|The Greatest of These
Author: PadmeKSkywalker PM
[movie based] The White Witch comes to Aslan's camp to claim Edmund as her own, but Aslan is gone. Peter, newly made High King of Narnia, is left to make a decision that will change his life forever—or end it.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama - Chapters: 7 - Words: 23,304 - Reviews: 112 - Favs: 86 - Follows: 34 - Updated: 05-25-06 - Published: 04-15-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2894540
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Edmund had only one thought in mind as his horse raced forward: get to the Witch. Find her, break through her wall of obedient-unto-death monsters, and kill her. The red-hot fury had cooled, so that his head was level, his thoughts coming in short, succinct bursts. Find her. Kill her. For Peter. Kill her.
An ogre came charging toward him, spiked club raised clumsily over its head. Edmund pulled Philip only just in time to the side, and struck out as hard as he could with his—Peter's—sword. Far sharper than it looked, the blade sliced into the ogre's stomach, and, sounding almost confused, the giant creature gave one last howl of anger and then fell to its knees.
There was no time for Edmund to get frightened, to suddenly realize with a start how easy it was to kill. The battle raged on, and now and then through the mass of bodies he could see flashes of pale, hard gold on the horizon. He plowed across the field toward them, mowing down those that blocked his path, but his progress was interminably slow. Every step, another axe lashed out at him and he must block it, a Hag's vicious claws reached for his eyes and neck and he must cut them down. For the first time he wondered if he would die, but had no time to seriously consider the idea, for his sword seemed needed everywhere at once.
Without warning he felt Philip's bulk give way beneath him, jerking abruptly. Edmund looked down, alarmed, and saw dark blood oozing from a thick cut in the horse's shoulder. Oh no, no. At once he slid off Philip's back and looked around wildly; there seemed to be no immediate danger racing toward them.
"Can you run back?" he asked, shouting above the battle cries.
Philip's head jerked up and down. A horsy breath escaped his lips, and he muttered, "Forgive me, my king—", then turned and began an odd, three-legged canter up the hill.
Edmund knew he was at a great disadvantage without a mount—common sense, rather than experience, told him that—and he was struck by how much shorter he seemed in comparison to all around him now. Protect me, Aslan, he prayed. He caught a glimpse of the Witch's chariot, drawn by two enormous white bears, and, bearing his sword before him, returned to the fray.
He did possess one advantage that he had not before, and that was of height. Much smaller now, Edmund was less of a target, slipping beneath the crowd rather than shoving his way through it. Over the battle noise, he heard the Witch's voice scream out in wicked triumph, and fought toward the sound.
A ghoul, bat-like wings protruding from its bony back, suddenly landed before him, hissing and spitting in anger. Edmund drew back in shock, then fell to with his sword, as it seemed he had done a thousand times before. The ghoul, frail for all its blustering, fell to the ground after a single blow, and there, standing behind it, was the Witch.
Her back was turned to him; she stood upon her own two legs, apparently having willfully abandoned her chariot, at the very edge of the battle—perhaps she had been making her way to Aslan. Edmund watched, stunned, as she dispatched a Talking Bear and a faun at once, the former with her wand and the latter with her sword. That wand…she held it close to her body, careful not to touch herself with its point. Before he even knew what he was doing, Edmund ran forward—she could not have heard him over the roar—and swung his sword as hard as he possibly could against her leg.
Several things happened at once then: the Witch whirled, cried out in pain and surprise—there was blood on her leg, though not much—and a blast of light erupted from her broken wand. Edmund instinctively shielded his eyes, and when he looked again, the Witch was facing him.
Her dark eyes seemed to glow, her tongue running over bloodless lips; she looked forward to killing him, keeping her twisted promise to Peter. Edmund could not move—he only stood there, unable to tear his gaze from hers. She did not appear to feel the cut in her leg.
"So, little king," she spat, "You wish your brother's fate?"
Her sword flew down upon him.
Peter shook his head wordlessly; around him, people and Talking Beasts of all sorts swarmed down the hill, into the battlefield, but Peter would not go until he saw where Edmund was, and could go to him.
"I can't find him," said Peter, and there was a note of tension in his voice that only Aslan would have been able to hear. Were they too late? After leaving the Stone Table, it had seemed they'd run for hours, though it might have only been a half-hour or so. And then every Narnian in the Witch's palace had needed attention—imprisoned in stone, they could do nothing until Aslan had breathed upon each one of them, as he had done to Peter.
It was impossible to grudge them this freedom, and Peter had no doubts of Aslan's word, but still every moment had been agony. To know that Edmund was out there on the battlefield by himself, and there being nothing he, Peter, could do about it, was maddening.
