The following story is a companion to "They Also Serve," set toward the end of the story. All credit for the idea behind it belongs to acacia59601, who wrote:
I just wanted to make a request. Is it possible for you to do a quick one shot on Oreius' reaction to finding Peter and Philip by their campfire . . . it would be lovely to see how he reacted to seeing his king in such horrible shape. Just releasing plot bunnies . . .
Yeah, I'm helpless before plot bunnies. My very great thanks to Almyra for her help. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: I own nothing and make less.
I snapped out of a deep sleep, rising to my hooves as Silvo, King Peter's valet, entered my chamber at a run.
"General," panted the Faun, "King Edmund summons you to his presence immediately. He is most distressed."
I frowned. A Faun's idea of distress did not match mine and I could not see the younger of my kings ever approaching the near-panic on display before my eyes right now. I lifted my tunic from where it hung on the wall and dressed as I hurried through the halls. I soon left Silvo and his hysterics behind, glad for the relative silence. When I reached the royal quarters, I was mildly surprised to find an assembly not in the kings' bedroom, but one of the queen's.
Queen Susan's bedroom was crowded and active. At any other time I would have hesitated to enter her private chambers, but with King Edmund so accursed and fighting for his very life I would have charged into Aslan's Country if the need arose. The Great Lion himself sat beside the bed and the two queens flanked their brother while several servants milled about in alarm. I bowed before entering, but I focused entirely on the dark-haired boy before me.
Edmund Pevensie, King of Narnia, sat on the edge of his sister's bed clad in a bloodied tunic. Dark eyes set in a deathly pale face stared up at me and I was struck that so frail and fragile a body could house a will so indomitable. Clearly he was in immense pain, the blood on his clothing and on Queen Susan's dress was so fresh it was still spreading through the fabric. His breath came in slow pants and a sheen of sweat stood out on his face, but there was an air of determination about him I had seen before. This was the warrior king that had helped lead an army to victory. Though he was alone in this battle he fought against Jadis' curse, he was as steadfast and courageous now as when he stood on the battlefield. Boy he may be, he was nonetheless every inch a king and I could not have loved him more for it.
His voice was hoarse and betrayed his anxiety as he quietly ordered, "Go to the Western March, General. Send out scouts. Peter is hurt and needs help."
An icy chill crept down my spine at these words. I neither knew nor cared how he knew harm had befallen his brother. I could only assume it was the same intuitiveness that had told him when Peter had been half-drowned and captured.
I nodded curtly, not about to undermine his authority by looking at Aslan as I knew many subordinates would have done. My king had given me a command and I was thrilled and glad that he had thought of me first for this task. I would not fail his trust nor give him a reason to lose confidence in me.
"Celer is on patrol in that area now," I said. "Kanell and Cloudcaster will remain here. I'll bring some Bats and Hawks to keep you informed."
His relief was evident, as was his absolute exhaustion. He was on the verge of collapse, having pushed his body and spirit too far for too long. He wanted to go with me. He wanted to help his brother. He was heartbroken not to be equal to the task.
I understood absolutely what he was doing and what it meant to him, to me, to Narnia.
He was placing his brother's life in my hands.
"Thank you," he whispered. I looked down into the deep eyes of my student and king and friend and I bowed. Without another word I left the room and hurried down the steps, shouting out, "Fetch me Bathelstane!"
As soon as I reached the great hall of the palace I sent couriers to find Celer and to alert the band of soldiers stationed at Caldron Pool that I was en route to them. I also sent word to Kanell and Cloudcaster that they were left to conduct the defenses of Cair Paravel and our sovereigns. I had with me only two companions: a Kestrel and a Bat, couriers both, nestled in a carrying case on my back. I traveled light and fast and wasted not a moment of time.
I could think of nothing but reaching Peter. The look in Edmund's eyes when he gave me this task had spoken far more than words ever could. I knew he was utterly dependant upon me, perhaps at that moment even more so than upon Aslan himself. It was to that Lion that I prayed as I ran, begging for speed and endurance, begging his indulgence. I did not care what price was exacted from me for this wild dash across Narnia so long as I carried out the orders I had been given.
I left Cair Paravel by moonlight and did not stop to rest until dawn. I found myself strangely energized and paused only long enough to eat and to allow the Kestrel, Kisha, a chance to stretch his wings. The Bat, Gil Mivven, was very soundly asleep. I pressed on westwards, fording the Great River twice as I approached Beruna and its battlefield. The land was dull and colorless compared to a few weeks past, most of the Dryads preparing for their winter sleep. Many Animals called out, recognizing me, and those that could keep up pressed me for news of the kings. I told them what I could and left them to spread the word.
