Silent Kings Seeking
Disclaimer: I own very little here, save for OC's.
There are no more school bells or crammed stairwells or pending doom. Only green grass and grey sky and bulging black mountains sandwiched in between, with a little room for the sputtering automobile to squeeze through the climbing landscape. Only coughing exhaust against roiling sky, and pounded metal rolling on rubber-stamped earth. It's innovation at the mercy of creation; man versus nature.
It's just the way the Pevensies like it.
"You haven't seen the country in a long while, have you boys?" Mr. Pevensie calls to the back seat. He slows on a sharp mountain curve and they descend for a short while into a valley before mounting back up, ears popping and minds holding close to frowning skies.
"No," says his older son, Peter. "Not in a while." He shifts in his seat, hands on his knees and posture at attention.
Edmund says nothing. He's looking out of the window, dark eyes glazed over in deep thought.
The automobile falls into a tight, neat silence. Wind chases the vehicle, dragging on the black paint, creaking through the four doors and the welded frame.
Mr. Pevensie steers them onto a straight and takes the opportunity to steal a glance at his youngest son. Like snapping a photo; he looks back onto the road ahead with an imprinted image of long limbs and full, dark eyebrows slumped in apathy. In contrast, Peter with a full build and crisp eyes, and all the appearance in the world that he isn't letting his father drive, begrudgingly wearing his father's younger form. There's so much gorged into the back with them that the boys are pressed leg-to-leg and arm-to-arm. He has to wonder why they haven't bickered about it.
"We're going to have fun," Mr. Pevensie reminds them, as the ground murmurs low under the axle.
"Yessir," Peter says. He sounds dubiously optimistic.
Edmund says nothing.
Mr. Pevensie flashes another glance. "Want to tell me what you're thinking about, Edmund?"
Peter looks at his father, then at Edmund, who is still somewhere else, and gives his brother a hard elbow to the ribs. "Ed."
Ed comes to with a sudden inhalation and a reanimation of light in his eyes. He glances between Peter and Mr. Pevensie.
"Welcome back, Dolly Daydream," Mr. Pevensie teases, and repeats the inquiry.
"Oh," says Edmund. He looks to Peter, full eyebrows drawing. He acts uncertain of the interruption. "I dunno. I guess everything."
"Everything like what?" Mr. Pevensie presses.
"Mainly sparks," Edmund says. "Thermodynamics. Circuitry and tread and combustion engines and... That sort of thing."
His son is beginning to sound like a Scrubb. Mr. Pevensie struggles to relate, mind whirring rapidly through a Doctorate full of medieval poetry and fifteen-century armour construction. Eventually, giving up, he settles for the blanket reply of, "That sounds very ambitious, Edmund."
Peter makes a sound of disapproval. Either he's accurately guessed what all of his brother's ideas revolve around (1), or he's muffling disappointment in his father's shortcomings again. Either way, the sound ushers in a loud silence behind Mr. Pevensie- the type that is filled by invisible words and understood looks between brothers. After a moment, Peter and Edmund seem to have come to a solid conclusion, and Edmund speaks voluntarily.
"Where is this camp again?"
Mr. Pevensie says, "A ways north. On the border with Scotland."
"Yes," replies Edmund, like this was understood and not really what he was getting at. "But by a river? In a clearing? A park?"
"I'll know it when we come to it," he assures them.
The following silence is so loud, Mr. Pevensie rolls down his window just to drown it out.
NORTHERN AFRICA, 1940
There are times when nobody dies and nothing happens. Cards or naps or snacks that you steal from the ration truck. There is Here and there is There, and while they're Here, There is miles away. No one lasts long There without coming back down Here. No one bothers to look up. Night or day, the sky simply isn't what it used to be.
It isn't too long before Edmund asks, "Why are we going West?"
It's evening, and the sun has dropped away from the veil of clouds, leaving only a starless night and a threatening rumble issuing in the distance. The automobile is parked in the lot up the road, a few kilometers back. If his memory serves him, the camp grounds shouldn't have been a mile from the road, but then he was never very good at remembering the time spent during marches or treks.
He's just over-thinking it. He marches on and Peter, loaded like a pack mule, trudges behind. Edmund walks alongside his brother with the torch, occasionally flashing it in his brother's face just because. And also, perhaps, because Peter wouldn't let Edmund take much more than a single pack, insisting Edmund go easy on his still-healing spine.
"We're going North, Edmund," Mr. Pevensie tells him. "This is the way the compass head is pointing." (2)
Edmund and Peter say something in silence.
"You know, Dad," says Peter, "Edmund's right. The moss is on the wrong side."
"Moss?" asks Mr. Pevensie, mainly to cover his surprise at hearing Peter utter those words; Edmund is right. It's one of many shifts that Mr. Pevensie is still trying to navigate.
