If Jadis hadn’t been bored when the faun brought her the child, she’d probably just have killed the girl and let that be that. Daughters of Eve were, in her opinion, more dangerous than sons of Adam. They tended to be more pragmatic and more open to… unusual solutions.
When the faun arrived, Jadis was sitting on her throne. She wasn’t exactly holding court. Petitioners did not bother her, and she had very little time for toadies unless they amused her, and most of her people had figured out that her amusement wasn’t a path to her favor. Competence is much more attractive. So her people didn’t bother her unless something actually required her attention.
Not remembering the faun’s name didn’t bother Jadis particularly. If it mattered, she’d remember, and she was sure he’d prefer that she not remember. But I will reprimand my steward. Not having much work is no excuse for doing it badly. She frowned and narrowed her eyes, and the faun cringed. She was certain that the only reason he didn’t fling himself to the ground was the blanket wrapped bundle in his arms.
"What is that?" She didn’t point. There was only one questionable item in the room.
"A daughter of Eve, Your Majesty." The faun’s voice trembled. He glanced down at the bundle.
Jadis raised her eyebrows. "A very small one."
The faun nodded. "I thought—" His voice broke a little. "I thought, since she was small enough to carry, I should bring her myself." He looked like he was regretting his daring.
"How brave." Jadis smiled at him. "And how did a daughter of Eve so very young come to be within my realm?" She kept her voice gentle. "Are her parents near?"
The faun looked a little green. "She said not. She said she’d walked through a door and found herself in the wood, near the lamppost, quite alone." He swallowed hard. "But she said…"
Jadis twitched slightly at the mention of the lamppost, but she told herself that no one noticed. "Yes?"
"Please, may I set her down?"
He doesn’t want to say. Interesting. "It’s the same to me," Jadis told him. She kept her eyes on him as he set the bundle down.
When he’d done that, he pulled the blanket away to reveal the child’s face. She had yellow hair and rosy cheeks. Jadis supposed the girl might be pretty when she laughed. Not to my taste, and I’ve no one I wish to influence who would care for her. I suppose my wolves might eat her. Then, at least, she’d be some use.
The faun bowed then bowed deeper. "She said, Your Majesty, that wherever she came from, her parents weren’t there, that there was a war…" He hesitated again then took a deep breath and went on, "She said she had a sister and two brothers. They’re not here, but…" His shoulders pulled in, and he wrung his hands.
Jadis sat up straighter. If this is his ploy, it’s a poor one seeing as one of the four is in my hands already. If she’s his, perhaps it would be interesting… Yes. I will see what I can make of her. She’s young. Very young. She could become anything I want her to be. Could I make Narnia fear a daughter of Eve? I’m sure I could. She smiled. "I think we need more patrols just in case her siblings do come our way. It would be a pity for them to freeze to death, after all." She fixed her eye on the faun. "You will show my people where you found her. Now." Before enough snow falls to hide the signs of where she came from. "If you catch one or more of the others, there will be… rewards." She rose and came down from the dais.
The faun didn’t quite shrink away as she drew near.
She took a moment to touch his face and his chest, making the gestures as intimate as she could. She ignored the burning horror she felt at touching another person’s flesh. Centuries had inured her to that enough that she could do it when it would be effective. "Very definite… rewards," she breathed in his ear. She managed not to laugh, later, at how he fled when she released him to show Maugrim where he’d met the girl.
Jadis knew what she was going to do with the younger two. It was the older boy and girl she hesitated over. It wasn’t because she didn’t think she could mold them into whatever shape she wanted. They were old enough to have ideas about who they were but not old enough to worry her. The boy’s voice hadn’t even started to crack, and he was the older of the two. The girl looked closer to adulthood, but Jadis knew that that was deceptive.
So she watched the four children together in the cell she’d put them in. It was by no means the worst place she could have put them. There was bedding enough for all four and a reasonable privy and no sign of shackles or implements of torture. But it was clearly a prison, and the older two definitely seemed to have some concept that it could get much worse. They talked together in whispers after the younger two were asleep. Whispers weren’t enough to hide their words from Jadis. Darkness wasn’t enough to hide the fact that the girl cried or the fact that the boy wanted to. In the light, while the other two were awake, both children put on brave faces, and Jadis was quite sure that either one would step between her and the others without hesitation.
Jadis walked the halls of her castle alone while she considered it. Having a set of four might be pleasant. It might even let her fulfill the letter of the prophecy without losing her grip on Narnia. But that’s not what I want. Oh, it’s appealing, but… What’s the point if he doesn’t see? Oh. Is that what I want? A witness? She laughed, letting herself go for several seconds, knowing that anyone who heard her would flee.
