part two: white
Chapter Seventeen: The Reaching Red
Disclaimer: Stop making me write these, Copyright Goblins.
"Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did;
And also for the innocent blood that he shed: for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the Lord would not pardon,"
2 Kings 24: 3-4
Sansey Gardens, the Western Wood. Narnia. Year 1000
(?) Days Since the High King's Departure
There are moments (if, indeed, moments exist at all in Sansey Gardens) when Edmund isn't risking his life by scavenging in Wolf territory and Lummus is not satisfied by a single pupil. And when these two events eclipse, Lummus decides to pit us against one another.
Honestly, Edmund and I are always a little relieved by the activity. We have been trained, after all, to fight as partners. We relish the reawakening of our muscle memory, fine-tuned by the good General Oreius in the small hours of the mornings. The drills, the movement, the familiar mistakes and surprising advances are all a little like being home again.
But I make it sound as if we are evenly matched; the reality of it is that Edmund could very easily beat me into the ground. His arms are bigger from carrying Rhindon; mine own are smaller from atrophy and sickness. By the end of our sessions, he has to help me walk back to the tent. He's come a long way from that little boy who fought at Beruna only four months ago.
The "dawn" after the foragers return, Lummus rouses us.
Or, rather, he rouses me; Edmund only lifts the covers enough to squint and make a sort of primal hissing sound before burrowing deeper. His snores resume almost immediately.
"Nice try, Son of Adam," Lummus says, rapping the rumbling pile with his crutch. A growl answers him.
I rub at my eyes and blink, trying to wake. A large yawn tears its way out of my mouth. "Couldn't we have five more...?"
Suddenly, I am warm and my muscles are lax and I can hear Edmund yelling hoarse threats which, for some reason, don't overly alarm me.
Then I, too, am rapped with the crutch. I pop back upright with a groan, a new dream flickering out of my mind. I would gladly trade everything I own for another hour or so of sleep, but I gather myself and kick off the furs to let cool air rush over me. A bleary outline of my brother stands across the tent, dressing. The flap of the tent flickers as Lummus leaves us.
"Morning," I say.
"No," grouses Edmund. "No, not morning. Night. It's bloody night and I'd like to bloody sleep for a good fifteen hours."
I frown at him. "You're in a surprisingly good mood." It's not often that Edmund can form sentences upon regaining consciousness.
Edmund tosses at pillow in my general direction, but sorely misses. "Shut up."
We stumble out into the deep snow.
Edmund makes me wait while he goes back into the tent for the snowshoes he made. They are crude and a little bulky, but he's very proud that they work. When he comes back out, he delays us again by insisting that I wear them today. The argument is brief; Edmund is more ready for confrontation in the early hours than I am. In the end, I'm the one that makes us late, shuffling laboriously along in the ridiculous shoes while Edmund ambles at my side, lifting his legs in high-steps to work through the hip-high drifts. Rhindon weighs him backwards just enough to make his movements awkward and processed. It takes nearly all of his limited brainpower to concentrate on getting to the Edge.
"Take you that long to do your hair?" Lummus greets us. He puffs at a long pipe, a single orange scarf providing him warmth. At his side is a deerskin bundle, sitting lightly atop the snow. Beyond him, the Wood is eerie and still and red with autumn.
Edmund scowls. His trousers are mostly soaked through and shivers are already racing up and down his body. He grits his teeth and helps me take off the snowshoes. "After the storm last night, I'd thought we'd sleep in this morning."
It isn't likely. Lummus is, in some ways, even fiercer than Oreius. His lip curls and he blows a smoke ring at Edmund's head.
"What's in the bag?" I ask.
Lummus clamps the pipe tightly with his teeth and opens the bag. Inside is a fine bow, made of a light and supple wood, and the arrows have steel heads, their fletching a bold crimson.
"Hey," says Edmund. "Our archers used those. At Beruna."
And Susan, I think. I can still see scarlet feathers shivering in Ginnabrik's short, breathless chest.
"As far as I know," Lummus says, "Narnia has been using the same bows and arrows since King Frank. They were given to the Narnian army by the Hamadryads."
"Oak Dryads." I look at the wood and the fingers of my right hand itch, like they can feel the pull of the arrow. "Are they made from Oaks?"
