Undertow

Sep. 17th, 2011 04:40 pm
liptonrm_fic: (narnia family-espalier)
[personal profile] liptonrm_fic
Title: Undertow
Fandom: Chronicles of Narnia
Rating: General
Disclaimer: No profit was made in the writing of this story.
Author's Note: Golden Age fic. This is what happens when you combine a book on Renaissance history, a random episode of The Tudors and too much Guy Gavriel Kay at an impressionable age. Book and movie compatible.
Summary: Freedom has its cost.



The waves dashed against stones, breaking over the sea wall that protected Cair Paravel’s harbor. Wood splintered against the rocks, the wreckage of yet another Narnian ship, its crew and cargo dragged down to Tethys’ depths.

Susan stood on the palace’s Great Balcony, sea wind blowing through her hair, and surveyed the destruction. Peter stood to her left, his mouth pinched tight. She could feel his anger in the stiff tension of his body. Yet another ship destined for the Lone Islands or Calormene trading enclaves obliterated before it had even begun its journey. They had only begun to expand Narnia’s reach after her hundred year imprisonment, and once again disaster followed in their wake. Grief clawed in her throat but she didn’t give it space, didn’t let it show. She was a queen, after all.

“This is unacceptable.” Peter slammed his fist down onto the railing ledge. “We cannot continue to throw away Narnian life like so much refuse.”

Susan placed her hand on Peter’s arm, a futile attempt to calm him. She knew how heavily the deaths weighed on him, could feel in herself the press of all that loss. Narnia had been sequestered for so long, cut off from the world. And with Winter's passing they needed to grow, to expand outward and flourish. Now was the time when Narnia’s future would be decided; to flourish or stagnate, descend into a slow, lingering death. They had worked too hard, spent too many long hours cajoling and alluring, to have it all end smashed against the shore.

Peter turned abruptly, Susan’s hand slipping off his shoulder. “What went wrong?” he demanded of the watching crowd.

No one spoke as no one had an answer. The great wave that had risen up was unexplainable, a freak squall whose sole purpose seemed to be destruction.

A line bisected Edmund’s forehead, brows drawn in tight. He hated not having an answer, not knowing something of import and need. He had been the first to dig into the dusty archives buried in Cair Paravel’s deepest basement. He had been the one to find old ship plans and the first to attempt to follow them. He felt this failure the most keenly of all.

Lucy stood alone, separated from the others. Her foot tapped and her hand twisted her skirt with a white-knuckled grip. Her eyes were red. This hurt her deepest of all.

A figure on the edge of the crowd fidgeted. Rosemary the Badger had become Narnia’s chief archivist and historian. During the Great Winter it had been the badgers who remembered, who kept the records and smuggled the books and letters under the noses of Maugrim’s secret police, hiding them deep and safe in their dens. Badgers kept the memory and passed what they knew on to those who came after.

“Your majesties—” Rosemary stopped and took a deep breath, her flicked back ears detailing her discomfort. “I believe I may have discovered a reason.”

“Well, get on with it.” Peter waved his hand, frustration clipping his words.

“Yes.” Rosemary swallowed. Her forearms trembled slightly, nervousness flickering under her skin as she lifted a tome and handed it to her king. Peter picked it up and glanced at the open page before handing it to Susan.

“This is not the first time that Narnia has had difficulties with the Sea,” Rosemary’s words formal and direct, as if she were a professor before her class. “However, there is a problem with the suggested solution. In order to appease the Sea a sacrifice is often required.

Susan looked down at the book in her hands, spider web text drawing her eyes to an illumination brilliantly rendered at the bottom of the page. It was so vivdidly detailed that the waves seemed to move, lapping against the side of a golden barge. And from the barge’s deck a figure leaped into the billowing sea. From beneath waves reached upward, their crests grasping to catch their prey.