Peter hoists up his pack, back bowing, and raises a hand to point at a tall pine in front of them. "It only grows on the North side of trees. We should turn right for a while."
The trees here are thick, grey-barked, and they sway in tandem at their bristling tops in the stir of electrified air. The birds and animals are silent, there is no movement from anywhere but their little party. Mr. Pevensie can see the moss. It's green and vibrant and nearly glows in the strange light on one side. But-
"No," says Mr. Pevensie confidently, "I remember this section of trees." And he marches ahead, pretending not to hear when Edmund mutters to Peter with remarkably somber glee;
"I think we may have finally met someone with a worse sense of direction than you."
"Flash that thing in my face one more time," challenges Peter, "and I'll show you a worse sense of direction."
Mr. Pevensie smiles to have been in any part of their exchange.
ABOVE THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA, 1943
The exhaust strips through robin blue and shows the coming universe: a shattered jumble of bones and bomber fuel, all catching fire, a tumbling ballet. Drowning first in fire, then in air, then in water and the oblivion beyond the surface. The siren of archangels, screaming into the blue, and mindlessly carrying their wayward wards into Hell.
The clouds had held tenuously for some time, but at long last, just as Mr. Pevensie had thought to hope that they wouldn't let loose for another few hours, the heavens collapsed heavily on them.
"Nothing like getting back to nature, is there boys?" Mr. Pevensie yells through the tempest.
"What part of this is natural?" Edmund calls out, teeth chattering. He looks like a drowned rat, and Peter is like a sinking cargo ship. "Monsoon season has completely changed hemispheres!"
It's such a quick shift.
Lightning jumps out at them- The smell of fire and smoke erupts. They are all surprised, but it is Edmund who slips and lets out a curse so foul Mr. Pevensie has a flashback to the Royal Air Force; for a moment, all he sees is screaming aeroplanes streaming over the ocean, the childish wailing of his team leader seconds before disappearing under the cold, black waves of the Mediterranean. (3) Then there is-
And with a yell and a crash, Mr. Pevensie floods back to the present, shivering and gasping desperately at the water-bogged air. The packs and bags have been thrown violently aside. Pots and poles soak up the rain while Peter crouches beside his brother, hands on Edmund's leg, hands on Edmund's twisted face.
"Here, stay still, let me see. Let me see..." Peter is saying. His hands disappear behind Edmund's back, in the flashes Mr. Pevensie can see Edmund's face contort with agony, pushing hard into Peter's soaked shoulder. Then Peter is pulling his brother's shirt back down, hand in Edmund's hair, gently pulling. "It's all right. You're okay. You probably twisted it a little. It'll be better soon."
"Sorry," Edmund is saying. "Sorry. 'S just- Aslan."
Peter's eyes find their father for only the briefest of seconds. He leans close to his brother, embracing him, but there is a light silence, like a whispering under rain, and Edmund's dark head nods once.
The world flashes. In the slanting light reflected by rain and clothes and shapes of packs, Mr. Pevensie swears he sees two young soldiers sitting in the mud of the field, bloody and wounded and practiced in panic. But not like any soldiers he's seen before.
"We're making camp," Peter decides forcefully. He drops the last of his load in the mud and swings a long, oblong sack at his father, who barely catches it;
"Shelter," Peter replies shortly. "We're going to need it." He turns back to his brother in a clear dismissal, and Mr. Pevensie feels some part of his patience snap under this dynamic that diminishes the Father and buoys up the Usurper.
"You put it up, son," Mr. Pevensie says. Peter stills and Edmund looks at him. "You can probably do it faster, in any event."
He tosses it back and Peter catches it deftly, obediently falling into the task. Meanwhile, Mr. Pevensie goes to crouch beside Edmund, resting a hand on his shoulder. Cold rain strikes at them at an angle, skewing all sight.
"Is it your back?"
"I'm fine," Edmund snaps. He's watching Peter. "It's nothing."
Mr. Pevensie has heard this hundreds of times from Captains and Lieutenants, but never from Edmund. Before Mr. Pevensie had left for Africa, Edmund would come to his father with scraped knees and nicks and bruises rather than to his mother. Solemn, wet eyes would blink up at him, and Edmund would hold up his wounds, asking his father to fix them.
Edmund clearly suspects his father's train of thought and softens. "Really. I'm sorry for cursing."
"I would curse, too," Mr. Pevensie says lightly, "If I was still getting over something like that."
Something like that, as in human monsters. Madmen with sane smiles and murderers with "magic powers." Something like that, as in Hartbee's School for Young Men: the slaughterhouse school for scholarship students.
Dark eyes flash at him. Insult to injury. Or lack of injury, as Edmund insists nowadays. "I wouldn't."
"You did," Peter says from where he's wrestling the tent into submission. "And you've been forgiven."
Edmund looks at his brother. Folds himself into a grateful smile.
