Never Had Any Faith
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Never Had Any Faith
It was close to midnight on the same day and everyone inside the How was still awake, waiting, wondering, while their leaders had locked themselves in the room of the Table that had long since become the heart of their army, discussing plans and throwing one after the other out.
In the end it came down to choosing not the best, but the one least likely to fail.
“Cakes and Kettledrums,” Trumpkin cursed at Peter. “That’s your next big plan. Send a little girl into the darkest part of the forest alone?”
There were murmurs of agreement and just as many of doubt. Everyone was worn out, tired and at the end of their rope.
Peter spread his arms in a helpless gesture, “It’s our only chance.”
“And she won’t be alone,” Susan piped up, giving her sister a hard look to make it clear that this was not negotiable. She may have been the gentle one, but there was no way she was leaving Lucy to do this alone. The younger girl smiled serenely in response, having expected nothing else.
Her DLF on the other hand, looked only discouraged. “Haven’t enough of us died already?” he asked, voice bleak.
Next to him, Trufflehunter piped up, “Nikabrik was my friend, too, but he lost hope and faith. Queen Lucy hasn’t. Neither have I.”
It seemed that, as things reached their bleakest point, all four of the Pevensie siblings had found back to the faith they had once carried ahead of them light the brightest torches. They shone with it, even now, even though no-one understood how or why.
They just did. Buffy guessed that was the root of all faith and averted her eyes, blinded.
“For Aslan,” Reepicheep offered, a call that was picked up by most of the room. Peter spun slowly in a circle, looking for any protest or new ideas. Trumpkin tried to offer his help to the queens but got shot down. Other than that, no-one said a thing.
His gaze landed on the small blonde sitting next to Caspian and his teacher on a stair, watching the proceedings. She and the prince had wordlessly agreed to some sort of ceasefire, which was more than could be said about her and the High King.
Still, she had, Peter noticed, not said a word since the plan to send Lucy for Aslan had been brought up.
“Buffy?” he asked, wanting to know her opinion. The room grew quiet as everyone turned to her. They all knew who had gotten them out of the castle raid alive.
The blonde, looking uncomfortable at being the centre of attention, shrugged, raising her hands defensively. “Don’t look at me. I never had any faith to begin with.”
Susan rolled her eyes. “Don’t you get tired of being angry all the time?”
The older woman rolled her eyes right back and offered, “Nope. Had fifty years and a whole lot of reasons to practice. You should try it sometime.”
The last was said more sharply than strictly necessary as the blonde was as tired of being reprimanded as the others were of listening to her curse Aslan. It was a point of contention between all of them as both sides refused to give in. Over the past week they had mostly settled into a sort of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ routine, where they simply avoided any topics that they knew they disagreed on but this time there was no way around it.
Of all those who tended to fight with the blonde, Peter seemed to be the only one who had caught on to the almost desperate way with which Buffy picked those fights, the flickers in her eyes as she argued, like a guttering flame about to die.
“Look,” the Gentle Queen, always the peace maker, tried again.
“No. You look. I’m not saying abandon your belief and turn into heathens. Well, maybe I am, but that’s your choice. All I’m saying is, don’t put all your eggs in the lion shaped basket because it’s going to get us all killed. Have some faith in your own skills for a change.”
There it was again. When had she started being reasonable and logical instead of just yelling? Better yet, when had she stopped yelling?
“And if that’s not enough?” Edmund asked quietly from the wall he was leaning against, his dark eyes pensive and piercing.
“Then you die knowing you fucked up. Better than holding out for something that won’t come.”
“Aslan will come,” Lucy insisted, her young voice to serene and sure that for a moment it looked like even Buffy was inclined to just stop arguing and agree with her.
But in the end fifty years of ingrained behaviour won out and the blonde walked over to the young queen to run her hand over the other’s darker hair. “When you talk like that, I’m not sure whether to admire or pity you.”
Lucy, recognizing the peace offering as the only one she was going to get, grinned.
“Still,” Ed interrupted, “We need to give you time to find him in the first place.”
“If I may,” Caspian suddenly spoke, hesitant but without the glassy look in his eyes he had been carrying around since the White Witch’s appearance. The fact that no-one had mentioned the incident once probably helped. “My uncle may be a tyrant and a murderer but as king he is subject to the traditions and expectations of his people. There is one in particular that may buy us some time.”
“And what’s that?” Peter asked, interested.
