A/N: Here is the final chapter. Thank you so much everyone who has followed this story to its completion, and especially those who have left reviews. I really appreciate hearing your thoughts. As always, Narnia and its inhabitants belong to C.S. Lewis, and I have no claim on them. I am well aware of the hubris of attempting to write the scene Lewis chose to gloss over, but the fact is that this is the first chapter I actually ever finished. For my own advent into Narnia fanfiction, I needed to know my version of what happened that night, and so here it is.
Chapter Seven: Think It Mercy
"I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget"
~ John Donne, Divine Meditations IX
Narnia, in the vicinity of the Stone Table, NT 1000
Edmund woke to hooves pounding against the ground; his heart pounded just as hard. He wasn't certain whether he'd just been rescued or captured. Rescued. The night air was chilling, but the Queen's eyes had been colder, and she never had meant anything she'd said, had she?
When the rider carrying him (but he couldn't be a man, could he?) saw that Edmund was awake, they broke their flight to feed him: bread and some dried fruit and wine, far sweeter than he'd received in the Witch's house, though still nothing like the rich sweetness of Turkish Delight. He thought he remembered being offered some before he fainted. Hungry as he was, Edmund could only pick at the food, but he hoped that meant they intended more than to kill him out of hand. It would be a waste, wouldn't it?
It will not do to have the brat fainting on the way.
He swallowed hard and pushed the majority of the bread away. One of his rescuers, a great, cat-like beast, hissed in disapproval. Edmund's stomach clenched in terror even though the silhouette was clearly not that of a lion. Surely, the king the Beavers had described would not come this far to deal with him. "Why we bother with this ungrateful traitor-"
A hoof stamped the ground behind Edmund, making him jump. "If Aslan's command is not sufficient for you, Felix, nor service to his chosen, then consider that you repay Prince Peter for avenging your brother on Maugrim by bringing him his."
The words startled Edmund more than the movement. Was it true, then, what the Wolf had said? He looked back and up at the one behind him - then further up. It had not been a rider on horseback who carried him, but a centaur.
The centaur's expression was hidden in shadow, but he responded no more gently to Edmund's look of confusion than he had to Felix's murmuring. "Do you fear for your brother, son of Adam, or for the monster he slew?"
Edmund remembered the hot, metallic breath on his face, the unearthly howling as the wolfpack departed the Witch's house. "Maugrim's dead?" The words slipped out before he could stop them. There was a snort and a hiss, as his rescuers-or-captors no doubt assigned the worst of meanings to his reply. Edmund looked back down at the ground. "Peter's-" He couldn't finish the words. Alive, but they'd said nothing of the girls, and he couldn't open his mouth again to ask. Horror, as black as the night itself, felt as if it would sweep up from the ground to swallow him.
"Prince Peter lives," said the centaur, eventually. Edmund wondered if he were expected to show relief or disappointment at the news. "His royal sisters have likewise escaped harm."
They were Peter's sisters, Edmund couldn't help noting. He supposed he'd forfeited the right to claim any of them. Attempting to murder one's family was a rather definite denial of kinship.
"Thank you," he whispered, without looking up.
"Upon joining us," the centaur continued in an even tone that betrayed no opinion on the subject, "their first request was that their brother be found."
Edmund did look up, then, gaping. "But-"
Ignoring the interruption, the centaur said, "Prince Peter will make a noble king."
Of course, Peter would be a prince, while he, Edmund, was-
He supposed that even in Narnia, traitors received a last meal.
They had not chained or bound him, but Edmund concluded that he was most likely a prisoner. They didn't really need to tie him up. It wasn't as if his weary legs would carry him far even if he knew which way to go. If he tried to escape, the Queen might find him, or her wolves, or even some of her enemies less inclined than the centaur to protect him on their way to… wherever they were going.
It turned out not to be much further once they set off again. At least, it seemed a short (far too short) time before Edmund's escort (guard) slowed and then stopped before a waiting sentry. The griffin, lion body regal even as it inclined its feathered head, murmured a respectful, "General," and glanced up the hill behind it. "He waits."
"Thank you, Sunlance," the centaur replied, even as Edmund wondered (not really wondered, he'd known even before the centaur spoke the name earlier) who waited and for what. Then they were passing between quiet tents and still forges and up the hill to where the Lion stood.
The moonlight brightened the hilltop, but Edmund suspected he did not need its illumination. He remembered how it had shone on the stone lion in the Witch's courtyard, how he had mocked the poor creature (was it awake in its prison? Had it known? Did he know?), and wondered how he could have mistaken it for him. He'd been angry then, angry enough to destroy everything he touched, almost as angry as he was frightened. Lost in his thoughts, Edmund was too slow to protest when the centaur set him on his feet before the Lion, bowed deeply, and backed away, leaving him there.
He hadn't been frightened enough, he thought as the Lion turned stern, solemn eyes on him. Edmund fell back a step, but only one. That way was the Witch and the Knife, and even if they were still slightly less terrifying than the massive claws and sharp teeth in front of him, the Lion's eyes held him, stern and solemn and almost… sad. It was like Dad's disappointed look, like Peter on the way to the lamppost, only a thousand times worse.
