Disclaimer: I do not own the Chronicles of Narnia.
Note: Written for weekly challenge 21 (desperate) at the livejournal community, justkingedmund. I think originally I thought the challenge was 'despair', but it fits either well I think. It does have a basis in a biblical story, but is definitely not a retelling of the story. Different meanings and such.
It was the morning before their coronation. Aslan had already spoken with Edmund and the girls individually, speaking words that only they would know. Now the Great Lion came to Peter and the two walked along the shore near Cair Paravel.
There was a moment's quiet before Aslan spoke, a quiet that both comforted and unnerved Peter. "What do you love most, Peter?"
The Lion did not have to wait long for an answer; there was no doubt in Peter's mind. "My family."
Aslan smiled, but his eyes were sad. "It is well that you love them. But you are now to be High King. With that title comes a duty: you must protect Narnia and her people above all else."
"I will, Aslan." And he would. Already he loved Narnia, more than he thought possible.
"And are you willing to give up your family for this duty I have called you to?"
Peter came up short. "I…what do you mean?"
Aslan looked at him with sympathy. "You are High King," he repeated. "There will come a time when you are called to put Narnia above that which you love most. Will you follow your duty, my son?"
Peter was at a loss. Give up his family? He could barely even conceive of the notion of losing them. "I…I don't know."
The Great Lion's gaze was indecipherable. "You will know, when the time comes."
Peter, twenty-one-years old and High King of Narnia, swore as he stumbled; the limp, unconscious body he carried slipped from his grasp and nearly crashed into the dust before Peter grabbed him tightly. "Sorry, Ed." The High King's breathing was heavy as he continued walking. It was no mean feat to half-carry, half-drag an unconscious eighteen-year-old through the rocky hills of south Narnia.
It's better than before, at least, Peter thought to himself, wincing at the memory of the too-long time they had walked before Edmund loss consciousness. The younger king had tried to help in the escape, but the pain from his wound was unbearable; one of the Chimerae had managed to slice its claw through Edmund's left calf, down into the bone, even as the goat-head broke several of his ribs. It made walking hellish, even with the tranquilizing poison that laced the wound and hindered his movements.
Peter knew they had only escaped the surprise attack due to the sacrificial heroics of their guard. Being as they were on a routine visit to Archenland, the two kings had been unarmed and unarmored. Their only chance at survival in the face of a fierce band of Chimerae was retreat; and the guard had given them that chance.
Now they were only slightly ahead of the Chimerae army. Peter could hear the distant roars behind them on the path. The path that led them straight to the town of Nighthall. The High King's face went grim at the thought. Nighthall had a nearby garrison, but depended mostly on its militia. They would be in the fields, hunting in the woods. The town would be open and unprepared for an attack; helpless before the Chimerae. Warned, the militia could hold the monsters off until the garrison arrived. As it was, though, the town would be defenseless; they would be slaughtered.
There were over a thousand Narnians in Nighthall. Almost half of them were children.
Peter bit back a cry of utter frustration. He wouldn't make it in time. Not like this, not while he was struggling under the weight of his fully-grown brother. The Chimerae would overtake them soon, torment and murder them before continuing unopposed to Nighthall. The High King could not let that happen. He had to warn Nighthall. He had to save his brother.
He couldn't do both.
Tripping over a rock, Peter fell to his knees, letting out a sob that had little to do with the pain from hitting the hard ground. Clutching Edmund, he struggled to stand and continue.
He only had two options.
He could turn east. The Chimerae would not be able to reach them before they could cross Glasswater Creek; and the one weakness those monsters had was that they could not swim. Edmund would be safe, Peter could get him to Cair Paravel and Lucy's cordial. But Nighthall would fall. The Narnians would be murdered and devoured, and it was likely that other towns would also fall before Narnia's army could reach them.
Or he could leave Edmund behind.
Peter's eyes burned at the thought. He could leave Edmund on the path and run to Nighthall, giving the town time to prepare and defend itself. Leave Edmund. Leave his brother to be tortured, killed, his body eaten by the vicious Chimerae. There would be no time for rescue; the Chimerae would be on him too soon. But Edmund would suffer and die and Peter would be responsible.
The older king let out another sob. "Oh Aslan, I can't do it! I can't choose between my brother and my people!"
He had to. He had to choose. Family or duty. Edmund or Narnia. He could not save both.
There will come a time when you are called to put Narnia above that which you love most. Will you follow your duty, my son?
Peter's knees collapsed under the weight of his brother and his devastating choice. He lay Edmund down gently on the dusty hill next to the path. The younger man's dark eyes were still closed, but even unconscious he was in pain from his injuries. Peter saw his brother's innocent, unknowing face and crumbled. Weeping now, Peter cradled Edmund's head, touching his own forehead to his baby brother's.
Family or duty.
You know what Edmund would tell you.
Family or duty.
Family or duty.
Family or duty.
He had to choose. He had to choose hehadtochoosehehadtochoose. He had to choose now.
