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A Song Too Far

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Mummy had always been so particular on the proper ladylike way to sit, and Lucy thought that if it was important for ladies to sit properly it was probably even more important for queens to sit properly, and so, when Aslan crowned them and they sat before their new subjects on the four thrones in Cair Paravel, Lucy was very careful to sit properly. She did not tuck her feet up under her, but rather rested them daintily on the little stool that had been placed there so that her feet would not dangle. She sat up straight rather than hunching over, and folded her hands neatly in her lap rather than playing with them.

If she kept tapping her toes and wiggling her calves a little, well, surely nobody would notice under the long skirts she was wearing?

Fortunately, they did not end up sitting on the thrones for very long. There were a few more ceremonial things, once they were seated, and they listened to the merpeople sing some more, and then the party began and Lucy could get up to dance.

And oh, what dancing! Not the formal cheek-to-cheek style that Mummy and Father danced to, sometimes, or that they were taught at school. (Lucy supposed it was because you had to have hands and walk on two legs to do that sort of dancing, and most of their new subjects went on four legs, with hooves or paws, instead.)

There was dancing inside the throne room, to music sung by a bird choir up in the rafters, their calls echoing throughout the stone room, the merpeople outside answering in harmonies. To this sort of music, the appropriate sort of dancing involved a lot of hopping about and flapping one's arms as if they were wings. Lucy thought it was absolutely divine, and threw herself into it with wild abandon.

"Your majesty is quite an accomplished dancer!" said a passing crow.

"Thank you, Mister Crow," Lucy said, curtseying prettily.

"It's Mssss Crow, actually," said the bird, fluffing its feathers and bopping its head in time with the song, which Lucy promptly copied.

"Oh! I do beg your pardon," Lucy said.

"Quite all right," Ms. Crow said, "you humans have such dreadfully terrible eyesight, I know your majesty is doing her best. Speaking of doing your best, how is it that your majesty has such grace and flair on the dance floor, but your majesty's siblings …?"

Lucy followed Ms. Crow's glance, and laughed at Peter, Susan, and Edmund awkwardly trying to copy those around them. Susan, in particular, looked especially ridiculous, and Lucy thought she might be trying to do a sort of a solo foxtrot, which was just silly, because the rhythm wasn't right and you couldn't do a foxtrot without a partner anyway. "Oh, they're all much better than I at human dances," Lucy said, "but I don’t think they've ever tried bird dances, before."

"I suppose the dances are much different in Spare Oom," Ms. Crow said. "I would give them some pointers—I have instructed many hatchlings in the art of dance—but I am not quite sure what to do with arms instead of wings."

"Perhaps Mr. Tumnus could help?" Lucy said. "Or a naiad or dryad? They've got arms."

"Possibly," Ms. Crow said. "But not tonight, they're all at the other dances.

"Other dances?" Lucy asked.

"Oh, yes, of course," Ms. Crow said. "You couldn't fit all of us dancing in here at once, could you? The Great Hall, here, may be the largest room in all of Narnia, but when you get centaurs and bears and things dancing, it gets very small very quickly. Not to mention, we all have our own styles of music and dance, and it wouldn’t be fair to only have one at an official event, would it? No, there are four outside, and at each event, we shall rotate who has the honor of hosting the main dance inside. It was the Hominids—fauns, dryads, nyads, and centaurs—who hosted the last ball at Cair Paravel before the White Witch came, so it is the Birds' turn now."

"Oh!" said Lucy. "I had wondered where Mr. Tumnus had gotten to. Should I go outside and see the other parties, too?"

"Probably," said Ms. Crow. "The bulk of your majesty's time should be at the party inside, of course, but if none of you made any appearance at the outer parties, there would be some very hurt feelings."

"But how can we know that if no one tells us?" Lucy asked, crossly. It was very unfair of people to always assume that the right thing to do was obvious, and she had hoped that Narnia would be superior to England in that respect at least. Mr. Tumnus and the beavers had been so helpful and clear in explaining things.

