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Yet Did Not Stay Her Hand

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“You must look less troubled,” said Edmund, “for our lives may depend on you seeming heartless. At least,” he added as he touched the wide iron band around his throat, “heartless to me.”

Lucy agreed with him, but it was horribly hard for her to look at Edmund as he was now. Her brother, who when in Cair Paravel wore a crown cast from the same mold as her own, was now stripped of any markings of a king of Narnia or even a free man of any nation.

As well as the heavy iron collar—and Lucy could already see that it chafed him badly—he wore the undyed silk tunic and breeches common to slaves in this part of the world. He was not allowed boots or sandals or shoes of any kind—and had not been since they had disembarked and begun this ruse. The path to the manor was burningly hot sand strewn with sharp-edged rocks, and Edmund’s feet were already blistered and bruised. But he could not rest. Even now that they were inside and in the privacy of Lucy’s room, she could not tend his hurts. Not when there was a risk someone might notice. No noble of Itrea would trust a lady who coddled a slave.

And for all they needed to foster trade, the people of Itrea were most suspicious of any foreign visitors. They knew the kings and queens of Narnia opposed slavery. Itrea feared that if the Pevensies ever came to this land, they would offer protection and free passage to Narnia to any and all slaves who wished to live free.

And they were right. That was what planned—but Itrea was such a rocky and unnavigable island, made up of caves and stone spires and steep drop-offs, that Lucy and Edmund had decided they had best learn the place first.

They were vastly outnumbered there, and if the rulers of Itrea had sensed their true purpose, they would have been dead before nightfall. So they had chosen a disguise—one that would account for the distinctive lilt of their Narnian accents. Lucy would pose as a selfish, wealthy lady who had left Narnia for Calormen, where she could live as she liked and have as many slaves as pleased her. Edmund would pretend to be one of them—a kidnapped Narnian, specifically, to show how little regard this false Lucy had for her one-time people.

It was a clever trick. It was easier, however, to change Edmund’s clothes than Lucy’s nature. She was too goodhearted and open to ignore any suffering, let alone her brother’s.

But though she couldn’t easily lie, she must do it all the same. This was a campaign, and she must face it squarely, even if it did mean being appalling for a little while.

She calmed herself. “I will try not to mind your poor feet.”

“I can mind them enough for us both, Lu,” Edmund said, with a small smile. He kissed her forehead.

They both heard a knock at the door, and Edmund sank to his knees at once to pretend he’d been there all along. Lucy put her hand against the back of his head, telling herself that it would not look protective in the least: she had already seen the Itreans handle their favorite slaves like dogs.

“Come in,” said Lucy in her clear, ringing voice.

Lord Parrick—their host and one of the high councilors of Itrea—strode inside. He had applied his smile as heavily as he had his scent, and neither could make him pleasant. And despite the lightness of his manner, Lucy saw his dust-pale eyes scour her chamber for any signs of spy-craft. His gaze fixed on the smudges of blood Edmund’s feet had left on the floor.

“Your slave’s feet seem quite raw, my lady,” Parrick said. “As though they were soft as soap until now. Do slaves wear shoes in your household?”

“Certainly not,” Lucy said haughtily. “But my house is full of Calormene rugs so fine you would hardly know you stood on them at all but would instead swear you floated. And Lionel—” for such was what they had agreed to call Edmund, as it was his middle name and so at once familiar and not used enough to be known in these islands—“has hardly been outdoors in all his years of service. I will not be called lax, sir.”

“I beg your pardon, my lady.” Lord Parrick bowed, and the suspicion in his eyes lessened just a little. “I’m more used to slaves who have soles as hard as horn and leather by the time they are ten. But I can see it is a matter of taste.” He cleared his throat. “You said you wished to learn more about Itrea?”

“Yes. My lord husband has a considerable shipping venture. He might help you in transporting your iron ore—for a reasonable exchange—if our interests are alike. But we don’t do business with those we don’t know.”

Lucy’s strategy was excellent, especially since Lord Parrick himself owned a fifth of all the iron mines on Itrea. He became solicitous at once and announced that he would show her around the island.

This was hard on Edmund. He was required to go along with Lucy to hold her parasol and fan, and he could not decide what was worse: the soreness of his feet or the heat and unrelieved sun. He had gone through real battle and countless tournaments without facing anything this grueling, and there was no victory to look forward to, only survival—and, if he had been truly a slave, only survival to face more of the same. It hardened his resolve to do something for the people crushed beneath Itrea’s heel. That was all very well, but Edmund would soon have traded some of that resolve for a little shade and a drink of water.

