Saturday, October 26, 2013

Narnia: If the heroes did their jobs (The Midas Pool version 3)

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]
[Not connected to any other story but I stole the Serpent's name from this story by Ncfan_1, and Octesian's backstory from this version of The Midas Pool incident (note that unlike this version Aslan could endure the goldmaking water in that one.) with the key change that the crew of the Dawn Treader actually did what it had been hoped they'd do.]
[The cast has found a pool that turns anything that touches it's waters into gold, and the only gold thing in it is the body of a man who, years ago, had the misfortune of diving into it hoping for a refreshing swim.]
"Why is the pool empty save for him?"
And they pondered.
"Dragons love gold," Lucy said.
"And they're immune to most magic," Caspian added.
"So they could snatch any gold from the pool unharmed," Lucy concluded.
"But then why is mister naked still there?" Edmund asked.
"Dragons don't horde the living," Eustace said, as if it were an obvious piece of common knowledge.
There may have been a moment's doubt here or there, but once they realized where the information must have come from, latent memories imprinted during the transformation, no one doubted his word. The long silence, then, must almost wholly be attributed to the gravity of those words sinking in.
Lucy was the first to break it: "You mean he's..."
"Why not?" Edmund asked. "We've seen people locked in stone."
There were three seconds of pause then a flurry of activity.
Within hours the better part of two crews had assembled at the pool and were trying to determine the best way to removed the golden man, but all efforts were hindered by the fact that any tool placed within the pool turned to gold.
Between attempts Edmund and Lucy spoke with Lord Octesian.
"Do you think he might be one of yours?" Lucy asked.
Octesian said, "It's difficult to tell. Whoever he is is face down after all."
"Of course," Lucy said.
"And I parted company with the other five before we ever made it this far. I don't know if any might have ended up on this island." He paused. "If it is one of the others then the fact he's alone troubles me. The others wouldn't simply abandon him, and this is not an island one would ask to be left on.
"Perhaps they attempted to rescue him and failed."
"Perhaps," Edmund said, "but we have more resources. Even in something as basic as manpower, we have the sailors Caspian brought and those we rescued with you. Two crews can move significantly more gold than one."
"Or perhaps they never found him," Lucy said. "Even the most dedicated search can't go on forever, and all he left behind was a pile of clothes and his body. If the sun were reflected off the surface of the pool one might not be able to find his body, and clothing is easy to miss if you're looking for something the size of a man."
"Clothes?" Octesian asked.
"All that was left was tarnished armor," Edmund said.
"But there were coins left with it," Lucy quickly added. "Narnian coins." She paused. "Those can't have been very common, does that mean anything to you?"
"It..." Octesian began then lost his voice. "It may," he said sadly.
For a time no one spoke.
"No one talked about it, for to do so would mean death, but Lord Restimar was a Narnian sympathizer. And not nearly so good at hiding it as he believed himself to be." Octesian initially decided to stop talking there, but then changed his mind. "I don't know for sure, but I always suspected that he never went anywhere without bringing a piece of old Narnia with him." For a moment he was lost in thought. "Coins, hidden away in a coin purse, would be just the sort of thing he might bring."
A skeleton crew piloted the Dawn Treader out into Serpent-deep waters, and there Eustace prepared to speak with the Serpent.
Adah found the shallow waters near the islands difficult and, more importantly, she had a vital job to do.
The Dawn Treader had become overfilled with humans, and even the occasional Animal. When she met them they were dangerously low on provisions.
The details she had were somewhat sketchy. It was hard to communicate with those who were still human. Her ears were meant to hear underwater, her eyes to see underwater, and neither intended to pick out particularly fine detail.
But what she had gathered was that the boy who understood her, who had been transformed into something, she hadn't caught what, and then --this gave her hope-- turned back had discovered some trinket that led them to an entire shipwrecked crew. Thus the boat had been overcrowded and understocked for some time, then, more recently, they'd rescued a group who had been enslaved but couldn't return them home. Something about fire and whatnot.
With so many mouths to feed by the time they had met her -- she was still angry they had opened fire on her but the boy had made them stop -- they were almost out of food.
Adah had been a Serpent long enough that she had become adept at gathering large quantities of food from seemingly barren seas. This, and a benefit of her transformation was that she could tell the difference between animals and Animals --something the humans could not do.
