But a Sacrifice
A/N: Thanks for your kind reviews.
But a Sacrifice
So it began, the woman that had once been Buffy, but was now something else entirely, thought as the new heir’s first scream cut through the night like a blade, heading straight for his cousin’s heart.
Unnoticed in a room filled with worried and relieved women she slipped backward and quickly out the door before taking off at a dead run.
So it began.
Caspian almost had a heart attack and he was sure the Professor did
, when the stable door opened from inside as they approached and the Prince was roughly grabbed and pulled inside.
He was whirled around, barely able to make out the Professor attempting to come to his aid and getting roughly pushed away. He made to call out, forgetting momentarily that it would be the death of him.
The next thing he knew was the rough wall against his back and a small, warm hand clenched tightly over his mouth.
“Are you crazy?” a voice hissed and he almost choked as he realized that the person holding him around the neck was a woman. “I’m here to help, so shut up
She pushed him into the wall once for emphasis, or maybe as a warning and then let him go, stepping back and pulling down the hood of her cloak. Caspian blinked rather stupidly.
He knew her. Of course he knew her. Everyone inside the castle did. She was the only blonde among a people of black hair and dark eyes and further stood out due to her refusal to wear the traditional Telmarine colours. Instead she wore a green that had become her trademark, something that was, in itself, a scandal.
Only the nobles, the lords and ladies, had their own colours. Teachers of unimportant girls did not. Caspian had spent many hours of his childhood tracking her through the halls of his father, watching her silent derision and cold demeanour. But he had never considered her more than an anomaly of colouring and heritage until now.
He opened his mouth to ask something - anything really - when she rolled her eyes and pushed at his chest with one hand warningly. “Quiet, or you might as well stab yourself and spare Miraz the trouble.”
The Professor seemed to recover from shock faster than the prince, because he stood from where he had fallen during the brief scuffle and asked, voice barely above a whisper, “Asmira?”
“Yes,” the small woman hissed back, unclasping her cloak suddenly and pushing the deep green velvet at Caspian. “Take that. Put it on.”
“The guards are looking for you but they are used to me taking midnight strolls. I’ll take your cloak and horse and ride out, you wait for a bit and follow on foot. There’s a horse waiting for you at the end of the bridge. Make for the woods, don’t stop and don’t get killed.”
While she spoke she led the two men deeper into the stable toward Caspian’s tall black horse and started saddling it. She worked quickly and quietly, apparently not doubting that her plan would be followed.
“They will follow you, thinking you are me,” Caspian finally managed in a mostly steady whisper.
The blonde turned and gave him a look so scathing it made him shift where he stood. “That’s the plan.”
“They will kill you!”
The expression that came over her face was nothing short of frightening. She grinned widely at the prince, anticipation shining in her eyes. “They can try.”
“Dear,” the Professor asked, “Why are you doing this?”
She shrugged, smacking the horse’s stomach gently to make sure the animal hadn’t tensed up to trick her into leaving the straps too loose. “Goodness knows you need someone to look after you. Now, put on that cloak and get moving.”
She rounded on him sharply, crowding him into the wall yet again. “You can. You will. Because the alternative is dying and I just won’t let that happen. Are we clear, my Lord
“Yes,” the Professor answered in his student’s place, nodding. “Yes.” Then, “Caspian, dear boy, come over here for a moment. I have to give you something.”
“You got suspended?” Ed all but yelled at his older brother as they met at the school gates after the day’s classes were over.
“Don’t kick up a fuss, it’s only two days,” Peter rebuffed, looking down the street rather than at his sibling, seeming unconcerned and, in fact, annoyed by the whole affair.
“Mom’s going to kill
you when she hears.”
Peter whirled to face his brother, clearly about to yell, when Susan interrupted them, “What happened this time?”
She stood with Lucy by her side, both clutching their book bags and hunching their shoulders against the steady stream of students coming from both the boys’ school and the girls’ on the other side of the road.
Peter’s glare shifted from Ed to their oldest sister. “Nothing,” he said curtly.
Edmund rolled his eyes and automatically reached to take Lucy’s bag from her, slinging it over his shoulder along with his own. “Peter got into another fight. In the lunch hall. Suspended until Thursday.”
“Oh, Peter,” Susan started, wide- eyed and half exasperated, half pitying, but never got to finish.
