Disclaimer: The OC's are mine, babe.
"Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done," Revelations 22:12
Weeks of letters begging forgiveness finally prompted Edmund to send his rather blunt reply:
To Whom It May Concern:
No, thank you.
Edmund R. Pevensie
"You might have been a little more cordial, Edmund," Lucy said, scraping margarine over toast and adding a healthy dollop of raspberry jam. The jam had actually been a gift from Susan, who had seen our bare cupboards, one evening when she had forgone all parties, and had gone shopping the very next morning for some of the better essentials. Lucy had been so thrilled; she had thrown herself around our sister and kissed her proudly on the cheek.
"I'm not going back."
The subject of Hartbee's School for Young Men always made Ed a little brusquer, so we didn't usually press him. I made up my mind to intercede here.
"So it's Hendon House, then?" I asked. My breakfast plate had been cleared a while ago, so I sat back against the rail-backing of my chair and sipped on tea- another accommodation Susan had presented us with. "That should be nice. Plenty of old friends."
"Not there either."
Lucy and I exchanged glances.
He scraped the last of his eggs to one side, speared them, and popped them into his mouth, chewing with a thoughtful delight.
"I was looking into a school a little ways north, in Kettering. Wilpshire Academy. I can board there, come home for Christmas and Easter and summers, and catch a train almost anywhere."
"What are you thinking, Ed?" I asked, but not in a way that would question his sanity. Just his motives.
"They have a rugby team," he replied.
His dark eyes were laughing.
The first letter comes, soggy from the fog it travelled through and with the envelope flap slightly torn from less-than-careful handling. It is addressed to High King Peter, Emperor of the Lone Islands, Lord of Cair Paravel, much to the confusion of the postman, and I don't hesitate to carry the letter to my room directly. I open it with my fingernails, instead of my penknife, and gently pull the damp letter from within its paper-mache shroud.
My Lord,the first line says, bold with the bleed of an inexpensive pen.
The first week has gone swimmingly. The boys are all rather large here and bred with a fight in them much like the Southern Mountain Centaurs, but without the instilled code of ethics. I write this having just escaped the surprisingly wet introduction to the school's memorial pond. Founder Jonathan Whit must have been quite a damp and dour man, based on the amount of algae festering in there, but I am all too glad that he wasn't the kind of person sentimentalists could associate with stone or fire, which would not be as forgiving when met head-first.
As is, there are a few boys here that aren't as rough and tough as all that. It's just that they seem too shy of the boys that are to stand up and speak their minds. Almost all of them are already employed at some shoe factory or another and quite a few are paid by lingering Americans of good places to eat or visit. I had the fortune of meeting one such soldier, who grabbed me by the shoulder as I was walking to The Duchy for lunch, asking where he might find "some place to meet new lady friends, if you know what I mean." Needless to say, a young chap like me was so flustered by this attitude that I mistakenly gave him directions to the nearest chapel. Then again, perhaps I really had no idea what he meant.
The classes, I hesitate to say, are risibly easier than Hendon AND Hartbee's. Everything always seems to relate to shoes, as well, which I am growing a little sick of. The literature is about shoes, the maths about adding shoes, the history about our shoe factories- I've never learned so much about footwear in all my life. I am debating going to class one day barefoot, just to gauge their reactions, but I fear this may encourage some of those rougher boys that perhaps I won't have use for my shoes once the weather turns.
The letter continues for a ways about the rugby team, which I read with a growing smile, because Ed's frustration and sarcasm on the subject are all in an exasperated affection for the team in general. They are, in summary, doing very poorly in their matches. It is clear that Edmund already has several ideas of how to improve this, none of them indirect.
As soon as an opening comes, I'm jumping in. Edmund swears, swerving to a closing paragraph that distributes love evenly to each of his siblings, and to our parents.
Feel free to write whenever you want. I'm thinking about training a carrier pigeon or two in my spare time so we don't have to waste our parents' stamps.
All my love,
"I wish he wouldn't get into such scrapes," Lucy says first thing, after she puts the dried letter back on my desk. "It's only his first week."
"Ed will handle it," I say. I'm preparing for my own departure, packing my things for my final term at Hartbee's School for Young Men. Thomas Macintosh, and old friend and a certain ally, has already written me two letters in preceding weeks, making sure that I was returning and that we would be sharing a class or two. He was more than a little distraught to hear that nothing would change Edmund's mind, and had even gone so far as to wonder if certain sums of money would entice my brother. I had written back, almost as brusquely as Edmund, that money would do nothing of the sort.
