Chapter 9 - The Knowledge of April: The Grove
Peter and April were shy around each other the next morning. Miranda looked at them curiously and then made sure her husband hadn't noticed anything unusual. He seemed fine, much happier since Peter had been helping him with the chores both morning and evening. She wondered what had happened, but wouldn't dare ask.
"So, what are you kids doing today?"
April responded, "Today we are going to explore the forest. Mom, I'll pack a picnic so we won't be here for lunch."
"Can you pick me up at school?" piped Elisa excitedly. "I told everyone there was a blond giant living at my house, but no one believed me."
Everyone laughed. Peter said, "We'll be happy to, is it close by?"
"We'll be there, Ellie," April said, using her pet name for Elisa.
April knew Peter was beyond excited for this day. She, on the other hand, was more nervous than she had ever been. Her mother, with a knowing smile, had slipped her grandmother's journal into the picnic basket that Peter cheerfully carried. She carried the blanket, hugging it to her chest to keep warm. The pale pink dress she wore was too thin for this cool morning, but it was the one liked best to dance in, the skirt was fuller than most and it flowed well. The day would warm as the sun got higher. Also in the basket were the older ballet shoes that she always wore in the grove. Would she have enough nerve to do it, to show him? Would Peter experience it? Would he follow the rules? What if she discovered something about Peter, about herself, in the journal that she didn't want to know? Maybe ignorance really was bliss...
Peter interrupted her thoughts with a nudge to her arm. "Why are you so quiet? You do want to take me there, right?"
"Of course," she replied. "I'm just nervous."
"Well, let's take your mind off it. Boy, your sister is funny. What time do we need to pick her up? Is that why you wanted me to wear my watch?"
"We have until 2:00 p.m. We'll have plenty of time," she lapsed into silence again.
They had crossed the stream behind the house and had entered the coolness of the trees. Birds were singing in the distance and flitting about in the upper tree tops. There was a well-worn path under their feet. The air was fresh and the forest smells seemed to surround them.
"I have always felt so at peace in these woods," April said.
"Then, let that peace calm your nerves. Why don't you play tour guide again and tell me about this forest. It's really nice in here."
April began, “The New Forest covers an area of over 550 kilometers (340 miles) and includes one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest. It was created as a royal forest by William I in about 1079 for the royal hunt, mainly of deer. It was created at the expense of more than 20 small hamlets and isolated farmsteads; thus it was 'new' in his time as a single compact area. It is said that two of his sons and one other relative was killed by natural means in the forest as punishment for his taking the parish churches down and leaving so many people homeless without help or compensation. The Forest’s dry heaths, dense woodland, valley bogs and river are home to many wildlife and plants. Ponies, cattle, pigs and deer run free over the area. And, Frederick Marryat in the 1840’s wrote the children’s novel The Children of the New Forest in our town. With all this and the beach being is less than an hour’s auto ride from here, the tourists love it.”
"Do the tourists come to this section?" he asked.
"No, this path is worn because of me and my family, and maybe a few other locals. But, there are no tourist sites in this section of forest."
She was quiet again. Peter let her be this time. He was busy looking around. The wildflowers had come up in the clearings. Bright patches of sunlight touched clusters of yellow, blue, and purple flowers. It was beautiful and it was home. She had always felt just as comfortable among these trees as she had around people. It was as if, in some strange way, they were her friends. She supposed it was because she was alone a lot as a child. She expressed her thoughts to Peter and he listened with a strange and knowing smile. She wondered what he was thinking.
They were almost there, and she started to tremble.
"What time is it Peter?"
"It's 10 minutes after 10," he replied.
She put a hand on his arm to stop him. She stood there for a moment watching him closely. He was looking at their surroundings. There were many large oak trees but some birch were mixed in as well. The clusters of birch trees with their white trunks and peeling bark lent an aura of mystery and a touch of eeriness to this part of the forest.
"Are we there?" he asked. A noticeable shiver, not due to the cool air, ran though him. "There is something different about this spot. Do you feel it? It's quieter, more still. Is this what you call the grove?"
She nodded and motioned to the trees around them. They were standing at the entrance to what was, in fact, a grove of trees arranged in a perfect extended crescent shape. In fact, where they stood it closed the circle. If you were looking at the face of clock, there were trees spaced about two feet apart from 8 o'clock to 4 o'clock. All were thinner birch trees except for one large beech tree in the 12 o'clock position. You could see the spaces through and beyond most of the trees, except where the woods were very dense and the brush very thick in the 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock area. In fact, you could not see beyond that section at all.