He pats the wood. "It's the magic of the Dryads that lets the wood bend like it does. Normal oak shatters. Too porous. If you go to a country like Archenland or Calormen, you'd have to make bows from yew."
Edmund and I exchange looks. It is an unspoken truth that the Yew trees are some of the more pitiable of our people. They can never make up their minds or stick with a decision, being terribly flexible in every respect- their bendable morals were what led them to work for the Witch during the Hundred-Year Winter. But they're so pathetic and eager to please that no one can find it in their heart to berate them for it.
"Bully for Archenland," says Edmund. "What are you doing with them?"
Lummus throws him the bundle. Reflexively, Edmund catches.
"Take your stance," Lummus tells Edmund, who looks down at the bow like its suddenly turned into a snake-bouquet. He very nearly drops it.
Edmund looks at me.
I nudge him. "Go ahead."
"Can we not?"
"Oh, go on, Edmund."
Edmund face pinches. Slowly, he pulls the bow out and tries to string it. He misses the notch twice, and grows more nervous the longer Lummus silently watches. Picking up an arrow and fiddling with it, cold fingers stumbling along the shaft, Edmund's face, which is nearly covered by his hood, turns redder and redder. He looks like he's going to explode.
And I remember, in a rushing second; Edmund is terrible at archery.
But he takes his stance, regardless. Even I can tell that he's doing everything wrong. As red as his face is, he's wiped all emotion from it. He stands awkwardly but tall, staring ahead at absolutely nothing. The steel head of the arrow swings out to the side and he jerks it back.
"Sweet Lion," Lummus mutters, aghast. His pipe hangs limply between his lips. "Who in cold Cal taught you that?"
Edmund has no response. His shoulders are starting to twitch from keeping the longbow drawn for so long, and a muscle jumps under his eye.
"It's not that bad," I say, feeling a deep needling at the remark. "Better, even."
Lummus circles Edmund, completely disregarding the sharp and ragged arrowhead coiled between them. "Your shoulders are too high. Your grip is all wrong. Your stance is more for swordplay than archery."
"Edmund's a natural swordsman." I glance at him, but he gives no sign of hearing me.
"And what's this?" Lummus grabs hold of Edmund's arms, jerking them around. "Hold them, here, Son of Adam."
"For how long?" grits Edmund.
Another realization takes me; "The bow is too big for him, Lummus."
"Is not." But Edmund grinds out the words. His whole back is shaking.
I step up to his side, reaching, "Here Just put it down, we'll find you a different one."
Edmund's knuckles whiten; the force of his grip makes the wood creak. He's bitten into his lip. "It's fine."
"Just give it here, idiot-" I begin, but Lummus suddenly moves on Edmund's other side and the bow twangs, a hissing whistle vanishes into the trees beyond the Edge. For a moment we three watch the trunks and limbs, searching vainly for a glimpse of the red-fletched arrow. Then, Edmund lowers the bow.
"Lummus," Edmund says, "you're hired."
"Hired for what?" Lummus asks.
"Something highly official and having to with archery training that I'll think up later," Edmund grins. "That actually went straight!"
"How else would it go?" Lummus demands in alarm, but Edmund ignores him.
"And it whistled- Peter-" he turns to me, excitedly, with wide eyes. "Did you hear it?"
Another memory hits me. I see Edmund, standing at level with the arm of a dusty orange armchair, small fists balled in concentration and lips sticking out like a fish, his eyes large and earnest. My own voice resonates over the scene, my own fingers pointing to my own mouth; You've almost got it, Eddy. Listen, and the low stream of air whistling out of my mouth. You hear that?
"I heard," I say distantly. Edmund looks at me.
"Your Grand and Royal Majesties!"
Before either of us can speak, Ethelbert bounds through the snow towards us and announces in his lengthy way that breakfast is ready. Edmund helps me tie the snowshoes back on and walks at my side all the way back. We, neither of us, seem to mind the silence for reflection. Edmund is still clutching the bow and I try to reclaim the memory of the two of us being like the normal brothers in my memory.
Sansey would not be Sansey without its unique propensity for optimism. In the midst of a frozen Winter, now almost one-hundred-and-one-years long, they daily celebrate the gift of life and of endurance with food and song and storytelling for every meal. Twice a "day" we gather by the Fire Pit in the center of the camp. The old Sloth, Yamani hangs from the old flagpole, voice deep and sharp as he regales us with the histories of the ancient rulers and we, after a time, become immersed in the fantastic history.
