Chapter 8: Blue Waters
A/N: Forgive me if this is a little rough; I'm very anxious to get to the next chapter. And er, sorry for the delay. Life happens, you know? :)
And the winds of the Good Magic - for there was Good as well as Dark Magic in that land - carried the whispers of hope into the castle, and through the hedges of the dark forest and past the thorns and to the noble heart who traversed its perils...
She could feel wind again, rushing against her face, oh glorious wind! The Dawn Treader was once again carried along in its stream, the terrible stillness left behind them along with the Darkness. As Lucy returned the glad shoulder claps of her relieved fellow archers, she spared a single glance to the West. The shadow was still there, but it was now far in the distance and did not trouble her with dread or whispers as it had before she called upon Aslan. His voice lingered in her ears, his Breath a warming spirit of joy and comfort that not even the sight of the fading Darkness could diminish.
Lucy sighed contentedly, then turned and retrieved her bow from the platform and followed Drizzlegrim and Cerdic down the rigging. It was almost too wonderful to be true, that they had emerged unscathed from the peril of the dark and into untroubled sunlight, and that Aslan himself was guiding them into the next leg of their journey. Her feet touched the deck, and she could have wept with relief.
Immediately she race to the dazed group that were gathered on the portside bow. There were still some hand clasps and back slaps and exclamations over the safe retreat, but a solemn feeling still hung over the Dawn Treader, more like relief at the deliverance from the Darkness than exuberance at any sort of victory or celebration.
But before Lucy had time to think much on that, she had found her brother amongst the crowd. Heedless of the hard bits of armour and weaponry they carried that made such an action uncomfortable, she pulled him into a crushing embrace. "Edmund! Thank Aslan!"
Edmund returned her hug fiercely. "He saved us," he said in a low voice beside her ear.
"As he always has," she said, standing straight and looking at him directly. His face was rather pale, but shone from within. Lucy asked eagerly, "Did you hear him too?"
Edmund nodded. "And I can see that you felt his Breath as well." He touched her cheek gently, and she wondered if she was glowing like he was, like they all had whenever Aslan would breathe on them.
"But look, the stranger is speaking." Edmund gestured toward the group that was gathering around the castaway, and they moved toward the edge of it where Caspian was standing before the wild-looking man. In the bright sunlight, Lucy had her first clear glimpse of the man's drawn face, his white mop of hair, the rags that hung about him, and the terrible thinness of his shaking limbs. He was speaking to Caspian with a voice that quavered.
Edmund and Lucy joined Caspian in time to hear the stranger's name. "…a Telmarine of Narnia, and when I was worth anything men called me the Lord Rhoop."
Without his helmet, Caspian's face showed his frank surprise at this revelation. His mail glittered in the glancing rays of the sun. "And I am Caspian, King of Narnia, and I sail to find you and your companions who were my father's friends."
Lucy watched the poor trembling man sink to his knees and kiss Caspian's hand as though it was the most precious treasure in the world. She bit her lip, and her fingers reached automatically to the cordial under her jerkin, wishing to heal this broken man, even as he begged Caspian for a boon.
"What is it?" asked Caspian, very gently.
Rhoop looked pleadingly up at him. "Never to ask me, nor to let any other ask me, what I have seen during my years on the Dark Island."
Lucy put a hand to her lips. She would not be in any danger of asking him any such thing.
"An easy boon, my Lord," answered Caspian, and added with a shudder, "Ask you: I should think not. I would give all my treasure not to hear it." His face darkened with the memories of their ordeal.
Lucy could not help herself; she stepped close to Caspian and touched his mail-covered arm softly. He glanced at her for a moment, and she read in his eyes a spectrum of emotions; compassion, astonishment, remembrance, and shame at his own weakness. She must speak with him later. But for now, the shattered man before them was even more in need. "You have our word," she said to Rhoop. "We will leave the Darkness behind us forever."
