His horse is shot from beneath him, the clouds gathering ominously above him. Edmund pulls his cloak tightly around his shoulders and hunches into the wind.
He will be hard-pressed to make it to the Eyam outpost before nightfall.
Edmund is in the wilds west of Lantern Waste. It is the second winter after the fall of Jadis, and while Narnia has enjoyed mostly peacetime these past two years, rumors of hags and harpies are whispered near the borders, and the Wolves of Skoll still terrorize the northern settlements during the darkest nights. This new threat, though, seems neither. Edmund does not recognize the workmanship of the arrow he carries.
A sound catches Edmund's attention. Likely, it's the wind in the pines. Likely, it's nothing.
Edmund stills, draws his breath, listens.
To his left. A shift in the silence, a watchfulness, a presence.
Edmund draws his sword as softly as he is able. Lucy would laugh at him. Peter would call him paranoid. After this morning's misadventure, though, Edmund is taking no chances. He slips between the trees, blade at the ready, footfalls soundless as a cat's.
There, as the thicket of trees opens up into a little glade, Edmund finds his answer.
It's a She-Wolf.
Edmund raises his blade at the sight of her, then lowers it, immediately feeling the fool.
The She-Wolf is trapped, hind-leg caught in a steel monstrosity that reminds Edmund vaguely of something from the Other Place. He edges closer, sheathing his blade, noting how painful the injury must be. She's a young Wolf, obviously, and fearless, too, rising slowly to her feet and bristling, baring her sharp white teeth as Edmund approaches.
Edmund addresses her now, for clearly she is a Talking Wolf. "Sister," he says, opening his hands to show he means her no harm. "How have you come to be so ensnared?"
The Wolf snarls in response, an ugly, throaty sound, and answers. "What of it, man-cub? Is my misfortune not obvious to you? Do your people not hunt mine in the night, and set these very traps at our dens? Finish your work, or begone, and leave me to my fate!"
"Sister, I have set no traps," Edmund replies truthfully, feeling a prickle of shame for his part in the hunting of the clans of Skoll this past autumn. He glances around him, shivering under the bite of the wind as it picks up through the trees. It really is time he moved on. Instead, Edmund kneels, looking the She-Wolf in the eyes. "I would free you and ask nothing in return, save that you allow me unharried passage to Eyam."
"Fair words," the She-Wolf growls, "Though I smell deceit in them. Are you not the younger of the boy kings, littermate of the one called kin-slayer? My people have suffered greatly by his blade, and even now, his armies ride out from your city in numbers to drive the clans from the homes of our fathers. Keep back, lest I sever your fingers from your hand!"
Anger flares in Edmund's chest, and he rises. "My brother the High King has ever acted in the defense of his people," he says hotly. "He slew the brute Maugrim upon threat of his sisters, and he hunts the servants of Skoll in retaliation to the bloodshed of innocent lives. He is in the service of Narnia and Aslan, and all those who live in accordance to His law. Doubtless, Wolf, if your people had come to him and repented your of your evils wrought under the tyranny of Jadis, he'd have shown you mercy."
The Wolf flicks her tail in amusement. "Doubtless indeed, little king," she snarls mockingly, "Doubtless, too, that your brother and his lion have trained you well. How prettily you sing for them!"
Edmund feels indignation rising in him on behalf of his brother, even as some part of him admires the valor of the she-wolf. She is hardly more than a cub, long-limbed and spindly. There is something about the amber eyes, so suspicious and bitter, that reminds him painfully of himself. "Doubtless it would seem so," he echoes softly, settling back on his heels. He loosens his belt and flings away his sword. It lands behind him with a heavy thud, and Edmund notes briefly that the darkness is deepening - he will surely not make it to Eyam by nightfall.
It hardly matters now.
"I can only imagine what horrors have been told to you about the deeds of my brother," Edmund starts slowly, fiddling absently with the sleeves of his tunic. "And even moreso of myself." He forces himself to meet the golden gaze of the Wolf, finds that it is one of the hardest things he's ever done. "I know what it is to walk in darkness, and suffer under perceived persecution." He takes a deep breath, then continues. "I too know the shame of being ensnared by my own doing. I would spare you that burden, sister, if only you'd allow me."
