The Trees Came
A/N: Erm... whoops? This is the third to last chapter and I was thinking, if you're nice to me, I'm gonna be nice to you and post the last parts on Monday and Tuesday. And then I can finally start posting something else. Sometimes my own personal posting-rules suck.
The Trees Came
The trees came and the battle turned so fast they almost didn’t notice at first. The remaining catapults went down, leaving the archers free to fire again. The last Telmarines inside the caved in area fell to roots, sucked into the darkness of the earth. And those outside the hole looked up and up and up and found themselves face to face with trees
Trees. Those beasts, those animals and fairy tale creatures had the trees
on their side. The land itself was fighting for them. And like an ant hill in strong rain, the Telmarines scattered, scared, dying, running for their lives.
Panicking in the face of something too big to comprehend.
“To the river,” someone yelled and although no-one knew who, they all picked up the call. To the river, to the river.
Trees didn’t cross rivers, didn’t walk on bridges. It was logic in a world without and so they ran for their lives, ran without stopping or thinking or breathing.
To the river.
What they didn’t know was that Sopespian, the one who had given the first order to fall back, had no intention of fleeing. No, he wanted to move the battle, not end it. There was no way he would stop, no way he would let those things
take his crown from him.
Miraz was dead, Glozelle as good as. He was the only lord with enough of a standing to take over Telmar and he would, oh he would.
The crown, the country, the people, it was his
. All his. It belonged to him and no-one else. He would take it and keep it and his sons and their sons would sit on that throne until the end of the world. Kings. Not vassals, not lords, not loyal servants to crown and country. Kings
And if he had to sacrifice the entire army to reach that goal, well, then he would. Every dead soldier was another man that could not oppose his take over.
To the river.
To victory and death.
Well, not his
Riding on Aslan’s back as they hurried to Beruna, Lucy felt like she hadn’t in a long time. Free. Happy. Light. Light as a feather and if she let go of the lion’s mane, she would rise up and fly away on the soft Narnian winds.
She knew that somewhere her siblings and friends were fighting, were possibly dying
, but the trees stirred, the dryads danced all around them, singing their old songs of war and victory and Aslan moved under her, strong and timeless and endless.
And Lucy knew what no-one else in Narnia knew yet.
That it would be alright.
They would be just fine.
Aslan was coming and he was bringing with him an army that could not be stopped, could not be defeated. Trees could not be shot, could not be stabbed to death. And the dryads within them had no physical form at all.
They would win and the Telmarines would be driven back beyond the borders of Old Narnia and the country would belong to the Kings and Queens and people of Narnia once more.
It would be home again.
Already Lucy was brimming with anticipation. She would ride again, would sail the Eastern Seas, would play with Susan and watch her brothers mock fight in the fields. Maybe they could rebuild the Cair, could move back there. They would take Buffy and Caspian with them and maybe she and Edmund would find someone to love, too, one day. In a few decades or so.
She was in no hurry.
Because it would be alright. Everything would be alright again. Just like it had been.
“Oh Lucy,” Aslan rumbled underneath her, his voice sad and quickly torn away by the rushing winds. Nothing happens the same way twice.
But Lucy simply shook her head. No. They deserved this, didn’t they? They were allowed to be happy now. They had to be.
The lion sped up his steps, not answering her unspoken questions and then they reached Beruna, crossing most of the river in one giant leap and coming to a still stand at the end of the bridge that lay in Telmar – the land stolen from Narnia so long ago - beyond the border of the river.
She dismounted swiftly, with motions so practiced and well known they would go to the grave and beyond with her, and stood next to her friend, her Aslan, watching the opposite shoreline for movement.
Beyond the trees she could hear the battle, could hear steel on steel, the cry of wounded men, the sound of great crashes. Then the sounds changed, the clanging of swords subsided almost completely as a new noise started up.
It was a noise of terror. An entire army was screaming. Lucy recognized them as the Telmarines, knew how Narnian screams sounded and knew that these were different.
The trees had reached the battle.
The Telmarines knew fear.
And then the screams started growing louder.
She looked at the lion and found him staring fixedly at the tree line. Waiting. Bracing herself, she mirrored him, unmoving. Waiting.
Narnia behind, a single girl and a big cat in front. It was a harder choice than it should have been. Bloodthirsty army of beasts or little girl with pet?
Sopespian, sitting on his horse in the middle of the bridge that connected Narnia and Telmar, looked first to one end of the bridge and then the other, wondering. Below and around him, the soldiers, his
soldiers had already made their choice, wading into the water.
