Weren't Meant to Save Worlds
A/N: Thanks for your reviews. More of this next, or would you like the end of Lines?
Weren’t Meant to Save Worlds
After leaving Glozelle standing in the woods, lost and bitter, as she had always known he would be if she let him too close, she headed south.
She had fashioned the stolen belts into a sort of harness that allowed her to carry the swords on her back in an X-shape. They were short, but still too long for her to wear at the waist and they would have hindered her as she ran.
Within half an hour she found the spot where Caspian had made his stand, marked clearly by the dead soldiers. She noted that most of them had injuries on their legs, indicating a fight against something smaller than a regular human. Narnians, whatever kind.
She had never been a great tracker, though and so she had to content herself with the knowledge that Caspian had found the Narnians and apparently won this scuffle. She would have searched for him regardless, but something was pulling at her like a rubber band around her middle.
South, south, farther south. Having long since gotten used to the strange and annoying ways most gods used to communicate their desires, she recognized the feeling as something alien in her body. “Okay,” she grumbled at thin air. “A simple note saying, ‘work this way’ would have been enough.”
But she went. She always did. That’s what good little dogs did, after all. They followed orders. She kicked a tree, fought the urge to bark and took off at a brisk jog, intending to put as much distance between herself and the castle as possible before sunrise.
When Caspian woke with a blinding headache he spent a few seconds wondering when the ceiling of his room had come so close. Then he heard soft and unfamiliar voices close by and the events of the night came rushing back. The Professor. The horn. The woman, Asmira, sacrificing herself to give him a chance. The chase, the fight and then…
He stood as quietly as possible, listening to the two voices – for they were two – discussing what to do with him. One of them was all for killing him. He grimaced as he looked around for his weapons without success.
He peered carefully around a corner and got the shock of a lifetime. A dwarf and a badger. A talking badger! They were supposed to be extinct!
With sudden clarity he understood why the Professor and Asmira had both insisted he head for the tree line. Narnians. These strange, small creatures were both Narnians!
And there, a fireplace. Fireplaces had pokers. Pokers were acceptable weapons. He made a rush for the pokers, grabbing one just in time as the small man – dwarf, he had to be a dwarf – drew a sword and blocked the exit.
“See, I told you we should have killed him!”
The badger sighed rather put upon, staring to pick up the tray and dishes Caspian had knocked out of its –his? – paws on his way to a weapon. “You know why we can’t.”
Caspian, seeing that the two were unlikely to kill him on the spot even if the dwarf did look very angry, asked the most pressing matter. “A woman,” he said, “There was a woman who entered the woods at the same time I did. Did you see her?”
Both animal and dwarf stopped what they were doing and gave the human a quizzical look. “Why? She about to break down the door?”
The dwarf eyed said door, grabbing his sword tighter.
“No. She… she drew the soldiers from me. I am afraid,” the poker hit the ground as reality reasserted itself completely, “She gave her life to save me.”
Someone had just died for him. The soldiers that had been after him were probably dead, too. He had no home anymore, no-one to turn to and explain things. He didn’t even have his weapons. He slumped, picking up and putting the poker back where he had found it, all fight leaving him.
The woman - Asmira, he could at least call her by her name – had died for him. Why? What was there about him that had made her…
He turned to the badger, who had finished picking up the fallen dishes, and offered, “I am sorry.”
The animal straightened a bit, compassion in his eyes. “So are we. About your friend.”
Caspian looked at his hands, silently counting the beats of his pulse in the throbbing in his head. “She wasn’t my friend. I didn’t even know her by name until last night. She took my horse and my cloak and told me to make for the woods. She knew you would not kill me. Why?”
The badger looked at him long and hard before turning and walking to the small table, taking something in both paws and raising it reverently. It was the horn the Professor had given Caspian. For his time of greatest need. “Don’t you know what this is?”
The prince shook his head and watched the faces of his companions fall in disappointment.
