Her Voice Like Splinters
A/N: Thanks heaps, no time for more. Keep the typos, 'kthanks.
Her Voice like Splinters
The landscape had changed tremendously over the past thousand years, so it wasn’t really surprising that none of the siblings figured out where they were headed until they got there. The raiding party stopped at the edge of the field that surrounded the old structure and everyone in the vicinity heard Susan breathe, “Aslan’s How!”
Lucy, who stood beside her sister, clutched her hand tightly and observed, “But look at it, Su, it looks terrible. Remember how it used to shine in the sunlight after it was finished?”
Peter didn’t have to turn around to know his siblings looked stricken. When they had found Cair Paravel, joy of finally being home had still outweighed the truth of what they faced but now, to see something had had built in ruins drove home a painful point.
Their Narnia was gone.
The Golden Age, where Aslan walked freely across the lands, where Cair Paravel was always lit and balls to be had, a time when this very place had been a place of worship, of peace and joy, was over.
Their time was over.
All that was left now were ruins.
“At least it’s still standing,” Ed muttered and Peter knew his brother was thinking of the Cair’s splendid ceilings lying in heaps of rubble, of their thrones reduced to dust, just like he was.
“Aslan used to stand there, at the very top, on Midsummer morning,” Lu was whispering, to herself as much as to anyone who would listen. “And he would roar at the sun and… Oh, Su,” she finally broke off, throwing herself into her sister’s waiting arms. “Why is everything gone?”
“I don’t know, Lu, I don’t know.”
But Peter did. It was gone because he hadn’t been there.
He shook his head fiercely, drawing Caspian’s attention as he put a hand on his smallest sibling’s shoulder. “Let’s go inside, okay?”
Lucy nodded and wiped at her eyes, giving him a dim smile and then they set off toward the How. The Centaurs, wordlessly proving that they remembered the old ways, welcomed them with swords raised. It should have made them feel better, but Lucy’s smile wobbled and the rest of them had to lock their knees. But they made it inside with their heads high and their backs straight and that was really all anyone could ask of them.
Inside, the How looked completely different from how they remembered it. It was a war camp. Weapons were forged and sharpened everywhere, countless bedrolls and bundles pushed up against the walls. This place, whatever it had once been, now housed an army.
Susan, always quickest to discover the vital things, called them toward her and, with a torch in hand, she showed them something else that was new. The carvings.
Carvings of them, of their fight against the White Witch, of Aslan’s sacrifice, their coronation and everything that came afterward until, abruptly, the carvings were replaced by smooth wall.
The day they had disappeared. Back through the wardrobe into good ol’ England that had never felt right again. Caspian, understanding their quiet and depression better than Peter would have thought, led them wordlessly down into the heart of the How. Aslan’s tomb without a body, the room of the Stone Table that was broken.
As the prince lit the room, all four siblings, plus Asmira, stared at the carving of the lion, four in wonder, one in wordless distaste.
“He must know what he’s doing,” Lucy offered reassurance but Peter wasn’t sure what exactly that was. Aslan obviously knew what was going on. He had led them across the gorge. He had sent them his warrior.
Then why wasn’t he here? Why wasn’t he helping?
The High King shook his head sadly, lowering his torch. “I think it’s up to us now.”
Lucy tried to protest, but Asmira was faster. “He’s not coming. Why would he?”
Instead of flinching back from her harsh tone, Lucy seemed to grow on it, turning angry eyes on the woman. “Because he loves us. Because he’s Aslan and he will save us.”
Susan stepped up to her sister’s side. “Asmira-“
“Buffy Summers,” the older woman snarled, confusing everyone.
“Buffy. Summers,” she repeated, sharply, her voice like splinters of ice, every single one piercing skin. “That is my name. It’s the only thing I still have. They, your damned Aslan and a dozen others like him, they took everything else. The only thing I have left, the only one
, is my name. Believe all you want, but don’t come crying to me when it doesn’t work out.”
