PETER HAD BEEN NORTH to conquer the Giants, but none of the Pevensies had ever been any farther. The lands further north than Ettinsmoor were beyond Narnian territories, or territories of their allies.
Peter's had been an overland expedition, besides. It had been war-based, with no mind for exploration.
Three years later, the Ettins remained civil, and Edmund itched to go north. The maps of Narnia ended above the Wild Lands, and Edmund spent long nights lost in the empty spaces, restlessness heavy upon him.
He shared his thoughts with Lucy, who, as he expected, sympathized with him.
"It'd be nice to go on adventures again. We've seemed to have less and less as the years go by."
He smiled wryly. "We're getting older."
"What excuse is that?" Lucy asked incredulously, hitting him on the arm in indignation.
She was sifting through the many maps laid out on the table in Edmund's quarters, her fingers tracing over the sea- and land-routes they had traveled in the past.
"I don't know," he finally admitted, truly not having an answer. It came to him that his reasoning was particularly English, and that awoke something in him he'd rather have left untouched.
"I'm going to bed," he said quietly to her, not wanting to disturb her studying of the maps. Her fingers lingered over Calormen, the golden sands of the desert—she had always favored heat, the exotic warmth of the wilderness; she was not haunted by ice. She looked up at Edmund anyway, smiling. "Okay," she whispered, and leaned towards him. He kissed her gently, his fingertips resting lightly on her face.
"Are you staying here tonight?" he mumbled against her lips. She nodded, and opened her eyes to look at him. "Okay," he continued. "Come to bed whenever you're ready, Lu."
She smiled at him again before he turned and made his way to his chamber, the torchlight turning her hair the same aged-parchment color as the blank spaces of the maps on the table in front of her.
PETER GRANTED THEM LEAVE with only a trace of wistfulness in his eyes, and some months before they left Lucy went to Peter while he was in their library.
"You could come, you know," she said to him earnestly. Peter only smiled down at her, too old for his age.
"I couldn't leave Cair Paravel for that long. There are too many things to be done."
Lucy went on anyway, not willing to give up that easily. "But Edmund and I also have things to do, and we have regents, and Susan's still here—you know she's never cared for ships and ocean travel."
Peter remained silent, but with an air of only half-listening.
"Peter," Lucy said pleadingly. "I heard you make the announcement to the court. And more importantly, I was there when Edmund asked for your leave. You want to come. And you can."
Finally Peter sighed, defeated. "Yes, Lu, I want to go. And I know that you two have squared off your commitments and that I could, too. But I am the High King, and I don't think it's an appropriate...gesture to go exploring the northern regions for seemingly no reason but exploration itself.
"I give you and your brother my permission, however, and my blessing."
Peter realized that he had slipped into what Lucy referred to as 'High King mode' when he saw the impatient and slightly hurt look on Lucy's face.
His eyes softened, and he said gently, "I mean it, Lucy," sincerity in every ounce of his words. "I want you two to go. Spend some time with each other away from royal duties. Go explore. You've always had the heart for it."
Lucy rushed to embrace Peter, and he wrapped her in his arms.
"Thank you," she whispered, and Peter hugged her more tightly. He didn't hear her whisper, muffled against his clothes, "And I'm sorry."
EDMUND AND LUCY SPENT their last night in the castle in their own rooms, collecting last-minute items and provisions. The ship they were to be taking, the Lady Jane, (named by Edmund after some remnant of a legend he knew once in England) was fully loaded and waiting for them in the harbor, the crew already on board.
Lucy awoke well before sunrise, and crept silently into Edmund's rooms. He stirred when she climbed onto his bed and kneeled over him. She kissed him on the cheek and laughed lightly at his confused and yet satisfied, "Wha huh?"
"There's only an hour or so before sunrise," she whispered into his ear, slowly pushing back the covers, rousing him from sleep. "There's plenty to do before we leave."
Edmund made a noncommittal noise and rolled closer to Lucy, trying to curl up into the heat of her body.