“Don’t bloody ‘Peter’ me, Susan. I don’t need it. I’m going to the park. Tell Mom.” With that he turned on his heel and marched off without giving anyone time to react in any way, his stride long and tense, barely concealing the pit of rage they all knew lurked within their oldest brother, their protector. The one they could always rely on, the one who was always there for them.
But not anymore. High King Peter had been left behind in Narnia. This Peter was an angry boy who didn’t know his place in the world anymore and he hurt them all with his behaviour.
The flow of students trickled down to almost nothing around them as they watched him leave. Suddenly Lucy shot forward, crying, “Oh, Ed,” and wrapping herself around her brother’s waist. “Why is Peter acting that way?”
“I don’t know, Lu,” Edmund said, returning the hug warmly. Barely a year ago, Peter had been his best friend. They had gone to battle together, had lived together, planned together, had indeed been more or less inseparable. Now… Now the only real contact they had was during the brief moments when they all talked about Narnia or when Peter yelled at Edmund for helping him.
Because Peter didn’t need help. Because Peter was a grown up. Because Peter blamed himself for failing to protect his siblings from stumbling back into wartime England, from losing their bodies and fifteen years of their lives, their home, their family, their magic and Aslan and everything they had loved so dearly.
Peter always blamed himself.
But after a year of yelling and fighting and pushing them away, it had become hard to be kind to him anymore.
Dropping her bag at her feet, Susan wrapped both arms around her younger siblings, unconcerned over how they looked, huddled there on the sidewalk for all and sundry to see. Such things had stopped mattering a long time ago. Sometimes she pretended that they still did, but lately she lacked the energy to pretend.
“Pete’s just…” she trailed off, not sure what exactly Pete was. Not anymore. Instead she asked, “Did you get into trouble, too, Ed?”
Because she knew as well as anyone that where Peter led, Edmund would follow, no matter how badly Peter tried to alienate his little brother. Edmund had failed them once and he would spend the rest of his life trying to make up for a mistake that had long, long since been forgiven by all but himself.
“I wasn’t there when it happened. I think he waited until I left to pick that fight.”
That hurt. Worse than anything. Peter didn’t want him there. He’d rather brawl and get beaten into a pulp than let his brother help. So much guilt, so much anger, so much bloody stubborn stupidity.
“Can we go home?” Lucy asked quietly into Ed’s shoulder. “I want to go home and have some tea.”
Lucy had always taken her tea in the late afternoon, on the second story balcony of her rooms with Mr. Tumnus. When Lucy felt too homesick to put it into words, she drank more tea than was healthy.
“Of course,” Susan agreed, but made no move to end the hug.
In the end Caspian gave in to Asmira’s plan because he knew that he could not escape in an outright race. He needed at least a bit of a head start. He didn’t want to get it on the small woman’s expense but he saw the determination in her eyes and he knew that the fact that he did not know her at all was unimportant. She would do anything she could to help him.
The question why would have to wait.
And so he let the Professor tug at his borrowed cloak to make sure he was covered from head to toe while they watched their new ally mount the horse and drive it into a fast canter down the main aisle of the stable and through the doors in an explosion of sound and speed without a single word goodbye.
She had promised to find him, once they were out of harm’s way but Caspian had not met her eyes as he accepted her words. The chance of her escaping his uncle was small. And yet, what choice did he have? If he died now, this country was lost. If it had just been his own life on the line, he would have turned down her help – if she had let him, that is – but it wasn’t. His uncle would ruin this kingdom if left unchallenged.
And so Caspian watched his saviour go with the taste of bile in his mouth and cold guilt in his stomach. “She is not a distraction,” he muttered as he quietly counted to thirty in his head, “But a sacrifice.”
“A willing sacrifice,” the Professor reminded him quietly before giving his shoulder one last pat. “Go now, my Lord, go before they raise the bridge again.”
With a single look back at the man that had more or less raised him and the castle that had never been home, Caspian went. He’d make it out alive. He owed it to the woman who was, at this moment, probably dying in his place.
“Susan? Where is your brother?”
No question which brother her mother was asking about. Edmund and Lucy were sleeping entwined on the living room sofa, clutching each other tightly enough to leave marks.
“He went to the park,” she answered, scrubbing harder at a particularly stubborn stain on the kitchen counter. Lucy drank tea when she felt homesick. Susan worked until she dropped. And Peter fought and Edmund go so very, very quiet.