She spread the blanket off to one side yet well within the circle of trees. He placed the basket on the blanket and looked around.
"This is unusual," he said politely wandering around the circle. "Will you tell me why this place is special to you?"
He was trying to be delicate. She knew it didn't look like much. But, it wasn't what it looked like. It was the essence of the place. Was he ready? Was she ready? Yes, he was looking at her expectantly.
"Peter, how much time do you think has passed since we have been here?" She placed her hand over his watch.
"Oh, about 5 to 10 minutes," he said looking at her strangely.
"Follow me," she said leading back the way they had come stopping a few paces away.
"Check your watch now."
Would it work for him? Would he be able to see? She almost couldn't stand the suspense. She wanted him to know so badly, to be able to tell him, to share this with him! She held her breath.
"That's funny my watch has stopped. Wait, no it hasn't. But it still says 10:10." He lifted the watch to his ear. "It's still ticking, but it missed almost 10 minutes. How is that possible?"
She let out the breath she had been holding in exultation. She looked at the circle of trees and said solemnly, "In the grove, time is different. Time stands still."
Peter started, "What? How do you mean?" He stood staring at the trees in disbelief. Then the realization dawned on his face. "It's like Narnia! Time works as it does in Narnia. Is it Narnia in there?"
"As near as we, my grandmother and I, can tell, no. But, we do believe that it is a place where the wall between the two worlds is very thin. It could be like the vestibule into a church."
"This is why you were so interested in the timing aspect when you first found out about us."
"Yes, it never made sense to me until you all explained how Narnia worked. It was the reason I was so shocked and couldn't talk about it for a while. It is one thing to experience something that seems like a dream and another to find out that it is quite real."
Peter started to go back into the circle, but she stopped him. "There is something else you need to see."
She pulled him to the tree at the 8 o'clock spot and had him look over at the 4 o'clock tree. He gasped, and grabbed her arm.
"I see it, a shimmering, ever so slightly," he looked up. "It's like a dome. It goes all the way up and over the trees. The trees outside of the grove go right up to it, but never in. Unbelievable!"
He started walking all around the outside of the circle, as she knew he would. His logical mind would not rest until he had at least tried to figure it out.
"April?" he called from the 10 o'clock position, "The heavy brush at the top of the circle, I can't see it from here! It’s not there. There are normal spaces between the trees."
She walked to where he was. He reached his hand in and exclaimed in pain when his hand hit the long thorns and thick brush. Pulling out his hand, it was red and scraped, with just the tiniest bit of blood on it. She took sympathy on his bewildered expression and led him back around.
"No, wait," he cried, "Go stand inside the circle, please."
She did as he asked and smiled when he came around to the front looking even more mystified and even more excited.
"I couldn't see you, and you couldn't hear me calling to you! We are invisible in a place where there is no time. I can't believe that someone hasn't discovered this and exploited it!"
"That's just it Peter, that is why I was so nervous. Not everyone can see it or feel it. My grandmother had a theory that only those with a true Narnian connection would be able to experience it. You are confirmation of that theory!"
Peter was starting to look tired. He was astounded again and sat down heavily on the blanket. She sank down slowly beside him, sitting on her knees. She began to explain.
"Others have been here. My mother and Elisa many times. Even my father once. They never noticed anything different. I don't know how it works, it is so plain to me every time I come."
"But, how?" questioned Peter, trying to understand. "How could you experience time being still and they couldn't even when standing right next to you?"
"I don't know Peter. I could ask the same question of you. How could you walk into a wardrobe and find a world that you would be king of and the next time see the wooden back of it?"
He was still for a moment, thinking about that. A look of wonderment and a huge smile broke out on his face. "I never thought, I never dreamed. How were you able to keep a secret like this from me for so long?"
"I would have loved to tell you, to tell all of you. I haven't ever been able to tell another living soul. But, I couldn't, it is one of those things you had to experience for yourself!"
He nodded and kissed her hand. "Thank you, this is wonderful!" He stopped when he saw the look on her face. "But, that's not all is it?"
