Chapter 1: Escape
Chapter 1: Escape
Mother never truly looked after us. She never bandaged our knees if we fell or tucked us in at night. Any love I remember feeling in our "home" came from out father, who made every effort to protect and raise us, but after he died, Mother became even more hostile towards us. Guards patrolled the places in the palace we frequented, reporting on our every move, as if we were the most dangerous of criminals.
We had become prisoners in our own home, and I didn't think any of us knew why. My brothers grew restless, and I began to get the feeling that they would not have us staying there for much longer.
"Renn!" Rhydian's voice hissed in my ear as he shook me awake. "Get up! Quick!"
"Rhydian, what's going on?" I moaned loudly. "What's—"
"Shush!" Rhydian snapped, clapping his hand over my mouth. "I'll explain later. But now, we've got to go."
"I said no questions!" Rhydian said sharply. "Get up and come along! There's no time!"
Confused and tired, I dragged myself out of bed and pulled on my mantle and my boots. I took a step towards my anxious older brother, but he put his hand out in restraint. He took a long, cruel-looking dagger from his belt and shoved it into my hand.
My brow furrowed. "What—?"
"Just take it!" Rhydian ordered. "Now come on!"
He grabbed my wrist and ran down the corridor, and it abruptly hit me that we were finally running. Suddenly, he pushed himself and me against the wall and froze.
"What is it?"
One of Mother's guards, a huge cyclopse, heavily trudged past us. We waited for what seemed like hours until the lead-footed steps faded into silence.
To make sure that the coast was clear, Rhydian slowly poked his head around the corner and watched for a second. Tightening his grip on my wrist, he flew out from behind the wall and pelted down the hallway, my short legs desperately trying to keep me from falling onto the icy ground.
Eventually, we made it to the courtyard. My other brother, Geraint, stared up and Rhydian and me with fear etched into his face.
"Don't move," he warned. "She's out there."
Rhydian temporarily ignored him and took a step forward. A quick gasp escaped his lips, and he threw himself back onto the wall of ice behind us, clamping his hand over my mouth and dragging me with him.
My heart was pounding. The only thing we could hear was our faint breathing and the row in the courtyard. Rhydian, summoning his courage, peered around the corner.
"What's going on out there?" he asked Geraint.
Geraint sighed. "Interrogation."
Geraint gave Rhydian a look, and whatever it was dawned on them simultaneously.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Shhhh!" they hissed, Geraint pushing his index finger to his lips and Rhydian holding his hand up in restraint.
"...and, more importantly, they are my friends," a voice, which belonged to a dwarf, boldly explained. "I would sooner die than betray them to you."
"Brave fool," a second voice, my mother's, coldly snapped. "I suppose you're right." I had never heard her use a tone like that before, and it terrified me to the core. To this day it still scares me to think about it.
"If you will not tell me where he took them, then you will simply have to die."
We heard another loud struggle and the unmistakable sound of Mother's scepter cutting through the air, followed by an unfamiliar noise that resembled rocks rolling down the side of a sheer cliff.
Rhydian gasped loudly and pushed himself back up against our wall. "She turned him to stone," he whispered, astonished and frightened. "She turned him to stone…."
Calling on my own courage, I poked my head around the corner. To my absolute horror, a perfect statue of a Red Dwarf stood motionless in front of Mother. My knees gave out from the weight of the fear that had crashed onto my shoulders. Rhydian's strong arm wrapped around my waist and kept me from falling.
I heard footsteps approaching, and my blood ran cold.
"Time to go," Rhydian said quickly, grabbing my wrist and flying in the other direction. Geraint was on our heels.
"Rhydian!" Geraint hissed. "This way!"
He pushed the stable door open and ushered us inside. There was a large gate at the far end of the breezeway that Geraint shot towards.
We heard more footsteps on the other side of the stable door and froze in our tracks. And a voice made of ice…
"Mother," I whispered.
The door behind us swung open, and Geraint's eyes widened in fear.
"Come on!" he bellowed.
Rhydian was off like a shot again, barreling towards the open gate at full speed and fairly dragging me behind him. Kicking the gate shut behind him, Geraint followed us. I could see him loading the crossbow he had stolen and glancing over his shoulder to make sure we weren't being followed.
Finally, we made it to the forest and collapsed into the snow. Despite the bitter cold, all of us were red in the face and sweating from the run. We all fought to catch our breath; I was trembling.
"Well," Rhydian huffed after a while. "That went better than expected."
A smile stretched across Geraint's face, and out of sheer joy, we all started laughing.
All of a sudden, Rhydian fell silent and sprang to his feet, his blue eyes growing wide.
"What is it-?"
"Shhhhhh!" Rhydian hissed.
Chapter 2: Wolves
Chapter 2: Wolves
I barely had time to feel the snow that Rhydian kicked up as he ran past me before Geraint pulled me to my feet and took off after him. The howls grew louder and closer together the farther we pushed into the forest. Sharp barks pierced our ears, every one sending a chill up my spine. Sheer terror seized my pounding heart. Before long, I could see grayish-brown streaks soaring though the brush beside us.
And when one of the wolves jumped out and cut off Rhydian, who came sliding to a stop, I screamed. Geraint tried to turn around, but more wolves sprang from behind the trees and stopped him.
We were surrounded.
With shaking hands, Rhydian scrambled for the crossbow he had strapped to his back and loaded it with a click.
"Put that down, boy," one of the Wolves growled. "You don't want to hurt anybody."
Rhydian opened his mouth to retort, but fear choked his words from his throat.
The Wolf chuckled. "Oh, come on," he taunted. "You and I both know you don't know how to use that thing."
Trembling violently, Rhydian voicelessly raised the crossbow to his shoulder.
"Your mother told me to tell you that you've got two options," the Wolf roughly informed us, pacing back and forth, his eyes not once leaving Rhydian's. "You can either come back and answer for your treason like a man, or you can die like a dog. Your choice."
Panic shot down to my feet in a hot, stinging streak, hissing at me, telling me to flee. But no matter how badly I wanted to run, Geraint's tight hand around my wrist kept me cemented in place.
The crossbow clicked. "You'll take me back when I'm dead," Rhydian answered sharply, though his words were seeped in terror.
The Wolf nodded, and one of the other wolves behind us snapped at Geraint's heel. He yelped; I shrieked. Pulling a short, dull sword from its sheath, Geraint pointed it at the wolf, who just snarled in response.
I could feel someone shaking, but I couldn't tell if it was me or Geraint. We heard a hissing sound, followed by a muffled thud and a loud yelp from the Wolf that had just threatened us.
Rhydian, bravely yet stupidly with his back to the first Wolf, reloaded his crossbow with quivering hands and declared, "Try to come at them again. I dare you."
"Rhydian!" I cried. Surely he had lost his senses!
But the clever gleam in his eye almost lead me to think otherwise.
Maurgrim, as my terrified mind had finally registered the first Wolf as, laughed cruelly. "You should listen to you sister, boy," he spat.
He continued to talk, but none of us were really listening to what he was saying. Rhydian had silently caught Geraint's attention, and I was busy trying to decipher what he was trying to converse. Quick glances their only form of safe communication, they silently began to formulate a plan. In my naivety, I anxiously looked back and forth between the two, wanting to know what was going on.
Geraint dropped my wrist and wiped the sweat off his jittering hands. An odd euphoria enveloped him as he slowly loaded his crossbow. They exchanged silent plans, brother to brother, until they had come up with what seemed to them like a good one.
"…and now that I've got you where I want you, you are all going to die." Maurgrim finished, looking smugly satisfied as he taunted us.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rhydian nod.
One arrow whizzed past my cheek and struck another one of the wolves. Then another. And another. One of the last wolves charged at me, but Geraint shot if down before it could touch me.
Rhydian wheeled around to face Maurgrim, but the Wolf had disappeared. For a moment, I thought that one of the boys might have shot him, but when a lone howl rose into the night, I knew that he had survived.
"We'd better get out of here," Rhydian said quickly. "Maurgrim will be back soon, and he'll have more with him next time, no doubt."
Geraint nodded. "Come along," he whispered, lovingly putting his arm around my shoulders and leading me on.
And with that, we slipped away into the night.
Chapter 3: Magic Tricks
Chapter 3: Magic Tricks
I do not remember much of the days that followed. There was running. And hunting. And cold. Terrible cold. We were exhausted, but Rhydian insisted that we push on. The boys, being several years older and much stronger than I, persevered with ease.
I did not.
The snow had seeped through my boots and had nearly frozen my feet solid by the time we could see the river below us.
I could take it no longer. My knees gave out from under me, and I collapsed into the snow. Before long, I felt a strong pair of arms wrap around me and pull me close, and I shivered in their embrace.
"Come on, Renn," Geraint urged gently. "Just a bit longer."
"What's the hold up?" Rhydian asked anxiously.
Geraint hoisted me up onto his back. "We'll get to the bank and then we'll stop," he softly reassured me. "I promise." He turned to Rhydian. "Won't we?"
Rhydian sighed. "We really need to cross."
I felt Geraint nod in my direction. "She won't make it that far," he insisted. "I'm not sure she'll go any farther than this."
"Yes, she will. She's stronger than you think she is. Aren't you, Renn?"
"No," I whimpered.
"Well," Geraint said flatly. "There you have it."
Defeated and annoyed, Rhydian's shoulders slumped. "Fine, then," he huffed. "We'll stop when we're covered by the woods. I don't want to make camp out here in the open."
With that, Rhydian led us across a massive land bridge and into the forest on the other side. The moon was beginning to rise, and the stars were beginning to come out of hiding. The sky had turned purple on the horizon, growing steadily darker and darker until it faded into deep indigo at the top. Now I would have enjoyed the view, but then I was too exhausted to care.
Before long, I heard Rhydian dragging a few logs out of his pack to start a fire, and Geraint gently set me down in the snow. After spreading a wolf-skin blanket on the ground, he sat on top of it and pulled me into his arms. He was soaked to the bone with melted snow, and his lips were blue. We both shivered.
"Can't you get a fire going?" Geraint grumbled.
"I'm getting to that," Rhydian replied, exasperated. "Give me a second."
I heard Rhydian's heavy footfall trudging through the snow, followed by the sound of him going back through his pack.
"Oh, no," he sighed.
"What?" Geraint groaned, beginning to get impatient.
"I don't see the flint and steel. I might have left it back in the Lantern Waste…"
"No, you didn't," I moaned sarcastically.
"Yes, I did." He raked his hand through his blonde hair and sighed.
In muted horror, we stared at each other. Fresh snow began to fall, and I could see Rhydian shivering now, no matter how hard he tried to hide it.
"Well, I don't plan on freezing to death," Rhydian declared, "so I'm going to try one last thing before I completely give up."
With that, he picked up a log and headed back into the open.
Geraint's eyes widened. "Wait," he called. "Don't!"
We saw a bright orange flash, accompanied by a panicked wail. And before long, Rhydian came speeding back into the woods with the smoldering remains of what was once a piece of firewood. He set it down on top of the pile of dry branches and watched in dismay as it disintegrated into a dust of white ash.
"So that's why Mother told us never to try that…." Rhydian mused. He laughed shamefacedly, and black soot covered his face. A little bit of smoke poured from the tips of his fingers.
Geraint sighed, annoyed. "And, of course, you'll not be the one to listen to her."
Rhydian glared at his younger brother. "Oh please," he retorted. "I'd like to see either of you do better."
Reaching for the woodpile, I grabbed two pieces of wood and started rubbing them together, eying Jadis's firstborn snidely. He rolled his eyes.
"Seriously?" Rhydian wailed.
"This is getting us nowhere." Rhydian held out his hand. "Give it to me."
I recoiled, hugging the two sticks close to me.
"Come on, Renn," he said, putting his hands on his hips. "Hand it over."
Reluctantly, I held out one of the logs to him. A bit of the smoke that came out from underneath his fingernails streamed up my nose, and I coughed.
"Watch where you aim that," I gasped, smacking the top of his hand and quickly retracting my own and shoving it into the snow.
Had I only noticed that my brother's hands still smoldered like embers before I tried to swat them away.
Suddenly, smoke began to pour from the piece of wood in Rhydian's hand, and he hastily dropped it into the woodpile. A tiny spark leapt from the center of the pile, and a small fire suddenly roared to life. Triumphantly, Rhydian sat in the snow opposite from me and Geraint, the light from the fire illuminating the smug grin that flashed across his face.
"And you didn't set the entire forest on fire," Geraint good-naturedly mocked. "I was certain that you would."
Rhydian chuckled. "Sorry you didn't get your wish," he quipped, laughing out loud.
Smiling a little, I hugged my legs to my chest and rested my chin on top of my knees. I stared into the fire, grateful that it was finally there. Geraint's arm soon found its place across the bridge of my shoulders, and I leaned into him.
An apple soared over the fire and into the snow next to me. A little bit of steam rolled off the top of it. Trying not to burn my fingers, I carefully picked it up and looked at it.
Rhydian chuckled sheepishly. "I roasted it for you, Renn."
I eyed my brother and found him with his hands shoved in the snow. Thick streams of steam rolled up into the air on either side of him.
