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Before her reign in Narnia the White Witch made certain promises to the Ettin Giants in return for their services. When the Ettin crown prince comes to collect it's  ...

Narnia Fanfiction: Book Three Contents: Neville the Chamberlain by elecktrum ..................................................................................3 The adventure of a less-than-bright Hyena, his sword-happy Mouse friend, and a sarcastic Opossum, set against a court without a chamberlain and a High King in hot water with his family.

Only Children [Part One] by Thalion King’s Daughter ......................................................23 A rambling tale of the Golden Age as seen through the eyes of Jaer and Jaerin Peridanson.

Thole by elecktrum ..............................................................................................................79 Before her reign in Narnia the White Witch made certain promises to the Ettin Giants in return for their services. When the Ettin crown prince comes to collect it's not Jadis who pays the price for deceit, but Peter.

Only Children [Part Two] by Thalion King’s Daughter ....................................................261 A rambling tale of the Golden Age as seen through the eyes of Jaer and Jaerin Peridanson.

A Blessing of Rain by elecktrum ........................................................................................290 In the aftermath of 'Thole' a wedding, a drought, and a brother who is far too quiet all weigh heavily on Edmund's mind.

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Editors Note: The Chronicles of Narnia is copyrighted by the estate of CS Lewis, Walt Disney Company, and Walden Media. Stories contained here are for entertainment purposes only and may not be sold or reprinted in any other format. All stories in this series are rated T for Teen, otherwise known as MPAA PG-13 or TV-14, or less. Mild language, descriptions of violence, or references to sexuality may occur. All stories in this series, unless otherwise noted, first appeared on www.fanfiction.net. Leaving reviews of critique, feedback and/or appreciation is encouraged. Stories may have been edited for spelling, punctuation, minor grammatical issues, or clarity.

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Neville the Chamberlain by elecktrum Chapter One: 32 Lenisgale, 1002 Dearest Mum, It’s Neville. Your son. I promised I’d write and tell you about my new position when I got one. Well, here I am and you’ll be happy to read that I got not just one, but two new jobs my first month here at Cair Paravel. Oh, and I’m not actually writing this myself if you can’t tell. I’m dictating it to one of the scribes in training because you can see that he really needs the practice. He says he’s an Opossum, but since I never saw one before I have to take his word that he knows what kind of Animal he is better than I do, because I don’t. Anyway, I hope you can read his writing. His name is Bizzy, by the way. -No, it’s not, my name is Bizmy! And I’m a girl! I arrived at Cair Paravel on 28 Snowbrice in the middle of a storm. I got lost in a maze that turned out to be the formal gardens. I didn’t escape until morning, when a very kind lady Cat named Mrs. Tibs found me. She got me out of the hedges where I was stuck, cleaned me up, and gave me something to eat that tasted like a chicken but had no bones, so I wasn’t sure. She loaned me some of her kittens to guide me to the palace gates and they all rode on my back. They thought I was a Dog, which made me laugh, which made them laugh, which made me laugh more. It’s strange they never heard of Striped Hyenas before (or any other kind, as it turns out, not even a spotted one), but then I never heard of Opossums. The front gates at Cair Paravel are very big - big enough for a Giant, they say, and very grand compared to our cave. The kittens steered me to a very wise-looking Okapi who seemed to be in charge of the crowd. - You recognize an Okapi but not an Opossum? - He gave me an odd look and I supposed I must have looked silly with kittens all over me, which set me off laughing so hard I could barely introduce myself, which made the kittens laugh again. I told him I wanted to work at the palace and he directed me to some other people waiting in a group. I said goodbye to the kittens and they asked me back to their house sometime soon for tea. Even though they live in a maze, I think I can find it again. – I don’t. Madam, how could you let this idiot out of your sight? He’s a danger to himself and others. There was a Faun in armor talking to the group and it turns out they needed more guards for the palace, so I asked to join on the spot. There was a Mouse next to me that also asked to join, and to prove his worth he whipped out a sword that was like an overgrown pin and waved it around madly, squeaking a war cry that hurt my ears. He managed to slice off all the hair along my left foreleg and about half from my belly before the Faun could get him to stop. The Mouse was heartily embarrassed at the pile of hair beside me and so was I to be partially bald, but the Faun, Captain Celer, said he was impressed by my cool reaction (but that was only because I never got a chance to run away or take cover, it happened so fast) and the Mouse’s aim because there wasn’t a cut on me. The captain took «3»

our names and told us to report directly to the training grounds, then asked a Skua to guide us there. The Mouse’s name is Skeepomeep, but he said I could call him Meep. I told him my name was Neville and that I didn’t know anything else he could call me. – Send him to me. I can give him some fitting titles. - We decided then and there to be friends, so not only did I get two jobs, but I made friends with some kittens and a Mouse. I was so happy that I laughed all the way to the training grounds. Meep laughed with me until he was too tired to go on. - Wonderful. A matched pair. At the training grounds a Centaur captain the size of two Centaurs told us to line up with a few other likely recruits. His name was Captain Kanell. I’m not sure, but I think his first name is Sir, which seems to me an odd name, but that’s what everyone calls him and so I do, too, except when I call him Captain. Perhaps Centaurs are like Horses with long names that they keep adding on to. He spoke a lot about what was expected of palace guards and how we would have a whole year’s worth of training before we were actually considered part of the guard. He split us into groups for now and I was very happy to be with Meep. We were told not to bother the kings and queens, keep out of the way, keep quiet, and to pay attention to what the guards did so that we could learn. - Good luck. Our first task was to be assigned living space and a training schedule and all sorts of duties to keep us busy for days. Eventually we would get armor, which made Meep so happy he tried to pull out his sword again to celebrate. I think waving weapons and bouncing about and squeaking must be how Mice celebrate things. Luckily Kanell stopped him from shaving my right side bare. I learned something important, too – it seems most of the people in Cair Paravel, except maybe Mrs. Tibs’ kittens and Meep, don’t have very good senses of humor. I started laughing when Meep tried to celebrate getting armor and Kanell frowned at me so hard I could almost feel it. I thought about explaining the joke, but he had said to be quiet and I suppose that includes laughing as well as talking. Besides, I don’t think he would have gotten the joke. Like Uncle Wilt always said, a joke explained is a joke ruined. I have to go, Mum, but I’ll send another letter soon since Bizzy needs the practice. - I need no such thing! - Then I’ll be able to tell you more about my job and Meep and what it’s like to train as a guard. - I can scarcely wait. - Give my love to Da and Choonie and Swoosie and the twins and Bith and Otzo and Richard and everyone else I can’t think of right now. Love, Neville (Your son). ¥¤¥

Chapter Two: 6 Quickening, 1002 Dearest Mum, It’s me again, your son Neville. Bizzy is being kind enough to write this for me again and I hope you could read his writing in my last letter because he doesn’t seem to have improved «4»

much in this one. I was introduced to another Talking Animal just like him named Bizmy, only she was a girl, so I suppose Opossums really are real. - That was me! - It’s been a while, but some very interesting things happened since my last letter, so I’ll tell you about them. I think I’m going to like being a guard very well. There’s lots of food (I’m the only one in the barracks besides a Wolverine that likes to eat the chicken bones, so there’s plenty for us both) and Meep got me to try some cheese. I don’t know if I like it, so I’ll keep trying until I’m sure, but I did try something called an apple tart that was very tasty, and I learned that Mice shouldn’t be allowed to drink beer before we have to go to sleep. I have a comfortable bed and some very good officers and good friends plus Bizzy to write for me, so I think living at Cair Paravel and guarding it will be a good life for me. Kanell assigned me and Meep to the officers that protect Queen Susan. According to him everyone that guards the royal family starts out guarding the queens because the kings get into so much trouble they need the most experienced people watching over them to make sure they don’t do anything rash or get magicked or attacked or wander close to still waters. I was very excited because I’ve never seen a Human before and Meep was excited because we were given some responsibility, which I suppose is a good thing. -Aslan preserve us and our good queen. I was very surprised when I first saw the kings and queens because they were much smaller than I expected. The queens smelled like flowers and the kings both smelled like sausages because they had just finished breakfast and now were walking to their classes. That surprised me because I thought kings and queens would know everything. – Why am I not surprised? - But they don’t, at least not yet. They all walked like the Dryads that live in the grove across the river from our cave, on two feet, and the queens wore long gowns like the Dryads do, only brighter. They didn’t have hooves or paws, but both kings wore boots. I suppose if you stretched a young Dwarf out to be twice their height and took off the beard and the scowl and made them laugh, you’d have an idea of what the kings look like. I don’t suppose that’s a good comparison – You suppose correctly – but they’re more like Dwarfs than they’re like Meep or any of our Mongoose cousins. Queen Susan and King Edmund both have very dark hair like our stripes and Queen Lucy’s hair looks like a red fox and King Peter, who’s the largest of them but still not very large, has yellow hair like thatch (I mean the color, I don’t think his hair is made of grass). Even though they all seemed very nice, the younger king and queens were miffed at King Peter and they were yelling at him, which surprised me because I didn’t think anyone would yell at a king, but I suppose kings and queens and Humans can all yell at each other if they want. I listened in because Captain Kanell told me to pay attention and listen. They were mad because King Peter had given the Chamberlain of the Court, Sir Giles Fox, a month’s leave to visit his wife’s family in the swamps by the Southern Marches and he hadn’t thought to find someone to take over the chamberlain’s duties. I even remember what they said, so I’ll tell you. - Eavesdropper! ‘Peter,’ King Edmund said, and I suppose it’s normal for a king not to call a king ‘king’ all the time, ‘exactly who is going to take over while Sir Giles is gone?’

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I think King Peter must have been embarrassed or possibly sick from so many sausages, because his face turned reddish and he said, ‘I’ll find someone, Ed. How hard can it be?’ ‘It’s you, Peter,’ King Edmund said back, and he shook his head. ‘How easy can it be?’ That must have been a joke, because Queen Lucy giggled and Queen Susan hid a smile. I had to fight to keep from laughing, too, because Queen Lucy has a laugh like Auntie Swindie where she makes you want to laugh along with her. King Peter made a face I couldn’t figure out. Maybe Meep can read Human expressions better than me, but I think the High King was annoyed. Very annoyed. I suppose they didn’t think he could find a replacement for Sir Giles. I don’t know exactly what a Chamberlain of the Court does, but any job with such a long title must be important. Since this is the High King I have to wonder how hard it will be for him to find someone to do the job just as well. ‘I will find us a temporary chamberlain,’ King Peter promised, sounding very determined. ‘Where will you look?’ asked Queen Susan. King Peter sighed and said, ‘I have no idea.’ The other king and queens shook their heads and sighed even louder, and I think that just annoyed King Peter. He put his hands on his hips and said again, ‘I will find us a temporary chamberlain.’ ‘It’s what you’ll find that frightens me,’ King Edmund said, and the conversation ended in a hearty glare from King Peter. I must leave off here, Mum. I have to get down to the training grounds and train. We do that every day. Meep sends his regards. – As do I, O most patient of ladies. Love from your son, Neville ¥¤¥

Chapter Three: 9 Quickening, 1002 Dear Mum, It’s your son, Neville. It’s Seventhday today, which means that unless it’s a very important occasion, there is no court held because the kings and queens need a day off to rest after spending all week learning things. I heard Captain Celer say that he wished the kings would take a day off and that their personal guards live in dread of Seventhday because the kings never stop moving unless they’re playing chess. We recruits were given the day off, too, after our morning drill. I’m getting very good at drilling because I don’t get bored with standing still. Meep has more trouble with it because he likes to wave his sword and run around and shout. Captain Celer told me to keep Meep out of trouble and Captain Kanell told Meep to keep me out of trouble, so I think between the two of us we should be safe. – Aslan have mercy. – Meep and I have been assigned to follow around a more experienced guard in Queen Susan’s service named Merina. She’s a Sheep. You might think a Sheep wouldn’t make a very good guard, Mum, because I didn’t until I saw her fight during training. All I can say is that I would not want to hurt anything «6»

she’s defending because I think she’d stomp me and anyone with me flat. – I shan’t touch that. I’m waiting for Meep to get back from the kitchens, so I went to find Bizzy and send you another letter. I hope you can read his – her – writing. It doesn’t look as if he’s – she’s – improving very much. Maybe I should send longer letters. – Or perhaps write them yourself? I want to tell you more about how I got my second job here at Cair Paravel. I seem to be taking a long time about it. - Indeed. - On Fourthday following the news of my last letter, which would be 11 Lenisgale, King Peter found a chamberlain! And not just any ordinary chamberlain, but he appointed a bird called a Laughing Kookaburra named Miss Shavinalla to take over for Sir Giles Fox. I was very excited because I thought for sure she must be very witty to be a Laughing Kookaburra. We’re Striped Hyenas, after all, so we’re all stripy. A Laughing Kookaburra must be very funny. I wonder if there are Crying Kookaburras. I’ve never heard if there are. –Nor yet of Opossums, may I remind you? I asked Merina what a chamberlain does and she said they announce visitors and make sure that everyone that needs to gets a chance to see the kings and queens. She said they also make sure that no one takes up too much time since there are a lot of people that have business at Cair Paravel, so the chamberlain has to be clever and polite. I don’t suppose it sounded like a very hard job, but as Uncle Wilt says, sounding and being are two different things. So we were in the throne room while the kings and queens were holding court and conducting business when Miss Shavinalla began with the day’s business. She was on a perch brought in especially for her just to the side if the dais. Her voice was very loud for such a small bird, and she seemed quite grave and not laughing at all. King Peter seemed very relieved and things went swimmingly for a while until three Birds representing three flocks from Pillar Wood came to settle a dispute over winter berry rights to a patch of raspberries they all claimed was theirs. The birds were very cross and excited and I’m sorry to say Miss Shavinalla took sides with the Blue Jay representative. As they presented their arguments she raised her voice and now I know what they mean by Laughing Kookaburra. Miss Shavinalla started in arguing before she broke into a very loud, varied song that sounded very much like the way Grandpapa used to laugh after he got hit by lightning that second time. – Much is made clear by that. - It started out like high-pitched hiccups (which made me giggle) then worked its way to a chuckle and then a strange laugh. On and on she went, getting louder and louder as she threw her head back and became very serious about making the longest, loudest racket you ever did hear. She drowned out the other Birds. She drowned out the noise of the court. Her voice echoed off the stone walls until it sounded as if there were three or four of her all making a crazed laughing sound. King Peter looked horrified. I don’t suppose he’d ever heard a Laughing Kookaburra laugh before, either. He didn’t find it at all funny, but I did. Queen Lucy had her hands over her ears and King Edmund and Queen Susan were glaring at the High King. King Edmund tried to say something but his voice wasn’t loud enough to be heard. King Peter was busy turning a very bright shade of red. He tried to speak but there was no hearing him. Miss Shavinalla seemed to have forgotten she was a chamberlain and the Birds’ case about winter berry rights. All she wanted to do was laugh. «7»

King Peter stood, looking angry, and said something no one could hear. There was a moment of silence as Miss Shavinalla drew a quick breath, but before the High King could get a word in, she was off again. I didn’t think it was possible for King Peter to turn redder, but he managed it. Finally he stomped over to the perch and clamped Miss Shavinalla’s beak closed between two fingers. The quiet was immediate and complete except for the fact that I was laughing. Meep poked me and when I looked up the High King was looking at me and he did not seem very happy even though it was almost quiet now. I shut my mouth but I was still laughing inside and Meep thought I was coughing so he whacked me on the back. That seemed to make the High King a bit happier and still holding Miss Shavinalla’s beak he ordered, ‘Silence!’ Nobody dared make a sound. King Peter let Miss Shavinalla go and said, ‘Your services will no longer be required.’ Then, still very red and cross, he waved a hand at the court and said, ‘Dismissed!’ before stomping out of the throne room. We guards waited for Queen Susan and she looked annoyed and repeated, ‘Yes, dismissed,’ before hurrying after her brother. Queen Lucy and King Edmund both rolled their eyes and followed. In the hall behind the throne room, the kings and queens all stood together and bickered. “Oh, well done, Peter,” said King Edmund sarcastically. ‘Excellent choice.’ King Peter was still flushed and embarrassed. “She didn’t do that when I interviewed her yesterday,” he muttered. ‘Well, we still have an opening for chamberlain,’ Susan reminded in a tone of voice that seemed to say she held him responsible for the ruckus that just happened. ‘Or a new opening, actually.’ ‘Then why don’t you find one, Su?’ King Peter invited tightly. I think she thought that perhaps she had overstepped herself by speaking to him that way, because Queen Susan stood very tall (as tall as King Peter, it seemed) and said, ‘Fine. I will. You’ll excuse me.’ We followed her around all the rest of the day but I’m not sure how she was solving the problem of another chamberlain because she just wrote a lot of notes and kept a lot of Hummingbird and Cat couriers busy. We guards were relieved just before tea, so I didn’t know what happened with her quest to find a chamberlain until the next afternoon when we all stood in the throne room again. I noticed Queen Susan wasn’t looking entirely confident, but word had it that she had found a chamberlain. We waited for the session to be opened by this new chamberlain, the monarchs and the courtiers and the guards and guests and people with complaints and an ambassador from Somm. And we waited. And waited. And . . . waited. From where I stood I saw the kings give each other a puzzled look and then they and Queen Lucy all looked at Queen Susan. She was sitting very stiffly and she was starting to turn red just like King Peter had the day before. «8»

It was then that I noticed a new sort of perch had been set up where Miss Shavinalla’s perch had stood the day before. This one was much lower and had a rope slung between two poles. There was some kind of hairy, brownish-gray mat hanging on the rope. It looked like something very hairy that had been in the water too long and it hung like a sack - a wet sack. I could not imagine what it was or why something so stringy would be hanging here in the throne room. We did some more waiting and people were starting to murmur when Queen Susan stood. She cleared her throat and said, ‘Good cousins, honored guests, allow me to introduce our acting chamberlain: Paul.’ She gestured to the side and I realized she meant the hairy hanging mat. I looked at Meep and he looked at me and we both stared. It took me a minute or more to realize there was a head attached to the mat and really, if I hadn’t seen what must be eyes blinking once or twice, I never would have believed it was really an Animal. - I know the sensation. ‘What is that?’ Meep asked Merina. ‘A Sloth,’ she said quietly, and I was amazed. Queen Susan gave Paul a very pointed look, as if to tell him to do something. Paul hung just upside down on his perch and stared back at her and then very, very slowly turned his head to look at the court. The kings looked tense, waiting to get to business, and Queen Lucy just stared in quiet astonishment along with everyone else. ‘You may commence with today’s business,’ Queen Susan hinted. I felt a giggle well up when I saw King Peter’s face because I think he was rather enjoying the moment after his family was so cross with him yesterday. Minutes dragged by. The Sloth took a deep breath. He looked about to speak. Everyone leaned in and perked up their ears to catch his words, but he just let his breath out and closed his eyes without saying anything. He concentrated very hard and shifted his strange clawed feet a bit. That seemed to exhaust him and he went back to hanging. The court went back to waiting and I kept trying not to make too much noise as I laughed. Queen Susan sat down on her throne, her cheeks bright red. King Edmund leaned over towards King Peter and I heard him ask in a whisper, ‘Is he asleep?’ ‘I can’t tell,’ King Peter said. ‘Could he be dead?’ ‘Possibly.’ That did me in completely and I hung my head and barked a laugh. Merina stomped on my paw. King Peter glared my way, but he seemed to have lost all patience with Paul. He was about to speak when Queen Susan hastily, desperately said, ‘Perhaps the ambassador from Somm could introduce himself . . .’ ‘Perhaps I might find an adequate chamberlain,’ King Edmund said through clenched teeth. ‘Be my guest,’ invited Queen Susan sweetly.

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Queen Lucy giggled. I joined her. King Peter just shook his head. I don’t think the kings and queens got much done that day. Meep is back from the kitchens. He went to get an apple tart because we’re going to go have tea with Mrs. Tibs and her kittens. It’s very windy today, so it’s a good day for tea and kittens. I think I’ll ask Bizzy to come, too. Oh. I suppose I just did. I think he - she - needs a break from writing. - Indeed and I am grateful. - He’s - she’s - nodding, so I’ll finish here and tell you about King Edmund’s chamberlain in the next letter. Give my love to Da and everyone else. Love, Neville (your son) ¥¤¥

Chapter Four: 13 Quickening, 1002 Dear Mum, It’s your son, Neville. I hadn’t intended to write until tomorrow, but Bizzy tracked me down and asked if I wanted to send another letter. I suppose he – she – needs the practice. – No, I just want to know what happened next. We had a very nice time with Mrs. Tibs and her kittens and she made me tea the way you do, with chicken broth instead of water. The kittens thought that was very strange and funny - as did I - so we laughed a lot and they tried my tea and didn’t like it. King Edmund, as it turned out, had almost two whole days to find a chamberlain because the Sloth, Paul, held his title for Fifthday and there was no court business on Sixthday or Seventhday. He said he had the position filled by the end of Fifthday, but I’m thinking maybe he should have taken more time. He was very smug and pleased with himself at breakfast on Firstday (sausage again – it’s delicious here, Mum, much better than Auntie Frey’s notion of what it should taste like. The cooks use these things called recipes so food always tastes the same). The queens teased him and tried to find out who he’d appointed, but King Edmund wouldn’t say. He just told them they’d have to wait and be amazed. ‘Oh, I’ll be amazed,’ was all King Peter said, and where I stood out in the hall, I laughed along with Queen Lucy at his tone of voice. I’ve learned that Firstdays tend to be the busiest days here in Cair Paravel unless there’s a celebration going on, in which case they’re either much busier or not busy at all. With all the people Paul never got to (which was all of them) left over from last week, court promised to be very busy. King Edmund had appointed a sleek little grayish-brown Animal that Merina said was a Giant Mouse Lemur. Meep was very curious about anything called a Giant Mouse and finally I let him climb onto my back to get a good look. He didn’t think the Lemur looked anything like a Mouse and neither did I – the legs were too long and the tail was far too fuzzy for his satisfaction – but Meep thought they might be a distant cousins (like us and the Mongooses across the river) and he took him to heart. I think he wanted to go talk to the Giant Mouse because Meep is always talking, but he didn’t get the chance. « 10 »

The new chamberlain’s name, it turned out, was Mirza Zaza, which might seem strange but it suited him, and he was very smart. It seemed King Peter was amazed, because Mirza kept things moving smoothly for almost an hour, though he yawned an awful lot. King Edmund was looking pleased and so were the queens. I think they were happy to be getting something done. It didn’t last for long. They spent a bit longer than usual discussing trade with Somm, which is part of Archenland, when I noticed that Mirza had curled into a fuzzy ball atop his paperwork. The kings and queens finished with the Archenlanders and were waiting for the next bit of business to be announced when the court recorder gave Mirza a little poke with her quill. His head jerked up and he stammered an apology and managed to yawn out the next bit of business: some cherry Dryads from the Dancing Lawn asking for help with their harvest when their fruit came into season. Mirza was fast asleep before Queen Lucy promised to assemble enough people to help with the harvest. Another poke and Mirza sleepily called for the ambassador from Somm again before he realized his mistake and announced a representative from the Blue River Smithy before settling down again. The High King and the queens looked over at King Edmund and he blushed red and clenched his jaw and refused to look back at them as King Peter softly whispered, ‘Amazing.’ King Edmund put his head back with a thunk! I think it must have hurt because the four thrones were carved out of stone and no matter how soft the stone it still hurts to bang your head on it. – The voice of experience? - He didn’t seem to mind the pain because he smacked his head again and he groaned, ‘I forgot they’re nocturnal.’ A stocky Black Dwarf stomped in and glared all around before reading a rude letter to King Edmund (whom the writer called ‘Spawn’) saying that if he wanted his candelabra then he could bloody well come fetch them himself and to bring some wine when he did. Rather than being insulted, King Edmund looked a little uneasy and told the Dwarf he wasn’t the least surprised transporting a candlestick was beyond them and that they’d talk later if the Dwarf managed to work himself into a better mood, if possible. – Somehow I doubt that. I didn’t realize it then, but looking back I think King Edmund was trying very hard to get rid of the Dwarf because by now Mirza Zaza wasn’t just fast asleep, he had rolled onto his back with his feet in the air and his tail curled up on his belly and he was snoring, and rather loudly for his size, too. I coughed a laugh. The Dwarf glanced my way and in doing so, he noticed the Lemur. Mirza twitched and started to drool. I’m not sure which was worse for King Edmund – his family’s or the Black Dwarf’s reaction to his amazing chamberlain, who was pawing the air and muttering in his sleep, which made me think of Meep. The king no longer blushed like his brother and sister had. Rather, he turned quite pale, which I suppose is an accomplishment because he was already very pale and thin. The Dwarf smiled as if Father Christmas had come early. King Edmund glared a most awful glare at the Dwarf as he turned back and, happier than any Black Dwarf that I’ve ever seen, asked, « 11 »

‘Spot of trouble with your chamberlain, Nancy?’ ‘What?’ wondered King Peter, plainly confused. ‘NO!’ King Edmund snapped before the Dwarf could explain. The king actually stood, his eyes blazing and somehow I think there was a lot more happening than anyone but these two knew. He pointed angrily at the far doors. “Out, Brint. NOW!’ The Dwarf was enjoying the confrontation too well. He folded his arms. ‘I’m a free Narnian. I think I’ll stay and observe our government in action.’ There was a long moment of silence broken only by Mirza Zaza’s snores and me trying not to laugh out loud. ‘Then court,’ hissed King Edmund as Mirza muttered in his sleep, ‘is dismissed.’ He stormed out past his snoring chamberlain and the happy Dwarf. Over on the dais, the rest of the royal family sat and stared. The queens looked at the remaining king and he blinked and shook his head, no wiser than they. He stood and gestured helplessly. ‘Dismissed.’ Meep and I followed Queen Susan to the hall behind the throne room where King Peter and Queen Lucy were trying to figure out what had just happened beyond King Edmund getting riled and leaving. ‘Even with that little outburst I’d still say Ed’s in the lead,’ the High King said. ‘Was that Dwarfish diplomacy, perhaps?’ Queen Susan suggested uncertainly. I laughed at the notion, earning yet another glare from the High King. I put my ears down and tried to be the same size as Meep. ‘I suppose it’s my turn,’ chimed Queen Lucy. ‘Oh, I wish Mr. Tumnus was here!’ ‘So do I,’ sighed King Peter, still confused. ‘And who is Nancy?’ I don’t think Sir Giles Fox will ever be allowed on vacation again. And now Bizzy is laughing too hard to write, so I’ll finish this. Don’t tell Auntie Frey she needs to add a recipe to her sausages, please. Love, Your son Neville ¥¤¥

Chapter Five: 18 Quickening, 1002 Dear Mum, It’s Neville again. Bizzy has a bit of a cold, but when I went to visit him, - her - he - she asked if I wanted to send another letter to you. I think he’s - she’s - bored with being in bed. - A brilliant deduction. Meep and I are learning how to fight, which is interesting and fun. Meep has his sword back now and since he hasn’t really hurt anyone yet I think he’s very good. We Hyenas « 12 »

can’t really use weapons like the Fauns and Dwarfs can. Captain Celer said that I’ll be thrown to the Wolves to train with them even though I told him I wasn’t any kind of canine. He said that since I’m very similar to Wolves and Dogs in build that I can learn the basics from them until they decide how best to use my Hyena strengths in combat. I didn’t know I had those kinds of strengths, so I was very impressed. I don’t think there have been many Hyenas in the palace guard in the past, but then there aren’t very many of us in Narnia. There is a pack of Wolves here at Cair Paravel from somewhere far to the south by Glasswater. Their family name is Ravenwolf, which suits them since they’re all black, and everyone just calls them the Five Sons of Ravenwolf even though one of them is girl. Fancy that! - The oldest son (not the girl), Arthur, has taken over my training for now. He’s a poet on top of being in the army and Meep and I were in the barracks when he read some of his poems to the soldiers. They were very good and maybe when Bizzy is better he - she - can copy a few of them for you. - How could I refuse the works of a poetic Wolf? Now will you get on with your story? You might be wondering about Queen Lucy’s chamberlain, Mum. - Finally! - Well, she didn’t find one but two, which was surprising. The day after King Edmund stormed out of court I was in the hall with Meep and Merina waiting for the royal family to finish breakfast so we could escort them to their music lesson. They were eating ham that morning, and I knew it was delicious because I had eaten a ham bone for breakfast myself. (Meep is still amazed that I can eat bones). When Queen Lucy told them that she had found two chamberlains, Queen Susan was impressed and King Edmund was suspicious and King Peter’s mouth was so full of muffin that I don’t know how he felt about it. ‘Two? How did you find two people that want to be chamberlain?’ demanded King Edmund. I think he was a little jealous, too. ‘They asked me,’ Queen Lucy said. ‘Is that so strange, Edmund?’ ‘Yes. If you’ll notice, no one of sense, character, and capability has stepped into the role.’ King Peter and Queen Susan both made little noises of agreement (rather guilty noises, too) and Queen Lucy said defiantly, ‘Well maybe you didn’t ask them nicely.’ ‘So . . .” King Peter tried hard to sound unconcerned. ‘Who is our chamberlain today?’ Queen Lucy refused to budge. ‘You’ll find out now, won’t you?’ ‘That’s what we live in fear of, Lu,’ muttered King Edmund. ‘Pass the butter, please.’ Well, music and dance and singing lessons always seem to put King Edmund in a sour mood. I heard King Peter tease him saying if he hated them all so much he really shouldn’t go and be so good at them all. I must say watching them learn to dance was fun and I wondered if Humans could possibly dance a boreen without having tails. -Dancing Hyenas and poetic Wolves. This is turning into a good day. - After lessons and lunch, we proceeded to court and I must say I was quite anxious to see if Queen Lucy’s chamberlain could be quiet and speedy and stay awake long enough to make it through the session. He or she might even be able to tell me who Nancy is.

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Court was crowded again and I wondered if the kings and queens would ever catch up at this point. I looked around for the Chamberlain and I was surprised when a nervous and slinky Border Collie trotted in and announced the first bit of business. Her name was Bitsie and Meep whispered to me that she had a northern accent. I had no idea what an accent was no matter what direction it came from. She did talk a little strangely, though. She was colored like a shaggy calico Cat with the colors all mixed together (not stripy like us), though I don’t think there’s such a thing as a calico Collie. For once I agree. - I thought there was something odd about her when I finally realized that Bitsie had one blue eye and one brown eye, which seemed very strange to me and made her head look lopsided. She had trouble keeping still and moved around constantly, even when she talked, and every little thing that happened made her twitch and jerk. Twice she almost bolted and she growled a lot. King Peter didn’t look as if he was holding out too much hope for the day to be a success, but aside from being terribly jittery and strangely twitchy, Bitsie did a good job at calling out the first order of business. That was until General Oreius entered the hall accompanied by two Rams from the Royal Guard named Chister and Peabody. I had only seen General Oreius a few times before, Mum, but he’s a Centaur and a very good soldier and the head of the army. – And he’s very handsome, Mrs. Mum! - He’s also a knight and a very close friend of the royal family. Merina broke ranks because she had a message for the general from Captain Kanell, but Meep whispered to me that she also had a crush on Peabody and she was only delivering it now to get his attention. I noticed that Bitsie stared hard at Merina as she made her way through the crowd of people towards the general. I thought Bitsie looked a little addled but maybe that was her mismatched eyes. She was so focused on Merina she missed the next bit of business and Minovin, the court recorder, whipped out a quill and poked Bitsie to get her attention and announce the general. Well, Mum, that was the wrong thing to do. Bitsie jumped straight into the air and was barking madly before she hit the ground. With her head held low and taking mincing little steps, she dove right into the crowd and started to work through all the people, trying to cut Merina off as some crazed herding instinct took over. People screamed and scattered every which way as she wove her way towards the Sheep. Merina turned and faced Bitsie squarely. King Peter stood up and called for order, but at that moment Meep leaped to the middle of the floor to go to Merina’s rescue. I think he completely forgot that this particular lady didn’t need rescuing, and I think she’d much rather have shown off in front of Peabody or at least have him rescue her. Either way, there was a great deal of confusion as some people tried to get out of the way and Meep tried to get into it. Bitsie tried to herd Sheep that weren’t going to have any part of it, Meep was waving his sword wildly, and General Oreius was caught in the middle of all the wool and hooves and barking and yelling and swordplay. Somehow someone with feathers got involved because the air was suddenly full of down. Then Bitsie snapped at the General’s hooves and he turned just as Meep was wildly flailing his sword around and squeaking, ‘I’ll save you!’ at the top of his lungs. – I must become a court recorder if this is what goes on all day! Mum, if Meep ever comes to visit our cave I think we’re going to have to take his sword away. He has a talent for cutting hair and I want to keep what I’ve got. « 14 »

There was a gasp and suddenly Meep was looking at the floor at his feet. There was a pile of very long, black hair right in front of him that used to be the end part of the general’s tail. Meep’s gasp seemed to bring everyone to their senses, even Bitsie, who tried to slink away. Meep made a sound like ‘Meep!’ and whipped the sword behind his back. General Oreius closed his eyes and heaved a long, long sigh. King Peter fell back on his throne and held his head. Queen Lucy bit her lower lip and looked very, very upset. I wheezed a laugh and without looking up King Peter pointed in my direction and commanded, ‘Silence!’ I choked and bit my tongue, but at least he didn’t glare this time. King Edmund gave a little moan. ‘We’re going to pay for that tomorrow, Peter.’ The High King just nodded ruefully. Queen Lucy felt disgraced, but in sheer desperation they decided to go ahead with her second volunteer chamberlain after Bitsie was escorted out for a visit to the court physician. Less than an hour later the royal court at Cair Paravel tried again. None of the Pevensies looked particularly enthusiastic but there was so much business to attend to that they needed to press on. General Oreius’ hair had been swept up and Meep’s sword was now in Chister’s possession and Merina was disappointed in love. I was Meep-less for the now because he was busy being in trouble. The second volunteer chamberlain was strange-looking even after Bitsie the calico Border Collie. Sloughbit was very tall, very gray, and as gloomy as a rainy day. Even looking at him was depressing because he never smiled and nothing seemed to please him except a chance to be more dismal than he was a moment ago. I had never met a Marsh Wiggle before and I won’t be sad if I never meet another. –They’re not all as bad as Sloughbit. He’s depressing even by Marsh Wiggle standards. Queen Lucy looked dubious as Sloughbit grumbled, ‘Let the record show that court has recommenced on this sixteenth and very ill-omened day of Lenisgale with myself as the latest attempt to carry on the role of chamberlain even though I’m the last choice and so foolish as to volunteer. Doesn’t bode well for the court, oh, no, not at all. Probably won’t get thanked, either.’ I had never known there were any creatures in Narnia that could make a Black Dwarf look jolly, Mum, but by comparison to this Marsh Wiggle even the worst Black Dwarf was cuddly. His miserable attitude spread like a bad stink through the room until we were all equally glum. ‘We have here two letters from Archenland, from the court of King Lune, addressed to Your Majesties,’ rambled Sloughbit only slightly faster than the Sloth would have spoken had he said anything. ‘One from a Lord Tran and the next from someone called Peridan. A declaration of war most like as not, I warrant.’ Glum and paranoid, Mrs. Mum. Queen Susan forced a smile. ‘Pray read the first one to us, Chamberlain Sloughbit.’ ‘If you insist, Queen Susan, though I trust you’re not one to blame the bearer of evil tidings or remove people from their heads for -‘ ‘Read,’ ordered King Edmund through clenched teeth. He drew a deep breath. ‘To Their Royal Majesties of Narnia, High King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy, from Tran, Son of Colm, Lord in the court of « 15 »

King Lune at Anvard in Archenland, greeting! Oh, greeting,’ mumbled Sloughbit, scratching his cheek as he read over the letter. ‘Most likely trying to lull you into a false sense of secure -‘ ‘Lord Tran’s letter,’ Queen Susan reminded, glancing at her sister. Poor Queen Lucy looked thoroughly depressed and about to cry and I don’t think anyone could blame her. Sloughbit cleared his throat. ‘It is with the utmost joy and affection that I address this letter to Your Majesties and I pray that Aslan forever holds you in his blessed paws. May good health and happiness be yours and Narnia’s, and may your reign be long and prosperous. Joy and affection? Don’t he wish it was -‘ ‘Your unsolicited opinion is duly noted,’ King Peter interrupted impatiently. ‘Read the letter.’ ‘Don’t be blamin’ me when we’re all answering to Anvard,’ wheezed Sloughbit under his breath as he found his spot. ‘Mighty suspicious is all I say. Hmm. It is on behalf of one of my kinsmen that I now respectfully and humbly crave the indulgence of Your Majesties. My wife’s good brother-in-law, Peridan, son of Dan, descended of noble houses both from Narnia and Archenland, seeks permission to relocate his immediate household to his ancestral home in your kingdom. Spy, like as not, probing for weaknesses in our defenses. Heads will roll and then where will we all be? Headless, I tell you. Why else would he want to move to a place as cold and damp as this? Unhealthy, I say, and the family is probably a front to hide his wicked intentions.’ King Peter stood up and moved to the edge of the dais. Sloughbit hastily tried to find his spot again, but the High King had had enough and he held out his hand. ‘The letter, Chamberlain.’ Sloughbit approached the king. ‘Now, King Peter, this Tran fellow might have poisoned the ink or the paper with something unknown that won’t affect Marsh Wiggles. We’re a powerful hard lot to do in -‘ King Peter snatched the letters out of Sloughbit’s hand and without looking behind him held them towards King Edmund. The younger king leaned forward and took the letters, shaking his head as he looked over them. ‘Oh, now both worthy kings will be exposed to unknown pois-‘ ‘I believe we have had quite enough for today,’ snapped King Peter. ‘Dismissed.’ ‘The court?’ wondered Sloughbit. ‘Everyone,’ King Peter replied icily, and his hint was clear even to me. Sloughbit was right after all – he hadn’t been thanked, but I think he was happier for the lack because it gave him more to complain about. King Edmund let out a groan that his siblings echoed with sighs as they met in the hall and tried to recover their spirits. ‘This letter is a lot more promising than Sloughbit made it out to be.’ ‘We can read it over dinner.’ Queen Susan put her arm around Queen Lucy. ‘Well. I’ll try again.’

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Queen Lucy sniffed and smiled a little bit. ‘Just don’t take volunteers.’ ‘Ed and I will look, too.’ King Peter sighed. ‘Giles is never going on leave again.’ They all smiled back and I chuckled, glad to laugh at anything. I shut up when both kings glared my way. I learned two important lessons that day, Mum: don’t volunteer and if you want to keep your hair, steer clear of Meep when he gets excited. If I learned anything else I don’t remember what it was. Bizzy looks tired – oh, no, he’s – she’s - just laughing. I’m glad I cheered him – her - up. Love from your son, Neville ¥¤¥

Chapter Six: 20 Quickening, 1002 Dear Mum, It’s Neville. Your son. Bizzy is feeling better and came down to the barracks to visit me and Meep. Meep isn’t in trouble any more (he was set to clean the whole barracks by himself as punishment) but you wouldn’t know by looking at him. He’s still upset about cutting off the general’s tail and I had to pin him with my jaws to keep him from cutting off his own tail because Mice think their tails are like our stripes and sources of pride and he felt bad having his whole tail when General Oreius only had half of his. He tasted terrible. Captain Kanell ordered him to stop being silly because the general’s tail will grow back and Meep’s wouldn’t. I heard Captain Kanell tell Lieutenant Xati about it and she said King Edmund found the outcome of Meep’s rescue mission very funny because the general was always telling him to get his hair cut. - So now not only is my hair not safe around him, but my tail as well? Thank you for the warning. Now get on with the story! Rather than lose a day, the kings and queens decided to work into the evening and instead of the usual court, they invited people to see them in one of the smaller rooms. That way they solved a lot of minor problems until they were almost caught up with their duties. They did this because they were expecting an embassy from King Lune in two days and didn’t want to appear as if they couldn’t make do without a chamberlain. The following day at court was . . . pungent is the word Merina used. I think that means very, very smelly because when we entered the throne room there was a terrible tang in the air that was so strong that I could taste it. It tasted worse than Meep. The kings and queens looked very confused and they couldn’t help but cough at the stench. Then King Edmund looked alarmed and King Peter looked to where his brother stared and then the queens, so I looked, too. In the spot where the chamberlain stood or hung or perched I saw a small, chubby, very hairy weasel with stubby legs that was all black with white stripes. She had a pink bow tied atop her head and she had bright brown eyes and for all her charming appearance, she smelled worse than Uncle Rory after he eats fish left in the sun for too many days. – Please don’t say anything more! I must say, Mum, that she was the prettiest Skunk I’ve ever seen, and indoors she was very . . . pungent. « 17 »

I saw King Peter swallow and compose himself as he guided Queen Lucy to her throne. As he passed his sisters, the High King gave them both very puzzled looks and they shook their heads. King Edmund raised both hands and said, ‘Blameless!’ when it was his turn for that inquiring glance. King Peter sat down, his face a perfect study in anxiety. He looked at the Skunk and coughed and said, ‘Be welcome Lady . . .?’ “Ambergriet,’ she replied with a bow, and her voice was very chirpy and musical. ‘Your Majesties.’ King Edmund, who was closest to her, wheezed, ‘Pray call forth the first order of business.’ ‘Business?’ she wondered with a smile. ‘Your pardon, my king, but what business?’ ‘On the list before you, Lady,’ hinted Queen Lucy when King Edmund was too busy gagging at the smell to make reply. She was closest to the open windows. Ambergriet looked at the paper, then up at the royal family, and she smiled. ‘But I cannot read this!’ King Peter choked and managed to ask, ‘How can you be the new chamberlain, then?’ The Skunk actually giggled. ‘I am not the new chamberlain, Majesty! I am the new chamber maid! I think I have been directed wrongly by the nice Okapi!’ There was a wave of relief throughout the assembly. King Peter fell back in his throne and muttered ‘Thank Aslan,’ as King Edmund, his eyes watering, bolted out of the room to the hall behind and I could hear him gasping for fresh air. Queen Susan stood up and called for one of the servants to escort the new maid to meet the head of the palace staff. One of King Edmund’s Satyr guards let out a sigh and relaxed his grip on his lance too far. It slipped from his hand and clattered to the floor behind Ambergriet. She bounced about a bit and let out a little ‘Eeek!’ and a moment later a cloud of stink rose up and Ambergriet cried, ‘Oh! Your pardon!’ at the poor Satyr that had just caught her smelly, oily, pungent wrath. - Serves him right for scaring a Skunk! Now everyone was coughing and gasping and trying to find fresh air. If the room had been on fire people could not have moved faster. I think everyone forgot all their disputes because everyone scattered and the throne room was almost empty in seconds. Queen Susan’s eyes were tearing as she said, ‘Court is dismissed!’ as King Peter bravely took a deep breath and went to help the Satyr. ‘Get someone in here to clean this up,’ he ordered. ‘And someone to clean up Kiran here. Su, Lu, go join Ed. I’ll . . .’ He broke down coughing, but the queens fled and I was happy to follow. The last thing I saw before I started crying was Ambergriet, looking very sweet in her stripes and bow, cooing up at the unhappy Satyr. I think she’s the kind of girl it’s hard to stay mad at. I’d like to meet her again, but outside and on a windy day with me standing upwind. I got to the hall and hung my head low and had a long laugh. So! There was no court that day and the staff spent all day and all night and then all morning scrubbing the smell out of the throne room and the royal family. They were all very red the next day and smelled strongly of herbs and soap. You might want to tell Swoosie that they use soap for cleaning here at Cair Paravel, not for making the rocks by « 18 »

the river slick enough to slide on. And tell Otzo they don’t eat it, either. - No more abuses of soap, please, Neville! We were following Queen Susan and her family once again to the throne room where they were going to meet the Archenlanders later on. I was wondering what grown-up Humans looked like because I know our kings and queens are very young. As we walked down the hall a whole pack of brightly-dressed, giggling nymphs (they always giggle, Mum) passed by, all of them pausing to curtsy before they hurried on. King Peter stared, and as always he seemed confused. -I suspect he’s used to the feeling. ‘Ed, were they wearing your old tunics?’ he asked. King Edmund glanced at the waving, happy, giggly mass of green- and blue-skinned nymphs. ‘No, Peter, those were your tunics.’ ‘You gave them my clothes?’ King Edmund shrugged. ‘It was harvest time and you certainly weren’t using them.’ The High King gave up, and I swallowed a chuckle as Queen Lucy laughed. King Peter looked to Queen Susan. ‘Did you find a chamberlain, Su?’ ‘Yee-es,’ she said, and I felt my hackles rise a bit at her tone. She didn’t sound very confident. ‘Who is it?’ demanded King Edmund. ‘Um . . . a cousin of Flisk’s,’ she said. I didn’t find out until later that Flisk was the Unicorn that King Peter rode into battle. He was a mighty warrior, but it seemed his cousin wasn’t nearly as impressive. King Edmund stopped in his tracks so abruptly that King Peter almost ran him down. They untangled themselves and King Edmund begged, ‘Not Travers?’ Queen Susan blushed and lifted her head. ‘And if it is?’ King Peter groaned and held his head. ‘Please not Travers.’ The throne room was extra clean and at first I thought the place had been washed with perfume. There was a very sweet smell in the air - as strong as Ambergriet, almost, and it was like overripe strawberries. It was also coming from the temporary chamberlain. - You don’t know Travers, do you? Now Unicorns are very pretty Beasts, but Travers seemed bent on out-prettying everyone. He was tall and snowy white and his bluish horn was brightly polished. His hooves were coated with gold and he was hung with chains and bright ribbons and there were sparklies on his tail and on his scruff - that’s his mane! - and little chains hung with bells around his ankles so he tinkled with every step. He moved all the time but he wasn’t like Bitsie, who was always twitchy. He kept turning to look at his tail and to check his reflection in the polished shield of one of the guards standing close behind him. I don’t know what he expected to happen, but he kept checking and his feet were very noisy. - Meet Travers, Neville. « 19 »

The kings looked at each other and shook their heads as they took their seats and King Edmund immediately sneezed. I don’t think his nose liked Travers’ perfume. Queen Susan nodded at the Unicorn to begin. ‘Ahem!’ said Travers. He made a great show of tossing his scruff - mane - and cleared his throat three or four more times, getting louder each time and tossing his hair about until more people were looking at him. He struck a handsome pose and made a horsey noise like a laugh and said grandly, ‘My queens! My kings! I humbly beg your royal leave to announce the first visitor to your court here at Cair Paravel!’ ‘Please, Travers, proceed,’ said Queen Lucy a little impatiently. He bowed very low. Several of the ribbons in his scruff - it’s a MANE! - slid about and rather than get to business, Travers spent some time shifting and twitching until all his ribbons were back in place. He checked himself in the polished shield and even tried to see his teeth. Then he remembered what he was about and whispered to the court recorder, ‘Is my mane straight?’ King Edmund looked at King Peter between sneezes and muttered, ‘Spoken like a true son of Beryl.’ Minovin glared at the Unicorn and said between clenched teeth, ‘Get thee to business, Chamberlain!’ He sniffed at her and arranged himself again. ‘Presenting Chief of the Red Dwarf Clan Kellerbeam.’ The Red Dwarf - a jolly sort - was there to present some sketches of a port that was under construction somewhere north of the palace. I don’t know what ports do, but this one seemed very nice. Travers left his place and stood in front of Kellerbeam to see the pictures, blocking the royal family’s view. ‘I like that one!’ ‘Thank you, Travers,’ snapped King Peter. ‘Kellerbeam, pray leave the sketches with Minovin and we’ll -‘ ‘That one is just not as pretty as the first one,’ said Travers, pointing to the next sketch with his horn. ‘You should make it nicer.’ ‘Travers . . . ‘ I wheezed out a laugh. King Peter glared at me with that heavy glare of his. Kellerbeam handed over the sketches and escaped. Travers got back to work. ‘Announcing Mrs. Maddy Ridgeback of the Shuddering Woo-‘ He stopped, for the first time noticing his reflection on the polished floor. ‘Oh, my!’ Travers cried. He jingled this way and that, staring at himself, and then looked at Minovin. ‘Should I have had my tail braided instead?’ Queen Susan let out a long breath. King Edmund started sneezing so hard that he had to hold his crown in place so it didn’t end up in his lap or on the floor. I felt a laugh start to well up inside me, the kind of laugh you just can’t stop and lasts a long, long time. It wasn’t the best thing to do but I couldn’t help it. Travers was trying very hard to see the gewgaws on his tail and turned completely around, saying, « 20 »

‘Do these ribbons make me look fat?’ I laughed, trying hard not to make any noise but I sounded as if I was yipping and coughing at once. There was no other sound except for Travers’ bells. One of Queen Lucy’s ladies hurried over and whispered something to her. She passed the word to Queen Susan, who hissed to King Peter, ‘The ambassador is early!’ King Peter’s eyes grew wide and he stood up. He looked quite upset and furious as Travers kept moaning over what he should or shouldn’t have worn. ‘Travers!’ he yelled. The Unicorn was still, shocked that he was being yelled at. ‘Your services as chamberlain are no longer required! Dismissed! You there!’ Travers huffed and stomped out, but no one paid any attention. Everyone turned to see who the High King was pointing and glaring at and looked at . . . me. I choked on my own laugh and wished I was too small to be seen. If glares could have weight I would have been crushed like a gooseberry. ‘What is your name?’ demanded King Peter. I stood with my mouth hanging open and my ears far down and I couldn’t say a thing. Just then Meep jabbed me with the tip of his sword and I jumped. ‘N-Neville,’ I squeaked, sounding like Meep. King Edmund sneezed mightily and I remembered to add, ‘Your Majesty.’ ‘Neville,’ said King Peter, trying out my name in a tone of voice I didn’t like at all. ‘You’re neither shy nor silent! Over here!’ He pointed from me to the spot where the chamberlain stood. ‘Now,’ he hissed. I didn’t know what to do except obey, Mum. I slunk over. The throne room looked almost the same from the other side. -It would be odd if it did not. ‘The list is before you,’ continued the High King urgently. ‘You’ll read the names and business off in a clear voice. You will not laugh, fall asleep, move about, or cause a disruption. Is that understood?’ I was too frightened to answer and I nodded fast and hard. ‘Until Sir Giles returns, you are hereby appointed Chamberlain of the Court.’ He glanced at the doors. ‘Now, announce the ambassador from Archenland.’ He sat down, waiting. I was very impressed that he had so much confidence in me and I found the ambassador’s name on the list. It had been a frustrating time for the royal family and I did not want to add to it or get glared at job seemed simple enough, so I found my voice and read loud enough for everyone to hear: ‘Announcing His Royal Highness Prince Vanine, ambassador from the court of King Lune of Archenland, and his wife Princess Kel.’ « 21 »

I looked up. Meep and Merina both sighed. The ambassador and his wife stood in the door looking very pleased. The High King nodded in satisfaction and the queens smiled at me and at first King Edmund just sniffed but then he smiled a little bit before letting loose with one last sneeze. Queen Susan looked over at King Peter and said, ‘You win,’ which made her younger brother and sister smile wider and her older brother chuckle. So, Mum, that’s the story of how I got my second job here at Cair Paravel. It came as a shock to me and everyone else, too. I train in the morning and when Sir Giles isn’t here I fill in as chamberlain in the afternoons. It’s quite a bit of fun and I like working for all the kings and queens, not just Queen Susan (though she’s very nice!) I suppose I’m a good chamberlain because I was the last one they appointed and I made certain to follow King Peter’s orders carefully. I think you’d be proud of how I do both jobs. I like it here at Cair Paravel and I like the people and I’ve made lots of friends. I don’t think you need to worry. - Indeed, Mrs. Mum, Meep and I are looking after him. Love your son, Neville P.S. I have a nickname now. Everyone calls me ‘You There!’ P.P.S. Mum, Ambergriet told me that Bizzy isn’t Bizzy but Bizmy. P.P.P.S And he’s a girl! Finally!

¥¤¥

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Only Children [Part One] by Thalion King’s Daughter

Chapter One: Jaer and Jaerin “Are we almost there yet?” “You know we’re not there yet; we’d see it if we were.” “I didn’t ask if we were there, I asked if we were almost there. And besides, I wasn’t talking to you. Father?” The speakers were two boys, at most thirteen years of age though one was probably rather less than that. The elder of the two had ordinary brown hair and clear brown eyes that seemed to smile even though his lips were straight. The younger was considerably fairer than his brother—for such the two obviously were—with white-blonde hair and sharp green eyes. Both boys were mounted on strong horses and wore short daggers at their sides. Half a length in front of the brothers two men were mounted on horses of similar build. Both men were armed with swords and daggers though they did not seem to be expecting trouble. The younger of these two men sighed slightly at the bickering behind him. “Yes, Jaerin, we are nearing Cair Paravel. We should be there within half an hour,” he said. “Harrah!” A delighted cry escaped both boys and their horses shook their heads at the impatient urgings of their young masters. “Can we not go any faster, Father?” the younger boy asked. His father had addressed him as Jaerin. “No, Jaerin. I have told you that many times. If you wish for something to do, go back and see how your mother and aunt fare. Tell them we should be arriving at the Cair soon.” “Yes, Sir!” Without further words, the boy wheeled his horse around and trotted (he would have galloped but the distance was to short) back to a carriage that followed the riders. The other boy hesitated for a moment, seeming to debate whether or not to follow, but chose to stay where he was. The boy’s father smiled at the sound of his son’s excited declarations coming from behind. “I dare say that your younger son is rather excited, Peridan,” the older man said to his companion. “He will be hard to keep in check once we reach the Cair.” “What do you mean he will be? I am as excited as my sons. You know that I have wished to return to my ancestral homeland since I heard of Winter’s fall. It has been nearly two years, Tran! Two years since the White Witch was defeated and Aslan Himself crowned the four rulers of Narnia yet I am only just now making my way to ask their permission to dwell in this land. I am the one you should be worried about!”

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“It hasn’t even been eighteen months, my friend. And you know that you could not have left any sooner. Don’t exaggerate too much or you’ll end up sounding more like a threeyear old than a man with three children.” Peridan laughed heartily at Tran’s words. “You’re right. It just seems longer when one has been wishing for such an event since one was a child.” “I do not doubt it. What do you plan to do once you are settled?” Seeing that the conversation was not likely to be very interesting and unnoticed by the two men, the boy who had remained slipped out of the ring of soldiers that surrounded their small party. He grinned as the entire group rode by, seemingly oblivious to his presence outside the circle. First were his father and Lord Tran of Archenland, a noble man and advisor to King Lune. Some distance behind them was a carriage in which rode his aunt, Lady Leah, mother, and little sister. His younger brother Jaerin was still riding beside the carriage, eagerly relating stories of what he would do when they arrived at their destination. Another, rougher, carriage followed this one; the maidservants rode there when not talking with the waggoners. Last in line were two wagons in which all the portable goods belonging to the family of Peridan were loaded. Surrounding this whole group were about a dozen men-at-arms. For though times were better in Narnia since the defeat of the Witch, her followers still lingered in hidden places and it was not safe to carry valuables unguarded. Thoughts of the Witch’s defeat brought more serious thoughts to the boy’s mind. If the stories he heard were true, then Narnia’s kings and queens were only children. Two of them were supposed to be younger than he was and the oldest not quite two years his senior. How could boys his age rule a kingdom? He had enough trouble keeping his room in order, a kingdom would be impossible! Shaking his head free from such thoughts, the boy urged his horse through the ring of soldiers and up just behind the furthest wagon. He was going to pass on by but he caught the edge of the conversation and slowed instead as the grin spread back across his face. One of the maidservants was relating to the wagon’s driver the events of the morning—and their first encounter with a talking animal. “…and there we was, just makin’ sure the missus is all settled for breakfast and the little lady is ready to when this great big squirrel just jumps out of the tree. It walks up to us all unafraid like right up in front of the missus. Now the little lady’s all excited about having a squirrel so near but she doesn’t move since she’s afraid that she’ll scare him off. And then this squirrel just looks at her and grins—I know he grinned so don’t laugh at me—afore looking back at the missus and bowing down in front of her. She looks a little surprised but that weren’t nothing compared to what happened next. That squirrel looks right up and says—as clear as I’m sayin’ to you now—‘Good morning, madam. Welcome to Narnia.’…” The boy’s grin broadened and he passed the gossiping maid. His mother had nearly fainted when the squirrel talked and his sister, Rien, had squealed in surprise. Thankfully, Father had warned them that animals in Narnia were not quite like ordinary animals and that many of them could talk and think like humans. Mother had thanked the squirrel for his greetings and they had actually had quite a nice chat with him. Other Animals had joined them and it was a merry party at breakfast. But that was hours ago. Surely by now it must be almost lunchtime. Just when the boy was beginning to think that he might ask if they could stop for lunch, a shout from the front made him urge his steed forward to see what had caused it. Jaerin was at his side in an instant as they raced to the front of the line. « 24 »

“What is it, Father?” both boys asked breathlessly. “Look!” The boys looked and simultaneous gasps of astonishment slipped from them. “Is it?” “We’re here?” “There it is, Cair Paravel, the castle of the four thrones, shining on the edge of the Eastern Sea as it always has in my dreams.” Peridan leaped down from his horse and hurried over to where the carriage had stopped. He flung open the door and held out a hand to the occupants. A joyous light was in his eyes and there was no denying him as he spoke. “Come, Saera, Sister Leah, and you too, Rien. This is a sight that you must see.” A tall woman with fair hair and green eyes stepped down from the carriage, blinking at the brightness of the day. A small girl, at most nine years old, followed her and last another woman with light hair. Peridan led the three to where the boys and Tran still sat on their horses staring at the sight before them. “Oh, Father!” Rien exclaimed as she clapped her hands, “It’s even more beautiful than you said.” And it was. The castle rose in many-tiered splendor at the very edge of the ocean where the Great River met the waters. The bright midday sun glinted off thousands of windows in glorious splendor making it so that the whole castle seemed to be coated in golden light. At the topmost turret, a huge banner snapped in the wind. Even at that distance, they all knew what it must be: a green field on which a red lion rampant rose in majestic beauty. The Banner of Narnia. Four smaller banners were also visible though none could quite make out what design they bore. Still, they knew that their presence meant that all four sovereigns of Narnia were home. “Perhaps soon, we shall be able to call those who dwell in that castle our kings and queens,” Peridan said softly. “I shall at last return to the allegiance of my fathers.” Jaerin looked from the castle to where his father stood staring. “Does this mean we can go faster?” ¥¤¥

Chapter Two: At the Cair When the party passed a the gates of Cair Paravel some ten minutes after their first sighting of the castle, Jaerin could hardly believe his eyes. There were people everywhere! But then, “people” was hardly the best word to describe the members of the crowd. There were Animals and Creatures of every possible description. Everything Jaerin had ever heard about or dreamed of was there. Two centaurs and great cats stood on either side of the gate and armed satyrs guarded the door of the castle. Bears, cats, dogs, horses, fauns, and creatures which defied description thronged in the courtyard. Yet despite the crowds, there was no chaos and the path from the gates to the doors remained clear. Few paid much attention to their passing aside from a casual greeting as the party made their way to the « 25 »

steps leading up into the Cair. Their horses were taken by several creatures, some of whom looked vaguely like trees to the boy’s inexperienced eyes. Jaerin shivered in anticipation as the massive doors swung slowly open and they passed through into the castle itself. It was quieter and less crowded inside than in the courtyard though there was still no shortage of people. A faun detached himself from a chattering group and hurried over to them. “Good day, sirs and ladies! Welcome to Cair Paravel, the castle of the four thrones. In what manner might I be of assistance to you?” The faun addressed himself to Tran as the oldest of the party and the apparent leader. “We come seeking an audience with King Peter and his royal consorts,” Tran replied. “I believe they should be expecting us; we sent a letter two weeks ago.” “Ah! Then you must be Lord Tran and his kinsman, Sir Peridan with your families. We are quite glad to welcome you to Narnia. At the moment, the kings and queens have adjourned the court for lunch; we should gather again in about an hour. Perhaps you would like to rest and refresh yourselves while you wait? I can show you to a room if you wish.” “That would be wonderful. Thank you for your hospitality.” “It is nothing more than what I am commanded. Come.” The faun led them through the halls and to a large, well-furnished room not far away. Jaerin gaped at the plush furniture and rich hangings that decorated the walls. Even King Lune’s castle did not have anything this fine! He turned to where his brother had been only to find him at the enormous windows in the far wall. He was about to run over to him when he caught the edge of the conversation between his father, Uncle Tran, and the faun. “…have provisions of our own,” his father was saying. “There is no need for you to…” “Nonsense. It is but common courtesy. I would never hear the end of it if I allowed such a thing. No, Sir Peridan, I will send some food to you shortly. When the Four are ready to receive you, Master Donovan will come to escort you to the throne room. Fare well for now!” Hardly had the door shut behind the faun when the room erupted into excited exclamations. “Can you believe this place? This is the most amazing place I’ve ever seen! I counted eight leopards, two panthers, six centaurs and who knows how many others in the courtyard! And this castle is so huge! There must be hundreds of passages and thousands of rooms. Do you really think they’ll let us live here, Father?” “Did you see the ocean, Father? It is beautiful! The water is bluer than anything I’ve ever seen. And I there are two boats out there. Do you think we could go sailing, or, better yet, swimming some time? Do you think we could?” “They have a garden, Mother! A rose garden! They aren’t really blooming yet but they’ll be so pretty when they do! And there were wildflowers everywhere! Do you think we can pick a bouquet of them? Did you see the gardens, Father?” “Oh, Peridan! You were right! The air here is so clear! I haven’t been able to breath this well in years!” « 26 »

“You know, Tran, perhaps we should consider moving to Narnia also. I rather like it here.” “See, Peridan, I told you that you would have trouble keeping your children in check…” “Quiet!” Peridan’s deep voice cut across the cacophony of noise and instantly brought silence to the room. “Please,” he continued with a smile, “speak one at a time! Jaer, yes, I think we will be able to go swimming at some point during our stay at Cair Paravel. Rien, yes I did see the gardens but you’ll need to ask before you start picking flowers. And Jaerin, we are here to ask permission to dwell in Narnia, not necessarily to live here in the Cair itself. As for you, my wife.” Peridan leaned over and kissed Saera firmly on the lips. He smiled as he pulled away, “I am glad that you feel well here.” A few moments of excited conversation later, the door opened and two badgers walked in. Both were carrying heavy trays from which a delicious smell was coming. Jaerin’s mouth watered at the sight of the food. The badgers smiled and set the trays on the table in the center of the room. “If you’ll be needing anything else, feel free to call,” one said. “There’s bound to be someone near enough to assist you.” “Thank you very much, kind badgers,” Lord Tran replied. “The hospitality of the Narnians exceeds all expectations.” “Thank you, Sir! You are kind to tell us so. Enjoy your meal. When the Four are returned to court, Master Donovan will come to lead you to them.” With those words, the badgers bowed roughly and hurried out leaving them alone once again. The two boys could hardly wait until their father gave them permission to begin eating. It was wonderful. There was rich, juicy ham (from a dumb beast of course), fresh, hot rolls with butter melting on their tops, bright carrots and fresh salad all of which was quickly devoured. “That was good,” Jaerin said as he licked his fingers for the last time. “If that’s what every meal is like here, I really hope we get to stay.” “And if the food isn’t like this all the time?” Jaer shot back. “Then what will you do?” Jaerin shrugged. “I don’t know. But if they can make it this good some of the time, why not do it all the time? And who’s to say they couldn’t do better?” “I don’t know. You’ve got lettuce in your hair.” Jaerin’s hand shot to his head feeling for the errant leaf. He found nothing and glared at his grinning brother. “No I don’t!” “Yes you do. See?” Jaer leaned over and placed a leaf of lettuce on top of his brother’s head. “Jaer!” With a shout, Jaerin dove at his older brother and within seconds the two were rolling along the floor, playfully trying to put lettuce in each other’s hair while Rien shrieked in delight. Jaerin caught hold of a pillow off of one of the chairs and began pummeling Jaer. “I do not have lettuce in my hair! You do!” “Boys, boys!” Saera cried. The two broke apart almost instantly and looked sheepishly at their mother. “This is neither the time, nor the place for such roughhousing. Calm down. « 27 »

If we are to present ourselves to the kings and queens of Narnia, we must be on our best behavior. Jaer, come here and let me brush your hair; you’ve gone and mussed it badly.” “But mother…” Jaer stopped his protest at the look on his mother’s face and walked obediently over to her. Jaerin snickered at his older brother’s plight and Saera’s gaze was instantly on him. “Don’t laugh, young man. You’re next.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Three: Before the Four Not quite an hour after their arrival and less than half of a rather dull hour after finishing their meal (Peridan would not let them look at any of the books and looking out the window is only interesting for so long), the door opened again and a large bear walked in. Jaer stared in surprise. Aunt Leah went pale and his mother’s hand flew to her mouth even as Rien shrank behind their father. Even Jaerin seemed nervous as the bear stepped forward. “The court has reconvened,” the bear said. “Their majesties await your presence.” Jaer’s jaw dropped and a quick glance at his brother showed that the younger boy was fighting back laughter. The bear sounded like he was half asleep! “Thank you sir,” Peridan replied, stuttering slightly as he tried to remember what the badgers had said was the bear’s name. His eyes were shining and he barely held his excitement in check. “Saera, children? Kinsman?” A hurried brushing of hair and smoothing of skirts ensued before the group followed the bear out the door. He led them to a pair of ornately carved doors that stood wide open. Gulping, Jaer straightened his shoulders and gave his brother an encouraging look and then turned his face forward again. While there were many interesting things to see in the great throne room of Cair Paravel, Jaer’s attention centered on the four figures seated on the thrones. The bear led them forward until they were about halfway down the path that lay between the others that thronged the room. There, he stopped and called out in a slow, sleepy voice: “Lord Tran and Lady Leah of Archenland with their kinsmen, Peridan, his wife Saera, and their children, Jaer, Jaerin, and Rien.” The bear stepped aside and Uncle Tran led them to the foot of the dais. One by one they knelt. They had arrived. Jaer fought hard to conceal both his apprehension and his amazement as he rose from his knees. He could feel Jaerin almost shaking beside him and reached out a hand to steady his brother. He couldn’t blame him. On these four rested the fate of his family for years to come. And two of them were younger than him! Once again he wondered that four so young could rule a country. How could this be? “You are welcome in our court, Lord Tran and Lady Leah. You also, Peridan and Saera with your children. What brings our friends from Archenland to our court today?” « 28 »

Jaer nearly started at the sound of King Peter’s voice. He sounded young but there was an edge to his voice that spoke of the experience of a much older man. Could he really only be two years older than himself? “We come with a request to make of you, Lord King. Of you and your noble consorts.” Peridan bowed again. “I beg you to hear me.” “Speak your request then, Sir Peridan. We will hear you out.” “I am but a simple man, your majesty. I am not a knight.” “Not a knight?” Now Jaer’s jaw did drop. The younger king was a full year his junior and yet the note of command in his voice was the same as Jaer heard in his uncles when he spoke to men under his rule. “It is not for want of valor on his part, King Edmund,” Lord Tran interjected. “Many times has King Lune offered him knighthood and none more insistently than after his actions in driving off a portion of the remnants of the Witch’s army. Rather, it is because of a family vow. Since the White Witch came to Narnia and either killed or drove out the humans here, the men of Peridan’s line have refused knighthood from any save the true ruler of Narnia or Aslan himself. Until your victory, that has been impossible. Do not judge my kinsman for his lack of rank.” King Edmund turned dark eyes on Lord Tran; “I am the last person to judge a man by appearances, Lord Tran. You need not fear that I will do so.” Blinking his eyes in surprise at being chastised by a boy, albeit a king, young enough to be his son, Lord Tran bowed and stepped away. Dealing with children as monarchs was not something he was used to. “Tell us your tale, Peridan of Archenland,” King Edmund continued, “and give us your request.” Peridan bowed and began a tale that Jaer had known ever since he could remember and never tired of hearing again. “Over a hundred years ago, my forefather was among the ancient lords of Narnia. When the White Witch came and battle was joined, he rode out with the last king of Frank’s line. He and his eldest son fell in that battle, but his wife, daughter, and younger son survived to flee to Archenland. For with his last breath, he begged a raven to take word to them of the battle’s outcome. He told them to remember Aslan and the prophecy once made that four thrones would be filled at Cair Paravel and such would mark the end of Evil’s reign. “In Archenland we have lived ever since, honoring the laws of that country while ever holding ourselves to be true subjects of Narnia. Not quite two years ago, word came of the Witch’s defeat and winter’s end and the filling of the Four Thrones. Since that time, I have sought to return to my ancestral home. This, noble kings and queens, is my request: That I and my heirs be allowed to dwell in Narnia as your subjects and servants of Aslan and Aslan’s great father, the Emperor-over-the-Sea.” Peridan knelt with his last words and his family followed his example. The court of Narnia waited with baited breath; no such request had been brought before the Four and none knew how they would answer. Jaer bit the inside of his lip nervously. « 29 »

“Oh, yes! Peter, Susan, do say they may stay!” The youngest queen’s excited exclamation startled Jaer and he looked up hopefully. Queen Lucy was beaming at them and the other three were also smiling. “I think we are agreed in our decision, brothers?” Queen Susan said in gentle voice that nevertheless carried the same authority that her brother’s had. “I believe so, sister,” King Peter answered. “There is no need for us to take council together in this matter. Rise, Peridan. Once of Archenland, you are now of Narnia. We welcome you into our court.” Cheers and shouts of approval rose from all corners of the room as Peridan and his family stood. Jaer grinned broadly at his brother and received one in return. The boy wanted nothing more than to run down the hall shouting out to everyone that he was now to live in Narnia. But he knew that such an action would not be looked kindly on by his mother or his father so he restrained himself. By the way Jaerin was bouncing on his toes, he felt a similar excitement. “My kings,” Peridan cried, raising his voice to be heard above the clamor. “May I be permitted to swear my allegiance to you and yours here and now before these assembled Narnians?” “We do not yet ask such an oath of you, Peridan of Narnia,” King Peter replied. “Yet if this is your heart’s desire and your mind is set, knowing this is no rash action that you would undertake, you are free to do so. But We must warn you: You do not swear allegiance to Us alone. Whatever oath you make you must swear to honor our royal siblings each in the same manner, making no distinction between Ourself as High King and They. For Aslan crowned us together and we Four are equal before Him. And you must also swear your loyalty to Aslan and Aslan’s great father, the Emperor-over-the-Sea. For They are the true and ultimate rulers of Narnia and We hold Our crown from them.” Jaer could hardly believe the confidence with which King Peter spoke. He knew there was no way he could imagine himself speaking in such a manner. The boy-king showed that he was in every way worthy of the title bestowed upon him by both Aslan and his people: Magnificent. “I know this, Lord King and not lightly do I take this oath. It has been my wish since my youth to pledge my allegiance to the king of Narnia and I will as gladly serve your siblings as yourself. As for the oath in service of Aslan: it has already been made.” With a practiced motion, Peridan flicked his sword from its sheath and held it in salute before him. Then he turned it upside down and dropped to one knee. “My kings and queens, I, Peridan, son of Erain, do hereby swear fealty to you, High King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy, and to your heirs so long as you remain in the service of Aslan. I will strive to serve you to the best of my abilities and will all the resources I have to offer, both in peace and in war. But if ever a time comes when my kings or queens or their heirs turn from the service of Aslan, I will consider it my duty to withstand him with everything in my power. So long as the Great Lion grants me strength, this is my pledge.” ¥¤¥

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Chapter Four: Of Dinner... A shiver of delight traced its way down Jaerin’s spine as he listened to his father’s pledge. Ignoring the response of the Four, he tugged lightly on Jaer’s sleeve. “Do you think we need to swear allegiance too?” he whispered. “I want to.” “No. Not yet. We’re too young yet. For now, Father’s allegiance is ours.” “But I want to. Do you think they’d let me?” “You can ask Father later. Be quiet now; I want to hear what they’re saying.” Jaerin subsided into impatient silence and contented himself with bouncing on his toes. Now that the main question was answered, he was eager to see where their new quarters would be. Father had said that they might not live in the castle but be given land on which to dwell elsewhere, but Jaerin was convinced that they would not live anywhere but in Cair Paravel. He would become the best knight in all of Narnia to rival even the kings themselves. They would ride out to battle and in a daring feat of arms he would save one of them from certain death and… “Jaerin, come on!” “What?” Lost in his fantasy, Jaerin failed to notice that the formalities were concluded and his family was leaving. Slightly embarrassed, he hurried after Jaer who was following the others out a side hall. A rather large squirrel appeared to be their guide and the boy could not help but grin at the sight of the bushy tail waving in front of them. They walked down the long halls and up a flight of stairs before the squirrel finally stopped. “Here we are! This room,” he gestured to the door on Jaerin’s right, “can be for the boys and the next one down for the little lady. Here across the hall is a room for you, Master Peridan, and your wife and another for you Lord Tran and your wife. This last room,” here the squirrel scampered to the end of the hall and nimbly climbed up the door frame to open the door, “should serve as a sitting room for you all until more permanent quarters can be arranged. Will this be sufficient?” “Most definitely so, excellent Scamptertwig. Thank you.” “My pleasure. I’ll be back an hour before sundown to escort you to supper. Have a good afternoon.” The squirrel darted away down the hall, calling out hellos to a few birds that were passing by. Jaerin barely waited for him to go before running to the room pointed out as being for him. He flung open the door to reveal a enormous bedroom decorated in rich reds and blues. Two canopied beds stood along one wall and an open door revealed a second room in which there appeared to be a large tub. In the far wall was set a single massive window that reached from the floor to the ceiling and was curtained with thick blue velvet lined with shimmering silk. With a shout of delight, Jaerin ran across the room and leaped into the nearest bed. Jaer was not far behind him. “Oh, Father, would you look at this room!” Jaerin cried bouncing on the bed. “This is amazing! I could fit two of my old rooms in here and this bed bounces wonderfully!” « 31 »

“So I see,” Peridan laughed. “But you had best be careful lest you bounce yourself off of it.” “Oh I won’t,” the boy replied with confidence. “I’ve had lots of practice; yours and mother’s bed is good for bouncing too.” Realizing too late that he had given away his secret, Jaerin shut his mouth abruptly and flushed scarlet. “So that is why I would come in to find our bed mussed,” Saera said. “I think you should be more careful about such things in the future.” “Yes, Mother.” “Come along now. There are yet more rooms to explore.” When the other rooms allotted to them had been dutifully examined and exclaimed over, Jaer and Jaerin returned to their room. There, they found all their baggage had already been placed and their nicest clothes laid out on the beds. Apparently, the servants had been busy in their absence. “Why are those laying out?” Jaerin asked. “I don’t want to wear that.” Jaer rolled his eyes. “Because we’re to join the kings and queens for supper, silly. Or were you not listening?” “Really? That’s amazing. Come on! Let’s get ready!” “Easy, little brother. It will be another several hours before we’ll need to be ready. It wouldn’t do to get dressed up and then mess up our clothes before supper and have to change again.” “Oh. But what are we going to do until then?” “I don’t know. Look around; you brought some games didn’t you? Why don’t we play some chess?” Amazingly enough, the two boys managed to keep themselves entertained with board games until they were summoned to supper. The same squirrel who had led them to their rooms escorted them to the supper room. This room was another level up and had one side open to a balcony that faced the sea. Jaerin jerked nervously at his tunic as they entered. Going before the kings and queens in court was one thing, eating supper with them was quite another! “Welcome! We are glad you could join us, Lord Tran, Lady Leah, Peridan and Saera.” Queen Susan was the first to greet the travelers when they came into the room. Her radiant smile only made Jaerin more nervous. He might have to talk to girls tonight! Rien wasn’t bad but his cousins were horribly giggly. He was glad they hadn’t come along on this trip. “Thank you, gentle queen, for inviting us to join you,” Lord Tran replied. “Your graciousness is more than one could ask for.” “It is nothing. Come now, dinner awaits us.” Queen Susan gestured behind her to a large table spread with elegant dishes and lit with candles. The two kings and Queen Lucy were standing beside it, waiting with smiles on their faces. The two eldest flanked their younger siblings when they were seated. Tran was seated at King Peter’s side while Peridan was directly across from him. Lady Leah sat by « 32 »

Queen Susan with Saera across from her. Rien was near her mother and the two boys were sandwiched between their father and sister facing the two kings. When they were all seated, King Peter lifted his glass “For thy blessings and the bounty of this table, Aslan, we give thee thanks,” he said. Soft “We give thee thanks,” came from his siblings and Jaerin awkwardly copied them. No sooner had they finished than several creatures came in carrying great dishes of food. These they offered first to the ladies and then to the men. Jaerin waited until he saw King Edmund take a bite before he picked up his fork. “What do you think of Narnia so far?” King Edmund said after a few minutes. Jaerin stared, unable to think of a reply. “It’s wonderful,” Jaer replied for his brother. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” “I’m glad you’ve come,” the king continued. “It will be nice to have some boys near my own age around. How old are you?” “I’m just turned thirteen and Jaerin’s two years younger.” “I am not!” Jaerin cried, goaded into speech, “I’ll be twelve later this year. You’re only a year and a half older.” “One year and nine months. It’s just as close to two years as one and a half.” Forgetting the company, Jaerin stuck out his tongue at his brother. A sudden laugh startled him and both boys turned bright red when they realized that King Edmund was laughing at them. “Let’s not quarrel shall we?” he said dryly. “I’d hate for our acquaintance to start out on such a sour note.” As the meal progressed, Jaerin grew more relaxed and the conversation became quite animated. King Edmund described some of the further Narnian lands that they had yet to see while King Peter told a little of the far lands beyond the Great Waterfall. It seemed that he had just been on a journey there last fall. For what purpose, he did not tell, but Jaerin assumed that it had to do with the ruling of the country. As skillfully as if they had been doing it for many years, the two kings also managed to draw his father and uncle into the conversation as well. “Do you play chess, Peridan?” “Sometimes, King Edmund. My sons have recently brought about a renewed interest in the game.” “Excellent! Then perhaps you would deign to join me in a game after supper? My brother and I have been learning the game of late.” “Seriously, Ed, do you really wish to get beat again?” King Peter said. A small smile danced along the edges of his mouth leading Jaerin to guess that there was some shared joke between the two. “You never know, Peter. Besides, how is one to get better if one does not practice? So will you join me, Peridan?”

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“It would be my honor, your majesty.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Five: ...And of Chess Jaer was thoroughly amazed by the young monarchs. Their behavior in the throne room had led him to believe that they would be stiff, formal, and somewhat boring to talk too and the knowledge that they were kings made him nervous. But to his great delight, he found himself talking easily with both kings about common, everyday pursuits (such as riding, hiking, exploring). And then King Edmund invited his father to a game of chess! Jaer was confident of the results; his father had not lost a game to anyone in all of Archenland in ten years. After supper was cleared from the table, the party moved out onto the balcony that overlooked the Sea. An ivory chessboard was brought at King Edmund’s request and Jaer settled down in anticipation to watch the game. It did not take long for him to realize that King Edmund probably had not been playing very long. Twice, Jaer saw moves that would have set the king in a very good strategic position but were not taken. He leaned back with a sigh. This game would not last very long. But it did. The minutes ticked by and yet his father had not defeated his inexperienced opponent. Jaer began to watch closer. To his surprise, he found that his father was not taking advantage of openings left by King Edmund and was deliberately placing himself in poor positions. The boy’s confusion mounted as King Edmund began to capture more and more of Peridan’s pieces. Why was his father allowing himself to be defeated like this? This was not how his father played. “Checkmate?” King Edmund said. “I believe so, your majesty,” Peridan replied after a quick scan of the board. “You have fairly cornered me.” King Edmund heaved a sigh of relief even as he turned to smirk at his brother. “’Get beat again,’ Brother?” A grin lit the older king’s face. “I concede that I was in the wrong. Well played, Edmund. And now, perhaps, seeing as it is getting late, we should bid our guests farewell for the night? I’m sure the ladies are ready to retire.” Jaer looked in surprise out across the Eastern Ocean. The last hints of sunlight had all but faded from the rim of the Sea and the stars’ dance was clear above them. He stood hastily as his father did and bowed to the kings and queens. “If you should like, Lord Tran, Peridan, and you too, Jaer and Jaerin,” King Peter said as he stood, “you are welcome to come to the practice yards at any time during your stay here. There will be someone to assist you there.” “Thank you, King Peter. We may avail ourselves of your offer. For now, we bid you good night. May Aslan guard your dreams.”

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Jaer murmured his thanks and followed his family from the room. A tall, slightly treeish looking man met them at the door and escorted them back to their quarters. They parted in the halls leaving Jaer with his questions regarding his father’s play unanswered. Jaerin chattered on even after the candles were blown out so that it was late before the boys fell asleep. As he was accustomed, Jaer woke at dawn, slid a book from his pack, and slipped quietly from his room. Jaerin still slept—he would probably not wake for another hour. In the sitting room allotted to the family, Jaer settled himself in a comfortable chair near the window and began to read. The story he was reading was a fascinating one. It told the tale of Prince Gale of Narnia who freed the Lone Islands from the tyranny of a dragon and won them as provinces of Narnia. When he last stopped, the prince had been about to confront the dragon in its lair. Not quite an hour later, Jaer finished the book with a grin. The dragon was defeated, the Lone Islands freed, and the Prince safely returned to Narnia. All in all, a very satisfying ending. “I thought you’d like that story.” Jaer started at the unexpected sound but relaxed as he saw his father sitting near the door. It often happened that way; he would be engrossed in a story and his father would come in and startle him. He did not mind. “It was my favorite when I was a boy,” Peridan continued, walking toward his oldest son. “I always wished that I could find a dragon to slay.” “I liked it a lot, Father. I think my favorite part was when everyone thought that Prince Gale was too small and young to do anything and he says ‘I am not strong enough. But I serve the mightiest one of all, Aslan, and He is able to make me strong enough.’ And he did. With a single arrow, he felled the dragon and then he plunged his sword into his heart to make sure he was dead. Do you think I’ll ever be able to do that?” “Maybe not with a dragon. But if you put your trust in Aslan for your strength, you will be able to dare greater deeds than that. Look at the kings and queens. They are your age and younger and yet have freed this land from a mighty spell through Aslan.” “I know,” Jaer said with a smile. A small, comfortable silence settled over the room before the boy spoke again. “Father, why did you let King Edmund beat you in chess last night? I know you let him win.” Peridan laughed lightly. “I wondered if you would notice. Yes, I let him win. It is because he is my king and I do not know yet what he is like. I did not want to beat him and have my king unhappy with me on our first day here.” “But, Father, don’t you think that if he can rule a country, he can stand being beaten at chess? I think I’d rather get beat and know that my opponent was really good than think that I played really well when he just let me win.” “But I often let you win when you were learning. What do you say of that?” “You were teaching us. You showed us how to beat you half the time. I know that you had to have left openings for us to capture pieces many times. But after we learned, you just played easier; you have never let us win like you let King Edmund last night. Shall I quote « 35 »

the king? ‘How is one to get better if one does not practice?’ And how is one to practice if one is always allowed to win?” “You have me there, Jaer. I’ll keep your words in mind in the future and take care not to allow an easy victory. But look, the day is here; shall we go to wake your brother? And then perhaps a short visit to the practice fields would not be amiss.” Jaer nodded eagerly and leaped up and ran down to his room. He quietly opened the door and peered inside. The curtains were drawn and the room was still dark. With stealthy steps, he crept toward his brother’s bed. “Boo!” “Ahh!” “Wohoo! I got you!” Jaerin’s laughter echoed off the walls and filled the room. “You thought you were going to scare me and I scared you! I got you! You must have jumped three feet into the air!” Jaer tried to be grumpy but could not when his brother was laughing so hard. It was a fair scare so he had no cause for anger. Soon his laughter joined his brothers and pillows flew from one bed to another. “Come on, Jaerin,” Jaer said after a moment. “Father says we can go to the practice fields if we hurry. Get your things.” Jaerin was off like an arrow from the string. Within moments, he was fully dressed and had his bow slung across his back and his dagger at his side. Jaerin had also grabbed his things and the two brothers hurried out of the room to meet their father. They walked to the end of the hall before finding someone who could give them directions to the practice fields. This time, a tiger escorted them through the castle. They were met at the entrance to the practice yards by the distinctive clash of steel on steel. Inside they found the two kings and a massive centaur at work. No one seemed to notice them at first but when the two kings broke apart, the centaur motioned toward them and they turned. “Hail Peridan!” King Peter called. “Welcome to our practice yards. We were just concluding our practice. You are welcome to do as you will.” “Thank you, King Peter. I think we will watch for a little.” “Not ‘king’ here, Peridan. While in these walls, we are but simple knights under the command of General Oreius here. Allow me to reintroduce us. I am Sir Peter Wolfsbane, knight of the most noble order of the Lion and this is my brother, Sir Edmund of the How, knight of the most noble order of the Table.” “I am Peridan, once of Archenland, now of Narnia, a wanderer with his wanderings ended,” Peridan responded with a bow. “I am Jaerin, soldier of Narnia and one-day-knight,” Jaerin cried, eager to show his pride. “And you are?” King Peter looked expectantly at the Jaer.

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Jaer hesitated. He had no title and was not willing to speak as his brother had. Then his conversation with his father came to mind and he remembered what Prince Gale had said when the Lone Islanders first asked who he was. “I have no rank that is noteworthy,” Jaer said at last. “I am but a soldier of Aslan and servant of my kings. I am Jaer Peridanson of Narnia. Judge me by my actions and decide what you shall call me.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Six: Another Visitor “Well spoken, Jaer Peridanson!” The centaur general bowed slightly to the boy. “You have made a good beginning.” Jaerin made a face at his brother. He probably got that out of one of his books; why did he have to go and say it now? “I must agree with you, Oreius,” King Edmund said. “That was very well spoken. Now if you’ll excuse us, we must finish our practice so that we can be ready for the rest of the day. The archery butts are that way, Peridan; anyone you see should be able to assist you.” The kings raised their swords in salute and Peridan did likewise. Jaer and Jaerin bowed and started in the direction in which King Edmund had pointed but were stopped as King Peter called after them. “Oh! Peridan, lest I forget: we are expecting a visitor later this morning. One of the princes of Calormene is coming on a state visit. Since you are to join our court, I would like you to be present when he arrives. A herald will alert you when his ship is sighted and we will ride to meet him.” “As you wish, your majesty. I will be ready.” Jaerin was elated at the king’s invitation. If they were to be considered part of the king’s court then surely that meant they would be able to stay at the castle! And who knows what could happen then? The rest of the morning passed in something of a blur to Jaerin. He feared that he shot wildly at practice but for once, he did not care. They were going to live in the Cair! Late in the morning, a robin brought a message to Peridan and Tran requesting their presence in the courtyard. Jaerin and Jaer followed their father and uncle to the main courtyard through which they had entered. There, a great assembly was waiting. “May we ride with you, Father?” Jaerin asked eagerly. “I won’t be in the way, I promise!” “That is not a question for me to decide, Jaerin. You must ask the kings if you may.” “Yes sir,” Jaerin hurried through the crowd to where he could just see the two kings seated on tall horses. He was careful to bow low when he reached them. “Your majesties,” he said, “I have a request to make of you.” “What is it, Jaerin?” King Peter replied. “That I and my brother be allowed to ride with our father. We won’t be in the way, I promise.” Jaerin waited hopefully for their response. « 37 »

The two kings shared a look before nodding. “I think it might be better if you waited, Jaerin,” King Peter said. “Our party is already assembled and their positions known. We cannot have hangers-on for this greeting. However,” the king raised his hand to stop the protests that rose to Jaerin’s lips, “We will permit you this: You shall be in the party assembled to meet us when we return. You and Jaer take you positions on the third step down to the right of the castle doors. Dress in your finest for we wish to make a good impression on our visitor.” “Yes, your majesty!” Turning around, Jaerin started to shove his way back to his father only to find him a few yards away. “We’re not to ride with you,” he called. “But we can be part of the welcoming party. Jaer and I are to stand on the third step down and to the right of the castle doors. We’ll be waiting for you to get home, Father!” At that moment, a trumpet call sounded and the mass of Creatures began to move. Jaerin found himself pulled roughly out of the press by his older brother and the two ran along side until they party passed the gates. “Farewell, Father!” they called together. They were answered by the wave of his hand. The rest of the morning seemed to creep by for both boys. To be part of the welcoming party for a foreign prince! Not to mention that they had heard strange stories of the Calormenes. It was said that they did not worship Aslan, but a strange god with four arms and the head of a bird of prey. Some even said that Tash (for such was the god’s name) demanded human sacrifices! Jaer was rather skeptical of these stories but Jaerin delighted in them. He was certain that the Calormene prince would be a huge, dark man who would drink blood with his supper. So it was that Jaerin failed to recognize the prince when he first appeared. It was almost noon and the eleven-year-old was getting bored. He was pawing through the plants that grew at the base of the castle looking for insects (the sight of a golden braid had given him an idea) when a horn sounded from high up on the walls. Immediately, every Creature who had been waiting leaped to their feet. In moments, the courtyard was filled with orderly lines of people and his brother was hauling Jaerin up the castle steps. The two queens appeared in the doorway magnificently arrayed in some of their finest gowns. Seconds after the boys reached their place, the gates swung open and the procession entered. A great fanfare of trumpets, flutes, and drums heralded the return of the kings and the arrival of their royal guest. Jaerin straightened proudly; he was determined not to disgrace his father or kings. First to pass through the gates was a centaur carrying the banner of the kings—a red lion rampant on a field of green. Just behind them were the kings, Peter on his horse, Jett, and Edmund with Phillip. At King Edmund’s right rode Lord Tran and half a horse behind was Peridan. A dark-haired boy in rich clothing rode at King Peter’s left. Behind them was a company of soldiers of every kind, great cats, centaurs, fauns, centaurs, birds, and others. But what caught Jaerin’s interest most were the twenty-odd human soldiers that followed the kings. They were tall, dark, powerfully built men in exotic clothing that left their arms and chest bare. Curved scimitars hung by their sides and burnished helmets caught the light of the sun. Two of the men, whose garments were more elaborate than the others, had long curled beards; one was stained crimson and the other amber. Jaerin nudged his brother in excitement. « 38 »

“Which one do you think is the prince?” he whispered. “The one by the king, of course. Can’t you see his crown?” Jaerin’s heart sank as he realized the truth of his brother’s words. On the head of the dark boy by King Peter’s side rested an elaborate helmet-crown of gold and silver. This boy then, was the Calormene prince? Why couldn’t it have been someone older? Jaerin thought. Maybe the soldiers with him will be more interesting. The party dismounted at the foot of the steps and advanced slowly up the stairs. Jaerin grinned at his father and received a slight smile. The two queens received them all graciously and invited them to enter into the castle. The prince replied with some fancy phrases that Jaerin could not quite catch and a strange bow of some sort before following them in. Jaer nudged his brother and the two boys followed as well, trying to stay as much out of the way as possible. The four monarchs, Lord Tran, Peridan, and two centaurs, one of whom Jaerin recognized as being the general, Oreius, escorted the prince to a magnificent suite of rooms located at the corner of the castle. Through the glimpse Jaerin caught of the rooms, he saw windows that opened to a balcony facing the sea and other windows that opened out to face the gardens. Rich golds, purples, reds, and greens decorated the room in a tasteful fashion. The prince appeared pleased with his rooms and turned with a slight hint of a smile on his face to the Four. “These rooms are excellent. Truly you have been blessed by the gods with wealth and skill in abundance to prepare such chambers for a stranger.” Jaerin’s eyes narrowed. “Blessed by the gods”? What was this prince talking about? The prince continued. “I have but one request at the moment. I would ask a second chamber for my slaves and soldiers. I would have them near enough to call.” Jaerin’s jaw dropped. Slaves? These men that followed the prince were slaves? But how? Why? No one was allowed to own someone in Archenland, or Narnia as far as he knew. These were Sons of Adam! Did they not know this in Calormene? Who had dared to make men slaves, to treat them as if they were no better than a dumb animal? How had this come to be? ¥¤¥

Chapter Seven: Slaves and Spiders Horror flooded Jaer’s mind at the prince’s declaration that the men who followed him were slaves. He should have known, he chided himself. He had read something about the Calormenes having slaves in one of his books but had never really believed it. And now this foreign prince had the audacity to demand rooms for his slaves in a land where slavery was illegal and immoral! How could he dare! Jaer clenched his fists and waited for one of the Four to condemn the prince for treating men as beasts. But the reproach never came. Indeed, if the sovereigns of Narnia were as shocked by the statement as he, they gave no sign of it. King Peter’s eyebrows arched slightly even as King Edmund’s eyes narrowed and Queen Susan rested on hand lightly on Queen Lucy’s arm, but there was no other indication that they were displeased in any way. « 39 »

Rather, King Peter’s voice remained perfectly calm as he replied to the prince’s request (or demand, as Jaer saw it). “There is another room attached to this one for your serving men. Other rooms have been set aside in the courtyards for your serving men. We trust these arrangements are acceptable?” The prince nodded in answer. “The arrangements are more than acceptable. I shall be comfortable here.” Another nod seemed to indicate the conversation was over for the Narnians all bowed and stepped back. A barely perceptible motion from one of the older men set the slaves into motion. They slid out of their precise formation and into the room where they set down the large chests they had been carrying. Jaer caught a glimpse of brilliant silks before the door shut behind the Calormene prince. The four sovereigns, General Oreius, Peridan, and others whose names Jaer did not yet know, seemed to relax the instant the other doors shut behind the two councilors. King Edmund grimaced at the nearest door causing his brother to break into a grin and his elder sister to frown disapprovingly. The group turned back toward the Great Hall and Jaer pulled his brother back behind a pillar as they passed. Technically, they were not supposed to be there and though they had done nothing overtly wrong, he thought it best to remain hidden. “That’s over for now,” King Edmund said as they passed the boys’ hiding place. “But I suppose we’ll have to deal with them again at dinner. Did you ever see such formal chaps? I wonder if those councilors ever smile.” “Careful, Ed,” King Peter laughed softly. “You never know who may be listening.” “And it does not become you to speak so of our guests,” Queen Susan added. “I dare say they were just tired from the journey. I’m sure once they’re rested, they’ll be much better company.” “The Queen is right, King Edmund. It is ill for a judge to form a hasty opinion on small evidence.” The centaur’s deep voice echoed back down the corridor. “I know but…” The younger king’s voice faded into the distance and Jaer let out a breath he did not know he was holding. They had not been caught. Only once he was certain that they were alone in the hall did he turn to his younger brother, who, strangely enough, had remained still and silent this whole time. He nearly started at the expression on Jaerin’s face. The boy was glaring at the door to the prince’s room as if by his very gaze he could burn down the door. Both hands were clenched so tightly that the knuckles were white and Jaer was certain it was only with the utmost self control that the younger boy was not hurling himself at the door. “Jaerin?” Jaer asked tentatively. Jaerin slowly turned his head toward his brother. “Did you hear him?” he growled. “Did you hear that, that boy! Slaves Jaer! He says the men were slaves!” “Hush! Do you want them to hear you? Come on.”