“A duel,” Buffy answered for the prince before turning back to Lucy, her expression darkening as she realized what Caspian was proposing, and what the High King would do in the name of buying his sister and her blind faith more time. “I made up my mind,” she told the girl. “I pity you.”
Then she carefully straightened her dress and walked out of the room, poised and straight like a warrior or a queen, refusing to meet anyone’s gaze. The message was clear. She did not agree with what was happening but she knew she could offer no alternative. Not this time.
Miraz was king, the Narnians were cornered, the army ready to strike and Sopespian could not tear his gaze from the crown the former Lord Protector now wore. Within three days everything had taken a turn for the worse at such speeds that Glozelle was at a loss.
He wasn’t sure what the goal of the raid on the castle had been, but he was sure it had failed. Whatever Caspian had wanted, he had not gotten. And now it had come to this, outright war. Glozelle was head of the armed forces, the lauded General, but even he could not turn around a battle once started.
His hands were tied.
He could not outright help the others except by defecting and that would be a useless act of symbolic worth only. What difference would one man make? Even if some of his men followed, they would be unwilling to turn against their friends, brothers, fathers and sons.
And he could not raise his sword against his own men now anymore than a week ago by the river.
During the raid he had only seen Asmira when she had started throwing men off the walkways before throwing herself after them. She had fought like nothing he had ever seen and then, when the gate came down she had started catching crossbow bolts
For an endless instant he had been as stunned as Miraz beside him, unable to do anything but stare. He had seen her fight his men in the woods, had thought he knew what she was capable of but, by the gods, he had been wrong. So very wrong.
There had been no time for communication then, no way to get close enough for any sort of exchange. All they had been able to do was exchange quick looks that were heavy with meaning and at the same time meant nothing. Her blazing eyes directed at him had clearly been an order to pull together and do something.
He had fired at her meekly, almost distractedly, his mind fixed on that simple command. Do something
Yes, but what?
Three days later, with the inevitable battle looming just ahead, he still had no idea what that was.
Buffy did not go far after leaving the meeting, and so Peter found her quickly, standing in the tunnel leading up to the How proper, inspecting the carvings on the walls by the light of a torch she had taken from somewhere farther up the way.
“Shouldn’t you be writing up a challenge?” she asked by way of greeting, trailing one hand over the carving of a man with a golden crown fighting wolf-like beasts.
He leaned against the wall so he could see her face and shrugged. “Edmund and Susan are the ones with the silver tongues. They will draw something up that is convincing, polite and insulting at the same time and then run it by me so I can pretend I had some influence on it.” He rolled so he was leaning with his shoulder against the wall and tapped the carving. “Our fifth year here. Werwolves tried to take Lucy hostage.”
She nodded. “I heard the story, Burning One.”
He grimaced. “I had a reputation after that.”
“You’re building one up, too. For fighting and for…”
“Griping about your lion,” she suggested as he searched for words, still tracing the carvings, apparently absorbed by the sleek lines of the werewolves’ bodies.
“Yes, that. Can you please stop doing it? At this point, Aslan is all that’s keeping this army together and you’re killing morale.”
The slow movement of her fingers stopped and she smacked her hand flat against the wall, the by now familiar anger burning in her eyes again. She met Peter’s gaze. “Well, it shouldn’t be. They should believe in themselves. In what they’re fighting for.”
“Sometimes it’s easier to believe in someone other than yourself.” Quietly. Wisely. Peter knew that now. Knew that if he couldn’t trust himself, he could trust his siblings and their trust in him. They had never led him wrong before.
“Well then, there’s always you, or Caspian, or Susan, or Lucy, or Edmund. Hell, Glenstorm would probably make a good target for believing in.”
The High King sighed heavily, disappointed. “If you could just have a little
faith, we could… never mind.”
It was funny. If Buffy hadn’t been there to question and antagonize Aslan, Peter’s faith in him would probably not have been as strong. Without her to play the devil’s advocate, he might have doubted himself. Her lack of faith was strengthening his own belief in the lion.
He pushed off the wall and found a carving of Lucy and Susan dancing with the dryads to keep his eyes busy. He’d said too much and he knew that she would, of course, catch on to his meaning.
“We could not, Pete. There is no us. I’m already moving way outside my comfort zone here, making friends, getting close to your siblings. Don’t ask more than that of me.”
This time it was him who smacked the wall, with two hands, leaning into them and taking a deep breath to keep from getting angry. “You are so afraid of getting hurt,” he said, very deliberately.
