Never Sated, Never Dying
A/N: Thank you for your kind reviews and sorry for the long wait. I'm coming down with something. Again. Never getting out of bed again sounds better and better.
Never Sated, Never Dying
Lucy knew that the raid had gone wrong the second she laid eyes on her brothers. Peter was wide eyed, dirty and rugged, a shadow of stubble on his chin and the glint of victory, no matter how small, entirely missing from his gaze. Edmund was beside him, tired and worn, his expression one of worry rather than guilt.
The signs all said one thing. Peter’s plan had failed and the price had been high.
Lucy wished, she wished by Aslan and every other power she knew, that she had not witnessed this scene before but she had. Her brothers had not always returned victorious, had not always returned in one piece. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment before opening them again and facing the facts of what lay before her. Her siblings, all three, seemed unharmed. The same went for Caspian and Buffy, Glenstorm, the mice and Trumpkin. Asterius was there, too, as were Trufflehunter, Nikabrik and most others she knew by name. But the satyr that told such nice stories had disappeared, as had the faun that looked a bit like Mr. Tumnus. The group that had left two hundred strong had returned a lot smaller.
Too much smaller.
The Valiant Queen was a stranger to neither of those but still she felt tears well up in her eyes. Where, oh where, had her beloved golden Narnia gone? When had it broken? When had it become this? Aslan, where are you?
She received no answer.
Peter marched past her, his expression like midnight, snapping, “Ask him.”
He pointed at Caspian, who reared back in anger, demanding, “Me? You insisted on this raid, despite knowing how foolish it was.”
“I didn’t hear a better plan from you.”
“Then you were not listening!”
Lucy watched as some spark finally returned to Peter as he rounded on the prince. She thought it was better than watching her burning King of Summer so defeated but all the yelling only made her want to cry harder. There was enough blame to go around and enough guilt, too.
Oh Aslan, Aslan, it was all falling apart.
Peter’s gaze landed on her as she was about to turn away, tears in her eyes and all the fire, all the artificial anger he had worked up left as fast as they had come and what was left was a bone tired man she hadn’t seen since their early days in Narnia, when Edmund had been gone from them. Her big brother, the strong one, had looked utterly lost without his little brother to mother, annoy, yell at and love. Like part of him was missing.
But this time all his siblings were there. Peter hadn’t lost them. But he’d lost part of himself. As she flung herself at him, her arms locking around his waist like a vice, Lucy let the tears fall.
A second later she felt his own arms come down around her shoulder, pulling her as close to him as he could without crushing her. “Oh Lu,” he whispered, too quietly for anyone but her to hear. “I’m so sorry.”
And Lucy cried harder into his blood stained shirt because she knew those five words were the only weakness he was ever going to allow himself. He lifted her up, snuggled her safely into his arms and carried her inside silently, allowing his little sister to cry his tears for him. And she did. She knew no other way to help him.
Beautiful. Beautiful. It was beautiful, how everything fell into place without him having to do anything.
Caspian racing for his life out of the castle had been the beginning of it. Faith in the Lord Protector wavered. Questions were asked and no answers were forthcoming. Next: The news that the girl Glozelle had been eyeing for a decade had run off with
the poor dethroned prince hit.
For the first time ever, that stupid brick of a General had faltered in his stubborn, immovable loyalty. A crack in the wall that kept the throne far out of reach.
And now, glorious, glorious, Caspian coming back on some misguided errand to save his teacher. He was branded a traitor before the sun rose and officially removed from the family tree. Another obstacle removed, another competitor out of the game. All that was left now was Miraz.
By sunset the lords had convened and stamped their meaningless seal of approval on the Lord Protector’s appeal.
As Sopespian placed the heavy crown on Miraz’s head, his mind was already racing ahead. King Miraz, noble defender of his country, stalwart and true in the face of his nephew’s betrayal, would fall in the war against Caspian and his rebel forces.
Glozelle would falter at just the right moment, leaving his lord’s back exposed. And then he himself would deflect, yes, would join his heathen lover from the woods.