The boy, then. The girl will understand too well why her siblings would bend. She might grieve, but she wants them to survive even at my price. He doesn’t. She smiled. She will be more of a challenge because, out of all of them, she’s the one most likely to take an opportunity to put a knife between my ribs. I wonder if that would kill me? The attraction of that possibility startled her, and she suppressed the thought and the urges behind it as ruthlessly as she had suppressed her doubts about speaking the Deplorable Word. If I broke the boy, he’d have nothing left but me. He doesn’t have room for compromise that way. He’ll be handsome when he’s grown…
For the first time in decades, Jadis allowed herself regret that she couldn’t bear a lover’s touch. Another thing to lay at his door. What do I have to do for him to pay attention? The people here think he will return for them. If what I’ve done so far isn’t enough to draw him here, I’m not sure he actually cares. She growled. What point in binding myself to Narnia if not to spite him? It’s not as if the place has anything to offer. She resolutely didn’t think about all of the things she had failed to enjoy elsewhere on this world. But now… These children are a change. Narnia has seen nothing like them since— Well, since well before I came.
Jadis made herself long gloves. When she’d dwelt elsewhere in the world, among people who walked upon two legs and looked more or less like her, she’d worn such gloves habitually. There was too much power in touching for her to go entirely without and gloves helped considerably. Since she’d come to Narnia, however, there’d mostly been no point.
She gave the children no warning that she would be opening the door, not even the click of a lock. They were sitting together, the younger two huddled close to the older girl with the older boy nearby. When Jadis came in, the older girl pulled the younger two closer and a little behind her, and the older boy stood and moved in between Jadis and the other children.
Jadis smiled. Yes. Exactly.
The boy flinched when she smiled, not much, just enough for Jadis to notice.
Yes. He’s not stupid. None of them are stupid. He doesn’t know what I could do, but he knows it won’t be anything they want. I could pretend to be kind. He wouldn’t believe me. The older girl wouldn’t believe me. The younger two… are probably frightened enough to hope that it could be true. I will be kind to them. Sometimes.
"You." Jadis pointed a finger at the older boy then crooked it in a beckoning gesture. "With me."
The boy’s face went blank for a moment. Then he set his jaw and met her eyes.
She nodded, confirming whatever horrors he had in his imagination. He has courage. Good. That will make it all more enjoyable. She glanced behind him to meet the older girl’s eyes, and the calculating hatred she saw there pleased her, too.
She waved him toward the door and waited to see if he would go.
He hesitated and looked back at his siblings then he went. He didn’t glance at her as he passed.
She followed. I wonder if he’ll run? She sealed the door behind them with a murmured word. Once the door was sealed, she took the boy’s arm, slipping her gloved hand under his elbow. She hadn’t thought he could stiffen further, but he did. "Just what do you think I’m going to do to you?" she asked lightly.
He pressed his lips together as she led him down the hall to a stairway. He looked sideways at her and didn’t say anything. He made no effort to pull away or to slow her down, though, which rather surprised her.
I wouldn’t want to reach our destination. Or is it merely that he knows it’s inevitable? She squeezed his arm just to see him jump then laughed when he did. "You’re going to be such fun!" She guided him to a room she’d prepared just for him. It was bare but for a very comfortable chair, shackles on the wall, and a mirror opposite the shackles. "I’m sure you know where you’re supposed to be."
He hesitated, and she supposed some scrap of desire for self-preservation must have struggled to the surface.
She seated herself and let her eyes move over his body. She thought he was old enough to find that disturbing. Though not old enough to actually be worth looking at.
The boy went red then white. His hands clenched and unclenched over and over.
I shall remember that that bothers him. "At your leisure," she said, "but you will end up there, one way or another." She could force him, physically or magically; he hadn’t strength enough to fight her either way. But I want to see him realize that he has no choice. Will he second guess later? Of course, he will. "Or you could come and kiss my feet and beg for mercy. That would buy you a little time." But the end will be the same, and we both know it. Unless you can convince me that I don’t want you there, and that seems unlikely.
She saw him consider it and wondered if he was pragmatic enough to try to flatter her. His sister could. Can he?
He went down on his knees where he was and bowed his head so that he was looking at the floor. He said nothing.
Interesting. He’s looking for a third road. Do I want to give him one? Jadis rose to her feet and walked over to him. Not at present but perhaps later.
He trembled as she approached.
Someone else might not see it. She had to bend to touch his head, but she reached down and clenched her gloved fingers in the longer hair on the top of the boy’s head. She pulled enough that she was sure it must hurt. "What are you hoping for?" She let amusement into the words. "Do you have something to offer me to buy better?"
He made a half choked sound of pain, but he didn’t struggle. "What would please you?" The words were steadier than she expected.
