Tangle in Her Hair
A/N: Thank you all for your lovely reviews. This is chapter twelve of seventeen and how 'bout a deal? The nicer you are to me, the faster I update. And yes, I am that needy. And cheap. Very cheap. Also this is where we... ehh, sorta... stray... from the original plot. Just a bit.
Tangle in Her Hair
When the messengers came back with the news that Miraz had accepted the challenge, no-one cheered. There was only a moment of silence when everyone in the vicinity turned to look at Peter, measuring. Then they turned back to their work, and that was the end of it.
Peter himself seemed inclined the follow the example and went back to the maps and battle plans before him, trying to find the ideal weak point for Susan and Lucy to slip through the next morning. He would have preferred to send them now and give them more time, but the duel was not only to buy time, but also a distraction. The soldiers surrounding the How would all be straining to catch a glimpse of the fight, giving the girls the chance to slip through and get away.
Which was why the chosen spot had to be perfect. There could be no weakness, nothing to slow them down, no exposure. They had to be fast, invisible and inaudible or else they would have half the Telmarine army chasing them down and no-one had any illusions about what would happen if Miraz got his hands on the two queens.
Caspian was with him, giving insights to Miraz’s mind, while the fugitive Telmarine soldiers were explaining typical battle strategies and recounting tales of how they had been defeated or circumvented before. The oldest of the three soldiers in particular, had a lot of useful information that might help them cut the battle short and hopefully spare lives. On both sides. That understanding was what made the soldiers cooperate with the Narnians.
Glenstorm and Edmund both joined them as soon as they had collected their waiting weapons. The look of relief on the centaur’s face would have been comic, if it hadn’t been a testament of the broken world they lived in. A world where, even at the heart of your own country, you could never lay down your sword.
By dusk their spies - hares, two foxes, a few songbirds - returned and shared what intel they had gathered in the unsuspecting humans’ camp. It wasn’t much, but it helped refine and tweak their own strategies to work better.
They were going over the finalized plans for the third time when the girls – Susan, Lucy and Buffy, funny, Peter thought, how Buffy had become one of ‘the girls’ so quickly in his mind – broke up their war council. Sleep and food, they ordered, tolerating no protests because commanders that were dead on their feet, distracted and had their head full of too many facts and not enough fighting instincts, would get them all killed.
The men all gave in after a few ignored protests, but Peter refused to budge until Buffy grabbed him by the arm and whispered, “Believe me, I know how you feel. But this is useless.”
“I – “
“We’ll go over this again tomorrow morning. But not now,” she informed him, pulling him away from the plans. Intellectually he knew that any work he got done now would be sloppy because he was tired and wrung out, but how could he rest? He had never been good at switching off on the eve of battle and their desperate situation didn’t help matters any.
“You’re not going to fail,” Buffy said, out of earshot of anyone else and he felt himself go limp.
“Alright,” he agreed, not taking back his arm. “If you’ll keep my company.”
“Shouldn’t you be with your siblings, doing your big brother act?”
He shook his head and made a wry grimace. “We agreed long ago that there are to be no goodbyes before a battle. They never help.”
“Wise words. My sister said the same thing the last time we -” she clamped her mouth shut, biting her lips hard.
Peter took his arm from her hold and ran his hand down her hair, still loose from Susan’s efforts to make her look more like a woman and less like a warrior. “Can you stop fighting it, just for tonight? I will probably be dead tomorrow.”
“Don’t say crap like that! You’re not going to die!” She rounded on him, hands on hips.
He shrugged. “Maybe not in the duel. But we both know that Miraz will find some way to cheat. There’ll be a battle. People die in battle. One of them might be me.”
To expect anything else would have been to delude himself. This was war and people died in war. Even if he won the duel and killed Miraz, there would be a fight. There would be losses. That’s the way the world was. For something to be gained, something had to be lost. For peace, there had to be sacrifices. For Caspian’s throne, there had to be bodies. For Peter and his siblings to live, others would die. Directly or indirectly, it did not matter. He’d rather die in Narnia with a sword in his gut, than in England of old age. At least here he would know that he’d died for a reason
“I won’t let you!” Buffy snarled in his face.
