Trial By Fire

Chapter One: Nighttime Wanderings

It all began with a glass of water.

At least, that's what Edmund told himself in later years. Yes, circumstances and his own natural curiosity led him into going through the wardrobe and into Narnia, but the glass of water was what had gotten him out of bed in the first place.

Oh, how well he remembered…

Peter Pevensie awoke from a sound sleep during his first night at the professor's house, to see a dark shape rising from the bed next to his.

"Ed, it's the middle of the night," he said, blinking sleep out of his eyes. "Where do you think you're going?"

Edmund glared at his older brother as he defiantly stood up.

"I'm thirsty and I'm going to get a drink of water," he snapped, quietly, so as not to wake his sisters in the next room. "Do you mind?"

"Macready makes nightly bed checks, and if she catches you out of bed, she'll be furious," Peter told him. "Can't this wait until morning?"

"No, it can't," Edmund said, as he walked toward the door, now more to annoy Peter than to go for the water, itself.

"You're going to get in a lot of trouble," Peter warned him. "And when you do, don't expect me to bail you out of it."

Edmund snorted, and returned to his bed, laying his pillows lengthwise on the bed before covering them with his blankets.

"That's not going to fool her, you know," Peter observed, coolly.

"I don't care," Edmund said, stalking out of the room they shared.

He made it to the bathroom and downed three cups of water, before he'd calmed down enough to stop shaking with anger.

He didn't like being away from home, away from Mom and Dad. He didn't like how everyone around him insisted on treating him like a child. He didn't like that Dad was off at war, risking his life for a bunch of people they didn't even know. And, most of all, he didn't like this place, with its elusive Professor, and the uptight Mrs. Macready, and all the rules. Don't run, don't shout, don't get underfoot, and don't disturb the Professor.

'There probably is no Professor,' Edmund thought cynically. 'He's probably just someone Macready created to scare little kids. Like Lucy.'

Thinking of his little sister only served to make him angry all over again. Peter and Susan thought he was cruel in the way he treated Lucy, when they'd conveniently forgotten that they'd treated him the same way when he had been Lucy's age.

'But then that's the way it is,' he thought, bitterly. 'Peter's the responsible, mature one, Susan's the perfect one, Lucy's the cute one, and me? I'm the screw-up.'

Edmund noticed that he was becoming agitated, all over again, so he took a few deep, slow breaths to calm himself. When he'd cooled out of his temper and felt ready to face his family without betraying his hidden emotions, he left the bathroom, but froze when he heard a heavy footfall nearing him.

'Macready,' he thought, looking around frantically for an escape. 'If she catches me out here, I'm dead!'

Moving as silently as he could, he ran along the length of the hallway, trying doorknobs as he went. Room after room was locked, and he was cursing his bad luck, as the footsteps got closer, when a doorknob turned noiselessly in his grip. Not stopping to think about it, he ducked into the room, shutting the door behind him.

The room was empty, except for a large, ornately decorated wardrobe placed in the center of the room. Edmund was about to lean against the door with relief when it struck him that Macready might be checking the rooms, themselves.

Desperately, he lunged across the room and wrenched the door of the wardrobe open. He lurched inside, pulling the door closed behind him, just as the doorknob turned. Leaving the wardrobe door propped open slightly, so as not to lock himself in, Edmund held his breath and began backing up, expecting at any moment to touch the rough wood of the back paneling with his fingers. Instead, to his immense surprise, he encountered what felt like pine needles.

Forgetting the need to be quiet, Edmund whirled around in surprise, and stared, shocked at the sight before him. The wardrobe had no back. Instead, he saw before him a long stretch of snow-covered land, with two mountain peaks in the distance.

Edmund blinked slowly, before looking around. As though to reassure him that he wasn't dreaming, the coats and other clothing items of the wardrobe surrounded him on three sides. A large pine tree stood almost directly in front of him. Putting out a hand, Edmund touched first one of the coats, and then the tree's branch. Both felt incredibly real, and Edmund felt himself swelling inexplicably with amazement.

