Disclaimer: I cannot claim any fame regarding C.S. Lewis's original works, or even to the marvelous depictions from other authors of the Golden Age Pevinsies, which have frequently inspired me. Any mistakes, on the other hand, are completely my own. (Truly, I wrote this on a phone, so please be kind and point out any obvious mistakes.)
It took two sunrises and a nightfall for a falcon to reach Archenland. Three days for a sturdy horse. By the time King Lune's ambassadors reached Cair Paravel with word of a sickness born of the early thaw, thirty-one of their people had crossed the border into Aslan's country. The frail, the elderly, and the children were among the first tragedies, but if the word of the healers was true, even the hale would not be spared.
"Will the Valiant Queen not ride forth to our aid?" pleaded the courier. "Even the stalwart Prince Corin has little breath to cry out, and there are many days between our country and that of our allies."
"Of course I shall come with you!" Lucy vowed. Within the afternoon she and her valets and her guards had departed Cair Paravel, making haste through the forests and valleys that spread between the two territories.
If not for the cordial many more would have perished, for the couriers returned only to wail at the sight of new graves. The blight had spread to the houses of noblemen and servants alike, and Prince Corin was merely shallow breaths from death. Sleepless nights and harrowing days were spent cooling the feverish and boiling vats of water so that the congested might breathe easier. With so many ill the cordial could only be spared for the most desperate cases. Marvelously, Lucy herself felt nary a sniffle in the weeks spent among the dying, though her faun valet nearly capitulated soon after their arrival.
A curse of the Witch, the Narnian ambassadors called it. Lucy was inclined to believe it.
During her time spent in the allied kingdom, she anticipated a letter or two each week from her siblings. Word from Narnia, however trivial, always cheered her, for death skirted about her every waking moment, and without her siblings these last weeks of winter seemed to carry on forever.
Peter's correspondence would be short and rather droll, Lucy mused. His letters were often composed of brief summaries of politics and settling complaints, and questions like did the rabbits really need to burrow quite so close to the cricket field? Susan's would be mothering and sweet and perfectly diplomatic, offering her best wishes to King Lune and his sons, inquiring after the wellbeing of Archenland's good people, and finally imploring Lucy to indulge less in sweets and be mindful that although the Calormenes had been driven back to Tashbaan there was increased danger of retaliation.
Edmund's letters of course (for he always needed several sheets of paper) would make Lucy giggle with amusing tales of the vole family inviting the kings to tea and offering them dainty thimble-sized cups, which Peter would manfully treat as though he was using the finest china in... (London? Spare Oom? The words sprang to mind and Lucy brushed them away.) Edmund always eased her loneliness with mirthful recounts of the castle's most unnoticeable encounters, from Mrs. Florence's springy kittens taking refuge in his wardrobe lest the High King learn that one furry miscreant tumbled into the pudding before it was served, to the bear who so adored Susan that he had presented her with a dripping honeycomb (fresh from a hollow maple and still sporting a few unhappy bees) and stared in enchantment as she mustered her best smile and daintily ate some before him, to the tadpoles who had been rehoused in one of the wine pitchers after their puddle had frozen over (and hadn't that been a jolly surprise for Peter's valet!).
Today bore no disappointment, for Longfeather appeared on her windowsill in the late hours, bearing an oilskin pouch with three letters from Cair Paravel.
"Stay here until morning," Lucy urged, unlacing the oilskin and setting it aside. "Marwen will bring you supper and wine, if it pleases you."
The falcon chortled. "Wine for the post. Now there's a finery my ancestors never saw. Nay, my Queen, a bit of clear water is all that I ask for, as I must return quickly tomorrow morning. Queen Susan has given her express orders."
"Has something happened?" Lucy asked in alarm. "It's Peter isn't it? The dollophead! I told him to be careful while I was gone!" Hastily she unlaced her cordial, for the worst cases were surely over and she could attend to the sick without the precious vial. The falcon shook its head, however, sniggering.