So she had stayed in the deeper water and gathered fish. Fish, and her crowning glory:` a wondrous surprise for the boy who had made them stop shooting her, a kracken. The fish she had been herding into smaller and smaller circles, so that the humans might cast nets to catch them. The kracken she'd had to kill and carry in her mouth.
Adah noticed the ship returning, a bit too soon it seemed to her, and hurried the shrinking spiral of her swim. The fish had to be in an area small enough for the humans to gather them.
Adah made out that the boy wanted to talk, but then another --Drinian was his name?-- said a word she could make out: "food" and the boy indicated she should continue with the fish.
Eustace had yelled to the Serpent, "Come over here, we need to talk!"
Drinian urgently contradicted him: "FOOD!"
And Eustace thought of the overcrowded ship. The people forced to sleep on the deck for lack of space. And the empty storerooms that no one wanted to say or hear were empty. He looked at the circle of fish the Serpent had gathered and shouted, "It can wait!" Who knew how time passed when one was turned to gold, but a little more would --hopefully-- be a small price to pay to stave off starvation.
Nets were cast. Fish were caught.
When the fish had been caught the Serpent approached the ship and spat out the largest squid Eustace had ever imagined. It proved too large to sit aboard the ship and rolled off to the side, shaking the entire ship in the process.
Eustace didn't notice, his eyes wide with wonder he soaked in every detail. "I have to get my notebook," he mumbled.
He prepared to to just that when Drinian asked, "Aren't you forgetting why we're here?"
Eustace had --in his wonder at seeing such an amazing creature. As the squid was lashed with sturdy cords so it could be brought to land, or at least shallow water, and there cut up into food, Eustace attempted to explain the situation to the Serpent.
Adah did her best to understand. Magic. She didn't like that. The last magic had stripped her of her humanity. Magic water.
Metal? Metal was not to be found in water except on ships.
Magic water that made metal.
Someone... who?
It was impossible to ask questions, she could not speak.
Someone in magic water.
Someone trapped? in magic water?
Could she help? The boy believed she could help. He was unsure, she could smell that he was unsure, but he believed it was worth trying. The boy who had stopped the others from hurting her when they could only see a monster.
Adah didn't understand --her ears were not human any more, her eyes were not human any more-- but for the boy she would try.
With a motion of her head she indicated for them to lead. She was thankful that they'd at least achieved this level of communication. If she had to go through the hours it took to get them to understand that motion the first time every time she made the motion it would drive her far outside the realm of sane.
The worst part was that she still understood English. Often she even thought in it. She could compose a sonnet if she wanted to. She could impress them with her rhetoric. If she could only communicate. But she couldn't speak, she could barely hear, and she couldn't see nearly well enough to read lips. Everything was guesswork.
The Dawn Treader led the Serpent to the cursed stream, and Eustace, with great flailing of arms, indicated to it that the person to be helped was up the stream.
Then they went toward the other stream to begin the laborious work of turning the fish and squid into food. Eustace alone left, rushing toward the pool. He alone was completely trusted by the Serpent, he alone completely trusted the Serpent. All knew that if the Serpent were to solve things Eustace should be there, because he might be required.
Adah disliked shallows, but she'd been in many and seen many an outlet, this one was strange.
Odd flakes of something pelted her hide. Not strong enough to hurt her in the least, but definitely not ordinary sediment.
As she approached closer the flakes became larger, their shape was strange, irregular.
Then Adah understood. Magic water. Metal. The stream's water was turning the ocean water to metal when the two touched, but not all at once. The larger flakes quickly dropped to the bottom, while the smaller ones were carried farther.
If the water turned what it touched to metal then she had to find a way to make sure she wasn't turned to metal.
She rubbed against the sea floor, coating herself in sediment and the strange metal particles. She did this again and again and when she was convinced she could make no more stick she charged at the stream, her eyes closed. The magic water hit the seawater within and surrounding the hodgepodge of material coating her scales and solidified it.
As she moved it warped and cracked, but, by repeating the process a few times she was able to create a shell around herself so the magic water would never touch her.
"And I am become Salmon, the climber of rivers," she thought to herself in a very human way. She would have smiled at remembering the quotation she butchered, but a disgusting metallic taste filled her mouth, she'd decided it was best to protect that from the magic water as well, which meant a layer of sediment and metal filled her mouth.