At noon I was at the easternmost point of the Beruna and I knew something was amiss. I should not have been able to make it this far without needing to stop and rest, for I had gotten little sleep last night and had eaten only once. Centaurs are known for their endurance, but this feat was unprecedented. My heart rejoiced as I realized my prayers had been granted, for none but Aslan could have given me the strength to make it so far without halting. I did not squander his gift. Instead, to show my gratitude, I picked up my pace.
The Kestrel made a sharp noise, letting me know he was alert and ready.
"Fly ahead to Caldron Pool. Tell Cyn to send scouts into the Western Wild along the course of the Great River to search for the High King and Phillip."
"How far?" he snapped in the clipped articulation all Raptores use.
I considered. I had no idea where King Peter might be. "Fifty miles," I decided, "more if Cyn decides it's safe. Tell them to use caution and to be aware that King Peter is wounded and in need of assistance."
"Done!" Kisha cried and launched into the sky, his harsh call drifting away on the wind.
I took a deep breath, closing my eyes as I silently thanked Aslan and prayed for the safety of both my kings. Then I set out, sleepless and tireless, resolved never to stop until I reached my goal. Normally, at a good pace and regular stops for rest, one could reach Caldron Pool in four days. It was at the point in Narnia furthest to the northwest from Cair Paravel. If I could keep this pace, I knew I could make it there in slightly less than two days.
I followed the Great River now, as King Peter had done for all these months. I thought back on the days past and was amazed that he was so close. It seemed an eternity since I had said farewell to him on the very edge of the Western Wild. That he returned did not surprise me in the least, for I knew Aslan never would have sent him if there was not every chance of success. The mere fact that he was back told me he had fulfilled the quest, for Peter was not the kind to cut and run regardless. I mentally prepared myself for seeing him. Winter struck the mountains before the plains and I knew he most likely would be half-starved and filthy and weak. Phillip, more adept at living off the land than a Son of Adam, would be in better shape though probably in need of rest and more nutritious food than dead grass and lichen.
Had I told him enough to help him survive off the land? Prepared him well enough? Had I forgotten anything as I prepared his supplies? I should have made him take more clothing. It was bitterly cold and even though the weather didn't affect Peter as much as Edmund, he had been exposed to the elements without reprieve for four months. He was fourteen. What was I thinking? Why hadn't I pressed harder to accompany him?
I galloped faster, casting aside my troubles. I should not question the will of Aslan. Peter was back, Edmund was somehow still alive, and both kings needed me desperately. I had no time for my own doubts.
The land gradually became more mountainous and I was glad, because I knew beyond these mountains lay the Lantern Waste and finally, beyond that, Caldron Pool and the Great Falls.
Hold on, my king, I prayed. Your brother is watching out for you.
My thoughts shifted to the younger of my two kings. Even after a year Edmund Pevensie was something of a mystery to me, though I loved him as dearly as his brother. In some ways he was as predictable as the next day of the week. In other ways he was a complete rogue, conflict in motion, deathly serious and bitingly sarcastic all at once. I had not lied when I told him I liked him back on that day he lost - or was it gained? - control on the training grounds. He was a thinker, but what was more, he made the people around him think as well whether they wanted to or not. I admired that. Peter was well on his way to becoming an outstanding warrior. He possessed a calm, calculating mind and could grasp large issues instantly. He overcame his fears by action and careful planning and some day soon I knew there would be nothing under the sun that could frighten him. He would lead his army with brilliance and daring and earn the respect of enemy and ally alike.
But Edmund . . . Edmund would be feared. He was the kind of warrior that wouldn't so much confront his enemies as be unleashed upon them, an unholy terror pushing the boundaries of honor, untempered by mercy until the day was won. Edmund was intense and passionate and rasher than Peter, and these traits served him very well indeed. I pitied the enemy that ever injured Narnia's High King, for they would find Justice waiting for them.
Back to back, side to side. Each one was the other's greatest weapon and defense, both on the field and off. And so they balanced each other.
Night fell and the clouds rolled back. The moon rose almost full, brighter than I had ever seen it at this time of year. I knew who to thank for that and I silently sent a prayer to the Great Lion for illuminating my path.
I did not stop. The night through I kept on and on, covering the distance in a feat of endurance that left me amazed and humbled. I forded the Great River a third time, keeping to the southern bank now. At that point I loosed the second courier, Gil Mivven, ordering him to fly ahead and bring back word from Caldron Pool even though I expected to reach there the following night. The huge bat fluttered off into the starry sky.
