Disclaimer: The Chronicles of Narnia is the intellectual property of C. S. Lewis and his estate. No money is being made from this story, and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: This story was inspired by the 8/18/09 word #119 on the 15_minute_fic livejournal community. (I failed at the 'fifteen minute' aspect, though; the rough draft took 75 minutes to write.) "Liminality" includes a passing mention of cannibalism, the mostly off-screen death of an original character, and implicit discussion of theology -- specifically the problem of evil and the problem of death. It's based on book canon, except I think the griffin may have crept in from the Disney or BBC filmizations, because I do not, off the top of my head, recall griffins in the novels. On the other hand, I don't recall anything explicitly denying the existence of griffins in Narnia, so... six of one, half a dozen of the other? *grin*
This story has been revised and slightly expanded from its livejournal form.
Summary: Lucy adjusts to her new position as a queen of Narnia while coping with the lingering aftermath of the battle and the reality of death.
After the battle, Lucy was too busy tending to the survivors to worry much about the dead, but she presumed, when she thought about it during the preparations for the coronation, that Aslan had organized burials and a service of some sort. He must have done. He was good, and more than that, he was everything opposite to the Witch.
Mr. Tumnus had told Lucy, in passing, that the Witch had forbidden funerals and had -- when she was not in the mood for stone -- amused herself by building giant hills of corpses and allowing dumb beasts to devour the remains, keeping only the bones which she used to decorate the catacombs under her castle.
"Sometimes," Mr. Tumnus had said in a furtive whisper, "she made her army eat the corpses, to save time. They say not everyone needed to be ordered."
Lucy had shuddered in horrified revulsion and done her best to put the image out of her head. For the most part, she had managed, though she had taken quite a turn when the mice had begun gnawing the ropes off Aslan's body before the Deeper Magic revived him. But the Witch was gone now. The terrors of her rule were past.
Aslan crowned Lucy and her siblings in the late morning, taking advantage of the high beams of sunlight streaming down through the eastern skylights in the great hall. The celebration swirled joyously through the afternoon and on into the night, as the silvery moon shone bright and clear among the singing stars. Peter spent most of his time close to the dais, talking with various people who seemed to be the leaders of the former resistance. Susan seemed to be everywhere at once, now dancing, now chatting companionably with the servers, now laughing with a clutch of children, now smiling gravely at their parents. Edmund slid into a shadowy corner, watching everyone with what Lucy might have called wariness if she hadn't sneaked up beside him and seen the quiet joy lurking behind his eyes and in the corners of his mouth.
"You ought to let everyone meet you," she said. "Nobody minds about you going to the Witch. It isn't as if you knew what she was like when you met her, and after that, she had you under a spell. You broke her wand. You saved us all. Don't think you have to keep to yourself forever and ever because of one mistake."
Edmund's smile crept out of hiding. He set down his goblet to pull Lucy close and ruffle her hair, the way he hadn't done for years. "Thanks, Lu, but don't worry about me. I'm figuring things out and keeping an eye on Su and Peter. Have you noticed what happens after those important people talk to Peter, for example? They go off in little groups and start arguing, as if some of them think we're all right because Aslan said so, some of them think we might do all right on our own, and some of them are only paying lip service and hoping to ignore us once Aslan leaves."
Lucy bit her lip. "Oh, do you think so? I don't want to think of Aslan leaving. I suppose he must eventually, but do you think it will be soon? I don't feel at all ready to be a queen for real."
Edmund shrugged. "I don't feel ready to be a king, either, but if Aslan says we are, we'll manage. In the meantime, why don't you go down to the hospital and check on your patients? You've been twitching toward the doorway for the past hour."
"But the feast--" Lucy began.
"--will continue with or without us," Edmund said, cutting her off. "You're a queen, Lucy. You decide what you want to do; only Aslan and your conscience can overrule you."
"Do you really think so?" Lucy asked. Edmund nodded. "Then I'll be back in an hour."
She wended her way through the crowded, raucous hall, lifting her chin in an attempt to look confident as she passed between the satyrs guarding the doorway. Once around the corner, she tucked up skirts and ran down the stairs to the temporary hospital the army had set up near the stables. She had thought, initially, that there would be no need for a hospital -- her cordial could cure anyone of anything -- but Peter and Susan had said that she ought to save it for mortal wounds and let all other injuries heal naturally. "It's a magic cordial, so there might be more in the bottle than we think," Susan had said, "but there's no sense wasting it regardless."
So Lucy had trailed the army's medics as they triaged the wounded; poured tiny, glinting droplets of cordial into the mouths of those marked as doomed; and then watched and lent her unskilled hands to the more prosaic business of splinting bones and stitching wounds. Now she wanted to see the results of her work, and learn enough so that she could judge on her own who to dose with cordial and who to simply clean and bandage without leaning on miracles.