"Thank you?" I snickered.
After peeling the skin from it, I slowly began to eat the apple, and it, combined with the fire, warmed me to my toes. I finally began to feel better. Once Rhydian "roasted" a few more apples for us (it took a while for his hands to cool down), we sat back contently and talked for hours.
For the first time in years, we were finally at peace again.
Chapter 4: Across the River
Chapter 4: Across the River
Geraint chuckled. "I still can't believe you did that," he said, a smile etching across his face as he nibbled at his apple.
Rhydian just laughed in response, pulling his steaming hands out of the snow to check on them. "Wonderful," he said grimly. "Frostbite."
"Of course," I groaned, nearly asleep.
Geraint sighed. "I think Renn's got the right idea," he said, stroking my hair and lending his shoulder to me for a pillow. "We should probably try to get some sleep."
"I'll take the first watch," Rhydian offered. "Don't want to wake little Renn up," he added, motioning towards me.
I felt Geraint nod before I finally fell asleep.
And not but what felt like a second later, I jolted awake again, my eyes widening as the howls of wolves echoed across the valley.
Rhydian leapt to his feet, hastily grabbing his crossbow and loading it. Geraint quickly jumped up and helped me to my feet, tossing his pack to Rhydian and hoisting me onto his back.
And when the howls grew louder, I'm sure I nearly strangled Geraint with my fearful grip.
"This way!" Rhydian shouted. "Quick!"
He scrambled down the side of a sheer cliff, rocks tumbling onto the icy snow beneath him.
"Come on!" he barked, stretching out hand to us. His fingertips were beginning to turn black with the cold.
I suddenly felt myself falling from Geraint's back and into the snow. Hastily, he grabbed my wrist and all but yanked me to my feet. Trembling, I ran to the edge of the precipice, sliding to a stop when I saw how far it was.
The howls grew closer.
My heart stopped.
"Go, Renn!" Geraint snapped. "We don't have much time!"
Cautiously, I sank to the ground and swung my short legs over the side, feeling my way down with my feet. The frozen river sprawled beneath me, the cascades of its falls frozen in place next to me.
One step. Two.
My shaking hands fumbled for something to hold onto, and I lowered myself down onto a ledge.
Three steps. Four.
I was halfway down.
An arrow whistled through the air, and one of the wolves sharply barked as it fell to the ground.
"Geraint!" I cried.
He was surrounded.
"Go!" he barked.
Tears beginning to well in my eyes, I took one more step down the frozen mountainside.
For a brief second I felt myself falling and heard Rhydian shout my name. As soon as I hit the ground, he leapt on top of me, shielding me from the hunks of ice and rock that thudded into the snow around us.
Rhydian's strong arms wrapped around my waist and pulled me to my feet. He sank onto one knee and down to my level, pointing to something in the starlight.
"There's the riverbank," he said gently, desperately trying to hide the fear that was mounting inside him. "If you can get there, you'll be safe."
My eyes widened. "What about you?"
Rhydian smiled. "I'll be right behind you," he replied.
Something in his tone told me he was lying.
More rocks tumbled down the cliff, and Geraint rolled into the snow beside us, hurriedly fitting another shaft into his crossbow.
"Go, Renn," he said. "We'll be fine."
Completely frozen, I watched in complete horror as the first of the wolves jumped down onto the ice.
"Your mother would have a thing or two to say if she could see you now," Maurgrim sneered, eying Geraint as if he were a wounded buck.
"Run!" Geraint bellowed, reaching up and giving me a shove.
He winced, and I noticed he was holding his side, a few streams of blood shimmering across the back of his hand. "Now!"
Tears streaming down my face, I took off for the woods.
"After her!" Maurgrim ordered, one of his Wolves shooting forward.
He hardly made it five feet before Rhydian shot him down.
I bolted. The ice was slicker than usual, I noted, and the closer I got the forest, the warmer the air seemed to get. Finally, I toppled onto the riverbank, coughing raggedly as I fought to catch my breath.
One of the Wolves sharply howled in pain, and my head snapped up. Brushing the snow from my long hair and my body, I watched as Rhydian helped Geraint to his feet. The two now stood back to back, crossbows loaded and aimed. Maurgrim did what he did best, stalking back and forth and dastardly taunting his frightened prey. Rhydian fired at the Wolf and missed.
And another pounced on him.
Geraint shouted in surprise and moved to free our brother, but was soon overtaken himself. Being too frightened and, at the time, too small to put up a fight myself, all I could do was stand on the bank and scream, drawing my dagger and helplessly holding it in front of me.
Suddenly, a loud roar echoed through the woods, the trees bending in the wind it created. The warmth from the woods grew stronger, and the pounding of hooves could be heard in the distance.
A hail of arrows rained from the woods and struck the Wolves. I can still hear their piercing howls, still feel the cold chills that shivered up my spine as they retreated.
I wish I could forget the terror that seized me as I beheld my brothers, who both lay motionless on the ice.
Maurgrim, annoyed, held his ground, bellowing at his troops to stand. The hoof beats grew louder, and a Centaur with gleaming black sides soon charged from the woods, brandishing two massive great swords as a host of Fauns and Satyrs thundered through the woods behind him.
Smug satisfaction crept into my pounding heart as I watched the Secret Police retreat with their tails between their legs, and it leapt with relief when Geraint slowly sat up.
But when he pulled an unresponsive Rhydian into his arms, it fell to the pit of my stomach.
As fast as my little legs would carry me, I ran forward towards my brothers. A few sobs escaped me when I laid eyes on Rhydian.
"Rhydian?" Geraint said softly, his voice shaking with suppressed emotion.
Gingerly, I pushed a piece of bloodied blonde hair out of his face. My little hand found a place on his broad shoulder, and I gently shook him. "Rhydian?" I begged, tears freely running down my cheeks.
Rhydian didn't move.
"Wake up!" Geraint cried desperately. "Please wake up!"
Both of us were sobbing.
Suddenly, the warmth I felt on the riverbank washed over me again. I thought it strange that it was calming me down then, but now that I look back on it, there is nothing else it could have done.
Geraint and I heard a rumble behind us, followed by what felt like a warm, gentle wind. Geraint's golden hair slightly tossed in the breeze, and I closed my eyes, snuggling into his one-armed embrace.
"Renn!" he suddenly shouted. "Look!"
My eyes snapped open and fell back to Rhydian's lifeless face, which was beginning to color again. The gash on his forehead closed and the blood cleared, not even leaving a scar to mark its presence.
He took several deep breaths, and his crystalline eyes fluttered open. Our tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy in an instant.
Rhydian coughed. "Frostbite's gone," he said flatly, scrutinizing his now porcelain hands.
Laughing, Geraint wasted no time hoisting Rhydian off the ground and into his arms. They held each other, brother and brother, for a blissful eternity.
"Don't ever do that to me again," Geraint finally whispered, his head resting on his older brother's shoulder.
Rhydian pulled back. "Stay out of trouble, little brother," he tenderly retorted, ruffling Geraint's hair affectionately, "and I won't have a reason to."
Rhydian looked at me. "Come here," he smiled, holding his arms out. I cannoned into him, and Geraint held on from behind me.
Speechless, we could only cling to each other and weep in relief. Finally, I felt their grip relax, and we all pulled away from each other a bit. Hoping he might say something, I looked up at Rhydian again and tried to get his attention.
His eyes were fixed to something behind us. He didn't look fearful or shocked or leery. Whatever it was, it had him and Geraint both completely awestruck.
"Shhh," he cut me off, but he wasn't angry. In fact, his face was shining like a child's would on future Christmas mornings.
A bright smile lit up Geraint's face. "Look," he said softly, pointing over my shoulder.
I turned, and my jaw dropped.
Being the daughter of the White Witch, I should have been terrified of what we were seeing, but instead I was rendered speechless by overwhelming joy.
The warmth, the wind, the sudden peace. It all made sense now.
"Aslan," we finally breathed.
Chapter 5: The World Without Winter
Chapter Five: The World Without Winter
We were so stunned we could barely even breathe. He stood in front of us, the wind gently tossing his golden mane, a calm warmth radiating from his face. And his eyes...
So gentle. So forgiving.
"Welcome, children," he said, his deep, rich voice humming with comfort. "Rhydian, Geraint, and Renn." He nodded to each of us in turn.
A lone howl drifted into the night, and a little gasp escaped my lips as I anxiously whipped around to see where it had come from.
"You've no need to fear, child," Aslan soothed. "You and your brothers are safe now."
I smiled down at the ground, words dashed from my mouth. As the Lion continued to speak, the icy tension that gripped my heart began to melt away like the snow around his feet.
The snow is melting?
Hardly able to believe my eyes, I watched as he softly padded up and down the riverbank in front of us, leaving a trail of soft paw prints in the snow.
None of the others can do that, I thought, looking back and forth between the Fauns and the Centaur that stood by Aslan's side. For some reason, it made me laugh, the prospect of a world without snow. Simply because I had not yet seen one. The idea was... outlandish. Foreign.
And yet, it was oddly liberating. Exciting.
My child's imagination reeled. What would the world be like without snow or ice or sleet? What did the trees look like in spring? Or the ground? Was grass green like an apple or like an ice sickle-encrusted pine tree? What about the streams, with no sheets of ice to hold their waters in place? What would they look like? What would they sound like?
What about the river?
Or the Witch's house?
It was made of ice...
The idea of it melting to the ground was so strange, so absurd, that I had to fight to keep from giggling out loud. What a sight that would be!
I felt an arm wrap around my waist, pulling me out of my thoughts and onto my feet.
"Goodness," Geraint laughed. "So stunned you can't even hear me calling to you, can you?"
"What?" I stared dumbly back at him, embarrassed for having drifted away like I had.
"Rhydian's gone to talk with Aslan. There's a guard posted on the bank, and we're to stay here in sight of it until he gets back."
"Why has he gone?" I asked.
Geraint sighed. "You know the reason why we left, don't you?"
"Of course I do," I replied. "Because you and Rhydian are crazy."
Geraint chuckled. "Well, there's a thought," he smiled down at me. His eyes drifted to the tree line, and his face grew more solemn. "But that's not all. You see... that Dwarf that the Witch turned to stone the night we left... Rhydian snuck down to the dungeon a few nights beforehand and had a word with him. And once the Dwarf learned we were bent on getting out, he told us about Aslan's camp here." He sighed. "Long story short, Renn... Rhydian and I want to fight for him. The Witch's rule has only grown more oppressive as time has gone by. We kept much of it from you because we didn't want to frighten you... but you've seen enough over the past few days to get the picture."
My stomach clenched. "Is that where all those statues in the courtyard came from?"
Silently, Geraint nodded. "Those are the ones that dared to stand up to her," he said quietly. "And it very well might have been your brothers if we didn't get out in time. We... we may or may not have helped a few of the prisoners escape... We... we didn't get to the Dwarf in time, but a few managed to get out."
My brow furrowed.
"She was on to us, Renn. She had been for a while. She knew exactly what we were up to. And once we realized that... we knew we had to get out. And we weren't about to leave you behind... so we brought you with us."
"But... I can't really do anything," I said. "I'm too small. And I'm a girl."
Geraint smiled. "Almost all of the Centaur archers are girls, I've noticed. One of our guards is. You're smart, and you're fast. We could teach you to fight."
I laughed outright. "Me? Fight? If I tried to lift a sword, I would probably topple over with it!"
"The we could teach you to shoot. Or throw knives. Or something. And at the very least... you could help out around camp. Fix armor, sharpen tools, stuff like that. You could even help with the wounded, if you wanted. There's more ways to fight than just fighting, you know."
"And besides," Geraint grinned. "You should have seen Rhydian try to lift that Minotaur's sword in the armory. He barely even got it off the ground, and you know how strong he is. Dropped it on his toe."
"In my defense, you couldn't move it," Rhydian retorted. "At all."
Geraint laughed. "Ears burning, brother?"
"Only a little."
"What did he say?" I asked. "Aslan."
Rhydian sank to a knee. "He's told me that we are welcome to stay with them. He also said it may take some time for the others to warm up to us, given our parentage and all, but we're not to despair. He trusts the accounts I've given him." He motioned to the Centaur general standing beside Aslan. "Oreius, however, is going to need some coaxing."
I glanced at the stern-faced Centaur, who hovered close by like an ominous black storm cloud. His watchful eyes never left us once, even as he spoke to the Lion on his left. It was glaringly obvious that he didn't trust us, and frankly, I wasn't sure I trusted him, either.
"Come on," Rhydian said, hoisting me onto his back. "They're heading back to camp now."
For what seemed like hours, we pushed through the forest until we reached a clearing. A warm breeze drifted into our faces as we crossed a large field and neared the camp, a dotted cluster of tents that sat on the horizon. The sun peaked out over the tops of the cliffs, the sky purpling with its presence. Resting my head on Rhydian's shoulder, I began to doze off.
Suddenly Rhydian stopped.
"What is it?" I yawned.
"It's melting!" Rhydian exclaimed, his head angled towards the ground. "Look!" he grinned, pointing. "You can see the grass!"
