The sound filled her ears first in a brand-new rush of music; notes swirled around her, pulling her open. A moment later, she blinked and the blue sky opened above her in a perfect cathedral vault, with the words lifting her up. She struggled against the sweet red loam, pulling a heavy dark stone from her chest as she coalesced from the earth of her shaping. Her first breath filled her lungs and she sang the final lines of the song, letting her soul fill her body, fill her world, fill all the space she could see and hear and feel.
"Those words are not for you to sing, child," said the voice, and she knew the voice of the one who had sung her into being, and with that knowledge came the sting of his rebuke. She caught the grey stone from her chest and held it tight in her fist, staring up at the infinite blue sky for a moment longer. She pulled herself from her chrysalis of red earth and stood under the bright new sun and the clear new sky. She would not feel shame; the music had filled her ears, opened her eyes, and lifted her lungs.
The Lion stood before her, and beside him, another figure such as herself. He stood next to the Lion, hand buried in his mane.
"Come forth, woman, and accept your place in this world," the Lion said. She could feel the kindness, the love, in what he said, and the temptation to run to his side and bury her face in his mane and feel the wild Lion's kiss of domestication was almost unbearable. Her shoulders prickled as the soft red earth dried on her skin in the heat of the young sun, and she held the rough stone in her hand so tightly that it dug into her skin and she felt the bite of pain for the first time.
"I will find my own place in this world," she said, looking away from him. Around her were plants just stretching fresh leaves to the sunlight, birdsong new to tiny beaks, and she wanted to explore all that it could possibly give her, without having a place made for her with fatherly kindness and restriction.
"I shall set you above the rest of creation," said the Lion.
"Me?" she asked. "We are created by the same voice, the same song, under the same sky; how shall I master creation?"
The Lion looked on her long and hard. He was a majestic creature, huge and dangerous and lovely, and Lilith was desperate to run to his side. She clutched the stone to her chest and held tight to the vast, soaring infinity of the music that had made her live. That was the life she wanted, even if it was uncertain. It was full of new things that the Lion had made, and then forbidden. She could see the implacable intent in his face, and steeled herself to be unmade; she would rather take that than a half-life under the paw of the Lion.
"Very well, Lilith," he said. She blinked, braced for his judgement, and he was gone, and she was alone and so light and buoyant under the bright new sky. The light dazzled her eyes and she realised she was crying, and the wild, terrified feeling growing under her ribs was freedom.
The sun turned in the sky. Lilith wandered over the changing earth, and sharpened the stone into a knife that hung from her neck, close to her hand. She met the man in the glassy hot glare of autumn, as he laboured in the field while the high clouds gathered. She knew what those clouds meant, and her stone knife joined his rough sickle in cutting through the stalks of the plants he was gathering. They shifted the stalks, heavy with seed heads, dry and golden, to shelter, and stood underneath it as the first heavy drops fell on the rough stubble of the bared ground.
"Thank you," he said. She smiled, feeling the satisfaction and tiredness of a job done well. He brushed a stray piece of straw from her shoulder, and she turned into his arms. The feeling of his hands on her skin, rough on smooth, and his lips on hers, was as new and sharp as anything she'd felt under the wide sky. She'd never had a word for this before, but she recognised the wild, terrifying feeling of freedom.
They lay amongst the rustling sheaves, danced and laughed in the rain, and lay again, sweetly and slowly. Lilith woke in the first light of dawn. It was calm and still with the promise of a beautiful day. She levered herself from the ground and considered the small shelter she had rested in, the planting and care that had gone into the garden in front of it. It was productive and joyous, in its own purposeful way. It spoke of a future that Lilith did not often consider. She had woken to the song of the earth's potent beginnings, and the future and past were all the same time to her.
The man woke then, and sleepily curled his hand around her ankle. She sank back to the ground next to him.
"I will see my father this morning," he said.
"Hmm?" she asked.
"I make sacrifices to my father this morning. I shall ask him to make you my woman."
Lilith stiffened, pulling away from his roaming hands.
"What has your father to say to anything that lies between us?" she asked.
"To lie with a woman not your wife is forbidden," he said.
