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Edmund and Ginny Go to Harfang

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"I think we've had a miscommunication about measurements," Edmund said to the girl who'd entered Narnia through a cabinet that had promptly vanished behind her, and had somehow argued her way into joining the party headed for a diplomatic summit in Harfang on the absurd pretext of being his new bodyguard; how she expected to manage that without any visible weapon was beyond him.

"If your giants are anything like the giants in my world, your Majesty, there's no way I could carry a big enough stick," the girl -- Jenny? Gina? no, Ginny -- said as she twirled the slender, polished twig between her fingers, "so I figured I'd go with one that's actually dangerous." The stick halted, its suddenly sparking tip aimed straight at Edmund's forehead, and only the laughter in her eyes kept him from drawing his sword in reflexive reaction to a witch.

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"This is why you missed the first minute of the battle and left us without our best distance fighter," Edmund said flatly as he continued to inspect his mail shirt for damaged links; "Because you tripped and fell down a hole."

Ginny twirled her wand between her fingers (the way Lucy sometimes spun daggers) and said, in a tone that implied she was attempting forbearance despite great provocation, because despite everything she was fond of him and so forgave his foibles, "Because while I was scouting for ambushes -- it's only chance that the attack came from the west instead of the east, besides which I can't believe you missed a half-dozen giants in land this flat -- I found a locked iron door in an emerald frame in the back wall of this cave, which is so ridiculously out of place that it might as well be screaming it's magical, even without the runes I can't read carved over the lintel, and I was in the middle of testing to see if opening it would be dangerous -- it shouldn't be, by the way, unless you're actually as useless as you act when you're trying to convince people you're young and ignorant, in which case I want a raise since bodyguarding that kind of idiot definitely deserves hazard pay -- but anyway, stop looking at me like I'm a particularly squishable beetle and let's go see what's on the other side."

"I feel that Susan would tell us that interfering with strange magics is a terrible idea, and counsel us instead to both employ caution and remember our mission," Edmund said, pro forma, but this journey to Harfang for truce negotiations had several days' flexibility built in to account for the general disarray of Ettinsmoor after Peter's latest summer war, and he could never live with himself if he turned down a chance to explore one of the hidden corners of the world, thus blatantly presented as both invitation and challenge; and so he motioned his other bodyguard (a grizzled She-Wolf by the name of Skadi) to alert the rest of the party to this turn of events and followed Ginny into the narrow cleft in the earth, to meet what fate awaited them beyond the mysterious door.

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"Do you trust me!" Ginny shouted, her voice barely audible over the chaos of the battle though her mouth was barely a foot from Edmund's ear, her back pressed against his own as they retreated, sideways, toward the magical gateway in the heart of the underground city, a trail of bodies (hexed and injured, but hopefully not dying; no one should die fighting bespelled for a cause not their own) slumped groaning in their wake.

"I should think that was obvious by now!" Edmund shouted back, as he feinted sideways with his dagger (his shield long-since a casualty of one of the Earthmen's spears) and kicked aside the horned and feathered gnome whose halberd had come dangerously close to both of them; "What do you need me to do?"

Rather than answer, Ginny shouted something in the bastardized Latin she used for spells, and in the sudden pause as the earth shook and split with a great blast of heat and light, she turned to Edmund with a grin as wild and sharp as the scent rising from the chasm: fruit and flowers and iron molten in the forge.

"Jump!" she said, and pulled him with her over the edge.

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"I didn't wish to voice misgivings where our hosts might take offense, but by all logic this journey ought to be fatal," Edmund said as Ginny leaned over the side of their borrowed skiff, trailing her fingers through the liquid fire that served Bism in place of water. "We should have long since scalded our lungs attempting to breathe this close to something hot enough to soften stone, let alone touching or drinking it, not to mention the air down here should have turned poisonous ages ago."

"I know," Ginny said with a delighted smile. "And yet here we are, sailing toward a volcano with a basket of rubies for lunch. Isn't it amazing?"

She cupped her hands into the swift-moving current and raised a pool of white-gold flames to pour over her head. Droplets clung to her hair and skin like shining jewels, and Edmund felt his breath catch in his chest with unexpected desire.