Mr. Pevensie reflects that Peter was the one that had saved Edmund from Collins. Judging by the injuries and Edmund and Peter's accounts of that night, Peter may have almost killed the man to save Edmund. Mr. Pevensie had been to the trial, seen the split tongue and the ring of purple around the man's neck where Peter had strangled him. Seen the cuts and the bruises and Peter's mien as he explained each one.
The strangest part of this, Mr. Pevensie found, was Peter's expression. Never once did he seem discomforted over what he had done in the heat of battle.
Peter was all comfort, all contentment, all familiarity.
And Edmund was fine.
It's cramped inside of the tent, and it's not really water proof, so they huddle together in the damp, small quarters like their lives depend on it. Mr. Pevensie and Peter take the outsides of the tent, with Edmund squeezed in between them. He has sharper edges than Mr. Pevensie remembers; there doesn't seem to be enough room for all of his limbs, even though Peter takes his third of the shelter with efficiency and ease.
"We could tell ghost stories," Edmund suggests. Before Mr. Pevensie can even take a breath, Peter jumps in-
"Don't. Dad couldn't take it."
"I think I could take it," Mr. Pevensie says gamely.
Peter warns, "Ed: don't."
Ed doesn't. He settles against his brother and falls asleep.
"Would it have hurt to let him have some fun?" Mr. Pevensie asks Peter over Edmund's thunderous snores.
"Trust me," warns his son. "You never want to give Edmund permission to play with your mind."
Here wasn't here and There wasn't here. Nothing was here, in economical, geometrical, suicidal England.
What was peace anyways? Another Loki? Another fire chase? Catch me if you can.
But peace chases him into the country.
And he chases dreams.
Mr. Pevensie is the last one to wake.
He emerges, soaking, from the half-collapsed little tent and finds himself back in the RAF: a camp has sprung up in the night, complete with a fire pit, roaring fire, and defenses like trip wires around the surrounding trees. The ground has been swept clear of rubbish, settled with large, flat rocks for seating. A dry bag hangs high on a branch, bulging with what Mr. Pevensie can only hope are leftovers.
Peter and Edmund are sitting at the fire. Peter sharpens stone on stone into triangular razors while Edmund is carefully stripping a long branch that looks like yew.
They spot him while he gawks the scene, and greet him with remarkable cheer.
"Morning, Dad! Brace o' coneys?"
They offer him a large, orange leaf bearing roasted meat, and Mr. Pevensie makes quick work of it, savoring the simple goodness of the sizzling rabbit. While he chews, he can't help but notice the flat, wide puncture that looks like it was made with a knife or an arrow.
"How did you boys manage all this?" he asks, admiring the neat order to the camp that was nearly washed away the night before.
"Mum says we're resourceful," Edmund quips, bending the yew into a bow. His back seems much recovered from the previous night, and moves with only minor, ginger halts.
Peter grins at him and they let the subject stand there. As they fall into conversation, it becomes clear that they're good and properly lost. Mr. Pevensie realizes this because Edmund (who claims a better disposition to direction than his brother and father combined) tells them, "Well, it looks like we're good and properly lost."
It's not a particularly auspicious start to the day, but the rabbit is good enough to make it an all right morning, as far as mornings go.
"It's not like we won't find our way back eventually," Edmund adds, stripping bark as he speaks. "But it may not be for a day or so."
Apparently, this is because his sons have picked up lessons on astronomy- they can read the stars like sailors, and follow them closely through the months. Edmund and Peter both believe the skies will be cloudy for the next few nights. Once they have their bearings though, Edmund assures Mr. Pevensie, things would start looking up.
"Where did you boys learn all of this?" Mr. Pevensie marvels.
"The country," Peter and Edmund answer in tandem. It's like a chorus in-step or a march in-tune. The RAF could never drum that into Mr. Pevensie, so he's left to wonder what drummed it into his sons while he was away.
"The country" is the answer to everything when Peter and Edmund are in their element.
They can make bows and arrows and elementary fishing rods. They can recognize bird song and answer back in the like. They can read the wind and read moss and read tracks because at one point they decide to track a ferret that was sniffing around their leftovers. They can speak a strange language that's a little like Latin, but not really. They can fight like experts. They've mastered locks and twists and kicks and strikes and use them on each other like normal boys would use a rough shove to the shoulder. And Mr. Pevensie quickly begins to see how a man like James Collins could have been almost killed by a boy like Peter. And Mr. Pevensie begins to realize that his sons don't move like boys, but in a way far more familiar to him than it should be to them. And every time he asks them where or when they learned something, they answer in tandem, in secret, in silence, "The country."
Mr. Pevensie is going to have a serious talk with Kirke.
NORTHERN AFRICA 1944
At night, the aero planes are parked in neat rows, wheels buried in sand. Floodlights, run on battery, keep their noses illuminated like spearheads on fire. The mangy thing walks through the row; a king in his hall. All teeth and bloody maw. A Private is missing. He thinks he might find the poor man inside of it, folded and shredded, gobbled up and squeezed into that rib-lined belly.
