Chapter One: Heartsick Bedside
Disclaimer: If it's an Animal, it's likely mine. Which means the humans aren't.
"Likewise, the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered," Romans 8:26
There was once an ancient oak that was crafted into a legend.
It was not the first of its kind- Neither a tree of Knowledge nor of Life. Not of Apple or Fir. It did not mark a beginning and it held no power to bring an end. But because the story-teller had captured such wonderful images in the common wood, there was not a soul in all of Narnia that did not hear it.
The tale of the oak was a rare path that filled the middle places.
The tale that led to Salvation.
Narnia, Year 1000
"Adjust your stance, King Edmund."
"And your aim- My Liege. You're still aiming too low. Remember when you commanded the archers! Recall how they held themselves as you fired on the Witch!"
"That was too high."
"At least I grazed it that time!" I muttered beneath heated breath, but my frustration was born of lacking skills with the bow and lacking strength in my scrawny arms. Oreius' orders only added to my ire.
The morning training grounds were rhythmically resounding with the clang of metal on shield and clip-clopping hoof steps on polished stone. A little ways from the archery range, the rest of my guard practiced swordplay and fang-marking beneath the red falling leaves of the laughing Sycamores. I wanted to join them, isolated on the barren target range, but General Oreius was as wise a Centaur as he was an ornery one, and he had decided I should learn the benefits of the long-range bow. There was nothing short of Aslan could change his mind and rescue me from inevitable failure.
I suppose he had forgotten the fact that I did not share the same stature as Peter. When my brother had been handed his first longbow and quiver of practice heads, it had taken only two demonstrations from the General for the High King to perfectly mimic the procession of movements.
Leather creaked about coiling muscle- the older boy's arms bulged, rippling and fluid. In one shift both exhilarating and daunting, the arrow was nestled by the concentrating frown of his mouth. A second of breathless anticipation, and the tightened muscles gave like a floodgate bursting, their strength releasing, aiming the arrow straight into the pinprick eye of the straw target. The arrow quivered where it struck, but Peter was already taking aim a second time...
"Remember, my King, you can always use a smaller bow if it is too much for you to-"
With a messy jerk on the bowstring and an even messier release, the arrow flew off to the side, completely missing the target. A startled yelp caught our ears and stopped my heart cold in my chest.
"Hold your fire, Your Majesty!" One of my guard, a Faun archer named Foible, came out from behind the target with both hands raised in a gesture of peace. The stray arrow was gripped in his left hand, clumps of dirt and grass still hanging off of the practice-head, "You nearly shot my leg!"
An unpleasant heat flared up my neck and face and my mouth sealed shut.
"You should know better than to be standing behind targets," Oreius replied coolly, in my defense. His leather armour creaked as he shifted his legs, one hoof pawing up the Narnian soil beneath.
"You're right, General," Foible saluted, but the tone of his squeaking voice easily retorted, 'I should have been standing in front of it...' and the heat spilled from my face and neck to my back and hands. I imagine I must have looked rather foolish.
"And how is His majesty faring in his lesson today?" the Faun teased, but I shared none of his mirth. I should have thought it fairly obvious how his majesty was faring.
Enough was enough, I rested my bow on the ground and leaned all my weight on it, releasing the taut string from the top notch.
"We're not finished yet, My King," the Centaur said, "We can still improve your draw of the bow."
My hands hesitated and my throat grew tight, but I shook my head and held out the stripped weapon to my General. Meeting his dark, questioning eyes with my own, I willed him to understand my reasoning.
"It is enough. I won't be getting any better today."
Oreius ignored the bow I held out to him, his hard gaze drilling into mine, "At least an hour more, Edmund. The sunlight and morning air of Narnia can improve many things. It will come with time."
What will come? When? Time was exactly what I lacked. I opted not to answer him, feeling the yew of the bow bounce against my breeches as I turned to Foible, "What word of my sister?"
The humor fled his mouth, along with any dim spot of hope left in my heart. Where is Peter?
"The same, King Edmund. Queen Susan and Saleni are with her now. She insists she cannot sleep."
"I will join her. General," I nodded my head at him and without another word, dropped the bow where I stood in the dewy grass, stepping around Oreius' flank. I did not miss the irritated swish of his dark tail nor the uncomfortable shift in his hindquarters as I did so. But the General did not prevent me from leaving the range, so I stepped past both soldiers as I ascended the garden path up to the Cair, the wind whipping my clothes as I dragged myself forwards.
It should have been a magnificently beautiful day. Any other day, I would have welcomed the cool air strongly stirring around me, the warm sun cradling my face, the smell of sap and earth and something else unidentifiably sweet inhaled with each breath. The smoke from the kitchens breathed onto the misty blue of the sky, scented with cinnamon and apples. Squirrels and Birds chattered in the trees. Any other day, and this all would not have seemed filling and peaceful. Promising. But nothing about this breathtaking day could correct the wrong growing in Narnia's people.