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Jaer steered his fuming brother from the hall and through the castle until they were outside. Then the younger boy shook of his hand and took off running. Jaer sighed and followed. Whenever Jaerin got this angry, he always seemed to need to yell, run, or fight to work it out. Thankfully, he seemed to be choosing the least destructive of the three options. At least, that was what Jaer thought until Jaerin ran through the flowerbeds and crashed unseeing into a tent. “Jaerin!” Running faster now, Jaer made it to the wrecked tent just in time to beat the crowd of startled Creatures. Jaerin was sitting in the remains of the tent looking about him in a rather dazed manner even as the canvas heaved around him while someone else was trying to get out of the mess. “Jaerin, come on! Get up!” Jaer reached down and pulled his stunned brother from the wreckage and a dozen other hands pulled the canvas up to release a very large gorilla. Jaer gulped and bowed. “I’m sorry sir. My brother wasn’t watching where he was going and ran into your tent. He really didn’t mean to. I’m awfully sorry. I hope we didn’t break anything. If there’s anyway we can make it up to you we’ll…” “It’s alright, child,” the Gorilla interrupted. “No harm is done to aught but the tent and that can speedily be set right. You are new here aren’t you?” “Yes sir. I am Jaer Peridanson and this is my brother Jaerin. We arrived yesterday afternoon from Archenland.” “Ah, so you are the two boys I saw this morning in the practice yards. You will do very well when a few years have added strength to your arms.” Jaer flushed. “Thank you…I’m sorry, but I don’t know your name.” “Athan. I am of the kings’ guards. Now I dare say you are longing to be out of my presence and so I will bid you farewell. The gardens are yonder if you wish to wander there for a time.” “Thank you, Master Athan. I think we will. Aslan guard you!” Without waiting for a reply, Jaer grabbed Jaerin and practically ran in the direction the Gorilla had indicated. The gardens were large and spacious and none should bother them there but to be certain, Jaer dragged his brother to the furthest corner he could find before rounding on him. “And what, in the Lion’s name, was that all about?” he yelled. “Running off like that and then just standing there like a mute while I had to apologize for what you did. I’m not always going to be around to bail you out of your messes!” “I’m sorry, Jaer! I didn’t mean to. It’s just that when I heard that prince say that those men were slaves, I almost couldn’t help myself. I wanted to knock his block off right then and there. But I didn’t and then I had to do something and then I didn’t see the tent and you never even gave me a chance to apologize! I’m sorry.” Jaer sighed, his anger at his brother gone in an instant. “You’re right. I’m sorry too, Brother. I should not have yelled at you.”

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“He said those men were slaves, Jaer. Slaves! How come? Why? How could they dare? The Calormenes are Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve even as we of Archenland and Narnia aren’t they? Don’t they know this?” “I don’t know, Jaerin,” Jaer replied miserably. “I think we’re going to have to ask Father about it. It isn’t something I understand.” Jaerin kicked at a rock. “I don’t like it.” “Neither do I. But we can’t do anything about it right now. Maybe someday, but we’re still only children. And, as such, I propose that we put such things out of our minds until we can talk with Father and race down this path. Are you with me?” With all the resilience of youth, Jaerin grinned brightly and nodded. “I bet I beat you this time. Go!” “Jaerin! No fair!” Jaer charged after his brother laughing as he ran. For some time, the two chased each other about the gardens, heedless of their clothes and hair (their mother would be shocked when she saw them later), until their races deteriorated into a wrestling match. The two boys tumbled over each other until Jaer smacked his shoulder on a stone bench. “Ouch!” he cried and the tussle was immediately over. “Are you all right?” Jaerin asked. “I’ll be fine. I just hit my…Would you look at that!” Scarcely two feet away, strung between a pair of massive flowers was a magnificent spider’s web. And, better yet to their boyish eyes, a large spider sat contentedly in the midst of the web. Jaer looked over at his brother. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” “Rien.” “Exactly.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Eight: The Wonder of Mirrors Fifteen minutes and several scraped elbows and squashed flowers later, Jaer and Jaerin managed to snare the elusive arachnid. Jaerin held it captive between two gently cupped hands and peered at it. “It’s perfect,” he grinned. “We haven’t had a prank like this in ages. Where should we put it?” “We can decide that on the way. Come on!” Jaer ran down the winding paths toward the entrance to the garden followed closely by Jaerin. “The sewing box?” Jaerin called. « 42 »

“No, Mother might find it instead. And you know what would happen then.” Jaerin shuddered. The last time one of the pranks on Rien had been caught by their mother, the results had not been pretty. Father gave them a lashing and then they cleaned the stables for a month. And no archery or horsemanship practice for two weeks. “You’re right,” Jaer said. “Definitely not the sewing box. Where then?” “I don’t know what she has out in her room. There’s sure to be somethi…Oh! I’m sorry, your majesty, I didn’t see you there.” “Obviously not,” King Peter grinned. “Else you probably wouldn’t have just run into me. I say, are you two up to something? You’ve the same look on your faces that Ed gets when he’s planning some prank or another.” “King Edmund pulls pranks?” Jaerin was shocked. Though he had enjoyed talking with the kings on the previous night, he still had a firm picture in his mind of what a king would do. Pulling pranks was certainly not among the acceptable actions. “Of course! Just because we’re kings doesn’t mean we’re solemn all the time. Why, scarce two weeks ago, he nearly frightened Susan out of her wits. He hid in her room wrapped in one of my cloaks and waited until it was full dark. Then he stepped out into the moonlight looking for all the world like some giant bat of some sort—at least, that’s what Susan says. You could hear Su’s scream halfway across the castle! Of course, she chastised him properly for it later. Now, what are you planning?” Realizing for the moment that they were not talking to the king, but to a boy like themselves, Jaerin answered Peter’s grin with one of his own. “Well, there was this spider, see, and…” “Say no more!” Peter laughed. “I think I get the idea. And it might be best if I could claim complete ignorance. When do you plan the plant?” “This evening,” Jaer answered. “Probably before supper.” “After,” Jaerin corrected. “If we do before Father may send us to bed without supper.” “Spoken like a true strategist!” Peter laughed. “I hope you don’t get caught.” Two grins answered King Peter as Jaer and Jaerin walked off, this time taking care not to crash into any unsuspecting bystanders. They made it to their room without further confrontation and hurried to find a place to hide their prize. Jaerin had only just stowed the spider beneath an old bowl he found when Lady Saera walked in on them. “Jaerin Wisdom Peridanson!” she cried. “What on earth have you been into?” Jaerin looked fruitlessly around the room for his older brother and caught a glimpse of him ducking into the bathing room to escape. “I, that is to say, we were playing in the gardens?” “And what were you playing that caused you to tear your tunic in three different places, muss your hair, scrape your knees and elbows, and get dirt all over yourself?” “Tag?” Saera shook her head. One would think that she would be used to this by now but these two boys always managed to get into more scrapes than she dared imagine. “Into the bath « 43 »

with you now. We dine alone tonight but that does not mean that you will not make yourself presentable. Go. You have fifteen minutes.” Jaerin darted into the other room and waited only long enough to ensure that his mother was gone before leaping onto his brother. “It’s not my fault!” Jaer yelped. “I didn’t do anything!” “No? You left me alone to face Mother! That’s enough!” “Mother! Oh bother, she gave us fifteen minutes; five have already passed. Hurry!” The two boys scrambled to wash their filthy faces clean from the dirt and tried futilely to get all the dirt out of their hair in less than the allotted time. They were pulling clean tunics over their heads when knocking sounded at the door. “Just coming!” Jaer called and hurried over, straightening his tunic as he went. He opened the door to see his father standing there. Peridan ran a critical eye over the forms of his two sons, noting every smudge and smear they had missed. Giving a great sigh, he shook his head, much as his wife had not long before. “I suppose you’ll do. Come along.” Jaerin suppressed a relived sigh and followed his father and brother to the end room where Rien, Uncle Tran, Aunt Leah, and Mother were all waiting. For some time they chatted about the days events, Rien had apparently made friends with one of the dryads and been given a tour of the castle while Mother and Aunt Leah had simply rested and sewed. How his mother and aunt could be constantly sewing was beyond Jaerin’s comprehension. Who would want to sit still when one could be out running around? After the meal was served and while they were eating, Jaerin watched for his opportunity to be away. He finished hastily and sat impatiently kicking at the table legs until his father bade him be gone. Jaer asked permission to accompany him and the two slipped out, oblivious to the questioning looks from their father. “Hurry, Jaer! There isn’t much time!” Jaerin scooped up the spider and waited while Jaer scanned the hallway for any observers. When his brother signaled the coast was clear, the two darted across the hall into their sister’s room. Much to their relief, the room was empty. “Where do we hide it?” Jaer and Jaerin darted about the room looking for likely places but it was not until Jaerin flung open the jewelry box that they found their hiding spot. The mirrored lid reflected the contents of the box back magnified to three times their proper size. Grinning, Jaerin gently dropped the spider into the box and Jaer shut the lid. “Success!” Jaerin cried and clasped his brother’s hand. “Now to make good our retreat.” The brothers strode over to the door but froze at the sound of voices on the other side. Their escape route was cut off. They were too slow. Jaerin looked around him in panic. “Now what?” “Hide!”

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Jaer ran for the window and buried himself behind the magnificent curtains that reached from floor to ceiling. Jaerin was right behind him. When no one came in for a few moments, Jaerin risked a peek out. The door handle began to move and he quickly hid himself again and hoped that they would not move to close the curtains. And so they waited. Rien and her maids talked for some time about little things, girly things as far as Jaerin was concerned, as the girl readied for bed. And then the moment came. “Shall we put up your necklace now, milady?” “I suppose, Mary. But I do so like wearing it. Oh well. One can’t sleep with a necklace on.” Jaerin heard the footsteps as Rien walked over to her jewelry box and he tensed, waiting. There was a soft click as the latch opened. The screams that followed were worth any punishment to come after. ¥¤¥

Chapter Nine: To be a King Two days passed before Jaer and Jaerin’s punishment (confinement to their room) ended. Both boys had received sever lectures from their father as soon as their prank was discovered. Jaerin seemed relatively unaffected by what he was told but Peridan’s words reached deeper than he knew into Jaer’s mind. “You are thirteen, Jaer! You should be beyond such pranks. Look to the kings, do you think they would try to frighten their sisters with such actions?” Jaer thought resentfully of their meeting with King Peter in the garden but said nothing. His father continued. “Jaer, your duty is to protect and guard your sister. That you should teas her on occasion is understandable—I still tease my own sister. Nevertheless, I do not ever wish to find that you have deliberately tormented Rien with her greatest fear. You know how much spiders terrify her. Do not force her into contact with them. Guard her from her fears and perhaps she will eventually overcome them. I am counting on you, Jaer. “A true warrior is one who will fight for those weaker than he and defend them at all costs. King Peter and King Edmund rode into battle against the Witch though they had no previous experience. They fought because Aslan asked it of them and because their people needed their leadership. Strive to be that kind of man, or boy, and you will go far. Do you understand?” Jaer had nodded and been dismissed to his room but the conversation never really left his mind. Now, on his first day after release from confinement, the boy slipped from his bed and silently gathered his weapons together. If he was to be a warrior, he needed to know how to use his weapons well. It was still early—the sun’s light was no more than a glow on the eastern horizon—and few creatures were about the castle halls. However, the crash of swords greeted Jaer when he reached the practice yards. King Peter—Sir Peter here, Jaer firmly reminded himself—and Sir Edmund were already hard at work battling different creatures. Sir Peter fought against a centaur, wielding his sword and shield with incredible strength and skill. Meanwhile, with

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a sword in each hand, Sir Edmund held off a faun and satyr. Jaer noted curiously that one sword seemed rather short for the younger king. Suddenly, with a move so quick Jaer barely followed it, Sir Peter ducked inside the centaur’s guard and caught his sword around the other’s hilt. With a sharp twist, the young king wrenched the blade from the centaur’s hand and sent it spinning across the courtyard to stop a few feet away from Jaer. No more than a few seconds later, Sir Edmund utilized a similar move to disarm the satyr leaving him with only the faun to contend with. The younger king quickly managed to defeat this last opponent and pin him to the ground, breathless. Jaer could only stare in amazement as Sir Edmund helped the faun up from the ground and the combatants congratulated each other on a good fight. The centaur general, Orieus, stepped from his watching place and began to give the two kings advice on how to better their swordsmanship. “Oh, hello. I hadn’t realized we had a visitor. You’re one of Peridan’s sons aren’t you?” Jaer jumped and looked up to find himself face-to-face (or rather, face-to-chest) with the centaur against whom King…Sir Peter had fought. The boy gulped. “I…I’m the elder. I’m Jaer,” he managed. “I’m sorry I’ll go if you’d rather.” The centaur smiled. “No need. Have you been watching long?” “Just a few minutes. How ever did they learn to do that?” Jaer waved at the brothers where the stood listening to Orieus. “I would have thought it impossible. They’re…They’re my age!” The centaur’s face stilled. “Make no judgments by age, Peridanson. For those on whom the blessing of Aslan rests, age is nearly meaningless. These kings have this blessing and it shows in their work. Besides,” a smile cracked across his face, “they’ve practiced under Orieus’ tutelage nearly every day since they came to the throne. One can’t help but learn well with him as a teacher. I’m Tempest by the way, junior officer of the castle guard.” “Jaer Peridanson,” Jaer answered automatically. “I’m the oldest son of Peridan. But I already said that didn’t I.” “You did but there’s no harm in…” “I say, Tempest, who are you talking too?” Sir Peter’s voice rang out and cut off further words. “You’re needed over here.” Tempest turned around. “Jaer Peridanson, Sir Peter. He came in earlier.” King…Sir Peter waved cheerfully at Jaer. “Well met, Jaer! Have you been here long? “No, Sir Peter. I came in at the end of your fight,” Jaer bowed as he answered. “I see you brought your weapons, do you wish to practice yourself? I’m sure we can find someone to spar with you.” Jaer gaped. “Really? You mean it?” “Of course. I would not have offered if I did not.”

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“I’m not very good,” Jaer said. “At least, not compared to you and Sir Edmund though I held my own against the boys in Archenland. I only started really learning a few months ago. And I haven’t gotten to practice much lately.” Jaer grimaced at the memory of his imprisonment. King Peter laughed. “Ah, yes, the spider incident. Were the results satisfactory?” “Other than the punishment afterwards, most definitely yes.” Jaer grinned. “Spider incident?” Sir Edmund asked. “I’ll explain later,” Sir Peter said. “General, is there anyone for Jaer to work with?” The centaur general sighed. “I think there is. Tempest, find Rickat and bid him prepare to give a lesson. And as for you, sir knights, we must be about your lessons.” “Aye, General. Jaer don’t leave until we’ve seen you again. We’ve something we wish to ask.” Sir Edmund nodded to Jaer and then turned his full attention to General Orieus. Jaer watched a few minutes before Tempest returned. An faun with grey legs followed the centaur. The faun, Rickat, led Jaer to the side of the practice yard and began their lesson. For half an hour Rickat painstakingly worked the basics with Jaer. The boy fretted at the repetition of lessons he thought he had already learned. But the fuan was patient and ignored Jaer’s protests. Had the boy but known it, his form improved considerably in the short space of the lesson (not that it seemed short to Jaer). The two king’s finished shortly before Jaer and stood talking while he worked through the last exercises. “There,” Rickat said finally. “If you’ll learn some patience with the basics lad, you’ll get on quite well. Will you come back tomorrow?” Jaer hesitated for only a moment. “You would keep teaching me? Even if I am impatient?” Rickat laughed. “I’ve had worse students. Be here at the same time tomorrow and I’ll be waiting for you.” “Thank you, sir!” Jaer grinned broadly, and sheathed his sword. He then bowed and turned to the grinning kings. “We’re glad to have you join our lessons, Jaer,” King Edmund said. “I look forward to seeing your progress.” Jaer flushed. To be included in the kings lessons! “Thank you.” He bowed. “What did you want to talk to me about?” King Peter answered. “We ride for a picnic supper this evening with Prince Zarak. We, that is our royal siblings and myself…er, ourself, would like to invite you and your family to join us. It would be pleasant to have more people our age around.” “Not to mention just people, as in humans,” King Edmund added. “We’ve noticed that Prince Zarak and his men don’t seem particularly comfortable around the native Narnians. He’ll probably feel better if there are more humans around.” “Susan will send a formal invitation later,” King Peter continued. “But since you are here we thought we’d just pass the invite along now. Will you come?”

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Jaer stared. “I…I…We’d love to! I…Thank you, your majesties! Shall I tell the rest of my family?” “If you wish. You could keep it a secret too. Though it won’t be secret long. I’m sure.” King Peter answered. Jaer bowed and started to leave but stopped as a thought crossed his mind. “Will Prince Zarak bring his slaves with him?” he asked quietly. The two kings shared a look. “Probably,” King Peter said. “Does it bother you?” “Yes! They’re not dumb beast with no mind of their own! They’re men! Sons of Adam like you and me, aren’t they? How can that prince dare to make them slaves?” “I don’t know. It’s the way things are done in Calormene I suppose, though Edmund could tell you more.” “Yes. It’s a Calormene custom. No one really seems to know when it started. I abhor it.” “Then how can you stand to let him have slaves here? It’s your country. You didn’t even tell him it was wrong when he came.” “He is our guest,” King Peter answered sternly. “As such it would be discourteous to attempt to remove his men from him.” King Edmund spoke more softly. “Those men are his by the laws of his country. Simply coming to a land where slavery is illegal does not instantly free them. As for not rebuking him. Its part of what it means to be a king I suppose. There are many things we may not like but cannot change. To be a king is to not offend and not rebuke but to teach silently and carefully. Maybe a stay in Narnia will convince him of what you say. Until then, we do nothing. It’s what it means to be a king.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Ten: Racing “I told you not to try that back flip twist,” Jaer said as his younger brother rubbed at his bruised shoulder. Jaerin stuck out his tongue at Jaer. “It would have worked perfectly if Father hadn’t come in and startled me in the middle of the twist. I’ve done it before.” “Quiet boys. The Rulers come,” Peridan shushed his sons gently. Jaerin shifted eagerly in his saddle. The morning and early afternoon had passed terribly slowly since Jaer brought the news that they were invited to a picnic meal with the Four. He had been less excited to learn that Prince Zarak was coming too but even that did not dampen his spirits for long. The four monarchs of Narnia walked down from the doors of Cair Paravel to where grooms held their horses. Not far behind them cam Prince Zarak, flanked as usual by the two men with colored beards. The Calormene prince looked strange and uncomfortable to Jaerin’s eyes. He wore an outlandish wrapped tunic of vibrant orange belted with a strip of brilliant yellow. A turban of the same yellow material sat on the prince’s head and a curved « 48 »

sword hung at his side. The older men dressed in a similar fashion, though the colors they wore were less bright. Jaerin frowned a little as the prince walked down the steps. Behind Prince Zarak trailed the men whom he dared to call slaves. Jaerin glanced over at his brother to see what his reaction was. To his surprise, Jaer’s face remained blank of emotion. It was a look that Jaerin remember seeing on his father’s face whenever he was upset about something but knew that saying something would not help matters. Jaerin decided that his brother must have talked to their father about the slaves and he determined to imitate the older boy’s calm. At least, he would not try to punch the daylights out of the prince. That probably would probably be a good idea anyway, Jaerin reflected. Knocking a foreign prince senseless while he was on a state visit was probably not considered friendly behavior. His father and the kings and queens would surely not like that. Not to mention the king of Calormene. No. All in all it would be best if he refrained from knocking Prince Zarak senseless, as much as he might wish to do so otherwise. While Jaerin mused on the consequences of punching Prince Zarak, the entire party mounted (or simply stood up in several cases) and they moved out. In addition to Jaerin and his family, two leopards, two griffins, two centaurs (one Jaerin recognized as General Oreius) and one older woman, attended the royalty of Narnia. With Prince Zarak and his attendants, they made quite a large party. Once beyond the walls of Cair Paravel and the beginning of a city around it, Jaerin fought the urge to kick his horse into a gallop. Doing so would hardly be considered proper and he definitely did not want to be confined to his room yet again. However, Jaerin’s need for restraint was short lived. King Edmund looked at King Peter with a smirk then moved his horse to Prince Zarak’s side. “Would you care to race, Prince?” King Edmund asked. “To pit the horses of Calormene against the noble beasts of Narnia?” Prince Zarak replied. Somehow, Jaerin felt that was not what King Edmund was speaking of and that Prince Zarak knew it. “Know, O noble king, that such an endeavor would be greatly to my liking. Perhaps we can decide the requirements for such a race after meat?” King Edmund smiled. “While that is a good idea in itself, Prince Zarak, it’s not exactly what I had in mind.” The king leaned started to lean closer to the prince but checked abruptly as the slaves following him moved hands to their weapons. “That is, I was thinking of a much less formal endeavor. Shall we see which of us,” with a glance King Edmund included the Peridanson brothers as well as King Peter, “can reach the picnic place the fastest?” A grin spread across the prince’s face and for a moment, his voice lost its formal tone. “I think I should like that.” “Very well then. Off!” With a joyous whoop, King Edmund leaned low over his horse’s neck. Within seconds, he and Prince Zarak were in front of the company and pulling away. “Oh no you don’t!” King Peter yelled. “Come on, Jett! We can’t let Philip beat us!” Jaer and Jaerin kicked their horses into a gallop and charged after the racing monarchs. The griffins wheeled screaming overhead and one centaur and one leopard ran alongside « 49 »

the racing boys. Jaerin laughed with glee as the wind whipped in his face and tugged at his hair. This was his favorite thing to do. Slowly, Jaerin pulled ahead of Jaer and began to close the gap between himself and the royalty. He thought he was about to pass King Peter when the High King gave a sudden shout and his horse leapt forward in a burst of speed. King Peter drew level with King Edmund and Prince Zarak. “Is that the best you can do?” the older king yelled. “Surely not! Come, Jett!” King Peter pulled ahead of King Edmund. King Edmund yelled something that Jaerin could not quite catch and his horse too put on an extra burst of speed. Prince Zarak said nothing loud but leaned low over his horse’s neck and whispered something in its ear. Whatever he said seemed to have the desired result as the prince’s steed suddenly charged past both kings and on into the plains. For the rest of the race it remained that way. Prince Zarak led the two kings by a full length when they reached the place where the picnic was prepared. King Peter barely beat King Edmund while Jaer came in dead last, defeated by two lengths by his younger brother. Breathless and cheerful, the five boys tumbled from their horses to sprawl out on the grass in decidedly ungraceful ways. The horses did not stray far. In fact, Jaerin was certain he heard King Edmund’s horse telling the others to walk around a bit to cool off after their run. But that was impossible. No one rode a talking horse except in the direst circumstances. Even he knew that. “Prince Zarak,” King Edmund panted, “you have an amazing horse. Have you had him long?” “But a year,” the prince replied. “I chose him on my last birthday. He is the favorite of my horses, though not the swiftest.” “Not the swiftest?” King Peter said with some surprise. “I should like to see the speed of your fleetest horse then!” Prince Zarak smiled at the praise. “Perhaps it can be managed. I am certain that my father, the Tisroc (may-he-live-forever), would be pleased to arrange a suitable trade.” “I would like that. Here now though,” King Peter pushed himself up to a sitting position. “I don’t believe we’ve introduced you to our other competitors. Prince Zarak, allow me to make known to you Jaer and Jaerin Peridanson. They are but newly come to our court from Archenland.” “It is an honor to meet you,” Jaerin said with a bow. Jaer bowed beside him. Prince Zarak nodded in acknowledgement of the greeting. “Your father is Peridan, whom I met upon landing in Narnia, is he not?” The two boys nodded in the affirmative. “He is a doughty swordsman. Surely the blessing of Tash is upon him that he should have such skill.” Jaerin opened his mouth to retort angrily retort that it was most certainly not Tash’s blessing that rested on his father, but Jaer answered before the words could leave his mouth. “Perhaps it is so, your highness,” Jaer said. “I am pleased that our father’s ability should find such a high estimation in your eyes.” « 50 »

King Edmund’s voice broke in, drawing the conversation back to the subject of horses. Jaer tugged Jaerin slightly to the side. “Whatever you do, don’t say anything that could get him angry or that could be seen as us disapproving of him. Right now we just need to be friendly and then maybe we’ll be able to explain later,” Jaer hissed in his brother’s ear. “Just be careful, all right?” “All right, Jaer. I will.” Jaerin tugged his sleeve out of his brother’s grasp. “You didn’t have to do that you know.” Jaer shrugged. “I can’t always tell. Let’s rejoin the conversation, shall we?” The rest of the picnic party arrived nearly ten minutes after the boys reached the appointed place. The two men with colored beards looked disapprovingly at Prince Zarak who raised his chin and met their disapproval coolly. Jaerin watched the exchange with some wonder. Maybe that was why he seemed so uptight when he first saw him. Maybe he was never able to really play and race with other boys his age. Maybe he could fix that. Maybe then, he could do what Jaer said and show Prince Zarak how he was wrong about Tash. And slaves. Maybe. ¥¤¥

Chapter Eleven: Party Preparations The picnic passed pleasantly for everyone. The Calormene prince withdrew into himself after the race and spoke only to the king’s and queens though Jaer noticed him throwing curious glances in his direction more than once. Near sunset, a group of dryads arrived to gather the remains of the picnic and the party returned to the Cair. Jaer tumbled willingly into bed that night, knowing that he had to be awake for his lesson in the morning. Jaer’s second fencing lesson passed in a similar manner to the first. However, this time the boy realized how much he was actually working as his muscles ached from the previous day. The shield he carried seemed especially awkward; he wanted nothing more than to fling it away and swing his sword two handed. Rickat refused to let him do that though and Jaer fought with sword and shield, much in the same manner as the kings. Sometime after breakfast (and a quick bath for Jaer) the two brothers and their sister strolled through the halls of Cair Paravel. Though it was now four days since their arrival, they had yet to really explore the castle and, as Jaerin put it, they had no better chance than now when they had no lessons and their father was occupied with finding his place in the court of the Four. Neither boy had wanted Rien to come but when she started to cry, they relented and brought her along. Now, they could not have cared less. Everywhere they went, the three children encountered creatures of various sizes and shapes—and degrees of civility. The squirrels were the most chatty creatures, the dwarves the most taciturn. But whether or not they stayed to talk, everyone greeted them with a cheerful “Good morn!” and a wave of the hand. When the trio came to the Great Hall, they found a place of frenzied activity and organized chaos. Queen Susan stood on the dais, directing creatures here and there and somehow

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supervising the bedlam. Jaer caught a glimpse of Queen Lucy’s golden hair before the younger queen disappeared amongst the creatures. “What do you think is going on?” Jaerin said, giving voice to the question they were all thinking. “Oh!” Rien jumped a little and clapped her hands together. “I know what it is! It’s a party. King Edmund’s birthday party is tonight.” “How do you know?” Jaerin said. “Why didn’t we hear anything about this?” “Maybe because you weren’t paying attention or were to busy racing to find out,” Rien answered primly. “Queen Susan told Mother and Father and Uncle Tran and Aunt Leah and I on our way to the picnic place,” the girl frowned slightly. “I think she said it was supposed to be a surprise for King Edmund though I don’t see how they can surprise him when all this is going on. Wouldn’t he walk in on it?” Jaer shook his head. “He won’t. He and Si…King Peter are going to visit the harbor today. They said something about the workers calling for a ‘crowned head.’” “How’d you know that?” Jaerin said. “What’s a ‘crowned head’?” Rien asked at the same time. Jaer stepped back into the hallway, pulling his siblings after him, narrowly dodging a faun carrying a large tray of something. “They mentioned it in the practice yard this morning. I was there earlier. A crowned head means royalty. That’s why the kings are going. I suppose King Peter thought it a good chance to get King Edmund away.” “Do you think we’ll get to be at the party?” Jaerin said eagerly. Jaer shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. Shall we see if we can help them here?” The younger children nodded and the three plunged into the whirling mass of chaos that was party preparations. Jaer found himself helping a satyr to hang a garland of some sort over the doors while an elephant scooped up Jaerin so that the boy could hang decorations from the pillars. Rien disappeared into the crowd but occasional burst of laughter assured Jaer that all was well with his sister. Finally, breathless and laughing after being pulled into an impromptu dance with several dryads and fauns, the three siblings tumbled together on the floor of the Great Hall to observe the results of their handiwork. Jaer had to admit that the appearance of the throne room was drastically altered. Long tables lined the walls, ready to receive whatever food the cooks would make, garlands of ivy, flowers, and other plants Jaer didn’t quite recognized wrapped around the pillars and draped over the doors. White, blue, green, yellow, and red candles stood tall and straight in their sockets. In the center of the room, a broad table stood waiting to be filled with gifts for Narnia’s younger king. A gold sculpture of Aslan (crafted by the dwarfs of the Blue River smithy Jaer would later learn) guarded the table proudly. Jaer sat up straighter as Queen Susan gestured for silence from her place on the dais. “Friends!” the queen called and the Great Hall instantly stilled. Even Jaerin stopped wiggling. “We are most grateful for your assistance this morning. Our royal brother, King Edmund, will surely be pleased with your efforts.” A murmur of pleasure slipped through the crowd. “Now, I know that what I ask of you next will be most difficult, but I know also that you are fully capable of heeding my word. « 52 »

“In two days, King Edmund will mark his twelfth year—this celebration tonight is for him. However, he does not know of it yet. Therefore, I ask that each and every one of you take heed to your words and actions and do not betray our secret before it is time. Our royal brothers are currently visiting the harbor and thus will not be returning until late. Until then, we must work to ensure that all is prepared before they return. If, by some chance, King Edmund seeks to return before we are ready, I will depend on you to ensure that word of this party in his honor does not reach his ears before it is to late for him to protest. We all know what he would do if he knew too soon.” A low laugh ran around the room as if at some shared joke. Though he did not fully understand the Narnian’s amusement, Jaer still smiled. He guessed that King Edmund would protest mightily did he know there was a party in his honor. The room quieted again as Queen Susan resumed speaking. “Now. It is near time for lunch. Let us refresh ourselves and then prepare to resume our preparations!” Queen Susan curtsied to her people who broke out in cheers and scrambled to their feet. As the crowd dispersed, Jaer found himself staring at the gift table in the center of the room. “What do we have that we could give King Edmund?” he wondered aloud. “I don’t know.” Jaerin shrugged. “But I do know Mother’ll be looking for us if we don’t get back before lunch. Oughtn’t we go now?” “Wasn’t that fun!” Rien chimed in. “I want to help this afternoon too. Do you think Mother and Father will let us?” “There’s one way to find out isn’t there?” Jaer said taking his little sister’s hand. “Ask them. Come on!” He turned toward the doors leading to their rooms and began to run. “Hey! Wait for me!” Jaerin cried and chased after them. Running through the corridors of the Cair, the three narrowly avoided crashing into creatures on more than one instance. Jaer nearly ran headlong into a door as it opened into their pathway but managed to swerve aside and swing Rien up so that she also missed the door. Jaerin reached their rooms first, skidding to a halt inches from the table in the common room. Jaer and Rien were not far behind. “Where do you think Mother is?” Jaerin panted. “I thought she’d be here.” “She would be, if she had not had to dodge a trio of wild banshees who nearly bowled her over.” Chagrined, the three turned around to face their mother and father who stood in the doorway. Saera leaned on her husband’s arm and her face was a little pale. Jaer’s forehead creased in worry. “Are you well, Mother?” the boy asked, stepping forward. “Just tired, Jaer. Your father and I went on a walk and I’m afraid I went to far. I’ll be fine once I’ve rested a bit. Now. What have you three been up to this morning?” Chapter Twelve: Surprising a King

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Surprising King Edmund turned out to be a more complicated affair than Jaerin anticipated. Even though the king was away, no one knew for certain if he would stay away for as long as they needed. The morning and early afternoon hours of preparation were easy enough since they knew he would at least be gone all morning. The queens had messengers(mostly birds as they were the least noticeable) stationed all along the route from Cair Paravel to Kellsalter Harbor as well as “spies” among the kings’ party to ensure that the kings would not return before the appointed time—or at least not without adequate warning. They were also ordered to alert them if King Edmund started to get suspicious at the carefully orchestrated delays. The younger king was notoriously adept at sensing falsehood or attempts at deception, however benign they may have been. All proceeded as planned until little more than two hours before they hoped the kings would be coming back. Word came that King Edmund was growing impatient and slightly suspicious at King Peter’s continued delays. Jaerin happened to be in the same room as Queen Susan when a ruby-throated humming bird brought the news. The jewel-toned bird showed bright against the queen’s dark hair for an instant before darting off to pass the message to the younger queen. Jaerin saw Queen Susan sigh and climb up onto a nearby chair. “Friends!” she called loudly. “Friends and subjects, hearken to me!” The queen’s voice did not carry very far in the noisy room and most of the occupants kept at their work, oblivious to their queens attempts. Deciding to help, Jaerin pursed his lips and let out a whistle—a sharp shrill whistle that pierced and carried across the room (Jaer once told his brother that he could hear the whistle from over a furlong away). Startled yelps came from half the Animals and more than one dropped what they were doing and covered their ears. Jaerin winced at their reaction and the irritated glares from those nearest. Still, he thought, the whistle did have the desired result. The room was nearly silent now, save for a few who grumbled about humans not understanding the delicacy of a beast’s ears. Queen Susan smiled at Jaerin and spoke again. “Thank you, Jaerin,” she said. Jaerin flushed. The queen turned her attention to the others. “Friends,” Queen Susan said again. “We have just received word that our royal brothers have begun the return journey from Kellsalter. We are not yet ready for King Edmund’s return, despite your hard work. Therefore, we must find some way to further delay our kings. I confess that I am thoroughly out of ideas. Has anyone any suggestions?” “Is it certain they are coming here?” a dryad asked. “Quite. They will be here in less than an hour if we cannot delay them further.” “We need an hour?” someone else asked, a Cat, Jaerin thought. “Yes. Are there any ideas among us?” “Maybe we could do it,” Jaerin piped up. All heads turned his direction but the boy plowed on, ignoring the many stares. “I don’t know if we can keep them for a whole hour but we could slow them some. Jaer, Father, and I could ride out as if we’d been practicing, or something of that sort. We could ask them to demonstrate or help us with it. Might I ask Father if we can? I think it might work.”

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“By all means! Ask your father and place our plea behind yours. Go, Jaerin, and make haste!” Jaerin needed no urging to hurry. He remembered belatedly to bow and then bolted from the room. He found Peridan in the library, deep in a chess game with an older woman. Barely noticing the woman, Jaerin snatched at his father’s arm. “Father! Come on! We have to go!” the boy exclaimed. Peridan did not move his eyes from the chess board as he gently disentangled his son’s hands from his tunic. “Not now, Jaerin. Wait until I’m done with this game.” “But Queen Susan needs us to stop King Edmund now!” “What!” Peridan jerked around, sending the pieces of the game flying. “What is happening, son?” “King Edmund and King Peter are coming back from Kellsalter Harbor too soon and Queen Susan needs us to delay them. I told her we could do it and she said to ‘make haste’ and go!” “What? Slow down and explain yourself.” Peridan relaxed slightly in his chair. “But there’s no time!” Jaerin protested. “Can I please tell you on our way to find Jaer?” Peridan sighed and stood up. “Pardon me, Dame Utha,” he said to his opponent. “It seems I am called away on business of my kings and queens. And,” he added after a glance at the chaotic game board, “it seems I have already dismantled our game. Perhaps we can begin anew later?” “I would be glad to,” Dame Utha said, also standing. “I have not had such a worthy opponent in many years.” Jaerin danced impatiently in the background during this exchange. As soon as he was certain it would not be considered rude, (though still too soon to be considered polite) he grabbed his father’s arm and dragged him out into the halls. Jaerin explained the story to Peridan on their way to their rooms, the last place he had seen Jaer. The older boy was there, playing a song on his violin—a song which ceased with a chilling screech when Jaerin crashed into the room. Jaerin hastily (and incoherently) explained the situation and then Peridan calmly (and coherently) translated. When he began to understand, Jaer swiftly replaced his violin in its case, buckled his sword around his waist, and grabbed his bow and quiver. Jaerin did the same (barring the bit about the sword—he still did not have one of his own) and the trio hurried to the stables. On the way, they ran into Lord Tran and dragged him along. Perhaps fifteen minutes after Jaerin received his commission, the four were riding out of the gates of the Cair. They were perhaps a mile and a half out, atop a great cliff which bordered the sea when they heard the unmistakable sound of dogs approaching. “Quick!” Jaer cried. “Loose some arrows into the field and pretend to search for them!” Before his brother finished speaking, Jaerin had his bow out and an arrow on the string. He released two arrows in quick succession and then the dogs appeared. They yelped and hollered louder than any pack of non-talking dogs Jaerin had ever heard and the horses skittered nervously as they surged around their legs. « 55 »

“How, how, how are you?” one dog yelped. “We’ve just come from the kings!” another added. “Yes, yes, yes!” two practically identical dogs cried together. “We’re part of their escort.” “What are you doing?” a slightly larger dog barked. “We’re practicing our archery,” Jaer said. “What are you doing?” “Guarding the kings!” a small, round dog howled. “We’re scouting out the road for them.” “And you’d best be moving along if you don’t want to suffer the lash of King Edmund’s tongue!” a huge Great Pyrene growled. “You know very well the reason we were sent ahead. Get on with you!” The smaller dogs yelped at the others orders and scattered quickly, darting back toward the Cair, barking the whole time. The Great Pyrene sighed and placed one massive paw across his eyes. “Little dogs,” he groaned. “I give you good day, sirs.” He loped after the others. “Those dogs were funny,” Jaerin said as their barking faded away. “Do you think they’re always like that?” “We’ll have plenty of time to find out,” Peridan said with a light laugh. “Come now. Loose your arrows into yonder field. See how far you can shoot. And loose quickly. The kings cannot be far behind their escort.” Jaerin quickly dismounted and fell into an archer’s pose. He set an arrow to his string, pulling firmly back on the string and relaxing into the motion with practiced ease. The boy loved archery and excelled at the sport in a way that his older brother did not. Jaerin shot two arrows into the distance before Jaer had his bow ready. The older boy grinned. “Furthest gests first choice after supper?” Jaer said, referring to their habit of playing board games in the evenings. “Prepare yourself to chase foxes!” Jaerin said by way of answer. Faster now, the arrows flew into the field, each boy striving to outdo the other and himself. So intent were they on their contest that they did not notice when the kings’ party joined theirs. Only after Jaer shot his last arrow (Jaerin “borrowed” a few to speed things along though Jaer still had the last shot), did the two boys look up to find their father and uncle conversing with the two kings. Jaerin’s jaw dropped at the sight. “How did you get here without us seeing?” Jaerin gasped. The kings smiled and traded a glance with each other. “It was not particularly difficult,” King Peter said. “A louder archery match I have never seen.” “What exactly brought this about?” King Edmund asked. “I see no targets and must confess that I am rather confused. Your father has been most unforthcoming with information.” “Well…” Jaerin trailed off. He had not thought about what story he would tell the kings.

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“Sibling rivalry at its best. Or worst,” Jaer put in. “Jaerin said he could shoot further than I. Obviously, I could not let that pass. You understand, King Peter. One must keep one’s younger brothers in their places.” “Hey!” Jaerin protested. “I bet I did shoot further than you! You’ve no right to act superior just yet.” Jaer turned to face his brother, a challenging light in his brown eyes. “Shall we find out?” “Of course!” “Excellent. My kings, would you consent to act as judges? You are an older and a younger brother. Together you are neutral. Please?” Jaerin held his breath, hoping the two would agree. The two leopards behind the kings winked (at least, Jaerin thought it was a wink, with Cats it was sometimes hard to tell) as if they understood their intent. King Peter was the one to answer. “I think we can help. Lead us to the arrows.” For the next half hour, the four boys and two men scored the field for the two score arrows the Peridanson brothers had shot. Jaer’s arrows consistently proved to be the furthest out (there were a few red-feathered arrows suspiciously close to the starting point. Jaerin carefully said nothing about these) and he was therefore declared the winner, much to Jaerin’s chagrin. For another fifteen minutes or so, the six humans and two Cats discussed various bows and archery techniques. To his surprise, Jaerin found that the Leopard knew more about archery than the two kings. King Peter explained that this was due to their heavy training emphasis on sword play as they would need to lead their troops in battle rather than stay behind with the archers. Finally, Peridan suggested that they head back to the castle as supper would surely be waiting. None of the boys objected (what boy of ten to fourteen would?) and they accordingly headed back. At the Cair, they split up. King Peter ushered King Edmund down halls specifically left undecorated for that purpose while the other four headed back to their rooms. Jaerin rushed into his finest clothes, for once not needing to be prodded into them, and splashed water over his face. Jaer finished seconds later and followed his brother into the hall, grabbing his violin case as he went. Despite their haste, their father, mother, uncle, aunt, and sister already waited for them. Jaerin thought his mother looked absolutely gorgeous in her gown of lavender silk. Apparently, Peridan thought so too because he kissed her soundly. Jaerin grimaced. His father just laughed and kissed Saera again. “Father!” Jaerin protested. “Can we please get on?” “Yes, Father. I want to see King Edmund’s face when he comes in,” Jaer seconded. “All right, all right. We’ll go.” Peridan kissed his wife once more and led the group down the hall. The Great Hall was full of Animals and Creatures of every shape and size milling about and talking in low voices. Queen Susan and Queen Lucy waited on the dais, calmly or impatiently as their temperaments dictated. Prince Zarak and his band of attendants also stood on the dais. The table with the lion statue was now piled high with gifts wrapped in brilliantly colored paper. Jaerin could only guess at what was contained in their hidden depths. Suddenly, a hush fell across the Great Hall. Jaerin leaned forward eagerly, hoping « 57 »

to catch a glimpse of King Edmund’s face when he came in. In the silence, he heard the younger king’s voice raised in indignation as he complained to his brother. “Yes I know that, Peter! But why, in the Lion’s name, must you insist that we walk through the Great Hall on our way to the dining room? It is far out of our way,” the doors across from Jaerin’s post opened, “and I’m hung…” King Edmund noticed the crowd and stopped abruptly. “By the Lion’s mane! What is the meaning of this!” he exclaimed after a moment’s silence. “Happy birthday, King Edmund!” voices thundered, bayed, yelped, trumpeted, shouted, and cawed from all across the room. King Edmund’s jaw dropped and for an instant, he looked as if he might bolt from the room. However, King Peter’s strong hand on his shoulder prevented any attempts to flee and the younger king was firmly escorted to his place at the table on the dais. Once King Edmund was safely positioned with Prince Zarak at one side and his brother king on the other, King Peter raised his hand and silence once again descended on the Great Hall. “Loyal subjects, honored guests, fellow monarchs,” he began. “We are gathered here together to honor Our Royal Brother. This week marks the beginning of King Edmund’s twelfth year of life. Last autumn, many of us feared that he would never see this day. By the grace of Aslan, the Witch’s curse was destroyed and our brother healed. Thus today, we are doubly glad to celebrate. Today, my good friends and cousins, we choose to give thanks to Aslan for allowing our brother to reign beside us for these years. Today we celebrate the twelfth birthday of your king and Our Brother. My friends, subjects, guests, and royal siblings, I give you Edmund the Just, Duke of Lantern Waste, Count of the Western March, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Table, and King of Narnia!” ¥¤¥

Chapter Thirteen: A Worthy Gift Jaer laughed at King Edmund’s reaction to the party—clearly it was a successful surprise. He listened attentively to King Peter’s speech, wondering what had happened to almost kill the younger king. With the others, he cheered loudly as the speech ended—and then the main party began. Jaer and his family sat at a table just to the right of the dais. Tran and Leah could have sat on the dais itself, based on their rank in Archenland, but they chose to stay with the rest of their relatives since they would be leaving soon. The meal, Jaer thought, was the most amazing one he had ever eaten. There was glazed ham (obviously not from a talking pig) and pineapples, baked to perfection in the stone ovens, garlic beef grilled over an open flame. Golden corn-on-the-cob dripped with rich butter (how did they get fresh corn in the spring?) and brightly colored salads glowed like jewels. Breads of all kinds, hot and fresh filled the air with a delicious fragrance. Jaer ate fish grilled with red bell peppers, mushrooms wrapped in bacon, mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, peas and green beans, grapes, strawberries, cantaloupe, and more foods that he could only begin to guess at. For desert, there were truffles and puddings, pies and candies but the crowning glory was the massive chocolate cake. Just when Jaer was beginning to think that even he might not « 58 »

be able to eat any more (he had noticed that his parents and sister had given up long ago), the cooks brought in a cart on which sat the biggest chocolate cake he had ever seen. It was big enough that the top layer was even with the top of the dais table. Twelve tall candles in all the colors of the rainbow gleamed on top, bright even in the well-lit hall. At the sight of the cake, everyone in the Great Hall stood and burst into cheers and shouts. King Edmund stared in shock at the cake. It was not until King Peter prodded him in the side that the younger king recovered himself enough to act, standing graciously and bowing slightly to the cooks as they wheeled the mountainous cake up to his place. “Blow out the candles!” someone shouted. “Make a wish!” another yelled. King Edmund smiled, (a smile that in later years Jaer would learn meant he was planning something that, while not wrong, his sisters would certainly not approve of) and instead of decorously going around the table to the cake, placed one hand on the table and leaped over, landing with cat-like grace on the other side. Taking a deep breath, the young king blew all the candles out in a single puff. More cheers erupted and King Edmund bowed grandly and vaulted back over the table. The chefs cut the top layer of the massive cake and set a piece before King Edmund and the other monarchs before moving about the room, giving pieces to all the guests that wanted it. Jaer saw Prince Zarak poke suspiciously at the cake before his own slice arrived and he forgot everything else. The chocolate cake was rich and moist, sweet, but not too sweet. It melted in Jaer’s mouth and he closed his eyes to savor the flavor in silence. “This has got to be the absolute most amazing cake I have ever tasted,” Jaerin said. “Mm hmm,” Jaer answered, taking another bite. Apparently, the entire room thought the same as the two boys because it was fairly quiet in the Great Hall. So quiet in fact, that Jaer jumped when King Peter spoke. “Well, brother, shall we proceed?” King Edmund swallowed his last bite. “Proceed? With what?” “You silly!” Queen Lucy’s golden laughed echoed in the room. “With the party of course. You didn’t think all those packages were just for decoration did you?” “Packages?” King Edmund’s eyes turned to the table on which all the gifts had been piled. His eyes widened and he swallowed hard. “Oh my.” As the procession of people bearing gifts for King Edmund began, Jaer felt nervousness descend on him and his chest tightened. Quietly, he pushed back his chair and moved to his father’s side. He tapped Peridan lightly on the shoulder. “Father?” Peridan turned and smiled up at his son. “Yes, Jaer?” “I…I have a gift too.” Jaer shifted nervously. “I just couldn’t put it on the table. Could you…could you tell them? When it’s almost over.”

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“You have something?” Peridan’s eyes widened. “But what? You have had no time to make anything and no money to purchase a gift.” “I have this.” Jaer gestured to his violin case, clutched tightly in his hand. “I can do my best.” A proud smile spread across Peridan’s face. “That is all we ask. I will tell them.” Jaer smiled thinly and slipped around the edge of the table to wait in the corner. Jaerin called out to him as he left but the older boy shook his head and kept moving, knowing that if he stopped now, he would loose his nerve altogether. The gift procession proceeded for rather a long time. It seemed to Jaer that everyone in the kingdom must have decided to give King Edmund something. There was a finely worked hauberk from the dryads, an elegantly tooled sheath and delicately crafted dagger from the Blue River dwarves. Queen Lucy gave him a small pillow woven by her own hands and Queen Susan offered a leather bound journal. But it was King Peter’s gift, given last of the presents on the table, that took everyone by surprise and awed Jaer. With a heartfelt speech—by the end of which tears glistened in his siblings’ eyes—that defied, refined, and glorified all laws of courtly speech, the elder king presented to his younger brother a sword. A sword that, even from where he stood, Jaer could see was of the finest workmanship, perfectly balanced, and honed to a deadly edge. King Edmund whipped the sword from its sheath with practiced perfection and held the blade up so that the candle light rippled like water on its polished surface. For a moment, the dark haired king stared at the sword then, with a crash that echoed through the Great Hall, he dropped it and flung his arms around his older brother. King Peter staggered under the impact but wrapped his arms tightly around King Edmund. Jaer could see both kings’ shoulders shaking. A moment later, the two brothers released each other and turned to the crowd. “Thank you.” King Edmund’s voice was thick with unshed tears of joy. “Thank you all. This has surely been a night to remember for years to come. I am honored beyond all measure that you should chose to honor me in this manner. I thank Aslan daily for my family,” here the king glanced to his right and left at his brother and sisters, “and for granting me the responsibility and privilege to serve you as your king. To Aslan!” “Aslan!” Every mouth—except those belonging to the Calormenes—took up the cry. Jaer felt as though he could shout himself hoarse. “And now, as the giving of gifts seems to be ended,” King Peter began when the shouts died down. Jaer tensed, fearing that his gift would be left out. “Let me…” “My lord king!” Peridan’s rich voice cut across the king’s words and traveled to every corner of the room. “My lord king. A word I beg you.” “Of course, Master Peridan. What do you wish to say?” Peridan strode to the front of the room and bowed before the Four Monarchs of Narnia. “Only that the gift giving is not yet finished. My son has something that he wishes to present to you, King Edmund.” “Then let him come.” The two kings sat down. Curiosity and confusion warred for preeminence in their features. « 60 »

Peridan nodded to Jaer and returned to his seat. Jaer swallowed hard and walked out to stand in the middle of the room in front of the dais. Carefully, he set down his case and gently took out the violin that lay on the black velvet. “I…I don’t have much, King Edmund,” Jaer began quietly, “and I’d no time to make you anything. But you’ve been a friend to me and my brother, all of you, and I wanted to give you something. So I give you this. It’s all I have to give.” Setting the violin to his shoulder and placing the bow across the strings, Jaer began to play. The Great Hall fell silent as a song of mingled joy and sorrow, love and longing, peace and storm filled the room. Jaer played as he had never played before, putting his heart into the music and giving it his all until he was conscious of nothing but the notes that poured from his fingertips in an unbroken melody. Quietly he played at first, building layer upon layer of notes as the song progressed. Somewhere in the hall, a faun pulled out his pipe and added its voice to the song. A bird, then two, then five, then forty, began to whistle the haunting melody. Someone, somewhere found another stringed instrument and the volume grew. Still Jaer played on, swaying in time with the music, using his body as part of the instrument. Slowly, the others dropped out, their notes fading until only the single violin played by a blond-haired boy danced in the Great Hall. Finally, with a final wistful tremor, Jaer finished. Breathless, he bowed and looked up at the high table. The look on the face of King Edmund was enough to reward him for the effort. Jaer smiled and walked back to his seat, heedless of the applause that now thundered in the Great Hall, content that his gift was well received by the king. Peridan leaned over and rested his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Well done, son. That was a gift fit for a king.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Fourteen: Schooling Starts “Do you really think Father will make me wait until I’m thirteen to have a sword of my own?” “Jaerin.” “Because, really, If I’m to be any good at all, I’ll need to work…” “Jaerin.” “…with my own sword not just a borrowed one. You have one, King Edmund’s twelve and he…” “Jaerin!” “…has two swords now even if only one is the right size. I know he’s a king and I’m not but…” “JAERIN!” “What?” Jaer rolled his eyes and waved back down the hall. “The library is this way?” « 61 »

Jaerin looked back and then forward again, realizing that his feet had carried him well past the right turn for the library and directed him to the gardens and practice fields. He grinned sheepishly. “Oh. Sorry. Why didn’t you stop me?” “I tried but you were too busy babbling on about why you don’t have a sword yet to pay any attention to me. Come on. Father will have our hides if we’re late.” Jaer led the way back up the hall. Jaerin trotted to keep up with his older brother. “Do you really think though that…” “Yes, I think that you’ll be thirteen before you have a sword specifically made for you. Until then, you can use Father’s sword from when he was our age just like I did. Arguing and pleading won’t get you a sword any faster. I learned that by experience. However,” Jaer stopped before the library doors, “being on time for ones lessons, be they from books or hard knocks, may increase Father’s willingness to get you one. Understand?” Jaerin nodded and waited for his older brother to open the door. “Are we going to just stand here or go in?” he asked when Jaer made no move and his eyes glazed over. “What?” Jaer shook his head. “Oh. Right. The door.” Jaer had been in a strange mood since the birthday party two nights ago, acting half distracted and yet very determined and precise. The younger boy had learned long ago that that meant Jaer was composing something or else practicing really hard, and that it was best just to go along with whatever he said until he snapped out of his daze. Something that might not happen for weeks sometimes. Sighing, Jaerin followed his brother. The library in the east wing of Cair Paravel was not as large or as grand as the main court library located nearer the Great Hall. However, that did not mean that it was unimpressive. Towering shelves at least fifteen feet tall stretched across the room. Books of every size and color, some sharp and new, others tattered and worn, crammed into the shelves. Between the door where Jaerin stood and the beginning of the shelves, several round tables, shining from fresh polish but still marked with use and surrounded by chairs, stood ready for use. At one of these, Peridan stood, flipping through a book. At the sound of the boys’ footsteps, he looked up and smiled. “Good. You are timely.” “Yes sir,” Jaer said. “What did you want us for?” “To meet your tutor.” “Our tutor!” Jaerin cried with dismay. “But I thought…I thought…” “Thought that since you were in Narnia, in the Cair, the home of the Four and the seat of the country, you would be free from lessons?” Peridan said, one eyebrow arched. Jaerin gulped. “I…Not exactly. I mean, I knew that we’d have to start lessons again sometime but…I thought you and Mother were still looking for someone?” he finished lamely. “’Were’ being the operative word there,” Peridan said. “No. Yestermorn, after King Edmund’s christening of his new sword, Cheroom was kind enough to recommend several possible tutors to me. Gleamwing should be arriving shortly.”

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“Gleamwing?” Jaerin said, his brow puckered. “Who…what is he?” Jaer asked. “Turn ‘round and see for yourself.” Jaerin did as instructed and his jaw dropped. Waddling toward them on short legs was an owl. An owl wearing a strange square cap and with a scroll tucked under his wing. His feathers were smooth and brown except for across his chest where white feathers gleamed in the daylight. Something struck Jaerin in the ribs and he turned and angry glare on his brother. Jaer met his look easily. “Shut your mouth,” the older boy hissed. “Are you trying to catch flies?” “Don’t start with that…” Jaerin began before his father cut him off. “Ah, Gleamwing, you made it,” Peridan said. Jaerin caught the look from his father and forced his anger away. Now was a bad time to start a fight. “Come, good sir, allow me to make you known to my sons. This is Jaer, my elder son. He is thirteen.” Jaer bowed. “And this is Jaerin, the younger. He is eleven.” Jaerin also bowed, making sure it was as perfect as possible so that Jaer could not fault him later. “Boys,” Peridan continued, “this is Gleamwing, a member of the Parliament and your chief tutor. You will obey him in all respects as you would me. Master Gleamwing, I will leave them to your care. I will be in the practice yards for the next hour and then likely in the Great Library. My wife will be in our rooms or with the weavers should you need either of us.” “Too hoo! You go, and I will tend to these two,” Gleamwing said, waving one wing at the door. “Go, Master Peridan, I trust we’ll not disturb you.” Peridan bowed, gave his sons a warning look—Jaerin barely noticed—and left the room. Jaerin stood frozen, staring at the owl who was to be his tutor. With a little hop and flutter of wings. Gleamwing got onto a chair not more than a foot in front of him. The boy gulped and stepped hastily away, trying not to look as startled as he felt. Gleamwing cocked his head sideways and fixed one beady eye on Jaerin. “Startled, are you? Hast never seen an owl before?” Jaerin gulped. “Not a talking one, sir.” An odd cooing, cackling sound came from the owl and Jaerin hoped fervently that he had not offended his new tutor on his first day. That was certainly not something he wanted to do. After a moment, he realized that Gleamwing was laughing. He relaxed slightly, letting out a breath he had not realized he was holding. “You two are from Archenland, yes? And not been here long.” Gleamwing said. “But not prejudiced like many of your kind. Well, we will make Narnians of you yet. We will make certain you have a good study of Narnians in your courses. You must learn revinim.” “Revinim? What’s that?” Jaer asked. Gleamwing fluffed his feathers. “It is what you humans might call humanity, or so the kings and queens called it.”

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“Oh.” Jaer said. “You mean the concept that all beings were created by Aslan and should be treated with respect regardless of who they are or what they look like. Father taught us that long ago. Still teaches us.” “Good!” the owl chuckled and hopped up on the table. “That is a good description. Now, let us see what else you two can do.” For the rest of the morning and early afternoon and again the next day, Gleamwing quizzed the boys on every subject Jaerin could imagine—and many he had never dreamed of. Jaerin parsed sentences, spelled words of atrocious length, sketched and marked maps, worked complicated (and not so complicated) math problems, copied pieces from books, listed ed laws and books known and read, detailed what he knew of Narnian and Archenlandish history and government and explained everything he knew of animal husbandry and botany. The days of testing left Jaer itching to get out of the library-turned-classroom and he fled from the room each day as soon as possible. After the two days of testing, classes began in earnest. Gleamwing, it turned out, was merely their primary tutor. Several others joined the owl in imparting all the wisdom of the ancients to the boys—at least that was how it seemed to Jaerin. There was a dryad, Caryn, who taught botany, Jamous, a faun who taught music, and Snowtip, an ocelot who taught their court etiquette and logic. Gleamwing confined himself to what Jaerin mentally termed “normal subjects” and, after the first two days taught only in the mornings. And so the days slipped by and a full joy-filled week and a half passed. Jaerin’s days were split between schooling, helping, practicing, and playing, usually with Jaer and Rien at his side. He often wondered where Jaer spent his early mornings that brought him back hot and sweaty but never bothered to pry himself out of bed to find out. He met the kings and queens on occasion and developed something of a friendship with them. All in all, the time in Narnia passed joyfully for Jaerin and his family. And then sorrow struck. ¥¤¥

Chapter Fifteen: Sorrow in the Night It all began on a cool, starry evening little more than two weeks after their arrival at Cair Paravel. The three children, Jaer, Jaerin, and Rien were enjoying a rare moment of peace between themselves, watching the stars dance in the sky and sea from the battlements. “Where is the Leopard?” Rien asked. “I can find the Ship—isn’t the Leopard near it?” “It’s right above it. Look.” Jaer leaned in near his sister and pointed up. “Follow the mast, the three stars in a line, straight up. Do you see that yellowish star? That’s the Leopard’s paw.” Rien squinted up along the line of Jaer’s arm. “I think I see it. It doesn’t look much like a Leopard though.” Jaerin laughed. “Course it doesn’t. Most of the constellations don’t look a whole lot like what they’re called. How many people dance in shapes like a leopard or a ship?”

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“Then how did they get their names?” Rien looked to Jaer for her answer. “I think it has to do with the legends of Narnia and Archenland,” the older boy answered, leaning against the walls. The stones were still warm from the day’s heat. “You remember the story of Blacktip the leopard? The one who saved Queen Mary, Princess Leneal, and Prince Laron from the wolves? I think the constellation was named after him.” “Oh. That makes sense.” The three stood in silence for a while longer (or rather, Jaer and Rien stood, Jaerin perched on the wall, one leg dangling out over empty space) and then Rien shivered. “Can we go in now? I’m getting cold.” “Cold? It’s not cold,” Jaerin said. “I didn’t say it was cold. I said I was cold,” Rien retorted. “I still think you’re…” “Come on Jaerin,” Jaer interrupted. “Father and Mother did say not to stay up here to long.” “Oh all right.” Jaerin swung his leg over and dropped easily to the ground. “Let’s get little sissy in where she won’t freeze.” Rien stuck out her tongue but made followed her brother without comment. Jaer trotted after them, pausing at the sound of a swordfight in a courtyard below. A quick glance showed his father fencing with General Orieus by torchlight while his mother looked on. It was a fine fight and he would have liked to watch but his duty to his siblings propelled him onward. The trio meandered through the corridors of the Cair, stopping now and again to greet one of the many creatures that wandered the halls. It was at this hour and just before dawn, that Jaer knew they would meet the greatest variety of creatures. The nocturnal ones were just up, preparing for their “day” and the day creatures had yet to seek their beds. In fact, it was an altogether pleasant time to be about Cair Paravel. The peaceful chatter shattered at the sound of hooves pounding through the castle and echoing of the stone walls. Jaer recognized by the sound, a centaur’s tread and pulled Rien off to the side just as the owner of the hooves swung around the corner and galloped past them. The boy caught a glimpse of pale hair splayed out against silver armor and a chestnut flank before the centaur rounded another corner and was gone. Jaer stared in shock. Why was General Orieus running through the castle? He barely had time to register the question before another figure—this one considerably smaller though still armor clad—charged round the bend and skidded to a halt in front of him. It was his father. “Jaerin!” Peridan gasped. “Jaer, Rien! Quick! One of you find a physician. Your mother’s taken ill. To our rooms. Go!” Without waiting to see if his children responded, Peridan ran after the General. Jaer’s mind worked furiously, not entirely comprehending but knowing he needed to work fast. He rounded on his brother. “Jaerin! Take Rien to our rooms. Wait for me there.” Leaving his siblings and hoping his brother would not be too stunned to act, Jaer took off in the opposite direction as his father. Fear spurred him to greater speeds and the people of the Cair scattered out of the path of his mad charge. Terrified thoughts coursed through « 65 »

his mind. Mother was ill and the fact that General Orieus was running toward their rooms probably meant he was carrying her and that meant she had collapsed which probably meant she had been pretending that she was well for a while when she was not. Jaer yelped and stumbled as his foot struck a step but he regained his balance and kept going. The last time Mother collapsed was four years ago—she almost died. The way to the doctor’s quarters had never seemed so long to Jaer’s worried mind. But in reality, it was only a few minutes after seeing General Orieus that he burst through the door into the doctor’s rooms. A centaur and faun leaped up as the boy barreled in. “Good heavens, boy, what is it?” The centaur cried. “Mo…Mother’s sick,” Jaer gasped. “I…I dunno what’s wrong but Fa…Father’s worried.” “Her lungs?” the faun asked. “Can she breathe?” Even as he spoke, the faun gathered up various supplies from the shelves in the room. “I don’t know. I think she collapsed outside. It’s happened once before. She…” Jaer swallowed hard. “She almost stopped breathing and…died.” The last word was little more than a whisper. The centaur looked kindly at the boy as the faun stuffed the last items in his satchel and called something to someone else through the inner door. “Lead the way Peridanson. We will see what we can do for your mother.” Taking a deep breath, Jaer led the way to their wing of the castle. General Orieus stood outside the door of his parent’s room, gently cradling Rien in his massive arms. Opposite him, Jaer stood stiffly, his eyes locked on the closed door. The younger boy turned at the sound of their hurried footsteps and relaxed slightly. “They’re inside,” Jaerin said, worry making his words uncharacteristically short. The two physicians nodded and pushed through the door. Jaer caught a glimpse of the ladies-in-waiting hovering around the bed and his father’s worried face and the door swung shut. He stared at the ornately carved door for a few moments, took a deep breath and turned to General Orieus. It really was a strange sight, he thought, the massive centaur warrior who had run from Cair Paravel to beyond Cauldron Pool in less than three days holding a weeping child.” “What happened?” Jaer asked. He felt Jaerin step closer and reached for his brother’s shoulder in reassurance. “Will she be all right?” The general dipped his head slightly. “I believe she will be well in time. Your mother collapsed in a coughing fit while your father and I were dueling. I do not think it is serious.” “Not serious! But you and Father were running and Father was scared. You’re trying to tell me it isn’t serious?” Jaer demanded, forgetting his awe in his indignation. “You do not shelter your kings—we are able as well.” General Orieus sighed. “Your lady mother has often had trouble with her breathing, has she not?” “Yes.” “This then, I think is merely a symptom of this problem. Has she been ill recently?” « 66 »

Jaer shook his head. “Not that I know of. She has been a bit pale…” “Pneumonia. I bet she has pneumonia,” Jaerin interrupted. “We all had it, before we came to Narnia. She must have caught it from us.” “And acted as though she was fine so she wouldn’t frighten us. Mother!” “You may be right,” General Orieus said. “Come now. It grows late and you three should be in bed.” “I’ll wait here,” Jaer said. “I want to know what is happening.” “I’ll stay with you,” Jaerin said. “Me too.” Rien lifted her tearstained face from the general’s shoulder and wriggled in his arms. The centaur’s arms tightened. “I think not. You three will go to bed now. You father will send word when there is anything to tell.” Jaer opened his mouth to protest but the general’s look stopped him. “That is an order, Jaer Peridanson.” General Orieus turned and walked slowly down toward Rien’s room. The smaller animals who had gathered at the far end of the hall—squirrels and rabbits and the like—slipped away when they saw him coming. Jaer followed reluctantly, knowing Orieus was right but not liking it. He and Jaerin stood outside of Rien’s room watching the incongruous sight of hands that could bend steel tucking blankets gently around a small girl. After a moment, Jaer steered his brother to their room across the hall. They readied themselves for bed and crawled beneath the down comforters. Jaer stared at the embroidered canopy, unable to sleep for worrying and wondering. “Jaer?” Jaerin’s small voice slid through the silence. Jaer rolled over to face his brother’s bed. “What?” “Will Mother be all right?” “Of course she will.” Jaer winced inwardly at the fear in Jaerin’s voice. “We made it through. Mother will too.” “But Mother’s always had problems…” “And she’s always made it through. Besides, we’re in Cair Paravel. Queen Lucy lives here and if things turn bad, she can use her cordial.” “Do you think they would?” “Why not?” Jaer propped himself up on his elbow. “They’re our friends—they’ll want to help. But it doesn’t matter. Mother won’t get that sick and we won’t have to ask. Now go to sleep. And don’t try to sneak out. General Orieus probably has someone outside to make sure we don’t try it.” “Oh. How’d you know I was going to?” “Because I know you, little brother. Besides, I thought of the same thing myself. Now get some sleep.” “Ok. G’night, Jaer.” « 67 »

“Good night, Jaerin.” Sleep did not come easily to Jaer that night. Despite his assurances to his brother, the fear that his mother would die in the night did not leave him. For a long while, he lay awake, listening to his brother’s breathing. Frustrated, Jaer climbed out of bed and stole softly to the window. Careful not to wake Jaerin, he slid between the heavy curtains and the window. The stars glinted and danced in the dark expanse of the sky offering comfort to the troubled boy. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in You,” Jaer whispered. “Oh Aslan. I’m so afraid. Please take care of my mother. We need her still. I love her.” Nothing changed in the land or sky, but Jaer felt a little better. Slowly, his eyelids drifted shut and he slid into sleep, long legs splayed out across the window seat and his head against the window. Whatever would come, would come. ¥¤¥

Chapter Sixteen: In the Morning Jaerin woke early the next morning. Very early. For once, he did not bother to try to get back to sleep. Rather, he sat up and checked the other bed for his brother. To his surprise, it was already empty, despite the fact that dawn must well over an hour off. That mystery was quickly solved however, as he scanned the room and spotted a foot dangling below the curtains. Casting back his blankets, Jaerin slipped quietly to the window and peered through the crack in the curtains. Jaer was sprawled out on the window seat, head pressed against the glass, legs and arms dangling off the edge. Jaerin grinned slightly. He would have to remember this. Leaving his brother still asleep, Jaerin quickly dressed and slipped stealthily from the room. None of the nocturnal wanderers paid any attention to him as he crept to his parents’ door. There were no guards of any kind, making Jaerin wonder if his brother had invented the tale to keep him in bed. Checking once to make sure no one was watching, the boy cracked open the door and slid through. The room was dark but at one end, near the bed, several candles dispelled the gloom. The maidservants and physicians were nowhere to be seen, a solitary figure sat beside the bed. Head and shoulders bowed, his large hands holding his wife’s small one, Peridan murmured silent prayers to Aslan, thanking Him that she lived, begging that her recovery would be swift. He did not hear his son’s soft tread or realize he was there until Jaerin slid one hand onto his shoulder. Starting from his reverie, he looked up. Jaerin swallowed hard when he saw the faint tear tracks on his father’s face. This was not what he expected from his dauntless father. “Is she all right?” he asked, fearing the answer. A thin smile crossed Peridan’s face. “As well as she can be for now. Don’t be afraid, son. She will get better.” “Is it pneumonia?” “Yes. She should have told us a long time ago. As it is, she’ll likely be confined to bed for several weeks.” « 68 »

Hoarse coughs invaded the silence and Jaerin tightened his grip on his father’s arm. Peridan leaned forward, brushing the hair from Saera’s face. “Shh, love. All will be well.” The coughing stopped and Saera shifted, leaning slightly into Peridan’s hand. Jaerin watched in silence as his father continued soothing his mother for a few more minutes. When Peridan was convinced that Saera was asleep again, he stood and steered Jaerin away from the bed. Pausing at one of the doors from the room—one Jaerin had not noticed—he rapped softly. One of the maidservants opened it almost instantly. “I’m stepping out for a moment. Keep an eye on her,” Peridan said quietly. “Of course, sir.” The maid bobbed a curtsy and stepped out, shutting the door softly behind her. Peridan led Jaerin to a balcony that overlooked the castle gardens. Seating himself on a stone bench, he gestured for Jaerin to sit beside him. Jaerin did so willingly. “Why’d she not tell us she was sick, Father?” he asked after a while. “We could have taken care of her better then.” “Your mother prefers helping others to being helped herself. She did not want to cause trouble for us and thought she would be fine without telling us.” “But she’s not. And it would have been a lot less trouble if she’d told us to start with.” Peridan laughed softly at Jaerin’s indignant tone. “Yes. Perhaps next time will be different.” Jaerin nodded and leaned forward against the wall of the balcony. In the distance, he could see the edges of the sky beginning to lighten; a sure sign that dawn was coming. The door to the bedroom creaked open and he turned around. Rien crept through the doorway. The maidservant hurried over to her and quickly pointed the girl to where they sat. With one hand, Rien clung to a stuffed lion—a treasured birthday gift—the other hand she twisted in her hair. “Daddy?” “Come here, Rien. Sit with us.” Rien hurried over and scrambled into Peridan’s lap. Jaerin scooted over to give them more room. “Now all we need is Jaer,” he said. As if in answer, the door opened once again and Jaer walked in. Unlike Rien, Jaer was fully dressed, even to the extent of having a helmet on his head and his sword buckled around his waist. “Father.” Jaer bowed, hiding his worry behind formality. “Jaer.” Peridan returned the gesture. “Good morning. Where are you going so armed at this hour?” “Sword practice, Father. The kings have allowed me lessons from one of the swordmasters here. I wanted to check on Mother before I went. Is she better?” “So that is the reason for your speedy increase in skill. I had wondered if you were learning more than I was teaching. Your mother is a little better. She should recover but it will probably be a couple of weeks before she is fully well.”

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Jaer’s stiff shoulders relaxed slightly. “I’m glad.” Jaerin perked up at the mention of sword lessons. So this was the reason behind Jaer’s mysterious early risings. A very interesting reason. “Can I come with you? May I go with him, Father?” “To my lesson?” Jaer hesitated, clearly not excited by the idea yet understanding his brother’s enthusiasm. “I don’t know if Master Rickat could teach you too.” “I don’t care. Sort of. But at least I could do something. Sitting here waiting isn’t very fun.” Jaerin winced as another round of coughing came from the other room. “You cannot know unless you ask,” Peridan said as he stood. “Go with him Jaerin. See if you can learn aught by watching. And you, Rien, come with me. We will see you into more appropriate attire before breakfast.” Stifling a whoop of joy, Jaerin darted out of the room, still managing to keep the noise level down. In his room, he scrambled about for his weapons—his father’s old sword that he had used when he was twelve (Jaerin was quite proud that at eleven, it would soon be too small), a light shield, his bow and arrows, and his knife. Hastily clapping his light helmet on his head, he rushed out to join Jaer in the hallway. Jaerin walked backward once they reached the practice yards, eager to reach Jaer’s swordmaster but equally eager to see the kings at work. The maneuver resulted in him tripping over his own feet and landing in a sprawling heap of arrows, swords, shields, and brother. “Jaerin! Watch where you’re walking!” Jaer yelled, shoving the younger boy off and scrambling to his feet. “That’s one of the rules of sword fighting—always be aware of your surroundings.” “And another is to never loose your temper.” Jaerin spun around at the strange voice. A grey-haired faun stood a few yards away. “If he has violated one rule, you have violated a more important one. Losing your temper will cost you more in life.” Jaer bowed his head. “I’m sorry.” “It is not me to whom you should apologize.” Jaer nodded. He turned to face Jaerin. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. Will you forgive me?” Jaerin nodded. “Yeah. Apology accepted, forgiveness given.” He grinned. Jaer grinned back. Grabbing Jaerin’s hand, the older boy pulled the younger to his feet and turned him to face the faun. “Master Rickat, this my younger brother, Jaerin Peridanson. Jaerin, meet Master Rickat, my instructor.” “Pleased to meet you, sir,” Jaerin said, taking the offered hand. “Jaer said I could come watch his lesson.” “Watch? You look as though you would rather do more than watch. One does not usually carry weapons to the practice yards only to watch.” “I’d like to learn some, if you’d be willing to teach me.” « 70 »

“Only if you have time, sir,” Jaer added hastily. “Or someone else. Father said he could just watch for today if need be.” “There is no need.” Rickat smiled. “Come Peridan’s sons! Let us teach you how to fight back-to-back and side-to-side. For when brothers fight with and not against each other, who can stand against them?” ¥¤¥

Chapter Seventeen: Passing Days It turned out that having Jaerin at the lesson wasn’t as annoying as Jaer expected. In fact, it was quite pleasant and he was pleased when Rickat told them both to come back. Only now, since there were two of them, they needed to come sooner. Getting Jaerin out of bed in time could be interesting, but it would be done. By whatever means necessary. Jaer grinned inwardly at that thought. The kings asked after their mother and Jaer was glad to assure them that the doctors thought she would recover well, even if it would take time. Oreius seemed rather worried about her health as well and promised to come by later in the day to speak to their father. Apparently, the two had become good sparring partners in the past weeks and the centaur had come to know both Peridan and Saera fairly well. Jaer suspected that this was in part to the fierce loyalty he had for the Four—especially the kings. If Peridan wanted to be part of the court and work with the kings, their security chief would be certain he could be trusted. Peridan and Rien joined the boys at breakfast. Without his mother, the meal seemed quieter to Jaer even though it might actually have been noisier since Jaerin was busy detailing the morning’s sword lesson. The boys were late for their other lessons as they were stopped many times by the various inhabitants of the castle inquiring after their mother. Gleamwing perched on the back of a large chair, looking as imposing as his small stature would allow, his feathers ruffled and eyes bright. “You two are late.” “Yes sir. We’re very sorry, sir,” the boys answered together. “It’s our mother, Master Gleamwing,” Jaer said. “She collapsed last night and we wanted to see how she was.” “And everyone else in the castle wanted to know how she was too,” added Jaerin. “Would you have us be discourteous to those who are worried for her and arrive on time or practice the manners you have so dutifully instructed us in and arrive a few minutes late?” Jaer bit his lip to keep from laughing at the formality that Jaerin used. Jaerin resorting to formal speech definitely meant that he was trying to escape trouble. And, in this case, it seemed to be working. Their avian instructor ruffled his feathers even further (Jaer couldn’t help but think that he looked like a pincushion stuck full of feathers instead of pins) and then settled them in place. “Very well. I had heard of this sorrow that befell you. You are excused this once for your tardiness. Open your history to page 197 and we will begin.”

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Relieved, Jaer opened his textbook and settled in for the day’s studies. Lessons were light that day as all their teachers had heard of Saera’s sudden sickness. No one, however, cancelled a class, not even Peridan himself who arrived at the practice yards to give his sons their second sword lesson of the day. Much to Jaer’s delight, as they were returning to their rooms to clean up before supper, one of the physician’s messengers—a small rabbit named Nathaniel—brought word that Saera was awake and asking for them. For the first time that day, a real smile brightened Peridan’s face, cheering all around him. “Tell her that as soon as we have cleaned up, we will be there. I do not think she or the physicians would appreciate us coming in as we are.” Nathaniel nodded and quickly hopped back toward the sick room. Peridan turned to his sons. “You heard me. Be quick and you may yet be able to speak with your mother today.” Without waiting for his sons, Peridan bounded off down the path, taking the stairs three at a time as he ran. Jaerin’s jaw dropped. “I haven’t seen Father run like that in ages,” he gasped. “Can you blame him?” Jaer grinned. “Come on! I want to see Mother.” Racing after their father, the boys soon reached their room and quickly scrubbed their faces and changed their clothes before proceeding to their parent’s room. To Jaer’s great surprise, General Orieus was already in the room with Peridan, talking in a low voice to Saera. At the boy’s noisy entrance, all eyes turned toward them. Jaer swallowed hard before walking forward at a more sedate pace. The general bowed and walked quietly from the room. “Hello, Mother,” Jaer said. “There’s my boys.” Saera’s voice was soft and tired but still strong. Jaer smiled crookedly. “Come, tell me what you’ve done today. I understand you’ve been working with the Cair’s swordsmen.” “We have. Jaer’s been doing it longer than I have but I started today…” Jaerin launched into a long description of the day’s events down to what they had for lunch. Saera listened silently except for an occasional soft cough. After Jaerin’s narrative, Jaer added a few words of his own and then the two boys slipped from the room, allowing their father a few moments alone with his wife. “Mother looked a lot better than she did this morning,” Jaerin said once the door shut behind them. “I’m glad. I wonder where Rien is?” “I’m over here. I got to see Mother before you did.” Jaer looked down the hall to see Rien standing in the doorway of her room, smiling somewhat superiorly at them. Jaerin stuck out his tongue. “Fine then, go ahead and rub it in. We were out practicing with Father. What have you been doing all day?” “I’ve been with the dryads learning how to weave. Ever so much more interesting than your boring swordfighting.”

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“Then you can just stay at home and do your silly weaving while Jaer and I go off and fight all the battles with the kings. Then you’ll see how boring fighting is.” Jaer rolled his eyes and left his younger siblings to their teasing bickering and walked along the halls of Cair Paravel, making his way toward the battlements from which he could see across the sea. Not encountering anyone he knew he reached what had become his favorite spot. Leaning against the wall, he stared out over the ocean, watching the birds spinning their dizzying patterns over the vast waters. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been there when he heard soft footsteps approaching. Turning, he was surprised to see Queen Susan walking toward him. A smile lit her face as Jaer bowed and she responded with a slight curtsy. “I trust you are well, Master Jaer?” “Quite, your majesty. What brings you here?” “Oh, nothing much. I enjoy walking along the battlements and looking out at everything. Especially the ocean.” She sighed lightly. “They do say that Aslan’s country is that way, beyond the edge of the ocean. The Utter East I have heard it called. I often come and look over the ocean when I miss Aslan’s presence.” “Do you know Him so very well then, your majesty?” Jaer asked curiously. “I’ve never heard of anyone meeting Him in ages, save for yourselves and those of the army that defeated the Witch. I wish that I could meet Him.” Queen Susan smiled. “Perhaps you may yet. I cannot say that I know Aslan well, but He knows me. Lucy I think knows Him best. Peter and Edmund too know Him better. They have had more cause to lean on Him than I.” “Then it is true then, what they say about King Edmund being cursed by the Witch and King Peter riding into the wild lands beyond Cauldron Pool to find the apple that would heal him? Some of the Animals have mentioned it.” “Oh yes. It is true.” A shadow passed over the Gentle Queen’s face. “Those were dark and difficult days for us. But Aslan saw us through and brought both of my brothers back. We are most grateful for them.” Before Jaer could respond, a valet who had been waiting off to the side interrupted. “Pardon me, your majesty, but your royal siblings await your presence in the dining room.” “Of course. Jaer.” Queen Susan nodded as Jaer bowed low. Over the next several days, Saera slowly regained strength. Jaer and Jaerin continued dueling together under Rickat and Peridan’s instruction. Jaerin was the quicker with his hands and feet but Jaer could easily outthink the younger boy. The only thing out of the ordinary—besides Saera being confined to her bed—was that General Orieus frequently visited with both Peridan and Saera. Jaer decided he liked it. Less than a week after Saera’s sudden collapse, Jaer noticed that the centaur looked a little different when he came into the practice yards. If the kings noticed, they said nothing and it was such a small thing that Jaer thought he might have imagined it. But that evening, when he saw the centaur general standing in the corner of a courtyard sneezing extremely hard and then pulling out a handkerchief and rubbing a rather red nose, the reason for the odd behavior was clear. « 73 »

General Orieus had a cold. ¥¤¥

Chapter Eighteen: Of Messes and Messengers Jaerin stared his foe down coolly. This opponent may be twice his size but he would surely learn to fear the day he dared to cross Jaerin Peridanson, knight of Narnia. Quick as lightning, he struck, sword swinging in a twisting arc at the creatures breast. Sword met sword in a crash that was echoed by the thunder overhead. Wait, thunder? It had been clear a moment ago. No matter, the weather could do what it liked; he would not be dismayed. Darting aside from his enemy’s stroke, Jaerin pivoted on one heel…and fell hard on a solid surface. Just at that exact moment, the grey skies above opened up and poured their vast storehouses of rain straight down into his upturned face. His enemy took advantage of his momentary blindness and grasped him by the shoulders, shaking him so that his armor clattered together. Wildly he swung out and his fist struck his opponent’s unprotected stomach. The other grunted but only shook him all the harder shouting in his face: “Confound it all, Jaerin! Would you just wake up already?” With a crash to rival Giant Rumblebuffin’s destruction of the witch’s gates, Jaerin’s dreamworld shattered. He found himself unceremoniously dropped to the ground which suddenly revealed itself as the cold stone of his bedroom. The grey skies became his bedcurtains, half torn off. His opponent materialized into his older brother glaring at him and towering above him and the reason for the sudden downpour apparent in the empty bucket lying discarded on the floor. “Get up you great oaf. You’re going to be late for sword lessons if you don’t pick yourself up off the floor and get moving,” Jaer snapped. “Sir Rickat won’t like that.” “Umm…What just happened?” “You were dreaming again. Now get moving!” Jaer delivered a rather ineffective kick to the blankets that Jaerin just then noticed were piled next to him. Well, that explained the fall. He must have rolled off his bed. And then Jaer tried to wake him by dumping water on him. Jaerin shivered—and not just from the cold water that soaked his nightclothes. At least it was better than yesterday’s torture. That had involved Jaer stripping him of the covers and proceeding to tickle his toes with merciless cruelty. Scrambling to his feet, Jaerin tore of his dripping garments and dragged a fresh tunic over his head. He stuffed his feet into his boots and, not bothering to tie them, stumbled to the door where Jaer stood, holding out his sword, belt, and scabbard. It did not take many moments for Jaerin to regret not tying his boots. He tripped on the first set of stairs and tumbled down the last several steps. Jaer dragged him to his feet, crammed the laces into the top of the boots, and then proceeded to shove him the rest of the way toward the courtyard, catching him from behind whenever he threatened to trip over his own feet. « 74 »

Their forward progress came to an abrupt halt just as they reached the courtyard. To Jaerin’s surprise (and Jaer’s too apparently when Jaerin managed to get a look at him) instead of the sound of a sword fight, harsh voices raised in anger echoed from the practice yard. Jaerin quickly recognized two of the voices as belonging to the kings and the third somewhat muffled and hoarse sounding voice as belonging to General Orieus. What in the name of King Frank had caused an argument in the practice yards? The kings never argued with Orieus when they were there. Hurrying forward with Jaer on his heels (literally in some cases), Jaerin stuck his head through the gate. He was met by the very strange sight of half the castle guard (Rickat, Celer, Tempest, Xati, and Kanell among them) standing in a largish semi-circle around the two kings and General Orieus. King Peter’s hands were full with his sword and shield, his knuckles white around as he clenched Rhindon’s hilt, while King Edmund’s weapons were safely sheathed though his right hand twitched at the hilt of Shafelm II. Both were glaring at a centaur who, while still as imposing as ever with his massive arms folded across his mail clad chest, somehow looked not quite right. “General Orieus!” King Edmund was saying as Jaerin started to listen. “For the last time, you are not going to lead us in practice this morning. Captain Celer is perfectly capable of teaching us today and you, my general, are not. You will return to your rooms and have Mrs. Tibs or one of the other physicians see to you immediately.” “Sir Peter,” General Orieus began, his face impassive but his voice rather thick and stuffy. “Allow me to remind you that within these walls, I am your superior officer and thus you cannot command…” The centaur’s words were cut short by a sudden fit of coughing and, in a sudden rush of fear, Jaerin understood why he sounded and looked odd. He was sick, possibly with the same thing his mother had. And considering the amount of time the general had spent visiting Peridan and Saera, that was not unlikely. “Good my general,” King Peter said quietly as the coughing fit died down. “It is for your own sake that we ask this of you. Can you not see that we care and that is why we don’t want you teaching us? Making yourself sicker so that you collapse like the Lady Saera? By the Lion’s Mane, Orieus! Were we in such a state you would not allow us to train. Why must you drive yourself to do so much more? Will you take care of yourself for our sake?” “He’s right, Orieus. Please?” King Edmund added his voice to the plea. “I will see to their training, General.” Captain Celer stepped forward and gave a small bow. “They will not be allowed to slack off for lack of your presence.” It was a testament to how poorly the centaur must have been feeling that he did not offer any further protests but rather bowed slowly. “As you will. But do not expect mercy from me if you do not practice as well for Captain Celer as you have for me.” A grin tugged at the edges of King Edmund’s mouth and a full blown smile spread across the elder king’s face. “Oh have no fear of that, general. We fully expect you back in all your terrible glory within a week. Go now. We’ll send someone for the doctor.” Bowing again, General Orieus turned and walked slowly out of the courtyard, pausing to nod to the Peridanson brothers standing in the gate. There was barely time for Jaerin to sing out a greeting to the two kings when Rickat and Celer swept down on their respective students. For the next hour, the four boys fought their brothers and their teachers until « 75 »

their tunics were soaked with sweat and Jaerin felt as though he could barely lift his arms. Thankfully, just when Jaerin thought he must stop or faint, the bells of Cair Paravel sounded the hour after dawn and the signal to come in for breakfast. With breathless farewells, the four boys left their teachers and clanked toward the castle. The two kings of Narnia and the two sons of Peridan had already become good friends over the course of their stay. However, due to their different schedules, most of the time they actually got to spend together was on the way to and from the tilt-yard in the mornings. Today was no different. “So how is your lady mother this morning?” King Peter asked. “We have heard she is recovering well.” “Indeed she is, sire,” Jaer replied. “Father thinks that she’ll be well enough to come out to dinner with the rest of us.” “Excellent! When once she is fully recovered, you will have to join us for supper again. It has been too…By the Lion! What is this?” The High King’s shock was well warranted. For as they opened the door to Cair Paravel, a torrent of birds, cats, dogs, hedgehogs, and foxes poured out. Every one seemed to be calling “King Peter,” “King Edmund,” or “Save us!” in high, shrill voices. Even amidst the sudden chaos, Jaerin noticed that all the messengers seemed very young. The cats, dogs, and foxes were scarcely more than kittens, the hedgehogs balls of spikes, and the birds could not have been flying for very long. Evidence for that was found as one small sparrow lost control and careened into Jaerin’s shoulder. He barely managed to catch the unfortunate bird before it crashed to the ground. A moment later, he yelped in surprise and pain as small claws dug into his leg. The other three appeared to be having some of the same troubles, though the kings were protected from the claws by the mail on their legs. “Save us, King Peter! Save us King Edmund,” one small fox cried, bouncing eagerly between the kings’ feet and narrowly avoiding being stepped on. “They’ll catch us. Save us!” “Who will catch you, you young imp?” King Edmund demanded stooping over and picking up the young fox. “Everyone! They’re after us! They’ll lock us up in the dungeons if you don’t save us!” “And why would they want to do that, Sarai?” King Peter picked a small bird out of his hair while keeping his attention on the small fox. The fox giggled. “Silly King Peter. I’m Helene. But we were just trying to help. We thought they might like it if we decorated the breakfast room for you.” Red ears drooped. “But they didn’t and she said she’d lock whoever did it up in the dungeons.” “Who said that?” “Mrs. Tamarin.” King Edmund rolled his eyes and Jaerin winced in appreciation of Helene’s—and all the small animals’—fear. He had been on the receiving end of the persnickety housekeeper’s wrath once already. It was not pleasant. And all he had done was track a bit of dirt inside. “We’ll see to it that…” « 76 »

The doors of Cair Paravel swung open once again and a very angry looking badger stalked out followed by an odd assortment of Animals. “Where are they?” the badger—Mrs. Tamarin—demanded. “Where are the little rapscallions? I’ll have them in the dungeons for this!” Startled squeals, chirps, grunts, and other sounds came from all the small Animals as they cowered further behind the four boys. Jaerin froze, not exactly certain what to do and uncertain as to why Mrs. Tamarin had yet to notice all the animals that clung to his clothes and hair or hid behind his legs. Then he realized that her spectacles, normally perched on the end of her nose, were missing. Another thing to add to the list of offences by the little ones most likely. “Mrs. Tamarin, what is the cause of your anger?” King Peter asked smoothly. “Aha!” the Badger spotted the bird in the king’s hand. “There’s one of them. I’ll have you know, your majesty, that these little—pests!—have gone and made a mess of my breakfast room, smashed my glasses, and then tried to get themselves out of trouble by running to you!” “Is this true?” the king turned to the small Animals. A dozen small heads bowed in shame. “Yes, sir.” “But she said she would throw us in the dungeons!” a hedgehog protested. “That may be so, but only my brother and sisters and I have that right. She could no more throw you in the dungeons than throw a giant. Now, unless I am much mistaken, your parents have come to collect you. Go with them. We will see what the damage to the breakfast room has been and let your parents determine your punishment. Go on.” Sadly, the foxes, cats, hedgehogs, birds, and dogs all disentangled themselves from their “protectors” and slunk off with their respective parents. Mrs. Tamarin turned to follow them, still muttering about the Animal’s misdeeds but King Edmund stopped her. “Mrs. Tamarin?” The badger turned around and slowly raised half-focused eyes to meet hard brown ones. “Let it not be said of you that you threatened children with the dungeons. Or any other for that matter. We and Our Royal Siblings alone can condemn someone to that place and then only for egregious offenses. Let not idle threats come from your mouth.” Mrs. Tamarin’s head hung in shame. “Aye, your majesty.” “And Mrs. Tamarin?” King Peter added in a considerably kinder tone. “See if the dwarves can find or make you a new pair of glasses. You will need them to continue in your office.” “Aye, your majesty. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll see what I can do about getting the breakfast room set to rights. Would you be adverse to breakfast on the balcony while we clean the room?” “Not at all, cousin. You may go.” King Peter smiled and King Edmund’s stern face softened as the badger curtsied as deeply as her short stature allowed and hurried back into the castle. “Are you certain you needed to be that stern, Brother?” King Peter asked as they also strode inside. “You were a bit harsh.”

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“It is not the first time she has made threats of that nature, Peter. I didn’t want her to do it again. She really terrified the little ones and I’ll not see them hurt in that manner. Just because we’ve seen too much doesn’t mean they should fear too.” King Peter nodded, his face solemn. “I understand.” “Umm,” Jaerin piped up, unable to remain silent any longer, “What does ‘egregious’ mean?” “’Conspicuously and outrageously bad or reprehensible.’ Or so said Irel when I asked him yesterday. Basically, really, really bad.” King Edmund grinned. “I thought it a good word and made certain to remember it.” “Oh.” Jaerin sighed inwardly in relief. That meant that pranks couldn’t get you sent to the dungeons like Jaer had been teasing him yesterday. “I suppose we’d better go now. Mother and Father will be wondering what’s taking us so long to get to breakfast.” “Indeed. We will see you later!” With that the two pairs of brothers went their separate ways, the kings to the royal wings and the Peridanson brothers to the hall assigned to their family. They hurried through their morning preparations and, despite Jaer’s fears to the contrary, still managed to reach their parent’s room before Peridan. Jaerin was in the midst of regaling his mother and sister with the tale of their morning adventure when Peridan walked in, his face unusually stern. “What is it dear?” Saera asked quickly. “Is aught amiss?” “Not here, no darling. All is well at the Cair. I met another messenger while I was out. He bore more ill tidings from the Western Woods. No one knows what is wrong yet everyone seems to fear something near the Witch’s old castle. I fear that soon we must investigate.” “Not you! Not now…” Saera’s voice disappeared as she suddenly began coughing again. Peridan was at her side in an instant. “Hush, queen of my heart. I will not leave you now, when you are ill, for rumors. Only the true knowledge of ill doing and the need of my kings and queens would be able to tear me away.” Saera’s coughing eased and she leaned against her husband. Jaerin wished fervently that he was somewhere far away. Whenever they got all “mushy” it could be rather embarrassing. “And yet you still wish you could go,” Saera whispered. Peridan sighed. “Aye. I do. But even if my sovereigns go, I do not think that General Orieus will allow me to attend them. He is ill and I do not think he trusts me so far as to give Kings Peter and Edmund into my care. That may change in the future, but for now, I am their humble subject and no very great man.”

