"It was my sister's fault," said the Queen. "She drove me to it. May the curse of all the Powers rest upon her forever! At any moment I was ready to make peace—yes, and to spare her life too, if only she would yield me the throne. But she would not. Her pride has destroyed the whole world. Even after the war had begun, there was a solemn promise that neither side would use Magic. But when she broke her promise, what could I do? Fool! As if she did not know that I had more Magic than she. She even knew that I had the secret of the Deplorable Word. Did she think—she was always a weakling—that I would not use it?"
—The Magician's Nephew
The first time you fought your sister and it came to blows, you were four.
Jadis won. Her height was taller, her arms longer. She laid you to the floor and you screamed, too terrified to rise before the strength of her body. Your spirit bent to the arcane, hers to the material.
Oh, my daughters, did you not know even then, you were made to rule together? The city of the King of Kings was large enough for you both!
I was losing the war.
My generals knew it, from the proud Captain of the Queen's guard to the thief who stole my sister's food to feed our soldiers. They stood around the table and the maps with their fears upon their faces. We held but a third of the half I claimed as mine. Half of Charn, half of my birthright, the half my sister once promised.
I had staked our tents with magic, sharpened the edges of our blades with spells, broken the vow Jadis and I made to each other, and still it was not enough. She demanded all the throne, and what I would not yield, she would take. We could not keep her assassins outside our camp. That alone was proof that she broke her vow before I ever used magic for my side, for how could they enter without magic? My life was in danger, and if I was lost, the war was lost.
I looked up from the map of Charn's roads spread out on the dark stone table, looking past the stiff postures to the tapestry hiding the outside. There was but one who could help with these fears. "I go to seek council," I informed them. They knew better than to object. They bowed and withdrew, slipping through the tent as easily as life slips from the body.
All but the Captain. "My Queen should not go alone."
I looked at him, my rage building. My sister might claim the throne by falsehood, but oh, she was Queen! None ever questioned her, and I would not be questioned!
"You forget which of all the fighters in the camp works the strongest magic," I reminded him, ice in my tone, and with a thrust of my hand and a muttered word I froze him in place. "Think on that till I return." I passed him by, the flaps of the tent parting ahead of me, but still that did not satisfy. Jadis would have needed to duck as she passed through them, straightening to a proud and looming presence. I passed beneath without brushing my head. And I was losing to her. I could not endure this.
I would go and seek my mother.
Ever after that fight, you flinched. You knew your sister could hurt you. My daughters!
I tried to turn you both to different ways. Hatred is not the only path. And at times, it worked; the day in the orchard, when you fell from the tree trying to reach the apples, Jadis reached you first. Her strong arms wrapped themselves around you, and when that did not stem your tears, she flung herself at the tree, shaking it, and apples rained down around you till you laughed. You were the best of friends.
You always were, as long as you did not seek the same prize.
My mother was both easy and difficult to find. The Djinn had ruled Charn - the city of the King of Kings, the wonder of all worlds, the height of wealth and power and wonder - by the strength of their magic for time beyond count!
And when the Djinn King fell in love with a Giantess, his power stood strong enough to stem the mockery that followed such a match. Those who mocked the height from which my mother had to stoop to kiss him only did so once. But when he tired of his Giantess—when gentleness tainted her, and she tried to taint her daughters with it—he had used that same strength to banish her. He hid from both his daughters' eyes the giant frame, tall as a pyramid and as strong as its stones. Even after his death, her hiddenness remained.
I was the daughter of the Djinn King, and if I could not break the spell that hid her, I could find the spell itself. And to find the spell would be to find my mother.
My mother, who had been able to stop Jadis in our youth. Who might know how to stop her now, to make my sister give me what was mine, half of our inheritance.
I waited for darkness.
I turned you away from the strength of arms, for as you began I saw that same flinch. You feared being hurt. I turned you to magic, and your sister to arms. Different prizes, different lifestyles, even different masters and friends—surely I had, by separating your interests, saved you both.
Oh, the lies we tell ourselves, for love.
