She had never known sadness before. She had never known despair. The fear she had felt had been a poor imitation of the real thing. And pain-well, she hadn’t the tools to know the true meaning of the word. Her life had been basically happy. She had been clothed, fed, and sheltered her entire life. Her most grievous injuries had come at the hands of a group of petty young girls with waspish tongues. She had thought that they alone had the power to make her miserable. She had been wrong.
The nightmare queen was something she never could have imagined. She was like all the monsters in her childhood fairytales come to life, only worse. She had been afraid of ugly trolls and cackling witches before; the nightmare queen had shown her the true face of evil.
It wouldn’t do any good to recount the ‘punishment’. She barely remembered any of it herself. She stopped counting how many times the whip came down, if only because the pain had overridden her consciousness. She didn’t remember how many times Edmund screamed for it to stop; she couldn’t recall how many times Ginarrbrik darted forward for a blow of his own. Less than five minutes in, all she could remember was the dirt in her face and the pain that kept coming and coming, no matter how many tells she begged it to stop.
When it was over, she almost welcomed Ginarrbrik’s merciless grasp on her hair and the tight way he bound her hands and feet together. She was moved roughly, but she couldn’t care less. How long they moved, she couldn’t tell. Her eyes seemed to have been melded shut by her tears and her brain would no longer force her to regain clarity. She did remember being tossed somewhere; her head colliding harshly with something solid before the darkness came once again.
There was one constant: Edmund. He had been there when she was moved. She heard him whimper, shout, yell, whisper, murmur her name time and time again. Perhaps she could have measured time by his cries, but it would have taken an effort beyond her now. And once she had fallen into the darkness again, she couldn’t be expected to keep track of anything.
And yet, she knew that Edmund was there. She broke the surface of the darkness a few times, ears coming awake to filter in the myriad of noises around her. She heard the growls, the clanking, the stomping-but most of all, she heard Edmund. Whenever she came around, he was there-crying, breathing, gasping, praying, or calling her name. It was odd that, in the middle of all this, she could feel grateful for something. But it did comfort her to know that when she died here (and it would be when she died) that at least she wouldn’t be alone. Whether he was right next to her or forced to watch from a distance, she knew Edmund would be there.
It warmed the remnants of her shattered heart.
The weather turned cold again. She wasn’t sure if it was simply changing once more or if it because of something more serious. It might have just been nightfall, or perhaps she was finally sliding down the cold path to death. For a brief second, that possibility seemed welcomed. Death would mean no more beatings, no more monsters, and no more nightmare queen.
But then again, death is so final. And Willow isn’t ready for a finale. She’s only fifteen! And as quick as the thought enters her mind, her inner fire chases it away. Her death may be imminent, but she was not going to wish for it. She had things to live for, and she would not-will not- go down without a fight. It might not be a spectacular fight. It might not even last for more than two seconds. But when the end came, Willow would fight it-though she knew she had no chance of stopping it.
These thoughts filtered in and out of her consciousness. Sometimes it was a struggle to remember where she was and what was happening; other times it was a struggle not to burst into fits of tears. Her head felt heavy and the right side of her face was pressed against something rough. There was something sticky on her face as well and she wondered if it was blood. If it was, it was an awful lot of blood. Willow shuddered to think of what sort of picture she made (and then felt sorry that Edmund had to be the one to see it).
The grunts and growls had gone on for so long that she was almost accustomed to them. So when they changed, when the noises around turned from menacing to panicked, Willow knew she should pay attention. But it seemed that getting up and opening her eyes was still beyond her.
Something was happening, something very important. Willow fought her way to awareness (she wasn’t exactly successful) and she managed to open her right eye just a crack. It did her no good because all she saw was black. Then she remembered that her face was smashed up against something and if she wanted to see she would have to lift her head (a task much easier said than done).
Edmund was nearby, she could hear him. However, the sounds he was making were muffled, so she couldn’t understand him. The panicked screams were getting louder and the ground underneath started trembling. Edmund’s screams went from muffled to distinct in a split second.
“No! Willow! Not without Willow!”
There were more shouts and screams, and a set of bone-chilling howls that accompanied painful death. Edmund was still shouting for her-or rather, shouting for someone to get her. Willow tried to open her eyes again and met with the same result. As she tried (in vain) to move her head, she heard a loud thwack and the dark thing she had been resting against shook momentarily.
