Author’s note: I took some liberties with the history of Charn and its final days as recorded in The Magician’s Nephew on the presumption that Jadis was an unreliable narrator. For the record, my narrator probably is too. Make of that what you will. Also, thanks so much to my beta readers, Trialia and Christina A!
As I write this, the great city of Charn lies before me, bathed a blood-stained red by the light of the rising sun. For months now, my army and I have laid siege to the city, but its gates remained barred against me. No longer, though.
My forces outnumber my sister’s ten times over, and every day more flee to my side, their loyalty to the Heir of Charn broken by her actions. By this time tomorrow, the fate of all of us will be decided. Though it grieves me to do so, I shall wipe out what little remain of my sister’s forces before the day has passed. What she will do in her defeat, I cannot say. It may be she must die to truly end this strife between us, though I do not relish the thought.
Improbable as it seems, I have always loved my sister. How could I not? If the lore of our ancestors is correct, we are of one soul, divided somehow at birth and both diminished for it.
I know it is whispered amongst those who have chosen me as their queen that I am everything that ought to have been good in her, while she is all that might have been ill in me, but in truth we are more intertwined. There is ill in me, just as there is good in her, though it is buried deep enough that I believe even she may not know it. Yet for all that we were raised side by side, our lives were very different, and our disparate natures were surely the result. Jadis was raised to believe that everything–even the world itself–was hers by right; I was the undesired second, and though it was death to tell me so, those around us had other means of making certain I knew it.
If I had been slain at birth to restore to Jadis the other half of our soul, as is the custom of our people with twins who share the same face, perhaps she would have been possessed of greater compassion. But again, perhaps there would merely have been no one with the will to stand against her.
It is said that once our ancestors were wise and just rulers, beloved by the people they served. But that was in a day when the sun gave greater light, when day and night and the seasons of the year were in balance. In a dying world, it is much easier to give way to greed and avarice: to try to gather to oneself what one can so long as there is anything to gather.
When Jadis and I were born, our world was already dying. The sun hung low and great in the sky. It cast its dull red radiance over the sweat-stained brow of our mother, Queen Lilith, as she labored to bring forth her firstborn child, even as it shall today over this battle which will decide the fate of Charn. It is said that when Jadis drew her first breath, she cried out as though she knew that from this moment, contentment would be forevermore beyond her grasp.
It would not surprise me if this were so. Certainly it was made clear to us at a very young age that ours was to be a high and lonely destiny, untouched by mortal concerns and absent the simplest of mortal comforts or pleasures such as friendship or love. For we were not ordinary mortals, but daughters of the Great House of Charn; the blood of giants and djinn and sorcerers flowed in our veins. And Jadis was no mere daughter, but firstborn and heir to the Queen of Queens.
Is it any wonder that our mother named her for the great queen of ancient times who had conquered the world beyond the walls of Charn and made all other kings and queens bow down and offer her their fealty?
If Jadis wept at our birth to know that she would henceforth be forever feared and never loved, then surely I must have wept to leave the shelter of our mother’s womb. For when Queen Lilith labored and brought forth another child, like the first in every aspect, I do not have to be told that those with her in the birthing chamber began to whisper in apprehension. Such an ill omen at such an evil time surely presaged destruction and conflict on a scale not seen since the House of Charn overcame all its opponents to establish its rule over the whole world.
But my mother knew their thoughts and cursed them all for weak-minded fools: a daughter of the House of Charn had ever been a cause for rejoicing, and she would have the head of any who dared stir up discontent amongst the populace by suggesting that two were not more so.
Perhaps if they could have seen this day, they would have rebelled against my mother’s objection and had me slain regardless. As it was, Queen Lilith was feared more than she was loved, so none dared defy her. I too was handed over to the wet-nurse, and Her Majesty returned to the work of ruling her people.
Thus passed the first five summers of our life: with only our Nurse and each other for company save on the rare occasion when the Queen, our mother, saw fit to bestow her presence on the children she had borne.
One such occasion is the subject of my earliest recollection. It was winter, and the great storms howled with relentless fury about the walls of the Palace, such that none dared venture through them–in or out.
In this, the twilight of Charn, the winters are long and even the summers cold and dim, and have been for all of living memory. We have prayed to the Powers for mercy and relief for ages, but they have not answered our prayers. Some, I know, even directed their prayers to my mother, whose djinn blood was powerful enough to command even the elements. But the Queen was no more merciful than the gods. It would not do–she taught us as she was taught–to allow the common folk to forget how dearly they depended upon us by giving too freely of the power we possessed.