He takes his gun and aims.
It sits. Disgusted and dignified.
They watch each other in the unnatural light. Two meters, the length of the creature, shivers between them. He knows a bullet, even two, would not kill the beast. And the beast, with tawny eyes haughty, knows it wouldn't need two steps to reach him. He thinks on the helmet covering his head, which would do little to protect a bared throat or uncovered belly.
And he, a killer created, is at the mercy of the King of all Killing Creatures.
It's man versus nature and that's just the way he likes it.
"Nightmare?" asks Peter, once his father has wiped his mouth of vomit. He had almost forgotten that his son would be there- Peter and Edmund had been the ones to suggest having a night watch, and with Peter out of the tent, Edmund is prone to curling up on himself, facing away from his father. The stars are still covered by clouds, and Edmund's hearty snores fit beside the crickets and the gentle tinkering of wind in the leaves. Peter's hand is large and warm on Mr. Pevensie's back. He shrugs it off by standing, swallowing, and smiling.
"Probably the rabbit. Don't worry."
"I'm not worried," says Peter. He hasn't moved after his father, but remains crouched to the earth, eyes catching light from nowhere. "I'm just asking."
Mr. Pevensie suddenly feels cornered. How can he explain? "Edmund doesn't need to know about this- This is just what happens when you go to war. This is just the way this things will be for a while until I find my footing."
Peter watches him. "Is that when you forget?"
"You don't just forget," Mr. Pevensie says harshly. He hadn't even intended to speak. "What I saw- You don't just forget. It's impossible to forget."
"I know," says Peter softly. "It'll get easier."
Mr. Pevensie snorts. Drags a hand over his face. This he remembers. Even as a small boy, Peter was the type of child to insist he was older, to pretend he understood everything adults talked about. It had been very endearing at the time, but now it rubs Mr. Pevensie the wrong way. It makes him feel all sorts of twisted wrong and outrage and disgust. "Leave it alone, Peter," he says sharply. "Go to bed." The sky seems closer at night. The weight of the clouds is practically pinning him in place. He wishes Peter would leave so that he could throw up again.
"Why do you do that?" Peter asks suddenly.
"Talk down to me. To Edmund."
"You're my children, Peter."
"I wouldn't talk to a five year old the way you speak to us. You're always so surprised by our competence."
Mr. Pevensie opens his soured mouth, wishes words would come out of the mad mix of anger and surprise and bemusement and insult. All he can manage is, "How dare you speak to me like that!" Because after what he's done for his children, after the lives he's taken, the injuries he's sustained, his welcome home was nothing but a house filled with foreign strangers with halfway smiles and distant looks.
Don't they understand? But he doesn't want them to understand.
Peter stands; a broad shadow braced by shadows. He looks larger than he is.
"I dare, because I'm not accustomed to having a father," Peter tells Mr. Pevensie.
And Mr. Pevensie's voice comes out, grainy and blood-wet, "I've been gone for four years-"
"-I've been away for longer than that," Peter interrupts. "You can tell, can't you? Everything about us has been setting you on-edge."
"-You recognize your own kind." And Peter is right in front of his father now, pressing without touching, threatening without moving, and Mr. Pevensie is horrified to feel his blood boiling for a battle right here and now. "And you recognize the kind that is leagues beyond you. Edmund and I aren't the kids you left behind. You're not the professor that left us behind."
"I'm your father." It feels like all Mr. Pevensie can remember.
Peter gauges him. "You're a soldier."
"You're my son."
Peter says nothing.
And then Peter steps back, and the sense that was telling Mr. Pevensie, "Danger! Danger!" evaporates.
"I'm sorry," Peter says. He sits back on the earth, maybe on one of the large rocks he and Edmund placed around the fire pit. With the other, he motions to Mr. Pevensie, and the older man feels blindly to a seat beside his son. There is a rough striking sound and a spark leaps out of the darkness, catches dried leaves, grows into a flame. Mr. Pevensie watches, mesmerized, as his son builds it into a comfortable, somehow silent fire. They listen to the wood that doesn't pop or snap and Mr. Pevensie has to ask;
"Where were you?"
Peter tsks- an inhalation caught on a spreading grin. It's an expression that Mr. Pevensie has often seen on Edmund's face. On Peter's, it is tampered with age and spirit and it fades like a dying ember, where Edmund's vanishes like snapping flint.
The blasted country again. Mr. Pevensie feels very close to cursing.
"Your mother said you were gone for four months."
Blue eyes find him, search out the tent where Edmund still sleeps. "It was four months. For her."
Mr. Pevensie can't make sense of it. The illogical, the threatening, the secretive and possessive young man that is now his oldest child; he can't make sense of it. He begins to wonder for the first time, since seeing that content look in Peter's eye during the trial, if there is anything to make sense of. The dread of this fills Mr. Pevensie. He waits for Peter to continue with a sick feeling in his stomach that, for once, has nothing to do with war.