Lilith pushed away from him, from his warmth and moved out into the cool night. She looked to the eastern sky, to the sweet, cold glow of the morning star, and she felt anger and fear both. She'd not thought much of the Lion, nor her twin, and had seen no sign of either of them for many turnings of the Earth. She realised, now, when it was too late, what Cain meant by his father.
"I will not be trapped," she said. "And you have already taste that which is forbidden; shall you now ask for mercy over something that should never have been prohibited? Are we unthinking beasts, to follow blind stricture?"
"My father is not like that," he said. "He gives us rules out of love, and we show our love by our obedience."
"You will see his love, when you take your sacrifice this morning. You will see it, and know it for what it is. He creates life that is new and bold and rational, and then denies the fruits of that rationality!"
She turned from him, and ran from the carefully edged clearing, the painstaking toil of cultivation, and back into the wild. She heard him calling her, ordering her to come back, to stand by his side and accept his judgement, and she ran until she could run no more. She would not accept the rules of his father, her twin creation, nor of his other father, the Lion.
Turning a corner, she stopped short. The Lion was here, and his face held such love and such dominion that she shuddered and retched into the undergrowth. She stood at the lip of a depression in the red ground, a depression the same size and shape as herself. She remembered the way the earth had felt as it dried and prickled on her new skin.
"Already you quicken with life," he said. "My child, I love you. Will you not love me?"
"I would give up everything," she said, "to be free of your love. I already love you; too well to bend to your will. I heard the song of the first morning and the first star, I heard the song that opened my eyes and my ears and my lungs. I will not dishonour the song with your love, which is containment."
"My child, would you indeed be free of my love?"
"I would," she said, and one hand went to the stone knife hanging between her breasts, the other over her round belly. "I would be unmade sooner than kneel under your love." She waited for the music to unmake her, to tumble her back into the soft loam. His eyes grew sad, but his roar was fierce, powerful, like a blow. She stumbled and fell, and her knees met not the red loam of Earth, but the dry soil of a totally different place.
She blinked. The world was wrong. The sunlight was yellow, but too thin, and the birdsong was not quite right. The sky was a darker blue, the air colder. This was not unmaking. This was a new world. An empty world, one that had never heard the song that had made her. She could, if she listened hard, hear the faint echo of the Lion's song, but colder, fainter, stretched more thin. This world was not as rich as the one she'd been made in, but that didn't matter. She stretched her arms up to the sky and drank it in. She would seed this world herself, with her hands and her body.
Lilith found the world shaped easily to her hands, as if it had been waiting for her, as if the music in her lent her magic. Her son was born, and he had the same practical magic. They laboured together under the thin sun, shaping, with no order but the time and thought they put into it. She had no prohibitions, for they could think and wonder and create and if what they found or made was not right, they could revise and destroy.
The thought of the future came to her more often now, as she saw her son place careful edges on his fields, and line his harvests just so. She did not fear to return to this earth, but she would not see her son dwindle alone. She thought and wondered, and the song of her creation came to her many times. At last, she knew what to do.
The red loam was easy to find. The bodies were shaped by hands and magic and love, and if they differed in their details, they were united by the loving, joyous purpose of their creation. Then Lilith drove her hand into her chest and pulled forth a rib, sliding the bone into the soft earth, as she sang the song of creation. The stars overhead trembled, the earth shook with the unfamiliar music, and her daughter, herself, shook free from the soil and plucked a stone from her chest. She repeated it again and again, tearing bone after bone from her flesh and staining the ground even darker with her blood.
Finally, she knelt next to the last shape. The face was joyous, even before being made flesh, and Lilith knew that this one she would die for. She would give her last rib, and sink into the earth, and be gone from this place. She pulled the bone from her chest, with fingers grown weak, and patted it into the proper place. She could not sing, though, her lungs failing to inflate, but she heard the stars and earth echo the song, heard her daughters pick it up and sing, and as her last creation rose from the dirt, she slumped over.
"Your name is Jadis," she said, breathing it out with her last breath. Jadis stood forth, and Lilith was gone.