She turned on her heel and stormed out of the room, leaving behind the taste of hope turned bitter and silence.
The only triumph Peter was left with was the fact that he had been right about her name. She did remember it. Her last possession. Somehow he got the feeling that by telling them, she had just given away that, too.
When Caspian made the first move to go after As-Buffy – what a strange name that was, so very unlike the woman it belonged to, so strange on the tongue, more alien and less fitting even than a made up Telmarine name that meant nothing at all – Peter stopped him with a sharp command that tolerated no disobedience.
“I’ll go after her,” he said, sharper than he meant for it to be and he could see the prince starting to protest so he quickly waved a hand at his siblings. “You can start filling them in.”
Lucy and Susan both made noises at being degraded to distractions, but not very loudly. They needed to be caught up to the facts of the army they were supposed to command. Edmund, the most loyal soldier that had ever walked this world, had only one question.
“Peter?” A single word, only his name, but Peter understood every nuance of it. Why are you going after her? Why don’t you stay here? Why don’t you let him go? Why do you care? What happened yesterday?
The answer to all of those questions was simple.
“I owe her one,” Peter said and took off at a jog, hoping to catch up with her before she found a place to hide from them until her mask was back in place because he had no doubt at all that that was what she was trying to do. She hated losing control as much as he did, maybe even more. And losing control over yourself was simply unacceptable.
He needed directions from a dwarf and a hare, but he found her almost at the top of the How, sitting on one of the great steps leading to what had once been solely Aslan’s place to greet the sun. Now sentinels were posted up there. And while Peter was well aware that nothing remained sacred in war, the sight of the two fauns up there in the lion’s place made him ache fiercely.
“So,” he asked as he dropped down next to her, dangling his feet, “Can I call you Buffy?”
She flinched, then shook her head, not looking at him. “Sorry. I haven’t heard my name in a long time. I… I didn’t mean to blurt all that out. Just… seeing your sister so naïve, she reminded me of me. I believed that everything would turn out alright in the end, too, for so long.”
She looked at him then, willing him to understand. She thought Lucy was setting herself up for a horrible fall, like she herself had and Peter looked away because he would not doubt again. Not this time. He had been pathetic before, trying too hard to be something he wasn’t anymore. Just a few minutes ago, he had wondered. But not anymore. He was back now, in his home, and he would do all he could to save it. He would believe and looking at her disappointed face, her tired eyes, made it hard.
Suddenly a thought occurred to him and he let himself be readily distracted by it. “Hey, ‘Summers’, that means ‘belonging to Summer’, right?”
As-Buffy raised an eyebrow but nodded. “Why?”
He grinned and shrugged, causing her to raise her second eyebrow and try to demand and answer. Before she could, however, a cry of alarm went up from the tree line.
Neither of the two blondes looked at each other, they just started jumping down the different levels of the How and took off at a dead sprint as soon as their feet touched the ground.
Once Peter left the Table chamber, Caspian looked around at the remaining three Golden Monarchs and once more fought a quiet surge of disappointment that had, until now, been held in check only by the fact that Asmira was alive and well. Her being alive gave him hope that maybe he would not be the reason for the end of Narnia after all.
And in the same thought, the young faces of the three monarchs made him worry that they would be. What could they do, younger than he himself? The smaller one of the girls looked like she would be more at home in a playroom far from all talk of war and her sister, while older, seemed too delicate to be a fighter. Their brother, Edmund, just seemed gangly and skinny, the sword at his side too big and heavy for him.
The only one Caspian could see as an equal was High King Peter and the boy, man, King, whatever, obviously had different priorities.
Still, those four were all he was going to get, so he had better make the best of it. He carefully placed the torch in one of the metal rings in the wall and then turned back to face the three monarchs, intending to get this over with. But Queen Lucy, how hard it was to think of her as a queen when she was so small, so childish, moved forward, her hand tracing the edge of the broken table. As she was halfway around it, she stopped and looked at him. “When we last saw this room, it was still above ground.”