"Nay, the High King is whole and well, as fare all in Narnia. Your good health and welfare is all that concerns the queen. I am not to deprive you of Aslan's blessing, but to carry your message back to Cair Paravel. Pray burden me with little else, oh Valiant Queen."
"Silly Longfeather," Lucy said with a soft laugh. "Who else would I trust to be swift and sure should the need arise? Rest at least this night and gather your strength. I shall give you my letters in the morning."
"I thank you for your gracious hospitality," Longfeather accented. "Aslan's blessing be upon you this night."
While Marwen the faun prepared a roost for Longfeather's comfort, Lucy eagerly tore open Peter's letter. As she suspected, it was scarcely two paragraphs emphasizing the necessity of finding suitable boots and cabinet drawers for young squirrel kits and pinklings that seemed to thrive in Edmund's bedroom, and did Lucy realize how sorely her presence was missed by all of her subjects?
Surprisingly, Edmund had little to say. Nearly illegible drivel was scattered across a single page. Repetitive protests against Mrs. Beaver's smothering onset of purple coneflower tea with fresh honey were quickly explained by in Susan's letter, her crisp, looping script explaining that the Just King suffered from a minor cold and would have less to complain about if he would only rest and leave the court debates to his brother.
Two days ago, Lucy thought with a sigh. Edmund was probably (grudgingly) recovering from the last sniffles now, thanks to the formidable efforts of Mrs. Beaver and Susan. The court must wait a little longer for her return, for though many had recovered the majority of the population was yet vulnerable. Also, perhaps Peter would remember that Edmund did suggest choosing another field for sports after the last time the High King turned his ankle.
Lucy wrote each of her siblings a brief reply, scolding Edmund for ignoring the good Mrs. Beaver's remedies, reminding Peter that the Far Hill rabbits expected one of the kings and queens to attend Old Bilgard's birthday celebration, and proposing that Susan threaten Edmund with a mustard plaster next time he tried to rasp his way through a boundary dispute. Each letter contained something new and different since her last correspondence, for she knew that her siblings would gather together in the evening and read the letters aloud. Oh, how Peter would howl when Edmund was compelled to read that the young Aravis Tarkheena was quite besotted with him after her little adventure with Prince Cor. Susan would warmly express the greetings from King Lune to her siblings, and would smile when she came to the part where Lucy and Prince Cor saved an entire burrow of small, wriggling bunnies from being crushed by a wagon. (Nonspeaking rabbits, granted, but darling and soft nonetheless.)
Edmund, of course, would receive the full brunt of her chastisement for two sentences before she gushed into that old "Remember when?" tale of how Bree had upturned an entire wine barrel at the feast celebrating Archenland's new alliance with Narnia, and had neatly slid into King Lune's table, hurling the banquet into a chaotic hassle of nobles and ladies of the court shrieking like peacocks as wine and sauce splashed onto their velvet garments. (Her own dress was ruined, as was her siblings' finery, but wasn't it worth it to see King Lune's face mottle to such a majestic shade of purple?)
Laughing to herself as she signed Edmund's letter, Lucy folded the last pages and laced them in the oil satchel for Longfeather's return. Oh Aslan, what a marvelous day! she thought with a happy sigh, reaching for her candle and swiftly blowing it out. All was well and right in Narnia.
The next morning brought grave news. No sooner had Longfeather taken flight with the returning letters than another falcon lit on Lucy's windowsill, bearing a single hurried message from Susan.
"I do not wish to alarm you, however, circumstance compels me to write. Edmund has taken a turn since our last correspondence. Do not fear, Lucy. Our brother is not in grave danger yet, but Peter agrees that the cordial will not be misused on this occasion. We fear it may have something to do with the extended time Edmund spent conversing with King Lune's courier. All have been banned from his sickbed save Peter and myself and our invaluable healer Mrs. Nesbit, and we ourselves will not leave the room without cleansing ourselves and our garments, lest the illness take hold of our kingdom as it has Archenland. Pray lend us your cordial for Edmund's sake, for we have hope from your letters that the blight has run its course in Archenland and the cure will not be amiss for a short time. Fallow is steady and swift; he is willing to bear the cordial to Cair Paravel and return it to you without delay."