A distant bell chimed from the lower town, instantly smothered by a crashing whisper of agony. If I had been closer, I might have been able to make out the individual cries of the mourning family, the wailing silence of the people as one more Narnian was lost.
Three days without word.
I did not know what could have been taking Peter so long. Narnia was by no means a small country, but it should have been small enough for Peter to tear across it and back by now. It was possible that other parts of Narnia were hindered by bad weather. It could be that they were restocking provisions. It could be that some of the Fell had to be dealt with along the way. There were a number of reasons. But none could excuse the fact that our eldest sibling had yet to send a messenger regarding his progress.
Peter knew what he was doing. He had led our soldiers right so far- it was unlikely that he had encountered opposition, even if the rumours were true and there were Fell remnants sulking in the West. All I had to do was keep the Cair together until he came back, like he had made me promise.
His servants were silent with reverence as they handed him different pieces of armour to strap to his body. Two Fauns worked on finishing his leather cuirass, strapping tight the buckles on the side, but he waved away the help for his leather arm braces, and they respectfully bowed, their eyes still glowing with wonder at their golden High King. All of the courtiers and servants looked at Peter like that- Ever since the day he'd been crowned High King.
It was when the second Faun brought forth Peter's silver helmet perched atop a delicate grip that I realized I should speak.
He took the helmet and tucked it underneath his arm as he turned to the door where I stood. From his side it stared facelessly up at me, as fearsome as it was foreign. His mouth turned up while the Fauns worked back over his spaulders. They fidgeted with the laces as though they were fussy mothers tying his shoes, and he, a bemused son.
"Not lost? Didn't go wandering off?"
I blushed. In all truthfulness, I had gotten lost on the way: Peter had never summoned me to his rooms before. I hadn't even known they were half as grand as they were, with gold inlaid into every detail. Bed, blankets, carpet, stonework- even the fireplace, it would seem. Though, now that I think of it, I could have bothered to ask anyone for directions and they would have known the quickest route.
"I wanted to talk with you," he looked to the Fauns again, shooing them away with ridiculously natural ease, "My thanks Sparcas, Grothem. Leave us, please."
"Sire," they said to him, "King Edmund," they addressed me. They clopped out the door, shutting it enough so that a line of air could breathe through. The guards were posted immediately outside the entryway, should the High King have need of them.
For a long moment, the two of us merely stood there, staring at each other. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what to say to him, or if he was having the same problem as I was. For his part, Peter looked very well contained. In the midst of it all, he seemed to glow, standing tall, straight-backed and confident where I was short, slouching, and restraining my body from jittering with worry. While we both faced each other, he simply looked at me, like he could see through me- or worse, inside of me- never speaking or making any such notion that he intended to.
Then he shifted and the helmet's glare was trained firmly on my face, "There's no way of knowing how long I'll be gone for..."
I nodded dumbly, crossing my arms as if in contemplation.
He exhaled, golden eyebrows drawing together, "Susan volunteered to take up my position in court while I'm away, and Oreius is handling the army. Tumnus is already doing everything Lucy would normally do. Between the three of them, there shouldn't be too much left for you to take care of, so you can still take classes with your tutors and train in the yard with the soldiers when you need to."
He paused, and I wondered if he could see the temper that was raging so frighteningly inside of me. Taking refuge in the quiet voice that cut through my mind, I breathed outwards, curling my fingers inwards so that the nails taunted the blistering skin there.
"Can't-" He looked up at me sharply and my words froze. I scowled and looked away, "Can't I help?"
"I need you to do something for me."
Suddenly it didn't matter that the empty visor was still boring into my skull, because Peter's blue eyes were locked with mine too and I couldn't find the will to look away. It was just like that moment, the last time he had looked at me so fiercely and I could not think ill of him, or entertain the idea that he thought ill of me. It was... Well, I don't know if I could describe to you.
"Take care of the girls, Edmund."
A serious task, then. My chest became tight and I frowned, utterly somber.
"I will, Peter."
"Good man," said Peter, and he smiled just before his face was covered with a silver mask. I bowed as the High King passed me by.
I jumped, tripping and almost running into Susan, who had been coming down the path from the opposite direction. In my frantic haste and demented concentration, I hadn't noticed my older sister nearing. She closed the distance, warm brown dress billowing in the shaded terrace. The bells in the towns chimed to cover the irrepressible mourners, if only for the moment, and I found my thoughts gathering.