“What is he doing there?”
“Avoiding us, I imagine. Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.” When had Susan become the mother and Helen the child?
“Are you sure?” Something fragile and shaky in her mother’s voice. Breaking. Did she know how badly her children loathed this house, this city, this very world? Did she know that they would give up their entire lives in a heartbeat, just to go home?
Pretending to scratch her nose, Susan surreptitiously wiped at her eyes and continued scrubbing.
“Yes, Mother. We’re fine.”
“Oh, I… would you like some help, darling?”Please, Aslan no, just walk away. Just leave me to cry in peace, Mother. Please.
“It’s okay, Mother, I got it. I’m almost done here anyway. Do you think we have what we need for biscuits? We haven’t had any since we got back from the Professor’s.”
“I… I don’t know, Susan. I will check the pantry.”
“Thank you, Mother.”
What was that stain? It refused to come off, no matter how hard she scrubbed, Susan thought, setting her jaw and using both hands to apply useless pressure to the dish rag.
She hoped they had everything for biscuits. She had already cleaned her own room and Lucy’s and the kitchen was almost spotless. If only that bloody last stain would come off.
Well, she thought, at least the plan worked. Mostly. Except for the little detail where she suddenly had twenty soldiers hot on her tail and no proper weapons. But she’d known this would happen – relied on it, in fact – so she had no room to complain. She’d had worse. Much worse. And, armed or not, anticipation was already thrumming in her veins, yearning, waiting for the fight to come. Blood and pain, they were the only proof she was alive, these days. She only hoped the boy had gotten past his knee jerk reaction of wanting to protect her and actually did what she had told him to.
She hit the tree line at breakneck speeds and dug her heels into the horse’s flanks sharply to keep it from slowing down. The soldiers were gaining on her as it was and she wanted them as far from the castle as possible when they discovered she was not the one they were hunting.
Away from the castle and away from Caspian who she had seen streaking in the other direction only minutes ago, her green cloak fluttering behind him, offering enough protection to get past the guards.
Glozelle – leading the hunt for the young prince – had notice the second rider, too, and sent five of his twenty men after him. As few as he could afford to without seeming suspicious. He had seen through her ruse.
Smart man. Stupid, idiotic, noble and smart man. He had once served the late King Caspian and apparently, although they had never talked of allegiances and loyalty, her impression that he felt uncomfortable with Miraz’s way of things had been correct.
Glozelle was protecting the prince. Or he thought he was protecting the woman he intended to marry as she fled the castle for no reason he was familiar with.
The trees got denser now, the branches lower. There was no choice but to slow down to a hurried canter, eyes half on the path in front, half on the enemy behind. Moving, moving. By her best estimation, they had been chasing her for about twenty minutes, first over the open fields surrounding the city, then across the river and finally into the forest.
The first step inside the tree line had jarred her, torn at her with the feeling of familiarity and loss. She knew this place. In her hearts of hearts, she had never left it.
Far enough now. Far enough for this.
She pulled her feet from the stirrups and brought them up before her, for once grateful for her slight build. A bigger man, or woman, would not have been able to sit in the saddle the way she was right now.
She released the reigns, tying them in a knot so the horse wouldn’t get caught in the underbrush and then waited patiently until she found just the right spot.
A branch about six feet above her, little space to manoeuvre but few brushes to hinder her footwork. Jackpot.
Muscles coiled as she jumped, timing perfect, grabbing a hold of the branch and watching her horse keep running, not yet aware that its rider was gone. She pulled up her legs and swung them over the branch before letting go with her hands and, upside down, she unclasped her – well, Caspian’s – cloak.
Beneath her the first rider passed – Glozelle, unmistakable even in armour and helmet, taller than most men – followed by his soldiers. She counted six of them before deciding that was enough. They would hopefully take a few seconds to notice what was going on behind them and keep going, giving her more time. She swung her cloak to catch the next rider in the face, causing the man to flail wildly and take a backward tumble off his horse as she yanked hard on the garment.
He landed on the small path, forcing the next horse to either stop dead or trample the flailing man. It chose to stop, rearing instead, jostling its own rider. She used the chance to drop from her branch and unseated the man, keeping a hold of his sword as she kicked him into the nearest tree, knocking him out cold.
She tried to avoid killing humans if possible. She jerked her new mount around and smacked the nearest soldier in the face with the flat side of her equally new blade. He yelled, clutching his broken nose and losing control over his horse, falling backward and joining his two comrades on the ground.