He nodded at this piece of information, not sure what to do with it and stunned by the implication of what she was saying. Now, the room was deeply underground. She had been here when it had not yet been buried. A thousand years. For the first time, Caspian wondered just how Narnia must look to their eyes. Had they known any of the now extinct beavers? Had the trees really been alive in their time? Had they danced? Had there been river gods and harpies? Unicorns? Did they even think this Narnia worth saving?
“So,” Edmund suddenly asked, “Are you going to tell us what you are doing here, or do we have to guess?”Yes, guess,
he wanted to say, to test the child. See how much you understand of what you see.
But as the King stepped into his field of vision he was calm, composed. His face was smooth and his eyes sharp and there was an air of command
about him that could not be denied.
Without thinking about it, Caspian found himself complying to the demand for information.
As the oldest of the three men, Meldan automatically assumed leadership over his two companions, though they were equal in rank. Daglan didn’t protest and Gelprian was too lost to do anything but follow as he led the way across the river and into enemy territory.
But, as the General had said, the enemy had been among them for a long time. The river was an imaginary line that separated human from not human, but not enemy from friend. Meldan himself was human, but his wife’s mother had been part red dwarf and he knew her stories, knew her ways. Knew their side of the story of how Telmar defeated the vicious heathens.
The Narnians told it differently. They told of a Golden Age, a time of peace, a splendid, green land, and of a greedy pirate people that robbed them of their home. As a soldier, he wasn’t paid to listen to stories. He was paid to go where he was told to go and fight who he was told to fight.
But now… now everything was off kilter. His Lord had ordered him dead for no crime, his General had sent him behind enemy lines to find protection there and his own faith in the order of things was precariously dangling from a single thread. He wasn’t sure which he preferred, to be killed on sight by the Narnians, or to be left alive. One would mean the world was still right in some ways, even as he died and the other would throw it completely off its axis even as he survived.
In the end the decision was taken from him when he suddenly found himself not in the forest but at the edge of a sprawling field with the enemy rushing at him. And by the gods, were they fast. Their legs, he realized, they were the legs of goats. No wonder they could run.
Daglan went for his sword but Meldan motioned for him to leave his weapon alone. If they appeared threatening, they were dead and the other side could not be blamed. No, if they wanted to live, they needed to surrender.
One of the men – fauns, that’s what they were, fauns – reached them and struck, hitting him in the jaw with the pommel of his sword sending him to the ground, followed shortly by his companions. Gelprian was frozen, Daglan was scrambling for his sword and got brutally kicked in the arm for it.
“Asmira,” Meldan finally called, remembering the name the General had given him. “Asmira,” he repeated, when some of the fauns hesitated. “We have a message for her.”
He refused to beg. He hadn’t survived twenty years of war by begging. He would not, could not, ask for his life. Either he lived or he didn’t. He had already lost his country. What did it matter?
“A message from whom?” a strong voice suddenly demanded, followed by a young lad who pushed through the throng of soldiers. They moved aside for him, though he could not be older than sixteen, crowded each other to make room for him. In their eyes was only deference.
Who was that boy?
“For Asmira,” he clarified. He would not pass on his message to the wrong person. To give her the message had been the last order he might ever receive from a man he had served for many years, and he would see it through.
“That would be me,” a voice said behind the boy and a young woman pushed past him, blonde and small, as the General had described her. He recognized her now, from around the castle. How could he not? Telmarines were dark haired and she had always stuck out like a sore thumb. “Who sent you?”
“The General Glozelle. He said to tell you that he is without colour, too.”
For a moment he thought she did not understand. Then a small but genuine smile bloomed on her face as she ordered brusquely, “Leave them. They are no threat.”
The boy frowned at her but waved an arm. Only then did the fauns comply and ease up on the Telmarines. “What does that mean?”
“Shape without form, shade without colour, paralysed force, gesture without motion,” she said.