He consoled himself with thoughts of Narnia, of the cool green sea that touched the eastern wall of Cair Paravel, of the crystalline water in the court fountain, of the cool spring breezes that carried the scent of violets and meadowsweet. But the memories wore thin, and each time he ventured to the fountain in his mind, it seemed drier and drier until it was only parched stone.

Lucy saw how pale Edmund’s face had become beneath the hectic flush brought on by the heat. She fell back behind Lord Parrick, just out of his earshot, and whispered, “I will make him stop.”

“Not for my sake,” said Edmund in an undertone. He shielded his mouth with the fan. “We leave on the morrow, and I can bear anything for a day. Besides, we have to know all we can.”

“Yes, well,” said Lucy, who in times of temper spoke more or less as they had as children, “it’s simply beastly.”

Edmund agreed fervently: “Rotten. But at least the sun’s beginning to set.”

That was all the time they had for private conversation, for as soon as Lord Parrick looked back, Lucy had to pretend she’d been listening to him. Fortunately, Lord Parrick believed he was a very charismatic man. Though cunning enough to wonder if Lucy were a spy, he was not humble enough to tell he had lost her attention.

“Are you tiring, my lady? We will have dinner soon—my slaves are preparing a banquet in your honor, to be served on our arrival. It only remains to show you the cliffs—they are one of the most beautiful spots on Itrea.”

Blast Itrea, Lucy thought; nothing on it was beautiful enough to make up for Edmund tracking blood over the rocks.

Next time, if there was a next time at all, she would pretend to be the slave, and Ed would simply have to put up with it.

But since she could say none of that—and since they were so close to dinner and thus bed and thus their departure the next morning—she only smiled prettily and allowed Lord Parrick to give her his arm.

It is always awful when someone you detest is nonetheless right about something, and so Lucy and Edmund resented Lord Parrick even more after seeing the cliffs of Itrea. It had to be admitted that they were magnificent. The mountains near Narnia and Archenland, though majestic, came up from the ground gently and gradually, in fits and starts, and they were made approachable by wildflowers and their white mantles of snow. They had never seen such a sheer expanse of black rock. The sea had over time polished the cliffs until they shone like great obsidian mirrors. When the sun set, the cliffs held its image as an ember-bright circle, the color of a blood orange, and that fire seemed to linger long after the twilight had set in. Lucy found herself speechless.

“Oh—” she said, meaning to say, “Oh, look at the sun, brother,” but she bit her tongue just in time. “Oh, Lord Parrick, you were right. We have no such sights at home.”

Lord Parrick thought that on Itrea there was not generally such a sight as this lady, for in that moment Lucy looked to her best advantage, with windblown hair and sparkling eyes. But then his mind snapped shut on a word of hers, like the steel teeth of a trap closing around some poor beast’s leg.

“We?” Lord Parrick said.

For a moment Lucy’s mind closed up with panic, but then she said, “My lord husband and I.” She spoke lightly enough that Parrick’s suspicions were once again allayed.

“I admire your fidelity, madam, to speak of him as a companion when he is not here.”

“But he is always with me in spirit, Lord Parrick.”

Lucy found that silly to say—too much treacle—but Parrick only bowed: he had heard the like before.

The walk back to the manor was a little easier. The setting sun had given the hot stone and sand time to cool.

Still, Edmund had picked up a limp by the time they were once again inside. Never again, he thought, wincing as his feet now touched the unyielding marble of Lord Parrick’s floors, would he be out of sympathy with a horse who had gotten a stone in its foot. He felt as though he had half-a-dozen in each.

And the night was not yet done. Lord Parrick set a lavish table, and he’d invited dozens of guests. The hall was thronged with lords and ladies and slaves with downcast eyes. Edmund and Lucy, looking about them as sharply as they dared, saw many signs of exhaustion and resignation, anger and terror in the men and women forced to serve those who had captured them. Lucy longed to tell them that there would be help soon, all that they could give—and not for nothing was she called Valiant and Edmund Just. But of course she could not say a word to them in front of Parrick. It would reveal her completely to even thank someone for passing her a goblet. She did not enjoy the meal at all; to her the food all tasted like sawdust.