"Of course!" Lucy exclaimed, unwinding the delicate cord from about her neck. "I would deliver it myself if they asked. Make all haste for my brother, Fallow."
For the journey to Archenland would have taken him two days' flight. The need for the cordial could be dire by this time.
A soft rumble at Lucy's elbow stayed her hand. Gasping, she whirled to face the presence on her right.
Though only her candle was lit, the whole room seemed to be filled with sunshine. Golden eyes twinkled merrily, as though to tease, Did you not realize I am always with you?
Softly the Infallible One spoke. "What grave tidings would inspire such haste, Valiant Lucy?"
Immediately Fallow dipped in a low bow, his wings tucked in reverence. "My King."
"Peace, Fallow," Aslan said, his voice the gentle thunder before a calming rain. "You shall bear a message for me to the Queen Susan. Tell her, 'this sickness will not end in death.' Lucy and I will return to Cair Paravel shortly."
"Our people thank you, Oh Great One," Fallow said, bowing low until his beak tapped the sill. To Lucy he said, "Your majesty, my fledglings eagerly await your return. Jahiva and I shall not name them without your consent."
"It is my honor," Lucy said, laughing softly. "Thank you for your message, Fallow. Tell my siblings that I will see them soon."
As the falcon took flight Lucy leaped from the windowsill and seized her traveling bag. "Poor young Cor will be disappointed. I told him I would tell him about the stone table before I left, and Nali's children still have a cough, but I know that King Lune will understand that I cannot..."
Arrested in her scrambled packing, Lucy turned around uncertainly. "I am going home, aren't I, Aslan?"
Patience for a child's whims; that was always what she had seen in Aslan's eyes, long ago as a fanciful child, even more so now as a queen who challenged the boundaries of time and love and life. Sighing, Lucy set down her bag. "But it takes days to reach Narnia. Edmund needs me now."
"I have told you that your brother will live," Aslan rebuked her tenderly. "Why do you still act in fear?"
Quieting her beating heart, Lucy envisioned a forest, sheltered and still, where one needn't ask questions: only to listen. "I'm to wait here, then?" she said when her thoughts were finally calm.
"Until it is finished," Aslan affirmed. "Remember your promise to my followers here, Queen Lucy. In their time of need I have sent you. Do not waste the gift you were given."
Cupping her hand around the cordial, Lucy looked out into the city streets, where dawn had yet to shed its light and a man's voice could already be heard, crying out for someone he loved. "Alenna!" Each choking plea rent Lucy's heart. Was it his daughter who rasped for each breath? His wife? His mother?
She would soon know.
Edmund will live, Lucy scolded herself. Shall I sacrifice the lives of these dear souls just to sit by his bedside?
Silly thing that she was, there was clearly one answer. Swapping the satchel for her day cloak, Lucy tied it around her shoulders and slipped on her boots. "All right, Aslan," she said determinedly, sweeping her hair into a neat bun. "Enough tarrying for this day. I am at your service."
The pride in his eyes banished any lingering fear.
Exhausted, Lucy trudged to her room as the North Star faded into dawn, too weary even for a late supper. Neither feasting nor frivolity had cheered the nobles this evening, nor would for many days perhaps, for King Lune took the plight of his people grievously and had cleared the halls for the sickest to be brought inside and tended by his personal healers. The cordial was saved for the dying, each precious drop meted out with care, and Lucy chided her selfish thoughts of the morning, when she would have deprived Archenland of the fire-flower's grace in order to ease her own anxieties.
Her heart felt faint within her as she let her cloak fall, for upon her bed stand was another letter.
Susan could not have received Fallow's message so soon.
