part two: white
Chapter Eighteen: Ghosts in the Snow
Disclaimer: I actually am C.S Lewis, but you see I was sort of enchanted by this crazy frog-tortilla hybrid that cursed me to be a young, gorgeous American female. It's bizarre.
"For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.
He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer,"
Sansey Gardens, the Western Wood. Narnia. Year 1000
(?) Days Since the High King's Departure
"I told him not to wander off!" I growl. "Where's he gone 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 holds 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, burgundy blood onto the snow.
It's not just his hand- Edmund's whole person is dribbling blood onto the white of the ground. As he phases through the Edge and into Sansey, I can see it coats his furs and paints his face as well. The first thing he says when he sees us standing with our mouths agape is, "Hullo. It's not all mine. Did I miss much?"
This does not have the intended effect if, indeed, Edmund had an effect in mind, because in the next second Edmund wavers on his feet and falls to his knees. Hurriedly, the group rushes forward as a wave, catching up Edmund in many hands and paws. My own hand finds him at the shoulder. His dark eyes are unusually wide and glassy and he's shaking much the same way I am.
Injured, my mind says, and a feral rage begins to build in my stomach.
"You- Billy- Get some water!" Lummus barks. "And fresh cloths! Mind his head, you lot! Watch your step!"
Wings and legs and hooves are everywhere, lifting my brother easily upwards like the child he is. We move towards camp, a mad menagerie of Animals and Sons of Adam, and I have to fight to stay beside him. Bullying limbs shove at me as we march. Someone's wing batters me in the cheek. A stray claw catches on my trouser leg. I don't notice any of this; the whole of my vision has focused on a single white face and all the rest is drowning around me.
"Edmund." I muscle through to his side. "Ed?"
His head hangs low, feet dragging in the spattered snow as we mount the hill to camp. The fist clenching the red arrow shoots up and his fingers loose enough to dig into my shoulder.
Pain, says the feral monster. I grip my brother back as his body suddenly stiffens.
"Stop," Edmund says suddenly. Inhaling, remembering, "Stop, stop! Someone- someone needs to- they're coming, so someone needs to set up a perimeter- guards- how many weapons do we-?"
His distress is catching; a hunted feeling, like every last ghost is barely a step behind.
"We have it under control, your Majesty," Lummus assures him, he moves back so I can take his place supporting Edmund's side. The weight pulls on my injured shoulder and pain flares up like fireworks in my eyesight, but I find that it focuses me. As we lock eyes, Lummus' gaze tries to impress something upon me, but I am too full of ferocity and Edmund to notice anything else.
I gather up my brother with my good arm and help him into our tent.
Edmund makes laying him flat a challenge, as he is struggling wildly against me to stay upright. His freed hand pushes hard on my injured shoulder, with his other, he fights against the ground. I grit my teeth against the pain and try to soothe him, ceasing to restrain him. Instead, I pull him forward, running a hand over his matted hair.
"Edmund- Edmund, stop. It's me. It's Peter."
"I'm fine," he insists to me, though he doesn't see me. He is shaking all over, fingers bloody over the arrow shaft. "I'm fine, I'm fine-"
No one listens. Ethelbert's mighty head fills the tent, as he gives a pair of Dryads instructions on how to use their own bark while several Dogs whine by door, moping in the snow. The shy Weasel from the previous night scurries over the blankets and paws at Edmund's face. He uses his free hand to curl around her and close his eyes. His knuckles turn white around the arrow. "I'm fine..."
I sit at his side while they wash his face and hands, and peel off his layers to reveal unbroken skin. Bruises, yes. But no cuts. No stabs. No bites.
Edmund was right, then. Most of it wasn't his. But there was so much of it. And now, with his eyes squeezed shut and his skin sickly, all I can see is him as he was then, surrounded by green and covered in red...
My voice comes out strangled and hoarse, "Look at me."
When he opens his eyes, I don't see anything else.
"That's it," I say. "That's it, Eddy. Just look at me."
"Stop talking to me like I'm three," he says. But he doesn't look away. In the dimness of the tent, his eyes are fully black. "What happened to you?"
"You're wet," he points out, and suddenly I realize that I am dripping: chilled to the bone and shivering feverishly.
"Fell asleep in a snow bank," I recall.