Understanding dawned in the boy’s eyes. “The Hollow Men,” he breathed. “Does that mean you’re from…”
“One similar to yours. Not the same,” she nodded.
“What does is mean, sire?” One of the fauns asked, sketching a bow as soon as the boy’s eyes fell on him. He shrugged and redirected the question with a glance.
“It means,” the woman called Asmira explained, “That we have an ally in the Telmarine camp.”
She smirked and the motion was echoed by all those around them. Then she held out her hand to help Meldan to his feet and requested, “Tell us everything you know.”
And because the wild beasts of Narnia had spared him where his own Lord Protector would not, Meldan did.
Only half a day’s march away, a woman stood over the cradle of her newborn son, watching him as he slept peacefully amidst such troubled times. His own father had barely held him since he had been born, too busy with the latest war looming on the horizon.
But while Prunaprismia had always been a loyal soldier’s wife, had never complained, never protested and never gotten involved, she could not help the feeling of dread pooling in her stomach this time.
The morning after her son’s birth she had asked for her nephew, finding it strange that he had not come to visit her as had become his habit. He came to inspect his newborn cousins as soon as he was allowed, without fail, for every one of her now four children. And when her second born had died, he had been unfaltering in his attentions until she had felt able to smile again without breaking her face and heart in two.
But he had not come to inspect his newest cousin. She had asked Miraz about it, thinking he might have sent the boy away for training or some such. Instead of a verbal answer she had received a look that had chilled her.
Her husband, she had known that for a long time, was no saint. Some would say he was not even a good man. But he cared for her and his daughters, he loved his son and he always stayed true to himself and his believes. That was worth something and so she had ignored the less than shining tales that sometimes reached her ear, ignored the hungry glint she sometimes saw in his eyes.
On that day, however, that glint had been directed at her dead brother’s son and that was something she could not allow. Caspian was a good boy. A bit of a dreamer perhaps, but that might just be what a war ridden country needed. Someone who knew how to dream of better times.
The boy, still unnamed because that was a father’s duty and this boy’s father had yet to hold him for more than an instant, woke and instantly started crying. Prunaprismia lifted him from his crib and held him close, cooing at him as she had once cooed at little Caspian in the weeks between his mother’s death and his Nurse’s arrival.
She held the boy close now as she had held the boy back then and she hoped for a future for both of them, prayed for it with all her might.
The ball of dread in her stomach did not loosen.
Meldan was the only Telmarine left in the Table chamber, unless one counted Caspian and Asmira, neither of which seemed to be feeling particularly Telmarine, if the subject of their discussion was anything to go by. A badger and a fox had led the other two soldiers outside some time ago to feed them and find a place where they wouldn’t be in the way. No-one had asked them to fight for them and that was a relief.
Meldan sat, mostly forgotten, on a stair, watching what seemed a whole gaggle of monarchs, a centaur, a mouse, two dwarves and Asmira discuss plans of attack.
“Our only hope is to strike them before they strike us.” The boy, whose name was Peter, argued. “You heard what they said. Miraz is going to attack in force as soon as he has that bridge built.”
Caspian shook his head wildly, “But that is crazy. No-one has ever taken that castle.”
“There’s always a first time,” Peter insisted, looking to the other humans for support. The two girls looked worried and the young lad stubborn and willing to fight. But unlike other boys going to war for the first time, he lacked the enthusiasm and the grand standing of ‘future heroes’. This boy, actually, all four of those children, carried themselves differently. Carefully. Like they were prepared for the world to rear up and jump at them at any moment, but unwilling to hide.
The aging soldier watched as the argument went back and forth between the few who wanted to attack the castle while the army was elsewhere and the majority who wanted to hole up here and outwait the army. There were a few that seemed to be waiting to be convinced, pointing out that both plans had glaring weaknesses.