As the wine flowed—and the wine of Itrea was famously potent—the mood of the room changed. They had been celebrating, and now, almost without warning, they became vicious.

Edmund and Lucy could not understand it, but of course it was just that the Itreans, made foolish by the wine, felt ashamed of having been afraid of their guest. She was, they thought, such a delightful woman, and one who would make them all richer still. It could hardly be her fault that she was born in the wrong country—she had left it as soon as possible. Their suspicions had been ridiculous. Because they felt ashamed, they wished to be angry instead, and so they thought amongst themselves that it was all the fault of Narnia and Archenland who were so full of themselves and so high and mighty. From there it was a simple matter of relishing that anger by doing more and more of what they knew true Narnians and Archenlanders would hate.

Had they been only decadent—for they had the mistaken notion that Narnia, especially, was a joyless, ascetic country—Lucy and Edmund would have thought nothing of it (outside of more weariness that they could not yet go to bed). But from decadence, the Itreans progressed to cruelty.

Two slaves were made to dance with each other while the dinner guests pelted them with the remains of the supper. Another slave was made to get down on his knees and bark like a dog and take food only from his master’s hand. Lord Parrick asked questions his slaves could not possibly know the answers to—for he’d done all he could to keep them from learning. When they couldn’t get it right, he slapped them until their cheeks were a stinging red, and then he called up another slave to beat them with a short whip.

It is vile, Lucy thought. She felt quite sick to her stomach. But she could see Parrick’s eyes were on her once more, and he was not drunk enough to miss that she was not participating in all this. She had to act.

“Lionel,” she said imperiously, “come here. I have need of a footstool.”

“A footstool!” someone hooted. “Yes, make him into a footstool!”

“Very droll, my lady,” Lord Parrick said, his voice ripe with appreciation. It was no wonder, he thought, that a lady with such a masterful spirit had left Narnia. She was clearly more Itrean or Calormene in her heart.

Edmund approached with his eyes downcast, and for a dizzy second, Lucy did not know if she could have told the difference between her brother and the other captives around him. But then he showed just enough aggravation for her to be sure of him: her Ed was there still, the same as he had ever been. He went to his hands and knees on the hard marble, silently offering her his back.

Lucy rested her feet on it as lightly as she could and loathed every particle of Itrea; could she have done it then, she would have broken even the beautiful cliffs to rubble.

She swallowed down all that anger and acted very proud.

“And now,” said Lucy, “I shall watch the show!” She couldn’t make herself laugh, but she gave everyone a slightly maddened smile.

Edmund imagined Lucy had intended this—if she’d had time enough to intend anything at all—as some small reprieve from the standing-about, but the floor was much worse: his knees ached horribly all at once. He felt as though they were being slowly bruised to the bone. He tried at first to think about how the floor was cool, and as such a relief to his sunbaked skin, but that strategy did not last more than a few minutes. He began to entertain—with a savagery that had rarely appeared over the years—Lucy’s own fantasies of smashing Itrea to bits. He did not feel much like a king. He could not even say he felt much like a man, and once more he understood anew how the enslaved people of Itrea suffered. But duty and honor and compassion and resolve are better comfort for a hurt soul than a hurt body. So after a time Edmund gave up even on those.

He thought instead of Lucy, and how really it was best that she was the one with him, for Peter couldn’t have made himself act thus, not for any reason under the sun, and Susan wouldn’t have been able to hide her horror and grief. They were the only two any good at spy-craft, he and Lucy—because, Edmund thought, muddled by pain, she is brave enough to venture out and I am treacherous enough to lie about it, so together we are enough. And he felt the weight of her against his back as though it were a hand on his shoulder.

Then—

“Up,” Lucy said, and she made as if to kick him, though her slipper brushed his tunic so lightly Edmund didn’t even feel it. “You fool, can’t you see the banquet is over? Now escort me to my room.”

Lucy’s head hurt terribly by now, and her voice was ringing in her ears, discordant and horrifying. But Edmund was standing up, and soon it would all be over.

As indeed it might have been had Edmund, sore all over and now putting his weight back on his battered feet, not stumbled.

Lord Parrick, very drunk, laughed and jeered. He sounded like the ugliest and harshest crow to ever live. “Is that how you serve your mistress, you knave?”

Edmund wanted to kill him where he stood. He made himself say, “No, my lord. I am heartily sorry, mistress.”