But your father favored your sister. She inherited more of my height, and the strength of Giants was hidden in her slender arms. He saw her as a Queen of Kings, and the better heir. He himself became her tutor in both arms and magic.
And you found yourself without a prize you wanted—the favor of your father. Oh, my daughter, that was never something you should have needed to fight for.
Nor was my love enough to counter the lack.
Uttering the words I once learned as a girl, I spelled my eyes to see all other spells. My father's magic blazed in the darkness. And there, in the distance, a spell taller than a Giant.
I slipped from among the tents and into the streets that adjoined our camp. As I moved silently away from my soldiers, dark-clad figures with knives in their hands made their way to the tent where I slept each night. To kill or to capture, I did not know nor care.
Though my rage stirred as I watched them enter it. Jadis, you broke the vow first! Lies, all your promises to me in our youth, all the things you said you'd give me when our father died, lies! I longed to go after those enemy soldiers of yours, bind them with my magic, and return them to you under my command. You would see I was not weak!
But no. No. That would not win the war. I needed...by the Powers, I hated saying it, but I needed help.
I turned back, following the pillar of orange light, as brilliant as a flame to my spelled eyes, that moved on the horizon.
I followed it for hours, till my eyes burned with spots and my feet dragged on the rough stones. But I gritted my teeth. This would be a small price to pay for being Queen, and I would be Queen.
But the light kept moving.
The two of you fought more and more.
"Half of him is mine!" you screamed at her in my room, when I called you both there, and she laughed at you.
"Then have him call you! If he is half yours, if his throne is half yours, then claim it!"
"You are too weak to press your claim with any but me," and the sneer in her words was cold.
"You would be too weak yourself, if you did not have his favor!"
I saw your sister's arm draw back to strike you at those words, words that pictured her as weak, and I reached forward, one long arm holding back the blow.
I did not have words to give you both what you wanted. I wanted the two of you to see that what you needed was each other, a love that made you strong.
But I did not have the words. Not ones you would believe. I tried again and again, my daughter. Do you remember? But all meetings became battles, battles with words and not with blows, for every time Jadis drew her hand back I reached forward to stop her. Sometimes I caught her arm; sometimes I let it land on me. Jadis, proud in her father's love, would not have endured being always beaten by her mother.
I could see her growing cold. Trained at her father's side, she loved the way people trembled for him. She loved the way he made them fall in love with him, till their entire existence bound itself up in his pleasure. He was binding her to live the same, and showing her how to do the same to others.
And it was working.
For everyone but you. You still softened a part of her heart. You still had her love. She threatened to hit you more, enjoying paining me, but I saw it, when I hid in the shadows. She never tried to hit you if I was not there. She would rain words of hate down on your head, but if you flinched, she'd stop.
My own heart leaped with the proof that she still had hers.
The pillar of light circled Charn. Even for the large steps of a Giantess, walking the bounds of the great City would take hours, perhaps days. For what purpose? The same spell that hid her kept her from entering the city, and its perimeter held no power nor help. Why was mother here?
But she grew to hate me more. I still asked her to help you, to love you. I asked you the same. Both of you mocked me, yelled at me, threw things such as solid books and decorative pillows, and hit my stomach with both arms. I bore the blows patiently. Oh, the two of you could shine if you were the spark for each other! So alike. So close to closing out love, and yet unable to do so.
But both of you grew to hate my presence. I was the reminder of what could be, what you both told yourselves you did not want and what could not be, the reminder of another path. The reminder that what the throne and kingdom offered were not the only choice.
And finally Jadis complained to your father.
Jadis would never come to mother. I knew that, and I hated myself for my weakness. But if my weakness led to victory…
I was an hour away, perhaps, from catching up. But my toes were bleeding, and I'd had to wrap them in the torn-off hem of my dress. To leave my blood on stone would be foolish, and even if they were dirty enough to absorb it—it was a risk.
As was seeking my mother. But I pushed myself faster. I had not seen her since father banished her.