Lucy rolls her eyes.
She is sitting at my desk now, feet folded under my study chair and pianist fingers tapping on the letter. She is getting taller again and her rounded softness is melting each day to a finer sharpness. I can't help but notice that the skirt she is wearing is one of Susan's, from when she was twelve. The skirt she wore when we first fell into Narnia.
"One of those pigeons had better be for me," she relents, then brightens, "And I get to name it."
I groan. The past names she has made for pets have always been dreadfully cute things like "Bitsy" or "Flossy." One time, a small mouse that a trap had caught in the garden had still been alive, and she rescued it, naming the poor, tailless creature "Blunt-Bottom." Edmund hadn't let it go for weeks, championing that a mouse so brave and valiant should be marked by something fiercer. He voted for "Bloodtail" until the mouse bit him on the finger. It hadn't hurt, so much as startled Ed, and he dropped the rodent to the ground, where it landed on splayed legs and shot off across the room beneath the couch. We had seen neither head nor blunt-bottom of him since and Edmund was still sore that it had turned on him.
Our mother comes in, checks to make sure I don't need help with packing. Checks to see if Lucy would like to help make supper.
"I just wish I could be more helpful," says our mother, dark hair curled up with pins and a neat robin blue apron tied around the waist of her dress. Her hands are trying not to wring each other. "Do you need anything, darlings?"
My suitcase is already buckled shut, though, with military efficiency, so Lucy clears the slightly strained pause with the acceptance of help. She takes our mother by the arm and gently leads her from the room, chatting purposefully on silly matters like clothes, hair, and visiting with friends.
I remember staring at the same patterned wallpaper of green diamonds and twisting vines when I was seven- forced into sharing a room with Edmund for the first time.
It used to be our guest room, because it was larger. But the need of space for two separate beds encouraged the move, placing my bed nearest the window, the desk at my feet, and Edmund on the wall nearest the door.
The first few nights, I had tossed and turned in my bed. I tried covering my head with my pillow. I tried piling blankets on top of that. I tried covering Edmund's head with a pillow. To no avail.
Eight o'clock passed.
Then nine o'clock.
Three hours later, my eyes were aching and hot, my brain a fury of fuzz and disjointed plans of physical assault on my brother who was, uproariously, sleeping.
Surely no human being can snore like this I had thought, a pajama'ed martyr that had resigned some hour or so ago that I would never get any sleep that night. Waking up my parents to correct the situation was out of the question. Waking up Edmund was tantamount to suicide. Maybe though, I had thought wistfully, it would at least be a faster end to the torture of listening.
By the time midnight came, I was so tired that the shadows blanketing the ceiling began to shift and dance around me, taking forms winged or legged, eyes winking at me in the darkness. I rolled over, facing the window, and looked up at the sky instead.
It was a remarkably clear night. The stars were not the shy pinpricks that so often hide behind clouds or chimney smoke. They were burning, bright enough for me to see the entire neighbourhood from the windowsill. I had debated reading a book in the light of the stars, but it wasn't quite light enough to make out the words, just the dark shape of them.
I glanced over at my brother, then back to the stars, focusing on one orange-red blur in particular.
'Star light, star bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.'
And I had closed my eyes.
And wished with all the attention of a sleepless mind.
And Edmund had woken up, snores replaced by screams.
Lucy knew quite a bit about stars and planets and all that sort of thing. The Centaurs in Narnia had shown her their stars, which are nothing like Earth stars, because Earth stars are not people, but burning gas-lamps placed years of space away from one another, thousands or even millions of years away from Earth. Sometimes she wondered if Earth's stars didn't use to be alive, or else that Stars used stars as lanterns through the dark halls of the universe. Or even if the stars of Earth belonged very much in Narnia, to help lead the way, if mutely.
But Lucy also knew the names of all the Earth planets, and in which order from the Sun they stretched along. She knew the mythology behind their names. She knew the Roman deities that each was named after, or for.
Most importantly of all: She knew never to wish on Mars.
The second letter arrives bone-dry. It is addressed to Sir Fenris Wolfbane and this time the postman can offer a small smile to the joke, outsider though he may be. Smiling back, I thank him and hurry up to my room, throwing a pile of medical related books onto the bed closest to the door, dropping down onto my own to rip open the seal.
