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20 November 2013 @ 06:52 pm
Commentary: Under a Swift Sunrise, Chapter 14  
From now on, the commentary was written after finishing the whole story. Also, it’s been forever since I actually wrote these chapters, so I’m hoping I can remember what I wanted to comment on.


           Lucy’s frightened shout followed Edmund as he fell through thick leaves on thin branches. He desperately clutched for a handhold as he realized far too late that the ferns were, in fact, the tops of trees and that, if the trees were tall enough, he might not survive hitting the ground. Silken thread brushed his face as he fell and he managed to grab a handhold. The force jerk his arm, but the threads did not hold him for long as it tore with an unearthly sound and followed him deeper into the abyss. The threads are the parts of the trees that send down the seeds and nourish them until the baby trees reach sunlight.
            Darkness engulfed Edmund, a deep shadow that hid the progress of his fall, hid the sight of its inevitable end. Huh, that’s like a metaphor for life: we can’t see the inevitable end of it, though we know it’s there. Therefore, he had only the swiftest moment to sense the onrushing earth before he hit ground. Silently thanking his old friend, the Hose Philip, for teaching him to fall correctly, Edmund rolled as he slammed into the earth, keeping his arms pulled to his chest and his hands covering his face. I figure Philip taught Edmund how to fall just like Bree taught Shasta. With too much momentum, he smashed into a black object, thin enough that he ended up twisted partly around it, his right shoulder trapped and nearly snapped by the collision.
            Red-hot pain rippled from his right side, through the rest of his body, and he lost his breath for a long moment. Thankfully, he had not hit his head, but it still took time to force his body to move past the pain to coherency. Once breathing was again automatic and not forced, Edmund tried to takes stock of his injuries. His ribs ached fiercely from slamming first into the ground and then – he used his left hand to feel the object that had stopped his roll – into a tree, but the ribs did not feel broken. His toes could move, always a good sign. He hadn’t injured his spine. No, the worst were his ribs and, particularly, his right shoulder and upper arm, which had borne the brunt not only of the fall itself, but also the tree. As I'm not a medical professional, I don't know if his injuries are possible, or how likely it is he would survive the fall. But parachutists have jumped out of planes and had parachute malfunctions and survived, so I figur
            Sitting up slowly, Edmund was glad his lungs seemed to be working correctly again. He blinked his eyes, but he could see little of his surroundings, thanks to the thick canopy above him. Only a faint ray of sunlight peeked through, presumably from where he had fallen and torn some of the leaves. A soft groan behind him caught Edmund attention, and he whirled his head around to try and see what was there, his heart pounding while a jolt of pain ran down his arm at the movement. He focused his eyes as best he could, but saw nothing, and he felt nothing but a slight, cold breeze on his face. Edmund breathed in a calming breath and stood, leaning against the tree trunk to steady himself.
            After a moment, Edmund realized that a voice was shouting from above: “Ed! Edmund, you answer me right now! Edmund!” She’s not happy at all.
            “Lucy!” he shouted back up, though his ribs ached for it. “I’m alright, just a little banged up.”
            There was a pause as Lucy probably tried to decide if she believed him or not. “What happened?”
            Edmund could not help but let out a rough laugh. “They aren’t ferns; they’re trees.” He paused. “Really tall trees. I think I’m in a gorge or something.”
            “We’re coming down,” shouted Caspian, his voice tight with worry.
            “Not unless you have rope, you aren’t. I don’t think there are any branches except near the top, and there’s not enough light for you to try climbing the side of the gorge.” For the same reasons, Edmund could not climb back up either. And he knew that it would take too long to get back to the ship for rope – he had to curse himself for forgetting to be prepared for something like this. This is why you never go anywhere, particularly climbing or hiking, without proper preparation. “Look, if I remember correctly, the trees go all the way to the beach where we landed. I’ll meet you over there.”
            There was a long moment of silence after that; Edmund could only presume Lucy and Caspian were talking the plan over. Neither of them liked it, but they couldn’t think of another way. Then Lucy’s voice returned. “Are you sure you can make it there safely? You aren’t too injured?”
            Edmund could roll his eyes in safety, as his sister could not see him. “I’m perfectly fine, nothing that can keep me from walking in a straight line.” Neat littler qualifier there, Ed.
            “That’s not exactly reassuring, Ed,” quipped Caspian, but there was really nothing he or Lucy could do. Edmund was on his own in this dark, forbidding forest.
            With a smile that he knew the pair could not see, Edmund gave one last shout: “See you in a little while. Try not to run into any trouble while I’m gone!” If his hand clutched tightly to the prayer rope’s tassel, it was too dark to make out.
        