"-And King Camlann raised his arm, and with the strength of Aslan, he sent the spear clean through the shield!"
"Clean through the shield!" roars the circle of listeners.
"And the Calormenes fled!"
"They fled far!" we shout. The fire pit splits a log and the sparks fly up like fireworks. Lummus leans over his drum, steadily tamping on the skin with the heels of his leathery hands. Across the circle, Ethelbert's massive head bobs in tune, his antlers nearly goring the Dog that sits ahead of him. The rhythm fills us all. We sway as one body, with one mind, the words memorized and expected. Anticipated.
"And on that field, the King alone remained!" Yamani bellows.
"Alone but for the Lion!" Some of the Dogs begin to howl. Edmund, wedged between the Dogs and an old Horse named Anne, throws back his head and mimics them. Anne whickers. The Narnians cheer as Yamani curls upwards in an upside-down bow and stills on his flagpole with a sleepy smile. A sort of comfortable rabble rises as we talk amongst ourselves, waiting for a new story-teller to stand up. There is no rush. The Creatures of Sansey Gardens enjoy simple conversation as much as grand stories, and I find a small, sleak Weasel climbing my good arm.
"Hello," I say, looking at the dark marks around her eyes and recognizing her as the Weasel from Edmund's hood yesterday. "Well met."
She climbs higher until she is wrapped around my neck, little paws catching in the cloth of my shirt.
Only once she is settled does she give a very quiet, "'Lo."
"'Lo," I return. I grin over at Edmund, but he (who is buried under a pile of Dogs that are all yammering out a collection of short stories for him to dissect) does not notice me. It's bright out, if cold, and a patch of blue has frozen over the Sansey sky. I take this as a good omen. "What did you think of the story?"
"Fine," muttered the Weasel. "Just fine."
I can get no more from her and return, bemused, back to watching my brother carry on with the Dogs.
"Don't be ridiculous!" Edmund is saying, wrestling a happy German Shepard off of his legs. "That'll never happen!" A Bulldog bowls him over, thoroughly licking his face.
"Admit it!" the Dogs woof, bounding around him. "Admit it!"
Edmund disappears for another few moments, covered with layers of jumping, wagging canines and a sound like low, boyish laughter is quickly muffled.
The Weasel wriggles on my neck, and I turn to see Ethelbert standing and making his way to the front of the crowd by Yamani. Along his mighty antlers, someone (likely Lummus) helped him to string a series of papers like a veil, which were scribbled on and marked up something dreadful. Whatever story he was going to tell, he had certainly done his research.
"My wonderous and nobly bright friends, brothers, cohorts, listeners, audience-"
Behind him, Lummus taps on his drum and clears his throat.
"-And grandiose guests," Ethelbert finishes delicately, with a sniff. He bows in my general direction, but I very much doubt that he can see me around the papers. "On this fine winter morn', I have carefully selected a series of text which I have recently managed to accumulate for your listening pleasure concerning the wonderous and nobly bright adventures of our very own Majesties, High King Peter the Magnificent and King Edmund the Just from what we have gathered listening to the stories rendered from their own lips and beg you listen well."
He pauses for breath and the Narnians give him a respectful applause of hoofs and paws against the snowy earth.
Edmund sits ram-rod straight and catches my eye- looking as bewildered as I feel. He furrows his eyebrows and mouths, 'Did you tell Bert anything?"
I shake my head. Mystified, I turn back to the great Bull Moose as he inhales deeply and begins.
"In the Ancient Days, when the White Witch stretched her scepter o'er the lands of Narnia, Winter stole us from the world. We lived as timeless ghosts in a bleak and colorless world, and Narnia stood in monochrome."
"We stood in monochrome," murmurs the crowd. The energy from earlier has drained. They watch Ethelbert closely, sadly, hungrily.
"In the Ancient Days, Death was foreign and Life was impossible. There was no choice but the dull, grey continuance. And though we fought, we fought one another more, until we were entwined, and we were the Grey."
"We were the grey."
"But colour has reached us now." Ethelbert stamps his hoof, and the crowd softly mimics him. "Red has reached us here."
"We are red."
A soft hand falls on my shoulder and I startle. Edmund crouches lightly at my side, eyes on Ethelbert.