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Thole by elecktrum

Chapter One: The Stone Crown They sang then and played to please the hero, words and music for their warrior prince, harp tunes and tales of adventure . . . Beowulf, 1062-1064 §‡§ “. . . and King Frank made her a mazer carved from the branch of a hornbeam tree and every morning through spring and summer and autumn and winter Queen Helen put a pebble into the bowl to count the days until a whole year had gone by -“ “How did she know it was a year?” “Peterkins!” exclaimed my brother. “Don’t interrupt the High King! The Centaurs told her.” “But how did they know?” “They were already wise when Aslan called them into being, unlike some Foxes I know. Now shush!” “Thank you, Edmund. So. At the end of the first year, on New Year’s Day, Queen Helen counted the pebbles in the bowl and found she had three hundred, ninety-six of them, which she divided into twelve piles of three-and-thirty and if you don’t hold your questions until the end, Peterkins, I’ll never finish the history lesson. So Narnia’s calendar is three hundred, ninety-six days long, with each of the twelve months having three-and-thirty days. The new year starts on the first day of spring, which is the very first day of the month of . . . ?” I looked at the young Fox riding in front of Edmund as he tried hard to remember the names of the months, his little face scrunched up as he wracked his limited memory. Master Peter Fox was the third kit and only son of Dog Sir Giles Slyashlar Fox and his charming wife from the southern swamps, Vixen Lady Marion Fox. Born out of season on the first day of winter, he and his two sisters had been raised in Cair Paravel since the weather had been too severe for them to return to their home in the Southern Marches. Giles and Marion were very popular in the royal court and a great fuss had been raised over the birth of the kits. Recognizing early that a palace full of doting servants and nobles would go far towards spoiling any child, Marion had ruthlessly cracked down on the three kits in the fashion typical for her kind. The end result was three very mannerly, respectful, sweet-tempered children. The two vixens, Helene and Sarai, were perfect little ladies who adored all things lacy and fluffy and followed Susan everywhere. The only dog of the litter, Peter, who for some reason his parents named after me, had been mortified to be born « 79 »

third and took every opportunity to remind the world at large that he was the eldest son of Sir Giles and his foremost goal in life was to become a knight of Narnia. In appearance he favored his mother, having far more black on him than his sisters, but in every other way he was his father’s child. Early on, before he could even talk, it had been decided to saddle him with a nickname to avoid confusion. I had immediately quashed all suggestions of Pete or Petey or Peers. We were at a bit of a loss until Edmund dubbed him Peterkins - a name, I suspected, he would have dearly loved to use on me if he thought for an instant he could have gotten away with it. “Quickening!” Peterkins declared with as much authority as his high-pitched voice could muster. “Close!” I shook my head ruefully. I ducked down to avoid some low branches just as the tree’s Dryad moved them out of my way. I smiled and waved my thanks. “After Quickening.” Knowing we’d wait in vain otherwise, Edmund leaned over and whispered in his ear, pretending to duck under a branch as he did so. Peterkins perked up and said, “Mayblossom!” “Correct! Well done, Master Fox,” I complimented. Edmund was smiling. “Now stop dancing around like that or Phillip won’t carry you anymore. And if you fall off I’ll have to explain to your father, my dear friend why I let his only son come to injury.” He quieted down, balancing on the saddle before Edmund. I would have carried him but Jett tended to shy when she felt him move about and she was already nervous about something she smelt on the breeze. Phillip was far more tolerant of having small Animals bounce around on his back. “So. King Frank took one pebble from each pile and he brought them to the Dwarf smiths. He asked them to make the queen a new crown using the pebbles. The Dwarfs made her a crown all in gold and silver set with the plain little pebbles and it became known as the Stone Crown. She wore that crown every year for the celebration of the new year. That’s why so many pictures in books and tapestries and stained glass you’ll see Queen Helen with a gray crown. People began to think the whole thing was made of stone. And that’s why the constellation Helen’s Crown has twelve stars in it.” Here Edmund chimed in. “I know what you’re about to ask, Peterkins. You’re about to ask, ‘But King Peter, isn’t Helen’s Crown called the Herald of Winter?’ To which my brother the High King would make reply, ‘It is indeed, my dear and clever little Fox, but on the first of Mayblossom, Helen’s Crown dips down behind the horizon and is not seen again until the end of autumn.’” I laughed as Edmund exaggerated our voices. Peterkins, who clearly had not been about to ask anything of the kind, looked very impressed at his own ingenuity. He was keenly intelligent - almost alarmingly so - very observant, and consumed by curiosity over everything unfamiliar. All in all he was very good company and fun to have along. An idea struck him and his ears perked up as he asked, “Kings’ Day is in Mayblossom, isn’t it?” I smiled, reaching over to pat Jett’s neck and try to sooth her nerves. “Of course it is. Do you know why?”

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Peterkins thought it over and had to admit, “No.” “Because King Edmund’s birthday and my birthday are both in that month and Kings’ Day falls exactly between them. Edmund’s birthday is actually on New Year’s Day, what the Centaurs call May Day, and my birthday is sixteen days later. So I’m not quite three years older.” “And the Lion knows a week cannot go by without having something to celebrate in Narnia,” Edmund added sarcastically. I couldn’t help but chuckle, for the holiday really had no point. “No, it can’t. So that, Peterkins, is the story of Narnia’s calendar. Of course, Archenland and Calormen have different notions to mark the passing of days. Archenland starts its new year a sennight after Christmas and Calormen’s new year starts on the first full moon of winter. But we start on the day Aslan called the world into being.” “Why are they different?” he wondered, snapping at a fly buzzing around his head. Unlike his father but like his sisters, he had trouble keeping still. We lived in the hope that he’d outgrow that trait. “Because they’re different countries and different people,” Edmund replied, catching and pinning him before he tumbled off the Horse’s back. “They don’t have the same history as Narnia, so why should they have the same calendar?” Suddenly Jett tossed her head and whinnied, fighting the reins. Phillip immediately drew away as I struggled to calm her. “Whoa! Whoa, Jett! Easy girl,” I soothed. She finally stilled, her stiff legs planted firmly on the earth. “Phillip, do you smell anything?” Edmund asked. Peterkins immediately sniffed the air, but at his age I was fairly certain the only things he could recognize would be his parents and food. “No,” said the Horse. He tested the breeze again. The breeze was gentle and from the north, and to me it smelt faintly of spring and the pine forest on the edge of the Northern Marches. “Perhaps she senses something that I cannot.” I sighed, still trying to reassure the mare, fairly certain I could guess what was bothering her so. We were just south of the Lantern Waste, riding forth on patrol with a troop of soldiers as escort. There had been rumors of strange events in the area around what remained of the White Witch’s castle - strange shapes, odd noises, and the like. The tales were only rumors because nothing - no Animals, no Magical Creatures, no Walking Trees or Divine Waters would go within a few miles of the place, especially at night. Soldiers checked the area on a regular basis, but even they were hesitant about approaching the ruined castle. One story persisted, though: the body of water surrounding the castle, Lake Asher, was receding. Something about the area had Jett agitated and I knew well enough not to dismiss her reactions. I glanced at the sun as it dipped towards the horizon and then at the armed escort drawing in closer. The area was sheltered and as comfortable as any, and we were hardly in a rush. “Let’s make camp,” I decided, dismounting. “Vimal, we’ll stop here,” I called to the Satyr lieutenant.

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Peterkins helped by getting underfoot as we set up camp for the night. Small tents were pitched, food prepared, and the remainder of the troop caught up with us. Talking Animals from the surrounding wood joined us, some bringing food to share, others coming to mooch. A group of Fauns brought wine and lyres and pipes and we had music and song. Everyone that came was asked about the rumors surrounding the castle, but no one had anything to add. Anything useful, I should say, until a Bear, thoughtfully scratching his belly all the while, commented that fishing had fallen off in the River Ashera, which fed into the lake before making its way to join the Great River. Neither Ed nor I knew what to make of that so we just added it to the list of strange things surrounding the castle. As we waited on our evening meal, I played a round of chess against Peterkins with Edmund moving the pieces for him. We made it a point to include him in many activities, knowing the experience would do him good in the future if he chose to follow in his father’s paw prints. He lost spectacularly despite my best efforts to tone down my game. It seemed he was only interested in moving his knights, not actually following anything like a plan of attack. He lost well enough, looking very surprised when I cornered him in checkmate when I could avoid it no longer. Luckily he didn’t get a chance to brood because just then the two Boars in our little troop, Boris and Shikov, were joined by a local Boar named Uri and they performed a traditional dance for us called a boreen. Most breeds of Talking Animals have their own styles of dance and song, but boreens were common to just about everything with four feet on the ground, with allowances made for size, speed, and tails. The three Boars stepped and swayed in unison, turning in time with the music, grunting and snuffling aloud and stamping their hooves. I laughed and clapped while beside me Edmund muffled a snicker, covering his mouth as he turned away with a snort. Peterkins, still in my brother’s lap, moved his paws and rocked to the music until Edmund nudged him and he slunk over to get a better view. I glanced over at Edmund. He kept his head ducked down and his shoulders were shaking. He was trying very hard and unsuccessfully not to giggle at the sight of dancing pigs. For some reason seeing Animals dance struck him as supremely funny every time he saw it, and I tended to find him and his amusement more entertaining than the Animals. I gave him a shove and he deliberately toppled over, catching himself on his elbow as he gave in and laughed until he was spent. Finally he mastered himself and managed to watch the rest of the dance with only a few lapses. “Are you with me tomorrow?” I asked a little while later as we sat down to a meal of game and bread and stewed nettles (which I wouldn’t touch unless I was starving again and even then I’d have to think twice about it). Edmund poured us some wine, saying quietly, “If it’s all the same I’d rather not. I don’t ever want to see that place again.” He glanced at me a little nervously and I smiled to reassure him, not about to pressure him. “All right. Then why don’t you go check on the Tree of Protection while I check the castle and we’ll meet at Beaversdam in the morning? That way we can visit with the Beavers and report back to Susan and Lucy that all’s well.”

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“And escape before dinner?” he asked hopefully. Mrs. Beaver, we had discovered long ago, had cooking skills that extended only as far as fish and toast despite her enthusiasm as a hostess. “Before lunch,” I promised, much to his relief. I looked past him and sighed. “Peterkins! Use your napkin to wipe your face, not your paws . . . or your tail, Master Fox!” Edmund pursed his lips, lifting his wine to hide his laugh. “You wonder why Lady Marion was so happy to see the back of him?” I shook my head, turning back at my brother as I held the bridge of my nose in the hopes of avoiding a headache. “Not for an instant, good my brother.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Two: Without Defiance Sent The wide water, the waves and pools were no longer infested once the wandering fiend let go of her life and this unreliable world. Beowulf, 1620-1622 §‡§ We parted company at dawn. Edmund rode Phillip and they were accompanied by six soldiers of our escort. They turned northeast to check on the Tree of Protection and its Dryad guardians while I took the remaining six soldiers and Peterkins to the White Witch’s castle. I made sure that Xati, that fiery Centaur mare, went with Edmund and I kept Vimal with me. I had intended for Peterkins to accompany my brother, but when he realized I was going to see a ruined castle and Edmund was going to look at an apple tree he made his preference known and really, what choice could any adventurous, would-be knight make? The little Fox had no notion of the Tree’s importance or of the vital role it had played in saving Edmund’s life or the price that role had extracted from both of Narnia’s kings. Truth be told, it was a price we were both still paying. I had returned from adventuring into the Western Wild at the very beginning of Yule half-starved and terribly weak and in less than a week after returning home I had been laid low by pneumonia. Edmund likewise had been underweight and struggling to overcome the lingering effects of the deathless spell Jadis had cast upon him. Where I had endured physical hardship and exposure to the elements, he had endured ceaseless torment to his body and mind. We both were still fighting to maintain a healthy weight and it was only within the past two months that Oreius had allowed us back to the training grounds. The winter had been bitterly cold and the good general refused to allow us outside unless necessary, having had quite enough of sick kings since the first anniversary of Beruna. This excursion marked the first time either of us had been out of sight of Cair Paravel, our sisters, our valets, and Oreius since Yule. Tired with being penned up in the palace, Edmund and I had insisted on checking on the rumors that trickled in with other troops on patrol. We bolted free at the first opportunity, barely bothering to pack more than our « 83 »

swords and our chess set. We might not have succeeded at all if Oreius had not been suffering from a terrible, late-season cold. I strongly suspected that the general had saturated the area with troops just because of our presence. I didn’t mind and I was sure Edmund felt exactly the same way since we were both willing to do anything to keep the other safe. “Don’t let him ride roughshod all over you,” Edmund warned from atop Phillip’s back, pointing at Peterkins. The little Fox was pestering Vimal as the Satyr checked his weapons. “Shan’t,” I replied, extending my hand. He clasped my wrist, smiling down at me, his expression saying everything he didn’t need to say aloud: be careful, Don’t get into trouble. I love you, so please don’t do anything stupid. I returned the smile, squeezing his arm gently and saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” He nodded, releasing my wrist. I’ll admit I watched him leave with a sense of trepidation. To me he still seemed so small, so frail. I wasn’t thinking of how roundly he had beaten me at archery practice the other day or of the rather spectacular bruises I had received while we dueled last week. I stared at Edmund’s straight back and high-held head as he rode slowly away and all I could think of was my little brother crawling into my bed almost every night this past winter, shivering with cold and in want of reassurance that I really was back and he was free of Jadis. I wasn’t sure which of us needed the other more despite the fact that I was the eldest of us. Susan and I never seemed to forget Lucy’s youth, but too often I think we overlooked the fact that Edmund was not much older than she. I gave myself a little shake, snapping out of my reverie. Great Lion, if I was this bad with my brother what kind of overprotective father would I make some day? As if on cue Edmund glanced back at me. My expression must have betrayed me because he smirked and shook his head, rolling his eyes before turning around again. I was a hopeless worrier and we both knew it. I smiled back and waved, standing there until he was out of sight. “High King?” I carefully looked around and up and finally down to find the speaker. It was a habit we kings and queens had all gotten into as we tried to pinpoint subjects that ranged in size from Hummingbirds to Elephants and everything in between. We tried to be subtle about it since some Animals were touchy about their size. Boris, that doughty hog warrior, stood patiently at my feet. “Good morn, cousin,” I greeted him fondly. “What say ye?” “Lieutenant Vimal reports that we are ready to move out upon your order,” he grunted. “Consider it given, Boris. Where is Peterkins?” Peterkins was happily learning how to tell the difference between a Faun’s hoof mark and that of a Boar and a Satyr. The ground was moist and held the marks well. Chambris Apis, one of two Bulls in our party, was pointing out the various aspects of cloven hooves to the kit. Peterkins was very excited and repeated everything he had just been told, little realizing someday soon his nose would be far better for tracking than his eyes. §‡§ We arrived at the remains of Jadis’s castle just past noon, deliberately approaching from the southern valley along the path of the Ashera River to check the levels of water and « 84 »

speak with the locals. A few people we spoke to mentioned the sudden lack of good fishing, Bears and Big Cats in particular. They hadn’t noticed any other real difference in the river, but the sudden drop in the lake and the reports of odd shapes and sounds at night concerned them. I had only seen the castle once before, the night we had arrived in Narnia, and I had mistakenly believed it rose up from the ground. It wasn’t until the end of the Hundred Year Winter that I learned what I had thought was a vast field was actually a lake frozen solid and the castle had been built on an island towards the edge. Called Asher, the lake was one of the very few open bodies of water in Narnia and the largest. It was fed by a stream off of the Ashera River as it wound down from the mountains in the northwest before joining the Great River just outside the Lantern Waste. Standing on the banks of the lake and gazing at the ruined foundation, the castle looked nothing like what I remembered, for the majority of the building had been made of ice that was still melting away with the return of summer. Though it was disappearing with glacial speed I was glad to see it go. The lake was surrounded by low hills that shot up into tall granite mountains, the tail end of a chain of mountains that wound their way far to the north. Only grasses and low shrubs grew near the water - no Dryads lived on the banks and Talking Animals avoided the place. It seemed as haunted as Beruna. Jett nudged me, looking for attention and reassurance and I petted her nose and neck, talking softly. She was nervous but she also trusted me and I knew that was the only reason she hadn’t bolted away. “Just a little longer, Jett,” I promised. “We’ll be leaving soon, girl.” I was glad I had her with me and not Phillip because I knew the Talking Horse would have been beside himself with anxiety right now. Phillip did not believe still water could be trusted around me. Running water was not a problem for him, but lakes, pools, puddles, and probably my bathtub were naught but sources of trouble and to be avoided at all costs. According to Phillip it wasn’t me that couldn’t be trusted by the water, it was the water that couldn’t resist accosting me in one form or another. “King Peter!” called Vimal from the lake’s edge. I secured Jett’s reins to a low bush. Lonn, a Faun archer, lingered close by to the mare, talking to her all the while as he scanned the low hills surrounding the lake. I waded through the knee-high grass and weeds to join Vimal and Ahmen. Behind me I could hear Peterkins shouting as he chased dragonflies and the rest of the guards fanned out around us. Young as he was, Ahmen Apis was still a Bull and therefore huge and he had churned the ground to grassy mud. I put a hand on his side for balance as we looked at the edge of the lake. Even to my inexpert eyes I could see that the water line had receded a good four or five inches and the stranded plants were surrounded by mud of a different color and texture than the stuff on the shore. Four or five inches may not seem like much until you consider the vast surface of a lake. Then it turns into an incredible amount of water to lose in just a few days time. “If the Ashera hasn’t flooded, where did the water go?” I wondered.

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Ahmen was sniffing at the lush spring grass, intent on the mud. He chewed a mouthful of the grass then spit out the foamy mouthful with a sound of disgust. “Well?” pressed Vimal. “Don’t eat it, sirs,” warned the Bull slowly as if the lieutenant and I had been about to tuck in. “The castle’s ice is still poisoning the earth and water.” I looked around. Despite the beautiful day there was something sinister in the air, though I couldn’t tell if that was due to the present problem or some lingering enchantment from the White Witch. The nearest tree was miles away and even dumb beasts avoided this spot for the most part. Lovely as the setting was, for Narnia this place was practically a desert. “It will be years before anyone wants to live around here again. Not that I blame them.” I sighed. “I hate to suggest this, good sirs, but shall we look to the castle?” “We shall,” said Vimal, and I knew exactly what Oreius had ordered. “You, Sire, and Peterkins will await our report.” I opened my mouth to argue with the Satyr, then shut it again. It was frustrating at times to be a king, especially when your entire army willingly followed the example set by its overprotective general. I supposed this was how all my younger siblings felt towards me on occasion. §‡§ My escort and I moved along the edge of the water towards the castle, alert for more signs of change to the lake and anything that might prove itself dangerous. A rough causeway made of rock connected the island to the shore and thence to a narrow road that wound between the hills, finally leading to a gap in the mountains. I studied the ugly building as Vimal, Lonn, and a Civet named Tyxy picked their way across the uneven causeway. A pang of envy coursed through me as I watched them reach the island and scout around the icy ruins, but I knew better than to try to override Oreius. Fool that I was, I wanted to see the castle for myself. The fabulous ice structure I had only seen from a distance had been built around a lower, smaller, and much older foundation of dark stone. By now most of the ice was gone and what was left was worn and dirty and retained none of its former glory. Even so, the long shadows it cast on the shore seemed colder than they should and gave me a vague sense of the unnatural. None of us lingered in the shadows while there was sunshine to be had. I smoothed Jett’s nose, clucking to her and trying to keep her calm. She pulled at the reins, shifting about. Peterkins was wise enough to stay well away from her hooves, finally climbing atop a nearby rock. I cast him a swift glance and said, “Good my Fox, do not fall.” He cocked his head, curious, and almost slid off his mossy perch for want of attention to what he was doing. “Why do you say that, King Peter?” “Because I’ve seen you balance.” I confounded him, for that was not what he meant at all. “No, I mean . . . why do you say ‘my good’ backwards?” « 86 »

I smiled and touched a finger to his little nose. “In Narnia, it’s a way of saying you love someone. Or at least you like them a lot.” “But why?” I gave him a quizzical look, deliberately misunderstanding. “Why do I want to tell someone I love them?” He giggled, turning a complete circle in his childish embarrassment. “No! Why do you say it like that? It’s all out of order!” “Love does that to you.” Peterkins laughed harder, flopping onto the rock. Jett paced nervously and I smoothed her neck, grinning at his amusement before I started to explain, “It’s from a long time ago.” He sobered up a bit, sitting up with his bushy tail held high. “As long ago as the Stone Crown?” “Not that far. But a princess said it to the boy that she loved so that he would know every time she used those words out of order that way she was actually saying ‘I love you, Hal.’ There’s a very nice song about it called Good My Hal. King Edmund knows all the words. Ask him about it when you see him next.” I was setting my brother up, of course. I knew for a fact Edmund knew all the words to the song, bit it was fairly high on his list of things to forget. Edmund had an excellent ear for music and a good voice, much to his annoyance, and he remembered every song we’d ever learned. Ahmen let out a loud huff, clearly displeased that our party had splintered further and Chambris, his cousin, snorted in agreement. With the exception of Peterkins, all the Animals around me were uneasy. Boris kept sniffing the air and he came close to where I was trying to keep Jett calm, his ears and tail held high. “Something’s not right, King Peter” he rumbled, his deep voice full of concern. “I can feel it all the way down to my bristles.” I certainly couldn’t argue with that. I surveyed the surroundings, likewise feeling something was off but not sure what it might be. The clouds still rode above on the cool breeze from the north, the lake still lapped at the muddy shores, the air still smelled of grass and pine, yet something had changed for the worse. Jett neighed in nervous agitation and fought my hold. Behind me, the Apis cousins pawed the dirt. Of the three soldiers exploring the castle there were no signs. “Move away from the lake, Sire,” Chambris ordered. I wasn’t about to disagree. I stuffed Peterkins under my arm and tried to lead Jett away. Much to my surprise, she refused to move. Boris let out a low moan of displeasure as Ahmen and Chambis edged closer to me. I could feel their unease and I hauled on Jett’s bridle desperately. She shied and tossed her head, her eyes wide with fear as she let out throaty moan. “Come on, girl!”

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There was a muffled sound from the island, the start of a cry cut off before it was formed. I gasped, almost losing my grip on horse and Fox. “Run!” Boris squealed. “King Peter, run! Run!” The mare let out a horrible scream of panic, yanking out of my hold and dragging me to the ground. I dropped Peterkins and sprawled in the grass as Jett bolted away. I scrambled back up as hideous roars rose up behind me. Whirling about, I staggered back a step and gasped in shock. Three Giants were lumbering across the causeway, their war clubs held high and their faces murderous. “PETER!” I screamed. I cast about for the small Fox desperately. “Peter, run! RUN! Find Edmund! Run!” I saw a flash of red in the grass and nothing more. There was naught else to do but follow my own orders and run, not that I or any of us had a chance to outrun Giants. Their ambush had worked perfectly and why not? I was deep inside Narnia, what would attack the High King in his own land? I raced back between the low hills as fast as my legs would carry me, panic robbing me of breath and speed. The Apis cousins flanked me though I knew they could move much faster than me. Behind us came a malicious laugh and a highpitched cry and I knew Boris was dead. “Faster!” ordered Ahmen, then dropped away, whirling to face our three pursuers. With a terrible bellow I heard him charge and moments later I screamed in terror and fury as I heard the club land, killing the brave Bull. I skidded to a stop, yanking Rhindon free of its sheath as I faced the Giants. I was shocked to only see two of them. What of the third? Chambris stumbled to a halt beside me. “NO!” he cried, immediately setting himself between me and the Giants. “Run, King!” Too late. Chambis didn’t even get a chance to charge before a club the size of a tree trunk dashed him to the ground, dead in one blow. I had no way of knowing if they intended to kill or capture me, but I was already moving, I had my sword in hand, there was no escape - I attacked. I had never fought a Giant before. I had no idea of what to expect, but I kept a sharp eye on that club. The Giant made a grab for me and instantly regretted it as I spun to the outside and brought Rhindon down in a mighty arc along the length of his bare forearm, slicing him open. He screamed and clutched the wound and I went for his legs. His leggings gave him some protection, but I slashed across both his exposed knees. Dark blood stained the ground and he fell. I didn’t hesitate, but tried again to escape. I had no chance. None at all. The ground beneath my feet shook with each step they took and I hadn’t gone a dozen yards before I was knocked down from the rear. Rhindon skidded away from my grasp as one of the Giants pinned me flat to the ground as easily as a cat pins a mouse. I couldn’t even reach the dagger in my belt. He pressed me down into the dirt so hard that I could barely breathe. “No!” came a deep, angry shout from behind. I realized my life had just been spared when the Giant holding me let out a disappointed whine and with a mighty thud a club the size of

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a tree trunk hit the ground just inches from my head. I couldn’t see any of what was going on, but the voice ordered, “Take him!” I was snatched upright, my feet leaving the ground as I was roughly turned around to face my captors. Another Giant had joined us, smaller and darker and clearly the one in command. He glared at me, fury written on every line of his face. “I told you not to reveal yourselves!” he hissed, slapping one of the Giants across the face. “Fools!” There came an echo of idiotic laughter and animal screams as the last of the Giants came back over the hill dragging Jett. She was bloodied and broken and screaming in mindless agony. I felt bile rise in my throat. Jett . . . My other attackers joined in the laughter, but the leader just looked angrier still, shaking his head in disgust as he ordered, “Just kill it!” I gasped and turned away so I couldn’t see the club fall. The sound of heavy wood impacting flesh and bone was horrifying. My legs buckled and I dropped to my hands and knees, dust and dirt and tears choking me. I was freezing cold and could hardly breathe. Oh, Aslan, what was happening here? I was barely aware of my surroundings, so overwhelmed were my senses by the brutality of this assault. “We have to leave this place before we’re seen. Back to where we hid before.” I concentrated and let myself be astonished at the leader’s speech as I fought for control. The Giants I knew were never so clearly spoken or eloquent. At his words his three companions let out sounds of complaint, which he dismissed crossly. “It’s just a building!” he snapped. “It has no more power! We have wounded to tend to before we bring this one before my father!” Building. They were taking me to the Castle of the White Witch. That had to be it, the castle was the only thing large enough to house Giants anywhere near this place. I was hauled upright again, the sudden motion leaving me dizzy and my vision blackened on the edges. I found myself in the grip of the leader; his dark, beady eyes regarded me with hatred. “And you!” he hissed. “You must be the blood heir, Son of Adam and king. They said she made a successor. So much I owe you. Let this be the first payment.” I never even felt the blow to my head land. ¥¤¥

Chapter Three: Crimes Unspeakable Malignant by nature, he never showed remorse. Beowulf, 137 §‡§

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I awoke to an unearthly feeling of cold that seemed more intense than any chill I’d ever felt before, and not just because of the pounding in my head. It was deep and invasive and left me weak. There was a sound of running water somewhere near that brought me back to the autumn just past when I had followed the Great River to its source. Water had been my constant companion for months on end, sometimes friend, sometimes foe. What was it now? I slowly opened my eyes. For the longest time all I could see was a lurid, greenishblue glow that put me in mind of moonlight. I lay perfectly still, concentrating on simply breathing for a while until I could actually see, trying to deny the intense pain throbbing in my skull from a single blow of the Giant’s fist. The sickly glow came from behind the walls. I stared, wondering how this could be, when I abruptly realized I had to be in the ruins of the White Witch’s castle and I was staring at a wall of ice. I remembered Edmund describing the weird shine when he had been in the dungeons here. Was this a dungeon? No. I could sense a large, open room spreading out behind me and I realized there were fading geometric designs carved into the surface of the ice. I was surprised there was any ice remaining, but this had been the seat of Jadis’s power for a century and her magic still resisted the heat of summer. Giants. There had been four? Yes, four. The leader was interesting. He wasn’t like the others. I thought back. He had been smaller, with finer features and a clearer voice than his fellows. Wracking my brain, I remembered my history tutor, a Great Horned Owl named Lewiston, had said there were three known races of Giants: The Good Giants of Narnia, the Northern Giants who were rather barbaric, and the Ettins, sometimes called Palish Giants because they tended to be fairer than the rest of their ilk. They were smaller and smarter than the other races, but ‘smarter’ was debatable since the Ettins had backed Jadis during her reign and a dozen or more had been slain at Beruna. I had never seen or heard tell of any Giant - Ettin or otherwise - like the leader of this little troop. Most Ettins were wicked brutes, the rest of their number being stupid wicked brutes. Biased as that sounded even my own thoughts, it was the absolute truth. They were awful creatures - cruel, vicious, and sadistic on a scale not even their Northern cousins could match, and according to Lewiston they had fallen far from the skilled and prosperous tribe they had once been. What did they want with me? The leader had mentioned bringing me to his father. Was I to be held hostage? Or was I simply on the menu for an upcoming feast? My muddled mind gave it a bit of thought and I concluded, very much to my surprise, that I would be quite a valuable hostage if they knew who and what I was. I knew there was no end Narnia would not go to in order to get me back. I wondered if they had factored Edmund into this to-do. I would have to guess no, since so far I seemed to be the only hostage. Really, if you wanted to stymie Narnia and her army, you needed us both and Oreius, not that I would ever volunteer such information. I could only hope my captors made the mistakes many ambassadors made and assumed that I was the ultimate authority in Narnia after Aslan. That was emphatically not so, but the title of High King seemed to fool envoys every time. Not that Edmund minded - he used it very much to his advantage and many an embassage regretted the oversight. I had faith my little brother would bring these Giants to grief in similar manner. If they didn’t know he existed, so much the better. Edmund. Had Peterkins found him? I had to believe the little Fox had survived the onslaught of angry Giants. Any other idea was inconceivable. He was a clever little thing and he would know to ask the Dryads and local Animals for help in reaching my brother. « 90 »

Jett. I tried to keep from thinking about the hideous sound of her screams and the crunch of bone as the Giants killed her. She had been a beautiful, spirited animal and I had loved her best of all the horses in the stables. And my guard. I knew most of them well, good and valiant soldiers of Narnia that they had been. Lieutenant Vimal had led the party that found me in the Western Wild this past Yule. The Apis cousins, so young and enthusiastic. Wise old Boris, a veteran of Beruna. Gentle Lonn. And Tyxy, whom I had barely known but who told such clever jokes. All dead. Killed. Murdered so that I could be held hostage by strange Giants. What in the name of Aslan had brought this situation about? What could they want me for? “Up!” Suddenly a vicious kick blow on my back and I was slammed into the wall before me. I cried out in surprise and pain at the dual blows and lay gasping against the ice, helpless to move. “Get up, you little bastard,” hissed a voice from high above me. I shifted painfully, getting my arms beneath me as I slowly raised my head. The smallest of my captors stood before me. He was glaring at me with undisguised hatred, his deep, dark eyes full of spite and I could see he wanted nothing more than an excuse to hit me again. Beyond him I could see the shapes of his three fellows hunched over in a tight circle in a room large enough to dwarf even Giants. “Who are you?” I rasped warily, alert for another unwarranted beating. He strode forward on long legs and seized me by my heavy tunic with one hand. I was yanked to my feet and slammed against the wall of ice. The fist holding me was so huge the fingers could have circled my waist and there was barely enough fabric for him to grip. “I’m the one whose birthright you stole, little man.” That made no sense at all. Instinctively my hands pushed against his though I had no more hope of moving a Giant’s hand than I could hope to topple the castle walls by pushing on them. “What are you talking about? I’ve stolen nothing, least of all from you!” “Where is Jadis? Where is this so-called Queen of Narnia? They said she named a Son of Adam as her blood heir, made him her own child and robbed us of the throne she said would be ours! Where is she? What happened to her castle? What became of the winter she made? Where are my people we sent to aid her?” As he spoke he jerked me closer and closer until his huge face filled my vision. He was a strange looking piece of work even for a Giant, the features of his face squeezed together and his eyes were small and very closely set. His long, dark hair was as shaggy as a pony’s mane and his skin looked as tough as leather. I pulled back from that hideous visage, instinctively trying to loose his grip on me, trying to make sense of what he had said. “That spell - her power - is broken forever. Jadis is gone. Destroyed.” I twisted away and he released me, letting me stagger back. “Who are you?” “You’ll find out soon enough. Hatta!” He looked back at his three companions and hissed something I couldn’t quite hear with the odd acoustics in the room. With a grumble one of Giants rose, spearing something on the end of his knife before limping towards us. It was the Giant I had attacked. His arm was crudely bandaged, as were his knees, and he looked « 91 »

at me with a burning hatred. He tipped his knife over and dropped something on the floor before me with a loud splat. I looked at it in revulsion. It was a large hunk of raw meat, dripping and bloody. “Swine, I believe,” smirked the leader, waving the other Giant back. I stared in open-mouthed horror. They were eating a Talking Animal. They had murdered my guards and now . . . now they were eating . . . I backed away, trying not to retch as I bumped into the rough wall of ice behind me. This was the most unspeakable sin in Narnia and Archenland. Not even in Calormen would the people knowingly consume a Talking Animal. My vision was edged in blackness as I fought to keep from fainting. No, no, no . . . “Or maybe it was your horse,” he taunted. “Mmm . . . no, I think we already ate her. Definitely swine.” Aslan, please don’t let this be happening . . . I gasped, so dismayed I couldn’t even open my eyes. The smell of blood nauseated me as never before. I had smelt gore and death before, but that was expected when hunting or in battle. There were rules to killing that way. This was completely different. This was murder. “It’s all you’ll get. I suggest you eat.” I opened my eyes, forcing myself to look upon this hateful creature that treated the lives of my cousins, my subjects, so casually. I was no stranger to starvation and I would much sooner perish than bring Aslan’s wrath upon me. Glaring up at him, I felt a hot flush creep up my cheeks despite the fact that I was shivering, a fury not even the enchanted ice of the White Witch’s palace could cool. “You will regret ever stepping foot in Narnia,” I swore, lapsing into the courtly speech that conveyed emotion so well, “and you will pay for harming our subjects and abusing us in so base a manner. By Aslan, you will rue this day’s work, Ettin.” It was a wild guess to call him an Ettin, but he didn’t deny it or seem in the least surprised. He didn’t answer, but there was a flash of something - not fear, apprehension, perhaps - in his eyes before he slumped away, leaving the gory hunk of flesh on the ground. “Then I’ll get you,” I whispered to his back. It was a promise, not a threat, coming from the High King. He paused, but did not turn around. After a moment he snorted derisively and went and joined his fellows in their unholy feast. My legs gave way and I slid down the wall. I stared into the vastness of the room, my prayers calling out to Aslan and my brother. §‡§ I never did know how much time passed. I sat there numbly, knowing I could not escape. It had not worked when I had been hale, it certainly wouldn’t work when I had been beaten and my head felt as if it was splitting in two with pain. All I really wanted to do was pass out. My knife was gone, as was Rhindon’s sheath, leaving me completely unarmed and defenseless against these creatures more than three times my size. Staring at nothing,

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waiting for my captors to act, I listened and wondered which of these monsters now claimed the Blue Steel blade Edmund had forged for me. Since coming to Narnia almost two years ago I had seen the most glorious sights imaginable and I had accomplished the most remarkable feats, but the beauty of this land and its people had not blinded me to the darker side of the world I now inhabited. There was good and evil here, just as in England, but when augmented by magic good and evil reached new extremes. Joy and love and honor abounded in Narnia, but I had also learned to kill and I had done so on many occasions. It was not just hunting, but I had taken an enemy’s life when so compelled. It was easy to do at times but it was never pleasant and not an act in which I reveled. There were rules and codes for taking a life in Narnia, be it of a foe or dumb beast or tree or fish, set forth by Aslan himself. They were understood throughout the land and strictly, willingly enforced by all. These monsters, these Ettin Giants, had broken the highest of all our laws. They had slaughtered and now devoured my subjects. So stunned and shocked was I that for the longest time I could do nothing but be horrified. Gradually I became aware that the Ettin leader was the younger brother of the one that had killed Jett. It seemed he was a simpleton, his language stilted and his vocabulary very limited. He made me think of Edmund, whom I always thought to be the smartest of the four of us - keen, penetrating, and deep thinker that he was. What would my life had been had Edmund not been . . . Edmund? It was a sobering thought. Clearly this idiot Ettin, Storr by name, thought with his stomach because he was tired of nothing but fish. He had leaped at the chance of anything different to eat, blindly disobeying his brother’s order not to leave the castle while the younger Giant had gone scouting their route back to Ettinsmoor. The dark and angry leader, furious though he was at their conduct, could not see fit to waste food and had allowed his small band to consume my escort and my horse. By their conversation I gathered they had not eaten so well in ages, and indeed they looked like a disreputable lot. It seemed we were only so much food to them. I heard bones crack and Storr gave a moronic laugh as he sucked the marrow out of someone’s femur. The sound was sickening. Was that Vimal? Lonn? Chambris? I wanted to faint. I dared not cry, but this scene was unbearable. I needed to escape the racket of grunting, slurping Giants and the sight of bones still slick with blood and sinew being thrown in a careless heap. Aslan, deliver me from these monsters that I may be the agent of your justice upon them. Free me from this senseless horror. As you love me, Great Lion, help me. Please . . . please . . . help me . . . Blessed darkness slowly filled my vision, drawing me down to oblivion. My wish, my prayers were answered and I slowly slipped from consciousness. ¥¤¥

Chapter Four: Buried Alive . . . there was a hidden passage, unknown to men . . . « 93 »

Beowulf, 2213-2214 §‡§ I roused from my faint when I was dropped onto solid rock. It was quite a nasty way to wake up and I involuntarily let out a yelp of pain and surprise as I sprawled on the ground. “Silence!” hissed a voice from far above me. Seeing as how I did not wish to invite another beating, I obeyed. Instead I sat up, drawing my legs in close and mentally checking to see if I had anything new to add to my list of hurts. I had some additional bruises and scrapes, but nothing worse it seemed and my head still won as my primary complaint. I looked around, trying to penetrate the gloom, listening to the wildly echoing sounds and feeling the moist air move about as I tried to figure where on earth I was. On earth? I thought as realization hit. Sweet Lion, try below it, Peter. I had been in a cavern once before, when my Uncle Robert took me and Susan and Edmund (Lucy was too little to go) and our two older cousins on holiday. I remembered Derbyshire and visiting the caverns at Poole’s Hole. The echoing and just the sensation of being underground had frightened Susan and she would not let go of my hand the whole time, while Edmund had to be restrained from climbing all over everything. I had found the place to be beautiful and exciting with its exotic formations and different chambers and I enjoyed the way sound was distorted and multiplied. Poole’s Hole was relatively small, dry, well lit, and comfortable by comparison to where I was now. It was too dark to see, so I paid attention to the sounds instead. I could hear the Ettins shuffle about not far from where I sat and the roar of water in the background. This cavern seemed huge, monstrous even since giants were able to move about it with ease. There was a glimmer of uneven light and I saw a torch held aloft in a gnarled hand moving towards me. Long shadows revealed mighty stalagmites and stalactites, bumpy pillars and fantastic mineral formations all around the cavern. It was as if colored wax had melted to form this place. Any other time I would have been eager to explore, but now all I wanted was to make these monsters pay for what they had done and to have a hundred miles and an army between me and them. “What is this place?” I asked when the Ettin leader stood before me. He sneered. “The bowels of Narnia, where else? Lower even than her dungeons. These caverns reach all the way to Loy. She refused us entry by any other path.” I had no idea where or what Loy could be, but now I knew how the Ettins had gotten here without being spotted. “What do you want with me?” Anger seemed to be his foremost emotion, because even though his face was mostly shadowed I could see him glower. “I want what’s mine. What I was promised. What I have served for all my life. I want Narnia, little man.” I stared at him, dumbfounded. Narnia? Giants ruling Narnia? That was impossible. Aslan’s law forbade such a thing. “What you were promised? Promised by whom?”

« 94 »

He looked at me as if I was a greater idiot than his brother. “The queen before you. The one you replaced: Jadis.” I shook my head, trying to force my rattled brain to understand. “Only Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve can rule in Narnia.” “Really? How convenient. But it seems to me Jadis did an adequate job of it for the past century and she was closer in kin to me than you, little king. Perhaps if you knew your history, you would know that I have a valid claim to the land you stole.” What I knew of Narnia’s history did not include Ettins being the heirs to the thrones in Cair Paravel. This was all so very, very strange and confusing and senseless. I decided to start at the beginning and backed up my line of questioning. “Who are you? Why have you attacked me and my party? Why have you murdered my subjects?” He rolled his eyes in disgust. Clearly he had never needed to recover from multiple beatings and endure seeing his fellows slain and devoured before his eyes. He also seemed to think I should already know who he was. “Can you murder your dinner, Son of Adam?” The Ettin laughed derisively and shook his head. “They were each and every one of them my cousins and loyal soldiers all. To kill a Talking Animal or Magical Creature is murder in this land. To consume their flesh is unforgivable.” “Steer and swine and goats your cousins? How could we possibly know they could talk?” “How could you know I was a king otherwise?” I demanded, trapping him with his own words. “You’re not as clever as you think. Why am I surprised she would cloak you in ignorance? Huh. She certainly did it to us. Unless of course you simply are this ignorant. Which is it?” What a provoking individual. He enjoyed being in a position to mock me, but I noticed he made no mention of Foxes. I could only hope they had not caught sight of Peterkins and that the kit had escaped. Regarding the Ettin, I refused to rise to his childish baiting, saying, “I have naught to do with Jadis or anything that false queen might have promised.” “Really? Rumor said she found a legendary Son of Adam and through her magic made him her blood heir. I came to speak to her about the promises she made my people and what did I find at her castle but warmth and sunshine and a Son of Adam? What am I supposed to think except that you slew the Queen and took her throne?” Blood heir? He’d said that before. What could he . . . oh, Aslan. Edmund. He was talking about Edmund. Upon his first visit to Narnia the White Witch had tricked my brother into consuming a magical potion that contained her own blood, granting her dominion over him in ways we could never imagine. We had thought the restoration of the Tree of Protection had resolved that, but it seemed that true to her word, Jadis was not through with him yet. “I certainly can’t say what you’re supposed to think,” I answered slowly, “but I would bid you listen to the truth.” « 95 »

“Oh, tell me, little king,” he begged sarcastically. “For surely you would never lie to me.” “I would not,” said I. “Jadis is indeed dead but not by my hand. Aslan slew her almost two years ago in a battle fought for Narnia’s freedom. Her power and authority over Narnia are gone. I am the king of Narnia now.” “And who are you, little man?” “King Peter. To whom do I speak?” He smirked, clearly unimpressed by my claim and still thinking I was an idiot for all my eloquence. With a mocking little nod of his grotesque head he replied, “I am Crown Prince Valerlan, son of King Valaner, the heir of Ettinsmoor and rightful king of Narnia.” “By what right do you call yourself king of Narnia?” “By right of succession, little man, and by pact with the former queen whom you disposed. But charming as this conversation is, we must leave this our home and bring you, our guest, along with us. Blood heir, false king, whatever you are, if Narnia won’t ransom you you’ll at least make a decent meal for my father the king.” §‡§ One of the most useful things Oreius had ever taught me - and he had taught me almost everything I knew about being a warrior - was how to force myself to think and function when in fact I wanted to be overwhelmed by events. It was a drive born of need and selfreliance and if ever I required the ability to set aside my emotions and endure, it was that terrible day. They bound my wrists tightly before me with a coarse leather rope as if I was somehow a threat or I might have a chance to escape. Valerlan smiled as he took the rope, smirking at the notion of leading me about like an animal. The other Giants carried huge torches in their hands that illuminated the stone chamber. I was surprised to see refuse and mud all around - branches and water plants, rotting vegetation, mud, dead fish. I frowned, looking down at the stinking mud around my ankles, and then I realized what had happened to Lake Asher. Whatever doorway the Ettins used to reach the White Witch’s castle must have been below the surface of the water. That was well and good when the whole lake was a frozen block of ice, but once the ice was gone opening the same door must have caused a horrific flood that filled these chambers. What a shock for the Ettins! I could only wish it had caught the lot of them. These four must have fought their way past the torrent to the safety of the castle, trapped there until the water levels went down far enough to traverse the caverns again. Even now I could hear water flowing in from the lake refilling whatever subterranean riverbed that had been parched for the past century. I wondered how far this system of caverns reached and if anyone besides Jadis and the Ettins had known about it. Caves were common enough in Narnia and the Dwarfs and Moles and other burrowing Animals had any number of mines scattered about the country. These caverns seemed vast, though the Ettins appeared to know where they were going. We walked for what felt like ages, passing from one chamber to the next. At times the Ettins had to stoop or even crawl to fit; their torches cast long shadows and gave me swift glimpses of the glories of these caverns. We passed mighty pillars and glittering formations, « 96 »

a forest of stalactites as thin as my finger that reached almost to the floor, rocks that looked like frozen waterfalls and a weirdly formed deposit that looked like a rust-red dragon curled up asleep on the path before us. The Ettins took no notice, unimpressed by the earth’s artistry, and I saw places where they had shattered the rock to force a path through or the flood from Lake Asher had broken delicate stone. The going was mostly level, though there were points we had to climb up or down and more than once Valerlan simply tossed me roughly over his shoulder rather than wait for me to pick a safe path. How deep we were I was certain not even the Ettins could guess. My much smaller size slowed them down and that generated impatience with Storr and his cohorts, Hatta and Haigha. They glared at me and muttered as if the situation was somehow my fault when they weren’t talking about how they killed Jett and the soldiers. I tried my best to keep from reacting, unwilling to give them that pleasure when in truth I wanted to scream and lash out at them and make them pay, then cry with grief at the senseless slaughter. Patience, I heard Oreius’ voice echo in my head. An opportunity will present itself. When it does, seize it. Patience. It did not come easily right now even though I had little say in the matter. A sudden shove to my back knocked me to the ground. I landed heavily in the thick, tacky mud, barely able to break my fall with my bound wrists. I let out a bark of pain that produced a stupid laugh from the Ettin behind me. “Hatta!” Valerlan snapped, furious. I looked up at the prince’s glowering face as I slowly, unsteadily regained my footing. Clearly he was as fed up with the mindless chatter and sadistic conduct of his underlings as I was and he was banishing the ringleader. “Be silent! Go scout ahead.” The Ettin gladly pressed on alone, his long strides eating up the distance until darkness swallowed him. Valerlan waited for a little while, letting Hatta get well ahead, letting me rest. I sat against a wall of stone and leaned my head back with a sigh, closing my eyes. It was not easy going at all, especially in the dark with my hands tied and my head aching. The route wound up and down rock formations that grew willy-nilly from the earth and everything was cold and damp. I was glad to see the mud persisted and we left a very visible trail. Still, I probably could have moved faster, but if Edmund was going to mount a rescue - and I had no doubt that he would - the slower I moved the more time I bought him and so I dragged my heels. Did Valerlan really think that no one would seek me out? He seemed highly intelligent, but perhaps this situation was beyond his experience. It couldn’t be every day he met a Son of Adam, nor yet took a king hostage, and it seemed to me he was simply reacting as events occurred. My capture - indeed, the whole attack - struck me as an impulsive act, not anything planned, as if bringing me before his father was just a footnote on his orders. “No more talking,” ordered Valerlan, then he added, “unless it’s from you.” Opening my eyes, I frowned. Why would I want to talk to him or him to me? Was he so isolated even amongst his own that he had to turn to his captives for stimulating conversation? I lifted my bound hands to rub the bridge of my nose. I was tired and hungry and my sore head kept me disoriented. The thought of food nauseated me, and I knew « 97 »

from past experience I had a mild concussion. It wasn’t quite enough to stop me, but it would make this forced march hard going. “Well, Son of Man?” he goaded. I dropped my hands heavily to my lap and glared at him, not in any mood to play along. “What would you have me say, Prince Valerlan?” “You seem an educated being. Surely you can converse on any number of topics.” “Aye,” I agreed, “but why would I speak to murderers?” “What is murder to you is to us food for the starving.” “You killed living, thinking beings without need. Your kin killed for the pleasure of it. I have naught to say to you.” Valerlan’s brow furrowed ‘neath his shaggy mane and he rose abruptly, yanking me to my feet. “Enough, you arrogant whelp. Move out.” Arrogant? Perhaps I was. Valerlan could call me whatever he liked, but I would not blithely pass the time talking with anyone who had so little regard for what Aslan had created. §‡§ Not quite an hour later we heard a distant sound echoing through the cavern. It was not water dripping or running, nor was it the wind. It sounded like an animal at first, and then as we drew closer I realized it was the sound of sobbing. “What is?” blubbered Storr, clearly frightened and drawing close to his brother. Valerlan gave him a reassuring touch. In the dim light of the torches I watched them with detached interest, wondering if Edmund and I ever looked so, for their affection and devotion was obvious. “It’s nothing to fear,” Valerlan said sternly. “There’s naught down here but us.” “What of the dead?” whispered Haigha. “The dead do not cry,” insisted Valerlan. Afraid of the dark were they? Simpletons or no, they were bullies and their cowardice revolted me. Impatiently I snapped, “It’s Hatta.” Valerlan hid his realization well. Storr and Haigha stared at me in shock, seemingly amazed that I should know any their names, and their prince smiled at his brother. “Who else could it be, Storr?” I was rather surprised to realize my hearing was far more acute then theirs, because to me the hiccupping sobs were distinct despite the echoes. I was more afraid of twisting my ankle than of the distant sounds and it must have shown because Valerlan immediately rallied the pair of Ettins. “Come! We’ll find Hatta and comfort his tears. Come brother! Come, Haigha!” He looked at me with the most curious expression. It was defensive, as if he expected me to be sneering (for surely were our positions reversed he would have done as much). My contempt for their sniveling I kept to myself, but I felt a strange sense of pity for these « 98 »

beings, Valerlan not the least among them. If what Valerlan had said was true they too were victims of the White Witch - willing victims, as Edmund had been, so they were not blameless. Be that as it may I still hated them and what they had done, but they still stirred pity within me - pity, but no forgiveness. I got tugged along with the leader, but I noticed the Ettins behind Valerlan moved with caution, not so confident now that they faced the unknown and I suspected Valerlan would not have been so bold but for my presence. The noise grew louder and more distinct and eventually a glimmer of light ahead revealed Hatta’s location. The Giant was kneeling, his back to us, and he carried on and on. “Hatta!” called Storr, alarmed. The brute turned and his motion revealed the source of his misery: the bloated and pale corpse of a drowned Giant wedged in a crevasse. I think it might have been female but it was hard to tell. Haigha and Hatta let out keening wails and rushed to join their fellow, their voices rising up in mourning. I watched Valerlan, waiting for him to act, and again he gave me that strange look as if my reaction to their emotional response mattered to him in some way or he wanted to see how a king and a Son of Adam dealt with such a situation. Hanging as far back away from them as the tether would let me I kept my face blank, defying him to put his grief and his loss above mine. “We’ll mourn our dead tonight,” promised Valerlan, touching his fellows on the shoulder sympathetically. The dullard Ettins sniffed and wiped their noses on their sleeves. Hatta gazed up at his prince in desperation. “We need to bury her!” “We don’t have the means or the time, Hatta.” Clearly burial was of the utmost importance to them because Hatta became despondent and tore at his hair, wailing in sorrow. Valerlan stepped away and came close to where I stood giving him an arch look. He frowned, clearly wondering what was on my mind, so I enlightened him. Gazing up at the darkness above, a night that would never know the beauty of stars or moon, I quietly asked, “Isn’t she buried already?” His dark eyes grew wide. Clearly the thought had never occurred to him. I glared at him, demanding, “Aren’t we all buried alive right now, crown prince?” He had no answer. I turned away to stare into the shadows, praying to those who loved me best. ¥¤¥

Chapter Five: Beaversdam . . . He announced his plan: to sail the swan’s road and search out that king, the famous prince who needed defenders. « 99 »

Beowulf, 219-221 §‡§ I was backed into a corner and my opponent knew it. He also knew to expect some wild bid for freedom as I tried to fight my way through his ranks of knights and heralds. My castle and queen were well defended. I just needed to eliminate his black herald . . . Blast. If I took his herald, his pawn would capture my knight. I frowned, glancing at my thoughtful opponent, and his dark eyes glittered in amusement as he watched me recognize how desperate my position really was. “How many moves, Athan?” I asked in a defeated monotone, sitting back. “Six, King Edmund,” said the Mountain Gorilla without a hint of smugness. I sighed. “Dame Utha got to you too, didn’t she?” The Gorilla chuckled at the mention of our flinty navigation tutor. He, along with both of his brothers, Ward and Natha, was her student right along with me and Peter. “Majesty, since she began teaching you and your brother chess, the good lady has issued orders throughout the palace and the army that neither of you is to be granted any quarter. I believe Peridan may well be the only chess player in the palace Dame Utha has not reached.” “She has no mercy,” I grumbled good-naturedly, not at all surprised that the army would cower before Dame Utha. I was certain they feared her far more than me or Peter. I could only hope that we got back to Cair Paravel before Utha extended her order to Peridan and his wife, recently arrived from Archenland and seeking to reestablish themselves in their ancestral home. “Another game before we turn in?” Athan asked. I began to reset the worn chessmen. “Only if you explain how you beat me this first round.” We had visited the Tree of Protection earlier that day and the Dryads had happily shown me how well the tree was progressing. A mere six months old, it was twice my height and already blazing with blue and green leaves. I was rather surprised that it wasn’t blooming, for when Peter had planted it at the start of this past Yule it had grown immediately and bore an apple within days. It took the Dryads explaining to me that Aslan’s breath had stirred so much life in the tree for me to understand. For the first time I realized why Aslan had been so reluctant to let me give the apple to Peter. He had known it would be years before the tree bore fruit again. There were two seedlings growing close by the tree that the Dryads pointed out, grown from the seeds of the silver apple I had eaten. Strangely, they looked more like normal apple trees than like their parent, but they were still pretty things and it was clear the Dryads treasured them. Since there was no rush to be anywhere other than where we were, I invoked royal privilege and spent several hours with the tree and its guardians and leaving my escort to entertain themselves. It was rather hard to explain the effect the Tree of Protection had on me. Perhaps the best thing to say it filled me with content. I got the same sensation from being in Lion Chapel back in Cair Paravel: a warm, serene feeling of being « 100 »

in a protective embrace, velvet paws and sweet breath and a thick mane that was as coarse as it was soft. Though we weren’t very far from Beaversdam, I opted to camp by the Tree. Mr. Beaver and I were not the closest of comrades and I didn’t want to spend more time alone with him than was necessary. Peter would understand, and I suspected Xati did, too, because she made no suggestion to move even though she knew I was meeting Peter at Beaversdam in the morning. And now I was losing yet another game of chess to Athan. The Gorilla was very patient as he backed up my game several moves and showed me what I should have done for a better offensive plan. He was even kind enough to let the game continue from where he corrected me, giving me a fighting chance. “I won’t tell Utha,” I promised, and he laughed. §‡§ There was no sign of Peter when we arrived at Beaversdam two hours past dawn the following morn. I was a little surprised at this because I fully expected my revoltingly punctual brother to be waiting for me. Actually, I was depending on Peter’s presence to spare me and Mr. Beaver from having to converse and that was why I had gotten here so late. We tended to be uncomfortable around each other despite our best efforts. Neither of us could quite forget that Beaver had regarded me with harsh suspicion from the start and he had very quickly and very publicly made my early conduct in Narnia known. He had done a lot of damage with a few deliberate words. I knew that he still felt guilty even if we had talked and settled the issue of my behavior and his. As with Mr. Tumnus, I remained polite and pleasant and distant. In response he was always on edge in my presence. His wife refused to acknowledge a problem might exist and treated me with the same fussy, loving, doting affection as my siblings and I couldn’t help but like her. After announcing myself and stepping inside their lodge to greet them, Mrs. Beaver chased us outside so she could cook breakfast for everyone. My entire troop and I had already eaten - we knew better than to rely on her for a decent meal. She commanded her husband to entertain me and ordered me not to get my feet wet. Mr. Beaver was giving me a tour of his dam (which, despite its completion almost two years ago, he was still working on; detailing, he called it) and, glad for something neutral to discuss, I was telling him about the progress on the port being built at Kellsalter when one of the Raven scouts gave a loud caw. We both looked up, waiting for him to speak. “King Edmund! King Edmund! Peter approaches!” I frowned, wondering at the lack of title. “My brother?” “No, Sire! Master Peter Fox! He’s alone!” A chill swept down my spine, and I cast Mr. Beaver an anxious look. Nothing about this could be good. Together we clambered up the slope from the river towards where the other Raven lookout waited atop the hill. Sure enough I could just make out the ears of the young Fox over the tall grass, moving towards us. Several Birds fluttered above him, calling out directions and encouragement. Of my brother and his guard there was no sign and I knew instantly something horrible had happened. « 101 »

“Oh, Aslan,” I breathed then set off to meet the Fox as fast as I could run. Mr. Beaver, built more for swimming than for running, lumbered and lunged beside me. “Peterkins!” I shouted. “Peterkins!” “King Edmund!” he yipped, jumping straight up in the air to see over the grass. He popped up again and spotted me (Foxes being nearsighted) and angled towards me. “King Edmund!” I dropped to my knees and caught him as he leaped into my arms. He was panting and dusty and some of last year’s burrs were tangled in his fur. I looked to the Birds, Robins and Nuthatches, and asked, “What happened, cousins?” “We don’t know, Majesty,” said a Robin. He hopped to and fro. “He said King Peter ordered him to find you. We’ve been guiding him since the Witch’s castle.” I looked down at the exhausted, trembling kit. “Peterkins, what happened?” “Perhaps indoors,” puffed Mr. Beaver, finally catching up. He gave me a knowing look, wary at the mere mention of Narnia’s former dictator. I nodded in agreement. “Thank you, cousins,” I said to the Birds. “Please, if you see or hear of anything strange get word to me immediately.” My own guard and Phillip had long since surrounded me and Mr. Beaver and now they escorted us to the Beaver’s lodge. I carried Peterkins, carefully working on freeing the burrs from his tail. He was well and truly worn out. It was too long a run for so small and Animal and whatever had driven him to it must have been horrible. “Tea, darling, we have company,” called Mr. Beaver as we entered the cozy house. I sat down at the low table as Mrs. Beaver clucked over the kettle. She let out a little, “Oh!” when she spotted Peterkins on my lap and reached for a saucer for his tea. “Peter,” I said urgently. “What happened? Where is my brother?” “Giants,” he said, his childish voice high-pitched and breathless with excitement. “Bad Giants! As many as I have paws. They were hidden in the old castle. We were waiting for Vimal to get back from the castle when they ran at us!” I felt panic grip my heart. I swallowed, ignoring the gasps from the Beavers and collecting myself before asking, “What did they do?” Excited to be telling the tale of his adventures, Peterkins bounced around on my lap. “They made Jett run away and then they hit her and she screamed and screamed and they hit her again. They chased King Peter. He used his sword on one of them! The Giant was right in his way. King Peter ran and the Giant tried to hit him with his club and King Peter cut his arm and his legs. Then they caught him and knocked him down flat and carried him off.” “What of the guard with him?” Even to my own ears my voice sounded dead. “Oh.” Peterkins deflated, his tail drooping. “The Giants hit them too, then dragged them all off, and Jett.” “Where?” « 102 »

“I don’t know. One of them said inside.” Inside. They must be in the castle. Why? Was there something there, or were they merely holed up to lick their wounds? “King Peter shouted for me to run away and find you. It took me all night but the Dryads and the Birds and Squirrels helped.” I hugged him close for a moment, my heart hammering in my chest and a sickness settling in my belly. “You did very well, Peterkins. Wait right here with Mrs. Beaver,” I ordered, standing and setting him down in my chair as Mrs. Beaver set a saucer of tea before him. “I want you to think hard, Master Fox, and remember everything you can for me. I’ll be right back.” I tapped Beaver on the shoulder to join me. Xati, the Centaur lieutenant, was waiting not a foot outside the door, Phillip right beside her. I was not surprised to see them. I waved all the guards and the two Raven scouts closer as Mr. Beaver closed the door. “Peter has been attacked and captured by Giants. Xati, who is on patrol in this region?” She thought a moment. “Kanell with a troop of eighteen soldiers and four support. They should be close to the Tree of Protection by now.” I looked at one of the scouts. “Tell, find them. Have them meet us . . .” I thought hard. “Have them meet us where the Great River leaves the Lantern Waste. We’ll be setting out very soon.” He flew off like a shot. One of my guard, a Bobcat named Flinder, quietly asked the question each of us was thinking. “Sire, do you know why they would take your brother?” “Other than hold him as a hostage, I don’t know. I’m less worried about their reasons than what they intend to do to him.” The appetites of evil Giants were well known and feared in Narnia. I looked to Xati. “Please saddle Phillip. We’re leaving as soon as I’m done speaking to Peterkins.” I cast a glance at the handful of soldiers that were escorting me. Besides Xati, Flinder, Shikov, and Athan, I had been accompanied by a Zebra named Ninia and a Faun archer, Gicelus. Tell’s sister, Po, waited for me above the door of the Beavers’ lodge. “Good Po, I need you to get word to Cair Paravel of what has happened. If you see any more armed parties on your way send them to Lake Asher. Be swift.” “I shall, Majesty!” she cried and took off in the opposite direction her brother had taken. I watched her go, my mind working hard and fast. Behind me I heard Ninia start to speak and Xati silenced her. I ignored them and concentrated on the problem before me. Giants had attacked Peter. Wicked Giants were in Narnia again. Since the Lantern Waste was close to Ettinsmoor and since the Ettins had supported Jadis’ reign, I had to assume it wasn’t the Northern Giants we were dealing with but their western cousins. That was not good news since from what I knew about the Ettins, they were more desperate and isolated than the Northern Giants, though not as numerous. I needed more information. I didn’t care a whit about their motivation for taking my brother. That I could deal with later, after I had Peter back safely. Nothing else mattered. I « 103 »

just needed to know more about the attackers themselves so I knew what we were up against. Peter. Dammit. Why did this have to happen to you? Why was it life was never as kind and simple as it should be for you? I could only pray that Peter’s natural stubbornness didn’t land him in more trouble. I wished I had been the one taken. I was far better equipped to deal with being held captive than Peter, having had extensive experience in the field, and Aslan knew he would mount a better and faster rescue than I could ever hope to do. Peterkins was much calmer when I entered the cozy lodge again. I sat down beside him and Mrs. Beaver set tea before me. “Now, Peterkins, I need you to tell me the story again. Speak slowly and tell me as much about the Giants and what they did as ever you can.” §‡§ Less than twenty minutes later I had not one, but two highly disgruntled subjects howling to join my party as I stepped out of the lodge. “Peterkins, you’ll stay in here with Mrs. Beaver.” I looked at her where she stood in the doorway and she nodded, smiling. The Fox let out a disappointed yowl despite the fact that the good lady stood right beside him. Before I could respond, Xati, who had been waiting at the door for me, turned her stern gaze upon the kit. “What kind of knight of Narnia will you make some day?” she demanded. “You would leave a lady undefended? You question the orders of your king?” She snorted, her eyes glittering with amusement. “Majesty, shall I deal with this miscreant?” As she spoke the little Fox deflated more and more until he was thoroughly ashamed. “No, Lieutenant, I believe Master Peter knows where his duty lies.” With a gesture I sent Xati on ahead and I knelt down to smooth his rust-red fur. “You listen to Mrs. Beaver and don’t cause her any grief. I need you and Mr. Beaver to stay here and keep her safe.” He sniffed and nodded. I couldn’t help but smile because he was the cutest of Animals, and I tried to gentle the blow to his fragile ego. “Ofttimes the most important duties are the least appealing, Peterkins. I need to know that you’ll be safe.” “I’d rather go with you,” he mumbled, leaning heavily into my hand. “I know. Promise me.” He muttered something to that effect and I planted a kiss on his head before he could see it coming and dodge. They entered the lodge as I started up the hill. Moments later the door banged open again. “What do you mean to say I’m not to accompany your troop, King Edmund?” bellowed Mr. Beaver at my back, racing up the slope behind me. “Just that,” I replied. I spoke a little sharper than was my wont, turning to face him. “We’re going now, we’re moving quickly, and frankly, Mr. Beaver, you are not as fast as a Horse or Centaur or even a Boar. We will not slow up for you.” « 104 »

Beaver stopped short, furious. “Then I’ll follow you!” “You’ll do no such thing,” I said, fully aware that he didn’t want to go for my sake but for Peter’s. I didn’t care that my brother was this gigantic rodent’s favorite among us. I did not want him to accompany us and my word was the final say on the matter even if he hadn’t the good sense to realize that yet. Since we had met the Beavers, Peter was the only one Mr. Beaver would listen to with anything approaching a serious demeanor. The girls he indulged and me he avoided when he could and tolerated when he had no choice, but Peter he adored. It made not the least bit of difference to me. I knew he would argue every decision I made not because he had a better plan, but because he didn’t trust me. “I’m a free Narnian and I’ll go where I choose!” He had dropped all pretenses at civilities, his old dislike and accusations evident in his unguarded expression. Down by the lodge I heard his wife let out a little gasp at the sight of him daring to raise his voice to me in anger. I kept my tone bland. “Then I suggest you choose to remain right here, sir, because if you defy my command and follow us you will be subject to arrest. You are not in the army and you are not coming.” His temper got the better of him for a moment and he positively bristled, pointing an accusing finger at me. “You - you arrogant little whelp! So this is what it comes down to! A little power and you’d risk your brother’s life just so you -“ “Beaver!” Mrs. Beaver rushed up and practically tackled him, yanking his hand down as she looked at the tense row of soldiers atop the rise. They hadn’t moved because I kept my hands well away from Shafelm but every eye was focused on me. She glared at her husband and hissed, “This is why he doesn’t want you along you stubborn old ass! You can’t be trusted to listen to the least order and Lion knows you always think you know better than everyone around you!” Turning to me, she tried to compose herself, her face full of remorse for Beaver’s appalling conduct. “My apologies for my husband, King Edmund. He’s distraught.” “He’s worried for my brother,” I answered, keeping my voice even and ignoring the fuming, shamefaced Beaver. He couldn’t even look at me. If he wasn’t distraught now he would be by the time she got done with him, of that I was certain. “Pray remind him he’s not the only one and watch over Peterkins for me, Mrs. Beaver. I’ll send word as soon as we have Peter safely back.” I turned away and walked up the slope to where Phillip waited. A swift glance at the little company told me everyone was ready to go and I nodded to Xati the moment I was in the saddle. “Move out!” she barked, leading the way at a swift trot. There was an air of anxiety and determination as we raced off. Beaver wasn’t the only one frantic over my brother’s fate and neither was I. ¥¤¥

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Chapter Six: Sun Dogs At times the war-band broke into a gallop, letting their chestnut horses race wherever they found the going good on those well-known tracks . . . Beowulf, 863-866 §‡§ It’s both amazing and galling how even short distances seem to stretch out forever when you’re in an almighty rush. From Beaversdam to the planned rendezvous point was a distance of about four miles, and from there seven or eight miles to Lake Asher. I wanted very much to simply race up to the lake and that despised castle and find my brother, but I knew we needed reinforcements before we stormed any keeps. I was finding it difficult to rein in my frustration at our pace. Boars can run quickly but only in spurts and Shikov slowed us down. In the end it made no difference because we had to wait for Kanell and his troop to arrive anyway. I could not keep still and Phillip and Xati knew better than to try to restrain or approach me as I paced impatiently in the tall grass. I knew Kanell well enough that he would get here as swiftly as possible, if not sooner, but waiting was excruciating. I scanned the woods behind me for any sign of soldiers and then steadied my sword as my quick about-face smacked the sheath against my thigh. The blade I bore now was my birthday gift from Peter as I had outgrown my first sword. I was still getting used to its weight and length. Instead of coming up with a new name I had simply dubbed this new sword Shafelm. Peter had laughed and referred to the gift as Shafelm II, or simply Two. It was a beautiful sword, slightly more ornate than the Shafelm it replaced, and I was inordinately proud of it. I had yet to use it in battle, though right now all signs pointed to its baptism in Ettin blood. I hoped. “King Edmund!” I looked up at the sound of flapping wings. Tell came to a landing a few yards away and hop-skipped over to me, bowing his head. “Tell! Did you find Kanell?” “I did, Highness. He is minutes behind me.” I sighed in relief, reaching down to collect the Raven. He hopped onto my wrist and I held him at eye level. “Well done. I sent Po to Cair Paravel. Have you heard anything new?” “No, King Edmund, though Kanell is responding with the swiftest soldiers in his troop. He’s given orders for the rest to catch up.” “We’ll do the same, then. These Giants have too much of a head start on us as it is.” He let out a loud caw as my ears picked up the sound of hoof beats and suddenly Kanell and a dozen soldiers burst out of the woods to the north. They spotted my tiny band immediately and within minutes the Centaur captain came to a halt before me.

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Solid black from head to tail, Kanell was huge even by Centaur standards. Despite the fact that I was growing steadily he never seemed any less colossal. Behind him, the soldiers and couriers were grim-faced and serious. I recognized most of them and knew they were veterans of Beruna. Wasting no time with formalities, Kanell just inclined his head to me and asked, “What word, King Edmund?” A few stragglers from Kanell’s troop and the rest of my band drew closer as I relayed what information I had gained from Peterkins. “Four Giants, Ettins I believe, were hiding in the ruins of the White Witch’s castle. They ambushed my brother’s party, killing his guard and his horse and most likely taking him hostage. They returned to the castle because they had wounded. Peterkins said the leader of them was well-spoken and said something to the effect that he owed Peter something and that they would bring him before the chief Ettin’s father.” “How?” wondered one of the lieutenants. Kanell cast him a look for speaking out of turn, but I waved off any reprimands. We had no time to worry over rank. “We have no idea. How they even got into Narnia without being spotted is still a mystery. Right now the only thing I care about is finding my brother as quickly as possible. We’ll deal with everything else after Peter is safe.” Everyone nodded in stern agreement. I swept my gaze over those assembled. “The fastest runners will press on ahead. Those who can’t keep up with the archers will remain in a group and follow as quickly as possible. Couriers will stay with each party in case of news or an attack. Athan,” I turned to the Gorilla, “take charge of the second group. Let’s go.” I will say this about Narnians - they rarely labor under false beliefs that they can do the impossible. There was not a word of grumbling or teasing as the smaller Animals and Dwarfs and anyone that wasn’t built for speed stepped aside. I was left with four Centaurs, eight Fauns and Satyr archers, a Zebra, a Bobcat, a Coyote, two Kites and a Raven. Without another word we set out at a brisk pace, fast but not so fast as to overwhelm. It would not do to arrive at the battlefield exhausted. I let my determination blanket any sense of dread I felt growing as we neared Lake Asher and again I had that distorted sense of the distance stretching out before me. The two Kites, Fulton and Piper, Tell, Flinder and Chaleen, the Coyote, pulled far ahead to scout out the path leading to the castle. We wound our way through the low mountains that rose up around the lake just as abruptly as they gave way to shallow, worn hills. We paused in the shelter of some trees, the last before the empty land around Lake Asher started, and waited for the scouts to return. I could see the half-melted towers of Jadis’ castle. Until I had learned better, the building had impressed me once upon a time. Now it looked sad and old and sick against an overcast sky and I could only wish it a swift death. Kanell, dark and massive, stepped up beside me. Even with me seated on Phillip he was taller than both of us combined. I was glad of his presence for I considered him the next best thing to Oreius. Swift little Xati lingered close as well. Peter must have told her to watch over me. These two, I knew, would follow and obey and only question orders when they had a better idea. I was grateful neither of them had suggested we wait for more « 107 »

troops. Such a delay would be intolerable and unwise and I was sure they both hoped I wouldn’t suggest such a thing, either. “They’ll return soon, Your Highness,” the captain said quietly. I nodded, afraid that if I answered my voice would come out in a squeak and fighting to keep my breakfast down. Something caught my eye and I looked to the east, astonished to see not one but three suns standing in a row across the sky, shining from behind a veil of thin clouds. “Look,” I said, momentarily distracted. I pointed. “What is that about?” Phillip, Kanell, and everyone that was close enough to hear followed my pointing finger to the odd phenomena. “Sun dogs, King Edmund,” said the Centaur. “The sun has gone a’hunting today.” He did not seem displeased and I wondered if this was another bit of Narnian lore I hadn’t heard of yet. Kanell caught my eye and explained, pointing at the smaller, reflected suns. “To the north runs the hound Gloriole, the Cloud Shepherd, and to the south runs his mate Halo, Mother of Rains. They are harbingers of revelation.” I frowned, not exactly certain what this could mean. “Is that good or bad?” “It’s not always an easy thing to tell, Sire. It all depends on what is revealed. By tradition, they bring it to the person who notices them first.” Wonderful. I couldn’t quite decide if I found that comforting or not. Settling back in the saddle, I frowned, watching the smaller orbs of light stubbornly fade. Just then Tell cut across my line of vision and made me blink. Gloriole and Halo were gone and the Raven swept forward to land on Kanell’s upraised fist. With a bob of his head he bowed. “King Edmund, we Birds have aught to report around the island. Flinder and Chaleen have found where the High King’s party was ambushed. They await you along the trail.” “Lead on,” I ordered. I had to force the words out. Phillip glanced back at me before he set off between the two Centaurs. I must have looked very close to being sick because he deliberately smoothed his gait. We picked a cautious route through the hills. Chaleen caught up with us, her shaggy coat all dusty, and guided us with her easy grace and quick steps. Close to Lake Asher I could see signs of a skirmish and I stared down rather than at the looming remains of the castle. We stopped amidst the destruction and the archers fanned out. The ground was trampled and torn up in spots and dark blood stained the dirt and rocks. There seemed to be so much of it. Was any of it Peter’s? Flinder emerged from the low brush dotting the area. His gold-green eyes were bright with anticipation as he padded towards the spot where I waited with Xati and Kanell. “Sire, this is where the fight took place,” said he. Pointing with his paw, he indicated the hills slightly to the south. “Someone bled up there. Jett, mayhap, since Peterkins said she ran away.”

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I looked to where he pointed. I had little training in tracking, but even I could tell something large had been pulled through the grass by something larger - there was a long smear of red through the flattened plants. Phillip, who disliked the smell of blood, shifted nervously. I knew the thought of any horse being killed - Talking or otherwise - was upsetting to him. “They weren’t exactly subtle,” he muttered. “They’re Ettins,” Xati responded in disgust. “Flinder, can you smell what was here?” “The stench of Ettin is covering the area, Lieutenant. The Apis cousins died over there. A Giant bled right here. Boris was slain closer to the lake, just as Peterkins reported. King Edmund, there is something you should see over here.” I dismounted and followed the Bobcat, the others trailing close behind us as he lead me towards the low bushes where he had been lying in wait for us. The ground was churned up so badly I was reminded of the main battlefield of Beruna. I paused to look at the impression of a Giant’s footstep. Sweet Lion, it was longer than my arm. “Your Majesty,” said the Cat, bringing me back to the here-and-now. I knelt beside the bush Flinder indicated, peering through the half-grown leaves. I saw a glint of red and gold, then pushed the branches out of my way. Rhindon. ¥¤¥

Chapter Seven: All That Was Found . . . The first to suffer were the people on the land, but before long it was their treasure-giver who would come to grief. Beowulf, 2309-2311 §‡§ I reached far forward and laid my hand upon the hilt of my brother’s sword, drawing it free of the earth and brush. A familiar, metallic ring broke the silence as the steel blade brushed against stone. Either I was suddenly weak or the sword weighed far more than I remembered, it seemed to take all my strength to lift Rhindon clear of where it had fallen. Holding it before me, I gazed up the sword’s length. Dried, brown blood smeared the tip and the length of the keen blade. I felt a swell of pride, glad that Peter had exacted some price for this affront. I wiped it clean on my tunic before thrusting the sword into my belt. Rhindon was longer than Shafelm and heavier, the cross-guard resting high and tight against my ribs, but I would carry it until I could return it to Peter. I turned back to Phillip and the assembled soldiers. Drawing a deep breath, I said the words I had never imagined myself speaking: “To the castle.” It was no easy task picking a route along the submerged causeway and I walked rather than rode for fear of Phillip slipping and falling. The icy water over the uneven stones reached « 109 »

almost as high as my knees at times, but Kanell stayed close by me every step of the way. We were silent, moving with weapons drawn, and when we gained the island Kanell motioned for Flinder and two of the archers to circle the castle. They were back in a few agonizing minutes, shaking their heads. They had nothing to report. “Stay back,” ordered the mighty Centaur to me, motioning the other three Centaurs and the archers forward. I stood waiting beside Phillip and the rest of the party, trying not to look at the towering entrance I remembered so well. Lucy had told me how the doors had been broken off their hinges by Aslan when he had freed the White Witch’s victims. I would have given anything to have the Lion beside me now as we stood in the castle’s shadow, but the fact that he wasn’t here told me that the means to save Peter lay within our own powers. At least that was what I kept telling myself. A Satyr poked his head through the doorway and motioned that the way was clear. The three Birds went first, swooping through the portal as we followed just behind them. Inside all was dirty and dark and mercifully empty of statues. I hurried over to Kanell. “King Edmund, you are our guide,” he stated softly. “Where would Giants go? Where would they easily fit?” I was struck mute as panic at being back in this place gripped me for a moment. Kanell’s question was unexpected but he was absolutely right. I was the only one in our party and one of the few beings in Narnia that had entered this place and left alive. There were equal parts of sympathy and understanding in the captain’s eyes as he turned to me, but I knew full well my feelings would not be allowed to interfere in this quest to rescue my brother, either by the Centaur or by me. “King Edmund?” Swallowing my anxiety, I nodded and pointed straight ahead. “The throne room is down there, through that arch,” I said in a voice that didn’t seem to be quite mine. So long as I didn’t have to step foot in Jadis’ private chambers, I was fairly confident I could keep myself from going to pieces until after we had Peter back. We moved forward and the entrance quickly gave way to the vast chamber where I had met Maugrim and where I had received my first hint of Jadis’ true nature. I held Shafelm in a white-knuckled grip as all around me, the archers remained tense and ready, arrows notched in their bows as they fanned out through the room. Suddenly Kanell gasped in horror, the last sound I ever expected to hear out of him. I started to turn his way, saw a smear of red and caught a whiff of death, but he seized me, his hand clamping around my right wrist and hand, locking my fingers around Shafelm’s grip and holding my sword arm well away from us both. His huge form blocked my view as he forced me backwards, removing me bodily from the room. “Don’t look, King Edmund!” Anything that could disturb Kanell so completely must be horrifying indeed. Only one thought occurred to me, though, and in a split second I went from apprehensive to a state of frenzy. “Peter! No! Peter! Let me go! Kanell, let me go! PETER!”

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I fought against his iron hold as he dragged me away from whatever he had seen. My shrill voice echoed through the room, a desperate scream of sheer terror that was echoed in the gasps of the soldiers. I had felt this rage before - the day I had been knighted, at Beruna, and in my most dreadful nightmares - and it always spurred me to move, to act, to fight. I had no word for the emotion gripping me - more consuming than loss, deeper than panic, controllable only through understanding. Struggling, I didn’t even know what I was doing or why or what I really wanted. I just tried to reach whatever it was that Kanell was protecting me from. The captain set me down hard on my heels, pinning me in place a few paces outside the throne room and letting the shock of pain bring me back to the moment. He held me by the elbow and wrist and he looked down at me sternly, locking his gaze with mine. “I don’t think it’s your brother, Sir Edmund, but if it is I will tell you. Wait right here,” he ordered tightly. He glared until I reluctantly nodded. Phillip, Xati and Ninia stood close by as Kanell released me. He gently cuffed me on the back of the head as was his habit when he was pleased with something I had done before he returned to the throne room. His reluctance to let me see the bodies had me confused, for I was no stranger to death. I stared at his back, my throat aching and my chest tight with strain as I exerted every effort to keep my word. What followed was the worst, longest, most agonizing ten minutes of my life, worse even than waiting for midnight every night for more than four months last year. Fear to match the horror I had felt in this very house once before seized me. I was forced to sheath Shafelm before I dropped it. I knew far too well what it was like to wait for your own execution. This was worse. Phillip stood nearby but he knew better than to try to get me to talk or be still. I rested my trembling hand on the Horse’s neck for a few moments before pushing off and pacing some more. I tried to turn my thoughts to Aslan, hoping the mere mention of the great Lion would soothe me, but my heart was beating too hard for calmness and it was all I could do to control my breaths to stop myself from hyperventilating. I paced and fidgeted and tried to keep from vomiting up the contents of my stomach. Not Peter. Not Peter. Not my brother. Please, Aslan, don’t let whatever they found be Peter. Let him be alive and waiting for me to reach him. Please, Aslan, I’m begging you. He’s your king. He’s my king. He’s my only brother. Don’t let him be hurt. Don’t let it be him. Please . . . he’s been hurt too often. On and on went my thoughts. Perhaps Aslan had made a mistake in telling me he always heard and answered my prayers because right now he would be listening to little more than a riot going on in my head. I winced when I heard someone being sick in the next room. That did not bode well and reminded my own nervous stomach it would love nothing better than to empty itself. I was getting close that, was a certainty. Sweat beaded on my brow despite the cool and I felt light-headed. Why me? Peter never got sick in a crisis. If Kanell didn’t get back here soon I

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knew I was going to do something drastic - scream or faint or go charging into the throne room regardless. “Majesty,” whispered Ninia. I whirled at the far point of my pacing to see Kanell returning. Dread and hope vied for supremacy in my breast as I rushed to him, trying to speak, trying to see the answer I wanted in his dark, expressionless face. He leaned far over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Your brother is not there, my king.” I gasped in relief, my knees suddenly weak. Kanell was the only thing that held me upright as I collected myself. I clung weakly to his arms, my head bowed. Not Peter. It was not Peter. That was not his blood. My brother did not lie among the dead in the next room. Xati passed me a water skin and I drank gratefully. I looked up at the captain, forcing my teeth not to chatter as I asked, “Who is in there, Kanell?” “All of his guard . . . and Jett.” Oh, no. Mighty Aslan, no. Oh, Peter . . . “Killed?” I asked, never realizing so gruesome a question could betray my innocence and ignorance. He pursed his lips. “Edmund, they have been devoured. There is naught but broken bones and hide left.” I gasped, clapping a hand over my mouth. Eaten? Eaten? That was the last thing I expected him to say. What gross cannibalism was this? “Show me.” “No.” “Captain . . .” “King Edmund, you have seen honorable death in battle and you have faced death with valor and courage few could match, but what’s in that room is murder. Trust me, Sire, you do not want to see it.” Peter had seen it. Of that I was certain. Horrible events had a way of entrapping my poor brother. I swallowed. Kanell was quite right, of course. The last thing I needed was more fodder for nightmares. “Where is Peter, then? Where have they taken him?” “The soldiers are checking. I suspect, Majesty, that there is far more to this castle than meets the eye.” I was about to make a reply when Ninia let out a little warning nicker. We both turned, hands poised over our weapons, at a sound from the entrance. Kanell placed himself between me and the doors. “Kanell?” called Athan, wise enough not to enter without leave. The remainder of our troop had caught up. « 112 »

“Come!” called the Centaur. The Dwarfs and Boar and other small Animals filed in behind Athan. Immediately the Gorilla approached us, bowing to me before asking of the captain, “What word?” “The High King’s guard and horse have been slaughtered,” the captain replied. “The king himself is missing and there are no signs that the Ettins are still here.” “King Edmund!” All eyes turned to Gicelus as the Faun hurried out of the throne room carrying something long and flat and painfully familiar: Rhindon’s sheath. He passed it to me and I gripped it tightly in both hands, somehow even more affected at seeing the sheath than the sword it housed. Phillip made a little sound of distress. “Where did you find this?” I asked. “Was it in the throne room?” “Nay, Sire, but in a hall off the dais.” Despite myself I flinched as if I had been struck. The hall lead to stairs. Go down and you were in an ice dungeon. Go up and you entered a chamber far, far worse than any prison. Sadly, I knew them both. I couldn’t look at any of my fellows, afraid of what I might betray with my expression. Despite my gloves my fingers felt icy cold as I drew Rhindon from my belt. I handed it to Gicelus to hold as I began to undo the straps holding Shafelm on my left hip. I moved my sword to my right side, then carefully strapped Rhindon’s sheath to my left hip. Kanell, teacher, soldier, and sword master, took Rhindon from the Faun and approached me. He slid the blade into the empty sheath, adjusted the straps, then rested his hands on my shoulders. I finally forced myself to look up at him and as I did so I wondered where I had ever found the temerity to challenge him to a sword fight. His eyes were full of understanding. “Don’t try to draw them both at once,” he advised softly. “Rhindon, then Shafelm.” That was all, but I needed nothing more. Until I could return it to Peter, Rhindon was now my primary weapon. The weight was as reassuring as Kanell’s advice because he hadn’t ordered me not to use my brother’s sword. He just wanted to make certain I didn’t hurt myself in my zeal. Lion knows I’d certainly done so in the past. I nodded to Kanell, ready now for what needed to be done. Drawing a deep breath, I stood straight and tall and resolute as I turned to Gicelus. “Show me exactly where you found this sheath.”

Chapter Eight: Caverns Measureless to Man . . . under the crag. No coward path. Hard by the rock face that hale veteran, a good man who had gone repeatedly into combat and danger and come through, saw a stone arch and a gushing stream that burst from the barrow, blazing and wafting « 113 »

a deadly heat. It would be hard to survive unscathed . . . Beowulf, 2541-2548 §‡§ Kanell and Xati kept to either side of me and I did not even try to look to the side to see the pile of drying bones and hide. I held my breath at the stench of blood and waste as we followed the Faun to the steps to where Jadis’ throne was little more than a melting chunk of ice. I did not want to be disrespectful to the dead, but my concern was for the living and if I lingered over the devoured remains of Peter’s guard then their valiant sacrifices would all be in vain. That, and most likely I would be embarrassingly sick. Never would I have imagined that my time in Jadis’ company could be put to good use, but I was the only one here who knew my way around what remained of her castle. Rhindon’s sheath banged against my thigh as I scaled the dirty steps, a constant reminder of what had been taken from me. We moved past what was left of the throne and entered the hall beyond. Without Jadis’ magic to give it light it seemed old and dull. Gicelus pointed out where he had found the sheath a few paces down the hall. There was a lingering foulness in the air not entirely confined to the stench of death. I smelt sweat and unwashed bodies. Xati saw my expression. “Clearly they don’t bathe.” “The scent goes down this corridor, Kanell,” rumbled Shikov, as keen on the trail as any hound. Xati snorted, plainly of the opinion that calling it a scent was coming it pretty high. “To the dungeons,” I said in a voice that was little more than a whisper. “Come.” I could not help but rush past the stairs leading upwards and I had to force my legs to move as I lead the way to the stairs going down to the dungeon. The stink of Ettin persisted, mingled with a smell of mud and rot. The soldiers pushed their way to the front, blocking me with their own bodies. “Shikov, Chaleen, Flinder,“ ordered Kanell. I watched with burning anxiety as the three brave Animals picked their way down the stairs. I had a terrible vision of Ettins lying in wait for them, but Kanell would not have sent them thus if he thought they were stepping into danger. This part of the castle was older than the rest and the steps were made of stone, not ice. Everything was wet and dripping as the structure melted away. A draft of air moved upwards from the dungeons carrying with it a smell of decomposed vegetation and the rotten egg stench of mud. I frowned. What was down there that could smell so putrid? “Were there any other dungeons besides this one, Majesty?” Kanell asked softly. I shrugged. “Not that I got to see.” We all tensed as Chaleen returned, her paws muddy. “Majesty! Kanell! The dungeons are empty as far as we may tell, but . . . this you must see!” She lead the way back down. The long, steep steps caused Kanell some consternation and he picked a very cautious path. I waited at the top of the stairs as Xati followed him. “Pauton,” she called to one of the Dwarfs, “bring torches!” « 114 »

With a faint grumble one of the Red Dwarf archers hurried back in the direction of the throne room as Xati backed down the stairs. Going up was not a problem for them, but going down such shallow stairs took some maneuvering. If either Centaur lost their footing the person waiting at the bottom would be flattened. Finally the pinto mare reached the lower level where she was swallowed by the darkness. Several long minutes passed before Pauton returned with a burning brand in hand and several additional torches stuffed under his arm. The other archers took the torches to illuminate our way as we descended. I moved with care, half-expecting to feel the prod of a whip in my back or to hear the sneering voice of Ginarrbrik. The odd, echoing sounds I heard were much like laughter in a way, mirthless and pointless. Had Peter felt a similar unease? There was a thick layer of mud filling the wide hall. It lead to a very large, high room where prison cells lined two of the walls. I thought back, vaguely remembering a corridor standing opposite the stairs leading deeper into the pit. Flinder and Shikov stood at the far end of the chamber not far from the cell where I had first met Tumnus, sniffing at the darkness down the hall. “Look!” Pauton moved forward, holding his torch high. There were the signs of large creatures passing through pressed deeply into the mud - huge boot marks and, less distinct, imprints of feet bundled in cloth leading across the floor to the hall beyond. The heavy doors which I vaguely remembered opening to the hall were gone and the footprints vanished beneath a pile of rubble a few yards down. The passage had been collapsed, blocking the way. “This is fresh,” Pauton declared in a tone of voice that broached no argument. One did not argue with Dwarfs about matters of stone and earth any more than one argued with Centaurs over the movement of the stars and planets. “How fresh?” I demanded. Two more Red Dwarfs pressed forward, torches in hand as they examined the mess with expert, critical eyes, running dirt between their fingers and gazing up at the remains of the arched roof. “No more than two days, Your Majesty,” said the youngest Dwarf. “Scarce more than one!” exclaimed the Dwarf next to him with a disgusted snort, shaking his head as if at a greenhorn. “Hark!” said Pauton, raising a hand for silence. We froze in place, straining our ears and hardly daring to breathe. I could hear a faint noise, what my imagination had mistaken for laughter before. “What is it?” “Water, King Edmund,” Pauton said softly. “Just over twenty yards ahead I’d say and . . . running in the open.” His fellow Dwarfs nodded, their red beards waggling in a rare moment of agreement.

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“How fresh are those prints? As fresh as this fall?” I indicated the pile of roughly cut stones filling the hall. They swarmed down off the rubble and bent low over the footprints, holding their beards out of the mud and muttering to themselves. They conferred, had a brief, whispered argument which Pauton won, then they all nodded again. “We believe so, Your Majesty.” I pointed at the mass of rocks and dirt and refuse. “Clear that hall.” §‡§ One of the marvelous things about Dwarfs - and they are remarkable beings in more ways than I can list - is the fact that no matter where they go in Narnia, they have cousins nearby. Family is extremely important to them and they can spend a great deal of time and beer detailing their heritage all the way back to the dawn of Narnia. (I know this because last year I had to listen to the genealogy of the Black Dwarfs working the Blue River Smithy time and again - a very dull litany after two generations and one repetition). They delight in being called upon to help their kin no matter how distant the relationship might be and don’t really consider assisting a family member to be work. So it was that two of the three Red Dwarf archers with me were able to call upon relatives in the Lantern Waste. Fulton and Piper were sent out and within two hours - during which time we began to clear what stones we could - a dozen or more local Dwarfs showed up with tools and food and boundless enthusiasm. They heard the tale of the attack upon Peter and his party, grew furious, got over it, and set to clearing the hall with a vengeance. More Dwarfs showed up as word spread, even some Black Dwarfs who did not want to be left out of things. The soldiers and I cleared out of their way, knowing we would only hinder the crews, though the Dwarfs did call upon the Centaurs for the heaviest hauling. I could not, would not stay in the castle as we waited. I chose instead to walk around and around the little island for hours on end, nursing a headache and a nervous stomach. I heard Kanell order some of the soldiers to sort the heap of bones and hide as best they could and wrap the remains in blankets so they could be transported for burial. At his request I stayed well away until that gory task was complete. Part of me felt guilty, as if I was somehow being disrespectful to Vimal and his troop by not helping, but the thought of the task nauseated me and I decided it was better to stay away than be sick. Phillip pointed out in one of my countless circuits past him that I was a king even before I was a soldier, and just as we stood aside to let the Dwarfs work, at times I had to stand aside and let the soldiers work. Finally, exhausted and worn out by too much thinking, I settled down on the far side of the island and stared at Lake Asher, idly collecting rocks and throwing them into the water to watch the splashes. I had no fear of hitting any Naiades - the water here was poisoned, not Divine. I had not known this was a lake when I first came to this place; it was far more appealing now than in the winter, even if it was a lonely spot. I looked to the sun and with a shock I realized it could not have been more than two or three hours past noon. Only this morning I had been joking with Phillip and Athan as we ate breakfast before traveling on to Beaversdam to adventure ourselves upon Mrs. Beaver’s cooking. So much had happened « 116 »

in a remarkably short amount of time. It was like being in battle - time takes on a new meaning when you are fighting for your country and your life. Or for your brother. “Majesty?” I looked up as Athan deftly climbed down the rocky slope to join me by the water. The Gorilla bowed and said, “Kanell has sent me with a message for Sir Edmund How.” I grumbled and smiled despite myself. An understanding had been struck up with me and Peter on one side and Oreius, Celer, and Kanell on the other as soon as we began training under the Cair’s three sword masters. When we were on the training grounds or in the classroom, Peter and I were knights and subject to the command of our general and the two captains. That authority had gradually been expanded to cover times of necessity or emergency, and our three teachers established a crisis or a need to give us orders by the simple act of addressing us by our chivalric titles. It was not a thing they misused or abused - such conduct was not in their nature - so Peter and I knew to listen when we were thus addressed. With a quiet sigh I asked, “What word for Sir Edmund, good Athan?” The Gorilla smiled faintly. “You must eat, King Edmund. Kanell has ordered all the soldiers to stand down save for those on watch. The Dwarfs are working with good will and they will alert us to their progress. So the captain bids you rest and stop wearing a path around the island.” “I can’t.” Athan’s intelligent eyes softened and I knew the answer was his, not the Centaur’s. “Then try, good my king. Please.” I sighed, beaten. “I’ll be over in a few minutes, Athan, I promise.” He took my meaning and with a bow he moved away, silent and graceful for one so large. I watched until he was out of sight, then turned back to look at Lake Asher. The empty, unknowing depths reflected the clouds above and a cool breeze sent a shiver down my spine as I stared at the watery desert. Where was Peter? Why had they taken him? Was he a hostage? Their dinner? Was he even still alive? Any ransom short of my sisters I would gladly pay the Ettins and consider it well spent to get him back. The past year and a half had taught me what was truly valuable and my family’s love was priceless. Without realizing I was moving I drew Rhindon - a much longer stroke than I was used to even with Shafelm II - and when I knelt down with the sword inverted before me it was too long for me to rest my head against the cross-guard as was my habit when I bowed down to pray, so instead I rested my head against my forearms. I was too overwrought emotionally to form a coherent prayer. Instead a single word echoed through my mind: Aslan. Once upon a time hearing that name had left me unmoved. I was glad those days were long gone. I felt a familiar calm sweep over me and a memory of being cradled in velvet paws. “Aslan,” I whispered. What did I want to say, to ask? There was too much to articulate. I wanted Peter. I wanted Narnia to be safe. I wanted the Dwarfs to work faster. I wanted to « 117 »

undo the past few days. I wanted to know all that had happened and I was afraid to know. I wanted the Ettins to be punished and the dead laid to rest with dignity and I wanted to be far, far away from this accursed place and safely home in Cair Paravel with my sisters and brother. There was so much. How to say it? I drew a deep breath, smelling the moist breeze and grass. “Aslan,” I began anew, “please help me to return this sword to its rightful owner.” I kissed the Lion pommel, then rose and with a little difficulty slid Rhindon back home in its sheath. There. That was the sum and total of all that I really wanted. §‡§ I came to my senses and woke up as I was climbing down the steep stairs to the dungeon once again. Phillip had roused me just a few minutes before midnight from a heavy, dreamless sleep - never an enjoyable prospect for any of the parties involved - to tell me the hall was cleared. I had no memory of having fallen asleep and for a few moments I had no idea of where I was. I had not understood what Phillip was saying at first, nor would I believe I was still wearing my boots, but he had no mercy and nudged me along with his nose through the Witch’s castle to where Gicelus waited at the foot of the dais, holding a lantern and ready to escort me. Like my dear siblings the Horse was undeterred by my waking attitude, and I swear the army found it amusing. All my snapping and growling was met by suppressed humor. I was astonished by the number of Dwarfs working in the dungeon. There must have been thirty or more Red and Black Dwarfs setting to the task I had given them. What was amazing was that they were getting along - normally the two clans derived great pleasure out of provoking each other. I wasn’t sure if Xati had threatened the lot of them or if they were united for the sake of their High King’s rescue. I didn’t care either way, so long as I figured out where the Ettins had taken Peter. Great piles of stone and refuse filled the empty rooms and even the mud had been cleared away. I couldn’t help but glance off to the right and I was pleased to see my former cell was completely filled with muck and rock. By the light of torches and lanterns Kanell looked like a gigantic shadow as he stepped out of the hall and moved forward to meet me. Pauton was right beside him carrying a lantern. They both gave me abbreviated bows. “This way, Sire,” said the Dwarf, and I followed him into the newly cleared hall. Timbers sheared up the walls and parts of the roof. At one point the roof opened up to the room above. Pauton shook his head at the collapsed floor and muttered, “Poor workmanship,” before continuing. As we advanced the sound of running water grew louder and louder until The roughly cut stones of the floor ended abruptly even though the corridor did not. Several Dwarf workers awaited me with torches and lanterns held aloft so I could see what they had found. I felt Kanell’s hand clamp down on my sword belt as I leaned far forward to see. The earth and foundation had been eroded away to bedrock, exposing a natural cave beneath the castle. To my left a jagged tunnel cut upwards at a sharp angle through building and ground alike, and through this tunnel poured a constant stream of water. I followed the water with my eyes as it ran off to the right. The angle lessened gradually, still following the « 118 »

wide tunnel downwards into the darkness. I could hear the water echoing as if in a large underground chamber, though my eyes could not penetrate the darkness, and a faint, stinking breeze stirred my hair. The tunnel must have opened in the castle or . . . Under the lake. I gasped quietly, the implications of this hitting me. I took a flaming brand from one of the Dwarfs and in one sharp move threw it with all my strength off to the right, into the draft. I strained against the sword belt and Kanell’s hold to follow the flickering point of light. I had a fleeting glimpse of rough stairs, pillars like melted rock, and a vast cavern before the torch hit the mud and sizzled out. My mind awhirl, I stared at the spot, unable to even stand up yet. Here were so many answers all at once. This was why the level of Lake Asher had dropped - either the door had opened below the level of the lake when it was frozen or the water had eroded the masonry. Whatever the case, the Ettins must have opened a door and let loose such a torrent as to flood these rooms and caves. What a shock, to be met by a wall of water instead of a wall of ice! I wished it had drowned the lot of them. This must have been the route the Ettins used to enter and leave Narnia unseen. This must be where they carried Peter. Kanell hauled me back by the belt, setting me down right beside him. I barely noticed. I was too busy thinking. “Has anyone been down there?” I demanded. “Yes,” said the Centaur, well aware of what I wanted to know. “There are footprints in the mud that match the ones we saw in the dungeon.” I stared into the darkness, thinking of Peter engulfed in that cold, unrelenting night. Was he as frightened as I was right now? Most likely not, Peter was not easily frightened. I knew he was as determined as I. Something in my memory stirred. Something about caverns and the deep networks they formed . . . “Could these caverns reach all the way to the Northern Marches or Ettinsmoor?” One of the Dwarfs, a Black Dwarf, let out a little huff. “Majesty, for all we know these caverns could reach as far as the Aslan’s Country.” At my glare he added hastily, “But yes, King Edmund, they could. There are caverns under the Dancing Lawn that reach as far as Pillar Wood.” That was all I needed to hear. “If they went this way, we’re going, too.” Turning on my heel, I strode down the hall. “Kanell, ready the troop! Lay in supplies if you haven’t already. We’ll bring only the soldiers capable of climbing, the rest will remain here. Gicelus, fetch me Tell, Fulton, and Piper. Quickly!” I went no further than the throne room in order to say goodbye to Phillip. He knew before I spoke what I was going to say and do; he was sullen and unhappy at being left behind even though he understood my reasoning. Around us the soldiers and Dwarfs scurried about and I realized they had anticipated my orders, probably before I even woke up.

