They Left Their Dead
A/N: If you find typos, please tell me. I'll work through it agan later. Now I'm too pooped. Plus, I totally love you guys.
They Left Their Dead
Buffy watched from her place between Asterius, the taciturn minotaur and Rainstorm, Glenstorm’s son, for the all clear and the return of the griffins.
The all clear came in the form of a signal from Edmund and his torch, followed shortly by the griffins that had carried Peter, Edmund, Susan, Caspian and Trumpkin to where they needed to be. She tipped an imaginary hat at the minotaur that she would be seeing again later and took off to the back of the group, where her own people were waiting to be picked up.
Defence from the archers had been one of the points she and Peter had argued endlessly about and she’d won despite his protests that they needed everyone they had on the ground. The argument, “They’re no good when they get turned into pincushions,” had finally ended the fight.
They had a dozen Griffins on their side, all the adults that were left of their race, and they would carry two passengers each (plus one who would carry only Buffy, who was the biggest of her crew) onto the castle’s roof, where they would be waiting to shoot the shooters in the back. It wasn’t very honourable, but if it saved lives she couldn’t really work up the energy to care. All’s fair.
She came to a skidding halt next to Nikabrik and the motionless body of an unfortunate Telmarine that had surprised the dwarf. She listened briefly but found no heart beat. With a sigh she turned away, motioning for everyone to get into groups of two for their pick up.
Her group consisted of dwarves and small animals, small, light beings that could easily be ferried onto the roofs by the giant griffins. Edmund had made a joke or two about her not being much bigger than her team and earned himself a sound smack around the head for it, king or no king.
A low whistle was the only warning she got before she suddenly found herself airborne, with nothing but two sets of claws holding her there. It wasn’t exactly a great feeling but she bore it with dignity, unlike one of the dwarves, who couldn’t keep from squeaking. His travel companion punched him in the shoulder and then they flew on in silence.
A minute later, twenty-two archers, plus Buffy were dropped on the roof of the three buildings boxing in the court yard. The fourth side was made up of only wall and gate and there was no space for them to hide there. Buffy’s senses caught commotion inside one of the upper rooms, but she forced herself to hold still. Her place, for now, was here.
She had to restrain herself again when Edmund got into a scuffle with a guard and had a minor heart attack when it looked like he had lost his torch. Without torch there’d be no reinforcements and without reinforcements, there’d be only four monarchs inside a castle filled to burst with enemies. And then there’d be the bodies of four monarchs in a castle filled to burst with enemies. And that simply didn’t fly, no pun intended.
Down below, Peter and Susan were finally having the fight they’d been gearing up for the past two days, at the most inopportune moment possible, with Caspian interjecting his opinion every now and then, making Peter even angrier.
Lucky for them all, Ed finally got the torch working again and sent the signal to attack in the nick of time, breaking up the argument below as it was now a moot point. It was too late to stop the raid now.
Behind them, Telmarine soldiers gathered, called to arms by an alarm that suddenly went off, messing up their plans before the proper fight had even started.
Then all hell broke loose.
Inside the castle, the commotion Buffy heard was Caspian with his sword at Miraz’s throat and the truth burning a hole in his mind and soul. His father. Miraz had killed his father. And he had wondered why Buffy had been there that night, by his side. Now he knew. After killing the reigning monarch, killing a little boy in the same night would have been easy, no?
All lies, all of it. Nothing had ever been true. And to think he had, until this moment, harboured some sort of guilt for fighting his uncle. Not anymore. He watched as his aunt woke fully, fear and confusion written all over her face and underneath it, underneath it was a resignation that he had never seen on her, his father’s sister.
She hadn’t known, not for one second did he believe that, but she had suspected. She had suspected and done nothing, left him in the web of her husband’s weaving, a lonely, defenceless boy who’d clung to his only family like a life line.
Then she went for the crossbow above the bed and the young prince felt something precious inside him die.
As the battle between the newly awakened and rallied Telmarine soldiers and the invading Narnians broke loose, Buffy yelled for her teams to start shooting the newcomers to the fight, while they had nothing else to do. It was hard work, picking off enemy soldiers in the darkness, without hitting their own people, but they got a few at least, before the walkways below them suddenly filled with Telmarines and their crossbows.
Without needing the order, her entire team refocused their efforts on picking the archers off before they could start firing into the courtyard. Half of the Telmarines fell immediately before the rest caught on and threw themselves flat against the walls, making them hard to hit and almost impossible to kill. Wrong angle. Wrong, wrong, angle.