Edmund lets out a shudder. "Snow," he says wearily. "Yes. I remember now. I fell..."
Ethelbert and the Dryads are busy giving orders to other Narnians about raiding the camp for more blankets and furs. Something about Edmund and me and shock. Beyond them, outside, Lummus is yelling at the larger Animals, arming them for whatever force is coming through those trees. I can hear the rattle of iron swords and wooden clubs and the snarl of teeth and a moment later, the Faun's shaggy face appears in the din of the tent.
Lummus' eyes settle on me, his orange scarf swaying. With a single look from him, the others leave the tent. Soon it is only the three of us in the Coal-heated shelter.
"Sire," Lummus says. He looks regretfully at Edmund.
I glance between them. Lummus is grizzled and worried, Edmund breathing a little too quickly.
In a moment, I realize was Lummus wants, and that singular beast, or whatever it is sitting in my heart and causing me such madness, rumbles, deep and echoing like an ocean.
"No," I growl low, unspeakable anger growing with every second. "Save your questions. Edmund needs to rest."
"King Edmund," Lummus says, instead, ignoring me. "We need to know what to expect, sire. How many were after you? What do you remember?"
"It's- I- I don't really know. There weren't any-" Edmund swallows and covers his eyes with the crook of his free arm.
I stand between them. "He doesn't have to tell you anything right now, Lummus."
"I remember." From beneath his arm, Edmund breathes deeply and begins to laugh. It is an airy, careless, horrid sound and it makes chills race on my spine.
"Sire?" Lummus practically begs him.
"No one," Edmund laughs. "There's no one. No one is coming!" Sliding his arm from his face, he rolls his eyes to the ceiling and stares. Stillness falls over him. The hand that was hold the arrow rolls to the side, limp. Dark blood creeps out onto the snow-packed floor. Then, louder, almost angry, "I was wrong."
I watch Lummus process this. Something like relief rests his weight more firmly on his crutches. But the way his knuckles turn bone white under his shaggy fur does not give me peace. "You were wrong?"
"Yes," Edmund says tonelessly. He doesn't look at either of us. "Sorry to worry you," he adds, like an afterthought.
It is a mutual agreement between us that Edmund should sleep before we question him.
So, of course, Edmund refuses to sleep. He sits up, arms resting and legs crossed, boring a hole in the wall opposite, listening to Ethelbert's drafty monologue on the health benefits of rest and the nobility of speaking one's mind. Edmund adamantly keeps his silence, even as they the hand that had so fiercely held the arrow. His pupils are blown wide. His skin shines with a sickly sweat. But his presence follows me out of the tent, and even I can sense some sort of message in that, a sort of trust and patience that means something...
I leave the tent with Lummus, sucking in the bracing air. He is perturbed by my brother's behavior.
"We don't know how long he was out there," he tells me quietly. "We have no idea what happened to him."
"What do you think happened to him?"
Lummus' eyes are dark. "Your Majesty, if I may be blunt."
He hesitates. This in itself puts me on my guard. I await with nostalgic patience the words that I know I can rail against this time, the insinuations, the prospects that my brother would turn traitor on us. That he would subject himself to our enemies in an effort to settle some score. I wait, and I am denied my battle.
"King Edmund was tortured."
"No," I say. Because this is wrong. And he is mistaken: "No."
But Lummus only looks at me, pityingly.
But there was no injury, I think. Wouldn't they have injured him? Wouldn't he have cried? I'm fine Edmund had said. He had said. He hadn't even cried.
"He wasn't. I would have known," I snap. "He's my brother, Lummus. He's fine. I would have known!"
Yes, I remember.
My mouth fumbles, words dying in my throat.
Snow falls thickly around us. Edmund had said, Snow. Yes, I remember. And before, long before, while we had rested by the Cauldron Pool and he had told me a vague note about Her and the ways of Her camp. This is a building pattern that I quickly turn my mind away from. That I cannot bear to finish.
Because I know now, don't I? Hadn't I been waiting to argue just that?
Edmund would never betray me. Torture wouldn't have changed anything. If he was freed, it wasn't because he gave me up- it was because he had to fight, alone and terribly weak, to escape.
Aslan. Distantly I feel the cold wind blasting through me and the ache of my arm, but they are both dreadfully dulled, and my head feels unreasonably light, swimming in horror and fear and wonder. Would my brother really-?