A great roar sounded in her ears, blocking out all sound of the talk escalating around her. The surf pounded in time with her own heart. She knew what she must do.

~~~

The summer wind blew clean and fresh across the harbor, bearing with it the promise of the ocean beyond. Susan stepped onto the waiting barge, first among her siblings.

She stood at the prow, the waves splitting as the water bore her out to sea. The deck was silent save for the cawing of seabirds and the creaking of timbers, every argument and sentiment already spent. None of Edmund's logic nor Lucy's passion would sway her from this path.

Peter had offered no complaint. He knew well the weight of duty.

The sun escaped from behind a cloud and sparkled off the waves as they left the calm waters around Cair Paravel. The wind blew Susan's hair away from her face. In it she could feel a touch of winter. She stepped up to the side and handed her robe to a waiting nymph. Without it she wore a simple green dress. She was a queen and a sacrifice and did not need jewels to prove her worth.

Lucy grabbed her in a hug, tucking her head into her older sister's neck, and Edmund gripped her hand tight. After a moment they stepped back in unconscious unison, their faces pale and set. Peter caught her gaze and nodded, kingly command and brotherly comfort.

Susan breathed deep and dove.

She plunged downward, cleaving through the water. When her progress slowed she kicked her legs and pulled with her arms, dragging herself ever deeper. The light dimmed, colors deepening to darker hues. Her ears popped and her chest began to strain, but she did not stay her descent.

Inevitably she slowed and then stopped, arms burning from the strain. She craved breath, her throat convulsing to draw in air where none existed. She waited, vision dimming. Perhaps this was as far as her journey would go.

Arms, strong and cold caught her, held her waist and pulled her in. Persistent lips pressed into hers, breathing into her mouth. Susan gasped into it, fingers clutching at solid shoulders. Her vision cleared, centering on the mermaid's shuttered silver eyes.

The mermaid pulled back, expression blank and implacable. She gazed at Susan for a timeless moment, their bodies pressed flush against each other, their legs intertwined. A sly, knowing smile flickered across her face and she leaned, catching Susan's mouth in a kiss.

Susan opened for her and found herself caught in a timeless moment. Ages passed around them, the sea ever changing and unchanged, while the surged together, their boundaries blurring and coming undone.

Susan's hands pierced ocean's limit, pulling her into the air beyond. She gasped, eyes dazzled by the brilliant sunlight that sparked off of water and air alike.

A strong arm caught her own, lifting her up. She was wrapped in a dry robe and her siblings' arms. When they released her, Peter stood before her. He lifted her left hand and revealed the band wrapped around her finger, silver and blue and green.

He nodded at her, pride and love in his eyes. The sacrifice had been enough, the bargain had been made.

~~~

The white of Cair Paravel’s walls glowed in the full moon’s light. Susan stood on the castle’s highest parapet, looking out over the ocean. From here the water’s surface seemed almost smooth, the waves only a stone’s ripple on a pond. Even from so far away the surf pounded in Susan’s head, the push and pull of the tide thrumming in her blood.

Her hands held tight to the railing before her, not sure whether it was holding her up or keeping her back. There had been a celebration after her return, a feast with laughing and dancing, plans hatching in the corners for Narnia’s next step. But Susan had wanted none of it, even the food turning her stomach and making her ill. She only wanted a quiet place where she could sit and think and make everything make sense.

She had pretended it all away, of course, had pantomimed her familiar social graces, and no one seemed to see through it all to the turmoil underneath. And if her brothers’ eyes were occasionally dark with worry when they glanced in her direction or her sister’s mouth turned down at her laugh she could ignore all of that. They trusted each other to do what must be done.

Her knuckles creaked, her hands wrapped so tightly around cold stone that they felt near to breaking. The Sea’s Ring dug tightly into her flesh, its moonlit gleam taunting her with everything she could no longer have. Through it all, through everything, the feel of the sea beat in her bones. Even now it beckoned, pulling her to jump and dive into its waiting embrace. She would never be free.

Tears dripped down Susan’s face. She didn’t know how much more she had left to give.

~~~
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