General gone, army without a head, Miraz gone, throne without a King. And Sopespian would be there to take it all for himself without ever, ever staining his hands with more than a few well placed words.
Beautiful. So very beautiful.
He was tired. He was scared. He was weak. Those were his only excuses, afterward. And they were pathetic. But the monarchs had failed him, Buffy had been driven away by his own words and all hope seemed lost.
Peter. Peter had started it all by insisting on that raid and getting so many killed. Senseless, useless deaths. And yet the people around him pretended there was no blame. Even Susan, the most vehement of protesters, could be found at her brother’s side in the aftermath of his pride and arrogance. That hurt. Caspian liked
Susan. But she chose her brother over him so easily, almost effortlessly.
Why? Why was the High King forgiven? Edmund spoke of loyalty, of following where the King led, no matter what. But their King of Old led them wrong, led them astray. His defence was a name that meant nothing, an empty word. Aslan, Aslan, always for Aslan.
There was no Aslan. If he had ever existed, he was long gone. What was left was a boy who relied on the lion’s name to get him through and no matter who he appealed to, Caspian’s worries were ignored. He was only the Prince, the sheltered little Telmarine. What did he know?
He clenched his hands in anger. What did he know indeed? Buffy, the only one he had believed to be on his side, she too had pulled away in the aftermath. She did not speak to the High King, did not even look at him if it could be avoided, but she defended him. She stood up for him.
But she was his
. His protector, his childhood memory. The only bright thing in a life filled only with bleak walls and bleak people. She had been his for ten years, existing for him. Defending him. Keeping him alive. His. She was his. Nothing else belonged to him. Not his throne, not his people, not his country. He possessed nothing.
But she was supposed to be his. He had insulted her, had belittled her. He knew that and it made him even angrier. He had pushed her away. But couldn’t she see why? Couldn’t she understand? This was not how things were supposed to be.
was not how it was supposed to be.
“Are you so glad of that magic horn now, boy?”
He whirled around at the gruff question, staring at Nikabrik wide eyed. Was he that transparent? His anger and confusion this obvious? His hands clenched tighter, going for his sword and dagger. If the dwarf had come to belittle him again, he honestly did not know what he would do.
But Nikabrik for once kept his opinion about the prince to himself. Instead he spoke out loud the words that had been churning in Caspian’s guts all day long. “The Kings and Queen have failed us. Many are dead and those that aren’t will be soon enough. The Telmarines won’t be long now.”
“What do you want?” Caspian snapped, “Congratulations?”
The dwarf ignored his words and sharp tone in favour of offering, “You want your uncle’s blood. So do we. You want his throne. We can get it for you.”
With that he simply turned and walked away, leaving the prince to either follow or stay where he was, drowning in a sea of disappointment and rage, the very same rage he had accused the High King of being blinded by.
He moved. He had to move. If he stayed still any longer, he would attack the next person to pass him by, would, quite simply, explode.
Whether Nikabrik knew how the young prince felt none would ever know, but he remained silent and focused on his feet as he led Caspian to the chamber of the Stone Table, where he stopped and turned.
“You tried one ancient power. It failed. But there is power greater still. One that kept even Aslan at bay for near a hundred years.”
Steps behind him, even as something wicked and sinister overtook the small man’s expression. Caspian whirled, his sword in his hand by a mere thought, prepared for anything. Or so he thought.
What came out of the shadows was like nothing he had ever seen. Two things, hooded and cloaked in black. One taller than the other, with a furred muzzle and vicious teeth. The other with a beak-like mouth and reptile features, small, hunched. Both of them carried about them an air of wrongness, something that did not belong, steeped in darkness, almost a smell but more, enveloping all the senses, making him gag.
Wrong. Evil. Run. Runrunrun.
Caspian knew what they were. Without a doubt he knew what those two creatures were, even though he had never seen one. They were the fell beasts, the White Witch’s henchmen, fed by her power, by her black magic.
“I am hunger,” the taller, furred one, spoke, its voice like a saw on metal. “I am thirst. I can fast a hundred years and not die. I can lie a hundred nights on the ice and not freeze. I can drink a river of blood and not burst. Show. Me. Your enemies.