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The two Kites and the Raven I had summoned flew into the throne room and perched on a ledge close to where I stood with Phillip. They waited for me to be done speaking to my friend, but I gestured the Horse to join us. “Hear this, Phillip,” I ordered. I looked to the couriers. “Good Birds, I have a mission for you.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Nine: The Luxury of History Hence, understanding is always best and a prudent mind. Whoever remains for long herein this earthly life will enjoy and endure more than enough. Beowulf, 1058-1061 §‡§ As I trudged behind Valerlan’s broad back - keenly aware of the three Palish Giants behind me and the hungry, hostile looks they cast my way - I wondered at what drove the first daring soul to explore so deeply into this maze of caverns. Were they fleeing some enemy or was it merely curiosity that drove them to search as deeply as they could until the unknown became familiar? Had any Ettin ever looked upon these colored minerals and seen beauty or were these paths merely the means to an end? How long had they been venturing into Narnia? Why? I considered my plight with each step that carried me further and further away from Narnia and my family. At every opportunity I studied the mass of knots securing the leather rope pinning my wrists. I had to conclude - albeit unwillingly - that there was no hope of untying my hands for the leather had swollen and the knots were solid. It was damp here beneath the earth, with underground streams and a veritable rain of water dripping down from above and slowly building up the mineral deposits. The rope could only be cut away and I doubted Valerlan would let me get close to anything sharp enough to sever leather. “Hatta!” Valerlan’s voice rang out through the pillared chamber. There was a grumble from behind and the Ettin backed off before he could launch another childish attack upon me. Hatta in particular took great pleasure in prodding or tripping me and Valerlan kept a sharp eye upon him. The unnecessary distraction infuriated the crown prince. “Touch him again, slow us down any more, or harm my father’s prize and you will regret it.” I already did regret it, and Hatta just tried to be subtle in tormenting me. Haigha was likewise amused and Storr was torn between his peers and his brother. Even if I did manage to escape, I had no idea of how to get out of here or what markers the Ettins were following. I looked, but I saw nothing to set our directing apart from other caverns branching off from here. I had no food, no fire, no means of seeing my path and « 120 »

no idea of where my path lay anyway. Given the chance to escape I would take it, for I far preferred to risk the unknown than the known in this particular case, but Valerlan had his prize and he had no intention of losing me. It was a very strange sensation to think that my freedom had been taken away so completely and I was forced to depend upon the charity of my captors for the most basic necessities. Never before in my life had I been in such a helpless position. Even when I faced the Lord of Mists, the Unseelie King, I had been very far from vulnerable. This was quite a frightening feeling, though I did my best to hide my reaction to the situation. I could not lash out physically or verbally out for fear of rousing Valerlan’s volatile temper - I did not need to compound my injuries and he was quick with his fists. He had drawn his punch when he knocked me out and his full fury would kill me. I suspected if anyone was destined to be struck it was Hatta, but that didn’t mean I wanted to tempt fate. I had no idea how long we walked after Valerlan finally pried his fellows away from the corpse of the drowned Ettin, but a lack of food and rest was rapidly catching up to me. Tack on a headache and the constant stench of unwashed bodies and you had the perfect formula for misery. How long had we been down here? Was it day or night? Did Edmund even know what had happened to me yet? Had Peterkins found Edmund? I knew Phillip would hold Lake Asher responsible for this situation. Perhaps there was something to the Horse’s theory that water couldn’t be trusted around me. I couldn’t recall anything I’d done to be provoking, though. I could picture my brother’s reaction to the news that I had been attacked and seized: that frown he never realized he made, the hard look that came to his eyes, the shift in body language from alert to threatening. He would speak in clipped tones and sharp words, unconscious of the change until his goal was achieved. As I thought about it I realized how dear that shift was to me and how much I relied upon it to offset my own moods. We brought balance to each other - when I got angry, he grew calm; when his eyes narrowed and his expression grew dark, I was serene. Oreius said that on the rare occasions when our reactions aligned the very foundations of the world trembled. Unable to see well and worn out by being forced to match their long strides, I stumbled, hissing in pain at stubbed toes. The trio behind me laughed as if watching something suffer was a delight to the eyes. For them the only thing more entertaining would to be the ones causing the pain. “We’ll stop here to rest,” Valerlan announced after getting a good look at me in the wane torchlight. “Hatta, Haigha, build a fire.” They obeyed gladly enough, though clearly they were confused. I suspected the Ettins were capable of walking much further, but I think Valerlan recognized that I had reached the limit of my endurance for now. Exhausted, I settled down as far away as that increasingly annoying tether would allow. There was no more mud here - just the stuff clinging to my boots and clothes - and hard, cold stone and dripping water. Soon a fire crackled before us, the damp wood gathered from the flood sputtering and popping and casting little heat. The flames illuminated the cave and sent shadows dancing. The roof was covered with stalactites as thin as reeds and there were graceful veils of pale stone hanging up above. It was all so very beautiful and I would have paid anything never to have seen any of it.

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They pulled out from their packs horrid-smelling fish that did not seem well dried and some type of flat bread. They set to with noisy gusto that made my stomach turn. I was ravenous but I had no desire to eat anything of their making. I stared into the fire, my thoughts and my eyes becoming heavy and dim, and I longed for sleep. Something was dropped in my lap and I roused with a start. I looked down to see a large hunk of the bread, then up at Valerlan. I was too weary to hide my surprise as he stood before me and handed me a piece of hard, yellowed cheese the size of my own fist. “Eat,” he ordered. Unwillingly I obeyed, my bound wrists making the motions awkward. The bread was chewy and gritty and bland, the cheese very salty and bland. Eaten together, they were perfectly awful. I thought longingly of the field rations I had carried in Jett’s saddlebags: dried fruits and spicy meats and the hard, crisp seed cakes which Edmund and I both loved. For the first time, roasted crow and stewed nettles seemed appealing. “I would like some water, please.” My voice was scratchy and the fact that I spoke at all surprised them. Valerlan held out his own wooden cup and I displayed my bound hands. There was no way I could hold it thus; the cup was the size of a bucket. Realizing, he smirked and filled the cup with water from a skin, holding it before me so I could lean over to drink as if out of a pool. The water tasted stale and mineral-heavy, but I drank my fill. “Thank you.” Manners, it seemed, were as alien to them as bathing and the three simpletons laughed as I acted in a civilized manner. Valerlan said nothing, but I knew he was observing me and how I might respond to their jibes. I said nothing, ignoring them completely. Their own gross behavior would not keep me from conducting myself as I saw fit, not just as a king but simply as Peter Pevensie. I also hoped they wouldn’t keep me from sleeping because I was well and truly knocked up. Luckily I had been blessed with the ability to drop off just about anywhere and under any conditions; this was not the worst bed I had ever laid upon. I don’t know how long I was asleep, but a low keening sound roused me. I lifted my head, sitting up partially. Storr was making the moan, his grief evident as he and his two fellows mourned for the drowned Ettins. I listened with vague interest, hoping to drift off again, as they whispered the virtues of the dead. The lists were short and the virtues questionable. “She was Hatta’s niece,” Valerlan said softly behind me. I turned and looked at him where he leaned against a pillar of smooth stone, watching his brother and subjects and now me as well. I wondered that he wasn’t taking part in this ceremony. “The Bulls they killed were first cousins,” I replied, sliding my legs beneath me and sitting up. “The Satyr was a father. The Civet was newly married.” He shot me a quick glance then looked back at his fellows. He shrugged. “We live. We die. If we were loved, we are mourned. If we were despised, we are celebrated. We’re still dead.” I frowned as this pessimistic view. “Then perhaps what matters is how we’re remembered.” He snorted. “If we’re remembered. If there remains enough of your people left to have the luxury of remembering.” « 122 »

Something Mathe, the old Faun that taught me and Edmund rhetoric, had once said came to mind. ‘What are we, King Peter, if not the sum of all we have seen and done and learned? We are not wise until we have passed on what we know and we have not lived until we have loved.’ “You consider history and remembrance a luxury?” “You would, too, little king, if you stood as close to desperation as my people. Look at them. That is what has become typical of my race.” The trio of gibbering, sobbing Ettins clung to each other, rocking too and fro as they chanted the names of the dead. They seemed to be egging each other on so, taking their display to the extreme as they tried to outdo one another. They were pathetic and their overblown show of personal loss made a mockery of any real grief. Yet . . . something told me they thought this was what was expected of them. It was very odd and rather like watching children showing off to each other. “To think that our forefathers built Harfang.” Valerlan sighed and shook his head. That surprised me. I had never seen the Giantish city, just artists’ renditions of it in books in the Cair’s library. I had never really given much thought to its origins, having quite enough to occupy my time as I helped run a country. Still, I could see why he was so eager to converse all the time. The opportunities for intelligent conversation - even conversing with someone that despised him as I did - must have been few and far between. Valerlan must have been terribly lonely all his life, surrounded as he was by crude simpletons. I feared I understood him better than I wanted to, probably better than he would ever understand me. “Ettins built Harfang?” “Can you imagine the Northern Giants constructing anything more complex than a fire?” he snapped bitterly. “My people built it and the Northern Giants in their jealousy invaded and drove us out of our own home. We were forced westwards, where we established another kingdom . . . if you can call it such in so blighted a land.” Well at least Narnia wasn’t to be held responsible for their exile as well. Not yet, anyway. “What happened?” I asked. He understood that I was talking not about Harfang, but about his entire race. Smoldering and angry at fate, Valerlan glared not at me, but into the distance. “History,” was all he said. Chapter Ten: Down to a Sunless Sea ‘. . . where cold streams pour down the mountain and disappear under mist and moorland.’ Beowulf, lines 1359-1361 §‡§ Within an hour of walking through the damp, dripping, cold, muddy caverns I knew that if we didn’t find Peter soon and get him to where it was warm, dry, and civilized my brother was going to develop pneumonia once again. Peter got pneumonia with the same ease and « 123 »

regularity that Susan got new shoes. He had been doing so well in Narnia up until this past Yule, at which time he was totally justified in growing ill. I hated to think of him getting sick - I was already frightened enough for him having been captured by the Ettins, I didn’t need the added fear that fever and endless coughing would bring. Besides, Silvo and Martil had made me sleep in my own room when Peter was so sick. While I could understand their reasoning I did not want to be separated from my brother. Not then, not now. My reasons were my own, but they were very good ones. We followed the Ettins’ trail easily enough. I had to conclude that they felt the collapsed hallway would be a sufficient deterrent to send us slinking away because they made no attempt to hide their passage. Granted it would have been difficult regardless because everything was covered with thick, heavy, stinking mud, but they didn’t even try. We were a party of seventeen. Besides myself there was Kanell and Xati, neither of whom even considered obeying my rule that only those capable of climbing should come, Athan, the three Red Dwarf archers, two Satyrs, three Fauns, Flinder, and a Ring-tailed Lemur from Kanell’s troop rounded out the regular soldiers. Shikov also came, a decision I hesitated over until Xati drew me aside and informed me the Boar was a renowned tracker who possessed a better sense of smell than the finest Hound. Swayed by her assurance, I let him come. At the last minute before venturing into the caverns I had heard my name being called. I had looked up as two Black Dwarfs, grumpy and tough and dangerous, pushed through the crowd. They carried loaded packs and what seemed to be enough equipment for an army. Standing before me, they planted their hands on their hips as if in anticipation of a fight as the first one had said, “We’re going with you.” “This is a military expedition,” I replied. The second Dwarf snorted derisively. “We’re Sons of the Earth. No one knows her or her ways better than we do and we’ve wielded our axes in defense of Narnia before.” “Besides,” added the first, “you still owe our cousin several casks of wine and at least three weeks of labor.” I should have known they would drag my promise to visit Brickit into this. “Three weeks at the most, sir. What are your names?” “Brant,” grunted the first. “Barin,” said the second. “There is to be no arguing and you are to obey me and the officers. Is that understood?” They nodded. I returned the gesture and motioned them to join us. I had looked to Kanell to see if he would say anything. The Centaur cast the newcomers a long, assessing look but did not protest their addition to our party. Then I addressed the volunteer work force. “You all have my undying gratitude for the service you have rendered your kings this day, cousins. I will not forget what you have done. Until we return with my brother, I bid you pray that Aslan stands between Peter and danger.”

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“And between you and danger, King Edmund,” grumbled one of the Black Dwarfs with an emotion that bordered on concern. I smiled at him. “Aye, sir. He’s welcome to stand there, too.” So we were seventeen in all. At a glance it seemed a large number, but when I considered the fact that our opponents were wicked Giants we seemed a pitiful few. I prayed to Aslan that determination and sharp minds would rule the day. Kanell left those behind in the charge of an elderly Satyr lieutenant. I cast Phillip a glance of farewell, and my friend’s reassuring nod was the last thing I saw before I entered the caverns. They were as vast as they were fantastic. The light from our torches and lanterns revealed marvelous formations of stone rising up from the floor or reaching down from the ceiling. The colors were rich and earthy, the sounds were haunting as water dripped and ran and roared all about us. Part of me was awed by the sheer beauty of the place as the earth formed herself into art, but a much greater part of me hated every moment here. It wasn’t worth Peter or his health to find this place, though the Dwarfs were stunned into speechlessness at the scope of the chamber immediately beneath the castle, and a quiet Dwarf was not a thing to be questioned but enjoyed. We picked our course carefully and immediately Brant and Barin proved their worth by helping to find routes that we with our comparatively tiny size could follow without losing the Ettins’ trail. More than once we came to massive walls of stone jutting upwards or downwards and there was nothing for it but to climb. The hours Peter and I had spent scaling the cliffs along the shore at Cair Paravel were paying off. I could imagine the Ettins surmounting the barriers with ease, but it was another story for us. Kanell and Xati had the most difficulty, but at the same time they were the most determined and the strongest of the party. They obeyed the directions of the Dwarfs without a contrary word. Of us all Athan was the best at climbing and he often carried one of the Dwarfs or Shikov up and down the cliff faces to find a route. We always found one, and if we hadn’t we would have made one. Running alongside our band all the while was the little river of water pouring in from Lake Asher. Offspring of the River Ashera, the torrent wasn’t very wide but it was swift and strong and so loud in the echoing chambers that at times we were forced to shout to make ourselves understood. There was a constant breeze off the water that made our torches sputter and forced us to depend on lanterns for the time being. “How far do you think we’ve come?” I asked Pauton. The Red Dwarf scratched his chin, a universal habit with Dwarfs when they’re considering their answer. “We’ve walked nigh on eight miles, King Edmund. How much distance that figures into I can’t say. Not eight miles worth, that’s a certainty.” Not even eight miles after exhaustive hours of climbing and crawling and picking a path through the dark and the smelly muck. It was disappointing, but the going was rough and the slowly drying mud from the bottom of Lake Asher was thick and heavy and clung to our boots and hooves like cement. I didn’t know how long we were on the move - the lack of a sky was confusing everyone’s sense of time save for the Dwarfs - but I guessed it was close to what would have been dawn when Kanell called a halt and ordered everyone to eat and rest. « 125 »

“Take four hours sleep,” ordered the captain. “Pandicat, take the watch,” he ordered the Lemur. “I’ll carry you and you can sleep when we move out.” I didn’t think I would be able to, but I slept almost the whole allotted time, curled up beneath my cape and leaning against Flinder for warmth. Not even the discomfort of lying on stone with two swords strapped to my waist kept me from sleep. Somehow I woke up on my own, much to the relief of the Bobcat and the soldiers and to the disappointment of the two Black Dwarfs. Apparently they had heard from Brickit that I was worse than a bear waking up from hibernation and they had hopes of seeing a show. It was hard to tell by the faint light, but as I looked around it seemed we were missing a few of our numbers. “Shikov and Athan roused early and are scouting ahead,” Xati told me, reaching a hand out to help me up. “Eat something, my king; Kanell wants to move as soon as they return.” I nodded, and then quietly asked, “Xati, are we going about this right?” She smiled, her features softening. “Kanell hasn’t said anything otherwise, has he? You’d know if he had a better idea, King Edmund.” For all I have an appetite far beyond my twelve years, when I get anxious it tends to desert me. I choked down some rations and stowed what was left in the pack I carried for later and so I didn’t have the Centaur mare casting me that hard look at which she was so accomplished. Lieutenant Xati could make soldiers cry and Kanell sigh. I was beginning to think he fancied her. He hid it well, but then I knew him well. Athan returned, his dark, shaggy fur shiny against the perpetual night. Clearly something had the Gorilla excited. “Shikov is ahead. The way is not difficult, but we have found something you all must see.” It was a gorge carved into the stone, jagged and dangerous, and into this the underground river plunged, swallowed up by the unknowable darkness. We could hear the mighty roar from below as the river founds its way deeper and deeper into the heart of the earth. It sounded like thousands of voices shouting out in surprise, as if the river roared out its farewell and was greeted by the crevasse below. A great cloud of mist rose up and filled the cavern. It was a spectacular sight. What strange lands would the river water? Would it ever escape to see the sun again, or was it trapped forever in the night? There was no way I could know it at the time, but many years and what seemed like many lifetimes later I learned that the waters running off from the rain and snow from the Northern Mountains gradually accumulated deep in the earth until a vast underground sea was formed. A city would be built in the depths below, inhabited by strange creatures that thrive in the dark and damp, and more than two millennia would pass before my good and noble cousin would stand on the shores of the black water that Jadis and her servants had wrought. How many people can claim they’ve witnessed the birth of a subterranean sea? I’m sure most would have been far more impressed than my little party and I. We had more pressing matters and did not linger any longer than it took for Shikov to pick up the trail again. Not very far beyond the end of the river one of the Faun archers spotted something that filled us all with renewed hope and energy. The mud was not quite so thick here and « 126 »

drying faster than the stuff at the entrance. There, preserved in the mud were a few distinct footprints we immediately recognized. By comparison to the marks left by the Giants they were tiny, but none other than Peter could have made them. They were proof that my brother lived. Such relief hit me that I might have fallen over but for Barin right beside me. The Dwarf steadied me, muttering, “Guess you’ll get the Nancy back after all.” Nancy, I must state here, was the rude nickname my friend Brickit had given Peter the first time I visited the Blue River Smithy and which had somehow trickled down through all the branches of the Black Dwarf clan. Because I could match their humor and attitudes far better than my stuffed shirt of a brother, the Black Dwarfs favored me over him. They were suspicious of anyone that was tall and had different color hair, and because he was bigger than any Dwarf and blond, every word Peter uttered was suspect in their very biased opinions. Brickit had remarked upon two letters from him which were delivered within a week of my arrival at the smithy. Never mind that I was a king and the letters were official business that could not be delayed until my return to Cair Paravel - Brickit had decided that Peter was a worrisome mother hen and just to annoy me, called him Nancy. I responded to Barin’s jibe the exact same way I had responded to Brickit’s - with a sharp jab in the ribs with my elbow. I knew he wouldn’t get mad and he didn’t - rather, he chuckled, pleased with himself for getting a rise out of me. I felt better for the exchange, a dash of private humor amidst all this anxiety. On we went, occasionally prying the Dwarfs away from particularly interesting formations, until Kanell assigned Flinder to take the rear in order to catch stragglers. The mud grew thinner, making the going easier and the trail a bit more difficult to follow. Shikov went first, his snout to the ground as he followed the spoor of Ettin Giants. He said he could not pick out Peter’s scent from the Ettins’, but considering their mass and unsavory hygienic habits when compared to my brother, this came as no surprise. Atop the stench of mud a whole new stench started to fill the cold, stagnant air. The Talking Animals noticed it first, their noses wrinkling in disgust, and then the Fauns and Satyrs and Centaurs began coughing. I was the last to catch the smell, and once I did I was sorry. It was the reek of death and rot on a grand scale. “Does everything down here stink?” complained Xati, producing grumbles of agreement from the archers. “So far,” was Kanell’s muttered reply. We came upon the source of the awful odor not much later: a massive, pale, bloated corpse of an Ettin Giantess. She was wedged into a crevasse that ran parallel to the ground, her face and hands swollen and gross. Clearly she had been dead for many days, a victim of the initial flood that dropped Lake Asher’s level and filled these caverns with silt. She had a great tangle of dark hair that spread like tendrils all about her, but her face was strangely clean of dirt and hair. Pandicat, waking up from her sleep atop Kanell’s back, softly spoke. “I wonder who she was.”

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“I don’t,” was Brant’s sharp reply. “She’s one that would have done harm to our High King, given the chance” Kanell turned to me eagerly. “If the Ettins are like the Giants in Narnia, they will pause to mourn her and any others they might have lost in the flood. We may be able to make up some distance.” I nodded, anxious to be moving, anxious to be away from this hideous form that looked so waxen and unnatural in the torch light. I swallowed, saying nothing, but I was rather surprised at myself. I felt nothing beyond the revulsion the sight and smell of her produced. I did not care that this young Giantess was dead. She was a daughter, perhaps a sister or mother, loved by her family, destined to be missed. She was blameless in the slaughter of Peter’s horse and guards, but by virtue of her race’s alliance, she was an enemy of Narnia. I wondered at myself only as long as it took for me to remember that Peter was suffering in captivity. By drowning she afforded us a chance to draw closer to my brother, so I supposed in a way I owed her some strange notion of gratitude. Her death could very well mean Peter’s life. I paused, then bowed my head in a moment of respect for the dead. Even our enemies were afforded that much. ¥¤¥

Chapter Eleven: Evasive Maneuvers . . . One of these things, as far as anyone ever can discern, looks like a woman, warped in the shape of a man, moves beyond the pale bigger than any man, an unnatural birth . . . Beowulf, 1349-1353 §‡§ “Deama is prettier than Noona. She has sky eyes, like the little pet king.” “Noona’s smarter.” “I like pretty more than smart.” The subject was women. Not just any women, mind, but I gathered during the course of the endless, pointless, mindless discussion going on about me that Noona was a close cousin that was betrothed to the crown prince and Deama was the younger sister of Storr and Valerlan. I questioned how reliable any assessment of beauty out of the Ettins really was. The Giant women I knew in Narnia were not particularly pretty but they were comely and warm and clever in their own way as they lovingly domineered and indulged their husbands, kindly letting the men think that they were the ones in charge. I wondered if Ettins shared the same type of playful give and take in their relationships that the good Giants enjoyed, but I had my doubts. From the way they talked their women seemed akin to property just a step above cattle and slightly to the side of material possessions.

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Such attitudes were not suffered in Narnia and the women of my country were on equal footing with the men. Indeed, most times I think they had the upper hand since courtly manners required that every woman be treated as a lady and more often than not men deferred to their wishes. They commanded respect and were used to receiving it. More than once I had witnessed a visiting dignitary or their pert servants receive sharp reminders that women in my country - be they queens, Talking Animals, Magical Creatures, Walking Trees or Divine Waters - were not to be trifled with unless they chose otherwise. It started with Susan, who could cut down noblemen and their ilk so skillfully they didn’t realize it was happening until they had been dead and buried for a sennight, and reached down through every rank all the way to the Hummingbird messenger I had seen jab an ambassador in the nose with her long beak for being cheeky. Now that I thought about it, I supposed all Narnian males were in the same boat as our Giants, some of us just didn’t realize it. I wondered at Valerlan and Storr. Neither Edmund nor I would have ever endured anyone discussing Susan and Lucy in a manner akin to this, as if beauty or intelligence were the standard to judge anyone’s worth. Certainly the physical attributes of my sisters were not a topic for discussion, polite or otherwise. I wondered at their hypocrisy, for Storr, Hatta, and Haigha were no prizes. Why did Valerlan tolerate these buffoons speaking about his fiancée so? The talk never even slowed as we stopped at a deep pool for water. Valerlan called for a rest and I gratefully sank down. My knees and feet were very sore from walking on stone, offsetting the pain in my head, and I was weary from having to constantly pick a safe path through the rubble strewn about that the Ettins were able to ignore. The trail was not an easy one - up and down and twists and turns through this maze of chambers and pillars and dripping water. It reminded me of when I had followed the Great River to its source; there were times when the river’s course was so wild that we would cover ten miles to advance two. “You should marry Deama, Valerlan,” Storr advised. I looked up sharply from where I was getting a drink, shocked. Marry his sister? The notion was to me obscene and immoral. Valerlan cast me a glance then he looked at his brother, keeping his voice low and gentle as he tried to reason with the simpleton. “I don’t love Deama that way, Storr, I love Noona.” “Father wants you to marry Deama.” I froze, wishing I was anywhere else in the world than right here. A truly revolting image was forming in my mind of what this conversation was all about. “I know what father wants,” Valerlan replied evenly. It seemed an old argument between them and I got the feeling he very much desired the subject to be dropped. For once I agreed with him. Storr didn’t know when to cease. “Mother wonders why you don’t want Deama. She says the royal blood needs to be preserved. She married her brother, just like our grandparents, so why shouldn’t you marry our sister?”

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I must have been radiating horror. I sat shock-still and kept my gaze fixed firmly on the barely-visible ripples of water moving across the surface of the pool. What would Phillip say? I should have moved away, but I did not want anyone’s attention on me at the moment. Besides, being attacked or snatched away by something in the water would be a welcome alternative to my present situation. I wasn’t certain I could trust my immediate reaction to this revelation that explained so very much. Small wonder Valerlan called his people desperate. If Storr was a typical example of Ettin, did that mean they were all so inbred? I considered Valerlan’s disproportionate build and scrunched features, his mismatched legs that made him hobble instead of stride and his overlong arms. He was nothing like the Giants I knew – his smaller size and odd body and keen intellect set him far apart even from his own kind. How long had this unnatural breeding been going on? Generations, it seemed. Weren’t they breaking taboo by marrying siblings? Such a union would never even be considered or tolerated in Narnia. Valerlan touched his brother’s arm. “Marrying our sisters for so long hasn’t preserved the royal line, Storr. It’s poisoned us.” “You say we’re wrong?” Storr sounded crushed, like a little child who had just been yelled at and didn’t know why. My mind flashed back to Edmund, three years old and playing too close to the stairs for me. I had raised my voice at him . . . He didn’t remember the incident, but I would never forget the confusion and fear in his eyes that I had caused. My expression then must have been identical to the one Valerlan wore. “No,” said the younger prince. “We are not wrong. But it won’t help our people if I took Deama to wife. Our blood is too thin. What made our people mighty in the past can only be recaptured through the blood heir. His blood is what will lift our children and grandchildren out of the darkness and make us great again.” “Maybe I should marry her, then,” reasoned the elder brother. Valerlan smiled faintly and shook his head. “Don’t forget you’re already betrothed.” “Then who will Deama marry?” Storr’s eyes grew huge. “That? For Deama?” I froze, horrified. What . . . what did he mean? Was this about some ancient magic or something far, far cruder? Could they actually intend me for their sister’s . . . dare I say husband? I did not move a muscle. Fortunately Haigha caused a distraction by grumbling. “I’m hungry.” “You’re always hungry,” snapped Hatta. “We can’t eat now,” Valerlan declared, latching onto any excuse to end this discussion. “We’ll eat when we stop to sleep.” There was much grumbling at this and for some reason I found myself the recipient of some vicious glares from Hatta and Haigha. Did they hold me responsible for their hunger? Even with my appetite I consumed a fraction of what they could devour in a

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sitting. Perhaps in the past Jadis had supplied them with better food for their return journey than half-rotten fish and grainy flat bread. “We should have brought the horse and goats,” muttered Hatta resentfully. I looked away in revulsion as Valerlan tugged me to my feet once again. I moved stiffly, reluctantly, my mind awhirl with Storr’s implications and the memories of seeing Jett slaughtered. Haigha vented his frustration as he gleefully snapped off rows of long, slim stalactites with no respect for the earth’s mastery or the vast age of the stone. The sound was like bone cracking and for one confused, horrible moment I was transported back to the throne room of the White Witch’s castle. When Valerlan stepped before me I gasped, momentarily panicked, and vainly tried to pull away. He held me easily enough by my bound wrists, watching me struggle for control. Torch in hand, the Ettin wasted time checking the cords and I knew he was trying to gauge my response. I gradually slowed my breathing, fighting to calm my nerves. Finally he addressed the issue head-on. “Sons of Adam do not marry their kin?” “Not on purpose,” I replied, “and never close kin.” “Sadly, my people have little else,” he said in quiet tones. “Perhaps that’s part of why your queen commanded such sway over us - she was fresh and strong and beautiful and many Ettin men, my father in his younger days among them, desired her.” “She may have been all those things save my queen, but she was also cruel and a tyrant with unnatural tastes.” “I suppose you would know,” he implied with a smirk that made me grateful it was I he spoke to and not Edmund. “Speaking of things unnatural, how did you come to be here?” “Magic. And you?” He snorted. “You just heard the sordid tale of my conception.” We stood regarding each other. He wore that same odd look as he had when we stood before the corpse of the drowned Giantess. I could tell there was something about me that he was trying to fathom, to understand and make his own. I stared into his dark eyes and strange features pushed so closely together on his big face and did my very best to give him nothing at all. “Magic drew you here from your home. We’ve such legends amongst my people. It seems something about Adam’s children appeals to this world.” He gazed at me a moment longer before turning about and walking, forcing me to stumble alongside him through the stones littering the uneven floor of the cavern, carrying me further away from my home. I very much wished Valerlan would shut up and let me try to think. Storr’s words, spoken in innocence and ignorance as they were, had given me a great deal to consider. Apparently the same was true of the crown prince, for he asked, “Did Jadis bring you here?” “No. Aslan did.” “She said the Great Cat was dead.” “She lied.” “About many things, it seems. She captured you?” « 131 »

I hesitated. I had said I would not lie, but that did not necessarily mean I would tell the truth. I remembered being exasperated time and again with Edmund when he would worm his way out of things by evasion, a trait he had picked up in that terrible school he had attended. Despite the opinion of my rhetoric teacher, I never would have thought skirting the truth was a useful talent, but I was suddenly grateful for Edmund’s not-so-sterling example. As with the Host of the Air, I had something Valerlan didn’t: a sneaky little brother. They were surprisingly useful at times like this. I tugged on the tether just enough to let Valerlan I was there. “Something I seem to excel at.” He caught my meaning and grunted, amused at my frustration and satisfied with the answer. “Why did you rebel?” Was he making grand assumptions as he went or did he know better and was trying to capture me with my own words? Did he really believe I had been designated the heir of Jadis’ kingdom? I was inclined to believe the latter. Right now I fit the rumors that had somehow trickled north to Ettinsmoor, a happy coincidence he was inclined to believe because he wanted to. Did he know about Susan and Edmund and Lucy? I dared not confess to anything. “Wouldn’t you, given the chance?” He frowned, his close-set eyes narrowing. “That would be betrayal.” “Of whom?” He stared at me in astonishment. “What were you doing in Narnia?” I pressed. “I was sent by my father to see if the rumors were true and if Jadis intended to break her word to my people.” “Rumors of an heir?” “Yes. And rumor served for once, for here you stand, little king.” “What word? You spoke of promises before. What did she promise you?” “Nothing less than Narnia and all its bounty if my people would serve her cause.” “To live?” “To rule.” I stared at him. He didn’t know. He truly didn’t realize she had been immortal. “And . . . my existence disposed you?” “Me or my children or grandchildren. At the last possible moment she produced a Son of Adam, the only beings worthy of taking the throne in accordance with the prophecy she was so fond of dangling before us. Little did she know my father planned far afield.” “He expected treachery?” From the rear Storr snorted and Valerlan smirked as if at a private joke. “He always expects treachery.” « 132 »

“Where are you taking me?” “First to Loy, then to Keern, and then to my father’s hall to the northwest.” “Why?” I pressed. He gave me a pitying, superior smile. “Because my father ordered it and I am an obedient son.” Which was no answer at all. Chapter Twelve: The Unwelcome Fellow Traveler ‘Then he waded the dangerous reek and went under arms to his lord . . .’ Beowulf, lines 2261-2262 §‡§ “King Edmund?” I turned and faced Flinder, pushing Pandicat’s ringed tail out of my face. The Lemur was nestled around my neck like a fur collar and held in place by my cloak. She was a little heavy but the warmth was worth the weight, plus it allowed her nap so she could keep watch when we stopped to sleep. At my feet stood the Bobcat scout, barely visible in the light of the few lanterns we had lit. I crouched down. “Yes, Flinder?” A faint growl preceded his news. “We’re being followed.” Pauton and Kanell both heard and turned. Pandicat lifted her head but said nothing. I glanced up at the Centaur captain, then asked of Flinder, “One creature or many?” “One, sire.” “Is it walking?” I didn’t have to look to know my question confused my companions, but I didn’t bother to explain myself. Being a king had some benefits. “Walking, yes, Sire,” said the Bobcat, a trifle surprised at the line of inquiry. “It’s drawing closer and it’s not an Ettin.” I frowned, imitating the expressions worn by the soldiers around me. “Can we catch it?” Pauton shrugged. “We have to do something.” “Stand off to the sides,” Kanell ordered quietly, giving me a little nudge towards the cover of a row of stalagmites. “Troop, take cover. Pauton, leave a lamp uncovered in the path. We’ll let it get past us and close in behind.” We quickly obeyed. The path of late had been blessedly easy with relatively level chambers opening one after the other. The ground was thickly strewn with rubble, which was hard on our legs (and harder for those of us with more legs). Many a curse was muffled as we « 133 »

picked out way through and over and around, but it had been hours since we actually had to break out the ropes and help haul a Centaur up a sheer rise. Even in the faint light nothing escaped Barin and Brant and more than once they found evidence of the Ettins’ passing - rocks pushed aside or broken formations (which to them was sinful) and on one occasion traces of a fire. The chamber where we stood now was filled with reddish-brown formations that put me in mind of Cair Paravel’s great hall and all its graceful and mighty pillars. I felt a strong arm tug me back behind the uneven row of stalagmites Kanell had indicated and I knew it was Athan. With a small trilling sound, Pandicat climbed down my arm and peeked around the stone barrier with me. I slid the pack off my back before I quietly, carefully drew Peter’s sword, the weight of the blade comforting in my hand. I was aware of Athan right beside me, though with his coal-black fur I couldn’t see him in the shadows. I knew he was there to protect me in case whatever it was behind us turned out to be a real threat. I had never seen the Gorilla fight but I had seen his fangs and his remarkable strength; I knew he was not one to be trifled with. Minutes passed, though it felt closer to an eternity. I could hear the air move, the distant drip-drip-drip of water, the faint rustle of Athan’s fur as he shifted his stance. I knew my companions heard it before me - a faint scratching of nails on stone as something picked a careful path behind us, distinct even though the caverns distorted every noise. I could hear a snuffling sound as the creature checked for scent, then a tiny exclamation of, “Ah!” that echoed briefly as our pursuer spotted the lantern. I tensed, gripping Rhindon’s hilt tighter still as our uninvited companion broke into a trot. I sensed rather than saw Flinder pounce. There came a sudden growl and a commotion of scraping and struggling. A panicked, high-pitched voice rang through the caverns. “Oh, no! No! Help! Help!” We rushed out of our hiding spots and Gicelus came running up with the open lantern, illuminating the scene. There was a streak of red hanging limply from Flinder’s powerful jaws. I lowered Rhindon, recognizing that color in the faint light as I groaned, “Peterkins.” §‡§ He was caked with dirt, hungry, tired, terrified, happy not to be alone any more, and very aware that he was in a world of trouble. Flinder had been rewarded with a mouthful of mud and hair and grit and he discreetly tried to spit out the taste of Fox. Peterkins sat quietly between Shikov and Pandicat, chewing on some dried meat and trying to avoid my glare. There was nothing else for it. We stopped for an unplanned rest while we tried to figure out what Peterkins was about and I tried to get my temper under control. I was beyond furious that he had disobeyed my direct order to remain with the Beavers and it took all my self-control not to explode. He had promised! Spoilt, indulged child that he was, what would it take for him to get it through his thick skull that we were chasing after the very Giants he had seen kill Jett and three soldiers? This wasn’t some grand adventure from the tales the Dryads told him and his sisters. People had died, more were likely to die before it was over, and we were in pursuit of creatures that were as awful as they were cruel. « 134 »

Kanell and Xati kept me well away from him until I calmed down. Knowing that wouldn’t happen anytime soon, Xati finally went over and I could hear her speaking to the young Fox. I paced back and forth across a smooth patch of stone, filled to overflowing with nervous energy. Rest was impossible for me right now thanks to the kit. I had to give him credit, though, for being able to follow and find us. It was no mean feat finding a way with lanterns and torches and skilled climbers. To do so by scent alone was quite an accomplishment, especially for an Animal so small and inexperienced, and he was lucky he hadn’t been killed at every other step of the way. Still, it was inexcusable that he had defied his king and unless it was a matter of life or death that brought him here - or even if it was - he was in for more trouble than he ever knew existed. “Will you hear him out?” asked Kanell in quiet tones. I turned, pacing away from the Centaur. “Of course I will, Captain!” I growled, confronting him. “And if choose to have yon kit punished for disobeying my express command to remain at Beaversdam will you support me?” “Yes,” he said without hesitation or emotion. Resuming my pacing, I shook my head and muttered, “It won’t come to that. Trust me.” Kanell smiled the least bit. He knew me too well. Peterkins would be punished, that was a certainty, but I would never allow a hair of him to be harmed. I loved him and his father too well to ever allow anything to befall the little Fox, much as I wanted to throttle him at the moment. The pleasure of meting out punishment would fall to Sir Giles himself and Aslan help that foolish child! - Lady Marion. Xati picked her way over as quietly as her iron-shod hooves would allow. She whispered something to Kanell and he motioned for her to wait. I was still too angry to listen to reason but unfortunately time was not a thing I could waste. Shoving aside my reaction to the situation, I stopped pacing. “Let’s hear him,” I snapped. I caught the look in the Centaur’s dark face and crossly promised, “I will listen, Kanell.” One of the Satyrs had spruced him up and brushed his fur so he didn’t look quite so disreputable. Master Peter Fox nonetheless looked as if he was heading for his own execution as he responded to Xati’s call to join us and well he should. His dark eyes were woeful as he dared glance up at me and Kanell, and upon seeing the stormy look on my face he dropped his head. “What have you to say for yourself?” demanded Kanell. “I . . . I’m sorry,” he whispered, “but I remembered something . . . I forgot to tell you after you left, King Edmund. Something the bad Giants said.” “Who knows you’re here, Peter?” I demanded. “Um . . .” His tail drooped, which was answer enough. “Nobody.” “So Mrs. Beaver, right now, is frantic with worry and her husband is probably scouring the area around Beaverdam looking for you. After I asked her to watch over you and for you to protect her.”

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He sank down onto the stone, realizing what he had done. “Why didn’t you just tell Mrs. Beaver what you remembered?” “I thought of it that night when she was asleep and . . . I couldn’t think about anything but telling you. I made it to the castle in the morning and I snuck past the guards.” He swallowed nervously. “I . . . I picked up your scent and the bad Giants and followed it. There was a Giant that was dead. It was grufull on my nose and I thought I’d lost you until I found the scent again . . . and I was too afraid to go back that way again. Then I just . . . followed my nose until that Cat grabbed me.” I heaved a weary sigh. His intentions were the best. I knew that full well. “You should have told the soldiers at the Witch’s castle. Phillip would have gotten word to me. Do you think I would embark on a mission like this and not have a means of getting word from the people I’ve left behind?” I sighed again, voicing my real fears as I asked, “What if you had slipped and fallen into the underground river and we never found you? What then, Master Fox?” “I’m sorry,” he whispered, sounding close to tears. “I know you are. You have done your kings very good service, and I’m sure your news is very important. I understand that you were so eager to reach me. You’re afraid for my brother and so am I. But Peter! By not listening to me you have made me very angry and you have worried a good lady. Remember this: if you ever disobey a direct command again it will be for the last time. Defy me a second time and I will not entrust you to do anything else in my service. Do you understand me?” He nodded and I frowned. “Answer your king, Master Fox,” Kanell said softly, reading my expression easily enough. Peterkins sniffed, then managed to say, “Yes, King Edmund. I understand.” “Good. Now tell me, what did the Giant say?” We waited expectantly. When he realized his execution would not be our next course of action, Peterkins took a deep breath and said, “The Ettin leader stopped the one that killed Ahmen from killing King Peter. He said that King Peter must be the blood hare and that she made a . . . a . . . sesessor?” He ended in a question, uncertain of the word and glancing between me and the Centaur officers. “Successor?” I pressed, fairly sure he meant blood heir, not hare. He concentrated, trying out the word, and slowly he nodded. “I think that was it. Then he said he owed King Peter something and that’s when he hit him and I ran away.” I stared at the Fox as I took in his words. A blood heir. I looked to Kanell and Xati to see if they understood as deeply as I did. Both Centaurs were thoughtful, but they did not know so much as to be able to share my feelings of dismay and bewilderment. A strange heaviness seemed to settle upon me and my mind flashed back to a snowy day, the sound of sleigh bells and the feel of soft, white fur against my cheek, honeyed words whispered in my ear. “She said she had no children of her own,” I murmured, momentarily lost in the memory. “She said . . . she would make me a prince . . .”

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“Who?” piped up Peterkins, completely forgetting that he was in disgrace. “King Edmund, who said . . . oh.” I glared down at him so fiercely he crouched low, his ears flattened as he recalled it was not his place to question a king. Xati made a warning noise deep in her throat for the Fox to shut up and for once he listened. “Go with Xati, Peter,” I snapped. “Do whatever she says. Get some rest.” “Majesty?” asked Kanell as the Centaur mare led Peterkins away. “He needed to see the consequences of his actions. He’ll be fine after a good sleep.” I nodded, a little impatient and not very concerned about the bruised ego of young Master Peter. My voice was harsher than I meant as I said, “I need to think, Captain.” Kanell nodded his understanding and silently withdrew, leaving me alone in the perpetual night with my dark mood and darker thoughts. ¥¤¥

Chapter Thirteen: The Nightmare of History . . . They are fatherless creatures, and their whole ancestry is hidden in a past of demons and ghosts. They dwell apart among wolves on the hills, on windswept crags and treacherous keshes . . . Beowulf, 1355-1359 §‡§ “Have you any gods in Narnia, little king?” “We have Aslan. I don’t know if he is a god, but his very nature seems divine.” “Aslan,” the Ettin echoed with a sneer. “He appears in our legends, too. The Beast who called the world into being. As if we asked to be. If I believed in any gods, I’d call upon them cast him into the deepest pit in Hell.” Valerlan turned that sneer in my direction. “He created a world and cast loose its citizens without guidance or regard. And like a good little subject, do you bow and scrape and fear your god?” “I bow to him and him alone,” said I, offended by his blasphemy against one I held dear. “But I do not scrape and I do not fear him. Aslan is not worshiped in Narnia in any other way than being revered and loved and honored.” “A living god,” murmured the Ettin prince. His voice betrayed the extent of his contempt. “We had our goddess: Jadis. She lived among us for a time and she challenged the might of the ancient deities, casting down the figures carved of wood and stone. My father said his people waited for her to be struck by the powers of the earth and sky, but no divine wrath was loosed upon her. She sowed doubt and showed us our gods were empty, soulless things.” He snorted. “And she was right, for we shifted our devotion to her and she proved just as empty and soulless as the statues we held in such mindless awe.” « 137 »

I stared at him, this thinking brute, wondering what it would be like to have illusions and dreams stripped away one by one until the naked, ugly truth was staring back at me from the looking glass. Somehow, though, I felt my truth was not nearly as ugly as his. We had finally stopped for food and rest. I was thoroughly worn out, my head and shoulders aching from the strain of having my wrists constantly bound and the weight of the leather rope and lead. Right now an intellectual or moral debate was not my choice of a pastime, but I had little say in the matter. Valerlan had been rather closed-mouth all day, though he had given Hatta a sound beating for tripping me and making me fall as we were laboring up a steep slope. I had cut my elbow and bled through the fabric of my tunic, forcing us to stop. The Ettin notion of medicine was as primitive as I expected: Haigha slapped a brown, pasty concoction on the cut that smelled like resin, wrapped my elbow in a dirty bandage, and declared me as good as new. I was bothered by the looks Hatta cast me, especially when my bloodied arm was bared and he was made to hold the torch for Haigha to see as he ministered to me. The gleam in his eye had been . . . hungry. I expected yet more trouble out of him though I was helpless before his scheming. “She poisoned our faith even as she poisoned our blood and my kin were desperate enough for leadership and salvation that they helped her to do it. A prophesy of Narnia she dangled before the greedy minds of my forefathers. A Son of Adam would come and rule Narnia. Even frozen the land was bountiful compared to Ettinsmoor.” I was silent. I didn’t want to hear this. I truthfully didn’t care in the least, but he had his captive audience and I believed that this was the first time in a long time he was able to address an intellectual peer. Valerlan, in his boundless bitterness and anger and self pity, saw himself as a victim of fate when to my mind the real victims had their bones scattered on the floor of the courtyard of the Witch’s castle. “Prophesy,” he spat. “The curse of my race is more like it! Do you know what she bade my people do? No, of course not. You sit there all golden and pure and blessed as I drag you straight into the hell that is my existence and still I cannot touch you. Do you know what I hate most about you, little king?” He clearly wanted an answer, wanted something he could fling back at me. Very well. I met his eye steadily. “It’s the fact either that I exist or that you want to be me.” There was a pause and then he laughed. It was a hollow sound and devoid of mirth. “Oh, you are a self-centered little bastard, aren’t you?” He leaned closer, close enough so I could see his ragged hair was coarse and heavy like a Horse’s tail and his small, deep-set eyes glittered with malice and envy. “I don’t want to be you. I want to be me AS you. I want to be what you are: whole and perfect and accepted by your own people. Look at this misshapen body, this mind captured in such a hideous form! What fool would wish for such an existence? No. What I hate most about you is that you not only have hope, but you ARE hope. Even my own people look upon you and feel their hopes for the future rise. Your very existence inspires, whereas I have to fight and cajole and sometimes even threaten to move my race.” I just sat on my seat of stone and looked at him, steeling my face to be calm. Even so, I did nothing more than infuriate him further.

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“Do you see? Even upon me this power of yours works. I look upon you and I see what CAN be and I wish to act, even if that act is to kill you. But even if I did kill you, here, now, one blow from my club, I still wouldn’t kill what you are.” That wasn’t very comforting. I hoped he wouldn’t try to test out that theory. With a growl like a Wolf, Valerlan drew back. I couldn’t tell if he was angry at me or himself. Both of us, I supposed. The best I could do was lead him back to his angry rant. “So what did Jadis bid your people do that so doomed you, Prince Valerlan?” He snorted at the use of his title. I thought it odd that he so wanted to be a king yet he looked down upon the title of prince. “She told us of a prophesy. Even though she was of our kind and the king and his lords greatly desired her and her power, we might not have listened to her words if rumors of the prophesy had not reached our ears from independent sources. It spoke of children of Adam enthroned in Narnia, ruling the Land of Talking Beasts.” He made an offhand gesture towards me, believing me the fulfillment of Jadis’ lies, then he looked at me askance, seemingly coming to a decision. I realized he was trusting me with something, sensing, perhaps that for all I was his captive and his chief rival, I was trustworthy. “Doubtless you do not know the history of my people. It may surprise you to learn that the Ettins are descended from the first king of Narnia. It does surprise you, I can tell. King Frank’s grandson Prince Etainn was captured by the Northern Giants almost a century after the land was called into being. The daughter of the Giant king became infatuated with him and bore a child by him, a daughter, Ettain. Etainn abandoned her soon after, escaping back to Narnia and leaving the princess in disgrace. Her daughter was married off to the lowest of the low, a mere swineherd. Strangely, though, Ettain thrived and was happy with her lowly mate, while her children were far more intelligent and clever than anything her cousins produced. “I’m sure you can guess where this tale goes. After a generation or two the Ettins broke off and established their own kingdom, which quickly became the envy of our barbaric cousins. The human blood, the blood of Adam, made us so much more. But that blood has thinned now. The mark of your kind fades. We might have been content to continue on, but then Jadis . . .” There was a heavy feeling in my stomach and I feared I really DID know where this tale was going. Yet another law of Aslan and Nature had been cast aside, it seemed. I desperately wished he would stop talking. My head ached, my elbow was throbbing, The stuff Haigha had used to treat the cut smelled horrid, and the dinner of bread and cheese I had eaten was not sitting well in my stomach. “She touted what a shame it would be for the humanity in the Ettins to be lost, for we were the only heirs of King Frank left in the world. Oh, she was cunning! They listened, my foolish forefathers, and at her urging they tried to concentrate the human blood in our royal house. Fathers lay with daughters. Brothers lay with sisters. Mothers seduced their own sons. Incest became an accepted practice. Children were born and the mothers could not even name the fathers, save that they were of the royal family. Within three generations they were producing extremes: mindless wretches good only for drooling and fornicating and . . . children like me, who saw and understood what a terrible thing Jadis had initiated.” « 139 »

I suddenly found myself wondering how old was Valerlan. It’s very difficult to tell with many of the Races in Narnia because many of them are long-lived, and often the bigger the being, the longer they lived and the slower they reproduced. That didn’t seem to be the case here, though. “So why didn’t those who understood put an end to it?” I kept my voice even, trying not to betray my revulsion. What would it be like to carry so twisted a burden? “Because we are too few and until me none have been in a position to inherit the crown. Those in command have little desire to stem their perverse lusts even though every child born brings us closer to destruction. So many children born of children. Our land cannot support so many. I know of only a handful of my kind today that could carry on such a conversation as we do now.” Conversation? It was more like a lecture. Intelligent he might be, but there was nothing tempering that intelligence with sympathy or kindness, no experience beyond the brutalities of his world. He possessed no notion of respect for any life outside of his own kind. It was a mistake, though I doubted he would ever see it as such. “When I am king, though, things will change.” He glanced at me, perhaps a little ashamed or uncomfortable to reveal so much of his people’s shortcomings to someone he envied. Something about my expression displeased him and his eyes narrowed. “What?” he demanded. “For what do you need me, then?” I asked quietly, determined to get to the truth. “I don’t,” he returned. “But I have you now and I see what you are and so I will make you work for me. You are worth a great deal, little king.” I found myself glaring. “You could have asked. We would have given.” “That is not our way. Besides, I sincerely doubt you would have given what I would have asked for.” “This from a man that just said he wanted to change things for his people? How very convenient for the moment.” I tugged at the rope binding my hands. “What do you intend to change if not the ways and the attitudes that are slowly killing them? So instead of seeking a new path to benefit the Ettins, you allowed your people to lash out and murder my cousins. Then you committed the greatest sin imaginable.” I shook my head, remembering my guards and the coal-black mare that had served me so well. “You speak of the future, Valerlan, but for all you have done and allowed to happen, you have none. None at all. I have not forgotten, nor will I ever forget, what you and yours did. Your actions have robbed the Ettins of the hope you seek.” I looked away from him. He was a hypocrite and he disgusted me. He laughed, startling me. “I’m bringing them hope. I’m bringing you to my father.” That again. “And what good will that do him or you?” “Me? Very little. But it’s his hope to regain the greatness we one enjoyed.” I stared, a horrid thought forming in my mind. I had hoped and prayed Storr’s ranting about Deama their sister had been just that: ranting. Sweet Lion, no . . .

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“Etainn was blond, they say,” Valerlan smirked, enjoying my reaction. For all his pretense at civility, he relished having the upper hand. “Even now, very rarely, hair such as yours appears.” Shaking my head, I was so stunned at the notion of being expected to father a new race of Ettins that I almost laughed. “Oh, no! I will not be forced into such a union, Valerlan!” “So said Etainn, King Peter, and yet here I stand, his direct heir.” “Narnia would never tolerate such an affront.” He shrugged. “You’re here now and dear Narnia seems to be tolerating it. There’s more than one way to the throne, Son of Man. We’ve waited this long. We can wait a bit longer.” “You have no idea of what you call down upon your kind, crown prince. I am not the answer to your dilemma. I am the source of your greatest nightmare imaginable,” I said, thinking of Edmund. “The nightmare, King Peter, is yours,” Valerlan replied with a sneer. Neither of us knew how right he was. ¥¤¥

Chapter Fourteen: Blood Heir . . . Their mighty prince, the storied leader, sat stricken and helpless, humiliated by the loss of his guard, bewildered and stunned, staring aghast at the demon’s trail, in deep distress. He was numb with grief, but got no respite . . . Beowulf, 129-134 §‡§ I was too cross to trust myself not to shout and then stuff Peterkins in a saddlebag for the duration of our mission. I heard his faint giggle as something one of the Dwarfs said tickled his fancy and with a quiet growl I turned and strode away to the far side of the fire, standing just at the edge of the circle of light while I silently fumed. Not even Peter would approach me when I was this angry and the members of my party wisely kept well away for a little while. Bowing my head and closing my eyes, I rested my hands on the two swords hanging from my belt, gripping them tightly as I breathed deeply. It was more dignified than screaming at the top of my lungs if not nearly as satisfying. How dare Peterkins disobey a direct order? I didn’t care that he was a child. We had enough to worry about with Peter in Ettin hands than to look after the little Fox. I was finding it hard to stay mad, though, for his intentions were noble. He had risked all and braved a dangerous path to bring us the information he remembered - if indeed he’d remembered it at all and hadn’t held it back as an excuse to follow us. I considered. No, Peterkins wasn’t clever enough to withhold anything and even if he did his father Sir Giles

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would have even less mercy on him than his mother for such misconduct, and I knew full well that for defying my orders Lady Marion would have no mercy whatsoever. A blood heir. What was the significance of this news? It seemed to me I should understand it better than I did, rather like watching the sun dogs fade from the sky . . . oh, however long ago it was. A day or more. The words were important but I didn’t know why. I felt I should know more, seeing as how I was the one they were after, the one Jadis had seen fit to mark . . . I looked up as Kanell drew close, stepping slowly to minimize the sound his horseshoes made on the stone. “Majesty? May I disturb your peace?” “Aye, Captain,” said I, trying not to smirk or scowl at his tact. He would never have bothered me with something trivial. “Of course. What is it?” “What Peterkins said about the Ettin’s words and making an heir. . . I am reminded of something I heard long ago from Shonn, a member of Parliament.” “I know Shonn,” I replied, remembering the graceful Barn Owl from when I had opened Parliament this past month of Frostmoon. “She’s very keen on history.” “Indeed, King Edmund, and I have studied it extensively as well. She and I have carried on many discussions and debates over the years. She once told me an ancient tale she had read from the days just after Narnia’s creation, the story of one of King Frank’s grandsons, Etainn.” I frowned at the name. The similarity it bore to the brutes we pursued was too close to be coincidence. He nodded at my reaction. “Shonn said during that period in Nanria most of the history was recorded in the form of poems and lays. The one in question is called The Rape of Etainn. In essence, Sire, Prince Etainn was captured by the Northern Giants, carried off by force, and held prisoner in their king’s court. He was eventually made to become the very unwilling father of a daughter that was named Ettain. The prince soon escaped back to Narnia and the child became the mother of a new race of Giants.” “Giants that were partially human,” I murmured. I was not certain what to make of this information and my mind was awhirl. I swallowed, feeling my heart race. “Hence their smaller size and sharper minds. But one of the Ettins that seized your brother spoke of a blood heir.” “Frank’s? Could they see themselves as his heirs?” “That may be, but according to Master Fox the Ettin had said she made a blood heir that was her successor.” “Oh, Aslan,” I groaned as the truth hit me with all the force of a blow. I raised a hand to my head. “They think Peter is me. I’m the only one they could possibly mean, Kanell! I’m the only one with Jadis’ blood in my veins. But what could they want with . . . oh.” The story of Etainn caught up with me and with a little gasp I realized what the Centaur was tactfully implying. I stood there open-mouthed and incapable of speech for a minute or « 142 »

more. Suddenly the cavern was as cold as ice, as cold as the dungeon where I had been held when I was Jadis’ prisoner, as burning cold as her touch. I squeezed my eyes closed, and in my mind’s eye I saw not darkness but the eerie, sickly blue-green glow behind the walls of her private chamber. The Rape of Etainn. The Rape Rape I froze in place, not even sure if I was breathing. I had never before had a word for what Jadis had done to me. Kanell in all his subtlety had implied more than a violent abduction of King Frank’s grandson. I had never thought it could apply to my gender that way. And now . . . If the Centaur had struck me with all his daunting strength I could not have been more stunned. For one long, hideous moment all my emotions were laid bare. I took one heavy step back, barely recovering in time to keep from falling when my knees buckled. My heart was hammering in my chest but there was no way to escape a memory. I looked but saw nothing - not Kanell, not the cavern, not the shadows. I shuddered as a chill crept down my spine but it was not as cold as the memory of Jadis’ hands upon me, probing and cruel. I could feel her inhuman strength, her weight pinning me to the ice. Kisses devoid of warmth. Depraved, invasive caresses. Mocking laughter as my innocence was stripped away. Pain. Tears. Guilt. Violation. Violations. You did say you wanted to be with me, Edmund. I put my hands to my ears, vainly trying to block out her voice in my head. So much I knew was wrong but never really understood. She had twisted my words, used my ignorance against me, blamed me for her own perverse impulses. Oh, Aslan, I was . . . I shut the thought off, unwilling to complete it and trying to close myself to the Lion. He could hear my prayers and thoughts when I reached out to him. I didn’t want him to hear that. I didn’t want anyone to know . . . Peter knows. Peter knew all along. Well before I did. He had figured it out from the start and had kept his council, waiting for me to speak. He knew. He knows. And he still loves me. That truth struck me even harder than the realization of what Jadis had done to me. Kanell reached for me as I gasped and staggered another step, a tiny sound escaping my throat. I stared up at the huge Centaur, words failing me for one of the few times in my life. “Majesty?” he whispered, concern for me evident in his dark face. I must have looked pale enough to faint, and at the moment that was a very appealing response. Did the captain « 143 »

know? Had he, like Peter, figured out what she had done to me? Did anyone else look upon me with pity or think I had brought such humiliation upon myself? I shook my head, raising my hand for quiet as I gathered my thoughts and bearings once again, letting Kanell support me. A strange weakness seemed to take me, like the aftermath of battle, at once sickening and fulfilling. I was emotionally drained, as if I were a vessel and all my feelings had been poured out in a long stream, leaving me ready to be refilled. Peter knew. And he loved me. He felt no shame and leveled no blame at me. What Jadis had done made no difference to him. Aslan knew as well. It made no difference to either of them. It was a relief, a release, to finally comprehend. I was not alone, had never been alone, and now I saw that. Jadis had no power over Narnia and I was Narnia. I swallowed, panting slightly in the cold air, glad for Kanell’s silent presence as I plowed through this mess of information and feeling and revelations. A thought struck me, grounding me once again: The next time the sun goes a’hunting, Edmund, let someone else see the dogs first! If anyone else knew, so be it. I was not responsible for what had been done to me. Peter had set the example before and people had followed. So long as I had his support there was no storm I could not weather. I was not over this. Far from it, and this was not the time or place I would have chosen to come to this new, deeper understanding of what had been perpetrated against me, against Narnia and Aslan and my family. Having knowledge of a thing does not necessarily mean you understand it or know how to apply that knowledge, but I felt better for being able to classify Jadis’ act as one of violence and domination as befitted her personality. I remembered sitting at her feet in her sleigh, humiliated and confused and sick at heart as the icy winds whipped me. The wind wasn’t as painful as her touch and far more pleasant to endure. There was a hard, smug, selfish triumph about her face and eyes and she ignored me and my suffering. She had been pleased with herself for what she had done. I might have been a horrible little beast in my day, but not even I had deserved to be so shamelessly abused. Not for the first time, I was glad she was dead. Drawing a deep breath, I held the grips of the two swords beneath my hands, Shafelm and Rhindon. I was reassured by their weight and the knowledge that I could defend myself now. I was not a helpless, frightened child. Something new was growing in my breast: cold, unrelenting resolve. The Ettins had wanted me, most likely because I was the one with Jadis’ blood polluting my veins. It made sense. Given a chance for the White Witch’s power and human blood all at once, I was the logical one to seize. Did they know of anyone else to seize, really? Did they even know there were four of us? And now they had my brother. The Ettins had wanted me, but they had taken Peter. Oh, no. Not Peter. They would not do to him what Jadis had done to me. I would not allow it. By the Lion, I would not permit those monsters to sully my king. Peter would not be made to feel the disgrace and confusion and sense of unworthiness that I had endured. That I still endured. Not while I lived. He was the last person in the world that should ever live with such shame.

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As I had done so often in the past, I steeled myself against my own reactions, locking them deeply within my heart, adding another wall to the fortress I had constructed around the bitterness and hurt I had learned over the years. I would face my darker emotions later. I was quite adept at doing this, perhaps too adept, but rescuing Peter was more important than wrestling with the demons that haunted me. Indeed, it was more urgent than ever that we find and free him, now that I had a greater notion of their intent. When the time came Peter and no other would be able to breach these walls I had built. And by Aslan, I would let him. I turned to Kanell. I didn’t know how much he knew or guessed as he watched me struggle with this revelation but as I looked up at him I realized the past made no difference to him or how he saw me, just as with Peter. “Rouse the troop, Captain.” My voice was as hoarse as if I had been screaming. “We’re moving out.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Fifteen: Midnight Snack My flesh was not for feasting on, there would be no monsters gnawing and gloating over their banquet . . . Beowulf, 562-564 §‡§ Another endless day of trudging though the darkness had ended. An eternity after setting out, we stopped. It was impossible to know how much time had passed since I had last seen sunlight at Lake Asher, but my aching legs told me I had walked on stone for far too long, constantly yanked along by the tether secured to the crown prince’s belt. How many miles had passed under these sore feet? As Haigha built a small fire for light and heat, Valerlan handed me more of the stale, tasteless flat bread from his pack and something thin and dried and suspect. I eyed the dark, leathery, salt-encrusted stuff warily and he snapped, “Beef! From my father’s herd.” I ate what I could but odds were good my boots would have been tastier and easier to choke down. I was far more interested in sleep than food. I didn’t care that my hands were still tied. I needed to rest but I dared not relax. I certainly didn’t possess enough energy to give escape any thought. The Ettins were still talking and eating when I curled up on the ground with my head resting on Valerlan’s discarded pack, my back to them all. I stared into the darkness, my thoughts flying to the Lion that loved me so. Aslan, watch over me, your servant. Keep me safe in your hold and let me endure this trial. There are monsters behind me and darkness before me. Don’t let me become lost in this cold wilderness. Great Lion watch over my sleep and send me my brother. I know he’ll come for me. Speed him on his way and guard his path that he may find me. Be with me always and stand between me and these my enemies. Oh, Aslan, why did this happen?

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There were tears on my lashes as I closed my eyes and the sound of idiot laughter in my ears as I finally drifted off. §‡§ I was snatched out of a restless sleep by a huge, calloused hand clamping over my face, grinding my head into the stone beneath me. I let out a startled scream but little sound escaped through the fleshy gag and what noise I did make was too muffled to be heard by Ettin ears. I tried to struggle as I was quickly dragged away from Valerlan’s side. I had no love for the crown prince, but I knew full well he was my only protection right now and I would have done anything to remain with him. My attempts at escape were useless. There was a faint muttering and by the dying embers of the fire I saw a flash of metal as my attacker cut the tether reaching from my bound hands to Valerlan’s belt. I tried to twist away, tried to bite the hand covering my mouth, but all my attempts were hopeless. Strong arms lifted me and I was held crushing tight against a Giant’s chest. I could feel the bone closures of a vest digging painfully into my back and I knew it was Hatta. I caught a glimpse of Valerlan’s dark form as he slept on undisturbed and unaware. My kicks against the body behind me were ignored and I tried to scream as I was carried away from the encampment, into the darkness beyond. My captor moved slowly, picking his way with care so as not to make any noise. I kept up my struggles out of sheer desperation. I was dead. There was nothing else for it, I was going to be killed and eaten, but I was certainly going to make my sacrifice as hard and painful on my attackers as I possibly could. I was too busy trying to worm free of the hands pinning me to notice the distant light until I saw the leering faces of Storr and Haigha. A small fire burned before them where they crouched in a niche in the rock, their stupid eyes glittering in anticipation. I redoubled my efforts to get away, to call out, but I was hopelessly outmatched. Storr rose and made a grab for my legs. I managed to land a few good kicks before his hands held me immobile. Working swiftly, they forced a bundle of filthy cloth into my mouth and tied it so tightly I expected my jaw to break. My legs were securely bound and I was dropped to the ground by the fire as they held what for them was a whispered debate. “Should we eat it or drink it?” wondered Haigha, prodding me with his foot. Hatta, the most intelligent and vicious of the trio, said, “Valerlan said Human blood is what made our people so smart once, and that this one’s blood mingled with ours will make us great again.” His words terrified me like nothing else could, and in more ways than Hatta knew. Oh, no. No! NO! Aslan, help me! I desperately fought, but Hatta just stepped on me, pinning me painfully to the rock with his massive foot. I could barely breathe. “We drink.” “But I’m hungry,” whined Haigha.

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“You can eat him after,” Hatta reasoned, grinding his foot into me. I screamed through the rag - furious, panicked, and hurting all at once. He laughed at my reaction, his hand going to the knife at his belt. Storr shook his head uncertainly. “What about Valerlan?” “We’ll save him some,” promised the ringleader. “He said he wanted to bring this thing to my father.” “For exactly this reason, Storr.” “But . . . then more of us will be able to be great.” Aslan, I don’t want to die! Please let them listen to this dolt’s logic! “But don’t you want to be king some day, Storr?” wheedled Hatta, removing his foot from my back and flipping me over with one nudge. He gripped me by my hair, barely able to hold on to the short locks with his thick, clumsy fingers. I stared at the knife in his hand. It was as huge and wicked-looking as its owner. I struggled as best I could, but Haigha seized me and held me still. “No,” mumbled Storr. “Valerlan is to be king.” “And this creature’s blood will make him great! Think of it, Storr! Your brother will restore the Ettins to our former glory!” Storr considered and slowly nodded his oversized head as he came to terms with Hatta’s plan. Gradually he became more enthusiastic about the idea and he smiled and giggled. So much for that hope. Were any of these Giants not insane? “We’re agreed. We’ll drink the blood, then eat it. Never ate man-flesh before. I hope it’s tastier than those goats.” I closed my eyes, trying to maintain some semblance of dignity. It was for my sake, not theirs, but I desperately wished I would simply black out. Great Lion, my life is in your paws. Deliver me from this plight or receive me in your country. Either way, Aslan, I am yours. Is this what Edmund felt every night for more than four months? Sweet Lion, how had he survived? How was I going to survive? Would I survive? I didn’t have a chance if Hatta actually got to use that knife and his smile told me my own end would be neither swift nor painless. Still gripping my hair, I could sense Hatta as he drew closer and my terror was an absolute. To be murdered is one thing. To know you’re about to be murdered and to be helpless to stop it is something even more horrible. The other Ettins laughed expectantly. They were so focused on me that they missed the one thing they feared the most right now: discovery. “HATTA!” The Ettin holding me was so completely startled by Valerlan’s arrival that he screamed and dropped me. All three of the Palish Giants whirled just as their prince strode out of the darkness. His fury was unstoppable and he unleashed upon his subjects without mercy,

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beating and berating them all, laying into them with his club and chasing them away from me. Caught in the act, they tried to plead and beg their prince but he would hear none of it. “Fools!” bellowed Valerlan, his wrath filling the cavern. He punctuated his sentences with kicks and blows to Hatta’s body as the Ettin sprawled before him. “You greedy, selfish, half-witted fools! I’ll kill the next one that touches my captive! Kill you, I say! Yes, I value him over any of you, even my own brother! I am the lord here! Nothing dies without my leave! Nothing! You have no concept of what this human is worth to our entire race!” Blubbering, crushed, frightened out of their dim wits, Haigha, Hatta, and Storr blundered off into the darkness. I could hear them stumbling about, cursing and crying in hopeless confusion. I lay still, suddenly cold and trembling and feeling guilty for having doubted that Aslan would not be able to help me even here. Chest heaving, I tried to control my reaction to no avail. Too much had happened in just a few minutes’ time on top of everything else I had endured. I was weeping and nauseated and astonished when the hands that freed me treated me gently. I gasped for air as soon as the rag was removed from my mouth and I barely noticed that my hands as well as my feet were untied. I tried to stand and failed, dropping weakly to my hands and knees and coughing violently. I was shaking so hard I couldn’t support myself and lowered myself down to my elbows, resting my head against the back of my hand. My skin was clammy and I felt flushed and chilled and faint all at once. Aslan, I’m sorry I doubted you. I was so afraid. I am so afraid. I’m sorry. So sorry. Forgive me, Aslan, I know you would never abandon me. Be with me now and always. Help me. Please. OhCrouched on the ground, I vomited up the contents of my stomach. I crawled a few feet away from the mess because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold myself upright for very long in this condition. There was a noise of disgust - though not directed at me for once - and Valerlan reached over and lifted Hatta’s knife, sliding it into his belt. I raised my head and in the dying embers of the fire I stared at my unexpected deliverer. If I had possessed the strength, I would have backed away from him. Valerlan seemed sympathetic to my reaction and fear. He watched me closely, his eyes lost in the darkness. “They won’t hurt you again,” he stated. I stared back at him, blinking at my tears and distress. How could he promise such a thing? As if he knew what I was thinking he said, “Among my people, only the lord among them can order the death of any creature under his sway, even so far as beasts for eating. They know I will kill any one of them if they lay hands upon you again. Are you injured?” The question seemed so commonplace, so normal, that I had to think it over. There was no additional physical damage done to me that I could detect, though my heart had yet to calm and I was still panting and weeping. I found my voice though, a deep, rasping, frightened sound I had to force past my lips. “What does it matter to you? What do you want from me?” I think there was actually pity in his eyes as he moved closer. I must have been a truly pathetic sight. « 148 »

“Everything.” Shaking my head, I rasped, “Without Aslan’s blessing, Valerlan, you can have nothing.” “Narnia’s throne is my only goal.” Shaking my head at this foolish plan, I slowly replied, “By Aslan, you will never get it.” “There’s more than one way to a throne, little king. Your blood will yet make us great.” I stared at him in speechless disbelief and confusion, knowing what he said mattered greatly but too spent to understand what wasn’t being said. How had I gone from being a captive and a dainty snack to the Ettins’ hope for the future? Did he actually think for a moment that I could be forced into his father’s mad scheme for me to sire a new race of Ettins? By Aslan, by my brother, by all that I held dear, that day would never dawn. It was fortunate that I hadn’t stood up yet. That way I didn’t have as far to fall as I passed out. ¥¤¥

Chapter Sixteen: Thole . . . He knew what they had tholed, the long times and troubles they’d come through without a leader . . . Beowulf, 14-16 §‡§ I woke up to absolute blackness and a strange sense of warmth and coldness at once - the air was damp, the rock beneath me was cold, but I was covered snugly by something rough and itchy. For some reason the scratchy cloth made me think of Lucy as she complained about . . . bed sheets? It seemed a lifetime ago. Why would I think of that now? The memory wasn’t entirely a happy one, but I knew it was far better than my present situation and I clung to it and the image of my sisters as I gradually became more aware. I shifted. My hands were still untied. It was a relief to be able to move freely even though I dared not move very far. I could hear deep, slow breaths right behind me and further off, snoring. Where was I? I slowly sat up, careful to feel my way as I moved for fear of hitting my head in the darkness. An arm’s length away on my right my hand came in contact with stone and to my left I felt hair as coarse as wire. I snatched my hand back, realizing I was between Valerlan and the wall. He was protecting me from the others. Though I could see nothing I stared in the direction of the Ettin prince. I had a heavy, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and a sharp pain in my head - the aftermath of the terror I had felt earlier. My body was not yet over Hatta’s assault; the memory of panic was still making itself felt. I was faintly dizzy as if fevered and my limbs felt heavy and clumsy. I think I was simply still frightened out of my wits regardless of the barrier formed by the sleeping Giant beside me. Valerlan had barely stopped them once. Were his threats enough to stop them again?

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They would have murdered me. Cruel, crude, senseless creatures that they were, the Ettins would have happily killed and consumed me. Was that how Edmund felt when Jadis was sharpening the Stone Knife for his throat? How Aslan had felt on the Stone Table? I tried not to think about it, but the memories were too fresh and vivid for me to dismiss them. Oreius always said that I worried too much about things I couldn’t change, but I think in this case he would excuse my dwelling on recent events provided it wasn’t for too long. Hatta had enjoyed being able to torture me. I knew he was sadistic but I sensed he would have made me suffer horribly as he killed me. He hated me not just because I was an inconvenience and not of his race but because Valerlan set such store by me. He was jealous that I was the fulfillment of his prince’s dreams. I didn’t believe that Hatta wanted his race preserved if it meant depending on me, and my own reluctance to be forced into the role of savior only added insult to indignation. There was no satisfying one such as him. A hacking cough rose up in my chest and I tried to stifle the sound before my guardian roused. Everything hurt from my hair to my feet. I had tensed up so completely and struggled so hard that I felt as if I had pulled every muscle in my body. I groaned as the coughing fit eased, leaving me exhausted and dazed. Trying to ignore the smell of sweat and filth around me, I edged away until I could lean against the wall of stone. I leaned my head back and hissed at the contact. I remembered Hatta yanking out a goodly handful of my hair when Valerlan surprised him. It hadn’t hurt then. Rubbing the offended spot, I recalled Oreius’ typically pragmatic view on pain: It lets you know you’re alive. General, I was very much alive. “Aslan,” I said to the darkness, “thank you for delivering me. Deliver me yet again, Great Lion.” Dare I try to escape? I doubted I could have stood long enough to walk ten feet. I was trembling where I sat. I sighed, looking to where I knew the heavens wheeled far above. Was it day? Night? I closed my eyes - useless trying to see in such utter blackness - and tried to remember blue. So strange to be in a world without color! How long had I been down here? What were Susan and Lucy doing right now? I had less trouble envisioning Edmund - I knew he would come for me and I knew the look in his eyes would be darker even than this starless night. The thought gave me immense comfort. He could arrive at any moment. Right that instant would have suited me very well, and whatever gods the Ettins held dear, may they help them against Justice enraged. Before me the Ettin prince stirred and I knew he had roused, probably awakened by my coughs. When he spoke I wasn’t startled, I was simply still frightened. “Prayers in the night, little king? I thought you had no gods in Narnia.” “That doesn’t mean we don’t have faith,” I replied to the faceless voice, “or that we don’t pray.” “And you think the Cat hears you?” “I know he does.” “Even here, in this pit?” “It’s at times like this that he hears me best of all.”

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He snorted and I could hear him moving carefully, sitting up and moving things about. Presently I heard the spark of a flint and several minutes later I could see the shadowy bulk of Valerlan against the faint light of a small fire. Beyond him, on the far side of the chamber, I spotted the hairy bulk of Storr and heard his snores. Of Hatta and Haigha I saw no sign. Valerlan stepped out of the way of the light and studied me intently. I met his eye, not caring how sickened or feeble I might appear. “You’re still afraid,” he concluded, sounding very close to sorry for me. “Wouldn’t you be, Crown Prince?” I snapped. “I’ve been abducted, abused, my guard killed, and you’ve as good as promised that I’ll be -“ I broke off, unable to finish the complete the horrible thought of what lay in store for me at the hands of the Ettins if King Valaner’s twisted plan was ever realized. I drew a deep breath. “Hatta tortured me with his conduct and he would have made me suffer long and hard ere he murdered me. Tell me you wouldn’t be afraid.” “Probably,” he agreed, looking smug. “Fortunate for you I woke when I did.” It was my turn to snort at him but I didn’t have the energy. Instead I said, “Fortunate for me Aslan heard my prayers.” “You’re short on gratitude,” he said lightly, though I suspected he actually expected thanks. “I’m long on gratitude for those that do me good service. But for you and yours I wouldn’t be here right now and my guard would still be alive. Am I supposed to be glad for you saving your man from killing me when you yourself ordered my capture and expected me to eat the flesh of my cousin and subject?” He arched an eyebrow at me, feigning amusement at my outburst but I think I cut him with my words. “You’ve proven you’re willing to take a life in defense of your country. Aren’t you equally willing to lay down your life?” When I didn’t answer immediately he became impatient and demanded, “How now, King Peter, the question likes you not?” I stirred. “I just find it an interesting proposal for a man like you to ask of a boy of fifteen years.” “Not a man to a boy, but one king to another.” I looked at him coolly, resting my head against the rock. That I was a king I had no doubt I was all that Aslan wanted and needed and made me to be and more. Valerlan, however . . . “Were you truly a king you would not need to pose such a question,” I said, bringing to bear all the lessons of Mathe, my rhetoric teacher. I had been taught by an expert how to debate effectively. I suspected my opponent just knew how to argue. Well, if Valerlan wanted a king he’d get one, but I didn’t think he’d enjoy it for a moment. I focused all my energy on the question he had seen fit to raise, forcing myself to concentrate, anger and indignation at the situation slowly burning in my breast. It was an unfortunate truth that when I didn’t feel well I grew snappish and short-tempered. “But to answer your first, I would not have led my army into battle against Jadis if I wasn’t willing to lay down my life

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for what I love. I don’t think you’re asking me as much as yourself. Do you value anything so much as to risk your life for it?” He slowly sat down, staring at me across the fire. “I’m here, aren’t I?” “That’s no answer. There’s nothing glorious in murder. Attacking a small, lightly-armed party in the heart of their own country is hardly risking your life, is it? Capturing a boy a fraction of your size and holding him is not bravery, nor is debasing and mocking him. Are these the acts of a king? You could just have easily remained hidden in the castle and returned to Ettinsmoor. We would have been none the wiser and you would not have invited our wrath.” Or Edmund’s. He stared at me, resentment in his muddy brown eyes. “And is skulking away in the night like a coward the act of a king? You think I have no right to make this claim, do you?” “If Aslan wanted you and your family to rule Narnia, I would not be here right now. Where were you and yours when this land you claim as your birthright was laboring under the tyranny of the White Witch? What effort did you and your people make to free Narnia from a century of winter? None. Given your druthers, I warrant you’d rather Jadis was still in power despite her empty promises. Indeed, your people contributed to the violence when they sided with Jadis and helped fight her battle.” “She made you her heir! How could you cast that aside?” “People change. She offered no choice, just death and hatred and fear. Aslan is love. How could you want to serve evil?” “My people acted as we saw fit, given what knowledge we had available.” I coughed, feeling a familiar rattle building in my chest. I wondered at myself for arguing so fiercely with him but I had come too far to back down even if I wanted to, and at this point I didn’t want to. He had taken me, taken my freedom, promised nothing but a life of captivity, and now he expected me to thank him. I lashed out the only way I could verbally. “But you say you are their king, or would be. Ultimately the responsibility to seek out the truth lies with you, does it not?” “How now?” the prince asked again. He hid it well, but I suspected he was uncomfortable not only with the weight of my argument but with my manner. He was not used to people standing up to him so or possessing better vocabularies than he did. “What of Narnia’s inhabitants? You would drive them off their own land or worse still slaughter and eat them? As a king you rule by consent of the ruled, Valerlan, and you must meet the expectations of those you serve. They expect their king to be a Son of Adam. You may be descended in part from King Frank and Queen Helen but that was generations of marrying Ettins ago. How can you expect me to save your people when you haven’t even tried yourself?” “You speak as if being an Ettin is something to be ashamed of.” “And you speak as if having Human blood in your veins is the answer to all your woes when in fact it’s made your position intolerable. Look at what’s become of your own kin.” “You call us unnatural?” snapped Valerlan. « 152 »

“Don’t put such words in my mouth. You’re betraying your own sense of guilt. You have no call to pride or shame for your birth. You yourself said your people were desperate and had naught but kin to wed. I ask what good can come out of such close bonds of blood.” Clearly he did not like to be reminded of his family’s inbred line. He glared at me. “I am the result of such a bond.” “You helped devour six people that you would call your subjects!” I shot right back, not caring that I shouted. My own voice hurt my head but it felt very good to unleash upon him. I was panting with effort and emotion. “You, who would set yourself up as the true king of Narnia, have murdered and consumed my cousins! Ones whom you wish to call cousins! Or do you? What manner of perversity is it that you can consume the flesh of a living, thinking, free individual? You may see those your men massacred as food but I see them as soldiers and parents and loyal subjects that fought for me and served me and loved me as I love them! Do you actually think Aslan would tolerate a cannibal king in the land that is the seat of his grace? Do you think Narnia would abide such abuse? They’ve cast off one tyrant. I’m certain they could do so again without me leading the army.” Clearly he hadn’t thought of his conduct in such a way. I was sickened anew by him and his desire as he struggled to recover from my furious assault. “Cousins? Why would I call beasts cousins and subjects? They are no cousins of the Ettins.” “Indeed they are not,” I agreed hotly. “They are Narnia, and I am theirs.” “And what would you have me do? Leave my people to starve?” “I could ask you the same thing! What would you have me do, hand over my throne to a murderer? Sell my country to appease your wants and baseless claims? You say you would be a king - act like one!” I was panting in fury. I seized upon the emotion as surely as I would have laid hold of Rhindon’s hilt. I knew it was foolish to argue so and I wondered at myself - Valerlan was my only ally amidst these monsters and every high-blown phrase drove him just a little further away. I’d had quite enough though, and his insult to every being in Narnia was the last straw. “What would I have you do? I bid you thole, Valerlan! Thole! Suffer through your trials! Endure so that you may overcome! Lead your people! Your own people! In your own land! You look at our prosperity and wealth with envy. You had the means to achieve these things in hand. Your people had them once before. You just don’t want to take the time to create and learn and change. So much easier to steal and convince yourself these things are owed you by an unjust world.” He snorted, unmoved. “Thole? What kind of word is that?” I paused. I had learned the word from my father’s father, who in turn had acquired it during the Great War while serving under a Scottish doctor. “An ancient word. Older even than Narnia. From long ago and far away.” “It’s an ugly sound.” “Only if you fear its implications.” “Which of course you do not.”

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I stared at him, his sarcasm falling flat, my own fire sputtering and leaving me feeling empty and forsaken. I leaned back against the rock, weary and heartsick and aching for my home. When I replied my voice was hoarse. “I embrace it.” He matched my coldness with his own, any hint of mercy gone from his eyes. “That’s very good, King Peter. For your whole future, then, I bid you thole.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Seventeen: Driven When the dragon awoke, trouble flared again. He ripped down the rock, writhing in anger when he saw the footprints of the prowler who had stolen too close to his dreaming head. Beowulf, 2287 - 2290 §‡§ I think I frightened them. I know I frightened Kanell. Not even Peterkins could find something to say as we pressed onwards. Tired as we all were, I think the soldiers understood something had happened to alarm me and made no complaints beyond a few mumbles out of the Black Dwarfs which were silenced by a single glare from Xati. They all wanted the same things I did - our High King returned unharmed, the Ettins vanquished, and to be safely back in Narnia - but their reasons were not nearly as complex or deep as my own. To the anxiety of the officers and soldiers alike, I stepped ahead with Shikov as the Boar lead the way, following the spoor left behind at the Ettins’ passing. I carried one of the lanterns and Pandicat around my neck again, calling out warnings as Athan had done for us earlier. At first Kanell said nothing, but when the path became trickier and steeper he insisted that I not go first but move towards the center of the group. I didn’t want to, but I backed down when I saw him brace himself for a fight. I did not want to put him in a position where he would call me Sir Edmund. It would not be fair of me. As I walked I tried not to dwell on the past. I did not have time to ponder my reaction - or lack of it - to this new understanding of what Jadis had done to me. I didn’t have time. Peter didn’t have time. We had to reach him and save him from whatever the Ettins planned. It was that simple. I didn’t know, didn’t think that Peter could have handled going through what I had endured when I was ten. My ignorance of the true nature of what was done to me, I believed, was what had allowed me to tolerate the witch’s abuses and had gone far towards preserving my character. Peter, older and wiser and perceptive, had no such veil to hide behind. I was silent as I walked. This wasn’t unusual, we were all as quiet as possible, but I know they all sensed the intensity of my desire to make haste. At one point Brant had to bodily restrain me from dashing ahead when it seemed to take an eternity for Xati to find a means up a sharp incline. Not as large or as powerful as Kanell nor as nimble as the least of us, she couldn’t make it up and we finally broke out the ropes and the Black Dwarfs fashioned a harness for her. We were all exhausted by the time we hauled the mare up the slope. « 154 »

Kanell fixed me with his steely gaze and called for a rest, ordering the troop to eat and sleep. I wanted to protest. Didn’t they have any idea of the horror and shame and sense of violation that awaited Peter if I was right and the Ettins planned to use him to reclaim their birthright? He had enough to haunt him right now. He didn’t need this. Not if I could prevent it. I couldn’t let him be hurt the way I had been hurt. I couldn’t bear it. I“Sir Edmund,” said Kanell, laying his huge hand on my shoulder. I jumped and gasped, snatched out of my tired thoughts. Turning around, I saw he carried a sleepy Peterkins in his arms. The little Fox was worn out and yawned mightily, his red coat bright against the Centaur’s dark skin. “How often must I tell you to eat and see to your own needs? Part of being a knight of Narnia is readiness, and part of readiness is seeing to your body’s needs. We will rest and sleep. If you can’t do either, at least pretend to try. You are useless to us and to your brother if you drive yourself to the point of collapse.” I nodded, reaching for Peterkins and Kanell handed him over. I let the kit have some of my food before we both curled up under my cape, nestled close and warm against Flinder. For a long while I lay there listening to the Bobcat’s thudding heartbeats and Peterkin’s tiny, whistling snores, the slow drip of water and the eerie echoes of the air as if the earth was slowly breathing. Was Peter asleep? Was he waking? Was he still clinging to hope that I would reach him? I finally slept but it was a restless sleep, and though I couldn’t remember my dreams, they were troubled. §‡§ The Black Dwarfs got their wish because when I was woken a few hours later by Pauton’s gentle prodding I was in rare form, hissing and growling and snapping at anything and everything. Their smiles of amusement didn’t help the situation any and Kanell was forced to shoo them away from me before someone got hurt. Flinder slunk away at the first opportunity and Peterkins ran to Xati. I sat on the rocks a perfect little snappish beast as I tried to force my brain to be alert. It never worked, but I tried. By the time everyone was ready to move out I could walk, but it was at least another half hour before I could talk. Barin and Brant were delighted and I could hear them whispering, occasionally casting me smiles and looking on the verge of laughter when I glared back at them. Normally I would have been able to summon up a smirk, but on this occasion my glare was genuine. I didn’t blame them. Phillip often said that you cannot blame an Ass for being an Ass. True to form I had interpreted his statement on a number of levels. In this particular case I think the simplest form applied - Brant and Barin were simply being what they were, Black Dwarfs. “Your Majesty is most disquieted,” Pandicat whispered in her sweet voice. She was the first one to address me directly and I reached up and smoothed the banded tail she had wrapped around my throat. “I’m frightened for my brother,” I said quietly. A little chirping trill escaped the Lemur’s throat. “Aslan guards him and guides us, good my king. He would not abandon our kings in the wilderness.”

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“I know,” I replied. “But I’m as afraid for Peter’s health as his safety. It’s so cold and damp here he could get pneumonia.” Evidently she hadn’t thought of that because she snuggled a little closer to me, warm and musky across my shoulders and around my neck. She made the little trill again as if she could somehow ward off the cold with her own body. I smiled and gently stroked her fur, heartened by her support. Beside me, I heard Xati let forth with an uncharacteristic sigh. I followed her line of vision and let out a little moan of my own because the terrain angled up sharply again. We would be able to climb it but it would not be easy, especially on the Centaurs. I stared at the steep rock face with something akin to hatred, but if the Ettins had gone this way, so would I. “Majesty,” asked the mare, glaring at the path before us, “when we catch these Palish Giants and free your brother, might I kick each and every one of them in the ankle?” “Only if you swear to cripple the lot of them, Lieutenant,” I replied, producing a vicious chuckle out of her which I took as a promise. It was difficult, tedious going, but my greatest frustration was that we were forced to move so slowly because not only was the slope very sharp, but a small spring poured down the face of the rock and made it very slippery. On my own I would have charged up the slope and probably hurt myself in the process since I was weighed down by the pack and an additional sword. Pandicat climbed on her own to avoid having her extra weight throw off my balance. As we climbed so carefully I felt a strange sense of fear rising in my chest. It wasn’t that I couldn’t see the top of the jagged slope or the expanse of darkness behind me. Heights did not frighten me. Shikov still smelt the Ettins’ spoor and was sure of the route, the Dwarfs argued only very rarely and picked the safest path, the Satyrs and Fauns remained determined, Athan and the officers were steady and true, and Peterkins managed to shut up. This feeling was all in me, all of my making, and it was growing with every step. We were falling behind. We were many, they were few. The Ettins knew the route; we were stumbling in the darkness. We were small by comparison to their huge forms with their long legs and brute strength. Urgency seemed to grip me and a strange and sadly familiar tightness seized my chest. I looked up to the shadowy forms ahead of me, Barin and Pauton, as they scanned the rock rising up before them. “Faster!” I barked. “Move faster!” “Majesty?” breathed the Red Dwarf, shocked that I would snap at them when I was fully awake. “We’re too far behind! We’ve got to move faster or we’ll never catch up. We’re taking too long! All of you pick up the pace! Now!” There was a moment of quiet, then Xati, Aslan bless that mare, ordered from below, “You heard his majesty! Move!”

