Author's Note: Sorry about the wait, folks! Life is an obstacle in itself sometimes!

The Blood Witch and the High King
PenPatronus
Chapter 6:
Gifts and Sacrifices

Lucy Pevensie began to braid her hair for the tenth time. Above her, Edmund was leaning against the clay wall and breathing in snorts and sighs. Susan was pacing. The circle of footprints she'd imprinted around the fire pit was nearly ankle deep. Prince Caspian was kneeling next to Father Christmas and watching Susan out of the corner of his eye. Father Christmas was as still as Peter except for when he cast the palm of his hand above the High King's heart.

The light shifted. Lucy looked up at the ceiling vent and saw a melon sky. It was dawn. It was dawn and Peter still wasn't awake. Susan suddenly stopped and hissed through clenched teeth. "You said the medicine would strengthen him."

Father Christmas didn't look at her. "It did. His heart is stronger."

"He's breathing easier," Caspian confirmed.

"Then why…" Edmund's voice drifted off and all he could do was point at Peter's still form.

"Why isn't he awake?" Susan finished for him. She grunted and began another lap of pacing. Edmund kicked his toes against the wall before continuing his own brooding.

Lucy sighed. She jiggled her head until the braids came out, and then began the process again. Her attention settled on Father Christmas and she focused on interpreting his facial expressions. He looked expectant, hopeful, encouraged…but when another quarter of an hour passed, he shifted to disappointment, to defeat. But then, just when Lucy's face was about to reflect his, Father Christmas smiled.

Lucy was half-way through saying "What is it?" when a badger burst into the room.

Poor Trufflehunter was so out of breath from sprinting up the stairs that Susan completed another lap around the fire before he spoke. "My Lords and Ladies!" he finally gasped, his paws on his knees. "We assembled for the dawn meeting, as you requested, but then a—a hag came! Straight across the meadow, my Lords! And she—she…" Trufflehunter struggled for words, but it wasn't because of his breathing. "She's tall! Big!" He stood up on his tiptoes and raised his palm as far above his ears as he could reach. "And she…she's not alone." Trufflehunter flailed his arms for emphasis, gesturing towards the doorway.

"Why would the Hag be here?" Susan asked.

"Probably to recruit," Father Christmas muttered.

"Recruit…" Susan mused. She frowned. "You think some of the Narnians will actually join the Witch's side over ours?"

"Why not? Some did last time. Are some of them as scared as Nikabrik was? Yes. And desperate creatures will do just about anything…After what happened at the castle, you might not have as many loyal followers as you think."

Caspian was on his feet. "Let's go, Edmund." Reluctantly, Ed patted Peter's shoulder and then followed the prince. Trufflehunter waddled after them.

"Lu, stay here," said Susan. She yanked on her slippers and gathered her skirt.

Lucy stood up. "But—"

"Stay!" Susan ordered.

"I'm not a dog!" Lucy huffed. Father Christmas chuckled.

Susan was at the doorway when Caspian suddenly grabbed her wrist. If she hadn't been instantly dazzled by his eyes, she would've put up a fight sooner.

"Perhaps you should stay here as well, my Queen," he whispered. "Jadis could be out there."

"She isn't," said Father Christmas with the calmest of certainties. He was running his palm above Peter's heart again and mumbling to himself.

"What?" Susan sputtered. "No—I'm coming. I can take care of my—"

"I know that, I've seen—" said Caspian.

"If there's a siege, you'll need snipers—"

"Of course, but—"

"And I cannot stand to be here another moment!" Susan stamped her foot into the compacted dirt.

"Fine!" Caspian snapped. His glare and his face were red. "My apologies for trying to protect you!"

"Apology not—"

"Oi! Are you two coming?" came Edmund's voice from down the stairs.

When they were out of earshot, Lucy released a giggle for the first time in days. "He likes her," she sang. Father Christmas smiled, but sadly. Seeing this, Lucy frowned and asked, "Are you all right, sir?"

Saint Nicholas released a sigh that blew Peter's bangs. He reached across Peter's body and took Lucy's hand in both of his. "Dear Lucy," he said, "do you know why I gave you the cordial all those years ago?"