With a trembling hand, Peter reached to his side and pulled out the only weapon he had: a short knife that he used for every purpose one could think of. Now it would have one more. Peter could barely breathe through his tears. He would not let his brother fall into the Chimerae's power alive, would not prolong his agony. And, murderous beasts though they were, the Chimerae did not…they did not eat carrion.
Peter moved the point of the knife to Edmund's chest, brushing aside his already-torn tunic. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I love you, I'm sorry," he sobbed, desperately trying to steady his hand. "I'm sorry, Ed. Oh Lion, I'm sorry!" The knife pricked the skin above Edmund's heart, and Peter lifted the blade. He let out a strangled, heart-broken cry as the knife seemed to slice through air on its own.
Only to have his hand firmly, but gently, brushed aside by a soft paw. The knife fell into the dust above Edmund's head, clean of any condemning blood. Peter blinked through his tears and looked up. Standing across from him, on the other side of his brother's body, was the greatest sight Peter could ever have imagined:
The Great Lion's eyes were tender as they gazed on Peter's reddened, tear-streaked face. "Peter," was all he said, voice full of compassion and pride.
Peter stared at the Lion, numb with shock and confusion. "Here I am, Aslan," he said, not knowing what else to say.
"Do not despair; you have shown yourself willing to fulfill the duty I have given you. It is well done."
Peter looked down at Edmund, whose chest rose and fell with pain-filled breaths. His voice was dazed. "I have to save Nighthall." He had chosen. He had chosen his people, and he had to save them.
Aslan smiled at him. "Another way will be provided."
And then the Lion was gone. For a moment, the entire world stopped and Peter's mind could not process what had happened, what he had almost done, what he had to do.
Then a young Doe scrambled over the hill, pulling up short at the sight of the two kings. "Oh. Oh my. Your Majesties, what...? How…? Oh my."
Suddenly Peter's senses returned and he heard the sounds of the Chimerae coming closer and he saw the Doe and he fell back into his role as High King. "Good Deer, there is no time! Run to Nightfall; warn them that a band of Chimerae march against them."
The Doe's large eyes widened further. "Chimerae! Oh my."
Peter's eyes narrowed and he growled at the poor young Deer. "Run! Now!" Startled, the Doe scrambled backwards before darting off down the path with all speed. There was no doubt she would reach Nightfall in time; sooner than Peter himself could have, had he run his fastest.
Locking down on his tumultuous emotions, Peter stumbled to his feet, lifting Edmund as he did so. Being moved after lying on the ground must have woken the younger king, as a blurry, harsh voice cut through the air. "Pete? Where-wha?"
Peter did not think he had heard anything more beautiful in his life. "It's alright Ed. Come on, we need to reach the creek."
"Can't…walk…" Edmund's dark eyes, now open and glassy with pain, looked confused.
Peter held his brother more firmly. "Don't worry. I'll get you there."
The High King choked back a hysterical sob at his brother's devoted and confident, "I know."
The brothers struggled to Glasswater Creek, Peter under Edmund's full weight and Edmund under the agony of his injuries. With every step the sounds of the Chimerae drew closer; part of the group must have broken off the main army to follow their trail. It was another race against time – but now there was hope, and Peter would not fail his brother again.
Even as Glasswater's gentle banks came into sight, the first Chimera crested the hill behind them, howling for his brethren to come, to kill, to feast. Fear and desperation fueled Peter's strength and his feet moved with a new burst of speed. The howling came closer, the hissing of the snake-tails, the pounding of heavy paws.
Peter didn't hesitate. The moment they reached the banks of Glasswater, he plunged in, dragging Edmund and helping him hold his head above the water. Thankfully the current was not too swift this late in the summer; and the lift of the water made carrying Edmund all the easier. Still, Peter was panting for breath as he yanked Edmund up the opposing bank. The two brothers collapsed next to each other on the shore, Edmund on his back and Peter with his face almost planted in the sand.
After a moment, Peter sat up on his knees and looked back over the river at the thwarted Chimerae, who snarled and hissed at their out-of-reach prey. He looked down at Edmund who lay beside him, unconscious again but his breathing was steady, if ragged. He knew that, by now, the Doe would have reached Nighthall and the town would be saved. They were all safe: Nighthall, the Doe, Peter himself. His brother. They were safe, they were alive. Alive.
Peter felt that he was completely justified, at that moment, in emptying the contents on his stomach on the ground next to him.
Peter could not escape the celebration fast enough. It was a day after the funeral for the Kings' guard and those, thankfully few, who fell at Nighthall. It was the evening Narnia celebrated the lives which they saved with their sacrifice. It was the night they honored their High King for his heroic efforts in warning Nighthall and saving King Edmund.
It made him feel sick.
Every proud smile twisted the hidden knife deeper into his chest. Every loving hug from his sisters made him want to scream in pain. So he escaped to his room, hiding in the darkness from the cheer that only laid his shame bare again and again.
But the darkness could not hide him forever. "Peter?" The High King stiffened as his brother slipped into the room, closing the door behind him. He saw Edmund frown in the moonlight. "You need some light in here." The dark-haired king did not wait for an answer, instead just heading over to the nearest lamp and lighting it so that the room filled with a steady glow. "There, much better."