From there, he and Lucy had returned upon Aslan's back to camp, for as anxious as Peter was to get into battle, he was still weaponless and without armor. His own sword he could not find, but he took what was presumably Edmund's, since it was the closest thing at hand, and hastily donned his own mail. He had left Lucy at the camp, with those who were too old or otherwise unable to fight, and she had not made too great a fuss.
Peter's hand gripped the unfamiliar hilt restlessly. Common sense told him that he must remain here, with a view of the entire battle, so that he could go to Edmund as soon as he saw him. His instincts said otherwise: they wanted him to charge into the fray at full speed, tearing through whatever dark minion passed his way until he reached his brother's side. He was reaching his patience's end.
And then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a horse moving slowly across the field, with no one on its back. It was the liver chestnut Edmund had ridden yesterday, and it was limping, badly. Peter's throat suddenly grew very tight. Edmund couldn't be far from his horse…
Everything Oreius had taught them now fled his mind. He swung wildly as his instincts dictated, with no rhyme or reason to the movements, and only just barely did he manage to block her vicious blows.
When he could, he tried to hack at her bare arms, hoping to wound her badly enough to earn himself a respite. But there was very little time for an offense, when Edmund was backing up so rapidly, attempting to stay away from the whirling blades but being constantly forced toward the huge gray boulders behind him. Once his back was to the rock, all was lost.
He lashed out again at her right arm—her sword came up to block it—and then Edmund could not have said exactly what happened. Where before there had been resistance, his sword pushed through, and a cry of pain that was not his rang through the air.
Startled, he stepped backward, rather than pressing his advantage as an veteran swordsman would have known to do. The Witch was awkwardly half-bent, her long fingers pressed to the hard mail at her torso as she let her wand fall to the ground. Her mouth was open in shock, little half-gasps of breath emerging from it. Blood seeped from underneath the chest plate and spread onto her skirt of chain mail; the dark silver was stained red. Slowly Edmund began to realize what had happened: somehow his sword had slid underneath her armor, wounding her in the abdomen. A lucky blow.
"You fancy yourself a warrior, boy?" she spat, straightening painfully until she stood erect. It did not occur to Edmund that she might be weakened. She looked as strong as ever—more so, and fiercer, like a wounded animal that has done with playing games. The confident, almost indolent cruelness was gone from her manner; now her voice was cold, her eyes blazing with undisguised fury and hatred. "I shall teach you to fight. Miserable child!"
As though in a dream, Edmund felt the thick sword blade bite into his side—his eyes shut as his face clenched in pain, and something heavy and cold thudded into his stomach. Suddenly he couldn't breathe; his mouth opened and closed in a silent, frantic plea for air, and none was granted him. He hit the ground, toppled over onto the grass.
Peter screamed Edmund's name, but it was lost among the thousands of other cries. Already he was running forward, feet pounding on the beaten earth.
She was standing over him with an expression of deepest loathing upon her features. Her sword was raised for a blow that, in all probability, would not be needed—Peter shouted as he ran, no words, only to distract her, and the Witch whirled to face him.
The shock on her face transcended all other passions that moved within her. His blood had dripped from her fingers, and yet there he stood. Now it was her turn to be frozen to the ground, so startled that no other thoughts remained in her head. The idea of death to a tyrant such as herself was one of terrible finality; Peter, simply by existing, shattered this supposition and frightened her terribly.
Peter swung with all his might at her neck, her arms, her ankles, her face, anything not covered wholly by armor. She blocked him mechanically, retreating as Edmund had done a moment ago. Experience made up for lack of enthusiasm at first, but her earlier wound hampered her greatly, and Peter was merciless. He had no care for technique or stance, but fury and fear drove his blows, giving them threefold the power they ought to have had. The sword flew from her hand—blood appeared suddenly on the ground, but Peter did not stop, not until he saw her fall, and then he ran to his brother.
Edmund's breathing was harsh and irregular as he lay beside the rock—he didn't seem to be able to inhale, and his eyes were shut tightly. He could see nothing behind him; it was only when Peter knelt at his brother's side, futilely attempting to move the chain mail aside and examine the wound, that Edmund saw who it was, and his eyes grew wide.
"Peter…" The word seemed to barely make it out of Edmund's mouth; it was still a struggle for him to breathe. He abruptly grabbed Peter's arm, as though ensuring that it was real and tangible, flesh and bone instead of disappearing before his eyes.
"Yes, it's me, I'm all right," Peter said, his voice tight.
"I saw you…" Edmund insisted breathlessly. "At the Table."
"It's all right," repeated Peter. He was truly anxious now; there was no way to get to the wound without taking off all Edmund's armor. If only he hadn't left Lucy at camp… "Don't worry; Aslan fixed everything."
Whatever Edmund's state might have been, it was obvious that he was in no condition to fight at the immediate time. Peter took his brother under the arms and moved him awkwardly a few feet behind the rock, hiding them from the rest of the battle. He didn't want Edmund going anywhere until he knew what was wrong with him.