My eyes popped. Sure enough, a few blades of grass were visible in the morning light. I smiled. It looked like a clustering of pine needles, but the blades were wider and flatter and a brighter shade of green. And the closer to camp we got, the more of it we saw.
Once we were in the deep of the camp, we kept walking. Rhydian's pace quickened as he neared the cliffside, and I could see his cheeks rising into a bright smile.
"Hop down, Renn," he said. "I want to show you something."
I slid off his back, and he grabbed my hand and stood me in front of him.
"Look," he said softly.
I squinted into the new sunlight, gasping as my eyes adjusted and took in the view. A long, white beach stretched into the horizon, white-stone cliffs towering up from the sand, basking in the morning sun. The sea sparkled, glittering like a thousand polished diamonds in the sunlight, and a new sound, the distant crashing of the waves onto the beach, drifted to my ears.
"See that?" Rhydian said, pointing at the top of the cliffside.
I followed his finger to where it was pointing and lost my breath. A beautiful, white-stone castle shone like a second sun on the horizon, the glass on the walls changing color as the light hit it. I nodded.
"That is Cair Paravel," Rhydian explained, almost wistful as he spoke. "One of the things Mother fears and hates most in this world."
I looked up at him, my brow creasing.
"There are four seats in that throne room of that castle, Renn," he continued. "For two Sons of Adam, and two Daughters of Eve."
"Humans?" I asked. "In Narnia?"
"Yes. Eventually. There's a prophesy about it. I can't remember exactly how it goes, but it tells of these Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve leading us into battle against the White Witch. They'll help us defeat her, Renn. And we'll have peace again."
"No more winter?"
Rhydian smiled. "That's right. We'll have all four seasons, like Father used to talk about. Oh! And Christmas, whatever that is."
I sighed. "It all sounds so wonderful."
Rhydian nodded. "We'll be free, Renn. We've never been in a world where we were. This prophesy, Aslan, Cair Paravel... That's why we're here. That's our salvation."
He paused, laying both of his hands on my little shoulders.
"That's what we're fighting for."
Chapter 6: Truths
Chapter 6: Truths
Was that where the statues in the courtyard came from?
My exhausted body sank into my new hammock like a rock in a pool of water, but my eyes were locked open. The boys had told me to rest today, but my mind still reeled with the previous night's and early morning's events. From the wolves, the Narnians, the Lion...
From my conversations with Rhydian and Geraint.
We helped some of them escape... we kept much of it from you because we didn't want to frighten you... we'll teach you to fight... we'll have peace again... like Father used to talk about...
Like Father used to talk about.
He had often spoken of freedom, of oppression, of tyranny. Of peace. Then, I had passed off his raucous accusations as madness, as Mother inclined to. Their voices had ricocheted off the walls of the courtyard like wayward arrows in a skirmish.
And that horrible rock-crumbling sound...
Those are the ones that dared to stand up to her.
Was that where Father went?
Those are the ones that dared to stand up to her...
Tears stung at my eyes. I knew he was gone; Rhydian and Geraint had said that much. But...
They said Mother had put that statue there to commemorate his memory...
She said she loved him...
Fear, anger, disbelief swarmed my head and heart as I threw off the blankets and charged out into the melting snow.
"Rhydian!" I screamed, ducking around tent-corners in a frightened rage.
And right into Oreius.
His silent, stormy eyes glared down at me disapprovingly as he stamped his right hoof into the ground. I backed up a few steps and shot back around another tent, making sure to watch where I was going.
"Rhydian!" I desperately called again.
"Are you looking for someone?" a voice asked from beside me. I turned to see who it belonged to and came face-to-face with a Fox, who calmly made his way over to me.
Shyly, I nodded. "My brother," I said, trying to keep my nerves from flying up any further.
"Ah," the Fox considered. "What was his name again?"
"Rhydian," the Fox echoed, his amber eyes casually looking to the sky as he did so. "Ah! I think I know him! Tall, golden-haired?"
A smile slipped across my anxious face. "That's him!" I cried.
The Fox chuckled, his eyes smiling. "Try the shooting range. I think he and his friend were going to try a few of our bows."
I nodded. "Thank you," I grinned, turning to run in that direction.
"You're Arvid's girl, aren't you?"
I froze, swinging around, eyeing the Fox with disbelief. "How do you know of my father?"
"Who around here doesn't?" the Fox replied admirably, turning away with a pondering gleam in his eyes, as if he were recalling something. It was then I noticed the scar behind the Fox's left ear, and my mind reeled with even more unanswered questions.
I had to find Rhydian.
Taking off from the standstill, I ran as hard as I could towards the archery range. When I finally found my brothers sitting under a tree nearby with two wooden recurve bows propped up next to them, I wasn't exactly sure what to think.
"Rhydian!" I called, running up the hill.
Reprimand etched its way into Rhydian's sharp features as he stood. "I thought I told you to rest up, Renn," he rebuked sternly.
"I... I tried. I couldn't. What do you two know about Father that you neglected to tell me?"
And so the words came tumbling out.
"That statue. In the courtyard. Is that him? Is that where he is? Mother killed him?"
Geraint's blue eyes popped; Rhydian shifted uneasily, and a long, low sigh escaped his frowning lips.
"Yes," he said softly. "She did."
Tears welled up in my eyes again, but I forced them back. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"We didn't want to frighten you, Renn," Geraint replied. "It's not an easy thing to grasp, even for us."
"But..." My knees buckled out from under me, and I flopped unceremoniously into the muddy snow. "But... He's... he was..."
Despite my best effort to hold back my emotions, I softly began to cry. It felt childish, it probably looked childish, but I didn't know what to think.
No one does, when they feel their youth is being stripped from them.
Slowly, Rhydian knelt in front of me, gently pulling me into his arms. Part of me wanted to shove him away for keeping such a monstrous piece of information hidden, but I still found myself melting into his embrace. Soon Geraint's hands were on my shoulders, and I could feel him smoothing my hair, offering what comfort he could.
Though none of us spoke, I could feel the "We-should-have-told-you" in Rhydian's arms, in Geraint softly patting my back.
"How could she?!" I sobbed, noting the volume in my voice and not caring in the slightest. "She... I thought—"
"He was the one who started helping the prisoners escape," Geraint cut in. "Many of the troops here are people that Father rescued." He sighed. "It hurt him, at first, to go against Mother's wishes. But soon he saw just how twisted she had become, and... You know him, Renn. He wasn't one to leave innocent people to suffer for it. He was always one to go with his gut, even if he wound up paying for it in the end. He couldn't bear to see how the Narnians suffered under her, so... he swore to help them. He would leave in the dead of night with some of the prisoners Mother had captured, using what magic he had to trick her into seeing them in their cells the next morning. Eventually she began to catch on, got her suspicions up. Then word passed between the trees of what he was doing. Then it reached the Secret Police, and as soon as Mother caught wind, she... well, you know."
I sniffed. "You should have told me."
"We weren't sure how to," Geraint admitted. "We wanted to... but we just couldn't find the words. It's a miracle we've managed to tell you what we have."
Rhydian's arms hesitantly fell from my sides, and he drew a deep breath. "He..." His voice failed him, and as he grasped my shoulders, almost as if he were bracing me for what he was about to say.
"He told us... the night that he was killed... well, he made us promise that we would continue his work. He said Narnia depended on it. So... we picked up where he left off."
"Or... we tried," Geraint sighed. "We got everyone out but that poor Dwarf, and then we made a run for it ourselves. She was trying to figure out how so many of her prisoners had suddenly vanished, and since he was the only one left... well... I could tell by the look in her eye that she already knew. She just needed to have it confirmed before she tried to do anything to us. We had to fight back before she could strike us. For our safety and yours, but for Father, as well. And what better way to do that than coming out here?"
I wiped under my eyes with the back of my sleeve, sniffling a bit and laying my head onto Geraint's shoulder. My head pounded; my eyes stung. Grief weighed down on my little body like a nine-pound hammer, and the reality of all that transpired screamed in my face. I wanted to feel as if I should curl up in a corner somewhere, hide behind my brothers and let them do all the fighting, like they always had. I felt as if my place was to run and hide and sob and mope and pity myself, watching the world's problems roll past me without a care.
But I couldn't.
I found myself too angry to.
"She needs to pay," I suddenly growled. "She must pay for what she's done."
"Aye," Rhydian agreed. "She must."
Geraint silently nodded.
Staring at the ground, I began wringing my hands over one another, still wrestling with my thoughts.
"Renn?" Geraint suddenly asked.
I looked up at him, and his face lit up a bit, and I could tell by the gleam in his eye that he had an idea.
"You remember what I said earlier about learning how to fight?"
My heart started pounding. "Maybe," I replied.
"Aslan's got Orieus to teach the two of us how to properly," Geraint went on, motioning towards Rhydian. "There's nothing saying that he couldn't also teach you."
My eyes popped. "Whatever happened to 'there's-more-ways-to-fight-than-just-fighting?'" I gaped, taken aback.
"There are. But... learning to defend yourself can't hurt. You'd practice with us, and we could help you, too."
I scoffed. "You don't know what you're saying."
"No, I really think I do."
I sighed. "Orieus is already leery of us. I wouldn't want to ask too much of him..."
He scares me, the child inside of me desperately wanted to whine. But now, I decided, I couldn't afford to let it.
"Us being here is already asking too much of him," Rhydian retorted. "We'll have to earn his respect, no doubt, and doing that won't be easy, but if we can show him we mean business and that we want truly do want to fight for Narnia, we just might be able to. That within itself would be worth it."
"Father would want you to, Renn," Geraint added. "You know he would."
He was right. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I knew he was.
"Alright, then," I sighed nervously. "I'll do it. I'll do it for Father."
Chapter 7: Good Shot
Chapter 7: Good Shot
We spent nearly all of our time on the training grounds in the days that followed. Though incredibly stern, Oreius proved to be an exceptional teacher, and the boys were quick learners.
Rhydian became a force to be reckoned with as a swordsman; whether he was on foot or on horseback, by the fourth or fifth month, he beat nearly everyone that challenged him. His considerable height and bulk made him nearly impossible to stand against. Oreius approved of him first, and Rhydian gained his trust far quicker than we expected.
Geraint, being shorter and leaner and more lithe, took to archery faster than he did to the sword. His sharp eyes could spot even the most elusive of targets, and his aim was almost always true. He was an impeccable shot on the ground, but his bow became even deadlier on horseback. For months he practiced, and he didn't stop until his shaft hit its mark every single time.
I did not.
By the end of the first week, I was honestly beginning to question the sanity of my decision. My arms were so sore I could barely move them; my legs, so wobbly and stiff from the running and the crawling and the countless hours on horseback that it hurt to walk. Even the smallest sword, I could barely handle; the smallest bow, I couldn't pull back. I fought and fought and fought to get better, throwing everything I had into everything I was told to do, but it bore no fruit. I was the thorn in Oreius's side, and no matter what my brothers tried to tell me, we all knew it.
Time passed. The snow all but disappeared from the mountainside and from the camp; dryads whirled and span in the light spring breeze. Some of the trees were beginning to turn green, and a few of them bloomed into colors I never stopped to consider they could: soft pinks, violets, creams, and whites. I passed under a large oak tree as I made my way towards the training grounds, trailing behind my brothers as they laughed and talked.
I watched them as their silhouettes passed under the trees. A massive Narnian broadsword was strapped to Rhydian's back, and a beautiful, carved quiver and wooden longbow crossed Geraint's. As I trailed behind them, I realized how immensely small they made me feel. In the time we had been there, they had both grown several inches and gained a considerable amount of muscle. Their features had become sharper and more intense, and Rhydian had a bit of stubble clinging to the sides of his strong jaw. Every day, they looked less like boys and more like men.
And I still felt like a little girl.
Yes, I had grown several inches since we arrived, and I had noticed a new, womanlier curve to my body, but my appearance had nothing to do with it. The harder I tried to wield a weapon, or the harder I tried to do anything, for that matter, the harder I seemed to fail, and the smaller, weaker, more helpless I felt.
Where it had only taken the boys a week or so to properly handle a sword, or to load, draw back, and fire a bow, it had taken me nearly two years. And I was growing impatient.
More than anything, I wanted to stand at my brothers' sides and fight for Narnia and for Father, but right now, it felt as if I would never be able to. I had grown stronger during the time we had been there, and by this point I could somewhat decently hold my own in a swordfight, but I hadn't won a single fight.
That discouraged me.
I often thought back to that night on the frozen riverbank so long ago, when a battle seemed farther away than the moon to the bottom of the ocean, to what Geraint had told me when he revealed Rhydian's master plan.
There's more ways to fight than just fighting, you know.
I passed under another large oak tree at the top of the hill overlooking the archery range, not realizing how far I had fallen behind my brothers. Soon I stopped walking altogether. I frowned.
Did I really want to keep doing this? Did I really want to humiliate myself again? Should I keep at it or give up altogether? Maybe I was a lost cause, as I knew Oreius thought I was. Maybe–
"Renn?" Rhydian called. "Are you alright?"