“Almost as afraid as you are of being a failure,” she countered, warmth gone from her voice. He whirled around to face her, startled. “What? That is why you’re duelling Miraz. To make up for the failure of the raid.”
Instead of getting angry at the accusation, Peter let out a breathy laugh and fell back against the wall once more. “How do you do that?” he demanded. “Not even Ed has that figured out yet.”
She quirked a smile against her will and shrugged the question off, sounding vaguely fond again. “It’s not that hard.”
He sobered. “No, really, how do you do it?”
They were leaning against opposite walls now, he with his arms crossed, she fiddling with her torch to keep it burning. “I was a bit like you once, always trying so hard, believing that it had to be better one day.” She moved one corner of her mouth in a weak approximation of a mocking smile. “Never was.”
He shook his head at her vague answer, running a hand over his face. “One of these days, you’ll have to tell me about that.”
She straightened, one hand falling from the torch. “That’s the point, Pete, there’s never going to be a ‘one of these days’.”
Peter, knowing nothing else to say, asked, “Are you going with Ed to deliver the challenge? I’d feel better if he had someone with him who knows the Telmarines and Caspian is out of the question.”
“Of course. I planned on it.”
Not much later and not very far away, Caspian cornered the fair Susan as she looked through one of their makeshift pantries for something to eat. He deftly blocked the entrance as she tried to slip past him with a loaf of bread and some apples for herself and Lucy and observed, “You are avoiding me.”
She looked up at him, eyebrows raised. “Why would I do that, Prince?”
Annoyed at her formal address, he frowned. “I don’t know. The fact remains, that you do avoid me.”
She moved to his left, trying to slip through under his arm and, when he blocked, quickly ducked to the right and almost made it through. Almost. When she found her path blocked by his chest she almost growled and glared at him. When that had no effect whatsoever she said, “My sister is hungry.”
The prince smirked. “I gave your sister an apple before following you here. She will not starve.”
That took the wind out of Susan completely. Here was a man who actually thought to feed her little sister before he came and cornered her, keeping her from doing it herself. That was… unprecedented. And annoying. She put the loaf and apple down on a nearby table and crossed her arms, resisting the temptation to wipe the little smile off his face with an arrow or two to the chest. But that would be bad. They needed him alive after all. Future king
, she told herself, future king. Must not put holes into.
In the end all she did was narrow her eyes at him and demand, “Why do I like you?”That
got rid of the smirk rather nicely, too. He looked at her, flabbergasted and too blindsided to be pleased. “I beg your pardon?”
“Why do I like you? I’ve known men who were a lot more desirable than you. Men who were not young enough to be my sons. So why do I. Like. You.”
Maybe it was Buffy’s influence on her, but Susan actually growled, the good manners she usually valued so much all but forgotten. All that showed her discomfort was a small blush that could be attributed to the heat in the small room. Looking at the prince, she could understand why Buffy was always so frank, though. The reactions she received almost made it worth being rude.
Caspian recovered enough to mutter, “Thank the gods you are not my mother.”
Then, realizing she had heard, he blushed a brilliant scarlet under his tan. And he looked good with it. Susan gritted her teeth. And he asked why she avoided him.
“Queen Susan – “
“Don’t call me that,” she found herself snapping before she knew it. Hastily, she slapped a hand over her mouth. This being frank seemed to not have been such a great idea after all. “I would appreciate it if you would finally let me pass, Prince Caspian,” she quickly said. “I have things to do.”
He didn’t even budge. “Why?” he asked instead.
“Why what, my Lord?”
“Why do you not want me to call you Queen Susan?”
Involuntarily, she flinched at the address. He noticed. “That is none of your business.”
“Ah,” he corrected, “But I am not going to move until you tell me. You are obviously distressed.”
For a minute she stared at him, waiting to see if he really would keep her trapped here and weighing the pros and cons of trying to fight her way past him. Then her frustration and confusion with him won out and she said, “I don’t think I am anymore.”
His expression softened. “Not sure you are what anymore?”
“Queen Susan. I am not the queen I was before. Nor am I the girl I was… when I was not queen.”
She risked a look in his face but instead of amusement or spite, she found only warm laughter there. He stepped inside the pantry, leaving the doorway open for her to run, but she made no move. He took her hands in his and said, “I may not know you very well, my Queen, but I can assure you this: You are a queen. Perhaps not the one you once were, but a queen nonetheless. You could not be anything else if you tried. Consider this, maybe this new Narnia needs a new queen.”