~*~

            Walking through the gorge was not an easy task. Very little light made it through the tall canopy created by trees whose bark was as dark as their leaves. Occasionally a veil of white vines, like those that had momentarily stayed Edmund’s fall, would hang down from the high tree branches, the only break in the utter blackness that surrounded him. They’re a bit like roots.
            Edmund knew the general direction in which he needed to go; if he kept the cliff he had fallen off of to his right, he would be fine. And while it was hard to make out the black-barked trees, at least the thick canopy meant there was no undergrowth to trip over. In fact, the ground seemed to be completely barren, covered only by black sand that seemed in stark contrast with the bone-white stone of the cliffs.
            It took several minutes before Edmund’s eyes truly adjusted to the darkness. With a bit of light, you can see in the dark. Actually, often it’s better to have no form of artificial light, since that can prevent your eyes from adjusting correctly to the darkness Being able to see, however, was not much of a comfort. The trees loomed like the bones of giants, sticking out an abyss and burned to charcoal, interspersed with the white looms of spectral vines, like wisps of incandescent smoke drifting down from the black cavern of the canopy. I…kinda had fun writing that description. I had it written before I wrote the chapter. As a slight breeze pushed through their fibers, the vines let out the soft groans of wounded creatures, sending a startled chill through Edmund at each sound. I’m not sure how the sound is produced, but I guess due to the material that forms the vines, movement causes them to make groaning sounds.
            The Eternal hung at his side, but even that was not a reassurance in the darkness; Edmund could hardly see a foot in front of him, a disadvantage compounded by his swollen right shoulder, meaning he would be forced to fight half-blind and left-handed, if it came to it. And it would be hard to remove his sword since it hangs on his left side. As it was, his left hand was almost unconsciously passing the knotted rope between thumb and fingers, a focus for his silent prayers that he would not be forced to defend himself. Not now, not injured, not in this dead forest that seemed a web of ensnaring darkness.
            Other than the groans of the white vines and the soft thud of his own boots on the ground, Edmund was surrounded by silence. There were no birds singing in the towering branches of the trees, no wood life rustling. The whole island seemed dead, save for trees that looked lifeless. Edmund found it eerie how the silence somehow seemed to grow as he walked, mingling with the darkness to create a suffocating cave of emptiness, nothingness.
        
            Suddenly, Edmund stopped and whirled around, wincing as his right hand automatically went to the hilt of his sword. There had been a sound; not that of the vines, but something lower, behind him, a whisper and a moan, and the sound of shifting sand. Possibly it’s the scales being formed into the Dead. After a long moment, nothing appeared, nothing happened, and Edmund slowly returned to his previous path. Perhaps it was just his imag…
            There, to his left, the sound again! He turned to face it, only to hear it again, on both sides. It was as if something was scurrying across the sand, heading toward him.
            Again, near the path he had already trodden!
            He went to draw his sword, but even adrenaline could not lift his swollen shoulder. “Who’s there?” he called, his voice low and hoarse as he tried to figure out how to unsheathe his sword left-handed. The sound grew louder, came as a wave, cutting off his previously travelled path, flanking him on both sides. Only the forward path was free, but he knew well that running could be worse than staying, depending on the enemy. Better to know what he’s facing. “Who are you?”
            The hair on the back of Edmund’s neck lifted as a cold, empty, decayed voice answered: “What you are, we once were. What we are, you will become.” This was pulled from a medieval memento mori tale from the 15th century, after the Black Death. The story goes that three young, healthy noblemen were in the forest hunting when suddenly, three walking corpses step out of the woods and confront them about the facts of death. There are different versions, but ultimately it’s about how all things, even the young and rich, will end up dead. The quote “What you are, we once were. What we are, you will become,” is inscribed in the crypt of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome. I’ve been there and it’s one of the most interesting and most chilling places: the bones of the monks literally decorate the place, as in lamps made out of femurs.
         I wanted to use it here, because of the symbolism of Edmund facing death. The Power of Dark Island is digging into his fear of death.
            There was a metallic rattle by his side, and Edmund looked down to see his left hand, holding the pommel of his sword, trembling violently. He forced his hand to let go and pulled it behind his back to hide the tremors. “What do you want?”
            The voice, echoed in stereo, simply repeated: “What you are, we once were. What we are, you will become.”
            Edmund began backing away slowly, heart pounding. “Show yourself!”
            “What you are, we once were. What we are, you will become.”
            “In the name of Aslan, I command you to show yourself and declare your intentions!”
            A hiss rose up, but then shadows focused in the darkness. The name of Aslan forces them to obey, as Death has been conquered. Then the shadows turned into figured and Edmund let out a strangled gasp; he took another step backwards, away from the horror. Before him, some with weapons, some without, stood seemingly hundreds of men and other creatures. But this was no mortal army. There, to the left, stood Mickey, half his head missing and smiling, with the standing, moving corpse of Malik, every inch of the engineer’s body burnt black and crumbling. Obviously it’s not really them, but their images taken from Edmund’s mind. There, near them, stood the Telmarines that Edmund had slain three years previous, still bleeding from their wounds, their bodies decomposing. He’s haunted by the memory of the deaths of those he killed as well as the friends he couldn’t save. Further to the right, he saw the faces of friends and foes, lost to time, their forms little more than skeletons, with only ghosts of their former selves to identify them. A gargled moan tore from Edmund’s throat at the sight of Philip’s flesh rotting off his hindquarters, of Peridan carrying a spear stuck in his chest, of Strail’s water-bloated body. Peridan, for some reason, I feel died in battle late in life. A hag cackled, though she was half-decapitated, and a young Calormene boy glared with the eye that had not had Edmund’s sword go through it at Anvard.
            Terrible as the sight was, worse was the one figure who stepped forward from the ranks of his dead, whose body was mutilated, frozen, and bloated. I never mention it, but this figure is Edmund himself, dead in the Atlantic. That’s why it was the most terrifying for Edmund, as he has been trying to ignore his impending death. The figure smiled, a terrible, torn smile. And then, more horrible, it spoke, voice as mangled as its body, words chilled: “What you are, we once were. What we are, you will become.”
            And Edmund – who had stood fast against a battalion of giants, who had thrown himself against the overwhelming ranks of the Telmarines, who had sworn death before surrender – heard these words, turned, and ran. Edmund is not perfect and fearless. He’s terrified of dying, and he is desperate to escape death.

