Warnings: Fairly graphic description of Edmund's wound at the battle of Beruna. First Narnia fic, shameless spiritual allegory. Brotherfic if you squint. Notes below.
The Witch lunges, and the breath is knocked from my lungs with a shuddering gasp.
Time, which before had felt hazy and rushed in the clamor of battle, seems to stretch. I grit my teeth, bracing myself for the sharp burst of pain, and am startled when it does not come. I wonder, even as I am rocked back by the force of her blow, if she has missed her mark somehow.
But no, no. There's a jagged, panicking sort of catch in my chest, like my lungs can't expand properly, and there's her hand, clutching the wand-shaft that is buried to the hilt in my left side.
Curiously, all I feel is cold. The sensation is not unlike the time Peter dropped an ice-cube down my shirt.
Time is utterly frozen now. The rhythm of my heart throbs loud and sluggish in my ears, the peripheral chaos of the battle bleeding away into grayness. It is only the Witch and me, locked in this one moment for what seems an eternity.
Our eyes meet. Her lips twist into a satisfied smirk as she drives her weapon deeper. The wand splinters like glass inside me, the cloying chill of her black magic seeping until it seems to reach my spine and weaken my bones. My stomach roils in rebellion, and I feel my knees begin to give way.
I wonder, then, that I had ever thought her beautiful.
As if she'd sensed my thought, Jadis snarls, and with a ferocious yank, pulls the hilt of her wand clean out of me, and oh!
The pain is simple and all-encompassing, a shimmering, living thing. It is not sharp, or burning, or throbbing, or stabbing. It is more like ice - cold, glittering and deadly, absolutely blinding in its brilliance.
The shaft gives way with a curious little sucking sound, and my stomach seems to shift inside me, almost as if all my organs would follow the wand's path if only the wound would allow.
I am hardly aware of this, though. I am hardly aware of the hot red blood that seeps through my leather jerkin, or of the green grass that rushes to meet me, or of the Witch's laugher as my legs buckle beneath my weight.
I know nothing else, feel nothing else, am nothing else but pain.
I cannot say how long I lay in the grass (though it cannot have been long) before a shadow falls over me. The pain doesn't seem to lessen as much as I seem to grow more aware of the world beyond it.
"It was all in vain, little king," a voice hisses in my ear. The Witch's breath is bitter like the winter wind, and I struggle to make sense of her words. "Your armies are spent. Your battle is lost. Your Lion is dead. You die a fool and a traitor, even as I turn my gaze now to your usurping brother."
I struggle hard to rise, groaning with the effort, but my limbs are heavy. Jadis only laughs, pressing a booted foot to my chest with enough weight to drive me back into to blood-stained earth.
I bite my lips against my scream, the taste of copper rising rich and thick in the back of my throat. Jadis leans over me, lips red as blood as she whispers into my ear, "So ends the reign of the four Kings and Queens of Narnia."
Once, many, many ages ago, though perhaps not quite so long as you might think, there sat a boy in a wood.
If you were to have asked the boy just then, "Where have you come from?", he would have told you quite simply that he'd always been there, lying against a mossy tree-trunk with his bare toes digging into the warm brown dirt, for the wood is the kind of place in which nothing ever seems to happen, and nobody ever seems to come or to go.
In truth, the boy hasn't been in the wood for very long at all, at least, judging by the way you and I reckon Time. In the wood, though, Time, as you and I reckon it, doesn't seem to matter much, if it even exists at all. It is the very same wood that a girl named Polly came to call The Wood Between the Worlds, and it comes into other stories that you might read about later, or have perhaps read already.
All around the boy grow thick, tall trees, with dark, moss-covered bark. Their canopy is so high that it can hardly be seen, their leaves so thick that the sunlight, while warm and bright, doesn't fall on the forest floor in patches, but rather diffuses through them, so that the whole scene is bathed gentle greenish glow. The forest floor is carpeted with thick grass, and around the boy, as far as he can see, the ground is dotted with little round pools. They are not muddy and shallow like the puddles of our world, but deep and clear, and dark, dark blue. The boy thinks that there might be shapes moving in them, far down like shadows, and that he might be able to glimpse something wonderful if he could be bothered to look. It's only a fleeting thought, though, and in the end, the boy is quite content to stay where he is.
The wood is just that sort of place.