Midnight, and I knew King Edmund had been felled once again by the evils of the Witch. What type of fortitude allowed a mere child to face such torment every night? How mighty his resolution and his devotion to his brother. I knew of the promise between the two kings, one to return, the other to survive. Aslan had told me of it the day after Kellsalter, when Edmund had collapsed. I knew of few hardened warriors that could have hung on with such dignity and bearing and at first I had been astonished by the lack of complaints.
Astonishment, however, was quickly superceded by pride. I understood better than ever the unwavering faith between them. It had kept Edmund alive and, I was sure, Peter as well.
The river widened and the water grew swifter and I knew I had reached the point where the Blue River flowed into the Great River. I headed due west now. The Beavers lived not far from here, on the very edge of the Lantern Waste, and north of here lived Tumnus. I frowned as I remembered clashing with both Mr. Beaver and the Faun over King Edmund. Both had hardened themselves against the boy they considered a traitor. Neither had taken the route of Sir Giles and actually tried to talk to him about what had happened and thus make peace. Fortunately I had an ally in Mrs. Beaver and she had been quick to set her husband aright in his attitude towards the younger king. I was fairly certain Beaver felt a great deal of guilt over his initial response to Edmund, and not just from his wife. But Tumnus . . . the words had been heated, the conflict brief, and the field had been mine and mine alone. I knew Queen Lucy loved the Faun dearly and I knew that at heart he was a very good person, but he had not been happy to be reminded I knew he had been in the pay of the White Witch. We would never be friends, Tumnus and I, but at least now he treated Edmund with all the respect that was due a king. I believed the day would come that they would grow closer, if only for Lucy's sake.
The approaching dawn lighted the sky to my back. I slowed down for the first time all night, steam rising off my flanks in the cold morning air as I paused for a drink at the river's brim. I was not tired, nor was I hungry, and I knew I could reach Caldron Pool before sunset. Aslan be praised. I had almost made it.
The going was harder now, there being no clear path and the most direct route along the river choked with trees and brush. By the time the sun reached its zenith I was past the Lamp Post, that strange bit of creation. Not far past its location I heard a piercing cry and looking up, I saw Kisha circling overhead, screaming out his astonishment.
"Oreius!" he shrieked. "How is it you've made it so far so fast?"
He landed on a mossy stone not far from me, staring in amazement.
"By Aslan's grace, I've run every step since Cair Paravel. What word?"
"Gil Mivven sent me to seek you, he being too weary to return yet. Cyn himself has set out into the west to seek the High King. So far our scouts have found nothing, but the weather has been foul until today."
That confused me, for my journey had been unhindered by wind or weather. Aslan's blessing upon me once again, I supposed.
"Come," I said. "Will you fly or ride?"
"I'll ride. I'll be rested should you need me then."
I nodded and helped him into the soft case on my back. I resumed my trot, picking a swift path through the dense growth and stones. As with the day before, Animals of all kinds called out for news. At one point the Great River became the playground for dozens of Naiads. They kept apace with me for some distance, calling out to me. I told them all that was happening so that they, too, could get word back to Cair Paravel.
Finally, finally, my ears began to detect the thundering roar of the Great Falls and from overhead I was challenged by Manon, Cyn's lieutenant. I shouted out a greeting to him and he wheeled away to alert the camp ahead. At a bend in the river I climbed a small hill to view the falls. They thundered down unbroken for hundreds of feet from the cliffs above, a beautiful, powerful sight even when the land slept. From here I could not see the camp, but several Eagles and Gryphons circled on the updraft of the cascade. I stared at the white veil of mist cast up by the raging water. Already the rocks were accumulating a coat of ice. King Peter had followed this river all the way to its source. What kind of companion had it proven to be for him on this quest?
Less than an hour later, as the sun dipped low on the Western March, I reached the small circle of tents. I barely had time to release Kisha and greet Vimal, the lieutenant in charge when the Gryphons and Birds set up a mighty chorus of screeches.
"Cyn! Cyn! He returns!" cried a Bald Eagle from high above us. "Cyn!"
We whipped around, every eye scanning the west. Squinting into the reddening sun, I barely made out the form of the chief scout coming towards Narnia at breakneck speed. I knew he was a swift flyer, but he was moving at a remarkable pace and I felt a thrill seize me, daring to hope.
"Fetch me food, water, medicines, and blankets," I ordered a Faun. "Lieutenant Vimal," I said to the Satyr, "leave three people here. The rest of you prepare to head out. Bring supplies enough for two days."
They rushed about in obedience, tearing themselves away from the sight of the approaching Gryphon. Everyone stopped minutes later when Cyn landed in the open patch of field next to the camp. He let out a triumphant shriek and cried,
"I found him! I found High King Peter and Phillip!"