My King,it begins, in the same bold font.
The third week promises nothing better than the previous two, though I remain curiously optimistic. My 'adversaries' as they would wish to be considered, have thinned down reasonably to a select few of the older students. Older, and a trifle larger, I might add. One boy in particular (no names, my Lord) is the size of a full-grown Boar, and his front teeth easily rival Megg's tusks. Despite these monstrous traits, he's actually the easiest to deal with, so long as I can muddle him with a few choice words and slip away while he's left to work them out. No, the worst of them is barely larger than you are, my King. His size is not what matters, though. It's his venomous mind.
I shift on the bed, rolling onto my front. My face aches with the fierceness of my expression, and already my mind is trying to think of a way to intervene. None of these plans can be carried out without missing the start of the new term at Hartbee's.
For the sake of not giving up his true identity (for I am sure I would wake to find him dead some day if I did) I will call him Ares in my letters. Firstly, because his temperament and war-mongering reminds me of little else. Secondly, because I am certain that I have not seen the last of him.
I'm already opening the drawers to my desk, pulling out a sheet of paper and a pencil, Dear Thomas...
Ares is made of the same stuff as world leaders like Hitler or Machiavelli, I am certain. His mind is like a razor I constantly cut myself on- I made the mistake of thinking he was blunt when I first arrived. In fact, he may very well be smarter than I am. He is well thought of, well spoken of, well spoken for- There's not a being in all of Kettering that would cross him. He has the lot of them wrapped around his finger. All the while, he is trafficking what I think are drugs down by the river, setting fire to the curtains of the younger boys, and making it very clear (in an American gangster sort of way) that anyone who isn't with him is against him.
Beside my first letter, which is drying, I pull out a second sheaf and address it to Cain Jacobs.
There's also something familiar there, which I am being very cautious about drawing out. Pray for me, Brother.
"I'll do that and more," I swear, sealing the envelopes before running out of the house and down the street until I catch the bewildered postman at the corner.
"Edmund is calling him 'Ares' in his letters. I don't have a physical description, only that he would be the darling of the town."
"That's not much to go on, Pevensie."
"I know." And it's driving me mad with worry that Edmund is so quick to jump into another disaster without my help. "He's doing it on purpose."
"Well, Thomas is thrilled." Cain Jacob's voice is wry, and it's comforting to know that I have allies so well-funded in this world. "He thinks a mission from the Pevensie King is like a second Christmas."
"One king. Listen- I'm certain that Edmund isn't going to want your help, so we may have to work around him somehow. But knowing Ed, he'll already have a system of informants set up."
"I thought you said that no one in town would cross this bloke."
I grin, laughing. "Not knowingly."
A sigh catches as static across the landline. "Well, Thomas' family has connections, too. We'll keep on top of this. Keep you posted on our little god of war."
"And Pevensie- Are we clear on a course of action if Ares picks a fight?"
My voice doesn't waver. "Let Ed handle it."
"Peter, he's still recovering..."
From Collins, Cain means. Edmund is still recovering from when James Collins, the imbalanced magician and faux headmaster of Hartbee's School for Young Men, cursed him with Dark Magic. The violence of that terrible night, of dying and being dragged around like a rag doll, left Ed's spine in a condition that Lucy insists should have rendered him fully paralyzed. Instead, Aslan has had a visible hand in healing that should-be permanent wound. When he left for Kettering, his drunken stagger was more of a limp. I imagine that, by now, he could even limp along without Dad's old cane.
"Even injured, Edmund would be more of a threat to Ares than Ares is to him," I insist. "Trust me, when I say that Ed is completely capable."
"Then why are we keeping tabs on him?"
"Because I'm not taking these chances anymore!" Then I realize that I might have actually half-barked them into the receiver, and all I hear is silence from the other end.
Finally, mercifully, "Keep your skirt on, Blond. Thomas and I won't let anything happen to the kid."
We hang up with forced cordiality. I have the strangest feeling that Cain can sense the same battlefield approaching that I do.
ARES: Ancient Greek. God of war. Son of Zeus and Hera. Lover of Aphrodite, of Despair, and of Chaos.
Lucy thought it odd how the planets around Earth were named for Roman gods. Pluto, the god of the underworld floating on the edge of everything. Venus, blushing in the center of her escort. Neptune, as blue as the seas.