Slowly, as though in a trance, Edmund continued forward. He stopped the instant his slipper-shod feet touched snow, however, and thinking quickly, he shoved his feet into a pair of boots and pulled one of the fur coats on over his pajamas. Then, he continued forward into the stillness, looking at the world around him in wonder.

"This is amazing," he whispered, fearing that he would break whatever spell he was under if he spoke any louder. He walked until he reached a lamppost burning brightly in the middle of the wooded clearing and he could no longer see the wardrobe.

Then, he stopped cold at the sound of a branch breaking. A rush of fear made his chest tighten, and he looked around, nervously.

"Hello?" he called out, softly, even as a little voice in his head wondered if making his presence known was such a bright idea.

Behind him, the trees rustled, and he whirled in time to see a magnificent chestnut stallion stepping delicately towards him.

"Oh," he gasped, as the horse approached him slowly. "Aren't you gorgeous?"

"Thank you," the horse replied.

Edmund gave an undignified yelp, stumbling backwards and tripping over his feet to land in a heap in the snow. His eyes grew wide as the stallion came closer.

"You talked!" he said, wondering if he was going mad. "Horses don't talk."

"In Narnia they do," the horse replied, clearly nonplused. "And my name is Philip, just so you know."

Edmund scrambled to his feet, eyeing Philip warily.

"My name is Edmund," he said, after a moment. "Edmund Pevensie."

The horse considered him for a long moment, and then spoke again.

"Tell me, Edmund Pevensie, are you a Son of Adam?"

"A what?" Edmund asked, before his Biblical knowledge came back to him, and he thought he understood.

"Do you mean Adam and Eve?" he asked. "The first people, who were created by God?"

"Of course," Philip said.

"I guess so," Edmund said slowly, amazed at how quickly he adjusted to the idea of a talking horse, "although we just call ourselves humans."

"Human, then," Philip said. "And your land is called Earth?"

"Ye-es," Edmund replied, wondering just what Philip was getting at.

"Do you have any siblings?" Philip asked, rather than assuaging Edmund's curiosity.

"Three," Edmund answered. "One brother and two sisters. Why do you want to know?" he demanded.

"Forgive me," Philip told him, "but I have a reason for my questions. You see, Narnia is stricken by the curse of an evil witch, and we have suffered an endless winter for one hundred years.

"But there is a prophecy that states that when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit on the thrones of Cair Paravel, the witch's reign will end, and winter will be broken."

"And where is Cair Paravel?" Edmund asked, his curiosity dragging the question out of him.

"It is by the sea," Philip replied. "The White Witch seeks to overtake it, furthering her control over Narnia and its people."

"She sounds awful," Edmund whispered, shivering instinctively in fear.

"She is," Philip told him. "But now that you have come here, you and your siblings can defeat her and save us."

"Wait a minute," Edmund began, but Philip tossed his head, suddenly, and pranced closer to Edmund.

"Get on my back," he said, quietly. "Hurry, quickly," he insisted, as Edmund hesitated.

"What's wrong?" Edmund asked, frightened, as he hoisted himself onto Philip's bareback and grabbed a handful of his mane, grateful for the summers he'd spent horseback riding on his uncle's farm.

"The Secret Police," Philip told him, starting forward, looking around cautiously. "The White Witch must know you're here, if she's sent her wolves out on the hunt."

"Wolves?" Edmund whispered, feeling terror bloom inside him. "Can you outrun wolves?"

"We're about to find out," Philip said, grimly.

Edmund swallowed hard, settling himself more firmly on Philip's back as Philip launched into a brisk canter. Then, they both heard a faint howl, and Philip broke into a swift gallop. Edmund clung tightly to his mane, sticking to the stallion's back like a burr.

"I don't see any wolves," Edmund said, but promptly took back his words as he caught a flash of gray through the white of the snow all around them.

"They're faster than I thought," Philip said, increasing his already frantic pace. "We may not be able to outrun them. We may have to fight."

