A/N: I have recently watched the animated film of Beowulf, and in it there was a song that captured my imagination-'Always, A Hero Comes Home'. If you are going to get the full effect of this piece of writing, I would advise listening to it-the short version, not the three minute version-every decent song, it seems, must have an irritating pop cover. You can find it on YouTube-it's absolutely gorgeous and you probably won't get the full effect of this piece of writing unless you have listened to it.
This is the longest single chapter I have ever written, and I am publishing it instead of a Heartbeats chapter this week. Bits of it are also nabbed from Lord Of The Rings and 300, for anyone who's seen them.
I had intended it to be a oneshot, but if it generates enough interest, I may continue it.
So, Peter is about 21, Susan 20, Edmund 18, Lucy 16.
Please review, I would love to know what you think of this :)
Just wait, for wide he may roam,
Always, a hero comes home.
He goes where no one has gone,
But always, a hero comes home.
He knows of places unknown,
But always, a hero comes home.
He was so tired.
Peter's armour had never felt heavier, nor his heart slower. The sun blazed at its highest point in the sky, but some of the women of the crowd that awaited him in the courtyard behind those double doors would still be wearing veils. Susan had wanted to. She had said that today was not a day for beauty, but her handmaidens had not allowed it. The sovereigns must show optimism, they said. Today above all days, she must turn her lovely face to the sun.
The doors were not yet open, and for now he could stand weak in the shadows with no one but his family at his back and the two soldiers ready to fling open those doors. He inspected them. One was shaking, he could tell, spear trembling in his hand. On a closer examination, he recognised the young Faun-he was the younger brother of one of the soldiers who would ride out to their dooms with him today. Tears and pride were shining in his eyes. Although he could not have been much younger than Peter-he was certainly older than Edmund-he made Peter feel so very aged. Once, he had felt that way about battles and heroic last stands. That they were the stuff of legend, and occasions of great valour, and times for displays of emotion. Now he faced them with a weary stoicism. It was his duty.
This time, this last time, it was his duty to ride to his death. A horrendous alliance of Ogres, Fell Giants and demons from the depths of hell had sprung up in the north, ravaging the small settlements there. He had heard horror stories-they all had-of the legions of brave warriors who had been cut down, of the villages razed to the ground, of halls that had once flowed with wine and mead and song and merriment hung gruesomely with the corpses of the village people, their mangled bodies strung up in the rafters for some poor merchant or messenger from the next village to find as the sun rose on the little blood-soaked town.
They had sent for help from Archenland, and though King Lune had promised assistance, none had come in time. They could wait no more. And so today, Peter would take the army's best and bravest and start out at noon to the northern border. They did not have enough troops. It was an awful truth that nobody had dared to utter, but Narnia's mightiest warrior and his courageous band were vastly outnumbered. They had no hope against blood-crazed hordes of vicious monsters. It was suicide, everyone knew that. But they could stand by no longer.
He watched as the young Faun quivered with anticipation and joy at waving his brother off with the High King's hand-picked band of soldiers, chosen individually for their strength, virtue and skill in battle. Suddenly, Peter wanted to fling open those doors himself, race to find the young one's brother, pull him out of rank and push him safely into his brother's arms. Not today, he wanted to tell him. You will not die today.
Too late. He was already marked for death.
The whole company started as his heavy voice cut through the thick silence.
"Young one. What is your name?"
The Faun looked ready to faint at being directly addressed by his King.
"F-Forbis, sire-Your Majesty."
"Your brother rides with me today, does he not?"
"Yes, Y-Your Majesty. And please, allow me to h-humbly say that it is the very greatest honour you could possibly have bestowed upon our f-family, Your Majesty."
Peter wanted to cry. Feeling reckless and slightly whimsical and not at all sensible, he extended a further dull reply.
"Yes. I am truly sorry, Forbis."
He looked confused, but Peter did not offer anything more. He fingered the ancient, golden lions-head medallion that hung around his neck, the symbol of the Narnian monarchy. If he should die, Lucy would keep it. His sword Rhindon would be Edmund's, if they didn't bury it with him, and his crown, Susan's.
