Blood and Ink
Times changed, but the people stayed the same.
Samael didn't know who'd coined that phrase. It had been long before his time, in an era where Charn was arguably less prosperous than it was now. Key word on "arguably," given that in those periods of time, the world of Charn wasn't being torn apart by civil war, to the extent that the capital of Charn (so named Charn itself) was threatened itself. But then, the people stayed the same. None were to question the glory of Charn, for Charn was Charn. Charn was eternal. Charn was the mightiest city of the world of Charn, and Charn was the most mighty of all worlds. To question this was to question reality. Striding through the Grand Palace, Samael reflected that indeed, the people stayed the same. Men plotted with daggers, women plotted with poison. Children would grow up to be one of those things, and slaves remained slaves. The only thing he wasn't sure on was as to whether there were more, or fewer guards in the palace these days. More, because the queen could sense her power fading? Or fewer, because more of her household had been sent to the front.
Fronts, he corrected himself.
North, south, east, and west. As a child, he'd heard of worlds where the beings were carried aloft on wings like birds. Worlds where sky and earth were one. He'd doubted it then, and doubted it now, but had to accept the possibility that they did exist, even if no such beings graced Charn. Had to accept that possibility because over the last week, he'd come to accept the possibility that the city of Charn, capital of the world of Charn, would either change hands, or be reduced to rubble like every other major city on this continent.
Not that the two were mutually exclusive.
So caught up he was in his thoughts that he failed to realize how far he'd actually travelled through the palace. None had barred his way – even were it not for the sigil on his blood-stained armour, his face would have carried him this far regardless. He was not without friends in court, and his foes knew better than to cross him. Or so he hoped – the enemy of one's enemy was at times one's friend, but war also made for strange bedfellows. He didn't put it above those in power to court favour with the one winning this war.
The sound of spears crossing caused him to stop. The sight of the spears gave him further pause. The two guards at the doors of the queen's study were taller even than he. Their armour was functional rather than formal, and he knew that if it came to blows, they would skewer him before he drew his sword.
"State your business."
He drew himself up straight, even if he remained a head taller than the golems before him. "I'm here to see the queen."
"On whose authority?"
He frowned. "On my authority." He looked at the first of the brutes. "Do you seek to question me?"
"The queen did not call you."
He sighed, thinking it might be better to go for the sword – one way or another, it would end this conversation much quicker. "I have valuable information."
The brutes remained silent.
"Information I feel it best to deliver personally."
The brutes remained silent.
"Oh to hell with-"
They opened the doors for him.
As he walked through, it briefly occurred to him that he could have still killed them. As they entered the doors, they'd have let their guard down, and that would be all the time he needed to strike. Even the most mighty of armour had its weaknesses, and his sword, Ivory, was adept at finding it.
Yet the thought was indeed brief. Because at the other end of the room, was Queen Jadis. First of her name, rightful queen of the city of Charn, rightful empress of the world and empire of Charn, the future conqueror of all worlds, and most mighty of all sorceresses. Even now, in the twilight months, nay, weeks of her reign, he was compelled to kneel before her. Not just for her sovereignty, not just for her beauty, but no, her mere presence. Such was her magic that the air around her was changed. He knelt, even as she continued to scribble away at her desk. For what felt like the passing of an age, the only sound in the room was the scratching of the pen.
"What do you want, Samael?"
He said nothing. Did nothing. She had asked him what he wanted, but had not given him permission to rise, and-
"Oh for goodness sake, rise."
He did so, like a child summoned by his parent. Not that his parents were around anymore. His father had killed his mother after catching her with another man, and he'd taken justice against his father the next day. Flaying him alive before crucifying him as food for the crows.
Most agreed that he'd been too kind.
"Are you going to stand there? Sit."
With a flick of her wrist, a wooden chair was summoned before the queen's desk. It occurred to Samael that she hadn't looked up at him once. That she'd written more words on the parchment than she'd uttered. Taking the seat, he noticed that the parchment she was writing on was but one of many.
"Well?" the queen asked.
He remained silent.
"I assume you have something to either ask or tell me."
"I do, my queen." He took a deep breath – Queen Jadis didn't react to bad news well, but for her and for Charn, she had to know it. "The city of Astrogha has fallen."
She kept writing, so he kept talking. "The rebels crossed the River Lethe, and outflanked us. We could spare no man from the frontal assault they had made days prior, and by the time they were upon us, it was too late. We-"
"Samael, how many miles is it between here and Astrogha?"