~*~

            Edmund did not look where he was going; he did not care. He ran, heart pounding, faster, darting through the trees, away, away. But they followed, with cruel, mocking, dead laughter. Edmund ran, faster than his eyes could see in the darkness, and he would barely brush past trees that guarded his path, not caring if he rammed his injured shoulder against dead wood. He did not care, he could not care.
            Not when he felt cold, lifeless breath on the back of his neck, icy words whispering in his ears.
            The trees grew closer together, black iron bars impeding his desperate flight. White vines hung like a web, light to guide his path, a trap to cage him for his pursuers. He tore his way through, ripping some vines, pushing others aside. The vines answered with inhuman shrieks, the garbled cries of the dying mingled with the dead laughter of his pursuers. This is what Lucy and the others hear. Death rang in his ears, reverberated through his body, and Edmund vaguely realized that he was screaming with them.
            Suddenly he was through the veil and he skidded to a stop, sliding to the ground just in time to miss running into a great tree. Two times his height it was in width, and though he scrambled to his feet, clawing at the tree to gain a purchase to push himself around it, it was too late. Dead faces grinned madly at him from his left, more from his right. Edmund whirled around, his back pressed against the great tree, and froze. That figure stepped towards him, and Edmund whimpered as it smiled in victory. You’ll notice Edmund is so scared he can’t even try to fight back.
            The figure drew close, its torn nose only inches from Edmund’s; Edmund felt its lifeless breath on his face, stared helpless into its dark eyes. He could not move, could barely breathe. The figure laughed. “What we are, you will become,” its gravelly voice whispered.
            Edmund could not even scream, as the figure drew back and its one, fleshless hand reached for his throat. He was frozen, no strength left to fight against the oppressive cold, the irresistible draw of nothingness. The hand began to tighten, skeletal fingers crushing the rapid thrum of Edmund’s pulse, and Edmund unconsciously mirrored the motion with his own hand. Only his fingers curled around black wool instead of flesh. His hand found the tassel of the prayer rope. “Help me,” his heart cried and his lips moved, as death came ever nearer, ready to take him down into greater darkness.
        