He trudged back through the grass and stopped a few feet in front of me. He smiled. "Come on, little sister," he said, putting a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "We can't keep Oreius waiting forever."
I sighed, walking between my brothers down the hill towards the training grounds. Oreius stood at the bottom as he always did, a ghost of a proud smile on his lips as the boys split up and went to their usual positions. Rhydian's sword rang as he drew it from its sheath, and he smiled as his usual training partner, a black-haired Faun named Flynn, entered the ring and called a cheerful greeting. Geraint called to Darian, a chestnut Horse standing nearby, climbed into the saddle, and steered towards the main set of targets, talking with his friend as they broke into a brisk trot.
Soon the Centaur's stern gaze fell on me, and I shifted uneasily under its weight. He nodded a greeting.
"Good morning," I managed.
For two years I had known him, and yet he still utterly terrified me.
"Come," he said, nodding towards another set of targets by the trees and willing me to follow. I reached for my recurve and pulled an arrow from the quiver at my side as we neared them.
I planted my feet about thirty paces from the nearest target and waited for instruction.
"Notch the shaft and pull it back to your ear," Oreius said, his voice stern yet gentle.
I did as he told me, though it was a challenge to keep the arrow in place.
The Centaur nodded his approval. "Your form looks much better," he continued. "Find your mark, and try loosing the shaft."
This was the part where I always seemed to fail.
My eyes locking onto the target, I adjusted my aim, and cringing, let the arrow fly. I expected it to sail into the woods, like it always had done before.
It sank into the far right side of the corner with a thwack. A wide grin spread across my face.
"Finally!" I whispered, standing in awe of what I had just done.
To this day, I'm not sure who was more shocked: Me or my instructor.
A small, proud smile etched across Oreius's face. "Try it again," he said, his tone notably more excited than it had been before.
I heard Darian's hoof beats slow and stop nearby, and I looked over my shoulder to the to the top of the hill behind us. Geraint was grinning ear to ear.
"Rhydian!" he called over his shoulder, hardly able to contain his excitement. "She hit it!"
I heard Rhydian's exclamation from all the way across the field. Though I couldn't see him, I knew he was beaming.
Slowly, I raised the bow, drew the shaft back to my cheek, found my mark, and let another arrow fly.
It also hit the target, but closer to the bullseye this time.
I heard my brothers cheer behind me, and I smiled so wide it almost hurt. I could have fallen over I was so ecstatic. Even Oreius was grinning.
"Go for another one!" Geraint called. "You can do it!"
In an excited rush, I knotted another shaft to the string, raised the weapon, and fired. As soon as I let the shaft loose, I knew I had missed, and a disappointed grin crossed my face. The shaft sailed into the brush behind the targets.
Something cried out in pain as soon as it disappeared.
My heart froze over.
Oreius and I exchanged worried glances before running towards the edge of the woods. Darian charged down the hill with both my brothers on his back.
"Stay back!" Oreius barked, drawing one of his swords. "Rhydian, Geraint. With me."
Rhydian drew his sword and followed immediately. I felt a hand on my shoulder as Geraint moved past, fitting an arrow to his bow as he slipped into the brush behind them.
My head spun; cold fear gnawed on my conscience.
What have I done?
"Renn!" Oreius called suddenly.
My heart pounding, I rushed towards my brothers, the Horse, and the general. My hand clamped over my mouth when I saw what I hit.
A large, grey Wolf lie on the ground with my shaft sticking out of his neck. A small red Squirrel, one of Mr. Fox's runners, was clamped in his jaws.
"By the Lion," I whispered, gingerly kneeling by the Wolf's head. As I had seen Father do a few times, I gently laid my hand across the Squirrel's face, sighing with relief when I felt a little warm breath come from his nostrils.
"Darian," Oreuis ordered. "Take Renn back to camp, and the two of you see what you can do for him. Rhydian, Geraint, follow me. There may be more out there, and if there are, they must be hunted down."
The Centaur turned and looked at me. "Good shot," he said, firm praise resting in his voice.
Darian pawed the soft ground impatiently. "Come on up here, Renn, and do it quickly! We don't know how much time this poor fellow's got!"
I nodded, swinging up into the saddle. My feet weren't even completely in the stirrups before Darian took off towards the main camp. We stopped in front of a large red tent. I quickly dismounted, caring the wounded Squirrel in my hands.
"He needs help!" I called as I pushed the tent flaps back.
But no one was there.
"No," I whispered. "No, no, no..."
Gently, I set the Squirrel onto a small table and scrambled for what little healing skill I knew. I had watched Father tend to our bumps and bruises and scratches, and even watched him heal one of Mother's white reindeer a few times.
"How did he do that?" I nervously said to myself as I rushed around the tent. Almost running, I grabbed a basin of water and a large white cloth, dunked the rag into the water, and put pressure onto the wound so the bleeding would stop. One of Father's healing chants suddenly rushed to my mind, and hurriedly I began to whisper it. My eyes clamped shut in concentration as I stumbled over the words.
The tent flaps behind me opened, but I hardly noticed. My hands started to glow a soft golden shade, just as I had seen Father's do, as I continued to whisper.
Suddenly, I felt something squirm underneath my hands, and my eyes shot open.
"Goodness me," the Squirrel exclaimed. "That was rather unpleasant!" He looked up at me and added quickly, "Oh, not you, my dear. That Wolf! He was angrier than a hornet, and every bit as rude!"
I was stunned. "I... I did it..."
"I should say you did, my dear," the Squirrel hurried on. "I feel much better now! Much obliged, Miss...?"
I grinned. "Renn."
"Oh! Of course!" The Squirrel stood and shook himself, smoothing down some of his fur with his little paws. "That should take care of some of the matting," he chirped, scampering across the table and hopping to the ground. "Pleased to meet you. My name is Sebastian." His head shot up. "Oh, hello there, General!"
I turned around, and Oreius stood behind me, looking perplexed and stunned and relieved all at once.
Slowly, he bowed his head at me, his face wearing the same look it had when Rhydian won his first fight. When Geraint hit the bullseye on all four targets for the first time.
I had just earned his respect. It had taken two long years, but I now, I finally had it.
"Did you find anything?" I asked.
The Centaur simply shook his head. "That was a scout, which means the rest of the pack is not far behind. We sent a search party into the woods to look for them. Your brothers are with them."
Oreius's gaze moved to Sebastian. "Come, my friend," he said, holding the tent flap open for the Squirrel to trot through. "It seems we have much to talk about."
Chapter 8: News From the Western Woods
Chapter 8: News From the Western Woods
Squinting as my eyes adjusted to the late afternoon sun, I made my way out of the tent and back into the main camp, following Oreius as he solemnly clopped across the grass. Sebastian scampered by the Centaur's side, his little body zigzagging down the path like a jagged bolt of furry chestnut lightning as he struggled to restrain his excitement. Whatever it was he had to tell us, it was obviously important.
Oreius stopped at the bottom of a grassy mound with a large crimson and gold tent staked to the top. Stamping a front hoof as he shifted his weight, he turned to face us, a strange, almost apprehensive gleam in his stern brown eyes.
"Wait here," he said, the sturdy thud of his hooves fading towards the top of the hill. For a moment he stopped in front of the tent, pulled back a flap, and stuck his head in, sprouting a small conversation with the inhabitant. Then he backed up, looked at me and Sebastian, and waved us over. I swallowed.
Though I knew I had his trust and his mercy, meeting with the Lion was always a little nerve-racking. To this day, it still is.
Sebastian scampered through the grass, his tail bouncing and twitching with a fresh wave of spastic excitement, but stopped to collect himself before he went in. I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and followed, Oreius closing the tent flaps behind us.
Aslan stood behind a dark cherry wood table between Rhydian and Geraint, who, judging from their slightly disheveled appearances, had been in some sort of a skirmish.
"...and we trapped them by the Fords and wiped the patrol out," Rhydian explained quickly, his voice deep and urgent as he pointed to a location on the map with a gloved hand. "We don't know if there are any more scouts, but all that we saw, we made sure didn't escape."
Aslan nodded. "You have done well, young one," he replied calmly. As soon as he spoke, warm peace flooded my senses in one continuous wave, and any qualms I had about being there melted away. "Had they been allowed to get any closer, things could have been far worse. How did you find them?"
Rhydian and Geraint turned and looked at me, proud smiles stretched across their tired faces. "Renn?" they asked in unison.
I nodded. "One of the Wolves was in the brush behind the archery range," I quietly reported. "And I accidentally shot him."
"And good thing you did, too!" Sebastian chirped. "Or I would have been the brute's lunch! Saved my life, she did!"
Rhydian and Geraint stared at me with pleasantly surprised expressions, and I shifted bashfully. I've never been one for an excess amount of praise.
Aslan's face softened as he chuckled. "Welcome, Sebastian," he said, his gentle face smiling as the Squirrel sprang up onto the table.
"Obliged, my lord! Very much obliged! But... I believe I may have been what drew them here, Your Majesty. You see, I've been carrying a very important piece of information from the Western Woods." The Squirrel's body twitched with suppressed excitement. "And until I saw them with my own eyes, I hardly believed what I had heard!"
"Heard what?" Geraint asked.
Aslan's face glowed knowingly.
"Well, it just so happens that this might be—"
"Spit it out!" Rhydian laughed.
"Apologies!" Sebastian said hastily. "It's just—" He took a deep breath in an effort to control his whirling excitation. "Your Majesty," he sighed, turning to Aslan. His little brown eyes smiled as he pressed his small white paws together in an effort to slow himself down. "They are here," he said purposely. "The Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve."
My jaw dropped. Rhydian and Geraint exchanged shocked, relieved glances.
"I saw them in the Western Woods!" he exclaimed, dancing all over the table in spastic bursts. "In Beaversdam! They're here! They've come! Two Sons of Adam, and two Daughters of Eve! Just as the prophesy says!"
Oreius straightened. "Finally," he said, a hopeful gleam in his stern eyes as a smile stretched across his face. "Finally."
"They should be here in a few days!" Sebastian exclaimed. He turned to the Lion. "Shall I spread the news?" he said, looking up at Aslan expectantly.
Aslan nodded. "Of course."
The Squirrel bounded off into camp, trumpeting his message to any and all who would listen. Soon, a commotion rose outside, and the whole camp became ecstatic.
Aslan turned to me. "You have my thanks, little one," he said. "Without you, the scouts' presence could have gone unknown, and we may have never received this news."
I shifted coyly, raising my green eyes to meet Aslan's. His face softened, and his eyes smiled.
"Go on," he said, chuckling. "Spread the news. We must prepare for their arrival."
My brothers and I nodded respectfully, and we all moved out.
Geraint was rendered silent, and his own hopeful imagination whisked him into a daydream. He stared at his feet, his fingers tracing over the intricate carvings on his bow.
Rhydian grinned. "I wonder what they will be like," he nearly sighed, his eyes fixed on the setting sun.
I felt myself smiling. "Like everything we could have ever hoped for," I breathed. "Think of it. Once they arrive, we'll be free in a matter of weeks. If I were the Witch, I'd be shaking in my boots right now!"
Rhydian's face lit up, and a ghost of a satisfied smirk tugged at the corners of Geraint's lips.
"If only Father were here to see this," Geraint said wistfully, slinging his bow onto his back. He looked down at me. "I know he'd be proud."
"Especially of you two," I grinned, and I meant it.
Rhydian scoffed good-naturedly. "He knew Geraint and I were fighters from the start, Renn. It was never us he was worried about. He feared for you. That if something were to happen, that... that you wouldn't be able to defend yourself, or you'd not be strong enough to hold anyone off if you were attacked." He pulled me into a big bear hug. "But I think if he could see you now, he'd change his mind. You've overcome a lot."
"Rhydian, we all have," I insisted. "When we got here, neither of you could really fight, and now look at you. You're both warriors. Fine soldiers. I think even General Otmin would have a bad day if they crossed either of the two of you. But if he charged me? He'd run through me as if I were a blade of grass!"
"He's Otmin, Renn," Geraint pointed out. "He does that to everyone."
Then tent flaps behind us opened.
I sighed, shaking my head. "I want to fight, Geraint, like you and Rhydian. On the battlefield. For Father and for Narnia. But it seems as if that's the one thing I'll never do. My... accomplishment... was an accident, and only that. No matter what anyone says. I doubt I could do it again." I turned my palms up, looking back and forth at them and remembering how they glowed in the dimly lit healers' tent. "Finding the scout, finding Sebastian, saving Sebastian—"
"What do you mean, saving Sebastian?"
"She saved his life," Oreius suddenly said from behind us. "None of the healers were present, so she took matters into her own hands. She healed him herself. I'm glad I was there to witness it."
I heard his hooves pad through the grass, and his long body wheeled to face me.
"Aslan has heard of your talent, Renn," the Centaur continued. "I told him myself. He was very pleased. So pleased, in fact, that he has called upon our chief healer to instruct you. You will meet with her in the morning."
"Morning?" I asked. I tapped my quiver. "But that's when—"
"I know. You've been relocated. You're to go to the healers' tent and meet with Bronwyn in the morning."