Well, in a flat-world like Narnia, the stars were really Stars, floating up in the sky and watching the creatures below. The Planets, which were originally discovered by Centaurs in the court of King Frank, were not bestowed with names until the Golden Age, when a dusty librarian unearthed the old records from Frank's era. The Centaurs of the Golden Age held counsel with the Stars for several days, far into the Shuddering Wood. On the last day, they gave the five Planets their names.
One day, Lucy wanted to visit them all.
The third letter does not arrive at the same interval as the second or first, so I ring Lucy to see if Ed sent the letter home instead of to Hartbee's. But Lucy assures me that it hasn't arrived at 2435 Finch Street either. I hang up with a pit growing in my stomach, and I put off dinner until I settle a bit. Oh, why hadn't I insisted that Edmund give me the telephone number of his school? I sit on the edge of my bed, gnawing a knuckle raw when Thomas Macintosh bursts through the door with an ever-present smile. He takes one look at me and looks depressingly deflated.
"What's the matter?"
I rip my fist from my teeth and push myself off of the bed with one hand, striding quickly past him. "I'm sure it's nothing. I have to make another call."
He calls after me, but I'm jogging through crowds of rich boys to make my way downstairs, down to the teacher's lounge where the telephones are kept.
"Pevensie!" barks a familiar voice. Coach-turned-Headmaster Hamilton hails me from his armchair, newspaper folded back so he can read it. His whistle jostles as he sits up, his bald head catching the light of the ceiling lamps. His new position of power grants him a smoother jacket and a certain scent that lingers in the air around him that's suspiciously flowery. The other day, he was telling me about the vacation he had planned with his wife for a trip to Paris. "What the devil has got you in such a huff?"
"Sorry, sir. My brother, sir."
"Brunette?" he says, still in a voice that could breach the walls of the lounge easily. "How is he, anyway?"
"Fairly well, sir. I was going to use the phones to call his school, actually."
He lets go of the paper and points a stout, weathered finger at me. His spectacles flash beneath his thunderous brow. "You tell me if those brats are giving him any trouble, Blond! I'll take care of it in a heartbeat."
"Yessir, Headmaster." And a small smile forms on my mouth. "I'm sure he'd say the same to you."
Hamilton scowls, flipping his paper back up so that I can't see the flush building in his already-ruddy cheeks. "Bunch of hooligans running around this establishment..."
I turn away, laughing silently, and pass into a small reception room where the telephones are now kept. There are four in a row, hanging off of the wall. A framed photograph of Winston Churchill puffing on a cigar hangs between them, with the inscription, A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. I choose the phone to the far right and connect with the operator.
"Kettering, please," I say, "Wilpshire Academy."
I am told to wait while my call is connected. In the meantime, I glance back over at Churchill, frowning at the mischievous twinkle in his squinting eyes. I wonder if I would get on with the Prime Minister at all. I wonder if Edmund would.
'Wilpshire Academy, you've reached Reception. How may I help you?"
"Hello- I was actually trying to get in contact with my brother, Edmund Pevensie. He's a student there."
'And may I ask who is calling?'
"Peter Pevensie," I say, "Calling from Hartbee's School for Young Men, London, ma'am."
For a moment, the line is nothing but static.
'...Peter Pevensie? You're one of those boys that the old Head went after, aren't you?"
"I'd really just appreciate it if you could put me in contact with my brother."
'Yes, of course. I read about you in papers, you know. That must have just been awful!'
It was far worse than that. I have to grip the handle and lean my forehead against the cool brick wall, closing my eyes to the memories of blood and fire and snow.
"Yes. It was."
'I've always wondered, though," the receptionist continues eagerly, not sensing my tone, "How did you both manage to-'
A noise suddenly overcomes the static in the background, tapping like the dial on a safe. The receptionist's voice disappears. The tapping ceases. The static is clear.
"Hello?" I pull back, look at the earpiece in curiosity, then press it up against my ear again to hear-
'What in Aslan's name are you trying to do, blow my cover?'
"Stop tapping the phone lines, Ed. It's not decent."
'Come off it, Your Majesty,' Edmund laughs, and there's nothing in the world that can keep the smile off of my face.