I will remember that day till I die. The guards—other giants, ones who would at your father's word have knelt and born the city on their backs till they died of starvation, and still their hands would not have moved an inch from the place he commanded them—dragged me to the throne room, and I saw a smaller throne being placed beside your father's. Then they came out, and Jadis walked to the throne and sat with a smile.
That smile I had seen. It was your father's smile, when an enemy came to beg for mercy and he wrapped him in snakes, or when a starving prisoner breathed her last. He had shaped my daughter, my daughter, into a being without mercy.
Her throne had been her reward for betraying her mother and having her banished; he would reward her cruelty till it grew to match his own.
Or outgrow it. He did not know the strength of the monster he was creating.
Or perhaps he did.
I reached the blaze of light, twice my height and more. It still moved away from me. I was behind it. She hadn't seen me, or she would have paused.
Surely she would have stopped—unless she too only cared for Jadis?
I shoved back the trembling pain of that thought. I had extinguished such weakness, despite my mother's plea. I had run to her as the giants shoved her out of the towering doors on the terrace. She had not resisted. She showed her own weakness! But then—
Then she saw me, and suddenly both giants fell to the floor as she pushed against them, and she was kneeling—kneeling, though she stood so much taller than Jadis. Kneeling in front of me, and her arms wrapped around me. "Be kind," she'd whispered in my ear. "Kindness is a truer power." My mother's voice, deeper than the roots of Charn, said that in a whisper that shook my heart. Then we heard the clatter of feet, and she shoved me into a room, shutting the door. Even with it closed, I could hear her great steps shaking the palace, running further and further away. Our father's voice sounded next, spelling something I caught quite clearly.
Something that let me find her now. Something that meant I could see her walking away.
Surely she had not seen me.
Go back, weakness! I hate you! Whether she ignored me or not did not matter; I would make her help me, no matter what she felt for Jadis.
I made myself ready to call out to her.
"Jahzrall?" He called my name. Years I had been alone, and still I knew his voice saying my name.
He had come to the cave I lived in at the foot of the mountains. I stared at him, at his regal bearing, the crown on his brow and the scarlet and purple of his coat, and I flinched. I knew myself dirty, bedraggled, and ugly.
From his face, I do not think he noticed.
I had loved him once, and I could see the blood pooling in the tiny corner of one eye, the heat trembling above his ears. I knew he was afraid. I no longer loved him, but he was the father of my daughters. Of you, my darling.
"You may sit," I told him, and he laughed.
I had once loved that laugh.
"Once I would have scorned you for sitting in the dirt," he said, folding his legs and sitting in it with me. So he had noticed. To my surprise, I did not care.
"Once your opinion would have mattered to me." I said it calmly.
He winced. He, the ruler of the city of the King of Kings, who held in the palm of his hand the servants and guards of the palace of the wonder of the world, winced at my words. But he hid it quickly.
"I am dying," he said, and his tone was as calm as mine.
I could not help myself. Hope leaped in my heart. "Do our daughters call for me?"
He laughed high and cold, his cruel laugh. I shuddered. His cruel laugh had grown merciless in the intervening years. And it was the cruelty of the despairing, those who were cruel because their own hearts ached.
"Jadis would not call for you unless doing so would save her life," he told me bitterly. He turned his face towards the wall, so I could not see it. "She has learned the Deplorable Word."
Oh, how my heart froze. It is said the hearts of Giants can become stone, and I could feel it beginning.
But the thought of you stopped it.
"I thought it was her sister who flinched in fear," I said, and my tone was no longer remotely calm. What could have made my strong daughter so afraid?
"She has learned of the cruelty and envy of the world," your father returned. And that would do it. There were as many who hated the Djinn King as those who loved him; though not all were his fault. Not everyone was ready to have their wishes granted.
But many were his fault.
"She is your daughter," I reminded him. "You would not let me make her. This is what you have wrought. If you let me come back, perhaps I can unmake-"
"She will use it," your father said suddenly. His face turned back towards me. "She is that cruel, that proud, that-"
"She is your daughter." But I thought of the birds that nested in the tree above the cave, the children who laughed as they rode my back to see the mountain top, and all the other things that would die. "You made her a Queen; she knows that which she rules is hers, but also hers to defend. She would not use it. "
"She would." And your father spoke not as a father but as a Djinn, one who weighs the strength of hearts and desires. He did not lie. He was not mistaken.