A tightness that she had barely registered before loosened from around her chest. And then there are hands on her; strong, firm, and (most importantly) warm hands. She had almost forgotten what warm hands felt like (the queen’s fists had been like blocks of ice) and felt like weeping in gratitude. She heard the rumble of low voices, the words too muffled for her to understand. She felt herself being lifted (and gently for a change), a pair of strong arms cradling her to a firm chest.
They began to move forward, and though the movement pained her, she didn’t say a thing. Forward meant away from the nightmare queen (a notion so wonderful her brain couldn’t generate enough words to describe it).
“It will be all right, Daughter-of-Eve.”
It just might be.
~*~ “Wolves are wild animals that look like dogs-probably because they’re in the same family as pet dogs . . . I bet the wolf was the daddy though.”
The room erupted into laughs and giggles, but the little girl at the front of the room wasn’t amused. It was bad enough she had to stand in front of the class for this presentation (even though the only thing she was doing was holding the poster she had made about wolves up for the class to see; and by holding up she meant holding it up in front of her face and hiding her from everyone’s eyes), but now Xander was messing up the speech. It wasn’t fair; she had written it and done most of the work. The only thing he had to do was read that one sheet of paper-but he was turning it into a giant joke.
Mrs. Hawthorne wasn’t going to like that.
“Xander!” she whispered at him, turning her head sideways to give him a pout. “Don’t!”
He smiled at her with his big, goofy smile. She felt a little mad at him, but the feeling was going away as he smiled at her. She sighed and lifted the poster higher; she really was a wimp.
“Anyway, wolves live in the forest. They live in big families called packs, and they all hunt together. Wolves feed on elk, deer, and reindeer. Oh, and they like to chew on people every now and then.”
Xander dropped the paper she had given him and fake growled at the class. There was more laughing and a few screams from a couple of girls who had been surprised by Xander’s growl. Mrs. Hawthorne was trying to hush everyone and Willow just knew (but didn’t see-she really didn’t want to see) that the teacher was giving Xander an angry look. But her best friend didn’t seem to care, because he was still growling, his voice going deeper and louder every second.
“Xander!” Willow hissed, getting a little mad again. “Stop it!”
“Why?” Xander turned to face her and Willow was shocked to see his normally warm brown eyes had changed to an icy shade of blue. “It’s true.”
Then he smiled at her, showing her a set of fangs that she knew he hadn’t had before. Willow dropped the poster and screamed. Xander growled once more, bared his teeth, and then dove for her throat . . .
The scream tore itself out of her throat as she wrestled herself out of the darkness. Willow flailed for a second, feeling but not comprehending the warm blanket on top of her and the soft mattress at her back. She blinked uncertainly at her surroundings, noting that it appeared she was in a large tent, laid out on a cot, and that it was daylight (what happened to the dark woods and the nightmare queen?).
And was that a mockingbird singing just outside the opening flap?
Her head was pounding and Willow shut her eyes and pressed the heel of her left palm tightly against her lids. She felt something tickle her nose and cracked open an eye to see it was her sleeve. Well, it was the sleeve of the dress she was wearing, a dress that she didn’t remember buying or putting on (the idea that somebody had dressed her while she was sleeping was at least three different kinds of freaky). She tried desperately to remember what had happened, but could recall nothing but the cold night air and the sounds of Edmund’s crying.
And the queen (she wasn’t ever going to be able to forget the queen).
Wait! Edmund had been crying . . .
She cast a quick look around, noting that there weren’t any other cots in the tent. There was a large round table to the center of the tent with a few wooden chairs scattered about. The table was piled high with papers and what looked like metal goblets. There were various boxes and trunks lying about, and racks upon racks of medieval type weapons (there was even a mace or two-Xander and Jesse would just die to see this place). Everything seemed to be made of red and gold cloth and she was pretty sure there was a pile of chain mail at the foot of her cot.
But none of that told her what she needed to know.
Willow started to panic. She fumbled with the blanket on top of her, trying to free her legs so that she could get up and find Edmund (how she was going to find him wasn’t something she had entirely figured out yet). She tugged and pulled, alarmed to find herself weakening so quickly with such a simple task. Tears of frustration burned in her eyes as she burnt herself out just by kicking off a blanket, but she had no time to dwell in self-pity.