One comrade, she amended, as the first one she had downed finally freed and threw himself at her. She kicked him in the side of his head, a move made very effective by the too big helmet Telmarines tended to wear. They rang like gongs if hit hard enough. The man went cross-eyed and dropped like a stone.
By then the seven she had let pass before had caught on and were coming at her full throttle. She used the few seconds she had left to slash one more soldier in the chest and knock two into the surrounding flora. Five down, ten to go, plus Glozelle.
Four of them attacked at the same time, swords drawn. She blocked two and was forced to lie flat on her mount to avoid number three but used her new position to soundly dislocate number four’s kneecap and then dump him from his horse.
Another got a sword pommel to the neck and she deftly claimed his weapon as he went down, blocking more strikes at her chest and head. Grunting at the effort it took to keep control over a nervous horse while fighting enemies on all sides, she decided to hell with it and threw herself off her mount with a backwards roll, landing on her feet and slashing at two men’s legs simultaneously. Both reared back in pain and dropped out of the fight.
They were soldiers. Their wages were not good enough to get back into a fight with a serious injury. Not when their commander wasn’t standing behind them, cracking his whip. Glozelle, she noticed out of the corner of her eye, had more or less frozen at the edge of the fight.
Six left. She spun, ducked and rolled under a horse and out of the tangle of limbs and weapons that had surrounded her, taking another one down from the outside before he had time to adjust to her new position.
Five.Plus the General.
Speaking off, she found his grim face in the melee and sent him a bright grin. She’d told him once she could fight and while had had not laughed at her as most Telmarines would, he had not appeared to be particularly interested in her claim either. Now she seemed to have his full attention. And all it had taken was whipping the collective butts of what, ten men twice her size?
She flung her sword at another, breaking his nose even as she used her free hand to rip a rather scrawny guy out of the saddle and smack him into a tree.
Make that twelve.
Then the horn rang and all fighting momentarily stopped. She breathed a sigh of relief. The horn didn’t sound like one from Telmar, meaning it was the one the dear Professor had been carrying around these past few weeks. Relic from the Golden Age, blabla, bringing aid to whoever blew it, blabla. She didn’t know if its properties were actually magical but she knew that the Narnians believed in its power. They would protect Caspian now with their very lives.
The first part of her job was done. Get the kid to the Narnians.
Inside her head, all the steps needing to be taken were very neatly ordered, bullet points and all, written directly into her mind by the powers of this world. She knew, without thinking about it, all they thought she needed to know. Like she was a machine, something to feed information and send on an errand. Here’s your briefing, now go save a world.
Still, Caspian was mostly out of danger.
Now to save her own butt. She smiled grimly as she watched one of the three remaining soldiers, a young one, probably no older than Caspian, turn his horse around to run from her. In his panic he missed a low hanging branch and knocked himself out.
She was a thing to be feared even here, in this dark wood filled with fairy tales. He had preferred facing the wood alone over facing her. It made her smile feel brittle.
The last two went down with a broken arm and leg respectively, leaving only Glozelle standing, or rather, sitting on his horse. She twirled her two new swords once, changing the grip on one so the blade ran parallel to her forearm and then patiently stood, waiting for her friend’s move.
“What are you?” were the first words out of his mouth and even after all these years, she flinched.
“Human,” she bit out. “Mostly. Are you going to try and fight me?”
He looked around at his men, lying broken, bleeding and knocked out all around them. “Would I win?”
“No.” Cold truths, she knew, were better than warm lies. Always.
“Why are you doing this?”
She lowered her blades but didn’t release them. Glozelle noticed and grimaced. The line had been drawn. She felt sorry. Sorry for putting him in the position of choosing between her and his lord, for lying to him – if only by omission – and for never giving him a chance in the first place.
“Nothing personal. It’s my job.”
He finally slung one leg over his horse’s back and slipped out of the saddle. He had always seemed taller than he did now, standing in front of her.
“You protect Caspian?”
“Then...,” whatever he wanted to ask her, he found the answer in her face. Or maybe he didn’t want one after all, for he shook the question away and ordered instead, “Then go. You got away.”
She hesitated. She shouldn’t have but she did and damn him for being noble and nice and good. “Did I?”
