He had never felt this miserable before.
Not when he was six and had measles. Not when the older boys picked on him at school. Not even the night his father left to go away to war.
He was miserable, and he was the only one he could blame for it.
Edmund strained his chin against the gag. His split lip broke open again, trickling blood. He slumped against the tree, shivering in the chilly spring night.
This was all his own fault. He could have done something. He could have at least kept his mouth shut. But no, he just had to run along to the Queen. The White Witch, he corrected mentally. He kept telling himself that she was good and kind, that she really would someday make him king. Now he knew the truth, but it was far too late.
The bark of the tree ground into the back of his head. He couldn’t feel his fingertips anymore. Edmund wished he could cry, but he was too tired, and his eyes were so dry. He trembled. The moonlight made everything cold and blue, save the shadows. The shadows looked darker and larger, looming over him like great strangling arms.
Suddenly a shadow loomed directly over him. “The little prince,” a gravelly voice mocked. Edmund looked out of the corner of his eyes. It was the dwarf, Ginikabrik. He was holding his knife, the silver knife that had scared him so much the first time he tumbled into Narnia. Edmund realized he was no longer terrified. It was inevitable, simply inevitable, that he was going to die. The dwarf’s words melted together in a sort of growling rumble in his ears. Edmund let the dwarf grip his hair, yanking his head back sharply, and set the sharp blade against his throat. He gave himself up.
But the ground beneath him rumbled. The rapid heavy clops of horse hooves shook the earth. The sharp edge of the knife fell away from his throat as he heard the dwarf let out a muffled shout. Edmund felt big, callused hands rip at the ropes lashing him to the tree. He moaned against the gag as his numb fingers prickled.
“You are safe, Son of Adam,” a deep voice reassured. Strong arms hard with muscles lifted him carefully, cradling him like a baby. Edmund’s chin tipped towards his chest; the only thing his mind registered was cool armor and the scent of horses before he gave into the blackness edging around his vision.
The next thing he knew he was lying on something soft. Snow? No, snow is cold and wet. I’m not on the ground…Dimly he realized he was lying on thick soft cushions, with a pillow beneath his head and a blanket tucked around him. He started to relax.
“Poor little Son of Adam,” he heard a light, airy voice say. A girl’s voice…not Susan’s…and not Lucy’s. Something cool and damp touched against his bleeding lip. “The Witch had no mercy on him.”
“And he’s barely more than a foal,” a second voice said.
Edmund forced his heavy eyelids open. “Wh-where am I?” he rasped.
A pale, pretty face swam before his eyes. He panicked for a minute, but realized that this pale woman was a young girl, with lovely green eyes and rich brown hair tangled with leaves that tumbled over her bare shoulders. “You are safe, your majesty,” she said. She continued to stroke the cool wet cloth against his lip. “You were rescued from the Witch’s camp. Do you remember?” He nodded slightly, but the movement made him ache all over.
“We did not capture the Witch, Son of Adam, but we ride into battle soon,” the second voice said. Edmund looked up to see a woman with a wise face and golden hair. Her torso was slim like a beautiful woman’s, but her body was that of a dun-colored horse. “Since you are awake, I shall call for Oreius.” She left the tent, her horse hooves making soft muffled sounds on the turf.
“Who is Oreius?” Edmund asked hoarsely.
“He is Aslan’s second in command,” the pretty girl said. “He carried you here from the Witch’s camp.” Edmund shivered. Aslan. The name sent chills down his spine. The girl in pale green mistook his trembling for cold, and tucked the blanket snugly around him.
The flap of the medical tent flipped back and Oreius entered, tapping his heavy hooves in the soft earth. “Aslan wishes to speak with the Son of Adam,” he said.
“Is he coming in here?” the girl said, her green eyes widening.
“No,” the tall centaur said. “It is his desire for the Son of Adam to come out and walk with him.”
“But he can barely stand,” the dryad protested.
Edmund forced himself into a sitting position. “I ought to get up,” he said. His head swam dizzily, but he struggled up to his feet. “I’ll…I’ll go and talk to him.” He didn’t mention to them he was more afraid of what Aslan might do if he didn’t come up and face the music.
“Come with me, your majesty,” Oreius said, holding the tent flap open. Edmund had never felt less like a king as he wobbled shakily across the wet grass. The sky was a soft shade of lavender; there was a bright spot of pink on the horizon where the sun was starting to come up. The centaur slowed his pace to allow Edmund to keep up.
“Where is As…As…where is he?” Edmund asked.