"Fight how?" Edmund whimpered, fearfully.

"Any way we can," Philip told him.

They ran in silence for a few moments that seemed to last an eternity. The only sounds Edmund heard were Philip's hoof beats on the hard-packed snow, and his own frantic heartbeat pounding in his ears.

Suddenly, Philip slammed to a halt, and Edmund was thrown up on his neck. Looking forward, he saw, to his immense terror, a large gray wolf blocking their path.

"Give me the boy," the wolf growled, as the rest of his pack surrounded them slowly. "Turn over the Son of Adam, and we let you live."

"You're not going to touch him, Maugrim," Philip declared. In a lower voice, he told Edmund, "Stay on my back, no matter what happens."

Edmund nodded, too terrified to do anything else, and Philip rolled his eyes back to look at the wolves advancing on them. Suddenly, without any warning, Philip lashed out, catching one of the wolves squarely in the stomach with his massive back hooves. Even as the wolf flew backward to slam into a tree, Philip whirled around and reared, bringing his weight down on another wolf's head.

Edmund clung desperately to Philip as the stallion turned into a demon, using his hooves and teeth in a decidedly deadly manner. But it wasn't enough. Slowly, he was being worn down by the wolves' relentless attacks.

'I have to do something!' Edmund thought, desperately. As if in answer to his silent despair, the tree they were under suddenly groaned and a large branch dropped directly into his lap.

Not stopping to think about his sudden good fortune, Edmund seized the thick branch with both hands and swung with all his might at a wolf that lunged at Philip's hindquarters. The wolf yelped in pain as Edmund's makeshift weapon connected solidly with its face, and fell back, blood streaming from several new wounds.

"You'll pay for that, human," the wolf vowed, readying itself to spring again, but at that moment, Philip suddenly launched himself out of the circle the pack had formed, and raced away.

Not daring to let go of his weapon, Edmund tucked the branch in close to his body as he gripped a chunk of Philip's mane in his fist, the wind stinging his face as they ran.

"The pack," Philip gasped, doubling his pace. "Are they following us?"

Edmund glanced under his arm, looking for any telltale flashes of gray on white.

"I don't think so," he said, after a moment.

"Good," Philip said. "But just in case-"

His voice trailed off as he veered sharply to the right, a move that nearly unseated Edmund. For a few more seconds, they ran along a trail, then Edmund heard the splashing of water.

"The rivers and streams are thawing," Philip said, as they galloped along the river. "If they were still frozen, I couldn't do this, but the flowing water will wash away our scent tracks."

"That's good," Edmund whispered, unable to think of anything else to say.

Suddenly, Philip leapt out of the river and onto the bank, his pace slowing from a frantic gallop to a steady trot, following the curve of a rock face looming on their right side. Up ahead, Edmund thought he saw a dark area, and his suspicions were confirmed when Philip swerved into a well-hidden cave entrance. He stopped when they reached the back, his sides heaving as he gasped for breath.

"We can rest here," Philip said, as Edmund slowly slid off his back.

"Are they going to find us?" Edmund asked, peering nervously at the entrance of the cave, fearing that he would hear the distant howl of wolves.

"Not for a while," Philip said, wearily. "It will take them some time to pick up our trail, again, and by then, we will be long gone from here."

"Thank you," Edmund whispered, softly. "For saving me, thank you."

"You're welcome," Philip said.

"You're hurt," Edmund said, suddenly, seeing the various gashes on Philip's flanks.

"It's nothing," Philip said, but Edmund had already shrugged out of his coat and ripped the sleeve off his pajamas.

Darting to the cave entrance, he grabbed a handful of snow and allowed it to melt, soaking the scrap of cloth. Then, he gingerly dabbed at Philip's wounds, washing away as much of the blood as he could.

"I don't think there's much more I can do," he said, apologetically.

"It is enough, for now, thank you," Philip said, as he turned and inspected Edmund's work.

Then, he turned and looked at Edmund, before speaking again in his deep, rough voice.

"Welcome to Narnia, young Prince."