She shook him without much force then dropped him.
He fell forward, catching himself on his hands, and didn’t move.
He might try a knife between my ribs, too. She tapped a finger against her lips. "I want nothing from you."
He actually laughed. It was a painful, bitter sound without any humor or joy. "Then why aren’t we dead?" He raised his head a little but made no attempt to look at her.
"Would you prefer that?" She bent low and ran her hand along his spine.
For a moment, she thought he wasn’t going to answer. Then, very faintly, he said, "Yes."
She raised her eyebrows then relaxed her face and smiled. I believe you. "We don’t always get what we want," she said lightly. And your sister would not say that, no matter what price I demand.
He shook his head but didn’t move or speak otherwise.
She prodded him with her toe and considered a solid kick. He was well grown for his age, but no son of Adam could match her for physical strength. It would hurt him, and he expects that, wants it even. She prodded him again. "How much do I have to hurt you to satisfy your honor?" She kept the question neutral enough that he might actually think that the answer mattered.
She gripped the boy’s collar and pulled him upright. She wasn’t sure if the cloth would hold, but she supposed that didn’t matter. It’s not as if the clothing will last anyway. She lifted him into the air so that his feet were several inches from the floor.
He started to struggle, but he seemed focused on clawing at his throat, so she supposed he was having trouble breathing. One of his feet banged into her leg.
She held him there for a few seconds. Let him feel the start of dying. She shook him considerably harder this time. Then she hurled him against the wall. If he breaks something, I’ll heal him. Maybe.
He lay unmoving next to the wall for several seconds. Then he pushed up onto one elbow and met her eyes.
She half expected him to spit blood, but he didn’t. She raised her eyebrows, "Am I meeting your expectations?" Will he try to bargain or to flatter me?
He pushed himself up, using just his left arm, until he was more or less sitting. His lips pulled back to show his teeth, but he made no sound.
Apparently not. She frowned, more in puzzlement than in anger. She took a step toward him. "I should give you a name."
"I have a name," he told her.
"Not if I choose not to give you one." She went down on one knee to be closer to his level. She suspected he was smart enough to see it more as threat than weakness. She extended a hand and touched his face, running her fingers down his cheek until they could hook under his chin. "I rather wish you were ten years older. You’d be much, much more interesting." Her stomach turned at the thought, but she had no intention of letting him realize that she’d never touch him flesh to flesh if she had another option. She ran a gloved finger over his lips. "What would you do if I told you to kiss me?"
He closed his eyes and pressed himself back against the wall. "I would kiss you." His voice sounded hoarser than it had earlier. "I will do whatever you want me to."
"And if I told you to… kiss your sister?"
His eyes flew open, and he stared at her.
Ah. He hadn’t thought of that. She smiled at him and caressed his face again. Now he has another horror in his head. "I won’t demand that now." But I could, and you’ll always remember that. "Is your arm injured?"
He shook his head, but she was sure, from the way that he held his right arm, that he’d injured his wrist.
He knows that what hurts can always hurt more. "I’m glad that you’re not stupid. I’m glad that none of you are stupid. Whatever else, you won’t be boring." Her hand shot out to grab his wrist and pull it up to where she could see it clearly.
He gasped then bit his lips and remained silent.
She moved his wrist and squeezed it, judging by the flinches when she was hitting something damaged. "Nothing broken," she concluded at last. That’s… I’m disappointed. Well. She took his arm in both hands and, very deliberately, snapped his wrist. She kept her eyes on his face the whole time.
He screamed. Then he sobbed and gulped air. He tried to pull his arm away from her, but she held fast.
"Does it matter?" She kept her voice bored. "It’s not as if you’ll be using it." She nodded toward the wall and the shackles. "Although I do suspect that that will hurt more than a little." She pressed her thumbs against the break just to hear him scream again.
He kicked at her, trying to escape.
I should have taken his shoes. She dropped his arm and stood, turning her back on him. He reacts like a child. He is a child. I knew that. Apparently, a privileged child, as well. He’s never had to fight or endure to survive. She considered the little that she know of his world and ignored the boy’s whimpers. I need to know more about their world. Is the difference between the boy and the girl merely temperament or have they been shaped that way?
She walked back to her chair and sat down. "How tediously predictable." She wasn’t sure he even heard her. This is not what I want. He’s brave enough, and he will try to survive, but… It’s really too easy.
He had curled himself up against the wall, with his broken wrist cradled against his body.
"Do you know—?" She laughed. "Beyond a certain point, people who are injured in Narnia will not heal unless I choose to allow it."
He twitched and pulled himself in tighter.
Yes. He heard that. "Shall I heal you? And if I do, shall I bother setting the bones first?" Will he understand why he should care?
