Author's note: None of the characters are mine. They belong to the members of the Winter's Children Forum. Very belated Merry Christmas, Rosie!

For Auld Lang Syne

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne
And there's a hand, my trusty friend
And gie's a hand to thine
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne"

~ Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns

This wasn't right. The yule log blazed in the massive hearth of the Great Hall at Cair Paravel. The mantle, along with every available surface, was decked with holly and ivy. This, perhaps even more so than last year. The council of dryads and wood gods did not quite affirm the power of those particular greens to ward against evil, but it could not hurt. A quintet of fauns played, on pipes and lyres, joyful tunes of the coming of Father Christmas and the triumph of the warmth and light of Aslan over the cold and dark of winter. The long tables were heaped with delicacies for a Christmas feast.

But the king who sat at the head of the high table was not the one who ought to be there. He would be the first to admit it. Instead of a tall and noble warrior, crowned with the golden oak leaves of the high king, a solemn-faced thirteen-year-old boy bearing only a silver circlet on his dark hair, presided over what should have been one of the most joyous and hopeful feasts of the year. Liliana, who adored her older brother, could not feel happy to see him in their father's seat, and she knew Julian well enough to know that he was equally uneasy. Lily, by reason of her age and grief, had been excused from her taking her mother's role in this feast, but there was no escape for Julian. Too many boys and girls and grey-haired regents filled the seats of the lords and ladies of the great Houses at this first Christmas feast since the disaster in the west. There was something grotesque about trying to celebrate so soon after the tragedy. The solemnity of mourning had been lifted only because it was Christmas, but because it was Christmas, the council had advised, and Julian had ruled, that Narnia observe the holiday in proper fashion.

But it still wasn't right. Surely, Lily thought, if Father Christmas really wanted them to celebrate, he would drive his up in his sleigh with Mother and Father and all the lost behind him. If that happened, she would be the merriest participant at the feast. If that happened, it would be as if all these dark months had been a bad dream. If that happened… Dear child. She turned her head, but saw only the blazing fire in the hearth behind her. She turned back to the table. Dear daughter, sometimes the cup cannot pass.

It was a subdued meal, despite the efforts of the musicians. After dinner, the young king himself rose from his seat. "This isn't the Christmas any of us wished for this year," he admitted. There was an unhappy murmur of acknowledgment before Julian continued. "But this might be the year we need Christmas most. Long ago, the Golden Age of Narnia began when Christmas broke through the White Witch's winter. It was the sign of Aslan's return to Narnia, the sign that spring would come, and although no one knew it yet, the sign that Aslan would save all Narnia on the Stone Table. Aslan is more powerful than death, and all who follow the Lion are gathered to his country in the end. To Him, and to those we hope to meet in that beautiful land, we drink this toast."

He raised a glass of golden liquid. On previous Christmases, Lily had only had juice to drink on these occasions, and well-watered as it was, the honey wine made her lips tingle and burn. It was sweet at the very last, however. Was that what the mysterious words had meant?