Anything to get away from the monsters that commanded even the trees. Away from the furious girl with the constantly singing bow, away from the boy brothers with the never stopping swords, away from the traitor whore who fought like five men and never flinched as blood sprayed her face, away from Caspian who had lost the soft, helpless look he had always worn and become a man. Away from the Narnians in all their fairy tale and nightmare glory, hunting them, chasing them, killing them.
Burning them with something that was too bright, too volatile for them to comprehend.
They didn’t notice the girl on the other side of the bridge, blind in their panic.
He noticed. And he watched her smile as she drew a single, small dagger and held it expertly in her tiny, fragile hands, daring him mutely to come closer.
Forward or back. Girl or army? Lion or Narnia?
Sopespian knew that there was more to the two in front of him than the naked eye showed. He understood that they stood in front of him backed by something invisible and powerful. He knew that the choice that seemed no choice at all to the foot soldiers was indeed difficult to make.
But in the end he made it quickly and efficiently, like a good leader. Made the only choice he could make, if he didn’t want his people to rebel against him.
No matter what those two had hidden up their sleeves, it could not be more dangerous than the army at his back.
“Charge!” he yelled, sword raised, aimed at the smiling little girl.
That was his choice.
It was the wrong one.
The river god came, bringing with him the weight of the ages and a thousand tons of water, crushing anything that resisted in his merciless, cold embrace before caving in on himself and flowing on, unstrained, unconcerned with the dead sinking to the bottom of his bed.
Buffy watched from between Caspian and Peter, witnessing destruction on a scale she had not witnessed since her home town had fallen into a hole that was not a hole but a gate into another, a horrible world.
The others froze, motionless in shock at the utter destruction, the ease with which it happened and she stood among them, the only one who understood, truly knew
the terror that was the gods.
A lion roared and a people was swept away.
That was all it took for a god to shape a world. A word, a roar, a cry. Aslan could have saved Narnia a thousand years ago when the Telmarines had first come and yet he had not. She had known that all the while, had tried to tell the childrennotchildren scattered around her, but they had failed to understand.
Aslan had his reasons. Aslan knew best. Aslan would come. All that was needed was faith.
It was funny though, how, as they converted to – no, not converted, they believed too strongly for that, but as they finally accepted it as fact - her point of view, as they saw what she saw, understood what she knew, how at the very same time, she faltered.
Her anger was still fading, falling away and no matter how desperately she clutched it close, it slipped through her fingers and became nothing but thin air. And in the hollowness, in the echo left behind she saw in the lion’s eyes across the river what she saw in every mirror.
And she knew something else.
She knew that gods made mistakes.
She knew then, that gods grew tired.
And she looked away.
The others crossed the river, falling upon Lucy with hugs and kisses and love and care and worry and then they knelt, unquestioningly, at their lion’s feet. Peter looked back at her over his shoulder, searching for her as he waited to be asked to rise before his lord and found her still on the other shore, far away, unmoving.
She stood, torn between going forward and raging at the lion god with a fury that was artificial and make believe and going back and simply fading into the trees. The battle, the war, was over. Caspian would be king. She would be sent on to her next task.
Forward or back, anger or acceptance, screaming or silence. She didn’t know, couldn’t decide and tried to hate this country for sucking the rage out of her and failed, because it had taken the hatred, too.
In the end, she simply stood there.
Even gods grew tired.
Kneeling in front of the lino was never even a question. There was no hesitation, no doubt, no wavering. Caspian lay eyes on the proud golden animal beside Queen Lucy and he knew that this was not an animal at all.
Buffy’s word was god, Peter’s was lord, Susan’s and Edmund’s was Aslan and Lucy’s was simply friend.
He was all of that.
And he was more.
He shone, even in the bright sunlight and he felt warm and soothing and gentle even from ten feet away, soft and caring. Wild and fierce. Aslan, Lucy had told him, was not a tame lion. But he came when he was needed.
He had doubted, had looked away from the small queen’s enormous faith. How could he believe in something he’d never even seen? He knew now.
Aslan had been needed and he had come.
Buffy said that he had come too late, had left them to suffer when he could have acted. He had agreed with her, silently, wordlessly. Where was this god, when he could help them easily?
Now, it mattered little when Aslan had chosen to appear. What did matter was that he had
Narnia was saved and Caspian was under no illusion whatsoever who had done the saving. He had done his part but that part was small, smaller than that of those that surrounded him now, unimportant. It would not have been enough.
Aslan had come.
Like Lucy had promised.
Late, like Buffy had predicted.
And Caspian fell to his knees without thought of decision, as Peter and Edmund and Susan and he knew, like they did, that what had been did not matter.
Aslan was here.
And Caspian knew, that from this day on, even if he never saw him again, even if he woke tomorrow, thinking all this a dream, he would believe. He would have faith in the lion.