            Suddenly, the branches above seemed to part, for the sun and the cry of a sea bird. I was so freaking annoyed by the use of the albatross in the movie. Useless, unexplained, terrible. Ugh. The brilliant light blinded Edmund, though in part his eyes were darkening from the growing pressure on his throat. But then the dead hand released him with a pained howl, and Edmund collapsed to the ground. He looked up as he gulped in precious breath, to see the shadow of outstretched wings hanging over the cowering dead, blocking their way to their intended prey. A voice sounded, mighty and thunderous. “You have been conquered,” the voice declared and the dead screamed. Just like in Horse and His Boy, there are three voices, symbolizing the Trinity.
            Edmund could vaguely see that figure stagger forward. “No!” it protested, trying to reach Edmund past the snowy wings that now shielded him.
            Another great voice sounded, the same voice, a different voice, and Edmund started because it was Aslan’s voice, and yet not. “You have been embittered.” This comes from St. John Chrysostom’s famous Easter sermon, which is re-read every Easter in the Orthodox Church. It’s long, but the part referenced here is: “

"Hell was embittered when it encountered thee [Christ] in the lower regions."
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting?
O Hell, where is your victory?”

And after every time the priest says “It was embittered” the entire congregation shouts it back to him as loudly as possible, celebrating Christ’s victory for us.
            The dead shrieked and hissed, melting into a shower of red-gold scales, save for that figure, who still struggled, not willing to give up its claim and reaching for its prey. I think that’s the only distinct reference to the fact that the Dead were created out of the scales.
            “You shall not take what is mine,” came a third, same, voice, a whisper on the wind and yet brimming with power.
            “No!” screamed the figure, tortured and furious, and Edmund watched as it disintegrated, body disappearing into darkness, its face, that face, slowly melting away until the dead eyes were no more.

            Edmund still knelt on the ground, his body shaking, not daring to hope that it was gone, that he was safe. In front of him, the albatross – for the wings belonged to a large, brilliantly living, white albatross – lowered its protective feathers and turned to face the fallen king. So many meanings… The bird’s eyes were piercing, deeper than the sea and brighter than the sun. But, though so different, Edmund knew those eyes. “Aslan,” he whispered, his voice hoarse and bruised.
            There was no flash of light, no strange metamorphosis. Mainly, there was no flashy magic going on. In one moment, the albatross became a lion. The Lion. But, though it was undeniably Aslan, Edmund realized that something was…different. Not wrong, not suspicious in any way, but not quite the same. I think this is mostly going into the fact that Aslan is a supposition for Christ, but now Edmund is beginning to see Him more truly. The memory suddenly struck him, of a conversation he and Lucy had had with Susan and Peter, not long after their previous journey to this world. The elder Pevensies had talked of Narnia, and their faces had been troubled. Susan’s voice had betrayed an inner agitation, a frustration at not having the right words. She had told the younger two how, before leaving Narnia, she and Peter had seen Aslan differently, a glimpse of something else, as if they was not really seeing him. Neither Edmund nor Lucy had understood what Susan had been trying to say, what Peter’s pensive look had meant, not then. But now, somehow, Edmund could understand, though he, too, could not find words. Not the right words. Really I just couldn’t find the right words.
            Aslan smiled gently, mysteriously. “You begin to see truly,” the Lion said. At the resonant voice, Edmund felt the earth shake though it did not move. He wanted to throw his arms around Aslan, cower and hide, scream in anger, sob bitterly, laugh with pure joy. Lots of emotion going on. Aslan sat like an ancient sphinx, in regal calm, towering above Edmund and yet looking at him eye to eye. “What do you come to me with, my son?” came the commanding question. That’s a phrase used by priests during the sacrament of Confession.
            Edmund, more a child now than he had been when he had first come to Narnia, lunged forward between Aslan’s paws and clutched desperately at the lion’s mane, burying his face in the soft, true gold. “I’m scared, Aslan,” he sobbed. “It’s so cold and the fire’s so close, it’s so close and I know, I know, and I’m so scared.” He’s finally admitting that he knows he’s going to die and that he’s terrified of it. He could hear Aslan’s heart beating, and felt a purr that spoke more love than any words. And yet that love heightened his guilt and shame. “I’m sorry,” he whispered into soft, golden fur, knowing he would be heard.
            “Why do you apologize?”
            Edmund’s grip on Aslan’s mane tightened. “Because I’m still a selfish little boy. As much as he’s grown, he’s still a human sinner. I left Mickey, I left the others, I left Pith, and I was thankful. I’ve killed, Aslan. I’ve looked in a man’s eyes and killed him, killed so many. I’ve sent others to die for me, I’ve let them die, from my own fear. And yet, all I want is for you to save me.
            Aslan did not offer platitudes, or excuse Edmund his sins for all they took place in war, nor did he remind him of the many time Edmund had proven his worth, worked for justice, spared lives with abundant mercy. That was not what Edmund needed, not what his sense of justice would allow. Instead, the Lion, who was the greatest judge and knew Edmund’s heart, said simply: “You are forgiven.”
            With those words, the memory of those terrible, hollow faces and the unmitigated guilt faded. It did not disappear, was not forgotten, but the One who could forgive – who had himself died for Edmund and thus could give him absolution – had lifted the heavy burden from the broken king. Edmund sighed and leaned further against Aslan, his hands shaking from the tumultuous emotions that had been cascading through him.
              Yet one, insidious emotion was not swept away, one apprehension too deep. “I’m still scared.” Edmund knew what was coming, knew what he would face, all-too soon. He just did not know if he had the strength to do so. “Aslan, please…” Edmund stopped, not knowing what he wanted, needed, to ask. Help me? Send me to Narnia? Send me home? Save me?
             He breathed deeply, letting the scent of exotic spices and rainwater and that otherworldly something that was the scent of Aslan’s mane wash over him. Pretty much whenever I think of the smell of Aslan in this story I’m imaging the incense of the church. Would running away from what was coming really change anything? He could ask it for Lucy’s sake, for Peter’s and Susan’s and Caspian’s. But for himself? He could ask, he could beg, but what was the right question? Then Aslan nuzzled his shoulder and Edmund knew the answer, the question:
           “Please, Aslan, what must I do?” Edmund is trying to follow Aslan’s will.