It was an edict I would later learn to question, but then I was too young and of too little value to question anything.
On this day, the world outside the heavy glass panes of our windows was nothing but a swirl of blinding white, even in the courtyards. Jadis had always been entranced by the power of the storm, a power even she could not–yet–command. But on this day, merely watching its fury through the glass ceased to be enough for her, and she commanded Nurse to take us out into the courtyard that she might experience the storm for herself.
Nurse had no more desire to do so than I, but Jadis was the Heir and must be obeyed. So the guards unbarred the door and let us out into the white, but watched closely so they might intervene should our safety–the only thing more important than Jadis’ wishes–be threatened.
In truth, the snow that lay over the courtyard like a blanket of tiny, sparkling jewels was beautiful, despite the chill winds that challenged the protection of even our heaviest furs. Though even then I knew it would do me no good, I wept at the fierceness of the cold as it whipped my hair and buffeted my face. But Jadis turned her face to the sky and let the wind strike as hard as it may. It was intoxicating to her; this untamed force of nature, enough so that she did not even break the stillness to mock me for my weakness as she would otherwise have done.
I cannot remember how long we stood there in the snow, Jadis as still and unmoving as stone while Nurse and I shivered and prayed to be allowed to return to the comfort and protection of our chambers. But when we did venture once again in-doors, our faces flushed red with the cold, we found our mother waiting. So, while Nurse hung our wet clothes to dry before the fire, the Queen gathered us on her knee and told us stories of our ancestors who had ruled Charn with fists of iron.
She spoke of our great-grandfather, who had been beset on every side by treachery because he had the misfortune to be born a son. Of the thousand noble families, seven hundred had rebelled against him in their thoughts. But he bade all his enemies attend him at a banquet and slew them in their cups, then stripped all their kin of their titles and property and banished them to the poorest streets of the city. Thus did he prove himself a true scion of the House of Charn.
She also spoke at length of Jadis’ namesake: she who had led an army against the kings and queens of all the realms and made the whole world bow down before the might of Charn.
Of the earliest figures in the Hall of Images, those whose faces still showed kindness and compassion, she did not speak; save to say that they were a reminder of what the House of Charn had once been, and might become again if its rulers did not remain strong and unyielding.
Late into the night, we sat together: Queen Lilith and her daughters. And when the next day came, with the storm still beating against the outer walls of the Palace and barring its threshold, she came again to our chamber and began to teach us the first rudimentary workings of magic: how to hold a single snowflake suspended in the air and keep it from melting, and how to create a spark to light the fire in the hearth.
Had the gates been unbarred or had there been nothing to teach us that could not be taught by another, I know well our mother would never have come to us. But to the children we were, it mattered only that she had come.
Her enemies will say that Jadis is incapable of love, but I know they are wrong. For from that day in the storm, Jadis loved winter. She loves it to this day, though the woman she became has long forgotten the child’s reasons. But even as this war raged between us, there have been moments when I have seen her tip her face to the sky and call down the storm with the smile of one welcoming a lover.
And for that, I know I have none to blame but myself. It was I who broke our pact not to use magic in our struggle against each other. Perhaps I should not have done so, but in such desperate straits as I had been then, it seemed the only way to ensure victory. I was ever the stronger in sorcery, though Jadis and even our mother might have wished otherwise. Still, if so many fates aside from mine did not ride upon the success of what we do here, perhaps I would have been content to fight a mortal battle. If I had known how much she had grown in power since our war began, I would not have dared to challenge her on that plain.
If so many had not deserted to my side, I would long since have been defeated.
Perhaps if our lives had taken but a slightly different turn, I would have been content to remain loyal to my sister as I was always intended to. When we were young, though she had everything and I nothing, I worshiped her as I worshiped my mother. Even when they did me injury, they could do me no wrong. For I had no sense of my own worth, let alone that of any person beyond our castle walls.
We had a tutor, once, who tried to open our eyes to the world outside our narrow, privileged one, to the people we would one day rule and ought to care for as well. She loved us both; the only one who ever did, I think. But Jadis was never able to see Sular’s concern for the common folk or her refusal to bend to Jadis’ every whim for the kindness it was, so while my eyes were opened, hers only closed all the more. So, after Sular broke all rules of conduct by taking us beyond the palace walls into the city so that we might see for ourselves how our subjects suffered, she gave an account of it all to our mother, who had Sular executed as a traitor.