"Uh uh," she said playfully, rolling gracefully off of his bed. "Up!" she cried, making her way to the door. Before she left, she turned to say, "Peter wants to see you before we leave. Susan will be at the harbor; she's probably already on the ship, making sure everything's in order. Peter's in the library." And with that, she was gone.
Edmund was fully awake by this time, and the nervousness and excitement of their impending casting off flooded his veins, and would unsettle him throughout the morning until he took his first step onto the deck of the Lady Jane.
The hull of the ship had been reinforced with iron plates, an innovation suggested by Edmund himself, and carried out with wonder by their carpenters and engineers. Over the course of the last year, the Lady Jane had become the most fortified and efficient of all of Narnia's vessels. It was specifically modified for arctic climates, should they encounter them on their voyage. No one in Narnia (besides Aslan, Edmund supposed) had any way of knowing what lay north, awaiting them.
EDMUND FOUND PETER in the library, in the same place Peter had spoken with Lucy weeks before. Peter didn't hear Edmund approach, and only looked up in surprise when Edmund said, "You're not coming to the launch, then?" but with no real accusation in his tone.
"No," Peter replied, and Edmund thought that maybe he'd continue or explain, but then again Edmund had also heard about Lucy's discussion with him, and he knew his brother, and Peter's silence was enough to confirm his thoughts.
After a pause, Edmund prompted, "Lucy said you wanted to see me."
"Yes," Peter acknowledged, and he rose from his seat and joined Edmund on the other side of the table. Edmund stood taller when Peter approached him, feeling both judged and protected. He smiled back at Peter when Peter smiled at him and clapped him on the shoulder. "I wanted to say goodbye, of course, since I won't be there to see you off."
Edmund said nothing, and Peter's gaze deflated a bit, his façade slipping. They continued to look at each other, take each other in, and finally Peter put a hand to Edmund's neck, pulling him closer. "You look after her, alright?"
Edmund nodded again, and allowed Peter to lift his face to his own. Peter looked imploringly at Edmund. "And I said the same to her, I'll have you know."
Edmund chuckled but kept eye contact, and Peter eventually just nodded, like Edmund knew everything he could have wanted to say just from that look, and pulled him into a tight embrace. Edmund clung to Peter, whispering reassurements to him, trying to ignore the part of him fighting to acknowledge that this was the last time they'd see each other for months, maybe even years.
They broke apart slightly, Peter resting his hands on Edmund's shoulders, and he leaned in to kiss Edmund on the forehead. He was tempted to say something like "Bon voyage," something that would remind Edmund of home, but instead he let Edmund slip away from him in silence.
In the end, he was glad he said nothing.
A FORTNIGHT AT SEA and still the glamour hadn't worn off. Edmund loved the sea—he always had. As a boy in England, he would read late into the night about famous explorers and their voyages. And while he knew Caillie and Speke, and later Stanley and Livingstone, he was partial to the arctic explorers: Parry and Ross, Mackenzie, Franklin, and Back. He loved the stories of getting caught in the ice, of dark watches on frozen seas, exploring an unknown world, searching for the legendary Northwest Passage. But his love for these things always came back to the sea.
He would tell Peter about his explorers, recount their tales and adventures, and Peter would smile and listen attentively; and when they took vacations with their family to the coast, Peter would ask Edmund about the tides, the marine life, celestial navigation at night. Edmund would tell him about ships, and the different vessels you could sail and what sea was best to sail them on.
And the stories of the explorers crashed into his bones, a part of him still.
EDMUND JOINS LUCY on the deck of the Lady Jane and stands by her silently, leaning against the railing in the stern. Lucy looks up at the stars, and Edmund studies her by their light. She looks peaceful, happy, somehow elegant. She smiles when she feels Edmund's eyes on her.
"It's a nice night," she whispers.