Trembling fingers ripped open the seal. "My dearest sister, I fear that the good Fallow may not reach you in time, for the north wind brings fresh snow and communication across the border is wretchedly inconvenienced. Oreius has positioned his soldiers at the river so that our messages may be interchanged quickly, with fresh flyers between posts, and every falcon and hawk and crow has dedicated him or herself to this task. Dear Lucy, I know our allies suffer in Archenland, but Narnia shall be lost without her king. Pray, do not answer this letter, but come home with all due speed. We are sending Oreius by way of the pass so that he might meet you soon after you receive this letter."
"Oh Edmund," Lucy sobbed, scanning the letter for the date. A full day and two nights prior to this morning! What had transpired since then? "Aslan, what shall I do?"
Peace, my daughter. Warmth blossomed in her chest and settled across her shoulders like a knitted quilt. Shuddering, Lucy clung to the words that whispered around her, as tangible and secure as one of Peter's squeezing hugs. Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see my Glory?
"I trust you, I trust you," Lucy whispered through tears, clenching the letter until ink smeared in her sweating palms. I trust him. I will wait.
She did not close her eyes, clinging to the words in silent prayer.
Bring me news of his safety, Aslan. Let me know he is well, just as you promised.
Somehow, during the night Lucy slept. She remembered nothing of falling into bed, only that she had dreamed.
She saw Peter sitting against the headboard of Edmund's bed, his brother's dark head pillowed under his chin. His lips moved in a reckless stream of words that Lucy could not hear, but they seemed to be words of solace. Perhaps he spoke for Susan's sake, as the young queen stood at the balcony, as stiff and silent as though someone had stolen the Gentle Queen's beauty and captured it in marble. Perhaps it was for Edmund, who lay still and peaceful, tucked in the safest place in Narnia, where neither witch nor ogre could tear him away.
Say that he is truly well then! Lucy thought muddily, exchanging yesterday's crinkled dress for a clean garment. Oh Aslan, surely this must be a sign!
A sign it appeared to be, for overnight the north wind blew fierce, seeming to take with it the last bouts of infection and pneumonia. Those stricken with illness crept towards health, and those who were hale did not begin to cough by midday. The cordial remained tucked away, no longer necessary as the blight ran its course, fading as new frost painted the fountains silver.
How strange is winter, to curse the land but also bring healing, Lucy mused. She prayed for a blessing to cover Edmund as well. Winter was difficult for him, even so many years past the Witch's deception. Each cold snap was a reminder about what he had forsaken for the sake of a selfish whim.
"Aslan, guard him this day," Lucy whispered.
She was surprised when King Lune himself approached her before the third hour. Her own stallion trailed behind him, already groomed and saddled, along with a perky looking mare with desert breeding.
"Your presence has been our salvation," King Lune said somberly, "And I regret that I cannot keep you longer. Aslan has given explicit instructions that you are to leave today."
Today? For a moment Lucy's heart leaped in relief, before her conscience thrummed in warning. Why so soon, when the very morning before he had earnestly told her to fulfill her promise? "Aslan has given me no such instructions," she said cautiously.
King Lune sighed, pausing to pick a burl out of the mare's mane. The strain of Archenland's peril had worn his face thin, and deep lines creased his once jovial face. "Queen Lucy, in the night I was smitten with a dream such as I have never encountered. I believe something terrible will come upon Cair Paravel. You must return to your people."
Edmund! Her voice trembling, Lucy asked, "Pray tell me, what did this dream show you?"
Sorrowful eyes drove the blade into her chest, quenching the joy of the morning's accomplishments. "I saw tears upon the Everlasting One's face, and an empty tomb waiting for its own to return."
Recoiling, Lucy clapped her hands to her mouth, holding back a cry. "No, it mustn't be true," she denied, rationally warring with her terror. "Aslan promised me he would live. He would not reject his word!"
Tenderly offering the reins, King Lune prompted, "Do not all live in Aslan's country if they follow him with glad hearts? Return to your people, Valiant Queen. Do not grieve an old man's heart by lingering during Narnia's time of need."