Leaning gingerly against the stone as he sat, Edmund looked up at Peter with those familiar dark eyes, so different from the Witch's cold gaze. There was a world of emotions behind them, confusion and relief and happiness and fear and a million other things that Peter could not read. His breathing had begun to ease, but Peter could not help expecting to see blood soaking through the armor and tunic at any moment.
"Did you…" Edmund had to pause and take another breath before he could continue. "Did you kill the Witch?"
Peter frowned, biting his lip. Until now, he had not given her a second thought. He looked around the rock; Edmund, with a groan, pushed himself to his feet and watched as Peter crossed the few paces to where the Witch lay, very still.
At first, Peter was reluctant to go near her. She might very well have been dead—then again, maybe not, and he didn't want to find out that the latter was true because she leaped up and stuck something into his chest. With the toe of his boot, he nudged her splayed arm, and she did not move.
"I think she's dead," he said hesitantly, turning back to Edmund. Edmund's eyes suddenly widened again in terror.
"Peter!" he shouted, pointing at something over his brother's shoulder. Peter whirled, sword outstretched, and even before he saw what had alarmed Edmund so he heard a high-pitched, animalistic cry of pain and felt his blade slide deep into flesh. Alarmed, he looked to see a gaunt, gray figure with very long claws, standing only inches away from his face. There was blood running all down its furry front where the blade had cut into him, and as Peter watched, swiftly moving away, it gave a last half-hearted swipe with its claws and then fell backwards. Peter felt sickened—that had been very close.
He turned back to Edmund, who looked very relieved as he stood beside the boulder. "That's your life I've just saved," said Edmund with a faint smile.
"That's twice I've saved yours," Peter retorted. At this, Edmund's face grew serious. He looked as though he were about to speak, but Peter preempted him. "Are you all right?" he asked, realizing for the first time that his brother sounded normal again. Edmund nodded.
"I'm fine," he said. "I just got the wind knocked out of me."
Peter's eyes flicked to Edmund's side. "What about the sword?" Edmund shook his head.
"I think it's just a scratch," he said. "The armor stopped most of it."
Peter nodded slowly, and they lapsed into silence. It was impossible to ignore the sounds of battle that were so close, and there was so much between them that neither knew what to say. At last Edmund looked up, appearing as though he would burst if he did not speak.
"Look, Peter," he said finally, his voice uncertain, "I—I'm really—"
But whatever he had been about to say was cut short by the sounds of dozens of horns being blown loudly across the battlefield. From somewhere, an unintelligible cry was heard—Peter and Edmund were too far away to hear it, but it was quickly picked up by the enthusiastic Narnians as their new battle cry.
"She's dead! The Witch is dead!"
The stance of the battle changed dramatically after that; before, there had been two sides, each with a champion, each seemingly equal as neither one gained or lost ground. Now, though, the Witch's minions were without a leader—as though she had been the only thing holding them together and in place, suddenly they fell apart. Without a cause to die for, they became desperate to live. Many simply dropped whatever weapons they held and fled, and the Narnians chased after them with a will.
Once Edmund had snatched his sword from the ground, the Pevensie boys joined the chase; they ran as fast as they could under their bulky armor, daring with shouts and blows the Witch's dark creatures ever to return to Narnia. Anyone who had known them back in England, had they been there at that moment, would have scarcely recognized the two of them at all. It was no longer British blood but Narnian that flowed through their veins, and the light in their eyes could not be attained by anything in our world. Had Edmund known of the test Aslan had set him, he would have been certain that, in that moment, he had passed.
Despite having undergone the most surreal experiences of his life in the past day, Peter was still High King after all, and so with Aslan had to tend to all the minor grievances and problems of the camp. There was, of course, the debate of what to do with the Narnian dead. Eventually it was decided that the bodies of the dwarves would be given to the dwarves, the Talking Beasts to the Talking Beasts, and so forth, that each one lost might be buried according to his or her own customs.
As for the others, a good quantity of Talking Moles was found, after a fair amount of searching in the nearby woods, and when the situation was explained, they agreed with pleasure to dig a pit large enough to dispose of the Witch and several of her minions. Lucy, watching them burrow with a will, remarked surprisedly that you never would have guessed such small things could make a hole so big. There was a great cheer when the Witch was thrown in atop the heap of bodies.
Susan was yet the only Pevensie who did not know Peter had been resurrected, and Peter, completely forgetting this, did not once think to tell her. It was only when they stumbled upon each other in the middle of the camp that Peter remembered and related, if a bit belatedly, the important news. Susan had looked as though she would faint, but, being Susan, had gotten over the moment quickly.
At long last, when darkness had fallen and everyone was hot and weary and dead sick of anything to do with confrontation of any sort, Aslan declared that it was time to retire. Relieved, Peter and Edmund returned to their tent.