And half my own heart died.
"Then why tell me?"
He shrugged, hiding his expression as he twisted towards the wall again. "She is half yours." He hesitated. "She will not kill me, but she no longer loves me. I thought, perhaps-"
"If you regained my love, it would be a substitute for hers?" I had learned to weigh his heart, and now I laughed at his desire. "You disowned love long ago. You banished me for it. Why would you seek it now?"
Though I could not see your father's face, I saw his body grow stiff. "Our daughter is a Queen among Kings." He spoke low, the closest I had ever heard to a confession. "I taught her to make herself worshipped, to hold the eyes and minds of all around her. I showed her how to shape others' hearts so her favour would be their deepest longing, a goddess giving meaning to her dependents. I did not mean for her to earn my worship as well. But she will not come when I am dying, I know. I—do not want to be alone, when I can longer reach the one all others worship. Come back. Give me the love that will not leave me even as I die."
I thought of the daughter your father described, fed on worship as a sacrifice till it killed her heart. I thought of the hands that shaped her into that monster. "There is nothing you can offer me to regain that love."
"Not even your other child?"
"Mother?" I cursed under my breath the instant the word left my lips, for despite my preparation, my voice trembled, small and tiny to a Giantess's ears.
But the blaze instantly stopped, a tower of flame spinning like a tornado, and I caught my breath. She had stopped. She had turned. Quickly I muttered the words I'd heard my father speak that day, casting my own spell. Blue flames wrapped around the orange, shooting straight to the top, intertwining. I broke my spell, and both flames disappeared. My mother was staring at me.
"My daughter?" It was a whisper, a breeze when it should have been a tornado, but the love in it was the same. An instant later, strong arms were around me, lifting me, cradling me as if I were a babe again.
It was love, and Jadis, and orchards in the summer, and everything that had ever been ripped away from me. For a moment, just a moment, I was a child again, hiding my face in my mother's arm and beginning to cry.
"Hush, hush, my darling, my daughter, oh, my beautiful one." The murmurs in my ear called me back to myself. What would my soldiers think if they saw?
"Put me down," I said, calling to mind the dignity learned at the head of an army. Perhaps my mother heard it, for she obeyed. Then she sat—not kneeling, but sitting, in the presence of a Queen.
I would ignore that, though only for now. I drew myself up to begin the speech I had planned.
"You would trade your daughter for the love of your wife?"
"I have nothing else you would want!" he spat back, and I saw the anger in his clenching hands. He would hit me soon. Both of you inherited the heated temper of the children of the desert.
"I would give anything for my daughter," I responded softly. I remembered, now, how to better manage his moods, and he quieted at the acquiescence in my tone. "But look at my heart, King and Djinn, and tell me if anything remains to love you with." He stared at me, into my eyes, and I stared back at him. I felt again what I'd felt the first time he looked at me, that his eyes held the secrets to all desires. But I knew it for a lie.
Jadis was a monster. Neither he nor I could save her.
I wished with all my remaining heart for you. That left no room for him.
He saw that, and left.
I did not plead. That only made him smile the same smile he'd taught Jadis. But when he left I rose, and I came to seek my daughters. No, my daughter, just one, just you. For though to know it killed half my heart, I acknowledged Jadis a monster. You are kindness's only hope.
I came knowing you both would be fighting, and you would be flinching.
"Charn is dying. The war between my sister and I stops trade, destroys food, and kills the commoners. Though you may not wish to side with either of us, if you still care for kindness, you will convince Jadis to cede my half of the thro-"
"Jadis must be stopped." My own words were cut off by my surprise. My mother spoke with the power her words had always held, but these words… were not what I was expecting.
"Stopped?" I asked weakly. One might as well ask Winter to cease as try to stop my sister.
