Disclaimer: Neither Narnia nor The Secret Garden belong to me. I'm just borrowing them for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or form.
Warnings: None to speak of.
Fandom: Chronicles of Narnia/The Secret Garden
I wrote this in response to a request by Olna Jenn (sorry it took three years!). I also wrote this for the 2008 Finishathon on LJ. This is the fic that voters wanted to see me
finish, so here it is.
Thanks to Chichiri no Da, Retsuko and Adrian Turtle for beta reading and to Chichiri no Da for cheerleading.
Dickon spends his days on the moor. He lets the winds carry his memories away so that he can go home and remember to call it home. He calls Susan Sowerby mother and tries not to let her know that she stands in the shadow of a woman she's never heard of.
Dickon was a prince once. He misses that. He misses clothes without holes. He misses warmth and abundant food and clean water. He misses hot baths and servants and libraries full of books. He misses centaurs,fauns and giants. Most of all, he misses his mother, his father, his sister and Narnia itself.
He knows his sister lives. Aslan promised it. He doubts that his parents live and is practical enough to think that it may be better if they don't. The White Witch has no mercy that is not forced upon her.
Dickon spends his days on the moor. He converses with animals who seem pale shadows of those he remembers, smaller, focused on more immediate concerns, more vulnerable, more ephemeral. He cherishes them at first as echoes of what he remembers but comes to hold them dear for what they are.
The Witch was coming. Everyone knew that. Everyone had known since the beginning, but it had been easy to put it out of mind. Aslan had, after all, promised that it would be a long time before she could return. The Tree stood strong, marking the border between the Witch's lands and the lands where Aslan's children lived.
Once in a while, someone braver or more foolish than the common run ventured past the border. Few returned. Those who did return seldom spoke of what they had seen but rather walked alone to the end of their days. Others tried to return to Narnia but could not cross the border. The touch of the Witch weighed upon them, and they could not pass the Tree.
The Tree aged and bent. King Frank's line dwindled until the primary line consisted of four members, the Queen, her brother, and her two children.
"It were better we had been three," Queen Irian told her Council. "No other hand than his could have wielded the axe. The Witch will be coming, and he-- The man who was my brother will be with her." She looked around the table, her gaze lingering longest on her children. When the news had come, she had nodded, summoned her Council and closeted herself for five minutes to weep.
To her Council and to her children, she showed a face of serene courage. At four, Elayn was, Irian knew, too young to understand. At nine, Dickon understood but could do little with that understanding.
When he is nine, Dickon Sowerby falls from a tree, hitting his head on a rock. Unconscious clings and holds him for long enough that his mother weeps for her coming loss. As she weeps, he sighs and stills. She watches a while then lifts the sheet to cover his face.
When he smiles and opens his eyes, she weeps again, this time for joy.
Dickon changes after the injury. He speaks less, sees more and touches everything as if it were new and possibly fragile. His feet take him wandering farther and farther from home. When he comes home, wild things follow him, acting for all the world as if they are speaking to him.
If he seems sometimes to have forgotten things he ought to know or to know of things he ought never to have encountered, everyone shrugs. That is, they know, Dickon's way. Blows to the head leave people touched as often as not, and there is no harm in him, no harm and a great deal of good.
While the Queen planned for war, Dickon and his sister prepared for exile. A ship waited for them and the other children of the court to carry them to the distant eastern islands. The sea might not stop the Witch, but she'd had generations to use it to come south, around the Tree, and hadn't. Some argued that she wanted Narnia and cared nothing for the lands to the south. Others took it to mean that the sea did not welcome her.
"The sea is greater than ice," the Court Wizard told Dickon. "It is deeper and wider than winter can touch." He stroked his long beard. "I do not know her power. Perhaps she could freeze the sea, but it would leave her a land of none but the dead. She cannot hold the dead or rule them."
Dickon nodded. The words made little sense, but he stored them away in hope that he might understand them some day. He suspected that a king would need to know such things.
