"In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected." – Charles Dickens.
South of the River Shribble resided the dreary Northern Marsh. The tall grass and cat tails swayed gently in the setting sun as the thin layer of humidity that enveloped the marsh day after day began to evaporate away with the cool air sweeping in from the Eastern Ocean.
The hoarse sound of frogs could be clearly heard as could the hum of mosquitoes as they rose to the sky for their nightly activities. The warm sun's setting rays glowed over the marsh making it seem, for once, lovely.
Though the marsh was not a land of beauty it was peaceful and that was something that all the soldiers of the Narnian Army greatly appreciated. They were scattered through the expanse of marshland, sleeping in large wigwams cramped together as all were polite, by orders of High King Peter, to their depressed hosts, the Marsh-wiggles.
Just as the golden sun dipped beneath the waves of the Eastern Ocean a highly regarded panther slid through the tall grass and cat tails with expert ease. Her paws were not heard as she padded over the soggy and unstable earth beneath her. She halted for a moment and stood stock still, ears perked, head tilted and pale yellow eye narrowed.
After a moment she lunged to the right and took off, her slim body racing through the marsh. She headed west of the campsite housing her fellow soldiers and her king.
She went onward till she came to a secluded area of the marsh and was met was a surprise. A young girl, sodden, dirty, and muddy lying in a ruined traditional Narnian gown. Dristi, the Black Panther, cautiously stepped toward the fallen human and prodded her nose against the girl's cheek.
The girl gave a muffled groan as she was turned onto her back revealing a pretty heart shaped face to Dristi. The human's eyes blearily blinked open as the golden eyes locked with a mixture of brown and green. Elizabeth tilted her head to the side and wearily stared at the large black face before her.
"Huh." she murmured and turned on her side, curling into a tight ball, not seeing the confusion crossing Dristi's face. The panther watched with interest as the girl's body tensed and in an instant she was on her feet shrieking like a banshee.
"On my bloody God!? How is this possible? How possible is that I, who was looking through portraits painted by my dead grandmother, am now in a swamp with a freaking panther?"
"It is the Northern Marsh in which you now dwell, stranger. And my name is Dristi, if it is of any importance to you."
Elizabeth froze and slowly turned towards the panther and gaped at it.
"Did you just…talk?"
At Dristi's nod, Elizabeth promptly clamped her mouth shut and closed eyes.
"How could this have happened?" she murmured to herself as she replayed the last few moments in her head. She had been standing in the attic looking over old pictures of her Grandma Madeline's. She had been holding the picture of the marsh and bam, she had ended up here.
All the pictures had been of…
"Just wondering, what…what country are we in?"
Dristi stared at the two footed creature in slight annoyance. How was it that she always ended up meeting the lunatics of Narnia? Why couldn't Oreius deal with them? He was general of the army after all.
"You're in the marshlands of Narnia, north of castle Cair Paravel."
"Hmm, thought so. Well, I'm Elizabeth and you said your name was…?"
"Right, well Dristi do you have any idea how I ended up…here?" Elizabeth gestured around her as Dristi shook her head.
"No, I was taking a stroll through the marshes and stumbled upon you, mud clad and face down in the dirt."
Elizabeth looked down at herself to indeed find mud caked to her ruined flowing gown. Odd, she hadn't been wearing that before. Overlooking her state of dress, Elizabeth laced her fingers together and pondered over what to do next. She was now stranded in a country that she had been told of stories of when she was younger.
So all the stories Grandma Madeline had told her…were real, absolutely real.
She looked at Dristi who had settled herself down and was lazily flicking her tail back and forth, watching as Elizabeth paced back and forth. Elizabeth looked to the sky to see it darkening rather quickly. So running was out of the question. Well where would she run to anyway? She was an alien in a foreign country with only a few memories to rely on.
No, she would need to rely on the panther before her.
At the look at utter defeat on Elizabeth's face, Dristi took that as her cue to stand and began walking back towards the campsite.
"Come with me, young one, we shall find you clothing and shelter for the evening."
Elizabeth picked up her skirts and ran forward to keep pace with the panther's long strides. She only took a step forward when both of her legs sank into the watery earth, consuming her to her waist.
"Well this is awkward." she surmised as she struggled to free herself from the earth's surprising vice like grip. Dristi gave a frustrated sigh and went to Elizabeth's side.
"Hold onto me."
"What if I hurt you?"
"You won't. Now do it, human." At Dristi's sharp tone Elizabeth felt compelled to obey as she wrapped her arms around Dristi's sleek torso and the panther urged herself forward. After several tedious tries Elizabeth was lying on the ground, her gown ruined more than ever.