There is a brief moment in which everything stills. The storm-heavy silence of the wood seems almost oppressive, the wind abates, neither wolf nor boy seems to move or breathe.
Edmund takes a careful step forward, hands upraised to show he holds no weapon. The Wolf growls low in her throat, a deep, rumbling warning, but still he comes closer. All too soon, he is crouched at her feet, close enough that the heat of her fur warms his bare skin, close enough that her wet breaths raise the hairs on his neck. He is at her mercy and they both know it, bowed before her with his throat exposed, but he is either too confident or too foolish to be afraid. It occurs to him, a far-away, vague thought that is half guilt and half gentle amusement, what Peter would say if he could see him now.
From this angle, he can better see the trap. It bites deeply into her hock - Edmund notices now the dried blood at the edges. Pink sinew gives way to gleaming white bone, and Edmund fights back nausea when he discovers that the Wolf has been gnawing at her wound. Respect mingles anew with horror and pity for this creature - she'd have chewed off her own leg in exchange for freedom, and nearly had.
"Sister," Edmund says gently, bracing himself in anticipation of her fury. "I must get closer to release the snare. My fingers will be near your wound."
The growl deepens, but Edmund is not afraid. If she'd wanted his blood, she'd had ample opportunity to get it. He clinches his teeth, brushing his fingers around the steel jaws of the trap.
The Wolf yips, and all at once, she leaps free, and Edmund falls forward, nose mere inches from the heavy metal teeth as they snap shut with a sharp clang.
Edmund's not sure how long he kneels there, palms pressed in the dirt, breaths heaving and heart pounding. It's as if all the fear and anticipation he hadn't felt while at the mercy of the Wolf comes rushing to him now, after the fact, and he sits frozen for a while, reveling in the sharpness of the air, in the keening shiver of adrenaline as it burns down his limbs.
He realizes, suddenly, that it is snowing.
He stands slowly, shaking out stiff muscles and wrapping his cloak tightly around him. The snow falls heavily on his bare head and shoulders, and Edmund lifts his eyes. He's lingered too long. The thicket of trees is nearly shrouded in the gray-blackness. Eyam is nearly two leagues eastward, by his reckoning, and he can hardly be certain of his direction in the storm. He will have to find shelter, and soon.
Peter will be frantic.
Edmund is startled by a dark shape that darts up to his left. "You travel to Eyam?"
"Indeed, Sister," Edmund answers when he can. He'd thought the Wolf long gone.
She does not offer thanks, seeming to understand that Edmund would be loathe to accept it, only lifts her muzzle to the sky and sniffs. "Then you seek shelter until the snow ends," she says firmly, giving him an assessing glance. "Your kind are ill-equipped to travel in the winter." The disdain is evident in her tone.
Edmund nearly laughs, and then thinks better of it. "We are," he agrees, acutely aware of the fur cloak that hangs in his wardrobe at Cair Paravel and wishing like anything that he'd heeded Susan's advice and brought it with him. Susan is most bothersome when she is right.
"A good turn asks another," the wolf murmurs, nodding to swiftly to herself as if she's come to some decision. She looks back to Edmund then, amber eyes seeming to glow in the near-dark. "I know a place," she says, voice nearly lost in the howl of the wind. "Will you follow, man-cub?"
Edmund considers this for a moment. Good sense says that it is foolish to follow a fell creature into her own territory, especially one who is so clearly of clans who served Jadis, and who so obviously bears his brother ill-will. There is something about her, though, some innate understanding that transcends all reason, some strange rapport that Edmund can hardly rationalize, that implores him to trust her. "Indeed, I will," he answers after only a moment.
After all, he hardly has a choice, he tells himself in belated justification. "Lead on."
Many thanks to Rudyard Kipling for providing me with lots of Wolfish inspiration (including the Law of Wolves and the name Rashka, which is a scrambling of his own Raksha).
Also offering a huge thank you to my dear friend Mac, who allowed me to chatter at her deep into the night when I lost all my progress on this fic. Mac, you are an absolute treasure, and I am so glad that we met.
There will be two more parts of A Good Turn posted soon.
Again, my dears, I'm new to this fandom and actively seeking friendships! Shoot me a PM, or hit me up on Tumblr at TheMendedKing!
Aslan between you and evil, friends, and Happy New Year! :)
~ Lady J