Barely fifteen minutes into the battle, everything that could go wrong was going wrong already. The Telmarines were fighting back, their leaders were divided, their troops scattered and outnumbered, their chosen battleground a disaster. With a curse, Buffy flung her arrows down next to Nikabrik, who lay on his stomach a foot away from her and mirrored Edmund by sliding down the roof and starting to pick the archers off physically.
The first got her bow in his face and dropped like a stone into the courtyard. She didn’t take the time to look, but she thought the Telmarine curse she heard directly below indicated that he’d taken out one of his own as he fell. The next got a sword in the gut and the third a foot in the face as she kept picking them off, one by one, working her way through the row until her side of the walkways was clean.
A quick look told her that Edmund had most of the archers of the other side chasing him and not shooting the people below. On the third side, a pair of dwarves had copied her movement and flung themselves into the fray. They weren’t faring too well but there was nothing she could do for them, except pray. Since she’d never been very good at that, she settled for making sure they had a way of getting out alive if they made it off that walkway.
She tried to make out Caspian in the fray, remembering that this was his first real battle, but couldn’t find him at all, neither fighting, nor on the ground. He was gone. She knew she should have stayed by his side, as was her job, but she couldn’t focus on just one life when so many people were in danger. She was doing more good up here than she could down there. Tactically, she was a weapon best used for large scale damage, not body guarding. Still, with terror clawing at her gut she absentmindedly kicked an awaking Telmarine in the face and then simply jumped from the third storey walkway into the fight below.
She landed feet first on a Telmarine, probably saving Glenstorm’s life. He returned the favour by cleaving the head off a soldier who was coming at her from the left and covered her for the second it took her to orient herself and find what she was looking for.
The minotaurs making up the rear guard.
There were five of them, lead by Asterius, the oldest of them. Armed with about two dozen axes and swords between the five of them, they kept the area surrounding the gate clear of all Telmarines. Unfortunately, they could not influence what happened above their heads. Someone cut the chain holding the weights that were part of the mechanism and the heavy iron gate started closing. She noticed at the same time Asterius did and both of them took off at a dead run toward it, intending to hold it open.
She’d known, known
that this would happen. And she thanked whoever was listening that Peter had given in in the end and let her have her rear guard because her path was suddenly blocked by two rather nasty, big soldiers hell bent on ripping her to pieces. She returned the favour, simply slicing them open as she ducked between them, but she knew she was too late to catch the gate. Asterius had had less trouble in the cleared area and caught the heavy construction on his shoulders with a cry of pain.
She hurried over to him, afraid he wouldn’t be able to take the weight, but he rallied and stood up straight under the weight just as the first call to retreat rang out. She was almost at the minotaur’s side when something whizzed past her left ear. Automatically she dropped one of her swords and caught the crossbow bolt that had been headed directly for the only one that stood between them and imprisonment followed shortly by certain death.
Shooting around, her second sword already clattering to the ground, she caught another bolt out of the air and met Miraz’s gaze across the courtyard. He was standing on a balcony, crossbow in hand, trying to bring down Asterius. He looked stunned for a moment, as she caught yet another bolt in midflight before an expression of ice cold hate took over his face. She mirrored and matched it, and returned it tenfold for ten years of having to play meek, of watching him terrorize his nephew from the shadows. Ten years of everything that had gone wrong, everyone she despised and all the ugly things she’d been forced to do. She blamed it all on this man and she felt a grim sense of satisfaction as he flinched. Here, outside the borders of Narnia proper, her rage bubbled and burned again.
Tonight she had the slayer in her gaze and she made no attempt to keep her down. Beside Miraz, Glozelle stood, frozen. She looked him over briefly before looking away, hoping he got the hint. There was no use in giving the game away now. If he really was on their side, he was of more use where he was than with them.
He understood and pulled the trigger, firing another bolt at her, trusting her to catch it and she did. Another minotaur came to her aid, but she brushed him off.
“Get moving,” she yelled. She could move fast enough to avoid getting shot. The minotaurs definitely couldn’t. They were rocks, not water. She kept up the amazing bolt catching act as their people filtered past her and Asterius. Bolts were piling up around her by the time the centaurs, who had been leading the charge and thus were the last to get out, galloped past her. Peter and Caspian, thank goodness for that, came charging after Glenstorm on horses.