I fought to keep my face from falling. I'd hit that target, hadn't I? I was improving, wasn't I? Only to have them move me the day I finally did something right? It made no sense!
Finally, I nodded, my face hardening with suppressed disappointment and frustration.
"Good," Oreius said. He turned to my brothers. "And I will be seeing the two of you in the morning, as usual. Until then."
With a swish of his long, black tail, the general plodded away into the deep of the camp. My shoulders sagged.
"I guess I should be getting some rest, then," I said, and a bit more curtly than I would have liked. I spun on my heel and briskly made my way towards our tent.
"Renn!" Geraint called.
I stopped, frowned, and spun around, raising my eyebrows in question.
"Remember what I told you. There're more ways to fight than just fighting. You never know. This could be yours."
I scoffed. "I don't want it to be mine, Geraint," I snapped, turning on my heel and almost jogging to our tent. Once inside, I angrily threw off my quiver, bow, and one-handed sword and shoved them into a corner.
All I wanted to do was fight for Father. March to the front lines with my brothers. Be there when the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, who were now just days away from us, took back Narnia from the icy clutch of winter. I didn't want to hear about it from the inside of a tent. I wanted to see it! Brandish a sword and battle for it myself! And now...
Now, more than ever, it seemed I would never be able to.
Slowly, I went to the washbasin and wiped the dirt and grime from my skin. Slipping into one of Rhydian's oversized tunics to sleep in, I crawled into my hammock and stared at the ceiling, my eyes tracing the gold-threaded patterns in the tent-fabric until I could close them and still see the shapes. Finally, I rolled over and tried to will myself to sleep, but with bottled up anger and regret for having snapped at Geraint gnawing at the back of my mind, I guessed I wouldn't be resting at all tonight. Which would make that dreadful next morning even more painful.
Suddenly, I sat up, an idea springing to the forefront of my mind. Slowly, I started to smile.
I glanced at the forlorn recurve in the corner.
If I could wake before the boys, before the sun really began to rise, then maybe, just maybe, before I went to the healer, I could slip down to the archery range unnoticed...
Chapter 9: Hope
Chapter 9: Hope
After a troubled sleep, my eyes snapped open. There was movement outside, more than what was usually allotted to the night watch, so the camp was just starting to wake up. The inside of our tent, tinged with a soft grey glow as the early sunlight trickled in through the crack in the tent flaps, was tricky to get around without getting anywhere close to my brothers. And my quiver was at Rhydian's feet...
Tactfully, I pulled on a plain red dress and tried to tiptoe across the floor of rugs and grass, standing with so much weight on the fronts of my feet that it felt as if I was hardly touching the ground at all. Even then, my feet still crunched and thumped into the floor. A testament to the giant blood in my veins. To this day I still curse it for its inconvenient appearances. Nearing the foot of Rhydian's hammock, I slowly reached for my quiver.
Suddenly he stirred. I froze.
Lazily, he cracked a bright blue eye open at me, rolled over, and went back to sleep. I sighed with relief, stretching as far as my body would let me as my fingers fumbled for and found the quiver in the darkness. Hesitantly, almost guiltily, I slung it onto my back and took a step towards the tent flaps. I looked over my shoulder to where my brothers slept, so badly wanting to apologize to Geraint about how I had acted the night before but being too afraid to see how he would react to my... reasons for being awake. Frowning, I slipped out of the door and slunk behind our tent, sneaking up to the archery range to try to get in some practice.
I spent my quiver twice, and still only managed to hit the target a handful of times. By now, the morning light illuminated the grounds enough that I knew I needed to slip away before any of the soldiers and archers came to train. Quite proud of myself for not having been caught, I snuck back to the main camp and went to open the tent flaps.
Only to run right into Geraint.
He gave me a look. "You're up early," he said, and his tone alone told me he knew what I had been up to.
"Oreius told me to meet the chief healer in the morning," I hastily spun. "And you know how he is about punctuality..."
Geraint's brow furrowed as he ushered me inside. "So do you plan on telling me how to stitch up a wound with a quiver?"
Geraint sighed. "You've always been a hard-head, Renn," he rebuked gently, "but you shouldn't be down there alone. What if you got hurt?"
"You're hurt?" I heard Rhydian ask, his shield rattling as he strapped it to his back.
I shook my head.
"Then what is it?"
"She went down to practice," Geraint informed. "By herself. Practically in the dark."
Rhydian shook his head. "There's a reason you don't go down there by yourself, Renn. Not even Geraint and I are allowed to do that. If you were hurt, there would have been no way for us to have known immediately."
I wanted to groan, but the noise wouldn't come. I knew they were right, but I wasn't about to admit it.
"I could have fixed it by myself if I had been," I muttered, turning on my heel. "Which reminds me. I have somewhere to be—"
"Not yet, you don't," Rhydian charged with the gentle authority of a father. "Why where you dow—"
"You shouldn't even be asking, brother," Geraint interrupted. "You know why." His face softened as he looked down on me. "When we finally do go to war, you want to be with us."
I nodded. More than anything, I did.
He tilted my chin up and smiled down at me. "Then maybe you'll just have to take me with you the next time you sneak off."
My face lit up. "Really?"
Rhydian stiffened. "Geraint—"
Geraint eyed him coolly, his blue-green eyes hardening almost the same way Mother's would when she was challenged. Out of all of us, he looked the most like her.
"If things went poorly and the Witch's men pushed back to camp," he said, "she needs to be able to defend herself. Because at that point, she may be all that Narnia would have left."
Rhydian effectively silenced himself.
Geraint looked back at me. "Really. I mean it. If you want to learn, I can show you more." He looked over my shoulder as the sunlight trickled in through the tent flap. "But that will be saved for a later day. You've got somewhere to be, don't you?"
My eyes popped, and hastily I unslung my quiver. Geraint took it and set it in the corner.
"About last night—" I started.
Geraint put his hands on my shoulders, a knowing gleam in his eye. "What happened last night? I seem to have forgotten about it already."
"Now you'd better be on your way. You don't want to be late."
Without a second thought, I smiled a "thank you" and ran out into the camp. Stopping to get my bearings, I spotted Oreius standing outside a long red tent, speaking to another Centaur with dappled sides and long, flaxen hair. Suddenly feeling small and shy, I made my way over to them. Oreius nodded his usual silent greeting, and patting my shoulder he clopped off in the direction of the training grounds.
My eyes lifted to the other Centaur, who I was close enough to notice shared Oreius's stern brown eyes. Immediately her face softened.
"You must be Renn," she said, smiling brightly. "I am Bronwyn. Oreius tells me you saved someone's life yesterday."
I nodded, still a little timid.
"No small feat," she continued. "Which is why you've been sent to me. I'll be helping you hone that skill. For what good is an army without those to hold its members together?"
Before I could stop it, a smile stretched across my face. I had only known Bronwyn for a few minutes and I was already beginning to like her. She was much warmer than Oreius, though in the face, the two bore a striking resemblance.
"We desperately need more like you among our ranks. There are several thousand soldiers, with more showing up every day, and very, very few healers." She motioned towards Oreius as he made his way up the hill. "When my brother told me he was sending you to me, I was relieved." She laughed. "So in case he does something rash, they'll be more of us to put him back together again!"
Her animation was so infectious that I couldn't help but laugh with her.
"Come," she said. "It'd be wise to start sometime today, now wouldn't it?"
The next several days consisted of learning the ins and outs of healing. Bandages, medicines, herbs, the right way to stitch up a wound, how to stop bleeding, lessen pain. Bronwyn proved to be as efficient at teaching as she was friendly. If I made a mistake, she was always ready with the gentle correction. The more time went on, the more we talked and laughed, and the greater the skills became that she entrusted me with. But though I thoroughly enjoyed her company, I still found myself wanting to be with my brothers.
What I relished most were the impromptu archery lessons with Geraint. Every morning we'd sneak down to the range, fighting not to wake Rhydian and the rest of the camp as we moved through the grass. For an hour every morning I slaved over the training, and every day the shafts crept closer and closer to the center of the target.
In other words, all of them were hitting it. Even if they were dancing around the edges.
Once the sun came up, Geraint would grab his saddle and go find Darian, and I would return my quiver to our tent and seek out Bronwyn. This morning had started out the same way. Geraint, Rhydian, and Flynn all walked back to the training grounds together, and I started back into the main camp to look for Bronwyn.
Morning brought with it a rich sunrise of red and gold, and as the sun peaked over the mountains and shone on Cair Paravel in the distance, I couldn't help but feel a little strange. Warm. Warmth was a concept that had been nearly foreign to me for almost my entire life. Not the kind of warmth felt by sitting next to a hearth or a campfire, but a warmth of a different kind. A better, deeper kind.
The kind I felt around Aslan.
Immediately I looked for the Lion. My eyes scanned the hills behind me, but there was no sign of him. Puzzled, I went inside and set myself up at one of the many tables, trying to shove the feeling aside as I attempted to focus on the task in front of me. Flynn would need an herb-soaked bandage for the laceration on his arm that Rhydian accidentally dealt him a few days before, so I crunched up the leaves and began to make a paste out of them.
Suddenly the tent flaps fluttered open, and a familiar scampering sound patted across the grass.
"Renn!" Sebastian squeaked.
I jumped. "Good morning, my friend!" I greeted, excited to see him. "Have you any more news?"
Sebastian slumped. "Not of the kind you're looking for, unfortunately. Honestly, I... I needed someone to confide a worry in."
I nodded. Honestly, I was surprised to see that something had broken his optimism.
"You know my friend, Mr. Fox?"
"I met him one of my first days here. He said he knew my father."
Sebastian's tail twitched with a sudden burst of excitement. "Oh! Yes, of course!" His ears drooped. "It's just that... ever since I got word of the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve being here... I haven't seen him. Or even heard something from him. He said he encountered some Wolves in the Shuddering Wood only a few hours before he got me to spread the news. I... I do hope nothing has happened to him."
Suddenly I grew quiet. I knew how the Witch usually liked to deal with traitors, but the thought of her having caught Mr. Fox unnerved me.
It meant she was close.
"Do... do you think he's alright?"
I forced a smile. "I'm sure he is. He's fast and cunning, so he'd be hard to catch."
Relief swarmed its way into Sebastian's little eyes, and remorse into mine. I looked away. I so wanted to tell him the truth. But doing that would be far more painful, I convinced myself.
"That he is!" Sebastian exclaimed. "Ah, why do I even worry for him? You are right, my friend. He should be alright!"
I smiled sadly. I hope he is.
"Well, I will let you get back to work," Sebastian continued. "If I hear of anything more, I will be sure to find you!"
I thanked him, and he scampered off. Smearing the herb paste I had been working on onto the bandage, I folded it how Bronwyn showed me, put it in a basket, and started towards the tent flaps.
People murmured and whispered back and forth to one another. Excitement buzzed around the entire camp. Even the dryads circled overhead.
A little taken aback, I started walking faster towards the training grounds, wanting to make my delivery to Flynn as fast as I could so I wouldn't miss whatever was going on. But before I even reached the hill, Rhydian and Flynn sped over the top and came straight to me, Geraint and Darian just behind them.
Flynn grinned as soon as he saw me and took the basket with the bandage in it. "That's going to feel better once it gets on," he said smiling. "Good timing." His brow furrowed. "Any idea what's going on?"
I shook my head just as a loud, triumphant horn call echoed across the valley. We all looked at each other.
Suddenly it grew very quiet. Weaponsmiths paused mid-stroke on swords and axes. Fauns who were shoeing the Centaurs and fashioning armor froze. More and more of the camp's inhabitants came out of the tents and lined the road that cut straight through the middle of the camp. I saw Bronwyn smile, brighter than I'd ever seen her smile before, and nod up the road away from Aslan's tent.
"Look!" she lipped to me.
I stood on my tiptoes but couldn't see over those in front of me.
But I could see Geraint, and he was beaming.
"What is it?" I said.
Without a word, he stretched his hand down to me, and I clambered up into the saddle in front of him.
"What is it?" I repeated myself.
He nodded towards Aslan's tent. "Look," he said, his voice shaking with excitement.
I craned my neck over the crowd. Oreius stomped a foot as he made his way in front of Aslan's tent. Though his face was stern, even his eyes were shining. Sitting up even straighter to see what he was looking at, my eyes scanned the grass in front of the tent. I couldn't see everything, but I spotted the tip of a bow and red-feathered arrows, all harbored in a gorgeous ivory quiver. Two tops of heads, one blonde and one very dark brown. A boy, somewhere between Rhydian and Geraint's ages, and a girl...
I didn't know whether to cheer or faint or cry. None of us did.
Suddenly a sword rang from its sheath, the tip of it visible above the crowd. And the boy's voice, young but authoritative, pealed through the camp like a bell:
"We have come to see Aslan."
Chapter 10: At Long Last
Chapter 10: At Long Last
The camp seemed to hold its breath as Oreius nodded at the boy, his hooves plodding into the ground with backward steps. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. I looked at Rhydian out of the corner of my eye, and it was clear that he was just as swept away as I was.