"Mrs. Grubbins?" Lucy asked as she opened the hospital room door. "Do you need any help?"
The healer, a thin, harried vixen, whirled to face Lucy, her fur bristling in surprise. "Oh! Oh, forgive me, your majesty. I-- yes, I do need help." She pointed one paw at a griffin curled up on the furthest bed, the one tucked just under the window. "Chert took a turn for the worse this past hour -- bleeding inside, I don't doubt. I was just about to send for you to try your cordial."
Lucy scrambled along the aisle between the beds -- many empty, since the more mobile patients had all relocated up to the coronation feast after promising to stay seated and not reopen their wounds or knock their splints into any furniture -- and uncorked her vial. The griffin's leathery skin was chalky gray around his eyes, and a thin trickle of blood flowed from his open beak. He was unconscious, though just this morning he'd been awake enough to laugh at Lucy's clumsy attempt to rewrap the bandages on his broken wing and bruised ribs, and to promise Lucy that he'd take her flying once he was better.
Lucy poured one drop of cordial into his open beak and held her breath.
Nothing happened. She tried another drop. Still no breath, no movement.
Edmund had come back from the threshold of death. Why wasn't Chert recovering? Lucy raised her vial again.
"No more, your majesty," Mrs. Grubbins said, interposing a paw. "The magic works or it doesn't; there's no forcing a gift. We were simply too late." The vixen curled up on Chert's bed and laid her head in her paws. "This is my fault. I worried too much about interrupting the celebration. I should have known better than to wait. What kind of healer am I? We've lost so much during the Winter -- so much stolen by that monster who called herself a queen."
Lucy sat down and wrung her hands. "Oh, I'm sorry. I should have come down sooner. I should have told you to send for me the moment anything seemed wrong. I'm supposed to be a queen now -- I ought to think of things like that. And now Chert's dead!" She leaned against the griffin's side and sobbed. His body was still warm, still soft. If not for the utter stillness of his ribs under Lucy's arms, he might merely have been dreaming.
"I'm older than you," said Mrs. Grubbins. "If anyone ought to have known better, no doubt it was I. There now, Queen Lucy. Chert gave his life to set us free. Any one of us would count that a worthy trade." She heaved herself back onto her feet and leapt to the floor. "You must find his family and arrange the funeral. I'll stay here to watch Orrick and Aeighhy. I promise to summon you in the flick of a whisker if their conditions worsen."
Lucy nodded and trudged out into the corridor, still crying.
She was only halfway back to the great hall, just beginning to run into revelers, when Aslan emerged from a side corridor and swung his great head toward her. He read the unhappy news in her red, salt-stained face, and he closed his eyes for a moment.
Lucy flung herself at him and wrapped her arms around his neck, winding her fingers through his fur and pressing her face into his golden mane to dry her tears. "Oh, Aslan, Chert's dead. I was only just a minute too late. I was in time to save Edmund. Why couldn't I save everyone? Why did anyone have to die?"
Aslan's breath was warm and heavy on her back as he spoke. "Child, everything has its time and everything has its price. If all things were given to you at no cost, how would you know their worth? Just as the price of the Witch's rule was for good Narnians to scatter and stand by, doing nothing, the price of your victory was for them to stand firm against her at risk of their lives. Chert paid willingly -- would you diminish his sacrifice?"
"No, of course not," said Lucy, pulling back to face Aslan, "but did it truly have to be his life? What if I had left the feast a half hour sooner? He still would have fought -- wouldn't that have been enough?"
Aslan rested one paw on Lucy's shoulder. "No one is ever told what would have happened. Let us deal with what did occur, and with what will come. Grieve for your friend; he is dead, and you miss him. But do not grieve overlong, nor too deeply, lest you forget those who are still with you."
"All right," Lucy said. She wiped her eyes again, wishing Mr. Tumnus were there to offer her a handkerchief. "Mrs. Grubbins said I should find his family and arrange a funeral. What do griffins do with their dead?"
"They burn their dead in pyres on the clifftops," Aslan said, "to return their bodies to the skies they loved in life." He paced toward the celebration, slowly, to let Lucy keep up.
"Is that how all Narnian funerals work?" Lucy asked. "I-- I ought to know, now. There will be more funerals eventually, won't there? Not all the Witch's army is gone. And what if there are countries around us? Her winter won't keep them out anymore. I should know what to do when the next person dies."
Aslan turned and behind the grief and sympathy in his eyes, Lucy thought she saw the same quiet joy she'd seen in Edmund earlier. "Death is part of what is to come," Aslan said, "and it is good that you are beginning to think beyond yourself. But death is not all that awaits you. Do not despair, dearheart. You are a queen of Narnia; I trust you will bear it well."
Lucy bent her head and hoped she would never disappoint his faith.
AN: Thanks for reading, and please review! I appreciate all comments, but I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.