AN: Much of the plot of this fic (which, by the way, is an AU) is going to be based on the fairy-tale "Kate Crackernuts", with some inspiration drawn from other similar fairytales as well. (I am aware that this first part doesn't really sound anything like "Kate Crackernuts", but I needed some background on the story and it's only the prologue anyway). Oh, and if you don't understand some of the things that are happening in this chapter, don't worry, you aren't supposed to, it will be explained later on in the story. Pairings: Edmund/Lucy Peter/Susan (don't like, don't read)
The most amazing thing about the great hall in the castle of the fairy-realm is that one simply cannot be sure if one is indoors or out of them.
It is rather like a garden, covered in beautiful flowers of all kinds. Roses grow clinging to the walls of white marble and transparent diamond (most fairies of the royal bloodline use diamond instead of glass; glass is for the poor, the fairy peasants, the lower-class servants, and humans as well); miniature sunflowers in perfect rings or garlands. And a gold-and-silver flower unseen in the human realm, its petals glowing with an almost supernatural brilliance, rests in many a courtier's hand.
Emerald grass grows between the flawless marble titles, though there is not seemingly a single crack for the sleek blades to come up through, and somehow it does not make it look like a ruin. It only makes it even more of a marvel.
The queen of the fairies (for there is always a queen, even when there is no king) has her throne on a high dais made of solid gold inlaid with every sort of sapphire imaginable. There are sapphires so dark that they are almost black, sapphires so light that they shimmer almost like turquoise, and some so regal-looking that they twinkle like indigo. The throne itself is silver through and through, without a hint of iron (fairies do not much fancy iron) in its unblemished mix.
The scepter-or wand, whichever you would best like to call it-in the queen's hand is shaped and coloured like a peacock's feather, with amethysts and emeralds cut in the shape of the sort of ivy that can commonly be seen growing on the old bricks of many a university intertwining around it.
On the day this story began, the human prince of Narnia saw all of these splendours for himself, but did not take them in. He was uneasy, frightened.
Ever so slowly, he approached the queen on her throne and bowed down to her. She was tall for a fairy, at almost six feet, and her throne made her seem even higher up. Being only a nine year old boy at the time, it was all he could do to keep his teeth from chattering.
Peering down, the great fairy queen took him in. His clothes were very fine, made of strong, kingly fabric, but his tunic and short dark hair were ruffled from the trip over. She suspected he had ridden all the way alone on his own horse.
"Prince Edmund, does anyone know where you are?" she asked him.
"No, your Majesty," he said, wanting to look down at his boots, forcing himself to look up at the queen. "I've-I've come by myself."
"And why have you come all this way?" the queen wanted to know.
"I thought we could..." his throat went dry, and he almost decided against his resolve. Remembering what was truly at stake, he mustered up his courage. "...I thought we could make a bargain." Really, he was hoping more for an out-right favor, but such a thing would have been laughable within the proud fairy-court in those days. Bargaining was second best, it was a way to still get what he needed. The cost might be dreadful, though.
"What ails you, little prince?" Her tone was kind; did he dare to hope?
Watching her fingers curl around the stem of her wand, clinging as closely as the faux-ivy, he swallowed hard and told her of his family's trouble.
The fairy queen listened silently, taking in each word, gesture, eye twitch, and quietly making up her mind. She didn't much like humans, she thought, but Narnia's younger prince was slightly less bothersome than most. And he was desperate, he needed her help. And she, being an such important person, lived for moments when she was needed. Not because she particularly cared for helping people, more so because she enjoyed being powerful while others were not.
"Please, your majesty," Edmund said. "Can you help him?"
He was such a pitiful little child, thought the queen, taking a moment more of speechless thought before answering. She would help him; but it would be a bargain, and he'd have to keep his own end of it.
As he listened to the details, Edmund nodded grimly, perhaps not realizing back then just how much he would suffer over this deal with the fairy-court. Even if he had known, he still might have thought it was worth it.
"You will accept my conditions?" The queen had beautiful eyes that could change colour at will and they flickered from hazel to green as she arched one of her slim, alabaster brows. A golden curl slipped from under the weight of her heavy crown-of-many-gemstones and slapped softly against her white cheek.
She looked stunningly beautiful, more beautiful than most human women would ever even aspire to become, but she also looked alarming and dangerous.
The fairy queen is rather like a wolf, Edmund decided when he thought it over later on in his life, striking to look at, and fearsome to stand close to. Every once in a while, he half expected her to throw back her gorgeous head and howl at the moon.
"You understand that there will be no early backing out." she warned him. "No following the rules for a year or so and then changing your mind because you're tired and do not wish to appear in our great court any longer."
"Yes, yes," Edmund almost forgot who he was talking to and lost his temper; he hated being spoken to like a four year old.
"You are young, little prince," said the fairy queen testily. "The minds of the young change on a whim."
"Mine doesn't." said Edmund defiantly.
"Good, then we shall have no misunderstandings, I'm pleased." She took something out of a brown leather satchel she had on the dais by her throne's side and held it tightly in her hand.
