Title: The Black Spider
Disclaimer: I do not own the Chronicles of Narnia, etc.
Note: The answer to challenge 4: Black. This takes place later in the Golden Age, probably about nine years into the reign of the Pevensies. I say this because, when I started writing the story, the Pevensies started talking in the more archaic form found in Horse and His Boy and the end of LWW. So they use the informal second person pronoun (thou/thee/thy) when speaking with each other – since, despite common misperception, 'thee' is not formal, but in fact what people used to use to talk to those closest to them, like family and friends. The story is also a bit AU because…well, you'll see.
"Ah, and here is our Terebinthian garden. Queen Haspasia sent these particular suunk-fata roses as a gift upon my husband's ascension as governor."
Varis, from his perch behind the vine-covered trellis, could easily make out the four figures who walked through the garden. Governor Seganus walked politely by his wife's side as she chattered on about the private garden behind the Narrowhaven Mansion, the residence of the governor of the Lone Islands. The governor mostly let his bubbly wife talk, interjecting only when it was politically expedient to do so in front of his guests. One of whom was nearly as bubbly as the governor's wife; but her child-like joy in life was more endearing than annoying.
"Suunk-fata roses? Why that was so lovely of her, and so befitting the governor's garden. We received tima roses at our coronation, though they were red, and yours are such a lovely, pale yellow. Aren't they just beautiful roses, Edmund?" Even Varis, the roughest spy in the Lone Islands and the governor's chief intelligence agent, was charmed by Queen Lucy of Narnia, a young woman of innocent beauty. Golden ringlets swung against her face as she turned and smiled at the main object of Varis's scrutiny.
King Edmund of Narnia, called the Just, was as dark as his sister was golden, the shadow to her sunlight. It was well-known among intelligence circles that this dark, dour king was not to be taken lightly. The Black Spider, he was called among spies from Calormen to the Lone Islands to Ettinsmoor. His intelligence network spanned far and wide and, as a king of the wild Narnians, he had the services of talking beasts and birds who could enter unseen where humans dared not tread. Varis's contacts among the various countries all reported the same: any subversive or secretive threat to Narnia was always, always found and eliminated by the Black Spider before any plan could be set in motion. There was never any warning; any spy who escaped was later found to have been turned into a double-agent against his own lord and had pledged fierce, undying loyalty to the Black Spider. It was said that the "Just King" himself oversaw all interrogations, that he was a brilliant agent in his own right and not just a master of others.
Knowing this, Varis had sent his best agent undercover to Cair Paravel on the Narnian coast. The gamble, of sending one so entrenched in their plans, had paid off badly. Contact had almost immediately been lost, and several of his other contacts could only say that the agent had been found out and eliminated. Which was why Varis had taken it upon himself to be the one to watch the Black Spider during his all-too convenient trip to the Lone Islands. The governor was worried that the undercover agent had broken in interrogation, that the planned insurrection against the High King – who was, more importantly, the Emperor of the Lone Islands – had been uncovered.
When the High King, Queen Lucy, and King Edmund had arrived, the governor had been sure that they were through. Varis had advised caution, however, and their fears were alleviated slightly when Queen Lucy suggested that the High King explore Felimath and Avra while she and King Edmund went through the niceties of politics on Doorn. That King Edmund had agreed – though not without a dark frown – at least indicated that he did not yet suspect an assassination attempt on his brother's life. Not that the governor would be foolish enough to order such a thing on his own islands. No, the coup was already in the works and it would not do to deviate from the plan. Still, Varis would watch the Black Spider, search for any indication that the king was hunting for evidence of conspiracy.
For the moment, the king seemed to be monitoring his surroundings, looking around the garden for indications that something was amiss. He would find nothing, Varis was sure, as he was the only operative assigned to monitor the area, and of course he could not be seen behind his wall of ivy. So he listened as the women chatted about roses, and the men patiently let them while occasionally exchanging their own political pleasantries.
It gave Varis more time to observe the Black Spider. The king's dark hair matched his black reputation in the underworld of spies; his brooding eyes showed the darkness of his soul, tainted by the blood he had spilled in his quest to protect his country. He had a warrior's body - strong, if lithe, and his hands showed signs of countless hours of sword-work. Varis could not see any sign of hidden weaponry, though it was a given that there would be secreted knives on his person. No spy would go into foreign territory without several hidden weapons.