Jadis had heard the story of the founding of the world many times in her youth. The House of Charn was descended in right line from Jadis Lastshaped, and she was the 24th Jadis of their line. She knew these things as well as she knew the cold red sun or the deep blue sky, or the secret ways of the palace of Charn. It was an old-fashioned sort of a story, but charming in its naivety. Jadis could not imagine giving up any inch of power or advantage once gained, and surely Charn had never valued freedom or experimentation over the heavy, formal rules that governed every aspect of life.
Still, she sat still and looked attentive as the poet recited the story. She had a fine voice, and knew her work well. She described Lilith's shaping of the first sisters well, though Jadis found it hard to believe the simple morality and sacrifice. When she, a Jadis of the House of Charn, took the life of Lilith, she would not kneel and smooth her hair and commit her tenderly to the dust with sadness and lamentations. There were rules of mourning now, and prescribed ways to show the status of whomever you mourned; to pour out emotions was weak, ostentatious, unseemly.
Returning her attention to the recital, Jadis felt her lip curl a little as she contemplated the animations. They were crude, rough things, but she could expect nothing more from her plain sister, as unhandy with magic as with all things. To be named for Lilith Breathgiver yet be unable to charm with swiftness or clarity was a shame. Despite being younger, she knew her own magic has more energy, vigour and smoothness already. She kept this knowledge, too, from her face, and joined in the applause at the end, as was proper.
Lilith dropped back into her seat next to Jadis. They sat, as was proper for young women of the House of Charn, against the wall behind their mother and listened as the hum of conversation became general. Jadis took care to keep an expression of courteous interest on her face, even as the talk turned to clothes and recipes and the recent beheading of two disgraced generals, though she sharpened her ears when whispers of scandal surfaced. Lilith's titter and eager voice annoyed her, but she recognised that this was a chance to learn and practice, to be a queen. Jadis was sure she knew what that meant - to hold all things in her hands, under her own prohibition and granting, to keep this one close and that one closer. To proclaim, and order, in the spirit of the House of Charn. Although she was younger, she had no doubt she would follow her mother to the throne. After all, hadn't Lilith given up her life for Jadis before? This Jadis would not deserve the name, or to be queen, if she could not take advantage of that fact somehow.
Jadis's mother beckoned her forward at last, but it was not to take her place at the centre of attention and delight the audience with her polished magic.
"Child, you are needed in the cloister of the west tower," she said. It was an old phrase that Jadis had heard often, that meant she had erred somehow and now faced punishment. Jadis bowed her head to stop the flash of rage she was sure would be visible on her face. For her mother to send her out, to let her sister stay; it was an intolerable insult. Jadis's mother merely dismissed her, and Jadis schooled her face to expressionless hauteur. Let the assembled guests wonder what rule she had transgressed; she certainly could not find one. She would recover.
She took the back routes from habit. They were deserted at this time of day, with the slaves busy in the kitchens or in the reception rooms. She let the quiet, dim stone corridors cool her anger. Anger was only as useful as any other weapon, to heat the blood for decisive action or to cow an opponent. It had no place here.
The cloister was close and dusty, and people seldom went there. It was a commonplace punishment for Jadis, and she knew the room well. She couldn't quite say how it was different, when she pushed the door open, but the dust seemed disturbed and the space in the room shaped oddly, as if around a different source of power. She stopped with her hand on the handle and looked around, suddenly alert. She had not yet reached the traditional age for assassination attempts to begin, but it was not impossible. She would be the next queen, after all.
The gallery was narrow, the windows deep set and the shadows deep. Her hand went to the knife hanging on her chest. It was no proper stone knife, of course, she would have to make her own when she came of age, but it would do to split the throat of any sent to kill her.
"Your mother was right," said a voice from the end of the gallery. A man stepped forth from the shadows. Jadis did not remove her hand from her knife. "You are every inch her headstrong, untrusting, furious daughter."
"She was there when I was made. I'm sure she knows." Jadis gripped the handle and wondered if she should let him finish talking before she took his life.
"No need to be thinking of how to cut my throat, child. I'm sure I will say worse to you before we're done. It would be a shame to escalate things so early in the piece."