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With new drive, we reached the summit to the next chamber of these caverns. In the flash of my tilted lantern I saw glorious veils of white and yellow stone hanging like drapes from the ceiling, glittering formations like gigantic pieces of hoarfrost, a brace of smooth pillars made of living, growing stone. I looked, set the lantern down, and then bent to help the first Satyr behind me reach the top. There was no time to appreciate this place. Shikov was already snuffling around with his snout to the ground to pick up the route. I sent the others ahead as I waited for Xati and then Kanell to join me. Both Centaurs were out of breath; they were not designed for such sharp slopes. They were both too heavy for me to assist, but Athan was able to help Xati. She smiled and together they heaved and helped drag Kanell up the last few feet. Panting, he bent over, his flanks foamy with sweat. He waved his thanks and then motioned them ahead. “Edmund?” wondered Kanell, looking at me with concern, my friend and teacher right now and not a captain of Cair Paravel’s guard. I shook my head. “Kanell, they have every advantage right now,” I said. Unconsciously I put a hand to my chest, the wellspring of this anxiety. “We have to make up time and distance. There’s naught else for it.” He stared at me, his dark features lost in the shadows. I was glad he didn’t ask how I knew this, but I think he would have believed me if I told him this burning need to make haste was a warning from Aslan. The Great Lion was answering my prayer, just as he had promised he would when I was laboring under Jadis’ deathless curse. I knew the feeling. I had felt it before. I was absolutely sure. “I will drive this troop until we drop if I have to, Captain.” “I understand, King Edmund,” he replied, and I knew that as far as he could, he did comprehend. “You don’t understand enough,” I said tightly. I dropped my voice down even though the others were well ahead of us. “I need you with me on this, Kanell. Know, sir, that I will not allow the Ettins to do to Peter what Jadis did to me.” I stared at him, willing him to figure out everything I wasn’t saying. In the faint light of the lantern’s glow he drew back, his mouth falling open in speechless shock and sympathy. Then he leaned down, his hand gripping my shoulder tightly as he returned my steady gaze. For a long moment he was silent, allowing himself time to absorb what I had said. It was a testimony to his character that he recovered so swiftly, but his body language said more than words. When he spoke, his voice was as determined as my own, and I detected an undercurrent of fury at the witch that had destroyed so much of what was precious in Narnia. “Neither will I.” I nodded slightly, suddenly nervous for some reason on top of being anxious. I suppose I simply needed someone else to know, to understand, and to offer support if I felt the need to push these people beyond their limits. With the tightness in my chest and so many worries on my mind I needed support regardless. I was also relieved a bit at his quiet acceptance. I had always considered him a friend, now more so than ever before. “King Edmund! King Edmund! Captain, sir!” « 157 »

We were both startled at the unexpected interruption. Kanell smiled sadly as the moment of confidences was shattered by a high-pitched voice. We both turned as Peterkins came bounding back to us, jumping from rock to rock until there were none left and he was forced to walk the earth like the rest of us. “What is it, Peterkins?” I asked, picking up the lantern. He stopped, gaping as he tried to remember his news. He blinked and gave himself a little shake, his ears and whiskers perking up as his memory jogged. “Flinder found a - a - a thing!” “Lead on, good my Fox,” I replied, not about to delve further and ignoring the almost-sigh that escaped the Centaur at Peterkins’ notion of delivering a message. We followed the bushy red tail back to our waiting party. The Bobcat was prowling about a flat expanse of rock where several narrow stalactites had fallen and shattered in ages past, looking, for all the world, like bleached bones. Peterkins led us to where Xati and Gicelus stood looking at some of the broken stone. Flinder drew near and put his paw on the rock. “Here, King Edmund,” he said, indicating a brownish stain atop the stalactite. I leaned over, recognizing the color and smell of the stain. Blood. I had seen and spilled enough of the stuff to know it wasn’t very old. A few inches away there was another smear in the shape of a human hand, as if someone had leaned on the stone to stand up. I reached down, covering it. The print was slightly larger than my own hand. “Peter.” I looked up, scanning the troop. Hard, angry eyes looked right back at me and I was glad beyond words to see them. Kanell was not the only one that understood me right now. Praise Aslan, I would not have to drive these people but rein them in. “Good my cousins,” I said, “we will not stop until our king is found.” It was Kanell who answered, his deep voice full of fierce emotion. “Indeed we will not, King Edmund.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Eighteen: Revinim . . . the clear song of a skilled poet telling with mastery of man’s beginnings, how the Almighty had made the earth a gleaming plain girdled with waters; in His splendor He set the sun and moon to be earth’s lamplight, lanterns for men, « 158 »

and filled the broad lap of the world with branches and leaves; and quickened life in every other thing that moved. Beowulf, 90-98 §‡§ There is a word in Narnia I heard one day at the end of a long search and a longer discussion. Susan and I had been in Cair Paravel’s library trying to find anything that resembled a dictionary. There were thousands of books, big, beautiful, leather bound affairs that smelt sweetly musty and filled your arms when you pulled them off the shelves. Loaded book cases lined the walls and filled the floor, overflowing with books and scrolls and tablets of all sorts. I had been told this was the finest library in the world and I believed it. There were few windows in this room - Irel would risk no sunlight fading the precious bindings - but we could see easily enough by lamplight as we pored over the volumes. Susan and I had been talking about how so many different species of beings could live in such concord as seen here in Narnia. It was remarkable and they were far more accomplished at getting along than the peoples in the world we had left behind. I thought there might be a law or rule or philosophy that could explain this wondrous harmony, but after looking everywhere we could think, there was nothing in any of the books. Susan used both hands and slid a huge tome back onto its wooden shelf, brushing her long hair out of her eyes. It was quite warm inside and we were both tired and sweaty and still intensely curious. “Perhaps Cheroom could help,” she finally suggested, the first to admit that we weren’t going to find what we wanted on our own. “Where would he be this time of day?” “Ed will know,” I replied confidently. “Where is he?” “No idea.” She clucked her tongue at me and smiled, going to the door. The first courier that came to her soft call was a Hummingbird. He sat like a living jewel in her palm, as brilliant as a handful of emeralds and rubies and pearls and more precious by far. “Can you find King Edmund or Cheroom for me, please?” Susan asked the Bird. I heard a faint chirp from the tiny thing before he zoomed off of her hand. She watched it go with delight on her face. I joined her in the hall where it was cooler and brighter and together we slowly walked with no destination in mind. Only a few weeks had passed since we had been crowned and there was already a hint of autumn in the air. We were still finding our way around Cair Paravel and trying to get used to the fact that we were kings and queens. I had to admit it was a very enjoyable but taxing transition as we attended classes to help us learn to rule and found advisors and stumbled through diplomatic meetings. We hadn’t made much progress down the hall when the Hummingbird returned with reinforcements. I dodged out of the way as half a dozen of the tiny Birds swarmed around « 159 »

Susan. She stretched out her hands and they all landed on her fingers. She had to lean close to hear their news. “Your brother, King Edmund, is in the herb garden with Cheroom.” “Thank you,” she whispered, smiling. “May I call upon you again some day?” The Hummingbirds all bowed and fluttered their wings as a sign of respect, and one of the males excitedly said, “The honor would be ours, Gentle Queen.” As promised, we found Edmund with his Centaur tutor. Edmund was standing in the center of an intricate knot garden, gathering sprigs of the plants as Cheroom was explained the various meanings and uses for each. The garden smelled sweet and lush southernwood and thyme and monarda all perfumed the air. They both looked up as we approached. Cheroom bowed to me, then bent low over Susan’s extended hand. Though he had only been here a few days the old Centaur was rapidly becoming a favorite in Cair Paravel’s court for his knowledge and wit. His wisdom seemed as deep as the sea and he took his job of teaching Edmund very seriously. “Good eve, High King, Gentle Queen,” said he. “Your brother has been learning something of herbology.” Edmund handed me a branch of rosemary. “For remembrance,” he said. “And sage is for wisdom. Southernwood for health and love. Garlic, to keep vampyres away.” “We have them?” I asked, looking at the collection on my palm. At Edmund’s dour nod, I smiled, smelling the plants in my hand, thinking how fortunate we were, how wonderful this land and this life. I addressed my question to them both. “Do you mind if Su - I mean Queen Susan and I interrupt you for a moment?” “Of course not,” said Edmund. “Something wrong?” “No,” Susan replied. “But we were just in the library trying to find a dictionary and -“ By Cheroom’s expression I knew he’d never heard of such a thing, but before I could speak Edmund hastened to say, “It’s a type of book from Spare Oom. It tells you what words mean.” The aged Centaur looked impressed, clearly thinking this was a worthwhile book indeed. “What word do you seek?” It was my turn. “Well, sir, I was looking to see if Narnia had a word for humanity. I don’t mean in the sense of the human race but as a concept of being kind and merciful.” “And respectful,” added Edmund softly. I cast him a quick look, but he was focused on Cheroom. “We thought ‘humanity’ would be misleading and unfair to use here in Narnia,” Susan said. “So is there a word, Cheroom, that can apply to everyone? Something that shows respect for all our people?” He smiled, plainly delighted that we had asked such a question. “Yes, my queen,” he replied, “there is such a word. Everywhere you go in Narnia, every being you meet, every

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tree and all the waters, the very wind and stones and air live by this concept. The word you seek is revinim.” Revinim. Cheroom spoke it with such reverence and respect. Not since the first time I had heard Aslan’s name pronounced had a word thrilled me as did revinim. I felt the power of the word even if I didn’t understand all the nuances of its meaning. If this was part of the magic that bound Narnia together in such wondrous harmony then it was not a thing to be trifled with. I glanced at Susan to see if the word had a similar effect on her but she looked thoughtful and pleased, not awed. Edmund’s expression was distant - I knew the word had touched him, but he seemed more satisfied than anything else, as if he’d figured out the answer to a question that had been occupying his mind. I remembered how Aslan’s name had affected us each according to his or her desire at the time. I supposed this was no different. “The word is as old as Narnia - indeed, it’s older,” said Cheroom, continuing the instruction. “It was sung by Aslan himself as he called this world into being, sung before the Lion spoke the name of Narnia. The earth remembered it. The first trees and the dawning waters heard it. Aslan used the word to waken the stars and set the heavens in motion. It came before awareness. Before thought. Before speech. It sprang forth in that moment between life and love.” Listening to the wise old Centaur, I could see why Edmund enjoyed his classes so much (such a change from the past!) and the effect the calm, deep voice had on my brother. The bards of old must have had voices such as Cheroom’s - deep and rich and expressive, the very thing to do justice to Narnia’s history and the name of Aslan. I sat on the garden wall by Edmund, ready to listen all evening despite the faint chill of autumn in the air. “Revinim commands that we treat one other with the respect due to all life, and through life, the respect due to death. Death is not a threat, Your Majesties, but merely the first and last true promise that life makes us the moment we are born. Revinim is not so much spoken of as understood and served by every Narnian. It brings harmony among races that would otherwise be foes, and it prompts us to give and share each according to their abilities. It demands tolerance of that which is different. It is giving first so that we may take, only to give again. You will not find it explained in the library, King Peter, because for each person who lives by it, revinim means something slightly different. The Dwarfs see it as the bounty the earth yields to their picks, my own people see it as the music that plays as the stars dance across the sky. The trees see it as water and sunlight and rich earth ‘neath their roots. And yet it is all the same, for ultimately revinim comes down to love and respect for Narnia and all she means, and through Narnia, love and respect and awe for the Great Lion that sang the word that first dawn.” §‡§ When I awoke I was moving, but not under my own power. I opened my eyes to shadowy darkness and rough fabric against my cheek. It took me several minutes to rouse, but eventually I realized I was being carried in a folded blanket slung over Valerlan’s shoulder as if I had been stuffed into a sling. Though the Ettin’s hairy vest stank and the blanket was scratchier than hay, I had not been this warm in what seemed like an eternity. My body was still remarkably sore and my head and legs and feet ached. I did not have the strength to protest. We were moving fast, the Ettins’ long legs propelling us along far swifter than when « 161 »

I had been walking. I felt a stab of fear at that realization. What if we got so far ahead of Edmund that he couldn’t catch up? I was too weary and heartsick to make either a sound or a plan. I couldn’t understand why I was reacting so severely. I vaguely recalled trying to stand earlier at the makeshift camp and collapsing in a heap. I might have even passed out again. Perhaps this dazed heaviness was the culmination of everything that I had endured so far, the shock and strain and injuries had caught up to me. There was one thing I could do, though, and I gladly did it. Aslan, be with me. Slow their steps and speed Edmund to me. Guard him, watch him, and let him prove to be everything that I know he is . . . and can be. Be with him, Aslan. Be with me . . . I suppressed a cough, not wanting Valerlan to think I had roused. A single thought formed in my mind, the echo of a familiar and beloved voice. Rest . . . §‡§ “Drink.” I woke again to cold, hard stone beneath me as my head was gently lifted and liquid was forced on me. It tasted awful but I was very thirsty and it soothed my throat. Was I sick? I must have been. It didn’t feel like pneumonia. I’d felt this way after Beruna and when Edmund and I had fought the last remnants of Jadis’ army - it was sheer exhaustion. I tended to wait until after an event to react to it, saving up my anxiety for one big rush after the fact, unlike Edmund who got nervous and stayed that way until the moment the action started. I turned away from the water, coughing at the taste. What on earth had I just drunk? I must have been having another encounter with Ettin healing. It seemed as crude as it was effective. I lowered my head, curling up on the fabric beneath me, feeling too awful to do anything more. I felt the cloth being drawn over me and I lapsed into a stupor, not quite able to sleep as the medication coursed through my tired body. “We’ll stop here.” At Valerlan’s words I heard mumbles of protest from the three Ettins. “Will you coddle him so close when his children take your throne?” Hatta snapped. The prince did not rise to the bait. “He’s no good to us dead.” “I don’t see what good he is at all.” “That’s why you’re not the heir to the throne and I am, cousin.” “For this sickly little worm you beat me?” “No. I beat you because you disobeyed me and tried to tempt my brother into betraying me. If you make me raise my hand to you again, it will be for the last time, Hatta.” There was an annoyed snort out of my dull-witted nemesis. “We shouldn’t stop so soon. We’re almost out of food.” “There will be food with the garrison at Loy.” « 162 »

“She used to feed us. Remember? All those prisoners we used to eat? Now all we got were stinking fish and hardly enough meat for a decent meal.” I listened in horror. Jadis handed over prisoners to the Ettins? Narnian prisoners? Hatta must have known I wasn’t quite asleep; I could hear the vindictive pleasure in his voice as he went on tormenting me with his words. “Remember that time we killed those horse-things and those goats when you cut down that tree that was so precious to them? Remember how you burned it and we had a cooked meal?” “Enough, Hatta,” hissed Valerlan. But it was Storr who replied and as usual he failed to recognize that Valerlan wanted the topic dropped. “You remember, brother! That apple tree Jadis said was poisonous, the one Father killed when she first made her promise to us.” I forced my eyes open and tried to focus on Valerlan. Ettins had killed the Tree of Protection? They had paved the way for the White Witch to sweep down from the north in a surge of ice and snow and conquer Narnia? The Tree had been hateful to Jadis and had protected Narnia from her for nine centuries. Valaner had killed it? Valerlan had destroyed it? What new depth of wickedness was this? I couldn’t help it. There were tears in my eyes as I looked at the Ettin Prince. He fixed me with an expressionless gaze, not about to betray any feelings before me or his subjects. How many had died because of the Ettins’ greed? How many Narnians had starved or perished from disease and despair as they waited in vain for spring to warm the land? How many soldiers died beneath the force of her fell troops? How many prisoners had she fed to these wicked beings? Oh, Aslan, how many had they slaughtered? But for the cordial my only brother would have been another name on that tragic list. They had ushered in a century of suffering and fear and they were actually saddened by its absence. They were as evil as the queen they had served and I was sickened anew. I did not care how valid Valerlan’s claim to Narnia’s throne may or may not be. The Ettin prince could have been crowned by Aslan himself - not that the Lion would ever have invested such grace in a being so evil - and I would still contest his authority. Anyone with so little regard for the inhabitants of Narnia, with such a complete lack of caring and a total disregard for revinim and all it meant was not nor ever could be a sovereign in my land. It would be an affront against my home and against nature. Valerlan and his race had no respect for anyone save themselves and a grudging acknowledgment that they were descended from a Son of Adam. The crown prince might think he was in the right, but he missed Aslan’s whole intent in creating a place such as Narnia. ¥¤¥

Chapter Nineteen: Children of the Night Then out of the night Came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift . . .

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Beowulf, 703-704 §‡§ “Shikov?” The Boar lifted his head, testing the air and shifting about. “They built a fire here. Shine your lamp to the right, Majesty.” I obeyed, letting the faint gleam sweep the uneven ground. Sure enough I found the remains of charred wood and ash. I noticed that the fires were getting smaller. The Ettins must be running low on fuel and for Peter’s sake I hoped they didn’t run out. I examined the area as Shikov waited for the rest of the party to catch up to us. Beside the fire it seemed there was little else to indicate anything had passed this way. At least there wasn’t any more blood. Presently I was joined by the archers. I hadn’t realized it before but Satyrs and Fauns have a particularly deep hatred for Ettins. It seems their people suffered more than most because the Palish Giants considered them a delicacy. I understood their loathing as it was an unpleasant distinction I knew I shared with them. Dwarfs on the other hand made for small, tough mouthfuls and had been generally ignored. “Not so far, Master Fox,” called one of the Satyrs, watching Peterkins bounce past us with enviable reserves of energy. “I smell fire,” he said, his tail held high. “Right here,” returned the Satyr, pointing at the remnants before me. Peterkins shook his head. “No, Nex, the air is moving this way. There’s more fire up ahead.” I glanced at the Boar and frowned, looking to where Peterkins was still testing the air. Shikov wrinkled his snout and moved away to verify the find. “I smell it, too, King Edmund,” said Pandicat in my ear as Shikov looked back at me and nodded. “Wait for Kanell,” I cautioned the kit only because I wanted to bolt away myself and knew the Centaur would be furious. I had to start setting an example eventually and there was no time like the present. Why would there be two fires so close together? “Peterkins smells another fire ahead,” I said as soon as the rest of the group joined us. Kanell clearly had the same thoughts I did and Xati frowned. “A falling out of forces?” she suggested. “Aslan help us if they’ve split up,” muttered the captain darkly. “Let’s go look,” I suggested firmly, not at all pleased at his implication. I hadn’t thought of that and things would be very bad indeed if the Ettins had gone separate ways. “Lead on, Peterkins.” We followed the little Fox as he wound his way through a maze of pillars, his nose to the ground, Shikov a few steps behind to make certain we didn’t get lost. Not even a quarter of a mile away we came across what was left of a second fire. Smaller than the first, it had « 164 »

been strewn and trampled and we could see signs of a scuffle – ashy footprints and smears of charcoal covered the sheltered little cove. On the ground was a pile of leather rope next to a puddle of dried vomit. Peterkins sniffed around, voicing a quiet, “Grufull,” at the smell of dried bile before he explored further afield. I knelt down, studying the severed leather straps, measuring the curve of one stiff band around my own wrist. It would have fit Peter. The vomit must have come from Peter as well - an Ettin would have spit up far more. Close by me, Pauton and Brant studied the ground. “King Edmund,” said Pauton, “look.” I leaned in close and saw what he was pointing out: blond hairs, the color of wheat. A scattering of them lay right beside the pieces of leather. Wonderful. How many other abuses was Peter enduring right now? I felt the anger building up inside me, a smoldering fury that would burst forth when even I couldn’t contain it any longer. Oreius had told me time and again that rage such as I experienced - this gradual, quiet, restrained emotion - was as valuable on the field of conflict as a sword because I controlled the passion, it did not control me. The opposite was true of Peter but somehow the results were invariably the same. He was calm, deceptively so, but when he snapped his fury was like a tidal wave that obliterated everything in its path. “Peterkins,” I called and the little Fox came bounding over. “Were any of the Ettins blond?” I knew the answer already but I just had to make sure. The kit stared at me and I realized he didn’t know what I was talking about. Hastily I amended my question. “Did any of the bad Giants you saw by Lake Asher have yellow hair like King Peter?” That he understood and he perked up immediately. “No. They all looked like the Satyrs or Kanell only not so clean.” “Thank you.” I looked to the Dwarfs, puzzled. “Why would they build two fires so close together? These bonds were cut through. Why free Peter here?” “And who ripped out his hair?” muttered Pauton. “I think we know who it was,” Brant replied, “the question is why.” “Majesty,” called Xati. I rose and joined the mare. She pointed to a spatter of blood flecking the nearby pillars and ground. I could not keep the dread from my voice. “Peter, you think?” “No,” she replied, “the drops are too large to have come from your brother. If they had he would have been very sorely wounded and there would be far more blood than this. No, this is Ettin doing violence to Ettin, praise Aslan.” I saw Kanell smile at her bloodthirsty comment before he stepped away, his hooves echoing in the relative quiet. Flinder and Pandicat were finding more and more sprays of blood in the immediate area. Apparently quite the battle had occurred, but it didn’t seem as if any of the blood had been Peter’s. I doubt they would have told me if it was.

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“What does this mean?” I pressed Kanell when the Centaur came back from a quick circuit of the area, following Shikov around as the Boar tried to find the primary scent once again. “All is not well among our enemies. This is good for us and perhaps dangerous for the High King.” “How so?” “He is extremely valuable to them both as a Human and a king. I suspect that if they fight over anything, it will be him.” I sighed, tired of being frightened. My mood wasn’t quite as low as it had been dragged down when Peter had gone adventuring into the Western Wild to save me, but then he hadn’t been snatched up by enemies of Narnia that looked upon him the same way we looked upon field rations. “We can’t stay here,” I said, shaking myself into action. “Shikov, have you found -“ “Something approaches!” cried Flinder, his eyes wide as he came running back to us. Peterkins, alarmed by his tone, was hot on his heels. “It’s coming from behind!” For the first time in ages I felt a surge of hope course through my weary soul. I looked to the Bobcat and asked, “Is it walking?” “Nay, King Edmund! It comes with a roar – like the ocean waves!” “Another flood?” suggested Athan, but I shook my head as excitement filled me. The other Animals and Magical Creatures had perked up and were listening. The archers drew their weapons and notched arrows and Kanell drew his broadsword. “Weapons down!” I ordered harshly. Kanell looked at me in shock. “You know what it is?” he demanded. Even I could hear the eerie, welling sound now and I broke into a smile. “I know what I hope it is, Sir!” They stared at me in absolute confusion. I stepped forward towards the center of the chamber. One of the Dwarfs tried to stop me but I twisted out of his hold. Finally, my mind exclaimed, triumphant despite my fatigue. I faced my companions, again motioning their weapons down as I put myself right in the line of fire. I clapped my hands once, waited a moment then clapped twice more before spreading my arms wide and waiting, looking back over my shoulder to see. A look of astonishment spread over many of their faces as the soldiers realized who I was summoning. Seconds later a terrific, piercing shriek echoed through the cavern as a magnificent Flying Fox swept into view, her wingspan longer than I was tall. She swooped low and landed on my shoulders with a thump, her wings wrapping around me for a moment as I swayed with the impact. Despite her great size she weighed very little. More shrieks followed and suddenly the very air was alive with Bats of every shape and size and color. They landed on me, brushed past me, pulling at my hair and clothes in greeting as they swarmed about and « 166 »

jockeyed for perches on the stalactites or the startled soldiers. Peterkins let out a squeak of fear and hid behind the legs of the Dwarf archers, his eyes wide with amazement. I looked about, smiling for the first time in ages as more and more flew into the chamber on a rush of wind. There were Flying Foxes and Little Brown Bats, Bats with big ears and pug noses, Bats with tails, Bats without, blacks and browns and grays and even some wan and pallid Ghost Bats. They fluttered and cried out and talked a terrible racket, but for me it was like unto music. Thank Aslan. I sighed, closing my eyes for a moment, listening as the newcomers called out excited greetings to our party. I reached a hand to my shoulder and the Flying Fox climbed onto my forearm, digging her claws into the heavy fabric of my tunic until she could comfortably hang beneath my extended arm. She furled her great black wings snugly around her fuzzy golden body then let out a mighty hiss. “Silence!” The Bats obeyed instantly. Kanell, though surprised, looked impressed at her command. The stone all around us seemed to pulse with life as the Bats shifted about. There were hundreds. Perhaps thousands. It was more than I had ever hoped for when I sent Fulton, Piper, and Tell out across the Lantern Waste to rally their winged cousins to the High King’s aid. “Welcome, dear lady,” I said, feeling more tiny forms clinging to my clothes as Bats crawled up to my shoulders and in my hair to get a better view. “Aslan’s blessings upon you.” She fixed me with bright, intelligent eyes and I knew immediately that she was a force to be reckoned with. Her voice was high-pitched and harsh on the ears as she bowed to me and replied, “I am Pa’ala Mivven.” “I know a Gil Mivven.” There was pride in her voice as she said, “He is my son.” I smiled again and felt my heart lighten. I was glad we had something in common. “You have a goodly son, lady.” She returned my smile, pleased with the compliment. “This I know. You have summoned us, King Edmund. We have obeyed.” I looked all around at the cavern and said, “Thank you. Thank you all for coming. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to you. You know the situation - Ettins entered Narnia, killed six soldiers, and captured the High King.” A collective hiss rose from the mass of winged creatures as they were reminded of their mission. “This we know.” Pa’ala shifted, clearly eager for action. “What are your orders, Just King?” “Send scouts ahead. We need to locate my brother and to find out as much as we can about the Giants holding him.” As I spoke I looked at Kanell. The Centaur nodded his approval of the plan. “Can you do this without being spotted?”

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A ripple of amusement spread through the chamber. Pa’ala looked at me slyly. “We are the Children of the Night, King Edmund. We are seen only when we choose to be seen.” “If any of your number are tired or hungry they can ride with us until they recover. The rest of you go on ahead and send reports back.” “The king has spoken! Come!” cried the Flying Fox. She let out a shriek of excitement that was so high-pitched I could barely hear it but produced a yip out of Peterkins. He dropped low, trying to cover his ears. Countless tiny voices answered her call to action. Oh, how I loved these Animals! There was a mighty rush of wings as the Bats took off ahead of us. Pa’ala spread her huge wings and cried, “Throw me!” She was too large to drop down and take flight from my height otherwise. I obeyed, catching her under her soft belly with both hands and gently tossing her upwards as I called out the Dwarfish blessing, “Aslan between you and danger!” In moments they were gone, leaving behind perhaps a hundred of the smallest Bats. We fed them bits of dried fruit and meat depending on their preferences and those that did stay were invited to ride upon Shikov. The Boar was rather chilled, and the Bats that piled onto him formed a fuzzy, living blanket that warded off the cold as they slept. Peterkins, who had never seen a Bat up close, was fascinated. As we prepared to set out again I stood beside Kanell and Xati, watching him as I helped Pandicat get settled across my shoulders once again. “Are you night birds?” he asked a Ghost Bat that was snuggled down on Shikov’s bristly head. The Bat chuckled and the Fox winced. “We are not birds, little one, no more than you are. We are Bats.” “You have very large ears,” he said, staring. “So do you,” countered the Bat. He tried to look up to see his own ears and finally had to take the Bat’s word for it. “My mother says I have cousins that are all white like you. She says they’re Arctic Foxes, not Red Foxes like me. Are you an Arctic Bat?” “I am a Ghost Bat.” The kit’s eyes grew huge, having heard of ghosts since in Narnia they were very real though not necessarily feared. “You’re not alive?” Kanell ducked his head down, trying not laugh. Xati sighed, elbowing her captain in the ribs though all she hit was armor. “What do you think?” asked the Bat. He stretched his nose far forward and sniffed. The Bat hissed playfully. Peterkins gave a wail and bolted straight for me. With a little laugh I scooped him up and handed him off to Xati. In a few moments, reassured by her soothing, he looked back at the chuckling Bat with renewed interest. “Are they really ghosts?” I heard him ask. “It’s just a name,” the Centaur replied. “Surely you’re not afraid of a name?” « 168 »

“Well . . .” he hedged, making Xati sigh and shake her head. There was a pleased and crafty look in Kanell’s eyes as he addressed me. “You should have told me.” I grinned up at him. “And spoil the surprise?” His only response was to cuff me lightly on the back of the head and give me a little push onwards. I smiled and hurried to catch up with Athan as we followed Shikov and his blanket of Bats. I had not realized until this moment how greatly I had been wanting for hope. I winged a silent prayer to Aslan, thanking him for this renewal. ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty: March Stepper Behavior that’s admired is the path to power among people everywhere. Beowulf, 24-25 §‡§ “Up!” A painful blow to my ribs landed and I roused with a start and a bark of pain. Around me the four Ettins were stirring as they prepared to move out and I reluctantly left the warmth of the blanket I’d been wrapped in and stood up. A small fire burned and for the first time I could see our surroundings. The roof of the chamber was very low and that just made my companions look that much larger and sinister as they loomed around me. Valerlan thrust a piece of bread into my hands along with some of that questionable, leathery beef. “Eat,” he ordered. I obeyed, not having eaten since . . . I had no idea when. The bread was getting progressively staler and harder to chew and the beef was inedible in my opinion, but I did my best because I was genuinely hungry. After a few moments I realized I was the only one eating. Storr and Haigha were readying themselves, but Hatta sat in his spot and stared at me with open hatred. Valerlan either didn’t notice or didn’t care, he just grunted, “Hurry up with your feast, little king.” Aslan have mercy upon me. It was not going to be a good day. Still, I was vastly improved. I didn’t know how long I had slept, but my head no longer ached. My legs were sore but nothing as bad as a few stops ago and I knew I could walk even if I really didn’t want to. Whatever medicine Valerlan had forced upon me seemed to have helped a great deal even though I still felt a tightness in my chest. I could only hope that the Ettin’s potion would let me hold out against pneumonia. I hastened to finish the heavy bread and wrestled with the last bit of so-called beef. It was stringy and tough and got caught in my teeth. “I would like some water, please,” I said to Valerlan. Hatta snorted and mocked, “I would like some water, please! Phah!” « 169 »

Valerlan’s stormy glare encompassed us both. “Am I your servant?” Oh, here we go, I thought miserably. Our last conversation still rankled the crown prince and he intended to vent his spleen at everyone. I had to tread lightly. Aloud I said, “No, you’re not. I’m your captive and as such I must look to you for my needs.” That seemed to mollify him for the time being. “Haigha!” he snapped. “Water for this one.” Haigha grumbled, plainly annoyed at being forced to do anything for anyone other than himself, especially me. I noticed that he, Storr, and Hatta were moving very slowly and stiffly and all of them sported bruises. Disobedience came at a hefty price, it seemed. Haigha poured water into his wooden cup and held it just out of my reach, clearly intent on teasing me and too thick to realize the last thing I was going to do was perform for his satisfaction. He stood up straight for perhaps the first time since I’d had the misfortune to see him and I caught a glimpse of his full, towering bulk. And there, gleaming bright against the dark fabric of his tunic, I spotted the knife Edmund had forged for me thrust into his belt. My breath caught in my throat but not so much that they would hear. Of all my worldly possessions, the only thing I valued above that dagger was Rhindon. Not even my crown carried more importance to me, for I was a king with or without a crown, but a warrior needed weapons. More than a mere knife, it was a symbol of my brother’s love and diplomatic skills, for he had served under the Dwarfs at the Blue River Smithy in the meanest, dirtiest jobs in order to gain their good will. In return they had walked him through forging the blade, fashioning it from the finest steel in Narnia. That dagger had protected my life and ended a war and I was sickened to see it in the clutches of one of these monsters. Just then Haigha spoiled his own notion of lofty superiority by banging his head on the uneven ceiling. I resisted the urge to smirk, though I must admit the deep, hollow thud! that sounded as he impacted the stone was very satisfying. Storr and Hatta roared with laughter and Valerlan shouted angrily, “Give him the water, Haigha! Now!” Embarrassed, hurt, shamed at playing servant to my likes, the Ettin obeyed by dashing the cup of water at me. It splashed my face, but thanks to bad aim and being three times my size most of the liquid landed on Valerlan as the Ettin turned around. Haigha’s eyes grew huge as he realized what he had done. A moment later I was thrust roughly aside by Valerlan’s hand as he strode forward. I hit the ground as Haigha tried too late to escape his prince’s wrath. I didn’t look up. I had no love for Haigha and I didn’t care if Valerlan killed him on the spot, but I had seen and experienced quite enough mindless violence of late that I did not want to endure being witness to more. In the faint light I watched the water drip from my hair to the thirsty stone beneath my hands and tried to concentrate on that and not the sound of one man mercilessly beating another. It seemed to go on forever and finally, above Haigha’s sobs and Valerlan’s grunts of exertion, Storr begged, “Brother, stop! Stop! You’ll kill him! It’s just water! He didn’t mean to hit you!”

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“But he did mean to disobey,” hissed Valerlan. He landed a last, heavy kick on Haigha. I finally ventured to look over as Valerlan seized his victim by the hair. Haigha had been battered to a bloody pulp, his face was barely recognizable. “Water for the captive. Was that so very hard? Give him a drink so we can be on our way and reach Loy before we all starve. But no, you see fit to defy me and make a mockery of my orders!” He gave a shout and raised his massive fist to beat Haigha some more. Storr tried to pull him away, pulling on his brother’s arm. “Please, Valerlan! The pet king isn’t worth this!” Valerlan slapped his hands away, releasing Haigha with a shove that sent the Giant sprawling on the stone. “That’s where you’re wrong, Storr,” he replied harshly, ignoring the hurt look his words produced in the simpleton’s eyes. A few loping, uneven strides brought him before me. I looked up at him silently. My hair and tunic were soaked and the sight made him growl. Valerlan was furious and even though he knew anger at me was not justified he looked at me with burning hatred. My presence divided them, isolated him more than ever before even though he had no peers among his people. “Rope,” he ordered, gesturing to Hatta. Moments later my wrists were being bound again. So much for that brief illusion of freedom. §‡§ Haigha’s sobs echoed far behind us as Valerlan set a pace that almost seemed intent on leaving the injured Ettin to find his own way . . . or not. I know they all wanted to blame me for this even when they had all seen Haigha bring it upon himself. Tempers were short and so were words as we marched. Finally Storr refused to go further until Haigha was allowed to catch up to us. Valerlan reluctantly halted and I immediately sank down, exhausted even though we hadn’t come very far. “Narnia must not think so very highly of you,” commented Valerlan in a nasty tone, rudely poking me in my sore ribs with his finger. “It doesn’t seem as if they love you enough to follow and mount a rescue. Though perhaps they did and they’re lost in these caverns, wandering about in the dark until they starve or fall into a crevasse. Such a waste of food.” It was a forced attempt at vicious humor, I could tell, and he lashed out at me to make himself feel better. I gazed at him in silence, well aware that anything I did or didn’t do right then would provoke him. “What, little king, no ancient words of wisdom for me to thole?” he sneered. “Has the Cat not heard your prayers?” “He has heard,” I replied softly and in a tone that left no room for doubt. Valerlan abruptly wrapped his hand around my throat, lifting me to my feet. He could kill me in an instant. “Would he hear you if you screamed?” “Yes,” I said. Fortunately there wasn’t any real pressure on my throat. I met his eye defiantly, waiting. He released me roughly. “And tell me, King Peter, are you still afraid?” « 171 »

I sat up again from where I had tumbled to the stone, the tether stopping my momentum. “I am.” Turning away with a huff, Valerlan muttered, “I don’t believe you fear anything for very long.” How could I respond to such a statement? I said nothing as I resumed my seat. He cast me an assessing look. “You were listening yesterday.” I saw no reason to deny it. “I wasn’t asleep, if that’s what you mean. I heard what was said about the Narnian prisoners, that you and your people ate the captives Jadis handed over to you. And I heard your brother say that you destroyed the Tree of Protection.” His scrunched-up features twisted into a grin of sorts. “So what do you think, little king?” I stared at him and simply said, “I think you’re evil, Prince Valerlan.” There was a pause, and then Valerlan burst out laughing. After a moment’s hesitation, Storr joined in and even Hatta rolled his eyes and shook his head at what they all considered to be my naivety. My expression never changed and after a while Valerlan hesitated, just as he had paused in the throne room of Jadis’ castle when I promised him I would get him. Despite his efforts to mock me this was not a laughing matter and he finally quieted down, disturbed by my posture. He himself had said he didn’t think anything frightened me for long. He was right. I don’t believe he was very comfortable at the notion of being struck off that particular list, but I think he realized I was no longer frightened of him, just what he might do to me. Haigha caught up and collapsed on the rock beside Storr with a groan and a whimper. He looked an awful sight, all bruised and bloodied, his face swollen so badly he could barely see and tears streaking his dirty cheeks. He was limping and clutched his ribs. The moment he sank down, Valerlan stood, yanking me up by the leash connected to my bound wrists. “Come! We have far to go. Keep up. We shan’t stop again until we rest.” §‡§ At the end of that miserable, blighted day we finally stopped. Valerlan distributed food and precious little there was to go around. I was the only one that got anything close to enough to eat but that was only because the Ettin had no idea what constituted enough food for a Human. Nasty as the rations were I ate everything he gave me. I needed the energy. At the end of the meal I steeled myself once again as I said to no one in particular, “I would like some water, please.” Hatta and Haigha stiffened apprehensively and I cast the lot of them a hearty glare. I still needed to drink regardless of their fear. Valerlan sounded both smug and superior as he ordered, “Haigha, get him some water.” A few moments later I was kneeling down and drinking the warm, foul-tasting water from Haigha’s cup, hastily poured and set before me. It was as awful as it was wonderful and I greedily drank my fill. Finally I sat back, panting slightly.

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“Thank you,” I said, again addressing no one in particular. I left the cup where it was and Valerlan yanked me over beside him. He pointed to a spot between him and the curved wall of the cavern. “Sleep there.” So despite the hearty beatings he’d distributed Valerlan still didn’t trust his own kin. Very heartening. I sat down, finding a comfortable section of rock to lean against for now as I watched the Ettins and wondered when was he last time I’d removed these boots. Storr was trying to assist Haigha with his many cuts and bruises. Valerlan just sat and stared into the small flame as he and Hatta ignored everyone around them. I thought of that last night by the Lantern Waste, back when my soldiers and horse were still alive, playing chess with Peterkins and watching the Boars dance a boreen. I thought of Edmund and the smile he’d cast over his shoulder as he rode away on Phillip the next morning. Would that we had all gone to see the Tree. The Tree. Oh, Aslan, what would have happened to Edmund if the Ettins had destroyed the new Tree of Protection? Granted he had eaten an apple from the Tree and he said Jadis’ blood had been nullified, but even he had to admit that the blood was still there. I couldn’t help but wonder how he knew the blood was in him and what it felt like. Ed had once said that he just knew, just like he knew when he was hungry (which was always) or I knew when I was awake. My younger brother had a tendency simply to be certain of things. Sometimes it was very odd, but oft times it was useful. Should the new Tree be destroyed would that allow the power of the White Witch’s blood to be revived? My tired mind conjured up a whole host of possible complications for Edmund in that case. As if his life wasn’t complicated enough! If the Tree was lost would Aslan send me to fetch another apple? The thought of having to go into the west again was at once appealing and horrible. Right now I would have gladly traded places with any spot along that long, hard, bitter trail. At least there I knew the way home. Suddenly I looked up. I had heard something, noticeable only because it was different from the drip-drip-drip of the water building and eroding the formations all around us or the drafty air or the Ettins. I glanced at Valerlan and Hatta, but their hearing was not nearly as acute as mine and they made no reaction. There. I heard it again. A faint woosh-woosh as the air was pushed off its normal course through the caverns. The sound was familiar but I couldn’t place it. I leaned my head back casually as if I was lost in thought, an activity I was fairly certain most of my companions had little experience with, gazing up at the swirling veils of stone above that draped like fabric before being swallowed by the darkness. Woosh-woosh-woosh. An uneven, erratic sound. Something was moving up above me, something large and agile and flying. Something that could maneuver through this forest of stone without a need for sight. Something . . . « 173 »

Bats. That was the sound! Of course I’d heard it before! I’d heard it a thousand times before as Edmund sent messages and letters by his favorite couriers. I looked upwards, desperate to see one of the small Animals. We were too deep in the caverns, too removed from their normal food sources, for them to be anything other than Narnian Bats. Or at least that’s what I prayed. Aslan, Mighty Lion, please let me be right! Bats meant one thing: Edmund, and Edmund meant my rescue was close at hand. Please, let me be right! “What are you looking at?” demanded Valerlan savagely. I cast him a quizzical look as if I didn’t understand his ire, as if the object of my attention was perfectly obvious. When I spoke, it wasn’t as a captive, but a king. “I’m looking at the stars.” He snorted derisively. “You can’t see them from here!” With a faintly superior smile I said, “But I know they’re there, Crown Prince. Such is faith.” He snorted again, shaking his head in disgust. His was a soul devoid of romance and poetry, it seemed, and sadly enough I doubted he had faith in anything beyond being hungry the next day and a miserable future. My words worked though, because he turned away, muttering something under his breath about foolishness and idiots. I was glad to drive him away so easily, for his temper was very much on edge and I did not want to provoke him. One beating from his likes was more than enough for me. I shifted, deliberately moving the tether tied to Valerlan’s belt so that the Bats would see I was not free to flee. I listened, staring into the darkness, and for the first time in what felt like an eternity, hope returned to me. ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-One: Seekers In the Dark Through the strength of one they all prevailed; they would crush their enemy and come through in triumph and gladness. Beowulf, 698 - 700 §‡§ Hope was not the only thing to return to me with the arrival of the Bats. Fatigue, hunger, and a whole host of other needs came to the fore and refused to be ignored any longer. We had pushed ourselves beyond our endurance and after a few more hours of walking I was almost asleep on my feet, barely able to think or speak. Finally forced to stop and rest, we huddled close and warm to catch a few hours sleep under Pandicat’s watchful guard. Even the Centaurs, who usually slept standing up, lay down side by side, leaning heavily « 174 »

against each other. I could hear them whispering as I settled down between Flinder and Athan and I wondered if Xati knew or guessed exactly how taken Kanell was with her. Peterkins was already asleep atop my pack when I went to lie down. He didn’t stir as I lifted his limp form and settled him in my arms. “King Edmund?” whispered the Bobcat beside me. I rested my head on the pack, wedging the kit between us to keep him warm. “Yes, Flinder?” “That was very well done, Your Majesty. Summoning the Bats, I mean.” I smiled, pleased with praise from so hearty a veteran. “Thank you. I’m glad so many came.” “They do not forget a kindness, Majesty,” said Athan. “They are proud to serve and to have so many of their kin serve you.” “I won’t forget, either,” I replied softly. An instant later I was asleep. §‡§ I awoke five or six hours later. I didn’t feel rested because I wasn’t, but I did feel better than before and I knew I could function once I actually woke up. I dragged myself upright and scowled at everything as the party around me stirred. Yawning long and hard, I looked up with mild surprise as Bats, swift and agile as swallows, darted in and out of the chamber. As I watched I saw them report to the Centaurs or Pandicat before they flew off into the darkness or swooped down for a drink or food. One of the Red Dwarf archers was in charge of their care and he quietly inquired after the needs of every Bat that paused to rest. Those that were too tired to continue were deposited on Shikov’s back for a nap, and the Boar was plainly pleased by the added warmth. What I had asked of them was truly a Herculean effort, especially for the smaller Bats to have flown so far. I felt a swell of pride that so many had responded to my call. Peterkins was still soundly asleep, flat on his back with his front paws drawn up under his outstretched chin. Resisting the urge to tickle that exposed belly, I wrapped my cloak around him and stood up, running a hand through my filthy hair and trying to wipe the sleep from my eyes. I could sense a deep feeling of satisfaction running through the soldiers as I joined Kanell. He smiled at my less-than-pleasant morning self, a fierce gleam of pleasure in his dark eyes, and quietly he said, “Majesty, we have had word back from Lady Mivven.” I blinked stupidly, trying to act alert as I rasped, “What word, Captain?” He motioned and out of the darkness beyond the halo cast by our small fire a Bat dropped down and landed on his arm. I reached out with both hands and the captain deposited the ball of black fuzz and fragile wings into my hold. I didn’t know the species of Bat, but he had wonderfully large ears and a short snout and his claws tickled as he clutched my thumbs. “Good morn, cousin,” I said automatically. For all we knew it could be morning. It certainly was for me.

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“King Edmund,” he replied with a deep bow. “What name has your mother blessed you with?” I asked, remembering the manners and etiquette lessons Lady Avalynn had pounded into my skull. “My mother named me Twilth, Sire.” I smiled faintly, thinking it was an appropriate name for a Bat. Many of the smaller ones had names that could tie one’s tongue into a knot. Clearing my throat - for I was not about to attempt pronouncing his name so soon after rousing - I pressed, “What word do you bring?” “We have found the High King. Your brother lives, King Edmund.” I stared speechlessly at the Bat that filled my cupped hands, my mind awhirl with such relief and gratitude and delight that I was overwhelmed. I opened my mouth but words failed me. This was what I had prayed for, but it happened far sooner than I had anticipated. “We heard him speak to the Ettins holding him captive. He spoke of faith. I think he heard us, though the Ettins did not,” continued Twilth, sounding remarkably pleased with himself and rightly so. “We flew loudly and he searched the darkness for us. His hands were tied before him and he was tethered to the belt of the Ettin leader. The High King seemed unharmed and his wits were sharp. He looked and sounded tired but I think we all do right now.” He spoke with understandable pride. I wanted to thank him. I wished I could thank him. I longed to thank him for making my heart hammer in my chest and my throat catch and my vision blur. This sense of joy was as painful to express as it was wonderful to experience. I tried again to say anything at all and failed. How did Peter manage to be so emotional and so in control of himself at the same time? He could cry and never look like an idiot while doing it whereas I wasn’t crying and I still couldn’t so much as choke out a single word. “Pa’ala Mivven sent scouts ahead, trying to find where the Ettins are taking the High King. Some have returned reporting a scent of fresh air. The path is not easy for those who walk, Majesty, but Pa’ala estimates that the distance to your brother is just over ten miles. She has stationed Bats all along the route to guide you.” It felt as if my heart skipped a beat. Ten miles. Ten miles. It was not so far, even in this pit. I looked up at Kanell in quiet astonishment. By the Lion, these soldiers had given all I had asked and more! The Centaur shared my thoughts, smiling with pride at how well everyone had performed, not the least of who was the Bat in my hands. I fell back on the one gesture we rulers of Narnia had learned to use when all else (in this case, my self control when my brother was concerned) failed: I very carefully kissed the expectant Twilth on top of his fuzzy head. They’re delicate creatures, like Birds, but he grew perfectly still in my hands as I bestowed this blessing upon him. I needed to be alone. Just for a little while, to pull myself back together. I managed a small smile for the Bat who was positively puffed up, and I handed him off to Kanell. “We’ll meet you ahead a few paces, Your Majesty,” the Centaur said softly, cradling Twilth in gentle hands. « 176 »

I nodded, grateful that the captain knew me so well and understood what I needed just then. I watched Kanell turn his huge frame about and walk slowly away. He stopped when he was a polite distance away and I heard his soft order that I was not to be disturbed for a few moments. Aslan bless that Centaur. He was as wise as he was kind and I watched as he organized the little troop to move out as soon as I joined them. There was a painful knot in my throat and I sniffed as my nose threatened to start running. I wiped at my face with my sleeve and hand in annoyance. Why was it I could be so eloquent before hundreds and so quick-witted as to verbally spar with ambassadors and sages but I fell to pieces when confronted by my own reactions and a desire to cry? I wasn’t ashamed of my feelings, especially given the situation; I just didn’t know how to let them out without breaking down utterly. Perhaps it was because I was better at burying emotions than expressing them. I strode away a few steps, unable to see very well and not about to give the soldiers, miners, spies, and camp follower an excuse to come rushing after me and disturb my thoughts. Peeling off my glove, I laid my hand upon Rhindon’s hilt. I slowly drew Peter’s sword in a backhanded motion and held it point-down before me, distant firelight glinting off the silvery blade. Soon. Soon I would return it to my brother’s hand. He spoke of faith. Oh, Peter . . . I sank down, barely aware that I was moving until I was seated on a rock. I clung to the sword with hands that felt weak and arms that were almost too heavy for my shoulders to support. I let the reaction come, knowing better than to fight it as I stared Rhindon. It occurred to me that we needed to establish some type of litany for moments like this, some type of prayer of thanksgiving so Aslan wouldn’t have to sort through the tumult of emotion I tended to send his way when I was overwhelmed or panicking. Reciting prayers by rote would help to organize my thoughts. It would be something to pursue when we returned to Cair Paravel. Thank you, Aslan. Thank you, Great Lion, for your grace and blessing. Let me give Peter his sword back, please. That’s all I ask. As you love him, as you love Narnia . . . as you love me, Aslan, grant we get safely home. I was silently crying and I was surprised at how cleansing and liberating it left me. I must have been getting better at it; normally when I cried I felt awful. Now I was just so very worn out. I felt the burn of tears in my eyes and a welcome tightness in my chest as realization and relief overtook me. He was alive. Peter was alive and waiting for us to reach him and he had not given up on me. He would not. He never had. This was my brother, magnificent in more ways than I could list. His faith sustained mine, just as in the past faith in me, in Aslan, and in his quiet belief that good would come to those that did good. I prayed it would come to me. Even if it didn’t, though, I would not stop until I had my brother back. A faint sound caught my attention and I looked over to see Peterkins inching closer. He looked at once curious and concerned, his dark ears angled sharply towards me as I stifled my shuddering breaths. He hesitated, then softly asked,

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“King Edmund, why are you crying? Wasn’t that good news from the Bat?” I smiled and reached for him, suddenly glad for his presence. Perhaps explaining to him would clarify things for me as well. He approached with caution, and I remembered Athan warning him about the dangers of a naked blade. Praise be to the Lion, something seemed to have sunk into that skull of his. “It was very good news, Peterkins,” I replied. “The very best news I could have hoped for.” “Then why are you crying?” “I’m crying because I’m so very, very full. My brother is alive and talking and he has his wits about him and he knows we’re coming. He knows we haven’t abandoned him.” “But we wouldn’t!” “I know. And he knows that, too. Sometimes, though, it feels better to have proof of things you already know.” That confounded him and he frowned as he puzzled over my statement. “So . . . the High King knows more better now that we’re going to save him?” He seemed confused by his own query. “Yes. And now I know for certain that he’s as well as can be. That’s what makes me feel so full.” I knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth and I had to fight not to chuckle as he cast me an odd look. “What are you full of?” I reached out with my ungloved hand and smoothed his soft fur. “I’m full of hope and happiness, good my Fox, and gratitude to Aslan for guiding us so well.” I rose, sheathing the mighty sword and settling the belt around my waist. For a moment I held the grip in my hand, closing my eyes as I willed my exhaustion away and replaced my tears with determination. I thought of Peter waiting for me, confident that he would be saved. Once again, as in the past, his belief in my ability to succeed was all I needed to find the will to triumph. Despite her gross conduct towards me I had beaten Jadis at her own game, and by Aslan, I would do the same to these Ettins. They would pay for bringing a moment’s distress upon my brother and High King. I leaned over and Peterkins let me scoop him up into my arms. “Is it very far to find King Peter?” he immediately asked as I turned and started walking towards the waiting soldiers. “Not so far as before. Aslan willing, we may even catch up to him today or tomorrow.” “But won’t the Ettins be there, too?” was his next nervous question. His voice rose in fear and excitement. A sigh escaped me as he hit upon one of the stickier points of this expedition. “You can count on it, Master Fox.” “How will we get King Peter away from them? They’re so very big and grufull and mean!”

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I smirked grimly, wishing the little Fox wasn’t quite so right in his assessment of what we were up against and wondering what in the world this word ‘grufull’ meant. It couldn’t be anything pleasant, so it was fitting. “I’m working on it.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Two: Ways to Hate As long as either lived, he was hateful to the other. Beowulf, 813 - 814 §‡§ I suppose that I must express some form of gratitude towards Valerlan for something that he taught me, though whether it was deliberate or not, I cannot say. He taught me how to hate. If I had thought I knew what hate was before being captured by Valerlan I was wrong. During the period of time I spent with the Ettins I realized that hate came in any number of forms. I had always known there were degrees of hatred, but I never there were so many ways to hate. There was hatred out of ignorance, like a child saying they hated a food they hadn’t tried. The Ettins excelled at this, Storr in particular, who despised anything outside his usual routine. It seemed as if they hated everything but themselves and even then I don’t believe they were very fond of whom and what they were. They took pride in things I considered perverse and their ignorance was of the incurable sort. Then there was hatred out of familiarity, the contempt that builds when you lose respect for a being because they have shown their true selves and they are proven to be lacking. Sometimes, as in Valerlan’s case, they are aware of their shortcoming before someone whose respect they desire to earn. In other cases, such as Hatta’s, he had known Valerlan all his life and expected the crown prince to conform to what he thought an Ettin should be. That Valerlan conducted himself as he saw fit was a source of contempt for the older Ettin. It was hypocritical, for Hatta held the prince to a different standard than he himself lived up to, but no more or less than I grew to expect out of them. And finally I learned hatred out of understanding. Valerlan and his ilk truly believed that their actions were in the right, that the word of a false queen and tyrant should bear weight and validate Valerlan’s claim to Narnia. Living with them - albeit unwillingly - I gained an understanding of my enemy that ran far deeper than their understanding of me. They were uncouth, primitive, filthy, lecherous, sadistic, cowardly creatures that saw nothing wrong with my capture and the slaughter of my guard. They fully expected me to take on the role of a second Etainn, and like Etainn they expected that my role in this farce would be forced upon me. What type of brother could expect and demand such conduct out of his own sister?

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I had thought I hated Jadis, but as I trudged behind Valerlan with nothing to do but walk and think and pray for deliverance I began to realize that I didn’t know Jadis well enough to hate her. I had seen her twice and spoken to her once. I hated what she had done, hated her conduct and her treatment of Narnia and Aslan and my brother because these things I had seen and heard, but Jadis I couldn’t hate because I knew her only through her deeds. Her conduct had been repulsive and I was fairly confident that her character matched, but unlike Edmund I did not know her to judge her and so I could only hate her for what she had done, not who she had been. It sufficed, for my hatred ran deep and in a case like this mine was an unforgiving nature. I suppose it could be said I knew her through her actions and the stories from the Narnians and the Ettins and Edmund, but the Narnians despised her whereas the Ettins had desired her. I had to make my own judgments. Perhaps it was a flaw in my own character that I harbored such an intense loathing for one being, but when I thought of the fallen at Beruna, of the Stone Table, of a hundred years of endless winter, of slaughter and repression and tyranny, when I thought about the dread in Edmund’s eyes when he spoke about Jadis and avoided the most telling details of what she had done to him, I felt justified. When I looked at Valerlan and his ilk, I saw naught but the White Witch’s willing disciples, as vile and despicable as their dead mistress. The Ettins’ hatreds fed their fears, fear of the dark and the unknown depths of this vast underground realm. They knew the path through here and nothing else. The whole time we spent in the caverns I heard not one story or song to pass the time for they feared their voices might rouse some wicked spirits of the dead. I could not see how those that were dead could be any worse than those that were quick. As much as I hated these Ettins for what they had done and what they intended to do, I believe they hated me just as equally. I was alien to them and therefore a threat even though I was a fraction of their size and strength. My intelligence and mannerisms intimidated them. In the case of Valerlan, I made him self-conscious and keenly aware of the difference between being a king and wanting to be a king. The others hated me because Valerlan set such store by my safe delivery and because he was dependant upon me to help return the Ettin race to their glorious past. I was the prince’s hope in a world where his subjects were content to have none. He hated me because I could do what he could not and save his people. Valerlan could only aspire to lead them whereas I could restore their greatness. We moved slower than they would have had I not been there and therefore their supplies were inadequate for the return trip and they held me responsible for the situation. The fact that I had been captured and was victim to their taunts and pranks were not considered when they decided to despise me. I noticed a marked difference in Valerlan immediately after our last confrontation. While before his treatment of me had been curious and protective (to a point) and he had sought out conversation with me, there was a shift in his attitude. I think he finally realized that I would not change my view of him and I would never regard him as anything better than a murderer, prince though he may be. He also saw that he, Crown Prince Valerlan, could not frighten me. His deeds might upset me, but the man himself was of no consequence to me anymore. That bothered him mightily and he reacted with anger. « 180 »

Of course Hatta noticed and immediately began to feed on it, indulging himself in pokes and pushes to my back when Valerlan wasn’t looking. I think the prince was aware of the abuse, but as long as Hatta didn’t go so far as actually to injure me, he did nothing to stop his kinsman. Indeed, Valerlan was more prone than usual to yank on the tether to make me stumble. I think his hold over his followers was slipping and by disregarding Hatta, he disregarded the issue except for those moments when he took out his frustrations on me. I tried to ignore them, tried to bear myself with dignity, but one prod too many and I lost all patience. We were climbing a rounded slope and I needed all my balance when I felt a thick finger flick my shoulder, almost making me fall. I whirled around and brought the heel of my boot smashing down as hard as I could onto Hatta’s exposed toes. I felt something crunch, but be it bone or nail I didn’t care. The move was so abrupt, so unexpected that the idiot Giant never saw what was happening until he was howling with pain. Jumping about, he slid down the small slope into Storr and fell over onto his rump. He smacked his head against a pillar of stone, adding embarrassment and insult to injury. Storr, of course, thought this was the most amusing thing he had ever seen and laughed uncontrollably. Haigha, still stumbling about and barely able to see, looked worried as he shuffled along, while Valerlan just turned and watched with detached interest. “Touch me again, Hatta, and you’ll receive far worse!” I snapped, standing my ground. Even seated he was twice my height, looking dangerous and cruel as he held his sandaled foot in both his hands like a child. I glared right at him, daring him to say or do anything. “You’ve been warned, cousin!” Valerlan said mockingly. “Haigha, you follow behind the pet king. Hatta, keep up if you can. Storr behind him.” He smirked, amused that I had downed his cousin with one blow. Clearly he never thought that something similar could ever befall him, being so much smarter than his fellows. With a final, defiant glare at the smoldering Hatta I turned away. My expression never changed as I looked at Valerlan. He returned the look coldly, trying to maintain an imperturbable air of control when we both knew he was not the one who commanded the confrontation. And little did Valerlan suspect that every word, every movement and gesture and expression was being observed by eyes and ears that stayed hidden in the darkness. I knew better and I welcomed the fury I knew the Ettins’ conduct would generate. §‡§ Very soon after my brazen clash with Hatta, I began to notice a difference in the air. Though it was still very damp from the endlessly dripping water all about us, it seemed fresher and moved differently, almost like the breeze that had carried off the underground river but without all the noise. I said nothing, but Valerlan noticed me listening at one point and he sneered, “Your journey is almost at an end, little king.” I stared up at him, thinking of Edmund in all his wrath. “So is yours, Crown Prince Valerlan.” He seemed to sense my meaning and he laughed at the notion that I was threatening him. It seemed to me a rather empty sound and his voice did not echo for so very long. « 181 »

§‡§ Eventually the other Palish Giants of our unhappy little party noticed the fresher air and their excitement knew no bounds at the prospect of escaping these dank and seemingly endless caverns. I was far less thrilled because I had no desire to be handed over to Valaner. Moreover, the path became steeper and erratic and I had a great deal of difficulty maneuvering as the rocks became larger and harder to climb. I thought Valerlan might lose all patience and haul me up, but he seemed to derive pleasure out of watching me struggle. My cool attitude towards him had turned him completely against me but I really didn’t care. I could tell that he took my distance as haughtiness, which annoyed him. He no longer tried to engage me in intellectual conversations since I tended to shut him down at every turn. Perhaps he was regretting having seized me. I was a direct threat to his authority and my presence had already divided them time and again. He had come too far to kill or release me and certainly Storr and the others could not be relied upon to keep their mouths shut. In sullen silence he endured my hated presence as the enormity of his conduct finally struck him. Perhaps at last he saw the folly of his deeds. I know he spent a great deal of time concentrating on me rather than our direction and his distraction would cost him both time and authority. At one point we had to backtrack because he had taken the wrong way, leading us straight into a long tunnel that ended abruptly. While it made the others nervous that their prince had made a wrong turn, I silently rejoiced as we took an hour to find the correct path. Every delay meant more time for Edmund to catch up to us. When we stopped to rest, I was too tired to eat, and to Valerlan’s displeasure I just lied down on his pack with my head on my hands and fell asleep almost instantly. We had traveled far and fast and I was exhausted beyond telling. He must have realized he had pushed me too far physically. I roused slightly when I felt myself being lifted, but my body felt so heavy and numb I could not move and I slept on as I had before, carried in a blanket across his back. Briefly I wanted to protest for I had made it a point to slow them down as much as possible while I walked, but my body demanded sleep and I had little choice but to comply. §‡§ How long I slept I cannot say but afterwards I would be grateful for the opportunity to rest. It would be a long time before I had another chance to recover from my exertions. “Not much further,” Valerlan assured his brother as we sat around a small fire and ate the last of the supplies. The bread was moldy and barely edible; the beef and cheese were almost as easy to chew as rocks and about as nutritious. I thought of stewed nettles with unexpected longing. “We’ll sleep at Loy tonight.” The others looked up eagerly, hope lighting their tired eyes. They looked unnatural in the fire light, huge and pale and savage. “Will Aufin be there?” wondered Storr eagerly. “Of course,” Valerlan assured him. “The whole garrison will be there.” Garrison? What constitutes a garrison for Ettins? I wondered, hoping the Bats were paying close attention. « 182 »

“Shogi and Tal?” Storr exclaimed. Valerlan wrestled to swallow his mouthful of beef. “And Morphy and Makruk and Fers. All of them, Storr.” Was that all of them? Six more Ettins? Blessed Aslan help us all. How many people did Edmund have with him? How many would it take to confront ten Ettins? I listened intently, careful to give no indication that I was interested in anything other than flicking mold off the hunk of cheese I was trying to eat. “Xadrez?” “No, Xadrez returned to Keern, remember?” “Oh.” He was disappointed and pouted in a way that could only have charmed his brother. Valerlan smiled. “There will be food and wine and beer at Loy. Enough for us all.” I closed my eyes for a moment as Hatta and Haigha made noises of appreciation, horrified anew at the notion of these brutes becoming inebriated. They certainly knew no restraint when they were sober – drunken they would be the very embodiment of wild abandon and misrule. Valerlan couldn’t control them now. By the Lion, he could barely control himself! How could he possibly control nine wine-soaked Giants? I looked upwards, wishing I could see if there really were Bats following us. I had not heard them since the last time we stopped to sleep and I had no idea of how long ago that was. Had I really heard them, or was it the wind? No. I had heard them. Edmund would come. Aslan was with me, had always been with me, would always be with me. I would not doubt again. “Come!” roared Valerlan, in better spirits than I had ever seen him. He stood up, yanking me to my feet and laughing as I stumbled. “Come, little king, your eager bride awaits you! To Loy we go, then to Keern, and then on to my father’s hall in the north!” The others laughed. I looked up at Valerlan with a frown. He caught my expression and smirked. “Now what, King Peter?” he demanded. I shook my head, staring at him, his companions, and I knew, just knew, that as a race the Ettins were doomed. Nothing I could do and nothing I could be made to do would save them. They were too far gone, fallen too far from Aslan’s grace, too set upon the path of the damned to ever seek redemption. Serving Jadis had been the beginning of their end, but seizing me for their twisted plans was the catalyst that would speed their fate to certain tragedy. They would pay for their sins, every one of them, starting with the black-haired prince that stood before me in all his primal glory. Perhaps this moment of sight was a gift from Aslan, perhaps simply a realization of the fact that had faced me all along. My hatred of them paled in comparison to their own feelings of self-loathing. They hated themselves so much more than I ever could. “Your journey is almost at an end, Valerlan,” I quoted just loudly enough so that he with his poor hearing could take heed. Why I spoke, I didn’t know. It would infuriate him, yet somehow I felt compelled to give answer. A final warning from Aslan, mayhap? If so I was a most willing mouthpiece. « 183 »

His beady eyes narrowed in consternation as once again I spoiled his humor. The Ettin cocked his head and sneered, baring his teeth as his close-set features twisted in annoyance. He yanked me close by the tether until we were face-to-face. He had to lean far over and I could smell his foul breath and unwashed person. He was hideous in manner and mind and appearance and though repulsed, I was unafraid and unmoved. “So is yours, little king,” he hissed in turn as the others watched in silence. I slowly shook my head again and said with absolute certainty, “My journey has no end.” His face darkened like a storm cloud. He drew one huge hand back as if to slap me. As with Hatta, I stood my ground, waiting for the blow to fall. If he struck me, he would kill me and we both knew it. Nothing happened. Valerlan gradually lowered his hand, staring hard at me. Did he not see how wrong this whole situation was? Did he not see his sister as much a victim of their father as he himself and I was? Did he hear the Lion’s voice behind mine? For a moment I thought there was hope. A glimmer of understanding showed in his eyes. He seemed about to speak and I waited, tensed, as he searched my face, looking for answers to questions he alone could ask. Then the fleeting moment was gone. Fury replaced his thoughtful expression and he smirked. “Your journey ends in my father’s house, ‘King’ Peter. Move!” He shoved me before him with so much ferocity that I fell to the stone with a bark of pain. With one huge foot he shoved me along and I staggered upright, struggling to keep apace with his swift, uneven strides as he snatched a burning brand from the fire to light the way. It was feeble illumination at best and his followers struggled to catch up. There was no longer any hope for his people. In his quest to prove himself worthy, he had destroyed their future and there was nothing anyone could do to change the fate of the Ettin race. ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Three: Loy From where he crouched at the king’s feet, Unferth, a son of Ecglaf’s spoke contrary words. Beowulf’s coming, his sea-braving, made him sick with envy: he could not brook or abide the fact that anyone else alive under heaven might enjoy greater regard than he did . . . Beowulf, 499 - 505 §‡§ « 184 »

“Quickly! To the top of the tower, Your Majesties! Fly! Fly! The enemy is upon you! Fly!” At Oreius’ urgent shout Edmund and I set off, tearing up the spiral staircase of the tower with all the speed we could muster. Our armor clanked and the fine mail slapped against our legs as we raced up and up and up. Edmund was a few steps behind and I could hear his breaths get heavier and heavier as breathing became labored. His legs were shorter than mine and even though we both skipped steps he gradually fell behind. I paused, in little better shape than my brother. He tried to wave me on but I shook my head and waited on the next landing for him to reach me, gulping in great lungfuls of the fresh breeze that blew in from the window. We were more than halfway up the tower and already my legs burned with the effort of carrying my weight and the weight of my armor at a dead run. We had been tired when we started and our energy levels were fading rapidly. Still, I would not leave Edmund behind. I reached out and he seized my forearm. “G’on,” he gasped. “Not . . . without you,” I panted. I hauled him along by the scruff of his tabard. “Come on!” Edmund struggled for breath and nodded and let me set him by the tower wall as we hurried onwards. The wedge-shaped steps were wider there and easier for him to climb while I took the narrower rout to the inside. We dared not stop until we reached our goal. Higher and higher we climbed, catching glimpses of our progress as we darted past windows and arrow slits in the turret. The gardens below grew more distant with each circuit as we spiraled our way to the top, quick snatches of colors and fresh winds that foretold a blistering hot day ahead of us. Patches of light punctuated the cool shadows and occasional landings offered us a few level steps of reprieve from the constant climb. “Not . . . much further,” I wheezed. “Little more.” Silently my brother nodded, never stopping. We had slowed considerably, unable to do better than a fast walk, sweating and leaden in our armor. My foot slipped on the smooth stone and I fell, catching myself even as Edmund gripped my left arm and steadied me. I cast him a tired smile of thanks and we pressed on, almost crawling now as we dragged ourselves up to the final landing and the ornate Queens’s Pavilion at the very top of the highest tower in Cair Paravel. “Raise the knights’ banners,” called a woman’s voice, and there was silvery laughter and caws and growls and barks as two streaming banners, crimson and silver for me, brown and gold for Edmund, were hoisted high, a signal to the waiting general below that we had reached the summit. Coughing, gasping, smiling and exhausted, Edmund and I groaned as we collapsed against the cool marble pillars, resting in quiet triumph and enjoying the breeze off the Eastern Sea as we caught our breath. Glad as we were to be still, our bodies ached and we both knew that if we didn’t move about and stretch our limbs soon we’d stiffen up so badly we wouldn’t be able to budge. I grinned in relief as a goblet was held out to me by a small hand. I looked past the golden cup to my littlest sister’s smiling face. As always, she and such of her ladies that could climb steep steps were waiting with refreshments and kind words for us as we finished our « 185 »

Sixthday training with a sprint up the tower. Oft times Susan joined her, but Lucy had made it a point to be here without fail ever since Oreius had initiated this particular form of conditioning. “That was much better than last week,” she said with a giggle. I took the cup and she brought another to Edmund. Crouching beside him, Lucy observed, “You’re very red!” He coughed and huffed, pulling off his armored gloves before downing the contents of the goblet. When he spoke, he sounded only a touch less winded. “You run up the highest tower in the palace from the ground floor and in full armor and we’ll see if you turn red, too, old girl.” I chuckled and took a drink. Lemonade, not too sweet and wonderfully cool on my throat. Just the thing. One of Lucy’s ladies, a pretty little Ocelot with stunning green eyes, brought us a silver basket full of ginger snaps while a dryad refilled our cups. We were happily devouring the sweet biscuits when Odeen, one of the army’s Skua messengers, came to a landing beside me. “General Oreius sends his compliments to the Knights of Narnia and bids you enjoy a welldeserved rest,” said Odeen in his scratchy voice. “He said he will see you with swords, shields, bows and staves come Firstday morn.” Edmund moaned and I sighed, offering Odeen a ginger cookie. Birds cannot smile and so they show their pleasure by fluttering their wings or tails. The Skua rustled his black tail and snapped the treat down in one bite before bowing to us – for now that we were dismissed we were no longer knights but kings again – then he launched back into the air. I looked at Edmund, who finally seemed to be cooling down, and panted, “At least Oreius let us leave our shields and helmets in the armory.” Edmund made a pained sound and cast me a hard look with eyes that glittered with mischievous delight. “It’s already bad enough. Don’t give him any ideas, Peter.” §‡§ I stood at the base of a long, sharply-sloped tunnel that rose before me and headed directly for the surface. Around me the Ettins sighed in relief and appreciation as we viewed a faint, distant light far above us, almost like a star. It was to me sinister in a way as it marked the end of our subterranean passage. I had thought I would be glad to see the sun and sky again but I stared at the light with a quiet panic in my soul. The sky was not the sky above Narnia, but Ettinsmoor, and while I knew the same sun burned overhead, past experience told me that the light that shone down was different from the light in my own kingdom. I reigned in the land that was the seat of Aslan’s grace and by comparison all the glories in the world were but pale echoes. There, under that sky, I was not a king but a captive. Staring at the steep, boulder-strewn path before me, I thought of all the races Ed and I had run up the turrets of Cair Paravel since we had resumed our training. Oreius had decided one day that we just had too much energy after one of our lessons and he set us to run up the palace’s western turret. It wore us out so completely that he made it a weekly ritual. We were getting better and faster and despite our good-natured moans and groans we did enjoy the challenge. « 186 »

The little point of light looked even further away than the Queen’s Pavilion looked from down past the stables at Cair Paravel. I did not want to do this. At least here in the close darkness I had hope. Would it follow me into Ettinsmoor? Would the Bats follow? How deep below the ground were we? I had been unconscious when I was first brought into the caverns beneath Jadis’ castle. How deep, how far, how many days were questions that tugged at my tired mind, but really all I cared about was how long it would be until Edmund caught up with us and freed me. Storr elbowed Haigha with a happy, stupid laugh. Haigha grimaced and forced some enthusiasm. I was beginning to suspect he was injured far worse than any of them realized or cared. He was moving slower and slower and his reactions were far off what they should have been. I remembered the beating Valerlan had given him and I concluded that the damage had been even more severe than it first seemed. I didn’t care beyond the hope that he slowed us down, unable to forget that Haigha would have very willingly killed and eaten me a few days past and he had laughed with sadistic pleasure at my fear. I turned around to find Valerlan watching me as I regarded his latest victim. I saw him glance at Haigha and I think he might have been ashamed but not so much that he tried to do anything about the situation. Instead he tugged on the tether, pulling me about by the lead tied to my wrists and growling at me. Reluctantly, miserably, against every instinct, I began to climb. So loath was I to stand unwillingly on any land that was not Narnia that Valerlan practically had to drag me every step of the way. I prayed desperately to Aslan for something to intervene and hinder our progress. Nothing happened, and so I could only hope that something that awaited us ahead would be the delay I so desperately sought. §‡§ The air became dryer and warmer as we climbed and the light gradually increased until we were in a twilit world of rough stone and dirt. The cave took on a very different appearance from the elegant mineral sculptures behind us in the natural caverns. In the bleak light I could see tangles of roots and compressed earth comprising the path that had been hewn out of the ground. Dwarfs would never be satisfied with such crude work – for even the meanest example of their labor was beautiful - and Moles would consider this unacceptable even for a back door to their burrows. Storr and Hatta tried to press forward eagerly, anxious to run out of the tight tunnel and into the light, but Valerlan would not let them pass. Clearly he wanted the glory of being the first into Loy for himself. He tugged and yanked me along the trail that gradually morphed from an uneven path to unfinished, irregular steps. They were hard to climb, especially with my hands bound, and Valerlan had little patience for me as I struggled behind him. Gone was any hint at nobility or manners from the crown prince – being this close to his home he converted to an intelligent version of the brutes around him. It was almost as if he didn’t want to risk his fellows letting slip that at any point he had been intrigued by me. I was sure both they and he would consider it a weakness to show me anything but cruelty and contempt and so he made up for lost time. Finally, halfway up the stairs, I tripped on the jagged step and fell. Pain from the half-healed gash on my arm radiated through my whole body. Panting, I lay still for a moment, too battered and tired to go on. A huge hand seized me by the tunic and hauled me upright. « 187 »

“Get up!” roared Hatta, his breath hot and foul. “Get up, you lazy brat!” To my absolute surprise it was Haigha and not Valerlan that intervened on my behalf. Laying his hand on Hatta’s arm, the sorely beaten Ettin shook his head, a living, breathing warning of what lay in store for Hatta if he did not control himself where I was concerned. For a moment it seemed as if Hatta would argue, then he thrust me back to the ground and turned away, not looking at Valerlan as he hurried out of the prince’s range. I lay where I had fallen, coughing at the dust and damp before I laboriously gained my feet once again. I looked up at Valerlan, waiting for him to make a decision. He stared at me in displeasure, but even he had to see that their chosen route was exceptionally difficult for anyone my size, bound hands or otherwise. Even now he placed no trust in his brother and cousin and he scooped me up in his hold, roughly tossing me over his shoulder. I gasped, trying to catch my breath but at the same time not smell anything as I entered Ettinsmoor the same way I had left Narnia – by brute force. §‡§ The light increased, the air became dusty and smelt of grass, and the Giants smiled in pleasure as we neared the end of the passage. Valerlan leaned over and dropped me heavily to the floor of the cave. I staggered to keep my footing and he yanked on the tether to keep me from falling. It might have been kinder if he had just let me hit the ground. He twisted the lead around and around his hand, keeping me close to his side. Then with a self-satisfied smile at his brother he let out a shout. “Loy! Garrison at Loy! Aufins! Makruk! Tal! Make ready to welcome your princes!” The others laughed in appreciation and elbowed each other as the bellow echoed, faintly answered by a distant voice. I shuddered, my heart sinking. More Ettins. Lion save me. The path had smoothed out and I could finally see the entrance to the caverns. This part of the tunnel was low and tight, formed not of stone but of hard-packed earth that was eroded in spots by rain. Even Valerlan, the smallest Ettin in the party, had to stoop. He shambled along with his uneven gait and kept me tight beside him. I had no idea of what to expect, but if he couldn’t trust his brother and cousin with my safety then the garrisoned Ettins waiting for us must be absolutely uncontrollable. There were shadowy figures just beyond the cave’s jagged mouth. Valerlan moved faster so that I had to trot to keep apace. I did not want to step foot out there. I did not want – Deafening shouts erupted around us and the light, while not bright, dazzled my eyes so that for a moment I could not see. I hesitated, buffeted about by the huge forms as the two herds of Ettins merged into one loud, chaotic group. My vision cleared and I finally saw the troop garrisoned at Loy. The best I could say for them was that they met all my expectations and they were as uncouth and unwashed as my own escort. They greeted the Giants of Valerlan’s party with hearty slaps and cries of recognition and almost instantly huge skins of wine were produced and passed around. I watched in trepidation, uneasy to have to rely upon Valerlan for my safety be he drunk or sober. “Where are Zoozo and Tondra and Etun? Where is Moori? Why are you so late?” called the soldiers, all of them excited and talking at once. I studied them as best I could. There were six in all and a very unimpressive lot they were. “The king, your father, has sent « 188 »

messages. Lady Noona demands to know why you haven’t returned. Where are the others? What word from the Queen? How fares the winter or is it really gone?” Valerlan drew a breath to make his reply when one of the garrison – a huge, overweight fellow in crude leather armor and an ill-fitting helmet – noticed me. He paused, shocked, and the emotion spread as the others looked to find the source of his astonishment. Silence fell as the Palish Giants realized what I was and whom they thought I must be. I stood straight and looked right back, refusing to be intimidated even though my instincts were screaming at me to hide somewhere very far removed from here. Behind me an awed voice softly asked, “Is this . . . ?” “My father’s prize,” Valerlan informed them, pride in his tone as if he’d single-handedly fought off an army to lay hold of me. He tugged on the tether binding me to him as if he felt the need to display his power over me by jerking me about. “This is Jadis’ blood heir.” There were sounds of admiration and I heard the words ‘Human’ and ‘Etainn’ muttered. The fat Ettin leaned far over for a closer look at me. “So small,” he commented. “Is it done growing?” “Who knows?” Valerlan replied scornfully. “Only my sister will care, anyway.” For a moment they gaped at him then the Ettins caught on and started howling with laughter at what was being implied. It was evident that innuendo was high humor for them and I had the feeling the abuse was just starting. “Come!” shouted Valerlan. “Come! I’ll tell you the tale over food and wine!” Instantly distracted, the Ettins eagerly began leading the way and I finally had an opportunity to look at my surroundings. Behind me was a low hill with a stone face that housed the entrance to the caverns. Not far away stood a keep made of dark stone that had fallen into disrepair casting a long shadow in the afternoon sunlight. It was not very large by Giant standards but clearly once upon a time it had been beautiful. The windows were narrow and the walls were crumbling away in places. Long grass replaced the dirt floors and I could tell even from a distance that several of the roofs had collapsed. I thought of Cair Paravel in all its ancient splendor. There was no comparison. Loy Keep seemed to symbolize the Ettins themselves: once mighty, now fallen into corruption so deep that it was beyond repair. Valerlan held me back as the others headed through the tall grass. Once again he gave me a look that seemed to say he wanted something from me. As it turned out, what he wanted was silence and compliance. “Say nothing to them,” he snapped. “I will do the talking.” I frowned, resisting the urge to snort, well aware that the story he was going to impart would not necessarily have any resemblance to the truth of the matter. I shook his hand off my arm with a shrug. “What do I care what lies you tell your people?” I demanded. “Think you they would set greater store by the tale coming from my lips?” I realized then that I had hit a little too close to the truth of the matter for his taste.

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“I would denounce you as a liar,” he hissed, instantly furious. His dark brow furrowed and his teeth were bared. “Which you know I am not,” I replied, realizing the quandary in which he found himself entangled. It was of his own making and I was not about to promise anything to ease his dilemma. I shook my head. “It was madness to seize me from the first.” “So I have learned,” he muttered, “but I am an obedient son.” “So you keep saying. Whom are you trying to convince?” He glowered, reminding me of Edmund for a moment, then pulled on the tether. “Be silent, say nothing, and come along to Loy, little king.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Four: Reverse, Regroup, Reflect When wind blows up and stormy weather makes clouds scud and the skies weep, out of the depths a dirty surge is pitched towards the heavens. Now help depends again on you and on you alone. The gap of danger where the demon waits is still unknown to you. Seek it if you dare. Beowulf, 1373 - 1379 §‡§ “Damn!” I couldn’t stop the muttered oath from escaping my lips. In truth I wanted to stomp about and wave my arms and express my fury and disappointment in terms both long, loud, and in language too indelicate for a king to use, but that wasn’t quite an option. I had a massive Bat dame hanging from my forearm, a Ring-Tailed Lemur wrapped around my neck, and a Fox kit barely six months old sitting on my feet listening to every word that was said. So instead of cursing I had to be content with silently fuming and making stern faces at the rocks as it occurred to me that I was being used as little more than an elaborate perch. Surrounded as I was by ladies, I normally would have tendered an apology (indeed, if Susan had been present I would not have dared curse at all). Two of them were in the army and Pa’ala may as well have been at this point and they were all made of stern enough stuff that they could endure the occasional fit of blaspheme and show of royal surliness. I was fairly certain that I voiced the sentiment of every adult present. Kanell stamped one mighty hoof and growled deep in his throat and Xati let out a long, slow breath as she controlled her formidable temper. I just stood still and wished for some object I could conveniently break to pieces against the wall so as to express the emotion I felt at the moment. The news was not good.

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The Bats had provided us with extremely detailed reports of the Palish Giants holding Peter. We were now in a one-sided acquaintance with the intelligent and crude Ettin crown prince, his idiot older brother, their vicious and cruel cousin, and the frightened and cowardly guardsman. I had been equally delighted and apprehensive to hear about Peter felling Hatta - only my brother would have the nerve to square off against a Giant. That was the second time he’d borrowed my favorite close combat attack to cut down a deadly enemy. He was learning, though I hoped his patience was not tried much further. Peter had his limits as to what he would tolerate and endure and when those limits were reached . . . things happened, like sadistic Giants being felled with one blow. I prayed to Aslan that he would not regret his impulsive move. Unfortunately Peter was also exhausted and the Ettin prince, Valerlan, had carried him for a good distance. That allowed the Ettins to move much faster than we could hope to even though Kanell had sent Barin, Brant, Flinder, Athan, and any number of Bats well ahead to scout out and mark the easiest route. The Bats made all the difference, being able to pinpoint the dead ends and quickly explore passages too small for the Ettins to squeeze through. There were many possible paths through these caverns as it turned out, but up until this point we had not dared to risk finding a better way lest we become disoriented and wander about in the darkness. Now dear Pa’ala had told me the worst bit of news possible: the Ettins, after a wrong turn that delayed and alarmed them, had reached the last stage of their journey and were almost upon the exit from these caverns. I was filled with a sickening apprehension. “You’re absolutely certain?” I demanded. The Flying Fox nodded. “I am certain, my king. Their prince spoke of reaching a place called Loy Keep by tonight. He named six other Ettins waiting there as a garrison and there is another keep, Keern, somewhere close by. He intends to spend the night at Loy before bringing your brother to Keern and thence north to his father’s presence.” “How far behind them are we?” “Three hours,” she replied. “Thre-“ I broke off, furious and frustrated and checked once again. I wanted to stamp and curse. I had to settle for a few deep breaths and a desperate look at Kanell. By his expression I could tell his reaction was similar in tone and quality to mine. So much for all my careful plans of waylaying the Ettins here in the caverns. There was no way we could catch up to them at this rate. We were too tired and they were too large and fast. I pursed my lips as I resolved myself to the situation. Well. I would just have to come up with another plan of attack. Outside the caverns. Against a total of ten Ettins. Seventeen of us against ten of them. Eighteen if Peter was in any condition to fight. Great Aslan have mercy. I looked at Pa’ala. “Every detail,” I said. “I want every detail of the land, this Loy Keep and the Ettins garrisoned there. Everything. No point is too small or unimportant.” “I have already sent the strongest of us ahead, King Edmund.” « 191 »

My shoulders sagged in gratitude. “Good my lady, you are most wise.” Gently this mother and matriarch smiled, reaching up one massive wing to wrap her delicate little fingers around my thumb in a gesture at once comforting and reassuring. “As you are unbowed and dauntless, Just King. Help me aloft and I shall join the scouts.” “Aslan be with you, Pa’ala.” §‡§ “They’re out?” The little Bat, Blits by name, exhausted by his long flight, nodded gravely from where he had landed on one of the Satyrs, hanging upside down at the highest arc of his horn. “Your brother the High King had a difficult time of it, Sire, for the Ettins chose a path easy for them. There are gentler paths, Pa’ala thinks Prince Valerlan was being spiteful. They met up with the garrison and the new Ettins were amazed to see King Peter amongst them.” He shook his head. “They are sorely ignorant of Sons of Adam.” “La,” I agreed grimly. “What else?” “Loy Keep lies scarce a quarter mile from the exit to the caves. It is in ruins, Majesty. The last I heard your brother was brought there and is being guarded by the one called Hatta.” “Blast,” I muttered. I had a score to settle with that miserable Giant. “Stop moving, Nex.” I nudged the Satyr. “What of the Ettins?” pressed Kanell, dropping his hand to my shoulder. With a rustle of wings Blits carefully made an answer. “They are indulging in wine. Over indulging, in fact.” My first impulse was to curse again, but then it occurred to me that drunken Giants were clumsy, stupid, stumbling Giants. I had seen them get drunk at the anniversary of Beruna, that awful night in the month of Sunbend when Jadis’ curse had made my life so interesting and Peter had traveled into the Western Wild to save me. Once they were well into their cups, Giants were essentially useless, more so than most Magical Creatures. “Pray Aslan they don’t run out any time soon or do violence to my brother for sport,” I replied, looking at the Centaur captain. Kanell smiled, knowing full well what I was thinking. “How long before we reach the exit, good cousin?” “An hour to the last tunnel, less than an hour up it to the surface. Athan’s party is almost there, King Edmund,” said Blits. “They have marked the swiftest route and will await you.” “Lean back, Nex,” I ordered, reaching up for the Bat with both hands. He crawled into my palms and with a jerk of my head I ordered my little troop to keep moving. Gicelus had to rouse Shikov, for the Boar was happily asleep on his feet ‘neath his blanket of Bats. Xati carried the sleeping Peterkins in the crook of her arm, unconsciously petting him as she fell in on my left. Kanell, as ever, was upon my right. “Get me someone fresh,” I ordered, and Pauton caught up to the Boar to find a rested Bat. “Blits, any word on the layout of the keep?”

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“Athan is even now amassing information from the scouts. It is not so easy for us, Sire, for the sun is high on the surface and we shun the daylight. Further, King Edmund, we measure with our ears, not our eyes, and so Athan and Brant are busy translating what we tell them into something useful.” “I understand,” I replied softly, and truly I did. Athan was thoroughly reliable and would forward a report as soon as he could. Pauton returned a few moments later with no less than three Bats hanging from his forearm. One of them was Perterkins’ friend the Ghost Bat. “Dear cousins, if you would fly ahead to the forward party with my compliments, tell Flinder that if he’s so inclined to take a walk in the sunlight his king would be most grateful to know the lay of the land we are about to invade.” They chuckled, their spirits high, and all three bowed before darting off into the darkness. I watched them go, wondering that this sunless world had become so commonplace to me that I didn’t even notice its beauty anymore. Once I left here I never wanted to see it again and I was already resolved to see the caverns beneath Jadis’ castle sealed off completely. The Dwarfs would whine but there were other caverns beneath Narnia for them to explore. I did not want another Ettin entering my country by this route ever again. “Have you anything more to report?” I asked, holding the courier up to eye level. “That is all, King Edmund.” “Go with Pauton, then,” I said, surrendering the Bat to the Red Dwarf’s gentle hold. “Rest. You have my thanks, Blits.” I paused, looking around as I took my small Dwarfish lantern back from Kanell. How long had we been down here? How long since we had seen sunlight or dunk water that was fresh and not tangy with minerals? When had I last heard silence and not the constant fall of rain as the earth around me wept endless tears? How many days had passed since I last thought of Lake Asher or Phillip or arguing with Mr. Beaver? When had I last seen Susan and Lucy? It seemed a lifetime or more, so single-minded had I been since that terrible morning at Beaversdam. There had been so many terrible moments since then that I had to fight the desire to dwell on what couldn’t be changed. Was this what it was like to be at war? Was this what my father felt? Was he as tired and determined as I? “Majesty?” Kanell asked, his voice soft and edged with concern. “Edmund?” “I was just lost in thought,” was my reply and I was not inclined to elaborate. I resumed walking, gesturing Xati a little closer. “Let’s review what we know, Captain, Lieutenant. We need a plan of attack with as many options as we can devise. If Peter can down a Giant with one kick, just think of what we might do.” §‡§ “Sweet Lion!” I stared up the sharp, boulder-strewn incline to the faint speck of light far away and high above where I stood with all of the archers. Our lanterns, starved for fuel by now, barely illuminated the huge steps rudely shaped from the earth and stones. Even Ettins would have trouble traversing this rise and Valerlan had forced Peter to climb up here with bound hands? I hated the prince more each passing moment. One of the Dwarfs, an older fellow « 193 »

named Onela, shook his head in disgust at the slapdash workmanship on display before him. “They work against our mother, not with her,” he muttered. “To see her bones so broken and scattered . . . it pains one’s heart, Your Majesty.” “They have no room in their hearts for Revinim, good cuz,” I answered, nodding. “I don’t think they see the land as a thing to be treasured. They don’t know what wealth and glory entail. They just see the trappings.” “I believe Your Majesty has hit upon their greatest flaw,” agreed Onela. “Second greatest,” I corrected. “Their greatest flaw was thinking they could enter Narnia and do violence to our king undisputed.” He smiled, grunting in agreement. We looked up as Brant, escorted by a handful of Bats, came down the slope along the lefthand side of the tunnel amidst a small stream of loose pebbles and dirt. He gave me a cheeky smile as he took in our tired, bedraggled little group and said, “King Edmund! Athan has worked out the layout of the keep. The Ettins have stopped for the night and are growing tighter in their wine each moment that passes. And Sire! We found Nancy!” I stamped my foot, my temper flaring. “Stop calling him that!” But it worked - I was smiling. ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Five: Borderland . . . earth’s lap grew lovely, longing woke in cooped-up exile for a voyage home but more for vengeance . . . Beowulf, 1138 - 1140 §‡§ We climbed. And climbed. And climbed some more. We followed a steep path off to the side of the main chamber, sometimes switching to the opposite wall, sometimes forced to take the difficult middle route, but I knew the path that Brant lead us on was far kinder than the one Peter had taken. The light increased, the air grew warmer, Peterkins kept asking if we had arrived and was told to shush numerous times, and finally we reached a rough tunnel that was not a chamber at all, just a burrowed-out entrance to the caverns. I glanced at the Dwarfs and just as I expected, they were all wearing expressions of profound disgust. Even the least of their mines had more style than this hole. Deep ruts had formed in the floor from ages of rain washing down, but the going was far easier - indeed, the last half-mile or so was the easiest of this whole journey. How far had we walked? Pa’ala Mivven came sweeping down towards us, her wingspan so wide that she momentarily blocked out the light above. I turned so that she could land on my shoulders, rousing Pandicat at the same time. The Lemur was riding in my nearly empty pack now, wrapped « 194 »

in my blanket, and with a little trill she climbed down my arm so that I could talk with the Flying Fox. Kanell and Xati, bringing up the rear behind the archers, joined me. “Your scouts have obeyed, King Edmund” Pa’ala reported as soon as the Centaurs were close. “Loy Keep’s layout is known, as are the Ettins. Athan and Flinder await you at the mouth of the cave.” More and more Bats were darting about in excitement. I found myself blinking as the light increased to the point where we could extinguish our lanterns. I could see the end of the tunnel clearly, see Athan’s dark, hulking form and the slighter shape of Flinder beside him, see a jagged slice of sunlight that threatened to dazzle my eyes. I hurried ahead to join them. “What word?” I asked anxiously. The soldiers bowed deeply, Barin less so, but he was playing perch to dozens of Bats and would have dislodged them if he bent very far. On the ground at their feet Athan had carefully sketched a very detailed diagram of the keep and surrounding lands into the hardpacked earth with a sharp bit of broken stone. I crouched down for a better look. The building was shaped like an ‘L’ with only a dozen or so rooms, though several of them seemed vast. “Well done, good my cousins,” I said, awed but not surprised. “This is to scale?” The Gorilla smiled at my expectant expression. “It is, King Edmund. Master Fox, no further! Your tail alone would erase hours of work!” Just out of reach, he pointed sharply at Peterkins, who in his curiosity looked about to trample the picture. I remembered most Foxes tended to be nearsighted and have to be on top of things in order to see them well, but before he could take another step Kanell scooped him up and handed him off to Gicelus. “We’re here, Peter Fox, so be silent for the love of Aslan! Proceed, Athan,” ordered the Captain of Cair Paravel’s Guard. “The main entrance is here,” Athan immediately continued, indicating each location as he spoke. “This is the guardroom with a small courtyard over here, barracks, meeting hall, and sundry other rooms that are unconnected and have only one door. This wall and this wall have collapsed and this hall here,” he pointed to the meeting room, “is the only one that has a roof. The floor and roof are stone and the roof is held up by many pillars. “Inside the keep the ground is all overgrown with grass except for the pillared hall. The Ettins are here, in the guardroom, where they have a summer kitchen of sorts set up. King Peter is being held in the small courtyard, guarded by but one Ettin, that brute Hatta. There are pillars on a porch behind the courtyard here and here,” he indicated two walls of the square, “and one of the collapsed walls is over here, just a room away from the courtyard.” “What about the surrounding land?” I asked, staring at the diagram. “Flat and expressionless,” Flinder responded instantly. “Tall grass, no hills in the immediate area save for the ones housing this cave. I could not smell water or a forest or anything of interest. I saw few birds and fewer creatures.” “Any idea how far we are from Narnia?” « 195 »

The Gorilla smiled. “I will need more stars to steer by, good my king, though by grace of Dame Utha I should be able to tell you by tonight. The presence of keeps in the area tells me we’re closer to the border of Ettinsmoor than not.” I smiled faintly. He was far ahead of me in the mathematics of navigation and triangulation. “Have you any notion of how long we’ve been following the Ettins?” Flinder purred. “If I may, Highness, with this sunset it will have been a sennight since we left Narnia. The moon waxes almost full and is in the east even now.” Seven nights. Seven endless nights. A week of pure hell. It felt much, much longer. It had been longer for Peter. Longer, harder, lonelier. At least I had not been alone throughout this ordeal as he had been. I was surrounded by loyal friends, not enemies. I felt my jaw clench. Peter’s captivity ended tonight. By the Lion, my brother and Narnia’s High King would not endure another night in the clutches of those vile fiends. I would not tolerate another day of this affront to my country and my person. As to the affront to my brother . . . I would see justice done. Valerlan wanted the Blood Heir? The Ettin was going to learn that wanting something and getting it were two very different matters, and not necessarily pleasant things, either. It was evident he had never been told to be careful of what he wished for, lest his wish be granted. I stood up, needing to set my eyes upon this wicked place for myself. I needed to know what we were up against and how far it was to reach my only brother. “Majesty?” asked Brant. “Wait a moment, sirs. I want to see.” “See?” wondered Athan. “Loy,” I replied, not about to be deterred. “Now.” They hesitated but would not refuse, nervous that I might be spotted even though we knew the Ettins were holed up within their castle. Flinder rose from off his haunches and said, “Stay close by me, Majesty. I will show you.” “Hand on your sword, Edmund How!” ordered Kanell sharply. I dutifully reached across my body and seized Rhindon’s grip with my right hand, ready to draw the sword at a moment’s notice. Bats darted in and out of the cave before us, some bringing reports, others heading out to scout some more. They made it a point to brush past me, grazing my clothes and hair in silent greeting. I smiled, knowing they were showing off for me and for each other because it was a display of some very tricky flying. Not a one actually hit me, though I did lose a few hairs from atop my head to their clawed feet. “Crouch down, King Edmund, lest Kanell be tempted to make new winter mitts from my hide,” bade the Bobcat. I obeyed, inclined to agree, and ducked low. We moved towards the entrance of the cave and hid ourselves behind trailing roots and stones in order to view the plain before us. It was as dull and uninteresting a place as Flinder had promised it to be. Was all of Ettinsmoor so bland? Long green grass glinted in the light of late afternoon, rippling in the « 196 »

breeze. The last time I had felt the wind and seen the sun, he had gone a’hunting. Now . . . I frowned in surprise. Perhaps it was my eyes, used as they were to the darkness, but the colors here seemed diminished and the air was not nearly as sweet as what I was used to in Narnia. It was even worse than the way I had seen Narnia that first year of our reign, when Jadis’ blood was still alive within me. I realized that this was the first time since we had stumbled out of the Wardrobe and into the Lantern Waste that I had stepped foot out of my kingdom. This land was alive but it was not blessed by Aslan’s grace and the difference was remarkable. I finally understood what Peter meant when he said that the world beyond Narnia pales in comparison. He had claimed the most beautiful setting in the Western Wild was not in any way equal to the meanest patch of Narnia and he had been absolutely right. He had willingly left Narnia in order to save me last year. I would do no less for him. I glanced around, immediately spotting Loy Keep. It was dark and jagged against the horizon, isolated and ignored. The size of it surprised me, but I had never seen a Giantish building before and the scale was massive. Why, it was as large a cathedral and this was a minor keep for just a handful of guards! Guards from the smallest breed of Giants, no less! Still, it looked worn and used up, as if it held together only out of habit. “Come back, my king,” whispered Flinder so closely that his stiff whiskers tickled my ear. “There is more you should know.” I cast Loy one final, assessing look before I withdrew. Rejoining our little troop, Athan again addressed us all, reviewing the information gathered over the past day as the soldiers and Bats ranged themselves about the cave. “There are ten Ettins in total,” said the Gorilla, his deep voice clearly audible even though he kept his volume low. “What we know of them we have gleaned through their conversation and conduct. Crown Prince Valerlan moves with a noticeable limp and based on what reports have said I believe it is a defect of birth and not a wound. He has long dark hair and wears a rough brown tunic. He is clever, ruthless, and cruel, but he feels bound by orders to carry our High King to his father, King Valaner. He has defended King Peter against his fellows. He is our most dangerous opponent, armed with a club and a knife. “Hatta is his cousin. He is second to Valerlan in terms of danger and intelligence, but he is far more savage. He has shorter, lighter hair shot with gray and is taller than Valerlan by two feet and more. He wears a black vest and tan leggings and sandals, and he is armed with a club. “Storr is, on top of being a half-wit, well into his cups and at this time can barely walk. Even sober he is less of a threat than his brother Valerlan and he seems easily frightened. He has dark hair like Valerlan’s and wears a rust-red vest. He is armed with a short club and a knife.” We stared at Athan as he spoke, committing these details to memory. “Scouts have reported that the guardsman, Haigha, is increasingly weak and slow. He has barely eaten but has drunk too much wine and is ailing. I believe he is the least of our opponents, but he is not to be underestimated. He wears all brown and his hair is long and tied in a braid. He carries a club but does not look capable of wielding it.”