We fall into easy, elated conversation; Edmund hasn't been able to write because he's taken over the Wilpshire rugby team, as an assistant coach. I practically cheer as he regales me on the grand undertaking of this position, how he outshone every other boy and trainer and ran circles around the lot before they realized he didn't need to play- he needed to teach them how to play. And training this miserable, losing-streak team was exactly what kept him from sitting down for a spare moment.
'This has nothing to do with Ares,' I think. 'Ed is safe.'
The pigeon arrives, and I, being a King of Narnia, recognize a stutter in its flight.
I have just gotten back with a pot of freshly heated water, preparing tea for an hour's study, when I see the grey form batting through the air towards me. Crossing the room quickly, I throw open the window and lean out with both hands reaching. It seems to recognize what I want, and weakly flutters into my caged fingers. Its heart beats like fraying thread beneath a heavy chest of molting feathers. Its left leg bears a small rolled note tied with what I am horrified to recognize as barbed wire.
Carefully, I set the poor bird onto my writing desk, stroking the space above the beak, and cleanly snip the metal with a pair of shears sitting in the top drawer. It coos like a dead thing. I cut a section of medical gauze and wind that around the leg, pushing my mug of hot water over so that I can empty a flash-cooling stream of it through the air and onto a small dish. The now luke-warm water is set in front of the pigeon, but she only closes her eyes and shivers.
"Rest now, cousin," I beg, "Drink something for your leg."
She opens one eye, chibbles something, and closes it again.
Restraining myself against the curses that want to snap out of my mouth, I unscroll the little message and read;
HE IS LIKE EVERY OTHER SPY~ A MORTAL, MALLEABLE COCKROACH.
REMOVE HIM, OR HE WILL BE REMOVED LIKE THE OTHERS.
By the time my hands release Ares' letter, the poor pigeon is dead on the plate of cooling water.
"Looks like some sort of exterminate," says the professor of biochemistry. He looks up from the microscope with massively enlarged eyes, courtesy of a monstrous pair of eyeglasses, making him owlish. "Bug spray. Roach repellant."
"How?" I ask.
"Force-fed, probably. Or the poison got into its food supply. It's becoming a very common thing in America, where they have mass agriculture. Lots of nasty bugs to kill. They use planes and high-powered water systems to spray it over the crops. Deadly to insects. And to birds."
"And to humans?"
He thinks about it. "It would make them very sick, but not dead. Necessarily."
"Edmund is very sick," Thomas reports anxiously from the common's doorway. He sounds nearly tearful. I cannot see him from my desk. "I want to send one of the family physicians to care for him."
"No. Ares knows we're involved. Sending someone in instead of taking Edmund out would only look like an act of war."
"What if he dies?"
"He won't." I say. "He's stronger than that. You have no idea how often we were poisoned when we were kings. A chap builds up immunity to that sort of thing."
I sound flippant, I realize.
"I'm going to collect him tomorrow morning," I add. It has been my plan all along, but perhaps Thomas can't tell because he doesn't know me like my family does. And not for lack of trying. "Alone. Check in, check him out, and take him back home."
"You said Edmund could handle himself," Cain reminds me. He's acting snappish, has been acting snappish since he found out about the letter from Ares.
"He can." I hold up the barbed wire. "So much so that Ares is on the defense against him."
Mars: the Romanized form of Ares, god of war. Unlike Ares, Mars was thought to be a far less brutal, though more cunning, war god. Mars favored the righteous in battle, and deserted the foolish. Ares loved war and death for its own sake.
While Lucy was Queen of Narnia, she learned the names of the five Planets.
They were Felti, Ovim, Biaxs, Kinnet, and Ekwynae.
Or, as translated from the Old Narnian: Love, Faith, Trust, Truth, and Justice. They were all good friends of the Stars and of the Sovereigns, equally kind and noble, and loyal servants to Aslan.
But Ekwynae was by far the fiercest.
Kettering is a small, factory town a ways north of London. The smell of shoes fills the air with rubbery, animal-skin odors. The tall smoke stacks bleakly reeking a continually unwinding black yarn into the grey skies. And Wilpshire Academy rests in the middle of it all, with plain grey brick walls and barred windows from the second floor up.
What would draw Edmund to a place like this? I wonder. Surely not just the rugby.
I step from the cab that Thomas and Cain insisted I take, and tell the driver that I'll be a few minutes. He nods, content because the Jacobs family bank account is paying him by the hour, not the kilometer.
