A/N: Inspired by the word "justice," and Edmund's title "the Just." I'm not sure how many of these "inspired by one word" stories I'm going to write. I've got quite a list of words, so we'll see how many of them actually inspire a story. :)
Disclaimer: I do not own Narnia or the Pevensies. I just give them what they justly deserve.
If this was justice, Edmund no longer wanted to be known as the Just. Justice was fairness, impartiality, integrity. Bias, prejudice, inequality—they had no place in Narnian justice. So he had thought.
He stood on the ramparts of Cair Paravel, gazing east across the ocean to where he thought he could almost see Galma on the horizon. Out here, in the high autumn wind that had been dubbed Aslan's Breath, he could not hear the pleas from the dungeons. Out here, breathing the crisp, autumn air, he could pretend to forget the prisoners in their rank misery.
"Again, Ed?" Peter leaned against the crenellation Edmund was looking out of, arms folded across his chest, a grim expression in his eyes. "They'll be gone soon enough. Then they won't bother you, and you won't have to come up here so often."
"I don't—they're not—it… never mind," Edmund muttered, stepping away. Peter caught his arm and swung him around.
"Ed—they're just Telmarines." The disgust was plain in his voice as he spat the last word into the wind. Edmund felt his temper flare.
"That's no reason to hang them—to torture them by leaving them in complete darkness for weeks, with naught to do but contemplate their own deaths, and then hang them! They need a trial, they need a chance. Innocent until proven guilty, and all that. Peter, seriously, you can't—"
"The High King has a duty to his people, to ensure their safety by use of whatever means he finds necess—"
"Yes, duty, you and your precious duty!" Edmund cut Peter off as his brother tried to talk over him. "We've seen you ensuring the safety of the people. We've seen you use necessary measures before. But Peter, you can't hang people just because they are Telmarines! You have to have a reason for—"
"Did you never think that perhaps I have reasons of my own for hating the Telmarines?" Peter asked, his eyes glinting.
"You can't hate an entire race of people indiscriminately, Peter. You have to look at individuals. I mean—you hate that lazy brute Maresgold, but you don't hate all other centaurs because of him."
"I have looked at individuals, little brother, and I find reason enough for hate," Peter said dangerously, rising to his full height. Edmund stood still, fists clenched at his sides, glaring defiantly up at the icy blue eyes scowling hotly down at him.
"Sometimes, I wonder if you've exchanged your conscience for your sense of duty," Edmund said quietly. "Sometimes, I wonder what happened to your sense of right and wrong. Sometimes, I wonder if you really are doing your duty by your people, or if you are simply doing what pleases you most this week."
Peter's fist lashed out so suddenly that Edmund had no time to duck. He fell back against the wall and shook his head to clear the ringing from his ears. Gingerly, he felt his jaw, wincing at the already-forming bruise, hot and puffy under his fingers. He stood slowly, refusing Peter's offered hand.
"I'm sorry, Ed—oh, Aslan. I'm sorry," he stuttered. Edmund looked up and saw an anguished remorse in Peter's eyes, a terrified look he had rarely seen before. Edmund gently rested a hand on his brother's shoulder.
"It's alright," he said, grimacing as his jaw throbbed. "I've had worse." Peter smiled tightly. "Just think about what I said, about a trial. Everyone deserves a second chance." Edmund turned to leave, thinking despairingly of the long walk to the kitchens, and wondering how soon he would run into a servant he could send to get him ice instead. He had taken barely three steps when Peter began to speak.
"You were holed up with Sallowpad the Raven, writing some new law or other. I've truly no notion which one. Oreius caught wind of a raiding party infiltrating from the southwest—small, maybe fifteen men. Lucy volunteered to accompany me, thus leaving you to complete whatever it was you were busy with. We decided not to even bother you with the details. We told Susan to tell you we'd gone to deal with a raiding party and would return in a matter of days."
"I remember," Edmund said. "You returned successful, though rather subdued. I never heard the particulars."
"They had found a pass through the western mountains. They cut across the northwestern tip of Archenland and occupied a bit of woods where that one family of Badgers lives. They captured the trees—don't ask me how. The birch-girls were terrified, bound and gagged and tied to their own trees, their precious live-wood chopped up for firewood. When one of them tried to escape, the raiders pulled the trees up by the roots, and threw the whole grove bit by bit into the fire. We were a few hours away, but the wind was strong that day. I can still hear their screams."
He paused, fighting for control over his anger, his sadness. Edmund rested an arm around his brother's hunched shoulders and urged him to go on. Peter stared out over the sea, and Edmund didn't know if the tears were from the memory or the wind.
"I failed those birch-girls, Ed. I swore to never forget the faces of those men, those murderers. We attacked, but many of them got away, escaped into the mountains—we had no authority to pursue across the border of Archenland, though I fought Oreius to do so. We'd driven them from Narnia, he said, and therefore we were successful, and needed to return to Cair Paravel as soon as possible. Lucy agreed with him, and I could not argue.