Peter had spent the past two days sulking at home and only just been allowed back to school and he had barely lasted until four in the afternoon before picking yet another fight. His left cheek looked puffy and reddish and Susan ached to check it and put something cool on it, but she knew she would only be rebuffed and belittled for her ‘mothering’ if she tried. So she fussed over Ed instead, who allowed her ministrations but refused to meet her eyes, glaring at his brother’s back with more hurt than anger. Lucy sat next to him, holding his hand, silent and lost as she tended to be since they had all fallen apart.
After a few minutes of oppressive quiet and the occasional snap from either of the brothers, Peter let himself drop on the bench next to Edmund, arms crossed, glaring straight ahead.
A boy Susan knew – and tended to flee from – came down the platform and she turned away, a bitter taste in her mouth and cold longing in her chest. She wanted to like this boy but it felt like a betrayal. To him, to Narnia, to her siblings. All wrong. Everything wrong.
Then Lucy jumped, yelling about having been pinched and everything went fast, so fast.
Five minutes later, they stood in Narnia.
They were home.
She had to take several detours and walk in circles to avoid various groups of Narnians on the march. It seemed that the entire forest was on its feet, hurrying somewhere, buzzing with excitement. She figured it had to do with the horn and the prophesy attached to it but had no desire to find out. As always, the information in her head reached only far enough to ensure she played her roll. Machines didn’t need extra information to do their jobs, did they? She gritted her teeth at the thought but found that the fire and blind rage that usually accompanied such thoughts felt somewhat flat and lacking.
Yes, she knew where she was, alright.
The tugging increased by the minute, telling her to hurry up, to get there faster. Wherever ‘there’ was in the first place.
She had a small pack with enough food to tide her over for a few days if she was careful and water was easy to obtain, even this deep in the forest. She had two usable swords, which was good, but no daggers, which she preferred for sneak attacks. The dense trees and funny play of light and shadow practically screamed for an ambush. But she would have to make do with brute force and her two weapons. She would have also preferred to get out of the floor length dress she was wearing but she had long since resigned herself to fighting in what she would once have called ‘full girly mode’.
Surprisingly many worlds in need of divine interference still clung to the concept that the only good woman was one in a dress. She had gotten used to it. As long as there was room to manoeuvre she would deal.
She always did.
Always and always and always.
At least the shoes were flats.
After two days of travel, the other end of the invisible rubber band around her waist started to shift. Her target was moving.
She adjusted to the change in destination and kept the scowl well hidden behind a blank face. There was no use in cursing.
Cair Paravel, gone.
Mr. Tumnus, gone.
Their things, gone.
The beavers, gone.
Their friends, gone.
Phillip the horse, gone.
Their people, gone.
Everything they had loved, gone.
Everything they had known, gone.
That night, in the ruins of what had once been the most beautiful place in all the worlds, Lucy wept bitter tears in Edmund’s arms while Susan sat by and stared at the dark sea, lost and lonely, and Peter paced like a caged beast, snapping at anyone who got too close.
They were home.
But home was gone.
The new King.
Following Trufflehunter and Nikabrik through the forest, Caspian’s mind raced, his bruised temple ached and the floor seemed to tilt a bit under his feet as he tried to wrap his mind around what the two Narnians had told him.
He was supposed to save them all.
Unfortunately he had no idea how one went about saving people seeing as how he had needed help to save himself not two days ago and gotten one of his helpers killed in the process.
So he followed his new companions through the dense underbrush, carefully setting one foot in front of the other. Moving forward.
There was no going back anymore.
They found Trumpkin on the next day in the late afternoon and saved his life, more or less. He insulted Susan and Peter, fought Edmund and made instant friends with Lucy before growing suddenly somber and asking them what they knew about the situation.
The siblings, only vaguely aware that there even was
a situation, all shook their heads and settled down to listen once they had abandoned the boat they had taken from the Telmarines and gotten over the scare with Lucy and the bear.
They had been gone for thirteen hundred years. The Telmarines had conquered Narnia and its people were thought to be extinct. Many races were. Talking Animals had forgotten how to talk, the dwarves had withdrawn deep underground, the centaurs and minotaurs had gone into hiding. What was left of them, anyway.