"No - No!" Lucy exclaimed, thrusting the traitorous longing from her heart. "Aslan has not given his blessing. Until he says otherwise I will fulfill the task he has given me!"
He will not betray my trust!
"Lucy..." A shudder broke the king's voice. "You have given me back my son. I will not withhold you from your own family. Go quickly, while there is yet a chance."
"I will not!" Confidence flared in her heart, strengthening her aching feet and throbbing head. "When it is time, Aslan shall send me home. I will not abandon his will."
Realizing that she would not be persuaded, King Lune nodded, his voice heavy with uncertainty. "Then we will assist you in any way we can, and send you forth speedily when that time comes. Only do not let it be said that we forced you to stay in Archenland."
"Nay, you shall never be held accountable for my decision," Lucy vowed. "Narnia will ever praise your generosity and kindness."
Yet her heart wrung within her, for though Aslan had given her tidings of peace, ever more she questioned if she had misinterpreted his command. Aslan, do not let me be responsible for my brother's misfortune! She could not speak her worst fear: that her tarrying might bring about King Lune's vision.
He has promised. I will trust him.
There was no letter awaiting her that night. Lucy didn't know whether to hope or despair. It will take time for a falcon to bring news of his healing, she reminded herself.
Her fretful mind reminded her that, in the same way, she would not know immediately if she was mistaken.
Daylight sprang Lucy to wakefulness, her disorientation leaping immediately into a firm knowledge.
"It is time." The thought was spoken for her in a soft thunder; a voice that both commanded and reassured.
"Aslan!" Swinging from her bed, Lucy wrapped her snug sleeping robes around her and glanced at the open shudders, shivering from the draft. "But it is still night!" What light the Great King brought with him; a brilliance which even the sun could not convey, that had once banished even the terrible shadows from the White Witch's fortress.
"You must depart at once for Cair Paravel," Aslan instructed her. "Your horses and companions have already been prepared. Make yourself ready, and follow me."
"Then we are not too late!" Lucy laughed in relief as she yanked on her boots, stuffing her belongings into her travel bag. Hang decorum - she would ride in her night dress and be glad for it. "King Lune entreated me to leave earlier, but I would not leave without knowing that I carried your blessing."
"You listen well, Lucy," Aslan said, pride enriching his voice like the warmth of a fire pit on a frigid night. "But now you must make haste. Your presence is required in Narnia."
"Is the blight past?" Lucy wondered, throwing on her heaviest cloak. "Will the people of Archenland be all right now?"
"Patience, Lucy," Aslan said gently. "You were faithful in the task given to you. Let the future rest with me."
Lucy frowned. Her mind raced with curiosity, wishing she could interpret the depth of Aslan's timeless gaze. She would not hear answers tonight. As Mr. Beaver had said before, it was not the place of mortals to comprehend eternity.
When she scampered down the steps, scandalously clad in an overcoat and her night robes, Lucy saw that she was not alone in her state of undress. Marwen and Hadok stood beside her horse, their curls disheveled and their helmets askew. King Lune, his regal bearing softened by a night cap, embraced Lucy warmly before clasping her hands around a small pouch.
"Not here," he said before she could question him. "When you return to Cair Paravel. A gift from our people."
"I do not ask for a -l"
"Did Aslan not say, make all haste?" King Lune said with mock gruffness, brushing away her protests and leading her to her horse. "Go, Valiant Queen. The Lion's blessing be upon you."
Smiling through grateful tears, Lucy mounted gracefully and looked one last time upon the window where she had waited eagerly for news.
She was going home.
Pounding hoof beats on crackling snow accompanied the light clatter of fauns as they sprinted alongside Lucy's stallion. The measured beats were fairly percussive compared to Aslan's silent lope. A snowflake flicked Lucy's nose like a heavenly kiss and she sighed contentedly. Never mind the cold snap, the barren trees, the ice that laced the crags they passed. With Aslan beside her she knew their footing would be sure. So long as the Lion reigned, winter carried the bright hopes of spring, and every day might well be Christmas.