"No, there is a warning I have to tell you about. That thickening of brush at the top of the circle? You know that it is real because it scraped your hand. You know that it does not exist on the other side of the shimmering. It does exist on this side because no one is to pass through it. My grandmother told me that if I were to fight my way through that brush I would be lost. As a child, that terrified me, so I never questioned her. Last year, before she died, I asked her more about it. She said that there is no knowledge of what is behind that blockage. It could be a gateway to Narnia, or to another world, or to a place where time does not exist at all, or to where time might move so fast that we would instantly perish. We have no idea and I have no intention of ever finding out."
Peter was studying the area with an imperceptible look on his face. She desperately hoped that he would heed her warning and not try to be adventurous and not try to get back to somewhere he was not allowed to go. He scowled at her when she reminded him of Aslan's words that he would not be able to return to Narnia.
"I don't like to be reminded of that!" He sighed. "I know I am not supposed to go back, and even if I were, it wouldn't be the same. I need to remember that at least I have been given some small pieces of Narnia this week and be grateful with that. You can stop looking at me as if I am going to go running through there. I promise you, I will not. And, I am true to my word."
She was so relieved, she put her head in her hands and tried to breathe normally again. Explanations done and warning heeded, it was time. He reached for her, but she avoided his grasp, sliding over to the picnic basket instead. She pulled out the old pair of ballet shoes and began to put them on. She was doing up the laces on the first one when she looked at Peter's face. It was full of admiration and...desire. He was looking at her legs. She looked down. She wore no stockings, they were impossible to dance in. One foot was bare. She had pulled her dress up above her knee in order to twine the ribbons around her calf. He looked into her eyes, her heart started to beat faster as his hand touched her leg and he started to move in closer.
"Not yet!" she said. "I have to get through this first."
He shook his head like he was trying to shake off a dream and then blinked rapidly. "Is there other magic here?" he asked.
"Not that I know of. The only magic I feel is when you look at me that way. Although, it is different being in here with you. And, it is intoxicating to know that we are by ourselves, invisible and silent to everyone, with all the time in the world. I have always felt like this was a place where rules do not exist, a potentially dangerous combination for you and I."
He nodded, "It is like drug, I feel so drawn to you. I will try to control myself."
"It may be harder than you think. Now that I think about it, this place seems to amplify emotions. When my grandmother would bring me here as a child and teach me to dance, it was so much fun. And, those are some of my happiest memories. When I came here after her death, the pain and grief was unbearable. It was a long time before I was able to visit here after that.
She continued lacing up the ballet shoes and stood. She touched his shoulder, "Try to stay very still Peter. I have more things to show you."
April stood in the center of the grove where the sunlight suddenly seemed to shine down especially on her. She lifted her arms and stood on her toes and began to dance. She stayed in the center for a moment and then with beautiful ballet movements went to each tree touching them reverently and then spinning back to the center. She touched the ones from the bottom of the circle first. Just before touching the beech in the top center of the circle, she did a series of fast turns and knelt at the ground. Lifting up slowly she raised her arms and whispered something, she then very gently seemed to hug the large beech tree. As she stepped back to reach the center of the circle the wind began to rustle the leaves in the very tops of the trees. She stood on her toes with her arms raised and then lowered her arms and looked down standing very still for a long moment.
April came back to Peter, took his hand and led him to the center of the grove. "Watch them," she whispered.
There was an aura of stillness and yet anticipation. If he wasn't looking at the trees he would have missed it. The thinner trees all around the circle swayed inwardly. He started and squeezed her hand. She nodded. Then the trees swayed outwardly. She knew what he was thinking. Was he seeing things?
"Are they alive?" he whispered.
"They are as alive as they can be in this world. Come with me."
She took him up to the beech tree and knelt before it. He knelt beside her. In a soft voice she said, "Grandmother tree, it is I. I am happy to be here again." A large leaf drifted down to fall in her hands. She bowed her hand and tears ran down her cheek.
"May I present to you His Majesty, King Peter the Magnificent, High King of Narnia, Emperor of the Lone Islands, Lord of Cair Paravel, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion."
There was a rustling sound in the top of all the trees and then three large leaves fell on him. April smiled though her tears.
"She likes you. I have always gotten one leaf. I call them blessings. I am guessing the three leaves mean she recognizes you as her King, she approves of you as a person, and she approves of you as a match for me." The wind ran through the trees again.
Peter spoke reverently, "It is an honor and a privilege to be here before you. I appreciate your influence over and care of April, whom I dearly love. I will forever be grateful to you for preserving the memories of Narnia and caring for our book. You are remembered fondly for your wisdom and love."