Peter held out his hand for her to take, but she shook her head, turning and running on foot. Asterius stood facing the court yard, so there was no way he could pull out running. She built up as much speed as she could possibly manage over such a short distance and met his eyes briefly, silently communicating that she was very sorry, this would hurt, but it would probably save his life because without her to cover for him and Miraz in a rage up above, he was as good as dead.
Then she hit him in a picture book shoulder tackle, slamming him out of range of the Telmarines. The two of them rolled in a tangle of limbs and came to a sudden stop at the edge of the slowly rising bridge just as the gate slammed shut behind them with a bone crushing crack
. Both jumped to their feet and this time, when a hand entered her field of vision, Buffy grabbed it readily and let herself be pulled onto Peter’s horse.
For a moment they both looked back at the closed gate and the dead beyond. There were less, a lot less than there could have been, but they had died for nothing. The raid was a failure. They had followed Peter because he had believed, because he was their leader of legend. But he’d been wrong and now… now.
She heard Peter gasp and choke back a cry and found herself hugging him tight around the waist, burying her face in his back.
“Let’s move,” she called and he obeyed.
They left their dead behind, senseless and unburied.
They fled as fast as they could, out of the city and then downstream to a place where they could cross the river without having to fight their way through the entire Telmarine army. By the time the entire party was on the right side of the river once more, it was well past noon.
Wordlessly, they trooped into the woods until they were invisible from the shoreline and then, by some silent signal, collectively collapsed. None of them had slept in twenty-four hours, most longer, and the fighting and running had wearied even the hardest of them
“Two hours,” Peter’s voice rang out. “Then we move on.”
It was the first thing he’d said since they’d left the castle. Buffy watched as he jumped off his horse and immediately threw himself into helping the wounded, guilt plain on his face and in his every motion.
Buffy pulled her cloak tight around herself, intending to find a secluded spot nearby and get a nap while she could. She had to get away from the defeated, injured and broken Narnians all around her. Once more, she was falling apart inside the borders of Narnia, leaving her bone weary and war tired.
On her way away from the group, she suddenly spotted Edmund, sitting on a low rock, staring straight ahead. He had been the last to leave the castle and she had no doubt that he had seen the entirety of their failure from his position on the griffin. She studied him for a moment, before turning to stare into the trees. Back to the king and back to the solitude of the forest.
Human or silence. Help or evade. Friend or loneliness. Attached or not attached. Why was she even pretending to be thinking about it anymore? She unclasped her cloak at the throat and walked up to the teenager, who seemed lost in his own world. Spreading the cloak with both hands she settled it on his shoulders, resisting the urge to pull it closed and ruffle his hair while she was at it.
Then she quietly ordered, “Scoot over.”
Edmund, who blinked at her in dumbstruck surprise, obeyed and then attempted to give back the cloak. She waved him off. “You look like you need something to hold on to.”
He looked away and for a while they just sat next to each other, one staring at the ground, one watching as a makeshift camp sprung up around them. One of the younger minotaurs walked past, stopping briefly to bark a curt, “Warrior,” before marching on.
Buffy made a questioning noise at the back of her throat before shaking her head. “This is getting weird. I swear, earlier, at the river, one of the centaurs bowed
Ed looked at her sideways, one eyebrow raised. “They all know who insisted on the rear guard and the archers on the roofs. You saved us.”
She shook her head again, refusing the praise. “Last count said we have seventy three dead,” she told him. They’d started out with about two hundred men. A third of them were now dead. There was nothing there that deserved praise.
“It would have been worse if we hadn’t gotten out when we did,” Ed argued, quietly. “You saved a lot of lives last night.” He snorted depreciatingly, pulling the cloak tighter around his shoulders. The dark green made him looked even paler than he was, a vivid purple bruise colouring the left side of his jaw and neck. “Unlike me.”
“You were loyal to your brother. There’s nothing wrong with that. I might have been able to stop this whole thing, but I didn’t.” It was true. For some reason that even Peter himself didn’t quite understand, he listened to her when he listened to no-one else. Maybe it was because she was ruthless in pointing out his mistakes, maybe because she didn’t revere him like the others did.
It was Ed’s turn to shake his head. “I could have stopped him, too, but I didn’t. I just… I was the traitor once,” he confessed, his voice barely above a whisper. “I swore myself that wherever Pete leads, I follow and so…” he trailed off, not quite sure what ‘so’ was.