Dawn was just beginning to accent the forest when hoof beats resounded outside of the royal party's rhythm. Skidding to a halt, Lucy peered ahead, nearly squealing in alarm when a looming rider burst through the fog.
No, not a rider at all!
"Oreius!" Lucy exclaimed, riding forth joyously to greet him. "What tidings do you bring from Cair..."
She trailed off anxiously as her stallion skittered, suddenly unsure. Oreius clattered to a halt beside her, his flanks heaving with the efforts of a steady lope, such as riders maintained to cover long distances in the most expedient amount of time. On his shoulder rested Kavros the crow. Strapped to his side was an oilskin pouch.
Dark eyes surveyed Lucy with grief before Oreius bowed his head. "My Queen."
"What is it?" Lucy demanded, her voice pitifully small. "Oreius, what has happened?"
Anguish pinched the general's face and he moved as though to reach for the pouch, then resolutely gripped his sword. "I would not have you hear this from any lips but my own."
"General," Lucy said, trembling despite her calmness, "I will not have you toy with me. What news has my sister sent?"
Sorrow betrayed the proud centaur's mask. "Two days ago, your highness. I would not have borne you to Cair Paravel without knowing - "
"No!" Lucy shrieked, reeling her stallion about. "Tell me it is not true! Aslan!" she implored, grasping for a thread of hope. "You reign over life and death; you know where he is. Tell me, I beg of you! Have I come so far for naught?"
Was it only her imagination that the Lion was taller in the shadow, easily standing alongside her horse, with neither judgment nor condescension reserved for her terrified accusations. Quiet words, softer than her quivering gasps, deeper than her sinking hopes, caressed her with a simple question.
"Do you still have faith, Daughter of Eve?"
Faith? Had she not been faithful to stay behind when he asked? Had she not refused the warnings of King Lune and waited until Aslan himself gave her leave to depart? Had she not chosen to serve his purpose rather than fret or flee?
"I always believed you spoke in truth," Lucy said, shaking with tears. "You are faithful. I've never doubted it. Even ... even if..." Clapping her hands against a sob, she closed her eyes, shouting the words in her mind. I will see him again. One day, we will all be together again. Aslan is faithful.
"Oh Aslan, was it my fault?" she burst out, covering her face as her shoulders heaved. "Was I wrong? Was I meant to leave? Would he still...?"
"Hush, my child," Aslan whispered, his tawny head brushing against Lucy's hands, coaxing them away until she looked into golden eyes that glistened with shared loss.
"I am the resurrection and the life," Aslan said. "He who believes in me, though he dies, will rise again. Lift up your head, Valiant Queen. Your brother and sister shall look to you for strength."
But not Edmund... Oh, Edmund!
With a muffled shriek Lucy flung her arms around Aslan's neck, sobs tearing through her until she screamed with every breath. The Lion bore her grief without chastisement, gentle breaths puffing by her ear, bearing the brunt of her white-knuckled grip, until at last her shoulders stilled and she rested on his shoulder, tears of the Great One splashing warmly on her hands.
He wept with her.
"Come, Lucy," Aslan said when at last her soul ceased to quiver and the cruel pain had numbed to a constant ache in her chest. "Narnia waits for your return."
Swallowing, Lucy nodded. She raised her chin and met Oreius's eyes, a sovereign calling forth her armies on the eve of death. "With me, General. We shall not lose any more of this day."
"I obey my Queen," Oreius answered, clasping his arm to his chest in a somber salute. Though weary from his forced pursuit, he kept pace with the returning party, calling neither for rest nor relief until at last Lucy drew up short and admitted that they must take shelter for the night.