"Thirty-six." She put down her quill and looked at him for the first time. Her cold, pitiless eyes bored into his. "You rode thirty-six miles to tell me what I already knew?"
As cold as her eyes were, it was nothing to the chill that ran down his spine. "You…you knew?"
"Yes, Samael, I knew. Not everyone was so eager to die at Astrogha when my sister's degenerates bastards managed to cross the Lethe, and they arrived here last night. They were kind enough to tell me that Lord Lucion fell in battle, that you were his second for a grand total of ten minutes, and that Astrogha is now in my sister's hands."
"…and what of those who fled?"
"Sent them back to the front of course, what else?"
They're still alive?
That was a change. Usually they'd have been hung for desertion. Maybe even beheaded if the crime was especially egregious. But he didn't question his queen's choice. Instead, he pressed on with the telling of the truth.
"What…'front,' are we talking about?"
Truth by asking questions, but truth nonetheless.
"Say again, Lord Samael?"
"I ask, what 'front?' There's nothing but floodplain between Astrogha and Charn. Your sister has a clear point of attack from the east."
The queen said nothing, but instead returned to her scribbling.
"My queen, your sister, damned as she may be, is no fool. She owns everything east of Charn. But she won't attack until she has the city surrounded."
Jadis leant back in her chair – much larger than his, and carved out of exquisite marble. Nothing to the imperial throne, but close enough. "And what would you suggest? Ride out and meet her?"
"No," he said.
"No. In the east alone, the rebels outnumber us four to one. Even if by some chance we defeated them in the open field, they could always retreat to Astrogha. And should the rebels break through the northern or southern fronts…" He sighed. "All roads lead to Charn, my queen, but it's by that virtue that it can be so easily surrounded."
Jadis said nothing. Not at first. She just went back to her scribbling. Again, for a second age, the only sound in the room was the sound of quill meeting parchment. Well, that, and the sound of Samael's heavy breathing.
"There's blood on your armour Samael, make sure you wash it off before I decide where to send you next."
He remained seated.
"Did you not hear me?"
"My queen, I hear you, but…"
"But?" She still kept scribbling.
"My queen, the blood on my armour will be nothing compared to the blood that flows through this city when the rebels take it."
Jadis looked up at him with the speed and gaze of a falcon. She opened her mouth, and-
"You know it's true. I know it's true. By love and devotion, so many dare not utter it, but…"
He could say no more. A tightness was growing around his throat. As if an invisible hand had taken it. Squeezing his body so hard, his spirit was literally being ripped out of him.
"Do you know what this is, Samael?" Jadis turned the parchment around to face her lord. He said nothing.
"Do you know what this is?"
He managed to shake his head, even if it felt like it was about to fall off its neck. The top of the tree, leaving a trunk that was afire.
"This is a list of devoted subjects that had thrown in their lot with my sister. People who thought she might make a better leader than I." She leant forward. "Do you know what I'm doing, Samael? Since you can't talk right now, I'll answer – I'm personally signing the death warrant of every man and woman on this list, and for good measure, seeing to it that their entire bloodline is wiped out as well. And yes, of course my 'devoted subjects' will have fathered some bastards somewhere in the city of Charn, but no foreign weed can ever fully be removed from the garden, can it?" She paused. "Can't it?!"
He said nothing. Did nothing. Speech had left him, and his sight looked set to join it as the invisible coils tightened around his throat.
"Oh of course, you can't speak."
And then the world was ablaze again. Fire, seen through a storm of tears. So great was the pain, and his gratitude to his queen. He sat there, gasping, thanking the Giant for his mercy, even when the Giant had so far forsaken this world.
Some said the Giant moved on from one world to the next. If so, he couldn't say. Right now, he couldn't say anything.
"And do you know what this is, Samael?" Jadis pulled up another parchment. "Well?"
He shook his head. He could accomplish that much, even if speaking was an ability beyond him right now.
"This is a treaty I'm forging with Lord Crucifax, of the city-state of Caliban." She scoffed. "Of course, it only became a city-state after my sister decided that Charn was hers, but of course, Lord Crucifax was no doubt lead astray by every other lady and lord who thought that Charn should no longer be the world that eclipses all others. That it is better to fragment the light of lights rather than let it shine as one." She smiled, and from the looks of it, Samael could tell it was genuine. "I've promised amnesty for any lord or lady that joins me. I dare say that once they hear of my sister's atrocities, they'll realize that the true ruler of Charn is always the most just, correct? After all, is it not by the blood of Lilith that the throne is mine? Am I not the apex, the one who embodies the strengths of both giants and jinn? Was it not I who declared that we not use magic, and was only pushed to do so by my sister's treachery?"