“I’m just being realistic,” he defended, arms raised, palms out, unwilling to fight.
“You’re being an idiot!”
He dropped his arms, slumping. He was already nearing the end of his rope and while he usually enjoyed their verbal sparring matches – they were a game, a chase - tonight he had no patience for them. If he died tomorrow, he didn’t want to spend the night beforehand fighting useless fights.
“No fighting. That’s all I asked for. Just to spend some time with you without fighting. But if you’re going to –“
you, Peter, I can’t
“- be like this, I’ll find company elsewhere and leave you drown in your self-pity and hatred.” He finished, throwing her own accusation from the day they had crossed the gorge back in her face.
He’d tried. He really had. He liked her, liked her bravery and her wisdom, her sharp sword and sharp tongue, the way she never gave in and never bowed to anyone. He liked
her. But despite looking like a teenager, Peter was not one and he knew how quickly life could end. He knew that all it took to end a life was a flick of the wrist, a twist of the blade. Less than a second. He knew that sometimes good things hurt and he knew that love – that of siblings, of friends, of family, of lovers - was always worth any pain.
It was Aslan’s truest lesson. To love, because everything else was meaningless without it.
And Buffy was scared, so very scared. She could face a horde of Telmarines and not flinch, but she was scared of feeling, of being happy, no matter how briefly. She hid behind a wall of fury and anger that crumbled and wavered more every day, but she simply refused to step away from it.
It was the worst kind of cowardice.
“Self-pity,” she repeated, her voice dead and low.
“Yes,” he spat, fed up with letting her yell at him and tell him what he couldn’t do. “Self-pity. You are so scared of pain, you won’t even try! You just run and hide!”
“I lost my family,” she suddenly screamed, the artificial, forced calm finally abandoning her, “I lost my lovers, my friends, my life
! Everything I loved, everything I ever had, was taken from me! How dare you – “
“But you’re still here!” he screamed right back, not caring in the least that they could probably be heard in the Telmarine camp, they were screaming so loudly. “You
’re still alive! So live
, damn it all!”
Whatever else he meant to yell was lost when she suddenly flew at him, not to hit him as he thought, but to grab him by the collar and drag him down to her level and kiss her like he was the last gulp of oxygen in an ending universe. She bit at his lip until he tasted blood and when he gasped from the pain, she was there, pushing him into a wall, attacking him, taking from him all that he had meant to offer with the bitter need of fifty years.
Anything, anything at all to shut him up, to stop him from giving words and shape to the things she knew already, but wanted to forget.
It didn’t matter if he was seventeen or thirty-something, if she was twenty or seventy, if he would die and she would leave, if they would never see each other again, never speak, never be anything more than they were here, on the eve of a battle that could well be the end of everything.
All that mattered was his anger and her fear, his rage and her hate, all burning up, burning too bright and hot to touch, scalding them.
When he finally brought his hands up to tangle in her hair and respond, he felt tears on her cheeks.
Caspian was looking for Susan when he came upon Edmund and Lucy sitting outside the short tunnel leading to the room he, the siblings, and Buffy were sleeping in.
“I wouldn’t go in there,” Edmund suggested mildly as he made to pass them with only a nod and a smile for little Lucy.
The king smirked. “Let’s say, Buffy and Pete worked out their differences.”
“I beg your pardon?” Worked them out? The entire How had heard their fight a few hours earlier. Surely they were not still fighting? Caspian did not put it past Buffy to become violent and they needed the High King in one piece come morning.
It was Lucy who answered, with a giggle and a sly expression that was years too old for her face. “They are with
each other, Caspian.” As the prince’s look of confusion didn’t clear, she elaborated, “With each other and without
Realization dawned and Caspian blushed a colour commonly only found in tomatoes. He stuttered something along the lines of ‘oh well’ and turned to go when he heard steps from the tunnel, followed closely by Susan carrying and enormous bundle of blankets.