Varis tensed as a crow landed on the tree next to King Edmund's head. The king frowned and turned to the bird, leaning in so that the creature – obviously a Narnian – could whisper into his ear. The frown deepened, and Varis only barely managed to keep from shuddering at the dark look that crossed the Black Spider's face. King Edmund bowed to his host and hostess. "Governor, my lady, I thank you for your attentions. I am afraid I must excuse myself, though, and see to a problem among our retinue. Sister, will thou be well?"
Queen Lucy smiled and laid her hand on his arm. "Go, brother. I pray this problem is not very terrible?"
"Nay, but my presence is needed, it seems. Please, do not let my leaving disrupt the garden tour." The King smiled at his sister and bowed again to his hosts before hastening to the garden gate.
Governor Seganus was, hopefully not too nervously, trying to reassure the ladies that everything would be fine. Varis, though, did not stay to listen, but followed the Black Spider, keeping the king in his sight while not being seen himself. The spy frowned as King Edmund took to the common streets, eschewing the high roads and pomp of nobility. Clearly this was no simple dispute that the king went to mediate. The Crow was likely a Narnian spy, bringing news to his master, perhaps of the governor's conspiracy. This boded ill, if the Black Spider was pursuing news of the coup.
Entering the bustling Narrowhaven market, Varis hid in an alleyway beside a butcher's stall. King Edmund had halted a few feet away and was now conversing heatedly with two large Cougars. Though he could not hear, Varis could read the body language of the Cats and their spymaster. The Cougars, having delivered their news, were on the receiving end of a terrifying glare from their king. They seemed to successfully defend themselves, and Varis's eyes widened at the smirk that the Black Spider gave them which, along with a few slyly dropped words, had the Cougars backing up in shock. What sort of terrible idea had the Black Spider come up with that would make such huge Creatures almost tremble?
Varis pulled back into the shadows of the alley when the king departed towards the other end of the market and the Cougars made their way to the butcher's stall. As the Cats waited for the butcher to cut their requested meat, and as Varis attempted to figure out how to get past them before he lost the king's trail, the spy overheard one of the Cougars muttering, "I cannot believe he plans to subject them to the shadow-crawler."
The other Cougar shook his head. "Indeed, I shudder to think of it. The screams from the last time it was used…Though of any enemy, it is surely these who deserve such a fate."
Their voices trailed off as the butcher attended their needs, but Varis had heard enough and he slipped through the crowd, catching sight once more of King Edmund striding towards the dark streets of the Lower District. Varis tried not to imagine what sort of device a 'shadow-crawler' could be; something to terrify two great Cats, it would seem. And Varis now had his fears further confirmed: the conspiracy was being unmasked, and all involved would be subject to a terrible fate at the hands of the Black Spider. In all his years of doing the governor's dirty work, never had he felt this fear that was now growing in his gut.
Varis knew well the fate of captured enemies, as he had dealt out punishment with his own two hands at the governor's orders. And Varis was intelligent enough to know that he did not reach the level of intellect and ruthlessness that the Black Spider possessed, nor the resources that lay at a king's disposal. His fate, should he not succeed in learning King Edmund's plan and thwarting it, was something he did not want to comprehend.
So Varis trailed the king, deeper into the Lower Distract – a place Varis knew well but never trusted, but through which King Edmund trod without fear. Going down one small, closed-in street which smelled of sewage and rot, Varis had to stay far behind the king. It was there that the Black Spider stopped, beneath a torn and ragged overhang, to speak in angry whispers with a rough-looking fellow, Narnian by his dress. The man was tall and burly, an eye replaced by a jagged scar down the side of his face. This was the look of a man who aided his king in the darker duties of the intelligence world.
Varis waited as King Edmund departed down the street, his strides quick and angry. Hidden in a darkened doorway, Varis watched as the scarred man walked past him, taking in the fingered dagger and the malevolent grin of the Narnian. If Varis was to be honest with himself, he would admit that even his own strength might not be enough should this man come across him spying on the Narnian king. Thankfully, Varis's skill in concealment was without compare, and the scarred man never even noticed his presence. The Narnian disappeared into the Lower District, and Varis was able to continue following the Black Spider to his next destination…the Narrowhaven harbor.