Years of waiting. Years of suffering. Years of tyranny, of oppression, of cold. Now, finally, at long last, our salvation had jumped from the pages of the prophesy. It stood twenty meters in front of us, wrapped in shining young eyes and fresh young faces. I was so excited that I was trembling, and to this day I swear Geraint was, too, though if asked about it, he would always deny it.
The crowd around us bowed in a flourish of creaking leather and clanking armor and armaments. Darien's head lowered towards the ground, and Geraint and I both bowed our heads. I heard tent flaps come open, the soft padding of Aslan's paws on the grass accompanying it.
I hardly dared to move. My child's mind feared that what it was seeing would all disappear if I so much as blinked.
Aslan's authoritative voice echoed across the plain:
"Welcome Peter, Son of Adam. Welcome Susan and Lucy, Daughters of Eve."
Peter. Susan. Lucy. I'd never heard names like that. Nor did I think such different names could sound so sweet.
"And welcome to you, Beavers," Aslan continued. "You have my thanks." His eyes darkened sadly. "But where is the fourth?"
My heart fell to my toes. My eyes scanned over the tops of the newcomers' heads, russet and dark brown and gold. I blinked. There were only three.
"That's why we're here, sir," the boy, Peter, explained. "We need your help."
"We had a little bit of trouble along the way," the dark haired girl – I wasn't sure if it was Susan or Lucy – added.
"Our brother's been captured by the White Witch."
The entire camp collectively gasped. Geraint sighed behind me. Rhydian's face fell. I felt sick.
"Captured?" Aslan repeated. "How could this happen?"
One of the Beavers stepped up. "He... betrayed them, Your Majesty."
A disturbed murmur echoed through the camp. My jaw fell open. What?
Oreius's eyes flashed. "Then he has betrayed us all!" he thundered.
"Peace, Oreius," Aslan cut in, a hint of a Lion's roar in his throat. "I'm sure there's an explanation."
I saw Peter's shoulders sag. "It's my fault, really," he said remorsefully. "I was too hard on him."
The dark-haired girl laid a hand on his shoulder. "We all were."
"Sir," the younger of the two girls begged. "He's our brother."
"I know, dear one," Aslan commiserated. "But that only makes the betrayal all the worse."
Hot fear spread from my chest, flushing my face and singing the tips of my fingers. I felt Geraint's hands on my shoulders. We exchanged worried glances and looked ahead.
Aslan bowed his head. "This may be harder than you think."
Geraint blew out a steady breath. Rhydian held his face in his hands. They both looked frightened, and even though I was, too, I steadily felt angrier.
"Harder?" I whispered. "He's Aslan. He can do anything. Why would it be so hard for him? The Witch already fears him. If I'm honest, sometimes I do, too, because of her. But—" I stopped myself.
Geraint sighed. "We'll see," he said slowly.
A new thought rose into my mind. "But... when the fourth does come back..." I sighed. "Geraint, what if they don't accept him? You saw how they reacted to us. It took us years to gain their trust! The Witch's army grows every day. We don't have that long!"
"Peace," Geraint hushed. "We were defectors. He's been seduced. There's a large difference, Renn."
I shook my head. "But—"
"Speak no more of it, little sister," Geraint soothed. "If Aslan can forgive us, he can forgive anyone."
I knew he was right. As far as the Narnians were concerned, my brothers and I were the most black-hearted beings that could have existed, right under our mother. It had taken them a long time, but they treated us as some of their own now. They hadn't been waiting for us. They had been, however, waiting for them, waiting for him. We were a few extra sets of hands, but him?
Their salvation – our salvation – rested on his shoulders.
We needed him too badly for them not to forgive him.
Since I was very young, I'd been cursed with shyness. Rhydian and Geraint, on the other hand, definitely had not been.
Introductions had never been a real skill of mine – they still aren't – though I thoroughly chastised myself for dragging so far behind them. We made our way through the camp in a line, Rhydian and Geraint taking up the front with me nervously edging up behind him.
Rhydian carefully stepped behind a large tent that sat by the river, where the three newcomers sat, quietly conversing amongst themselves. The youngest of the three – the girl with short, red hair – smiled up at us.
"Hello, there," she greeted cheerfully, standing. Now that I could see her face, I realized that she was only a year or two younger than I was.
Rhydian inclined his head, trying with everything in him to stand on ceremony. "Welcome, Your Majesties," he started. "Comfortable?"
The girl grinned. "Most," she assured. "Your friends have been nothing but lovely to us since the minute we arrived." She eyed him for a second. "What's your name?"
Rhydian smiled. "I'm Rhydian. This is my brother Geraint, and our sister, Renn. If we are to serve under you, I deemed it fit to come and introduce ourselves."
"Pleased to meet you," the girl responded, still smiling warmly. "I'm Lucy Pevensie."
So the younger of the two girls was Lucy, and the older was Susan. And their brother's name was Peter. I wondered what they called the fourth.
Lucy stretched out her hand to Rhydian, and all three of us stared at if for a second.
"Oh," Lucy laughed, a hint of I've-been-here-before etched into to the little laugh that escaped her lips. "You shake it. I wish I could tell you why, but..." Her voice trailed off, and her brow furrowed. "No one ever told me."
Rhydian grinned, clasping her tiny hand in his large, calloused one and giving it a firm squeeze. "We're honored to finally have you among us."
Lucy smiled. "Come, sit. We've got plenty of food." She turned around, the skirt on her new, sky blue dress ruffling around her ankles. "This is Susan, and this is Peter."
"Hello," they greeted in unison, both of them smiling a little as they stood.
Rhydian and Geraint acclimated almost immediately, asking about the journey and swapping stories with Peter and Susan. I was content to sit and watch for a moment. Rhydian tested Peter's sword, drawing it from its sheath and swinging it around in the air in front of him. A smile split his face.
"This is a good sword," he said, a calloused hand holding the hilt back to its owner. "Well-balanced. It will have a strong bite, no doubt."
Peter silently nodded, returning the weapon to its sheath. I couldn't help but notice he looked a little uncomfortable.
"I guess we'll see, won't we?" he said.
Rhydian smiled. "Once we've taught you to properly wield it. Oreius will take care of that. He taught me to handle a sword, and Geraint how to shoot. He's as proficient as he is wise. You'll like him."
Susan turned to Geraint. "You're an archer?" she asked.
Geraint nodded. "I am."
"And a deadly one, at that." Rhydian affirmed, clapping Geraint on the back. "Could hit a bird's eye in the dark. While on the back of a moving horse."
Geraint, ever modest, rolled his eyes and scoffed, grinning at his toes. He nodded towards Susan's ivory quiver, which leaned up against the side of the tent. "Is that yours?" he asked.
Susan nodded. "I hope I don't have to use it."
Geraint sighed. "So do I." He nimbly stepped across the grass, sitting down beside her. "But, just in case you had to, I could show you a few things, if you like. It's not so hard, once you get the hang of it. And you look to be just the person for it."
Susan slowly smiled. "Thanks," she said.
The other five talked on, swapping stories of their journeys. Still content just to sit and listen to them, I started to notice different things about them. Peter looked to be about Rhydian's age, maybe a half a year younger, while Susan was closer to Geraint's. Peter seemed to be about as stalwart as they came, Susan as smart, and Lucy as kind. I'd barely said anything to them – I found myself at a sickeningly shy loss for words – and I already liked them.
Though, the more I took in, the more I found myself wondering what the fourth would be like, once we found him. Was he fair-haired like Peter and Lucy, or dark-haired like Susan? Was he more prone to thinking out loud or carefully reaching a conclusion before he could let himself talk? What skills did he have? How old was he? What was his name? Was he even—
My stomach suddenly flipped.
Was he even still alive to answer all those questions? I certainly hoped he was.
"Well, what about you, Renn?" Lucy asked, pulling me from my thoughts. "What do you do?"
I stared at her for a second, blinking. "I'm sorry?"
"Rhydian's a swordsman; Geraint's an archer. But we haven't heard anything about you."
"Oh," I said, slightly embarrassed. "I'm a healer of sorts. I've not done too much yet."
Lucy nodded, smiling. "Then we'll learn together." She pulled a small bottle from her belt, gently placing it into my hand. "That cordial can heal anything, though I think it ought to be saved for special occasions. I don't want to waste it on something small."
I smiled a little bit. "I'll have to introduce you to Bronwyn sometime. She's taught me everything I know so far."
"I'd like that."
My smile widened a little bit. "First chance I get."
"Peter," a voice gently called from behind us.
We all turned, and Aslan stood by the riverbank, gently looking up at us.
"Will you join me for a moment?" he asked.
Peter nodded, standing as his fingers traced over his sword hilt. The two rounded the corner of the tent, heading up towards the cliffside.
Rhydian sighed, also standing. "Well, brother," he said. "I've got a few more fights to throw in before the sun sets, and I know you're marks to hit. We should probably be heading out."
Geraint nodded, unfolding his long legs and rising. "It's been a pleasure and an honor, Your Majesties," he said, slinging his quiver onto his back. "I've got to go get in some more practice." He smiled and inclined his head slightly. "I'll see you soon."
"Are you going, too, Renn?" Lucy asked.
I shook my head. "I'll keep you company for a while," I said, strength coming into my voice as I gained confidence.
Lucy grinned. "Well good, then," she said warmly, shuffling around to sit next to me as Susan stood and watched my brothers leave.
"I'll have to tell you about Edmund."
Chapter 11: After Him
Chapter 11: After Him
So that was his name.
As Lucy took the time to describe her brother – apparently he was older than her but younger than Peter and Susan and had enough dry wit for fifty people twice his size – I, in turn, discovered something about her. Her heart was tremendous, even for someone so young. She had already forgiven Edmund for what had transpired. Now, she only wished to see him again. This put my worries at ease, if only a little bit.
If his own flesh and blood could forgive him so quickly, why should the rest of the camp have any trouble?
For roughly an hour Lucy and I sat, swapping stories of our families and adventures. I spoke of Rhydian's strength and of Geraint's quiet resolve, of the wolf in the camp and of the day that everything suddenly grew warmer, and Lucy intently listened, enjoying every second of it.
I purposely darted around the subject of our parentage. If Lucy and the others found out who Rhydian, Geraint, and I really were, I didn't like to imagine how they would react. I'd just made friends out of them. I didn't want to lose them. So I kept my mouth shut, wishing I didn't have to resolve to such deliberate concealment.
Rhydian and Geraint – ever efficient in the art of war and rescue – had come back through our section of camp, on their way to meet Oreius about tracking down the enemy camp.
"If you want anyone here going in to get Edmund," I said, a proud smile splitting my face as Lucy stood and neared the riverbank just as they left. "It's them. They're very good at what they do. They'll have him back safely soon enough."
Lucy smiled, nodding. Though I could tell she did not doubt my words, she was still worried, and rightly so. I tried to put myself in her position. If Rhydian or Geraint had been captured by the Witch, I would be terrified, too, for good reason. Aslan only knew what she could have done to either one of them. I blew out a quick sigh, shuddering as if to shake out the thoughts of icy torture that marched through my head.
Susan thoughtfully gazed out at the water in front of her, Lucy standing just behind her. She watched her sister for a moment, the starts of a smile brightening her face.
"You look like Mum," she said.
Susan turned, smiling a bit ruefully. "Mum hasn't had a dress like this since before the war."
My eyes bugged. They were fighting a war at home, too?
Lucy's face lit up. "We should bring her one back," she declared. "A whole trunk full!"
Susan's face darkened. "If we ever get back."
From where I was sitting, I saw Lucy's shoulders slump. She hung her head a little.
Susan sighed. "I'm sorry I'm like that," she said, pursing her lips together in a sad, apologetic smile as she turned to face her sister. "We used to have fun together, didn't we?"
"Yes," Lucy reminisced. "Before you got boring!"
I chuckled to myself as Lucy's laughter pealed across the river bank.
Susan eyed her mischievously. "Oh, really?"
The smile on Susan's face widened, and she stooped down towards the water, smacking her hand through it and giving Lucy a good splash. Lucy screamed from surprise, quickly retaliating a chortling Susan with her own, much bigger barrage of water. Susan recoiled, and Lucy laughed triumphantly. I took a few steps forward as I watched them, and all three of us giggled uncontrollably as Susan and Lucy waded through the water and up the bank. Susan reached for a towel, a smile still tugging at the corners of her mouth. I looked on, laughing to myself as she pulled it down.
She suddenly jumped and screamed, backing up with wide eyes. Something growled. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I shot to my feet.
I'd know that noise anywhere.
"Please don't try to run," Maugrim snarled, slinking out into view with the rest of the Secret Police at his back. "We're tired, and we'd prefer to kill you quickly."
His amber eyes bored into his prey, and the momentarily rolled towards me. I froze.
Susan glanced at her quiver, which I now noticed had a beautiful ivory horn slung around a post next to it, and hit Maugrim across the face as hard as she could with the towel in her hand. One moment she and Lucy were scrambling up the bank towards the tent; the next, Susan wrapped her fingers around the horn's base and gave it a few desperate, trumpeting blows through.
"Susan!" Lucy called, ducking around one of the Wolves and hastily climbing a tree.