Automatically he moved to lighten her load and found himself with his own and Edmund’s bed roll in his arms. The confusion returned as Susan half whispered, “They are asleep. I got everything we need for tonight and I am not
going back in there.”
“Did they wear each other out?” Edmund jeered with the tone of a grown man rather than a teenaged boy and Caspian was once more reminded how far out of the norm those four were. Here stood three children, discussing their older brother’s sex life without any signs of discomfort. Quite the opposite. They seemed amused. Even little Lucy, who should by rights not even have known such things existed, exchanged coy looks with her older sister.
Susan tried to glare at her brother in scolding but failed, the corners of her mouth curling. “They did not even stir when I fetched our things.”
Lucy gave a low whistle and appropriated her bedroll before giving Susan a look of some significance and grabbing her older brother by the hand. “Come on, Ed, I’m tired and we have been robbed of our bedroom.”
Edmund snatched his blankets from the prince and the youngest monarchs wandered off, grumbling, with fond expressions on their faces.
A moment later, Caspian and Susan were alone, each holding one remaining bedroll, staring at each other awkwardly until Caspian gathered his courage. After the conversation he had just been part of, he did not think the offer he was about to make would be turned down.
“Would you care to keep me company tonight, Queen Susan? I am sure I will not be able to sleep and so I have volunteered for sentinel duty at the top of the How.”
She seemed to consider the offer for a bit before nodding, hefting her own blankets higher. “We better take those,” she said, “It gets cold up there. And you can tell me more of those stories the Professor tells about our reign.”
Peter woke to the feeling of someone stirring beside him. He felt disoriented for a moment, confused, but unlike usually, he did not immediately go for his sword. No, this time, the confusion was not that of a nightmare but of something… good? He felt warm, cosy, relaxed. Dare he say it, happy.
Then someone grunted behind him and he felt a body shift and stretch, crawling over him. He opened his eyes in time to see Buffy sit up at the edge of the makeshift pile of blankets that was his bed in the room set aside for the humans in the How. He blushed scarlet as he realized that someone must have walked in on him and Buffy because the other bed rolls were gone and the room empty except for the two of them. He hoped it hadn’t been Lucy or Edmund. They would tease him endlessly and looking at his… at Buffy, he wasn’t sure that would go over well.
In the backdrop of a few meagrely spluttering torches the skin of her back turned to him shone golden, smooth and soft. Yet he knew there were scars, more scars than he had ever seen on a single person before, no matter how battle worn. They were thin, almost invisible lines, crisscrossing her entire body. Every one of them a wound, a cut, a tear. Everyone an old hurt.
Buffy moved, rolling smoothly to her feet and grabbing her discarded dress, slipping it over her head. She wriggled until it was where it was supposed to be and slipped into her boots next, carding her hands through her tangled hair.
She undid the small braids that held the front parts back and tried smoothing the whole mess out into something that did not scream to the world what she had spent the past hours doing. She failed and eventually gave up, turning toward the exit and her cloak.
“Where are you going?” Peter asked quietly into the silence of the night when she was almost at the door.
She turned, her expression unreadable. He didn’t know if she regretted what they had done, hated him, loved him, or what she thought. Her lips were still kiss swollen, her eyes red from crying and he knew without seeing them, that he had impressive scratch marks down his shoulder blades and back. Passion. Grief. Anger.
But no, not anger. The walls had crumbled.
He had never met a contradiction quite like her and he wanted, craved her desperately, for as long as he could have her. He might die at dawn, or he might be sent back to England by sunset. But even with the threat of loss hanging over his head like a storm cloud waiting to break, he could not regret.
She tilted her head to one side and answered, “One last errand to run. Want to come?”
He gave no verbal answer, quickly grabbing his pants and pulling them on, followed by his boots. It took him a moment to find his shirt and he could feel her eyes on his back as he shoved it on. She did not apologize for marking him. Last he fastened his belts and weapons to his hips and grabbed his own cloak.
With a few quick steps he reached her side and with more confidence than he felt, he held out his left hand for her to take.