For a few seconds, he did nothing. Then he struggled to his knees. He took quite some time about it, but Jadis didn’t interrupt. She was too curious about what he’d do next.
He didn’t look up, didn’t acknowledge that he knew she was watching. After a moment, he squared his shoulders and straightened his spine. He kept his eyes on the floor. "Please… Please, Your Majesty." He sounded as if he was choking on the words.
It takes him more courage to beg than not to. Jadis tapped her fingers on the arm of her chair. She stifled a laugh. That’s… cute. When she spoke, her tone was more gentle than it might have been. "Stand up. You know where I want you."
He hesitated, and she thought it was more to have another moment of freedom than because he actually thought he had a choice.
"It’s not just healing that doesn’t work the way you’re used to," she said. She wasn’t sure why she was giving him more time, giving him a distraction. "No one ages. No one needs food or water." She stood. "Nothing changes unless I choose that it should."
He shuddered then climbed to his feet. He almost looked at her but either couldn’t bring himself to or wasn’t fool enough to. He walked slowly over to the wall where the shackles hung. He turned and put his back to the wall. Then he raised his eyes to look at her.
She wasn’t sure what the expression on his face meant, and that surprised her. How many humans have I observed over the centuries? He’s afraid, and he hates me, but there’s something… It’s not just despair, and it’s definitely not hope.
She moved closer to him and saw him tense. In preparation for pain more than out of fear. She gave him a genuine smile.
He didn’t seem to find it reassuring.
"I’m not going to hurt you. This time." She was pleased to realize that he understood that she would hurt him. She took his uninjured hand and stretched the attached arm so that she could fasten a cuff around his wrist.
He didn’t resist her, but he also didn’t watch. He twitched minutely at the click as the cuff closed.
Yes. It is very final. You didn’t have hope before, even if you didn’t know that, so this changes nothing. She touched his cheek, just the merest brush of her fingers. "Give me your other hand."
He met her eyes.
Yes. I could. And I might. "I don’t have to heal you. I won’t if you prefer that, but I suspect that the cuff will hurt more that way." And, if I don’t heal you, you won’t heal. Do you remember that?
He tugged at the chain that restrained his left arm. It looked to Jadis more like a test than a real effort to pull loose.
She nodded. "Yes. It’s all going to hurt, sooner rather than later." She pushed his hair back from his forehead. "I’d say I’m sorry, but we both know I’d be lying. If it’s any comfort, I won’t be doing this to any of the others."
He frowned, obviously trying to figure out exactly what she would be doing with the others.
She slapped him. She only used a little of her strength, but the blow still turned his head and banged it against the wall. "Your arm."
He inhaled deeply then appeared to hold his breath as he raised his right arm and offered it to her.
Her fingers twitched a little as she took his arm. It took an effort not to dig her fingers in, not to make him scream for her again. But he expects that. Better not to be predictable. She stroked his arm lightly and smiled when he flinched as she got near his wrist.
She held his arm by laying it on top of hers to keep it straight then splayed her fingers on it just to one side of the break. Not clean. No surprise. She frowned at it, focusing her mind to shift the bones to their proper places.
The sounds he made told her that that process hurt, but he didn’t try to pull away.
Should I just heal it, or—? Yes. She sent her power into his arm and let it wrap the bones, strengthening them. Rather than making the bone fuse, she inserted her energy into the breaks. What was left when she finished wasn’t precisely bone. I could still break it, but I’d actually have to work at it. She fastened the healed wrist in the other shackle, leaving the boy standing against the wall with both of his arms held out from his body, not quite as high as his shoulders.
She walked away from him and over to the mirror on the opposite wall. She ran her hands along the sides of it and focused her energy to activate it. When she stepped back to give him a clear view of it, it showed his siblings sitting in their cell. "If they’re separated, the picture will split," she told him. "Unless there’s something I particularly want you to see."
The expression on his face told her that he realized that this was not a kindness. No, you will not like what you see.
She seated herself again. "Now, tell me about your world." She showed her teeth. "As long as I’m here, I’m not there."
Many places Jadis went, the older girl, Susan, followed silently. Her not speaking was not due to reticence or common sense— though Jadis rather thought that Susan would not have spoken often anyway— but due to Jadis having taken her ability to speak. Jadis had not taken Susan’s tongue because she wanted to leave the girl with hope that Jadis might someday relent and allow her to speak again.
And I might. I might not. Jadis smiled at the thought. As I choose. It’s all as I choose. How long—? But that was another thought that she didn’t want to pursue. "You should be grateful that I’ve let you keep your name," she told the girl more than once.
Susan never responded to that, not even with an acknowledgment that she’d heard.
