AN: Hello all, and sorry for the long wait for this chapter. I can't really offer any satisfactory excuses except for life, so all I will do is say sorry for the really long delay. I will say that this chapter may have a change of tone to previous chapters. This is because I am trying to move the story along a bit - hence there is a bit of a time skip here (not much of one). Also, though I didn't really respond to individual reviews this time (even when I really should have because questions needed answers) I did read and appreciate them all. Thank you for sticking with this story.
Disclaimer: I don't own Narnia.
There was a moment when everything around me tilted sideways and then I was aware of Lucy at my side, bony knees and too small hands feeling my forehead and murmuring reassurances.
"Shh, Edmund. Take a deep breath. Its not. She's not..."
But her words just weren't enough, not to break through the cloud of no – no – why? Your lying! Not her. Please. Which was all I could think about.
I'd been in a briefing with the Minister of Defence and several of his staff, trying to calm them down, trying to explain that it wasn't my people that had attacked the village in York and burnt it to a crisp, that it wasn't us that had sent giants to make a landslide in Scotland - and how thankful I was that it was the holidays now, so that the school there was empty of all but the caretaker.
And then a knock at the door, and there was the message, of the Tyne beginning to freeze. Then the Trent. The Severn. And now the source of the Thames. And the ice was creeping forward, quickly, and not thawing in the sun, but setting snow without rain onto the surface.
And I know what that means.
And Lucy knows what that means for all she is trying to reassure me. There was only one person who could ever halt the coming of spring.
"She's dead. She's meant to be dead," I found myself whispering.
"She is dead." Lucy said back, and forced me to look at her. "She is dead, Edmund. Aslan killed her. This is an echo of her power. But it doesn't mean that it is her."
"But the winter..."
"Her wand was broken, Edmund."
"When Aslan bears his teeth, winter meets its death. When he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again."
Something in her words melded into me, reminded me of golden coats, wild eyes, and a powerful roar that could sing up a world and I took a deep, steadying breath, my panic subsiding. I realised abruptly, that I was no longer sitting on the comfy chair provided for me, but on the floor, and a bright flush spread over my features. I got to my feet.
"I apologise, Gentlemen, for that display," I said to the men who had been staring, uncertain of what to do as their meeting descended so rapidly into chaos.
Lucy also got to her feet and smiled charmingly at them, "I am awfully sorry. The news of unnatural snow and ice always makes us think of our most terrible enemy."
The Minister cleared his throat uncomfortably, "Yes," cough, "I have been briefed." Then his shoulders straightened and he issued us with a steady gaze. "But we cannot afford this. Not now. We're still rationed. We cannot afford for our crops to be damaged by unnatural weather and do you even know when last the Thames froze was?"
"1814, I believe, Sir."
He looked slightly taken aback that I actually knew the date, but it didn't change the fact that the Thames freezing could be catastrophic for the recovering Londoners. The Thames had been central to the economy of England for centuries. It had once been the largest port in the world and had been hit heavily in the blitz, and it would take years to recover from that, but they couldn't afford for the Thames to freeze. Not now.
"We'll need to go to the source, where the cold started," I found myself saying after a moment of silence.
The Minister snorted, "And what do you expect to find there? Isn't it possible that this is a side effect of your portals?"
"I'm not sure exactly," I admit, painfully aware that the Minister holds me accountable for the situation, and that trying to explain again that the portals were not caused by us, was likely to meet deaf ears. Thankfully, the King, Prime Minister and Princess had taken a liking to the two of us after our initial meeting and realised that working together was the best course of action. The Minister of Defence was a lot less trusting.
"What my brother means to say," Lucy piped up, once more seated in her chair, her legs swinging slightly as they failed to reach the floor, "Is that, quite often, magic of this sort leaves a trace."
I flinched internally. The news of ice must have shaken me up more than I realised if I was communicating so poorly.
"I don't like this," The Minister said, crossing his arms across his chest.
A sudden thought hit me, a way to create an olive branch of sorts. "Faraz," I called, to where I knew the cheetah was prowling outside. Immediately the cat burst into the room, startling the Minister slightly.
"Is Sir Giles Fox in the building?"
"I believe so."
"Fetch him, if you would please, Cousin."
At once the cheetah bounded out of the room. I sat, thinking for a moment, if what I was offering would be feasible – my information was so lacking, compared to what it once was. One briefing after so much time could not compare to the daily briefings that I used to conduct with my spies, and diplomats, and lawyers (and sometimes with war councils). It was so difficult to know so little when it was so crucial to know so much. I felt like I was a new King again. It was uncomfortable.
My musings were interrupted by a cultured voice and a sleek, ginger body, stepping into the room.
"You requested my presence, Your Majesty?" He asked, pressing his nose to the floor in a bow, before approaching.