It was then that the rift between us truly began. I wept for days following Sular’s execution, save where our mother might see. Jadis had never doubted her own superiority over me, but my grief only confirmed my weakness in her eyes. And I could not forgive her for taking from me the one person who had ever looked on me with kindness.
Yet I loved her still, even as the distance between us only widened with time.
In our sixteenth summer, the last of our tutors was sent away. They had taught us all that was within their power to do and, as we had reached our majority, were no longer needed. Now was the time for us to take our place at our mother’s side. For the first time since Sular had smuggled us beyond the palace walls, we were permitted to venture out into the city, and even beyond it to the distant lands that lay under Charn’s rule. We were our mother’s ambassadors, speaking on her behalf and meant to act as she would act.
Sometimes we were dispatched apart to distant lands far from each other and further from our home. More often, though, we were sent together. The Queen had never forgotten the superstition that accompanied our birth. Save in lands where the belief in divided souls had never taken root, she never failed to present us as a united front.
Yet the illusion that Jadis and I were one in mind wore ever thinner, for wherever we embarked I saw again the squalor and fearfulness of the people that Sular had first brought to my notice. I saw also that Jadis had learned our mother’s lessons too well. I knew now what kind of queen she would be–not better; if anything, worse–and I was helpless to do anything to prevent it.
Or so I believed. For all that I had changed, for all that I had emerged from Jadis’ shadow, it still would not have occurred to me to defy her. Until happenstance saw us sent as ambassadors to the land of Sular’s birth, and to the House of Anak that had borne her. It had been in disgrace since Sular’s execution, yet somehow they had not fallen prey to the same fate as those seven hundred houses torn down by our great-grandfather.
We were received in state by Sular’s father. He had the same bronze complexion and black hair as his daughter, but more importantly, he met my eyes with the same compassion. It was as though he held us blameless in his daughter’s death, though surely he must have known the truth.
In Jadis’ presence, he was as obsequious and flattering as any noble of the Three Hundred Houses. He had learned long ago, no doubt, that to protect his people his own loyalty to the House of Charn must seem absolute. Yet he watched us both carefully from the moment we arrived. Though I tried to conceal it, he saw through the mask of my own loyalty to the distress I felt at my sister’s casual cruelty.
Only once he was certain I could be trusted did he approach me alone, in the gardens of his great estate. Only then did he broach the greatest treason of all: to suggest that perhaps it was I, rather than Jadis, who should sit upon the throne of Charn.
It would serve no purpose to enumerate the events which transpired after that. If this account is to be read at all, it will be only by those who fought alongside me to bring us to this day.
That the fight and all the death it has brought might have been avoided had I but had the courage to assassinate my sister in the days following our mother’s sudden death, I am all too aware. But as I have said, I loved her still. She was my twin, and even at our most estranged there were moments when I had only to look at her to know what was in her heart. So I sought instead to win the throne through treachery, by declaring publicly that it had been confided to me by our wet nurse that I, not Jadis, was truly the firstborn.
I was naïve to think she would believe it, even if all the rest of the world had done so. I was foolish to believe she would let go her claim without a fight, even if she had believed. And so I condemned our world to this final, brutal war. Perhaps the midwives who whispered I would bring about our people’s ultimate destruction were right.
The sun beats down on me strongly now, and I must set this aside to finish the battle once and for all. We ought to have struck at dawn, but Jadis holds the city with but a few loyal men and women who are by now half-starved from our siege. Had we waited until the sun began to set, the city would still be ours before full dark.
Strangely, even though I know our victory is assured, I feel a strange foreboding within me, as though I stood instead on the brink of crushing defeat. Perhaps it is merely that the cost of this war has been far too high. Perhaps it is the bond between Jadis and I flaring to life one last time, and it is her despair that grips my soul. It matters little. The time for contemplation is past. Now is the time to finish this.
I have always loved my sister, but I love my world more.
“The last great battle,” said the Queen, “raged for three days here in Charn itself. For three days I looked down upon it from this very spot. I did not use my power till the last of my soldiers had fallen, and the accursed woman, my sister, at the head of her rebels was halfway up those great stairs that lead up from the city to the terrace. Then I waited till we were so close that we could see one another’s faces. She flashed her horrible, wicked eyes upon me and said, “Victory.” “Yes,” said I, “Victory, but not yours.” Then I spoke the Deplorable Word. A moment later I was the only living thing beneath the sun.”
—The Magician’s Nephew