"Yes, it is," Edmund agrees, and he looks up to the sky as well. The stars stare back at him, but they are the second set of constellations he has had to learn, and it is like this sky speaks only in a foreign language; and no matter how long he stays in Narnia, the stars are the one thing he doesn't adjust to, doesn't get used to. He sees the Faun, the Bow, the Golden Tree, and when he closes his eyes Orion, Perseus, and Auriga shine behind his eyelids.
The sea continues to churn under them and the reflection of the stars ripple in the wake of the ship; he isn't sure anymore what sky he's under.
LUCY WATCHES EDMUND CONSTANTLY while they sail through the charted waters off of the coast of Narnia and Ettinsmoor, heading north towards Harfang. She knows that he should be tired—knows that he stays awake all hours of the night pouring over the maps of past Narnian voyages, charting where they are headed—but he never shows any signs of fatigue. While Lucy and Edmund both have separate cabins, most nights they sleep together in Lucy's, as they can't spend much time together on deck, serving the needs of the ship. (They have a crew, of course, but it is small and neither of them mind the work). But on some nights, he doesn't come, and Lucy sleeps unsoundly, alone.
One night while Edmund is on deck, Lucy steals into his cabin and studies the maps and books on his tables and desk, crammed into such a small space. When she sees what they are—maps of the arctic circle, of the coastline of Greenland, of inland routes across arctic Canada and the settlements of Svalbard and Iceland, notes on Franklin and the Royal Navy and the Royal Arctic Institute (so many things from Earth)—she doesn't know if she wants to laugh or cry.
THEY KEEP SAILING NORTH. All sight of Narnia has disappeared, and Edmund feels as if he is losing himself to the sea, and gives himself up willingly, imploring the darkness and the ocean below to take whatever it was he had to give.
ONE WEEK LATER, the sun fails to rise.
It is another three weeks before they find ice.
THE LADY JANE SERVES them well, and breaks the ice before her bow, allowing them passage. Edmund breathes the cold air deep into his lungs, feeling it burn, giving him life. The prospect of exploration still invigorates him, and Lucy is hopeful, beside him always. They speak to the crew and share stories into the night, although only by the clock—they haven't seen the sun in almost ten weeks.
Lucy smiles against Edmund's skin, her fingers peeling away layer after layer, her warm breath replacing the insulation of rawhide and fur. Her lips burn into Edmund's skin and keep the cold at bay, her touch chasing away the darkness. Edmund's body covers her, keeps her safe. The darkness settles around them like a cloak.
As time drifts past, their conversations with the crew become less and less lively, as every man succumbs to the slowly-creeping plague of darkness and ice. Lucy holds on the longest, besides her brother, who is nearly immune to such spells; but the darkness takes hold of her, too, in time.
EDMUND IS THE LAST to lose hope. They have been traveling for months, with nothing to show for it but the weight of their solitude and ice in their veins.
The crew moves around deck only to keep warm now, the lines frozen, the sails stored below deck. They keep watch, but Edmund assumes—knows, somehow—that there is nothing out there in the darkness but endless shelves of ice.
Edmund speaks to no one but Lucy of his most recent fear—the day they encounter pack ice and the sea freezes around them, crushing the weakened hull of the Lady Jane, possibly beyond repair. Lucy squeezes his hand through their many layers, her face drawn and serious. "We'll be okay, Edmund," she whispers. "We'll make it through whatever happens."
She never tells him that they'll make it back home.
One day the helmsman informs him—"I can't explain it, your majesty; I do not know how this could be happening"—that they do not seem to have gained a single mile in months. They are sailing into unknown waters that never end, on an ocean that leads nowhere, under a motionless sky that whispers only mockeries.
The sea moves under them, but they do not go forward.
Ice is no longer Edmund's concern.
LUCY LOOKS BEAUTIFUL on deck, her golden hair laced with ice, her breath visible like smoke, water droplets frozen on her face like so many tears. She is wrapped in furs and her rawhide boots are tied tightly beneath her knees; Edmund is reminded of Old Norse warriors—fierce, fair, sailing in sturdy vessels through dark water on choppy, cold seas, years from home, conquering foreign lands.