(All that Edmund can say, years later when Peter musters the courage to ask him, is, "It was very green, and very warm, and very comfortable. I had the sense that I'd always been there, and always would be.")
"I say," the boy says presently, rousing himself as if from a deep sleep. "That's a lion."
And indeed, it is. There, in front of him sits the most beautiful Lion the boy could possibly imagine. He is huge, as large as an elephant, and very, very still. His mane is wild and wonderful, a brilliant, warm gold that contrasts sharply against the soft green of the forest.
"Hello," the boy says cautiously to the Lion, after only a moment's consideration. He has the far-off, vague sort of feeling that he ought to be very afraid of it, but not for the reasons that you or I might think of. The boy would later say that the threat was not physical – he was not in fear of being chased or eaten. The danger was wilder, subtler, and very much more real than that.
The Lion turns to the boy then, flicking his thick tufted tail, and the dim light of the distant sun shines all the brighter from his golden fur, so that the boy finds that he must avert his gaze. "Well met, my son," the Lion purrs in a voice richer than the soft earth in which the boy buries his bare toes. The Lion's eyes are a very wise, very dark brown.
It occurs to the boy that the Lion should not address him with such familiarity. He shudders a little, then braces himself, tensing his shoulders, and replies, "Please, sir, who are you?"
"I am all things, child of my heart, and yet I am only Myself," the Lion answers. A thrill of fear and fierce wonder shivers deliciously down the boy's spine, and he curls his knees to his chest and finds that his fingers are trembling.
"Now," the Lion continues, amber gaze locked so firmly on the boy that the boy can hardly catch his breath. "Come nearer."
The boy lets out a long, considering sigh. Something niggles at the back of his memory, some hesitation that he cannot name, and despite the warmth of the wood, he finds his feet frozen beneath him. He keeps his gaze locked firmly on his feet, on his toes, which are pale and smudged with dirt. "I daren't," he whispers finally.
"You dare not?" the Lion repeats in a voice loud enough that the leaves on the trees seem to tremble, but had the boy been looking, he would have seen the great lips curve into what could only be a hint of a smile. "Son of Adam, child of my choosing, what harm have I caused you? What have you to fear?"
The boy trembles at his voice. The words wash over him, terrible, beckoning, wonderful. "I –" he starts. He furrows his brow and clinches his fists. He knows, deep in his heart, that if the Lion were to know him, truly know him, it would not speak so sweetly. The realization wells in his chest like poison. He is not worthy.
If only he could remember.
The Lion's tail twitches again, and the boy raises his head. "Son of Adam," the Lion says gravely, all traces of humor gone from him. "If you would only heed my call, I would spare you much grief. What you seek is a memory. I would give your Answer. Now," and the voice deepens to the hint of a growl, "Come nearer."
"I'm not sure I want to," the boy replies, furrowing his brow and biting his lip even as he shifts toward to the Lion. He finds, suddenly, that he is crying, and then he sniffs, wiping his face rather irritably. "Suppose I'm better off not knowing?"
"Suppose you are not," the Lion counters evenly, seemingly unconcerned with his plight, and Edmund (for, of course, the boy's name is Edmund) is again startled to find that he has unconsciously drawn even nearer to the Lion.
He has a sudden vision of a snow-covered land, of warm blue eyes that meet his gaze, a small hand in his, of an all-encompassing, bone-numbing cold, of grief, and joy, and shame, and love.
"Oh," he breathes, even as the memories fade from him, drowned in the steady warmth of the wood. He is not surprised, now, to find his cheeks wet with tears.
"I'm sorry," he chokes, breath stolen by the weight of a guilt he can hardly understand. Edmund feels as if his heart is breaking, and he hides his face in the tawny down of Lion's fur, words falling like rain from his tongue, "Oh, Aslan, Aslan, I am sorry."
He can hardly comprehend the weight his transgressions, but they choke him all the same.
Edmund is aware, presently, of a rough warmth against his cheek, of the scent of Lion's breath stealing into his heart. He raises his head, swallowing his tears.
"It is finished," the Lion tells him solemnly. "Think no more of the past, child, and turn your gaze forward."
Edmund shivers at the implication of the word, and at the gravity of the voice who speaks it. "Do I have a choice?" he rasps pitifully.
He cannot see any way forward from the betrayal he has committed, and cannot imagine ever leaving the warmth of the wood.
"Oh, Adam's Son," says the Lion gravely, shaking his great mane. "There is always a choice."