All the weariness of the past two days set in, and Edmund's legs folded under him. Instead of grass wet with dew, however, he collapsed into thick, soft fur. Then he was being lowered gently to the ground between the paws of the Lion. He looked away from them. Hidden or not the claws must be sharp.
He should say something. He couldn't think of anything.
"Son of Adam," the Lion's voice rumbled, deep and penetrating, "Do you know who you are?"
Of all the things Edmund had expected, that had not been one of them. "I - I don't understand."
Patiently, as if the speaker had all the time in the world, the deep voice repeated, "Do you know who you are?"
Then he did know. Shoulders sagging with the weight of it, Edmund whispered, "a traitor." He looked down at the heavy paws again, waiting for the claws to unsheathe.
But angry as his brother had been at the lamppost, Peter had never struck him, and neither did the Lion. Nor did the deep voice speak a word either to confirm or deny Edmund's self-identification. Instead, almost in a whisper, it said, "Look at me."
Edmund looked into the golden eyes and gasped. There was Herbert Stephens's bloodied face and Father's sorrowful one, Mother's injured expression at the train station and Lucy's tears, Susan's disappointment, and the worry he'd never before acknowledged in Peter. There was the fearful confusion of the forest Animals, frozen in the middle of their celebrating, and the mournful stone faun in the Witch's castle. There was his hand tracing soot on the enchanted lion and selecting another piece of Turkish Delight and shoving Lucy out of his favorite hiding spot. There were a thousand other moments, petty and spiteful and cruel, until Edmund thought the claws would have been kinder, and finally, they were the Lion's golden eyes again, as solemn and sad as ever, but no longer stern. "I know," said the deep voice, and Edmund realized he was crying without knowing when he'd started. "I understand."
"I'm sorry." It was such a small, weak thing to say in the face of all he'd caused, all that the Lion had shown him. Even more so in the face of the Lion's words. The thought that someone so great and good could understand such bile was awful and wonderful at the same time.
Sorrowfully, the Lion said, "You have been filled with hatred." Edmund looked down. "For your family, for me-"
"I don't-" he protested, but that was a lie or had been until a very short time ago. He'd avoided using the Lion's name even in his thoughts and not just for fear of the Witch's threats. "I'm sorry - Aslan."
The great head bent towards Edmund's until he could look nowhere else. "And for yourself, dear one."
Unable to tear his eyes from Aslan's, Edmund hunched smaller. That at least was deserved, wasn't it?
...cowards...poisonous little beast...traitor...
"What are you going to do with me, Sir?" Edmund asked.
"Do you not know?" The deep voice almost sounded amused, as if Aslan were laughing gently. "Adam's Bone. The Beavers told you of the prophecy. You were made to be a king."
Adam's Flesh and Adam's Bone sits at Cair Paravel in throne. He'd heard bits and pieces as he slipped out of the house on the dam, but surely…
Four thrones at Cair Paravel, the Witch had murmured before sharpening her knife. And to think he'd believed she would give him a crown.
"She - she said…" Aslan's promises, Edmund knew instinctively, were nothing like the Witch's, but surely the Lion could not intend to put him on one of those four thrones. Not after everything.
"Edmund." All amusement had left the deep voice, and Edmund shivered to hear his name in such tones. "Son of Adam, that the Witch sought to twist my plan for you does not change that it was mine before you or she set foot upon this land. You will reign beside your brother and sisters."
It was a rebuke, but a promise as well. Emboldened by that, Edmund dared a question. "But I betrayed them, and you, and everyone. Shouldn't I be…" He trailed off, courage gone.
"Punished?" The Lion completed his thought for him.
Miserably, Edmund nodded. He still knelt between the Lion's paws. If Aslan chose... It would be quick, at least, he thought. He hoped. He didn't want to be, but...
Traitors deserved to be punished.
"But they do not always get what they deserve," said Aslan, gently. He stepped back.
Terrified as he'd been in the Lion's shadow, Edmund missed the warmth of the large body as Aslan withdrew.
"There is always a price," said Aslan. "But it is not always the expected one." His voice took on an even deeper and richer tone. "Rise, son of Adam, and hear your sentence."
Legs trembling still, Edmund stood. "You will reign beside your brother and sisters," Aslan said again. "Under me and your high king."
"Peter?" said Edmund, then reddened at his own interruption. It made sense, although what Peter would say to this - to any of it - was a sobering thought in itself. He must hate me. They all must. But the centaur had said they'd asked for him. "I'm sorry," he said, both to the Lion in front of him and to his absent siblings. "I'll try to do better."
Aslan nodded, although whether in answer to the question or acknowledgement of the promise or both, Edmund could not be sure. "You will serve Narnia and her inhabitants wisely and justly, until you perish or I release you."
Wisely and justly. Edmund swallowed. That was a rather more daunting task than ordering people about and punishing the ones you disliked, as the Witch did.
"You wish to make amends," the Lion said.