She had to find Edmund now (like RIGHT NOW).
“Careful, Daughter-of-Eve. You’re not fully recovered just yet.”
The voice, warm and deep, came out of nowhere and just washed right over her. Willow stilled, her right foot on the dirt floor and her left still on the cot. She was fighting a conflicting set of emotions; the voice made her feel warm and safe but at the same time, Willow was pretty sure she had been alone just seconds ago. So where did her companion come from (and where was he now?).
She glanced about her, eyes going from the tent’s fluttering open flap to the large table and then finally over to the far right corner of the room. Her eyes skipped over him at first (and it was totally a him-no one could mistake that voice for feminine), but as soon as her mind registered what she saw, her eyes swung back his way. Willow’s breath caught in her throat, her heart starting beating frantically, and her entire body tensed up.
“Are you scared, Daughter-of-Eve?”
Considering there was a lion prowling her way . . . “Yes.”
“That’s very smart of you,” the lion said in reply. Willow could only nod her head, watching with wide eyes as he approached her bedside. He came to a stop about a foot away from her and then settled down (were lions really this big?). Large amber eyes stared at her intently and made something inside Willow quake. She couldn’t meet his stare head on, not just yet, and the desire to bow her head was overwhelming.
The silence stretched on for a time as Willow tried to collect her thoughts. Predictably, they wound up in the same place as they had been before the lion entered the tent.
“Edmund . . .”
“Is quite all right,” the lion reassured her (really, she was being reassured by a lion? Oh her life had taken some seriously bizarre turns). “In fact, he is currently outside, reacquainting himself with his siblings. He is also anxious to see you, however, I asked him to wait until you were feeling better. Those were no minor injuries we sought to heal you from, Daughter-of-Eve.”
She wanted to ask how he had managed to heal all those injuries (because she remembered exactly how non-minor they had been). But instead, the only thing that came out of her mouth was: “My name’s Willow.”
The lion chuckled, a deep, warm sound that seemingly rumbled out of his chest. His good humour was infectious and Willow felt herself crack her first genuine smile in quite some time. She looked closely at the lion, no longer deathly afraid of him (but no less awed), and realized something: “You’re that Aslan guy, aren’t you?”
“I am,” the lion nodded. “And you are Willow Rosenberg, of the Sunnydale Rosenbergs. A descendant of the one known as the MacReady. And you are very far away from home, aren’t you Daughter-of-Eve?”
Willow nodded. “There was this dresser thing, Edmund called it a wardrobe-“
“I am aware of War Drobe and of Spare ‘Oom. I am, however, not certain what is to be done with you.”
The fear was back. “Something has to be done about me?”
“You came to our world in a strange manner, and know only its worst inhabitants. Edmund has told me what the White Witch has put you through. He has also told me how you endured it, stayed by his side, and tried to help him. For that I am grateful. But there is some concern. Edmund also told me of the Witch’s assessment of your ‘potential’. Do you know what she meant?”
Willow shook her head numbly (she wasn’t sure she liked where this was going).
Aslan looked sad for a minute. “This battle, this war with the White Witch, it has been a long time coming. I have foreseen it many times, as I have foreseen its ending. You, my child, are not meant to be here. There are only four thrones in Cair Paravel, and that will never change. I have seen this play out in my mind’s eye many times afore, and several of those times you were there and many times you were not. The choice is yours, for I cannot deny you a chance to help bring down one who has abused you so much. But your situation is unique. Both choices come with conditions, and you must choose carefully my dear.”
Willow let out a shaky breath and tried to collect her nerves. When she felt she was ready, she gave him a slight nod.
“Well done, Willow,” Aslan seemed proud of her. “There are only two options for you: you can stay here or you can go home. I can send you home, back to your loved ones. But before I do so, I would need to erase from your mind the time you have spent here. You would remember nothing-not the wolves, the dwarf, or Jadis herself.”
Not remember any of it? She wouldn’t have to remember the beatings, the ice, the talking animals, the statues, or the nightmare queen (if she didn’t remember, there was a fifty-fifty chance she wouldn’t end up mentally deranged)? No Ginarrbrik, no wolves, no monsters . . .