"Dad, we need to have this out." Peter breaks a stick in two and tosses one half into the fire, the other driving into the soft, damp earth to gouge a series of trenches. Between them, a picture begins to form, dark relief of shadows filled with golden firelight.
Mr. Pevensie dares to ask, "What about?"
"The country," Peter answers. "This is Narnia."
The courtroom is nearly empty, nearly silent, and James Collins can barely speak from the stand. He was led to the stand, shaking, and he still hakes as if from an unseen wind or unfelt earthquake. The tongue, divided, slithering, and loose, gives him the voice of a snake. A linguist from Cambridge stands beside him, hired to affirm what Collins says, leaving no room for interpretation.
Peter is called as witness. The Pevensie family sits along the length of a full bench. At the end, Peter stands and steps like softened thunder to the front, where Collins is.
Peter does not speak to the man, but for a moment, as their eyes catch in passing, Mr. Pevensie could have sworn that someone else was looking out of Peter's eyes. Someone who was very glad to see Collins burst out into garbled tears, a savage smile with nothing but teeth and blue eyes frigid with death.
It is the first time Edmund has spoken in days, and he says the word so urgently, like a prayer for strength. He says it again from his father's side, eyes closed, hands clasped. "Cornar."
The trespasser wearing Peter's face vanishes completely and suddenly Peter is all comfort, all contentment, all familiarity.
They call again on Peter Michael George Pevensie (4) and, this time, he's present.
He meant to watch them, to keep them under surveillance until they made it back to London.
But "the country" must have taught them how to disappear, too. This morning, the skies are crystal clear and the canvas tent is empty.
"Boys!" He calls out into the grey-green woods, but only birds and winds answer him. A terrible thought, like a tardy dream, unfolds behind his eyes of Peter snapping, of Peter standing and stealing his little brother away like a goblin in the night. Maybe Edmund had tried to fight him. Maybe Edmund was part of this grand delusion.
"But I'm not a soldier for nothing," Mr. Pevensie mutters, stuffing a pack with the leftovers, cover, and stuffs his knife into the neck of his right boot.
There's more cover in the mountains than in the sandy turf of Africa. Here, the green so dark it's almost black, hiding whole deer and sometimes whole trees. The father he goes, the darker the sky becomes. But not because of a storm- the canopy of green above him is just growing denser, fuller, covering everything and hiding all that's important to him. He's not even sure he's going the right direction. If Peter and Edmund were trying to hide, this maze would be the place to do it in. If they were trying to be found, he might find something like-
He looks down at a clear footprint in the middle of his path, purposefully uncovered and displayed.
"Boys!" he calls again, and is answered again by nothing but robins. He looks again at the footprint, squints, and squats beside it.
It's too large.
He has to double-check the thought. Maybe Edmund or Peter had larger feet than he last remembered. Maybe he just hadn't noticed before. No, he thinks again. It's far too large. And the tread of the boot print is not at all like the ones Peter and Edmund wear, which are all around softer, made of animal hide. Mr. Pevensie wouldn't' be surprised if the boys had learned how to tan hide in "the country" as well.
There's someone else in these woods.
And that's the thought that makes Mr. Pevensie move.
The path is cut down ahead, and as Mr. Pevensie slips through it, he sees the hard break of the twigs, the careless snap of small branches. There is a faint discoloration on some. Mr. Pevensie can smell iron, and the smell jerks his stomach, electricity running down to his feet, picking up movement so that he feels like a ghost, gliding through the brush, a shadow unnoticed in shadows. He breathes through the woods, stopping only when he senses a presence from above.
He snaps his head up, staring into the black branches. From the shadows, a loud robin call pierces the air. And, in another tree across the way, Mr. Pevensie can hear an answer. He stills as the forest around him stills, and waits for sound to find him.
There- heavy footsteps from a few metres to the left. Uncoordinated, like a stumbling drunkard or a maimed deer. Weighty crushing snaps a few limbs, the fallen leaves barely do anything to soften his gait. Mr. Pevensie raises his head slightly, peering through the branches of a short pine to make out the form of a large and solid man.
He's a towering bloke, about a full head taller than Mr. Pevensie, with thick-set arms and a great boulder of a body. His hair was long and stiff, sticking straight back as if he'd run it through with limestone and he breathes haggardly. The right arm is tightly clutched while something dark sliding off of his bared skin and onto the forest floor. His first impression is that the man is a raging drunk.
"LITTLE KINGS!" roars the man. Damp light reflects off of sharp-looking teeth, gnashing violently against each other. "I SMELL YOU! I CAN SMELL YOUR BLOOD!"
He pauses in the center of the trees and inhales deeply through flared nostrils, and his belly expands like a balloon. More dark liquid splatters to the earth.