Making my way up the grey cement steps to the school, I reach to the front door handle and pull.
I survive a moment of blank confusion, looking back to the automobile, looking to the handle that I still hold firmly. Testingly, I try to tug it open again. I feel the bolt catch on the frame.
Was I late? Was it a holiday? Was it a mistake?
No, I think. I know as soon as the thought comes to me, that there is no way for this to be a mistake. I had called the school. I had checked the times. Something is wrong.
I run back to the cab, hammer a fist on the passenger window, miming for the driver to roll it down.
"Can I use the portable phone?" I ask.
"Certainly," the driver says, and picks the wired phone up from the cradle, pulling up a pair of antennae and giving me the receiver. I hold it against my ear as I lean into the cab, pulling the rotary with shaking fingers. It rings once. Twice.
"Wilpshire Academy, you've reached Reception. How may I help you?"
"Hello!" I say, breathless with relief. "Peter Pevensie. I called a day ago about coming to pick up my brother, Edmund-"
"I'm sorry," says the voice on the other end, "Who is this?"
"Peter Pevensie," I say again. "We talked briefly yesterday. And before that, when you found out I was the one from Hartbee's School-"
The voice interrupts again, "I'm sorry, sir. I'm afraid that I don't remember speaking with you."
"Well," I say, feeling hot, "It doesn't matter! Listen, I came to pick up Edmund Pevensie. He's ill and I'm taking him home, but the front doors are locked and I was wondering if someone could come around and let me in?"
There is a shuffling like filing cards coming across the line. Then it stops and the voice says, very carefully, "Who are you picking up, today, Mr. Pevensie?"
"Edmund Randall Pevensie." I enunciate. "Here on scholarship. Assistant coach for your rugby team."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Pevensie, but there is no such student on file."
I freeze, my gut sharply feeling the edge of the window. All the air in the cab has vanished and I can no longer see the face of the driver ahead of me.
"Edmund Pevensie is not in my records, sir. He doesn't attend this school."
"No! He's there. Here. He's right inside, if you'll just unlock the front door, I can find him-"
"Sir," the voice says coolly, "You have been misinformed. And our front door is not locked. I just walked in from lunch."
No. Oh, no.
"What is your address?" I rasp, looking at the numbers 1 4 5 8 above the door of grey brick and cement and bars.
"632 Boot Lane, sir."
A long time ago, when we were Kings and Queens, Edmund had been injured in battle.
For the sake of those who have never seen a battle or the scars it leaves behind I will not say how he was harmed, but it was terrifying coming home with him like that. There was nothing for him in the medic tents- he needed to be borne home, the healers had told me, to rest. Never once had they mentioned recovery without some hesitation. There was no cure to ride out for- Lucy and the cordial were out at sea.
I remember how Susan raced down the steps and threw herself into my arms. I remember how her pale face matched Edmund's. She told me she wouldn't let anything happen to either of us.
I could not stay at his bedside. That was the worst. Susan did, though, and kept me well informed. Late at night, when an hour was mine, I would give it to Edmund, who had so few left. He didn't speak or stare or cough. He did not sleep. He barely breathed. He was dying.
I remember leaving the Archives one night, seeing a tall, thin shadow standing in the starlight. Like in a dream, I made my way out into the small garden of hyssop and myrrh. Touched his arm.
His eyes were open, bloodshot even in the white light of the heavens, but open as they had not been. I followed their gaze and found one white dot on the black heavens, glowing brighter and fiercer than all the rest.
Edmund's cracked lips moved soundlessly. Endlessly, they formed Ekwynae, ekwynae, ekwynae...
I caught Edmund up before he fell. He was so light and empty- without breath or beat as I carried him back to bed.
I had wondered how his wish would arrive, and the next day under the billowing white sails of the Splendor Hyaline and carrying a Cordial greeting, it arrived sprinting.
Lucy explained to Susan and me as we sat around Edmund's sleeping form; the star they had been following suddenly changed direction halfway out to sea and led the ship back to the Cair. When her crew tried to find it again to point it out for Susan and me, they were startled to find that it had completely disappeared.
Or so we had thought.
I call the police, but they do not pick up. I call the operator, but she does not pick up. I get out of the car and start rapping my fist on doors, wanting to ask for directions. None of the residents come to the door.
When I go to return to the car, the driver is missing.
A quick check reveals that the keys are as well.