A cheer rose up. I pushed forward and everyone crowded around anxiously.
Cyn panted out his words. "Not fifteen miles west of here on the southern bank. I heard Phillip whinny and followed the sound."
He shook his head, his eyes full of fear. "He is not well, Oreius. His arm is broken, he was barely coherent, and he could ride no further. He himself said he was injured and sick. He asked after his brother and I could not bring myself to tell him of the last news that we heard here. I asked that they build a fire to light the way back."
I turned to Manon. "Get to Cair Paravel. Alert Aslan and the Queens. Tell them I'm leading a party into the Western Wild. We'll be back tomorrow."
The Gryphon nodded and launched into the air. I turned to Cyn as one of the soldiers handed me the requested pack.
"Lead on, Captain."
I left the party behind when I found I could keep apace with Cyn and they could not. Vimal waved me on ahead and I knew they would follow as quickly as they could. The moon peeked over the horizon as I scaled the path up the cliffs. I had never been out of Narnia before, not even to Archenland, but I didn't hesitate as I plunged into the Western Wild.
I was surprised. It looked somewhat like Narnia, but duller and less vital and I knew I had missed very little by not leaving my own country. In truth I remembered little of the land about me, so intent was I to reach my goal. I galloped on, Cyn above me, as the moon came out and turned the landscape into a pattern of dark shadows.
An hour or more later I caught the faintest whiff of smoke on the breeze. I looked up.
"Cyn! I smell smoke!"
"I don't see the fire," he called back.
He obeyed, letting out the loud, piercing war-cry of his kind. Then we stilled, listening.
A faint, echoing sound.
"Two miles," he estimated. "Hurry!"
I needed no further motivation, but plunged onwards. Beneath my feet the ground was all stone and my shoes rang out sharp and loud. It seemed my heart was beating just as loudly and for the first time I seemed to be short of breath. The path angled steeply upwards, the river dropping away as I climbed.
Let me find him. Let me find him. Great Aslan, I pray thee let me find my king.
Cyn called again and this time the return was unmistakably a Horse. A few minutes later Phillip neighed once more and with a final burst I lunged up the path and onto a wide, flat expanse of stone. A few clumps of stunted pines and low bushes grew amidst the stone. My shod hooves skidded to a halt. I could smell charred wood and saw -
Phillip! The Horse lay a hundred yards hence, close by the largest bunch of trees. He looked up as Cyn circled overhead, then back at me. It was very telling that he did not rise.
"Oreius!" he called, his voice tired beyond words. "Quickly!"
I rushed to his side and halted as if struck, stunned
As I looked down at the small, motionless, wretched form curled on the ground beside Phillip it seemed as if all the fatigue that should have been mine throughout this wild dash across Narnia caught up with me at once and my legs almost gave out. One shattering, devastating thought seized me:
Oh, Aslan, he's dead.
How would I face Edmund? What would I tell his sisters?
I had failed him. Narnia. Aslan. An unfamiliar tightness gripped my throat. I had not felt so hollow, so empty and alone since I had lost my own father to the forces of the White Witch fifteen years ago. This boy meant the world to me and not just on account of being my High King, but simply because he was Peter.
Then I saw his side rise and fall slightly as he breathed, and I found I could breath again as well. I lowered myself down beside them before my trembling legs fainted beneath me. Even so, my front legs crashed down gracelessly to the stone. I barely felt the impact. I touched his neck. His skin was cold and clammy but I found a pulse. I stared at the hopelessly small and wasted form. Always fairer than his siblings, Peter's face and lips were bloodless, his blond hair ragged and unkempt. Even in the uneven light of the moon I could see heavy bruises and the signs of starvation on his face. My hand looked so dark against his pale cheek that I could not tear my eyes away. For all his pathetic, desperate condition I thought he was the single most wonderful and magnificent sight I had ever beheld - and that from a Narnian that had served Aslan himself.
"His right foreleg was broken," rasped Phillip.
"Three days ago," I provided.
The Horse looked astonished. "How did you know?"
"I didn't. King Edmund did. Phillip, when is the last time he ate?" I could not keep from using a sharper tone than I meant, stripping off the pack. Before the Horse could reply, Cyn came to a landing and hurried over.
"Get back to Vimal," I ordered the scout. "Tell him to pick up the pace immediately. Guide them here."
The Gryphon nodded, already tensed to launch. "I could bring Felern back."
