Into the West
author's note: by posting this I'll be doing something I've never done before, namely posting chapters to a story before it's complete and edited and gathering dust on my hard drive. By doing this I'm almost forcing myself to keep writing for there are few things I dislike more than a story that's been abandoned. In true epic fashion, I've decided to start this story in the middle, jump to the beginning, and then pick up where the ends meet to finish. I may update and revise each chapter as I go along, so things might change a bit in the future. I apologize in advance for any flaws or shortcomings with the story. I write purely for my own amusement and I'm thankful when other people enjoy what I've created. There's not much intrigue in this tale, just the story of a young knight who adventures out on a quest to save someone he loves.
The title of this story is derived not only from the fact that the Garden that Peter seeks lies deep in the Western Wilds, but also from the Irish myth of Tir na nOg, the enchanted Land of Eternal Youth that lay far to the west. I thought it was fitting since the apple tree in the Garden will grant immortality.
Prologue: In the Company of Horses
They stood around me in a wide circle, the whole of their noble race, more than fifty in all by rough count, of every size and age and color. Some of them were curious, some disinterested, a handful were clearly hostile, though if that hostility was directed at me for simply being there or for the notion that I rode a Horse I could not say yet.
Unfortunately their leader was the most hostile of the lot. Solid black from nose to wingtip to tail save for one white sock, Pennon, Lord of the Winged Horses, tossed his head and pawed the ground in aggravation. Beside me, Phillip huffed, determined to be unimpressed even though these magnificent horses were among the most beautiful and imposing things I had ever seen.
"I thank you for consenting to see me, Lord Pennon," I said, maintaining my dignity despite my ragged state. In truth he had done no such thing and since noon his herd had kept us from stepping another foot further west, but I was in no mood or position to argue over such trifles. "We seek only leave to pass through your land unmolested."
Pennon fixed me with an aggressive eye. "By what charge do you even come so far from the land of men? And what arrogance is this that you should harness and ride a Talking Horse as though he were your slave?"
Phillip bristled, but at my touch on his neck he calmed and said nothing. "I have been charged by Aslan, Son of the Emperor-Over-Sea, to seek the Garden in the West." The Winged Horses stirred, recognizing the Lion's name, and well they should. "He commanded I return with an apple from the tree that grows in the center of the garden. This Horse, Phillip Bwinny-hra, willingly consented to carry me here. He is harnessed by choice and by his personal preference."
"We are the guardians of that garden, Son of Adam," Pennon said, his tone threatening. He stepped forward a few paces, looking me over with contempt. "Why should we allow you to go on?"
"Guarding it?" I asked. "From what? Would you bar me from carrying out a quest given me by Aslan himself?"
"Liars don't invoke Aslan's name as I have done without fear of reprisal."
The black Horse snorted. "You don't know what you're asking."
"On the contrary," I snapped. "I know exactly what I want and what I must do."
As sharply as I had spoken, Pennon demanded, "And what is that, Human?"
"I want to save my brother's life. And I will do so," I vowed anew, my voice rising strongly as my indignation grew, "by returning to Narnia and Aslan with an apple from the Garden in the West."
Not exactly impressed by my bravado, the Winged Horse snorted. "You'll never reach the Garden."
"I've made it this far. I'll make it to the Garden."
"Who are you, Son of Adam?"
I faced him squarely. "I'm Peter, High King of Narnia. In the name of Aslan and his great father, I command you to let us pass."
I don't know if invoking Aslan in such a way was a good or bad thing, because Pennon glared and bared his teeth. "Go on your way, High King," he spat. "You will not reach the Garden and we will not help you. Begone, O Man."
He turned and the Winged Horses went with him, most willingly, some hesitantly, only one reluctantly. Pennon's daughter Rhye had listened with growing disappointment to her sire's words, her whole demeanor slowly drooping as he voiced his decision. With a great rush of wings and stirring up of dust the Winged Horses took running starts and launched into the air. Rhye was the last to leave, casting us both a long and sorry look before she followed the others, the only gleaming speck amongst the duller Horses.
"I had expected better from Horses so noble," Phillip grumbled.
I was equally disappointed and I leaned against him as I watched the Winged Horses vanish towards the setting sun and their homes in the cliffs. "They're still beautiful to see," I had to admit sadly.
"I no longer think so."
I smiled and closed my eyes for a moment, remembering Aslan and letting his love replace the despair threatening to overcome me. It was difficult not to break down and give in to my feelings right then. It was a minute or more before I drew a deep breath and stepped back.
"A few more miles before dark?" I asked, hoping to make up some lost time and that I'd spot some game on the way. I had not had meat in several days and I was beginning to feel the effects of so unbalanced a diet.
"Yes," he agreed. "I want to be far away from this place and these unkempt nags."