After staring fixedly at the offered limb for a moment, she took it with a resigned expression that seemed to say, I’m doomed anyway
Glozelle had always found sleep elusive before a battle but this time, he did not even try to lay down. This time it was not only worry for his soldiers, his lord and his own well being that kept him awake, but also that for his enemies, his rightful king, his honour, his conscience and Asmira. Too many factors, too much that could go wrong, would
go wrong. He had investments in both sides of this war, his men on one side, his proper lord and conscience on the other side. No matter which way the battle went, he was bound to fail one side.
He sat in his tent, glaring at the spicy wine someone had brought him, not daring to drink. He didn’t want to be inebriated, didn’t want his head clouded. Not tonight. With a frown, he set aside the goblet and leaned back in his chair, staring fixedly at nothing until, suddenly, a shadow passed by his tent.
“Hollow man,” a low voice hissed, calling him, beckoning him. Remembering Asmira on a balcony, eyes fixed on broken children, remembering the expressions of three of his men as he gave them a passphrase that had hopefully saved their lives, he knew he had no choice. Those strange lines of that strange poem of Asmira’s home, wherever that was, had become symbol of his betrayal.
He grabbed his things and stepped out of his tent, scanning the area. There, behind Sopespian’s tent, a shadow hovered between two trees. He stepped in its direction and it flitted away, into the forest.
He followed that insubstantial shade through the darkness, often thinking he had lost sight of it, just to have it double back and collect him. He listened for footsteps, for breathing, for anything to indicate what it was he was following, but he heard nothing. He was being led by a ghost.
That was probably a good thing, as being seen with anyone at this time of night was probably a bad idea and might get him killed by the King’s hand before sunrise. As it was, he simply followed his guide in what he recognized to be a wide curve around the enemy’s fortress, checking on the men on sentinel duty on his way. It was a good excuse and it let him know just where the men were positioned.
Then, when the Narnians’ camp lay between him and the Telmarine camp, the direction changed, leading him deeper into the forest. Once more, he followed.
Susan was almost asleep with her head on Caspian’s shoulder when something moved below them, at the entrance of the How. Asterius came marching out, followed by two of his clans men. All three of them marched toward the circle of broken pillars in the middle of the field and started inspecting it ostensibly. Caspian was about to yell for them to get back inside before they got killed, damn them, when Susan clamped a hand of steel on his arm, sitting up straight and pointing toward to shadows that had slipped out of the How behind the minotaurs and now made for the forest in a straight line, keeping low and out of sight.
“They are a distraction,” Caspian realized, his gaze slipping back to Asterius and his companions, who were moving well within shooting range of the enemy and making enough ruckus to be noticed.
Beside him, Susan kept her eyes on the two shadows before hissing sharply, “That’s Peter’s cloak. And the other one is Buffy’s.”
For a minute or so, both of them followed their chosen subjects until Susan suddenly breathed a sigh of relief, mingled with anger, “I am going to kill them when they come back.”
Then she brought her fingers to her lips and gave a single, sharp whistle. Immediately the minotaurs fell back, sprinting back to the safety of the How. Caspian watched until he was sure they were safe and then turned, trying to make out the shapes of the High King and his protector in the dark. He found nothing.
“I will help you,” he growled.
They watched for another fifteen minutes, looking for any trace of what their two friends were up to, when something moved inside the Telmarine camp. “If Peter went in there, I really will kill him,” his sister muttered, not daring to blink.
But it was not Peter moving among the tents and sentinels but, “Glozelle,” Caspian breathed, recognizing the man who was taller than almost any other Telmarine.
He nodded and they watched again, this time as Glozelle took off into the forest, walking in strange patterns, checking on his men. Unlike the Telmarine guards though, the two on top of the How could, occasionally, catch a glimpse of whatever the man was following.
Eventually, after rounding half the How, he veered off into the depths of the forest and was gone, headed in the same direction as Buffy and Peter.
“Will they be safe?” Caspian asked, worried.
Susan shrugged, then nodded. “Buffy trusts this Glozelle and the men he sent have been very helpful. What do you think?”