Jadis could read flickers of emotion on the girl’s face, but none of them lasted long enough for someone less observant to notice. She would stick a knife in me if she was sure it would kill me. Would it? I think it would take rather more than that.
On this occasion, Jadis led the girl toward the older boy’s cell. The two hadn’t seen each other since she’d taken the boy away, and Jadis knew that Susan and the younger children wondered what had happened to him. "I usually come here when you’re asleep," she told the girl. She watched, out of the corner of her eye to see how the girl would respond.
One of Susan’s hands clenched then slowly relaxed. Her face remained blank. She nodded.
Does she guess? I’m sure she knows there are a lot of things I do without her. Jadis smiled. "I could tell you this was a reward, but we’d all know that that wasn’t true." She turned to face the girl completely. "There will be rewards someday but not just yet." And possibly not for you. I don’t think rewards would work, not the way they will work on the younger two. She laid a gloved hand on the girl’s hair. "His name is Liatris." She let that linger for a moment before she turned away and kept walking.
More properly, the boy ought to be Liat as Liatris was the feminine form of the name, but Jadis had rejected that. It’s not as if anyone else will notice, and I never hated anyone named Liat. Do I hate the boy? Do I want to? Or is it only that I don’t want to like him? The boy would talk to her in ways that nobody else would. Susan might have if Jadis hadn’t taken her voice, but Jadis rather thought that, having nothing to lose, the boy had more freedom to speak. But he does have something to lose. I’m going to take it right now. Do I… regret that? Never. I am Jadis, Queen of Charn. I regret nothing.
When they reached the door to the boy’s room, Jadis paused. She checked the lock to see if the younger girl had opened it. If she has, she and her brother will be gone. But I don't think he can run, and she knows -- The wolves always catch her. Jadis made a small sound of irritation. They like her better than they should. I shouldn't have let them name her.
Susan shifted her weight minutely, and Jadis looked at her and smiled. Susan did not meet her eyes.
“Eventually, I will understand your sister.” Jadis raised one gloved hand and slowly clenched it into a fist. “Locks and doors and… other things. A useful gift no doubt. She will have to learn not to run.” Or to run much faster, I suppose. Jadis never bothered to use the younger girl's name. It had too much snarl in it, and she had no mind to strain her throat. She, out of all of them, might actually be able to cross the border and escape. Would that matter?
Jadis opened the door and stepped inside.
Susan followed closely. Jadis could tell when the girl saw her brother by the sudden sharp inhalation, but when she looked back, the girl's expression was completely flat.
"Anyone just opening the door and looking in won’t see him," Jadis told the girl. She turned and took Susan’s chin firmly in her hand. "You will not show your sister where this room is." She didn’t bother adding threats to the command.
The boy was staring at the two of them.
No, he’s staring at his sister. That’s horror. Why? Oh, yes. I threatened that, and he hasn’t forgotten. Jadis gave a small laugh and told the boy, "Not that. Other things, yes, but not that."
The boy relaxed minutely. He still looked wary and didn’t say anything.
Jadis went to her chair and sat down.
Susan followed and took position just behind Jadis’s chair on the right.
Jadis sat silently for several minutes, just looking at the boy. She was a little surprised that the children waited, too. I suppose they’re not precisely children any more. She tapped a finger against her lip then smiled. Let them know the stakes… "I’m considering what to do with the younger two," she said gently, knowing full well that neither child would be fooled by the tone. "To have four of you at once is wealth, truly." She laughed.
The boy flinched.
Susan did not react visibly.
Jadis let iron into her voice. "Your younger sister is… inconvenient. I have tolerated her because the two of you amuse me. I don’t think you want me to… take steps. It would be easy, so very easy, to make sure she never runs again." I wouldn’t even have to kill her. My wolves would be disappointed, but… She gave a mental shrug. What her minions thought was of little moment.
The boy met Jadis’s eyes. His jaw worked a little. Finally, he said, “What do you want?”
Jadis was pleased by the bitterness in his voice. He wants to hate me. I’m not sure he quite can, not any longer. She smiled at him then turned to Susan. “Remove his footwear.”
Susan inhaled sharply. She hesitated for the briefest moment then crossed the room and knelt at her brother’s feet. She looked up at him.
He lifted his right foot and held it out for her. His eyes met hers. “It’s all right, Su,” he said. “Whatever it is, it’s all right.”
Susan removed his shoe then pulled off his sock and stuffed it into the shoe. She set both aside.
He put his foot down and offered her the other.
Does he even notice the cold now? Jadis wasn’t at all worried that the boy would get frostbite. That was quite impossible for anyone in Narnia, not unless she wanted them to freeze. I have no mind to lose either of them that easily.