Edmund wondered what it was. She had promised to help him, but she hadn't said how she would go about it. The thing in her hand was a flask of some sort, he could tell, it had to have something to do with him.
"Here I am, before the court," The queen waved her hand towards the lovely, velvet-clad, fair-headed fairy wenches who were her ladies and at the young men with sandy-coloured hair, dressed in onyx-lined, dark purple tunics who were mostly their sons and brothers. "keeping my end of the bargain I did make on this very hour, two strokes before midnight itself,"
Edmund's eyes shifted over from the flask in her fist to the gold-and-cherry-wood grandfather clock on her left. So it wasn't even midnight yet. That was good. His father wouldn't be along to wake him for almost seven hours; that gave him time to ride back. He didn't want King Frank mixed up in this mess, it had nothing to do with him. Preferably, he'd rather his elder brother, Peter, know nothing of it either, but he wasn't sure how he would explain getting the flask full of whatever it was without telling him about the fairies.
Maybe he could lie. He could say he found it. Just sort of lying around in the forest. The problem was, if it was some sort of liquid, Peter would probably have to drink it for it to have any effect, and he wasn't going to drink something when he didn't even know where it had come from. Still, in the state the crown prince was currently in, Edmund could over-power him and force him to drink it. It was an uncomfortable, very sobering thought, that he, the younger, the smaller, the currently less developed prince, could be stronger than his tall, brave, even somewhat famous, brother. It made him feel guilty about all the times he wished he were.
The queen was still going on with her speech: "And I hereby give him, with the good-will of the fairy-court in its entirety, this flask."
With shaking hands, Edmund took the golden-corked bottle from her smooth, almost metallically so, fingers. It looked like it was made of glass, but since the queen of the fairies would have never used such a vulgar material as glass, it was obviously made from diamond. Inside, swished around dark red liquid as profound as blood.
"Thank you, your Majesty," Edmund remembered to murmur respectfully, "but what is it?"
"What you hold in your hands, young prince of Narnia, is a magic cordial made from the juice of the fire-flower, which only a person with fairy-blood in them could get their hands on." The queen looked proud of her knowledge. She had been well educated in the court, even before she was queen, back when she was only a princess, and she loved to show it. "One drop will cure any injury or illness."
"Thank you," he said again, caught between restrained jubilation and a bit of apprehension over what he had had to give in return. Still, in the great scheme of things, wasn't it only such a very small thing he had promised? And look what the queen was giving him in return! "May I be excused, your Majesty?"
"Not yet," she ordered. "You will stay and eat and drink with us first."
"There's to be no..." he stammered, his nose wrinkling involuntarily. "...er...dancing tonight, is there? Not yet?"
She laughed. Even her laugh sort of reminded him of a wolf's howl, when he really thought about it. "Not tonight, little prince."
Three of the ladies, sewing golden thread into royal-blue tapestries for the fairy library, glanced up at him and giggled.
Edmund masked his relief. "I really do need to get back to Cair Paravel before-"
The fairy queen was glowering slightly and the brother of her favorite lady-in-waiting was furrowing his brows. Ah, they would not let him go before he had taken their hospitality. He had been a fool to assume otherwise.
Under normal circumstances, Edmund might have been a little nervous about eating fairy food, after all the superstitions he'd heard regarding the stuff, but since he knew he would have to come back anyway, he figured he might as well eat. They had as tight a hold on him as they wanted, no need to make it any better or worse with their food and drink.
He had something like sugar-dew to drink in a goblet of white china. There was a chip on the rim and he cut his lower lip, leaving a small blood-mark behind.
A round silver box with the image of a snowflake surrounded by a swarm of elegant dragon-flies engraved on the lid was handed to him. A present?
As gingerly as boy of nine can move his fingers-which is almost not at all-he removed the lid and looked inside. Cloth tied together with a green silk ribbon, furthering his suspicions that it was an unrequested present of some kind. Why she would give him a present freely when he'd had to bargain for the cordial was puzzling, but he untied the ribbon to get a better look anyway.
Ah, not exactly a present, more hospitality. But it was a good kind of hospitality; the box was filled with his favorite sweet, Turkish Delight.
Forcing a smile at the queen and her ladies, Edmund thanked them with the proper decorum that even a young prince knows is necessary to survive in any court-human or otherwise-and ate a good share of it. Once he-and they-were satisfied, he bowed and turned to leave, clutching the diamond flask of magic cordial to his chest.
"Wait a moment, little prince." the queen ordered, not too harshly.
He turned around and faced her, surprised that there was a present after all; a son of one of the ladies was handing him a small copper-sheathed dagger.
"A peace offering," explained the queen. "between Narnia and our realm."
"I did not ask-" Edmund couldn't stop himself from beginning to say, dumbfounded.
"You did not," Her voice was almost kindly, but it had a chill undertone to it that made his spine feel cold. "but I give it freely, provided you remember your debt to us."
"Yes, your Majesty." How could he forget? With all that had hung in the balance. He hadn't realized Narnia, too, hung from the same beam so to speak, she was making sure he understood that.
And so began the series of events that fill this tale.
AN: Tell me what you think. Please review.