"YOU SMELL LIKE SNACKS."
"If anybody is any sort of snack," comes a voice from the tree above Mr. Pevensie, making both the giant man and the father turn sharply in its direction, "I get to be toast and jam."
"You would be," agrees a second voice, from another tree across the way.
"Says the salt pillar!"
The man roars (the ground beneath Mr. Pevensie shakes, the ribs around his heart rattle) and begins to run at the tree of the first voice, charging headfirst, and arms reaching. He crashes into the base of it, and Mr. Pevensie just barely rolls out of the way. The man's arms are wrapped in a vice around the trunk, pulling harshly so that the roots give a terrible creak, and the first voice speaks again;
And then something rips into the giant of a man, and the tree is freed, flinging upright once more. A form, thin and long-limbed, slips from its perch, hastily pulling back up and out of sight, below the tree, a large shadow has tackled the roaring man, rolling in the dirt, sickening sounds finding Mr. Pevensie's ears.
"Ed, now!" cries the shadow on the ground, and in the tree, a slight figure takes aim with the home-made bow, drawing hard to-
"No!" cries Mr. Pevensie.
The arrow goes wide, Edmund is turning in his perch to stare at his father in the underbrush, and Peter is suddenly in trouble. Aware of the ambush, the large man has broken free of the young boy's grapple, lifting him with a single hand to fling him out. Peter catches sideways on a tree trunk, falls to the ground, and goes still.
Mr. Pevensie calls out again, shocked, but Edmund roars. He jumps down from the tree, tackling the man around the shoulders. When they go down, it's impossible to tell whose limbs are whose, but Edmund soon rights himself, shouts to his father as the man begins to rise- "Go! Check on him!"
"But-" he glances at his oldest, looking back in time to see Edmund deliver a vicious strike with the bare bow across the man's face, blood flying. Mr. Pevensie runs to Peter, feeling along his neck and back, relieved when he turns him over to find Peter breathing.
"I'LL KILL YOU. I'LL KILL YOU," the man is roaring, driving Edmund backwards with sheer strength, and although Edmund is finding pressure points and going at the man's joints with what should be crippling blows, the man still advances until he's pinned Edmund against a tree and has a thick hand around his throat.
"I'LL KILL YOU-"
But then Mr. Pevensie blinks, and the giant man is lying, stunned, on his back, and Edmund is coughing and Peter is groaning, and there's a sharp sting in Mr. Pevensie's knuckles- a jarred ache in his wrist.
"Aslan, Dad," Edmund manages. Mr. Pevensie turns to look at him, frowning at the red circling the boy's neck.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm magnificent," Peter says from the ground. In fact, mud has plastered one side of his hair straight up, and his trousers are ripped at the knees, but he rolls to his feet regardless, and wobbles as directly as he can toward his father and brother. Edmund nods at him with a small smile and notches another arrow.
"Put that down!" Mr. Pevensie reaches over and grabs the bow in his youngest son's hands. "What in God's name is wrong with you?"
"Sire?" Edmund wonders, voice dark. His hand has fisted around the bow, and does not let go.
And Mr. Pevensie wonders What? before Peter intones, "At ease, How."
And Edmund eases, suddenly unconcerned as he releases the bow to his father's limp hands, and steps away from to investigate the giant man they had felled. There's a click and a torch lights the scene as the sun struggles to rise above the shadowed hollow.
Mr. Pevensie asks. "Who is this man?"
Edmund nudges the breathing form with the heel of his boot, shining the torch squarely onto the face, the eyes, and the busted nose. He turns his pale face to the side and spits.
NORTHERN AFRICA 1944
His superior turns his face to the side and spits. The shell casing jingles against the sands.
The lion is little more than a rug, bleeding out, murderous eyes looking at him as if to say, "It's all right, John. I have chosen this death, and it is good."
"No," John says, maybe aloud.
"No," Mr. Pevensie says, maybe aloud. The wood seems so quiet. He feels so quiet.
Around him, his sons are tying the brute up with vines, knots efficient and effortless. They whisper necessity and practice. Not uncertainty or Daddy, help?
"He should sleep until morning," Edmund says, not to Mr. Pevensie.
"Enough time to find the gap?" Peter asks Edmund.
"I'll check the river."
"Grove. Meet you here in an hour."
A hand, large and warm, falls on Mr. Pevensie's shoulder.
NORTHERN AFRICA 1944
A hand, large and warm, falls on John's shoulder.
"First time's always the hardest." His superior, a clipped and cruel man, looked almost understanding under the lights of the cheap lights, and flecked with the blood of his prey. "No matter the enemy."
He leaves. John stands there until morning, looking into the majestic eyes of the lion, and cradling a cold, smoking gun.
He follows Peter through the woods into a deep grove of ash trees. He won't think on Edmund until later. Now, his mind is on the softness or sound and the dimness of sight and the dulling cotton wound tight around heartbeat.