It's like something out of a nightmare, my heart is hammering and I long for a sword. There's something not right about all of this, beyond absence of life. Something out of place.
I long for Rhindon. I long for Edmund.
I settle for the blade I always keep around my calf, gripping it tightly as I edge my way down barren streets, watching that smoky tower in the distance.
"I don't care for games!" I call to the empty streets, watching windows and shadows for movement. "I just want my brother so we can go home!"
The day is waning, the shadows growing along walls and filling the inside of houses, trailing me and yawning wide as I step up to the lone streetlamp. It crackles, sputters a little, and then falls out into blackness. The air is full of unwanted eyes. Pinching anxiety settles in my breast and I draw the little blade up in front of me, scanning outwards with my eyes for movement.
Above the world, I see a red light glowing against a black canvas.
Mars is bright tonight. His cape of blood covers Kettering in thick darkness like an iron curtain. I feel the division between this town and the world almost immediately. I will not be escaping so easily. Edmund will not be escaping so easily.
The Centaurs met with the Planets to find them in mourning- their fifth member had vanished. Stolen away in the daylight. We Four Sovereigns had made it a day of mourning, lighting candles and sending them across the Eastern Sea, praying that Justice found his way home.
Edmund had been the last to light his candle. He knelt in silks and silvers down into the briny sands, bowed his dark head over the fire, the oaken bowl cupped in his hands like some delicate messenger bird. The fire turned his white face gold, his black hair almost sterling. I think he knew then, as he secretly did after Beruna, that some life had been traded again for his. There is nothing more humbling in the world. Not in any world.
At long last, he set the candle in the sea, and a current drew it out into the black of night, its little light growing smaller and smaller, and then was stolen away.
A small light forms in the shadows of Kettering, the only light that I can see. It grows steadily bigger, bobbing a little like a lantern. At last, a hand is bared within the pale glow of the ethereal candle, and an arm attached to that. An oaken bowl rests ahead of the body, throwing easy light over a familiar face.
The full figure steps out of the halls of the universe, star in hand, and smiles at me with pale grey eyes beneath a deep blue cloak. He brings a finger to his lips and bids me to follow. I follow without hesitation, knowing that Justice always knows where War resides.
The first night back at the Professors, after the girls had fallen asleep in one bed and Edmund lie beside me in the other, a single shooting star fell across the sky. Where it fell, I did not know. But the silvery tail seemed to burn into the background and remain, fading slowly.
I looked down at Edmund, who had not cried once while awake, but curled in on himself in sleep, tracks lining his face.
And I had closed my eyes.
And I wished with all the attention of a sleepless mind.
And Edmund snored, and threw an arm over me.
There is barbed wire and barrels of pesticide stacked high against the building, tall weeds creeping everywhere along the dirt.
Ekwynae walks silently ahead of me, his candlestar illuminating the scene like a search light. The weeds burn to ash beneath his bare heels, and it softens the sound of my step as I follow his footprints. We approach the little brick building without haste. Some apprehension finds me, but I cannot think of why. We reach the door, and Ekwynae raises a ghostly hand, and knocks.
There is silence within, but then a beloved voice that is not broken and snarkier than ever announces;
"Your fate comes knocking, sir."
There is a sound of flesh-on-flesh-on-bone. Familiar enough to a warrior to know that a fierce blow has been landed against an angular face.
"I hear nothing, worm. You're wrong again."
"I know the sound of justice," Edmund replies. There is another striking sound.
Ekwynae puts a light hand out as I step forwards and says, "Have caution, my King."
"Why?" I ask. But before I have even finished the monosyllable, Ekwynae has blasted down the door and most of the wall it was attached to. An old observance returns to me- I remember that Ekwynae rarely spoke after warning once. He was a fierce and highly active Planet.
The dust has barely settled before Ekwynae steps forward again, drawing back his hood to reveal his awing face- half horrifically mauled, half honorably beautiful- a perfect balance without partiality to either side. He throws down his cloak and steps out in full armor, the candlestar elongating into something like a flaming sword in his right hand. He enters the building and easily flushes Ares out.
Ares is barely bigger than myself, just as Edmund said. From what I can tell, in the dark smog, he's handsome, too. Blond and blue-eyed. I can see how a face like his could woo a town where his violent manipulation could not. But Ekwynae is facing off with the scoundrel, who is growling something low and foreign and possibly magic as he crouches close to the earth, and I rush over to untie Edmund from a high-backed chair. There is a needle and tubing stuck into my brother's neck. I rip it out as gently as I possibly can.