Her blue eyes darting back and forth between the Wolves and the tree that Lucy was sitting in, Susan bolted past the Wolves and grabbed onto one of the branches, swinging herself up next to her sister. With muted horror I looked on as they surrounded the base of the tree, growling and snapping at the two girls' dangling feet.
Maurgrim sharply turned and faced me, baring his teeth and snarling.
"Oh, my," he growled, angry laughter shaking his voice. "Your mother is not going to be pleased when she hears about this."
My heart fell to my toes, and I glanced towards the tree where Susan and Lucy were. They were far too preoccupied to have heard him.
"What, Renn?" Maugrim taunted. "Still too weak to defend yourself? It's been three years, girl. If you're not able to fight by now, you're just dead weight."
My face burned.
"Come on, princess. Make your move before I make mine."
I turned around and ran, pelting into the camp as absolutely fast as my legs would carry me. My eyes caught Rhydian stepping out of a tent, stopping to talk with Darien as Flynn and Geraint came up behind him. I sped towards them.
"Rhydian!" I breathlessly shouted.
I must have looked as terrified as I felt, because before I was even half way to him, he was running to meet me.
"What is it?" he asked, his brow furrowed.
I looked over his shoulder just in time to see Peter tearing across the camp, rounding a corner and drawing his sword.
"Renn?" Geraint tried. "Come on, what's wrong?"
"I..." I breathed. "Susan... Lucy... tree... Wolves... Maugrim—"
"Maugrim?" Rhydian shouted. "Where?"
I pointed with a shaking hand in the direction of the tree. Several other soldiers, including Oreius, had already brandished weapons and were running towards the fight.
Without another word, Rhydian drew his sword and pelted after Oreius. Geraint followed suit, ripping and arrow from his quiver and deftly fitting it into his bow as he swung himself up into the saddle. Darien charged forwards, kicking up a little bit of dirt as he galloped towards the fight.
Flynn drew his dagger and held out the hilt to me. I eyed it hesitantly.
"Well don't just stand there," he said, pushing the weapon into my hand. "They'll need all the help they can get!"
With that he shot off in the direction that I had indicated, and I ran after him. I thought I would find a full-out skirmish. That wasn't what I got.
Aslan, who held one of the Wolves under his paw, stood by Oreius's side, and Rhydian by him. The Centaur held his sword out in front of the ranks in restraint. I froze.
Why was he holding them back? Maugrim and his horde were hopelessly outnumbered. Why didn't he let them charge in and end it?
Peter stood between Maugrim and the tree, pointing his sword directly at the Wolf as he stalked back and forth in front of him. His eyes were wide; his hands were shaking. It was clear he was petrified, but nonetheless he stalwartly stood his ground.
Maugrim sneered. "You may think you're a King," he growled. His haunches tightened and his weight shifted to his back legs. "But you're going to die. Like a dog!"
He sprung into the air, bringing his full weight crashing down on top of Peter. His teeth snapped at the young man's neck, and they tumbled to the ground in a heap.
"Peter!" Susan and Lucy cried in unison, jumping down from their perch and falling to their knees beside their brother. Peter stirred; Maugrim lie perfectly still.
I took a hesitant step forwards, gaping. Was Maugrim dead?
Susan rolled the Wolf's limp body to the side, tears filling her eyes as her brother shakily sat up. My mouth fell open.
Maugrim was dead. Peter had done it.
I smiled ironically. Mother wasn't going to be pleased when she heard about this.
Peter glanced between his sisters, and they nearly knocked him down, throwing their arms around him. Peter, dumbstruck at what he had just done, stared at the ground in front of him, gaping as he returned his sisters' embrace.
With a muted growl, Aslan lifted his paw and freed the Wolf he was holding, sending it yelping away into the woods.
"After him," the Lion ordered, looking to Oreius and Rhydian. "He will lead you to Edmund."
Geraint shifted in the saddle, freeing his foot from the stirrup and offering a hand to Rhydian, who in turn swung up behind him. Oreius nodded, and the party charged into the woods. I chased after them for a little bit, the gravity of the situation weighing heavily on my heart as I watched them disappear. My pounding heart climbed up my throat.
If they couldn't bring Edmund back – if they failed their most important mission – then what would we do?
Chapter 12: The Second Son of Adam
Chapter 12: The Second Son of Adam
Patience had never been one of my strongest suits. Keeping it whilst waiting for my brothers' return from what could have been – no, what was – their most dangerous mission to date was next to impossible. Every several minutes I poked my head around the corner of the healers' tent, watching for movement in the trees. For the pounding of hooves against the grass. Every time I came back disappointed.
Bronwyn smiled at me as I came back inside. Though she was also worried, the sparkle in her dark eyes failed to show it.
"Did you see anything?" she asked, very well knowing the answer.
I shook my head. "The sun set long ago," I said, frowning. "Is it supposed to take this long?"
Bronwyn sighed. "I don't know. But your brothers – as well as mine – are swift fighters. This is what they have spent so long training for. They'll be back soon."
The air in her voice made her sound as if she were trying to convince herself of her own words. Silence claimed the tent. I took a few steps forward.
"My father is away at war, too," Lucy, who had come with me, suddenly said. "When I get scared for him, I think about what I like about him best. Or things we've done together that were fun. It makes him seem a bit closer." She smiled at me. "For example, since I've been so worried for Edmund, I've reminded myself about how smart he is. He's quite the strategist. I've never once seen him outwitted, and that gives me hope that he will be alright."
I nodded, taking her advice. I started to think of everything I loved about Rhydian and Geraint.
"My brothers are both brave," I started hesitantly. "And strong. Rhydian gives the best hugs; Geraint is slow to anger and calm."
A smile slowly formed on my face. Already I began to feel a little better. Lucy grinned.
"Both of them are wise," I went on, more comfortable. "I feel as though I can ask them about anything and they'll have an answer. They'll also lend an ear to anyone who needs one. Geraint especially can make anyone feel at ease with him and themselves. He's the most level-headed person I know." I suddenly laughed. "If there's anyone out of the three of us who comes close to having Mother's temper, it's not him…."
My eyes suddenly bugged a bit as I realized what I had just said. Bronwyn tensed. Lucy's brow furrowed.
I looked at her, hoping my face didn't betray my apprehension.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes," I replied quickly. "Quite. I—" I paused as I fumbled with an excuse "—I simply forgot what I was saying. That's all."
To my relief, Lucy believed me.
"That's alright," she said. "We all do from time to time."
"But it's as you said, Renn," Lucy went on, standing and walking across the room towards me. She put a small hand on my shoulder. "They are both strong and wise. They will be alright; I'm certain of it."
How she was able to console me of my troubles while carrying a considerable burden of her own still baffles me to this day. I offered a small smile to her, in awe of her strength and, more acutely, her faith that all would be well.
I could only hope that she was right.
Night passed slowly. Alone in our big tent, I found it next to impossible to sleep. The quiet gnawed on my anxious heart. Would I hear hoof beats and the clank of armor within the next minute? The next hour?
Would I hear it at all?
I frowned. Without Rhydian's reassuring smile or Geraint's gentle pat on the back to cajole me, it was hard to keep a positive mind. A trickle of moonlight streamed through the crack in the tent flap, brightening the dark shadow of the tent to a soft grey.
The silhouettes of two empty hammocks swung in the light breeze. A knot formed in my stomach. Drawing in a forceful sigh, I turned away from them, afraid that if I eyed them for too long, I would lose my mind.
Again I took Lucy's advice and tried to distract myself with happier memories. I thought of the first night after we ran, all those years ago. Of Rhydian and Geraint attempting to build a fire; of Rhydian attempting to light it with the small ounce of magic he possessed and failing spectacularly. The smell of the smoke, the echo of Rhydian's surprised yelp, the steam wafting up around him as he shoved his smoldering hands far beneath the snow. It brought a smile to my face.
That had been so long ago. If we'd only known how far we would come, of who and what we would see in the coming years. Had a messenger been sent to tell us of all we would accomplish, we would have thought him crazy.
Something moved outside, casting a shadow onto the tent, but I was too preoccupied to care. Shutting my eyes, I tried to will myself to sleep, but to no avail. After another hour of fighting, I finally began to drift off.
Suddenly the ground around me shook. People outside began shouting. Armor clanked, and I sprang to my feet.
They were back.
As fast as I could, I sprinted out into the main camp. The moon had set; the light in the sky proclaimed the sun would soon be taking its place. Rounding around the corner of a large tent, I ran to meet the tracking party as they slowed on the green. A grin burst across my face when I spotted my brothers.
"Rhydian!" I cried. "Geraint!"
Pushing through the throng, I flew to their sides. Both of them were bruised and covered in dirt and smelled of sweat and blood. Their faces, however, shone like new stars in a dark sky. Hope drowned out any traces of exhaustion.
"We found him," Geraint replied softly, a smile on his lips. "He was in the middle of the camp, tied to a tree. Oreius took him." He snickered. "Rhydian vacated his old spot with the Dwarf."
Rhydian smirked proudly. "Pinned his hat to the bark with his dagger, just to add to the mortification."
I laughed. The image I harbored in my head of the Dwarf scrambling under his new bonds – of the look on the Witch's face when she found her puppet – was nothing short of satisfying. Smiling, I threw my arms around my brothers' necks, happy they were both alive.
Hooves pounded into the ground behind us. Bronwyn sped down the path, drawing herself to a sharp halt.
"The Son of Adam," she said, winded. "Where is he? Is he alright?"
The crowd parted, and Oreius came to his sister, the rescued prisoner in question limp in his arms. Other than deep circles under his eyes and a good cut on his lip, he was not hurt, much to the Centaur's relief. Oreius gently passed him to her, careful not to jostle him.
Bronwyn looked over her shoulder at me. "Come with me, Renn," she instructed, starting off at a brisk walk towards an empty tent. "We'll make him comfortable. But I want you to stay and watch over him. If anything should happen, send for me."
Morning came, and with it a blanket of soft, golden light. As Bronwyn told me to, I stayed by Edmund's side as he slept, watching him for any signs of complications. A good part of the color had come back to his fair-skinned face in the time that he had been back. Aside from being exhausted, nothing seemed to be wrong.
Finding nothing else to do, I studied the boy's face. The shadow of the tent made it hard to distinguish any of his features, aside from his jet-black hair. He seemed to be about my age. I thought I saw freckles dotted across his nose and cheeks. Not for the first time, I found myself wondering what color his eyes were. I expected them to be bright, like his siblings'.
A gentle breeze blew through the tent, blowing a piece of Edmund's hair into his face. Gingery I reached out to smooth it back into place.
The second my fingers touched him, his eyes snapped open as he snatched my hand away. His breath was labored, having been winded by panic.
"It's alright," I said softly. "You're in Aslan's camp. You're safe now."
Edmund's eyes darted around the room as he calmed down. "She's gone?"
I smiled and nodded.
Edmund blew out a sigh of relief. Stiffly he sat up, standing and facing the tent flaps. He was about my height, I noted.
"I've someone I need to find," he said, fatigue scratching at his voice. "Well… three someones. My brother and my sisters. You wouldn't know where to find them, would you?"
"They're across the way," I replied. "Most likely still asleep."
"I don't think I'll disturb them, then." A brief smile quirked on Edmund's lips as he pulled at the tent flaps. "Caused enough trouble already. Though I could stand some fresh air."
Carefully he stepped out into the sunlight, his back to me as he surveyed the camp for the first time. "But just for future reference," he started, turning around to face me. "Where are their…"
Our eyes met, and for whatever reason of nature, I suddenly found it hard to breathe.
Edmund's eyes weren't the bright, striking orbs I imagined they'd be. They were dark and deep, the golden morning light catching the brown in his irises and softening his gaze. It was mesmerizing.
There had to have been something in the morning air that addled both of our brains, I surmised. Neither of us found in us the ability to speak.
"Um…." he tried again, shoving his hands into his pockets. "You said… did you—"
"They're behind you," I replied, still inexplicably breathless. "The… their tents. They…. They're—" I gestured over his shoulder with my index finger.
My heart was pounding. My palms were sweating. Was I sick?
"Oh," Edmund nodded, smiling a bit. "Thanks." He took a step towards me, his brow knitting as he searched my face. "What's your name?"
From behind me, I heard Rhydian and Geraint round the corner, suddenly ceasing their conversation to watch ours. I must have looked rather ill, because both of they murmured back and forth between themselves.
But if I looked that bad, why were they smiling?
"Renn," I managed, feeling color rise to my cheeks.
I had always been shy, but this timidity was different. I couldn't explain it, but it almost felt… warmer. Sweeter.
"I'm Edmund," the Son of Adam replied, seemingly struck with the same strange illness I had abruptly come down with. Suddenly he smiled, which in turn made a grin shoot across my face.
I didn't know what it was, but there was something about him that made it impossible for me to lower my gaze. Though there were others around – my brothers still stood several paces behind me, beaming – I was oblivious to their presence.
An entire world moved past me, though at the moment, Edmund seemed to be the only one in it. We were both stuck in the same trance, unmoving but too bewildered by the strange spell that had befallen us to move or speak.