No Edmund . . .
“And if you should choose to stay, there are things that you must agree to. Things that I will ask you to swear to, an unbreakable oath to abide my rules until the end of your days.”
Her mind was racing; the temptation of home was almost too much to resist. “What things?”
Aslan came closer, his face alarmingly close to her own. His large amber eyes seemed to glow for a second and it took almost every last bit of strength Willow had to hold his gaze. “Jadis is right; you have potential. Potential can go either way. One day, you will be able to do great things. This is inevitable; it is your destiny. But the path there is clouded in uncertainty. Jadis sees in you what she once saw inside herself-magic.”
Willow eeped. It was out of her mouth before she could stop it, but that didn’t stop her from slapping her hands over her mouth to prevent another stupid uttering (honestly, she just eeped in front Aslan, of all . . . people?). Aslan spared her one smile before going serious once more.
“Not just any magic,” he continued solemnly, “but the soul-consuming power magic that she has abused all her life. She could teach it to you, and you have the potential to learn and become strong-perhaps stronger than even Jadis realizes. But I can tell you right now, Willow, you do not need magic to achieve greatness. And I can also tell you I will not allow another Jadis to hold sway over Narnia. Here is the condition of your continued presence here: you must swear that you will not now, nor ever, indulge in the practice of magic.”
Here Aslan paused and raised a massive paw to rest over her hand. Willow blinked and looked down. His paw was huge and lined with vicious looking claws that could easily rip her in two. But it was warm, bordering on hot, and yet smooth and velvety to the touch. She wondered what his fur would feel like (and if she would lose a limb for trying to find out).
“Wipe it from your mind,” Aslan commanded. “Bar it from your soul-never allow yourself to be drawn in by its allure. Swear it and know that once you have sworn, you will never be allowed to go back on your word.”
“I-“ Willow’s mouth opened, but she couldn’t form any words. The options were simply but so great that she couldn’t decide. How does one decide their entire future in a matter of minutes? She snapped her jaw shut and gave Aslan a grave look of her own.
“I need to think.”
It was so odd to see Narnia in springtime. Granted she hadn’t spent too much time in Narnia (although those few days with the nightmare queen had felt like years), but still, the change was drastic. Gone was the snow, the ice, the unnatural-frozenness of everything. Narnia was alive once again. The grass was green, the flowers were blooming, the trees were full of leaves, and the air was filled with the distant murmur of so many living creatures conversing.
It would be downright idyllic, you know if it wasn’t for the impending war (not even the songbirds could drown out of the sounds of weapons clanking just down the hill behind her).
Willow sighed and shifted uncomfortably. Her strength was coming back to her slowly by slowly, but she was still tired. Aslan had accompanied her out here to a quiet spot just at the edge of their camp border. He had left her there with a quiet warning against wandering too far (not an issue-especially when she heard of the surprise wolf attack the other day).
She asked for time to think, and now she had it. The problem was that she wasn’t any closer to making a decision. She knew the pros and cons of both sides and while she wanted desperately to go home again, there were other things to consider. Aslan hadn’t said it aloud (though the whole talk of four thrones at Castle Care-whatever made it plain) but she knew that Edward and his siblings were staying behind to fight this war with the queen. They hadn’t been here for long and her crimes against them were no less than the crimes against Willow (so why weren’t they also leaving?).
It seemed wrong (in an inexplicable way) to go home while the Pevensies stayed behind to fight. It was like admitting that she wasn’t strong enough to see this through. That she didn’t have the same ounce of courage as the youngest Lucy, a girl of ten, possessed. And while the urge to go home was very real and strong, could she ever in good conscience leave these other kids here to fight and possibly die?
Wouldn’t that make her a coward?
And this potential stuff. It was driving her crazy. On the one hand, Aslan said she was going to do great things. On the other hand, he meant great as in on a large scale (and not necessarily of the good). If she went home, forgot about everything she saw and felt here, would she be more likely to fall into this magic-power trap Aslan described? Willow wasn’t sure what this potential inside her looked like, but apparently it was raw enough to be either very good or seriously bad (she was thinking if it got bad, it would be like Chernobyl-bad). The thought of traipsing back home to become something even a remote bit like the nightmare queen made her sick to her stomach.