A farmer needs a different magic than a wizard taught. Dickon learns what he can of a farmer's work even as he seeks the freedom of the moor. He's a third son now, not a first. He'll not be a farmer unless he marries land, and he's not sure he can bring himself to marry. He's living a borrowed life, and he's not sure that he could keep the lie and keep a promise entwining his life with another's.
He doesn't let himself think of his life as stolen. Aslan wouldn't steal and wouldn't have told Dickon to steal. The other Dickon would have died anyway. Aslan said it was his time, and Dickon met and spoke to the other boy as they passed, one to new life with Aslan and one to new life on a new world. Dickon knows that the child he replaced gave him a gift.
He could emigrate. Many young people do. That would let him reinvent himself, let him be a Dickon who can read and write and whose parents might be anyone. He might even manage schooling enough to be a doctor or a teacher. He's not sure, though, that that wouldn't be rejecting the truest gift. He's sure that he can't bear to hurt his new family by rejecting their love, and he loves Yorkshire and the moor. Giving up everything twice in a lifetime seems too much, and he doubts that any other place will suit him so well. It's not as if Australia or America were Narnia.
The cities stink. He can't bear the dirt or the crowds. They block him from everything Narnia was, and he's sure that living in such a place would hollow him out, leaving only a mask over nothing. He can't go to the factories.
It will be service for him, tending some rich man's lands or animals, something far enough from the house that he won't be obliged to bow too often, some place near enough the moor that he can find himself there again. He doesn't think about giving orders himself. He doesn't remember the lands that were once his. At least not very often.
Dickon and Elayn stayed with their parents two days too long. Weeks of waiting for the Witch to move openly had stretched to months with no sign that she was ready for war, and their parents were not eager to lose them. Once the ship sailed, reunion, short of Aslan's land, became unlikely.
Dickon followed his mother when she'd allow it. He told her it was so that he might learn. She told him that was the wisdom a king needed. They both knew that duty could justify what love could not and that, soon, his memories would be all that he and his sister had of their parents.
So Dickon learned geography and evacuation routes and military tactics. He learned of limited options and the unfairness of all methods of allocating insufficient resources. He learned of assassins coming in the night to hunt humans and understood why he and his sister no longer went anywhere alone. He learned so that, some day, when the fight was his, he'd be prepared.
Dickon wonders if Mary and Colin would be impressed that he knows how to hold a sword. He knows they'd be surprised that he can read Colin's books, that he wants to read Colin's books. He has learned Yorkshire and the moor. He listens when travelers talk of what they've seen, but he knows those tales are likely no better than half fact and has no way to know which half. This world is still not his, and he has no way to reach beyond what he can walk.
He worries that Mary is a danger to him. Colin looks at him and sees a servant. Colin looks at everyone-- except Mary-- and sees a servant. He only sees Mary otherwise because she's forced him. Mary finds Yorkshire as alien as Dickon once did. She may never see the ways Dickon doesn't belong, but she might.
Dickon isn't sure that he hopes she doesn't.
Only three of the guards escorting Elayn and Dickon to the ship survived the first ambush. Of those three, one went to scout a safe path to the sea and never returned. The others, Rasht the centaur and Skrua the mountain cat, took that as a warning and asked Dickon's permission to take him and his sister south.
"If the ship has not already sailed, your highness," Rasht said, "then it has surely fallen to the Witch. Her forces run thick enough between here and the sea that I'd not be surprised to hear she'd called the rocks themselves to serve her."
Dickon knew that his permission wasn't really needed. The question was a test of sorts. If he answered sensibly, they'd trust him to help as he might. If he didn't, they'd treat him as as much of a child as his sister. He merely nodded. "As you think best. My experience is no guide."
He wondered what he ought to do. His parents had told him to be well and to take care of his sister. His mother told him not to forget that he would be king after her. A king should preserve himself so that he might regroup, rebuild and return. An older brother, however, would protect his sister. He knew that the real limit on their party's progress was not Elayn but him. He was too large to carry easily but too small to ride Rasht well and too young to move as fast or for as long afoot as survival required.
After the first day of travel, he said, "If it comes to that, Elayn could be queen as well as I could be king. You can flee with her when you cannot with me. If it comes to that."