"I'm going back to the tent, all right?" he says. He squeezes, and I bring up a hand to catch him by the forearm.
"Are you all right?"
He nods. His dark bangs fall over his eyes. "Just a little tired."
"Well, don't go wandering off," I smile, and shake his arm in my grip. I can see a small quirk in the corner of his mouth, but it doesn't last long, and he slips away from me easily.
"-Upon that bloody field, the red stained every Narnian," Ethelbert is saying. "At Beruna, where the Witch charged the Kings-"
I look sharply back for Edmund, but his back disappears into the tent just as I do. The Narnians are so engaged with Ethelbert's recount of the Battle of Beruna (so poetic and lovely that I know for certain he was not present), that they do not even bother tattooing his words. They sit stock-still, and I feel a warping cold dribble into my gut, hoping against hope that I will not have to hear that story as it was.
"-And the Just King fell, ran through-"
My stomach lurches. I stand and make to follow Edmund, until the next words find me, "Then the High King fell to blows with the Witch."
The Weasel slides from around my neck and clambers onto my arm, "Your Majesty? What is it?"
What is it? What was it? I can barely listen to Ethelbert over the pounding of my heart, snatches of words mixing with blood-beat and the resounding crash of metal that is pure memory. Of cat eyes smiling and the furious inferno devouring me from the inside out...
"Get off me," I croak. Then swallowing, gentler, "Please, go sit with the others. I need- I have to be alone."
The Weasel sadly complies. I feel a sting of pity and some shame, but more so is the need to be away from here and that story. I stumble quietly away from the group, who are too caught-up in the fantasy to pay attention. At first, I intend to go to the tent with Edmund, just to lay eyes on him, to reassure myself (in a way that is really quiet pathetic) that he is safe. But then I master myself. My legs carry me, crunching through deep snow and ice until I am at the Autumn Edge, with the rotting apple core and the frosted leaves undisturbed by time.
'Red has reached us,' I think. Red may never leave us.
For the third time that day, I am shaken roughly awake. Lummus looms over me, his goat-like head and horns lit up by the afternoon sunlight.
"What the Tash do you mean by it?" he shouts almost as soon as I've opened my eyes. He signals to someone behind him and a thunder of footsteps clutter through the snow. He reaches down with one hand and drags me upright. The moment I realize I am soaked through with snow, I begin to shiver and my teeth begin to chatter.
"S-s-sorry," I managed, wobbling onto my legs. "D-d-didn't mean t-to fall asleep."
"Here toss me that, Hookbeak- There," a fluffy, dry blanket buries me, and I snatch at it with a trembling hand, pulling it tightly around my shoulders as I am led back up the slope by what appears to be the whole of Sansey.
"Sorry," I say again. "I just went for a walk. I fell asleep."
Lummus ignores me and waves at the Dogs that circle the Fire Pit. He yells to them, "Found one!"
"We need to dry you off, Majesty," Anne the Horse says, trotting closely at my side. "Let's get you to your tent."
My frozen brain clicks, "Lummus- Who else is missing?"
He pauses long enough to look at me, and I know. Typical Edmund!
"I told him not to wander off!" I growl. "Where's he got off to?"
"Honestly, Your Majesty," admits Lummus, "We had hoped that we'd find you together."
Worry begins to seep past anger. The very feeling I had tried to evade earlier returns at full strength.
"Gather everyone," I say. "Everyone. We'll meet at the fire pit to regroup and form search parties from there. A Dog will go with every group."
"That many Narnians in the Wood, Your Majesty, might not be the safest way to-" begins Lummus.
The Edge cracks, singing with the magic that hold it.
We turn as a group, watching as the barrier between Sansey and the Wood crackles and folds, bending white light into a pallet of rainbows. Watching as the Edge slowly, painstakingly opens upon a pale human hand that tightly grips a red-fletched arrow and drips fresh, burgandy blood onto the snow.
It has been FOREVER and one day since I last updated, ladies and gentlemen. Not only has college life been bizarrely hectic this semester, but I tried to focus on some original works for a while and got a little side-tracked.
I'm trying to give the boys a bit of a break this chapter, because of what's coming up. They're not quite up to their typical bromance standard yet. Soon, my fellow Narniacs, soon.
Thanks so much for reading, guys! Here's hoping that finals aren't kicking your butts and holiday breaks are almost here!