Once the boy’s feet were bare, the two children exchanged another look. Susan squeezed her brother’s left foot.
The closest she can get to saying something… Jadis almost laughed, but she didn’t want to destroy the moment.
Susan looked back at Jadis and raised her eyebrows.
Jadis crooked a finger to beckon. When Susan was standing next to her once again, Jadis removed a small but very sharp knife from her belt and held it out to the girl. “I want blood and not a little. Just the feet. That will be sufficient.”
Susan inhaled sharply. She took the knife and turned it over as if looking at it might show her a way out.
“It really is all right,” the boy said calmly. His face was drawn, and his hands clenched, but the girl couldn’t see that.
Susan’s face hardened, and she looked directly into Jadis’s face for the first time in weeks.
Will she try to stab me? Jadis almost hoped so. But it wouldn’t kill me. The disappointment she felt at that thought was profound enough to make her shake herself as if that might make the impulse go away.
Susan took one step backward.
Jadis frowned at her. Better she should be afraid than that she should guess— There’s nothing to guess. She flicked her fingers in the boy’s direction. "Well?"
The boy said, "I’ll survive, Susan. She doesn’t want me dead." He looked directly at Jadis, and she could see from his expression that he guessed her purpose.
Yes, child. If your sister does this, she will be more mine. It will be easier for her to hurt other people, easier for her to rationalize obedience. If she says yes to this, how can she say no to anything else?
Susan turned to look at her brother.
Jadis couldn’t see the expression on her face, but she wasn’t entirely surprised when the girl crossed the distance to where her brother was chained and put the knife to his throat.
The boy pulled on his chains. "Don’t," he said quietly enough that Jadis almost couldn’t hear him. "Susan, you mustn’t."
Ah, not that he wants to live but that he wants her not to kill him. If I had a knife to his throat, he’d just close his eyes and wait. Does he remember—? Maybe he does, but she doesn’t know. Jadis had no intention of interfering. She simply watched to see what Susan would do. And no need to interfere. She can cut him to pieces, and he won’t die unless I allow it.
Susan touched her brother’s face with her free hand. She leaned in against him, never letting the knife waver. Her shoulders shook for about three seconds then she pulled back.
The boy kept his chin up so that it didn’t touch the knife. "Don’t give her that," he said. "You may have to, eventually, but don’t let it be me, not unless it’s me or one of them."
Jadis smiled at the boy. "I won’t punish you for killing him, Susan. Not if that’s what you want to do. There are a great many things that I’ll let you do if you want to." She was sure that the expression that flickered across the boy’s face was hatred. Jadis suppressed a laugh. It doesn’t actually matter, boy. I win no matter what. I think you know that. And… Do you envy her? Do you realize that it could be you with the knife and her chained to the wall?
Jadis felt a certain respect for the boy. If he did remember that he’d only die if she allowed it, saying that would certainly stop his sister from trying. But it wouldn’t have the same effect on her psyche. He’s trying to keep her from wounding herself any worse than she has to, and telling her it’s hopeless would be worse. Not as bad as her discovering it the hard way but still quite bad.
The boy pulled on his chains again. He looked at Jadis, and this time, his expression was clearly loathing. "And this is all for your amusement." The words were bitterly cold.
Jadis could almost feel the chill. I wish I could. No. I wouldn’t trade what I have for— for anything. For once, she knew she was lying to herself. "Ah, Liatris, would any of you have believed me if I put on a kind face? After all you had seen, I beg leave to doubt."
Susan went stiff. The hand holding the knife to her brother’s throat didn’t move at all, but the rest of her trembled.
The boy closed his eyes and inhaled slowly.
"Perhaps I should have let you wonder what had happened to the rebels." Jadis let her voice sound thoughtful, as if she might be able to change her mind about what she’d already done. She stood up. "But I wanted you to see what happens to fools. I wanted you not to want to be fools." She moved to stand directly behind Susan and put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. "Kill him if you want, but do it quickly. I’m becoming bored."
Susan flinched. Her knife drew a little blood from her brother’s throat.
Jadis laid a finger across the boy’s lips. "It’s her decision." He doesn’t quite dare try to bite, but he wants to. She squeezed the girl’s shoulder and ran a gloved finger down the boy’s throat to the knife. "I don’t feel anything, you know. No matter what happens— Nothing at all." Why tell them that? She stepped away, turned her back on them, and told herself it was because she was bored. "I still want blood, Susan, one way or another." The words came out more sharply and with less amusement than she had intended.
"If you don’t feel anything, then why bother?" The boy spoke softly, but his words carried clearly. "Why us?"