“He is standing right on the other side of that small ridge,” Oreius said. His stern face softened slightly. “Go on, Son of Adam. Aslan is waiting for you.”
Edmund’s heart pounded as he stumbled over the grass and rocks. His mind was racing. But no matter how his thoughts flew, nothing compared with the reality of the immense lion standing before him. Edmund stopped short, tripping over his own shoes and pressing his hands against a large rough rock to brace himself. His breathing came in short gasps. He’d seen lions before, but they were in zoological gardens behind bars, and they were nowhere near this large. Edmund’s heart banged a mile a minute against his ribcage. The great golden lion regarded him solemnly.
“Are…are you…are you…” The name burst out. “Are you Aslan?”
The lion nodded slightly.
“They…they t-told me you wanted to speak with me, s-sir,” he stammered. “I’m…I’m Edmund Pevensie, sir.”
“Edmund,” the great lion repeated. His voice was deep and rich like honey. “Edmund, Son of Adam, come and walk with me.” He turned to walk down the ridge, but when he noticed that Edmund didn’t follow he turned his head. “Why do you not follow me?”
“I…I can’t walk well on my own, sir,” Edmund confessed. He was still leaning on the rocks; his thin bruised knees were trembling.
The lion’s deep eyes smiled. “Come here, child,” he said. “Lean your hands on my shoulders, and you can find the strength to walk.”
Edmund stumbled towards him, still terrified of the sharp teeth and razor claws that he knew lurked beneath the surface. Tentatively he placed his hands against the lion’s strong shoulders. The golden fur was soft and warm. It seemed to ease the pain in his bruised fingers. The lion walked. Edmund felt the roll and rise of his shoulder bones fall in a soft rhythm.
“Do you know why I call you a Son of Adam?” the lion inquired.
“Wasn’t he the first man?” Edmund said. His voice sounded small in the cool air of the early morning.
“Yes,” he said. “You are his descendent, as are all people of your world. But do you know the story of Adam?”
“He and his wife lived in a garden,” Edmund said. His mind was drawing a blank. He couldn’t think of anything else.
“Their garden was beautiful,” the great lion said. “But he was tempted, and he gave in. Such is the inheritance you have received.”
Edmund hung his head. This was it. The blows were coming shortly. The punishment. “You, too, have learned the path of temptation,” the Lion said. “Why did you choose that path?”
This was completely unexpected, but Edmund’s answer was still flying out of his mouth before he even thought about it.
“Nobody cares about me any longer!” he blurted out. “All they care about is whether or not I’m minding Mum, or minding Peter, or minding the teachers. Dad would pay attention to me, he always did!”
“Where is your father now, Son of Adam?” the Lion asked gently.
“He went off to the war,” Edmund said savagely. “He went off to fight, and I got shipped off to boarding school.”
“Did no one care?” The Lion’s voice was even more gentle now.
“No one!” Edmund said. He stared out over the sea, the water beginning to look like white gold as the sun rose. His eyes burned, but no tears formed. “All they did was pick on me because I was in the lowest form. And Peter didn’t even notice! He was off studying all the time.”
“You were bullied by others,” the Lion said. “It hurt you. But tell me, Son of Adam, did it ease your pain to mock your sister?”
Edmund’s protests died on his lips.
Did I tell you about the football field I found in the bathroom cupboard?
I was just playing along, just humoring her.
That’s the problem with children these days, they never know when to stop pretending.
For the first time the hurt in Lucy’s eyes registered with him. He should have recognized that expression. It was the same way his heart felt.
“I hadn’t thought of it that way, sir,” Edmund said in a low voice.
“It is easiest to see your own path than the path another walks,” the Lion said. He continued to walk slowly, evenly, along the ridge. “You did not see the path your brother walks.”
“Peter’s never had anything hard,” Edmund scoffed. “Mum’s always been fondest of him since he’s the oldest.”
“How much older is he, Son of Adam?” the Lion asked.
“Three years,” Edmund said. “He’s thirteen, and everyone thinks he’s so grown up.”
“In three years you will be his age,” the Lion said. “Will you feel grown up when you are thirteen? Will you feel grown-up enough to have the care and safety of three other lives in your hands?”
“No,” Edmund murmured. “But…but sir, he just bossed me around!”
“Fear takes shape in many ways, Son of Adam.”
Edmund paused. “Do…do you really think that Peter’s afraid, sir?” he asked.
“Just as terrified are you are at this moment,” the Lion said. His broad shoulders moved up and down in rhythm as he walked; his muscles rippled beneath his soft thick fur. “Why are you frightened, Son of Adam?”