“You follow your general into victory and you follow him into defeat. Most people don’t understand that following someone isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t something you can change your mind about,” she told him, remembering her own army and their betrayal, the way they wanted to follow only when they liked where she led. It didn’t work like that. Loyalty couldn’t be dependent on the weather. If you followed someone, you had to follow them everywhere, not just until it got too hot. And sometimes, that was harder than leading, something she had learned only after she had stepped into the role of support herself. “You’re a smart man, Edmund Pevensie.”
He smiled at her, and it was an honest thing, born not only from appreciation for her understanding of his motives, she thought, but also from the fact that she had called him a man. Even if she hadn’t known his story, after watching him slide down a roof to save his brother from getting shot, she couldn’t have called him a child anymore.
Suddenly his smile turned into a grin. “Yeah, you’re not too bad yourself. Warrior.”
She smacked him in the arm and reared back, surprised, as he flinched violently. At her questioning gaze he shrugged. “Those shingles I slid down weren’t exactly smooth as glass.”
She nodded in understanding. She’d had a few bruises herself from those. But hers were almost gone already. Unlike his. She tried to imagine how his back had to feel.
“Alright,” she ordered, standing and reaching out a hand to pull him up, “Off to the healers with you.”
He groaned, but accepted her hand, letting her take most of his weight. His back really was one big bruise. She led him to the centre of the impromptu camp, where the few non-combatants they had with them had set up shop, treating the injured that had, until now, gritted their teeth and simply kept moving out of necessity. Since the king’s injuries were unpleasant rather than life threatening, he merely informed the healers of his presence and then sat on the rough ground, content to wait his turn. Buffy joined him, figuring she had nothing better to do.
Peter passed by their spot a few minutes later, carrying a badger sporting a badly bandaged arrow wound in one leg. They watched him put the animal in the healer’s care, stress and guilt both obvious in the way he ran himself into the ground to help the injured.
He stopped in front of the two of them, asking Edmund with worry heavy in his voice, “Are you alright?”
Ed nodded and managed a grin. “I’m fine. Just bruised. Buffy insisted on having someone look at it but I’m really okay.”
For a moment it seemed that Peter would argue because when it came to his sibling’s health, he always argued. But apparently the event of the past night had been a strong reminder that he was not always right and so he believed his little brother with a weak nod.
“And you?” He turned to Buffy, running his eyes over her, looking for obvious signs of a wound and finding none. She’d only gotten bruised and a bit banged up tackling a minotaur twice her size and four times her weight. Some ribs were probably cracked, she thought, from a lucky kick landed by a Telmarine on the walkway, but nothing was broken. She would heal. Besides, Peter had no reason to worry about her.
She shrugged. “I’m fine,” was her curt reply.
He hesitated, opened his mouth to speak and then walked away, shoulders slumped. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Edmund looking at her critically. “What’s going on with you and Pete?”
“Nothing. Come on, I’ll put some bruise salve on you myself. Faster that way.”
She made to stand but found herself stopped by a hand grasping at her skirts. Edmund looked up at her critically. “I’ve known my brother for a lot longer than you. That’s not nothing. What’s going on?”
She spun on her heel, forcing him to either let go or fall face first in the dirt. “He wants something he can’t have. Now stay there, I’ll be back in five.”
It wasn’t hard to get her hands on some salve that was supposed to stop swelling and ease muscle pains, ideal for bruises. She took a jar full, waved it in the direction of the hare in charge of smaller wounds to indicate where it had gone and then made her way back to the bruised king, finding him exactly where she’d left him, pensive expression on his face.
Seeing the small jar in her hand, he wordlessly stripped off her cloak, his shoulder guards, leather jerkin, belts and finally his shirt, exposing his back to her sympathetic gaze. She winced. “That’s got to hurt.”
He grunted and winced, too, as she applied the first goop of the herbal mixture and started rubbing it into abused muscles. His entire left side, from shoulder-blade to hip was dark blue, almost black. She expected that the bruises went on below his waistline but she wasn’t about to try and make a teenager strip in the middle of a camp, no matter how mature he seemed to be. He was male. As such, he would rather suffer in silence than drop his pants. Still, those shingles had really done a number on him.
Carefully and with gentle fingers, she worked her way down his back. Eventually he relaxed as the herbs in the salve started doing their job and numbed the pain a bit. By the time she was finished, half the jar was gone and she didn’t bother returning it to the hare. Instead she simply dropped it in his lap as he redressed himself and winked when he gave her a questioning glance. He rolled his eyes and bravely refused to blush as he strapped his sword to his waist. Once everything was back in place he handed her back her cloak with a smile and a wink of his own before saying, almost conversationally, “You know, an interesting fact about my brother? He always
gets what he wants.”