"Yes. Amazing." He turned aside to busy himself with the tiller and coughed to clear his throat. "Regardless, we should prepare for the upwelling that the salamanders promised would carry us back to the surface. I suspect that will be a difficult ride."

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They clambered over the volcano's lip as the rubies' virtue faded and the heat and fumes of molten rock punched Edmund like a sword pommel in his gut, but he spared no thought to the narrowness of their escape. The ebb of sunset on the western horizon revealed a new woe: to the north, a range of mountains greater than he had ever seen rose knife-sharp and impassible, flanks glittering with ice, while on all other sides their own, lesser peak fell rapidly into a frozen, windswept plain where no single sign of life broke the pristine fields of snow.

"What a mess," Ginny said, dropping her end of their enchanted skiff onto the bare and smoking stone. "I could levitate the boat, but I can't make that permanent, or cast a propulsion charm at the same time, so we'd still be stuck without a way to catch the wind; I don't suppose you have any suggestions for fixing that?"

As Edmund looked around their barren and precarious perch, a curtain of violet, green, and gold shimmered across the darkening sky like a banner riding winds too high and rare for mortal lungs to breathe, and a streak of brilliant white shot through the heavens' heart like an arrow: southward and downward, aimed at Narnia like a sign.

"The world goes strange at the edges, where the Deep Magic yields to the Deeper Magic that surrounds and upholds all the worlds that ever were or will be," he said slowly. "Even in Narnia, at the Deep Magic's source, we know the stars are not lifeless fires, but people, who sometimes step outside their dance to touch the earth they traverse every night. What if one might carry us?"

"That's the maddest plan I've heard in months," Ginny said. "Let's try!"

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As he whirled from star to star, lightened feet pushing off the tiniest grains of dust in great bounding steps that covered miles of fragrant, wine-rich air until his next companion held out shining hands to catch and weave him into the heavens' endless dance, Edmund's lungs and heart and fingers filled with the pure, explosive joy of movement until it bubbled from his mouth in reflexive song, a cracked and dusty baritone harmony under the stars' own fierce, bell-like chorus.

Leagues away, yet sounding as though she were at his very shoulder, close enough to touch if he should turn his head and switch partners, Ginny's voice soared golden and clear in the same hymn of wild delight that poured from his own lips; and they grew neither tired nor thirsty nor footsore nor out of breath though the night stretched on forever as the stars plunged beneath the westernmost rim of the earth to dance across a mirrored world all of stone and crystal, its barren beauty sculpted by naught but endless wind and the feather-light footsteps of stars.

On the eastern horizon, they sprang once again into the sky, chasing the waxing moon and the last, ember-soft rays of the sun, drunk with music and motion, and when at last the stars let loose his hands and sent Edmund drifting down to the soft, welcoming earth, he thought he might weep at the knowledge that he could never return, living, to their dance or recreate their song.

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"My sin? Pride, naturally," Coriakin said as he unrolled a brilliantly colored map over his banqueting table. "They all come to pride at the root -- to thinking that we alone know best and others' needs or wants signify nothing when set against our own. Even when masquerading as a virtue -- the desire to take all suffering onto oneself and so spare others pain -- it remains a magnification of one's own ego over anything that others wish."

"I know a dozen people who could stand to learn that last part," Ginny said without looking up from the pages of Coriakin's grimoire. "A baker's dozen, really, if I'm honest and include myself. It's funny how often people do the worst things from the best intentions."

"Mmm," Edmund said, peering down at the painted expanse of ocean, broken here and there by the green rise of islands that seemed almost real enough to touch the closer he examined them. "And then there are the ones who don't bother with any such pretense, who simply reach for whatever they want, and damn anyone who stands in the way." As he and Jadis had both done. Her reach had been far greater than his, but petty cruelty stung those it touched just as deeply, especially coming from one they loved. "I suppose the real trick is to avoid falling into one form of pride while trying to avoid the other. And speaking of falling, are you two quite sure your magics will mesh well enough to transport us to Ettinsmoor without dropping us into a trackless waste of water?"

"I am not still so proud as to assume I can foresee all possible circumstances, let alone command them," Coriakin said, "but I think, on the whole, yes."

Behind him, Ginny twirled her wand and smiled.