As he trailed King Edmund, Varis's nervousness grew. The words of the Cougars, the look on the scarred man's face, his knowledge of the Black Spider's abilities, they all swirled through his mind. He remembered his time in Calormen, seeing the remains of that one Calormene assassin who had been found by the Black Spider. The assassin had been returned to his master in 32 pieces – fingers, toes, feet, forearms, upper arms, lower legs, thighs, torso, and head, all separated and neatly packed into a decorated box, along with a beautifully crafted note detailing the fate of one who dared attack the rulers of Narnia. The image of that terrible box had been burned into Varis's mind, and now his imagination was placing his own face on that of the executed assassin. It was not a comfortable thought.
Shaken out of his reverie, Varis hid behind a pile of storage boxes being readied for loading on the Splendor Hyaline, the great Narnian ship. On the other side, King Edmund was in fierce conversation with one of the sailors, though Varis could not make out the words. The king grew more and more incensed, and yet his voice grew quieter and calmer the angrier he got. Something the sailor said, though, caused the king to whirl around and throw up his hands in utter exasperation. And, though Varis could swear by the grave of his mother that he could not have been seen by any living creature, somehow King Edmund saw straight through his hiding place.
Before Varis could think, blink, or move, he was being hauled out by the king's almost inhuman strength and thrown against the dock at the sailor's feet. Varis looked up at his attacker, who now held a knife to his throat. "Who are you? Why have you been following me? What part have you to play in this madness?" demanded King Edmund.
Dark eyes blazed with fury, and Varis saw his death in them. There would be no mercy from the Black Spider, nothing but torture and his own decorated box. So Varis did the only logical thing he could possibly do to try and save his miserable life.
"…and then, for some utterly peculiar reason, the man started blathering about a conspiracy to assassinate you, Peter, and how Governor Seganus had ordered him to spy on me. A lot of what he had to say was incomprehensible, but once I understood the gist of his words, I realized that I had left our dear Lucy in the company of that reprehensible man." Edmund's eyes clouded over at the thought. "I gathered what men I could find and advanced to the Mansion, taking Seganus by surprise and arresting him before he could take any action."
Peter glanced out the window of the Narrowhaven Mansion to where he could almost see the prisoners being loaded onto the Splendor Hyaline for transport to Narnia. "Thou didst well, brother. The coup has been thwarted and our sister is safe." He hugged Lucy closer in emphasis, and the younger queen smiled.
Edmund shared the smile. "I thank thee. But I am troubled as to how this all came to pass. This was the second time in recent months that I have been called out to solve an urgent problem, only to be taken upon a wild goose chase through a strange city by Narnians who give rather annoyingly vague directions. And to find that the problem that needed my immediate attention was an argument over whether the wine aboard ship should be two parts wine and one part water, or three parts wine and two parts water…" The Just King shook his head. "I shall have to confess, my temper nearly got the better of me."
Lucy laid her hand on his forearm. "Dearest Edmund, such a situation would try even my patience. Perhaps thou shouldst take rest, after such a day. It is well deserved."
Bowing, Edmund patted her hand. "Perhaps thou art right, my sister. Though I shall first see to it that all the prisoners are accounted for, and see if this Varis is finished writing down his knowledge of the conspiracy. If I may take my leave of you." Nodding his head at Peter, Edmund turned and departed from the room, leaving oldest brother and youngest sister alone.
After a moment's silence, Peter sighed and smiled wryly at Lucy. "I was surprised as well, that our brother found himself in such a similar situation to when ye were last in Galma."
Lucy pulled away from her brother and sat gracefully on a nearby settee. "He should not have had to, if thou had not intruded your person on our trip." She raised an eyebrow at Peter. "I was forced to change my plans at the last moment, and had barely the time to bring the necessary agents aboard before we left."
Peter sat down next to her and took her hands. "I dislike that you placed yourself in such danger in order to catch that detestable governor."
"I was never in any danger from any assassin, as you well know." To prove her point, Lucy removed one of her hands from his grip to pull a slim knife from her leather boot. "I have carried it since thou gave the set to me." The knife, and three others like it, had been a gift from Peter soon after he had been inducted into the knowledge that his sweet Lucy was in charge of Narnian Intelligence. It had been a shocking and bloody induction, one which Lucy had wished he had not obtained; but it had been to save his life, and so she could not be sorry that he knew.
Despite years of getting used to knowing that his little sister was a brilliant spymaster, Peter could never allow himself to be comfortable in the knowledge that she was quite capable of protecting herself. "If thou had let me know thy plan…"
Lucy stopped him with a dark glare. "What was the compromise we reached when thou learned of my position as head of Narnian Intelligence?"