He turned to look at his family. Their faces were like death. There was Lucy, clutching his helmet to her chest. The tears had already started, despite the promises in their last tender moments the previous night that today there would be no crying. Edmund stared at his feet, face ghostly pale, holding Rhindon in an iron grip while it glittered naked in the small light. And Susan, face impassive but for the despair in her eyes, carried his shield with the scarlet lion blazed across it.
Abruptly, he wanted to say something-anything-to comfort them, that might lift the grief from their hearts. Even though they had promised last night that today there would be no emotion-today they would dress properly and stand properly and bid farewell in a dignified manner as befitted Kings and Queens. They had held each other and wept bitterly, and let the glow of love for one another shine through their skin, pressing their hearts together. But in the morning, they all rose coldly from Peter's bed with the faces of monarchs. Now he longed to see them smile so much that it hurt, wanted them to look at him with joy just one last time.
He opened his mouth, but then the horns sounded, long and low and mournful and not at all glorious as they had been at the start of the last campaign, when he had ridden out side by side with his brother. Edmund was not riding to his death today, and for that Peter was eternally grateful. It had been agreed that he would stay at Cair Paravel and wait for Lune's reinforcements, then lead a second attack. He had fought tooth and nail to be allowed to come with him, and in the end Peter had simply commanded him to stay behind. Defying him would be treason. Peter would not lead his little brother on a doomed march to certain death. Perhaps that was selfish-he was leading many other brothers to their dooms-but it would also deprive Narnia of both her Kings, and their sisters of both their brothers.
The doors were opened smoothly, and sunlight poured over their faces. They stepped out onto the top of the palace steps and the crowd bowed to them in one rippling wave, but no one applauded or cheered, not today. The people murmured in low voices and a sort of quiet hum rose through the clear cold of the day as the sun blinded them, glinting off the white marble of the castle. There were muffled sobs from women and the female creatures-mothers, daughters, sisters, sweethearts. Some just sympathetic souls whose hearts were made heavy with watching Narnia's best go out to die. The males looked on gravely. Some thought their King foolish for this campaign. Others lauded him as the mightiest of heroes and the bravest of men to stare into Death's face.
Peter shut his eyes and closed everything out. The crowd, the sun, the soldiers waiting to die in his service, even his family who now were lining up diagonally to the crowd at the top of the steps to see him off publicly. All he could hear was his own breathing. All he felt was the rhythm of his own heartbeat.
He opened his eyes again, and without allowing himself to think, reached up and removed his bright gold crown. It glinted in the cold sunlight as the crowd watched, a sea of wide eyes. It had been eight years since that crown had first been set upon his head. He was used to being watched. He took it to where Mr. Tumnus was waiting with a velvet cushion and laid it down. Mr. Tumnus looked up at him mournfully, giving a little bow.
"Aslan's blessings, sire. May the Lion be with you."
He nodded once and forced a tight smile of gratitude, then crossed quickly to Lucy. She looked up at him slowly through her wet eyelashes, and another few tears chased down her face. She raised his helmet slightly from where it was clutched against her chest, as if wrenching it from herself physically, but before she could move further he lifted the golden chain with the ancient lion medallion over his head and laid it gently around her neck. He bent down a little to speak to her privately, words low and fierce.
"You are our light, Lulu. Never stop shining, understand, little sister?"
She bit her lip ferociously against the sobs that clawed at her throat and nodded, hot rivers coursing down her cheeks. She rose onto her tiptoes and put her free hand on the back of his neck, drawing his face down a little so that she could kiss his cheek firmly. Her tears wetted his jaw. She ached to close the yawning distance between their bodies, to press close to him and feel utterly safe as she had done last night, when he'd cradled her in his arms and whispered sweet loving things into her ear. But she did not. She was a Queen.
Instead, she handed him his silver helmet unsteadily and he tucked it under his arm. She gathered herself and looked into her brother's eyes, face twisting with the effort of keeping her voice even. The formalities came mechanically. They had already said their farewells.
"Goodbye, my lord."
She gave a little dip, and refused to look back up at him. He watched her sorrowfully for a moment longer, burning her visage into his memory, and then dropped a kiss on her forehead.