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“There are six guards stationed here. They dress alike and are much alike in ability and intelligence – in a word, limited. They are armed with clubs, knives, and short swords which they do not seem very capable of using effectively. Three of them are old and fat. They are clumsy, lazy, and complacent in their own home, more concerned with their next meal than security here in the borderland.” “Has their intent changed?” Xati asked. “Do they still mean to go to this Keern Keep on the morrow?” “Yes.” Another Flying Fox, his fuzzy golden head a lighter shade than Pa’ala’s, quietly pressed, “Do they guess they have been followed? Have the scouts given any hint that they know we’re here?” “None,” Athan replied firmly. I stared at the diagram, listening to them talk. If we could get to Peter . . . the Ettins had to sleep sometime . . . “Is Hatta drunk?” I queried. Athan grimaced. “No.” Blast. Impaired by wine, he would have been so much easier to deal with. I grimaced in disappointment, returning to my study. “Valerlan threatened Hatta and his family if anything should happened to the High King,” a tiny voice said from behind me. I turned to look at a Pipistrelle Bat so small that she would have fit in my palm with room to spare. I reached out and she crawled onto my glove, a little ball of brown fuzz. She weighed next to nothing and if I hadn’t seen her in my hand I would not have believed anything alive and intelligent could be so light. “What is your name, lady?” “Flitterwink, Your Majesty,” she replied. “You heard Valerlan say this?” “I did, King Edmund. Valerlan calls your brother his prisoner yet he passed responsibility for his safety on to the one that hates him most.” “I wonder if he regrets his prize,” murmured Kanell. His tone was dangerous and dark. I considered his words and tone because the notion that Valerlan might have found himself in a bind over his own conduct had not occurred to me. The crown prince was Peter’s best, only defense. If he lost that protection before we could free him . . . I did not want to consider the ramifications. As if he was reading my thoughts Kanell demanded, “How has Valerlan conducted himself amongst his own kind?” “With unwarranted arrogance and swagger,” Brant said. I was pleased to hear offense on behalf of the High King in his gruff voice. “He is showing away and tries to outdo and impress his fellows. Some of the scouts -“

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A Big-Eared Bat came darting in, banking up sharply to land right on Athan’s head. Breathlessly he exclaimed, “Valerlan has said as soon as the guardsman Aufins is done with his meal he is to proceed to Keern Keep and bring back with him a dozen more Ettins soldiers as an honor guard for their princes and to ensure the safety of King Peter! He is expected to return before dawn!” It spilled out all in a rush, every word chilling me more and more. I felt a tightness grip my chest, the same despair I had felt when I first laid eyes upon Jadis’ vast army on the plain of Beruna. A dozen Ettins beyond the ones we faced already? Sweet Lion . . . It seemed as if everyone started talking at once. Demanded Kanell, “How long until Aufins leaves?” “They have yet to sit to their meal,” assured the Big-Eared Bat. “He’ll be one less to deal with if we wait until he’s well away to act,” Xati reasoned. The captain’s dark eyes narrowed sharply. “He won’t get away.” “There’s more bad Giants coming?” exclaimed Peterkins in shrill, childish tones, poised to panic. “Hush!” Pandicat soothed. “Not yet, Master Fox.” “Not ever,” growled Flinder, flexing his huge paws to display his claws. I think that I alone was silent as I turned this bit of news over in my head. Though not very loud the sound of Bats’ voices was deafening and confusing in its own strange way. It was as if there was more to their voices than what we heard and I saw the Talking Animals of our troop flinch as the Bats grew agitated. I looked down at tiny Flitterwink, whose name was bigger than she was. “Lady,” I whispered, “do you think you could reach my brother without being seen?” She nodded, eager to prove herself. “I could, Majesty. I am small and swift. Command me!” I clasped her close and warm to my breast as I raised my free hand for silence. All eyes were upon me and I took a moment to think, staring at the sketch carved into the ground before me. When I spoke my voice sounded hollow to my own ears. “How many Bats have we?” ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Six: The World Turned Upside Down . . . (the) High King of the World was unknown to them. Beowulf, 182 - 183 §‡§

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Looking back at the week I spent with the Ettins, I believe I can say with authority that I know what Hell is like. I was tugged and dragged along through a rounded archway as large as the main doors of Cair Paravel but nowhere near as grand. The wooden doors had rotted away, leaving rusted hinges in place that reminded me of broken teeth. It was like entering into the maw of some beast that housed a fire in its belly. The sunlight was blocked by the heavy walls and the sky was darkening overhead, but a large fire built in one of the rooms shed an uneven light and made the place stink of smoke. The grass was just as thick inside the keep as outside, at least where it hadn’t been trampled by huge, careless feet. The Ettins were in high spirits and Valerlan tried his best to imitate them. I suspected he was merely trying to fool himself and perhaps me as well. We followed the older Ettin into a hall, the roof of which was long gone. Meats were cooking over the open fire. One of the soldiers hastily turned the spits to keep the food from charring amidst laughter from his fellows. The first order of business for the Ettins was wine. Storr was already drinking and I suspected it was something he enjoyed too often and too deeply. I saw one of the guards give a skin to Haigha but he didn’t seem capable of lifting the heavy sack. He dug in his pack for the cup that had been the source of his woes. I suspected his wounds were slowly doing him in, and the wine would only speed the process along. I caught a whiff of the dark red wine as Valerlan took a grateful swig. It smelled grossly sweet and poorly made. Amidst encouraging shouts and cheers from his men, Valerlan took another long draught from the wineskin, gasping with pleasure and wiping his mouth when he was done. He smirked at me as if daring me to respond. Did he want me to fear him or show disapproval for their loud and bawdy revelry? In truth I did both but I was not about to express the least emotion before him and this crowd of brutes. They were shouting and boisterous and crude, reeking of sweat, wine, and smoke. They could not have been further away from what I was used to from my subjects if they had been on the moon. The Ettin guards leaned close to me, hungry and leering and lecherous. I had seen that look before in Hatta’s eyes, before Valerlan had beaten him flat. Storr brought up the topic of Deama, and they amused themselves by conjecturing how long I would survive the Giantess’ affections. I felt a little sad for the absent, sky-eyed princess, to be spoken of this manner by her own brother. The crowd of hard-drinking Giants roared with laughter as they mocked me and made rude comments. They were already awful enough sober, I had no idea of how low they would stoop once they got drunk. I wasn’t looking forward to finding out. One of the Ettin guards reached towards me. I slapped his grasping fingers away with both hands, glaring him down. My sharp blow could not have done any harm but it did startle him. An amused laugh rose from the throats of the others who were gathered about and watching their fellow, rising in a crescendo as if daring the guard to try again. He scowled and lunged, only to be snatched back by Valerlan’s hand on his collar. The crown prince dumped the Ettin to the ground and planted one huge foot on his chest, pressing down and pinning him to the ground. “He is my prisoner,” Valerlan stressed to the guards, his expression dark and his voice deep, “and my father’s prize. He is not to be harmed in any way. Ask Haigha if you have any doubts. Hatta!” « 200 »

My nemesis turned from his wine with a disinterested grunt. “Guard the prisoner. If any harm befalls him, I’ll kill you and exile your son. If anyone here attempts to harm that Son of Adam, you’ll share Hatta’s fate.” There was a moment of frightened silence as they realized Valerlan was absolutely serious and perfectly willing to carry out his threat. I just found it interesting that I had gone from being a captive to a prisoner. “When we are done feasting, Aufins, hie thee to my lady’s home in Keern Keep. Tell her father, Lord Daichoe, that I require an escort of a dozen of his finest soldiers. I would not appear as a pauper before my betrothed, and my father’s prize must be well protected.” The old Ettin smiled slowly in approval. “I will return well before dawn, Prince Valerlan,” he promised. “Lady Noona will be most pleased!” “Hold him over in the courtyard,” ordered Valerlan, handing off my lead to Hatta. He glared at me. “Make no attempt to escape, little king. My mercy has its limits.” It was an empty threat, said for the benefit of his fellows. He would not harm me after having suffered so much to bring me here, but I did not want to press my luck with so much wine and a volatile temper. §‡§ I was herded into a small court just off the area where the Palish Giants had congregated for their meal. There were pillars supporting the remains of a covered walk on two sides and the central space was open to the sky. I suppose once upon a time it must have been a pleasant place to sit and relax. I wouldn’t know. All I could do was sit. The walls on three sides were quite high, too high for me to climb with bound hands, and instead of a fourth wall I had Hatta to look at. He managed to keep a steady glare aimed at me but at least he didn’t try to jerk me about by the trailing leash. The souvenirs of his beating at Valerlan’s hands were clearly evident now that we were outside the caverns – bruises and abrasions and a chunk of hair torn out. I had no doubt he would have gladly killed me on the spot if he hadn’t been so afraid of the crown prince. Behind him, the guards and Storr broke into a vulgar song, still childishly fixated on the fate that lay in store for me in his sister’s chamber. I shook my head. They were miserable, perverse creatures and I could understand Valerlan’s disgust and frustration with them. They had no desire to better themselves, being perfectly content in their hedonistic ignorance. I tried not to dwell on the implications hinted at in the song, but it was very difficult to direct my attention elsewhere. Finally I found my thoughts turning to my brother. I didn’t think of the wrath I hoped and prayed was coming, but rather I thought upon the time he had spent as Jadis’ prisoner. He never spoke of it, not really, and perhaps he should have. She had been more than cruel, more than abusive. I knew she had forced him to do things he simply was not ready to do or understand. I had realized this long ago even if he hadn’t. Some day he would have to face that pain. Would I share that sad fate? Would the anguish and confusion that plagued Edmund’s subconscious mind be mine to endure as well? Would it be different for me since I would be aware of what was happening to me? « 201 »

Aslan willing I would never find out. Sex, sexuality, and procreation were not taboo subjects in Narnia. They were a part of life and living, things to be enjoyed as much as music and wine and company. They were not taken lightly, though, because of the complexities and complications that could result, but they were not hidden or looked upon askance. At first I had been astonished (and a trifle embarrassed) at this open attitude and I had mentioned as much to Minovin, Cair Paravel’s court recorder, who happened to be with me in the library when I had stumbled across a book of love poems that made me blush. The elderly Centaur mare had smiled knowingly, her dark eyes glittering with gentle amusement and understanding as she said, “Children have to come from somewhere, High King.” Before my father left for the army he had sat me down for a good, long talk on a topic which I think was as hard for him to broach as it was for me to hear. I must say I was glad it came from him. His warm, gentle voice had eased away the embarrassment we both felt, and I felt better knowing what to expect as I matured. I had promised him I would exercise both sensibility and responsibility in my conduct towards women. It was a promise I was glad to keep, especially since I was now a king. Reflecting on that discussion, I wished Dad had included Edmund . . . or perhaps not. If Edmund had known more I think Jadis might have done even greater harm than she did. There are times, such as in this case, when I believe that ignorance can be a blessing. I lived in mortal dread of having to broach the topic with my little brother. I would, but it would not be an easy task. Still, Edmund needed to learn that intimacy need not equate to humiliation and pain. A shout from the Ettins yanked me back to the here-and-now. Theirs was a merry feast and I only half-listened to the inane talk going on. Valerlan, having exiled the two people capable of contradicting him intelligently, was telling the guards a fanciful and highly inaccurate version of events. The word propaganda leapt to mind and I shook my head in disgust, catching the scornful look in Hatta’s eyes. For the first and last time we were agreed upon something, it seemed. They grew louder and more belligerent with each swallow of wine. One of the Ettins waded towards us through the grass, carrying laden wooden plates larger than platters. He grunted and jerked his head at Hatta, handing off one of the plates, before stepping past him to join me in the overgrown courtyard. He stared at me in fascination, clearly unable to even equate me to an Ettin child, and I gave him a steely look in return. “Be this Jadis’ heir?” he wondered softly, more to himself and hardly expecting a response. He reeked of wine and his words slurred. “Ask Valerlan,” I snapped. He drew back in astonishment. I don’t know what he expected - ignorance to match his own, perhaps. I refused to be subject to another round of gaping and gawking. “Put the food down and remove yourself from my presence,” I ordered sharply, and he was too intimidated to do aught but obey. He set the food down and hurried away, back to his secure world of Giants and wine and dim-witted humor fifty feet removed from my

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alien presence. The Ettins grew loud at his return and I saw Aufins, dumpy and old, depart on his mission to fetch more guards. More Ettins. Aslan have mercy on us. I looked at the mess on the plate. There was a cup of water, more of the bland bread - not much better fresh but at least not speckled green with mold - and strips of some unknown variety of meat that was overdone, unseasoned, but edible after a fashion. The best that could be said of it is that it was hot. I picked at it all, knowing I had to eat something, and I was surprised that I found myself rather hungry. I turned my back on Hatta so I did not have to watch his amusement as I struggled to eat my meal with bound hands. I also wanted a chance to look at my surroundings without making it seem obvious, but a close look didn’t raise my hopes any. For all the chance I had of climbing out of here, I may as well have been in a pit. I looked at the massive pillars and the last remnants of sunlight in the sky beyond, wondering at so decorative a touch for an isolated little keep like this. A bat flew overhead. I froze, my hands poised halfway to my mouth. Moments later another bat flew by, this one larger and clearly of a different species. I felt a surge of hope rise within me as I watched the graceful creatures. Bats! That was what I had heard back in the caverns! The Ettins, intent on devouring their meal and drinking their wine, did not see them and I doubt they would have noticed even if they were looking at the sky, for who would bother to take note of a bat even if it wasn’t quite dark enough for them to emerge? I watched a Bat, tiny and dark, land on one of the columns not from above, but from the darkness beyond the pillars. If I had not been watching I never would have noticed her. She climbed down the rough surface, drawing closer before raising her head and staring at me intently. My heart was hammering in my chest fit to burst as I stared back, hardly daring to breathe. Bats could only mean one thing: Edmund was here. They were his constant messengers and good friends. Never breaking eye contact, the Bat let out a small hiss that the Ettins with their poor hearing never would have heard. I nodded my head slightly to let her know I was aware of her. Then she did something that told me my rescue was at hand. She smiled. Bats are not particularly pretty creatures, though since coming to Narnia I have grown very fond of them, for they are mannerly, witty and clever Animals with very dry senses of humor. This particular Bat was fuzzy brown with black wings, a pointed face like a dog, and overlarge ears. When she smiled, bringing me reassurance for the first time in an age, I thought she was one of the loveliest things I had ever beheld. If Edmund had sent her then he had a plan, Aslan be praised, and I needed to know what it was. I stood up as if to stretch my legs. Immediately Hatta reacted, half-rising from his seat as he ordered, “Sit down, you little scum! I didn’t say you could move!” “Go to hell, Hatta,” I snapped back at him with all the contempt in my soul, ignoring his command. My tolerance for him had long since been exhausted and I stared him down. It

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seemed our deadly glares negated each other. With a faint growl he slowly sank back to his seat again, probably remembering the feeling of my heel meeting his toes. There was a gentle thump on my shoulder and I felt the little Bat land on me. I remained standing at an angle to Hatta to hide her from sight. I could feel her slight weight tugging on my tunic as she moved closer to my ear. “Majesty, say nothing,” whispered this jewel among Bats, unaware that she could have spoken aloud and the Ettins would not have heard her. Her sharp voice was sweeter than music and I thrilled at each word. “Your brother is poised to attack. Be ready. Even now Kanell heads out to stop the Ettin Aufins, and your brother is circling ‘round the keep from behind. They will attack when the moment is right.” I let my breath out in a shuddering sigh, closing my eyes as I let the enormity of this tiny creature’s words impact upon me. A familiar prayer rose from my memory. It had been said in jest the first time, but now I mouthed the words in deadly earnest. Aslan, thank you for giving me an easily aggravated, clever, and wise brother. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders, lifted off by a being smaller than my hand. I opened my eyes just as another one of the Ettin guards stood up. “That dolt Aufins forgot his helm!” laughed the Giant, brandishing an iron helmet the size and shape of a wash tub. The others joined him in laughter and one of the younger guards, establishing himself as the next-in-command, ordered, “Catch up with the old fool and return it to him. For that matter, Shogi, go with him to Keern lest he lose his way in the dark.” They were mightily amused, but the Bat on my shoulder tensed, tiny claws digging into my neck. “Kanell!” she exclaimed, her voice full of dread. “Go tell Edmund,” I ordered, barely moving my lips. “Quickly!” Pushing off my shoulder, she was gone. I don’t know how long I stood there, feeling so terribly alone yet so very excited and optimistic. It was an odd sensation, especially since I hadn’t felt this way in ages. Indeed, it seemed an eternity since I had felt anything but anxiety and fatigue and frustration. I wanted to run about and cheer and fall on my knees all at once. Edmund was here, my dark and furious knight that would stop at nothing, be stopped by nothing in order to reach me. I almost smiled. Let the lesson begin. I looked to the sky. More Bats, graceful and agile, darted overhead. Aslan bless those good Animals and save them. The Ettins never so much as looked up, confident that they were safe inside their own borders and settling back to their meal. Fools. Justice knows no borders. A flitter of shadow and the tiny Bat landed against me again, panting heavily. She barely whispered in her excitement and haste. “Sire, King Edmund begs you to hold their attention for a span.” « 204 »

I pretended to study the pillars, my face turned away from Hatta’s watchful eyes. “How long?” “Long enough for Xati to kill the second Ettin or warn Kanell.” However long that meant. “Done,” I murmured, wondering what on earth I could do or say to distract eight Giants. What could drag them away from their wine? How could I make them look nowhere but to me? It was then that I realized the answer was simplicity itself, standing not right before me, but circling around somewhere behind me. The Blood Heir was here, only Valerlan didn’t realize it. Yet. It was elementary. I could keep Valerlan and his ilk busy for hours. I would just tell him the truth. ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Order of Battle Then he gave a shout. The lord of the Geats unburdened his breast and broke out in a storm of anger. Under grey stone his voice challenged and resounded clearly. Hate was ignited. The hoard-guard recognized a human voice, the time was over for peace and parleying. Beowulf, lines 2550 - 2556 §‡§ As it turned out, we had a total of nine hundred and sixty-two Bats of every size, shape, color, and temperament available, sixty-three if you included tiny Flitterwink, but I didn’t since I had already dispatched her to bring word to Peter. Pa’ala, used to commanding generations of her kin, was the undisputed leader. She had been accompanied by five members of her family as well as ten of her neighbors, a variety of Fruit Bat that came close to rivaling the Flying Foxes for sheer size. Because they were so visible I put Pa’ala’s nephews and grandsons and the Fruit Bats in charge and divvied the rest of the Bats into nine groups. It was my intent that the Bats would attack the Ettins behind the first salvo from the archers, each group concentrating upon a specific Giant and spreading as much panic and confusion as they could. I hadn’t anticipated the stubborn response I received. “They’re not unwilling to attack,” Pauton explained, gesturing helplessly with his hands. He was flustered and his face was as red as his beard. “They’re quite eager, in fact. It’s just that they all want to attack Valerlan!” « 205 »

I sighed, looking to Kanell and together we turned to Pa’ala where she sat nibbling a piece of dried fruit. With a little grumble she handed the apricot to the Red Dwarf and said, “I shall deal with them. Bring me there.” None of us was about to argue, Pauton least of all, and he carefully carried her further back into the cave where the excited Bats were congregated. Kanell stamped his hoof, amused, and he commented, “Every general should have such problems.” “And such captains,” finished Athan. “Well, she’ll sort them out,” I said with confidence. “We’ll need to get into position for the archers to get clear shots.” “Every arrow must count,” Kanell said. “Giants have hides like leather, so it’s useless to shoot anywhere but in the head, eyes, neck, and open wounds. Pass word on to the archers that they are to shoot for the eyes and throat. They all have short swords and our good guides brought their axes, so none will want for a weapon. Now . . .” He cast his eye on the motley array of soldiers and citizens gathered around. “The order of battle must be decided upon.” It was not so lengthy a discussion, thought we were constantly interrupted by Bats bringing updates, but my own growing nervousness made it seem as if it took forever to decide. The worth of every person present was proven as we used what information had been gathered to formulate our attack. Like the Bats, we were each to concentrate upon our given task or our given Ettin. To me fell the task of freeing Peter. There was no sentiment attached to the errand, I was simply the best equipped to reach him the fastest, given my size, speed, and climbing ability. Moreover, I carried his sword and could arm him the moment he was released. The archers and Bats would do their best to keep Hatta amused until Peter was safe. Kanell alone would confront Aufins when he left to fetch a princely escort. We would take position near and in the keep and wait for his return to attack, giving the Ettins every chance to get as drunk as possible. Not a one of us was fooled into believing that chaos wouldn’t erupt and complicate the battle plan, but Kanell and I knew the soldiers had enough discipline to keep cool heads and would respond to a call to order. When pandemonium reigned on the field one tended to fall back on one’s training, acting automatically in the face of danger. Peter and I had drilled endlessly under Oreius’ merciless tutelage and the instinct to act and fight had proven itself in me the day I had been made Sir Edmund of the How. Still, give me time to think about a pending fight and my first response was neither pretty nor something I cared to brag about. “We must not be caught or penned into any of the rooms that have no outlet,” Kanell insisted. “If we are forced to fall back it must be towards the fallen walls or one of the outside doors.” “I . . .” The thought of what had happened to Peter’s guard in the courtyard of the White Witch’s castle sprang to mind, that flash of blood and gore I had glimpsed. My stomach clenched as I looked at my fellows. Would I be forced to endure watching my own troop « 206 »

being devoured? I was the one they wanted, after all, even if the Ettins were too stupid to realize as much. There was a taste of bile in my mouth and I knew I was going to vomit. Taking a deep breath, I hastily said, “I need a moment. Your pardon.” With that I hurried away from the little knot of soldiers, heading for the mouth of the cave. It was a little warmer and I thought the fresh air might help, but I took one look at Loy Keep’s forbidding silhouette and my stomach heaved. I stepped out of sight behind a boulder and I was quietly and thoroughly sick. So much for my last meal. I panted heavily, leaning on the rock as I trembled, sweaty and cold at once as nausea reluctantly receded. When I looked up Kanell stood before me, a gentle, understanding expression upon his dark face. “I hate this,” I muttered, shifting away from the mess at my feet. “There are few things worse than waiting for battle.” For some reason I felt the need to point out, “I didn’t get sick like this when the rebel Trees attacked us.” “From what I understand of that battle, Majesty, you didn’t have time to get sick.” “Suppose not,” I muttered. “I got this sick at Beruna.” “I know.” “Wonderful.” Did the whole army know? Probably, with my brand of luck. I leaned back against my rock, looking up at the huge Centaur. Behind him I could see Bats swooping hither and yon. “Will I ever get used to this feeling?” “Some soldiers do. Some don’t. Do you really want to get used to it? You’re not alone in your anxiety, King Edmund.” Peter never got sick like this. I envied him. “I know. I’m just . . . there’s a battle coming, Kanell. People may die.” “People will die,” he corrected. “That is the way of these things. You cannot dwell on it or let it change what you must do.” “How can I not?” He stamped a hoof, at once my teacher and captain and friend and confidant. “As a knight and a king of Narnia, is there anything you wouldn’t sacrifice to keep her safe? Would you lay down your life for your country, Sire?” “I’d like to think so,” I admitted. “I haven’t been tried.” “Haven’t you?” he countered. “What of Beruna, when you challenged the White Witch and broke her power?” “She was going to kill Peter.” “And you willingly sacrificed all to prevent that from happening, saving the High King and through the High King, Narnia.” I could see his point, though I thought it was a bit of a stretch. Still . . . it made sense. I would have gladly died that day to stop Jadis. She had known that, too, and had done her best to satisfy my wishes. « 207 »

“Our love and willingness to serve Narnia and revinim are no less than yours. We are soldiers all, Edmund. We are not forced into Narnia’s army. We join of our own volition, with the understanding that at any time we could be called upon to make the greatest of sacrifices in the service to our land and the crown. We serve with pride and honor and if we die it is because we love our land enough to protect it with our lives and bodies just as you did the same for your brother.” I gazed at him quietly. They were a wise people, the Centaurs, and I hoped that some day I could express myself so well. I was about to speak when Pandicat joined us, having dropped to all fours for the sake of speed. “Majesty, Kanell,” she panted, “Aufins departs!” My anxiety vanished as I scooped up the Lemur and deposited her on my shoulder. The rest of the party joined us and we quietly, stealthily picked our way to a lookout point Flinder had chosen earlier. The spot was hidden by a little rise and a few ragged bushes, so typical of the area that the likes of Aufins wouldn’t notice it even if he was staring directly at it. We were afforded a decent view of the area, hidden by the long grass and the falling night, and we could easily see the main entrance of the keep. Amidst drunken laughter and bawdy shouts we watched as an Ettin soldier made his way out of the ruined fort. He neither hurried nor maintained a steady course, but kept to a path leading roughly to the northeast. Kanell studied him, his disgust evident. The fellow was overweight and slovenly and didn’t even survey his surroundings. They were too used to dominating the land here to feel threatened by anything, these Ettins, and I suspected they relied upon their size for their foremost defense. I was willing to bet Valerlan hadn’t imparted the tale of Peter felling Hatta with one kick. He would not want to advertise that anything so small could be a threat, and Hatta certainly wouldn’t want to story to get out. “I’ll be back soon,” swore the captain, his voice both grim and determined. “Aslan keep you, Kanell,” I replied. “We’ll move ahead and get into position. We’ll be waiting for you.” He nodded sharply, a creature of action now. He turned to go when Xati stopped him with one hand to his broad chest. She gave him a look that was long and hard and fierce and said far more than words. Her voice echoed his determination. “Be careful,” was all she said. She dropped her hand and stepped back, granting him leave to go. Kanell returned her stare for a moment then slowly smiled before he wheeled around and set off after Aufins, the long grass muffling his hoof beats. Xati watched him until he vanished into the darkness. I glanced at the little troop and saw many a grin being quickly hidden as the Centaur mare turned. She cast a narrow-eyed look at us but said nothing. “Pandicat, you stay here with Peterkins,” I said, ignoring the little groan my words produced from the would-be knight at my feet. “Keep him safe. If we fail, hide until you can make your way back to Narnia.” The Lemur nodded wordlessly, bowing deeply. Peterkins stood close by in a state of slackjawed shock. “But -“

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I cut the kit off with one finger pointing at his face. “Not a word, Peter Fox!” I hissed. “You disobeyed me once. Do so again at your hazard, young sir.” He hunched down in his spot, his ears flat, his tail drooping. Had I time, I might have felt sorry for him. I think he had been counting on everyone forgetting his transgressions in light of services rendered. “You will obey Pandicat’s least order without question, Peterkins, and you will not grumble, complain, or give her a moment’s grief. Is that understood?” “Yes, King Edmund,” he agreed softly. I had encountered his promises before, though, and I could only hope that guilt would fuel a desire to do as he was told. I, of all people in the world, could appreciate his desire to rebel against someone telling him what to do and how to act. Lion knows I had done it often enough to Peter, but where I was Peter’s brother, Peterkins was my subject. “I’ll leave some Bats with you,” I promised the Lemur. “We’ll keep you posted.” Eyes wide, she nodded. “Follow the path of the Lion, good my king,” she replied, bestowing a tree-dweller’s blessing upon me. I leaned over and kissed her fuzzy head and gave Peterkins a reassuring pat. Stepping away, I drew Rhindon. It was heavier and longer than Shafelm but it fit snugly in my hands. I transferred the sword to my right hand, testing its heft. If the need arose I was certain I could wield it one-handed, allowing me to use both swords. That was just as well, seeing as how I had no armor or shield. I swung the blade, unconsciously compensating for the greater length as I fell into a fighting stance. My earlier panic seemed to have spent itself, leaving me emptied of anxiety and not exactly eager for battle, but at least no longer sick over it. Xati joined me, barely visible in the darkening twilight. The moon wasn’t quite high enough to provide much light yet, but soon, and I knew she watched me with professional interest. It was heartening that she didn’t offer any advice but merely asked, “Are you ready, Sire?” I lowered Rhindon to my side. “Yes, Lieutenant,” I replied. “I -“ “Flitterwink!” exclaimed Flinder softly. “Majesty, ‘tis Flittewink!” I felt a chill of fright. Something must have gone awry. I hurried over to the dark mound that was Athan and there, in his palm, rested the tiny messenger. I leaned close to hear her. She was panting and winded. “Majesty, a second Ettin departs the keep! Aufins forgot his helmet and they send another of the garrison to guide him to Keern!” Straining my eyes, I stared at Loy, every person in the troop joining me. Sure enough we could see a huge form in the doorway, laughing and waving to his fellows before setting out into the darkness. This Giant was younger and fitter, but, Aslan be praised, he seemed at least as drunk as Aufins and about as stable. I looked to Xati, the only one capable of moving fast enough to warn Kanell. She clearly came to the exact same realization because she whirled on me, leaning close, every muscle tensed for the dash ahead of her.

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“Athan, you’ll have to lead them inside the main door. King Edmund, do you move the troop into position. I will either deal with that Ettin myself or join Kanell and we’ll take them both. We’ll join you as swift as we may.” “Do it,” I ordered, my voice sounding strangely hollow from this unexpected strain. “Hurry. I’ll try to gain some time. Flitterwink!” Small and fleet, Xati took off to the northeast. I didn’t have time to watch her go, but I immediately addressed the Pipistrelle Bat resting on Athan’s hand. She clung to his thumb, waiting expectantly. “Fly back to Peter. Let him know what we’re doing. Tell him he has to buy us some time for Kanell and Xati to get back here. Hurry!” She was gone in the wink of an eye. I turned to another courier, this one familiar from where he perched atop Shikov’s head. “Good Twilth, hie thee to Pa’ala and tell her the number is now eight Ettins. Have her get her forces into position.” “And you, Sire?” asked Twilth. I smiled. “We’ll be storming the keep, good my Bat.” §‡§ We needn’t have kept as quiet as we did, I later learned. Not only were the members of Valerlan’s troop being outrageously loud, but Peter eventually told me that Ettins possess rather poor hearing and are more reliant upon sight to notice things. Three archers, Athan, Shikov, and Barin split off and headed for the front entrance of the keep while the rest of us slunk towards the pile of rubble that was the crumbling northern wall. Overhead I could hear the faint sound of flapping wings as a great, dark stream of bats sped through the night towards the building. My heart was hammering in my chest as I kept to a steady trot in order to keep pace with the taller, faster Satyrs and Fauns. I felt the absence of the Centaurs very keenly, for any Centaur in Narnia’s army, be they mare or stallion, is essentially an armory with hooves. Close up Loy Keep was an intimidating sight. The scale was enormous and I could appreciate how Peterkins or Pandicat must have felt around even me, let alone someone that was actually tall. The very stones in the walls and those fallen to the ground were huge. If this was a small keep I did not want to see a castle or, worse still, the Giantish city of Harfang. Panic seized me for a moment when I heard a familiar voice give a shout. Peter! I tensed, straining every nerve, but he was merely calling out to his captor, challenging him to listen. Suddenly I could breathe again. I didn’t hesitate at the edge of the crumbled wall, but quickly started to climb towards the gap in the wall. Flinder was beside me, his long claws scraping the lichen-encrusted stone, his powerful form a source of great comfort. A Bat fluttered down and landed on me without ceremony. “The Ettins are gathered before your brother. His words are most displeasing to them.” “Lion’s mane!” I moaned. “What is he saying to them?” The Bat tensed, ready to launch back into the air. “The truth, King Edmund.” He was gone. I stared into the darkness. The truth? Had Peter gone mad? « 210 »

“Faster!” I ordered. From what I knew of Valerlan, the genuine facts of the matter were the last things he ever wanted to hear. Besides, the Ettins not knowing the truth is what had kept Peter alive and unharmed for so long. What would happen when they realized he wasn’t the Blood Heir? Worse yet, what if he didn’t give those dolts the chance to figure it out for themselves and told them as much? I didn’t even want to think about it. I didn’t dare. We plunged into darkness that was so deep it made the open field look bright by comparison. I put my left hand down on Flinder’s flank and let the Bobcat guide me. Following his senses, he led me through a room with an earthen floor, then up a few steps. I saw shadows dancing on the far wall, and when we rounded the corner I could see firelight broken by tall pillars. The porch. Just beyond it, the Ettins held my brother. A gentle tap on my shoulder told me the last of our number had joined us. These soldiers needed no instruction, but silently, stealthily crept forward, clinging to the darkness, their weapons – if they bore them – at the ready. I reversed my grip on Rhindon so I could hold the sword behind me. It would not do to have light glint off the blade and alert the Ettins. My boots made no sound as I carefully moved forward. More of the awful scene came into view. Our position was a good eight or ten feet above the yard below and closer to eye level with an Ettin that I ever would have liked, but then I wasn’t an archer. There were no voices now; no revelry or singing filled the night air. All I could hear was my brother’s indistinct voice and the sound of the huge fire crackling and roaring at the other end of the open yard. There was a pile of rubble close to the edge between two pillars and I claimed it as my own, dropping down low to inch forward. Flinder stayed glued to my side. Whatever Peter was saying to the Giants had them completely riveted because there was no movement, no mumbling or shifting, and the scout and I reached the cover of stone and timber and dirt. Through an opening in the pile I got my first glimpse of what we were up against. Sweet Lion, they were hideous, massive things. So filthy were they that I could smell them from where I crouched. Their eyes were glazed with drink and they swayed slightly as if rocked by a breeze. I cast the motley assortment Ettins a swift look before I concentrated on the slight figure standing fearlessly before them. I almost gasped at the sight of Peter. Finally! It seemed a lifetime, not a sennight, and I felt a little thrill course through at the sight of him. His fair hair was darkened with dirt and I could see stains on his clothes but he was still the brightest thing in Loy. He was whole and alive and talking and most likely overdoing it because I could see the storm clouds gathering before my very eyes. Oh, Peter, tread carefully! Valerlan. I knew the crown prince instantly. He was smaller than his fellows and strangely disproportionate, with ragged black hair framing a large head with small, heavy features. He stood directly before Peter, glaring down at him with hatred. There was a keen intelligence on his face, the kind of intelligence Jadis would have valued – cunning and ruthless and greedy enough to be strung along by her empty promises. He was evil, of wicked intent, the direct opposite of the boy that stood before him. This was the one who had captured my brother and would make of him a second Etainn.

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This was the one who would hoist the pain and humiliation of what I had suffered onto Peter. For that, Valerlan would die. I knew the archers could see me from their assigned posts behind the pillars and I raised my left hand in a fist, the order to hold. We needed Xati and Kanell back here with us in order to attack. We needed time. We were too small and too few. . . Hold them, Peter . . . please. Before my eyes a dramatic change swept over Valerlan’s pug features – annoyance turned to shock to unbridled fury as he listened to my brother’s truths. The Ettins shifted about nervously, alarmed by their prince’s reaction to the puny little Human. At this distance it was impossible to hear what Peter said to him but it must have been direct and merciless. Every word seemed to strike like a blow and Valerlan’s face became as dark and angry as a hurricane. I thought hard and fast, licking my chapped lips. Not yet. Kanell wasn’t back yet. We had to maintain. I shifted my fingers on Rhindon’s grip, still holding my left fist tight and visible to the archers. A shout of passionate rage escaped Valerlan and he drew one huge hand across his body as if to backhand my brother. He knew, Peter knew, I knew such a blow would kill a human. I was about to gesture to the archers to let fly with the fist salvo when a hideous scream of agony rent the night air, joining briefly with Valerlan’s wrath before ending as abruptly as it had begun. I instantly knew that there were only eight of our enemies left to deal with now. The prince stayed his hand. The Ettins were horrified and verging on panic, glancing about wildly. Some pulled away, others drew in closer. Only Valerlan focused on the tiny figure before him. Peter said something more and the crown prince went from livid to murderous. He raised his hand . . . and I dropped mine. “NARNIA!” ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Flame Rising . . . always they had been partners in the fight, friends in need. They killed giants, their conquering swords had brought them down. Beowulf, lines 880 - 883 §‡§ A loud, raucous laugh erupted from the cluster of Ettins and for a moment Hatta looked away, watching their carousing with envy. I took advantage of his distraction and glanced down at the Bat clinging to my shoulder. “Get safely away, lady,” I ordered in a whisper. “Tell Edmund I’m waiting for him.” « 212 »

“Lion be with you,” breathed the tiny Bat, pushing off again. I gave her a few moments to get clear, feeling strangely lonely without her small but valiant presence. I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with air that smelt of sweat and grass and wood smoke. Eyes closed, I held my breath for a few heartbeats, steeling myself and saying a silent prayer before slowly releasing this air of Ettinsmoor, opening my eyes. Aslan, protect and guide me as you have all along. Let the truth be my shield until my brother arrives. Guard his company and see us through this storm. We are yours. Standing straight, I looked past Hatta to the ring of Ettins at the fire, focusing on my Palish counterpart. I was as ready as I could be and Edmund needed me to do my part. I would not fail him. “Valerlan!” I shouted, ignoring Hatta’s gesture to be silent as he whirled about. “Valerlan! Crown Prince! Listen to me! I have something to tell you!” “Sit down!” bellowed my guard as the revelry came to an abrupt stop. The Ettins stared at me across the yard. “Valerlan! Are you afraid of me?” That struck a nerve. Almost choking on a last swig of wine from the skin beside him, the crown prince rose and strode across the ruined courtyard, Storr and the guards flanking him with Haigha limping behind. I could feel the ground shake from the sheer size and weight of more than half a dozen Giants. They cast long, dark shadows as they drew near. Backlit by the fire, they filled my line of vision. Great Aslan, they were monstrous huge things even if Ettins were the smallest of the Giant races. Surrounded by his subjects and cronies, Valerlan had converted to a swaggering, haughty brute, even louder and more domineering than he had been when carrying on before just a handful of his ilk. He seemed less a king and more the leader of a troop of brigands. I gave him an arch look as he stood beside Hatta, letting him know I was well aware of his playacting and I was far from impressed. Indeed, I found myself strangely detached, numb to fear even, though I felt a thrill of relief when I noticed that they had left their war clubs behind by the fire. While some of the guards wore swords I strongly suspected they were not very adept at their use, and for the most part the Ettins were unarmed. Hatta alone retained his club. Thank the Lion. “Now what?” Valerlan demanded with a snide curl of his lip. I could smell the alcohol on them from where I stood. I smiled faintly. “There’s something I need to tell you.” “So you said, little king. What?” “I need to tell you the truth.” The prince frowned. “Truth? What truth?” “My truth,” I replied smartly. I remembered Aslan’s cryptic words to Edmund last Yule and added, “The truth of what is. You see, you’re wrong about me, Valerlan, and you know nothing of events as they stand in Narnia.” « 213 »

Valerlan’s small, dark eyes narrowed sharply as he began to comprehend what I was saying. He shifted, as dangerous as a wounded animal, and he was instantly defensive. “What?” he breathed as the Ettins shuffled about nervously. Most did not understand anything but the fact that their crown prince was furious beyond words. All eyes were upon me. I resisted the urge to smirk, glad of the chance to set him aright. I raised my voice so that they could all hear even with their poor hearing. “The truth, Valerlan! Everything that’s been right before you but you choose not to see! Did you know that Jadis was immortal?” I demanded. “She ate the fruit from the same tree that gave Narnia the Tree of Protection. It grants immortality and despair. Only Aslan could have slain her and he did! Didn’t your people ever wonder why she didn’t age? Why she had the power to lock Narnia in a century of winter? She would never, ever have kept her promise to make your family her heirs. She didn’t need any!” The Ettins exchanged concerned glances, disturbed by such a revelation. “You lie!” hissed Storr, betraying his own desire for the White Witch. He ignored the fact that his brother had wasted years and years of waiting in hope for something would never, could never come to him. I glared at him so fiercely he shrank back behind his brother. “I am the High King of Narnia,” I snapped. “I have no reason to lie even to the likes of you.” “High King?” wondered Haigha softly, confused at my title. “Your next mistake,” I said to Valerlan, “was in believing Jadis’ version of the prophesy. You should have delved into it for yourself. She never told you the entire thing. For her power to be overthrown two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve had to enter Narnia and be enthroned in Cair Paravel. By Aslan’s law none other are allowed to rule this land as monarchs! You could never reign in Narnia, Valerlan. I am the eldest of four sovereigns of the realm. By seizing me you have done nothing but call down the wrath of my brother King Edmund the Just.” Since I couldn’t point with my hands tied, I stamped my foot at the prince standing before me, shock written on his ugly face. “I warned you Narnia would not tolerate this affront, nor will she!” Beyond them, above the ruined walls of the keep, Bats streaked by, more than I had ever seen before. They rose up in a great swarm high in the sky, waiting for the signal to attack. I needed no such signal, but pressed on with my assault. I’d had nothing to do but walk and think for an entire week and I had come to a great many conclusions in the process. Like a spark igniting a flame I let my temper have free reign, seeing no reason to hold back any more. I stepped forward and shouted the words I had been longing to say since I had woken up in the throne room of the White Witch’s ice castle. “I am not the Blood Heir! I never have been!” Valerlan’s eyes grew huge and he gasped. “You said -“ I cut him off with a sharp gesture. “I never said a thing! You assumed and I didn’t correct you! Oh, you’re quite right, there is a Blood Heir, but it’s not me. Jadis’ Blood Heir is my younger brother, King Edmund. He fell under her power and enchantment and he was the one among us she made heir to her legacy. Edmund carries Jadis’ taint, not I. He was the « 214 »

one she chose, not you! A simple Son of Adam over the Ettin crown prince! She tricked him into eating and drinking a potion made of her blood and the price he paid was more terrible than you can imagine. “Your father thinks to breed a line descended from Humans and Ettins and whatever Jadis was? Do you actually think for one instant Narnia would accept such a ruler, from such a people as yours? Valaner is mad to believe anything so far-fetched. You accuse me of stealing your birthright? I can’t steal something you never had! You have no respect for Aslan, for his works, for revinim, for everything that makes Narnia the seat of his grace and power! You destroyed the Tree of Protection, killed and ate Narnian citizens and helped empower a tyrant!” “You are not the Blood Heir,” murmured Valerlan, staring at me as if he had never seen me before. He was fixated on this single fact. I saw his hand creep towards the knife in his belt reflexively. Kanell and Xati had better hurry back - I didn’t think Valerlan would stay his first impulse to kill me. He shifted, his cunning mind searching for a way to salvage the situation even as it fell apart around him. “Where is this brother, then?” “Closer than you’d wish,” I snapped, my heart hammering in my chest. It was as much a thrill as a relief to menace them back after the abuse and terror I’d endured in their company. “There’s something else your people’s legends haven’t taken into account. You say Human blood is what made your race so great in the past. Are you so sure? If Etainn was the grandson of King Frank and Queen Helen he would have been half Human. There were no Humans besides the royal family in Narnia at that age in history. The children of Frank and Helen married Wood Nymphs and River Gods. It’s impossible for Etainn to have been purely Human because unlike the Ettins we are not in the habit of bedding our sisters. How do you know Ettain’s intelligence didn’t come from the native Narnians?” There was absolute silence as I tore apart the beliefs and legends of more than eight hundred years of history. Perhaps because Humans had always ruled Narnia, the Ettins had assumed the Human blood in them had given them their genius. Perhaps it had, perhaps not. It didn’t matter. They were a doomed race. Valerlan’s alcohol-muddled mind processed my words and he became increasingly angry. I think he knew full well that I was telling the truth, he simply didn’t want to hear it. “Narnia is what lifted your people from the mud, Valerlan, and Narnia is the one thing you will never possess!” I looked at him squarely. “You are not worthy.” That did it. Valerlan’s face twisted into a savage mask and with a scream of rage he raised one huge hand, winding up to smash me to pulp. One blow and he would kill me, but I stood my ground. Suddenly another scream, distant and terrified, tore through the night. The Ettins froze, even the prince, as the terrible howl ended as abruptly as it began. They cowered and whimpered, lumping close together. Storr seized his brother’s sleeve in both hands but Valerlan shook him off with a savage growl. “This is your last chance, Valerlan,” I said, knowing that Kanell and Xati had fulfilled their mission. “Release me. Let me walk out of here unmolested and you and your people won’t be destroyed. Otherwise . . . the fate of the Ettin race be upon your head.”

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If ever Crown Prince Valerlan had wanted to kill someone, it was Narnia’s High King. With a hiss of murderous fury he drew his hand back to strike me “NARNIA!” my brother’s war-cry echoed throughout the keep and the whole world erupted into chaos. §‡§ Screams rang out as a volley of arrows sped from the shadows and found their marks. Two of the Ettins clutched their faces, hands over their bleeding eyes and their howls of agony and fear filling the air. An instant later swarms of Bats swooped down from above, their shrill voices rising up in a piercing screech. They flocked around the Ettins, clawing and flapping, a confusing veil of darkness and motion and aggressiveness. Caught completely off guard, the Giants were thrown into disarray, some screaming, some covering their heads to run, the injured tripping and falling. All this happened in the span of a few seconds. I darted back out of Valerlan’s range. Behind me I heard another shout and I barely looked up when Edmund came scrambling down the crumbling wall behind me, Rhindon in his hand. Behind him archers and Animals broke cover and moved to attack the Ettins. “Peter!” Landing heavily, Edmund ran a few steps towards me before he thrust Rhindon pointdown into the sod and yanked his dagger free from his belt. I stumbled towards him, falling to my knees, holding out my bound hands. I barely had time to take in his appearance. He was as filthy as he was resolute and he wasted a few moments scrutinizing me, looking for injuries or signs of hurt. I found myself doing the same to him, unable to talk as he worked on cutting me free. “To Keern!” roared Valerlan. I looked behind me, keeping my hands braced against Edmund’s belt as he tore at my bonds. It was pandemonium as Animals and Dwarfs and archers attacked from all sides. Valerlan, vainly swiping at Bats as if they were mosquitoes, hauled Hatta to his feet. The older Ettin’s exposed flesh was covered with tiny, bloody scrapes from the Bats’ claws. “Get to Keern! Have Daichoe send troops!” Hatta nodded silently, staggering off. I whipped around. “Ed, we have to stop them!” My voice was desperate to my own ears. “Consider it done,” he swore without hesitation. My younger brother cut through the last leather strap binding my wrists. He shoved his dagger back into his belt and stepped back in order to draw the sword I had given him less than a month ago. He let out a shout of warning and swung Shafelm in a wide arc over both of our heads as I instinctively ducked low. His reward was a hiss of pain as the tip of the sword sliced across Valerlan’s palm. The Ettin had been reaching for me but now he staggered back, stung, blood dripping from his hand.

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Edmund hauled me to my feet and then he was gone, darting after Hatta as the Ettin staggered away towards the center of the keep. What had I just done? I had set my only brother after the worst of our enemies. Aslan, protect him! “Pa’ala!” I heard Edmund shout and then Hatta screamed as a massive Bat swept down, dragging huge wings across one of his eyes. He knocked the Bat aside and ran on, stumbling up the steps and into the darkness beyond. “Run!” screamed Valerlan, and the desperation in his tone gave me a surge of hope. They were not used to resistance, not trained to react as we were. They postured and bellowed and threatened, where we simply attacked. He was afraid. I snatched up Rhindon in aching hands, the familiar weight of this perfect blade all the more reassuring for having been delivered to me by my only brother. I hope it had comforted him in his journey as much as it comforted me on this battlefield. “Valerlan!” He turned at my shout. All around him his soldiers and kin were under direct assault. I caught a glimpse of Athan, the Mountain Gorilla, clambering up a guard’s armor and attacking the Ettin’s face with powerful blows of his fists and his razor-sharp teeth. Two of the Giants were down, groaning in pain, and I saw the Bobcat, Flinder, going for the throat of one while a pair of Black Dwarfs wielding axes went for the other without mercy. Bats swarmed everywhere, like black snow caught on the wind. The crown prince focused on me. Once he had marveled at me and all that I represented. Now he looked upon me with absolute hatred as his plans and his world came to an end. “Kill you,” hissed he. “I’ll kill you!” I was already running at him, Rhindon at the ready. I didn’t waste my breath on words, but let my actions speak for me: Not today. ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Two And Naegling snapped. Beowulf, 2680 §‡§ A shout, a hiss, a flash of blood behind the tip of my sword, and Valerlan withdrew his huge hand, startled by my bite. I seized Peter by the arm and yanked him to his feet then somehow I tore myself from my brother’s side and flung myself into the fray. It was like being in the midst of a storm – forces moving about, following their own nature and buffeted by the elements surrounding them. Such was battle, a maelstrom of energy and intensity and panic. « 217 »

Ed, we have to stop them! The desperation in Peter’s tone was frightening, and I had spoken without thinking, ready to promise anything. It was a mighty task I set myself. Consider it done. If I had said that to anyone but Peter they would have called me an arrogant whelp. Instead he turned to face the Ettins without another word, laying hold of Rhindon as he moved. His confidence in me gave strength and it was with a certain glee that I realized it was Hatta I was gunning for. He had been abusive and cruel to Peter, probably from the start of this misguided raid on Narnia. I suspected that in his crude way he had been even worse than Valerlan. I wanted that Ettin. He was mine. Racing after the shaggy form, I realized I was too small and slow compared to the likes of a Giant to ever head one off. I needed to delay Hatta now, before he got so far ahead of me that I could never catch up to him on foot. “Pa’ala!” She never hesitated, but twisted in mid-flight and dove at Hatta’s face. Her huge wings swept forward and suddenly the Ettin let out a howl of shock and pain as she swiped at his eyes. Blindly, he swung and his hand caught the Flying Fox, knocking her out of the air. I heard her screech as she fell but I dared not stop to check her. I knew she would have yelled at me if I tried to help her before stopping Hatta. The steps were huge, but luckily they were cracked and broken and I had little difficulty in improvising stairs of my own. All around me arrows and Bats flew as the Ettins defended themselves against an enemy that was far beyond their comprehension. I saw Barin and Brant going for one of the downed Giants and I knew those two could hold their own. I followed Hatta deeper into the keep. Pa’ala’s attack must have disoriented him because he did not run for the main doors off at the other end of the courtyard, but he veered towards the heart of the building. There was a flash of motion in front of me as he darted into the pillared hall, the only room with a roof left in Loy. I slowed down, not about to plunge in after him without an idea of what I was getting myself into. I might be arrogant and impulsive, but I was not stupid. A sound of rushing air came from behind me and I felt a small slap on my shoulder as a Bat landed. I didn’t even look down. I didn’t need to. “He’s before you, Majesty,” whispered Twilth, “moving towards the wall. He cannot find the far exit in the dark.” Pa’ala must have blinded him, if only temporarily. I slid around the door frame and carefully stepped off to the side so I would not be silhouetted in the entrance. Inside was darkness until my eyes adjusted to the light from the nearly full moon and a sky full of stars shining in from the glassless, arched windows set high above the floor. I ducked into the shadows, listening for my quarry, Shafelm the Second close to my side. Gradually I could see with more clarity and everything took on that strange, flat quality of a nighttime world.

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My straining eyes could make out massive pillars, larger around than the ones in Cair Paravel’s great hall. The surface of them was cool and smooth and uncarved under my touch, not nearly as weathered as the rest of the stone in the keep. They stood in two rows the full length of the room. To my left, running the length of the wall, there was a line of empty windows, their rounded arches making them smaller and narrower than the great, grand windows with their acres of stained glass adorning our castle. “To the right,” whispered my Bat guide. “Behind the pillars. He’s passed the side door.” Did Hatta know I was here? Dare I venture across the open floor? In relative terms the room was narrow for its length, not at all well proportioned. I decided to risk it. If I was going to confront the brute, I had to get closer. In truth if I had any real idea of what I was up against I would never have dared so bold a move, but the sound of battle going on behind me reminded me that Peter would be worried about my safety and that worry might make him hesitate. The shadows of the pillars ran full length across the floor and I followed one of them to Hatta’s side of the room, carefully avoiding the large patches of moonlight. I could see and hear his huge bulk grouping along the wall, gasping in pain as he tried to muffle his own sounds. He was armed with a club longer than I was tall. I watched from behind a pillar as he paused a moment to pass his hand over his eye. Clearly Pa’ala had done some damage, because he set the club down, resting it against his leg, and pressed both hands to his face as he leaned back against the wall. He was breathing in ragged pants and gasps. An attack here, in an Ettin fort, was the last thing he or any of his fellows had expected and it unnerved him completely. He dropped one hand, pressing the heel of the other hard against his injured eye. He was distracted. This might be my only chance and I took it. “To the air, Twilth,” I commanded and then I broke cover, running at my prey. Hatta dropped his hand and looked up an instant too late to avoid me. I let out a shout as I drove Shafelm upwards with all my strength and weight, driving the tip of the sword deeply into Hatta’s thigh. I almost lost my grip when the point connected with something hard and I realized my sword had hit the Ettin’s femur. There was a heartbeat’s delay; blood welled forth, splashing me. The Ettin bellowed in rage and pain, twisting away. I kept my hold on Shafelm’s grip and his wild bucking widened the stab wound. Yanking for all I was worth, my slick hands slipped off over the pommel and I staggered back, falling onto my rump. I couldn’t free my sword. It was too firmly lodged. I may as well have stabbed one of the pillars for all the chance I’d have of loosening Shafelm now. I had a brief flash of memory, something Celer had once said during one of our lessons on warfare: “Giants’ bones are as hard and heavy as stone. That’s why they cannot swim.” Blast! I had thought to inflict some damage upon him, not disarm myself! Hatta seized at Shafelm, but whatever strength had been in me during the attack had made it impossible for him to pull the blade free. He screamed as he cut his hand on the steel blade, then he snatched up his fallen war club.

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I sensed rather than saw Hatta’s motion and I threw myself back and away, scrambling to hide behind the nearest pillar as the enraged Ettin smashed his club downwards, shattering the pavers where I had sprawled just moments before. He screamed again as the tree trunk sheered along his leg in a close, deliberate blow. An off-key, metallic ring echoed through the chamber and Shafelm clattered to the ground a few yards from where I hid. I knew the sound was completely wrong (not that I wanted to admit having dropped my sword before), higher in pitch and flat in quality, as my singing teacher would have said. Leaving Hatta to continue his pain-crazed raving and staggering, I dove forward, rolling to gain distance and I snatched up Shafelm by the cross-guard before running for cover deeper into the room. I darted behind a pillar, panting in fear and excitement. Shafelm’s grip felt right in my hand but the weight was off. I barely had time to glance at it, but the last ten inches or so of Two’s blade had snapped off at a jagged angle and remained imbedded in the Ettin’s leg. A long crack, obvious even in the faint light of the moon, ran through the remaining steel almost to the cross-guard. Well. Oreius always was yelling at me to use the blade more than the point. Now I had no choice. A few blows and it would break further and shatter, but a broken sword is better than none and both it and I were more than capable of inflicting additional damage on the Ettins. Hatta crumbled to his knee, his injured left leg extended, and loud moans of pain echoing through the ruins. He could not clutch the wound without dropping his club. He spotted me and let out a furious bellow, awkwardly swinging his weapon once again. The carved tree trunk brushed the stone columns. I darted back behind the pillar, looking up as a trickle of pebbles and dust was dislodged from the shaken stone and onto my head. This place was old and in poor repair and that was just the thing I needed. I paused, listening. Hatta was sniffing the air, grunting like Shikov did when he discovered the scent he sought. It was rather disconcerting and I could not imagine what he sought. All I could smell was blood and dirt and my own sweat. What could Hatta smell? “Human!” he called with a nasty sneer and laugh. “I smell your fear. I smelt it on the other one, the little king. I kill you!” hissed Hatta, dragging himself forward. “Filthy Human! Be damned to you!” Abruptly he froze. I did likewise. I wasn’t exactly horrified that he could smell me so clearly. In truth I was closer to being revolted. “I smell her in you, too. I smell that bitch queen that corrupted our kings. You’re his brother. You’re the one she chose. You’re the one Valerlan wanted. Blood Heir! All her promises broken. I’ll kill you!” So they knew. Peter must have told them. I felt a chill that I swiftly quashed, knowing what it was like to be chosen by Jadis for anything. It was hardly the honor they seemed to think it was, the fools. She might be in me still but she was powerless. Aslan and Peter had seen to that. He swung again; striking my pillar with so much force I could feel the impact through the stone under my hands. A few slate roofing tiles, held aloft by tired wooden beams, clattered down onto the floor and shattered into splinters. Hatta limped around the pillar, trying to catch me, but I moved with him, keeping him opposite me and infuriating him. “My people don’t need your filthy blood,” he raved. “You’re good only for eating!” « 220 »

Once again he struck. I threw myself back and away as a chunk of the roof crashed down right where I had been. I dashed behind the next pillar as Hatta laughed. “Dance, little Human! Your brother wouldn’t play, so let’s see how you dance!” There was a groan from the timbers above as if Loy Keep was in pain. I peered around the pillar at my nemesis. In the darkness and moonlight he was a lumbering bulk with a long shadow. He was dragging his wounded leg, his movements desperate and awkward. I felt a small thump on my back as Twilth returned, clinging to the high collar of my tunic with his tiny claws. He was terrified, more for me than himself. “Majesty, the roof will fall!” “I’m betting on it,” I returned, not at all concerned if Hatta heard me. All the better if he did. Begged the Bat, “You must escape!” I shook my head. “No. I have to stop him.” Peering around the column, I let my Ettin opponent spot me - tiny, annoying little Human that I was. Hatta let out a vicious hiss, dragging himself forward. A smear of blood followed him. He braced himself and swung the club. It smashed into the stone pillar beside me. Hard wood splintered and chips of stone flew wide. I felt the shrapnel pepper my shoulders and with a little squeak Twilth took shelter inside my collar, climbing faster than I have ever known a Bat to move. The ceiling groaned again and suddenly I knew exactly what I had to do in order to carry out Peter’s command. Hatta was panting and gasping from pain and effort. His movements were slowing as fatigue and blood loss from his wounds caught up to him. Good. I would use that, too. I ran out into the center of the floor, unmistakable in my bravado, and then I raced back to the first pillar Hatta had beaten with his war club. The Giant let out a bellow of rage at my audacity and staggered around. He wielded his weapon with surprising speed and I felt the rush of air pass me. I took cover just as the club hit the stone pillar right where my head had been a moment before. An echoing boom resounded through the chamber and I heard a crack, though be it stone or wood I couldn’t say. I didn’t stop moving until I was on the far side of the column, as far away from Hatta and the tree trunk he was swinging as I could get. Close. That had been very close - and very foolish, I’ll admit - but he was furious. I needed that. I wanted his fury to match my own. I was panting as heavily as Hatta, but I was far more focused and alert. I was afraid, too, but not nearly as much as he and for completely different reasons. I only feared what my failure might cost my brother and my party. Hatta was afraid of the dark and the unknown that it might shelter. I probably should have been more afraid, but this past sennight had exhausted my capacity for fright. Suddenly a chilling battle-cry tore through the night and screams - Ettin screams - filled the air. The faint sound of the struggle going on behind us increased and I felt a thrill and delight. Kanell had joined the fray. He and Xati were the only possible explanations for the uproar. “You and your Narnian freaks won’t win,” gasped Hatta, sounding as if he was more intent on bolstering his own flagging nerve than intimidating me. He swung again, showering me with sharp splinters and shards of rock. I was forced back as more tiles fell, barely missing « 221 »

me. The chase was on and he drove me behind the next pillar, laughing in sadistic delight as he imagined that he had me on the run. “I’ll kill you and eat you as I would have eaten your brother.” I froze where I stood, my back pressed against cold stone. He had tried to eat Peter? “I would have cut his throat and lapped his blood before I ate every bit of flesh from his bones,” taunted Hatta, unknowingly playing with fire. “Valerlan stopped me, but you’ll do just as well, Blood Heir.” An icy calm filled me, the smoldering fury Oreius so admired and cultivated so carefully. I blessed the general for being such a merciless taskmaster as his constant litany on how to engage the enemy echoed in my mind: Keep them off balance. King Edmund, you’re small and slight - get inside his defenses! You can use your sword and he can’t! By the Lion that was not to be tolerated! Not so long as I endured. Pushing off from my hiding place and clinging tight to the deep shadows, I circled around to approach Hatta from his left, shifting my broken sword to my off hand. He carried the club in his right hand and he was too close in amongst the pillars to effectively swing it. A moment was all I needed. Just one . . . He spotted me, movement in the shadows, but his faulty vision and the darkness made him misjudge his target. Unable to raise the club for a backhanded blow, he spun around in a tight circle, hissing at the strain on his wounded leg and making up distance as he smashed the bludgeon down onto the spot where I had been. I was moving before he was, running straight at the Ettin for all I was worth. I raised Shafelm II high as the club crashed to the floor behind me, exposing Hatta’s bare arm. The jagged steel of Peter’s gift to me bit deeply, cutting through thick skin and flesh. My arm was jarred and the damaged end tugged at my shoulder, but I never stopped moving as I dragged the weapon up his arm. The blade sliced, the broken tip tore. In the same motion I slashed him across the shin. My second strike did little except snap off a chunk of the blade along the rift running through it, but the primary attack was very effective indeed. I used my momentum and kept running straight past him, deeper into the murky room. I leaped over broken stone and skidded to a halt behind the pillar where I had almost been hit by the falling roof tiles. At first Hatta didn’t seem to realize what had happened. I waited breathlessly for something - anything - to happen, and then a frenzy of pain seized him. With a howling cry that rivaled the screams from out in the courtyard he went berserk, swinging the club with wild, agonized abandon. Great streams of dust fell down as he pounded the pillars, and he howled with indignation when bits of the roof struck him in the head. He was out of control, screaming for my blood as he rushed my position. I fled back as a stream of timber and tiles rained down between us. He was in a quandary. On the open floor he could swing the club, but so long as I stayed close to the wall he could not easily catch me. Pressing his bleeding arm against his chest, he thrust the club at me like a lance. Left-handed, his vision impaired, he only succeeded in striking the pillar in front of me. It cracked. There must have been some flaw in the stone, some tiny opening that allowed moisture in over the years. The crevice would have grown as each winter more water penetrated and « 222 »

froze, swelling the crack and weakening the stone internally. I looked up. The surface of the column should have been smooth but I could see that its silhouette against the moonlight showed a ragged line. The whole middle section of the stone had been driven back a few vital inches. Hatta laughed a loud, crazed bray, belatedly coming to the same idea I had, though perhaps not thinking it out as thoroughly. His mission to fetch help was completely forgotten in the rush of his pain and fury. My mission to stop him was foremost in my mind. “Bloody bastard king!” he bellowed, ramming the pillar again. I backed up against the wall, tensed and ready to run for my life. The tortured stone groaned under its injuries and weight. I had to move lest it topple and crush me. Hatta wavered back and forth, keeping me in sight, waiting for me to move before striking, his club at the ready. He could not have realized what would happen if he felled the pillar. That or he no longer cared. Suddenly there came the sound of monstrous boots scuffing the stone and Storr blundered into the hall. He was blubbering and terrified and he stumbled across the floor towards the elder Giant. It was evident the ongoing fight had made little headway in sobering him. He had been wounded and there were bloodstains on his clothing, dark and wet in the moonlight. “Hatta! Haigha’s dead! A horse-thing killed him! The others are falling! We have to save Valerlan!” I bolted for the door the moment Hatta glanced up at the half-witted prince. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as I ran as fast as I could along the wall, Shafelm’s remains clutched in my hand. The sword was all but forgotten in my flight - speed was the only thing that could save me. Hatta let out a terrible shout and swung with all his formidable strength, striking the cracked pillar with so much force the stone column shattered into huge pieces that struck the next pillar high and low. An echoing boom like the one I had heard before filled the room as the roof began to collapse right over the spot where Hatta stood. Storr screamed and tried to reach him as the second pillar gave way, pulled down by the falling roof and its own weight. That started it. Borne by momentum and ages of neglect, the pillars began to crumble one after the other. The roof showered down in a waterfall of stone and timber that pummeled and buried the two Ettins caught in its wake. Great clouds of dust filled the air and the floor shook at each impact. Falling stone shattered, peppering me with shrapnel. There was no time to look back as Storr screamed in panicked desperation, only to be suddenly silenced. All I knew was the movement of my legs, the sound of my gasping breaths, and door that was my salvation. It seemed an eternity, but in truth it was just a matter of seconds before I stood gasping and coughing in the yard outside the ruined hall. Rubble filled half the doorway, but I crept forward and peered into the gloom. The roof was gone and moonlight streamed in. Almost all the pillars that had stood on the right side of the room were demolished and the roof had collapsed. The wall and pillars to the left still stood, naked to the sky now and looking like the rib cage of some unfortunate monster. Heavy gray dust was settling, coating me and the broken rock and the two mounds of unmoving bulk that had once been Ettins.

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There was no way to tell if they were still alive, but if they were I was certain they would regret it. I had no desire to check. It was too dangerous to enter that mound of debris and Peter had only said to stop them, and I had kept my word. Something squirmed beneath my clothes. I reached down my tunic back between my shoulder blades and Twilth seized my fingers, allowing me to haul him out of his shelter. I stared at him. He was the only thing about me that was clean. He stared back at me with wide-eyed awe, fuzzy and disheveled at once. “You stopped him, Majesty!” Every inch of me ached and I felt a dozen or more spots where I had been pelted by flying stones. I was sure I was bleeding where splinters of wood and stone had sliced through my tunic, though I was so filthy it was impossible to tell as much at the moment. I spit at the dust and grit coating my lips and getting into my mouth, puffing out my reply. “Hatta . . . did the job for me. Come on . . . Peter needs to see I’m . . . unharmed and I’m sure they won’t say no . . . to more help.” ¥¤¥

Interlude: Sword and Shield, Jewel and Song They said that of all the kings upon the earth he was the man most gracious and fair-minded, kindest to his people and keenest to win fame. Beowulf, 3180 - 3182 §‡§ We all heard different callings in Narnia, different voices of the land and air that drew us forth, made us part of what we loved more than life. The land was wild and deep, with great mountains, dense forests, clear waters and an endless sky. There were secrets in the land, riches below it, joy and delight in the very air we breathed that mingled with the smell of salt air and cedar forests. Each season had its own beauty, its own colors, its own celebrations and music and dances. We were connected to the land, bound to it. We flowed with the waters be they salt or sweet. We danced in the rain and raced with the wind. When duty called we presided over a court that was as grand as it was beautiful, a golden palace set high on a hill against the sea. We welcomed foreigners that looked with awe upon the exotic and beautiful citizens that served us, as they wondered at the harmony between the youthful rulers before them and the bountiful land beneath their feet. Great scholars and scientists and storytellers, artists and musicians, warriors and sages and craftsmen flocked to Cair Paravel. Each was as welcome as the everyday citizen who entered our hall simply to wish us good day. It was glorious existence, a wondrous time, as golden as the mane of the Lion that set us upon the Four Thrones and said that once a king or queen of this land, always a king or queen. It was a deeper promise, a deeper magic than any of us realized. Only now, as I sit within my room in the true Cair Paravel, in the true Narnia, chronicling a history of the Golden Age, can I understand the gravity and strength of Aslan’s word. « 224 »

Problems arose, as they will as we journey through life, and they almost always seemed worse as they were happening. Our troubles only made us hold our blessings to be dearer still and made the ties that connected us to each other and to Narnia stronger. Our lives were not perfect, but whose is? There is nothing I would have changed, because every moment was more precious than the next, an unfettered, beautiful, joyous existence. We were living history in a world of myths and legends, growing closer as we grew older until we were Narnia, and our glory and greatness was but a reflection of hers. We had our titles from Aslan – Magnificent, Gentle, Just, and Valiant – but the world around us gave each of us titles that suited us just as well: Sword and Shield, Jewel and Song. It was music that called to Lucy, the tug of moonlight drawing her like the tide to venture forth into the woods and dance with the Dryads and Nymphs and Fauns. When the rest of us were exhausted and fell to the side to ease our feet, she could dance on and on, carried by the haunting music and complex steps until she fell into a kind of trance that was beautiful to see. More than once I had seen her wear out dancing slippers in a single night, and Peter would carry her home because her feet were raw. She never complained because she was grateful we only made a fuss at her, never admonished her or forbade her from overindulging in what she loved most. At first it bothered her that I had a much better ear for music and truer pitch than she did. Her voice was sweet but not outstanding, and so she concentrated on musical instruments. There are as many types of musical instruments in Narnia – great horns played by the Centaurs, Dwarfish drums, huge booming things, pipes and flutes and lyres and guitars and recorders and fiddles – as there are types of music. There were cute country songs handed down through generations and majestic compositions. All were welcome in our court because all of them were part of Narnia. Lucy mastered several instruments but her favorite was always the little flutes preferred by the Fauns and she could play such lullabies that when I heard them I would struggle to stay awake so I could listen longer. And so she was the Song of Narnia, sweet and charming or sweeping and mighty, but once you encountered her, unforgettable. For Susan, that sensible, nurturing, gentle-hearted queen, living in Narnia allowed her to provide for the people around her. Be it food or comfort or shelter or her hand to a soldier for a dance, her greatest joy was sharing what she had and what she was with everyone. The more she could do the happier she seemed and the lovelier she grew until her beauty and graciousness were renowned throughout the world. Great kings and mighty princes would beg her favors and her hand, but she never found that certain man that understood as deeply as we did her joy in being able to give away everything in order to gain the whole world. Many people underestimated the strength she possessed, but she was like water: quiet, gradual, and inexorable, capable of wearing down mountains of resistance. She was the Jewel of Narnia, the Jewel in the Crown, her surface beauty but an echo of the dazzling beauty within her loving, caring soul. Science and law were my callings and I pursued all aspects of those subjects as ardently as a bee gathers pollen. Under my learned teachers and the wisest heads in Narnia I refined the knowledge I gained until I was fit to be a judge and preside over Narnia’s courts. From scientists and craftsmen I learned not only their passions and trades, but diplomacy and wit and how to talk to all races and all classes. I found teachers and instruction everywhere, from reserved, civilized debates with the Centaur philosophers and the many Owls in « 225 »

Parliament to my old Dwarf friend Brickit of the Blue River Smithy roaring at me to fetch more coal for the forge. Like the steel I helped shape into weapons, my teachers formed me until I was well-spoken, clever, and almost as wise as they, versed in science, knowledgeable and just in law, and formidable in battle. Time and again I placed myself between Narnia and those that would do her or my family harm, using words and tact and sometimes my sword in order to defend what I loved, and so they called me Narnia’s Shield. And then there was Peter. It was the sword that commanded Peter, almost as thoroughly as he commanded it. At first it amazed me that my gentle, loving, ever-worrying brother would thrive on the training grounds, but Peter took to swordplay just as a Bird takes to wing until amazement turned to awe. I was no slacker when it came to our training, but I had to work at honing my skills whereas fighting came naturally to Peter. He was at home with a sword in his hand. Kind though he was, wise and merciful, he had been born to fight and he rose to the calling with so much skill and daring that it was almost frightening. He was a selfless person. To him the rules of fair play and the laws of war were of the utmost importance and he abided by them even when his enemy did not. His mere presence on the field was often enough to intimidate an adversary into seeking a parley and his reputation for honesty and deadly ability had established Narnia as the most powerful and respected nation in the world. Peter, like Narnia, was the best, most honorable of allies and the most dependable of friends. Sir Peter Wolfsbane. Lord of Cair Paravel. Emperor of the Lone Islands. The High King over all Kings, under the Highest King, under the Emperor. My king. My brother. My friend. If I was Narnia’s Shield, Peter was her Sword. And under the moon of Ettinsmoor, that dark and terrible night, Narnia’s Sword was loosed upon our foes. ¥¤¥

Chapter Thirty: A King to Battle Though he a king to battle trained, Whose soul ne’er thought of fear contained, Whose prowess had, in deadly fray, Slain fiercest giants of his day ... Atreloise, J. Dunbar Hylton §‡§ . . . the outlandish thing writhed and convulsed and viciously turned on the king, whose keen-edged sword, an heirloom inherited by ancient right, « 226 »

was already in hand. Roused to a fury, each antagonist struck terror in the other. Unyielding, the lord of his people loomed by his tall shield, sure of his ground. Beowulf, 2560 - 2567 §‡§ It’s strange how in battle you lose all feeling. There is no pain, no fear, no thought. Time flows differently, sometimes faster and sometimes slower. All that is left is urgency and instinct and if you have served them well in the training grounds, they will serve you well in the field. The problem, the horror of fighting Ettins, I soon discovered, is that there is that much more of them to kill. They are hideously enormous beings, clumsy only in that their size makes them appear slower. Have you ever tried to capture a mouse or a bird with your hands? It should by all rights be a simple task, but both creatures are small and able to maneuver so quickly it seems impossible. The same was true of the Narnians fighting the Ettins. Lithe and fearless and experienced warriors all, the soldiers proved themselves against our foes, each attacking according to their specialty or species. The problem with attacking something so huge, though, is getting in range to strike without being struck yourself. In the end, speed and agility will win over size, large or small. I ran at Valerlan amidst the shrieks and howls of battle, intent only on reaching him and making him pay for what he had done to Narnia, to my guard, to Jett, to me, but the path to him was no longer clear. An Ettin guardsman, panicked by the Bats swarming about his head, staggered into my way. I struck out with Rhindon, feeling a familiar impact jar my arm as the sleek blade cut through his leather shin guards and into his leg. Attacked from above and below and clumsy with drink, he tripped on the uneven ground and crashed heavily to the earth before me. Instantly I pressed the advantage, finding a gap in his crude plate armor right above his waist. There was something revolting about stabbing a being so large but I neither hesitated nor recoiled. Rhindon slid along bone and then plunged deeply into softer flesh before I yanked my sword free, dragging it downwards so as to inflict as much damage as I could in that motion. He stared at me in shock and I recognized the guard that had brought me food earlier. That I might rise up against them had never once occurred to him, and even as it was happening he still refused to believe. Pain and a gush of hot blood drove the truth home and he let out a scream, gripping his side. He struggled to his hands and knees and tried to crawl away but even as he raised his head Gicelus and Pauton let loose with a volley of arrows at almost point-blank range. The Giant’s gurgling bellow rent the air and he collapsed, clutching his face and writhing. He was far more dangerous wounded than hale and we scrambled out of the way of his flailing arms and legs. The distraction would cost me, for Valerlan was lumbering back to the fire to seize his war club. He was the only one of his kind to keep his wits about him and his desperate shouts to the others to arm themselves went unheeded. All around us, chaos reigned as my rescuers attacked. I could hear Animal cries and shouts from the archers echoing off the stone walls, a rush and tumult of confusion and frenzy.

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I was still skirting around the writhing, expiring guard when I saw that Valerlan had reached the bonfire and laid hold of a club. He instinctively went for the weapon most familiar to him, but war clubs are not the best choice for infighting. They’re long range weapons, meant for knocking down opponents that are a distance away, not close in upon you. That was one advantage I had. Another advantage was that I was used to fighting a wide range of creatures in every size imaginable, from Mouse to Elephant. True I had never fought a Giant before, but I had fought Kanell and he was gigantic even by Centaur standards. And finally, unlike Valerlan, I was not afraid. There was no room in my heart for fear. Raw fury filled me to overflowing. It was not anger, not hysteria, but a ferocity the likes of which I had never experienced before. It was a savage and assured feeling, like some confident beast coiled up in my breast getting ready to spring the moment it was freed. I didn’t like it, but it was mine and I would use it to the fullest extent. Valerlan laid hold of a club and whirled to face me, suddenly brave again as wine and a familiar weapon loaned him courage. He took a fighting stance and let out a challenging shout, brandishing the club. I later learned that by tradition Giantish combat is a highly ritualized affair with much posturing and noise, so Valerlan was merely fighting as he had been taught. In Narnia the only ritual we require is that someone attacks us first - after that all restraints are lifted and the onslaught can begin. I ignored his shouts, ignored his showmanship, and went straight for him, just as I had been taught. When Rhindon, still bloodied from its first match, caught him low on the leg and left a shallow cut on his thigh, Valerlan roared out his offense. He smashed the club down but I was already gone, darting out of range as I tried to assess what it was I was up against. It was going to be very difficult to land a fatal blow, whereas one well-aimed shot or kick from him could do me in instantly. He heaved the massive club up with a grunt, getting ready to strike again and watching me with dulled, bloodshot eyes. The heavy drink was slowing his motions and fouling his aim and I knew this was the delay I had so fervently prayed for earlier. Abruptly he lunged, bringing the bludgeon down faster than I would have thought possible. I imitated his motion, moving in on him. The club landed with a familiar thud on the soft ground and when his arm was extended I stayed my run and chopped Rhindon down on the bared flesh of his arm. Suddenly all the wind was knocked out of my lungs as he seized me from behind with his left hand, his huge fingers trying to squeeze the life out of me. My ribs ached in protest and with a brutish grunt and a shout of pain I shifted my grip on Rhindon and stabbed the sword past my right hip and into the heel of his hand. He tried to hold on to his prize but my bite was too deep. Yanking the blade free I stabbed him again, harder and with more spectacular results as the long blade went straight through his wrist. He threw me down as if I was a hot coal, but I didn’t lose my grip until the last moment and Rhindon clattered to the stone beside me. I dove and snatched up the sword, rolling to gain some distance and better ground. Valerlan drew well away, his back almost to the wall of the keep. I drew in heavy, rasping breaths, trying to restore the oxygen to my body. Across the short distance separating us we glared at each other with undisguised hatred. “You are dead, Narnia,” swore the Ettin prince.

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I snorted, not about to waste my breath pointing out the obvious falsehood of that statement. I had not endured this long to crumble now. With a lusty cry he charged, running straight at me with his lumbering gait. I dodged to the side and he stumbled and whirled around, already shifting his course to trample me. I kept moving, unable to get close enough to strike but quite capable of chipping away at his self-control and making him furious. I was the annoying mouse that kept eluding his grasp. For a while I managed to avoid him, drawing him back closer to the noisy combat going on in the center of the courtyard. I saw the small, dark form of a Dwarf sprawled motionless in the grass and the Bats were concentrating their attacks on Storr. The elder prince was screaming in panic, terrified by the flapping wings and piercing shrieks and trying desperately to escape. Then Valerlan smiled, betraying himself and whomever it was about to attack me from behind. I threw myself to the side as a huge sword smacked into the earth where I had been, lodging deeply in the earth. Unable to yank his sword free quickly enough, the Ettin guard, one of the younger ones, swatted at me desperately. His hand brushed my shoulder and knocked me flat into the dirt and dust. For the second time the wind was knocked out of me and I struggled to rise and face this new, closer attacker. He snarled at me, his free hand going for his knife. He was near enough to use the wicked-looking blade effectively on me and I couldn’t gain my feet fast enough to escape. “Narnia!” I called out as best I could, desperate for assistance. Out of the darkness beyond the main doors came an angry, high-pitched battle cry and the sound of thundering hooves. Seconds later Xati, that glorious little combination of outstanding skill and bloodthirsty attitude all rolled into one Centaur mare, ran full-tilt into the keep. “Down!” she commanded and I threw myself flat. There was a rush of sound and air as she leaped right over my head and attacked the guard with two swords and four hooves and enough fury for ten Centaurs. There was a heavier rush just behind her and Kanell shot past me. His huge broadsword swiped at Xati’s opponent, laying the Ettin’s calf open, before he charged straight on into Haigha, saving a handful of archers that were being menaced and bowling the Giant clean over at they impacted. Haigha, in his depleted condition, did not stand a chance against a sword master and the captain of Cair Paravel’s guard. When Kanell emerged his sword was bloodied afresh and Haigha did not stir again. Immediately he made for the next Ettin, screaming out a challenge. Storr suddenly snapped, and in a frenzy of mindless panic he ran off, striking a wall in his blind rush. His sobs could be heard echoing off the walls. The Bats pursued him as he fumbled his way deeper into the keep, harrowing his every step. “Storr!” cried Valerlan, taking a few paces towards him. A cloud of angry Bats drove him back and he raised his arm to shield his eyes. At the same instant a shout of fury escaped Xati. Clambering to my feet, I saw her in the grips of the Ettin guard. He was actually lifting her up in both hands and dragging her towards him. With a laugh at her struggles he opened his huge mouth, clearly intending to bite her head off, the fool. She neither succumbed to fear nor flinched. In the flash of an eye her bow was loosed from across her back and with a mighty creak of wood she notched two arrows, drawing the string back to her ear as she took aim despite her predicament. The Ettin was straining under her weight and about to take a bite when she let loose. The « 229 »

arrows vanished inside his gaping mouth. There was a pause, and then he gasped, his arms falling. He dropped her clumsily as both of his hands went to his throat. Kanell was there to steady her, flashing the mare a swift smile as her victim reeled. Gagging, wheezing, he looked to Valerlan for help, but the crown prince was already occupied with warding off my renewed attack. The few moments of reprieve - no more than a minute’s time - left me with renewed energy and lust to do battle. I ran straight at Valerlan, the Bats scattering out of my way like leaves on the wind. I needed to inflict some damage in order to slow him down. Thus far I had nicked and cut him, but save for the stab through his wrist I had yet to cause any lasting damage. As I was learning, there was just so much of him to kill. Then a mighty rumble filled the air and we all staggered as the ground beneath out feet trembled. Valerlan whirled, our fight momentarily suspended as he looked to the source of the noise. As we watched a huge cloud of dust rose up from the heart of the keep, driving the Bats away for a span, and the roof on the center hall collapsed, the stone roaring and groaning as it broke. It was an alarming, terrific sight, over in seconds, and I had but one thought in my head: Edmund. If my brother had been caught in that cascade I knew I would forever lose my balance and anchor. There was no time to indulge in the sick feeling that gripped me. The only thought in my head was for bloody-minded retribution. If Edmund was lost to me I would tear down every stone of this keep and then do the same to the Ettin kingdom. This I swore and I prayed for the sake of the Ettin race that their prince alone would be the one to pay the price. Valerlan took a step towards the wreckage, helplessly reaching out as a wild cry was torn from his throat. “Storr!” His guard was down, his attention focused on the cloud of dust rising into the night. I attacked, jabbing upwards at his exposed arm. Rhindon’s point nicked him, yanking Valerlan back to his immediate concern of me. He hissed and stepped away but I followed, driving him back and worrying him with my sword every step of the way back towards the fire. Angry, he tried to smash me with his club. He missed, and the huge tree trunk came down upon some of the logs stacked by the fire. They shattered, spraying out in a barrage of splinters as dangerous to him as to me. I gasped and staggered as I felt a six-inch sliver drive into my thigh. Without thinking, I took a hand off Rhindon and yanked the shaft of wood out, throwing it aside. I could feel smaller cuts on my forehead and arm and I ignored them. I had no time to be hurt. Valerlan saw me remove the splinter and he smiled in satisfaction at the sight of blood on my face and leg as I stepped back into a fighting stance. His sadistic pleasure reignited my fury. A scream of pain rang out - a Faun or Satyr, I couldn’t tell - but I didn’t glance away. I didn’t dare, lest he use my own tactics against me and attack in that moment of distraction. I didn’t know how many of the Ettins were still alive nor yet how many of my own soldiers were still fighting. All my thoughts and energy were focused on Valerlan. I stood close by the first Ettin I had downed. He made for a « 230 »

huge, motionless mass behind and to the side of me. The fire burned lower now, casting Valerlan in silhouette and his shadow made him seem that much more colossal and misshapen. There was motion all around us, Animal cries and grunts and moans and curses and the sound of Bat wings filled the night, but for me there was naught but the Ettin prince and my desire to finish him. Rhindon was not yet heavy in my grasp as I stared at my enemy, and the wild beast within me tore at its cage. “NOW!” screamed Valerlan to someone past me. An echoing shout behind me answered: “NO!” I started to turn . . . “NARNIA!” . . . and suddenly Edmund was there, right at my back, defending me from the fallen Ettin’s grouping hand, his battle cry splitting the night. I caught a fleeting glimpse of him. He looked as if he had been rolled in flour and he wielded two short swords, fending off the wounded Giant with all the boldness and tenacity of a horsefly. “Go!” he shouted to me, kicking and slashing at the Giant. “Go! He’s mine!” My brother was alive and fit and I needed nothing more. Neither did Valerlan. Seeing my brother, Jadis’ Blood Heir, he sensed his own brother was lost. Rage and anguish and manic loathing filled his features. It seemed he and I had one thing in common after all: we loved our brothers absolutely. “Damn you,” whispered Valerlan as the whole of his folly and loss became clear. “Damn you!” He arched the club overhead, aiming not at me but at Edmund. I shoved Edmund bodily away, dragging him out of range with my own weight and momentum and taking care not to stab or be stabbed in my zeal. The club came crashing down on the spot where he had been standing, pulverizing the wounded Giant’s arm with a spattering of blood and gore. A scream of agony rose from the Ettin’s throat, deafening us. “Go!” bellowed Edmund, picking himself up from our tangle of limbs and swords. “Go!” I went. And the raging beast within tore free and consumed me. ¥¤¥

Chapter Thirty-One: Magnificent His spirit did not break and the ancestral blade would keep its edge, as the dragon discovered as soon as they came together in combat. Beowulf, 2628 - 2630 §‡§ « 231 »

“Go!” I shouted, waving Peter away. “Go!” He never hesitated, just as I hadn’t. I didn’t so much see him race off to face Valerlan as I sensed his absence from my side seconds later. I was too focused on my opponent to catch any of the fight, but I heard Peter let out a terrific shout that sent a chill down my spine. I knew the sound, the tone. I had heard it at Beruna and at Aslan’s How. The torrent of emotion built up inside Peter had broken past his barricades. I knew what would happen – he would go until every bit of energy and strength his possessed was consumed, burning brighter than a star until he was exhausted or the enemy was vanquished. Valerlan’s attempt to kill me had sealed his doom. The prince might not care about his own fate any longer, but Peter fought with such passion precisely because he cared so very deeply for me and for Narnia. My Ettin lay on his side in a pool of blood that turned the earth to foul, stinking mud. Pride in his cunning had been replaced by fear as he realized I would not tolerate his interference with my brother’s battle, and then Valerlan’s ill-timed blow with his club had reduced him to a gasping, pain-crazed frenzy. He could not stand and his flailing about was weak for one of his kind. He swiped at me with his good hand, fumbling about on the ground, and I darted back. How was I to kill something so horribly big? “Pin him!” shouted Kanell from across the court. “Pin his hand!” Without thinking – because if I had given it a thought I doubt that I would have been able to do it – I dropped Shafelm and gripped the secondary sword I had picked up from the battleground with both hands. I slammed it down with all my strength, driving the point through the fleshy span between his thumb and forefinger and straight into the ground below. It was a revolting sensation for all parties concerned, like stabbing a huge hunk of meat, but I didn’t care – far better to be revolted than crushed. The Ettin howled anew, pulling at the spike holding him, his attention focused fully on his hand so that he missed Kanell when the Centaur lunged. I was glad it was dark enough that I couldn’t see the blow from where I stood. Kanell grunted, blood splashed, and with a sickening gurgle the guard stilled, dead. Yanking the sword free, I scooped up Shafelm, not looking at the mess and gore and steam rising up from the slain Ettin. Two Giants besides Valerlan were left and both of them were wounded, though lightly. I glanced back behind me, torn. Peter or my soldiers? My brother or the ones we served? Who to help? Which to be - king or brother? I had not been faced by such decisions often, but when they arose the full weight of kingship pressed down upon my shoulders with crushing force. Did I risk losing Peter to Valerlan’s fury or did I help my troop against the remaining Ettins? Lion forgive me, but it was a terrible decision to weigh. But . . . I had lead them here. They came at my order. I could not, would not abandon them now. After a second of hesitation I turned my feet and ran towards the last two Giants. Why was it so much harder to run after Kanell than it had been to chase after Hatta? I felt as if I was leaving my heart behind me and for one terrible moment I felt a weakness, a fear, that

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Peter would need me and I wouldn’t be there. No matter what I did, what I chose, I would be endangering people who depended upon me and whom I held dear. Don’t ever fear failure, Sir Edmund How, I heard Oreius’ stern voice in my mind. Far better to try and fail rather than regret never having tried at all. Would that there were two of me, General, I thought, forcing my legs to move despite my reluctant thoughts. It seemed to take an eternity to reach the rest of my troop, exhaustion and emotion leeching my strength until I shoved these feelings aside as I had been taught and concentrated on the battle before me. If my breaths were short then so was my patience. I wanted this conflict over now. Immediately, so I could go help my brother. I wanted to be away from Loy and Ettinsmoor, for everyone to survive, for this desire to break and panic to be just a distant memory. It was darker in this corner of the courtyard, the fire was too far away and diminished to be of much help and so we fought by the light of the moon and stars, close and bright even here over Ettinsmoor. The two remaining Ettins were on their feet, close together and armed with swords, their plate armor made them very obvious in the moonlight. I had no way of knowing if it was luck or skill that had kept them alive so long, but they were desperate, a feeling I could understand. The Narnians hung back, well out of range of those blades. A quick glance showed me only about half our original troop present, and I was almost daunted by the absence of so many. My heart seemed to skip a beat when I could not account for them all on the spot. I later learned that a few had perished, more were wounded, and Athan had sent Shikov to collect injured Bats from off the field since the Boar was not an effective fighter against Giants. “We need to get past those swords,” growled Flinder viciously, his sharp teeth bared. He was bloodied in a few spots and there were long hairs caught between his toes from where he had savaged one Ettin or another. I glanced at those still standing - Nex, Onela, Brant, Athan, the Centaurs, the Dwarf archer Glendco and lastly Sylvus, a Faun archer. As to the rest I had no idea, but we needed to sell our lives far more dearly now that there were so few of us. Flinder was right. Unskilled as they were - both Ettins had fallen back against the far wall and were using their swords more like clubs than a bladed weapon - they were extremely dangerous and unpredictable beings. Both were clearly frightened, never having been attacked in such a way before. We were at a bit of a standoff, and I finally glanced at Athan, who was closest to me. “Bats worked once; do you think they’ll work again?” His smile was all the answer I needed, and clearly he thought as I did: if they were simple enough to panic once, they would most likely panic again. I drew back, scanning the sky and being careful not to get too far away lest any of the other Ettins, each as large as a beached whale, were not quite as dead as they appeared. I thrust the two swords into the dirt before me and spread my arms. “Kori Mivven!” I called into the night. “Kori!” Moments later the eldest of Pa’ala’s grandsons swept out of the sky and landed on my shoulders and head without ceremony.

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“Orders?” he demanded as I gathered him carefully in my hands for a quick launch. “On my shout, have everyone stream right into their faces with as much noise as you can manage. We need to take them down!” “Done!” he cried in his zeal and I gently tossed him skywards. He vanished instantly into the darkness. I seized upon my swords, Shafelm so unbalanced in my grip, and I cast a desperate glance in the direction Peter had taken. They were not in sight from where I stood with the uneven ground and keep wall and huge bodies blocking my view. I wasted no more time wishing, but hurried back to the soldiers. I was just in time to see one of the Ettins lunge and snatch up Nex in his huge hand. The Satyr struggled and fought and the remaining archers let loose with a volley right into the Ettin’s face. One arrow pierced the edge of his eye and he screamed, bodily throwing Nex against the stone wall. With a sickening crunch the archer crumbled, his neck broken. I let loose a shout of indignation and horror and without hesitation I yelled into the night, “Now, Kori! Now!” Like a river of dark waters the cloud of Bats descended. The sound was even louder than their initial attack and since they were so many against just two they were concentrated that much more. The Ettins tried to fend them off to no avail. It must have been a horrible experience but I felt not a moment’s pity, but wished them even more terror. Screaming, scratching, clawing at the Giants’ ragged hair, the Bats struck with so much force that one Ettin fell back. Knocked off balance in every way, he staggered to the ground and smashed his head against the wall of Loy Keep with enough momentum and violence that there was a smear of blood on the stone as he fell. The second Ettin panicked and broke away, roaring out his fear as he raced to the other side of the yard towards the main entrance and Valerlan. I whirled around, my heart in my throat as I set off after him. Peter! The remaining Narnians swarmed over the downed guard. I barely noticed. My only thought was for my brother. He could not fight two Ettins at once. He was too small, too tired, and the Ettins were frenzied. I dodged among the bodies of the fallen, jumping over sprawled limbs, sliding in the bloody mud, trying not to breathe in and smell the spilt blood and gore. The distance seemed to increase with every step and the very ground of the Ettin keep seemed to try to slow me down. I passed Haigha, as miserable in death as he had been in life, passed the still and cooling bodies of a Satyr and a Faun. There was naught I could do for them now. I could not even think of their names. There was room in my thoughts for only one name. Peter. There was no way he could hold them off . . . no way . . . Great Aslan, protect him. I could hear the Ettin in front of me, his ragged breaths and heavy steps betraying his location. He was moving far faster than I could hope to. He would reach them first. He would tip the scales in Valerlan’s favor . . . No, he would not.

