your reign, but of your very life. Struggle all you wish, Jadis. I do not doubt you will do all in your power to escape this doom. I hope you will pardon me if I don’t wish you luck.” Then, smiling, Swanwhite leaned back in the throne on which she sat and allowed her eyes to drift shut. “Lock the door on your way out, won’t you, Jadis?” she whispered. In another breath, she was gone.
After her ascension to the throne, claiming at least partial if not full human blood, Jadis fled Cair Paravel as if the devil himself were after her, building her own castle as far from it as she dared and forbidding any mention of Queen Swanwhite’s name forever afterward on pain of death. She could do nothing to prevent the spread of the dead queen’s final prophecy, however, for, unbeknownst to her, there had been one last loyal servant, a badger, one Whifflesnout by name, standing in the hallway unseen, who had heard every word the two women had spoken. It was he that placed the dead queen in the tomb of her forebears and it was he that spread the story of her final words. He also told the story of Queen Swanwhite to his children and they to their children. So, a hundred years later, when the four children ended Jadis’ reign for good and all, a descendant of Whifflesnout’s told them the tale you have just read. In recognition of her courage, her name was entered in the great History of Narnia as Queen Swanwhite the Seeress.