Eustace reached the pool before the Serpent. It was not as he had left it. Gold was good for many things, but there was a reason it wasn't used as a tool. Too heavy for its own good, entirely the wrong properties, a mess in the making. Ropes and tools of all sorts, now found themselves golden remnants on the pool's bottom.
Discarded around the side were other, similar things, some all gold, some half gold. some only slightly gold.
Everyone's faces were downcast.
This was the first time the refugees and the two crews had worked together as one and it looked to end in failure.
Eustace held out hope.
Lucy was the first to notice the golden Serpent blundering snakelike upstream. The stream had never been fit for such a great serpent, but the closer to the source it ran the shallower it ran. Every time the serpent moved the gold warped and cracked revealing the sediment beneath, which was quickly converted to more gold by the magic water.
By the time the Serpent reached the pool it seemed a great golden snake, and Lucy noticed its eyes were closed.
"Everyone to high ground!" Lucy shouted as she realized that the Serpent would likely breach the pool.
The various groups scrambled away and sure enough the Serpent did breach the pool, sending a flash flood down the path of the stream turning various things golden as it went. But the pool was still mostly full, the body still out of reach, as the Serpent slithered into it.
Adah wasn't even sure if she was in the right place. But it was a pool deep enough for her to be a Serpent again as opposed to some strange landworm. She lifted her head and, finally, opened her eyes.
The metal covering them tore apart with ease.
The boy was there, waiting. He motioned for her to look into the pool and there she saw a human figure, naked, made from the metal the water turned things into. Was she here to save that? Was that really a person?
It must be, for there was nothing else of value. Broken tools, frayed ropes turned to metal.
Her eyes needed to be covered again. The deadly water couldn't be allowed to touch her. She lay her head in front of the boy and closed her eyes.
He took longer than she thought he should to realize what he had to do, but soon he had caked them in sand and gravel.
Adah lowered her head into the water, a golden coating now protected her eyes, and she opened her mouth. She trawled the bottom, retrieving as many of the humans' lost objects as she could, and then closed her jaws on the prize. Rearing her head above the water she tossed the metal objects, including the body, onto dry land.
Then she prepared to make the journey back to the sea. But as she crossed out of the pool her lower scales scraped against the rocks and an opening was was made in her armor.
The magic water touched her and she had just enough time to writhe in pain before she was metal.
A village elder, Eustace didn't know her name, grabbed onto him after he screamed, "NO!" and tried to charge forward to help the Serpent.  Eustace struggled against her --not realizing she was saving his life-- hoping to reach the Serpent.
Then a voice rang out that resonated in the various souls of all those there. "Thank her, lad. Even I can't go in those waters." Aslan jumped onto a spot where the Serpent's coils were above the magic pool and started digging into it. He stopped a moment to say, "Fetch me a blanket."
It took an hour for him to tear his way to the center of the golden beast, but when he did it was minutes later that he emerged with a young woman, wrapped in the blanket he had requested. "My name is Adah," she said.
Then she looked at Eustace and said, "I'm afraid I couldn't hear very well, what's yours?"
"Eustace," he said.
"Thank you, Eustace."
Aslan had Adah climb on his back and lept to the dry land. Once there it was a much quicker process to revive Restimar.
"Lord Aslan!" He cried out. Then a moment later asked, "Am I dead?"
"No," Aslan replied.
"What's the last thing you remember old friend?" Octesian asked.
"It was a hot day, I decided to take a swim, I dove in... I dove in and... I don't even remember hitting the water."
"The transformation is more painful if your body is huge, I guess," Adah said.
Most of those at the pool made their way back to the ship where fish was served. Octesian and Restimar remained and spoke to each other for a long time. Eustace stayed to talk to Adah. Some of the younger people rescued from the slavers --five humans, a Squirrel, and two Turtles-- were entranced by a story Reepicheep was only halfway through telling about his exploits.
"Thank you," Adah said.
"For what," Eustace asked.
"For getting the others to stop shooting at me. For trusting me."
"I have some experience with what you went through."
"You were a Serpent?"
"I was a Dragon."
"Slept in the wrong place?"
"You too?"
"Yeah. Did you like the Kracken I brought you?"
"Kracken?" Eustace thought a moment. "The immense squid? It was fascinating. I wish we didn't need it for food because I'd love to be able to study the thing. It's positively amazing."
"I'm glad you liked it. I got it for you."