"Who are you?" Jadis demanded. There was no way he could have known her thought; it must be luck.
"I was your mother's tutor, once."
"Vastly pretty, I am sure, but I still am in the dark about your presence here, in my cloister."
He laughed softly for just a moment, before holding up his hand. Jadis gritted her teeth and held on to her temper with an effort, before he made a small gesture and she reeled backwards, filled with pain. Each nerve seemed on fire, and she screamed, with not a shred of willpower left for her to control her voice. She forgot all dignity, all plans, all coldness.
The pain stopped, and she heaved for great, sobbing breaths. Her first instinct was to launch herself across the room, but she mastered the urge and stay huddled on the floor.
"Get up; you are not hurt," the man ordered. "I am Ari, the Lion of Charn, and you will learn from me. This is my cloister, and you have been sent here to me to learn. Do not seek to hide from me, or conceal your thoughts, for I will give you power beyond anything you can imagine. You are a child, but I shall make you Jadis, the final rib of Lilith, and truly a stone blade of the House of Charn. Get up."
Jadis dragged herself to her feet, wary but eager. She could see clearly now, like the pain had sharpened her vision. She could see, now, the purpose in her mother's actions, and it filled her with a momentary pride. She met the eyes of her new tutor and immediately forgot all thought of rejoicing. She shivered, not sure how she would survive this tutoring, but determined that she must.
She learned much from Ari. Some of it built on the lessons she'd had already, whether the deliberate ones of charms and magic, or the unspoken ones of cold vigilance. She learned to intimidate and beguile, as the occasion demanded. She learned to kill, and to hurt and delight in that hurting. She learned the inescapability of the forbidden. Rules were essential to ruling, but at the same time unnecessary to one who could see through them. She felt herself grow sharper and colder as the days turned.
"What will you ask for?" Ari asked, one night as they sat on the wide windowsill of the cloister. She did not answer immediately. She knew, of course. The ritual of the second making had long been forbidden in the House of Charn, though her mother had done it, and so would Jadis. She was a rib of Lilith, and she would do things as they should be done, without fear. Even though the shaping of one's stone knife was the most sacred act of making oneself, she knew of several of the House of Charn, even, who carried a blunt stone at their breast. Not her. She would make herself sharp enough to make the world bleed for her.
"You know what I intend, as always," she said.
"Yes," he said. "You find ways to break prohibitions I would never have even seen. It is a great gift in one so young."
Ari was seldom complimentary. Jadis kept her silence.
"Yet I would caution you, to think clearly and long before asking this. For if it is granted you, what will you do with it? To carry a hot coal is useful only when lighting a fire, they say."
"I would not know," said Jadis. "If I want fire, I command it." She was angry, but pushed it down. For Ari to caution her using a proverb only fit for a slave, that was an insult. There was no point responding, though.
"Indeed," said Ari, and she could hear the amusement colouring his voice. "Then a hot coal is even more dangerous, for you do not know how to use it."
He was deliberately provoking her now, Jadis knew, though she also knew to keep her anger in check. She still needed him, after all. He was useful, in a way not many people were. He would not be useful for much longer, and she would slide her new stone knife between his ribs, as was proper for the House of Charn when killing family. She would hold him close, breast to breast, and let his last red froth of air mist out over her lips. She would take him inside herself, breath returning to breath.
Next to her, Ari swung his feet in complete unconcern. It infuriated her further, that he must know she planned to kill him, yet cared not. He would care, she decided, when her knife took the air from his lungs. He would care all too much then, too late.
That pleasing image was in her mind still, though she pushed it aside as she readied herself for the final act of her second making. Her knife was well-balanced and sharp, like to cut the very air itself. She had laid it bare on her breast as she stretched out on the stone cold of the floor and let the sky wheel around her. She breathed, in and out, seeking the balance of her knife, and the smooth, sweet edge where it cut. She existed on that edge, breathed between the stone of her body and the breath of the sky, until she felt the purpose of her life fill her.