"Lucy," Peter began in protest, but was stopped by another raised eyebrow. He sighed. "We agreed that I should not seek to know or participate in thy plans, and thou wouldst give me advanced warning should I be involved in the plan, instead of involving me without my knowledge." This time Peter raised an eyebrow. "Thou didst not inform me this time of thy plan before thou sent me away to Felimath."
Lucy was not moved by his argument. "Thou were not part of the plan, as I have just informed thee. Besides," she grinned, "I knew that thou wished to try the fishing on that island. It just provided me the perfect excuse to throw the conspirators off their guard."
Peter shook his head, but more out of amusement than annoyance. "Very well, sister, I concede. Be careful, though, lest Edmund grow suspicious of thy doings."
This caused Lucy's face to grow solemn. "I swear to thee, Edmund shall never learn of my intelligence affairs, nor shall Susan. For I, too, wish to shield those dear to us of the knowledge of what it takes to protect our country from harm." Peter nodded and hugged her closely. For a moment, Lucy allowed that comfort before pulling away and smiling. "Now, get thee gone, brother. My agents shall wish to report to me, and will not do so when thou art present." Though he wished to stay, Peter knew better than to argue with Lucy when it came to her underground contacts. Placing a soft kiss on her golden curls, Peter stood up and left her to the empty room.
Lucy smoothed out her dress and replaced the knife in her boot. Of course, it was only one of the weapons she carried on her person. Even Peter, who knew of the knives he had given her, did not know to what extent Lucy was prepared to defend herself and those she loved. Knives were easy to hide in her voluminous dress; her ring held a drug that paralyzed whomever it scratched; the tie in her hair could easily be turned into a garrote. And these were just a few examples of her available weaponry. Really, Peter had no reason at all to worry for her safety.
As she waited for her agents to come, Lucy leaned back against the settee, her mind going to her most recent scheme. She greatly disliked having to use the same plan twice, but Peter's presence of the trip had forced the change. Even moreso, she deplored the fact that Edmund had even the slightest suspicion of his use in her strategy. Her promise to Peter, to keep Edmund and Susan from all knowledge of her activities, was not simply for his sake, but her greatest wish as well.
Lucy would never regret taking on the role of Narnian spymaster; she truly was the only one suited for the task. Peter, though he had the ability and will to do what was needed to be done for Narnia's sake, also had his laborious duties as High King and leader of Narnia's armies. Susan, as an intelligence agent, was out of the question; the Gentle Queen, though strong in her own right, did not have the disposition to perform some of the deeds necessary for an intelligence operative in the execution of their duties.
And Edmund…Lucy could not help but let a small smile curve her lips. With his dark, brooding looks and quiet nature, Edmund was the perfect picture of a master of intelligence work. She used this to her advantage, spreading rumors that it was Edmund who was spymaster, rumors of his ruthless deeds to hide her own. Yet, for she who knew his nature, it was impossible to even consider informing him of the existence of Narnian Intelligence. Edmund, so aware of the misdeeds in his past, had torn that blackness from his soul, so entrenching himself in light and love, justice and mercy, that darkness could not stand in his presence. It was a beautiful thing to see - for those who could - how evil cowed when Edmund neared, how even his shadow seemed like only a lesser light instead of light's absence.
That Lucy could still see this in her brother told her that she had not fallen into the darkness where she often trod to protect her land. It gave her hope for herself and for those who worked with her, that the evil they fought, that they sometimes used, could not endure. And Lucy was fiercely determined that Edmund should not be darkened in any way. Should he learn of the things Lucy had done, what she would do, it would hurt his very soul. To protect her, he would himself delve into that darkness, risking the light she held so dear. No, Edmund would never learn of her actions, of what went on beneath the bright surface of Narnia to keep their land golden and protected. Let him fight alongside Peter, let him rule with justice and wisdom. For Lucy was the darkness, to protect that precious light.
A soft tapping alerted Lucy to the fact that her chief agent was approaching with the spy, Varis. Composing herself, she adjusted the stilettos in her curls that doubled as hair-pins. There was no more time for ruminating, for the Black Spider of Narnia had to finish cleaning the trap she had woven in the darkness. For the sake of her brother, for the light he embodied. For Narnia.
Hmm, perhaps I should have warned for OOCness? Honestly, I don't think this is the 'real' Lucy, but I wanted to dabble in the spy-work fics, and I like being contrary to fanon.