"Goodbye, Queen Lucy."
He stepped towards Edmund, and this time it was he who moved swiftly. Before Peter could blink, Edmund was down on one knee, head bowed, offering up Rhindon flat across his palms. The light danced across the blade as Edmund's hands shook. They had been all day, throughout the morning when he had called for Peter's armour and insisted on doing it all himself, waving off the assistance of valets and pages. It had taken almost twice as long as it normally would to fully armour him, but it was worth it for every tender touch of Edmund's, as he laced up ties and snapped down clasps, running his fingers over them again and again as if to reassure himself that Peter's armour would hold true when Edmund himself could not be there to protect him.
Peter lifted Rhindon gently, but did not sheath it. He swallowed hard as Edmund rose and fixed him with a deep, dark gaze.
"Eddie, if I die-"
Edmund did not want to hear this. He did not even want to touch the contemplation that Peter might not return, and he wanted least of all to hear it from Peter's own lips. Peter felt his chest tighten with guilt at the pain he was causing his little brother, but he had to hear it.
"Edmund. If this sword is returned laid across my legs, and I hold it with cold hands, it will be yours to bear. I know you will do me proud, little brother."
Edmund surprised him by swooping forwards to kiss his cheek as Lucy had done, and as he did Peter caught a flash of tears in his eyes. For a stranger to Narnia, it would have seemed odd that the men kissed each other, but they were Kings and brothers before that. Peter sheathed Rhindon with a hiss of metal and a sharp clang as Edmund stepped back and bowed slightly, hand over his heart.
"Farewell, my lord."
Peter pressed a last kiss to Edmund's forehead as he had done Lucy, and suddenly wished selfishly that he could take Edmund with him. His little brother who would have followed him to the ends of the earth, if he'd but asked.
"Farewell, King Edmund."
He moved over to Susan, his final goodbye. Her maids had painted her face today, and this was the first time he had seen her make-up sit cold and unnatural on her beautiful features. She had been the most accepting of his fate. While the younger two had wept and raged and refused to believe that this march would kill him, insisting that there was hope, Susan had approached the situation with her ever-logical mind and had seen, as he had, that there had never been any hope. And with that hopelessness came a quiet despair.
He held out his free arm and she strapped his shield to it briskly, trying not to think of how she had sobbed in those arms for hours after they had coaxed the younger two off to sleep. When she finished, she stepped back and fixed him with a level gaze. Both knew what would happen next. Either he would ride out and by some miracle survive the bloody onslaught, defeating the hellish beasts, or-most likely-he would be slain, far away and alone in the northern wilds. Victory or death. There would be no option of surrender. She lifted her chin and tried to speak bravely, glancing at the shining shield.
"Return with it, Peter...or on it."
He nodded gravely, and she kept her head high as her eye make-up smudged and a black-tinted tear split her white cheek. She went up on her toes and ghosted a lingering kiss over his skin, before drawing back and looking at him sorrowfully. He drew in a deep breath to clear the haze of grief from his head, and spoke formalities.
"Susie, you will reign as the highest monarch in my absence. And if I do not return alive, then my crown will pass to you, and you will reign as the High Queen. Bear it well. Aslan's blessings and his guidance on you, little sister."
She dropped into an elegant curtsey.
"Farewell, my lord."
He moved to kiss her forehead as he had done the younger two, inhaling the sweet scent of her hair.
"Farewell, Queen Susan."
He turned away before he could run back to them and gather them all into his arms, and tell them not to worry, and to be happy, and that he loves them so very much, and a million other things that he should have said. He strode down the steps to where a valet was waiting with his mighty white stallion and swung himself up into the saddle. He placed his helmet over his head, pushing up the visor so that he could turn to look at his family one last time, holding them in his heart for the long, gruelling months to come, and possibly a slow and painful death at the end of it all. Then he wheeled his horse around and clattered thunderously across the courtyard, out of the castle gates. As he left, part of his soul tore out and stayed with them at the top of the marble steps where they watched him go.
He goes, and comes back alone,
Always, a hero comes home.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed it! Obviously, Peter survives-I may continue the story if enough interest is generated. Please review!