Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Creative NaBloPoMo #4: Fan Fiction in CS Lewis's universe - A Great Effusion of Blood

I am a Narnia fan from childhood, notwithstanding the problematic elements of the books and especially that ... interesting ... last one. Even though it's not one of the more popular ones, my equal favourite book in the series has always been The Magician's Nephew - the Narnia creation story - not so much for the interminable Genesis sequence as for the rich and engrossing description of London childhoods at the turn of the last century and for the various side-worlds that Lewis sketches in. (I also love Strawberry / Fledge the cab horse turned Pegasus, and Polly is my favourite of all the female characters in the cycle).

One thing that has always intrigued me in this book is the relatively short, but remarkably potent, picture of the dead world of Charn, from whence Digory and Polly end up bringing the witch queen Jadis into their own world and eventually to Narnia. I've always wanted to know more about Charn when it was alive. This is the first installment of what I think will be three parts altogether - a short story set in Charn just before the final war began.

 A Great Effusion of Blood (Part 1)

"See to him," said the guard captain unemotionally, depositing the tenth hopeless case since morning sacrifices on my floor.

I ran an eye over the shivering mass of raw meat at my feet and allowed a small plosive "Tcha" to seep out. "Banayar, come now," I said, allowing irritation, but not my deeper unease, to colour my voice. "Why do you bring them to me? It wastes all our time. That's not survivable -"

As I spoke, the bloody mess shifted into repose; Banayar, glancing down, said drily, "Well, Oresti. This problem appears to be self-resolving, yes?" He looked full into my face for the first time, and trouble was writ large in his lines. "Perhaps a walk in the market, healer? To - refresh your medicaments?"

I sighed and gestured my orderlies to come lift the corpse away. "And make sure this floor is scrubbed down!" I shouted after them as I followed Banayar through the veiled door of my hospice wing. Banayar caught the softening on my face as I passed the intricate carvings of the spells and incantations on the high stone doorframe that bound the spirits of healing to this place. "Proud of it, you are," he said softly. "Proud to heal." His eyes darkened. "Better so, than to cleave. Especially, to cleave without cause."

I stared at him, amazed. "What under the sky, Banayar -"

"That miserable sod back there, Oresti." He grabbed my arm, gripping tight in his urgency. "He wasn't a prisoner, or a criminal. He'd committed no offence. Hell, he wasn't even a slave." I narrowed my eyes at this - Banayar knew my ideas on the mistreatment of slaves, and largely agreed, even if his acquiescence was based more on the inelegance of wasting money than anything else.

I said, slowly, "Then, who -"

"A guard! One of my own men!" Banayar bit out, as we stepped out into the cool red light of the morning. "Flayed by Her own hand, Oresti, and for naught -"

The chants of the priest-executioner came faintly through the teeming air, giving me pause. "Wait, the morning cull should be well done by now, surely?" He shook his head, but said nothing. "Besides, are we not low on the blood-guilty to -"

Pushing away the importuning hands of a beggar child, Banayar turned to face me, his jaw working. "Resa", he said, and the childhood nickname froze my blood as much as the bleak fear on his face. I sagged back against the green-golden fabric of the fruit-seller's pavillion, redolent with overripe sweetness.

"Banni, don't -"

"I have to. I have to tell someone." Banayar hustled me past the screaming vendors, jostling our way to the herbalist's pitch and the cool, dry corner, cardamom-scented and quiet, where I often twisted little magicks around my fingers while bartering for spice.

"Resa. Listen. There are no blood-guilty left. There haven't been for months now. Those being sacrificed up there -" he jerked his head towards the faintly smoking mountain - "are not -"

I stared at him with horror. "They're just prisoners? Not murderers, just -"

"Not even. Not even." Agitated, Banayar tugged at his hair with a gesture that propelled me back through many years. Banni and I, children together, paddling in the river by my father's villa. Banni and I, young, in the capital together, he training for the guard, I under the impossible tutelage of the master healer Jolande. Banni and I, sharing a dawn in the cradle of my soft bed...

I reached up and touched his cheek. "Tell me, then," I said steadily.

"It's people, Resa. Just people. Slaves, villagers. Beggars, the poor. Drunks and carousers. Anyone, anyone, who She lays her hand upon." His eyes, oh small gods, his eyes.

"But why -"

"Because, healer," said the priest, behind me, twisting me into immobility with a casual movement of his hand, "we are preparing for war, and this demands a great effusion of blood."

Unable to speak, I fixed my gaze on him in despair. A cold fish, like all his kind, he did not blink as he called forward his troop. "Take this guardsman to the pens," he said. "For tomorrow, I think." Banayar's eyes caught mine as he was dragged away. I'm so sorry...

The priest-executioner turned to me. "Now, my lady healer," he said, and his voice was like a slick of unwholesome oil, slithering around my fingers. "What shall we do with you?"

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