Greed. Hunger and thirst, never sated, never fading, never dying. Those things were greed given shape, given form. Caspian knew greed, had seen it shining in the eyes of the lords all his life, had seen it in his uncle’s face when the man had stood on his balcony, looking at Telmar before him. Want. Desire. Need driven to madness.
A need he felt within himself, born of pain and anger and the desire to do
“And you can guarantee Miraz’s death?” he asked, his voice weaker than he would have liked it to be, the thing in his chest burning searing hot, screaming.
“And more,” the smaller one rasped, its beak clicking.
Beside Caspian, Nikabrik nodded, looking satisfied.
“Let the circle be drawn!”
Hunching, walking backwards, one of them clawed a circle into the dirt around the prince’s feet, the other standing by, small, black eyes fixed on him like he was prey. Something cold ran down his spine at the greedy expression.
Greed, yes, greed that never ended. Never sated, never dying. Greed would gobble up Miraz and then Telmar, then Narnia and then the rest of the world. Oh, Caspian thought, pulling back, what had he done? What had he agreed to?
He turned, trying to escape the circle, those creatures, Nikabrik and his hate. Wrong. This was wrong. But the smaller of the monsters pulled a stick, no, a wand
out of nowhere, raising it up and, chanting in a language that made his blood run cold, rammed it into the ground.
Ice spread from the point of impact, filling the circle on the ground, climbing the walls, hiding Aslan’s image from view as something new, something cold grew out of thin air.
A wall of ice.
And inside, a woman, her hair flowing behind her, eyes fixed on him, dark and full of unspeakable things. Caspian reared back, the spell of a new power, the hope of another way, breaking on the shores of reality. The White Witch. Before him, trapped in ice, she floated, a thousand years dead and still here somehow, still alive. Not human. Not… not.
He turned to run for real this time, rage subsiding, anger draining away. Minutes ago he had despised and looked down upon the High King for letting his emotions goad him to foolish risks and now here he was, going exactly the same.
Failing the Narnians, failing the monarchs, failing Buffy, who had warned him, told him, the weight of decisions and their consequences. Loyalty. Royalty. The burden of leading. Failing everything he believed in and dreamed of. Greed. He had fallen for it, too.
But before he could take a single step the creatures trapped him, forced his sword form his hand and cut deeply until blood welled up red and he was too shamed to call for aid. “This isn’t what I wanted,” he managed to wheeze, half choked by the realization of what he had done. They would free the White Witch from her prison, would let her loose upon the world, to wreak havoc worse than anything mortal Miraz could ever cause. A Narnia saved by her, of that he had no doubt, would not be a Narnia at all.
“One drop,” she cajoled from her icy domain, “One drop of Adam’s blood and you free me. Then I am yours, my King.”
He almost laughed bitterly. King. An hour ago someone calling him king would have made him swell with pride. But from the mouth of this creature, it was a vile thing.
“No!” he called, struggling, futilely.
He had never been so glad to hear the High King’s voice as he was right then, when the other boy stormed into the room, yelling, “Stop!”
Behind him, his brother, Trumpkin, Lucy and Buffy followed, all with weapons drawn. They jumped the fell beasts, the kings taking on the furred one while Buffy took the one with the beak and Trumpkin and Lucy faced Nikabrik. He saw all that in a split second as he was let go roughly. Then his gaze accidentally met those of the Witch and he was lost, trapped inside the circle of ice, inside her power, defenceless.
Time stretched and twisted around him, slowing down to a trickle of tar and the rest of the room, the fight, the war, fell away. She could have told him to throw himself on his own sword and he would have done it, without hesitation, without thought, without anything but glassy eyes and total devotion.
And then he felt something impacting on his body and suddenly time sped up again and the world tilted as he flew out of the circle and landed hard on his side, jarred back into reality to see Peter, who had shoved him aside, enter the circle himself. Abstractly, he thought of feeling vindication at the fact that the glorious, golden High King fell into the Witch’s trap the same way he had, but the thought never turned into emotion. There was no fighting her and no shame in losing to her.
