Jalur did not fear death.
But he remembered what King Edmund had once told him as they stood on the balcony after Glasswater. After Jina's funeral pyre…
The last embers had faded into darkness. The only light was from the stars, no longer wreathed in smoke, and Jalur's own faintly glowing eyes. Somewhere, Morgan was safely ensconced with the Pack. But King Edmund was not with her. Jalur did not think that was right.
"Why do you not go to her?" he finally asked, his tail lashing with the force of his question.
King Edmund did not reply at first. When he did, it did not make sense. "I do not fear death for myself," the Just King said in a low voice. "But I fear what would happen to those who love me, and whom I love. It is the thought of their grief that grieves me." His fingers tightened on the stone railing. "Perhaps it were better if they loved me less."
Just as Jalur had growled at King Edmund then, so he growled at himself now. Grief was only another kind of pain, and pain was not relevant. If Jalur did not fear death for his own sake, then he refused to fear it for any other reason. He would walk deep into the woods and die, and Morgan and the Cub and all the others would stay behind. It had always been thus. It was the way of a Cat. It was the way of life itself.
"Are you still cold?" asked the Cub, who walked softly at his side.
"Yes." Jalur's breath ghosted into the air. Soon, the Cub would turn back and walk alone to the castle, with no Tiger's shadow at his side. Why did that thought leave Jalur feeling even colder?
"You won't be cold much longer, will you?" The boy's voice was small, but steady.
"No." Jalur did not fear death. Death was a welcome friend for his weary bones. And he longed for Aslan's country even more fiercely than he had once fought to reach King Edmund's side in battle. Yet the fact remained that, for the Cub – for young Edmund – he would have braved a thousand days more of shivering cold, aching body and fogging mind.
It is not meant to be, my great-hearted son. Even though most sounds were now too faint to reach his ears, Jalur heard the Voice whisper clearly. Prince Edmund did not react, though the boy normally had the sharp hearing of a Hound. Morgan had often said so.
Jalur's eyes closed briefly. Not even for their sake?
Love endures all things, said the Voice. It was not a real answer, but this did not surprise Jalur. Nor did it surprise him when the path leveled out, the stones grew softer against the tender pads of his feet, and a scent sweeter than spring filled his nose.
He had not smelled anything this clearly in years.
Jalur watched young Edmund throw his arms around Aslan and receive whiskery kisses, and he wondered if King Edmund had once done the same. As a rule, Tigers did not give kisses. But Jalur couldn't help but wonder if, when they met again in Aslan's country, King Edmund might not rest his head on Jalur's shoulder as he once did. His shoulders might be wider again, thick with fur and muscle. Perhaps they could even wrestle. Perhaps there were even Otters in Aslan's country, and King Edmund could laugh while Jalur chased them.
His thoughts had not raced so swiftly in years.
"Jalur?" Aslan's voice scattered the Tiger's thoughts like fleeing deer. "Are you ready?"
Jalur was not afraid. He supposed that made him ready.
And then Prince Edmund, who would one day be King but who would always be his Cub, released Jalur from the Guard's Oath. Jalur had wondered if he would feel the lifting of a burden or the severing of a bond – but instead he felt a warmth spread through him and settle into his very blood, which quickened in his veins. It felt like sunlight in the field, like a great fire in the hearth.
He had not been so warm in years.
Jalur gave the Cub a kiss. The boy's tears lingered on his whiskers.
And then Jalur turned to Aslan. He felt light, as if he could leap into the air and never come back to ground. The forest seemed lit from every angle, as if the sun had come to earth to rest. Every half-remembered scent of spring was alive in his nose. "My lord, if it pleases you, I am ready."