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: "Little Sister" was written for Femgenficathon 2009, to the prompt: 68) Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can't build on it; it's only good for wallowing in. -- Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), New Zealand writer of short fiction.
"Little Sister" is, about three times over, not the story I meant to write in response to that quote, though it is still about Jadis and her sister (after a fashion). Someday I will finish the real story about Jadis and Cynara growing up in Charn, the story about what Jadis did between The Magician's Nephew and "Little Sister," and probably a story or two set during her early rule of Narnia, if only to get various meta and world-building theories out of my head and onto a page.
Anyway, thanks to Willowgreen for her speedy and insightful beta-reading!
Summary: Charn is gone; nostalgia is useless. Jadis has new worlds to conquer, if she can only find the way.
A thousand years after the Lion planted the poison tree in Narnia and banished her from the heart of her new world, Jadis stood on a mountain ledge in the northern wastes and examined the half-built city of the giants with a jaundiced eye. These creatures were nothing like her own ancestors, nothing like the proud, fierce people Lilith had chosen as her own and led to Charn. The giants of this world were dim and brutish, trading their minds for sheer, useless size. Even the few clans who retained their reason and were building this city were, on the whole, dull and lacking in vision.
"All the world was under me," Jadis quoted to the empty air, and then repeated the phrase in her own language. The words came slow and tasted strange after so long.
She was the only being in this entire world who spoke that language. The only one who spoke anything but the Lion's tongue. Refugees stumbled through cracks between the worlds at irregular intervals, bringing new languages and customs, but their children learned the Lion's speech and within a few generations all other tongues were lost.
It was enough to make Jadis scream. At first she had hardly cared for her banishment from Narnia. She had spent centuries exploring the reaches of this new, vibrant world; its raw, sharp youth was invigorating, so different from the weathered, weary terrain of Charn. It set her mind fizzing with possibilities. But there was no point in ruling empty wilderness, nor in corralling sheep-like humans to her will -- not when the Lion's secrets waited in Narnia for her to discover.
So Jadis had returned to the western border of Narnia, leaving behind nothing but carefully nurtured hatred of Narnia, clans of spirits and beasts twisted into mocking forms and primed to heed her call, and a handful of deadly, whimsical spells waiting to devour any who sprang their triggers. She was tired of exploring. The magic of creation had faded in the early years, and now its echoes survived only in Narnia itself, the country where the Lion had walked. Jadis needed to walk that land in his wake, needed time and patience to unearth the riddle of his power.
She wanted to find a door.
This world was annoyingly porous, but only inward, never outward. Any scum could enter, but Jadis could never leave, could not break through the Lion's imprisoning boundaries to follow her own desires and vision. She had been queen of Charn, absolute ruler of an entire world, until she reached for greater power. If she desired, she could be queen of this world as well... but that was a paltry prize, a galling consolation to her imprisonment.
The Lion could walk between all the worlds. Jadis could too -- she knew she could -- but only if she could see how it was done, only if she could find the residue of his spells and unpick their lace.
Only if she were in Narnia.
And she could not go to Narnia. She was left with all this world to shape at her whim, except the one small portion she truly desired.
"All the world was under me," she said again in the speech of Charn, and laughed bitterly. She almost -- but only almost -- wished she had not spoken the Deplorable Word. It was ironic: to speak once and render herself unintelligible forever after, unless she spoke in a foreign tongue.
Cynara would have understood the joke. She would have smiled, sharp and bright like her sword, the one she had raised to run Jadis through on the palace steps a heartbeat before Jadis ended their world. Cynara had died trying to turn her sword on herself, trying to deny Jadis her death.
Nobody in this world had half that strength. Jadis had respected Cynara. Nobody in this world was worthy of respect. Even if she cared to teach her language to a stranger, nobody in this world deserved the honor of tasting the words on her tongue.