Hot water soaked my arm, and I looked up. Mother was crying, tears falling from her cheeks onto her large folded legs and washing the stones on the street. But her hand was steady when she put it out, and I sat on it, letting her lift me up to her face.
"Your sister has the Deplorable Word," she told me softly.
Jadis. Empress of Charn, who had promised we would share the throne and then took it all for herself, who walked cloaked in power and stern in bearing, who shook apple trees for me—
"She would not use it." My voice, half-Giant, was for once as certain as my mother's.
"Your father said she would." My mother stood, and lifted me up with her, till I stood high enough to see all of the torches of Charn, lighting the night. "Look at this life, ruled by a monster. There is nothing left of your sister's heart, my daughter, but the throne and its power. And you must stop her."
"How?" The word burst from me with the whine of a child, but my mother always asked the impossible! Love Jadis, be at peace with Jadis, stop Jadis, be kind.
My mother's tears had not stopped, but her voice was calm. "I will send you soldiers," she said quietly. "From birth to the age of you and your sister, the subjects of Charn can see me. And I won them, my daughter. My kindness won them. I will give them to you, all of them, till the streets of Charn overrun with them and even your sister's army will fail. But you must promise me one thing before that gift."
I looked at her, and my words died on my lips. Whatever she was asking, she was asking in the Power of Giants. The Djinn have the Power of Hearts, but the Giants have the Power of Strength, and if I gave her my word, all my strength would be bound to it.
"Do not flinch. Not when you see your sister, not when you see the blood of the innocent spilled out in the streets, and not when you see my life leave my eyes. Jadis became a monster, a monster worse than any war ever could be. You can win this war and be victorious. If you do not flinch."
"Jadis is not a monster," I protested. But my mother's fingers were immovable. I called forth what little gift I had from my father, and in half her heart I could hear the laughter of children, the gentleness of soft dirt overturned for seeds, the love that started with me and reached out to all those she ever met who were not monsters.
The other half of her heart was a grave.
I staggered, nearly falling off her hand, and her other swiftly rose to catch me, cradle me, though my head and shoulders spilled over her fingers as I fell.
Half was a way of life I'd thought a dream, a kingdom of apple orchards and strong arms around the weak, and it was everything that should not be possible but somehow was in the arms of the Giantess. And the other half, stone and dead, bore witness to the cost. I flinched.
"Love has a price," my mother said in that earth-strong whisper. "You can fight for love and bear the cost, or fight for power and never hold it. Power demands you die at a monster's hand."
"It seems easier to die than to pay love's price," and I think those words were stained with blood, for my mother's response was half-sob, half-laugh, and even the sound of it hurt.
"Then perhaps you should ask yourself if you want the easier path or the better one."
A choice, between the power of my father's throne, personality, and pride, or the homeless mother with the laughter of children in her heart? Between my sister, strong and proud, or my mother, meek and hurting?
But I thought back to the strained faces around the map, the way my father died calling for Jadis even while he knew she would not come. The way even Jadis feared enough to learn the Deplorable Word.
The way of my father and of Jadis was not easy. We only told ourselves it was, would be, once we reached the top.
And then we learned the Deplorable Word, or died calling in despair for what we had created that no longer cared for us. The promise of power was as misleading as the meekness of my mother when something threatened her loves.
Hurt with my mother or die like my father. Die reaching for Jadis, who didn't reach back. Who kept the whole throne, and who would kill all those under it, my Father said.
I looked at my mother's face, my half-Power reaching for hers and finding it. "I swear to pour out all I am, and give no quarter, till Jadis is removed from the throne."
The arms, stronger than Jadis's, drew me close. Another pair of arms holding me.
She let us stay there for a moment before turning us both to the future. "I will take you back to your camp, and then raise you an army," my mother swore in return. She rose to walk, and if she felt the tears on my own cheeks falling on her shoulder, she did not mention it.
The heart grown in my mid-years died with that promise, the heart believing the glamour of power. The first grave love required of me.