It takes me a moment to realize that Lummus is still speaking.
I feel my lips move numbly, my voice faint.
Someone is holding me by the elbow. I blink hard and realize that this, too, is the Faun.
"I said you should rest," Lummus repeats gruffly. "You're soaking. The rest of us will patrol and prepare in case anything happens."
"No, I'm fine," I insist, but the words feel hollow. I swallow them down and step away. "I'll change into something warmer and help patrol. I need to do something useful or else I'll..."
Truthfully, I don't know what I'll do, but Lummus looks as though he understands.
"We'll find the ones that did this to him, Your Majesty," Lummus swears. "For now, we'll focus on making King Edmund well again. On making both of you well again."
"Whose blood was it?" I ask him. My mind latches on to that detail. "It wasn't Edmund's. Whose was it?"
Lummus becomes rigid. He grips his crutches and glares at the trees.
"There must have been enchantment involved. We can all smell it, but it's impossible."
"What's impossible?" Singularity. Impulse. Fear. They drive me into motion and I force Lummus to meet my eyes, stepping in his way for the second time this morning. "Whose blood was it?"
"Captain Lummus." My voice is higher than I would like, but even I can sense the authority funneling out of the me. That raging feeling that had sat so heavily on my heart is barely chained. I fight it down. I force myself to appear as calming and steady as a High King should be.
You are elected by Aslan, I think, over and over. You were chosen for this. Every bit of this. You are a King. You are a High King. But somewhere deep, a small voice growls; And Edmund is my brother.
Lummus watches this transformation, seeing only the King, and assents.
"Yours," he says. "Whether it actually came from your body or not, it was bewitched to be as like to yours as possible. All of the Animals can smell you. And they can all smell a dark magic drenched in you. There must be a very powerful creature of magic involved in your brother's capture. I have no doubt that it was this creature that was in charge of his tor-" The Captain winces, "-In charge of him."
"What else?" I ask.
He shakes his head. "For now, there is nothing else, your Majesty. We'll keep up the perimeter and send scouts tomorrow. Maybe they'll find some trail and lead us to whoever is responsible." With a final clap on my good shoulder, he turns and limps away, rallying Narnians to him.
"Thank you, Lummus," I say.
Dazedly, I realize that I actually sounded sincere. It's too bad no one could hear my impression of a King.
I don't return to the tent for a long time, walking 'round and 'round the camp, watching the lines and looking for creeping eyes in the distance. The Edge is all silence. It isn't until Ethelbert wades through some of the snow to find me and monologue me into going to bed that I dare face my little brother. And, by then, he's already fallen asleep. His arms are still crossed, and his legs are folded under him, but he is reclined on a mound of pillows and snoring loudly, as if he doesn't have a care in the world.
Which I suppose he shouldn't, with the number of Narnians posted outside of our tent.
My own dreams are restless; I dream of two Edmunds, one crooked and one sincere, and again of a woman who is half-hideous and half-beautiful and at one point both Edmund's call out to her 'Mother, Mother!' and I when I finally wake up, it is to my own racing breaths. In addition, my arm is still sore and my head aches with a drumming vengeance.
Beside me, Edmund is still snoring, dead to the world. His arm is thrown over his eyes again and his mouth gapes open, dragging in terrifying gargles of air.
Apparently someone had come in during the night to check on us, because he was covered with a richly decorated blanket. It must have come from one of the other tents.
As well as I can with one working arm, I undress in silence.
I peel out of my sweaty nightshirt and gingerly rub at my arm, which is bound closely to my chest. I experiment with my fingers, wiggling them delicately despite the throbbing zings of pain that radiate from my shoulder. It is not as intense as the first few days I was awake. I wing a prayer of thanks to Aslan, and then I begin.
I force myself to undo the bindings and let it fall as gently to my side as I can, easing it down with my left hand. The pain is almost blinding. I pull in slow, measured breaths, only releasing them after a moment. I imagine all the air flowing into my body through my lungs and filtering into my arm, I imagine the air lifting the pain and pushing it out of my nostrils. After a few minutes, I pull in a breath and slowly tense my right arm. Exhaling, I slowly release the tension.
Blood and Edmund and running, running, running, he asks me if I saw- Did I see-?
