Disclaimer: Peter Pevensie and all the characters and situations in the Chronicles of Narnia belong to C. S. Lewis and not to me.
IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS
Peter turned to his baby sister with what he hoped was a cheerful grin. "Be a good girl, Lu."
Lucy nodded, and then her face crumpled into tears. "Don't go." She threw her arms around his waist and buried her face against his chest, shaking with sobs. "Don't go. You won't come back."
Susan bit her lip, trying so hard to be brave, but he could see Lucy's fear reflected in her eyes. She didn't like Giants, not the wicked ones, and she didn't like him going north in the dead of winter. She said nothing, but then again she wouldn't.
Peter gave her a pleading glance and then knelt down so he could be eye to eye with Lucy.
"It's all right, Lu. Shh, it's all right." He hugged her tightly. She was such a little thing yet. "I'll be home for Christmas."
"Do you promise? Really?"
Peter kissed her forehead and then tapped her upturned nose. "I promise. I promise I won't let Father Christmas get here before me. All right?"
She threw herself against him again, ducking her head.
He kissed her temple and whispered into her ear. "Haven't I always kept my promises to you?"
She sniffled and then nodded, still pouting.
"All right then. Now let me go." With one last kiss to her wet cheek, he stood up. "The sooner I get started, the sooner I'll be back."
"Do stay warm, Peter." Susan pulled his cloak just a little more snugly around him, her smile determinedly bright. "And make sure you eat enough."
He kissed her cheek, too, and gave her a fierce hug. "Don't worry about me, Su. Besides, Ed's the one who doesn't eat enough."
He glanced over at his brother, expecting his usual protests, but Edmund only stood staring out the frosted window, arms crossed over his chest, a stubborn lift to his chin.
"Aren't you going to say goodbye to me, Ed?"
Clearly he wasn't.
"Come on, Edmund." Peter went over to him, draping one arm over his stiff shoulders. "Wish me luck anyway, eh?"
"I won't be away that long," Peter said. "You and the girls can–"
"I can ride."
Peter sighed. They'd been through this a hundred times already.
"Edmund, you know what the healers said. Your leg–"
"Philip will take me." Edmund turned to him, near-black eyes fiery with anger and brimming with tears. "We'll just come after you. Then you'd have to–"
"Then I'd have to send you home, idiot, before you bled to death. You shouldn't even be out of bed."
"No. And, no, Philip won't take you. He knows what condition you're in, and he's not going to take you anywhere, even if you could manage to get out to the stables." Peter let his expression soften. "Come on, Eddie. You know I have to go and you can't this time. Now wish me luck and Aslan's best, and I'll be back before you know it."
Edmund sniffled, and for a moment he looked a lot like Lucy. "For Christmas?"
Peter wrapped him in a huge hug, grinning to feel him hug back. "I promise."
Peter caught a shuddering breath and forced himself awake. He knew he wasn't supposed to fall asleep. If you fall asleep, you freeze to death. Oreius had told him that again and again and again.
"What day is it?" he murmured, but there was no one to hear.
The last time he had known what day it was, the army had been heading south. It had been three days before Christmas, and they'd have been home in two. The Giants had been pushed out of Narnia and back into the mountains with as little loss of his soldiers as could be hoped for, and despite the intense cold, spirits were high. They were heading home to their own hearth fires and the arms of their loved ones.
Then the storm struck, the wind cutting, the cold punishing, the sleet pelting them, battering and bruising like little bits of gravel, and all they could do was duck their heads and ride south. South was home and warmth and family. South was Christmas.
Late in the afternoon, when even the murky light was dimming, the sleet turned to swirling snow, thick and blinding, shrouding everything in white. It should have been beautiful, but it was hateful, cold and relentless. Still they pressed on. South, always south. Home to warmth. Home to Christmas.
He realized he couldn't see the path anymore. It was too dark, the snow too thick, and he turned to call a halt. Instead, his horse flailed and pitched and tumbled into a deep snowbank. The beast's screams and Peter's own cries no more than another howl in the wind, the army passed on. Desperate, Peter fought his way to the surface, trying to calm the horse and then, realizing both of its forelegs were broken, forced to end its pain.
Then he was truly alone.
There was no light anywhere. The feeble sun was gone. The moon and stars were covered with dense clouds and the snow that still fell thick and heavy over the forest. Peter was wet through and cold, so cold. The only warmth was the blood that had run over his hand when he'd cut his horse's throat.