“To be heartily sorry is not enough!” Lord Parrick said. He turned to Lucy, and his face was dangerously hard to read—flushed maroon with drink, his eyes clouded with consternation. “What does he think such words are worth? Do you mean to tell me you allow your slaves to escape misdeeds with nothing more than an apology?”

Lucy drew herself up to her full height. “I suppose, sir, that as he is mine, I may do what I wish with him. Or do you make a habit, on Itrea, of interfering with each other’s property? I left Narnia to escape such interference!”

She’d hoped that would chasten Parrick, but it only subdued him, and his gaze was still lingering. They were so close to the end now, and if at the last moment he mistrusted her—

“However,” she said, with forced merriment and a still worse pounding in her temples, “while I will brook no interference, I shall certainly also brook no disrespect. Do you hear me, Lionel?” She looked about the room, hoping in vain to find something other than what she did. She had somehow gotten the attention of everyone remaining in the hall, and they were all hushed now, waiting to see what she would do.

She could not fail to convince them. Edmund would only die too, if the Itreans suspected they had been betrayed. And then Peter and Susan would raise up a great army and come and take Itrea by force, and it was like as not that the slaves would be forced into the battle and die in greater numbers than their captors.

So she had little time to think, and she could only manage with what she saw.

“Bring me that whip,” Lucy said, tossing her hair, “and he will soon learn to regret his clumsiness.”

The banquet hall at once became more cheerful, and the whip was fetched and brought to Lucy’s hand. Could she get away with the lightest of floggings? A glance at the faces around her was enough to tell her no. A crowd that is craving blood has a particular tenor to it that cannot be mistaken; even if you have never heard it before that day, you know it at once.

She willed Edmund to know that she was sorry, but she was no fool, and she did not for a moment suppose that all the sorriness in the world would mean one whit once the lash hit his skin. It made no difference that she would rather take his place than her own—made no difference that he too would rather suffer this whipping than give it, and so he would have understood her feelings completely.

She could not bridge the gap between them, could not comfort him: there was no way to cushion what she was about to do.

Heartless: that was what Edmund had said she must be toward him. And she saw now that that was what they all expected, what they hungered for. She would prove her cruelty so thoroughly that they could not ever think her truly a Narnian.

“Take off your tunic,” said Lucy. “It has done nothing wrong, and I see no need to damage my obedient property.”

That at least would let her see what she was doing, let her guide the blows so they fell a little more carefully.

Lord Parrick, once more the eager host and hopeful business partner, said, “Of course, you need not wield the whip yourself, my lady. Another one of the slaves can do it—any of us, I’m sure, could volunteer one. Such strenuous work—”

“Oh, rubbish,” she said with a bright smile that hurt her lips. “I handle all these things myself. I do not want him to fear the whip, whoever applies it—I want him to fear me.”

She led Edmund to the wall, trying to make it seem as though she were pushing him when really she was doing her best to support him. She gripped him desperately.

I don’t blame you, Lu, Edmund wanted to tell her. He could not swear it was true—it was a very hard thing to mean when one was bracing oneself against a wall, preparing to be flogged—but he meant it to be.

Again Lucy felt very strongly that she would be sick. There was a bitter taste in her mouth.

She raised her arm and brought the lash down. The leather cords sliced against Edmund’s bare back, raising angry red lines at once. Edmund made no sound but only took a deep breath, his shoulders spreading out, stretching the fine cuts still further.

Now Lucy was of course a skilled horsewoman, but her horses always understood her very well, and she treated them with gentleness and care. Consequently she was not as used to handling the whip as you might expect. While she meant to avoid hurting Edmund too badly, she could not always do it—which was just as well, for this was the final moment in which she proved herself to the Itreans.

Who in this case liked what they saw. They might have their private opinions about the lady’s form—there was nothing wrong with the traditional stance, they really didn’t understand why people had to be avant-garde about these things—but they believed they could not mistake her ferocity. For Lucy had gone white with rage at what she was being made to do, and in that moment she looked a little like an avenging Fury.

Poor Edmund was left the worse for it, because Lucy’s anger strengthened her whether she wanted it to or not. He leaned his forehead against the tapestried wall on Lord Parrick’s wall and breathed in their dusty, mothy scent. He felt faint with pain, and cold from it, but the blood running down his skin was warm and so almost welcome. He thought that he’d never had a thrashing even half so awful as this one, that the White Witch’s Dwarf and the headmaster at his school—so long ago now—had nothing on Lucy. Though of course, he thought woozily, the headmaster had only used a cane. The poor chap had likely done the best he could.