~*~

            Lucy wished she had insisted that Edmund call up occasionally for her to check on his progress, so that she would at least know where he was. Caspian, though, had reasonably pointed out that having Edmund shouting loudly every few feet was a good way to attract any dangers that might lurk in the hidden gorge. Still, Lucy would feel better when she saw him safely on the beach. This island made her uncomfortable in a way none of the other new lands they explored had done. There was something…wrong here.
            Caspian sensed it too and had quickly suggested that they make their way down the plateau to meet Edmund at the mouth of the gorge. After some attempts at cajoling the miserable dragon, Eustace refused to move. So Lucy and Caspian carefully began climbing down. If Lucy overheard Caspian muttering under his breath about stubborn dragons and trouble-finding brothers, she ignored it. Being adopted by the Pevensies certainly has its stresses. After all, she rather agreed with the sentiment.
            They were nearing the bottom when Lucy nearly lost her handhold as the screams of dying men whipped like lightning through the slightly overcast sky. They’re hearing the vines, but of course they don’t know it. With renewed vigor, she and Caspian scaled down the steep slopes, drawing the swords almost as soon as their feet touched the bottom. Dashing towards where they had landed the boats, they were brought up short when they met with their similarly on-alert men, led by Reepicheep.
            Both groups looked at each other for a moment, confused. Then Reepicheep lowered his rapier, his expression one of relief. “Thank Aslan. We thought some evil had fallen upon you.”
            Lucy frowned. “We thought the screams were coming from camp.”
            Reepicheep’s grip on his sword tightened. “Then who…?”
            Caspian visibly paled. “Edmund!” he exclaimed, sprinting away down the beach towards where they could assume the hidden gorge emerged from the plateau. Lucy followed immediately, not bothering to inform the others what was going on.

            As she ran, hampered by the shifting sand, Lucy inwardly cursed her short-sightedness. Of course trouble had found Edmund. She should have known. Of course the sounds of the dead and dying were rising from the gorge. Of course she was powerless to help her brother, to protect him, save him. There’s her fear spelled out. She should have argued with Edmund, ignored his rational warnings against climbing down the cliff to his side. She should have brought rope. Dash it all, she should have paid more attention to Eustace and maybe he would not be a dragon, would not have dragged them here, to yet another cursed island.
            Her self-recriminations were put to a quick stop when she ran into Caspian’s suddenly stationary back. “What?” Lucy looked around his broad shoulders and stared dumbly. Before them, across the narrow mouth of the gorge, was a tall, thick hedge, comprised of some plant with white branches that looked like bone, covered with small, black-green leaves. There seemed to be no way around the hedge, and Lucy could have cried in desperation when more screaming echoed through the gorge. Caspian growled and grabbed at one of the branches, only to reel back with a pained gasp, his hand dripping blood onto the white sand. Dark red glistened on the leaves, their sharpness now all-too apparent. There are some seriously sharp and dangerous plants out there. See: tree nettle of New Zealand, which has killed people. And not so much from poison as from the fact that it's sting is so painful people prefer to kill themselves than endure it.
            “Edmund!” Lucy shouted desperately, but her voice was drowned out by the chilling, gargled screams. Next to her, Rhindon was proving no match for the hard branches of the hedge. Then the screams stopped, the silence worse than the sound, for who knew what that meant for Edmund?
            Suddenly the sun was blocked and the flap of giant wings eclipsed the silence. Lucy and Caspian dove to either side as Eustace landed precariously on the thin strip of beach, his tail splashing in the surg. The small form of a Mouse stood on the dragon’s head, sword raised. “Use your strength!” Reepicheep shouted, his voice filled with pride that the boy-turned-dragon had come to help. Yay, Eustace is starting to show a change in heart!
        