"I never did forget the faces of those men, Ed. The ones rotting in the dungeon—five out of the six were there that night, laughing as the birch-girls screamed. So is it not justice—that they die for the killing of those trees, that they be executed for their crimes? Is this not the right thing to do?"
Edmund said nothing as Peter looked up fiercely. He could feel his own anger stirring, unable to remain unprejudiced in the face of so atrocious an act. But the years he had spent controlling that anger, the years he had spent becoming the calm, unbiased king, living up to his name—the Just—took over, and he began to coolly calculate.
"Peter, they need a trial. They were caught raiding the southern farms, taking the grain and the harvest—they burned nothing. Did it never occur to you that they were hungry? It's been nearly four years. You can not judge them on their past actions—they deserve a second chance."
"I knew you would say that. You and your second chances," Peter turned away restlessly. "You weren't there. You didn't see the expressions on their faces." He wheeled around, glaring at Edmund. "I will see them hang for what they did." He left suddenly, his footsteps fading as Edmund stood stunned by the violence his brother's eyes, knowing what he must do.
Edmund really didn't want to go down to the dungeons, but he forced himself to do just that. The darkness was overwhelming, the weight of the castle above him pressing down. His torch smoldered fitfully, and the keys jangled loudly. He left his torch with the guards outside the door and stepped into the blackness of the cell.
The six men were quiet, facing the faint outline of the door behind which shone the torchlight. Edmund allowed for his eyes to adjust to the dark, so he could see—or thought he could see—the pale shapes of the Telmarines' faces.
"Come to gloat?" a heavily accented voice came roughly out of the darkness.
"No," Edmund said.
"Come to rescue us?" another, younger voice asked hopefully. A blur of movement and a yelp revealed that one of the older men had cuffed the younger one upside the head.
"No," Edmund repeated. "I'm sorry. I came to ask you a question or two."
"We don't answer questions," the first voice spat. Edmund took him to be the leader.
"I could always make you," Edmund said lightly.
"You and what army? Who do you think you are? the king?"
"Yes, actually," Edmund said coldly. "King Edmund the Just."
"Just?" the voice filled with derision. "Just what? King Edmund the Just-a-Boy? King Edmund the Just-a-Little-Brother? or King Edmund the Just-a-Traitor?" Edmund winced, but said nothing. The Telmarine laughed.
"Four years ago, a raiding party crossed the borders of Narnia and burned to death several birch-girls, loyal subjects of Narnia, before our royal brother the High King Peter attacked and drove the raiders back across the mountains." Edmund spoke loudly enough to be heard over the mutterings of the six men, but quietly enough that the guards outside would not hear. "Our royal brother the High King swore to never forget the faces of the men who so dared to torture and murder some of our most loyal subjects. The High King claims that five of the six of you were there that night, participants in the murder of said birches. What we are asking is which of the six of you was not there."
There was a sullen silence. Edmund waited. Finally, one of the men drew a deep breath that ended in a gasp of pain as a second blur of movement betrayed a second cuff to the head.
"You keep silent," the leader's voice growled. "Yeah, we were there. What, didn't you believe your precious royal brother? We were there and we laughed. You think we didn't regret it later? You think we didn't realise that they were people? You think we didn't realise it was murder?"
"Are you saying you didn't know it at the time, while they were screaming?"
"Do you remember the first time you ever saw a woman step out of a tree?" a second man asked. "Part of what we did was in response to fear."
"Keep quiet," the leader said, threatening.
"No—just because you enjoyed those screams, doesn't mean we all did. Kashar was the one of us who was not there, Your Majesty. He did nothing to deserve what we all know is coming. Gespian is lying—he felt no remorse. He deserves to hang, and not only for what he did to those trees, but for what he does daily to the men under his command, what he does daily to his wife. But the rest of us…" he hesitated, and Edmund shifted his weight, waiting. "Perhaps we did burn those trees… but we regretted it. Fear is a terrible excuse, but it is the truth. If you can not find it in your heart to give us a second chance, Your Majesty, at least free Kashar—his only transgression is stealing grain to feed the hungry."
"What is your name?" Edmund asked when the man fell silent.
"Caspa, Your Majesty."
"Thank you, Caspa, for being honest." Edmund turned to leave, but paused. "I make no promises. But I will try." He left before any of the Telmarines could say anything else. He took a torch from one of the guards, ordering them to confine the man Gespian in a separate cell and allow the other five men a bit of light. As he made his way up the long, twisting staircase, he thought of what he could say to Peter to make him see that these men deserved a second chance.
He ran into Peter when he was coming up from the kitchens, a chunk of ice wrapped in a towel pressed gingerly to his jaw. He knew he had waited too long for the ice to do much other than numb the pain, but this was better than nothing. Peter pulled the towel away to inspect the bruise and sighed.
"I'm sorry, Ed."
"I told you," Edmund said, a smile quirking his lips on the uninjured side of his face. "I've had worse." The smile faded from his face and he led Peter to the sitting room the four royals had claimed as their own. Peter called a messenger Squirrel to ask the girls to join them and stood staring into the fire one of the Fauns had stirred up just before the two kings had arrived. Lucy and Susan arrived, breathless, from the archery field and collapsed onto the couch across from Edmund.