Rhoop turned and stared out at the Western horizon, transfixed by the sight of the retreating blackness, only a small hole in the bright blue sky now. "You have delivered me from it," he rasped.
Lucy shook her head. "I don't think it was us." The sweet wild scent of Aslan's Breath still hung on her lips, though the Albatross was no longer to be seen anywhere in the skies. Lucy closed her eyes. Thank you, she breathed again silently to the wind. Aslan. Thank you. And the wind whispered back to her, You have work to do.
She nodded and gazed once more into the sunlight, looking at Rhoop with Aslan's eyes.
"Come," said Lucy unclasping her cloak and throwing it over the Lord's bony shoulders. "You must rest." She drew the dazed refugee into a firm embrace and pulled him with her. The crew parted for them, Caspian giving her an approving look that warmed her for a moment, and she set her path for the stern cabin with her charge. Lucy's eyes met Edmund's, and he smiled slightly at her as she slipped easily into her old role. He always understood.
Rhoop bowed his head wearily and followed her without protest. Behind them she heard Drinian requesting orders to set sail and send the crew to bed, and Caspian agreeing and calling for grog all round and yawning. But Lucy was not tired at all; her mind was full of Aslan, and of what Rhoop must have suffered in the Darkness all those years. She could not bear to think of it; years and years of nightmarish evil holding him prisoner, with no hope of rescue. She clutched Rhoop's shoulders tighter.
"Here we are," she said comfortingly as she opened the door to the stern cabin and lead Rhoop into her own room. The Lord sighed as he viewed the beautiful images of the Narnian creatures that covered the walls of her cabin. He touched them reverently. "Oh Aslan," he sighed. "It is has been so long. I have heard these Beasts speak…"
Lucy put her hand on his arm. "You will again," she promised. Her heart breaking for the exiled Narnian and his years of torment, she drew him to the bunk and touched the cherry wood, begging it to let him forget, just this once. "Sleep now," she said, and laid the unresisting man down with distressing ease on the bed; he hardly weighed more than she did, Lucy thought concernedly.
She stooped a moment over him, considering, and then it was so simple that she should do it that she marveled at ever hesitating. Lucy pulled the diamond bottle from its chain and unstopped it. The familiar delicious smell of the cordial filled the cabin. She breathed it in gratefully.
"Here." She held the bottle over Rhoop's white lips, and a drop fell onto them and he savored the sweet taste of the fireflowers. For the first time, a smile crossed his face, and his eyes closed.
Lucy settled the covers around his thin frame. "You are safe now, Lord Rhoop," she whispered. She thanked Aslan that he had granted his subject peace at last.
Very softly she closed the door behind her, and came once again into the glorious sunlight of the deck. A warm breeze greeted her as she stood by the starboard bow of the ship.
"Does he rest?" Edmund appeared by her side, looking thoughtful.
"Yes," said Lucy, thinking that her brother looked much older, much closer to the man he had left behind each time in Narnia. Aslan's Breath also had that effect. She laid her hand over his, her gauntlet pressing against his mail and glove. "He will sleep for a while, I think. He has endured much evil."
"I can't even begin to imagine," said Edmund. "Lucy, why did I not call on Aslan sooner?"
"I ask myself the same thing," said Lucy meditatively. "He was there with us all along. He even told me that himself, in the Magician's house."
"I knew he would be there," Edmund said with a grave sigh. "And yet, the evils…they were all I could think about…they told me…oh Lucy, they told me terrible things. And for a time I believed them. I believed Aslan would not listen to the one who had betrayed him." His voice was tinged with bitterness.
Lucy pressed his hand. "Edmund, they were there. The ones who killed Aslan. It wasn't just nightmares. They wanted you to believe that. Oh Edmund, it's not true. Not true at all."
Edmund's eyes were very dark. "I thought I had left those demons behind a long time ago."