He squeezed her hands tightly in his as he spoke of a new Narnia and its queen and she knew what he was thinking, could hear and echo of it in her own mind.
“I will be gone soon,” she cautioned, looking down at their joint fingers and finding them surprisingly well matched. Similar but for their different colouring.
“That is a pity,” Caspian observed.
He did not let go of her hands.
Peter did not just ask Buffy to accompany Edmund into the Telmarine camp, but also Glenstorm and the giant Wimbleweather, for pure intimidation. Edmund moaned and groaned about not needing an entire entourage but Peter wouldn’t hear of it.
Since everyone had vetoed his suggestion to go himself, he was determined to make his little brother as safe as he could instead. The younger King made no real protests, only griped about it and let his brother fuss, breaking into an enormous grin every time the High King wasn’t looking. It seemed his best friend was back and slowly taking over from the angry schoolboy that had been in the driver’s seat for the past year.
Buffy was spared from similar fussing by the fact that the two blondes had apparently had another one of their strange talks that left them very quiet and downtrodden. At least, everyone figured secretly, this time they were still talking to each other. It was progress.
While the a large part of their forces had been on the raid, another, smaller group, had gone to Cair Paravel to take from the ruins whatever was left of the weapons and clothes belonging to the siblings and come back with the four chests from the secret chamber. From one of them, Lucy pulled a smooth dress in a soft, spring green and offered it to Buffy with a wry grin. “I’m too small for it. But it should fit you, if you want it, that is.”
For a moment it looked like the older woman was about to turn the offer down but then she risked a look at herself and grimaced. Her dress, once clean and neat, had survived several tracks through the forest, a battle and various other questionable adventures since she had left the castle. It was torn and badly mended, dirty and most of all, smelly.
So she accepted the offer with as much grace as she could muster in the face of the queens’ twin expressions of glee and let them make her ‘presentable’ for her little outing behind enemy lines.
By the time she was clean, dressed, armed and had escaped Susan’s obsession with hair, the rest of the small entourage was sitting on the Stone Table, doing what men in all worlds and times did when about to go somewhere with a woman. They waited.
The brothers sat side by side, Wimbleweather looming over them, Glenstorm standing not far away, staring fixedly at the weapons he would be forced to leave behind for the negotiations. The centaur seemed to feel almost as naked without his weapons as she did, she mused as she stepped into the room and asked, “Can we go before Susan tries to do my hair again
The men all looked up and blinked. Peter’s jaw actually seemed to drop at the sight of her, clean, free of weapons, in a new (thirteen-hundred-year-old) dress and with her hair pulled back from her face but flowing freely around her shoulders, for once out of its customary braid. She scowled, putting her hands on her hips, immediately looking more like herself again. “Yes, I’m a woman under all the swords. Get over it and let’s go
“You’d rather face Miraz than Susan?” Edmund demanded, highly amused not only by her appearance but also by his brother’s totally hopeless reaction to it. The usually to smooth High King was gaping like the teenager he appeared to be on the outside. Hopelessly smitten
, Edmund decided, with a bemused headshake.
“She tried to straighten my hair,” Buffy growled. “My hair does not do straight. Especially not for a rendezvous with the Telmarines!”
“Let us go then,” Glenstorm interjected, obviously finding the discussion to be a waste of time.
Edmund’s amusement with the whole situation finally bubbled over. Or maybe that was hysteria at the thought of walking into the camp of a man that had proven without a shadow of a doubt to have no conscience or honour whatsoever. Either way, he laughed out loud as he patted the centaur on the shoulder. “Are you, by any chance, related to Oreius?”
“He was my ancestor,” Glenstorm confirmed seriously and Peter caught on, laughing, too.
“That explains a lot,” he allowed and sobered as he ordered, “Be careful, alright? One wrong move from him, and I want you out of there.”
“Yes, Peter,” Edmund said, the laughter fading from his face.
“Don’t worry,” Buffy offered suddenly, gentler than anyone had heard her before. “I’ll bring them all back in one piece.”
Peter nodded, sighed and let them go. They went.
They made the ‘beasts’ wait outside, much to Buffy’s and Edmund’s amusement. Did they think that ten feet distance was going to stop a centaur? Did they think Wimbleweather could not reach right into the tent from where he was standing? Did they think that Buffy was there merely as decoration? Okay, so she looked the part, thanks to the queens’ efforts but, holy hell, how arrogant could one people get?