"I apologize, I hadn't realized that you wouldn't know," Ms. Crow said. "I supposed I assumed that the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve chosen by Aslan himself would just sort of … know everything they needed to know already. But if Spare Oom is a different sort of place than Narnia—"

"Oh, it's a very different place," Lucy said, thinking of London's grimy dinginess and German planes overhead and only dumb beasts who didn't talk.

"Then we shall have to explain things to you."

"Yes, please!" said Lucy eagerly. "Could you tell my brothers and sisters about the parties outside, please? I should like to go see them for myself, now."

"Of course, your majesty," said Ms. Crow with a bow.

Outside the front gates was a party for the medium-to-large animals. Cats and dogs, mostly; and Lucy giggled to see how they danced near each other but not really together. But there were foxes also, and wolves, and bears and badgers and other animals she did not recognize The moves were very fun, Lucy thought; lots of leaping and twisting and wrestling and Lucy got down on her hands and knees for some of it because they looked silly done on only two feet.

There was food, but none Lucy could eat; the party inside had had fruit and seeds and nuts, but here there was only raw meat.

It was only that the music was so very strange. The beat was fast, faster than any other music Lucy had heard before, and the pitch kept keening up and down and not in time with the beat at all, yowls and howls and all sorts of things instead of proper singing. There were words to it, but Lucy had to concentrate hard to understand them. It made her ears itch so that she wished she had earplugs to block it out. She thought about asking for some, but that would probably be rude, so instead she left to find the next party.

The party around the corner from the cats and dogs was all horses and other creatures with hooves: goats, deer, unicorns, elk, reindeer, and even a few centaurs. The music was better—or, thought Lucy, not better exactly, but more to a human's taste—slower and lower and with a real melody that fit the beat.

The dance moves … well, there were still leaps, but also a lot of rearing up, which just didn't look the same when a human tried, even if you started on hands-and-knees. And quite a lot of head-butting and locking horns, too, which Lucy simply couldn't do.

"Your majesty, welcome to our dance!" said a passing sheep, bowing to her. "We are honored by your presence! Would you care for some refreshment? There's some rather nice red clover hay which someone was saving for a special occasion; I've never had it before, because of course we couldn't grow any during the witch's tenure and it was too expensive to import, but of it is so delicious! I can't recommend it highly enough!"

"Thank you very kindly for the offer, Mister Sheep," Lucy said with a curtsey. "I must decline, for humans can't eat grass or hay of any kind."

"Really?" the sheep said, bleating in surprise. "I had just assumed you were like centaurs, who as you can see, are quite fond of hay." He nodded to a centaur chewing on a few stalks of hay with evident enjoyment. "Ah, well, perhaps you shall find things more to your liking in the hominid party—if you haven't been, they should be on the other side of the castle from us. Predators clockwise, small animals anti-clockwise, hominids directly across."

"Thank you," said Lucy, who was getting quite hungry from all the dancing. "I shall go see what they have. Enjoy your party!"

Having already seen the predator party—and that was what all those animals had in common, they ate other animals! Lucy supposed that it would be hard to relax and have fun with things capable of eating you, even if you knew they would never eat a fellow Talking Beast. But since she'd already seen that party, Lucy decided to go anti-clockwise and see what things were like at the small animal party.

There was food there that she could eat! Nuts and berries and fruits and things, in addition to the grasses, and even some vegetables; which made sense, as there were squirrels and hedgehogs and badgers and mice and rats and moles and all kinds of animals. And there were Mr. and Mrs. Beaver!

"Hello, dear friends!" Lucy rushed over to greet them. "I wondered where you were!"

She smiled as widely as she could, because she did love them so, but it was hard because her ears felt like the music was stabbing them. It was very fast, and very high—so high she couldn't quite always hear it, and it faded in and out.

"Oh, we came out here directly after the mermaids were done singing," Mr. Beaver said.

"Not often one gets to hear mermaids," Mrs. Beaver said, "and of course they can't come to the parties on land, so it is only polite to listen to the contribution they can make. But of course the smaller mammals make the best party."

"Such lovely food as I have not eaten in years, my dear Lucy, you must try some!" Mr. Beaver said. "Everyone's brought something."