Lucy could not bear his distress; she wanted so badly to fix it, to give him peace as she had Rhoop, but there were some things her cordial could not heal. Very quietly she said, "And yet, you called his name. And he heard and answered."
This was the right thing to say. His face was illuminated with the remembrance, and a peace settled over Edmund as he seemed to release the memories of the darkness. In a faraway voice, he murmured, "His mercies are new every morning…"
They stood for a few moments, breathing in the rejuvenation of the ocean air and brilliant rays that glinted off the shifting waves. The crew moved around them, disarming and setting the sails and drawing the oars in, but the King and Queen were lost in the peace of Aslan's Breath.
Perhaps half an hour later, they went together to the stern cabin to put away their battle gear, a familiar ritual from their years of reign. There they found Caspian and Eustace removing the last of their armor. None of them knew quite what to say; what exactly did one say after seeing the most terrible nightmares in full view of everyone? Wordlessly Lucy and Edmund began unbuckling their own accouterment and replacing each piece in its proper locker. There was a great sense of relief that they had not needed to use it, but also a solemn sense that they had left behind a battle that they would not wish to fight again.
Caspian spoke at last, glancing at the two of them with a kind of wonder. "We're all shaken up, and you two are glowing. What happened out there?"
Edmund and Lucy looked at each other. "It's…a lot to explain," said Edmund. "And it would be a better story after we all rest."
Reluctantly Caspian nodded. "I could nod off right here," he admitted, yawning again. "But I do want to hear the tale, and soon." He continued to clean and wrap the remaining plates of armor in their cloths, a task every warrior no matter how tired would complete after a battle.
"Are you all right?" asked Lucy in an aside to Eustace, who was quieter than usual and did not look like his normal self.
"I think so," said Eustace, trying to sound off-handed about it. "But look here, Lu. What's to say we won't, er, keep having those sorts of dreams? Even when we sleep?"
"I think we'll be safe tonight," said Lucy very kindly. "I don't expect to be in any danger of dreaming…or if we do, it will be good dreams."
"We'll take your word for it, Lu," said Edmund, clapping Eustace on the back. "I suppose you're as tired as I am?"
"Probably more," said Eustace with the ghost of his usual verve.
"Bed isn't getting any closer standing here. Come on."
The two of them headed off through the stern door. Watching their departure, Lucy packed away the last of her things, considering for a moment what to do with her dagger. She should not need it, but she also didn't want to put it away with the rest of the ordinary weapons, and it would not do it at all to leave it in the cabin with Rhoop. She decided to wear it after all, and reslung the belt over her ordinary clothes. And the cordial would remain around her neck as it ever had, ready for her to do her work…
"Lucy." Caspian's voice broke through her reflections. She looked up at him. Without the trappings of his armor, Caspian had a new sort of quiet authority that hung on him. She wondered if he had felt Aslan's Breath too…but he did not appear to radiate with its light…
"You took great care of Rhoop," said Caspian. "He is a troubled man."
"He rests now," said Lucy, "but I may need to give him more than one drop. His hurt has been great."
Caspian came to stand very close in front of her, till she had to tip her head back to meet his gaze. He looked at her with an expression she could not read. "This is how you were, isn't it?" he said, almost…reverently? Why would he be reverent?
"What do you mean?" asked Lucy curiously.
"In your time," said Caspian. His expression – no, it was not awe, but something close to it. "The Valiant Queen, Bearer of the Cordial. The Narnians still speak of her. Her hands would bring both healing and death. And she was as beautiful as she was fierce in battle and kind of heart to all…"
Lucy did not know how to respond to this. "I am just Lucy now," she said at last, discomfited by his praise.
"No," he said fervently. "That Queen stands before me even now."
Was that truly what he saw? Lucy remembered the times Aslan had breathed upon them – oh, so many times, in times of great joy and great need – and how each time they had seemed to grow stronger, and more noble, and more like their true selves. Perhaps it was so here. She did not feel any difference, save for the wonderful peace that flowed through her at the memory of Aslan's blessing.