Some of his men were conscious. They would rat him out, if given enough incentive. He looked around, following her thoughts without needing to be told. Then he nodded. “Yes. I understand now, why you never…”
She could have told him that was not the reason, could have said a million things about how she was broken goods, held together only by the pit of rage she concealed inside. She didn’t. Instead she gave him one last, sad smile full of missed chances and turned, taking off at a dead run. She stopped once to take the sword sheaths and belts of two soldiers, slinging them over one shoulder.
Within seconds, she was lost in the woods.
Lost among creatures of nightmares and fairy tales. Where she belonged. Far from noble men that liked her when they should hate her for her callous disregard.
“Ed?” Lucy asked without lifting her head from his chest.
In the kitchen they could hear the clatter of pans and the soft keening sound that they knew to be their sister’s crying. Their mother, who had not recognized the sound, had left a few minutes ago to try and find some sugar on the black market for her desperate daughter.
“Do you think we’ll ever get back?”
Before Peter got himself killed being stupid, before Susan’s eyes turned glassy for good, all wonder forgotten under her painted on faces. Before Lucy forgot how Aslan’s mane felt under her hands and Edmund couldn’t remember what it was like to be as tall as his brother.
“I don’t know, Lu,” he said, softly stroking her hair and pulling her closer, glad, so glad, that at least his youngest sibling was still as she’d always been although she had been hit hardest by the change. Going from twenty-eight to thirteen had been jarring but going from twenty-six to eleven had to have been so much worse.
“I wish Aslan would come and take us home.”
There was silence for a long couple of minutes before the smallest Pevensie stirred. “I should check on Susan. She is likely to burn down the house in her state.”
With that she untangled herself from her brother and stood, her twelve-year-old frame almost bursting with her twenty-seven-year-old self inside, a child walking like a queen, speaking like an adult.
How strange they had to look to others’ eyes, so completely alien in this world.
Edmund remained on the sofa, staring at the ceiling, for a long time.
Barely a mile south of where Gozelle still stood, staring blindly into the trees, Trufflehunter- the badger - and Nikabrik - the dwarf – stood over the unconscious Prince Caspian, breathing heavily. Around them, the rather battered remains of three Telmarine soldiers lay. One of them was still breathing and, with an almost absentminded motion, Nikabrik stepped on his neck, producing a harsh crunching sound followed by a vicious smile.
Served the Telmarine bastards right!
He gave up staring at the unconscious one in favour of looking toward the tree line, where the remaining two soldiers had fled to, Trumpkin in their clutches. He could make out neither hide nor hair of them and spat angrily at the ground.
“Why can’t we kill him?” he asked the badger, yet again.
“He blew the horn,” Trufflehunter replied, voice still even and unconcerned.
“So he’s the one prophesized to defeat the Telmarines and save Narnia and bring about another Golden Age. Which is why you can’t kill him. Help me?”
The last was more a groan than a request as the small animal tried to move the human and failed spectacularly, almost knocking himself out with the arm he was pulling on without any visible result.
“Why can’t we leave him here? He won’t fit in the tree anyway.”
“He’s the one prophesized to defeat the Telmarines and save Narnia and bring about – “
“Another Golden Age. I get it. Shut up, Badger.” The dwarf grabbed the human’s other arm and together they managed to move him. Slightly. It would take forever to get him inside and even longer to erase the track marks the three of them were leaving in the muddy ground.
“Great Lion,” Nikabrik growled as he stumbled over a root, “I hate Adam’s Sons.”
Trufflehunter rolled his eyes and didn’t say another word. He had to concentrate. It wouldn’t do for Narnia’s last hope to wake up a drooling idiot because they had smacked his head against a rock.
There weren’t enough Narnians left to wait for another saviour to come by. It had to be now, or they truly would be extinct. Fairy tales and nightmares. Nothing more. Never again.
Miraz looked at the strange, small man Glozelle and his men had brought back, his mind working overtime as plans stumbled over plans and entirely new ideas formed in his head. Narnians existed. Which meant they could be blamed for Caspian’s disappearance. Which meant…
And the woman, his daughter’s teacher, he could use her, too. Impossibly strong, the soldiers muttered, and fast. A Narnian spy, come to kill him and his family. Yes, it would sell. Sympathy for the victims.
Oh yes. Yes, Miraz would have his war and then he would have his crown and his kingdom. As soon as these abominations had helped him on his throne. Yes.
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