            For indeed, the screams had scared Eustace and he had taken off from the plateau. He had been flying back to the ship, intent of just getting away, when he caught sight of the commotion on the beach and heard the panicked cries. Eustace’s chest had twisted uncomfortably and he turned back, reasoning that, logically, it made sense to help out. Eustace, not being used to being ‘good’, sometimes tries to rationalize the impulse to help out. After all, the Dawn Treader would not leave without his cousins and Caspian, and Eustace did not want to find the next island alone. When he had reached Reepicheep and the sailors, who were chasing after Caspian and Lucy, the Mouse had exhorted him to help save Edmund, who was apparently in some sort of danger.
            Logic, combined with Reepicheep’s encouragement and a bit of a slightly malicious desire to prove himself better than his cousins, bolstered Eustace’s courage. He’s working on the ‘being good’ thing. It takes him a little while, especially since he’s not met Aslan yet. So now he was attacking a hedge, tearing down the branches with his strong, armored claws. Lucy, watching with hope, was also relieved that Eustace had not tried to use his fire to burn through the barrier – it would do Edmund no good for Eustace to start a forest fire. Again.
        
            Sooner than Lucy dared hope, Eustace had torn a large-enough hole in the hedge to let through a human. With quick, but heartfelt, words of thanks, Lucy dashed through the hedge. Caspian was close on her heels, and soon his longer legs overtook her. The forest was dark, but enough light peaked through the hole in the hedge that they could at least see the outlines of the trees. Wind rustled by them, but it was a warm wind, not the dead chill they had felt so far on this island. I think in this fic strong winds tend to be either bad or neutral, while soft winds and whispers are related to Aslan. It goes back to the part in 1Kings where Elijah hears God in the small voice, not the great wind or the fire.
            As the gentle breeze pushed her, Lucy felt drawn, as if there was a voice telling her which way to go. Again with the small voice. So despite no sounds to indicate where Edmund was, despite the fact that Lucy could not catch the breath needed to shout for him, somehow she knew they were headed in the right direction. They only needed to get through the darkened forest, which grew darker with every step away from the opening in the hedge.
            Then, suddenly, a clearing opened up in front of them. The trees seemed to be in a perfect circle, leaning away from the great, thick tree at the far edge of the clearing. When Aslan came and saved Edmund from the Dead, the trees moved before Him. It was not the odd glade, or the trees that caught Lucy and Caspian’s attention as they halted at the edge. No, their eyes were fixed on the center of the clearing. There, brilliant and beautiful, was Aslan, taller than Lucy remembered, but not so tall that he towered above Edmund, who stood in the Lion’s embrace. Not sure that makes sense. Mainly I wanted to say that Lucy finds Aslan bigger than before, but that he’s not some giant. Caspian took a step forward, but Lucy caught his arm and held him back. She could see the trembling in Edmund’s shoulders, heard that voice on the wind telling her to remain quiet. You know, I should also mention on a tangent that the book “Voice in the Wind” by Francine Rivers, and its sequel “Echo in the Darkness” are two of my most favorite books of all time. They aren’t completely accurate historically, but it’s rare for me to like romances and the fact that I love these means quite a bit. It’s Christian fiction, so kinda preachy, but not as bad as some. The characters are also a bit more ‘modern’ and Protestant than they would historically had been. Still, highly recommended, though a caution: they do deal with the excesses of the ancient Roman world, and if you know anything about ancient Rome you know it’s not exactly PG. Or PG-13.
            How long they stood there, watching, Lucy did not know. Time seemed meaningless right then. She felt like everything was lazily drifting, as if barely moving on a hot summer’s day. Edmund’s back straightened, then, but time remained still, lethargic. It was only with the greatest reluctance that Edmund released his hold and Aslan’s mane and turned to face them.
            Lucy heard Caspian’s quick intake of breath, but she ignored it. She ignored the look on Edmund’s face, a look of confusion and emptiness. For the first time in her life, Lucy even ignored Aslan. As much as this story is meant to be Edmund’s struggle to accept and not fear death, a lot of it turned into Lucy having to do the same. Possibly this is because I’ve been in Lucy’s place – dealing with the death of another – but never Edmund’s. Instead, she dashed forward and threw herself at her brother, half embracing him, half striking his chest in anger. She tried to yell at Edmund – for frightening her, for putting himself in danger, for getting hurt – but the words could not get past the lump in her throat. All that came out were distressed, angry whimpers, which frustrated her further.
            Worse was that Edmund simply held her, letting her pound her fists against his chest despite the fact that he had probably been bruised by his fall into this gorge. Just as he had after her nightmare, he held her and murmured empty words of comfort, assuring her of his safety. For a moment, Lucy’s anger rose, as well as her embarrassment; how could he be so calm when she was a mess after only hearing such terrible sounds? Simply put: Aslan. Then, however, she remembered the look on Edmund’s face that she had previously ignored, remembered the shudder in his shoulders even in the presence of Aslan, and her anger turned to guilt. Whatever it was that had caused the haunting sounds, Edmund must have experienced it first-hand.
            As Lucy’s hysteria began to subside, she heard her name being softly called. Her back tensed. It was Aslan calling; perhaps he had been calling all this time and she had not heard him allusion!, but now she could not ignore it. Shame brought a pink tinge to her cheeks and she hid them against Edmund’s chest. “Lucy,” Aslan still called, his deep voice stern but kind.
            Lucy took a deep breath and reluctantly stepped out of Edmund’s arms. She could see her brother’s face more clearly, and she ducked her head and the look he gave her: a look of understanding and some deep mystery clouding his dark eyes. He’s beginning to understand his fate more fully. Edmund moved to join Caspian, reassuring the older king in a quiet discussion, while Lucy turned and walked towards Aslan.