No, the shame lay in being weak enough to let those fell beats summon her in the first place. He scrambled to his feet, sword once more in his stinging, bloody hand, ready to help, to finally do something.
But the fight was over and all that was left was Peter staring at the Witch he had once defeated singlehandedly in the battles of Caspian’s bed time stories. Trapped. Small. Weak. Human.
Peter’s hand moved slowly, his sword lowering. He hesitated. The Great King, King of Old, hesitated.
The blade came out of nowhere, stabbing her through the stomach and shattering the ice, causing it to crash to the ground in a mighty shower of sharp, cold sparks. Behind the crumbling wall Edmund stood, sword raised in both hands, expression bland. He had stabbed her as she had once stabbed him, the traitor turning on the one he had once sold his siblings to. Liberation, memory and horror. His eyes were wide, he was panting hard and as he lowered his sword, he looked at none of them but his brother. The big brother, who had failed. The younger one, who had not.
“I know,” the Just King muttered, “You had it sorted.”
His disappointment weighed heavy in the air, as did that of those behind them, Lucy with tears in her eyes, Susan shocked, Buffy grim.
Caspian, standing next to the oldest Pevensie sibling, lowered his gaze to the ground in shame and knew nothing to say.
Nothing but this. “I am sorry.”
Edmund left, followed by his siblings, Trumpkin and Buffy. Only when there was nothing in the room but the image of Aslan, broken ice and heavy silence, did Peter whisper, “Yes.”
Hours later Caspian sat on one of the higher levels of the How, watching the empty field below. The only thing left inside of him was a yawning emptiness where all his emotions had been.
He felt someone coming up behind him, but could not work up the energy to turn and see who it was. Besides, he knew. He could recognize those steps anywhere. For years they had signalled the only fun times of his childhood.
“Why did you never tell me about my father?” he asked his old teacher because it was a safe subject. He already knew the answer and he knew it did not matter. The Professor had been trying to protect him, to teach him the lessons that Miraz would want him to know.
The old man sighed as he sat down next to the prince, dangling his short legs happily. “My mother was a dwarf from the northern mountains. I risked my life all those years so that you might one day be a better king than those before you.”
“Then I have failed you,” he muttered, glumly.
“You are a good man, Caspian.”
“I feel like a naughty child,” the prince admitted, a wry smile pulling on his lips. It had always been too easy talking to his Professor. He’d acted like a child, letting his emotions drive him instead of his head. Anger, grief, and, he was loathe to admit, jealousy. Jealously of Peter and his obvious affection for Buffy. As if he, Caspian, had any claim to her. Until a week ago he had not even been aware of all she had done, had not known her by name.
The Professor, picking up on his mood, just shook his head and offered, “You are not the only one.”
He nodded. Peter had sat on the broken Stone Table after the Witch had been banished once more and still sat there now, staring at the image of the lion, refusing to be moved.
“I don’t think he will move soon,” the older man added.
Caspian, about to answer, noticed something move just inside the trees and squinted against the sun to make out…
A Telmarine soldier. The army had found them.
Grimly he said, “This should move him.”
Susan sat among the makeshift smithies of the dwarves, watching them work, impervious to heat and the sparks that flew everywhere. She had found a somewhat sheltered place and curled around her knees, watching them blindly, wondering what they were going to do.
A week ago her biggest worry had been the way her feet had lost their grace on Narnian soil. Now it seemed they had regained their old grace just in time for her to put it to good use in a war.
A war that was neither sanctioned nor approved by Aslan. She wasn’t sure if Peter realized, but in all their years ruling Narnia, they had never once fought a war that the lion had not approved of. Now however, there had been no sign of the lion at all since they had crossed the gorge and that too, had not been much. It had been neither approval nor disapproval, merely a way to find Caspian sooner than they might have otherwise. Hours they had lost to Peter’s tantrum. It had saved them a few hours of useless walking down to Beruna and then back up to the gorge, but that was all.