"Isn't it amazing what we all had in the back of our pantries?" Mrs. Beaver said. "Though of course, with Aslan's blessing, it multiplied."

"Really?" Lucy said. "I shall have to try some. I just came from the horse's party, and of course they offered me food, but I couldn't eat it. But this does look lovely." That was true, although the music was so distracting that it was hard to think of anything else.

Lucy took the plate of food that was handed to her, and ate it, and talked with the Beavers, and by then some of the other animals she had seen or tended in the battle were coming by, and after that some of the ones she didn't know came around to be introduced, and she couldn't figure out how to excuse herself politely, and the music seemed to get louder and louder and she couldn't think over it.

"Lucy—excuse me, Queen Lucy, are you quite all right?" Mr. Beaver said.

"Oh! I am a little worn," Lucy said. "And also, I've been here quite a long time, perhaps I should go see what the hominids party is like? It's the only one I haven't been to yet."

"I'm sure I don't know how to read human faces, but you were tired yesterday, and didn't look quite like you do now," Mr. Beaver said. "Perhaps Mrs. Beaver and I should go with you?"

"Thank you, I would like that," said Lucy, who was by this point almost wild with the idea of getting away from the squealing, but who had had manners drilled into her all her life. Surely, surely it would be better there.

But it wasn't. It was so loud. Lucy thought she might rather have liked the hominid party, under other circumstances. The music was neither too high nor too low, nor too fast for her to dance to, with melodies that (while strange) sounded at least somewhat like what she would have called music, in England.

But oh, it was so loud! Drums and brass, which together felt like they were beating on her body until her heart was pounding in time with the music and she thought her skin might burst open. She wanted to run away, but she could not. She was a queen, now, and if an ordinary little girl from London needed to be polite no matter what, how much more should a queen be polite? Mummy would be so disappointed in her if she did not act like a lady, and probably Aslan as well, and so she smiled as brightly as she could even though she wanted nothing more than to run away and hide somewhere, and clung tightly to Mr. Beaver's hand.

Lucy let him take her around and introduce her, and get her food, but she couldn't quite understand everything that was going on around her, because she had to concentrate so very hard on smiling and not running away and trying to ignore the sound beating on her body.

And all the people dancing around her—earlier, Lucy had loved joining in, but now the heaving crowds around her made her vaguely seasick.

"Lucy, dear one, are you quite sure you are all right?" Mrs. Beaver whispered to her. "Only, you look very strange indeed. Would you like to go lie down?"

"Yes, please," Lucy said, and then suddenly she could think of nothing except being away from the noise and movement. She let go of Mr. Beaver's hand and began to run, not towards the castle (for there was, after all, as much noise inside it as there was here outside) but towards the forest, where at least the trees would soak up some of it.

She ran until she was within the trees, and there (as it was beginning to grow dark, and the evening was of course darker under the treetops than in the cleared space around the castle) she soon tripped over a root, landing face-first in a bush.

"Oh! I'm terribly sorry, your majesty," came a voice from above. Lucy looked up to see a dryad leaning over her. "I didn't mean to trip you! Are you all right?"

Lucy burst into tears.

It was stupid, and she knew it was stupid. She'd been having such fun, and then she wasn't, and she had loved meeting the dryads and all the other Narnians, but oh, how she longed to be alone in a quiet dark place.

Mummy would be terribly disappointed in her, blubbering like a baby when there was no reason for it at all, at all—she was eight years old, after all, and practically grown-up! But shame, of course, does not help in such situations at all, and in fact only makes things worse, and Lucy could not make herself stop crying. It felt, as it sometimes did, as if her body did not belong to her and she were merely a passenger watching what her body did.

The dryad kept asking Lucy questions which she could not stop crying to answer, and then there were others around also asking questions, and Lucy flushed and buried her head under her arms.

"Here now, what's all this!" came the welcome voice of Mr. Beaver, slightly out of breath. "What's all this? If she doesn't want to talk, she doesn't have to! Clear out now, back to the party. Give her some room, and don't gossip about it!"

"But what's wrong with her?" someone asked.