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With a wild cry of my own I put on a burst of speed. My lungs were fit to burst, my legs burned, and the two swords weighed me down. It made no difference. Nothing could at this point. I had come too far to lose Peter. Not to the Ettins. Not to Valerlan. My brother was not theirs to take. Arriving upon the field, I stumbled to a halt, gasping for air and trying to see clearly. They were before me, king and prince, illuminated by the fire. For the moment I was the soul witness to this combat . . . this vengeance . . . this revenge. Peter fought as we had been taught, every movement smooth and elegant, no wasted motions. I could tell he was conserving his energy because he made every strike count. They could not have been more different, these two. Valerlan was tall and ragged and misshapen, his body in constant motion as if he would dart in any direction at any time, crude and perverse, the desperate son of a people that didn’t know they were desperate. Just out of range of the Palish Giant stood my brother. Tiny by comparison to his foe, he was slim and graceful, balanced in a fighting stance with his long sword held in both hands before him. Even through all his trials it was clear he was a king. He was as magnificent as Valerlan was foul. I saw a shadow detach itself from the wall off to my right. It was the Ettin guard. He loomed so huge I wondered how I could have missed him, and as I drew a breath to shout a warning he heaved his sword over his head to kill Peter. “Behind you!” I screamed, my voice shrill. “Peter, behind!” He did not retreat, but he pivoted neatly around, stepping into the guard’s range and swinging his sword in a wide, high arc. The Giant’s arms were raised so far above his block of a head that his plate armor shifted upwards, exposing his belly. Peter never hesitated, and Rhindon’s bite was long and deep and deadly. Peter finished the strike and went right back to Valerlan. The guard dropped his sword behind him, wavering, and then he crashed to his knees, clutching his middle with both hands. Inarticulate sounds escaped his mouth and blood frothed on his lips. In the golden glow of the fire I caught a glimpse of the shock and desperation to live on his face before he pitched forward in the dirt to perish in his own blood and entrails. Peter never even glanced behind, the Ettin but a minor distraction between him and his real goal. I looked to Valerlan, alone now against his victim, this captive that turned out to be not-sohelpless and who lashed out at those that did him harm. There was more anger than fear in the prince’s face, but it was a wild, reckless anger, an uncontrollable tempest. And Peter . . . for all his outward calm he wore an expression I had never seen on his face before: hate. His very composure was frightening. Valerlan was too upset to see it, but Peter had never been more dangerous and threatening than he was at this moment. And in all his fury and might, he was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. ¥¤¥

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Chapter Thirty-Two: Of Rage and Ruin . . . a wildness rose in the dragon again and drove it to attack, heaving up fire, hunting for enemies, the humans it loathed. Beowulf, 2669 - 2672 §‡§ “Go! Go!” Edmund knew. Praise the Lion; he understood that I needed to do this alone. Untangling myself, I clambered to my feet. Edmund waved me on, turning to face the Ettin guard menacing us as he shouted, “Go! Go! He’s mine!” I believed him. Aslan, guard him . . . And I went. Valerlan ran from me, the coward, lumping away on his uneven legs. Clearly his level of courage depended upon wine and numbers and the power to bully those around him, not any desire to face that which he feared. He feared me. I have killed before. I have been in battles and skirmishes. I have hunted for food. There has always been just reason and respect behind my motivation to take a life. Never once have I killed out of anger or hate. I have never wanted to. Until now. Valerlan had destroyed the Tree. He had helped pave the way for Jadis’ tyranny. He had ordered Jett to be slaughtered. He had tried to kill my brother, my king. For all that and more, I wished to see this Ettin prince die. By the fire he paused, a wicked gleam in his deep-set eyes as he swiped his club across the glowing embers and sent a hail of red-hot sparks down upon me. I felt points of pain that flared out almost instantly. With a laugh he swung again, scattering the fire, stopping me in my tracks. I shielded my face with my arms, ignoring the burns and shaking off the larger brands. I could not get near him. Not while he kept the fire between us. So I would simply have to rob him of that luxury. I stepped to the left, dragging my feet on the ground in order to feel my way as I went. With a little smirk on his face Valerlan moved to the right, keeping me across from him in some strange type of dance, the coward. The fire was broad, about ten feet across and reduced to a heap of glowing embers. Around us was scattered the bits and pieces of the Ettin’s rough encampment – wine skins, equipment, the discarded war clubs, remnants of their last meal. « 236 »

Another swipe and another cloud of sparks and smoke stirred up, driving me back and scattering the fire wider. I gasped as I felt the back of my neck burn and I slapped away the small brand that had landed there. Valerlan laughed like a child with a toy. Unwittingly he was reducing his own defenses as the starving fire was cast about. Edging back to the right, I watched through narrowed eyes as Valerlan limped along opposite me, cocksure and arrogant. It was clear he had been in few conflicts where his opponents put up such resistance and his training had not prepared him for this; his moods shifted too quickly as his fortunes changed from one moment to the next. The crown prince did not know how to save his reactions until there was time to indulge in them. The wine he had consumed worked in my favor as well – even now, after all this conflict and his emotions running so high, Valerlan still showed signs of drunkenness. He swung again, plowing up the earth and sending a rain of hot ash and dirt into the air amidst a huge, swirling gray cloud of vapor. Beneath that thick cover of sparks and smoke I darted around the fire, jumping the smoldering branches he had scattered. He was looking at the spot where I had been standing, and the instant he saw that I had moved he realized what he had done. He had offered me an opportunity and I seized it. I skirted the fire at a run, so close it felt as if I had been cast into a furnace. My eyes and nose burned and I could feel the intense heat of the ground through the soles of my boots. I dared not take a breath until I had rounded the blaze and then I let out an angry shout, shaking off the heat. Valerlan staggered back in alarm, fumbling for a better grip on his club. Without thinking I lashed out with Rhindon, driving him back. He avoided the blow, timing his own strike against mine and when the blade was furthest away from him, he swatted at me awkwardly with his free hand. A jolt went through my shoulder and side and I was thrown to the ground a few yards away. I landed amidst churned up dirt and grass and discarded equipment. It was not the hardest thump I had ever received, but it left me seeing stars for a few moments and reminded me how very tired I was. It also served to remind exactly what it was I was up against. A monster. I regained my feet and fighting stance even as he seized upon his club. We glared at each other, nothing but our weapons and hatred between us. I was everything he wished to be and he was everything I despised the most. “Behind you! Peter, behind!” Edmund’s harsh warning rang in my ears, desperate and strong and still alive despite the odds. I looked over my shoulder as I spun into my attacker, seeing naught but the target that presented itself as the Ettin guard raised his arms so far over his head his plate mail lifted up. Rhindon’s keen tip was followed by a widening wake of red as I slashed across his belly. I never even saw him fall; I just felt the earth shake briefly beneath my feet. My focus was centered on Valerlan again and it was evident he did not relish my attentions. He was alone now. Alone and desperate.

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And I had my brother, my shield, at my back. I didn’t need to see him to know he was there. Edmund held his ground, waiting and watching and ready to help, but only as a last resort. With his presence, my fatigue and pain fell away, dropping from my shoulders like a cloak. My breathing steadied. A sense of calm more lethal than my fury filled me. There was no pity in my heart. Rage turned to detached and indifferent cunning. I wasn’t thinking if I could destroy Valerlan, but what would be the best way to destroy him. My shadow fell long and dark across the no man’s land separating us. Behind me the dying guard let out a deep, guttural wail as his life ebbed, a final protest against life’s last promise. It was a sharp, animal sound and for one moment, a mere heartbeat, I was transported back to the shores of Lake Asher. I could see Storr dragging Jett, broken and bloodied and screaming in agony, across the lush green grass, leaving a wide streak of red on the ground. I could hear the laughter of the Ettins, amused as they were by torture; hear Valerlan’s impatient, heartless order: “Just kill it!” Jett . . . she had trusted me and Valerlan had destroyed her because of it. Just . . . kill . . . it . . . It wasn’t Valerlan’s voice echoing in my mind, but my own. I was moving before I realized it. A mindless desire to strike, to kill, to take back some of what had been stolen from me seized me. I saw red, though if it was the glow of the fire or Valerlan’s blood or my own lust I could not say. This frenzy caught the Giant by surprise. I was too close for him to use his club while I laid into him with Rhindon. I sensed rather than comprehended what I was doing: moving, evading, slashing, driving him back step by step. He tried to crush me under his heel, almost catching me as his huge foot slammed down. I stabbed his foot through his worn boot, driving the blade deep before yanking it free. With a shout he tried to break away, to escape, and without hesitation I attacked from the rear, striking the blow that would be his ruin. He pivoted around, trying to turn away from me as if I would allow him to escape if he made it far enough. I saw my target, the back of his left knee, and I swung with all my strength. Rhindon sliced through muscle and tendons, crippling the Ettin prince. Valerlan fell, gasping in pain. I wondered if he felt quite as much agony as my horse had. He rolled with the injury, rising to his feet with the help of his club and heavily favoring his injured leg. The look he cast me was equal parts of amazement and dread. Even here and now, I was nothing of what he expected. With a snarl of rage he rallied himself as I dashed forward and he whipped the club around in a wide arc. I slid to a halt as the tree trunk smashed to the ground mere inches from me. The wind of its passing stirred my hair and the wide end of the bludgeon bit deeply into the earth at my feet. Catching his error, the Ettin shifted his grip and tried to swing the club into me in a sideways motion. It was an awkward and unwieldy move and had it worked he would have killed me. « 238 »

His hand, slick with blood from Edmund’s first strike, slipped off the smooth handle of his war club. He had tried to move too quickly, not realizing the tip of the club was buried in the sod. His hand was poised in the air as his weapon fell with a mighty crunch. I was moving before the motion was complete, swinging Rhindon downwards at his exposed torso, darting past him as my sword’s deep and deadly strike ended this gross conflict and Valerlan’s sad existence. I whirled, ignoring the pain that shot up my leg as I forced myself to move, to attack, and to finish this and him. Rhindon sliced upwards in another blow, this time to the underside of his extended arm. Valerlan screamed, snatching his arm back, pinning his elbow against his side to stem two wounds at once. He staggered, turning to look at me with shock evident in his beady eyes. I stepped back and away as Valerlan crashed to his knee, his hands clutching his middle, his club lying useless at his side. Blood seeped through his fingers and slowly he looked down at his gory hands and the gaping wound stretching from his chest to his hip. With effort he fell back instead of pitching forward into the filth, never once looking away from this tiny Human he had envied and despised in equal measure. He stared at me with dying eyes, disbelief and sorrow written on his dirty features. He was home, amongst his own people and he was so much larger and stronger than I – how could I have triumphed over his strength? How had I endured more than he? Only now at the very end could he understand. It was not a matter of the strength of the arm wielding the sword, but rather the keenness of the blade that had done him in. His gross folly and lack of foresight only multiplied his grief. I stood gasping and spent before the fallen prince as his hot blood turned the ground beneath my feet to mud. It would be over soon. He was bleeding too heavily to last much longer. Rhindon had proved its worth in the defense of Narnia once again. Was he thinking of the promise I had made back in the throne room of Jadis’ melting castle? I had warned him then. I had warned him all along. Only in death could he hear me, the fool. Stupid, ignorant, arrogant fool. I had warned him. Now his garrison was dead, his own life lost, his duty unfulfilled, and his people were left bereft of their prince and their hope. Still panting heavily, I was almost sickened by the metallic stench of blood hanging so thick in the air that I could taste it on my tongue. I inched forward until I was close enough to lay the tip of my sword against his chest, never breaking eye contact. All the fight was gone from him, it seemed. All fight, all fire, all his dreams and plans. Gone. Fading along with my anger, streaming away like the blood flowing from his wounds. “You,” he whispered, a red froth bubbling up at his pale lips. “You have . . . killed . . . my people.” I felt my eyes narrow and the cold rage that had possessed me before washed over me anew. He accused me? He held me responsible for this? He dared? I glared at him, my hand tightening on Rhindon’s grip as I hissed, “You killed mine first!” And with all the strength and fury left to me, I drove my sword home into his heart. « 239 »

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Chapter Thirty-Three: Hallowed Ground It was hard then on the young hero, having to watch one he held so dear there on the ground, going through his death agony . . . Beowulf, 2821-2824 §‡§ “Peter?” I struggled to make it around the huge body blocking my way. I stumbled, and glancing down I saw that I had tripped over a scraggly braid of hair thicker than rope. Raising my gaze, I found myself looking at Valerlan’s bloodied face, composed in death and almost noble in a way. Foolish man, to have squandered his life and the opportunity that had been placed before him by letting his men kill Narnians! Had he truly been a good leader he would have prevented those murders and started a parlay for peace. Now . . . he hadn’t just thrown away his own life, he had thrown away the future of the Ettin race, for where would they be without a king to lead them? With a shake of my head I turned away, my pity reserved for those who deserved it. His party had murdered my cousins and assaulted and seized Peter without any declaration of hostilities or defiance. Death was the least they deserved. If nothing else Valerlan could serve as an example to anyone who would do harm to my king. “Peter?” On the other side of Valerlan, in a dejected heap, was my brother. Fury spent, vengeance achieved, Peter knelt in a pool of bloody mud. The fire that had burned so brightly and driven him into a frenzy had faded to shadows, leaving him wasted and cold and no less beautiful for its absence. He had turned from the High King, Narnia’s sword and her greatest protector to my beloved brother Peter. His hands rested on his lap still clutching Rhindon, and there wasn’t a bit of him that wasn’t filthy. I slogged through thick, stinking muck made of spilled blood and dirt to kneel before him. “Peter?” He was shrouded in misery and pain. Dull, flat blue eyes stared at me as if from a void. His dirty, bruised cheeks were streaked with tears as he looked at me with swollen, bloodshot eyes that sent a silent plea for help and understanding. I knew immediately he needed me desperately, needed for me to take control and be the elder brother and king for a while as he tried to make sense of this sad waste of life and hope. It was the least service I could render. “They killed Jett,” he whispered in a voice devoid of emotion. I realized that I was trembling when I laid my hand on his arm. He was bleeding from a dozen points from his nose to his leg, though none of the wounds seemed threatening. I’d « 240 »

never seen him like this before and it was frightening. Peter was one of the few people in the world who could genuinely scare me. He was so far beyond fatigue and hurt that I was certain he had no idea of what he was saying, and it struck me that he might be concussed. “I know, Peter. I know what they did. I’m so sorry. Sorry you had to see any of that.” “They served Jadis,” Peter spoke on, his words slurring slightly. “Ed, they thought I was you and that you were her heir.” I gave his arm a little squeeze. “In a way they were right. I’m the only one in Narnia with anything of her left in me, thank Aslan. Let’s worry about that later, brother. It’s dangerous to stay here. We have to go home now.” His eyes wandered downwards and he saw the shattered blade in my grasp. His sadness seemed to deepen. “Shafelm . . .” I smiled and shook my head. I had no regrets, for the sword he had given me as a birthday gift had served me very well indeed. “It saved my life. You can get me another one when we get home and I’ll have Shafelm the Third. Come away now,” I begged, struggling to my feet. I sheathed what remained of Shafelm and then gently pried Rhindon out of his stiff grasp. I hastily wiped it clean and slid the long blade back into its sheath on my left hip before I reached for him. “Please. Let me help you. There’s too much blood here.” He reached up for me and clasped my hands. I hauled him upright and then wrapped one arm around his waist as I pulled his arm across my shoulders. Finally I was tall enough to support him this way and he leaned heavily against me. I guided him away from the corpse of Valerlan, away from this accursed place. §‡§ Kanell met us as we struggled with the front steps of the keep. The soldiers still standing were milling about, caring for the wounded and preparing to depart. Peter was weak and staggering as the rush of battle faded and left him completely drained. Standing a few steps below us, the Centaur captain steadied my brother with both hands, searching him for any signs of hurt or injury beyond the obvious. Finally he cupped Peter’s face in his hands, dark against fair, and he smiled sadly at the expression he saw in my brother’s eyes before gently releasing him. “Majesty,” he said, “this is yours. I took it from the guardsman Haigha.” He drew forth the knife I had made Peter, the Blue River steel that I had forged for him last year. I felt my throat tighten at the sight of the silvery blade because I knew the value my brother placed upon it. Peter sniffed faintly as he reached for the blade, then he hesitated. “Hold it for me, Captain,” he whispered. “I have no belt.” Kanell retained the dagger as Peter spoke on. “We . . . we need to take what supplies we can. We must leave . . . quickly. Where are we? How far from Narnia?” “We’re in Ettinsmoor, Peter,” I replied. “A day or so from the Northern Marches by Athan’s best estimate.” “We have wounded,” he said, looking shattered anew.

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“They are being tended to, King Peter,” said Kanell. “Sit, Majesty, and let us tend you as well.” Helpless and miserable beyond words, Peter fell more than sat. Xati and Pandicat joined us a moment later and together the two females ministered to my brother. Peterkins, wideeyed and frightened, crept forward and rested his head on Peter’s knee, wise enough for once simply to be quiet. “How many are wounded, Captain?” I pressed Kanell. His voice was soft as he replied. “Twenty-two Bats, among them Pa’ala Mivven. Flinder is badly wounded and I cannot say if Gicelus will live through the night. Most of us have light wounds. Five of our party are dead and we have the bodies of sixteen bats, and at our best guess nineteen more are missing, presumably dead.” I bit my lip, forcing myself to see who was not present. Sylvus, Nex, the Satyr archer Welend, Pauton, and . . . and Barin. So many. So many valiant friends and cousins and brothers-in-arms. There was an empty feeling in me, as if something precious had been snatched away. I looked over at Peter’s bent head, knowing he would take it hard. “Don’t tell him. I’ll tell him.” Kanell followed my gaze. “If I may, Sire, for now don’t tell him unless he asks. For what he has experienced, he will pay a heavy toll. He will need you now more than ever.” I nodded, knowing Kanell was right. “King Edmund!” I looked up as Brant and Onela approached. They nodded to the Centaur and then addressed me alone. Though they appeared sad, the grief that consumed me seemed to have passed them by. Death, I later learned, did not hold the same meaning for Dwarfs as it did for most other Narnians. “We must return our kinsmen to our mother,” said the elderly Red Dwarf. With a tired nod I replied, “You have leave, good sirs.” “No,” Brant snapped, his brow furrowing into a frown as he pointed a stubby, imperious finger at me. “We must return our kinsmen to our mother. Come!” They walked away, leaving me to blink in confusion at Kanell. “Go with them,” whispered the captain. “It is a great honor, Sire. Be silent unless asked otherwise and never speak of what you see save with a Dwarf.” “Watch Peter,” I ordered then hurried as best I could to catch up with the short, stocky Dwarfs. We walked in silence through the tall, dewy grass, all the way back to the entrance of the cavern where waited Glendco, the third Red Dwarf archer. Graves had been dug on either side of the entrance, half in the cave, half out. Pauton and Barin lay beside them, their weapons and gear arrayed around them neatly. I can tell of what followed now, though at the time I never spoke of the funeral save to say that I was there. Two Dwarfs are required to bury one, and so by asking (or telling) me to « 242 »

help him, Brant acknowledged me as his kinsman, preferring me to his own kind. Following whispered instructions, I assisted Brant in carefully arranging Barin’s things in the grave - his axe, his pick, a length of rope, a lantern - all the things that were important to a miner. Then Brant instructed me to help lift Barin into the grave, and I was rather surprised that we set him in the hole face-down. Catching my expression, Brant asked, “You would turn your back on your mother when you enter her embrace?” That simple question explained so much to me and I understood a little better why death, that promise of life, held less pain for the Dwarfs. Their home was the earth, the thing they loved best, and so to be buried was simply to go home. Such was revinim for these remarkable beings. We took turns shoveling dirt into the grave and Brant smoothed it over carefully so that in a few days it would be indistinguishable from the rest of the ground around it and Barin and Pauton could rest undisturbed. While we worked Onela and Glendco did the same for their fellow archer, the quarrels between Black and Red clans set aside for the time, and when we were done no heads were bowed and no tears were shed. Instead the Dwarfs simply said, “Welcome home.” “Welcome home,” I echoed. Some might have thought the words to be callous, but in my growing understanding of Dwarfish ways I found them comforting. Still, I was a king and any funeral demanded I say something more. I reached for Shafelm before I remembered it was broken, so instead I drew Rhindon. It was an awkward motion, Peter’s sword was too long for me, but I turned it point down and knelt there at the entrance of the cavern. My tired mind tried to form a fitting eulogy, but my words seemed inadequate. “Aslan,” I said softly, “welcome these good Dwarfs to your country. Their sacrifice has helped save my brother and Narnia.” My companions seemed satisfied by this and I bowed a final time to the fallen before we made our way back to Loy. §‡§ Our dead were buried outside the keep and not far from the cave with what honors we could give them. Their sacrifice honored us more, and their eternal presence in Ettinsmoor made that land hallowed. Our wounded we carried as tenderly as we could, the worst injured among the Bats were transported in baskets woven of soft grass while the rest rode upon Shikov. Flinder was swathed in blankets and tied to Xati’s back. Athan carried Gicelus until the brave Faun breathed his last without ever having regained consciousness. We buried him in a copse of birch and aspen trees with two more of the Bats that did not live past dawn. I know Peter felt guilty for being the cause of all this, as if Valerlan’s attack and his subsequent kidnapping were somehow his fault. He could not speak when we buried Gicelus, but he knelt before the grave with the rest of us and his grief was so intense I thought he might pass out. I didn’t know what to do, how to reach him on that swift, anxious ride home, and I’ll admit my helplessness frightened me. It was as if Peter himself had withered away even as his fury spent itself over the corpse of Valerlan, leaving nothing but pain behind. I was so focused on him that I remembered very little of the journey back. It took three days and two nights, and we barely stopped to rest even though we were all exhausted. « 243 »

The only thing I could think to do, I did: I stayed with him every moment of our journey back to Narnia. If he wanted to talk, I listened, but mostly he was quiet as we headed south and east, trusting Kanell and the soldiers around us to guide us safely to our own land. Against all protocol we rode upon Kanell’s broad back and we moved as quickly as we could with our wounded. Bats had been sent ahead to bring word to Narnia and to scout our route and they served as our sentries in case the Ettins attacked. Athan carried Pandicat and Peterkins. Finally the little Fox had developed sense enough to curb his tongue and not draw any attention to himself. I remembered what it had been like for me when we had been crowned. Aside from going from a war refugee to a king in a matter of days, I had the added burden of dealing with the fact that I had been a traitor. Whispers and glances and snatches of rumor seemed to have followed in my wake. My own guilt compounded the problem until I had thought myself into an inescapable corner. Peter had been my salvation. He had kept by me and defied anyone to speak an unkind word, silenced rumors with a glare, listened as I spilled out my fears, offered advice such as he could give when I asked for it. And always there shone pride and love in his eyes when he looked my way. That faint, gentle smile that lit his eyes so brilliantly and which I had ignored for years took on such importance to me. Peter was my support, my foundation, and despite my litany of sins he had sustained me through those first few, dark months as more Narnians followed his example and gradually came around to seeing me in the same light as he did. He had helped me to endure. Now it was time for me to return the favor and be there for him. I kept him before me as we rode upon Kanell’s broad back, my arms firmly around his waist. He looked perfectly miserable, and finally, when we stopped to rest and choke down some field rations, he asked me to switch positions with him. I was a little confused but compliant. I let him give me a boost up onto the Centaur and as soon as Peter swung up behind me I understood. Strong, warm arms twined around my middle, enfolding me in his borrowed cape as well, and my brother the High King rested his weary head heavily on my shoulder. His legs tightened and he wrapped himself around me. I drew him in as closely as I could. I had never thought about it before, but comforting and warming me must have brought him a degree of solace and security as well. He had watched over us all his life and I knew for him it had become a necessity, an integral aspect of his personality. To have the ability to give him what he needed most was humbling and empowering at once, even if it was to do nothing more than to allow him to hold me. I would not disappoint him. There was nothing I would not do for him. He didn’t even need to ask. I would willingly give all he would take and more. I covered Peter’s hands with my own before reaching up to stroke the blond head resting against mine. We rode like that for a long time, communicating only through touch until, pressed close against my back, I could feel his stomach muscles tighten and his chest heaved as he began to weep. He did so quietly, a long, restrained display of grief. The heavy fabric of my doublet became soaked through as he sobbed. I felt my throat and chest tighten as feeling began to return to Peter. I knew the sensation. I had gone through a similar emotional upheaval after Jadis’ perversions. It had seemed as if I would never be able to feel again and when I finally did the only thing I could feel were a thousand « 244 »

different types of pain I could neither understand nor name. I could still feel the echoes of that anguish, but I realized now that Peter had understood then what had happened and had done all he could for me. I would deal with it in my own time, and I would talk to Peter when I was ready . . . and when he was as well. Until then, I and my emotions would keep. Leaning back into his hold, I closed my eyes, steeling myself against the desire to scream out for the senseless slaughter he had witnessed, for my poor brother who had done nothing to deserve these abuses, for the loyal soldiers that had died so valiantly to protect him. I wanted to, but I didn’t. This was not about my grief, but Peter’s. He clutched me so tightly at times I could barely breathe but I never moved or tried to ease his grip on me. I just settled back and let him vent, barely noticing as the soldiers of our party drew closer as if to offer what comfort they could. He cried for what felt like an eternity, and all the while he held me close as I silently cried with him, for him. §‡§ “Majesties,” Kanell said, rousing me. I sat up straight with a little gasp, my motions waking Peter. We both blinked stupidly at the Centaur, having gotten nothing near enough rest. Kanell looked tired and gray even though his skin was almost coal black. He had marched the troop through the night, desperate to get to safety, and able Bats had flown far ahead to get word to Cair Paravel of what had happened and where we were heading. “We are in Narnia.” I looked around, recognizing the craggy hills of the Northern Marches. The colors were richer, the air sweeter, and the sunshine seemed brighter as we returned to this, our kingdom. Peter made a little sound as he carefully dismounted. He didn’t reach up to help me down, but he took a few steps deeper into Narnia. Clumsily, I clambered off of the Centaur’s high back and I started when Peter fell heavily to his knees. For a moment I thought he had stumbled. My cloak fouled in the swords I wore as I tried to rush to his aid, but then I realized he deliberately knelt amongst the heather and the mountain thyme. I paused a few steps away and then slowly I crept forward until I bent my knee beside him. His eyes were closed and his hands were clasped and I barely caught his whispered prayer. “Thank you, mighty Aslan, for answering my prayers.” I hastily bowed my head as I silently added, “And mine.” Then Peter bowed down so low that his forehead touched the earth and he began a tradition that would last through our age and all the way to the end of time: he kissed the ground of Narnia, this wonderful, blessed land made even more glorious still by his love. I followed his example, for it seemed a fitting act for a king to greet his land. From that time on, whenever we returned to Narnia be it from a war or state visit or just nipping down to visit Lune, our very first act was to kiss the land we held so dear. My lips brushed the mossy stone before me, and when I sat back on my heels again, Peter was gazing at me. His eyes were still red from crying and he was exhausted and vulnerable and absolutely magnificent. He could not see, could not understand what it was about himself that made « 245 »

our subjects willing to fight and die for him. He could not see his own extraordinary goodness and strength of character. If I made the people around me think, then Peter made the people around him want to be something better and worthier than they already were. I was no exception. I had challenged Jadis for his sake and I would have chased the Ettins to the Wild Lands of the North and beyond for him. There was no question in my mind that he was worth any cost, any sacrifice, and his inability to comprehend this made him that much more precious to me. Without a word he quietly leaned into me, letting me support his weight as we stared at the low mountains that made the northern border of our kingdom. I put my arm around his shoulders and held him close and he covered my free hand with his own. Finally the morning sun felt warm upon me. There was no telling how long we sat there - minutes or hours, I could not tell - when a loud, harsh cry echoed off the hills. Peter gripped my hand as a Gryphon scout wheeled high above us, screaming out her delight at having found us. Peter tried to stir. “We should . . .” I held him in place with ease. “We’re the kings here, Peter. Let them come to us.” Peterkins let out an excited shout and tore past us, down the slope and back up to report what we could all clearly see: a party was approaching. He ran back and forth at least three more times with levels of energy that were worthy of envy. There were several people on horseback, Centaurs, Animals, soldiers and scouts climbing towards us at a swift pace. Peter let out a little moan and hid his face against me for a moment, bracing himself. I smiled faintly. “I won’t let them fuss too badly,” I promised. He actually gave me a hint of a smile in return. “Neither will I.” Minutes later we could clearly see Susan and Oreius rushing ahead of their party in order to meet us. Lucy and Peridan were close behind. Susan was off her horse and running towards us before the mare even came to a stop. Her face was pale and frantic and she threw herself at us with a wild cry. “Peter!” She seized us both, an arm around each of us, and she smelled of roses and soap and she was everything that was best and beautiful. I didn’t release Peter, though, until Lucy arrived moments later and I suddenly found my arms full of my little sister. “Ed! Oh, Ed, we were so worried!” she cried, squeezing me tight. “So was I,” I admitted softly. ¥¤¥

Chapter Thirty-Four: Shattered The ninth hour of the day arrived. The brave Shieldings abandoned the cliff-top and the king went home; but sick at heart,

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staring at the mere, the strangers held on. They wished, without hope, to behold their lord . . . Beowulf, 1600 – 1604 §‡§ Susan stayed close by me as Edmund went to help Lucy with the wounded. My youngest sister hurried about, administering her cordial with a steady hand. Presently we could hear Flinder’s raspy voice and the enthusiastic squeaks of many Bats who were uncomfortable in such bright light. I listened to their high-pitched complaints knowing I should have been delighted that they were all saved, but I was numb to everything. Susan’s presence didn’t bring comfort. She was just there beside me. I couldn’t understand it at all. Why was I so empty? Exhausted though I was I should have been able to feel . . . shouldn’t I? “What?” I looked to my sister, realizing she had been talking. Susan was recounting the story of an attack on their party just as they entered the Marches, talk of wicked Dryads and a Werewolf and Hag and a Bear. I heard without comprehending, my thoughts too muddled to follow the tale closely, unable to bring myself to grow angry or indignant that my sisters’ party had been assaulted within our own borders. She outlined their adventures and the wonderful news that Peridan had been knighted for defending his queens so courageously, the first in an order Lucy created on the spot. I could find nothing to say to this even though that good man had just achieved his life’s goal. “Your Majesties?” I stared up at Oreius. The general was still suffering from the late-season cold he had caught from Lady Saera. His nose was red and his eyes were watering, his voice hoarse from coughing. I supposed I couldn’t have looked much better, only I could boast bruises and burns as well. “Your brother asks for everyone’s attention.” There was a suppressed excitement about him. He helped Susan up carefully and then I took the Centaur’s extended arm and he hauled me to my feet, mindful of my injured leg. Without releasing me he studied me closely, searching deeply for the hurt he knew was there. I leaned against him for a moment, just as I had that night at Caldron Pool when I left Narnia for the Western Wild. Of all the Narnians Oreius was my closest friend and the nearest thing I had to a parent besides Aslan. He must have been out of his mind with worry this past week. “I’m sorry,” I whispered sadly, meaning it. “As am I, my king,” he replied softly, knowing how deeply I regretted everything that had happened. The look he gave me told me that he understood, probably more than I did. Susan’s small hand on my arm drew my attention. She smiled upon us both in silent understanding before motioning to where Edmund waited. He stood on a flat rock that raised him a foot or two off the ground and he gestured to Kanell. “Kneel before me,” he ordered, initiating the ceremony I had established two years before when we fought off the minions of the Rebel Trees. « 247 »

Kanell froze, stunned to recognize what was about to happen, and he would have remained motionless had not Oreius coughed and broken the spell. Xati slapped Kanell’s flank and shoved him forward. It was a moment of levity and I smiled faintly, wishing I could enjoy it as much as the rest of the troop did. “Thank you, Captain Xati,” said Edmund, promoting the archer on the spot. A ripple of excitement and delight swept through the crowd and it was Xati’s turn to be astonished. The towering black Centaur seemed suddenly shy as he placed himself before my brother. Edmund drew Shafelm II with a dull, off-key ring and held the broken blade in both hands. He gave a small nod, waiting for the overawed captain to obey, and Kanell abruptly seemed to wake up and he bowed low in the fashion of his people. With his blade reduced a good ten inches, Edmund had to reach far forward to tap Kanell’s shoulders as he called out in a clear voice, “Rise, Sir Kanell of the Ettin’s Keep, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Table.” He sheathed Shafelm, and, just as he had done for Oreius, he stood up on his toes to kiss the top of the Centaur’s head twice. I was transported back to that moment, to an echo of the pride and joy and relief that had filled me and made me kiss my brother thus on that stormy day in spring. My breath hitched. What I would not give to be back there right now. “Noble soldiers of Narnia,” called Edmund, “faithful and beloved subjects, I give you Sir Kanell of the Ettin’s Keep, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Table!” A cheer rose up from all throats save mine. I felt an ache, wishing I could give Sir Kanell his due. Nostalgia almost overwhelmed me. What I would have given for simpler times, before being witness to senseless slaughter and brutality. It had not been war at Jadis’ castle, but murder. Even all my adventures and hardships in the Western Wild seemed paltry to the grief and guilt that plagued me now. I had not deserved this. Narnia had not deserved this. Sweet Lion, why had this happened? Why had so many people died? My arm was seized in a powerful, gentle grip as Oreius kept me from falling. Peridan was instantly at my other elbow and together they lead me gasping and choking away from the celebration. The next thing I knew I was sitting down and Susan was holding a cup of wine for me to drink. My hands were trembling too much to hold the cup myself and I did not raise my eyes to look at the anxious people surrounding me. Her voice was soft upon my ears, a sweet litany of reassurance that all was well. I only wished that I could believe her. §‡§ I don’t remember anything of the journey back to Cair Paravel. Susan later told me I was in shock, that I was like a sleepwalker. I rode, I ate, I talked rarely, I moved about like one lost in a dream. I know I met Pa’ala Mivven before she returned to the Lantern Waste. I recall that the Bat frowned in concern and I heard her admonish Edmund to make certain he did not to leave my side. I was there when a severely chastised Peterkins was escorted before Edmund by Sir Giles to render his apologies for disobeying my brother’s orders. I saw Jaer Peridanson very briefly and I could not understand why he had been allowed on so dangerous a task. These were all just brief flashes of memory, images that rose to the fore, and then faded to naught again, leaving me in a quiet daze. And then I just woke up one morning in my own bed. Edmund lay next to me, fast asleep and using my extended arm as his pillow. For a long while I just listened to him breathing, « 248 »

watching him dream. He seemed so small. So young. He was so young and I wasn’t much better. Confused, I took stock of myself. I was very stiff and sore and my right thigh ached, though it wasn’t anything I couldn’t manage. I’d been hurt worse in the past. My wrists were painful, and I raised my free arm to have a look. From the base of my hand and halfway up my forearm my arm was heavily bruised. Even in the shadowy light of approaching dawn I could easily see the marks where ropes had bound and chaffed my arms. Edmund shifted, muttering and frowning. He was always a restless sleeper, but something about his expression, about the darkness, stirred my hazy thoughts. “Consider it done.” Memory rushed up and hit me like a physical blow. I was assaulted by images: Ettins, ice, blood, darkness more complete than I had ever experienced, a long and brutal fight, death and more death and murder . . . I remembered everything. Fear. Hatred. Lethal intent. I had sought revenge. I had killed out of hate. Deliberately, furiously, I had taken a life for my own satisfaction. I felt an icy horror fill me, chilling me to my very soul. I stared at the ceiling, my chest tight and painful as the full realizations of my actions struck me. Was this what it felt like to be a murderer? I must have jerked or made a noise, because Edmund lifted his head, blinking at me with bleary eyes. “Peter?” he rasped. I drew away. I did not want him to touch me. I felt suddenly filthy both inside and out. It seemed that by touching me he would be tainted by my sins. “Peter?” “No,” I heard myself say. “Leave me alone.” Half asleep but completely bewildered, Edmund sat up. “What’s wrong?” Everything. Me. Had I actually sent Edmund alone after Hatta? What had I been thinking? What kind of brother and king was I? “Leave me alone,” I repeated, turning away from his anxious expression. Turning away from him. §‡§ What followed was the worst, darkest period of my life. I refused to talk about what had happened to me at the hands of the Ettins. How could I tell these loving friends and family that I had conducted myself as lowly as our enemies? I avoided people as much as I could, drove them away from me with my manner, isolated myself from all that I loved. Guilt devoured me. I could not sleep well, plagued as I was by nightmares of the caverns. I was « 249 »

short-tempered and snappish with everyone from Silvo to Lucy to an ambassador from Lune. The only solace I could find was on the training grounds, where the physical effort of being a warrior took me away from the darkness of my own conduct. I trained ceaselessly. If I wasn’t in classes or performing royal duties, I could be found on the training grounds. I rose at all hours, leaving Edmund but not my nightmares behind as I pushed myself to the breaking point. I did not want to talk. I did not want their pity. I did not deserve forgiveness. I just wanted to be alone. For weeks this went on. My many bruises faded but my conscience festered. Susan tried to reach me to no avail, vainly attempting to distract me and keep me from brooding. Lucy begged me to come down to Lion Chapel with her and I tersely refused. I saw the hurt in their faces, hated myself for causing it, but I could not seem to help myself or hold my tongue. Edmund alone watched me in silence. I don’t know if he understood, but I didn’t care, either. All I knew was guilt and shame and that I loathed myself and what I had done. I had slaughtered the Ettin prince. I had deliberately endangered my brother. I had brought murder upon my own subjects. The depth of the hurt I had caused became clear one morning as Edmund and I readied to head down to the training grounds. I was silent and distant as I had been for the past few weeks when Edmund abruptly confronted me. “Do you want me to leave?” he demanded sharply, barring my way. “What?” “I’ll go back to my own room. Is that what you want?” It wasn’t, but I couldn’t think of an answer as I stared into his eyes. I had wounded him deeply with my coldness. I abruptly realized that he had made every effort to give me support and comfort and he had never once criticized me through these few dark weeks. He had stayed close beside me even when I was at my worst. “Fine,” he snapped, turning away from me. “I’ll help Martil shift my things. Pray make my excuses to Oreius. I’m sure he’ll understand.” He strode away, leaving me alone. I didn’t know what to do. The same isolation and fear that had been my constant companions in the caverns seized me in an icy grip. This was my brother, my king, who had risked all by pursuing the Ettins in order to save me. A band seemed to tighten around my breast and the enormity of the situation threatened to overwhelm me. Should I go after him? He was furious and rightly so. For one helpless moment I stood poised, wishing I had the strength to chase after him, and then I numbly made my way to the training grounds. There was no one there yet, which came as a relief. Instinctively I began the exercise routines which my body knew by rote. It was easy to lose myself in the physical excess. I felt lost in every way already. The tightness in my chest only increased as I worked. Soon I was sweating and exhausted and no matter how hard I pushed myself it never seemed enough to let me escape myself. Hoof beats. I knew Oreius was here. Like Edmund he had said nothing to me once I had refused to speak. He had not pressed me for information, but rather he had bided his time

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and waited for me to speak, trying to help me work through the confusion of my own emotions. Panting heavily, I faced him. To my surprise he was alone. There was a fierce look in his eye that I recognized. He was mightily displeased and I instantly knew that I was the source of his displeasure. He drew his swords as he stepped onto the grounds. The metallic ring of sharp steel and my gasping breaths were the only sounds for a few moments, and then with an earsplitting shout he attacked. I whirled to meet his charge, surprised at the strength of the twin blows that landed on my raised shield. This was not practice. This was not play. This was battle. Oreius outclassed me in size and power and skill and ability, but there was no way he could have matched my level of emotion. We went at it full force and I held nothing back. I had no reason to. Fury, that hated passion, rose up in me just as it had when I faced Valerlan. The wild force held in check by training and discipline and self-control erupted once again. The only difference now was that Oreius did not fear me. His swords arced towards my head. I was not wearing a helm and I dodged to the side. The motion was familiar and I thought of Loy Keep and the wild gleam in Valerlan’s dark eyes as he tried to kill Edmund. There was no lust or greed in Oreius’ expression, no randomness in his strikes, and in every way he was different from the Ettins. He fought to wear me out, driving me to the breaking point. I attacked as he himself had taught me, with sword, shield, body, and mind. He was not an easy target, large as he was, and his skill at avoiding my blows only added to my frustration. The contest was mercifully short - I had exhausted my reserves long ago. The only residue left within me was pain and loneliness. I swung my blade level for the Centaur’s vulnerable mid section. Oreius stepped into the strike, dropping his left sword as he seized my right arm. An iron grip clamped down on my right wrist and twisted. I shouted in pain and indignation, Rhindon falling from my grasp, and I instinctively countered by swinging the point of my shield at him. In a lightning-quick motion Oreius released my arm and slapped me full across the face. Pain exploded through my head and the next thing I knew was that I was gasping on the ground. I started to rise when a large, iron-shod hoof was planted firmly on my chest, pinning me with ease. I stared up at my general, my friend, finally driven to tears. But unlike my kidnappers, General Oreius had no grand plans or schemes, no malicious intent. He was here to confront me and to force me to confront myself and the guilt destroying me. He did not fear me. He loved me. Slowly, the hoof was withdrawn and Oreius lowered himself to the ground beside me, helping me to free my arm of the shield’s straps. The moment I could move I lunged into his hold, horrified with myself, but he held me most carefully, gently stroking my hair as he let me cry myself out just as Edmund had a month before. Edmund . . . “I’m sorry,” I gasped, unable to stop the tears. Like my fury they had been building up too long to stem. “Sorry . . .” « 251 »

He eased me back, holding me at arms’ length. There was no need to feel shame over tears in his presence. Oreius knew how devastating this role of being a warrior could be. “It was none of your doing. You’ve done naught but survive a terrible ordeal, King Peter.” “I’ve been horrible,” I insisted, my breaths hitching. “You have reacted. For what you have endured, this is typical and not unexpected. Tell me why.” I swallowed, trying to find the words. They fell far short of expressing what I truly felt. “I . . . Oreius, I killed Valerlan out of hate. I murdered him. He was dying. Helpless. I didn’t have to do that. He was a person. I knew him. I didn’t kill him to protect Narnia. I killed him because he ordered Storr to kill Jett. Because he served Jadis and Jadis hurt Edmund. I -“ I shook my head, unable to go on. Oreius seemed to understand. “This was war, Peter. Undeclared, dishonorable, unprovoked, but war nonetheless. Their conduct was as much an act of war as had they marched upon Cair Paravel and challenged us in our home.” His gentle tone belied his words. “Just because you knew him does not make Valerlan any less deserving of death. Was the outcome any different from what would have been? He forged his own destiny by his deeds and his goals, and you were merely the instrument through which fate chose to act.” He smiled a little sadly and I wondered if he had ever gone through this nightmarish series of responses. He put his hand on my shoulder. “Put aside this guilt, Peter. You cannot save the whole world.” Fresh tears burned my eyes and my vision blurred. Oreius moved his hand to the back of my neck and he drew me close once again. “So for one moment in battle you were selfish and put yourself before Narnia,” he said softly. “When will you see, good my king, that you are Narnia?” At his last words I was completely undone. I had no strength or will to combat his wisdom, and the passion within me was finally satisfied. ¥¤¥

Chapter Thirty-Five: Remade . . . that high-born king kissed Beowulf and embraced his neck, then broke down in sudden tears. Beowulf, lines 1871 - 1873 §‡§ The silence was unbearable. I missed Peter’s quiet chatter as I helped him into the heavy, quilted tunic which we both wore under our armor. Normally he was talking and teasing me because I was the one who couldn’t talk in the morning. That he was miserable and depressed and withdrawn did not surprise me. The day we had arrived back in Narnia, as Peter lapsed into a numb stupor right before our eyes, Oreius had drawn me and my sisters aside and warned us that this « 252 »

would probably happen. It was shock, a natural reaction to the horrors Peter had endured. That we expected a reaction, though, did not go far towards making it more bearable. Better than anyone I understood what he was experiencing. I had wanted to react this same way after Beruna, but Peter would not let me. By his mere presence he had forced me to push through the emotions gripping me and I had faced down my demons. Like Jadis’ blood they lingered still, but they did not command me. I wanted to do the same for him but I didn’t know how and so I stayed by him every moment I could. It wasn’t easy. I could deal with an angry and cranky and snappish Peter. Lion knows he had done the same for me for years on end and I was just returning the favor. What I could not deal with was the cold, uncaring silence that fell between us. I secured the last tie on his back and without a sound Peter moved towards the door. Something within me snapped when he didn’t have the decency to say so much as ‘thank you.’ Fury erupted – fury at the situation, at him, at being ignored despite my constant companionship. I had not slept well and it was an hour before we normally rose to go train and I was not in the mood for this detached coolness. I set myself directly before him and demanded, “Do you want me to leave?” He blinked as if he’d just roused. I had caught him completely off guard. “What?” He had seen none of what he had done over the course of the last month. That alone set me over the edge. “I’ll go back to my own room,” I offered sharply. “Is that what you want?” Peter stared, shocked anew. He opened his mouth to speak but said nothing. “Fine.” I turned my back on him. “I’ll help Martil shift my things. Pray make my excuses to Oreius. I’m sure he’ll understand.” The moment I said this I felt a sinking panic in the core of my being. I did not want to move back to my lonely rooms. I considered these chambers we shared just as much mine as Peter did, but when there was no answer save the door closing behind Peter I knew it was too late to go back. I retreated to a corner of the room, brokenhearted and feeling helpless in ways that Jadis or minions or the Ettins had never accomplished. I felt terribly sorry for myself for a few moments until I realized that I had just named my own best hope for resolution. I dashed the tears from my eyes – for Peter could move me to tears with a glance - and let anger replace despair. I had taken quite enough of this. It was time for reinforcements. §‡§ “Oreius!” Bursting in on a soldier, let alone a Centaur, is not the smartest move one can execute, but I was so wound up I felt a match for anyone, even the general. I was far beyond caring, anyway. Luckily Oreius was already up and getting dressed or my fist on his door would have roused him. I was greeted with a curious look and a bow. I knew I surprised him simply because I was never, never so alert this time of morning and at best I communicated in grunts, not whole sentences. « 253 »

“King Edmund?” That was all it took. In one fierce torrent all my frustration and fears came pouring out in a long, loud tirade. “I have had enough of Peter!” I shouted. “I know he’s hurting, I know he needs my love and support and I know it’s the very least I can do for him after all he’s done for me but I cannot abide his treatment of me or my sisters any longer! Lion’s mane! He would never tolerate such conduct out of me and I won’t tolerate it out of him anymore!” And on, and on, and on. Oreius watched me pace back and forth in his rooms, listening patiently as I unloaded my anxiety and irritation with my brother, waving my arms and stamping my feet all the while. I was fairly certain half the palace was roused at my outburst. The Centaur general let me fume until I was worn out and there were tears in my eyes again as I thought that all my efforts to help were not enough and my brother was lost. Somehow I ended up in his gentle hold, crying against his chest that I did not want to go to my room. He let me finish my tantrum and when I was coherent and capable of rational thought again he sat me down on his huge bed. If anything of what I had just said or any aspect of my conduct confused him, he gave no indication. “Calm yourself, King Edmund,” he said softly and in absolute contrast to my fury. “Pray do not forget Aslan’s wisdom when he reminded you this autumn past that you are but a child still. You have shouldered a mighty burden and born up well. Allow me to address the issue.” It was such a relief to share this worry, though I knew he was just as anxious for Peter as the rest of us. He cuffed me lightly on the back of the head as Centaurs are wont to do to show their affection and I managed a small smile, feeling myself gradually relax. “Rest here awhile, Majesty. I will go down to the training grounds.” I nodded, drawing a shuddering breath. I watched him collect a few things and he headed for the door. “Oreius?” I called after him. He paused, looking back at me. “Knock some sense into him, will you?” The Centaur bowed, and something about the faint smile on his angular face told me that was a command he intended to obey. §‡§ It was not an easy vigil. Curiosity and anxiety eventually overwhelmed me and, unable to bear not knowing any longer, I slipped out of the general’s rooms and hurried to the training grounds. Midway there, in the faint light of dawn, I spotted Jaer and Jaerin, Sir Peridan’s sons, on their way to their lessons under Rickat. They were developing into uncommonly good comrades and I enjoyed their company, though duty kept me from spending as much time with them as I would have liked. Hearing me coming, they waited, waving as soon as they recognized me.

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“Good morning, King Edmund,” they chorused, both of them bowing rather awkwardly. They still weren’t used to the Narnian bow, which differs from the way they used to bow in Archenland. “Good morn,” I replied. Once again I was struck by the subtle differences between Narnia and Archenland, for we never said ‘good morning.’ “Are you training today?” wondered Jaerin, looking me up and down. I realized I wasn’t dressed for it, never having gotten past the first layer of clothing, and I shook my head. “I don’t know yet. That depends on General Oreius and my brother.” That confused them a bit but they hurried their steps to keep pace with me. We passed a few guards moving about on their patrols but I grew increasingly concerned when we could see the barracks surrounding the training grounds but could hear no sound within. I bolted ahead without a word, almost frantic, and I skidded to a halt in the archway leading to the large court where we were taught to be warriors. Oreius looked up from where he lay on the ground holding Peter. Their weapons lay scattered about, discarded on the flagstones, and my brother was very still and quiet as Oreius clasped him against his chest. The two boys caught up with me, breathless. “King Edmund! What – what’s wrong?” gasped Jaerin, alarmed. I gestured sharply for them to be silent. Jaer took one glance at the scene before him and hissed for his younger brother to hush. I turned to both boys and pointed away from the arch. “Over there,” I ordered, leading the way. Jaer followed me silently, clearly unsure and concerned. When Jaerin didn’t budge Jaer seized his younger brother by the collar and hauled him along. “I want you to find Captain Celer right now,” I said, determined to protect Peter’s privacy since we had so little of it in our lives. “Quickly and quietly. Tell him no one is to enter the training grounds until I say otherwise.” “But -“ Jaerin started. “Quiet!” hissed his older brother, and under our combined glares he fell silent. I wasn’t done with them yet. “You are not to speak of what you’ve seen without permission. Is that understood?” They were astonished at my vehement tone, but they realized that right now I was not just their friend but their king and as my subjects they were bound to obey. Not surprisingly, Jaer nodded first and his brother followed suit a moment later. Satisfied, I motioned for them to leave. “Go find Captain Celer. Quickly. Do whatever he tells you to do after.” I watched them head for the barracks before I turned back to the courtyard, satisfied that they would obey. Oreius looked up again as I entered and he nodded for me to come closer. I crept forward, my fears coming to the fore once again. Peter lay in the Centaur’s hold, partially braced up by one of Oreius’ forelegs. I dropped to one knee beside them.

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Peter drew a shuddering breath and slowly pulled far enough away from Oreius that he could look at me. “Peter?” He looked awful, pale and tired with a livid red mark on the right side of his face, but there was a quiet calm in him that had been missing for a month. His blue eyes were dull but no longer soulless and the gentle confidence that Valerlan had destroyed with his sadistic treatment while not restored, was clearly not beyond repair. Peter wanted to be Peter again. He reached out and I took his hand. He extended further and gripped my forearm then his grip shifted and he yanked me in close. Cool, hard armor felt familiar and right in my arms and around me as he wrapped me in his embrace. He was trembling. We leaned heavily against Oreius, a tight jumble of limbs, but the general did not mind in the least. Peter was too worn out even to cry, though I knew he wanted to. Instead he held me crushing tight, seeming to forget I wasn’t wearing armor. I would be bruised on the morrow but I didn’t mind. I did not want or need an apology. Words were useless. All I wanted was my brother back. He kissed my hair, a blessing from the High King. I realized that he had not kissed me that way since my birthday. It had been far too long. I leaned heavily against his shoulder, glad my brother was finally home, and I gave silent thanks to the Lion. “Don’t leave,” Peter whispered, his voice hoarse. “Please don’t leave, Edmund.” “Never,” I promised. §‡§ When I woke up alone again, I knew exactly where he was. I had no notion of the time except that it was too early by far. Rising, I put slippers on my feet and a robe around my shoulders and I stalked through the dimly-lit castle, heading down and to the east. The guards knew how useless it was to talk to me right now and so they didn’t even try, but I could feel their bright eyes on me as I passed and I knew that they approved even though I grumbled every step of the way. I wound my way through the great hall and down the back stairs all the way to the long corridor where Lucy and I had discovered the charming little room we now called Lion Chapel. Coming back to himself, Peter spent a great deal of time here. I slipped into the chapel, well aware of what I would find waiting for me inside. Peter had eschewed the cushioned seats and sat on the silk rug the Tisroc had sent us in honor of the first anniversary of Beruna. I couldn’t blame him. Aslan knows I had spent my fair share of this past autumn sitting in exactly that same spot. There was a certain warmth and comfort to be found in this place, this sanctuary. Here, in this room blessed by Aslan we could escape or embrace our roles as monarchs depending upon our need. I didn’t know if he was praying for forgiveness or strength or understanding or if he simply sought the peace and shelter of the little chapel, but he was there as often as he had been down in the training yard last month. He did not stir as I closed the ornate door behind me. The only light came from the elaborately wrought lamp hanging overhead - Dwarf work and very old - that cast a circle of golden light all around him. When I sat down close beside Peter he let his breath out in a little sigh. He was much himself now, though there « 256 »

was a lingering hurt that faded only very slowly. I had never seen him so despondent for so long and I didn’t know what to do beyond show him he had my love and constancy. “So I’ve been thinking,” I said abruptly, as if it wasn’t well past midnight and an indecent hour for anyone but Bats and Owls and Opossums to be awake. I automatically dropped my voice to a whisper as if we were exchanging confidences. “What would you say to some sort of litany we could say to Aslan, some kind of prayer? We could recite it when we wanted to say something but don’t have the right words.” That seemed to spark something in him, I noted with a rush of gratitude. He stirred, blinking, still looking so careworn. “Like what?” he wondered, equally quiet. Put on the spot, I wracked my brain. “Well . . . going into battle, for example. Something short and to the point like, ‘Aslan, please don’t let me die!’” To my satisfaction and delight, Peter actually laughed. It was a short sound, but his amusement was genuine. “I think we say that anyway. Perhaps something a bit more . . . poetic?” he suggested. “La,” I agreed quickly. “That’s where you come in. There’s a lot more poetry residing in you than me.” His expression was distant, as if he searched within his own self for the sense of fear and daring he experienced before entering a conflict. We did so knowing each battle could be our last. In defense of Narnia we went gladly, knowing the worth of what we defended. What kept us from breaking and running? How did we pluck up the courage to enter the mêlée time and again? Battle was a horrifying experience and it had its own . . . not beauty, but appeal. In part it was duty that drove us, another part was honor, and yet another part was that we did not want to be thought of as cowards. These things mattered, for Peter had become a knight before he became a king, and I had earned the right to call myself a knight before I could call myself a king. When he finally spoke, Peter’s soft voice was as far away as his expression, as if he saw something deeper and greater than this hallowed place. “Aslan, Great Lion, defend us in combat. Safeguard our lives or welcome us to your land.” I sat in silence and let the simple words wash over me. Fill me. Fulfill me. “Exactly,” I breathed. “Say it again, Peter.” He pursed his lips, dropping his head as the dam he had built to contain his emotions was slowly eroded away. “Aslan, Great Lion, defend us in combat. Safeguard our lives or welcome us to your land.” “Amen,” I finished softly, inching closer to him. I was desperate for Peter to believe it himself, so I begged, “Again.” There were tears in his eyes and his voice was reduced to a broken undertone. “Aslan, Great Lion, defend us in combat. Safeguard our lives or welcome us to your land.” “Amen.” “Amen,” he echoed. « 257 »

I edged nearer still, wishing I had dragged along some blankets when I left our room. We would have to store some in here for nights like this. This wasn’t the first time one of us had sat vigil in here and it certainly wasn’t the last. I dared bring up the subject that had brought us to this point. “He did, Peter. Aslan did just that. He defended us both and kept us safe. He helped me to reach you. He gave you the strength to endure.” “I doubted him, Ed. I doubted Aslan.” I shook my head, feeling something of an expert on being forgiven and therefore in a position to lecture. “Tell me you weren’t terrified. I was. When we found blood and bones in Jadis’ castle, I panicked. You think I didn’t doubt? I thought you were dead, Peter. When we found out you might be alive I would have done anything to get you back.” He leaned against me. “I knew you would come.” “So was it doubt or fear you felt? Do you honestly think Aslan will do anything but praise you for surviving and protecting Narnia from invasion?” “I ordered Valerlan to thole, and he bade me do the same.” I recognized the word from our grandfather. Only Peter could get away with such a word in conversation. “You did, Peter. You endured. You held on and stayed true to Aslan’s word, to revinim. And to yourself, brother. That’s all that matters to me.” I leaned over so as to look into his face. “There’s more to combat than swords.” He sniffed loudly, fighting tears. It was a losing battle. I reached for him, wrapping my arms around him and pulling him close to me. I would have given anything to take this grief from him and he knew it and so he shared what he could of it with me. Strong arms clung to me tightly, crushing close. I was his anchor, his base, just as he was my leader and protector. He had wept for Vimal and Lonn and Boris and Tyxy and the Apis cousins and for his beloved Jett, slaughtered right before his eyes. Now, finally, he quietly cried for Peter Pevensie and the nightmare he had lived through. Oh, thank Aslan, he had lived. Peter’s voice was barely audible. “Thank you.” I shook my head, drawing back to gaze at him. “You don’t have to thank me, Peter. You’re my brother and my High King.” I did not need to say more. We were silent for a while, each of us grateful for the other’s presence. Eventually I stirred, nudging him a bit. “Maybe a prayer to give thanks next. Thanks for victory and our lives and . . . whatever else we need.” “I already have one,” Peter replied so seriously I missed the mischievous glint in his eyes. “You do? A thanksgiving prayer?” I was surprised. “Yes. You’ve heard it, but I’ve had reason to say it time and again. Right now, even.” I frowned, wondering what he could mean. “Out with it, then, Pevensie!” I ordered. Peter smiled faintly and quoth, “Aslan, thank you for giving me an easily aggravated, clever, and wise brother.”

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I sat with my mouth open, recognizing the words and praying he didn’t slap a kiss on me as he had the day I showed him the Codex Consors. Peter’s smile slowly widened at my gaping expression. “Well,” I huffed finally, trying to recover, “I don’t know about ‘easily aggravated.’” “I do,” he snorted and we both chuckled. It was a moment of confidence and warmth. At last we were both at our ease and I knew Peter would be able to sleep again. “Are you still heading for Glasswater at sunrise?” I pressed. “I mean - strawberries? Really, Peter!” “Susan might drive me out of my mind with all this decorating if I don’t,” he answered, sighing in unspoken exasperation. “It’s a party! A party that’s a fortnight away! Why so much fuss?” I shrugged, about as ill-equipped to understanding girls as he was, if not more so. “You know what she’d say: ‘It’s our anniversary!’” With a dramatic groan he shook his head. “Remind me to elope if I ever find a girl I want to marry.” He was joking, but for some reason I could not define, the notion of my brother running off to get married was disturbing to me. I did my best to hide my reaction to his innocent words. He didn’t notice, but said, “Glasswater is the safest place for me right now. Will you come along?” I wanted dearly to accept the invitation, but I had other obligations. “I can’t. Word came from Kellsalter after we dined last night. The engineers are calling for a crowned head. Again,” I added in an annoyed mutter. A smile played at his lips. “Then you must go. I’ll just be two days, three at the most.” “Take three,” I advised. “Susan was talking flowers the other day.” He shuddered. “Three it is.” I looked up as I felt the weight of his gaze upon me. “Can you believe it’s been two years since we came to Narnia?” I thought back on what I had been and what I had become, the lessons learned, the love gained, the forgiveness granted. We had come so far, all of us, but me most of all. I smiled at him and it was my turn to press my lips to his forehead, to return the blessing he had so often bestowed upon me. “La, King Peter, I can.” §‡§ But generally the spear is prompt to retaliate when a prince is killed . . . Beowulf, 2029 – 2030

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¥¤¥

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Only Children [Part Two] by Thalion King’s Daughter Chapter Nineteen: An Unwelcome Fellow Traveler Peridan’s suspicion that a party would set out to investigate the constant flow of rumors from the Western Woods proved correct. That same afternoon, the kings began organizing a formal hunting party which—to Peridan’s surprise—they planned to lead. Midmorning on the next day, the kings set out with their guard. General Orieus was released from his room long enough to bid them farewell in an extremely hoarse voice punctuated by the occasional cough or sneeze but the centaur disappeared shortly after the kings’ party vanished over the horizon. Jaer suspected that he had gone back to bed. It was odd practicing in the mornings without the kings and their company nearby. Captain Celer seemed to decide that if he couldn’t train the kings he would practice on them so Jaer found his and Jaerin’s lessons vastly increased in difficulty. Their father joined them now in the morning, dueling with whomever he could find. Peridan said it was because he needed to keep in practice but Jaer thought it was more than that. It had been nearly two months since his father had fought against anything but dummies or even really had something to do. He was probably wishing that he could go with the kings as much as Jaer was. Jaer had considered asking if he could join the party but the quick refusal Jaerin received when he asked convinced him that such a question would be pointless. Nevertheless, he still wanted to go. One warm afternoon not long after the kings had left, Jaer finished his lessons and wandered toward his room. It had been a hot day and so Jaerin’s desire to play games in the gardens did not appeal to him. Instead, Jaer picked up his violin and walked to the windows, shoving them open and searching through his mind for the right tune. He missed having other strings to play with. Sure there were plenty of others who played winds and percussion instruments here in Narnia, but in his mind nothing could compare to the sound of a chorus of violins, violas, cellos, and basses. Sighing, he set the instrument under his chin and began to play. Before long, he was lost in the music, oblivious to his surroundings. Had he not been so wrapped up in his music, Jaer would have seen a small dark shape appear in the sky, flying fast. He would have seen the shape speed closer, growing into a Raven. He would have seen the Raven swoop down into the practice courtyard. He would have seen General Orieus and his father emerge from the barracks followed by many others. He would have seen them all grow suddenly stiff and then burst into action. He might have heard the commotion as the swiftest Creatures of the army began to gather their armor and weapons and Peridan pounded into the castle. He might have. As it was, the first indication Jaer had that anything was wrong came when Jaerin burst into their room, flinging the doors open hard enough to hit the walls. But Jaerin did that often enough that Jaer simply kept playing. Until Jaerin’s cry registered in his mind. « 261 »

“King Peter’s been kidnapped!” The last note screeched off into nothingness as Jaer’s hand slipped on the bow. He whirled on his brother, still befuddled slightly from the intoxication of music. “What?” “Po, the Raven, she just flew in. King Peter’s been kidnapped by giants and King Edmund’s gone to rescue him! They’re putting together a rescue party now.” “When? How?” “Have you been blind and deaf! There’s been such a huge commotion that even Mother noticed!” Jaerin gasped. He paused a moment and blinked as he seemed to realize what Jaer was holding in his hands. “Oh. I guess you have been. Take a look outside. It’s chaos. Po, one of the Ravens that went with the kings just flew in. She was awfully tired but got her message off clear enough. Four giants ambushed King Peter and his company when they went to inspect Lake Asher. Peterkins…” “Peterkins? The fox?” Jaerin nodded. “Yes. He was with King Peter and brought the news to King Edmund. King Edmund is gathering all of the troops in the area and going after them into the Witch’s castle. General Orieus is gathering his men and heading to the borderlands. They’re leaving tonight…” Jaer never knew exactly what possessed him after that moment. He vaguely remembered hearing Jaerin rattle on about the preparations while he swiftly placed his violin in the case. Snatching up his belt and dagger, he darted from the room. Jaerin followed him, still talking until he grew breathless from running. Jaer ran first to the great throne room but it was empty. Altering his course, he ran to the council chambers not far away. There, he found the doors closed and a great babble of voices coming from within. A crowd of creatures also clumped around whispering and muttering to each other loud enough that Jaer could not make out what was being said inside the room. While Jaerin danced impatiently from foot to foot, Jaer stood perfectly still, knowing with absolute certainty that his father was going to join the party—and that he would be going with them. When the council broke up not long after their arrival, Jaer’s certainty was confirmed. Jaerin rushed up to their father and Jaer guessed that he was once again begging to be taken along. Peridan shook his head impatiently at his younger son’s impetuosity and then raised his eyes to meet Jaer’s. Jaer said nothing, in face or voice, remaining as impassive as a stone statue. In his father’s eyes he recognized the protective passion that had sent him out once in a massive thunderstorm to join King Lune’s men when the crown prince was kidnapped and later had sent him out in a blizzard to search for the son of one of their tenants. If anyone with evil intent toward the kings—or queens, Jaer realized as they also exited the council room—came within reach of his sword, they would not live to regret it. Nodding his head, Jaer turned and slipped from the crowd. He would speak with his father in private— probably after he had told Mother what was happening. Some time later, Jaer stood on the balcony of their common rooms staring out into the distance. He did not move when Peridan walked in. “When do you leave?” « 262 »

“Within the hour. You understand why, do you not?” “Aye, Father.” Jaer turned around then. “You have always been a protector of those weaker than yourself. Especially children.” “But the kings are not merely children.” “No. They are your kings. And the queens ride forth as well. They’re our age, Father, I know you know it. Kings and queens they may be, but they are only children and in need of protection still, regardless of skill. They can protect their bodies—it is their hearts and minds that you fear for. Do I not speak truly?” Peridan looked long at his oldest son, something akin to wonder in his eyes. “When did you grow so wise, my son?” he asked softly. Jaer quirked a smile. “I’ve had the best teacher in you. Besides, the kings tend to rub off on one. Go on, Father. I know you must have much to do before you can leave.” Nodding, Peridan reached out and ruffled Jaer’s hair. “Take care, young one. Do not grow too wise before your time.” After Peridan left, Jaer went back to his rooms. Quickly, he dug out a satchel and began packing it. He was rifling through his drawers for a spare hunting tunic when Jaerin came into the room and plopped down on his bed. “What are you dong?” Jaerin asked “Packing.” Jaerin rolled his eyes. “I can see that. But whatever for? Did Father say you could go with them?” “No.” “Then why are you packing?” “Because he didn’t say I couldn’t.” “You don’t mean you’re going with them! Father will stop you before you leave the stables.” “That is why I’m not telling him.” “What!” Jaerin sat bolt upright on the bed. Could this be his rule-following brother speaking? “You can’t be serious.” “I most certainly am. And you are not going to stop me.” Jaer whirled around and stalked over to his brother, grasping him by the shoulders and forcing him to look straight at him. “I have to go. And you cannot, cannot tell anyone what I am doing until I am long gone. I must go with them.” Jaer’s eyes grew hard and black. “Do not try to stop me.” Jaerin blinked hard, wincing slightly at the tightness of Jaer’s grip. “Why do you have to go?” he whispered. The hardness left Jaer’s eyes and he stepped back, looking around in a slightly dazed manner. “I don’t know. I just know I must. Don’t try to stop me, Jaerin.” His voice was pleading now. « 263 »

Jaerin nodded. “I won’t. But, Jaer? You’ll be careful, won’t you? Father won’t stop if you get hurt.” “I know. Farewell.” Not long afterward, Jaer was slipping stealthily toward the kitchens. Despite the bustle as people rushed here and there gathering supplies for the rescue party, he managed to remain unnoticed as he stole into the pantries and stuffed bread, dried meat, and apples into his satchel. He was on his way back to his room when a voice from behind startled him. “And just where do you think you are going, young sir?” Whirling around, Jaer scanned the deserted hallway for the speaker. There was no one. “Well?” Only then did Jaer remember that in Narnia, one had to look up and down as well as back and forth. Not all speakers stood at eye level. A quick glance up reveal no one but as he looked down, a shadow around a pillar moved and a sleek red fox stepped forward. “Come now, you don’t expect me to believe you were suddenly struck mute now do you? After all the chattering I’ve seen you and your brother doing.” The fox settled down and began patting his bushy tail. “Now, tell me what you are doing with that food.” Jaer swallowed hard. “I’m taking it to my room.” “And then?” “I’m eating it.” “In your room?” “No.” “I see I shall have to tell you what you are going to do with it then. You plan on following the expedition and joining them once they are too far along to send you back alone. The food—I believe you packed a loaf of bread, about a pound of beef jerky, and a dozen apples—is to last you until that time. So why are you doing this?” Jaer stared at the fox who had just casually recited the edible contents of his satchel with such brazen ease. “You’re Sir Giles Fox aren’t you,” he managed. “You’re the spymaster. And,” he thought back to the faint footsteps he had heard as he snuck into the kitchen, “You’ve been following me since the Great Hall.” “Indeed.” Sir Giles stood up and swept an elegant bow. “And you are not so unobservant as I first thought. Are you going to tell my why you are following the rescue party?” “Its not for glory or anything like that,” Jaer said, shifting the satchel on his shoulder and turning toward his room again. Sir Giles fell in step beside him. “I simply feel that I must go. Like…like Aslan wants me to go. I can’t explain further.” “And have you told your father this?” “No. He wouldn’t understand. He’s so protective of us. I don’t think he’d listen until he has no choice.”

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“Hmm. It has been my observation that parents are not nearly as dense as children think. You might find that your father thinks otherwise. Peridan is a good man. I believe he will listen.” “He didn’t last time. Besides. If I ask and he says no, then I’ll be defying him when I go. I’d rather not have that to deal with as well.” “Aha. The old ‘it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission’? Very well. I shall not speak of your coming. But watch for me. I will be your guide by night.” Jaer heaved a great sigh of relief. “Thank you.” He glanced down but the fox was already gone, vanished into one of the side corridors. Half an hour later, after wishing his father and the rescue party farewell, Jaer slipped into the stables and readied his horse. A few minutes later, the watchmen on the walls saw him ride out—but no one saw the sword he concealed under his cloak or the bulging satchel at his side. Jaer was gone. ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty: Alone “Ach, there ye be ye young scalawag! Have you no regard for the time! We’ve been all across the castle looking for ya and here ye are just lollygagging about. Get ye down to your rooms and get cleaned up this minute! Your supper’s goin’ cold and your mother’s about had it with your shenanigans.” Jaerin turned from his lonely contemplation of the road Jaer had ridden earlier that day as the maid leaned against the bulwarks and gasped for air. “You were looking for me, Mary?” “Lookin’ for ya! Did you not hear nothin’ I just sed?” “I heard you. Are we eating in our rooms?” The maid’s face softened slightly. After serving the family for longer than Jaerin had been alive, she was used to either boy loosing track of time, lost in a world of their own. “Aye, laddie. Hurry along now.” She paused and looked around the broad battlements. “Now here’s a sight. Where’s your brother at, Jaerin?” Jaerin glanced back over the walls. “Riding. I’m not sure when he’ll be back.” It was not a lie exactly, Jaerin thought. But if he was asked more directly he would have to tell the truth. Lying was not tolerated. “Ach well. I suppose he’ll miss his supper then. Come along lad.” Mary waited until Jaerin headed down the stairs before bustling after him, herding him all the way to their rooms and standing over him while he washed. As soon as she deemed him clean enough she nudged him to the family common room, pushing him inside in front of her. Saera was already there, leaning on a pile of cushions. Rien bounced impatiently on her chair.

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“Here you are, milady. I found the young whippersnapper up on the battlements. The other young master has gone a’ridin’ and won’t be back for a bit. I’ll save him some supper and you just go ahead and eat.” “He’s gone riding? When did he leave, Jaerin?” Saera’s eyes were piercingly bright and the boy thought for certain that she would be able to read his mind. “I’m not sure exactly. I think it was shortly after Father and the rescue party left.” Saera shook her head. “That boy. When he is hungry enough he’ll be back.” Jaerin swallowed and averted his eyes. If he was lucky, no one would check to make sure both of them were in bed and it would be morning before anyone knew Jaer was gone. Captain Celer would not be happy when only one of his students showed up in the morning. The rest of the meal was uneventful and Jaerin took advantage of his mother’s weakness to slide out quickly. He told Rien he had homework to do and could not play with her and shut and barred his door. Their room was strangely empty without Jaer—until he was gone, Jaerin had not realized how much he was there. Not always with him, of course, but there; a comforting presence somewhere in the general vicinity. Pulling out his crumpled homework—at least that part was true—Jaerin tried to concentrate on the numbers that marched in neat lines on the paper before him. After some minutes of fruitless staring, he shoved the work aside and pulled out the history book. That was more interesting but even the story of the first king and queen of Narnia barely managed to hold his wandering mind. This particular tale too, was difficult. The griffin captain of the Queen’s Guard, Cwengarde, spoke and acted far too much like Jaer—or his father for that matter—for easy reading. Slamming the book shut he tossed it against the wall with unnecessary force. “Why’d you have to leave me behind, brother?” he demanded of the air, stalking around the room. “I’m not that much younger than you! Why’d you leave me alone?” “Because he is that much older and stronger.” Jaerin answered himself as the silence grew unbearable. “Besides, you asked if you could go and Father said ‘no’ so going would have been outright disobedience. And you know what would have happened then.” “But I’m good with a sword too. I could have stayed hidden and Father would never have known I was there. “Rubbish. Jaer beats you every morning easily. And do you really think that you could stay hidden from General Orieus? Even if he does have a cold. “Argh!” Jaerin grabbed a pillow and flung it at the wall, furious at his own inability to reason his way to his brother’s side. The room was too empty. It was echoing and bare. Jaerin rubbed his eyes and stared listlessly at the wall, his anger gone, replaced by emptiness. He walked over to the pillow and picked it up. But when he saw what lay underneath, he nearly lost control again. It was Jaer’s violin, gently laid against the soft velvet but with the bow haphazardly tossed beside it, evidence of his brother’s hasty flight. Kneeling down, the boy softly picked up the bow and slid it into its proper place before closing the lid. Then, he threw the pillow back to the bed and headed for the door. He could not stay here any longer.

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Apparently, he had been in his rooms longer than he had realized because the normally busy halls of the Cair were nearly empty. Or else, the Narnians felt the absence of their monarchs as acutely as he felt the absence of his brother and father. Dully, he wandered the deserted hallways occasionally peering through an open doorway until he came across a room from which soft light spilled. He peeked through the door and saw no one, despite the light. Drawn to the warmth that seemed to fill the room, he pushed open the door and stepped in. Quiet awe descended. It was a chapel of sorts, dedicated to Aslan if the beautiful tapestries were any indication. Walking up the short aisle, his footsteps deadened by the soft carpet, Jaerin knelt at the base of one particular representation of the Lion. “Take care of my brother, Aslan. And my father. And the kings and queens and everyone else too,” he whispered. Full speech seemed wrong in this solemn chamber. How long he knelt there, Jaerin never knew. All he knew was that when he returned to his rooms late in the night, it was in a far more peaceful state of mind. For the first time since their morning training began, Jaerin woke on his own in time to get ready for his lesson with Celer and Rickat. The peace stayed with him as he met his teachers in the courtyard. “Where is your brother, Jaerin?” Captain Celer demanded the moment he walked in. There were dark circles under the faun’s eyes. “He’ll not be coming this morning, Sir,” Jaerin replied. “Your swordmate not coming? And why is that?” “He isn’t here, sir. He rode after the relief party yesterday afternoon.” “What? If you are joking, young sir, it is in very bad taste,” Rickat exclaimed. “He was not among those whom we sent to the kings’ rescue.” “No sir. I said he rode after them. He followed them.” “And you knew he was doing this?” Celer demanded. “Yes sir.” “And did you tell anyone?” “No sir.” “Why not?” “He ordered me not to, sir.” “Ordered you not to? And why is that?” “He knew he had to go, sir.” Jaerin offered no other explanation. Somewhat surprised at the boy’s coolness, Celer rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “And does your mother know of this, boy?” he asked at last. Jaerin’s gaze wavered. “No sir. I…I could not bring myself to tell her the whole truth. Though,” he thought back on her piercing gaze at supper, “it is possible that she has guessed.” “I see. Then you must tell her yourself as soon as you may. But for now, you must do double the work in your brother’s absence. When he returns, he also will find out what happens when one abandons one’s post.” « 267 »

“He did not abandon his post, sir,” Jaerin snapped. “He went to his post. Jaer knows things sometimes. Things that no one should know. And he knew that he had to go. He did not abandon his post. He gave me his post here and went to his post there. Do not think to punish him for doing what is right.” Celer’s eyebrow’s arched upward. “We will judge for ourselves whether how your brother has acted in this instance when all the facts are known. Sword up!” ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-One: Jaer Joins Jaer followed the rescue party as best he could without knowing their exact direction. Despite their haste, the soldiers moved stealthily and left few tracks in the hard ground. Nevertheless, they were not trying to conceal their path and so there were enough signs for Jaer to follow through the afternoon. His task grew proportionately harder as the sky darkened but even then, he found odd marks in the ground or sketched with chalky rock on the trees. Some even looked like arrows. Whenever he found one of those marks, Jaer knew that Sir Giles was surely aware of his following, even if no one else was. Even with the assistance of Sir Giles markings, Jaer knew he could not continue to follow once full dark came. So he urged his horse on faster, determined to keep up with the warriors. As soon as he could no longer see, Jaer dismounted and tied his horse to the nearest tree. Fumbling around in his pack, he pulled out a pastry and devoured it as he loosened the saddle and prepared to pull it off. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Biting back a cry of surprise, Jaer whirled around and whipped out his sword. “Who is there?” “Come now, did I not say that I would guide you in the dark hours? But I see you have forgotten.” Jaer peered into the darkness. “Sir Giles?” “Myself. Now come. Fix that saddle and follow me. They do not stop for darkness yet.” “But I can’t see.” Jaer pointed out as he sheathed his sword. “You can’t? But of course. I forgot for a moment what puny eyes you humans have. Never mind that, your mount can see well enough for you.” “As you say, sir.” Tightening the girth again, Jaer pulled out another pastry and swung up onto his horse. “Follow the fox, Justice. And take care that you don’t run me into a tree.” A soft chuckle came from the general direction of the fox and they started off. For several more hours they traveled through the darkness. Occasionally, Jaer caught a glimpse of a small moving shadow sliding across a clearing, but otherwise, he saw no sign of his stealthy guide. It was not until he was about to fall asleep in the saddle he heard a soft gasp and then the fox appeared in front of him, perched smugly in front of the saddle. “Sir Giles!” « 268 »

“Hush, boy. I thought you had better sense than to announce your presence. Now, unless I have lost all my skill, the others are camped perhaps half a mile ahead of us. You can safely sleep the night away so long as you can wake before dawn. I’ll check in on you some time tomorrow. Good night!” As quickly as he had come, the fox was gone, leaving a startled and sleepy Jaer behind. Shrugging off his confusion, the boy dismounted and freed his horse from his accouterments. Blindly, he looped the reins around Justice’s neck and then around a low branch before wrapping himself in the blanket and laying down. He was asleep almost before his head touched the ground. Morning came all to early as Jaer fumbled with the buckles and climbed onto his horse. He kept his eyes open for signs of the rescue party’s camp and soon spotted the remains of fires and places where the grass had clearly been crushed by heavy bodies. Heartened by the sight, he rode on, stopping only once to water his horse and fill his water skin at a stream. Late in the evening, Sir Giles slipped up beside him, casually inquiring about the weather. “Well enough. At least we aren’t getting drenched,” Jaer replied, striving to keep the same casual tone. “Is there any more news from the kings?” “Actually, there is. At noon a hawk brought word that King Edmund has found a tunnel beneath the ruins of the witch’s castle and suspects that the giants absconded with our king that way.” “So do we alter course?” “Nay. We will keep our way still. That will be faster. Far faster.” The last words were uttered in a quiet tone most unlike the fox’s usual cool speech. Jaer’s brow creased and he looked down at his guide. “Is aught else wrong, Sir Giles?” “Hmm? No, nothing, nothing else. No.” “I don’t believe you.” Jaer sat back in the saddle and crossed his arms, letting Justice choose his own path. “You sound too much like Father when he’s trying to keep us from knowing what’s bothering him.” Sir Giles laughed. “An astute observation. No. You are right,” he sighed. “My son, Peter, followed King Edmund. We’re following him too.” “Peterkins?” “Is there any other? Ohh!” The fox pranced forward a few steps. “When I get my paws on that kit…! What was that boy thinking! If anything happens too him, what will I tell his mother? What will I tell myself?” “Oh. That’s bad. But King Edmund will likely see to it that he comes to no harm.” “I know. But my head and heart are not in agreement. I tell you Jaer Peridanson, had I known what it feels like to know your son has gone into danger and you can do nothing about it, I would not have let you come with us so lightly.” Jaer could think of nothing to say to that and so wisely kept silence. After a while, Sir Giles spoke again. « 269 »

“I will take you to the camp tonight. It is growing more dangerous as we get further from the eastern ocean. The witch’s minions may still lurk in these lands. “It is likely that you will be in great trouble when you see your father—and I doubt not with General Orieus too. You will be regarded as a nuisance and ignored when not being punished. Do not expect a warm welcome.” “I do not. Thank you, Sir Giles, for bringing me this far.” “See if you are still thankful when you have spoken to your father. Now hurry.” Spurring his steed to greater speeds, Jaer followed the fox again. For a moment, his thoughts flickered back to his mother and brother and sister, left at home with no real knowledge of how he was. Mother would worry. Jaerin would understand and not be afraid. Rien would probably forget about it for most of the day. All of them would miss him. As he missed them. Especially Jaerin. His merry chatter would be most welcome when once he reached the camp. When they did reach the others the sentries did not even challenge him, so surprised were they at the sight of a human boy riding up. Sir Giles sauntered up to the nearest leopard. “Tell Master Peridan that I have something for him,” he said. “Do not tell him what.” A few minutes later, Peridan came hurrying though the camp. As soon as he spotted Jaer, he froze and then sprinted forward. “Jaer! What are you doing here? Is something wrong with Saera?” Jaer shook his head. “No sir. At least, there wasn’t when I left.” “Then what are you doing here?” “I’ve come to help, Father. I had too.” “You came to…No, Jaer! You are too young. What were you thinking? How could you?” “For the same reasons you did, Father. I have to help. Jaerin’s taking care of Mother and Rien. I came to take care of you. And, there’s something that I must do. And its here, not back at home, at the Cair. You must understand, Father.” “I understand that you have followed me without pausing to consider the consequences. This is no pleasure ride, Jaer! This is a war party. And you are a child!” By this time, a large circle had gathered around the father and son. General Orieus stood on the outskirts, flanked by the two queens. Jaer swallowed hard as he prepared to give the speech he had thought of during the long ride. “Our kings are only children too, Father, and yet they ride to battle like men. Our queens are only children, yet they carry themselves as women grown. I am a child, Father, but I am your son and a friend of the kings. It is not, and never will be, my lot to sit at home while they, and you, ride to war. I am a king’s man, Father. I will not be dissuaded from this task. Besides,” he added more prosaically. “It’s to late to send me back now.” “He may stay, Peridan,” General Orieus said. “We have no time for discipline now. But when we return…” The glint in his eyes spoke volumes. “Very well then. But we will speak more on this matter later. Have you supplies?” « 270 »

“Some food and a blanket but not much else, Sir.” “Hmm. You will stay in my tent. And do not get out of my sight!” Under the half-sympathetic, half-accusing stares of the others in the camp (most of the sympathy did come from Queen Lucy but still), Jaer followed his father to his tent. It was a small affair, plain and unadorned save for the fading scrollwork around the base. The queens’ tent was nearby. Picketing his horse with the others, Jaer entered the tent. It was a long night and even longer day. Only Sir Giles and Peridan said more than a few words to him. Already sore from two hard days in the saddle, the third day was even harder. They were traveling dull country too, rocky and wooded. The general seemed to think they were nearing their destination and so urged them on faster. Only at dusk when Peridan pointed out that the queens were tiring, did the centaur consent to an early camp. After seeing the tents pitched, Orieus disappeared, leaving the two queens to pour over a map alone in the fading light. This surprised Jaer. He had begun to wonder if the overprotective general ever let them out of his sight. Apparently so, if very infrequently. Sighing, Jaer dropped to the ground, wishing fervently that Jaerin were with him. His brother’s ready smile would bring cheer even to this gloomy camp. “You can’t say I didn’t warn you.” Jaer yelped and scrambled back up to his feet at the voice that sounded nearly in his ear. “Would you stop doing that!” he cried glaring at the fox sitting smugly by his side. “I can’t stand it.” “So long as I keep getting such wonderful reactions from you, I cannot say that I will stop. Besides, you should be more aware of your surroundings if you wish to become a true warrior.” Sir Giles smiled up at the irritated boy. “For your information, I was preparing to make a thorough mental list of everyone that I could see in the camp,” Jaer said. “You interrupted me before I could begin.” “Ah yes,” the fox nodded knowingly. “And you just happened not to notice me until I spoke.” “You do seem to make a habit of sneaking up on me,” Jaer pointed out. “This makes the fourth time.” “And it shall not be the last in all likelihood. Now tell me. What do you see? I wish to observe your powers of observations.” Jaer glared at the fox and then turned to his examination of the camp. “I see Queen Lucy by her tent, Queen Susan must have stepped inside because she was just there a moment ago. Two fauns and a leopard are on the outskirts of the camp. My father is behind our tent to the left. I’m not sure where General Orieus is. A tiger is over by Father’s tent. And two dryads are…” Jaer trailed off. Dryads? But no dryads had come with them, had they? Or had he just missed them? The tree-people walked toward Queen Lucy as if they carried a message for her. “Two dryads are…?” Sir Giles prompted. “Not supposed to be here!” « 271 »

¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Two: Telling the Whole Truth Celer was not joking when he said that Jaerin would have to do double duty in place of his missing brother. After a short, fierce warm-up, he sent one of the other soldiers for an outgrown hauberk of King Edmund’s and made Jaerin wear it for the rest of the grueling lesson. (At any other time he would have been thrilled to wear King Edmund’s old armor, but, honestly, where was the honor in wearing it when you couldn’t move?). Finally, when Jaerin’s body collapsed under him, Celer gave him leave to go—on the condition that he cleaned up and immediately went to his mother with the whole truth. When Jaerin weakly nodded his head, the faun dragged the heavy mail off of the boy and helped him to the water troughs. There, he unceremoniously dunked Jaerin into the water up to his waist, jerked the gasping boy upright, and thrust a towel into his hands. “To your mother with you,” he said and shoved the boy toward the castle on stumbling feet. So tired was he from the work out that Jaerin had to stop and lean against the walls several times before he even made it to his rooms. Peeling off his soaked tunic, he plunged his hands into a basin of water and splashed his face. After a moment more he grabbed a towel, dried himself off, and donned a clean tunic. Then he ran his fingers through his hair and made his unsteady way to the breakfast room, steeling himself for the confrontation to come. “Jaerin! There you are. You took an awful long time this morning.” Rien’s cheerful voice greeted him as soon as he stepped through the door. If you didn’t always manage to show up for food then I would have thought you weren’t coming.” The girl paused and her brow furrowed. “Where’s Jaer? What’s taking him so long?” “He’s not here.” “I can see that. Wha…” “What do you mean ‘he’s not here,’ Jaerin? Did he not return last night?” “No, Mother. He…he rode after Father.” “He did what?” “Jaer rode after the rescue party yesterday, Mother. He’s gone.” Saera went very pale. “Oh my. Sit…sit down Jaerin and tell me everything.” Obediently, Jaerin sat down across from his mother and sister and started in on the story. “It started yesterday, after I told him that King Peter had been kidnapped. He got that look on his face, the one that says he knows something but doesn’t know what he knows. I didn’t realize it then though—I was too caught up in the excitement. And then, after they council, I came up to our rooms and found him packing. He told me then he was leaving, following Father and the others without telling anyone. I tried to get him not too but he said had to go. That no one could stop him going. And he told me that I couldn’t tell anyone

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that he was leaving until he was long gone. That was why I didn’t tell you last night. You would have sent someone after him and brought him back.” “And would have been right to do so!” Saera had recovered from her shock and sat up straight in her chair. “Lion alive, Jaerin, you are only children! Jaer is but thirteen and you eleven! What makes you think that you are able to make decisions such as these without consulting your parents? To foolishly follow a war party! Alone, without anyone knowing that he was there? What if they thought he was of the enemy and did not discover their mistake until it was too late? What then of his mission, Jaerin?” “They could hardly do that, Mother. We are the only humans in Narnia right now, other than the kings and queens and Dame Utha. The dryads look like us but they don’t ride horses. Besides, Mother, as to our ages, King Edmund is only just turned thirteen and Queen Lucy is ten. Or something like that. They aren’t any older than us! And they’re riding with a war party. And Queen Susan and Queen Lucy are girls.” “And what’s that got to do with anything!” Rien piped up indignantly. “I’m sure I could fight just as well as you. Wasn’t it Lady Jael who tricked the Calormene captain into thinking she was a friend and killed him when he fell asleep in her tent? What makes you think girls aren’t as good?” “That’s not what I meant!” Jaerin exclaimed. “I…Mother tell her that’s not what I meant.” “I think perhaps you should think on what you do mean, Jaerin. But first, do you know anything else of your brother? Did you see him leave?” “Yes. He rode out about half an hour after the rescue party. He had a satchel with him so he has food.” “But no companion or guide. Oh Jaerin! You should not have let your brother go alone. You should have told us.” “I’m sorry, Mother.” Jaerin slipped from his chair and knelt beside Saera. “But please try to understand. You know how Jaer sometimes seems to know things and he acts on that knowledge. He knew something was—is—going to happen and he had to go. I couldn’t stop him. You would have. Father would have. And then what would happen?” Saera shook her head and ran her hand through Jaerin’s hair. “Oh Jaerin, Jaerin. When have we stopped either of you from doing what Aslan would have of you? When has Jaer told us of something that he felt he must do and we not allowed him? Think, my son, and answer.” “I…oh.” The boy’s gaze slipped from the earnest one of his mother and down to the elegantly carved chair leg. “You never have. You would have let Jaer go, wouldn’t you?” “Possibly. If it were not something that your father or one of the other soldiers could accomplish as well or better than he.” “But he said he didn’t know why he had to go.” Jaerin clung to that fact as the last remaining justification for his and his brother’s tactic deceit. “Then we would have let him go. But he would have been with the men, well guarded and well supplied, not straggling after them in great danger himself. Yes, Queen Susan is scarcely older than he and Queen Lucy younger than you but they are with the rescue « 273 »

party, not trailing after it. As for the kings, they are warriors already despite their youth.” A sad look came into Saera’s face. “I would that it were not so, but they have fought and slain as many in their short reign as your father has in ten years of his service. You are only children—they are not.” “I think I understand, Mother. I’m sorry. You aren’t angry with me anymore, are you?” “No, Son. But remember this day for the future. If your brother should ask such a promise of you again, do not give it. Aslan gave you parents for a reason—do not scorn our counsel. Now,” Saera straightened up and waved at one of the maidservants who hovered nearby, “I do believe that our breakfast is gone cold. Camilla, please see if you can’t get us some warm muffins. We will eat the fruit until you return.” Jaerin shoved away from the chair and started to stand. His muscles shivered and collapsed under him, refusing to bear his weight. “Ow.” “Are you all right, Jaerin?” Rien was kneeling by his side in an instant, her anger forgotten. “Did you hurt something?” “Everything,” Jaerin groaned. “I feel like a rag that someone just wrung out.” “Why ever so, child?” Saera asked. “What have you done now?” Jaerin groaned again. Why must they always think he did something rash? Probably because that was usually true, the answer came in Jaer’s voice. “You didn’t try that double somersault and handspring combination off the bed again did you?” Rien demanded. “You know that won’t work.” “No! It wasn’t my fault. Exactly. Captain Celer decided that since I didn’t tell anyone where Jaer had gone—you in particular, Mother—I should have to do double duty on the practice field, for myself and Jaer. And Jaer’ll have to do the same when he gets back. I had to wear some of King Edmund’s old armor, and Mother, that stuff is heavy! I’ve no idea how Father manages to move so fast in it! Or anyone for that matter.” “By beginning training when they are yet young, like yourself.” Saera laughed softly. “Your captain seems to have found appropriate punishment for you. I think you will not soon forget the lessons so taught.” Jaerin shook his head and managed to pry himself off the ground and into the chair Rien pushed near for him. “No, Mother. I don’t think he’ll let me!” ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Three: Battle “Two dryads are?” “Not supposed to be here!” Ignoring the surprised fox, Jaer charged forward. A glint of silver appeared in the nearer dryad’s hand and the boy flung himself forward hurtling into her and driving her to the ground. A snarl contorted the dryad’s face and Jaer’s left arm exploded in pain. His hold « 274 »

loosened and the tree-woman flung him off her and stood up. Jaer’s head smashed into the hard ground and stars filled his vision for a moment. Lashing out blindly, he caught his enemy’s legs and managed to knock her to the ground again. His vision cleared and he gasped in horror at the sight of the second dryad holding Queen Lucy tightly. Jaer’s fear barely had a chance to solidify when the first dryad scrambled back to her feet again, knife in hand. Aiming a kick at the prostrate boy, she turned on the young queen. Trying to gather his scattered wits to him, Jaer prepared to spring forward again but before he could make a move, something long and silver arced through the air, impaling the dryad instantly. A moment later, Peridan appeared, his face more terrible than a thunderstorm. Fear coursed across the face of the second tree-woman and she dropped the queen and turned to flee. But it was too late for her. She fell before she had gone two steps, felled by a dagger flung from Peridan’s hand. Queen Lucy stumbled forward into Peridan’s arms. The man caught her and held her as gently as he did his own daughter. Queen Susan rushed from the tent and wrapped her arms around her sister. Jaer stared from his position on the ground, not quite certain if he had just imagined everything. Suddenly, he heard a great yowling cry, the scream of a Great Cat in pain. From the trees burst such an assortment of evil looking creatures that Jaer nearly cried out in terror. There was a pair of evil, twisted looking women, hags, Jaer realized, a man that seemed to be turning into a wolf, and some strange twisted creatures barely a foot high. A huge bear lumbered after them, its teeth bared in a ferocious snarling growl. In the edges of his vision, Jaer could see other creatures, charging forward. Jaer reached for his sword, not certain when he had gotten to his feet. A strong hand on Jaer’s shoulder caused him to whirl about. His father’s face was still terrible but his voice was comforting. “Guard the queens,” Peridan said pulling his son behind him and in front of the queens. “Fear not.” Jerking his massive sword from the fallen dryad, Peridan charged forward against the foes. He met the hags easily, beheading one and then the other in the same smooth motion. Seconds later, Oreius joined him, hacking down the bear in a few strokes. The Great Cats came snarling out of the camp leaping onto the enemy, catching the tiny creatures up in massive paws and smashing them without a thought. Jaer watched in horrified fascination, half hoping that something would get through and he could fight. The other half of him told him that he had small chance against any of these creatures, except maybe the tiny ones, despite his month of steady training. He glanced behind him to see Queen Lucy waiting with her tiny dagger in her hand; Queen Susan had her bow ready. A slight smile creased the boy’s face at the sight of the two girls ready to fight. If anyone thought these queens could be taken easily, they were sadly mistaken. A harsh screech sounded above him and Jaer looked up. Two hideous creatures— harpies?—swept down towards him and the queens. He tightened his grip on his sword wishing he had his bow or a throwing dagger. As if in response to his thought, a red feathered arrow sprang from Queen Susan’s bow and imbedded itself in one of the harpy’s heads. It crashed down to the ground a few yards in front of them. Queen Lucy’s dagger « 275 »

flashed in the light, speeding toward the other harpy. But it swerved, catching the knife in its wing instead of its body. Screaming in pain, the creature tumbled toward the trio, claws outstretched, ready to tear into its prey. Jaer shoved Queen Susan aside and flung his sword up. The harpy impaled itself on his blade. The impact of the creature’s fall knocked Jaer to the ground. Heart pounding, Jaer shoved the harpy off of him and scrambled breathlessly to his feet, scanning the skies for another attack. Thankfully, the two eagles were all there was to be seen. On the ground too, the battle was almost over. Peridan took the head off the werewolf with a smooth backstroke and Orieus and his troops made short work of their remaining opponents. “I think I’m going to be sick.” Queen Lucy’s voice sounded extremely small and uncertain, not at all like the usual bubbly tone. Jaer looked back at her worriedly. “It will be all right, Lucy,” Queen Susan said, resting her hand on her sister’s shoulder. She looked rather pale herself. “Close your eyes and the feeling will pass.” “It’s not the sight. It’s the smell. Oh dear.” With a choking gasp, Queen Lucy bolted to the edge of the tent and promptly lost her dinner. Jaer looked away. “Is it over?” Queen Susan asked quietly. Jaer looked about him at the now-still camp. “Yes. I think so. Here comes the general. And Father.” The centaur and man strode up to them as Queen Lucy rejoined them, still pale but looking better. A half smile played along the edges of General Orieus mouth. “Jaer Peridanson.” The centaur’s voice was stern. “You have forgotten to clean your sword.” Gulping, Jaer looked down at the once-shining blade of his sword. It was a mess. His first thought was to wipe it on something but what? He couldn’t use his tunic and he had no rag.” “Plunge it into the ground, Jaer,” Peridan said. “That will take the worst of it off.” The boy stepped a few feet to the side, away from the corpses of harpies and dryads, and thrust his sword deep into the hard ground. A second sword joined his a moment later as Peridan plunged Fahdane beside his son’s blade. “You did well, Son. I am proud of you.” Jaer raised his eyes to meet his father’s, basking in the warmth of praise and love that he saw there. “This was why I had to come, Father. You are not angry with me anymore?” Peridan shook his head. “Jaer, you are fast leaving childhood behind you. I still would that you were at home and did not have to see all this. But Aslan meant it for the best, I suppose. Next time, though, that you feel something is going to happen, tell me. It may be that it could be prevented without your coming. Or, if naught else avails, we will not have you trailing after us like a vagabond. Promise me that you will never do such a thing again.” “I promise.”