I felt a slight smile twitch at the corner of my lips at the sight of him. He had arrived on the afternoon after Oreius, sitting on the back of my oldest and truest friend.
Even now I could remember, sinking my head into his neck, too thin, too thin, smelling the familiar scent of hay and apple, as he chewed my hair and kept saying, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have let you go. I failed. Please. Never. Again."
And I had cried then. Apologising myself. Telling him that, "It wasn't your fault. It wasn't. I had forgotten. I shouldn't have. But it was Aslan's plan. Please don't blame yourself. I didn't mean to go."
I think we stayed up all night, camping on the lawn, because he couldn't fit into the house. Mother brought down some blankets so I wouldn't be cold. I talked and he talked, and we both cried, and at some point during the night, Lucy joined us, after, she and Sir Giles had given us privacy (and a proper briefing). She curled into my side, as I was curled into Phillip's, and we watched the stars dance, and I wondered if some of our stars had crossed into this world as well.
I wrestled away the smile. "You were the one in charge of agriculture during our absence, weren't you, Sir Giles."
A wry grin flittered across his face, "It was one of my responsibilities, Sire."
"If the situation worsens over here, will we be capable of relieving some of the pressure? How good has our harvest been?"
"We have an excellent stock pile and should be able to begin preparations for relieving a long winter over here if need be."
"That's an excellent idea, Edmund," Lucy said eagerly.
"Sir Giles, I'm placing you in charge of the arrangements. We don't know for sure if it will be needed but if we can help then I don't want any British person to starve."
I turned back to the Minister and smiled at him, "I don't know how much good we can do, but where we can help, we will. Now lets talk about what defence we can use against giants..."
Peter dived into the ditch, closing his eyes for just a moment, thankful for the covering of mud which would, should, mask his scent, and keep them from finding him. His hand flexed around the hilt of his sword, but he didn't quite grip it. He sunk further into the brambles. To his right, Simon, was almost completely hidden. The only part of him that Peter could see was his wide, frightened eyes.
They'd gone foraging for food, the unexpected time added to their journey making their supplies insufficient. Peter had wanted to go alone, but Simon had been a scout and knew what food was safe to find, and whilst Peter did as well, he couldn't keep both an effective look out and gather food at the same time. So he'd allowed the other boy to come. The others were all a way back, safely hidden and guarded.
Because the day after discovering the troll, they'd arrived at a village, or what was left of one. The buildings were intact, the fields were full, but there was the tang of metal in the air, of wild magic, and when they stepped warily onto the streets, they saw the stone turned flesh of the people who had lived there.
Peter wasn't afraid to admit that he had been sick, violently. But then he wasn't the only one. For all that these were people that had lived through the war, there was something that was so utterly wrong about people turned to statues.
Then to his relief, he had heard a click behind him and saw surrounding them a handful of armed men. Beautiful, alive, men who quickly realised that these were not a new enemy and fell into their group.
They hadn't been in the village when it was attacked. They'd only seen the aftermath.
After that they'd moved on, more people, survivors of strange attacks joining them, one or two at a time, never many. They were constantly turned around, as they struggled to evade the enemy in the welsh countryside. And what should have been a journey of days at most instead became one of weeks as they weaved back and forth, avoiding roads, and lingering long in locations as enemies passed, praying for hours that they wouldn't be noticed.
A few of them died.
And it wasn't his fault. It wasn't.
But it might as well have been because he hadn't seen it. Hadn't been quick enough.
The first time, the giant had unfurled itself so suddenly from where it had camouflaged itself in the rocks. It sent its club singing round to knock a glancing blow which sent one grown man rolling down a hill, and it had only been luck that it was just the one giant. It had only been luck which allowed Peter to get in close enough to slide his sword across the giants leg, slicing tendons in two as the men fired a hail of bullets into the giants skull.
And when they had raced down the hill, they'd arrived only to find Mr. Wiven, poor, undangerous Mr. Wiven, dead, his back broken in two upon a rock.
They'd not even buried him. They had to find shelter. The living was always the first priority. But Peter had hoped that the giant would prove the more appealing feast for the carrion birds.
Above them, there was a loud cackle as the hags dragged a panicked, baying, sheep across the earth.
"Hurry up! Hurry up!" one was saying, her voice cracking as she encouraged the other two, "I've got the circle drawn just over there and time is running out. Hurry up!"
Peter felt a hand reach for his, gripping it tightly and Peter hoped that Simon could see his reassuring smile.
"It's just a dumb sheep," one was complaining, "It won't be potent enough."
"Ain't no talking sheep over here," the third grumbled.
"Hurry up! Hurry up!" cackled the first.
In front of them the River Wye, slushed violently against the banks. Peter considered for a moment whether they should swim across. But only for a moment. The river was swollen and deep, and he knew better than to brave unknown waters when they were like this.