Narnia, as it had been during the Kings and Queens’ reign, didn’t exist anymore and the destruction of Cair Paravel had only been the beginning. Lucy and Susan had tears in their eyes and the boys didn’t look much better by that point.
Trumpkin hurried on. There was hope. A boy had blown the horn. He had brought back the Kings and Queens of Old. And they would help him make Narnia a safe and happy place once more.
The dwarf didn’t know.
But he believed, that much was obvious even through his disdain and grumbling. He believed desperately. All Narnians did. If they hadn’t believed, they might as well have thrown themselves into their own swords or gone for a walk in Telmar.
By the time he had finished his tale, the younger Queen had once more found the younger King’s side for comfort. Once upon a time Peter would have cuddled her close and held her tight but Lucy had stopped wishing for her big brother months ago. Susan was staring fixedly at her hands and Peter was sharply interrogating their new friend, getting tenser and angrier with every ‘don’t know’ from the small man.
Finally Edmund had enough. “Come, Lu,” he said, setting her on her feet and following suit. “We’ll need firewood if we’re to spend the night here.”
He took her hand and called over his shoulder that they would be back in a while. Then he slowed down, waiting for the inevitable warning to stay within earshot and be careful that had followed the two youngest siblings not only through childhood but well into their twenties, without fail. Until now. Susan refused to look up and Peter only grunted in acknowledgement. No doubt, if asked in five minutes where his siblings were, he wouldn’t be able to give an answer.
Still, both King and Queen dragged their feet until well into the tree line, waiting for any sign that their oldest brother, their protector, had noticed them leave at all.
It didn’t come.
She could feel that she was getting closer by the hum resonating inside of her, like bees directly under her skin. It made her antsy and jumpy, this feeling but she gritted her teeth and kept walking because she knew from experience that the only way to get rid of it was to find whatever this world’s gods wanted her to find.
She had tried ignoring the rubber band and the itching just once and within days the sensations had become absolutely unbearable. She had taken it as the last proof as to what she was to them. A pet with a few useful skills.
This time it seemed actually better than usual. Less bad at least. Right. And next they were going to release her and set her up on the Bahamas with a handy retirement fund. Sleep deprivation was making her stupid.
Their voices were the first warning that she was close and she quickly ducked into the shrubs to avoid detection, unsure how she was going to be received. Getting skewered for trying to help would unfortunately not be a new experience but it was one she liked to avoid if possible.
One female, one male, but they sounded incredibly young. Children, she realized, closing her eyes tightly. Children. Younger than Caspian, younger even than she had been when her first call to arms had come.
She peered around a tree and saw them. A gangly, black haired boy in blue, wearing a sword and carrying a load of wood. A teenager, but not an old one. Thirteen, maybe fourteen, yet he carried himself strangely straight and proud.
The girl was even younger, ten maybe twelve but there was no way she had hit her teens yet, wearing a cute reddish and white dress with her light brown hair loose. She looked like she belonged at a make-believe tea party, not the middle of a forest that was about to become a war zone.
“Oh Ed,” the girl asked, sounding tired but surprisingly not whiny, as girls her age usually did, “Why are Susan and Peter acting so strange? Aren’t they glad we’re back in Narnia?”
The boy peered over his stack of firewood to give the girl a wobbly little smile, “Of course they are, Lu, they’re just having a hard time now, is all.”
Susan and Peter and Ed and Lu? Somewhere in the vicinity of magical horn bringing aid
a bell went off in her head. She knew those names, not because she’d heard them before but because they had somehow been included in the information dump she always received before getting booted into a new world. Susan and Peter and Ed…Edmund and Lucy!
That was it. The Kings and Queens of the Golden Age. But they’d been adults and those two were so painfully, obviously children. Still, the names were the same and it fit with Caspian blowing the horn. Besides, the itching and crawling of her skin had stopped. She was where she was meant to be.
And because there was no time like the present she stood and quickly adjusted her swords so they weren’t quite as visible from in front of her. Luckily the Telmarines favoured short blades because pushing the weapons down meant they would be digging into her rear end if they were any longer.