She was never going to let that happen.
And why couldn’t she go home after the big showdown? You know, stay and help with the fight and then go home with some valuable lessons learned? That seemed like a much better option than the two she had been given (though she didn’t voice those thoughts to the large lion that could probably chomp her head off with little to no effort), but maybe it was too much of a compromise. Aslan already said she wasn’t supposed to be here (but then how did she get here?) and that her part in this story could only go one of two ways. Maybe she needed to pick either a or b just because those were the only two ways she wouldn’t screw this to high hell.
God this was complicated.
She started and turned to look behind her. A relieved sigh escaped her lips at the sight of Edmund, standing on his own two feet and looking much better than the last time she had seen him.
“Are you okay?” she asked in response.
“Am I okay?” Edmund gave her an incredulous look as he ambled closer. He dropped down beside her and shook his head. “You’re the one they spent half a day healing. Are you feeling better?”
He tried to give her a smile, but she saw all too clearly the fear in his eyes (what a sight she must have been). She patted his shoulder in reassurance before attempting a shaky smile. “I’m . . . well, I’m not fine. But I’m a hell of a lot better here than I was back there.”
“Tell me about it,” Edmund gave a bitter laugh. “I think the frontlines back home would have been better than where we were stuck.”
“No queen there,” she murmured in a sort of agreement. Edmund stiffened slightly at the mention of the queen, but then relaxed. Willow turned her head and gazed at him appraisingly. Edmund looked the same, but there was something different about him now, at this very moment. It was like, once he was out of the queen’s hands, Edmund had grown taller (not physically, but in presence). She remembered the fox by the river and bumped him playfully with her elbow. “How are the new digs, your majesty?”
Edmund rolled his eyes at her. “Don’t call me that, and you’re using that horrible American slang again.”
Well, at least he wasn’t completely changed. She grinned but let the comment slide. “How are your brother and sisters?”
“Good, understanding, whatnot,” Edmund picked at the grass around them. “I didn’t know what it would be like to have to face them again. It felt much better than I thought it would. Don’t tell anyone this, but I think I even missed Peter for a while back there. It was far too much of a relief to have him barking orders at me again.”
“Your secret’s safe with me,” Willow promised with a giggle. They lapsed into a companionable silence for a bit; Edmund leaning back to stare up at the sky while Willow continued to contemplate the trees at the distance. She still wasn’t any closer to an answer, but she felt a lot better with Edmund back at her side. He was the only person here that she considered a friend, and his presence was comforting.
But she still had a decision to make.
“Edmund,” she murmured after a while.
“Are you going back home now?”
Edmund sighed and hoisted himself back up to a sitting position. “I don’t think so. I know that’s what Peter wants, but I can’t do it. I’ve seen too much, and I helped her do some of it-“
“Not by choice,” she interrupted him quickly.
“It’s done all the same, isn’t it?” he replied with a rueful smile. “She’s evil, and I helped her do evil here, against these people. I can’t leave without setting things right. Peter and the girls are staying as well; you can’t see the hope in their eyes and then turn your back on them. There’s just no way.”
It wasn’t anything she hadn’t figured out for herself, but it made the whole situation more real to hear him say it. He was too young to feel this way; thirteen year old boys aren’t meant to ride off to war.
And fifteen year old girls aren’t meant to follow them . . .
“Have they made any plans yet?” she asked him. “Do we know their next move?”
That came from behind them. Both children turned to find that Aslan had made his way back up to Willow (he was pretty quiet for such a big lion). His face was serious, but his eyes were gentle. He spared Edmund a nod before turning his whole attention to Willow. She scrambled to her feet and meeting the lion’s gaze head on. Aslan looked at her quietly for a second before nodding his head slowly.
“Remember what I said before child; there are only four thrones, and there will only be four thrones.”
Willow nodded, ignoring Edmund’s confused look, and gave Aslan the best Resolve Face she could muster under the circumstances (Resolve Faces seemed kind of ineffectual in the face of talking animals-she didn’t know why, but they did). “It’s okay. I prefer to stand.”
And then (honest-to-God) Aslan let out a roaring laugh that made her three parts elated and one part ready to pee her pants (he’s still a lion people!).
“Well said, Daughter-of-Eve. Well said.”