"You should be in bed, Edmund." Lucy's cordial had healed Edmund's leg and ribs. But it did not work as well on poisons, so Edmund had remained sluggish, and tired easily as he healed. Always one to worry and mother, Susan adamantly insisted that he went to bed early and slept in late. There was little use arguing with Susan, which was why Peter was surprised to see Edmund up and about.
Edmund gave him a look that Peter could not quite interpret. "If I were in bed, you would just sit here wallowing in the dark. And avoiding me as you have been since we got back to the Cair." Peter looked away from Edmund, confirming his words. Edmund, to his surprise, did not continue in that vein, but changed the subject. "Captain Mirenus came up to talk to me today."
Mirenus was the Faun in charge of leading a contingent to sweep the area of the attack, making sure no Chimerae were left. "What did he say?"
"They did not find any evidence suggesting that any of the Chimerae survive. And he gave me this." Peter froze as Edmund pulled out his knife. The knife. Edmund did not seem to notice his brother's reaction. "He said he found it on the path to Nighthall, where Lenlia – the Doe – found us."
Edmund proffered the handle to him, as he had done so with many knives over the years. It was such a normal motion that Peter had the hilt in his hand before he realized that the blade was pointing at Edmund's chest, Edmund's chest, just like it had before, and he let it slip from his fingers just as the younger king let go. The knife clattered to the hard floor, the sound a mocking jeer.
Eyes narrowing, Edmund looked from the fallen knife to his pale-faced brother. "Alright, Peter, what's wrong?"
Peter struggled not to show any of the emotion raging in him. "Nothing is wrong. Except for the fact that you should be sleeping, not standing in my room. Go to bed, Edmund."
Of course, Edmund would do nothing of the sort. He folded his arms across his chest. "Don't change the subject. I'm not leaving you."
Unknowingly, his words hit Peter like an arrow in his heart. I'm not leaving you. "You should," Peter whispered, no longer able to hide his despair.
Edmund frowned and let his arms fall to his side, and he moved closer towards Peter. "Why?"
Peter stepped to the side, not willing to let Edmund near him. "You aren't safe."
"I'm in Cair Paravel; it's probably the safest place in Narnia," Edmund said, his mouth quirking in a smile as if his brother was making a joke; though the smile was forced and wary.
The older king shook his head. "You aren't safe near me."
Edmund's eyes turned serious. He stepped closer to Peter, meeting his gaze with determination. "I trust you with my life, Peter. Always."
The utter faith in Edmund's eyes broke Peter's control. His words came out in loud shouts, fuelled by guilty anger that Edmund could believe such a thing when Peter surely deserved only his wrath: "Always? You would always trust me? Would you trust me if I got you killed? Would you trust me if I couldn't find a way to save you? Would you still trust me if I held a knife to your chest and drove it in and killed you?"
"I already did," Edmund answered simply, devastatingly, his gaze never wavering.
Peter felt the blood leave his face, and his voice was hoarse with shock, and fear. "What?"
Edmund gently grasped Peter's arms, giving weight to his words: "I was awake, Peter."
He didn't have to explain further. The meaning was clear: Edmund hadn't been unconscious, he had been fully aware when Peter had lifted the blade to kill him, to murder him, oh Aslan! "How…how long," Peter was beginning to shake as he struggled to contain his emotions. How much did Edmund know? How long was he awake? "How long?"
His own words came out of Edmund's mouth in answer: "'I can't choose between my brother and my people'."
Peter's knees gave out, causing both kings to crash to the floor as Edmund fell off balance trying to hold him up. The tears in Peter's eyes began escaping and he tried to pull away from his brother. "Why? Why didn't you tell me, why didn't you speak? How can you…?" His tears stopped up his throat.
Edmund just pulled Peter closer in his embrace. "If you had known, you would have hesitated to choose; we would have just wasted time arguing. We would have been overtaken, and we, and those in Nighthall, would have died at the hands of the Chimerae."
"I was going to kill you!" Peter clutched at Edmund's tunic, trying to understand. "I held the knife over your heart and I was going to kill you. How can you forgive me that?"
The younger king brushed a hand through Peter's blond hair. "Because you were following the duty Aslan gave you. Because in doing so, your own life would be spared. I can only be thankful I was allowed to fulfill my own duty, if only by feigning unconsciousness."
Confused, Peter pulled back to look at his brother. "Your own…"
Edmund smiled and gently pulled Peter's forehead to meet his, in a conscious recollection of that terrible moment on the path to Nighthall. "Peter, your duty is to protect Narnia above all else. I know that, and I fully accept its consequences." His voice was soft and tender, but firm in resolve as he continued: "Just know this, brother: My duty is to protect you. No matter what."
And he would. Edmund would protect his brother, even if only by holding him in a loving embrace as Peter sobbed, weeping out his anguish until there were no more tears. He would protect Peter from his guilt and bring joy back to eyes. Because, by Aslan's merciful provision, Edmund lived.
See, didn't kill Edmund this time either. And if you're wondering, the inspiration for this came from Genesis 22, the testing of Abraham.