At last Lucy stopped. She had forgotten to count her strokes, so she only said, “I shan’t even be able to tell if I get any more blood out of him now. I believe that’s enough. He won’t make such a mistake again.” She laughed, though she would have much preferred to bite. “My lord, will you lend me a man or two to drag Lionel to my chambers?”

Lord Parrick bowed low. By this point he was quite infatuated with her, and he hoped that her having her slave sent to her bedchamber meant that she was not so loyal to her husband as that sticky-sweet comment about their spirits had made it seem.

“Of course, my lady.” He snapped his fingers and caused it to be done. “And may I escort you there myself?”

Lucy inclined her head. “I should be honored.”

Lord Parrick seemed to have forgotten the design of his own manor, because he kept leading Lucy not to her room but to the secluded little alcoves and balconies that he considered most romantic. But they did arrive at her bedchamber eventually, with Lucy having cleverly put him off by promising all sorts of things would happen on some future visit when she was better rested (and her arm less sore). He wished her joy of both her slumber and her slave and departed believing that he was thoroughly in love.

The smile vanished from Lucy’s face the moment he turned his back. She rushed into her room and dashed across the floor.

She looked for Edmund at first on the bed, but of course Lord Parrick’s slaves had not put him there—they would never have been so bold. Instead, he had been laid on the softest rug in the room, and a pillow had been placed beneath his head. When Lucy looked at him like that and thought about how much the slaves had risked just to show that little bit of tenderness to him—which might have displeased the monstrous woman she was pretending to be—her heart broke.

She knelt down beside Edmund, her skirts fanning out wide in a rustle of silk; she touched his cheek and saw his eyes flutter open.

“We’re alone,” Lucy said at once. “Oh, Edmund, I’m so sorry.” She bent down and pressed a kiss to his sweat-soaked hair. “I could not afford to lose their trust, for they would have done even worse to you.”

A small, ill-tempered part of Edmund found that rather hard to believe, for Lucy had been quite thorough, but he knew how horridly unfair that was. And when he managed to turn his head enough to see her, he saw how stricken she looked, and at the same time how she was very grand. So he made himself smile, to console her, and he told what truth he could.

“I had rather stand a thousand blows from your hand, madam, than one from anyone else’s. The people of Narnia can well suffer one of their royals to take a whipping from another—whereas if Parrick himself had done it, I am sure we would have had war if word had gotten out.”

“I am not sure we should not have it anyway,” Lucy said, stroking Edmund’s hair and the nape of his neck. “I believe I could kill every nobleman who saw you bleed and not bat an eye. Oh, if only I had my cordial with me.”

But since she did not, she put to use all the field medicine she had been taught by the court’s physicians, and it was lucky for Edmund that Lucy had always been a diligent student of the healing arts. She first moved Edmund to the bed—“Will they not wonder how the blood has gotten there, of all places?” said Edmund, but Lucy assured him rather grimly that they would not—and then brought over the pitcher and basin. She did think, however, that they would wonder about finding a bloodied towel, so she tore her linen shift into strips and used those to clean Edmund’s wounds and bandage him as best she could. The cordial would have to complete the healing once they were home. At least she could count upon it to ensure there would be no scars.

This wound-cleaning was slow and agonizing work. All they had to lessen Edmund’s pain was the fortified Itrean wine, and Lucy did not want to risk giving him that until after she’d tended to him, for wine tends to thin the blood.

Finally, though, it was done, and Edmund could drink a good deal. “More than enough to add a headache to tomorrow’s pains,” he said, for he was now feeling strong enough and comfortable enough to be a bit sullen about everything.

Lucy tucked herself into bed next to him and did not let herself fall asleep until she heard his breathing grow soft and even. Only then did she give up her vigil. But she would not really sleep soundly until the next night, when they were back safely on their ship and bound for Narnia once more. For now her dreams were full of blood, and she woke at each sound Edmund made so she could reach out and grasp his arm.

“I’m here,” she said whenever this happened. “I’m here.”

At that, Edmund would always subside back to untroubled sleep—indeed, his rest that night was much better than Lucy’s, and much better than his own would be for several nights after.