The Walls Between
by Val Evenstar
Author's Note: On yet another random whim, I am publishing Chapter One of my new epic. Thanks to Cherokee (H Max Marius), Dearheart, and Squeaklebeep (E.C. Peters) for going over bits of it with me in Writer's Group.
Like most of my fics, this has a theme song. The title and chapter titles (except for this first one) are pretty blatant clues. I'll reveal the song title at a strategic point, but y'all are free to guess. Except E.D, because she knows me too well :)
The title of this first chapter comes from a poem of the same name by... Langstrom Hughes, I believe.
Enjoy! And do let me know what you think.
Chapter One: Dulce et Decorum Est
Rith screamed and swung his sword in a vicious arc. Tears blurred his vision, blinding him from the horrible sight. It was as if even his body was refusing to let his young eyes, which had already seen too much, witness this travesty.
Rith looked west, past the monster whose dying grimace contorted its vile features. The sun scorched his vision into a haze that he knew was not from the heat of battle, but even its red rays could not block the sight from view.
Above the parapets of Cair Paravel, the last defence of the Narnian realm, a green banner fell. The emblem on it was red, red as the setting sun and red as death, even though it was the symbol of life.
The wind caught the cloth, unfurling the Lion's standard as it plummeted down.
Rith remembered the last time the banner had flashed so brilliantly for all Narnia to see, remembered the shouts of "Narnia and the Lion!" that had filled their hearts and minds. The shout that now arose was the cry of despair, the death-chant of a nation.
The Witch's forces had taken the Cair.
Now they had no place to flee to except the sea.
Rith heard a voice ring out among the clamour – a voice that he knew could inspire hope in the hopeless, but now did nothing more than confirm his greatest fears.
"Narnia! Narnia! To me! To me!" There was a tremour underneath his sister's brave words that told him she knew all was lost.
Rith spun in rage, striking out with his sword, not knowing what he was doing or who he was fighting, or even why he was fighting. What was there left to fight for? His family? His parents and older brother had been slain early in the war; he and Ri'ana were the only ones left. And what of his friends? They were dead by the sword or wand of Jadis. All of them, like he, were too young to deserve such a wicked end as this. They should have been playing in the magical woods, singing under the stars, making merry with all the vigour youth had granted them. Instead, they were caught up in this desperate struggle that had descended upon them.
And now Rith knew how this would end. He would die at twelve years of age, slaughtered like a dumb beast for the Witch's pleasure. He didn't even want to think about what might befall his sister in the hands of the victors, but he knew that she would die fighting if it must end this way.
He did not know if he would meet so noble an end – in truth, he was not even sure he wanted it.
No, Rith knew he did not want to die. Yet he could see no future for himself, in death or in life, and so he screamed.
He screamed at the Witch and her armies, at the lethargy of his people that had allowed this disaster to come to pass, at the islands that refused to send aid. He screamed at the Lion, who had promised – promised! - never to leave them, to always be there to set things right and work for the good of his people – the Lion who had betrayed him.
His blade struck something hard and the grip, soaked with sweat and blood, twisted out of his hand and left him watching helpless as the weapon went flying. Rith stood at the edge of the drop, staring fascinated as the steel fell slowly to the rocks below, glinting in the sun's final rays before shattering on the unforgiving shore.
"Rith!" He heard the scream and unthinkingly turned towards the source.
Ri'ana was charging towards him, dark hair streaming, terror in her voice. For a moment he didn't understand, but then his eyes caught a movement at his side and he looked.
An ogre stood beside him, spiked club raised. Instantly Rith saw his two options. He could stand where he was and take the full, crushing force of the blow, or he could throw himself backwards and follow the flight of his sword, over the cliff into eternity. Would he now choose the death of knight or craven?
Rith did not want to die. He knew what he had to do; he was a Prince of Narnia, and he must fight to his final moments for its freedom. He must draw his dagger and dash towards the beast in a last futile attempt to overcome. He would die in battle as so many princes before him, and songs would be sung of the glory of this moment.
But there would be no songs; not now, not for a very long time, maybe not ever again. No one would remember him; Jadis would make sure his family, his line, did not survive. Rith would be the last of King Frank's descendants, and when he died there would be no more Sons of Adam left to rule Narnia. Instead there would be a Queen with a heart of ice.
Rith felt the bitter bile in his mouth as realisation struck him. Nothing would survive, not even a memory of him. So why should he throw his life away seeking honour that would never be accredited him? He was a Prince, and soon to be a Knight, his father had used to tell him, and he must always act as such. Rith had known this since he was old enough to understand what being a Knight and a Man meant; he knew that Ri'ana, too, understood this, and that was why there was terror in her eyes. She knew she would soon see the last of her family slain, and no matter how much she would want to look away, she must give witness to the noble fashion of his death so that his heroism may not be forgotten.
But Rith knew that she would not see the end of this day. Any sight she carried with her would be forgotten, buried with her under the dust. No words would survive this fell hour.
Rith also knew that, somehow, against the impossible, he still carried hope for life. He would not give up yet; and so would not trade it for the gory glory of death in battle.
His foot lashed out against the headland's turf and he propelled himself sideways and backward onto the open air.
The weight of his choice crashed down on his chest, crushing him ever closer to the coming ground. He had chosen to take his own life; he had abandoned his vows to King and country; he was no Knight.
He feared death.
And so Rith fell, and closed his eyes, despairing, because he knew if he woke up again, it would not be in Aslan's country.