"Where now is the blood of Charn, the blood of kings, the blood of Lilith?" Jadis asked the air and the mountain. She waved a hand at the half-built city beneath her. "Look at the shame of my cousins. Look at my shame, thwarted by a brute beast of the field. I cannot set foot in Narnia. I cannot send a cousin; the Narnians would never trust a giant. I cannot persuade a traveling Narnian to my cause; they remember the Lion's warnings and revile me. I cannot send my little tribes of western fools; they have been raiding Narnia for too long to claim peace and friendship now. What is the use of endless days without an infinite canvas on which to paint?"
Cynara would have laughed to see her sister brought this low. All the world had been under Jadis, unquestionably -- the power to destroy a thing was the greatest power of all, and she had destroyed a universe. Now she skulked about the borders of one tiny land, not even half the size of the smallest imperial province, defeated by a tree. Yes, Cynara would have laughed.
Then she would have sheathed her sword and made new plans.
Suddenly furious, Jadis pointed her finger at the figures hauling stones through the unpaved streets, and whispered a spell under her breath. Water vapor condensed from the air, seeping into cracks in the stones and freezing to ice, warping and shattering with the force of a hundred winters. Distant shouts and screams rose through the summer air to Jadis's ears. She smiled.
Something stirred at her feet: a tiny mouse, scuttling over the stones. It darted past a hollow in the mountain ledge, and a slim green snake shot forward and sank its fangs into soft fur.
The mouse died.
The snake shifted its grip and began to swallow its prey.
"A clever huntress," Jadis said to the snake. "You remind me of my sister. She nearly swallowed me that way. I thought I had rallied the army to my cause, thought I had cowed the governors and the court magicians, thought I had bribed the servants... and the moment our father was dead, she struck. I barely escaped the palace alive, and did not regain the city until nearly three years later." She brushed her hair back and crouched on the stones, stroking one finger along the suddenly docile snake's back. "I only held Charn for two months before the final battle. But that was long enough. I fought Cynara almost to a draw in her own sphere, and then I proved for all time which of us was the stronger."
Her finger stilled, pressed against the flat top of the snake's head. Jadis narrowed her eyes, a passing fancy distilling into a more serious possibility.
She could not send a giant into Narnia. She could not make alliance with the Lion's slaves. She would not do as Cynara might, and send an army to invade from the west; there was too much danger that they would turn against her and save the tree, or destroy the Lion's secrets in their ignorance. But she could step sideways, reshape the field of battle, as she had done against Cynara. If her tools were inadequate, she would shape a a new one, a creature who would appear fair and friendly to the Narnians, who would gain their trust, who would either destroy the tree or make them destroy it of their own choice.
Jadis smiled. "Ah, little serpent. Finish your meal as quick as you can. I have much to do."
There was no rational reason not to use the snake as a test for the creation of a new spell, but Jadis had no need to be rational if she did not wish to be. The snake had sparked her new plan. It had reminded her what it meant to be queen of Charn -- reminded her to act, not to wander aimlessly and let the Lion control her fate.
She began her experiments on mice instead.
It was simple enough to change their size and shape, but she could not create the spark of intelligence in the beautiful dolls she sculpted with painstaking care. Jadis reversed each spell in its turn and fed the failures to the snake.
After a month, she strode into the slowly growing city of Harfang and demanded an audience with the giants' king. "You know who I am," she told him, standing slim and proud before a figure twice her size. "I am your cousin, of the true royal blood you only claim through pretense. I am a daughter of Lilith; all her power and more runs through my veins. I was here at the dawn of time, when the world rose from darkness into form. You owe me fealty and whatever goods and slaves I choose to take."
The king might have protested, but his wife knew truth when she saw it and whispered in his ear until he bent his head to Jadis.
She left the city with ten giants at her heels, bound by iron and ice. Perhaps they were criminals, perhaps only the king's enemies. It did not matter. They had minds, rudimentary though they might be, and that was all Jadis needed to know.
Reshaped giants, however, remained giants. There was a sly stupidity in their eyes Jadis could not eliminate, and all their gestures and habits screamed their true origin and nature.
She killed each failure in turn and left the corpses to rot on the mountainside.