"Edmund?" a deep, familiar voice tugged us back to reality. The Lion padded through the grass towards us, a warmth that I had never seen before resting in his eyes.
I could not describe the look on Edmund's face when he saw who was approaching, but I knew I would never forget it.
"Aslan," he breathed.
"My child," Aslan softly replied as he came up alongside Edmund. "Would you walk with me? We have much to discuss."
I knew what Aslan meant, but there was no condemnation in his voice. Only a warm, all-encompassing love, one that I could tell had struck Edmund straight to his core. Gently I smiled at him. Slowly he nodded, hanging his head.
Aslan's eyes smiled. "Come," he gently directed, turning towards the top of a nearby cliff.
Edmund trepidly came towards the Lion, unable to meet his gaze. Aslan softly spoke to him, reassuring him as they slowly padded off into the distance. Briefly Edmund looked over his shoulder and offered a sad smile of thanks, and I returned it, hoping it gave him some small measure of comfort.
After all, Geraint had been right.
If Aslan could forgive us, he could forgive anyone.
Chapter 13: Covered Tracks
Chapter 13: Covered Tracks
I didn't see Edmund again until well into the afternoon. Whatever he had discussed with Aslan had clearly had some sort of affect on him, and I would not come to know the fullness of it until many years later. Though I barely knew the boy, I could tell he had changed somewhat; the burden that nearly suffocated him when he had awoken had all but melted away, taken by the warmth in the Lion's eyes, the steadiness in his voice, the forgiveness that whispered from his every breath like a fresh spring wind between two hills. Even the light in his eyes had changed, and those eyes, I was certain, would never look back. Under the cloak of Aslan's protection, Edmund knew he was safe.
He was quiet, I found. Far quieter than any of his siblings, though the trouble he had been through may have silenced him for the time being. I sincerely hoped that the Witch had not done anything too terrible to him. I wanted the full story from him. I wanted it desperately, though something strongly told my young heart to wait. That now was certainly not the time.
That there might never be a time.
I hadn't grasped it yet, but some things are only meant for Aslan's ears only. I forced the question out of my mind.
Seeing the four of them finally together was a relief. Peter and Lucy and Susan wasted no time in recounting their adventures, of how the Wolves had nearly run them down at Beaversdam, of how far they'd travelled, of how they had come across their peculiar gifts and of how they finally found our camp. It was all quite a bit for Edmund to take in.
"Seems like I missed quite the adventure," he said, the smile on his face tainted with regret. Lucy put a reassuring hand on his arm.
"It's all behind us now, Ed," she reminded. "Don't forget that."
Edmund nodded, opening himself up again to the refreshment of that truth like salve on a burn. The guilt in his eyes softened; the starts of a smile tugged at his cracked lips as we - Edmund and his siblings, my brothers, and I - rounded the corner, where a small table and cushions had been laid out for us. Edmund's face lit up.
"Food," I heard him whisper, and I couldn't help but grin. Lucy laughed.
Soon we'd all piled in around the table, passing back and forth fruits and toast and cheese. Edmund was clearly glad to see it all, and I was glad for him. I had at least an inkling of what he'd been through threaded together in my mind from my own experience, and I was relieved it was all over.
My brothers and I told them everything about Narnia that we could. Their curiosity and excitement was contagious. Soon we all felt it, even those of us doing the explaining.
"...and the Dryads are the ones who live in the trees," I found myself gushing. "They sing. The whole forest sings!"
Rhydian chuckled. "None of us had ever seen them before the springtime."
Lucy's brow furrowed. "This would be your first one, wouldn't it?"
Geraint nodded. "It's good to know the world's more colors that white. Though I must say, this warm air has been something to get used to."
"It won't stay forever," Susan put in. "Though it will get hotter before it gets colder again."
Lucy suddenly gasped. "And when it's cold again, you'll have your first Christmas!"
Geraint and I exchanged glanced.
"Our..." I started. "Our first what?"
Lucy looked honestly heartbroken. "You don't know what Christmas is?"
We all shook our heads.
"I suppose the Witch wouldn't have told any of you who hadn't had one before. How terribly sad," Lucy thought out loud. "It's... well, it's a lot to explain. You eat a big meal and give each other presents - which is my favorite part - and you... you celebrate. People back home celebrate lots of things."
I started to smile. "That sounds wonderful."
Lucy giggled. "I'm not doing it justice at all, I'm afraid. But it is! It truly is."
"Now that Aslan is here, we can see for ourselves when the time comes." I grinned widely. "Perhaps that's what we Narnians will use it for. To celebrate his coming, and how he and you have saved us all."
"They've not done it just yet, Renn," Rhydian said.
"But they will, brother. It is so close I can taste it!"
Rhydian laughed and ruffled my hair. "At long last."
From where he was standing, Peter shifted a bit uncomfortably. I wondered if I was the only one who noticed.
"It's been so long, it's almost as if I thought these days would never come. Yet here they are." I caught Peter's golden sword hilt glinting in the sunlight. "And her's are numbered."
"Finally," Geraint added. "It has been such a long road."
Susan's brow furrowed. "Where do you three come from, then?"
All three of us froze, and none of us knew how to answer. If to answer.
"You can't be from our world," she went on. "Something's not quite right. If you don't mind my asking... what are you?"
Every alarm inside my head screamed at once. I looked to Rhydian as he fumbled for an answer.
"Our people came from another country, a very long time ago," he said slowly, carefully choosing his words. "That world is dead, along with most of those of our race. We... we are the only ones left. Save... save one."
The question in Susan's eyes - in all of their faces - egged Rhydian on.
"Sorcerers and sorceresses, they mostly were. Of both good and evil... but mostly of the latter, I'm afraid. None of us-"
he waved between himself, our brother and I "-are any good with the Deep Magic, though Renn's by far the most inclined out of the three of us and our father drew on it quite a bit."
"Like the Witch," Edmund said blankly.
I swallowed hard.
They did not need to know. Eventually, of course they had to. But not now, when we'd all just met and started to become friends!
Geraint nodded solemnly. "I suppose so."
"Though the Deep Magic is not all bad, not at all," I barged in, feeling like I had to defend myself. "It bends to Aslan's wishes far faster than to the Witch's, both the good and the bad of it. Though the Witch can only use the bad." My jaw set. "Which is why she'll fall."
Edmund raised his eyes back to us, and the words that came out of his mouth froze me over with fear:
"You look like her."
He looked back and forth between us, his dark eyes growing a bit.
"You all do."
"Funny coincidence," I blurted quickly, my legs shooting out in front of me as I prepared to jump to my feet. A terrible way to hold one's own in an argument, but I knew no better at the time. "Come on, Geraint, didn't you say you wanted to-"
"All of our people look very much like us," Geraint cut me off, coolly covering our tracks once again like brambles filling in snow-prints as he gently grabbed my wrist and tugged me back down. "Regrettably ours have served both good and evil, and the Witch happens to... well, that much is obvious."
"Though the same can't be said for you all, of course," Edmund came in slowly. He still sounded unsure, though it was better than nothing. "Aslan would not have you here otherwise."
"No," Lucy agreed almost instantly. "He wouldn't."
In her mind - in all of their minds, it seemed - the matter was settled. Edmund remained leery for a few more drastically long seconds before snatching up a piece of toast, quickly followed by another. It seemed his appetite was really beginning to catch up with him. Lucy smiled.
"Narnia's not going to run out of toast, Ed," she giggled. A smile of his own eased across his face, and upon seeing it I began to relax again.
Peter shifted against the rock he'd been standing against. "I'm sure they'll pack something up for the journey back," he said, the stiffness in his voice announcing that his next words might not be well-recieved. All three of his siblings recoiled. I felt my heart drop a bit.
My hope hadn't been misplaced... had it?
"We're going home?" Susan pushed back.
"You are," Peter replied, looking at the ground and shuffling his feet a bit as he came towards them. As he sat, he raised his chin and tried to put more authority in his voice. "I promised Mum I'd keep you three safe." His eyes shifted to Rhydian, who had protest written all over his confused face. "But that doesn't mean that I can't stay behind and help."
"They need us," Lucy insisted, mirroring my thoughts exactly. I was finding we thought quite similarly. "All four of us!"
"Lucy, it's too dangerous." Peter almost reminded me of Father in that moment, reprimanding my brothers and I for wanting to help him once we found what he had been doing. "You almost drowned. Edmund was almost killed-"
"Which is why we have to stay."
To say that Peter - that all of us - were taken aback when Edmund spoke would be an understatement.
"I've seen what the White Witch can do," he went on, quietly, resolutely defending his case. "And I've helped her do it."
He looked at each of his siblings, pausing a bit longer on Peter than the rest of them before his words caught up with the calm, stubborn fire in his eyes.
"And we can't leave these people behind to suffer for it."
No sooner did the sentence leave his mouth did the atmosphere change. The scowl that had begun to set into Peter's features lifted into the starts of a smile. Geraint and Susan exchanged glances. Proudly, Lucy took her brother's hand. I grinned.
He certainly was brave, almost recklessly brave to suggest such a thing. He caught my eye and my heart rammed hard in my chest. That strange... sickness from earlier was coming back. I felt my cheeks flush and prayed to the Lion neither of my brothers noticed.
I'd heard Geraint say something about having that talk with me. I didn't know what it was, or why the notion of it made me uncomfortable, but it did.
"Well I suppose that's just it, then," Susan said, standing and firmly walking across the grass.
"Where are you going?" Peter asked.
Susan turned over her shoulder and smiled at him, stooping and picking up her ivory quiver. "To get in some practice." She took several steps forward; she nearly cleared the hilltop before she turned on her heel and looked back expectantly, past both of her brothers and me.
"Aren't you coming, Geraint?"
My brother stared at her for a few seconds before the fullness of her request sank in. "Oh!" he exclaimed, a grin shooting across his face. I swore he was blushing a little. "Y-yes, of course."
He scrambled to his feet and nearly jogged to her side. Rhydian burst out laughing. Peter and Edmund exchanged amused glances.
"You might want to go with him, Renn," Rhydian caught his breath. "Just to make sure he doesn't trip over his own feet."
I looked at him, perplexed. "Why would he... it's just Susa-oh."
Rhydian cocked an eyebrow at me. I scrambled to my feet, trying to bite back a laugh of my own as I hurried after them.
"Wait for me!" Lucy cried, catching up to my comparably long strides on her little legs. I could hear Rhydian and Peter both laughing as we scurried off. Once I reached the top of the hill, I looked back over my shoulder at them. Peter was picking up his sword, and even from that distance I could see the excitement and anxiousness in his eyes as he wrapped his fingers around the leather sheath. Rhydian handed Edmund one that I realized he'd been keeping just for that occasion, and he stepped back as Edmund drew it and stared at it for the first time.
Again I found I couldn't tear my eyes away from him. Sword still in his hand, he caught my gaze and offered a reserved smile, and I felt one of my own slip across my face. That was the first time I ever saw him do that - neither of us have ever forgotten this - and it certainly would not be the last.
"Renn!" Lucy called.
Shaken from my stupor, I waved a quick goodbye before catching up with Lucy, and together we headed for the archery range.
Geraint again proved to be an excellent teacher, and Susan was an apt pupil. After he'd shown her how to notch the shaft and draw the bow back, he helped her find her aim and stepped back. He hadn't stopped grinning.
Taking the whole thing in careful stride, Susan held her position for a while as she stared down the target. With a thwack she let the arrow fly, and it plunged deep into the canvas not terribly far from the bullseye. Lucy gasped. Geraint grinned.
"Good shot!" he exclaimed, clearly surprised. "My first was nowhere near that good," he added with a chuckle. "Draw back another; let's see if we can get even closer-"
Metal sang through the air, and the next second Lucy's dagger had plunged into the heart of the bullseye. The sisters exchanged glances and giggled. Geraint's jaw dropped, and he and I looked at each other, chuckling astonishedly. Lucy shrugged, an "I-meant-to-do-that" gleam sparkling in her eyes.
A horse's whinny pealed across the camp, followed by the thunder of galloping hooves, and we all looked up. Massive smiles stretched across both their faces, Peter and Edmund charged over the top of the hill. A lot of me wondered if either of them had ever ridden before now. Their mounts - a chestnut Horse that I had seen around camp a few times and a white Unicorn - slowed to almost a stop as the two began to practice a bit of sparring.
"Come on, Ed!" Peter teased. "Keep your sword tip up, like Oreius showed us!"
They both went on, and to my eyes it looked like both of them - but especially Edmund - had been born with swords in their hands. I truly didn't know what to make of it, and to this day Edmund and I both laugh at how I gawked like a fish out of water watching them. Watching him, to be more precise.
But our happiness would be short-lived.
"Peter!" I heard a voice call. "Edmund!"
The Horse Edmund was on started and reared, but Edmund sat it out quite well. Soon the voice's owner - one of the Beavers that had brought Peter and Lucy and Susan to us - sped into view. His eyes were wide; he panted as if he'd run miles. Had he not had such thick brown fur across his face, I was sure it would have been flushed.
"The Witch has demanded a meeting with Aslan. She's on her way here!"