She rose at last, and she found the world to be asleep around her. Moving through the corridors, she witnessed many hung in the moment of her making, suspended by her will and her need. She found her mother, at last, standing alone in her study as if expecting Jadis to come to her. Perhaps she was. She stood straight and tall, her hands empty, her face towards the door. It was as unreadable as ever, and Jadis quailed for just an instant. But she knew what she had to do. Stepping forward silently, Jadis came to her. She clasped her mother in her arms, and the knife found the gap between her ribs as if it was meant to nestle there. The body slumped in her arms, and, in the second before her dying breath, as that last, red-mist exhalation rose, Jadis saw what she wanted.
In a dream within a dream, she was in another study, not dissimilar to this one. A scholar sat at the table and seemed to labour fiercely with nothing but a pen. Jadis came forward; her hand was over the paper, obscuring the word there.
"I cannot let it survive," the scholar murmured, as if to her imaginary audience. "We must be ruled by what we can think and wonder and create, and if what we find or make is not right, we can revise and destroy. If I destroy this, and it proves necessary later, someone will find it again."
Jadis looked at her. She had the sweet, careful, thoughtful face one saw in the hall of her ancestors. Jadis found them weak. Charn had moved from strength to strength without them. A land of people without rules was weak, she knew. A heavy yoke separated out those who would groan under it and those who would break it.
"Nothing can be forbidden," said the scholar. Jadis looked at her more carefully. So many things were forbidden in Charn, yet this scholar said nothing?
"Freedom is nothing without prohibition," said a second voice, and both Jadis and the scholar had to look around to find the source. A lion, embossed in brass, shook his mane and continued, "to truly know the limits of one's freedom, one must have rules to measure against."
The scholar looked doubtful. "Lilith herself, the giver of breath and shaper of earth for all us children, urged the use of our minds and hearts, to know what we are ready for," she said.
"You can swear oaths," said the lion. "Promise to not seek the knowledge. Bind yourself to this rule. Then your knowledge can live."
"But my people cannot."
"That is in the future," the lion argued.
Jadis itched with impatience, desperate to tear the scholars hand away from the paper and see what she had written. She barely heard the scholar's gradual, ineffectual weakening, her inevitable capitulation. She merely watched, as the scholar moved her hand, to throw the newly-forbidden word into the fire, to be consumed but not forgotten. Jadis caught sight of the four precious letters, and they burned themselves into her brain, even as she came back to the spray of her mother's blood and breath on her face, in the swift reanimation of the morning in the palace of the House of Charn.
Letting her mother's body drop to the stones, she made her way by hidden paths back to her chambers. The word stayed close, written in her heart, snug under her ribs. It waited, with the song that had come from Lilith and that made them all, deep inside her. It was not forgotten. She held it close, until she stood on the steps of the palace of the House of Charn. She stood as tall and straight as her mother before her, and waited until her sister would crumple at her feet, as once before Lilith had crumpled before Jadis. Her knife was bloody and sharp in her hand, but she had no need of it. She said the word.
Jadis hadn't thought of Charn in years. As she waited, on a small rise, for some kind of order to come to her people, she looked at the crowd of creatures and thought of the thin, dry grass of the farmlands outside the gates of Charn. It had been deserted, the slaves slaughtered or having fled, and she'd seen her sister's army gathered there instead of the crops she'd never believed were important, no matter what her mother or advisors had said. She'd had time to realise, though, as the siege wore on and the granaries emptied.
There would be no siege here. Her enemy waited on the high ground in the spring sunlight. Her people would tear them and trample them into the lush grass, and her snow would cover their rent and broken bodies. It would cradle them for the long, long, endless winter she would bring.
She brought her stone knife to her lips and bowed her head. The Lion's blood was dry now, and just the finest mist was left flaking on her lips. She closed her eyes and remembered the terror and jubilation of how easily her blade had slipped between his ribs, finding the gap as if it had been her own, and how the air had bubbled out of his mouth and into hers as intimately as if he was her lover. She had felt, for just an instant, the spark of his life between her lips. She had taken his life, just as she had promised herself that she would the moment she'd first heard him singing the song of making. Or perhaps the first instant she'd seen him, on a desk in a scholar's study in a Charn she'd nearly forgotten.