Lucy swallowed and forced herself to keep eye contact with the old man. "Because…because I'm not very big or strong. I can't fight."

He looked surprised at this. "Oh no, Lucy. I gave you the healing potion because you already had the potential to be a healer. Just like Peter already had the potential to be a kingly warrior and Susan the a bowman. You could feel what was wrong with Peter when Jadis first cursed him. The healing gifts warned you not to touch him." While Lucy mulled that over, Father Christmas guided her hand over to Peter's heart and steadied it about an inch above his chest.

"Can you feel him, Lucy? Can you feel Peter?"

Lucy stared at her hand and bit her lower lip. "I feel…I guess I feel him but…no…I'm not sure."

"Peter's body is healed, Lucy, but if he's not waking up, then part of him isn't here. And if part of him is not here, it must be somewhere else, held by someone else…Can you feel that?"

"I…I'm still not sure..."

"It's one of the powers she brought back with her from Hell. When the Witch poisoned Peter, she was able to separate his consciousness from Narnia and detain him in a prison of her making. She's been torturing him there."

Lucy was appalled, and the color of her face showed it. "Why?"

"I'm happy to say, dear one, that I don't understand it anymore than you do. And that is the highest of compliments."

"How do we get him back then?"

"I must retrieve him," Father Christmas said as if it were simply a matter of walking down the street. "I must go where he is. Trust yourself," Father Christmas soothed, patting her outstretched hand. "Your gift is of Aslan, and he knows what he's doing."

Lucy lowered her hand back to her side at the mention of the lion's name. "Where is he, sir?" she asked in a whisper. "You said you had news from Aslan. Please tell me."

That sad smile returned. "Peter can tell you when he wakes up. I'm afraid I must say goodbye now, Lucy."

Her eyes widened. "Goodbye? But—but why? Where are you going? Can't you stay here and help us?"

"I am helping you, Lucy Pevensie. I'm going to get your brother back."

"But—"

"Lucy." His voice was a whisper, his face a single wrinkle of sadness. "Close your eyes. Close your eyes and count to ten."

"Will we ever see you again?"

"Close your eyes, Lucy."

She did. She counted to ten, and repeated it. When Lucy opened her eyes, Father Christmas had disappeared. Where he'd been sitting beside Peter, there were five wooden wands.

--

Peter pivoted, kicked away from the wall and swung the hilt of his sword into Jadis' chin. She responded with an elbow to his stomach and an uppercut to his jaw. Peter tripped backwards, and just barely managed to get the wardrobe door between his chest and the tip of her sword. He threw his shoulder into the door, forcing the hilt of Jadis' sword through her hands and against her throat. The Blood Witch stumbled, and Peter brought his sword down with both hands. She ducked, his momentum carried him past her, and when he turned she already had her weapon unstuck. They circled each other.

"You can't hurt me, child," Jadis spat, her red gown flowing around and her eyes nearly glowing golden from rage. "I'm not even here!"

"I'm not trying to, Witch," Peter growled back. Sweat repelled down his bangs and dripped onto his chin. Wind blew in from the open wardrobe, and Peter smelled Narnia. "Now get out of my way!"

Jadis frowned and glanced at the wardrobe. Realization smacked her as hard as Peter had. "That was locked!" Her eyes flashed like a striking snake. "I tested it myself–Impossible!"

"Aslan has opened it!"

"Aslan?" Jadis snorted. "Aslan is in a darker prison than you, little prince. He is powerless." Peter lunged, but Jadis planted her feet. After minutes of mutual thrusts and parries, she still stood between Peter and the wardrobe to Narnia, to his real body and his family. In a corner of Peter's mind, he wondered if they could fight forever.

And then, just when Peter was preparing another offense, a person followed the scent coming out of the wardrobe. Peter's jaw dropped as Father Christmas strolled into the spare room, took a shocked Jadis by the throat and shouted "Peter, go!"

"What about you—"

"Now!"

The wardrobe door began to close. Jadis was screaming.

Peter didn't hesitate. He ran past them and dove into Narnia.

To Be Continued