Samael nodded fervently. It occurred to him that the blood of Lilith also flowed through the queen's sister, so he wasn't sure how blood-rights accounted for much. Only that the king before Jadis had declared that the throne be hers. As it had always been in Charn
As it will always be.
He had to tell himself that. Had to tell himself that the dozens and dozens of parchments on this desk would account for something. That the traitors would get their just desserts, and those who had declared themselves neutral would ally with the rightful queen. Of course, even if they did, that would mean marching dozens, even hundreds of miles to the world's capital. A move that could take months, whereas if the queen's sister wanted her to, she could have an entire army here within the week. But of course, Queen Jadis had accounted for that. Hadn't she?
"Hmm." Jadis got to her feet and moved to the window. The sun was rising, and a warm shade of blood-red was coming in through the window. "Can I offer you a drink, my lord?"
"Oh don't worry it's not poisoned." Jadis picked up her cup, returned to the table, and poured but a drop. On the table appeared two goblets filled with an amber-coloured liquid.
"A new spell," she said. "It can also provide food too you know."
Samael took a sip – it was delicious. And, more importantly, soothed his throat.
"Do you like it?" she asked.
"Good. Because this spell has interesting ways of compelling people to…keep their loyalty, shall we say? Enough to ensure that they never question my will? Enough to get them to cross countries, continents, even worlds? Enough to even betray one's own family?"
He paused, the goblet in his hands. Watched as the queen took a sip of her own.
"But that isn't a problem Samael. Because you have no family, and you'd never betray me either?"
He didn't answer. His hands and throat felt cold, even if the liquid itself was warm.
"No, my queen."
"Oh good, you can talk again." She clapped her hands with a sneer. "Well, do be off. By the morrow I'll have a new army under your command. More blood for your armour. I-"
She stopped and cursed as she hit her ink jar. It covered one of the parchments, the black liquid spreading over it as surely as blood might cover a man's body after being ripped apart by a lance.
Have a spell for that, oh queen?
Given her barrage of curses, apparently not.
"May I help, your grace?"
"No, you can leave me be and stop asking such useless questions!"
He frowned, but nonetheless bowed. "I take my leave."
She didn't say anything. Not as he turned, not as he walked to the door, not as his hands grasped the handles. And yet…
"Which is mightier?" he asked, turning back to face the queen.
The parchment had been cast aside by now, and she'd already started righting another.
"Which is mightier?" Samael repeated. "The quill, or the spear?"
He blinked. "So simple an answer?"
Jadis frowned. "I never asked for philosophy Lord Samael, but you're valued enough that I'm willing to indulge you. So my answer is, the quill."
He said nothing.
"Do you disagree?" she asked. "By all means do so. But it is by the quill that my empire is run. The quill that keeps it going. It is by the mark of my quill that swords be plunged into the breasts of babes, by which axes take off the heads of traitors, and by which spears are sent across entire continents to enforce my will. So yes, Samael, the quill is more mighty than the spear. Satisfied?"
He bowed. "Of course."
He took his leave. Through the doors, past the guards, across stone lain down by nameless slaves in ages past. Through the palace, of the city of Charn, of the world of Charn, my both last two eternities.
He hoped she was right. That by her quill, spears would be brought to Charn. Hoped that he was wrong…that it was the quill that would win this war, and not the many spears of his enemy.
That ink would be thicker than blood.
If you've read this far, thanks (I'll thank you even more if you review). However, while I don't write that much Chronicles of Narnia material, there is something I want to get feedback on outside the oneshot, and that's the question of Jadis's sister. Like "Ramandu's daughter" (who got a name in the film version of Voyage of the Dawn Treader), she's basically an unnamed character in the series. So on one hand, picking a name for her would make writing for Charn/Jadis-centric stuff easier. On the other, it feels...off, I guess? Assigning a name to a character that isn't mine? Granted, I've done that before with player characters, but that's a different kettle of fish.
Not saying I'll necessarily write something where this is pertinent, but I'd like feedback on this - would you prefer I generate a name, or keep true to the novels and leave her nameless?
Update (02/10/18): Corrected typos.