"You can still feel." Jadis didn’t turn back to look at the children. "And you’re nearer human than anyone else in this pit." Her own rage and bitterness came out in the words. "If I could leave, I would. In the meantime—" She waved a hand to indicate their surroundings. "Maybe someone will hear your tears and pay attention. No one has for anyone else in Narnia and not for want of trying."
She turned to find both children staring at her. "I do not think anyone is coming to save you." She laughed softly. "Do as you wish," she told Susan. Then she swept out of the room, locking the door behind her and leaving the children alone together.
The boy didn’t raise his head as Jadis entered the room. She suspected that, without the chains holding him upright, he’d be huddled on the floor. She sighed, letting the sound be audible to see if he would react.
He didn’t move.
She crossed the room and hooked fingers under his chin. “Sleeping? Are you that bored, Liatris?” He’s almost beyond being entertaining. She frowned at him.
He flinched a little, just enough for her to be sure he still feared her. After a moment, he met her eyes. He looked exhausted, but she thought she could still see hatred for her in his expression.
So, he’s not entirely gone. There’s that. She narrowed her eyes. “How much do I want to exert myself over you?” She gripped his hair with her other hand. “I’ve no mind to let you die or go mad, but…” Perhaps… I haven’t used that spell before, but I know it. It’s easy enough. It will probably work here. Probably.
She turned his head to one side then the other, just to see if he would resist. He didn't, not even when she started shaking him. She let his head fall, and she stepped back to take her usual seat. “I forget sometimes how very young you are.” Am I apologizing? Nonsense. But he might take it that way.
He continued looking at the floor, but his shoulders twitched.
“I haven't done this, any of this, because I hate you, boy. You're not that important. I simply wanted… something to amuse me.” She didn't say anything further for several minutes. “None of you are capable of challenging me. You knew that. I knew that.”
He started to laugh. It was a desperate, broken sound. He still didn't look up. “If Lucy had come home, none of us would be here. This place is nothing to us.”
“She'd have come back again.” Jadis made her voice gentle. “We both know doors-- all kinds of doors-- open for her. She wouldn't have been frightened enough to stay away.” She let the silence hang between them for almost a minute then added, “The fools here proved that they'd use you as an excuse to rebel.”
He coughed. “How long did it take them to die?” He raised his head and met her eyes.
She could see that he understood that she might not have allowed the rebels to die at all. She smiled and let him wait. Let him imagine their suffering. “Contrary to what some believe, screaming doesn't appeal to me as a lullaby. I don't mind them suffering as a lesson to the rest, but I've no interest in inconveniencing myself.”
He stared at her for a long moment. Then all energy and emotion seemed to drain out of him. His face went just a little slack, and he dropped his chin to his chest.
There is something left to him. She watched him for several minutes, wanting to judge if he was trying to deceive her. What would he expect to get for it? It’s not as if he has any notion that I might be capable of mercy. Am I? "I’m not minded to let you— any of you— go until you cease to interest me, and it’s not as if there’s anything else to bother with in Narnia."
He pulled minutely on his chains but didn’t react otherwise.
"I might— might— do you a kindness, Liatris." For once, she was sincere, but she was certain he wouldn’t trust her intentions. She stood and walked around her chair to the mirror. She had no particular interest in it, but it was the only thing in the room to which she could pretend to give her attention. Is he looking at me? Does he have that left?
When he said nothing, she went on, "This would be just between us. Nothing to do with anyone else." She turned to face him and laughed softly when she found his eyes boring into her. "I enjoy our chats too much to give them up entirely," she admitted, "but I am willing to send your mind voyaging when you’re alone."
He opened his mouth as if to speak then seemed to think the better of it.
She took three steps toward him. "Where would you like to go? It would be the past, but it need not be your personal past, and you would be quite certain that you were really physically there." She didn’t bother to tell him that there could be unfortunate repercussions to that. He will find out, and watching it could be amusing. How long will it take him to die and to discover that that is no release? Do I want that to surprise him? "I can give you the past of your world, drawn from your soul, not your memories but your soul’s knowledge of your world from its beginning. I can give you the past of this world, drawn from my own soul, from almost the very beginning. I can give you the past of Charn, my own world." She went very still. I had not meant to offer Charn. Will he see that advantage of that?
She closed the distance between them and cupped his chin in one gloved hand. "Parts of this world were… kind. They would welcome you and heal you. Your own world… You would know its nature better than I." She forced his chin up until he was looking at the ceiling. "Charn made me. It would devour you. But you might learn something." For a moment, she thought about the possibility of conversing in her own language again, and her heart clenched. "Is learning worth not being Peter Pevensie any more?"
He drew in his breath sharply at the sound of his old name.