As far as signs from Aslan went, this one did not even make the list. It might just have been coincidence after all. Lucy said she was dreaming of Aslan, said they just needed to have faith and to look
for him. Susan, inclined to believe her sister who had always been strangely attuned to the big cat, did not question Lucy’s dreams. No, her doubt was much worse.
She questioned Aslan’s motive and desires. Why let them fight a war when there was no hope? Was he testing them? Had he tested them when he had abandoned them to wartime England? Or did he not show himself because he disapproved? Of Caspian? Of his campaign? But the prince had blown the horn and that had, ultimately, come from Aslan. A tool to call for aid. Susan was sure that the call had been heard by Aslan, that he had been the one to pull them back home.
But then why wasn’t he with them now? Why was he leaving them to stumble along in the dark? What did he want
She didn’t know.
And to top it all off, she could feel herself falling for a certain prince without understanding why. She had had older suitors, in her day, better looking, smoother, richer, handsomer. Braver men, with stories to tell and experience to their name. Caspian was a boy and no matter how much he looked her age, or rather she his, she could have been his mother.
Then why did she find herself watching him, thinking of him at all times of the day? Perhaps Lucy was right and they really were children again, but Susan believed in the power of knowledge and experience. As long as she remembered being an adult, she wasn’t a child. So she wasn’t one now, here, in this instant. But she still wanted to find Caspian and talk to him.
Talk to a boy half her age and less than that in experience, a boy who was foolish, angry, without money or power or anything useful. Oh, he was stubborn and brave, too, and he had a certain charm, but really, those things had never been enough to turn her head before. Neither in this world, nor the other. The only thing differentiating him from the poor boy she had turned down at the newspaper stand in England was that he knew how to wield a sword and looked better on a horse.
She didn’t know why she liked him. She didn’t know how to win this war. She didn’t know where Aslan was and what they had done wrong to make him stay away. She didn’t know how to fix broken Peter and sad Lucy, how to make Edmund see his worth and Buffy give up her anger, how to make herself into the woman she had once been, the Gentle Queen, someone she was beginning to fear was dead and gone for good.
But without her, who was Susan?
Buffy found Peter where she had left him, in Aslan’s tomb, staring at the lion’s relief on the wall. The only change was that Lucy was sitting next to him, talking to him about faith. About how they had to prove themselves to Aslan, instead of the other way around.
“How about,” she asked with a snort as she sat down on Peter’s other side, “You stop believing and start doing
Lucy glared at her but it was Peter who shrugged. “Do what? The last time I tried to do something, a lot of good soldiers died.”
The message implied was clear. Without faith, he had failed. He had decided to take matters into his own hands and now blood stained his hands. Caspian had doubted and almost brought the winter back upon them. Every time they questioned Aslan, something went horribly wrong.
Peter was finding the faith he’d once had, his faith in the lion, unshakable and strong, finding it in the face of adversity and her open questioning. Faith in Aslan. Everything else, it seemed, led to ruin. Buffy clenched her teeth and did not try to fight him on it.
“Sitting here isn’t going to keep them alive,” she argued instead, trying to get him to move.
“Aslan what? He’d not going to win your war for you. He’s not going to fight for you. He’s not even here. So what the heck are you waiting for?”
Buffy blinked at the King, confused. “I am?” she asked, used by now, to how the siblings, or anyone really, would shoot her down the second she criticized their precious, absent god.
“You are,” he said, ignoring Lucy’s doe-eyes on him. “We have to do something. Aslan won’t come as long as we feel sorry for ourselves.”
He jumped to his feet, standing straighter than he had since the raid.
“That’s not what I meant,” Buffy argued.
“I know,” he agreed, pulling his grinning sister to her feet. “But I told you before, you’re wrong about Aslan. He’s not like you think he is. Lucy said it. We need to prove ourselves worthy.” He turned to smile down at his youngest sibling. “I get that now.”
“Peter,” Ed panted, coming to a halt in the doorway, almost toppling over in his hurry. “You better come quick!”
After that, there was no time for religious disputes anymore. Miraz was here. And he’d brought an army.