"Oh, Ed, what's happened to your face?" Lucy asked, her hand going to her belt, where her magic cordial hung.
"Don't bother with that, Lucy," he said. "It's just a bruise—it'll be gone in a week. I've had worse."
"But however did you manage—"
"I hit him," Peter cut Susan off curtly.
"Because I made him angry," Edmund stepped in. "I told him the Telmarines deserved a second chance, not a hanging. And—well, I said some nasty things that I regret now. I'm sorry, Peter—you know I didn't mean it."
"No, you were right." They smiled and the girls did not press for the details of the conversation. Peter frowned suddenly. "But I just can't let them go."
"I never said that," Edmund said. "Put them to work in the mines."
"The Dwarves would murder you," Lucy said quickly.
"Fine then, the shipyards," Susan suggested. "They're raiders; that's not much better than pirates."
"They're afraid of the sea," Lucy said, shaking her head. "I went down to talk to them, see what they were like. Only one of them said anything, and I got the feeling he wasn't telling me much of anything. One of them kept trying to talk, but the big one just hit him until he shut up."
"I know," Edmund said, "I went to talk to them as well." Peter glared at his two youngest siblings.
"But they're Telmarines," he hissed. "They're disgusting, they're evil—"
"They're not," Edmund said quietly. "Well, alright, Gespian is. I had him moved to a separate cell. But I got another one talking. He proved to me that they're not all the same. That they really do deserve a second chance."
"There you go again, with your stupid second chances!" Peter exploded. "Why are you so set on giving everyone and everything that crosses your path a second chance?"
"Because I know how it feels to be granted one." The silence stretched as Peter, Susan, and Lucy stared at Edmund. He calmly met their gazes and took the ice off his face for a moment to rearrange the towel. The bruise on his face reminded them of the battered, downcast face that had been rescued all those years ago from the White Witch. "Aslan gave me a second chance—you gave me a second chance—when I was forgiven, when I was saved. I can never forget that I'm on my second chance, and there's no such thing as a third chance. I'm out of chances, so I can't waste this one. But I got a second one. And I figure that if I, a traitor to Narnia and Aslan, deserved another chance, perhaps other people do, too."
Peter sat down heavily next to Edmund, and put his arms around his brother.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I forgot. I never will again." Edmund knew Peter was good on his promise, and nodded gently. Peter sat back and looked guiltily at his sisters. "But I still can't just let these Telmarines go."
"They were caught stealing food," Lucy said. "The punishment needs to fit the crime. Stealing doesn't equate with execution. Labour, yes. Execution, no."
"The stone quarries," Edmund said. "The Satyrs won't kill them too badly." The siblings shared a fleeting smile. "And I've heard some of the Animals say that the quarries know if a person is good and bad—the quarries break them or keep them whole."
Peter nodded. He stood and rested a hand on Edmund's shoulder.
"Thank you, little brother, for making me see reason. This is why you are the Just, and me… well, I'm just your brother. And that's a fine thing to be."
He left the room, heading, they knew, down to the dungeons to tell the Telmarine prisoners of their fate—a fate that included no nooses.
The next day, Edmund stood on the ramparts, staring west, watching the line of Telmarines and their guards moving steadily up the river that they would follow northwest to the quarries. As he watched, the man named Caspa looked back and Edmund raised his hand in farewell. Out of the six men, only one had been given life sentence in the quarries. The other five—depending on behaviour—would be released in five to ten years.
"I learned three things yesterday," Peter said, leaning against the crenellation Edmund was looking out of. "I learned that everyone deserves a second chance. I learned that justice is difficult. And I learned to always listen to my little brother."
Edmund laughed. He laughed until his eyes watered and he could barely breathe. The questioning look in Peter's eyes prompted him to answer the unasked question.
"I'm laughing because when we were younger, you never listened to me—ever. It was always me listening to you, even if you were wrong. And now, finally, you're listening to me. And I've only one thing to say about that," Edmund said.
"What's that?" Peter asked.
"Ah," Edmund smiled and leaned back against the wall, his fingers laced behind his head. "Justice."
A/N: Justice, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means "the exercise of authority in the maintenance of right." Just means "acting or done in accordance with what is morally right or fair," but can also mean "deserved," or "simply, merely, barely, no more than." I attempted to use all these meanings in this story.
The idea that the prisoners were Telmarines came from Edmund's line in the Prince Caspian movie, ("Telmarines? In Narnia?" to which Trumpkin responds, "Where have you been the last few hundred years?") that showed the Kings and Queens of Old must have had some dealings with the Telmarines during the Golden Age. Speaking of the Telmarines, I borrowed the name "Caspa" from Lirenel's story Terror Gold, a truly amazing work, in which Caspa was Caspian's ancient ancestor—I loved the idea, and borrowed it for this story. So, that's a disclaimer: Lirenel's, not mine.
I hope this isn't too far-fetched or anything. Thank you for reading it.