She released his chin and looked him over coldly. "I think… I will not even ask a price. The choice of worlds is yours. If you choose your own world, I will allow you to guide yourself as to time and place." Anywhere else, I choose. Would I let him choose if he had the information to be able to? Possibly… not.
She watched expressions chasing each other across his face. But there’s no doubt. He will say yes. The alternative is letting himself rot, and he knows it’s happening. "I’ve decided to let the younger two grow a bit," she told him. "They’re so very small that there’s not much use to them. I want Digory able to wield a sword, and that won’t happen without him getting a bit larger and developing some muscle."
The younger boy had proved a disappointment. He wasn’t nearly as bright as any of the others. Just bright enough to know I’m dangerous. She had named him Digory in the memory of another boy who had disappointed her greatly. She had not for a single second considered naming the younger girl Polly. Polly was slippery, and I’ve no mind to repeat that.
She was certain that the boy in front of her had swallowed down words. Probably 'and I hope he sticks the sword through you.' Would that kill me? She smiled. "Susan is grown enough, and you… Well, you hardly need to be grown for what I have you doing."
The boy closed his eyes. His lips moved a little, but no sound came out.
Is he praying? She couldn’t quite bring herself to be amused. No one’s going to answer you, child. No one but me, and I— not for want of trying— am not a god. "You really don’t have any choice," she told him. "I know it. You know it." She hesitated. "I think… They will not hold your temporary escapes against you." If I tell them, they will envy you. Will I tell them? Perhaps not. "Staying or leaving will make no difference to them." She flicked a finger against his face.
He opened his eyes.
For a moment, she couldn’t breathe. He looks… old. He’s not. I know that, but… She forced a laugh and hoped that it didn’t sound forced. "I wonder who you will be. Later, I mean. I will expect you to entertain me with stories of your adventures."
He looked beyond her at the mirror. "All right," he said. He took a deep breath as if to steady himself and drew himself up to his full height. He bit his lip. "It will have to be Charn."
She was a little surprised by how certain and calm he sounded. She smiled approvingly at him. I should have remembered that he’s strong. She tapped a finger against her cheek. "I wonder… How hard should I make it for you? Where should I put you—? A forest? A city? An ocean shore? A slave market?"
He flinched slightly at the last option, and she considered sending him to a slave market simply because he feared it.
"It would explain your ignorance and… general appearance," she told him. "I can see why you’d prefer not, however, and as I won’t be watching, I won’t insist." But you may end up there anyway. You have no idea how not to. She leaned in close. "I suggest— very strongly— finding someone powerful and attaching yourself to them. The chances are at least even that you’ll benefit rather than… otherwise." She stepped back. "And I wouldn’t suggest introducing yourself as Liatris."
He stared at her, but she wasn’t interested in explaining.
No point making it too easy. She turned away and paced back and forth while she laid out the steps for the spell in her mind’s eye. Simplest to hook it to the door opening. It will start when I open the door to leave and end when I open the door to visit him again. If I hook it thus and thus, I won’t have to renew it every time. And a loop for if— when— he dies in the vision. Back to the original starting point to play things over? Why not? He can experiment with different paths.
She stopped near her chair but didn’t sit. Instead, she stripped off one glove and hung it over the arm of the chair. She cut her index finger just deep enough to draw blood. Once she judged that she had sufficient blood on the blade, she held it up, focused her gaze on it, and spoke three Words. She drew images of her capital city as she remembered it then forced her way past her memories to a time before her birth. She had no mind to give the boy any sort of view of her personal past, but she thought two hundred years before she was born would provide sufficient insurance against that. She spoke six more Words then walked over to the boy and touched the bloody blade to his forehead.
"It is done," she told him as she wiped her knife on his shirt. "When I leave this room, your body will be here, but you will not." She felt her balance waver a little and firmed her stance to balance it. He must not know. She turned away and retrieved her glove. Sheathing her knife and putting the glove back on took only a few seconds, but it was quite long enough for her to know that she’d spent more on the spell than she’d expected. It’s a small spell. A teaching spell. Anyone could do it. She swallowed hard. I’m out of practice. That’s all.
She considered speaking to the boy again but decided there was no point. She didn’t even allow her eyes to rest on him for a second as she headed for the door. She opened the door, stepped through, and closed it gently behind her. Will this make him more likely to be able to kill me? Surely one of them will manage. She pushed the thought firmly from her mind, but this time, it echoed. She allowed herself a few seconds to lean against the wall in the corridor. I’m tired. It’s making me think things I wouldn’t— I don’t— I will not give that lion the satisfaction. He will not win. "I always win," she said aloud as she straightened to her full height.
And if she didn’t quite believe it, her voice was firm and her posture uncompromising. Everyone else will believe.