Ahead, Peter tells him a story of gaps, breaches in between the worlds, that have been growing over the past few years. The first, split wide by magic rings, the rest widened and widened again through wardrobes and train stations and magic muttered words with hands held out, trusting-
"And today," Peter says, "Something fell through into our world."
Something was a Giant, no less. From Narnia.
"Is that normal?" wonders Mr. Pevensie. His voice cuts into the muteness of his own mind and surprises himself.
"It's not the first time," Peter admits. "I found my General a while back. But he was almost... de-Narnianized." (5)
"What does that mean?"
Peter draws a line in the side of a tree with his knife, leaves a sharp-edged P bleeding with sap. "The Professor has a theory, that everything in Narnia is magnified while anything in our world is reduced. When we went to Narnia, the four of us, we became Sovereigns and warriors. The air there is something else. But here-" Peter pauses long enough to gesture to his form, which Mr. Pevensie thinks looks perfectly healthy. "-Here, we're almost nothing. Oreius wasn't even a Centaur when he landed."
"Centaur," Mr. Pevensie breathes. "Right."
"The point is, more gaps are opening," says Peter. "The worlds are started to melt into one another. It's a danger to everyone."
Peter's voice grows dark and cold, "It's not the Giants we're worried about."
Helen hovers in the doorway of the study, hair rolled and robe tied shut over her long white nightgown.
"Darling? I've checked on the boys."
"Lord forgive me, Helen," John growls, "But I'd very dearly like to murder the man. I barely made it through the court!"
She steps in and settles onto the side of his chair, lily white hands folded on the back rest. Just the smell of her is familiar. He wants nothing more than to gather her up and disappear into the time before the war: days of sunlit kitchen luncheons, arranging furniture, and choosing names for either sex.
Soft, warm fingers sift through his hair. His eyes burn as lips press on his cheek.
They sit quietly. Above them, through the old wood floorboards, low voices whisper, four-strong.
"You've done the ticket with them, Helen," John admires.
"You've noticed it?" she asks then, urgently, fingers pulling only a little on his hair. "How they are?"
"They're different," she corrects. "They're something else."
Peter stops in the center of the grove and holds up one hand, nearly impetuous with command. Mr. Pevensie follows suit. The day is dawning, light creeping through the cracks of the leaf-roof like water through paint-glass. It leaves a glowing web above of white and red string, casting the green of the canopy in sharp relief.
"Smell that?" Peter whispers.
Peter inhales, eyes shut in bliss, sighing out, "Magic."
Mr. Pevensie doesn't smell anything, but then, he wouldn't know what to smell for. "What's it like?"
"Like- Like everything. Like cinnamon and ocean waves and steel and... I just don't know if I can describe it to you. It's a little different for everyone."
"What does Edmund smell?"
"He's says its like mountain air, honey, and fire." He turns to his father and squints, frowning. "And you?"
Mr. Pevensie thinks about it- inhaling slowly through his nose. Shakes his head.
"I just don't smell it."
"You probably couldn't hear it, either," Peter says disappointedly. "But the gap is definitely here." Turning away he bend to lift mossy pebbles from the earth and begins tossing them like wedding rice. They scatter in the air and click off of the dry bark of the ash trees, thumping lightly on the soft green ground.
"There." Peter says, eyes fixed on the center, where a granite stone, no bigger than Mr. Pevensie's hand, serenely sits.
"The rock is a gap?"
Peter shoots him a bemused glance and brings both hands up to his mouth. A loud, piercing shriek, much like a train whistle, punches out of him. It startles his father and a few magpies that had been sleeping in the trees, the echo goes on forever.
And the granite rock quivers. At first, Mr. Pevensie thinks it's a trick of the light, or a passing shadow, but Peter is grinning now, so Mr. Pevensie knows he wasn't the only one to see.
"Oh, yes," Peter says, pleased. "That rock is definitely a gap."
Silence fills the house. The girls, the boys, all hushed. They move around in routine ruts, speaking only with eyes, with smiles, with angles of their heads and hands, and only to one another. To their parents, questions are always answered politely, shortly, and without much content to their words. Communications have been severed. Something is building behind the creaking doors of the bedroom floors, and John strains his ears to their limit, begging God to catch any hint from between the cracks.
Helen insists that the children will come around, and John puts up a front about agreeing completely, encouraging her, but in reality nothing is less from the truth. The children- strangers, really- have secluded themselves and they quite prefer it that way. An independent nation, looking at reaching neighbors as intruders. A four-cornered kingdom, all its own.
"I can take the boys camping," John says. It begins as a joke in his mind, forms a sentence on his tongue, and hits the air like a canon. Helen freezes in the middle of pouring tea, so that a little spills out onto their Chintz, twentieth anniversary rug.