Both guards frowned, but both also bowed and nodded.
Dickon imagines sometimes what it would be like to find his sister. He hasn't tried, not really. This world is full of Daughters of Eve, and none of the families within a day's walk have a daughter the right age who nearly died during the time Dickon Sowerby was ill. He comforts himself with the certainty that she must be with a family that loves her. Aslan would not do otherwise. He also knows that, without him to tell her, she won't bear the burden of memory. She came to Earth young enough to belong. Some days, Dickon wishes that he could had that ease.
But that would mean giving up Narnia. He won't return. Aslan said he wouldn't. He'll never be king, but he'll also never betray those who loved him, those who taught him, those who died for him. Memory is all he has to offer them.
Elayn saw the lion first, of course.
They'd traveled four days, managing only a third of the hoped for distance. Their camp was cold. Wind carrying the scent of snow threaded through every crevice of the hills around them. Skrua feared that it carried their scent away, back to the Witch.
Dickon listened to Rasht and Skrua argue. He knew they didn't mean for him to hear, but they also didn't dare go far enough from the children to have true privacy. They discussed separating, each taking one child. They discussing abandoning one child in hope of saving the other. They discussed hiding places, uncertain allies and dwindling supplies.
Dickon held Elayn and wondered at her patience. She missed their parents. She missed their nurse. She was not used to being so cold for so long or to eating hard, dry bread with dried fruit and nuts. She still smiled at him and tugged his hair.
He smiled back and tensed himself in an effort to hear better. Their lives depended on the decisions the guards would make, and he had no idea which decisions might be the right ones. He tightened his arms around his sister.
She clapped her hands, laughed and tried to wriggle free.
He gave so much attention to holding onto her that he was the last of the four to see that they'd been blessed. By the time he looked up, Rasht had bowed, and Skrua had lowered her muzzle to the dirt. His eyes widened. He stood then knelt, letting Elayn go. "Aslan!"
He knew she'd be safe enough in His presence.
Dickon searches for Aslan in his new world. Aslan promised that He would be there, so Dickon knows He must be. Dickon goes to church with his family and listens. He tries to decide if this is another way to see Aslan or if the stories are lies and traps. He doesn't think Aslan would have sent him to a Pagan land, but he doesn't know, so he says his truest prayers on the moor, under the open sky and surrounded by animals.
"As Adam's children brought her, so only Adam's children can drive her hence." Aslan looked sad and stern and resolute. He met the guards' eyes in turn and nodded solemnly. "She knows as much, and she fears these two most. She will hunt them to the end of the world." He turned his gaze on Dickon.
The hope that Aslan's presence had lit within Dickon's heart wavered. He didn't freeze in the grim, determined terror that he'd felt before, but he knew adults well enough to fear. He bit his lip on a demand for reassurance. He wished he were young enough to join Elayn where she slept, snuggled against Aslan's side.
"Ah, child." Aslan shook his head a little. "So young to have to be old."
Dickon felt Aslan's breath warming him. "Is there nothing to be done?"
"What would you have me do?" The question seemed genuine.
Dickon's hands clenched. "I don't know!" He wanted to cry, wanted to shout that he wasn't even ten yet, but princes don't get to be children. "Stop her. Make her vanish. Make it so that no one else dies."
"I give my children-- and even she is one-- free will. You all may make choices and all must live with those choices, even the choices that others make. That is the Covenant. I may unmake it if I unmake Narnia. Is that what you would have, Son of Adam?"
Dickon shook his head. He looked at his hands.
"She will conquer Narnia, but she won't go further south. She has no one she trusts far from her reach, and her magic works less well where snow is not common." Once again, Aslan looked at the guards. "At least, she won't go further south if these children are not there."
"Mother said--" Dickon hesitated. He knew Aslan was right. Aslan couldn't not be right. He tried to meet Aslan's eyes. "Is it then our duty to die?" He thought he could be at peace with that as long as he was with Aslan, but then he looked at his sister. "Even hers?"