Lucy thought that no sleep would come, her empty heart wasted within her, her tears dry as she threaded her fingers through Aslan's mane. Somehow, burrowed against his warm side, the night passed in a mere blink, and she rose up refreshed, prepared for another day of hard riding. She remembered no dreams.
Evening turned once more into night, and the morning star glimmered in a haze of mauve before Cair Paravel's turrets were discernible in the shadows. Before Oreius could sound their approach a centaur hailed them.
"Hail, General Oreius! Bring you news of our departed queen?"
"I am here," Lucy called tonelessly, her fogged mind placing the voice as that belonging to Marrun, son of Commander Roharun. "Pray send word to my brother and sister immediately. Tell them that Aslan accompanies me."
"Surely such company shall hearten them," Marrun said, bowing low to the Lion. "Your presence is our solace, oh Mighty One."
A light snort startled Lucy from her stupor. Aslan's ears flickered as he replied, "Let the king and queen meet us in the place of rest. The Son of Adam sleeps, and I am here to wake him."
Jawing like a beached trout, Marrun stuttered, "Oh Great One, have you not heard? The Just King is dead. All of Narnia mourns his passing."
"Send your message," Aslan said, a light rumble deepening his words, so much that the centaur stepped back in dismay. "The High King awaits your report."
"Sire," Marrun assented, bowing once more before fairly fleeing for the castle.
"Aslan..." Lucy said breathlessly. Dare she hope? Was it ever done, so long after death made its claim?
A mysterious lilt springing in his voice, Aslan repeated, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see my Glory?"
Oh Aslan... Urging her stallion to a gallop, Lucy looked over her shoulder and cried out, "Orius, come quickly with me! Hurry!"
Before she could light from her stallion a throng had gathered in the city, pressing against her as she darted to the lower levels. Here lay the tombs of Kings ("Heaven forbid they bear you, Sire," so Orius had once said to Peter), and below the catacombs, in archways free of lichen and damp, were the caverns where Old Narnia had honored her dead. There, foremost among the rulers, were the stone caskets of King Frank and Queen Helen. Marking the span of Narnia's genealogy in majestic array rested their descendants. Peter often mused that they would have to carve a new cavern before their own children were born.
Yet sorrow upon sorrow, there rested a new casket of marble, sweetly adorned with carvings of holly and willow branches, enticing those who looked upon it with hopes of tomorrow in delicate depictions of a celestial city filled with light. The carver's affliction rang true in his chiseled strokes, for in the last panel a child ran to the Lion in his last earthly race, and the left hand was chipped off as though swollen eyes could not see the completion of his work.
Here Susan and Peter arose, disheveled and gaunt from days of fasting and broken rest. Susan's hair bore no ribbons or pins, her fair visage smeared with ash that she had spread through her hair. Peter had not yet adorned his garments of mourning, as though - despite the raw loss that left his eyes vacant - he still hoped that, with Aslan's return, they might see one more miracle for their brother.
"This is where we have laid him, My Lord," Oreius said, his gaze fixated upon the final journey of his king.
Aslan stepped forward, a hush quelling the wails of mourners. He rubbed his cheek against the side of the casket, where the child ran freely into the arms of his King. Tears rolled down his face, pattering against marble, against the stone floor. Like a father who clawed through the rubble of a smoking house until his hands were bruised and blood ran down the side of his face, until he held the still, white hand of his son and knew that the dear soul had left him alone on the earth. Aslan rested his chin against the casket lid, shudders jolting his powerful frame.
"See how he loved him," Mr. Tumnus whispered, his voice breaking mid-word as he wrapped an arm around Lucy's shoulders. "Could not he who saved us all, also have kept our king from dying?"
"He isn't dead," Lucy whispered, gripping the faun's hand. "He's just sleeping." Oh Aslan, that I might be with you as well, that Edmund and I may be reunited! How long until we meet again?
Around them the gentle beasts of Narnia raised their voices to lament with their King. Peter fell back onto one knee, as though realizing that this was indeed the last parting, and Aslan shared in the loss that he would not rescind. Edmund's time had come, and the Creator of all mourned with them.