"Thank you." She said appreciatively to the panther with a genuine smile as she wiped her muddy hands on her dress. At the girl's heartfelt smile Dristi nodded back and then nodded her head forward.
"Come, I am expected back at camp."
The odd pair walked in silence for the rest of the journey. Elizabeth shivered a little in the cold night air and stepped a tad bit closer to the panther that looked at her questioningly. With a chuckle, Elizabeth stood back and wrapped her arms around her, keeping her distance as she followed Dristi.
Truly, she wasn't frightened or scared to be in Narnia. In the back of her mind, she had always known something like this would happen to her. Albeit, not being transported to a country that had grandmother had told her tales of. But still, she always knew something special was awaiting her.
She had just always thought that that something special would be in her own world, not in Narnia. But beggars can't be choosers. Elizabeth looked up and made a grunt of relief when she saw promising embers and flickers on the horizon.
Fires. Fire meant people. People meant food. Just thinking of food was enough to make her stomach grumble loudly in protest and she remembered the last thing she had eaten. It had been a salad on her dreadful date with Jeremy Bradbridge. She was normally not a salad type of girl but she had wanted the date to be as quick and painless as possible.
Dristi laughed from beside her and remarked.
"Hungry, are you?"
Elizabeth quickly nodded and placed her hands over her stomach, trying to silent the body part.
"We'll see what we can do for you once we arrive at camp."
Only moments after she spoke they were arrived at the outskirt of the heavily supplied camp. They walked past fairly spaced wigwams as fires burned outside of them with groups of mythical beings all crowded around them for warmth.
Elizabeth gazed on as they passed centaurs, fauns, nymphs and all other sorts of common animals.
"My goodness." she whispered in awe as they continued onward. As they came to the heart of the camp Elizabeth realized that those around her had now taken an interest in her. She felt the numerous stares of eyes upon her and nervously ran her fingers over the helm of her skirt.
She wasn't use to such attention. Attention had always been Miranda's cup of tea. By now creatures alike were following behind Elizabeth, murmuring and whispering around her as the full weight of their stares began to dig at Elizabeth.
Dristi and Elizabeth came to a stop as a centaur emerged from the crowd to stand before them. He was simply beautiful. With flowing dark curly hair to match the fur of his horse legs and a rough and angular face, enhancing his umber brown eyes. Dressed in silver and red armor, two mighty claymore swords sheathed at his sides.
Dristi bowed her head to the centaur that stood nearly three heads taller than Elizabeth. Elizabeth lowered her eyes in turn and began to play with her fingers, self-consciously cracking them one by one.
"Whose is this?" The centaur, Oreius, asked with a deep and rich voice. Elizabeth suddenly found her mouth too dry to answer so Dristi answered in turn.
"She calls herself Elizabeth. I found her lying in the outskirts of the marshlands, in the present disheveled state that she is in."
Elizabeth gave a nervous giggle as she realized how fully underdressed she was. How was she to make a presentable impression when she looked no better than a lowly pauper? What would her mum say?
Elizabeth winced at the almost whispered insult her mother could come up with. Her mother could be quite brutal and cruel when she chose to be.
"Just lying there?" Oreius inquired as Dristi nodded.
"Yes, it was quite…strange to find her there." Dristi glanced at Elizabeth as her eyes narrowed for a moment before she turned back to Oreius.
"I think it would be best if she had an audience with the king."
Oreius reached up and stroked the hair of his chin as he nodded.
"Yes, I shall attend to that. Feed her and have her ready within a half hour's time."
The crowd dispersed and Elizabeth was led away to a wigwam where a plate of cooked and cut up fish was sitting, already prepared for her. Elizabeth launched herself at the food and gulped it down greedily as Dristi watched with little interest.
"What kind of fish was that? It was wonderful." Elizabeth gushed happily, having consumed the plate within a few minute's time.
"Hmm…it's chewy." Elizabeth amended as she set the plate down and stretched out, feeling at peace for the first time since she had arrived in Narnia.
"Dristi?" she asked with closed eyes before continuing, "What king shall I be seeing?"
"High King Peter."
Elizabeth opened her eyes and stared at the panther.
"High King Peter the Magnificent?"
"Who else is there?"
"I can't meet him!"
"And why not?"
"I'm hardly dressed for an audience with a king. Much less a high king!"
"You look fine to me."
"I'm covered in mud!" Elizabeth gestured at herself for emphasis as Dristi shrugged.
"I doubt his majesty shall care what state you show yourself to him."
Elizabeth sighed and pulled her knees to her chest as she placed her cheek against her kneecap. Feeling tired she dozed for what seemed like a minute before having to get up and follow Dristi to a wigwam in the center of the Narnian campsite. Dristi nudged her forward as Elizabeth stumbled forward and looked back.