A lone leaf fell right into his hands. It should have felt strange talking to a tree, but for both Peter and April it seemed as natural as breathing. They stayed there a moment longer drinking in the silence then moved back to the blanket.
"Your dance was beautiful. Did your grandmother teach it to you?"
"Yes, it is a dance to awaken the spirits within the trees. I would have so loved to see them dance for real."
"It is a wondrous sight, but, April, all you have to do is look in a mirror while you dance and you will get a glimpse of what they looked like. You have that inside of you, I mean the Narnian tree spirit. Did you know it?"
She smiled, "Yes, I have always felt that way. It just sounds crazy to admit it."
"I have to ask, how did your grandmother's spirit get into that tree. Are all of these your ancestors?"
"Yes," answered April hesitantly. "I know this is going to sound very strange and there is nothing pagan about our family...but there is a part of our funeral traditions that include spreading the deceased's ashes around the base of a tree. There is a blessing that is spoken and then we leave. If the spirit resides in the tree sometimes we never know. The dance I do only wakes them for a brief time, then they go back to sleep."
Peter rubbed his hand that got scratched up by the briars. He waved April's concern off, saying they would heal soon.
She started to take off the ballet shoes slowly unwinding the ribbons and with a sigh of relief slipped them off of her bare feet.
"Does that hurt your toes to be in those shoes for a long time?" Peter asked.
"Sometimes. These are my old shoes, so they don't fit as well," she said wiggling her toes.
Peter moved and caught her feet in his lap. He gently lifted one and started to rub her toes and the arch of her foot. April sighed and said, "You are good at that."
"I'm good at everything," he said winking at her.
"Oh, but not at being modest," she laughed.
He laughed too, "Watch out, I'll have to tickle you..."
"Oh no, you stay where you are. That feels heavenly."
"I used to see my father doing this for my mother all the time. I wondered why she liked it. I used to think Dad was weird for touching someone else's feet, but now I understand why he did it."
She raised her eyebrows in a question and he responded, "The feet are connected to the legs."
She laughed at that, "You must have received an A in biology."
"You didn't let me finish," he said staring into her eyes. "The feet are connected to the legs and yours are the greatest I've ever seen."
"Silly boy, I'm a dancer. All dancers have great legs..." she trailed off as Peter started caressing her ankles and then her calves. She was awash with sensation and could barely think clearly. When he started to push her dress up she came to herself and stood up quickly.
He stood up too and gathered her in his arms. "I can't help myself. April, I must..."
He kissed her so passionately that her head began to spin. His mouth was hard on hers, insistent and demanding. Her body, pressed tightly against his, was responding in a way she never knew possible and she didn't want it to stop. He was kissing her neck, then her collarbone his lips soft and sensuous against flesh that had never been kissed. His arm was around her, one hand firm on her waist and the other, strong and warm was moving slowly and purposefully down her body, over her leg slowly drawing her dress up. She was powerless, unable and unwilling to stop the rush of emotion or the pounding of her heart. Her desire for him was as strong as his for her. He guided her down toward the blanket.
All of a sudden there was a great gust of air moving in the tops of the trees, a chattering of leaves and then the wind blew strongly across them as if to blow the spell of passion away. They pulled apart blinking at each other. April moved back and put her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide with disbelief. What had just happened?
Peter was visibly shaken as well. He looked at her with apology in his eyes and whispered, "I'm sorry."
She shook her head no, it was her fault too. They both looked at the top of the trees that were completely still now and then at each other in bewilderment.
Peter stooped down and gathered up the basket. "I think it is time for us to leave now."
He waited for April to slip on her shoes and fold the blanket. They moved to the edge of the grove. He turned around, bowed and whispered, "Thank you."
They were silent as they walked away from the grove. Out of curiosity, Peter glanced at his watch, 10:10. He shook his head in wonder. Peter shifted the weight of the basket and took her hand. They didn't have words to talk about what had just happened, but they knew they must.
April let them to a spot in the woods near a small stream that had a tiny waterfall, it was lined with trees on the opposite bank. Their side was in a clearing with the sun streaming into it. Small purple wildflowers grew like a carpet on the ground. She laid the blanket down and then went to stand by the stream wrapping her arms around her body. She was trembling. He put the basket down and came to stand behind her wrapping his arms around her pulling her against him.
"I feel like I broke a promise," he said softly in her ear. "A promise to you, to your father, to myself..."