"I felt Aslan," she said simply, a slight smile crossing her face as she spoke the name.
And that should be explanation enough, shouldn't it?
Caspian startled. "When? You mean…in the Darkness?"
"Yes. And oh Caspian, it was almost worth it all, to feel his Breath again!"
"I believe it," said Caspian quietly. "But where was he? Why did he almost let us perish in there?"
"But he didn't! He was the Albatross that lead us out!"
Caspian gazed at her face. "Queen, you know this for sure." It was not a question, but a plea for further explanation.
"I called to Aslan when we were lost there," said Lucy, "and I saw him bring the light and draw us out of the Darkness."
Caspian considered this for a moment. "Then it was no mere stroke of luck that we were saved," he said slowly.
"Luck?" Lucy was taken aback. Where to even begin with such an assumption? Dear Caspian, she though, there is much we have yet to tell you. She shook her head and took his hand, recognizing the boldness of her action in passing but intent on her purpose. "Aslan's children do not need luck," she told him with deep fervency. "Nothing happens by chance, or accident."
Caspian clasped her hand in return. "I would speak with you more of this, and of all that has happened today. But I am keeping you from your rest."
"I am always glad to talk," she said with a shake of her head. "But you, on the other hand, look like you're ready to drop. We will talk more when we are both rested."
"You know me too well," said Caspian with a slight grin. "High thoughts and little sleep do not a wise man make."
Lucy smiled at the quotation. "The philosophers speak from experience, I think. Best to take their advice."
She tugged his hand and nodded to the door. Caspian laughed softly, and followed her to the doorway where the gilded mane of the Lion was shining in the sunny cabin. As Lucy pulled it open, she felt the warm rays fall once again on her face and the salty breeze, and sighed with joy.
"You love the light, do you not?" asked Caspian in a low voice.
"I welcome it like a lover," she said without thinking. It was only after the words hung in the air that she realized how such a declaration would sound to Caspian. She slipped her hand out of his and turned to the main deck with a parting, "Rest well, Caspian," not daring to look at his face. She heard him wish her the same as she departed.
And then he called her. "Lucy." It took all her fortitude to turn and meet his eyes. The sunlight glanced off his golden-brown hair. Caspian was looking at her with not quite a smile, but the promise of one. "I welcome it too."
Lucy felt a delightful impulse turn her insides over at his words, a reaction she was quite helpless to suppress with intellect. For he was so very…well…impossible to resist. And she was not putting up much of a fight, not when eyes the color of the sea after a storm were calling her to drown in their depths, and when her heart was twisting strangely at the irresistible hope they offered.
There did not seem to be anything she could say to this, so she returned a smile in kind and hoped her face would say what her lips could not. Then Lucy turned once again to the bow where the dark blue waters rushed past, glad of the comfort that the sea could offer once more. She watched the foam of the waves around the keel for several minutes, until Caspian was safely out of sight below deck.
Most of the crew slept late into the afternoon and evening, exhausted by their long day and night of rowing and the terrors of the Darkness, and were glad of the reprieve from duty.
But for Lucy's part, she crawled up into the prow to sit beside the lookout from within the dragon's mouth, and gazed to the East and thought of many things, treasuring them all up in her heart where they would be kept safe, and where she did not fear the gentle flame of hope that burned there.
From the Second Ballad of Queen Lucy the Valiant, Year 1011 of the Golden Age
"The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you;
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want;
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth between the door sill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep."
And the Queen smiled in her sleep...
A/N: The ballad at the end is shamelessly plundered from the poetry of Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet and mystic. Thanks to rthstewart for sending those my way! I'm sure I will be doing more plundering in the next few chapters. Up next is FLUFFLYFLUFF and stargazing. Thanks to EVERYONE who has stuck it out and is hoping for more Lucian. The next chapter will hopefully be satisfactory to all those shippy hearts out there!