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The Uneasy Path

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A person doesn't know true hurt and suffering until they've felt the pain of falling in love with someone whose affections lie elsewhere.
- Rose Gordon

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            Caspian had been honest when he told Lucy what he felt for the Star's Daughter and--more importantly--what he did not feel.

            Lucy asked uncertainly, "Would—is Ramandu's daughter to return to Narnia with you?"

            His heart sunk a little at her saying you instead of us, but he knew it was foolish to expect her to decide instantly either way. "If she wants to," Caspian said simply. "But as a free woman and on her own desires for Narnia." Not for me.

            Yet Caspian still felt a drop in his stomach as he heard Drinian's call that Ramandu's island was within sight; he knew that he had found the young woman with star's blood in her veins to be beautiful, to the point he had not realized he'd not learned her name until after they had left the island behind.  He knew he had, as Edmund called it, flirted with her. (He knew in part because Edmund had managed, without a word nor even directly pointing at his sister, to draw Caspian's attention to Lucy's face and the pained expression upon it.) As he thought back over their brief conversation, he also knew that she had taken things he had said far more seriously than he had meant them.  She heard words of love when he had, unkingly as it might be, been caught up in the momentary infatuation of her exotic beauty.

            He felt no pride in this.

            He felt even worse about it as they neared the shore in one of the ship's boats...and yet, despite himself, Caspian found that his focus kept shifting to Lucy.  The young woman sat next to him in leggings and a long tunic, her hair having grown impossibly longer since they'd begun heading West. (For while her age seemed to be settling, leaving her at something, he thought, like sixteen—only two years his junior—Narnia remembered her looking a certain way at sixteen. It remembered hair that had not been cut since she was nine, that hung loose like a curtain of gold all down her back. And so its air continued to affect her, though it had ceased the rapid aging; done with that, it now reminded all in this world, including Lucy herself, of both who and what she had been and still was.)

            Lucy caught one of his glances, as some of the men pulled the boat up through the shallows and onto the sand, and, after a brief pause, she smiled a little and self-consciously, tucking a thin braid she'd woven on one side of her head behind that side's ear.

            Caspian smiled back and allowed himself to take some comfort in the fact that he had told Lucy before the left the ship that he would have to seek Ramandu's daughter out and speak with the lady.  To take comfort in that, and in how Lucy had responded to him.

            "But as I told you," he'd started, then stopped in surprise when Lucy pressed two fingers to his lips to silence him.

            "You told me. If she comes, it is for longing to be in Narnia, not for you." Left unsaid, but something she also knew from him: the Star's Daughter would have to long for Narnia because Narnia she could have.

            Caspian she could not.

            While he and Lucy had only spoken one time, the day at the edge of the sea, of his feelings, while they had a long journey ahead of them and nothing should be rushed, while Lucy at times was literally in some no small amount of pain as her body ran through puberty, years' growth packed into weeks…

            Something was different, even if Caspian (nor Lucy) could have said what that was, exactly. In Caspian's case, all that he knew was that her two fingers on his mouth felt like a kiss itself, and that was joy—and that she believed him, about his feelings toward the lovely daughter of Ramandu, feelings he'd clarified to her while alluding to his feelings for Lucy herself.

            And the mere possibility that she was taking those feelings seriously, that they remained in her thoughts—even the possibility was grace.

            Caspian helped Lucy out of the boat, knowing full well she did not require his hand; she took it anyway, and their boots crunched on the wet sand and pebbles as the group made their way towards the table with the three sleepers.

            There Ramandu awaited them.

            "Welcome, King and Queen of Narnia," his elderly yet strong voice rang out. "I had thought you would arrive today."

            Lucy could not help but blink. "You—you knew I'd be back?"

            The ancient celestial shook his head. "When you left here? No. Only that King Caspian would be given a choice that related to you. But the birds speak to each other, spreading news faster than your ship can move. The one who brings me my bit of youth each day told me what his choice—and your own—were, and the decisions reached by each of you." The elderly man smiled gently at her, his long white beard shifting across his chest with the movement. "I remember shining on you, oh, so very long ago, seeing you looking as you do now. Narnia delights in your return."

            "And I in returning to it," Lucy said softly, but her eyes were glancing at the figures around the table.

            So were Caspian's. "They're still asleep. I thought—"

            The Star cut him off, and his tone was not as gentle as it had been with Lucy. Still, it was not that of a raging father, and Caspian thanked the Lion for what graces he might be granted this day.

            He felt as if he'd need each one.

            "They shall be woken shortly. There are two ways to break the enchantment that causes their sleep, and the one that would be used today depended on the choices made both by you and the queen. Her presence in Narnia brings back to the land something that was lost when the Telmarines tried to civilize it. It is something not even a good king of both Man and Beast can return; only the Daughter of Eve who has awakened old and wild magics with her return." Ramandu's eyes focused on Lucy again. "You know of what I speak, Lioness."

            Caspian started at the name, but Lucy did not; her gaze did not drift from Ramandu's, though her eyes became unfocused.

            She remembered calling to the trees when last they were in Narnia, remembered feeling the life begin to pulse more quickly as the dryads slipped back into reality, their spirits starting to awaken under bark and moss and climbing vines.

            She remembered His voice purring in her ear, his breath warm and sweet on her small face.

            And Lucy remembered the gift he had given her, a title she had never shared with others before beyond Capsian the one time by accident in passing.

            Now you are a Lioness. And now all Narnia shall be renewed.

            A small part of Lucy could not help but think, I'll never get out of explaining what that means now to Caspian, and then she found herself focused as the Star continued.

            "Will you take on this burden, child?" Ramandu asked gently.

            Caspian had been glancing rapidly between Lucy and Ramandu. At the Star's question, however, his expression shifted to true worry, and he began to demand what Ramandu meant by that.

            He never had the chance, for Caspian was cut off.  Lucy was the one who had spoken up, too, her voice suddenly sounding—sounding as if something that had been dormant had woken in her, as Ramandu claimed something was awakening in Narnia. (Unfamiliar though the tone was, the smile on her lips, like the one in her eyes, was familiar ever.) "I will." She reached for Caspian's hand and squeezed it reassuringly without breaking her gaze from Ramandu's.

            She simply, Caspian realized all over again, knew him that well; knew he'd be worried for her.

            And he marveled that it could be so.

            He still would have cut in, asked what was meant by "burden," but Ramandu's eyes had darted from Lucy to him, now. Caspian had not noticed before, too relieved by the Star's tone not being one that he thought he might well deserve, but when Ramandu looked at him, the ancient eyes were filled with compassion more than wrath.

            They also held an authority not to be questioned, however.

            Not even by a King of Narnia.

            "Then when the King returns from speaking with my daughter, I will tell you how to break their curse.  And he shall help you do so."

            Lucy bowed her head and squeezed Caspian's hand one last time before letting it drop, her hands clasping each other behind her back as she gave him a last, gentle smile.

            He wasn't a coward; Caspian knew that. He still did not want to go, did not want to face the woman who he had misled, accidentally, deliberately, consciously, or otherwise.

            Wanting did not matter here; need and responsibility and honor, however, all did.

            The King squared his shoulders, took a breath, and—with a last glance at Lucy—he began to walk alone up the path Ramandu had indicated.

            Caspian went to seek out Ramandu's daughter.