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The Balance of Justice and Mercy

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***

The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.
Jimmy Carter

***

Lucy was not afraid.

She had cried when Caspian was taken from them—cried a bit more at Pug's words, don't spoil your looks, because she knew very well what her fates were likely to be once she stepped off the auction block—but she refused to allow herself to be afraid.

Instead she moved as quickly as she could, so as to avoid being shoved by any of the slavers, and stuck as close to Edmund as possible. Eustace, of course, was grumbling about how Caspian had gone off and left them, some King he was, never thinking of anyone but himself; it was Pug who had finally tired of listening to it and hit him once with an order to shut up. Her cousin nursed a swollen and slightly bloody lip from it, but for once Lucy could not bring herself to comfort Eustace as she otherwise might have.

Once in the hold of the slave ship, Lucy clung to Edmund as tightly as she could, finding a source of strength in his arms as they wrapped around her.

“Buck up, Lu,” he murmured gently, one hand smoothing her hair. A single golden strand caught on a torn callus, and he quickly moved his hand away so as to not get any blood on her. “Caspian will come through.”

“I know,” Lucy replied quietly, before adding in a softer murmur, “but he may be too late. And Ed—“

She said no more, just looked at him, helplessly, and Edmund's arm tightened about her, pulled her closer. “You'll be fine,” he said harshly. “However we—we'll stick together. All of us. And if there's a chance to get out, you go first.”

“Why does she get to—“ Eustace started in a whining voice, and then he yelped. Reepicheep had stepped on his foot, with deliberation and force, and followed the action with a hissed, “Silence.”

The Mouse, the Queen, and the King shared a look, silently making it clear that they were all aware of what was not yet said, even if Eustace, nursing his new “wound”, was not.

“There are Calormenes at the market,” Lucy said after a few moments of silence, carefully keeping her voice low enough to not be heard by any other in the hold. (Though that, I am afraid, was unlikely no matter how she might have chosen to speak; it seemed that some of the others had been there for quite a while. None of them had moved since the new arrivals were thrown in. They huddled into themselves, either alone or in small groups, not looking out at anyone else. The only sound beyond the friends' whispers was occasional weeping could be heard.)

“I know,” Edmund answered his sister, after a long pause and in a grim tone. “I heard Pug and another—Murach, I think—mentioning it.”

“You know blondes are prized in Calormene,” Lucy whispered after a moment, and was glad that she did not need to say what they were prized as.

“I will lay down my life, your majesty,” Reepicheep hissed, “to keep your honor intact.”

And despite everything, despite the cold and dampness and crowding, despite knowing what the morrow would bring, despite only being able to just manage it, Lucy smiled. “My dear one. Thou art as brave as any knight I have ever been blessed to have swear loyalty to our family and the Lion Himself. But this is not the time for that, though I thank you and shall remember your words. I could not bear to see you cut down for my sake. No. We must handle this differently,” she finished, and looked at Edmund.

He considered for a moment, eyes growing distant, and even Eustace, glancing at his cousin, started to see how old he suddenly looked, how his eyes seemed to have seen too much for a teenaged lifetime. “If there's no safe escape,” he said finally, lowly, “we shall try to be sold together. At least one of us must go with the Queen. My sister, if you are sold first, see if you can convince whoever buys you,” and it turned his stomach to even say the words, “to take me as well.”

It was a discussion they never should need to have, but 'shoulds', as all three Narnians knew, rarely meant much when it came to daily life. “Get me a knife, brother,” she whispered after a moment. “Or a sharp stone. As quickly as possible. Or you, noble mouse, if you have the chance.”

Edmund nodded silently, and then turned to try and force the plan into Eustace's head and get him to at least try and work with them. As the young king spoke in low, heated tones, Reepicheep moved a bit closer to Lucy.

“My lady,” he whispered, “I am still willing to offer my life in distraction. You and the King Edmund and your...kin,” he finished, with only the slightest amount of distaste showing in his tone, “could escape in the commotion.”

“Oh, Master Mouse,” Lucy whispered, one hand reaching out to gently rest fingertips on his cheek. “You are so very brave. Not yet, my friend. My knight,” she corrected herself, and smiled inwardly at the fierce loyalty and pride that colored her friend's face under his silky grey fur. “There is much hope yet. Caspian may return soon enough tomorrow that all of this talk is for naught. And there is the Lion. Peace, sir knight.”