He considered breaking his cover. He'd faced worse odds. But he knew also that he was out of shape and even when he was in top shape, he'd struggle against three hags.
The sound of the dragging ceased only meters away from the ditch. Peter hoped he wasn't breathing too loudly.
"It should be a talking sheep," the second hag insisted.
"Hush! Hush!" cackled the first.
And before anything else was said, there was a loud screech from the hag and a sound, which Peter recognised, of a knife hitting bone and slicing flesh. Then there was the scent of blood, and Peter could almost imagine it seeping through the ground to land in his hair and stain it pink. Beside him, Peter felt Simon trembling.
And the hags started to sing. A terrible, wailing tune, that picked up in speed and seemed to burst outwards, rising upwards and upwards. As they sang the wind picked up in speed, the water spilt the banks, rushing towards the boys' hiding place, threatening to drag them away.
And Peter could feel his heart thudding in his chest, trying to escape outwards, escape the call of wild magic that swirled in the wind and the water, barely controlled, ugly, evil magic, that left the taste of metal in the air, that stole his breath and made his throat tighten, his tongue swell and his eyes bulge – everything threatening to burst.
And then it all stopped. The wind settled, and the river slunk back, having barely lapped their feet. The wailing stopped.
"It didn't work! Why didn't it work?"
"I told you it should have been a talking sheep."
"Hush! Hush! We were too late!"
Simon let out a whimper and Peter froze. Above them, everything became suddenly quiet. Then there was a shuffling noise, of fabric and lopsided footsteps dragging across earth. Peter looked up, just as the three hags looked over the edge of the ditch.
"Boo," one cackled, and a bony, papery hand reached down and grabbed Peter by the neck, dragging him out of the ditch before he could even react. He kicked and punched as he was dragged, but the hag was surprisingly strong and wouldn't release her strangling grip on him. But then she deposited him on the grass, arrogant enough to not even remove his sword. Simon was dropped, gasping beside him.
In front of him was the sheep. Its legs were broken and tied and a knife was buried in its side. It lay in a pool of blood, that even now was dripping out, staining its white coat red. Peter barely glanced at the pebble circle it lay in.
He stood up, hand gripping his sword as he watched the three hags circling him, the hunger in their eyes easy to see.
"What's your name, boy?" asked the grumbling hag.
Peter glanced down, saw Simon struggling to his feet. He considered lying, but he had never been good at it. It wasn't in his nature.
He stayed silent instead.
The hag that had grabbed him suddenly stopped and sniffed the air, "He smells familiar. He smells familiar!" she grinned.
The other two stopped and sniffed as well. Peter looked at them, and saw a shadow in the corner of his eye.
"Where have we met?" said the first one, taking an eager step forward and then she stopped again and howled with laughter.
"Don't answer! Don't answer! I know! You're the false king. Usurper. Queen killer. Peter."
The last name she spat, all mirth gone.
"I am," Peter said, "Though it was Aslan that killed the Witch, not me."
The three hissed and shrank back. Peter looked beyond them.
"Murderer," said the cackler.
"We should have used a talking sheep," said the complainer.
But the cackler was already looking at Peter.
"No. I know what we should use," she said, and took another step towards Peter.
"What," said the grumbler, but she was looking towards Peter as well.
In the distance, he could see the shadow growing. He could almost make out its shape.
"The most potent of ingredients." She took another step.
She stood in front of Peter now. Just in front. Barely inches. Peter could see the shadow now, clear as day.
And Peter moved. He had always being quick with a sword and this was no exception. The hilt of the sword slammed up, impacting the hags nose and shattering it into the brain, she collapsed and Peter drew the blade. The other two shrieked, and launched themselves forward.
Peter braced himself, but before one of them reached him she was grabbed. Two great talons clutching her, tearing her away from the ground, launching up, up and then letting her fall. She plummeted, and hit the earth with a thud and then lay still.
The third did reach Peter, or rather reached his sword, as with one quick swipe, the blade hit her neck and severed it, shooting blood all over Peter and a shocked Simon.
And Peter thought that it wasn't the hags that had shocked him, because in front of them was the most magnificent sight that Peter had seen in years. A great gryphon, golden and beautiful, with a sharp beak, and wide wings was gliding towards them.
It landed gracefully, folding its wings behind it and setting wide, yellow eyes intently upon them.
"Greetings," it said in a smooth, male baritone, "I am Guthrie and I have been searching for 16 days for one called Peter."
And Peter stepped forward, "You have found him, Cousin, and we are most grateful for it."
The gryphon blinked slowly and then without warning he curled his legs beneath him and lowered his head in obeisance.
"Greetings, Peter, High King of Narnia, I bring salutations from your brother, Edmund, King of Narnia, sometime called the Just. It is my honour to be of service to you."