April shook her head and held onto his arms. "No, Peter, it wasn't just you. It was me too. I couldn't, didn't want you to stop. If the trees hadn't..." her voice broke.
Peter said, "Part of it was the power of the grove, I know that. But, I have been aching to be that close to you for what seems like a long time. I know these are just words, but I will say them to you anyway. I won't allow myself to get that carried away again. Those feelings and actions have a time and a place. But we are not ready for them yet. I need, somehow, to make sure that those are saved for marriage where I cannot hurt you."
She turned around in his arms and was shocked to see the intensity in his eyes. "Peter, you weren't hurting me, I..."
"You don't understand. Just by being that close to you, or by any going further, if something happened and we didn't end up marrying, or I died, or I had to go to war, it would be harder for you to let go. The specialness that should have been yours to share with someone else, I would have stolen from you. It wouldn't be fair, I...I couldn't live with myself. And...if you got...with child, that wouldn't be fair to either of us. Your dancing career would be over before it began and it would not be a great way to begin our life together."
She nodded, she understood, but she was sad in a way. She longed so desperately to be close to him. She loved being in his arms and wanted to know all of him, but she wanted it to be right. She was also very grateful he was in charge and respected her and himself enough to make this decision. This was a different kind of bravery. She knew if she had made that resolve, he would be able to break it very quickly. She perked up as he was asking her a question.
"Will you do something for me?"
"Anything," she whispered with a smile.
But his face was very serious. "Will you try to help me?"
At her puzzled look he explained with a pleading look, "This may not be fair to ask, but I don't know how else to...Please try not to tempt me. It would be so easy for you to just look at me with a wanting glance and my resolve could crumble. Please continue to wear clothes that cover you as much as possible. You saw what my reaction was to just your bare legs, lower legs even. I need your help. If you see me start to lose control, push me away, talk about your father, anything to stop me, please!"
He was really serious and she had never thought about her role in his desire for her. Indeed, in a way, she had started it all by asking him to really kiss her the night of the dance. He had said they would need to be careful since that desire had been awakened in both of them.
"I will try Peter. But, please tell me if I am doing something that tempts you and I don't even know it."
He nodded. She went to sit on the blanket and he sat next to her. "You know my grandmother used to quote something, I believe it is from the Bible, "do not awaken love...until it so desires."
"My grandmother also told me more than a few times, 'happy is the couple who waits for intimacy until marriage, not only will it make their relationship more secure but it will protect them from illness and having children too soon'." She laughed, "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but my grandmother said that newlyweds should be up all night getting to know each other and not getting to know their baby."
Peter laughed too and said, "Your grandmother sounds like a spunky lady. I wish I could have met her."
"Oh, Peter," April said experiencing an unexpected rush of emotion. "I wish you could have too. She would have loved you instantly."
Taking her hand, he said, "We have a long time before we can truly be together. You have one more year at Saint Finbar's and then maybe more at a dance school. I have two more years at Hendon. It is going to be an awfully long wait if we don't stop things from progressing between us. As much as I want you, I know it would only end in heartbreak or worse."
April nodded. She understood and respected him for what he was saying. "Thank you Peter, for loving me that much."
Peter face changed, "A thought just occurred to me. Did you know the trees would make us stop? Is that why you told me that the grove amplifies emotion and said 'not yet' when you were putting on your shoes?"
April blinked, she had not consciously known that, and yet inside of herself she did. She tried to express it to Peter, "I guess the 'spirit' inside of me must have known."
He was quiet for a moment, then asked, "Do you think the trees would awaken even more if someone were to do the dance with you?"
She looked at him quickly, was he saying? "They might, are you..."
"I never thought in a million years I would be saying this, but if you will teach me the part of the dance you have always dreamed of, next time we go to the grove I will dance with you."
"Oh Peter!" she said, hugging him so hard he almost fell over. "You all making all of my dreams come true!"
He pulled back and looked into her shining eyes. "You have done so much for me, I can do this for you. After all, no one else would see us. And, maybe with the Narnian connection I have, they might awaken more or stay awake longer."
"Thank you," she whispered.
He swallowed hard trying to swallow down the rush of desire he felt for her. With what felt like a superhuman effort, he gently set her away from him and turned to the picnic.
"Are you hungry?" he said. "I know it is early, but it feels like we spent hours in the grove and I am starving!"
She laughed and started pulling out the food.