He was disappointed for Edmund's sake, I knew, just as I was. They had condemned my brother to that many more days of Jadis's cruel enchantment and I found it difficult to forgive them.
I shot a hare just at sundown and I simply dressed it, cleaned up, and got right back onto Phillip. Through the cool, green valley we made our path. I barely saw the spectacular setting any more: mighty, snow-capped mountains reaching into the clear sky, thick with forests and gleaming in the setting sun above the tree line. Streams and waterfalls of ice-cold water from melting glaciers worked their way downwards to join the Great River. We rode past nightfall, ever westward, following the river to its source, keeping the Spear Head, Narnia's brilliant northern star, on our right as we searched for the Garden wherein grew my brother's deliverance.
Finally it was too dark to go on safely and by moonlight I belatedly made camp in a small grove of trees along the river. Phillip ate grass as I made a fire and roasted the hare. I had to make an effort not to devour it all, but to leave enough for the morning. It was late, far later than we were usually up, but I knew I wouldn't sleep well. I had dared to hope the Winged Horses might help. After all, according to Narnia's history, Fledge, father of all the Winged Horses, had flown the whole distance from Narnia to the Garden in less than two days for the exact same reason I was now here. We had been traveling the same route Fledge had taken over land and water for almost two months. What made them so hostile? Why had they isolated themselves in this wilderness?
Phillip laid down close to the fire ring and I leaned against him for warmth. These mountains were much cooler than the lowlands to the east.
"We'll get there," I promised.
"I know," he said softly, and I felt tears well up in my eyes at his devotion, proof that I was as exhausted as I suspected. I was about to say more when a twig snapped. I scrambled for Rhindon as Phillip surged to his feet.
"Who goes?" I called into the darkness.
I heard light footsteps and then a high-pitched voice said, "'Tis I, King Peter. 'Tis Rhye. I come alone. I mean you and Phillip no harm."
I sighed, lowering my sword and the mare stepped forward until we could see her. Lovely Rhye, all silver and gold in the firelight, eager and curious and the only glint of kindness we had encountered since leaving Narnia.
"Be welcome, Rhye," I said, sheathing Rhindon again. I stepped over to her and touched her soft nose. "What brings you here?"
"My sire," she said simply.
"Pennon?" I wondered. "He sent you?"
"Only by refusing to help you."
"Rhye, I can't let you get in trouble with him over this."
She stretched her neck out and shook her head and mane, a Horse's equivalent of scorn. "I choose to do this. He is right, King Peter. You won't make it to the Garden. The valley is ringed by glaciers and far too dangerous to walk over. You can only get there by flying over the last mountain."
I smiled. "I have to try. We have to try."
She ducked her head and let out a small whinny. "No, King Peter, you must succeed, and so at dawn I will take you to the Garden myself." That said, she walked past me and settled down by the fire not far from where Phillip had lain moments ago, making a great show of arranging her wings just so. I looked at Phillip, who seemed as surprised as I was, then at Rhye.
"Why would you do this?" asked Phillip, voicing the question I couldn't bring myself to ask.
The Winged Horse stared at the fire, fascinated. "It's warm and bright. It showed up well in the darkness. What is it?"
"Fire. It is a mighty tool, but dangerous. Be cautious around it."
"It's very pretty." She leaned her nose towards the small blaze. "It smells nice. I do this because my people are from Narnia, making you, King Peter, our king. Even though we have removed ourselves from that land, we cannot turn our back on the word of Aslan. Besides," she seemed to shrug her wings, "what matters one apple?"
I was amazed at her logic. "Why is your sire so against me going there?"
"Because He distrusts anyone and anything that is not a Winged Horse. My people fled Narnia long ago because there were men from the south that tried to exploit and enslave us and treat us like dumb beasts. Though that was long ago and naught to do with kings, my sire refuses to set aside that grudge. We are not as mighty as we once were, so far removed from Narnia. Besides, you would go where he has never been allowed. He has never heard Aslan's voice, but I'm not certain if he knows what to listen for."
"And you've heard Aslan?" Phillip wondered. He carefully lay down again.
"Only through you and the king." She looked up at me, as curious as she was charming. "Will you tell me more, Peter High King? You said you were questing to save your brother. Will you tell me this tale? Why do you need this apple? What is your brother's name? Is he like you? What is Aslan like? The legends say he is a lion. What is a lion?"
I shook my head in amusement at her barrage of innocent questions. Telling her how and why I had left Narnia was the least I could do in exchange for her offer to take me to the Garden. I added some more branches to the fire, then shook out my blanket and sat against Phillip again with Rhindon beside me.
"It's a long story, Rhye," I cautioned. Her only response was to tuck her legs in more comfortably, and so it was with a smile that I started. "Fifteen months ago my youngest sister stumbled into Narnia through a magical door..."