Her own weapons. Daggers. Jeans. Showers. She shook her head and stepped forward, intentionally loudly. A twig cracked and broke underfoot and both children whirled around to face her, the boy dropping the wood and going for his sword, the girl pulling out a dagger. They were fast!
“Woah”, she said, hands open at her sides, far from her weapons, “Slow down, kids. I’m here to help.”
The girl lowered her dagger slightly, the boy shifted in front of his sister and didn’t move. “Why should we believe that?”
Too old, too old, too old, those eyes in that slim, pale face, like a tunnel through time, thirty years into the future. The eyes of a man in a boy, eyes of a warrior in a child. She knew that look, knew all the pain and rage and fury and grief that came with it and felt the sudden, inexplicable urge to pull those children close and rage at the world for what it had done to them.
Why was it always the young that suffered and the old that lived?
“I mean Narnia no harm,” she said, her face blank and her emotions not reaching her voice. She wouldn’t pity those children for what they had seen and done. They had obviously survived it and for that they deserved respect. “I swear.”
Something in her voice must have been good enough because the boy lowered his sword and said, “We’ll let Peter decide that.”
Then he stepped back, still keeping between her and the girl and pointed at the dropped firewood. “And you’re carrying that.”
She scowled and bent to pick up the wood without a word. Smart kid.
When a stranger came out of the trees with her arms full of wood and Edmund with his sword unsheathed at her back, everyone in their makeshift camp was immediately on their feet and reaching for their weapons.
The woman made no move to acknowledge them, choosing instead to dump the wood in a somewhat tidy pile close to the pit Trumpkin had already dug for the fire.
She was wearing a green dress that looked a bit worse for the wear and carried weapons of some kind on her back, made obvious by the harness of belts strapped across her hips and chest. Her hair was flowing freely and about as long as Susan’s, only blonde. She looked like she was at most three or four years older than Peter, who, as the oldest sibling, was seventeen. She carried herself straight but without being stiff, her movements smooth and easy, her face carefully wiped clear of any expression and her eyes dark with something all four of the Kings and Queens had seen before. War. Death. Loss.
“Who are you?” Peter’s demand was like a whip through air, sharp and angry. He was trying to sound as he once had, filled with strength and power and he failed because he tried so very, very hard. He sounded like a sulking child.
“Not your enemy. You’re looking for Caspian, right?”
Blank looks met her inquiring gaze.
“The kid who blew the horn? Telmarine prince? Ring any bells?”
Trumpkin snorted, “That was a prince? Fine one, getting knocked over the head like that.”
Peter ignored the dwarf. “Then yes, we’re looking for him.”
“Well, so am I. Because you see, he’s kind of my job?”
“Your job?” Susan asked.
“Yes, my job, mission, whatever. Keeping him alive, getting him on the throne, saving Narnia. So if you are who I think you are, we want the same thing and it’s no use trying to get rid of me because I’ll follow you like a lost puppy if you try.” Her voice was bland but there was a definite spark of dark amusement in her eyes.
“Not if we kill you,” Peter returned, deadpan.
She smiled and it wasn’t a pretty thing. “What makes you so sure you can
Before the High King could start yelling at the stranger, Edmund interrupted smoothly, “Why are you protecting Prince Caspian? Who gave you the order?”
The blonde shrugged. “Whatever powers run this world.”
Lucy’s eyes widened and sparkled, “Aslan? Aslan sent you?”
The woman looked at the youngest queen unconcernedly. “If that’s what he’s called in this world, yes.”
Peter took a step forward, “You claim to be sent by Aslan and you don’t even know his name? I find that hard to believe.”
She turned her eyes on him. “I don’t care what he’s called. I do my job here and I get out of this world and handed off to the next small time deity in need of a tool to save the next poor idiot that’s been chosen for some grand destiny and just can’t deal. If you’ve seen one god, you’ve seen them all, believe me.” Something bitter slipped into her voice and she crossed her arms under her chest, looking not sullen but cold and resentful.