That was all there was to it. All he had to do. Just believe. Nothing more. Aslan would take care of the rest.
Peter looked at her over his shoulder, finding her far away in body and farther away in spirit, looking utterly lost on the bright, white shore of the River Rush.
Her weapons were all gone, her dress stained and torn, chainmail dark with blood that looked like rust. Her hair was tousled and her cheek bruised. She looked like a broken doll, abandoned for a newer toy.
He ached because this was the end. Their time, short as it had been, was over. Caspian knelt beside him, head bowed and back straight, a King of Narnia, no longer the stupid little boy Peter had seen in him only a few short days ago.
Caspian of Narnia. His successor. His heir.
The end of Narnia as he knew it, the beginning of something new and different, making him obsolete. A single glance at Aslan had confirmed only what he had known in the marrow of his bones since coming back.
Time’s up, Pete, time to go.
Back to England and its bombs and gas masks, its foul air and poisoned food, its wars and deaths, dark grey that hung over everything. Away from green Narnia and its people, away from its rivers and mountains and memories. Away from Buffy, who, despite her best efforts, glowed like a beacon in the dark whenever she forgot to be angry for a while.
She’d warned him. Told him, hurt. Pain. Separation. She’d tried to keep him at arm’s length to avoid heartache. He had yelled at her, drawing her out, making her lose control. Because whether or not they admitted it, the connection was already there. If his heart had to break, he’d rather it would break for something real.
Peter had never been a fan of maybes and things left unsaid, undone. Better to have loved and lost, he had read, somewhere, an age and a world away. He had agreed then and he agreed now. Better to have had two days with her than nothing at all because even if she was not the love of his life, even if they might never have made it in the long run, it had been good.
Good to have her, to fight with her, to kiss her and care for her and hold her in the dark and curse her and yell at her. Good to know her. Good.
If he’d stepped back when she asked him to, had backed away and left her alone, he would forever wonder.
So he ached, sweet and bitter and sad and he wished, with all his heart, for her to cross that river and stand beside him as he faced the lion. To be with him for a little longer.
She didn’t. She just stood there, miles away, arms wrapped around herself, leaving bloody fingerprints on her own upper arms, clutching herself tightly, as if she might lose her own body. As if it might walk away with her in it and not give her a chance to say goodbye.
But then she moved, turned, walked away, not in the opposite direction but sideways, downstream, along the river that still carried the dead. Just walking.
Aslan spoke and Peter lost sight of her behind a gaggle of Telmarines. He did not find her again.
+I am sorry
, Susan thought, kneeling, humbled, relieved and tired and glad, so glad. Because as long as Aslan lived, so did the country she remembered. As long as Aslan was here, Narnia was more than a dream from a summer spent in the country.Sorry I doubted you
He bade them to stand and they did, met their gazes and tilted his head just so, as he always had when there was an obvious lesson to be learned and he was just waiting for them to catch up.
This time, Susan understood without a single word. She was forgiven. There had never been fault.
Her feet, faltering at the crossing of the gorge, had found their rhythm again and their stride. Susan the Gentle walked Narnia again, as she had a thousand years ago, unbowed and unbroken.
A relic maybe, but not obsolete. Not yet. Please Aslan, not yet. Let us stay, please let us stay.
Reepicheep came before her prayers were answered or denied, tailless and comical in his despair, his knights braver than he was, pride stung and voice high. They offered their own tails to the altar of his ego and Aslan stopped them as she knew he would.
Not for the proud, silly mouse but for his brave, loyal knights. Susan smiled and leaned lightly into Peter’s side, remembering, as she knew her brothers were, Lucy’s daisy chain lessons of humility, of pride beaten down to size and acceptance worn high upon a brow that was decorated with silly, silly flowers.
Lucy and Aslan, those two had always kept them all from flying away on their little fancies and small problems. Had kept them grounded.
In England, Susan had thought that grounding lost and flown high on make-up and fashion, on boys and books and anything that took her thoughts off the country that had exiled her. But oh, she’d been so wrong. Lucy had still been there, Aslan in her heart.
Susan had simply forgotten where to look.
Finding her sister’s gaze now, she smiled, softly, quietly and found her look and smile returned not by her little sister but by her best friend who lived inside that small frame. Lucy, oh Lucy,
Susan thought, and promised herself to do better from now on.
Her gaze travelled on, from sister to lion and fondly, tiredly, she cursed that beloved, dratted cat inside her head. His mere presence made everything seem so very, very easy.
Edmund looked from a glowing Caspian to a sad and resigned Peter to a beaming Lucy to a lighter Susan and he rolled his eyes. Great Lion, it had taken them long enough.
