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The Uneasy Path

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***

There are always two choices. Two paths to take. One is easy. And its only reward is that it's easy.
Author Unknown

***

"Well, have your way. The quest is ended. We all return. Get the boat up again."

"Sire," said Reepicheep, "we do not all return. I, as I explained before–"

"Silence!" thundered Caspian. "I've been lessoned, but I'll not be baited. Will no one silence that Mouse?"

"Your Majesty promised," said Reepicheep, "to be good lord to the Talking Beasts of Narnia."

"Talking beasts, yes," said Caspian. "I said nothing about beasts that never stop talking." And he flung down the ladder in a temper and went into the cabin, slamming the door.

- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Chapter One: What Happened In Caspian's Cabin

It was not long before he realized he was not alone and looked up to see golden fur and sad eyes looking down at him. And later he would think the room could not have been large enough to hold Aslan, but he fit well enough for all that anyway.

"Caspian," said the familiar, horrible, wonderful voice in a rumble, "what troubles you?"

And Caspian looked into his eyes and was certain that Aslan already knew the answer, even as he replied, heavily, "They will leave, won't they? Go back to their world, and leave me behind."

"Perhaps. Is that truly," he asked as he padded closer, "what you fear, Son of Adam?"

"Of course!" the king answered immediately, and then, because Aslan was looking at him and Caspian found he could not lie to himself, much less the Lion, he whispered, "…No."

"And what is it?"

"That she will leave," Caspian said softly. "She will, won't she?"

The Great Beast was silent for a moment before answering, and His voice was gentle when He finally did. "She has her own world, Caspian. And soon—far sooner than even she realizes, for this has been a long journey, and she has aged along with the rest of you on it—she will be too old for traveling between that and this."

Caspian nodded and buried his face in his hands and thought his heart would break.

"Why do I love her, if I cannot have her?" Why do you let me?

Aslan sat before him, tail swishing slowly, for a moment. And then he said, still gently and not answering the question yet, "You could grow to be happy with the daughter of Ramandu."

He could not bring himself to look up. "But would I forget Lucy?"

"No," the Lion said, with sympathy but without apology. "You will never forget her."

And the king of Narnia thought he would weep. "Then what good does any of it do?!"

"Peace, Caspian," rumbled the voice a little sternly, before it said again more gently, "peace." His tone was such that Caspian did look up, finally, both a little ashamed and a little surprised, for there was true sorrow in the voice like summer.

"She need not leave."

"But—but you said…"

"Walk with me, Son of Adam," and, though he would never be sure how it happened, Caspian found them both on the grass near Aslan's How back in Narnia, his arm on Aslan's back.

"Are you calmer now?"

"A little," he said slowly, and the Lion and the Son of Adam walked for a moment in silence.

"She is too old," and the sorrow was back again, "to travel back and forth. If she is to live in her world, she must learn the ways of her world. And to some extent, though she will never forget, she must put Narnia aside and learn to live as the women in her world do." And the Lion wept a tear, thinking, though Caspian would never know it, of another girl, one with dark hair, who put Narnia so far aside she forgot it all together.

"But she may stay, and return with you to Narnia," he continued, causing Caspian's heart to leap into his chest. "But only she may, for her brother and cousin have roles still to play before the last day ends. And if she does, she will not return to England. She is a Daughter of Eve, and your kind is made to live in one place, under one set of laws."

Caspian blinked. "But—but her family…"

"One world," softly, "not two. They will think her gone and taken, and hope for her return, those who do not know of this place. And then they will hope a little less, and then they will learn to mourn."

"You can't ask her to choose that," he said finally. "It's not fair."

"None of it," Aslan answered with a hint of a growl to His voice, though it was still mostly gentle, "is fair, Caspian. And does she not have the right to make her own choice?"

Caspian stared back at the gold eyes before saying, finally "You're not going to tell her, are you? I'm the one who has to."

"None of it," again, and the eyes that looked back at him were sad, "is fair."

They came to a stop at the edge of the trees, and Caspian tried to think. "Would she—would she be happier there? In England?"

"Son of Adam. That is," Aslan said, "part of her story. No one is ever told any story but their own."

Caspian demanded, feeling far beyond frustrated, "But how can I ask her that?"

"Then don't," was the answer, which was given to him simply, "and let her sail with the Mouse and her family. Or ask her and let her decide her own fate."

It was a long minute before Caspian nodded without saying another word and Aslan leaned over to gently breathe on him.

And then the Lion was gone and Caspian was sitting on the bunk again.

He was unsure how much time passed before he stood, face wet with tears, and went out to the deck again. Caspian stood and looked at his crew and his friends, and then he looked at Lucy, who was looking back at him anxiously. One moment was spent debating within himself before he was moving, going over and extending one hand to her.

"Milady," Caspian said slowly, taking a deep breath, "there is something we must discuss."