Yet without knowing these people, Meldan knew who would win the fight. Peter had some sort of respect among the Narnians that Caspian could not match and his expression said he would walk over bodies to get what he wanted. Hot tempered, charismatic and desperate. A bad combination for any who preferred to survive their wars instead of dying in them.
The argument seemed closed when the Glenstorm agreed to follow the boy into the castle. Or into death. It was a silent warning that went ignored by all.
But then Lucy, sitting on the broken altar in the middle of the room, spoke up. “That’s what I’m worried about.”
All eyes turned on her. “Sorry?”
“Well, you’re all acting like they’re only two choices: Dying here or dying there.”
“I’m not sure you’ve really been listening, Lu,” Peter warned sternly.
Before the girl could answer, Buffy did for her. “I think she did listen, Peter. You want to hear my opinion?”
A mutter went through the assembled people, stopped when she held up a hand. “Hold on, I’m not finished. When trying to storm a castle, listen to the people who’ve lived there. Meaning Caspian. If he says it’s impossible to pull off, believe him. Assume we do it. We even have surprise on our side. They still outnumber us. And they’re fighting on home turf. There’s a city around that castle. You attack it, soldiers won’t just be fighting for some far off ideal. They’ll be fighting to protect their families and friends. There is just no way this can work.”
“Great,” Peter told her, completely dismissing every single point she’d just made “You don’t have to come.”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t coming. I just said it’s a shit plan and you’re gonna get us all killed.”
“And you’re still going along with it?” the older of the two girls cried, flinging up her arms. “Are you all mad?”
The blonde shrugged.
“This is not a game!” Susan exploded as Buffy callously shook off her own words of warning.
“I know that. But your brother’s not going to leave it alone, is he?” She turned, directing the last bit at the king in question, who shook his head.
“There’s a chance that we can do this, Su. A chance to end this was before it begins.”
“A chance to get killed, you mean.”
Peter rolled his eyes at her and said, “Who’s in favour of going?”
Hands rose throughout the room, no more or less than before. They had all known the risks before Buffy had laid them on the table. “Against?”
Again, the numbers had not changed significantly. They were going to storm the castle.
“Alright then. But we’re putting strong fighters in the back.”
“Why? They’re of more use in the front, to head the attack.”
“Because the courtyard is a death trap with only one exit. We lose that, we might as well go and drown ourselves in the river right now,” Buffy said as they all gathered around the makeshift map lying next to Lucy on the Table. “You go and play hero. I’m going to get us all out alive when you’re done.”
She received a glare for the obvious implication that Peter’s plan would fail, but didn’t budge. “I want minotaurs at the back to guard that gate.”
“No. We need them to head the charge.”
“Put the centaurs up front. They’re the better runners anyway.”
It was going to be a long night.
They were still hashing out details by dawn, finishing only late in the morning, tired, annoyed, dissatisfied and all dreading the coming fight because all of them, even Peter, knew that the entire plan had catastrophe written all over it.
Still, they went along with it because the Narnians would follow Peter simply because of who he was and once had been and they could not just let others die. So they were all going to come along and try to keep the count of dead low. Susan, the most reluctant of them all, had tried time and again over the course of the night to get her brother to change his mind to no avail.
Peter was trying too hard again, wanting too badly. He was thinking with his heart instead of his head even while he managed to convince himself it was the other way round. The worst combination of frustration and denial there was.
Buffy had proven to be shrewd in the extreme as she kept coming up with additions and changes to the plan that made wholesale slaughter less likely. She had insisted on an extra team to take the courtyard walls, so they wouldn’t get shot to death while fighting below. The extra guard for the gate and the gatehouse had also gone through in the end, as had various other, smaller, ideas.
By the time they all separated, more than fed up with each other, Susan was sure that the plan was as safe as it was going to get. Short of knocking Peter out and locking him into the How until the war was over, there was nothing more she could do.
She hated it, but she went to find some food for herself and Lucy quietly because, in the end, Peter was not only Narnia’s High King but also hers. And Susan was loyal to her brother King and always had been.