Title: Sea of Flames
Disclaimer: I do not own the Chronicles of Narnia.
Note: The answer to challenge 31: Fire. I don't know if people will think this inappropriate right now, but I have been reading about the fires in Australia and just feel so helpless, and I wanted to do something. And I'm angry because I only really learned how bad the Victoria brushfires have been because I read British newspapers online and America seems to have just glossed over how awful it is, so I thought maybe by writing this I could bring people's attention to it, and encourage people to pray or make a donation or something to help.
I also am not an expert in wildfires or firefighting, nor have I ever experienced a wildfire firsthand, but I have tried my best to be accurate in specifics and empathetic in emotion. I hope I do not offend anyone, but please know I wrote this to express my sympathy for those who have or are experiencing such a disaster.
The sky raged, choked with smoke and ash and burning red and yellow and orange in a grotesque mimicry of a sunset. Peter could barely hear his own thoughts over the roar of the fire that was consuming the forests before him. But he could hear the screams. Narnians fled from the flames, skin burnt and fur singed and screaming from fear and pain and loss. Worse still were the agonized cries of the Dryads, screaming for their burning sisters, screaming for themselves. After watching the first dozen times, seeing the fair daughters of the Wood crumble themselves into ash, Peter turned his head. He could not watch anymore.
He was helpless. What could he do against such a power? He shouted orders, directing his desperate people to make fire lines to stop the flames from spreading further, while Edmund did the same to the northern end of the line. Peter knew that Lucy was nearby with the healers, trying to stabilize the severely injured in order to be able to move them out of the path of the blaze. Susan was overseeing the evacuations, sometimes racing too close to the fire for Peter's comfort in order to help the fleeing Narnians.
More screaming, this one sounding like the cry of a kettle. Peter closed his eyes, ostensibly against the burning ash in the air that made his eyes water. This was no matter of tea being made on the kitchen stove, but the death cry of a young Naiad, whose small brook was too young and thin to withstand the heat of the flames. All that remained of her was the hissing of steam. She had no sisters to weep for her, for all the nearby Naiads and River-gods were trapped in their own waters, not able to raise their heads into the burning air for risk of the same fate.
Peter opened his eyes as Edmund ran up to him, the young man coughing against the thick air and his face streaked grey with ash. "Peter! The wind!"
The High King was confused for a moment, but Stormteller the centaur came to his side and elaborated with sorrow-filled eyes. "Your Majesty, the wind turns northward."
Peter turned back to Edmund, his mouth open to ask about the state of the northern fire line, but one look told him everything. He wanted to scream in frustration, in grief and anger and helplessness. The forests to the North would provide more fuel, and would become a charnel house to those who had not escaped, who could not escape. Peter had no time to even begin to think of a solution, but he did not need to. "I have an idea," yelled Edmund over the roar of the flames, and the younger king sprinted away, heading north.
"Edmund!" Peter shouted, but his brother was too far away to hear. The wind picked up, and Peter knew the smoke was getting dangerously thick as the flames licked higher and closer. He ordered the Narnians at the fire line to pull back and help evacuate the injured. The High King was the last to retreat, turning at the end only to see a wall of fire burst over the northern end of the fire line, cutting off the route that Edmund had taken north. Peter's heart sunk as he realized that his brother was trapped and in the path of the surging fire. And he could do nothing.
Then came the watching and waiting. There was no way for the Narnians to circle the fire and try to contain it with another line. All they could do was help treat the injured, comfort the survivors, pray for deliverance, for rain. Peter's strength crumbled in the face of his utter inability to do anything at all to save his people, his family, and he sank to the ground, blank eyes staring at inferno of flame and smoke. Surely it would not be long before all of Narnia was nothing more than a charred cinder.
Time passed, seconds, days, minutes. All filled with dark hopelessness, for hope had burned to ash along with the trees. Then the noise, the roar, amplified, and Peter stood, wondering how it was possible for the blaze to grow larger. This roar was not just the fire, though. The Narnians watched in terrified awe as a clear wall rose up before the flames, hissing and screaming in pain-filled rage. Peter staggered back as he realized what it was he was seeing:
It was the waters of Narnia. At the center stood the River-god of the Northarrow River; by himself, he might have survived the cruel tongues of fire within his own banks, but could not dare to fight against the fire's power. Now, though, his brothers and sisters seemed to have joined their own waters with him, and they stood, a watery barrier before the fiery wave. For a moment the two walls stood, enemies surveying their opponents' forces.