"Do so. I don't care what he says about it." I turned my attention to the young king lying prone before me, shaking out the blankets I carried to cover him against the cold and wind. I bundled him warmly and threw my own cape over him and Phillip. By the Lion, there seemed to be nothing left of him. Like his brother, Peter had used himself up completely. Not being a healer and unwilling to touch his splinted arm, there was little else that I could do for him now. I looked further in the pack, realizing the soldier that had assembled it had done so for me alone. I should have mentioned food palatable to a Son of Adam, not a Centaur, though Peter gave no sign of stirring anytime soon. I gave the oat cakes to Phillip and he ate them gratefully. Then I rose and gathered wood to build not one, but three fires to light Vimal's way and to warm my king. A quiet prayer ran through my mind, my inadequate words falling short of describing the depth of my gratitude to Aslan for allowing me to find him.
I rested once again close beside the boy, looking from him to Phillip.
"He has the apple," said the Horse, his pride evident.
"I know." I caught the look in Phillip's eyes and had to ask, "Would he ever have returned otherwise?"
"No," he admitted softly. "How fares King Edmund?"
"Slightly better than this." I reached down as Peter stirred, and gently I soothed his fears, moving a fold of the blanket to shield his head better. His eyes opened briefly and he leaned into my hand before he lapsed deeper into the unconsciousness that claimed him. I brushed the filthy hair from his face. Even I could hear the relief in my voice as I added, "But he will do very well now. They both will."
I looked down at my armor once again, making sure the metal was perfect and there were no smudges or marks of fingers on the polished surface. I did a swift mental inventory to be sure I had all my weapons and gear as was proper. With nothing left to do by way of preparation, I waited, very surprised to find that I was actually -
I looked down. Sir Giles sat at my hooves. He was a little smug and amused and sympathetic to my plight, being the only person in Narnia that could relate to my position right now.
"Not enough that I'd admit it," I returned.
He chuckled. "If it's any consolation, I believe King Edmund is more nervous than you."
I smirked at the notion, annoyed that I was so transparent, but I had known Giles a long time.
"From what I understand you were subject to a polite little war between the kings," continued the Fox. I knew he was trying to distract me and I was grateful. "Apparently both of them wanted to knight you. I believe King Edmund prevailed with the argument that you were acting on his command when you reached his brother, while King Peter simply lay around sleeping for days on end while everyone else was working."
That certainly sounded like Edmund.
"The queens agreed and our younger king won the day. Then of course a whole new war erupted over what your chivalric title should be."
By Narnian tradition, knights are given a name in addition to their own, something related to their service. Hence we had Sir Peter Wolfsbane and Sir Edmund of the How and Sir Giles Slyashlar Fox. I was about to reply when Kanell rounded the corner. "General, it's time," he said with a smile. "Their majesties await your pleasure."
Sir Giles inclined his head to me in silent congratulations and trotted off to take his place in the throne room. Kanell clasped my arm, pride shining in his dark face. "Bear the title well, Oreius."
The throne room was festooned with greens and banners for the ongoing Christmas celebrations and it smelt of pine and juniper. Rank upon rank of soldiers and nobles filled the huge chamber and every eye was upon me as I walked down the aisle between them, swords and spears forming a wall on either side. At the end, standing on the edge of the room's dais, King Edmund waited, immaculate in full armor and crown, Shafelm gleaming in his hands and a serious expression on his face. Behind him sat his brother and sisters, all of them smiling.
I stood before him. He was so small and like his brother still far too thin, but he had an air of serenity and nobility about him now that had been lacking before. It suited him very well. He had grown amazingly this past year and it gave me joy to see the change.
My great-uncle was reading aloud a rather poetic litany of my services to Narnia from the time I joined the army to the mad dash across Narnia I had made to reach the High King. I didn't hear a word of it. All of my attention was focused upon the boy king gazing up at me with dark eyes.
"Kneel before me," Edmund said, just as his brother had said to him one cold spring day earlier this year. Centaurs can't kneel, so I bowed low as arranged. I felt the tap of his sword rest briefly upon either shoulder and in a clear voice the young king called out, "Rise, Sir Oreius Heydensrun, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Table."
I obeyed, pleased at my new title for it was very fitting in many ways. He had named me for the legendary Stallion that had outrun a hurricane to warn Cair Paravel. I bowed to him again and he kissed me once, twice atop my head. I noticed he stood on his toes as he did so in order to bestow his blessing upon me. He looked past me to the assembly and as I turned to face them as a Knight of Narnia, Edmund's voice rang through the hall.
"Noble soldiers of Narnia, faithful and beloved subjects, I give you our cousin Sir Oreius Heydensrun, Knight of the Order of the Table!"
The hall erupted into echoing cheers as all Narnia celebrated. I looked down at my fellow knight.
"Thank you, Sir Edmund," I said softly.
"No, Sir Oreius," he replied. "Thank you for my brother's life."
And he smiled.