He patted the creature's neck, his hands clumsy with cold. He'd been a good mount, trusty and intelligent and as doughty as any soldier could wish, but he was gone and night was here and Peter was alone. Surely his men would come back for him. Surely they'd realize he wasn't with them anymore. Surely–
"Oh, Aslan." He sank back down into the snowbank, huddling against the dead horse's belly, clinging to what little warmth was left there. "Aslan, please help me. I need to get home. I promised. I promised."
Then he had closed his eyes, and sometime during that freezing, howling night, he had fallen asleep and dreamed of home, of farewells and of promises. I'll be home for Christmas.
Now he was awake again. He wasn't sure if it was the same night or the next one or the one after that, but the snow had stopped. The wind had blown the clouds away, and the pale-faced moon shone down on the silent forest, stretching long black shadows over the blue-white snow.
The horse was cold now, little more than a break against the still-howling wind, but Peter still pressed against it. He needed to get up, to get moving before he froze to death, but when he had tried to stand, his left leg had buckled under him. Had he broken it in his fall? Had the horse kicked him? Rolled over him? His memory wasn't too clear on that point, and he was too cold to feel much pain, but he couldn't walk. He couldn't get back out of the snowbank and gather sticks to try to make some kind of fire.
"Easier," he breathed as he nestled there against the frost-whitened horse, his words visible in the clear, burning air. "Easier to stay here, stay warm, sleep."
Sleep. If you sleep, you freeze to death. Where had he heard that before? Did it really matter? He closed his eyes.
"Wake up, boy. Wake up."
Peter blinked and tried to move, but he was still huddled against the dead horse's belly, half-buried in snow.
"Come along now. We haven't much time, and I have a very important gift to deliver."
Peter blinked again, and a face came into focus, a jolly, bearded face, old but full of vigor, and with eyes that were blue and twinkling.
"I– I can't–"
"Nonsense." The old man loomed over him, bigger than Peter had at first realized, and lifted him straight up out of the snow and into his arms. "Can't never could, boy."
Peter managed a bleary bit of a grin. Dad used to say that, and Peter had always remembered it when faced with a challenge.
"Never could," he murmured, curling into the warmth of the brownish-red coat and its lush fur trim.
"Now," the old man said, "put this robe around you and rest easy. We have far to go."
By then Peter's eyes were closed, but he felt himself wrapped in the most amazing warmth and softness. He winced just a little when it was tucked around his legs, and the old man shushed him.
"It won't be long now, Aslan with us. Drink this."
Peter felt something against his lips, and warmth spread through him like a summer day. He couldn't help wondering if this was that famous Milk of Human Kindness Scrooge had tasted in his ghostly travels. This man would carry it with him if anyone would.
Peter tried but was unable to open his eyes. "Are you–"
"Shhh, boy, and hold tight."
Peter nodded and all of a sudden he heard voices, felt warm arms around him, warm lips pressed to his cheeks and forehead.
"Susan! Edmund! He's back! He's home!"
"Peter! Come in! Come by the fire."
"Come in, blockhead, before you freeze to death."
Lucy! Susan! Edmund!
But when he tried to speak, everything swirled into blackness.
Peter barely opened his eyes. Darkness again. Oh, Aslan, I promised them. Surely Christmas had come and gone and he was still lost in the endless snow.
"What day is it?" he rasped, and to his astonishment, there was light and an answer came.
"What day is it?" a giggling little voice repeated.
"Why, Christmas Day," a more serene one replied.
"Of course it's Christmas, you great lummox."
His eyes flew open, and he saw the equally worried and relieved faces of his brother and sisters leaning over him. Home. He was home.
"But– but, Father Christmas–"
Lucy grinned and hugged him around the neck. "You got here before he did, just like you promised."
"But he didn't–"
Peter broke off as another face leaned over him, a bearded face, a strong face. He blinked and realized that this face was dark, the beard and eyes were dark, the expression concerned rather than merry.
"Oreius? Did you–?"
"I carried you home, My King, but only after you had somehow managed most of the distance yourself. With that leg, I cannot see how."
"Can't never could," Peter said mostly to himself, and then he kissed the top of Lucy's head and pulled Susan down to sit beside him on the bed. "I guess we'll be lame together for a while, eh, Ed?"
Edmund pretended to scowl, but there was a definite smile in there somewhere as he sat at Peter's other side. "As long as you're home, I guess that'll be all right."
Peter grinned. "So now do we unwrap presents?"
"No!" the three of them said at once, and Lucy again threw her arms around his neck.
"We just got you all wrapped up."
He pulled Edmund and Susan into a hug with her, thanking Aslan he was home for Christmas and not only in his dreams.
Author's Note: I had a totally different plan for a Christmas story this year, but this one just popped up and said, "Write ME!" So that's what I did. I hope you'll let me know what you think of it.
Merry Christmas! And long live Aslan!