Then the water bellowed and fell against the fire, which shrieked as the pain it had dealt fell upon its own shoulders. A river of hot steam flooded the air, and the Narnians had to turn to avoid the shower of boiling-hot water that was thrown towards them. Peter protected his face with his arms, barely noticing as the drops of liquid fire burned at the exposed skin of his wrists.
It was a few moments before Peter realized that the noise had disappeared. Not just the sounds of steam and the shouts of the burning Naiads, but the roar of the fire as well. He lifted his eyes to see that the sky was now black and grey; a few flickers of red and orange danced in the trees, but some of the Narnians, who were not in the same state of shock as their brethren, managed to find blankets and buckets of dirt to smother those lasting remnants.
The fire was gone. It was over. The Naiads and the River-gods had destroyed the enemy, and Peter realized that this must have been Edmund's plan: to combine the forces of the waters as a shield to crush the flames.
But at what cost?
After making sure Susan and Lucy had the care of the surviving Narnians under control, Peter led a weary and ragged group toward the Northarrow. They trudged through blackened land, putting out the small, glowing embers as they went and surveying the hollow shell of the forest. Upon reaching the edge of the once mighty Northarrow, the Narnians stared bleakly at the trickle that flowed slowly, low beneath the eroded banks. Had the River-god survived? Had all of the Children of Water, who had so valiantly fought the flames, been claimed victim to its scorching heat?
A groan, and Peter watched in numb relief as the River-god raised his head from his depleted river. His shape was faint, his face full of weariness and pain, but he lived and had strength enough to bow to the High King. "Your Majesty."
Peter swallowed a few times to try and wet his parched throat, so that he could actually speak. "Good River, we are indebted to you for the heroic and selfless actions of yourself and your family, which have saved many lives this day. I pray…" Peter swallowed again, "I pray that this has not come at too high a price."
The River-god smiled sadly. "My brothers and sisters have returned to their own banks, though I am filled with sorrow to tell you that some of the smaller ones were not able to withstand the fire. But, Your Majesty, it was a risk we made full-willing, at the plea of King Edmund. We could not lie safe while others burned."
Peter bowed his head, acknowledging the sacrifice and loss of the River-god and his family, but his stomach clenched at the mention of Edmund. "Where…do you know where my brother is now?" he asked, not sure if he wanted to know but feeling as if he had to lest he go mad from the images bombarding his mind of his brother choking and burning and screaming…
"This way, my lord." And Peter was running to follow the path of the River-god, who travelled upstream towards the west. Then the High King heard a voice, a blessedly familiar voice, and he dropped to his knees at the edge of the Northarrow, looking down the bank into the dried shallows. There, beneath him, knelt Edmund; dirty, soot-streaked, and coughing, but alive, so mercifully alive! A singed Rabbit stood by his side, snuffling her babies and counting them repeatedly to assure herself of their survival.
Edmund himself was reaching into a curved hollow in the bank, speaking softly, if hoarsely, to a terrified Bear cub, trying to get him to uncurl and move out of his shelter. Peter allowed himself to smile, because if he didn't he would probably start crying. "Ed!"
The younger king looked up and Peter saw relief flood his dark eyes, relief mirrored in his own eyes. "Peter! We're alright, just a little charred and shaken. We will be out in a moment."
Then Peter's eye-sight blurred, and the next thing he knew Edmund was climbing over the bank and he was throwing his arms around his little brother and the High King was sobbing out all his fear and helplessness on the younger king's shoulder, but that was alright because Edmund was shaking and crying too. They would have continued doing so for awhile, but they were kings and their people needed them, so the brothers dried their tears and commented on the haze of smoke that still burned the air and the Narnians said nothing because there was nothing to say.
And they walked back through the desiccated and destroyed woods with heads held high, because they were kings and their people needed them and if they wanted to scream at the injustice and sob over their dead friends it would wait until they were alone with their sisters in their clean, white, untouched rooms at Cair Paravel. But, for now, Peter would lead and Edmund would follow and they would do everything in their power to help those who they hadn't failed completely and maybe, someday, the screams that still echoed in their minds might fade to a glowing ember instead of the flames that burned their souls.
If you are from Victoria and reading this, know my thoughts and prayers are with you and everyone who has lost family, friends, and homes in this tragedy.