Lucy blinked, obviously willing away tears. “But Aslan’s nice. Why are you talking like that about him?”
For a moment everyone was sure she would yell, but the newcomer stopped herself at the last possible second and took a deep breath, releasing it as a sigh. She uncrossed her arms and made an obvious effort to smile, although it fell a bit flat since she was obviously not used to the motion.
“Look kid… Lucy, right?”
The girl nodded.
“There are hundreds, maybe thousands of worlds running parallel to each other and every one of them is ruled by a god of some sort. They like to pass me around as a sort of last minute band aid for their problems. They throw me into their little corner of the universe to fix their messes for them and they’ve been doing that for a very long time. I’m not given a choice in the matter. It’s always one more job and then you’re free, just one more. And that’s been going on for a long time.”
Too long by the sounds of it. Lucy and Susan both remembered the woman’s tone of voice and her expression from their early days as Narnia’s monarchs, when their brothers had gone on campaign after campaign, trying to make Narnia a safe place for everyone. Sometimes, in between one battle and the next, they seemed to have forgotten that there was something outside the fighting, outside the constant pain and grief of battle. This stranger looked exactly like them, sounded like them. Tired. Worn. And angry with some invisible power for dumping all that weight on her shoulders, asking the eternal, human question of why me?
She looked like she hadn’t laughed, really laughed, in far too long.
“Sorry to tell you, but your Aslan is like all other gods I have ever met. Arrogant, proud and too lazy to clean up his own mess.”
All five people present opened their mouths to protest the slur against the lion loudly, but she raised her hand and stopped them all, “If he weren’t, he wouldn’t have dumped me here ten years ago without so much as a by your leave.”
Four people shut their mouths, but Lucy, Valiant Queen of Old could not, would not let anyone insult her beloved friend. “But Aslan’s not like
that. I’m sure there’s an explanation. Aslan doesn’t hurt people. He’s nice.”
The blonde shook her head and gave Lucy a sad look. “If he’s so nice, then why is he drafting children for his war?”
Lucy’s mouth was open again, but this time no defence came. She didn’t have one. She could have protested that she was not a child but she was. Once she hadn’t been and now she was again and that left her, all of them, really, all too aware of the limitations of a child’s body.
Eleven-year-olds weren’t meant to save worlds.
Somehow, they all looked away, eyes cast to the ground.
In the end, Peter was the one who spoke and got the conversation back on track. “But that still doesn’t prove that you’re on our side.”
“I know her,” Trumpkin spoke up suddenly and squirmed unhappily as all eyes turned on him. “She comes walking in the woods sometimes. She’s seen us, too. But as far as I can tell, she’s never sold us out to the Telmarines.”
“I haven’t. Miraz is vermin.”
The dwarf nodded, agreeing with the assessment as he continued, “That’s enough for me right now.”
Lucy, still with tears in her eyes, nodded bravely and so did Edmund. Aside from speaking badly about Aslan, the blonde had done nothing to harm them in the thirty minutes they had known her. Susan just shrugged helplessly, words about foreign worlds and involuntary soldiers still ringing in her ears. Why children, when adults could do a better job of saving Narnia? She, the most logical of all her siblings, had asked that question herself many times over the course of fifteen years. And no-one had ever been able to answer her.
In the end, Peter put his sword away, too, because there was really nothing he could do at the moment. Once upon a time they had ruled this land on the basis of forgiveness and chances and even if that Narnia was gone, they still remembered their own lessons. Trust until you have a reason not to trust.
The woman introduced herself as Asmira and as the sky grew dark and they lit their fire, she stayed at the edge of the group, outside, but there.
She had had to convince people of her sincerity many times over the years and this time it hadn’t been so bad. Those children knew of gods and destinies at least. Plus, they were, despite their old eyes, still children in some ways. They were far more willing to believe in the good in people than any adult. So all in all, her convincing them had been easy. Easy and painful. A bit like a knife to the gut, she mused as she put her cloak on the ground and pretended to go to sleep.