My sister found my mother raising an army. The Captain of the Guard—human, but with a voice like my mother's, so gentle—told me Jadis hit our mother, right above our mother's heart, and our mother let her. Only this time Jadis's hand held a knife, and her fist came away red with blood.
I could see it. I had seen it before.
Mother had let me hit her too.
My eyes filled with water, and I blinked, keeping it back, and saw the Captain still standing. Waiting, actually, patience and steadiness in his stance.
Waiting for me to rage, to freeze him again, for another few hours, days, holding him immobile.
Waiting for me to hit him.
I tried to thank him, voice shaking, and he looked at me in wonder.
Then he knelt. "They will be joining us in droves, my Queen," he promised softly. "They will not live under a Queen who killed the Giantess of Strongheart Mountain. She rescued too many by kindness for them to serve the one who stabbed her."
He proved right. Between the Captain, the thief, and the half-Giant my mother sheltered who newly joined us, we trained our famers to be soldiers.
And I had a second grave in my heart, the second cost of love.
We fought. I didn't flinch.
Oh, how I wanted to.
But not for my pain this time. No, we fought, and the streets of stone ran red with blood. Love required of me a city of shallow graves as my soldiers died.
I had not just seen my mother's heart that night, I had been infected by it. I knew the people she loved, and now I watched them die. Cut down by Jadis' soldiers.
But we were joined by warriors as well as famers now, the lure of the city of the King of Kings too strong to stay away, and we fought to the gates of Charn itself.
Jadis, you were watching as we took them, and I was watching you. You raised your arm to signal a retreat—that beautiful, strong arm, the one that hit me once and never hit me again, the one that wrapped around me to help me lift my first sword when I thought that would gain our father's approval. You retreated. You, my fierce, proud sister.
And your arm was white.
I had made you retreat. Your arm was no longer red with our mother's blood, but did you want it to be red with mine?
No, you couldn't. I saw you on the wall and remembered you. You, my fierce and loving sister. You stood up to our father when he caught me reading his books, taking the punishment for me. You protected me. You hit our mother, but you protected me, and you couldn't want me dead.
Oh, Jadis, if I had not given my word to our mother, I would have stopped the assault as soon as you called the retreat. I no longer wanted to beat you, I hated that you were beaten.
I knew you wouldn't harm me. Our mother was wrong.
But she could no longer release me, so instead of surrendering to your soldiers and letting them take me to you—to share, my sister, half-Djinn heart to half-Djinn heart, all that I had learned—I poured our soldiers out still, and you poured out your own. Mine fought for our mother, yours fought for you. Still you were the greater Queen.
No, you could not kill them all, no matter the threat. You were their Queen.
Three days the war raged in Charn, and you, my sister, were strong enough to stay in one place, to stand through all of it, without sleep, without fear. Oh, your strength! A Queen beyond doubt. And your soldiers, you used them well enough we could not get to you till all their lives were spent, and they died for love of you.
You could not, could not be a monster, not if they loved you so.
I loved you, too. I was no longer afraid. And so when it was all over, my sister, I came to find you.
The Captain, the Half-Giant (the thief died on a blade meant for me, and oh, how deep that grave had been), and my other generals had wanted to go up to you themselves, but I could bear no more graves. I could not have endured yours.
I walked to you, my promise fulfilled by your defeat. You stood so close. I could share it with you, right now, show you my heart—"Victory," slipped past my lips, because this was victory; this, the rejoining of heart to heart and sister to sister, this was all I wanted now. You could even have the throne. How could I flinch when true victory was so close-
"Yes. Victory, but not yours." Your face went beyond Giant and Djinn to one of stone, your heart did not respond to mine-
Oh, my sister, protector in my youth, our mother must be wrong, you would not-
But I saw your mouth, that red, fierce mouth, open in the beginnings of the word of destruction, and I knew that our mother had been right.
A/N: I broke my word. I know I promised fluff after Whumptober, but I'm afraid I haven't been able to write it. Just "Standing at the Gravesides," the ending of Crown of Life, and this instead. I'll keep trying.
Beta'd by trustingHim17, thank you!