"You'd do that?" she wonders loudly. She sets down the teapot. It chips an edge on the descent.
John takes a moment to review his former train of thought. "It'd be good for them. Fresh air. A man versus nature sort of thing."
"But, Edmund's back. The doctor said it was coming along, but what if there's an accident or-" She peters off, sits on the armrest with her face in her hands. "I just want them to be all right. That's all."
Earnestly, he reaches for her. "That's all I want, too, Helen. A few days out in the mountain air. We're going to have fun."
"Move it, move it! Come along now, or we'll miss all of the fun!" comes Edmund's voice, from behind, and they turn to see the boy tapping the Giant of a man along with the end of his bow, leading him from the side with the end of the vine-bindings. "You're quite docile, once you've had some sense knocked into you, haven't you, Bruce?"
Edmund grins- a flash of tinder sparking in the green. "Brucen Bohoviat. He's actually the littlest of his family. Poor fellow was lost from his big sister." He turns, finds his father's eye, then immediately turns back around to Bruce with an over-bright smile. "What did you say her name was? Bella? Brunhilda?"
The Giant's eyes water. His large, hairy lips tremble. "Bognark."
"Bognark," Edmund repeats somberly.
Mr. Pevensie is rather tense, watching the Giant with keen eyes and a smarting fist. "How do you deal with a Giant?"
"Well," Edmund says, "Seeing as Peter was the one to conquer them, I'd say he gets to decide."
They both look to Peter, who is looking up at the Giant with a remarkably measured countenance. His light eyes shift over Bruce Bohoviat's injuries, the bindings, the red ring against the fair skin of his own brother's neck.
"Release him," Peter says- no- commands, for Mr. Pevensie has never heard two words uttered with such weight. And Edmund, still limping, has already deigned to obey him. The vines fall away, and Bruce wipes at his eyes. Peter, meanwhile, steps forward with both hands spread wide.
"Giant Bruce, Son of Bohoviat, you have not behaved as nobility this day. You have speared two deer not yours to claim, attacked people of this world without care for how your actions would be interpreted. You have abused your size and strength and were thus cut down by my self and my kin. Were this Narnia, a grave trial would decide your fate, as an attempted assassination."
Bruce Bohoviat trembles miserably before Peter's terrible and level voice, hiding his ugly face even though he is nearly twice Peter's size in height and girth.
Peter holds out his hand.
"Shake," he says, "On the terms of never commiting these odioius crimes again, so long as you live."
Mr. Pevensie opens his mouth, takes a step, and is caught. He looks down to find Edmund gripping him around his forearm. Two dark eyes signal no and he retreats again, watching in amazement and not a little fear as Bruce tentatively reaches down and grips Peter by the hand.
"So swear," Peter says. Bruce blinks.
Edmund clears his throat, "Do you promise never to be mean to anything smaller and weaker than you, Bruce?"
"Oh," says Bruce. "Yes. I promise. Even though that is almost everything."
Peter smiles. "Then, let's get you home."
"This ways, Bruce." Edmund coaxes the Giant to the granite stone, and when they are standing before it, it flickers so violently that Bruce starts and hugs himself in fear.
"Will it hurt?" he all but wails.
"No, no, Brucey," Edmund says, "It's like jumping in a warm bath after a really terrible day. Everything's going to be all right. Just reach out and touch it."
"But you, King Edmund and King Peter, you'll come as well?"
"No, not this time," Peter says. "Go."
"Behave yourself, Brucey."
And as soon as the Giant's forefinger touches the pulsing granite, he vanishes into thin air.
Once they find the automobile, the drive back is unbearably, noisily, silent. Peter and Edmund each stare out of their respective window. Mr. Pevensie stares at some point beyond the grey gravel of the road. He's trying to decide if he's mad or if the world is. If the worlds are. After Bruce vanished, no explanations had been forthcoming, and (honestly) Mr. Pevensie was a little too flabbergasted to bother asking.
Giants. Gaps. Worlds. Magic.
"It's a lot to process," Peter says, at long last.
Mr. Pevensie catches his eye in the review mirror, spotting Edmund dozing against the cold glass of the window.
"I'm your father."
"And a soldier."
"You're my son."
Peter says nothing, but smiles.
They both understand what Peter is.
(1) This is when Edmund is still planning out Creature, his motorized bicycle. He won't finish building it until the summer of 1945, as witnessed in Urban Fantasy, chapter 1. Eustace Clarence Scrubb has a major hand in its creation, but (like Peter) wants no part in riding it.
(2) It is the case that compasses can be diverted from magnetic north by large sources of iron or any magnetized force.
(3) The RAF was largely stationed in Northern Africa and British forces were often at odds with figures like "The Desert Fox."
(4) "Peter Michael George Pevensie" is his full name, according to the excellent works of Elecktrum.
(5) For more information, please refer to Somnambulist Saggitarius, listed under this author's other works.