"I thought you were training," she reproached, touching my arm in greeting, "You should have stayed out a while longer- I think the sunlight is doing you good. A freckle or two may have finally showed up-" She tapped the tip of my nose with a smooth finger, making it wrinkle reflexively.
"I had to see Lucy."
She smiled, but it was sympathetic, and I instantly looked away from her, "Saleni checked in on her?"
"Yes. The cough was keeping her awake. And even if she does sleep..." my sister gestured helplessly, "Her dreams are filled with nightmares."
"Is the fever doing that?"
"Oh, Edmund, I don't know."
"What does Saleni say?"
"He doesn't know either."
"Well of all people, he should know something!" I snapped, "He's a doctor, isn't he? He should be able to help her!"
"Edmund, he's doing all he can." And there was such a weary plea in that promise, that I immediately shut my mouth and turned away again, ashamed of how spoiled and childish I sounded. Would I never grow up? I had no right to behave that way around my sister; Susan was just as frustrated as I was.
"Have you eaten anything today?" Susan asked softly. Gentle suited my sister.
I shook my head. While I couldn't discover miracles, I'd read from the scrolls and tomes in the Cair's royal library that Kings of old would fast in times of trouble- It was a form of sacrifice, and Aslan condoned it. It was such that I required no further prompting, and no amount of coaxing could persuade me to cease my bid for Lucy's health.
"Will you?" she continued, already knowing the answer.
"Not until Lucy is well." Not until Peter returned with the cure in hand.
Susan bit her lip harshly and for one horrible moment, I thought I had said the one thing that would make her cry. It seemed that in those days Susan was bound to explode into tears at any given moment. Instinct told me run before I was caught, a stern voice roared up in my heart to anchor my feet in place, but Susan only worried her lip this time and blinked her blue eyes a few times in rapid succession. The tears dried before they fell. The instinct dimmed a little. The voice hummed, almost purring in its pleasure.
"I'll let you two talk alone," she warbled, "She's been asking for you, you know."
It was my turn to blink, and I think the inside of my cheek was bleeding from where I'd sank my teeth into it. Susan rested her hands on my shoulders and leaned down a little ways to kiss me on the cheek. It was soft and gentle and beautiful in its unfamiliarity.
"You're a wonderful brother, Edmund," my sister told me, "We're lucky to have you."
The atmosphere of Lucy's quarters was nothing like the training yard.
A wave of sickly heat- damp, sour warmth- hit me the moment the sentries opened the doubled doors. The fireplace was lit on the far wall, but the fire was low and the light was dim. Heavy shades were drawn over the windows to prevent the brilliancy of the rising sun from piercing the glass. Small candles were lit sparsely throughout the space, the largest posted at the bedside table, lending just enough light to read the enormous book that was propped up there. A medicine book, I presumed. And beside it, a bowl of cooled rose-water.
Tumnus, our family's advisor and Lucy's best friend, stood beside the bed as well; his hands clasped behind his back as he gazed down at the figure bundled on the bed. Lucy's illness had hit him spectacularly hard, nearly as hard as the rest of us. He had done everything in his power to help, and I knew that he, like Peter, would not rest until she was on the mend.
Upon my entrance, he looked up and caught the look in my eye. Ever polite, the Faun dipped his head respectfully, leaning over the bed to whisper something, before straightening and swiftly exiting, a sad look shooting at me in parting. I looked away.
"Good morning, Doctor," I said, once Tumnus had vanished down the corridor.
Doctor Orphidus Maxtonias Saleni was a generally genius physician who had recently been taken into our palace staff. After the defeat of the White Witch, the Animals of a village far to the south of our Kingdom highly recommended him to be the royal family's physician. Our initial impression of his eccentricities had left something to be had, but during his trial period he had cured Susan was a vicious cold, managed to give Lucy three stitches after she'd fallen out of a Tree without drawing a single tear, and discovered Peter was deathly allergic to all things asparagus, saving his life accordingly.
Therefore, Dr. Saleni and I were in good confidences.
"Ah! Is mine Liegely!" the flamboyantly coloured Salamander skittered out from the inside of a large black medical bag, several vials clutched under his tiny arms, "Yous be checkins in on the Queenie?"
"Yes," I glanced at the small mound burrowed under the heavy coverlet, "Is she asleep?"
"She's awake," came a rasping voice, and Saleni made a tsking noise as I hurriedly drew a chair up beside my sister. She looked worse every time I saw her- sallow skin, fever bright eyes making them look like glass or marble, hair damp with sweat and natural oils, her lips grey, her nail beds white, dark circles encroaching on her smiling eyes. It was trying to kill her.
"Shes be having lots of baddies dreams! I's been giving her meds."
"I'm still having 'baddies' dreams," Lucy murmured, all good humour, "But I'm glad you're here Edmund."