Edmund was shifting back to their sides, finished with Eustace for the moment and scowling a bit. The result made him look far more the teenager and less the ancient king. “I swear, part of me wonders if Aslan's punishing us somehow with him.”

“Don't even jest so,” Lucy scolded, but it lightened the room a little.

Edmund's scowl remained, but he settled by her again and let his sister—and now all that he was, all that was Edmund, was older brother, and his little sister who he would keep safe was all he saw—rest her head on his shoulder.

The silence was broken not by them, but by one of the slavers, a man whose two front teeth were missing and who had one silver tooth on the bottom set, came down to bring them water. He leered at each female prisoner in turn, making rude remarks at some, kicking some of the men as he passed them, and deliberately spilled water over Edmund's shoulder and Lucy's hair and tunic when he recklessly set the tankards—dirty and half-filled as they were—down. “You're a wee thing, aren't ye? Not fit to even look at yet for most. Pug thinks you'll catch one of the highest prices, right up with the blond boy and the talking rat. Keep smiling, girl. Or you'll pay for not.”

Edmund's arm was tighter yet around Lucy when the slaver had left, his jaw clenched tight in rage.

“Ed,” she started, trying to soothe despite being a bit shaken herself, but he only shook his head and made her drink part of his water as well as her own. (At Eustace's complaint, Edmund almost hit him, but instead Lucy gave him the last few sips of her share.)

They were settling for the night, Reepicheep and Edmund setting themselves to protect Lucy and forcing Eustace to join them in doing so, when Lucy whispered near Edmund's ear, “I'm young yet. Even he saw it. And he's right. I'm not—I'm not pretty like Susan,” and it broke Edmund's heart to hear she still believed that old personal lie to herself, made him wish he could shake his mother, but now was not the time to correct her on this yet again, “but I'm pretty enough. They won't hurt me. They'll not touch me,” she whispered a bit more softly. “Not for years.”

And that, Edmund knew, was true; Calormen might have the hellish practice of slavery, but they did have rules over how slaves must be treated, and no Calormene who could afford to travel to the Lone Islands would waste money on any investment. And, for all he hated it, he knew his sister—and probably himself, if only for an exotic manservant or worker—was just that now.

An investment. For now, a maidservant.

For now. And then training for something that he would never allow his sister to be forced with.

And silently, in the dark, he swore that to Aslan and the Emperor, before swearing to Caspian that he'd hit him upside the head for not, at least, trying harder to get Lucy taken instead of him or with him, his instincts insisting that protecting his sister—and protecting a lady, and a queen—was paramount.

His fuming was cut off when Reepicheep's soft, whistling snores and Lucy's even breathing lulled him to sleep.

***

Caspian, of course, did save them. He was grand, in his gold armor, and they watched, the former slaves, in their thin, cheap clothing that showed as much as it covered.

The feast the Lord Bern—soon to be the Duke—threw ran late into the night, and it was nearing midnight when Lucy, clad in women's clothing for the first time since falling through the picture, found Edmund nursing a glass of wine and staring at Casipan from across the room.

“My brother?” she asked him, voice soft, as one hand reached out to touch his arm. “What angers you, Edmund?'

One corner of his mouth twitched in what might have been a smile, if it had been allowed to grow. “You have always read me so well.” There as a pause where he drained his glass before saying lowly, “Caspian freed them. After what they did to you.”

Lucy was silent for a moment before saying, a little slowly, “They did not actually harm me, Ed. A scraped knee and rope burn isn’t that horrid. And Caspian—well, he showed mercy.”

“Aye, and you know that I am well aware,” and his tone was sharp for a moment before calming again, “of the necessity for mercy in a kingship. But so is remorse in a subject, and Pug showed none. And whether you were seriously injured or not,” he adds, cutting her off before she could even say a word, “that was not something you should ever have had to suffer through. You should not have had to ever wonder if your future might contain—contain that.”

“No,” Lucy agreed, her tone a bit odd, and when Edmund looked at her he realized that he was not the only one troubled by the way events played out.

“A full pardon was too generous,” he said flatly, grimly. “Especially for you. For what could have happened to you.”

Lucy reached for Edmund's glass and walked away for a moment. Just long enough to refill it, taking a sip herself, before returning and handing it back to him. She was shorter than she had once been—and would, someday, again be—and her body had yet to change in all way, her hair was too short—but it was Queen Lucy the Valiant and King Edmund the Just talking, now, as they watched Caspian X from across the hall.