“Because you’re a lion, sir,” Edmund said. “And they always says in science texts that a grown lion can rip all sorts of things in half.”
“Will that pain be greater than the pain you felt at the hands of the Witch?” the Lion said. “Would you prefer her company rather than death from my claws?”
Edmund walked silently. His body was still sore from being tied to the tree, his lip and cheek ached from her slaps and beatings. He was alive; wasn’t that preferable than a bloody death? Logic would say that. But the heavy weight of guilt in his heart said more.
“No, sir,” he said. His throat began to tighten. “No…I…I think I’d rather die than do that again.”
“Yet you chose her at first.”
“She told me I would be a king,” Edmund said. The heaviness in his chest began to make his ribs ache. “She told me that Peter and all them would be my servants, and they’d have to pay attention to me then, wouldn’t they?”
“Her words were as sweet as the candy she fed you,” the Lion said.
“I threw up after I ate it all,” Edmund confessed. “When I got out of the wardrobe, I mean. I felt so sick, but…somehow I remembered it tasted it good when I ate it. And I did think she meant to be kind, but…but she wasn’t.” The tight pain in his throat made it harder and harder to speak. “She never did like me.”
“The Witch gave you only a shallow copy of the candy,” the Lion said, “and she gave you only a shallow copy of the love you had with your family.”
He blinked rapidly, trying to stifle his tears. “Do you think they’ll let me come back?” he whispered.
The Lion stopped walking. He looked up at Edmund, his large beautiful eyes glistening in the soft sunrise light. “Do you wish to go back to them?” he asked.
Edmund nodded vigorously. “Oh, yes,” he said fervently. “I want to go back.” A tear fell down his cheek; two more clung from his lower lashes. He dashed at them. “I want to go back. Please, Aslan, all I want to do is go back.”
He couldn’t make any words push past the tightness in his throat. Edmund began to cry. He buried his face in his hands and sobbed. His shaking legs gave out from under him and he fell onto his bruised knees.
“Child, child,” he heard Aslan murmur. The great Lion rested his head against the boy’s cheek. Edmund let out a sob and flung his arms around his neck, breathing in the golden warmth of his mane. He felt strength flow through his body, a pure white-hot strength that flooded his body with warmth. The tears eased. Edmund hiccupped as he leaned back. There were wet spots in Aslan’s mane, but he didn’t seem to mind it. “Dear heart, the ice in your soul has melted,” he said. Aslan nuzzled his cheek and guided him to stand. “We must walk back to camp now. The others will be waking shortly.”
Edmund tangled his fingers in Aslan’s thick mane. He was no longer terrified of being near him, and the walk around the grassy ridge seemed easier. But best of all, his chest no longer ached with the pain and guilt he had pent up for so long. He felt better, lighter almost. It was like the days before his father went away to fight, before he was sent off to school, before Peter stopped acting like a playmate and started acting like a guardian.
As they came closer to the camp, the golden banners glistening in the crisp morning sunlight, a stab of apprehension returned to him. They might not be as forgiving as Aslan, he thought. They’re probably furious with me.
“Dear heart, stop, and look at me.”
Edmund obeyed. Aslan’s large eyes shone with great gold and blue lights. “The Witch told you she loved you, but her words were lies,” he said softly. “The love your family holds in their hearts for you needs no words.”
He looked over towards the voice. A small figure in blue beamed at him. It took him a moment to recognize her.
“That’s Lucy,” he said, surprised.
“She loves you despite your actions, Son of Adam,” Aslan said. “I trust you will not take it for granted again.”
“No...” Edmund said. “No, I don’t think I will.”
His pounding heart slowed a few beats as Aslan walked him over to his brother and sisters. “Here is your brother,” the Lion said. “There is no need to speak with Edmund over what is past.”
Edmund looked at them and suddenly felt shy. “Hullo,” he said, waiting for their reactions.
Suddenly Lucy flung his arms around his waist.e He He smiled in spite of himself, pressing his cheek against her hair and hugging her back. She pulled away, laughing.
“Oh, Edmund,” Susan murmured. She wrapped her arms around him, holding him tightly. He leaned his head on her shoulder. Susan stepped back and held him at arm’s length, studying him in a fashion that reminded him of their mother. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Just tired,” he said, smiling.
“You’d better get some rest, then,” Peter said.
Edmund looked at him, and for the first time in a long time he saw his brother. Peter looked tired himself. He looked old. I suppose I’ve worried him, Edmund thought in surprise.
“And Ed…try not to run off again.” This time Peter smiled a little bit, looking a little like his former self. And Edmund, for the first time in a long time, smiled back.