A jumping pool of water, deep green, nonsensical words drifting like refreshing mist-
Mummy! Mummy! and Burning and dying, dying, and getting hard to breathe, getting hard to-
A warmth tucked under my chin and a cool hand across my brow, a protective arm around my boiling ribs-
"Use the Coal, stupid," says Edmund.
My eyes slide open.
Edmund, my little brother, watches me blearily from under his arm as I strengthen my muscles. His other hand is splayed out, the Coal burning in his palm as he offers it for me to take.
In that moment, for a moment, I feel inexplicably angry with him. I close my eyes, blocking him out and relaxing my body.
"You should be sleeping," I say curtly. "Ethelbert says there may still be toxins in your blood."
"Toxins?" Edmund mutters. I can hear him shuffling below the covers and furs. The dry rasp of his hand rubbing over the new clean of his face. For a moment, he falls quiet, and I hope that he is dozing, listening for the inevitable snores. But after a time, the shuffling renews with vigor, and his voices comes again, taller and more aware. He is sitting up, "Take the stupid Coal, you idiot!"
Something hits me in the chest. It startles me, even as I realize he has thrown the Coal at me in a fit of impatience. It tumbles into my lap and, in a moment, the majority of pain is sapped from my arm.
"I don't need it!" I return angrily. I pick it up and throw it back at him. My left hand is ungainly, it's aim is off. The Coal flies wide and lands in a mound of cushions. I immediately miss it, as the movement causes a surge of pain throughout my shoulder and deep into my chest. I hiss and clutch at my arm, bowing low.
A stupid, stupid move on my part. Hot wetness flows from my shoulder, leaving a sickening trail down my chest.
"You don't need it," Edmund mutters bitterly. His steps are uncoordinated. He stumbles up and around the tent as I gasp for breath. "You don't need. You never need." He trips again and sits heavily beside me, as though his legs were cut out from under him. In his hands rests the Coal, white hot. He shoves it against my shoulder, still talking to himself under his breath. "Stupid, selfless, arrogant..."
His hands grow steadily redder. I become self-conscious of my own blood, pulling sharply away, but Edmund follows, black eyes trained on the wound. It's dark in the tent, the Coal is poor light, so maybe that is why the lines and shadows of Edmund's face are so defined. Maybe it's the darkness that makes him appear half-starved and blue and black and red. Maybe it's the darkness.
Maybe it's the light.
At this distance, it's not hard to see the sharpness digging into Edmund's face. It's not only strain- it's age. It's something terrifying to see age there, to see change in something so familiar.
"Look at me," I say.
But he doesn't.
"I really thought she had killed you," he mutters. "The first time."
The darkness is back. It fills him. It defines him in the harsh white glare from my shoulder.
"But then she brought you around, and I knew. Somehow, this was just more of her kind of magic. Just more tricks on the eye. It made the next few times a little easier. Just tell me where they are, she said, and I'll let your brother live."
Edmund will never betray me. He no longer can.
"I knew it wasn't you," Edmund says to my shoulder. "So I let her kill him. Over and over and over... He would always be worried about me, he always wondered if I was safe."
I'm fine. I'm fine...
"She slipped me something, an old white powder called snow that dulls your senses and releases brief euphoria. Before the paranoia sets in, anyway." Edmund, for the first time, smiles. "Luckily for me, blood is more slippery than magic."
And he had been drenched in it.
"You said you were being followed," I say.
Edmund pulls the Coal away from my shoulder. The light of it flares, then dims to a rusted red.
He looks at me.
"Just ghosts," he says. "The snow is full of them."
Aha! An update! Peter and Edmund are quickly becoming friends, I think, which will make writing their dynamic about a million times easier. For now, they seem to be at a sort of stage where they both admire one another, but they seem to think this has to be a secret. Methinks that dam will break sooner than later.
For those of you who wanted more on Edmund's captivity, there will be more on that later on. I thought this was rather enough to deal with in one chapter. Also, keep an eye on that blanket. The one Peter so easily dismissed.
I cannot thank you guys enough for being patient with this story and for the many readers who sent me PM's to encourage me into moving along. I love, love, love writing these stories for you and I'm always ecstatic to know they're enjoyed.
Like it? Hate it? Demand a refund? You can let me know via PM, review, or by deleting the internet.
Happy crunch time to my fellow college students!