How he wished it. Lifeless gray faces filled his mind's eye at the thought, and he said hopelessly, "I can't."
"No," said Aslan. "You cannot." Edmund hung his head. "But you can begin." Something almost like a kiss brushed his forehead. "And I will finish."
The touch warmed him, and he looked up again.
"What about you, Sir? Aslan?" There was no doubt in Edmund's mind that he owed the Lion as much or more than he did the rest, especially when Aslan's sentence could easily be termed reward - even answering to his brother seemed less burdensome that it had only days earlier.
"Son of Adam, it will be difficult," warned Aslan. "More difficult than all the rest."
Edmund wet his lips and tried to speak. He was no longer afraid of being torn to pieces and devoured by an angry beast or avenging angel (it would defeat the point if Aslan truly meant for him to be a king, after all, and it was somehow impossible to believe that the Lion would say such a thing and not mean it) but it was brought again to his mind that Aslan could if he chose. He nodded in lieu of words. Anything.
His silent response seemed to be enough because the rumbling voice gentled once again. "Will you trust me, my son? Will you give me your life?"
Trust Aslan? Of course, Edmund trusted him, even if he wasn't entirely sure how or what the second request meant. It will be more difficult than all the rest. But hadn't he already? Could he say anything but, "Yes, Aslan."
Then the Lion breathed on him-his breath not at all as Maugrim's had been, but warm and sweet and reminding him somehow of picnics by the river when Father was still at home-and the weariness and the pain and the sick, gnawing hunger he'd almost forgotten to notice were gone. Edmund's legs failed him for a different reason than exhaustion this time. Once again, the Lion moved to catch him, and Edmund did what he hadn't dared to do before and clung.
They spoke more eventually, or rather Aslan spoke, and Edmund listened, the emptiness that had yawned within him since before the Witch or the war or that awful school filling up with the Lion's words. The hilltop turned rosy and then golden until the Stone Table behind Aslan seemed to burn with it. Morning had come.
"It is time," said Aslan and nodded at something past Edmund's shoulder.
Edmund looked behind him and down the hill. The camp had come awake with activity, busy with talking beasts and creatures he'd only known from fairy tales, bustling and alive unlike the stone victims that filled the Witch's courtyard. What drew his attention, though, were the three figures standing outside a large gold pavilion. They looked foreign in the rich, entirely un-English clothes they wore, but they were - unmistakably - Peter, Susan, and Lucy.
They must have seen him because Lucy gave a shriek audible even above the clamour of hammers on anvils and swords on shields. "Edmund!"
She started to run towards them, but Peter caught her in one protective arm. He bent as if saying something to her, and then all three began walking up the hill.
Edmund swallowed and turned back, pleading wordlessly.
Gently, Aslan said, "Remember, my child, who you are."
Traitor. You wish to make amends. He couldn't very well forget. His hands felt cold and damp. Edmund buried them in his pockets, eyes on the grass.
The Lion shook his mane, as if once again hearing Edmund's thoughts. "Now, you are mine."
You are mine. He clung to that thought, as he watched his family approach. They might not want him back (please, let them take him back), but he would still belong to Aslan.
"Here is your brother," rumbled the Lion's deep voice. "And-there is no need to speak to him of what is past."
With that, Aslan looked to him, but Edmund's stomach still twisted with apprehension. It took two tries before he could manage a tentative, "Hello." He held out a hand to shake, wavering between the three until he settled on Susan. As horrible as he'd been to all of them, he'd done the least to her. "I'm sorry." It sounded just as weak now as it had before. "I am sorry."
Susan shook it, looking almost as uncomfortable as he felt. "It's all right."
Edmund turned to his youngest sister next. He'd done far more to Lucy, even before going to the Witch. "I'm-"
Lucy broke from under Peter's arm and ignored Edmund's offered hand to throw her arms around him. "It's all right, Ed," she said into his chest. "We forgive you." As simply as if he'd knocked her into another puddle instead of trying to kill her, he thought. Edmund returned the hug awkwardly, his vision blurring. A moment later, he felt Susan's hand on his shoulder.
"Are you all right?" She looked at him critically. Edmund ducked his head and shrugged. Amazing how Susan's fussing could be welcome after only a couple of days without it.
He raised his eyes from Lucy's blond hair to where Peter watched them seriously. The girls broke away to look at their oldest brother as well. There was no reason for Peter to forgive him, no reason for any of them to forgive him.
Swallowing, Edmund glanced at Aslan, then back to his brother. They'd asked for him, the centaur had said. Even when he was… He offered his hand a third time. "I'm sorry, Peter."
Peter had been looking at the Lion as well. He turned back, seeming to struggle with himself, and then accepted Edmund's hand. "It's all right."
Edmund hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath until it returned. It wasn't all right. They all knew that, but they were going to let him try, at least. If the Narnians were willing to do the same - a leopard loped up the hill towards them, the sleek lines of its body reminding him of Felix - perhaps starting over might be less daunting than it seemed.
And if they weren't willing - Edmund looked at the Lion who had turned his head at the leopard's approach - there was still Aslan's promise. You are mine. He would try anyway.