Lucy turned her face into Mr. Tumnus's shoulder lest her knees give out, clinging to the faun as her precious sphere of love shivered to pieces around her. Only three of us remain. Oh Edmund, where shall we find joy without you? Who can fill such a chasm that you leave behind?
A rumble pulsed through Lucy's feet, startling the mourners. Stepping back from the casket, his expression smoothing over in anticipation, Aslan commanded, "Take away the stone."
Susan pressed a hand to her mouth in horror. "Aslan, we cannot! It's been four days. By now the stench..."
"Oh, do as he says, Susan!" Peter exclaimed, a surge of aspiration hurling strength into his limbs as he grasped a corner of the casket lid and heaved. Oreius clattered to his side, gripping the marble seal and reverently turning it aside, sliding it carefully until it rested beside the casket. Lucy choked down a scream.
Linen bandages were stained through, pressed down upon herbal balms and weighted by incense. This was what remained of her brother. This was the final division of body and soul.
No such revulsion tainted Aslan's regard as he nuzzled the bandaged crown and breathed out, "Edmund, Son of Adam, arise."
Like a startled gazelle the body coiled, an indignant squawk emerging from the bandaged face before linen-bound hands tried to scrub the fabric away. Susan's eyes rolled back in a swoon.
Peter shoved past Oreius, clumsy fingers already tearing at the bandages. "Don't just stand there! Help me cut him loose!"
Not until the mayhem settled, until they untangled themselves from their awestruck subjects and settled Edmund by the hearth, cleansed and cosseted and dreadfully confused, nursing a cup of strong tea and still smelling strongly of cloves, with Susan clinging to his one arm, too distraught to wash her face and hands, and Lucy badgering on his other side asking for descriptions of Aslan's country (and what mercy of Aslan, that he remembered only peace and wholeness before swiftly returning, or else he surely would have wept to have left perfection behind for a broken world), and not until Peter had shakily accepted his first hot drink in days, did Lucy realize she had never seen Aslan go.
She begged her leave of her brother, kissing his dear head and reminding herself that what was once given would not swiftly be taken away without reason, and stole away to her room. Closing the doors and sweeping the curtains aside, she waited.
"Where are all of the others?" The gentle chide warmed her heart and she chastised herself for not remembering him sooner. Tawny paws settled beside her, as gentle as a silken moth and powerful as a giant's hands. Wisdom flooding amber eyes, Aslan pondered, "Are there not four thrones in Cair Paravel? Where are your brothers and sister to offer thanks?"
"I'm sorry," Lucy said, regret tinging the joy of reunion. "You gave us all that we asked, and we forgot to thank you." She leaned against Aslan's side, marveling that not six hours before, she had clung to him in despair, never to be whole again. "Will Edmund be safe now? Surely we shall not lose him again...?"
Nudging her face, Aslan only answered, "Do not torment yourself seeking after foreknowledge, my child. Your time is written upon my scroll, and none shall know until that day comes. Live for me, and do not worry about what tomorrow brings."
"We shall all be together again," Lucy murmured, burying her face in the golden warmth. "And we shall always be found in you."
For surely none would end their days outside of Aslan's will, swept away by the cares and worries of the world, forgetting all that he had done. Faithful Peter, Tenderhearted Susan, Steadfast Edmund, and herself... Surely they would never forget Him. They would all share in Aslan's country in the end.
For who could ever lose faith in the One who wept alongside them, and rejoiced in each and every child who found their way home.
This story is based on John chapter 11, in which Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha is sick to the point of death. When asked to come and heal him, Jesus says that the sickness will not end in death but will glorify God. He waits two days before going to see the siblings, knowing that Lazarus has died, and upon reaching the tomb weeps with the sisters before calling Lazarus back to life.
**The reference to the holly on Edmund's casket is a little nod to WillowDryad's story, "Counted Among the Traitors," in which holly is used as a representation for King Edmund.**