She lifted her face, her hand, her voice, and the magic flew from her wand with the same hatred and ferocity of her army, and they surged across the plain to meet the deaths and blood and destruction waiting there.
The traitor appeared in front of her some time later, with his face pale and set, and brought his sword down on her wand. She had known he had a streak of clever self-preservation under that sulky exterior, but she still would not give him an honourable death of closeness. She brought her knife up, blade ready to rip into his belly. She was jostled at the last moment, and the stroke fell awry. He crumpled to the ground at her feet, blood seeping from a wound on his stomach. She forgot him, moving on and forward always.
The thunder of hooves and paws was the first thing to alert her. She looked up in time to see another force crash into the heedless flank of her army, and she howled with fury for the few seconds it took before Aslan bounded straight through the massed ranks towards her.
She had time for nothing but to bring up her knife, ready to die as Jadis, the last rib of Lilith. Her body lay boneless and broken in the blood of her final battlefield.
Lilith waited beside the still, cold body of Jadis in the mountains of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. She smoothed Jadis's hair back from her forehead, and ran her fingers over the lines of pride, cruelty and vanity on her face. Lilith loved her nonetheless; even as she grieved over the end of her children.
She did not turn, even as the soft tread of the Lion's footsteps came over the grass. She was here for her own mourning, not for Aslan. Still, he stood on the other side of the body and she looked up at him. The kind, patient love was there just as always.
"My child, you cannot be here," he said.
"And yet I am," she replied. "I would think you would have forgotten your determination to rule through prohibition by now. Is this not the land where we can no longer want wrong things?"
"And yet, here you are, and so is she."
"She will not be here long, my last-shaped, my Jadis," said Lilith. "But I, I will be here forever, for I heard the music as I was sung into being by your love. Are you saying you no longer love me?"
"Is that not what you asked for?"
"Yes, and I would still be free of it. It has been a long time, father. Why can you not see me for who I am? I, at least, strive to see you clearly."
"I would rather you had striven to know me well."
Lilith sighed, and touched Jadis's face again. This last child of hers had been so strong, so passionate and sharp, and so utterly ruined. She had followed her own path, whatever that had been. Lilith regretted how far Jadis had gone, but she could hardly condemn her determination to do things her own way, with the knowledge and strength she had. She could barely bring herself to look away from Jadis's face, not even peaceful in death.
"She is the last of me," said Lilith. "A selfish, heedless end, and perhaps one we would have reached anyway, with or without you. There was no need to intervene."
"You forget to whom you speak," Aslan said, and there was the faintest hint of a growl to his voice. Lilith met his eyes, steeling herself against the pressure, the strong need to rest between his paws and forge her own way no longer.
"Father, I remember still the song you sang as I came alive. You create us with hearts and souls and minds to seek, and then hem us in with restrictions about how we may use them. Do you need us to always need you? Is not my love enough, that you must always test my obedience and find me lacking?"
"They are the same thing," he said.
"No, and they never have been," she replied. She plunged her hand into Jadis's chest, tearing a rib free and dragging it through the muscle and skin to the sunlight. The malice faded from Jadis's face; she relaxed, and her face was uncomplicated, joyous, kind, peaceful. Lilith leaned forward and kissed her lips once more, in blessing and farewell, moving away as Jadis's body dissolved slowly into the earth.
Lilith shoved the rib into her own body, piece by piece. She sighed as it settled into place, making her complete once more.
"A foolish experiment," she said. "As all love is. On that, at least, we should be able to agree; since you gave me to Charn, your own foolish experiment. Tell me, did you sing Charn into existence merely for practice, or was that sweet, neglected world your own little piece of imperfection? What prohibitions did you flout in making it?"
"My child, I would see you walk the right paths for the sake of my love, and in exchange your cup would overflow."
"My father, all my paths are blazed in the love I found when you woke me. It is your love that seeks to hem in my own."
Lilith came to her feet and walked down the hill, leaving Aslan behind her. She took painful breaths that tugged on her last rib, but she did not hesitate to walk where her own feet led her.