            It was hard to look at the great Lion, something that had never happened before to Lucy. His eyes, as always, were full of love and empathy, of which Lucy felt completely undeserving. I find that, as I sin, I feel more and more guilty and sometimes it’s hard to bring myself to go to God at all. I think that’s one of the reasons I love the sacrament of Confession so much: it reminds me of forgiveness, and God’s love doesn’t hurt so much anymore. Her faith had fallen so low on this journey – was still low, even here, close to Aslan. She thought of all she had done: she had been so unforgiving towards Caspian after what had happened near the Golden Pool. And the spell. Oh, how she remembered her nightmare, and how she had played heedlessly with magic, magic that could have had such terrible consequences. She had been so weak – so desperate that she had forgotten the faith that had always sustained her before.
            Lucy barely realized at first that she was softly confessing all this to Aslan. Having come from an evangelical Protestant background, and now being Orthodox, I find it amazing that I ever survived without Confession before. It’s more than just acknowledging my sins to God – I did that before, in the privacy of my prayers and with accountability partners. It’s hard to describe, but the holiness, the sacramentality of the action, the verbal granting of forgiveness, it has given me so much more than I had before. When she finally did recognize this, she froze for a moment; but then something – Aslan? – told her that, despite their nearness, Caspian and Edmund could not hear her. Just like, it seemed, Reepicheep and the others could not find them despite closely following Lucy and Caspian into the forest. So Lucy finished speaking, letting Aslan know all her failures.
            Aslan waited, quietly, patiently. Yet, when she finished speaking, his eyes pierced her and she looked away. ‘You have done these things,” he said with a low voice, “and yet you hide their cause.” Confession isn’t just saying one’s sin. The priest gets to the heart of the sin, and helps you find a way to turn away from it. The easiest way to describe it is a metaphor used often in the Orthodox Church: Sin is a disease that needs to be healed. Confession is going to the doctor. The priest gives you a ‘prescription’ for how to work at turning away from sin. And God heals.
            Lucy looked down at her boots, which had been a gift from Lady Gwai on the Lone Islands, a time that seemed so long ago now. “I…I’m angry. And frightened. I’ve always hated when my brothers went to war, put themselves in danger. But usually there was something for me to do, some way to help! Now…now I’m just…weak and helpless and Edmund…Oh, Aslan, I know he hasn’t told me how much danger he’s in back…back on his merchant ship. And I can’t do anything. I can’t help him, I can’t protect him, I can’t save him.” She’s not trusting Aslan, she’s putting her faith in herself and she’s failing herself.
            As she spoke, tears welled in Lucy’s eyes, tears that began falling when Aslan replied, “No, dear one, you cannot.”
            “But Aslan, he’s my brother, I have to do something! I can’t lose him, I can’t let him die…” her voice caught on a sob.
            Lucy could not see Aslan’s face, her eyes focused as they were on the ground. Oh, how she heard his voice, though, commanding, kingly, unyielding: “You must give him to me.”
            She flinched at the words. Caspian had said as much when they had whispered of the possibility of losing Edmund. Now, to hear Aslan say it was more terrifying than anything her imagination could conjure. “He’s my brother, I can’t…”
            “Lucy,” Aslan’s voice was stern as he spoke her name in reprimand. “Edmund is mine. He has been given to you for a time, given for you to love, but he is mine. That’s hard to remember, that we belong to God. You must let him go and give him to me.” This was obviously not in my thoughts when I called the prequel ‘Letting Go’. But retrospectively, it is a very fitting title, and would perhaps work better for this story.
            Lucy wept harder. “I can’t, please!” The warm breeze rustled through her hair, but it was no comfort. She was scared, she was angry, angry at herself, at Aslan, at Edmund.
            “Lucy.” Aslan’s voice was still stern, but there was such grief and love as well that Lucy was finally able to bring her head up and look at him. God grieves at our deaths, as death is the consequence of sin. But because of His love, he conquered Death and so it has no hold on us anymore. The Lion’s eyes were pained but understanding. “Dear one, I died so that he would not.” Christ died so that we would not be subject to death, but instead have eternal life. His words were not a boast, just a fact, one that spoke of his great love. “You must give your brother to me and be at peace.”
            “How?” she begged softly.
            “Put your hope in me,” Aslan answered with a quiet, reverberating echo, “and not in yourself, and all evil will be turned to good.” God even made death into a good, as a way to escape the sinful world and come into His presence.
            Lucy closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, trying to loose herself in the sweet scent that filled the air around Aslan. She did not see how the evil of losing Edmund could ever be turned to good, but the last remnant of her faith spoke through her: “I’ll…I’ll try,” she said and opened her eyes to soak in the sight of the Lion.
            Aslan smiled gently. “And I will give you strength.” And indeed, Lucy’s heart already felt a wave of calm. It did not drown her anger or fear, but she knew she only had to grasp it to kindle her flickering faith.
            Slightly overwhelmed, Lucy threw her arms around Aslan’s neck, burying her face in his mane. “Thank you,” she whispered before stepping back. Lucy felt, in that moment, that even if she was not completely free from her troubles, there was at least an assurance of peace in the future. She just had to get through the darkness that had been threatening to envelope her since her family had been separated. In Orthodoxy, salvation is a synergy, a working together between God and Man. God is always reaching for Man, ready to save, but Man must move towards Him of his own free will and decision – God won’t make him.
            Aslan nodded regally at her, as if he knew her thoughts and approved. Then the Lion turned and Lucy rejoined Caspian and Edmund, who had been waiting patiently. Aslan first directly spoke to the older king: “Caspian, my son, stand fast to your purpose and follow your duty.” The Lion smiled gently. “And do not despair.” Caspian bowed and Lucy could not see his face. Then Aslan addressed all three. “Children, you will face hard trials until the end. Trust in that which saves.”
            And then they blinked and Aslan was gone.