"Dristi, is it anyway possible for me to acquire some paper…er parchment?"
"What for?" Dristi's eyes flashed as she asked while Elizabeth answered modestly.
"Writing." Seeing that Elizabeth's intentions were innocent, Dristi nodded and turned, stalking off. Elizabeth watched her go with a sense of dread. How was she supposed to do this alone? She looked to the opening of the wooden home and with a sigh and mental encouragement walked in.
The wigwam was better furnished than the crude one Elizabeth had been in as carpets covered the dirt floor, a wooden map table stood in the corner covered in parchment with a candle seated on it, a pallet rested in the other corner heavily supplied with quilts and furs.
Elizabeth continued to look around as a voice asked, "Like it, don't you?"
Elizabeth gasped and turned to see a man, half hidden in the shadows watching her with evident amusement.
"I find it quite charming too," he continued on as he stepped forward and Elizabeth was met with the sight of the High King Peter the Magnificent. He looked even better than Grandma's Madeline life-like painting.
He stood before her in a scarlet red tunic with matching breeches and dark brown boots pulled up to his knees. A sword was securely hanging at his hips and a golden engraved crown rested upon his blonde head. His blue eyes twinkled as he motioned for Elizabeth to sit down in one of the plush chairs.
"Sit, sit Lady…?"
"Elizabeth, I'm Elizabeth Samuell."
The king smiled at her as he sat across from her, his eyes quickly doing the once over of her.
"It seems you've had quite the time with the mud." he spoke with a chuckle as Elizabeth's cheeks burned and she lowered her head in shame. She fiddled with her skirt as the king cleared his throat and peered thoughtfully at her.
"Speaking of mud, how did you happen to end up in the Northern Marsh?"
Elizabeth looked up at the king like a deer in the headlights before quickly shrugging.
"I…I don't know. I just…sort of…ended up here." Her words were slow, calculated and hesitant. The king noted this as he leaned slightly towards her, the palms of his calloused hands resting on the silk knees of his breeches.
"You don't know?" His eyes were guarded as he continued, "Well, where are you from? You can't be Narnian, you don't seem like you would be from Archenland and you're too fair to be from Calormen. Perhaps from Galma, then? Are you from the Lone Islands, from Avra or Felimath? Or do you dwell from Duffer Isle or the Seven Isle?"
"I'm from none of the places you mentioned…your majesty." Elizabeth added as an afterthought, momentarily forgetting that she was speaking with true royalty. The king sat back in his chair and stroked his beard in much the same way Oreius had done before.
"By the Lion! Where are you from then?" There was a hint of frustration underlined in the tone of his voice, but the general emotion the king was showing, was curiosity. Elizabeth pondered over the possible answers before picking the suitable one.
"I'm from…around." At the king's raised eyebrow, Elizabeth explained, "It's a long and very complicated story. I would like to tell you, truly I would, but I just can't, not right now."
The king sighed but nodded, the truth was he was no stranger to complicated stories. It seemed his life at some points was one large complicated story.
"Very well then, until you are able to find your way home, I would be honored Lady Samuell if you were to be a guest of the Narnian Army."
Elizabeth faintly smiled, excitement burning through her blood. She was on her way to an adventure, she could feel it. She nodded vigorously causing a laugh from the king as he stood and moved to a chest lying at the foot of his makeshift mattress. He rummaged through it for several moments before coming back to Elizabeth's side and handing her a pair of heavy brown breeches, a flowing blue tunic, and leather belt and boots.
"So you shall not have to wear that for the duration of your stay," was his explanation as Elizabeth beamed and nodded.
"Thank you, your majesty, thank you very kindly."
The king nodded for her to go as Elizabeth took her leave and with the help of a kindly cheetah found her way back to her wigwam. It was empty but Elizabeth spied a roll of parchment neatly a top the fur pelt covering Elizabeth's newest bed.
She gave a happy smile as she stripped herself of her ruined garments and changed quickly into those of the king's. The tunic fell all the way to her hips as she fastened the belt around her waist to uphold the trousers and she slipped into the boots that ran up the entire length of her leg to right above her knee. Not surprising they were several sizes too large, but it was better than the pinched pair of flats that had been on Elizabeth's person since she had arrived in Narnia.
She pulled her messy hair back, out of her eyes, and all but threw herself down on her pallet. She sat upright, back against the wood of the wigwam, and by the light of the fire began to quickly write with the aid of her ink quill.
The moment I first met High King Peter the Magnificent, I knew that I would forever be smitten with his kindness and would forever be lost to the blueness of his eyes…
Please read and review! I do not own the Chronicles of Narnia!