"Peter should be back soon," I said, taking her small hand in mine. It was boiling and my palms instantly began to sweat just holding onto it.
She smiled, eyes closed, "He's...only been gone a few days."
"You know how Peter is," I answered, forcing a grin, "He won't come home until he does. And he's good at getting answers. He'll find it."
"I only wish I knew what happened to the Cordial," Lucy whispered. She sighed uncomfortably and turned her head towards me, cracking open her eyes, "Do you think I just misplaced it? Is it my fault we can't help the poor Narnians in the lower towns?"
"Nothing's your fault, Lucy," I said, a little more forcefully than I intended, "The cordial was stolen. You don't lose things- But we will get it back."
Lucy made a small noise in the back of her sore throat that could have represented agreement, or at least concession, but soon fell silent again, her light and heavy eyes searching the canopy above her bed. It was a dangerous silence to me; I wanted to speak to her. I wanted to tell her everything that I knew, everything I thought, everything I considered wonderful about her. During this time in my life, Lucy was my closest (and, I believed, only) friend. What my betrayal had done to my relationship with Susan and Peter had failed to damage with my little sister. I felt honoured that she so openly adored me, as she adored Susan and Peter and any other Narnian. Her love for me was cherished.
I would have done anything to protect it.
"Mine Leigely," Saleni hissed at me, as he scrambled up my pant leg and perched on my knee, "Yous be not sleepins so well- Thems are baggies under your eyeballs."
This roused Lucy a little.
"I am resting- I do rest," I insisted, as Saleni clicked and tsked and poked at the dark circles beneath my eyes with a clammy Salamander finger, "I just have- some things to do."
The Salamander dropped off my knee and skittered under my chair to climb back up the side of the night table, diving headlong into a dark medical bag of ominously clanking objects, his mutters drawing a bemused twitch at the side of my mouth.
"You're not worried, are you?" my little sister wondered, giving my hand a frail squeeze, "Aslan will take care of it."
Cool glass was pressed against the back of my hand before I could reply and Dr. Saleni blinked up at me with squinted eyes.
"Is meds for you, Mine Leigely. Helps you sleepies. One sip once yous snuggy in bed." He winked obviously at me. We had already discussed how much to take of it on an empty stomach.
I looked to Lucy, who opened her eyes to smile up at me, her tiny hand squeezing my own once more. It was an odd feeling- my hands had never felt strong, just scrawny and weak like the rest of me. Susan's hands were more capable than mine. Peter's completely dwarfed mine. But in holding Lucy's delicate little fingers, they felt positively brutish.
"I came here to take care of you, not the other way around."
"It makes me feel better to help people," she murmured, letting out a stifled sigh and settling back into downy pillows, "It makes me feel useful."
Well, who was I to refuse her that? I accepted the medicine from Saleni and slipped it into the small bag at my belt, drawing the leather laces with a sharp jerk on the frayed ends. Tonight would bring rest that tomorrow would heavily tax upon.
"Try to sleep, all right, Lu?"
Her colourless lips ticked upwards, "Haven't called me that since we were babies."
"I can call you Lu from now on, if you like." Because I would have done anything for her at that moment. I was doing everthing I possibly could.
"And holding hands, too," her voice was hushed, buried in slumber, "You've never held my hand before..."
I looked to Saleni, who shook his head. The fever was taking hold again. She was losing her lucidity. As the heat in her cheeks flushed outwards to fill her jawline and forehead, drenching her body as it sweated to qualm imaginary flames, and she kicked out at the covers. Despite her agitation, the heavy blankets remained in place, and she moaned aloud as her weakness was made apparent.
"You're all right, Lu. It's okay." But before long Lucy was wrapped in heated visions, her eyes turning beneath and beyond her eyelids as she chased figures and shadows unseen by this world. Hunted by nightmares, my valiant sister still fought where she lay pinned, gnashing her teeth against agony and growling at fate.
"I'm not afraid..." she rasped, fingers scrambling for purchase on my own, "I'm not afraid, Edmund. I'm not-"
"-You don't have to be," I murmured, praying with all my might as her hand was folded within my own, "I'll protect you, little sister. You don't have to be."
Beyond the sweltering and sticky room, the sun had slipped away from the Eastern Sea, steadily gaining the climax of the sky just as it would gain the West and soon be swallowed into night. Only then would I leave her. And when the sun returned to her room, it would bring me with it.
All right, so this illness going through the kingdom will be explained soon.
There isn't much of Peter in this first chapter, but he and Ed will get back together very soon. I can hardly wait to start dropping this plot on you all- I've forgotten how difficult it is to write a first chapter...
Thanks to all who read this first chapter of Monochrome! If ANYONE sees any grammmar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes, please contact me so that I can fix them.