Without any other sort of attire, Edmund wore the red lion tunic as he climbed up into his bed. Peter had not even changed out of his armor yet—he sat on his hammock, rocking gently back and forth with one leg kicking every so often against the ground. His eyes were distant and thoughtful, as though he were looking at something Edmund could not see.
"Are you going to bed?" asked Edmund finally in an exasperated voice. "Because if you're not, you ought to at least put the candle out so I can sleep."
"Sorry," Peter apologized, rising. Half-turning his back to Edmund in an instinctive gesture of modesty, he began to undress. "I can put it out now, if you like."
"No, that's fine."
Peter unbuckled the sword from his belt, letting out a slight groan as his weight shifted. Laying it on the ground in its scabbard, he made to rise again, then paused. Still on one knee, he looked over at the weapon Edmund had left lying on top of his armor near the foot of his hammock.
"Is that my sword?" he asked suddenly.
Edmund's ears went red. "Yes," he admitted defensively. "So what?"
"What were you doing with my sword?" Peter demanded.
"How come you took my sword? You had one of your own."
"Well, you had it then," Edmund pointed out intelligently.
"Obviously," said Peter disparagingly, standing up and quickly ridding himself of the rest of the armor. He stretched, then reached for the tunic on the ground and pulled it on. "That was because I couldn't find mine."
There was a pause. "I dunno," said Edmund, sounding a bit embarrassed. "Seemed like—like the right thing to do, I guess." Another pause, and then he spoke again—perhaps out of a fervent desire to change the subject, but the question was in earnest all the same.
"Were you scared?" he asked quietly. Peter turned around; it had never impressed him before how small Edmund was. He looked so very much like the child he was, but Peter never would have dreamed of commenting on it. Insults were for times when their bases were untrue. Peter cleared his throat softly.
Edmund shrugged. "Anytime during the battle, I guess. Didn't you get scared when you saw them all running at you like that?" He laughed a little, his dark eyes slipping up to the ceiling. "It's so stupid, you know. I mean, we'd had those wolves chasing us and everything. It's not like we've never been in danger in Narnia before the battle, but—" He hesitated. "That was sort of the first time that I realized it wasn't some great game we'd all been playing, and we couldn't just stop whenever we wanted to. It was actually real…I don't think I'd understood that before."
Peter nodded slowly. "I know what you mean," he agreed. He had to think about it for a moment. "I guess—you'll think this is crazy—but I sort of forgot to be afraid. I was so busy worrying about everything, about—about you, I wasn't thinking about the Witch, or dying, at all."
There was only the sound of breathing from the other side of the tent. Forgotten, the candle on the ground between them flickered on the walls, on their faces, casting strange shadows over everything.
"What about at the Table?" asked Edmund abruptly. "Were you scared then?"
Peter looked away. "So, you saw that?"
"All of you?"
Under his breath, Peter muttered something that might have been a curse. "None of you should have been there," he said to Edmund. "Especially Lucy—you shouldn't have let her see something like that."
"You didn't want us to see?"
"Well, not her, at least," sputtered Peter. "She's nine, Ed!"
"But what about me?" pressed Edmund, always in that quiet, strangely intense voice. "Not even me?"
Peter twisted his mouth, slightly irritated. He felt like an anonymous do-gooder caught in the act, and he felt embarrassed. "Never mind," he said shortly, sitting down on the hammock. "It's done, and it doesn't matter."
"You didn't answer my question," Edmund said sharply, raising himself up onto his elbows and looking over at Peter. "Were you scared?"
"Yes, all right?" said Peter—his tone was not necessarily unkind, but harsher than he'd meant it to sound. "It wasn't exactly the happiest half-hour of my life. I didn't even know what she was going to do to me. You're bloody well right, I was scared."
"Oh," said Edmund, in a voice barely audible. Immediately, Peter understood the reason for all of Edmund's probing questions, and he felt very guilty.
"I don't regret it, though," he added slowly, after a moment's pause. "I'm glad everything happened the way it did. If I hadn't gone…things would have been much worse."
He waited for a response, the truth hanging in the air. When there was no response, he laid down on the hammock between the soft Narnian blankets, dreading the awkwardness between the two of them that tomorrow morning would bring after such a clumsy end to their conversation. He turned to put out the candle.
"Peter?" said Edmund softly, gazing determinedly at the ceiling again. Peter looked up at him.
Edmund turned on his side to face his brother. He appeared fairly uncomfortable, as though entirely unsure how to say whatever he wanted to. At last, he took a breath.
"I'm really glad you're all right," he said, the words spoken quickly, but sincerely.
Peter grinned at him in acknowledgment. "What about you?" he asked then. "Were you scared?"
His large eyes reflecting the faintest hint of a smile, Edmund shook his head. "Only when you were gone," he replied. Reaching for the candle, he extinguished it with a single puff of air. Together, they slept soundly that night.