"Your duty is to live. You must go beyond the borders of the world." Aslan turned his head to let his mane cover Elayn. "There will be four thrones waiting in Narnia, two for Sons of Adam and two for Daughters of Eve. Live for that."
Dickon frowned. "I am only one."
"Family comes in time."
Dickon looked away. He thought Aslan was offering him a choice, probably more than one choice, but he wasn't sure what the choices were. "I have a family." Reason wouldn't guide him. There was too much he didn't know. "I promised I'd take care of her. I gave my word." It wasn't entirely true. He'd promised that they'd both survive. He'd promised, knowing that he couldn't make it happen but that it would comfort his parents.
"If she is well and happy but apart from you, does it matter where she is? All of you will come to my land in the end. Some of your roads will take longer than others." Aslan looked around, including Rasht and Skrua in his words.
"I would like her road to be long and happy if she can have both. Happy is better than long, but--" Dickon shook his head. "Neither of us is yet who we could be, but she is farther from it than I."
"There is growth in my land, too." Aslan didn't sound angry. He sounded as if he were waiting for Dickon to understand something.
"It's not the same, is it? Otherwise you'd take us all now or never have us born. We gain something that you want us to have." Dickon took a moment to consider that. "Pain and mistakes teach us, don't they?" he said at last.
"Sometimes. The lesson learned is not always the one intended."
Dickon knew that for a warning even though he wasn't sure what it meant. Judging by the expressions on the guards' faces, they understood.
"Prince Dickon--" For the first time, Aslan gave Dickon rank. "Every choice has a price and a reward. Both may be greater than they look."
"Or less." Dickon didn't think he was contradicting Aslan.
Aslan inclined his head. "Indeed. You will not know until afterward."
"You would not ask more of me than I can bear."
"I would not, but I am not the only one asking." Aslan sounded sad. "Memory can be a terrible burden. If you and your sister remain together in the other world, it will poison you if you hold silent and both of you if you speak. She is too young to remember, and you are too old to forget."
Dickon bowed his head.
"And separation is not the price. She will not return here. Her children may, but she will not. You...." Aslan sighed. He looked off into the distance. "Your children may, if you have children. Would you trade Narnia for her?"
"Were it a question of saving Narnia, I would not." Dickon raised his chin. "To be able to return, to be able to walk here again, I will give that up for her and count it cheap. Does Narnia need me or would any Son of Adam do?"
"Not any, but not only you."
"If I came back, it would not be to the Narnia I know." Dickon tried to make that a shield, tried not to care.
"Very well, my son," Aslan said quietly. For all the softness of the words, they seemed to shake the earth.
Knowing Aslan wouldn't mind, Dickon went to his sister. He wanted to hold her for the time they'd have.
Aslan rose and turned to Rasht and Skrua. "The Witch will know they have gone. There's nothing said here that need be hidden from her. What others need to know, you must judge and you must tell. Do it with no fear that she will benefit."
They bowed to Aslan. Then Rasht bowed low to Dickon as Skrua said, "The Beasts will remember, Prince Dickon. We are never fast to forget." They turned and were gone.
"You did well, my son." Aslan touched Dickon's face with His own. "You would have been a great king."
"Someone else will be a great king." Dickon managed a smile. "Or a great queen."
"Yes," Aslan agreed. "Now bring your sister and walk with me. I will tell you of your new world."
Dickon offers his new family love in return for love. He would, he thinks, do as much for any of them as he did for Elayn. He has not lost himself. He sees the risk of that now that it's passed. Before coming here, he always had a path, a duty. Now, he has a life with no direction, no urgency.
He misses Narnia, but he also thinks that not being called to return to rule has freed him. He wonders if his choice has trapped someone else in destiny and duty. Two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve will rule after the Witch. He won't be one of them. Even if he wanted to be, Aslan has said that Dickon will never be King. Instead, Dickon has the moor, the creatures, Mary Lennox and Colin Craven, the Sowerbys. His life might have been so much worse.
On Dickon Sowerby's seventeenth birthday, Prince Dickon of Narnia admits to himself that he's glad.