“What could have happened did not, though. And remember, my lord,” Lucy said finally, quiet enough so her voice could be heard by no one who might chance to walk by them, “that after the battle with Miraz's army Aslan opened the door in the air. Caspian did not have to decide what to do with Narnians unwilling to obey his rule. He was able to let them go.”

“As opposed to us and the supporters of the Witch,” Edmund said evenly, his eyes never moving from the other king. “I know, and I understand. And yet, there are no more doors. Execution must be rare, as we both well know, only used as a last resort. Its periodic necessity turns my stomach, as it always has. In this case, though, I think it would be appropriate.” After a pause, he added, “If you wish it, Lu...” His voice trailed off and he said no more, only glancing at her once.

And Lucy the Valiant remembered that her brother was the one who took reports and gave assignments to spies, for anything made of gold is tested by fire. “No,” she answered, quietly and firmly. “As you yourself know. You wouldn't really, anyway. Even if you were the one to decide, you wouldn't have chosen that. You're just still angry, and more so because you do not like how this has ended. If you were the one to decide, you would have had him imprisoned until you could think with a clearer head and less anger.”

After a moment Edmund the Just—who was, in fact, Just, and that was always what won out in him in the end—inclined his head in acknowledgment of her words. “You speak truly, sister. And yet, as you also said, the thought of him walking free with full pardon after what he did to thee makes my blood run cold.”

“Aye,” she said after a moment, only part of her noticing that they were slowly falling into old words, old phrasing, old habits and ways of holding themselves. “He is a danger. Lord Bern, I am sure, is well aware of it, and I am sure he will watch him with caution. Perhaps,” and her eyes shifted to her brother for a moment before drifting back to the rest of the room, “a meeting between the two of thee would not be amiss on the morrow.”

Edmund's smile was crooked. “Perhaps.” And it was silence again, before he said tiredly, softly, “He wants to be merciful, and I know and understand it. I admire him for it. But he must also learn to be hard. Lu,” and it was just Edmund and Lucy now, “I don't think he even realizes what could have happened to you.”

Lucy's eyes remained fixed on Caspian before she whispered, “No. He doesn't. And you're not to tell him.” She glanced at Edmund in time to see his mouth open and cut him off. “He'll only blame and second-guess himself. He is young, Edmund. And he has less experience in this than you or I, and he is the one who must make the decisions. And his decisions must be honored and obeyed. Even in this, especially in this, public as it was.”
Edmund nodded in agreement, if reluctantly so.

“Still,” Lucy said finally, as she reached for her brother's hand. “I worry. He has not had to deal with traitors who won't disappear. And I fear what it will do to him the day it happens, if he's not prepared.”

“You worry for all of us, Lucy. Far more than any of us need or deserve,” Ed says softly, kindly, and Lucy knew that his anger at Pug was starting to, at the very least, die down a bit. “He is a good chap, and a good king. You and I have both said it, as did Peter and Su. And you're right, as much as I might not like it; execution is only for treason when no other option remains, and Pug,” and his face twisted at the name, “is many things, but not yet traitor. Caspian'll be all right.”

“Yes,” Lucy answered, as they began to return to the others. Caspian, upon spotting them, smiled and raised his hand, beckoning them closer. Her voice dropped as a result as she finished. “There is much to learn on this trip, and much growing up to be done. For all of us.”

A different time and place than theirs, she reminded herself. A different Narnia. And a different, a young yet, King, one who would learn more and had already learned much.

And yet...

And yet, days later, when they sailed away and onward, she found herself looking back at the port and wondering, a little, if there would be consequences for Pug's freedom. And if Caspian should ever realize what fates other women had been sold into, what fates Lucy might have faced. What it would take for him to realize the times when being King and Emperor meant making horrible choices because there's no one else to make them, there's no magic door, and someone has to.

Lucy shook her head and turned to look at the horizon instead, telling herself she was being a silly. There was the sea, the sea and the edge of the world, and the East, and Caspian was already a grown man in many ways. It was a different time than hers, and he would learn as need be.

And yet, part of her inside worried at what the cost to him would be when faced with a situation where the horrible choice had to be made. Part of her wondered how he might handle it.

And then the wind blew harder, the sail snapped, and Lucy turned her mind over to the sun and sky and sea, and carefully put her thoughts and worries aside for another time.

Another day.