“Not this time,” she countered lightly, trying to have the last word but she didn’t need to be a mind reader to know that Edmund’s silence was not defeat but indulgence. “He won’t.”
Ed shrugged and offered, “Thanks for helping with my back.”
That was the end of the conversation.
When Susan finally hurried her steps to make peace with her brother, Caspian, having no desire to be anywhere near the High King, fell back in the column in search of conversation to keep him awake. He had given his horse up to an injured faun long ago and so was walking, which helped keep him awake, but fact was, he was dead on his feet and the two hours of rest had barely been enough to find some water and help treat the worst injuries.
He passed the Professor in the middle of the group, but there was little they had to say to each other. There were no more fantastic tales to tell now and as much as the prince had burned to tell his old teacher what he had learned about the song about the seasons he had once sung himself as a boy, now he didn’t feel like talking at all.
His aunt, the last of his flesh and blood, had picked her husband, her murdering, thieving monster of a husband, over him. His father had been murdered. More than a third of their party was dead for no reason other than a man’s hubris and pride. He felt like the world had ended when he hadn’t been looking.
He found his protector at the very end of the raiding party, following idly in the wake of the others, her mind somewhere else entirely. Falling in step next to her, he checked her over for injuries, the fast spreading tale of her heroics still ringing in his ears. But she seemed completely unharmed. Unlike most of the rest of the party.
She spoke suddenly, startling him, as he had not been aware that she’d noticed him at all. She’d seemed so deep in thought. “Where’s Susan? You seemed inseparable earlier.”
He kicked a bit at a pebble, resisting the urge to repeat the motion. It was childish and petulant. “She went to make peace with her brother.”
“Good for them. Peter is tearing himself apart enough already.”
He rounded on her, livid, “How can you say that? We lost a third of our party and it is his fault!”
Buffy seemed entirely immune to his rage and that, in turn, made him even angrier. “There was a chance of success. A chance to stop Miraz before he ever crossed the river.”
“But you didn’t believe in it. No-one did! The chance was too small and the risk was too great!”
“Peter believed,” she told him, growing calmer all the time as he grew angrier.
“Yes, and he got our people slaughtered.”
Finally, she reacted to his fury. She stopped, hands loosely at her sides, and looked him straight in the eyes. She was smaller than him by a head. Funny, he had never noticed before. “It was his decision to make.”
“It was the wrong one!” He flung up his hands, almost yelling at this point. Did she not see? Did she not understand? Dozens of people were dead because Peter had refused to simply listen
“Do you think that every decision you make as a leader will be the right one? That being king automatically makes you infallible? Peter leads. These people follow. That is how it goes. If we’d succeeded, everyone would be singing his praises now. We didn’t. We failed. And he’s being eaten alive by guilt. He doesn’t need you to add to that.”
“I would never lead my people to slaughter!”
Buffy’s smile was uglier than any expression he had seen on her before because it was tinged with bitter disappointment, as if he’d done something horribly, horribly wrong. “Then you’re never going to lead them anywhere. Being the boss means making the hard choices, Caspian. If you can’t do that, you can’t lead at all.”
Condescending. She looked at him with green eyes framed by golden hair, the picture of perfection, of purity, looked at him, dirty, grimy, bloodstained, grieving, angry and doubting, doubting his entire existence and he could see the condescension in her. She was treating him like a child, like his uncle did, like everyone did. A child, a child, a child, a burden. Something to be rid off. Go read some books, Caspian, we’ll come talk to you when you’re older, say, in ten years.
“What do you know?” he spat, cold in his fury. “Susan told me what you are. A soldier. A servant of Aslan. You know nothing of leading people.”
Inclining her head to one side, she half bowed in his direction, expression mocking.
“Of course. I apologize for speaking of matters which I do not understand, my Lord. It was presumptuous of me,” she stated, voice saccharine and sickeningly smooth.
The look of disappointment was back and stronger, so much stronger than before. She straightened from her bow and collected her cloak, hurrying to catch up to the rest of the column. Caspian stayed behind, their fight still ringing in his ears, and, worse than that, her parting words.
After a week of fretting over her, of thinking about every single time he had ever laid eyes on her, he remembered all the conversations they had ever had, few as they had been, over the years. Even when his father had still been alive in those early days, even when he had still been the celebrated heir to the throne instead of the family’s black sheep living in the highest tower, she had never spoken to him with such deference, never cowered and crawled before him.
Now that she had, it felt like an insult.
Do you love me?