"Wrong with her?" Mrs. Beaver said loudly. "There's nothing wrong with her, she's perfectly fine! What she is, is a kitten who has had a very exciting and very long several days, and now needs rest and quiet. Isn't that right, your Majesty?"

Lucy couldn't make herself look up, but she did nod her head.

"There now, you see?" Mrs. Beaver said, petting Lucy's head, which felt very nice indeed. "Why are you all still standing around? Someone go and fetch her Majesty's brothers and sisters, and the rest of you can all go back to the party and stop staring as if you've never seen a worn-out young one. Don't give me that look, Neerihayhayth, you may not have had a foal before, but your herd certainly has. I'm sure her majesty thanks you for your wish to help, but there's nothing you can do besides giving her space to rest, so you may as well go back to the party."

"And there's no need to be spreading tales about an over-tired kitten, either," Mr. Beaver said. "There's food and drink and music and dancing and many other good things back at the castle, blessed by Aslan himself, you should all go and enjoy them."

It felt like it took forever, but at last the noise of other people subsided. Lucy was still crying, of course, but now it felt like she could stop, soon, and not like it would go on forever and ever. Mrs. Beaver kept petting her; she wasn't quite like Mummy, but she also didn't have that impatient edge Mummy sometimes got when she thought Lucy was making a scene when she shouldn't.

For one long minute, Lucy wished she were back home in England with Mummy. Narnia was so much nicer, especially now that the Witch was gone, but England was familiar, and safe. But no, even if she were in England, she wouldn't have Mummy, wouldn't be at home in her own bedroom that she shared with Susan, but rather in the funny old country house owned by the Professor. And Narnia was much nicer than either, even if Mummy wasn't here.

"Oh, Lucy, don't tell me you had one of your crying turns again," Peter said, and Lucy felt more tears well up in her despite the fact that she had thought she was finished. She felt very raw just now, as she always did after one of her turns, and the thought of her brother's impatience was more than she could bear.

"I do hope she hasn't been a bother," Susan said.

"Oh, no, dear, no bother at all," said Mrs. Beaver.

"Why, it's almost like when our own kits were small," said Mr. Beaver, "only they were, of course, rather smaller than her Majesty in size when they were the same relative age."

"What she needs now is rest and quiet," Mrs. Beaver said. "Can we take her to her room and put her to bed?"

"I don't know that will help," Edmund said thoughtfully. "Our rooms are up in the towers above, and the view is spectacular but I'd wager you hear all the music from all the parties, up there. And she gets so funny about noise when she's like this."

"What she needs is a good burrow," Mr. Beaver said. "There's nothing like good, solid earth around you to dampen noise and vibration. If our dam were closer, I'd suggest taking her there. But surely there are cellars of some sort in the castle we could put a bed in, or something?"

"Wouldn't it be awfully cold and damp?" Susan said.

Mrs. Beaver snorted. "Not once Mr. Beaver and I are through with it," she said. "All the burrowing Beasts know how to make underground dens snug and cozy."

"I don't want to take you away from the fun," Lucy said, somewhat miserable at the thought of her dear friends missing out because Lucy was too sensitive for a perfectly nice party.

"Not at all, young one, not at all," Mr. Beaver said stoutly. "Mrs. Beaver and I are not so very young, you see, and parties that go until dawn—as all of these will, no doubt—are for the young."

"And besides, the castle was under Aslan's protection, that's why it hasn't fallen to ruin," Mrs. Beaver said. "I've no doubt the cellars are in excellent shape, and will be quite easy to fix up to be a proper den for your Majesty. Don't you worry about a thing. It will all be fine, and quickly done."

And so it turned out to be. A low fire chased away the dampness of the cellar, and a nest of blankets made quite a wonderful bed, and the next morning Lucy woke up feeling much better and more like herself.

And, over the next weeks and months, as the young Pevensies got to know their adopted land and subjects better, Lucy learned the benefits of living in a land with such a wide variety of creatures. As every type of beast had a different range of hearing and sight and smell and so on from all the rest, it was normal for people to have different needs than others around them. Whenever a sound was too loud or too piercing, or a smell too strong, all Lucy needed to do was say, and everyone understood.