The image stays with him, and he keeps it tightly in his mind, fighting every moment to stop it becoming the memory of a different conqueror, in a different kingdom of ice and snow.
CLOUDS COVER THE SKY at all hours now, and it takes them only a week to lose their way. Edmund and Lucy take stock of their supplies and assess that they can travel another sixteen months on reduced rations before they run out of food, but only another eleven before they run out of coal.
They turn back for Narnia, but no one is sure which way is back, and the sky doesn't speak to Edmund at all.
EDMUND AND LUCY ALWAYS sleep together now, curled into each other under a nest of their furs against the cold of the night on arctic seas. They whisper to each other in scratched voices, through chapped lips, with closed eyes—every ounce of moisture is frozen. They use extra coal to heat their drinking water, and their baths—when they take them—are only just above freezing.
Edmund wraps his arms tightly around Lucy, holding her close. Lucy hums deep in her throat, a sea chantey she learned from Edmund, a lifetime in the past.
In his growing despair, Edmund wonders wildly if anyone in Narnia will know their story, if anyone will stay awake at night and retrace their voyage, before he remembers that there are no maps in Narnia that show where they are, wherever in Narnia that is.
LUCY FALLS ILL and slips into a fever that threatens her with death. Edmund never leaves her side.
Tremors wrack her frail body and she sleeps fitfully, never getting rest. Edmund continues his vigil and uses precious oil to light the lamp above her bunk and burns coal to melt more water, cooling her burning skin.
"Edmund," she calls out, her voice faint and hollow. "Ed," she whimpers with anguish, as if she is far away from him. Edmund wraps her in their last blanket and pushes her hair, dull with sweat, away from her face. She mutters into the semi-darkness, but his name is all she says.
Her fever peaks, then breaks. She sleeps for two days, interrupted only by Edmund who tips her head back and makes her drink, the water warmer than they can afford; they have less than four months worth of coal.
When she wakes, Edmund is there. "I dreamt," she begins, but the fever-dreams are fading fast. She closes her eyes, recalls the sense of warmth within her. "The desert," she says. Yes, that sounds right; she continues with renewed urgency, "I saw...she came to me..." Lucy fights against her consciousness. "At night, Zardeenah...in the desert..."
Edmund tries to calm her as she tosses and turns more and more violently, her visions clawing to get out. She slips back into her fever-state. "Zardeenah," she says again. Her voice is soft now, a sound close to worship. "Zardeenah..."
She goes limp in Edmund's arms, her breathing shallow but even, and when she wakes, she's smiling.
DESPITE EDMUND'S PROTESTS, Lucy stays on deck. She stands at the bow of the Lady Jane and the helmsman follows her orders.
"Lu, please," Edmund implores her. He follows her line of sight, sees nothing but the same darkness that has plagued them for months.
"Soon," she replies, her voice strong in the night. "Soon."
EDMUND WAKES WITH LUCY at his side. He is surprised and relived to see her finally below deck, and he studies her while she sleeps. This close to her—the closest he has been in days—Edmund can see the lines of exhaustion on her face, the windburn on her skin, the dark circles under her eyes set in an otherwise pale face. He's still sick with worry, and wills her to take however much of his strength he has left.
He doesn't notice at first that the sun has risen.
THE FIRST SIGHT OF NARNIA is like a benediction to Lucy, and a miracle to everyone else.
Edmund and Lucy spend long days with Peter and Susan recounting their voyage. When they can tell nothing more of the arctic regions than the labyrinth of ice and shadow that almost claimed their lives, Susan proclaims that the journey was a risk they never should have taken, and Peter forbids any further travels north.
They don't speak of their journey again.
EDMUND STAYS AWAKE DEEP into the night, restlessness settling into his bones, seeping out of his veins, burrowing too deep to ever be recovered. He burns the maps he has from home, turning away from the flames. The fire offers him no warmth, and his skin is cold like ice.
The maps of Narnia end above the Wild Lands, and the blank spaces remain empty.