"You have wonderful timing, " Edmund says, smiling. His skin is waxy from the poison in his system and heavily bruised, but his eyes are clear. "I knew you would."
"I'm getting you out of here," I say. "Ekwynae will handle Ares." I wind my hands into Edmund's hair and pull his head down to kiss him on the forehead. There isn't time for much more of a reunion.
"Come on." He helps to wriggle out of his cut bindings, settles an arm around my shoulders and leans heavily against me. I walk us outside of the building.
"He took over the town," Edmund rasps, stumbling, "It was so quick. If he had been human, I could have handled him. I should have known, with our luck, that he was anything but..."
"So, what is he?" I ask, huffing a little. It's been a while since I've had to carry my brother.
"An old god of Greece and Rome. More a devil, actually. Like a swollen version of Tash."
"He liked the war," Edmund continues. "The biological type especially. He was going to pick a fight between America and us, with pesticides. Pit the American soldiers still stationed here against the townspeople. It would be an act of war. The two most powerful nations in the world, duking it out- can you imagine? He could do it, too. He's so strong... He slipped some into my food. I don't know how he did it..."
I hush him, gripping his arm tightly. "Ekwynae will beat him into pudding," I promise.
Lightning is falling out an empty sky to the building, over and over again. Justice strikes very quickly tonight.
"Good old Ekwynae," Edmund murmurs.
His knees give out and I let us fall to the ground, far enough away from the building to be safe. We watch in silence as the sky burst open with electricity again and again. The high screams, like wounded warhorses, echo after each strike. I realize that Ares probably will be pudding by the time Ekwynae is finished with him.
"Does he have a family here?"
Edmund barely shakes his head, black eyes reflecting the fireworks. "No."
The darkness in the night suddenly vanishes. The stars come out. I can see the little brick building, smoking in the full moon. The smell of shoes and boiling leather is strong in the air.
Ekwynae throws light in every direction as he steps out and walks towards us. He drags a bloody shadow behind him like a prize.
"My Kings," he says.
"It's good to see you." Edmund says seriously, if tiredly.
Ekwynae nods. "Your Majesties have grown."
"That we have," agrees Edmund, although we both look much younger than the last time Ekwynae saw us. I know that the Planet isn't looking outside of us. "And you, Ekwynae- We thought you had been lost."
"I am never lost," Ekwynae says. "I am finding those that are. It is as Aslan commands me."
"Then Lion's Blessings be upon you, Ekwynae," I say, standing. I hold out a hand, and the Planet grips it tightly, with a small smile. "Thank you for saving my brother."
The small smile grows into something wider, lighter, "No wish is unheard, my King."
I turn a little red, but the moonlight does not reveal that. Edmund looks suspiciously at me, but otherwise ignores me.
"So, are you going to stay?" Edmund asks the Planet. We both know the answer.
Ekwynae shakes his head. "I am soon returning."
"Good," Edmund grins, patting Ekwynae on the shoulder in a chummy manner that no one else could possibly get away with. "We'll catch up then."
Ekwynae says nothing as Edmund passes out in my arms. A detached apprehension fills me again. Again, though, I cannot tell why.
The train rounds the corner two years later and excitement fills me. I cannot tell why. Sparks like stars fly from the tracks. A screaming like warhorses fills the concrete station and Edmund is at my side, his lips moving numbly as they say, "Ekwynae, ekwynae, ekwynae..."
Something hits us with a bang.
No wish is unheard.
They are halfway across the Atlantic when Thomas points out a shooting star to Cain and Susan. It is silvery, with a long sweeping tail that clings tightly to the darkness it passes through, and lights the horizon as brightly as a sunrise from the West.
'Star light, star bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.'
And Susan closes her eyes.
And wishes with all the attention of a grieving heart.
And across the ocean, James Collins wakes screaming.
Justice is soon returning.
A/N: Kettering is a real town, for those who don't know. I've fictionalized it dramatically- I really don't think everything they learn has to do with shoes. Still. And huzzah for Hamilton, eh? He totally deserves the promotion, after what he went through.
I know this story is more confusing than most of the stuff I've written, so please don't hesitate to ask for any clarification.
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