It amused him that he, the traitor, the odd one out, the doubter, was the one, the only one, beside little Lucy - who didn’t count because, come on, it was Lucy
- who had never faltered.
His older siblings had stumbled and struggled so hard and no needlessly. If they’d just listened to him…
Well, story of his life. No-one ever did listen to him, until it was too late. Not even Pete who really should have known better. Oh well. No matter. He was there afterwards to set them right either way and this time, maybe, they would be okay.
Had to be. He wasn’t bloody doing anything like this again anytime soon, thanks a lot.
Truth, Glozelle mused, already feverish with blood loss and the strain of fighting injured, was a scary thing.
These last few weeks all he had been concerned with was honour and truth and loyalty. His honour restored, truth about Miraz brought to light and loyalty to a lord who, for a change, actually deserved it.
Letting Buffy go in the forest, sending his doomed men to flee for their lives, meeting with King Peter to plan the downfall of his own men, all those things had happened in the name of those three abstracts, these ideas.
And when he’d jumped on his horse and started bringing down his catapults, he’d thought he’d die for those same concepts and he was satisfied with that. Cleansed in death, his battered honour restored, his peace made with the world and the knowledge that he’d given everything he had to do what he believed was right.
Glozelle and the things he believed to be right had become somewhat estranged in the past decade.
Death in battle, all in all, had seemed like a good way to go. Maybe he would be branded a traitor, maybe a hero. But if anyone ever called upon his ghost, he could say he had done what was right.
Only it didn’t work like that. He survived. Lived and breathed and hurt
and followed the two armies to the shores of Beruna and stood there as the river rose and swept away his people.
Stood there, still, when the kings and queens knelt before the lion. He looked the great cat in the eye and he saw, honest, hard and brutal, real
The truth about himself. Honour should not be something that came and went but a constant, an automatic reaction and code. Truth should not be something that was denied for a decade and returned only when it seemed convenient. Loyalty was not something to be thrown around, wavering, weak.
Neither of the three was meant to lie dormant inside a man until a blonde woman stood in a dark forest, a sword in each hand, looking at him with death and pain in her eyes, asking, are you friend or enemy?
And dying for something you believed in was not half as brave as living for it.
He saw, in the lion’s eyes, understanding of his motives. Aslan knew that he was human and fallible and that he had done what he thought best. But he saw also that it was not yet enough.
There were things left to do for Glozelle of Telmar. More, perhaps, than he had ever dreamed of.
He would live. He would heal. He would not die a martyr on a battlefield, unmourned and unknown. Not while the lion still had a mission for him.
With most of the Telmarine army swept away, quite literally, the clean up was fast and easy. Those that were left were disarmed and put together in easily controlled groups of ten and taken away to be locked up. For now. They would be let go, Caspian was adamant about that, as soon as the aftermath of the battle had been dealt with. For now though, they needed to be out of sight and unable to cause trouble; they all agreed on that.
Edmund, Judge of Old, took over dealing with the prisoners while Peter and Caspian let themselves be spirited away by their generals to discuss how to take over their newly acquired country as peaceably as possible. Lucy went to heal all that were beyond hope without her Cordial and Aslan accompanied her, a shadow of light and strength trailing in a little girl’s wake.
Buffy had disappeared almost as soon as the fighting was done with and reappeared inside the How, helping tend to those wounded that would heal without Lucy’s aid. She cleaned, stitched and bandaged tirelessly until the hares ganged up on her and kicked her out, saying she needed sleep.
Susan took her place, gentle and caring, a mother to all who were in pain. Buffy went without protest, knowing that Susan was better suited for the job than she ever could be. The girl queen was truly at home among her people, touching them, soothing them. She was all heart, in the end.
Buffy on the other side, was not heart but hand. And she could not rest, could not sleep. Her time here was ending and she wanted, she needed, to be awake for every moment she had left.
After getting booted out of the infirmary she could be found on the battlefield, taking on the gruesome task of sorting out the dead. Telmarines to one side, Narnians to another, all treated with respect and honour, all mourned for, counted and, if possible, named.
For a while she considered dragging Caspian out from his council meeting to show him what she was doing, to impress upon him, once and for all, that this was how all wars ended. Whether you won or lost, in the end, there were always corpses to sort through.
She didn’t, though, because she didn’t have the heart for it. She was, like the Pevensies, here on borrowed time now and all five of them knew it. Hell, half the Narnians knew it.
This was the end: Half of them dead, their country freed, the war over, their broken bodies splayed across a field and their leaders about to be taken away again.
She would have liked to find Peter and make him tell her one of his mad stories but she couldn’t.
In the aftermath of battle, there was always only death.