Retreating to the tower in which she had, ages ago, taught herself the magic of this new world, she cradled the snake in her hands, allowing it to taste her fingers with its delicate tongue. Jadis scowled. How was she to create a tool intelligent enough to play the Narnians against each other? How was she to build an ally from dross?
"If Cynara had only listened to me," she told the snake, "none of this would be necessary. We played at shield-sisters when we were young. Why could she not be satisfied as my general, my right hand? I was eldest, not she -- I would have been first from the womb if our mother had lived, if the surgeons hadn't cut too high and pulled Cynara out before me. It was my right to be queen. Now, when I need her or someone like her, I have no one. I am the last of my blood, forever."
The snake's tongue flickered, and it mouthed curiously at Jadis's fingers.
Once again, she smiled as a new idea bloomed in her mind.
She fed the snake a single drop of her blood to start. The next week, she fed it another. Then two. Then three. Then five. Then eight. The numbers formed an ancient pattern, one that had been repeated endlessly in cloth and tiles through every land under the rule of Charn. Jadis considered it a useful reminder.
After she fed the snake twenty-one drops of blood, Jadis began to reshape it, a little more each day, teaching its body the pattern of the change from serpent to woman. And she whispered spells and songs into its ears, teaching its mind the pattern of the language of Charn. She told of Lilith, the all-mother, who saw that a man born of dust was not worthy to hold her honor or loyalty, and who led the first people to a new world under a bloody sun. She told of Joyan and Gerathis, the soldier and the sorceress who followed a falling star and founded the city of Charn where the heavens had scorched the earth. She told of her own family, of Queen Nekoris betrayed by her son Acernos, who was killed in turn by his daughters; then one sister betrayed the other, and so destroyed the world. So history had always gone, in Charn. Things fell apart. The fire died.
"But this is a new world, little sister, and you will not betray me," Jadis said each night as the small green body stretched and reformed. "Listen well: you are blood of my blood, my shield-sister, my right hand. You will open my way into Narnia. Once I learn to walk between worlds, all of this one will be your inheritance."
The serpent woman blinked her eyes and listened. And each day, the change grew smoother. Each day, her snake form grew larger. Each day her expression grew sharper.
The day she drank a hundred and forty-four drops of blood -- a dozen dozen, a number of power -- the snake opened her woman's mouth and spoke, in a sweet, hissing voice. "My sister," she said. "My mother. What is my name?" She spoke in the old tongue, the true tongue, the one Jadis had not heard since that last day on the palace steps, that last conversation with her sister.
Jadis ran her hand through the serpent's golden hair as the new-born woman knelt before her chair. For half a second she thought to say 'Cynara,' but that was nonsense. The serpent was poison and guile, not wildfire. She could not replace Cynara. No one could.
"Innenya," Jadis said instead. "Lilith's youngest daughter, who climbed the spiral stairs down into the sunless lands to wrest the secrets of death from the hands of jealous gods. She is the lady of the night sky, the shadow who leads the Watcher behind the moon to shelter our secrets from judgment." Her hand stilled. "No. That is who Innenya was in Charn. In this world, the name means whatever you choose to make it mean."
The serpent's mouth gaped open in a tooth-filled smile. "Thank you, mother," she said, resting her head on Jadis's knee. "Will you tell me another story?"
Jadis let her hand linger for a moment. Then she stood and moved to the window of her tower. "No. I am done with looking back. The past is dead; I have new worlds to conquer."
Charn and Cynara were gone, turned to dust by her own hand. There was no point in nostalgia. She had ruled once; she would rule again. This time, her reign would be unopposed.
"Come, Innenya," Jadis said, switching to the Lion's speech. "We have much to plan."
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.
Also, I don't know if you are interested, but there is a logic behind the naming system I use for Charn. First, female names end in -ith/is or -a, while male names end in -os or -an. Second, just as Jadis = jaded and Charn = charnel -- and I suspect the latter, at least, was purposeful on Lewis's part -- all my names were derived from English words. (Except Innenya, but if you know Mesopotamian mythology, it should be obvious where I stole that one. +grin+)