Strangely touched that she valued his opinion, he mirrored her shrug and said, after some evaluation, “Glozelle has a very strict sense of honour and fairness. I do not think that he can tolerate what my uncle has been doing these past weeks. Not if he knows the truth.”
“Good,” the Gentle Queen said, “Good.”
Glozelle almost jumped out of his skin when he followed the shade down a steep slope into a natural ring of rocks that would keep any sound inside the depression in their middle, and found himself face to face with someone in Narnian clothing.
He looked around frantically for his guide and found it atop one of the heavy boulders. It shifted forward, slipped down into the depression and turned into a human n a cloak.
“Took you long enough,” the other figure, a man, said.
The shade turned person shoved down their hood and became, “Asmira!”
Glozelle almost jumped backward as she turned and shot him a quick smile. She had been his guide, his shadow. A human after all but no, no, a human could not have moved like that, could not have done as she had done. He remembered her words to Miraz that very morning, remembered that she had indeed not aged in ten years and he felt that his friend was suddenly a stranger.
But before he could ask the obvious question, she said, “Buffy.”
“Call me Buffy. It’s my real name.”
She smiled to soften her words and Glozelle found his voice to ask, “What are
Her smile faltered a bit as she made her way over to her companion and sat on a low rock next to him. “Where I come from, we had a word for what I am, but I hate that title. Does it really matter?”
He would have answered if he’d known how, but the third of their party, apparently knew the right answer. He put a hand on her shoulder and said, “No.”
Then he pushed his hood back, too, and Glozelle found himself face to face with a boy. A boy with fire and rage and wisdom and years beyond his years in his eyes. A king if he had ever seen one, a noble knight, a warrior. Someone worthy
down to the last scrap of him.
High King Peter.
Finally, he understood the allure of the old stories telling of the four monarchs. If this was what they had been like, were
like, then how could anyone not revere them?
“My Lord,” he offered, bowing.
The boy chuckled. “None of that, now. Tell us what you can about tomorrow.”
And with that, the High King slid down the rock he had been leaning against, sitting cross legged on the ground next to As-Buffy. “I’m too tired for much ceremony tonight,” he offered by way of explanation, casting an unreadable but somehow satisfied look at the woman next to him.
She grunted and dug her elbow into his ribs none too gently. He winced away from her with a slight laugh that didn’t carry in the oppressive night air. “Ouch,” he lamented, earning himself a raised eyebrow.
Instead of verbally apologizing, Buffy did something that was entirely out of character with the person Glozelle had known for a decade. She simply reached over and grabbed the king’s hand, holding on to it. He looked startled and hid it badly. She looked solemn as she said, “The damage is already done now, isn’t it?”
The king looked away from her into the darkness but didn’t let go of her hand.
It hurt. Looking at Asmira and this boy, seeing that they had what Glozelle had wanted from her for so long, partnership, comfort, care, it hurt. But it was an abstract, bittersweet hurt. He and Asmira, Buffy, whoever she was, would never have worked, would never have held hands like this on the eve of battle, wordlessly and comfortably. He hurt for what they had, what was denied him.
But he was glad to see that his beautiful, cold friend did indeed have a heart somewhere below the bitter sheen of anger she had always carried like a shield. A heart that still beat.
So he mirrored them by sitting down a few feet away and giving them what they wanted, burying the ache in his chest and telling himself that he was finally doing something right
. He could be proud of that at least. Even if it was going to get him killed.
“There is not much I can do,” he explained. “There are a handful of men loyal to me, who would lay down their weapons if I asked them to, but they will not turn on their comrades. And even as head of the military, I cannot override a direct order from Miraz when he is standing next to me.”
King Peter shook his head. “We didn’t expect much different. But there are a few things you might be able to do.”
“With permission, I will help you because you help Caspian, but I do not want to see my men dead. If what you plan will cost more lives than necessary, I cannon help you.”
He thought he saw something akin to respect enter the younger man’s eyes. “Of course. But if you could manage to place more men with the cavalry, they could be taken out of the fight early on. Also…”