Edmund settles back on his heels, drying his eyes and looking curiously at the Lion, who inclines his head.
"Look well, Son. Each of the pools in the wood reflects the consequences of Choice. It is Adam's birthright and gift - his blessing, and yet also his downfall. It is a great and terrible power that has been given to your race. See that you remember it."
Edmund gathers his courage and looks, one by one, into the pools.
He sees splendor and glory, great women with bright eyes standing amongst mighty men wielding shining swords; wonder and hard-won victories, terror and majesty and valor beyond measure, and then, then devestation and barren lands, wars and famine, tempered with utter desolation and despair beyond his darkest imaginings.
Edmund falls to his knees and buries his face in his hands. His voice, when he speaks, is small and trembling. "I think, sir," he says carefully from between his fingers, "If it's all the same, I'd much rather stay here, with you."
"It is not the same," the Lion growls. Edmund screws his eyes shut, and then finds himself engulfed in the shaggy golden mane. "It is not the same, Child, though it is well-spoken. A time is coming in which I will call you to my country, and you will sit beside me in a seat of honor. Now, though, you are appointed a much graver, much greater task."
"Me, sir?" Edmund asks, awestruck that the Lion would trust him with anything.
"Indeed, for you, Edmund of Finchley," The Lion bows his head so that Edmund's face is covered in his mane, and lays a kiss on his forehead. "Though you are the flesh of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve, you are indeed Mine, the child of my heart and the son of my choosing, bought and paid for dearly. I have Known you, and Chosen you, and Named you, from the very foundation of the world. There can be no honor higher, nor any love greater."
Edmund reels at this.
A fierce hope blooms warm in him, and Edmund is is struggling to his feet before he is even aware of moving, breath catching wonderfully, painfully in his chest. He needs to do something, be something, offer something, but all he can do is gather all his courage and bow his head awkwardly. "What is it, sir, that you require of me?" His voice hardly trembles.
There is a rumble like gentle laughter from the Lion. "Only this, Dear One - that you remain steadfast and humble. Love what is good and right, and remember my Mercy. If you seek me often, you'll find that I am never far from you."
The Lion's words seem to wash over him with tangible heat, and Edmund feels himself flush under the weight of him. He finds a new strength in his limbs, and with it, courage. It's a conflict like he's never felt, a fierce joy, a peace beyond comprehension, but at the same time, a galvanizing rush, a savage desire to act, to run, to take up his sword and fight for the Lion's cause.
"And now, son of Adam, it is Time," the Lion growls.
The steady warmth in his chest deepens to a burning glow, and Edmund feels suddenly as if a living ember has been alighted in his heart. "Aslan," he asks softly, placing his hand to his breast, though he is not afraid.
"Fear not," The Lion answers him, but the voice seems distant and muffled to Edmund's ears. Even though he has not moved, it's as if the Lion is speaking through a thick door several rooms off. "You are being called, and all will be as it should."
For the first time, it seems to Edmund as if there is a wind in the wood. There is a curious rushing in his ears. The green light of the sun seems to dim.
"And now, son of Adam, Remember."
"But shouldn't it have worked by now?"
"Hush, Susan," Peter's voice is strained, and I am aware, quite suddenly, of the hand that grips my shoulder very tightly. "I think…"
I take a deep breath and flex my fingertips. My eyelids are heavy, my thoughts sluggish.
A golden voice. A green wood.
I furrow my brow, reaching unconsciously.
A strong hand catches mine.
"And now, Son of Adam, Remember."
Peter. Lucy and Susan. Narnia.
Shame wells in me as I am reminded my betrayal.
Childish anger and unfounded bitterness, envy without cause, treason without foresight. Guilt and shame and fierce longing and misplaced faith. Pain and suffering and barren desolation and a winter colder than death itself.
"It is finished."
Peter clenches me tightly, weaving his fingers through mine in a grip that's nearly painful in its desperation. He is warm and strong and real and wonderful, and I don't flinch away from his grasp.
"You are indeed Mine."
I take a deep, shuddering breath and open my eyes.
So, first (completed) Narnia fic. This fits into a greater universe that I may or may not ever get around to posting (check out the first chapter of Tread the Sun, or shoot me a message if you're curious). I am actively looking for some friends in this fandom, so don't be shy! Feedback, as always, is greatly appreciated.
Hit me up on Tumblr at TheMendedKing.