Edmund stood before Miraz and his war council of lords, reading out the challenge that was just the right measure of polite and insulting to light a fire behind the usurper’s eyes. As Ed rolled up the scroll and tucked it away nonchalantly, more composed than most of the adults in the room, Miraz demanded, “Tell me, Prince Edmund – “
“King,” the teenager corrected. “It’s King Edmund, actually. Just king though. Peter’s the High King. It’s confusing, I know.” He finished his explanation with an amused little smile and Buffy finally understood why Peter had such faith in his brother’s ability to twist words. He was amazing.
“Why,” Miraz demanded, “Would we risk such a proposal if our army could wipe you out by nightfall?”
Ed’s smile never wavered. “Haven’t you already underestimated our numbers? Only a week ago, Narnians were extinct.”
“And so you will be again,” the Telmarine king thundered.
The Just King’s smile turned predatory at the edges. He had the other man now. “Then you should have little to fear.”
“This is not a question of bravery.”
“Oh, so you’re bravely
refusing to fight a swordsman half your age?” It was a lie, of course. Peter was, at most, ten years younger than the other king – in mind, that is - and he had, over the past week, mostly adjusted to his slighter body.
“I didn’t say I refused,” Miraz snapped, his gaze sweeping over his lords and landing, finally, on Buffy. His expression as he mustered her from head to toe was so very ugly
that Edmund felt the urge to step in front of her and block it. The only thing that made him hold still was the knowledge that Buffy could look after herself. “Let us talk about prizes.”
“Total surrender from the defeated and his life,” Edmund repeated curtly, knowing where this was going.
“I was thinking,” Miraz drawled, baiting the younger King “You might add the traitor to the deal. I am sure she could be of use
Buffy was faster than Edmund, taking half a step forward to look down at the seated Telmarine. “What makes you think that I am a possession to be handled, usurper?”
“There must be a reason Caspian would not leave you behind as he fled the castle.” A look down her front was a very clear indication of what that ‘reason’ was supposed to be. The blonde didn’t even flinch at the accusation of whoring herself to the prince.
“Look at me, Miraz. Do I look any different than I did the day you employed me?” She leaned forward across the table, staring at him. “Did your men tell you what I did to them, in the woods? Did you see what I did when we attacked your castle? Did you? I am something you can’t begin to imagine and I suggest you stop pissing me off, before I pull you apart with my bare hands.”
She stayed very still for a moment, looking him dead in the eye, willing him to see
that she was not making threats but promises. Then she shoved away from the table, her expression lighting up, her smile turning ditzy and content. Around the tent, everyone visibly released their breath. Edmund smirked. He was going to get a kick out of telling his brother how she had shut Miraz up.
The man in question suddenly drew a deep breath and laughed, shaking the last tendrils of the cold, clammy fingers he could have sworn had wrapped themselves around him as he stared into the blonde’s eyes. He had thought of her as nothing more than Narnian rabble before but now… she intrigued him. What was she?
He met her gaze again and found her smiling knowingly, as if she knew perfectly well what he was thinking.
“You shall have our support, my Lord, whatever your decision,” one of the lords finally piped up, diffusing the silent staring contest.
“Sire,” Sopespian spoke up, “Our military advantage alone allows us the perfect excuse to avoid –
“I am not avoiding anything!”
Sopespian immediately backtracked. “I am merely pointing out that my Lord is well within his rights to refuse combat with such… savages
.” The last was clearly directed as Buffy, who watched the scene unfold, completely untouched by the continued insults against her person. She had made her point and from the glint in her eyes, she was only too keen on following through on her promises.
Ed sent her a warning look. Starting a fight in the middle of the enemy camp was not on their agenda. Not yet.
They both watched Miraz flounder under the onslaught and subtle influencing of his lords, keenly noting who was sticking up for the new king and who was driving him into a corner. Traitors, while technically on the Narnians’ side, were always a risk because they had not honour whatsoever and so many agendas, they had trouble keeping track of them all.
In the end, the General was the one to drive in the last nail. “His majesty would never refuse,” he snapped with conviction, meeting Buffy’s gaze for the briefest of moments. “He relishes the chance to show his people the bravery of their new king.”
The trap snapped shut with an almost audible sound. Edmund smiled. Buffy fluttered her lashes at Miraz and mimed ripping something apart with both hands.