Oh, this was a hard chapter to write. It is really the heart of the story, showing more fully Edmund’s fear of death and Lucy’s refusal to accept that Edmund’s fate does not rest with her. All that, and on a new island that I had to make up myself (because, as I’ve mentioned previously, there needed to be something between Dragon Island and Ramandu’s Island).

In all honesty, I can’t remember everything that went into this chapter. I know I wanted to put Aslan-as-albatross in this story, since the movie left it out (What? What do you mean it was in the movie? Huh, I must have blinked or something. /sarcasm).  I know I wanted to use the memento mori situation, after watching ‘Inside the Medieval Mind’. And I knew I had to have Edmund realize his fear before the fight with the sea serpent, which would then be the confrontation of the established fear.

It was hard to write, though, and I’m not sure I didn’t make a mess of it all.
 
 
 
Karen: parkautumnia on November 21st, 2013 02:11 am (UTC)
I'd been waiting for you to post this chapter's commentary up since it would explain a lot more about what Edmund faced in the forest. :-) Everything makes a lot more sense now, especially the conversation between Aslan and Edmund.
lady_lirenellady_lirenel on November 21st, 2013 02:27 am (UTC)
I'm glad the commentary made things make sense. I left a lot of it ambiguous in the story itself, mostly because I wasn't sure how to explain it, but also because it's what happens in life - we don't get the answers to everything.

...of course, I invalidated that by expanding on everything here. =D

Anyway, I'm glad you're still reading these commentary chapters. I know I've been taking forever posting them, for which I apologize. Life has just been nuts recently.