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“Good.” Peridan wrapped his tall son in a strong embrace, lifting the boy from the ground. “Oh, Jaer. You are too much like me sometimes! How can I punish you when you are a lad after my own heart?” Grinning, Jaer returned the hug with equal fervor, relieved at last to be welcomed back into the companionship he usually shared with his father. That was the hardest part about the last days, he knew. Nothing could tempt him to put himself in a position to lose his father’s fellowship again. “Master Peridan.” General Orieus called. Peridan set his son down and looked to the centaur. “Yes?” “Come.” His brow furrowed, Peridan pulled his sword from the ground, slid it back into the sheath on his back, and then followed the general and queens around their tent. Jaer trailed after him, replacing his own sword as he did. Jaer’s wonderment increased as he rounded the tent and saw the whole of the war party grouped in a large semi-circle facing the back of the queen’s tent. Sir Giles sat primly in the front row. He nodded gravely to Jaer and the boy smiled back. It was not often that one was able to outdo the spymaster. The entire party of Great Cats, Centaurs, Eagles, Fauns, Rhinos, and Elk Stags sat in expectant silence as the two queens took their position in front of them. “Thank you, cousins, for your skill and swiftness in our defense,” Queen Susan said. “We are humbled each time any of you risk your life for us. Though the witch is dead,” A shiver traced its way down Jaer’s spine at the mention of the dictator, “her influence still extends into these lands. As evidenced by the abduction of Our brother and king.” Queen Susan’s face grew dark at the mention of King Peter’s captivity. Jaer wondered how gentle she would be if anyone tried to hurt her siblings when she was near. Even if she could not defeat Narnia’s enemies with a sword, Queen Susan would be a formidable enemy in her own way. “Narnia will not rest until the witch’s minions are swept free of her. “Though each of you acted bravely today, there are two whom we wish to honor now. Though scarcely a month ago these two had no allegiance to us or to you, they have both risked their lives in our defense. Jaer Peridanson and Peridan Erainson come forward.” Jaer’s eyes widened as he felt himself prodded lightly forward. A glance at his father showed the same shock that he was feeling. “Jaer, you were not supposed to have even come on this journey but your timely warning may well have saved the life of my sister and I. We thank you.” Jaer gaped. A soft smile spread across the elder queen’s face. “Next time, though I recommend coming with us, rather than following after. Yes?” “I…uh…Yes, your majesty. I…yes.” Jaer bowed and stepped back, embarrassed and awed. “Peridan.” Now Queen Lucy spoke, drawing herself up to her full height, imperious despite her small stature. “Kneel before me.” From the gasps and smiles that flew around the war party, Jaer guessed that they knew what was coming next. There was a subtle snick of metal as swords were unsheathed. He had not long to wonder. Queen Lucy drew her small dagger and held it up then she lightly tapped Peridan’s shoulders. She smiled and « 277 »

leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead then stepped back. “Rise, Sir Peridan Cwengarde, Knight of the Most Noble order of the Vial!” ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Four: Stubbornness and Somersaults When Jaerin started to stand from the breakfast table, he found abruptly that he could not. Already his sore muscles had stiffened. At his mother’s advice, he rubbed his aching legs until they consented to bear him to his room. There he let out another groan that had nothing to do with his ability to move. Sitting on the desk were the assignments given out by his various tutors on the previous day and a small stack of parchment. Every page was blank. In his frustration and loneliness, he had forgotten to do his schoolwork. Slowly, he gathered up his incomplete work. It took a while to find the history book—the pages were crumpled from how it had landed after it hit the wall. All things combined, Jaerin was late when he finally stumbled into the library, an awkward pile of books and papers in his arms. “You two are late,” Gleamwing hooted, ruffling his feathers. “What kept you this time, Peridanson?” “Umm…” Jaerin’s pile wavered and he shifted, hastily dumping them on the table before the stack crashed to the floor. “Captain Celer’s practice was hard, I had a long talk with Mother, and I couldn’t find all my books. Sir.” “And your brother’s excuse for not being here? Is he sick?” “No, sir. At least, I don’t think so. But he’s gone. He went with the party that set out to help rescue King Peter.” “He did what!” Jaerin sighed, wondering how many more times he would have to explain what his brother had done. Jaer was going to owe him big time when he got back. Quickly, he explained the situation to his tutor who eyed him closely. “Hmm. I will deal with him later. Your assignments, please?” “Umm…well, I don’t exactly have them. I didn’t do them.” One feathered eyebrow arched upward. “Hoom. Then you will have double the work to do this afternoon. Your brother’s absence is no cause to neglect your own work. But he— Too hoo!—he will have much more to make up.” There was a gleam in the Owl’s eyes that Jaerin thought did not bode well for his brother. “Open your mathematics to page three hundred fifty-four.” Like everything else, it was strange having lessons without Jaer around. Jaer always listened and puzzled things out on his own, leaving the questioning to Jaerin. Still, sometimes the older boy knew what Jaerin was going to ask before the question left his lips and made a statement clarifying the topic. So there were actually more questions asked that day than normal. It was not a pleasant day. With his lessons undone, his music unpracticed, and his mind elsewhere, nothing seemed to go right. He offended every imaginary foreigner and Narnian « 278 »

in the scenarios Snowtip set for him, got splinters in his fingers and stabbed himself with a thorn when Caryn was trying to get him to classify plants, stumbled through his flute lesson with ill grace, and generally botched every problem of any sort that Gleamwing set for him. Finally, Jamous, the faun who tried to continue his flute lessons (lessons he was loath to take anyway) gave up. “Get you gone, Peridanson!” he exclaimed after a series of particularly sour notes. “Without your brother you are no more use here than an elephant in a glassmaker’s forge. Take your flute and your lessons to your room and be off! Perhaps tomorrow you will be in a more amiable frame of mind.” Frustrated, at himself and the whole day, Jaerin stalked off to his room. Slamming the books down on the desk felt good, though it changed nothing. Noting by the level of the sun that it was time for his usual lessons with his father, he started to gather his weapons again before realizing once more that neither Jaer nor Peridan were there. Still, he thought, anything would be better than sitting around in an empty room. So instead of his sword, he picked up his bow, slung his quiver over his back, and dug a bracer out of his chest. Some minutes and a brisk jog later, he reached the archery butts in the lower levels of the castle yards. They were deserted. Jaerin did not care. Strapping on the bracer, he settled into position and began loosing all his arrows in quick succession. Most hit near the center, though only one nailed the bull’s eye for which he aimed. Gathering his arrows, he jogged back and emptied his quiver again. And again. And again. Only when his arms ached and fingers stung so that he could barely pull the string back did he finally stop. His frustration worked off, it was in a better state of mind that Jaerin attacked his school work that evening. Without Jaer to question, it was harder to be certain that he was doing some of the problems correctly, but no matter. He would show them that he could operate without Jaer’s presence—and show Jaer that he would have to work hard if he wanted to stay ahead of him. His determination to do well despite his brother’s absence did not wane with the new day. If anything, Captain Celer’s new, more rigorous training regimen (he had to wear the armor again—but only half the time) increased his resolve. And so the days slipped by, melding into a new pattern as Jaerin studied and worked harder than every before in his life. He never saw the approving look on his Mother’s face whenever she found him hard at work instead of making mischief. But he did see the glowing pride when Gleamwing approached her with the proposition of advancing his studies—he had progressed beyond the original level far faster than anticipated. All in all, the extra work was well worth it. A little more than a week after the rescue party’s departure, Jaerin found himself wandering the grounds of Cair Paravel. It was a seventh day so he had no lessons or training to occupy his busy mind. Rien was with their mother, delightedly stitching away at a new gown (how anyone could be so excited about clothes was beyond him) and those few of the Animals whom he had met were nowhere to be found. Resigned to a long and dull afternoon, he roamed the many pathways in the many courtyards and gardens that surrounded the massive palace. After a while, when the heat of his face suggested that he might just need to head inside or wind up looking like a tomato, Jaerin retraced his steps. Pausing in the shade of a large oak, he was surprised to hear his sister’s voice coming from above. “What’re you doing, Jaerin?” « 279 »

Jaerin stared at the rather strange sight of his sister perched on the large branch under which he had taken shelter. A Squirrel and Chipmunk sat on either side of her. Her long skirts were tucked firmly around her legs and, if experience was anything to go by, she had probably raided his clothes for a pair of leggings as well. “What are you doing in the tree? I thought you were sewing with Mother.” Rien shrugged. “I was. But Mother was tired and took a nap and I didn’t know what to do next so I came outside. I was looking for you at first but I found them instead.” She gestured to her Animal companions. “So what are you doing.” “Nothing.” “Really. I thought you’d at least be practicing your archery or gymnastics.” “I can’t. Well, I could practice archery but I’ve already done that. I can’t do much by way of gymnastics because I haven’t found a good place. The ground’s too hard. Mother would have my hide if I broke something.” Rien grinned. “I know the place!” Sliding forward, she grabbed another branch and jumped from her seat. For a moment, she dangled in the air then dropped to the ground with a solid thump. “Thank you for showing me around, Kwiknut and Caraben. I hope we’ll meet again!” “We too, we too!” the Squirrel and Chipmunk chattered. Jaerin was not sure who was who. Rien laughed and waved then turned and seized her brother’s hand. “Come on!” Thus compelled by his little sister, Jaerin allowed himself to be dragged into the Cair, through the halls, out a back door, down the hill, through a gate, and into a broad, smooth, park-like area. A thick layer of moss carpeted the ground under the towering trees. A few birds twittered in the trees but otherwise it was still and quiet. “See?” Rien cried, clapping her hands in delight. “The moss is soft and springy so you won’t hurt yourself. Or at least you won’t break anything. And you won’t mess up any beds either.” “It is perfect. Thanks, Rien!” Clapping his sister on the shoulder, Jaerin ran a few short steps then twisted into a swift handspring. The ground was perfect. The moss was soft and springy and there were no rocks and few twigs on the ground. Within moments, he was cartwheeling and bouncing across the glade. Rien, while refraining from some of the more exuberant acrobatics, was right beside him, improvising when her skirts would not allow her to perform the same stunt. All was well until Jaerin tried a double somersault and came crashing to the ground. “Ouch!” “Oh! Jaerin, are you all right?” Rien ran to his side, worry sketched across her features. “You’re not hurt to badly are you?” “No. Ow. Mostly my pride. I thought I had that one down.” Jaerin scrambled to his feet. “I guess I’ll have to try again.” “Are you sure?”

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“Of course. I’m fine, Rien. But I have to get that right. Jaer was teasing me about not being able to do it earlier.” “Ok. I’ll watch and see if I can see what is wrong. I’ve watch Belgrin teaching you often enough so maybe I can tell what you’re doing wrong.” “That’s the ticket. Here goes.” Jaerin ran a few steps and tried again. And again. And again. And again. His backside and wrists were growing quite sore from the constant thumping. Rien cocked her head to the side. “Can you do a roll on the ground?” “What?” “Roll for me. I want to see something.” Obediently, Jaerin tucked himself into a ball and rolled forward. He sat up. “Well?” “That’s what I thought. You can tuck tighter. I think if you bend lower before you jump, and then tuck your legs in tighter, you’ll finish the second twist. You’re almost there—you just miss the last bit of the turn and come down on your backside instead of your feet.” “Hmph.” Jaerin snorted. “I’ll try it. But if it doesn’t work, I’ll have to stop. I’m not sure how much more I can take.” Gathering himself together, Jaerin made one last spring, bending deeper, jumping harder, and tucking tighter than ever before, holding his position until the last possible moment, and then—whomph!—he landed, solid on his feet. “YES!” Rien laughed delightedly. “I knew it! I knew you could do it! Oh, again, again!” Willingly, Jaerin performed his double somersault again. And again. And again. Finally exhausted, he dropped down on the ground near his little sister. “Thanks, Rien,” he gasped. “Now I can show Jaer.” After a little while, the two siblings gathered themselves together and made their way back indoors. Jaerin never did tell Gleamwing why it hurt to sit down the next day. ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Five: Aftermath “By the Lion, Jaer, you’re bleeding!” Peridan exclaimed when he set his son down from the second bear hug after emerging from the congratulatory crowd of soldiers. “How did that happen?” Only at that moment was Jaer aware of the throbbing in his left arm. Looking down, he saw a dark stain spread across his sleeve. His mind flew back over the swift battle. “I think it was the dryad. The first one who had a knife. She stabbed when I fell.” “Why didn’t you say so sooner?” « 281 »

“I forgot?” Peridan shook his head and sighed. “Come with me. We need to get that cleaned up.” Jaer followed his father to their tent where Peridan washed and bound his arm tightly. It was a deep wound in his bicep, but a clean one that would heal quickly with proper care. It was dark before they were done. Peridan left Jaer in the tent to see if he needed to assist in the sentry duty for the camp—an unlikely scenario considering that the Cats could see far better in the dark than he could. Jaer was glad when he returned. The flickering shadows from the candle looked far too much like harpies or other evil creatures for his liking. Tired as he was, Jaer could not fall asleep. His arm ached and every time he closed his eyes, he saw the harpies swooping down on them or the dryad’s face, contorted with fury. Finally, the boy sat up and reached over to shake his father awake. He barely touched him before the warrior’s eyes snapped open. “Is there trouble?” Peridan asked in a voice scarcely louder than a whisper. “I…I can’t sleep,” Jaer admitted sheepishly. “I keep trying but…” “But the battle haunts your dreams.” Jaer nodded. Peridan sat up, running his hand through his hair so that it stood on end. “I should have known. It was the same after my first battle. The demons of war will try to haunt your heart now—but you must not let them. Tell me, who controls this world?” “Aslan.” “Exactly, and do you not think that He has the power also to control your dreams?” “Of course.” “Then let Him. Think on what He has done, His might and power, and it will help. Think too on something pleasant—surely seeing your father knighted is enough to bring a smile to your face? It was earlier today.” A grin split Jaer’s face though it faded quickly. “It is. But, Father, will it ever stop? Dreaming of battles? They aren’t exactly like what I imagined.” Peridan shook his head slowly. “No. There will be times when the horrors that you see cannot be banished as easily as those dangers you faced today. Sometimes they can utterly undo you. But only if you let them. Never forget that I am here for you. I think that, one day, your brother too will be your greatest ally in resisting the terror that can come from war. I only hope…” Peridan trailed off and stared at the tent walls. “Hope what, Father?” “I hope that whatever has been happening during these last days will not be enough to break the heart or mind of either of our kings. I have heard tales of these Ettins—none of them are good. Do not be surprised if neither of them are the same when we meet again.” Peridan shook himself and turned a rueful smile to Jaer. “I’m sorry. This hasn’t exactly been the most encouraging talk has it?” “No,” Jaer answered slowly. “I think…I think it helps. At least I know now what I’m up against. And who my allies are.” Peridan nodded. “Good. Then shall we sleep? I think we will press on hard tomorrow.” « 282 »

Peridan’s words lingered in Jaer’s mind all through their hard ride that next day. A gryphon scout flew in around noon bringing with it the news that they were near the border. It also brought the glorious news that King Edmund, High King Peter and the soldiers King Edmund had led to the rescue were also nearing the border—and that both kings were alive, battered, and beaten but alive. They camped that night about a mile from the border of Ettinsmoor and Narnia. Jaer rode with Peridan to the top of a tall hill from which they could see into Ettinsmoor. The land was bleak and dull, completely lacking the magic of Narnia. For a whole agonizing day they waited in their camp, Oreius refusing to allow them to venture into Ettinsmoor without need, and then—Praise the Lion!—the gryphon brought word that the kings were almost here. Before the words were completely out of its mouth, Queen Susan was sprinting for her horse, skirts hiked up to her knees. Queen Lucy took off as well, tripped on her hem, was scooped up by Peridan and planted firmly on her horse. Jaer swung onto his own steed as it was running forward, urging Justice into a gallop as the rescue party surged forward. At the top of the hill where they watched in agonizing silence as a cloud of dust appeared on the horizon. “Oh, please, please, please! Can we go now?” Queen Lucy pleaded. “That’s them. I know it!” “Just a little longer, my queen. Have you your cordial ready?” General Oreius looked down at the eager girl. “Of course I have! I’ve had it ready since we heard. Can we please go now?” Jaer could see the general’s own desire to go to his kings warring with his desire to ensure the safety of his queens. A quick glance along the lines showed that Queen Lucy was not the only one waiting for Oreius’ word to charge down the slope and up again to meet their kings and comrades. And then the word was given. “To the kings!” With bays and howls, growls and shouts, the entire party charged down the slope. Queen Susan’s mount surged ahead followed closely by Oreius. Queen Lucy was only half a length behind and Peridan was at her side. The Great Cats and other Animals and Creatures held back their speed, allowing their queens to lead them. Caught in the middle, Jaer leaned low over his horse’s neck as they reached the bottom of the hill and hurtled up the next. Moments later, Jaer spotted the kings. They were sitting on the ground now, half leaning on each other as Queens Susan and Lucy leaped from their horses and ran toward them, wrapping them in a desperate hug. Lined up behind the kings was the remnants of the party King Edmund had led to save his brother. Two centaurs—one of whom Jaer recognized as Kanell from his sword lessons—were foremost in the group. And then Jaer was there too, dropping from his horse and running forward, weaving his way through the excited war parties to his father’s side. Peridan stood just behind Lucy, watching the young queens and kings as they greeted each other with fierce embraces. Or at least, Queens Susan and Lucy and King Edmund did. King Peter accepted their hugs and returned them but there was no emotion in his face. The king was badly bruised and there was a faint gash along the edge of his matted blond hair but otherwise, he appeared uninjured. Both King Peter and King Edmund looked exhausted, Peter more so. Yet it was « 283 »

a different type of exhaustion for them both, Jaer noted. Peter seemed utterly drained, devoid of any ability to act—and barely able to react—while Edmund seemed to have clamped his fatigue into a type of heightened awareness of everything that was going on— particularly who was near his brother. After a little while, Queen Lucy stood, gesturing slightly toward the cordial that hung at her belt. King Edmund shook his head. “Not us. But there are others. Come on, I’ll help.” Lucy smiled brightly and linked her arm with her brother’s as they headed toward the wounded from Edmund’s party. The Animals and Centaurs parted smoothly before them after. Curious, Jaer followed the younger king and queen. Horror swept through Jaer when he saw the sheer number of wounded. Most were Bats— dozens upon dozens of the feisty small Animals huddled together on a Boar or were gently packed into large baskets. Another Animal—a Great Cat by what little Jaer could see—was wrapped in a blanket. It was to the Cat and Bats that King Edmund went first. Jaer watched in astonishment as the Bats perked up and began shrilling their discomfort at the bright light even as the Bobcat (for he could see what he was now) shook of the blankets and thanked Queen Lucy in a raspy voice. Intent on the amazing sight of the desperately wounded suddenly becoming whole again, Jaer nearly jumped out of his skin when a hand suddenly grabbed his shoulder. “What are you doing here?” Jaer turned and found himself face-to-face with a massive Gorilla. He swallowed hard. “Me, sir?” “Yes you. What’s a boy like you doing here?” “Helping sir?” Jaer squeaked. He heartily wished his voice had not chosen that precise moment to break. The Gorilla snorted. “Looks like you’re standing around to me. Make yourself useful. Build a fire and gather some blankets.” Jaer nodded and scurried off to do as ordered. He had just coaxed a fire into being when he heard King Edmund’s voice calling out above the din. “Narnians! Hearken all!” Jaer teased the fire for an instant longer then hurried to where he could see King Edmund standing on a flat rock that added another foot or two to his height. On Jaer’s side of the rock, near King Edmund but nearer Jaer, Queen Susan and General Oreius stood by King Peter, watching the younger king. Jaer noticed his father a half step behind King Peter. “Kneel before me,” King Edmund said gesturing at Kanell. Jaer grinned in delight, recognizing what was about to happen from his father’s knighting ceremony. Apparently, so did the centaur as he stood in frozen shock until a smaller centaur next to him slapped his flank. “Thank you, Captain Xati.” King Edmund said. He drew his sword and Jaer winced at the sour note it made. It was clear why when he saw that Shafelm II, so recently christened, was « 284 »

missing a good portion of its length. The young king leaned forward, tapping the centaur’s shoulders with the broken blade. “Rise, Sir Kanell of the Ettin’s Keep, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Table.” Sheathing his sword, King Edmund stood on tiptoe to kiss the top of Kanell’s head twice. Then he called out in a clear, ringing voice. “Noble soldiers of Narnia,” called Edmund, “faithful and beloved subjects, I give you Sir Kanell of the Ettin’s Keep, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Table!” The soldiers cheered as heartily as they had for Peridan—perhaps more since they knew the dark centaur better. But even in the midst of his cheer, a sudden movement from his father caught Jaer’s eye. His eyes widened and his shout died away. King Peter had gone pale, terribly so, and Oreius, Peridan, and Queen Susan were leading him away from the celebrating crowd. Quickly, Jaer slid through the crowd, snatching up a goblet of wine as he passed it. Silently, he passed the goblet to the queen who took it and held it to the lips of the trembling king. She murmured words of comfort, offering peace with the wine but there was no reaction from her brother. Mere moments after Jaer’s arrival, Edmund appeared at Peter’s elbow, hovering over him like an anxious mother hen. Dark circles shadowed the boy’s eyes and seemed greater when he saw his brother’s wretched state. To Jaer’s observant gaze, it seemed that Edmund almost blamed himself for Peter’s predicament—but something, some hard-earned knowledge or wisdom kept him from the torturous pit of self-blame—Perhaps he had been there before and knew what sorrow visited his brother’s mind? But Jaer did not know. He followed in silence as Oreius, Peridan, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy led Peter to a tent already prepared for him. Orieus and Edmund were on either side of Peter while Peridan walked behind, ready to catch the faltering king. As the Four ducked inside with their Centaur leader, Peridan stopped and let them go. He rested one hand on his son’s shoulder. Sorrow stabbed at Jaer as he saw the boy-king whom he had grown to admire for his fierce determination and cheerful nature as much as his skill with a sword or ability to rule refuse to lift his eyes to the worried faces around him but rather curl up on himself. Raising his eyes to his father’s, he saw the same sorrow mirrored there. There would be no easy recovery for this young king. “Pray Aslan that he will heal, Jaer,” Peridan said softly. “His wounds go deeper than we can know.” ¥¤¥

Chapter Twenty-Six: The Return of the Warriors The first messenger bringing news of King Peter’s rescue came in the middle of the night. The Bat courier crash-landed on the ramparts, eagerly squeaking out its news to the night sentries. The sentries passed it on to everyone else who was awake—and some that were wakened (Captain Celer for one). There was an air of suppressed excitement about the castle as the news spread with the sun. Jaerin, however, missed much of this. Waking late for his lesson he scrambled desperately for his clothes and weapons. They were everywhere. His padded leather tunic was wadded up under the bed (still smelly from the previous day), one boot was in the bath room, « 285 »

another stuffed under Jaer’s bed. His other clothes were jumbled together in his chest in no particular order. His practice sword he found on the desk (what was it doing there?) and his bow and arrows on the window seat. Hastily buckling on his sword, Jaerin rushed to the door. But as he was reaching for the handle, the door suddenly flew open, bashing him in the face and knocking him to the ground. “Jaerin! Jaerin where are…Oh! Jaerin I’m so sorry! I didn’t know you were there.” Rien’s pale face appeared in Jaerin’s blurry vision as the girl knelt down before her brother. “Are you all right?” Jaerin shook his head to clear it and immediately regretted the action. Stars exploded in his vision and his head throbbed. “I’m…I’m…Oh bother.” Jaerin dropped his head into his hands, wondering how a door could hurt so much. Something warm and wet trickled into his fingers. Dimly, he felt his sister’s small hands trying to pry his hands away from his face. “Come on, Jaerin, let me see your face,” Rien pleaded. Reluctantly, Jaerin moved his hands away and faced his sister. A low his escaped her and she fumbled in her pocket. “Is it that bad?” Jaerin asked. “Your nose is bleeding,” Rien said by way of answer and pressed her handkerchief against Jaerin’s face. “And you’ll probably have a black eye. I’m awfully sorry, Jaerin.” “’sokay,” Jaerin mumbled around the handkerchief. “You bidn’t bean to.” “But I should have knocked first!” “I’ll be bine Riem. Bon’t worry about me. Why were you comin’ anyway?” “Do you think we need to get something on your eye?” “Mudder will know,” Jaerin mumbled. “Whadder you doin’ here?” “Oh!” and Rien’s face lit up. “There was the most wonderful news when I woke up this morning and I couldn’t wait to come tell you! The kings have been found! They’re on their way back from Ettinsmoor right now! And they’re safe! And Father and Jaer are not far from them. Isn’t it wonderful news!” “’onderful! That’s the most amazing news yet!” In his excitement, Jaerin pulled the cloth away from his face only to have Rien shove it back. “I know! And we’re going to plan a party for when the get back. Not the same day of course since we don’t know when that’ll be but soon after and all of the soldiers who went will be there and…” “Soldiers! By the Mane! I’m late!” Jaerin scrambled to his feet, half hugged Rien, and charged through the castle scattering small Animals in his wake and with the handkerchief still firmly held to his nose. He arrived at the practice yards breathless and panting, skidding to a halt in front of a stern looking Captain Celer. “Sorry, Shir. I woke up late and a door ran into be and then I heard the kings were bound and...and…Sorry.” Jaerin’s babbling trailed off. “What? Begin at the beginning and try again. And take that handkerchief away from your face.” « 286 »

Jaerin complied quickly. “I slept late then when I got up, Rien opened the door and it hit me in the face and I got a bloody nose.” He touched his sore nose gingerly and felt wet warmth still. “Still have one. And then Rien told me that the kings had been found and I ran down here. And I’m sorry for being late, sir.” “So you heard the news already then? Good. Put that handkerchief back on your face until your nose stops bleeding. We’ll continue with your training shortly.” “Yes shir. When are dey coming back, Captain Sheler?” “They should have reached the northern border by now. It will likely be another week and more before our kings and queens return.” “Oh. Bother. I hoped it would be sooner.” That was the last thing Jaerin had a chance to say before his rigorous training session began. As usual, he was dripping with sweat and felt like he could not lift his arms. He could, of course; Celer was never so hard on him as he had been that first morning. At breakfast, Saera exclaimed in horror over his bruised and swollen eye and made him a cold compress to hold over it. The days passed swiftly now in a frenzied rush of excitement. The kings and queens were coming home. Birds and Beasts, Naiads and Dryads, Dwarfs and Centaurs, Fauns and Humans (all eight of them), scurried about. They decorated the Great Hall with blossoming branches, baked cakes and pies and breads and all manner of delicious foods for the feast upon their return. Only some of the captains were somewhat uncertain about the usefulness of such preparations. Each day more messengers arrived bringing word of the advance of the rescue parties. Jaerin could hardly contain his excitement on the day when they heard that the warriors should reach the Cair that night. He would have ridden out to meet them but Saera refused to let him go. “Not a chance of it, Jaerin. Your father and brother will not be here any sooner for your joining them. In fact you may well slow them with the commotion you cause! Stay a little and wait. I too am eager to see them again.” And Saera got an odd, starry look in her eyes that Jaerin did not quite understand. With his plan foiled, the boy spent that long afternoon when his lessons were done making a helpful nuisance of himself. He begged everyone he saw to give him something to do— sometimes he received a task, others he was shooed away (this was mostly by the women working on the decorations). He actually tried practicing his flute but when he kept hitting the high notes wrong the Dogs begged him to stop. (This did lead to the excellent discovery that the shrill pitches of the instrument carried over extensive distances—it could make a good signal if nothing else). Finally, he contented himself with doing backflips, cartwheels, and somersaults in the mossy garden to release his enthusiasm. It was after supper when the watchmen on the walls spotted the dark shapes in the sky that could only be Gryphons and Eagles. A single, clear horn called out the news and soon bells began to peal in the watchtowers. Jaerin, bouncing around in the common room while waiting, heard the sounds and darted out on the balcony. The rush of Animals and Magical Creatures from every corner of the castle and courtyards was enough to confirm his hopes. « 287 »

“Yes!” He whooped, punching the air with his fist. “Mother! They’re back! They’ve spotted them!” Saera laughed. “Then let us go meet them. Mary, my cloak please?” The woman in question handed her mistress a heavy cloak—they were taking no chances of a relapse. Jaerin danced from the room, running forward a few steps and then back again to his mother’s side. Rien clung to Saera’s hand tightly, her eyes shining brightly. Together, the three made their way to the steps of the castle where they stood, waiting anxiously for the arrival of the rest of their family. The massive gates of Cair Paravel stood wide open ready to welcome their monarchs home. The road was lined with torches held high by eager subjects. Mail shone and sparkled, jewels gleamed and glittered and the entire court watched with baited breath for the first signs of their beloved rulers. And then they could see them. First they were little more than a dark smudge outside the gates. Then they grew until individual shapes could be seen, tall Centaurs, Elk Deer, a Gorilla, Fauns, Great Cats—and four horses carrying the kings and queens and Peridan and Jaer. A glorious, joyous shout mixed with bayings and howlings and twittering and screeches, rose up from all throats as the four kings and queens of Narnia returned to their home. Edmund and Peter were in the center, both mounted on a horse that Jaerin quickly recognized as his father’s. Flanking them were the two queens; Queen Susan on the king’s right and Queen Lucy on their left. Behind the kings and queens was General Oreius with Kanell striding on one side of him and Peridan on the other. For the barest second, Jaerin panicked and then he saw his brother’s face peering over his father’s shoulder. “Jaer!” he screamed. “Jaer! Father! Jaer!” Beside him, Jaerin could hear his mother crying out “Peridan!” in a voice far stronger and more powerful than any he had heard her use. Rien too was screaming for her father and brother over and over again. But he barely noticed. For the party had reached the steps and were dismounting and he was running toward his brother and his father and Saera and Rien were running beside him and—oh joy!—Peridan was sweeping Saera up in a strong embrace and kissing her over and over again and he was tackling Jaer and being tackled in return. “Jaer! Oh Jaer! I’ve missed you so!” “Me too, ow, Jaerin…Ow! Jaerin, you’ve got to let go.” Sheepishly, Jaerin released his tight hold on his brother and stepped back. Jaer was grimacing and he cradled his left arm carefully. Instantly, Jaerin’s grin vanished. “What happened, Jaer? Are you hurt?” “Yes. But it’s not bad, really! I got stabbed by a dryad when we were on our way. Its healing but you grabbed right where it hurts.” “You got stabbed,” Jaerin gaped, eyes wide. “How? What happened?” “I’ll…”

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Jaerin missed the rest as he found himself swept up in a crushing hug by his father. He returned it heartily. “Ah! Jaerin! Hast been staying out of trouble I hope?” Peridan said when he set his younger son back on the ground. Jaerin grinned. “Me, Father? What do you expect?” Peridan laughed and planted a kiss on Jaerin’s hair, another on Rien’s cheek, and a final one on Saera’s lips. Jaerin grimaced at that. Taking a moment to look around, he realized that the kings and queens were no longer there; already they had managed to slip away inside. Disappointed, but not enough to dim his joy at seeing his brother and father again, Jaerin grabbed Jaer with one hand and Rien with the other and they followed their parents up the steps and into the castle of Cair Paravel. The kings and queens were back, his family was together again, and all was right with the world.

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A Blessing of Rain by elecktrum

Chapter One: A Request “King Edmund, if I may.” Peter and I turned in surprise at Kanell’s address, for we were on the training grounds and we had not been dismissed yet. Until the moment that General Oreius released us for the day we were not kings, but knights, as Kanell knew full well. Peter’s puzzled expression must have been a mirror of my own as we turned. My surprise only increased when I saw Captain Xati standing beside Kanell, for she was not one of our instructors and rarely came here so early. They made for an interesting pair. Centaurs both, Xati was as small and bright and fiery as Kanell was massive and dark and patient. Their betrothal was the cause of much delight in Cair Paravel and it was clear even to me that they were made for each other. “Good morn, Captain Kanell, Captain Xati,” I said, unsure of what else to do. I pulled off my helmet. Even at this hour of the morning it was unbearably hot. “How may I be of service?” Xati smiled, something she had been doing more often of late, and drawing a step or two closer to Kanell she asked, “My king, would you do us the honor of marrying us?” That was, perhaps, the last thing I expected to be asked and I stared at them in gaping, dumbfounded silence. Marry them? Here? Now? How? Beside me, Peter blinked and slowly smiled, trying to cover my embarrassment. He put a hand on my shoulder. “What my brother is trying to say, Captains, is that we are not familiar with the Narnian marriage ceremony,” Peter replied. He spoke quietly, as surprised as I was at this unexpected request. “Perhaps you could enlighten us.” I blessed my brother a thousand times as I collected my scattered wits. “Yes, please,” I managed faintly. “’Tis a simple ceremony, King Edmund,” explained the mare. “All that is required is the blessing of one the couple esteems and respects. It can be a parent or friend or teacher.” “Or a fellow knight,” finished Kanell with a knowing smile. “Right now?” I squeaked, certain I could not come up with anything appropriate on the spot. Kanell’s smile widened at my expression. “Not now, Sire, but in three days, as is tradition.” I breathed a sigh of relief. At Peter’s gentle nudge I said, “I would be honored.” They bowed and thanked me before withdrawing. I stood with my brother, staring at the archway as the happy couple departed and wondering what on earth to do next. Finally I looked to my fellow king and knight, hoping that he had more ideas than I did. « 290 »

“Peter?” “If it’s anything to do with romance and celebrations,” he suggested softly, even smiling a bit, “maybe Susan can help.” I could hear the amusement in his voice when he spoke. I was grateful for the sound, for it had been too long since we had any cause for merriment or diversion. Little over a month had passed since our terrible encounter with Valerlan and the Ettin Giants and my brother’s spirits were recovering only very slowly, which worried me more than I could say. He tired easily and completely (though he always denied as much) and odd things startled or alarmed him. He was quieter than he had been before the Ettins had kidnapped and terrorized him and he was struggling to regain a sense of normalcy. We all were. “Romance?” I echoed, making a face. “Ugh.” §‡§ “A wedding!” “How exciting!” “A wedding! Here in the palace!” The words spread like a wildfire among Susan’s ladies-in-waiting, instantly stirring them into a frenzy of excitement. My older sister was little better and with a creeping chill down my spine I recognized that calculating gleam in her eyes at the notion of something as romantic as a wedding on a summer’s evening. The ladies had been languishing and despairing of the heat seconds earlier, now they rallied as if for battle. “It’s their wedding, not yours!” I desperately exclaimed, but in vain. They were off, ladies with their long skirts and jewels and feathers, all of them scattering in every direction: Dryads and Nymphs and Birds and Monitors and Lynxes and Ermines and all sorts of attendants. It was a matter of moments before word reached Lucy’s equally enthusiastic host of ladies and the entire Cair seemed to be in an uproar in record time. I stood helplessly by as things spiraled out of control and servants and pages happily dashed hither and yon to do Aslan only knew what. Suddenly I was alone on the balcony where Susan and her ladies had congregated for tea. I watched a lone feather drifting down to the marble floor, the only evidence to prove that mere seconds before there had been almost twenty giggling women filling the space. Well. That hadn’t worked out as planned. My eyes met those of a Red Dwarf sentry standing by the door. He shook his head in sympathy. “You cannot give them such an opening, my king. They’ve had little to distract them these few days.” “La,” I agreed with a sigh, already tired. I looked down as one of Peter’s Cat pages trotted up to me. He sat down beside me and waited to be acknowledged, his green eyes fixed on the drifting feather. My voice sounded flat to my own ears as I asked, “Yes, Lise?” “Your brother has sent word from the library, Majesty. He requests you join him there as soon as you’re free.” The library. Why hadn’t I thought of that first?

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I found Peter not, as I expected, surrounded by documented accounts of various weddings for me to draw upon for inspiration, but rather he was in deep conversation with Minovin, the court recorder. My thoughts were so disrupted by Susan’s reaction to my (softly worded) inquiry about Narnain weddings that I was a trifle annoyed at my brother. Still, the library was quiet and cool and dark and these factors went far towards smoothing my ruffled feathers. Peter waved me over, and rather than burden me with details, he simply said, “Minovin was married by her father-in-law.” The elderly Centaur mare smiled gently at me. “How can I assist you, King Edmund?” I sighed once again, relieved by her calm and willingness to instruct. “Please tell me what I need to know in order to go about this ceremony, Lady.” She spoke, we listened, and I was relieved. Chapter Two: A Kind of Immortality “I never should have told them.” Sitting on the wall of the terrace by the rose garden, Peter, Peterkins, and I watched the ladies move amongst the flowers. With only three days to plan and execute (so appropriate a word!) the wedding, the ladies-in-waiting were inspecting the flowers, trying to anticipate which ones would suit for bouquets and crowns and decorations. Peter shook his head as if to say that was not the wisest course of action. “And if you hadn’t?” I thought for a brief span. “The odds of my surviving their wrath would be nil.” “Ex-actly. I vastly prefer having you among the living.” “As do I.” “Why are they so excited about a wedding?” wondered Peterkins from where he balanced on the wide wall between us. His head rested on my thigh, for he was quite worn out from the heat. The kit Fox’s disgust with such a show of femininity was evident, and he had taken shelter with us the moment we arrived to check up on Susan’s progress. “Because they all want one,” I muttered. Peter made a sound that might have been agreement or unease or possibly fear, but said nothing. “Well, I’m not getting married,” announced Peterkins, resolved for the moment. “You say that now, Master Fox,” I answered, petting his soft, red coat. “Your uncles thought the same until they saw your mother’s sisters and vixen cousins.” A few minutes later Peter, that brave and magnificent king, threw himself into the line of fire when he spotted our Gentle Queen. “I’ll go speak to Susan. Or I’ll speak to Lucy and make sure she gets through to Susan. We won’t let her do anything Xati and Kanell don’t want.” “Let’s just hope they want a banquet and flowers and music and bowers and Lion knows what else.” “Centaurs not want a banquet?” « 292 »

“A very good point.” He was as good as his word. When his attempts to penetrate Susan’s wedding-induced frenzy failed miserably - not that Peter was equipped to take on a horde of excited and determined women at the best of times – he engaged Lucy as a go-between. We then beat a hasty retreat, abandoning Peterkins to his fate in the process. Aslan bless our little sister, she kept things and people from getting too out of hand. It would be far too easy to lose the bride and groom amidst all the celebration. I kept Peter close by because this was the first time since we’d returned from Ettinsmoor that he had displayed an active interest in the goings-on at the Cair and his presence would keep me from getting nervous. At least I hoped it would. I wanted to get this ceremony absolutely right. Not only did I owe Kanell and Xati a great debt (which probably explained in part Susan’s enthusiasm), but I respected and esteemed both Centaurs. In my talk with Minovin I had learned there were a number of things I had to do in order to perform the ceremony properly, and chief among them was find out exactly what each party expected out of the other and their marriage. Since I didn’t know either Kanell or Xati long enough to be privy to some of the details that I needed for the ceremony, Minovin had assured me it was perfectly acceptable to converse with the parties in question to obtain answers, and to that end my brother and I went to find the bride. Tracking Xati down was no easy task. She was active even by Centaur standards and with her recent promotion to captain came additional duties and responsibilities that kept her busier still. With Peter in tow to act as my personal scribe, I ranged far and wide across the grounds of Cair Paravel in search of the mare. I had a handful of songbirds out seeking her, plus I had asked my Harrier friend Yoli to rally the palace Dogs to help us. Mercifully the good beasts didn’t ask why I wanted to speak to her, they just fanned out in all directions, barking and yapping and calling to each other. I suspected half of them didn’t even know what Xati looked like and I knew that if they didn’t find her within the hour they would forget their mission entirely and wander off. The day was more than hot, it was roasting, and there seemed little chance of rain to cool the air and my nerves. For over a week now the weather had been blistering and the gardens were drooping for want of a drink. The streams and rivers had dropped noticeably and many Dryads had returned to their trees to conserve their strength. Our lessons and duties were curtailed to prevent heat exhaustion. For the better part of the afternoon everyone would lounge about and rest in the shade, and quite a few of our subjects had taken to visiting the beaches by Cair Paravel with their kings and queens every evening, just to cool down in the gentle surf. Narnia needed relief and soon. Taking shelter in the shade cast by one of the barracks, I once again went over the list of questions Minovin had suggested that I put to both Centaurs. When I looked up from the piece of paper I held I was surprised to see my brother was watching me intently. This was not the first time I had caught him scrutinizing me and I was starting to wonder if I should be concerned. Normally Peter was the first person to confess to a problem, but normally Peter talked quite a bit more than he’d been doing this past month. He didn’t look away immediately when I faced him, but studied me a bit longer with an expression in his blue eyes that I could not fathom. Could he actually be worried for me? Why would he be anxious for my sake when he was the one who had been so abused by the Ettins? Granted « 293 »

I had not had an easy time of it, but he had been alone, helpless at the hands of the ruthless Giants and traumatized by the brutalities he had witnessed. They had slaughtered and devoured his horse and guards right before him. They had tried to eat him. They would have compelled him to become the father of a new race of Ettins. After such horrific experiences, why would he worry over me? My troubles seemed paltry by comparison, at least in my reckoning. “Is something wrong, Peter?” I asked, doing nothing to hide my feelings. Peter smiled faintly at my obvious confusion, confounding me even further as he quietly said, “I was going to ask you that.” “Wrong . . . with me? But -“ Before I could pursue that cryptic reply any further, Xati found us. To make locating us simpler on the Dogs, we had stayed in the general area of the training grounds, and the Centaur mare raced up with a clattering of metal-shod hooves and a cloud of dust kicked up from the worn grass. I tore my attention from Peter, promising myself that I would get to the bottom of his worry before long. My brother and I stared in astonishment, for Xati was breathless and her black-and-white flanks were foamy with sweat. She had run all the way here in this awful heat. We all exchanged alarmed looks and Peter immediately hurried off to fetch a drink of water for her. “What is it, Captain?” I pressed. “The-the Dog said you were in ur-urgent n-need,” she panted. “A matter of life and-and death.” “Was it a Dachshund?” I asked, well aware of the answer already. She nodded, leaning over and slowly walking off a cramp. “Kep,” I said through clenched teeth. The Dog had a terrible habit of embroidering and elaborating the least things, just because he thought they sounded more exciting that way. Kep and I were going to have yet another little talk about carrying messages, it seemed. “There is no emergency, Captain. He exaggerated. Catch your breath.” Peter returned with a tankard of chilled water and a wet cloth for Xati. She was a little abashed to have a king waiting on her, but then she was not as used to us as Kanell or Celer or Oreius were. As Narnians did for us, so we did for them. She drank long and deep and then dumped what was left in the tankard across her flanks before wiping her sweaty face with the cloth. “I’m sorry Kep alarmed you so,” I said after giver her a few minutes to cool down. “This is not how I wanted to start. And I apologize for stirring up my sisters and their ladies. I fear they’re quite in love with the idea of a wedding and there’s not hope of stopping them now.” She paused, and then slowly smiled as she realized what I was talking about. A faint blush crept up her face and I wondered if she was suddenly somehow shy or embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” I hastily said again, wondering if I had somehow misspoken. I gestured for her to walk with me, for I wanted to move Peter out of the sun. His skin burned quickly, easily,

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and completely, sometimes to the point where he would get ill. Said brother fell in a few paces behind us, silent and alert. “If you prefer to speak alone or perhaps to Peter -“ “Majesty,” she interrupted gently, her eyes bright with amusement, “it is a wedding. It’s cause for excitement and celebration. I’m sure your sisters and their ladies will happily plan it all with military precision. I care only about getting married, not the trappings, so I say let them do as they will and have their fun. And why would I speak to you alone when two days from now you’ll be telling the world how I feel?” “How do you feel, Xati?” I wondered as we entered the shade of a small copse of trees. There were only three or four paths through this little grove and we walked very slowly as we talked. “Well blessed by Aslan.” Her smile grew broader. “I am the most fortunate of women, Sire, to have found such a one as Kanell. He is good and sensible and kind.” Not to mention relentless, ruthless, and keen for battle, making them well matched. I didn’t say as much aloud, but then the Kanell I knew was different than the one she knew. He was my teacher and captain, and he showed his affection with the palm of his hand upside my head (preferably – but not always - when I was wearing a helmet). I needed to know Xati’s Kanell for the sake of their ceremony. “Why do you want to marry Kanell?” I asked. Small as she was for a Centaur, Xati was still much taller than we kings and she ducked low under some branches. “I respect him. He is an able soldier and a good leader. He always puts others before himself. He is patient and generous and he can make me laugh like none other.” I grinned at the notion of Kanell being silly in order to make her laugh. I glanced behind us. Peter was hastily scribbling notes in the journal he carried, deep in concentration. I had no idea of what he was writing down, but anything he produced would be helpful. “What if you argue?” “If?” she shot right back with a small snort of amusement. “When, Your Majesty.” “Very well. When you argue, what then? How will you resolve differences?” Her long tail swished energetically. “He will talk and I will listen, and then I will talk and he will listen.” Sweet Lion, Kanell wasn’t even here and he’d already lost their first argument. I blinked in admiration at such command presence. Stealing a glance at my brother, I found him gaping speechlessly right along with me. We exchanged an incredulous look and then he buried his nose in the book again and got back to his self-appointed task of taking notes. “Right,” I said for lack of any better response. There was little arguing with so fierce a statement. Not if you wanted to retain any of your dignity. Both Peter and I were constantly amazed at the women in our realm – they were not to be crossed or trifled with. I wondered if Kanell knew what he was getting himself into. Probably. In fact I wouldn’t have been the least surprised to learn he was looking forward to arguing with Xati, strange as it seemed to me.

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“I have watched Kanell very closely, King Edmund,” said the Centaur mare. “He values the things I do – family, honor, fairness, loyalty. He speaks well in company and when we are alone, and he makes no complaints and levels no abuses. He will make a good husband and father.” “Do you want children of your own?” I asked. Minovin had stressed to me the importance of mentioning offspring. A strange smile lit Xati’s angular face. Until that moment I had never thought that she was particularly pretty – her features were too strong for real beauty – but at the mention of becoming a mother she seemed to glow with some secret we men could never really know. As she contemplated children and family, I saw, however briefly, what Kanell saw. It was breathtaking. “Children,” she mused. “They are a kind of immortality, are they not? I am part of my dame and sire. I carry them within me, and so my children will carry them and me, and so on through generations unto the end of days.” She paused, looking at us both. “My mother once said to me that women, all women, are the cradles of time. We mark the passage of life and death, giving our lives to vanquish death. Oh, yes, my king, I want children and yet more children. I want strong foals that will grow tall in their father’s shadow and I want sweet fillies to capture his heart and run swift at my side. I want to see my immortality in my daughter’s face. I want to see Kanell live forever through his sons. I want to give him that.” She was so determined, so intent, that at that moment there was no doubt whatsoever in my mind that she would succeed. “Lady,” I said, “so you shall.” With all the fierce pride of her kind, she bowed her head at this promise. “My only request, Sire, is that Kanell does not forget that like him, I am a soldier. It is part of what I am, and to change that would be to change me.” “I will be certain to say as much, Captain,” I pledged. §‡§ I will confess to some fear upon heading back to the palace. What Susan and Lucy might be up to by now I could not begin to guess. Women tended to be dangerous when bored, I had discovered. We had not walked very far when a Centaur mare came trotting up to us. She was attached to the archers and I knew I had seen her in the ranks before but I did not know her name. “You wished to see me, Majesty?” she asked, bowing. “Um . . . no,” I murmured. “What is your name, Lady?” asked Peter. “Chati,” was her reply, and instantly we knew what had happened. The Dogs. Again. When would I learn they were not to be relied upon to get messages straight? “There’s been a mix-up, Lady Chati,” said Peter, suppressing a smile. “It was Xati that we “

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He stopped as another mare joined us. I could see three more on the path ahead moving towards us. “Your name?” Peter asked the newcomer. The roan Centaur bowed. “Miati, Sire.” Peter ducked his head, trying not to laugh at this less-than-perfect canine dispatch system. I sighed and mentally begged Aslan for patience. “We thank you for responding, ladies, but it seems the Dogs are . . . confused,” I said, resisting the urge to call the lot of them blooming idiots. “They summoned you in error. Please, return to whatever you were doing.” Amused, the Centaurs walked away only to be replaced by five more mares, for a pair of lancers had joined the three archers on the path. Patri, Sati, Xindi, Zadee, and Kandrie were duly thanked for their time and dismissed after a quick explanation. “Why do I keep thinking Dogs can be relied upon for anything that requires a grain of sense?” I demanded of Peter, waving my arms and stamping about. “I must be as deficient as they are to keep giving them chances to prove me wrong!” My frustration was worth it in the end because Peter finally laughed aloud. He held his middle and leaned over, his mirth as welcome as music. Almost two months had passed since I had heard that sound and I realized only now how dearly I had missed it. He did not laugh loud or long, but he laughed well and I felt such relief to see the old spark come to life again within him. I blinked in concern as his smiled faded, replaced by a look of shock as he gazed past me. Turning, I staggered back a step as a full score of Centaur mares descended upon us from every direction. “Never, never, never again!” I said through gritted teeth as Peter steadied me. “I will never ask those Dogs to help me again!” Peter quietly laughed again, somehow nullifying my anger with his smile. “Until the next time.” I shook my head. He was absolutely right. The Centaurs came to a noisy, dusty halt before us, all of them curious and expectant at having been summoned. I sighed. “Until then.”

Chapter Three: A Comfortable Place to Hide “. . . and then the Doves flew in wide circles around the whole grove as the Rabbits all played their violins,” said the dreamy-eyed Camel. She sighed, batting her long lashes as she reminisced. “It was oh, so romantic.” I tensed, sensing she might be done and I might escape this silly talk of romance. Since coming back to Cair Paravel and losing Peter to a much-needed nap, I had noticed a sudden trend in our beloved cousins - everyone that was married, had ever been married, or intended to be married some day felt the need to offer me advice on how to conduct a wedding. Hardly a word of what was said to me was useful since most everyone just wanted to tell me about their own wedding (past or planned), and they seemed to forget that I was « 297 »

simply conducting the ceremony and therefore had a speaking role in this drama. I was not responsible for the props or settings or - Aslan have mercy! The bride’s choice of costume. “Thank you, Lady Shamera,” I said, backing away and forcing a smile. “That’s very thoughtful of you to share that. I really must be going, though. Good day, my lady.” I fled, trying to find a quiet corner where I could hide and go over the notes Peter had taken. I needed to organize what Xati had said and start working on what I was going to say. A sense of urgency and anxiety was building in me and I wanted to be as prepared for the ceremony as I could manage. I never should have left the south wing where we had our living quarters, though. Out in the open I was fair game. I hadn’t made it very far across the hall when a Faun tailor caught me. “Ah, King Edmund! I’ve been told you’ll be marrying Sir Kanell and Captain Xati.” “I have that honor,” I admitted, praying he was acquainted with the meaning of the word brevity. He waved his hands in a nervous gesture. Fauns loved to worry, and trying to keep me and Peter in clothes that fit afforded him and his fellow tailors many opportunities to indulge their anxieties. I feared talk of veils and satin and headdresses, but he only said, “You must be sure to mention children to them, my king. Many a marriage has been upset by lack of discussion on that very important point.” The voice of experience, perhaps? I nodded and made myself smile again. “So I have been told. Thank you.” I fled faster, hoping I could make it to Lion Chapel without being stopped a dozen more times. I sensed success as I hurried down the stairs leading to the eastern side of the Cair. Only one person caught me - a Red Dwarf cook who told me to make sure the wedding cake had at least ten tiers. He hinted broadly that he wanted to make the cake, but I was able to tell him in all truth that I had nothing to do with the feast that would follow the ceremony and that Susan was arranging the celebration. I happily sent him to go harass my older sister. It seemed the least she deserved for kicking up such a monumental fuss. Down the stairs I flew and just a corridor away from the chapel I heard voices ahead. Ducking into the nearest room, I recognized the armory full of mail and plate for Animals and Magical Creatures of all shapes and sizes. I closed the door and leaned against it to block out the world for a moment and suddenly realized that I was not alone after all. Amidst the dusty, shadowy armor there was movement, and I absently noticed that someone had cleaned the room’s one window to maximize the light. Two gray faces and one pink face peeked at me from beneath a stand holding the elaborate plate mail for an Elephant. I leaned over to get a better look at the row of faces. “Neville?” The Hyena - not the brightest of Animals in Aslan’s creation but an excellent chamberlain in a pinch - smiled a doggy smile as he realized who I was. Beside him was a Mouse I vaguely recognized from Susan’s personal guard as the one who had once given General Oreius’ tail an impromptu trim this past winter. The third of their group was an Opossum I did not know at all, but she had sharp features and intelligent eyes. They were lounging about - clearly off duty - and it seemed that this was a regular meeting place for them for « 298 »

there were rugs on the floor that had not been there in the past and flasks of drinks and wooden bowls resting nearby. The all stood, astonished to see me, and they hastily bowed before staring at me. I stared right back, no less surprised that I was not the room’s only occupant. “King Edmund!” squeaked the Mouse, hastily taking his paw from his sword. “Shh!” I ordered harshly, gesturing for quiet as I listened. The voices were still there, yammering on, and I caught the words ‘wedding’ and ‘flowers’ and ‘wine’ being carelessly dropped. There was no way I could go out there now. I was trapped. We all were, since Neville and his friends should not have been in here and could have gotten reprimanded by an officer. I glanced down as long, coarse hair brushed against my leg. Small wonder the Hyena sought a cool, dark room like this. I hadn’t thought how awful the heat must be on the Talking Animals with their coats of fur until now. Neville pressed his ear to the door and then he looked up at me. “That’s Frinnit Nez,” he said softly. “He’s a Parrot. He likes to talk. A lot.” “Hmm. Clearly.” “He thinks he can sing, too,” I heard a raspy feminine voice mutter, and the other Animals snickered. “He’s on duty at the gates in half an hour,” the Striped Hyena added, and I had a sudden appreciation for being up to date on schedules. Prime stuff to know, that, and very useful. With pleading eyes Neville added quickly, “Majesty, we haven’t touched anything other than bringing in rugs because the floor was so cold this spring and now we’re here because it’s so hot outside.” “What? Oh, I don’t care if you meet here, Neville. Just don’t rouse the housekeepers.” I sighed. At the moment there was worse company I could keep than a silly part-time chamberlain and an overly enthusiastic Mouse. I turned to regard Neville’s companions, both of them plainly awaiting my wrath for being where they should not. “Who are your friends? Pray make my new cell mates known to me, sir.” Neville smiled again, happy to make the introductions. “The Mouse is Skeepomeep. We call him Meep. The Opossum is Bizmy and . . . we don’t call her anything else.” “Well met,” I said in a whisper, nodding as they bowed again. “Tell me, cousins, are any of you married?” Slack jawed, the three young Animals shot panicked looks back and forth. Neville was horrified. “Should we be?” he gasped, and I was sure if I had told him ‘yes’ he would have run off that instant to find a wife whether he wanted one or not. I shook my head and he let out his breath as if he’d just escaped execution. I probed further. “Planning on getting married anytime soon?” The Hyena spoke for them all apparently, as he said, “Only if we have to!” “Good.” I strode deeper into the room to their comfortable little hideout. “Move over, Meep, and someone pour me some wine.” « 299 »

They hastened to obey as I sat down and soon I had a bowl of too-sweet green wine that was surprisingly refreshing. I suspected the rugs might have come from the room full of tapestries Lucy and I had discovered last autumn - they were finely made and plush and a little dusty. I pulled out the journal Peter had written in and opened it on my lap, reading by the wane sunlight. He had managed to get almost all of Xati’s words verbatim, and had even managed to do so neatly. Despite themselves, Neville and Meep were intensely curious about what I was doing here and they tried to sneak glimpses of the journal. Bizmy was far less subtle about her spying and asked outright, “Did you write that, King Edmund? The script is very fine.” She would know, too, because beside her was a pouch such as the palace scribes all carried. “My brother wrote this, lady. My script is not so nice as his.” And idea struck me. “I say, cousin, have you pen and ink with you?” An excited gleam came to Bizmy’s eyes. “Always, Sire.” “Good. Start a fresh page.” I waited for her to prepare. Neville and Meep took this as something of an invitation and crowded close and warm on either side of me, for the room was rather musty and cool. “Write this question: How do you feel about this marriage?” Across my lap, Hyena and Mouse exchanged alarmed looks, then gaped up at me. “My dearest sovereign,” exclaimed Meep, tripping over his own tongue in his surprise. Like most of his race, the Mouse favored large words and dramatic flourishes. They seemed to think it made for their lack of stature, but his long tail slapped my shoulder and ruined the effect. “Are congratulations in order? Are you to be wed?” “Not I, praise be to Aslan,” I said hastily. “But I am performing a wedding two days from now and I must prepare. I’ve never done this before and it’s . . . it’s important that I do this well. Bizmy, below the question, write Xati and the words blessed, most fortunate of women, betrothed is good, sensible, kind. Done? Leave a space for Kanell’s answer. I’ll speak to him on the morrow. Next question: Why do you want to get married?” Her little quill scratched across the paper, a comforting sound as I finally started to make a bit of headway. It filled me with relief to bring my thoughts to order. My fellow Narnians were watching and listening intently, and really, I could not have chosen better company for the task at hand for they all had the gift of silence. By the time we were done, Bizmy had filled three pages of notes. “Thank you,” I said, finishing my wine. I had no idea how long we had been at it. “Neville, would you check the hall?” “All clear, King Edmund.” I gathered up my things. “Thank you. And thank you all for your help.” “The pleasure was ours, Majesty,” said the Opossum. Neville waited at the door. He gave me a hopeful look. “You can always come back here if you want,” he invited, and I smiled at his earnest expression. “Thank you. I just may,” I answered. “If anyone says something to you about using this room, tell them you have my permission, sir.”

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He wheezed a laugh, and the happy sound followed me as I slipped out of the armory and back into the noise and bustle of Cair Paravel.

Chapter Four: A Crack in the Armor “Edmund, look how low the stream is getting.” At Lucy’s urgent tone I hurried over to where she waited on the arched footbridge. Looking into the small stream that ran off the Great River and into the Eastern Sea, I felt a pang of anxiety. The level of water had dropped noticeably since last I had checked it several days ago. Normally the stream was over a foot deep and flowed slowly over the level ground, but now . . . now it was reduced by half or more, the exposed banks covered with cracked, flaky mud that stank of rotten vegetation. “What will we do if it doesn’t rain?” wondered Lucy, her hand stealing closer to where mine rested on the railing of the bridge. I covered her hand with my own, squeezing her fingers reassuringly. “We’ll think of something, Lu.” She pursed her lips, doubtful. “Will the Naiads be all right?” “Of course. If the rivers drop too low they can shelter in the lakes until rain comes. Don’t worry about this for now. Let’s go cool off.” I took her hand and led her off the bridge, trying to divert her attention, if only for a little while. Together we walked through the low scrub brush and reeds to reach the white sand beach by the sea. The tide was ebbing, but there was still a sizable surf that pounded the shore and hissed against the sand. I squinted at the brightness. Even though we were on the eastern side of Cair Paravel and the sun was dipping towards the horizon there was still a great deal of light reflecting off the water and sand. It was hot as an oven as we dashed across the sand, but as soon as we reached the water, Lucy and I slowed down. We cooled our feet in the water and watched a family of Tigers, one of the few species of Talking Animals that liked to swim, splash about. There were others there, Centaurs and Gryphons and Animals and Nymphs, but most, like Lucy and me, were content to walk along the water line and let the breaking waves splash us. “How are the wedding plans coming?” she asked, a teasing glint in her eyes. I didn’t even try to suppress my groan. “I’m already sick of weddings.” I sighed, swiping at the waves splashing about my feet. “Well, my notes are organized. I’ll speak to Kanell tomorrow, and then I’ll figure out exactly what it is I’m going to say. How are things coming along on your end?” “Well,” she began, suppressing a smile and a laugh, knowing how dear (and necessary) being organized was to me, “we have flowers, food, music, and no end of guests. We just need the actual ceremony now. Susan is worried about the length and I keep telling her not to rush you about it. After all, you were asked and she wasn’t.” I could not help but grin at her tone and I could just imagine my younger sister gently telling off my older sister. I was about to speak when Lucy exclaimed,

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“Oh, look! Isn’t she in the army?” She pointed to the sky where a huge Raven circled, clearly looking for something. I shielded my eyes to see. The dark Bird stood out against the bright sky like a tear in the heavens. “La. That’s Po, a courier. And . . . she’s looking for me.” That last was obvious as the Raven let out a squawk and circled down to where we stood. Lucy and I moved above the water line to greet as she came to a landing atop some driftwood half-buried in the sand. Po bowed to Lucy, saying in her grating voice, “Your Majesty,” before she looked me squarely in the eye and got on with her errand. “Sir Edmund How, General Oreius’ compliments. He would like to remind you of tomorrow’s meeting referencing the security of the Northern Marches. The embassaries are expected and have been told to arrive at noon. The meeting will take place outside the training grounds. The general bids you make certain Sir Peter is well away.” “My compliments to General Oreius, good Po, and I bid you thank him for the reminder,” I said. “I’ve spoken to Jaer and Jaerin Peridanson and if he’s still awake, they will keep my brother engaged for that hour. I’ll remind them myself in the morning and I’ll make certain Sir Peter is safely removed.” The glossy black Bird nodded and took off in a small cloud of sand. Lucy watched her go, and then turned to me expectantly. “What meeting is this, Edmund?” “Oreius called it. He’s pulling in some residents on the Northern Marches to organize regular patrols and tighter borders. We don’t know what the Ettins will do after . . . after last month.” “Good,” Lucy said in a tone that was positively fierce, and I saw the young lioness that was Narnia’s Valiant Queen come shining through. “Why does Peter have to be safely away?” “Because he’s had quite enough of Giants lately, Lu. The last thing he needs now is to be thrown into their company again.” That was the consensus Oreius, Kanell, Celer, Peridan and I had come to, and Peter was completely ignorant of the pending meeting. “Oh,” she responded softly. “I see. You’ll be there?” “Yes. Please don’t mention it to him.” “Of course!” A long pause followed, but I could tell she wanted to say more. We resumed walking along the shore, heading back towards the Cair. “Ed?” “Yes?” She gnawed on her lip a moment, then asked, “Haven’t you had quite enough of Giants lately as well?” I sighed. I was not looking forward to tomorrow’s meeting save that it would help to keep Narnia’s border (and therefore my kidnap-prone brother) more secure. « 302 »

“I didn’t have to live with them for a week, Lu.” She blinked, frowning the least bit, and her next words struck a chord within me that I had not known existed. “Didn’t you?” For that I had no reply. §‡§ Only six people stopped me to offer wedding advice on my return to the palace, so felt as if I passed through the fire relatively unscathed and I was relieved to escape so easily. When I entered our bedroom I was rather surprised that Peter was absent, because once asleep it’s almost impossible to rouse him by conventional methods (though Aslan help me if I make so much as a peep when I have nightmares - Peter will wake up instantly). Only then did I realize how late in the day it was. The heat and my task of researching weddings had quite worn me out. “Silvo? Martil?” I called, trying to find a valet. Silvo appeared, took one look at the sandy, salty clothes defiling my person and his clean room, and refused all discussion until I exchanged the dirty clothes for something fresh. He was happily horrified at my state of being and sent me to wash up immediately. “Have you seen Peter?” I asked as the Faun helped me sort out the lacings on my shirt. “I believe he’s gone to the library, King Edmund.” “Oh. Good. I’ll start there. Thank you.” Down to the library walked I. It wasn’t far from our living quarters. This was an advantage, because I was always hauling the big, heavy tomes back to my room to read, and I didn’t have to lug them far. Irel, our Hedgehog librarian, was puttering about and checking the scrolls that littered his little desk and muttering to himself. He was being assisted at the moment by Arthur Ravenwolf, a scout for the army and one of the best poets at the Cair. “Arthur! Irel! Have you seen my brother?” The Hedgehog squinted at me over his spectacles. “Are you the other king?” he demanded, so near-sighted that he couldn’t see past the confines of his desk. “Yes, Irel,” I relied for the umpteenth time. “I’m Edmund.” “You don’t look like him.” Arthur ducked his head down to suppress a laugh. Patiently, because the doddering old librarian and I went through this routine once a week, I said, “I assure you, sir, I look exactly like myself. Where is my brother?” “The other king?” “Yes, that one.” “Over in history, where else?” He pointed with his quill. Arthur slunk forward. “This way if you please, my king.” “Thank you.” I fell in beside the Wolf. “What is he researching now?” « 303 »

“He asked for every reference available about droughts.” “Ah. I say, Arthur, could you find me some references for conducting wedding ceremonies?” “Of course, Sire. Will tomorrow do?” “Very nicely, thank you.” I could hear a rustle of parchment and with a nod I dismissed the Wolf. Peter was around the corner and seated at one of the elaborately carved tables. Books of all sizes were piled up around him, and he was so deeply absorbed in the illuminated pages before him that he did not stir until I cleared my throat. Looking up, he did not greet me as he normally would have. He just smiled a little and waited for me to join him. “Droughts is it?” I asked, a little unnerved by his silence. He nodded solemnly. I reached for the nearest book and cracked it open. “Any headway with all this?” I gestured at the mounds of literature barricading him in. Shaking his head, Peter drew a deep breath. When he spoke his voice was hushed. “I haven’t found anything to effect relief. Most of what I’ve read so far is about the impact and rationing of food and water.” I stared at him seriously. “How far do you think we are from that?” “Quite a ways. It’s just been thirty days without rain. Not even a month. The longest drought I’ve been able to find was . . . during the reign of King Willam and Queen Dian. It was more than five months before it rained.” I let out a low whistle, falling back in my chair. “Where did you read that?” He hunted amongst the books and pulled out a leather-bound affair. By comparison to the others it was quite plain. I opened it to the page marked with a ribbon and began to read. The history contained in the book was written in the form of a poem, which dated the volume - or at least the information it contained - to Narnia’s first or second century. It was not very heartening stuff. I looked over the top of the book at my brother. He was staring into the depths of the library, seeing nothing. Despite the fact that he’d slept he still seemed very tired and worn. Perhaps he was just careworn. “So what do you think?” I asked. “Do we start rationing now? Wait? Summer is just starting. The rains really won’t start up again until Stormfall and that is almost five months away.” “I know. I’m not sure yet. Above all we must avoid a panic. I was going to wait until after this wedding is over with to pursue our options.” I let out a bit of a grumble. “Oh. Thank you.” “Ed?” “What?” I snapped. “You’re the only one that’s nervous.” He knew me too well. I glowered at him and countered, “But you’re worried, Peter, and not just about this drought.” « 304 »

He couldn’t deny it. There are some advantages to having a brother that is almost incapable of telling an untruth. Peter grimaced as if caught and finally admitted, “I am.” “About me?” He nodded the least bit. “La.” “Peter, I’m not the one Valerlan kidnapped and mistreated.” “You didn’t have to be there for him to be able to torment you.” I set the book down. Outside of Peter’s breakdown last week, we hadn’t really talked much about what happened to him. While the physical evidence of the Ettins’ abuse had been obvious, the mental injuries ran deep and it had been an uphill struggle for Peter to regain his sense of balance and deal with the guilt of surviving when his guards had not. Few people were better equipped for helping him overcome these problems than I was. “They didn’t know I existed until you told them.” Peter spoke softly, with the voice of one who knows better. “They didn’t have to know you exist to be able to cause pain. You said yourself you weren’t sure I was alive until you found my footprint in the mud. That was, what? Three days after I was seized? If that type of uncertainty isn’t torture, then what is?” I didn’t know what to say in response to this. I hadn’t thought of his kidnapping in such terms, but as usual he was quite right. “I was lucky,” he continued. “I at least knew that you were alive and free. I knew that you’d find me. You didn’t have so much.” Only Peter Pevensie could look upon the horrid time and conditions he had endured and consider himself fortunate. He had a point, though I’ll confess it was one I didn’t feel like listening to at the moment. “I had fury, Peter, and determination to keep me going. I could not allow them to find out you weren’t Jadis’ Blood Heir.” I paused, recalling Loy Keep and my confrontation with the Ettins and my own past. With a sigh I rubbed my forehead, shielding my eyes as I admitted, “Hatta said he could smell her blood in me. I don’t think she’ll ever quite be done with me.” I looked up as Peter came and moved before me, leaning against the table as he took both of my hands in his. The concern and love that showed on his face struck me dumb. This was the most emotion I had seen out of him in weeks. I felt a pang that I should be the cause of this reaction, for he was distressed anew even though he tried hard not to show it. “I -“ He shook his head, refusing to hear anything like an apology. Softly he said, “The White Witch tried to destroy you over and over again. She failed every time.” It seemed so simple, worded like that. I stared at him, at his blue eyes and fair face. There was an innocence and worldliness about him – a wise fool – and I prayed he never lost that, was never tainted as I had been. I felt suddenly dirty, as much for what I had done in the past as for what had been done to me. My voice cracked the least bit as I replied in kind, « 305 »

“I don’t know about every time, Peter.” He leaned forward to kiss my forehead, giving me his strength and love. “I do.” Chapter Five: A Setback A/N: The characters of Jaer and Jaerin are borrowed from Thalion King’s Daughter’s wonderful story Only Children. Thank you kindly for the loan! I’ll give them back when I’m done. §‡§ Kanell was easy enough to corner – or, more correctly, to be cornered by, since I got pounded by him almost daily on the training grounds and the following morning was no exception. In an attempt to distract him, I decided in the midst of training was as good a time as any to get some information out of him. Besides, Oreius was always pushing us to focus on independent thought while fighting in order to allow us to plan tactics in the midst of battle. Conversation was better to concentrate on than exhaustion or how hot and dry it was or the afternoon’s meeting with the representatives of the Slinkedorslunk Giant family. “Captain?” “Shield up!” “It is!” I snapped, raising it in time to block his strike. I sidestepped, swinging my own blade at him. I was back to using the first sword I had been given before the Battle of Beruna and its slightly shorter length than Shafelm II was causing me to misjudge distances just enough to be wildly annoying. Oreius - who enjoyed the oddest things sometimes happily let me suffer, saying that until my brother got me another sword I had to learn to use weapons of all sizes and configurations. I grumbled in irritation as my efforts barely inconvenienced Kanell. Peter had said he’d replace my broken sword, and as of this moment he couldn’t do it soon enough to suit me. “Why . . . why do you want to marry Xati?” I panted, backpedaling to gain some distance. He smiled, never a reassuring thing in a pitched fight, and said, “I admire her spirit. She is as brave as she is daring and beautiful.” “Fair enough.” I faked to the right, trying to get inside his defenses. “Why else?” He let go his sword with one huge hand and bodily shoved me back. I tumbled, rolled, and got right back onto my feet without hesitation or giving the actions a second thought. “She is strong, intelligent, and formidable in battle.” Lunging, I managed to make him move back, an accomplishment in itself. “Just in battle?” He grinned, his white teeth flashing in his dark face. “So far. Fortunately ‘battle’ can take on many forms.” “What? Oh.” I realized my question had been rather personal and if I hadn’t already been hot and sweaty and tired, I would have blushed. “Further, she understands what it is to be a warrior,” he said without prompting, driving me back with a quick rain of blows, some of which I blocked, most of which made me glad that I was proficient with a shield. “She knows loyalty, discipline, and . . .” « 306 »

I swiped at his front legs, forcing him to rear slightly to avoid Shafelm. “How you think?” I suggested. He landed heavily. “Indeed. With Xati there is little need to speak. So much is simply understood.” My mind flashed back to their interaction as we journeyed underground to Ettinsmoor this past Mayblossom in pursuit of Peter and his Ettin kidnappers. Kanell was correct – he and Xati had spoken little but at the same time they had said a great deal. Amidst all our worries and desperation to save the High King, they had fallen in love, silently and deeply. “And when you argue?” I puffed. Kanell actually laughed and surprised me by saying, “I look forward to losing to her!” I was right. The notion of wanting to lose would take some thought, I decided. I thought back to yesterday’s meeting with his betrothed - glad that someone, anyone, would be able to beat him - and murmured, “Wisely put, sir. What do you want from this marriage?” Obviously he had given this a lot of thought and was quite happy to discuss it. Probably he had been anticipating this little chat since they had asked me to perform the ceremony. “Friendship. Love. Loyalty. Patience.” I remembered something Minovin had mentioned about the difficulties members of the military faced when they married, and pressed, “Children?” He smiled again, pleased at the notion of a family. “As many as she’ll give me.” For a moment we paused and I stared up at him, gulping air. “And when you become parents – what if Xati chooses to remain in the army?” Kanell’s gaze was intense, his rich voice dropping low as he replied, “I will honor whatever choice she makes and pray Aslan safeguards her life always.” I nodded. That was what I needed to hear. “And what – No! Oh, no!” At the alarmed tone in my voice the Centaur whirled. I was already moving past him, racing across the stone courtyard to reach my brother. Beyond Peter, beyond the wall of the courtyard, I could see dark, looming figures that were even taller than Ettin Giants. The Slinkedorslunks had arrived early. A sinking, sickening feeling of dread filled me and set my heart hammering in my chest. The light was almost the same as it had been in Loy Keep that fateful night last month. Then, as now, we had been surrounded by stone walls and the smell of grass. I had a fleeting memory of racing to Peter’s side to hold back an Ettin guard. Then, as now, my legs felt leaden and my thoughts were focused on one thing. “Peter!” Most of the Giants lined up along the wall to look in, but one of them was stepping over the archway to enter the courtyard. That was completely against all rules of etiquette and the officers, sword masters, knights, and students were forced to break off their training and scramble out of harm’s way with loud, indignant shouts. “Peter!” My voice – it was the same sharp tone I’d used in Loy. He responded as then, pivoting around to strike, Rhindon fully extended just as the Giant’s massive foot set down a few « 307 »

feet from his side. I could read the fright, the panic in every line of his form at this unexpected confrontation. It was pure luck that Peter was just out of range of striking, because otherwise he would have sliced the giant’s leg to the bone. The Giant, unaware of the jeopardy he was in, looked down at him with a toothy grin and boomed, “Good morn!” Peter staggered back and away, instinctively raising his shield and drawing his sword arm back to defend himself as the Giant’s laughter echoed off the walls of the courtyard. He glanced my way and saw me advancing at a run. Deliberately, Peter moved to his left, setting himself between the Giant and me as he settled deeper into his stance. Every line of his body was tensed to attack and I knew he could do it - I had seen Peter cut down three Ettins on his own. The danger he posed to the Giant was very real. With a loud clatter of hooves Oreius darted forward and did the same as Peter did with the Giant and me – he set himself between them. He was very much in harm’s way, given Peter’s state. Oreius seized the top of my brother’s shield and held him firmly in place with his strength and a hard gaze. With his other hand the Centaur gestured the startled Giant to move away from the king. Kanell slid to a halt behind Oreius, his sheer size crowding the Giant and forcing him to move closer to the corner of the courtyard. Sharet, Captain of the Big Cats, dashed away towards the stairs and emerged moments later on the wide wall surrounding the courtyard. I could hear her call to the Giant, distracting him from Peter and buying us time to gain control of the situation. I reached them a moment later and immediately addressed my brother. Officers and instructors stood close by and ready to act. “Don’t, Peter,” I said tightly, not about to approach a naked blade, especially in the hands of someone as distressed as my brother. I was panting as if I’d run all the way to the Queen’s Pavilion atop Cair Paravel. “Lower your sword and step over by me. We’re safe, Peter. Please, come over this way.” Oreius gently pressed my fellow king back and Peter let him. He slowly took one step towards me, then another, his intimidating stare fixed firmly upon the confused Giant. Rhindon dipped and the general released the shield, keeping his hand poised in case Peter broke and in his terror and agitation did something regrettable or foolish. “Sheath your sword, Peter,” I ordered in a quiet tone, sliding Shafelm home by example. When Peter dumbly shook his head, I didn’t argue, I just urged, “Then come over here by me. These are Narnian Giants, not Ettins. They will not hurt you. They will not hurt me.” At my words the Giant turned, suddenly understanding why his king was poised to attack. He shrank away – as much as a twenty-foot-tall Giant can shrink – and fell silent. Doing his best not to look threatening, he moved away from Oreius a few shuffling steps. At Sharet’s whispered growl the other Giants dropped out of sight beyond the wall. It took a few moments, a few deep breaths, and a tremendous effort, but Peter mastered himself. I saw the moment his sense took command over his instincts; he wilted slightly, and Rhindon wavered the least bit. I stepped forward, and only when I pulled free of Sir Peridan’s protective grip on my shoulder did I realize he had been holding me firmly. Peter’s strength was draining away as quickly as his color as he overcame his fear and returned to himself. I knew if I didn’t help support him that odds were good he would black out, so fiercely had he reacted to the Giant’s presence.

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“Ed,” he said in a flat voice, at once a desperate plea for assistance and a wail of regret. His lips were bloodless. I smiled the least bit to reassure him even as he broke my heart. He did not deserve to feel this way. “Come along, Peter. Give me that.” Moving slowly, I took Rhindon from his grasp and handed it off to Celer. His shield I entrusted to Peridan’s elder son, Jaer, before I put my arm around my brother’s waist to support him. He was too fragile right now to deal with the Giants no matter how well-meaning and jolly they may be, and I steered him away as quickly as I could. “Come.” Moments later he collapsed on a bench in the armory, panting, trembling, on the verge of tears. He leaned his elbows on his knees and hung his head, saying nothing. Jaer gingerly set Peter’s shield beside him and I nodded to him in gratitude. He cast Peter an anxious glance, clearly fearing my brother might lapse into the same shocked stupor as he had done upon our return from Ettinsmoor. I had the same fear and I rushed to isolate Peter. Privacy was scarce for us royals. I knew Peter would be too self-conscious to give way to such an intense shock if anyone lingered. “Thank you, Jaer. Would you excuse us?” I looked to the handful of officers that had accompanied us. “Likewise, good sirs.” They bowed and reluctantly filtered out, deep concern evident in their expressions. Celer placed Rhindon next to the shield and clapped me on the shoulder as he passed. I sat down beside Peter, straddling the bench and resting a hand on his back as I stared at his bent head. For a long time we didn’t move, didn’t speak, until Peter sighed and stirred. “If you’re about to apologize, I don’t want to hear it,” I said, cutting him off before he could make a sound. “You’ve naught to be sorry for. They were coming to discuss patrols of the Northern Marches. They came far too early.” Peter’s voice was weary. “I threatened him.” “You felt threatened and rightly so. Oreius told them not to come until late in the morn.” I sighed in turn, imitating his stance. “Thank you.” That confused him enough to look over at me. He was shockingly pale and his eyes were like those of a frightened animal. I reached for him. Great Lion, would all the progress he’d made towards recovery be undone by an innocent mistake? “You put yourself between me and the Giants. Again. Thank you.” He smiled faintly, still trembling and wane, and turned to lean against me, resting his blond head on my shoulder as he had done little over a month ago. I had come to recognize this gesture as a display of his absolute trust and reliance. He would let me help him through this shock as I had helped him in Ettinsmoor. Words were inadequate to the moment, for there were no words that could describe the depth of this understanding and meaning. I just leaned against him in return, wrapping him in my embrace before reaching up with one hand to smooth his hair. To soothe his fears. To once again be the brother that he needed me to be and that I wanted to be. Finally the tears came, breathless sobs that shook his sparse form and broke my heart anew. He wept long and hard and quietly, never lifting his head from my shoulder. I held

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him the entire time, wishing there was more I could do for him. I would have gladly held him forever.

Chapter Six: A Brother’s Wisdom It was too much. Too much for anyone to deal with and more than my brother should have to face. What was worse, it was not fair. Not to the Slinkedorslunk Giants, not to Narnia, not to Peter, and not to anyone that loved him. I cursed Valerlan and his ilk anew, a smoldering fury filling me at the sight of my brother’s ashen face. In this aftermath of confrontation Peter was drained of strength. I could sympathize fully, for I felt little better. In my thoughts I sent a long, rambling prayer to Aslan, desperate to save my brother from backsliding into that awful state he had inhabited until a week ago. I have no idea of how long it was before Oreius entered the armory. He stepped slowly and quietly into the room. I looked up as he approached, and to my surprise he did not reach for Peter first, but me. Leaning far over, the Centaur put his warm hand against my cheek, his dark eyes searching my face for . . . what? I was used to his intensity, and so such close scrutiny did not bother me in the least, but I was confused at such deep concern. He held my gaze for a long span, an expression of quiet grief and remorse on his face. As I gazed back at him, I felt exhaustion settle upon me like a blanket. It was as if I had strained my emotions and my nerves to the breaking point. Finally Oreius looked to Peter, still wrapped in my arms, and he ran his hand through my brother’s fair hair. Exhausted by fear and weeping, Peter stirred at the touch and blinked up at the Centaur. “I am so very sorry, my kings,” Oreius said gently. He looked absolutely stricken. “This is my fault. I should have warned you beforehand, King Peter, and not just your brother. I should have had scouts waiting for the Giants to keep them well away.” I shook my head, drawing a breath to speak, when Peter abruptly replied, “No, General.” His voice was hoarse and soft. “No. You’re not to blame, nor are the Slinkedorslunks. The Ettins are the ones responsible.” “But you are the ones who suffer.” “Yes,” was all he said, accepting and facing the truth. His hand, which rested on my forearm, tightened possessively. Only now I noticed we were both still in full armor. Small wonder I was so stiff and uncomfortable. “Sharet and Celer have the Giants in hand,” promised Oreius. “They will not disturb you again.” There was a long pause and finally Peter nodded, accepting and trusting Oreius’ word. Slowly, reluctantly, I loosened my hold on my brother. Still hovering close, I asked, “What do you want to do? Do you need to rest? Are you hungry?” “I would like to lie down,” he said, casting me a look that bordered on anxious. “I’ll stay with you,” was my instantaneous reply. “Oreius . . .”

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“Celer’s quarters are close by and comfortable,” he suggested. “You can rest there undisturbed.” “Very good. Please send for something to eat and drink and send word to the queens and . . .” I faltered, my thoughts scattering before I could speak. “I . . .” What else? So many things to do, to address. Peter, the meeting with the Giants, the alarm Peter’s encounter with the Slinkedorslunks would generate in our sisters, the wedding . . . “You should rest as well, Edmund,” Oreius said. By his tone of voice and the lack of a title, I knew it was not a suggestion but an order. One I would not mind obeying, I suddenly realized. I nodded in turn and rose, pulling Peter up with me. The General steadied us both, and with his help we shed our armor before he led us back to the courtyard. A blast of heat and blinding sunlight met us and I winced. My head had not been sore until this moment. Squinting at Peter, I was disturbed by his complete lack of reaction to this abrupt change. He was ashen and looked wretchedly weary. We instinctively kept him between us as we walked the short distance to the barracks. Since he was Captain of Infantry, Celer was housed with the army and he had quarters attached to the officers’ barracks. The stone and plaster walls of the room kept it cool in this blazing heat. Plunging into the shadowy chamber, I barely noticed the rich colors and the plain but tasteful décor. I was strangely worn and my limbs felt heavy. “Celer won’t mind?” wondered Peter, looking more deflated each passing moment. “Not in the least,” Oreius replied in all truth. Given the situation, I suspected Celer would be offended if we didn’t use his rooms. “Lie down, Peter,” I ordered, pushing him towards the bed. He lay across its width, snatching up a pillow that he placed next to his head. “And you,” he ordered in turn. Silently I lay beside him, fatigue dragging me down. Rarely had I known so soft and welcome a resting place. I heard Peter and Oreius exchange a few whispered words and felt my brother’s hand smooth my unruly hair. That was the last thing I remembered for a long while. §‡§ “Ed?” At Peter’s soft voice I roused from a state that was neither asleep nor awake, but some warm and relaxed place between. Slowly I opened my eyes. Peter sat on the bed beside me, watching me. I grumbled something and rolled over as Peter huffed a little laugh. “You were so tired you weren’t even snoring,” was his quiet comment. It was a relief to hear the faint amusement in his tone and I rolled back just to scowl at him. “If I snored,” I replied, taking the opportunity to study him. He looked washed out and tired still, but it seemed the distress of seeing the Giants had not yanked him back to that dazed, unfeeling state of shock or, worse still, that cold, closed-off, and brooding young man he had become for a time. Thank Aslan that Peter had the strength to cling to his character and was not shattered anew. Despite Oreius’ assurances that he had reacted in a

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perfectly normal way, I knew he hated how he had responded in the aftermath of his kidnapping. He had been a stranger to everyone, especially himself. “Of course. The girls are on their way and they’re bringing lunch. I thought you’d rather be awake before they got here. How do you feel?” “Rested. And you?” “A little better. It’s late in the morning. You’ve slept for hours.” I frowned, struggling to sit up. “And you didn’t. Peter!” A small smile was the reward for my defensive outburst. “You needed to sleep, Ed. I just needed to rest. I . . . I didn’t want to sleep; I wanted to watch over you. You’ve been running yourself ragged taking care of me. Let me do the same for you.” I blinked, staring at him, grateful beyond words for this glimpse of the old Peter: protective, caring, gentle, annoying. How I had missed him. I wondered if he had missed himself as well . . . or me. A silly notion - of course he had missed me. I reached for his hand, clasping his warm fingers in my own cold ones. I couldn’t keep the reprimand out of my tone. “Peter . . .” His fingers tightened. “Ed . . . I know how you feel.” I frowned a bit, not following him. Peter looked at me, and then lowered his eyes to our hands. I followed his gaze, fixated on the bond between us. His voice was very soft and I dared not make a sound lest he stopped talking, but his words . . . his words laid me bare. At the same time they gave definition to my life’s purpose since that morning at Beaversdam when Peterkins brought the news that Narnia had been invaded and my brother had been seized by Ettins. “I know, Ed. You want to do everything to make this hurt go away. You want to strike out but the target of your hatred is gone. You want to keep the ones you love from ever feeling the way you do. You’ll do anything, anything at all, to spare me any more pain.” He drew a deep, shuddering breath. Even for Peter revealing such depths took an emotional toll. “Am I right?” How did he . . . ? Oh, but of course. Thanks to Jadis and her perversions, he understood and appreciated exactly how I felt about the Ettins. He knew more than any boy his age should. But then, so did I. Once again it came as a relief that Peter knew exactly what had happened to me. Knowledge changed nothing save that it made him even all the more territorial and defensive of me. My mind flashed back to the darkness of endless caverns and damp cold and the shocking revelations I had faced while on the trail of the Ettins – what Jadis had done to me, what Valerlan planned for the Blood Heir, what fate had awaited Peter in Valaner’s halls. “Ed?” I swallowed painfully, tightening my grip on his hand, and I nodded. I could feel the weight of his gaze upon me and I could feel the intensity of his concern. It was the same concern I carried for him, and finally I grasped why he was worried for me and watched me so closely. I finally met his eyes, banishing any sense of shame I might have felt in light of his « 312 »

love. Calm, quiet, so changed and yet untouched by all he had endured, Peter reached out and cradled my head with his free hand. “I’m right here whenever you need me, and I will always listen to you.” I could only whisper in reply, unable to trust my voice as I said, “I know.” §‡§ Eyes and voices brimming with concern for us both, Susan and Lucy swept down upon the officers’ barracks armed with anxious questions, hugs, kisses, and enough food to feed ten times our number. Side-by-side, Peter and I met them head on. Susan immediately bustled us all off to a shady glen – the same one where Peter and I had met with Xati the day before, in fact – and set before us a picnic that was practically a feast. The servants were dismissed and Susan began piling plates with food for Peter and me. Both girls watched us like hawks, making sure we were stuffed before we were permitted to stir. By the gleam in Susan’s eyes I suspected she was rather tired of having such scrawny brothers. They knew everything that had happened and after making certain Peter was none the worse for the experience and I was not going to collapse from whatever affliction they assumed was plaguing me, they changed the subject to Kanell and Xati’s wedding. Peter and I sat bemused, listening in quiet amazement to their many plans and arrangements and not having any idea if we dared to venture any opinions of our own. In the end we both remained silent and therefore looked wise. I doubted our sisters would have appreciated our suggestions simply because we saw little sense in worrying over things like ribbon colors or wine choices or what kind of food to serve. Ribbons were pretty no matter the color and all we asked of food and wine was that they be plentiful and taste good. Beyond that, Peter and I were useless, and very happily so. I was sorely reminded that I needed to work on something – anything – by way of a blessing. I was trying my best to recall everything Kanell had said this morn and to my dismay I seemed to have forgotten most of it. Perhaps I could recall the conversation later, when I didn’t have dessert menus being rattled off at me from two directions. It seems the Cair’s four pastry chefs – three Dwarfs and a Faun – were battling amongst themselves to make the wedding cake. All four of them clamored for the right to bake, claiming some connection of friendship or obligation to Kanell, Xati, their families, and the entire Centaur race. They were also alleging to have been present at the birth of one or the other even though Kanell was older than the lot of them and Xati had been born far to the southwest. Not a one of the chefs had ever been further west than Aslan’s How. There had been a tremendous row in the bakery and macaroons and potato peels had been used as weapons. A four-sided war had been declared as the chefs tried to outdo each other, which explained the overly lavish repast. Lucy was still giggling as she told us about the antics in the kitchens when we heard hoof beats approaching. Peter and I rose automatically as Kanell and Xati, both with serious demeanors, came walking through the copse of trees. The Centaurs bowed low, standing close to one another. Clearly they had something to impart. When Peter remained silent I hastily said, “Captains, be welcome. The kitchens have been overly generous; may we offer you something to eat or drink?” « 313 »

“Nay, my king, though we thank you,” said Xati. She looked at each of us in turn, her concern for my brother evident. “Kanell and I have talked and . . .” “In light of this morn’s events, we think perhaps it would be wisest to put off our wedding for a time,” Kanell finished for her. Susan quietly gasped, and in that small sound I suddenly appreciated the amount of effort she had put into this celebration. It was not selfishness or being controlling on her part – it was her way of thanking Kanell and Xati for their services to this family. I had promoted Xati and knighted Kanell for their efforts in rescuing Peter, and all Susan wanted to give them was the most marvelous wedding imaginable. With that sudden realization I was upset for her and (somewhat) sympathetic for all the fuss that had been raised. Before I could protest, Peter quietly said, “I trust, Captains, that it is not my account that you would delay.” Their hesitation was answer enough. Peter let out a little sigh, clearly troubled to be the source of this change of plan. “Please,” he said, shaking his head, “not for me. I understand your motivation and we will respect your decision, but so many are looking forward to tomorrow. Please, don’t postpone your happiness.” Lucy stood, clasping her little hands. For a moment she looked about to speak, but at Peter’s words her argument evaporated and she tried to rein in her disappointment. Once again Xati looked at each of us, carefully considering. In this moment of confidences, she pressed, “Are you sure, my king?” She glanced at me. “And are you well?” “As sure as we are of anything,” said Peter, flashing a look my way, “and we are as well as can be.” The two Centaurs were silent, and finally Xati took Kanell’s hand in hers, golden fingers twined with black. She looked up at Kanell, and then smiled gently at the High King. “Then we shall be married as planned, King Peter. Thank you.” I stared at their clasped hands. It was a loving, possessive touch, and it struck me that my blessing would be a mere formality. This open declaration of love was more binding than any gesture I could make, and I was left to wonder at my worthiness of sanctifying something so beautiful and great.

Chapter Seven: A Question Without Answer I missed the meeting with the Giants entirely, and that did not upset me in the least. I had not been looking forward to the assembly at all. Giving the matter some thought, I was surprised to realize that I was indeed nervous about being in close proximity to Giants no matter how good they may be. I had thought I was not so affected, but the intensity of my relief proved otherwise. Perhaps Lucy had been right when she had hinted that I been forced to live with the Ettins as well. My contact with them had not been direct, but they had consumed my thoughts for « 314 »

what felt like an eternity as we chased them through the caverns that linked Lake Asher to Ettinsmoor. In the end the foreign Giants had proven even worse than I imagined, not just in their appearance but in their conduct and treatment of my brother. They had tried their very best to kill me, and I shuddered to remember Peter’s terrible expression when he faced Valerlan for the final time. Sitting in the shade of the barracks, I closed my eyes against the memory of Peter’s wrath. It had been both dreadful and thrilling to behold. The thought that Peter had such depths within him and was capable of such unrelenting fury was at once frightening and comforting. Frightening because I knew the price such rage had exacted from him, comforting because it had been in my defense that he had risen up in such a ferocious attack. Lucy had hauled him away for a walk through the gardens, promising me she’d keep to the shade. It was strange to see him now, so pale and disheartened. Physically Peter had never been more fit, but the spark within was struggling to survive in the tempest of his reactions. Still, this quiet brother of mine was much better than the cold and silent one that I had lived with after we returned from Ettinsmoor. I sensed that if the necessity for it arose, the dark rage that had fueled him then would come to the fore again and drive his actions, turning my brother into a living weapon capable of any violence or deed to keep what he loved safe. And I must do everything in my power to keep that necessity from rising again. I saw that now. I was his weakness and his defense, just as he was mine, and I needed to shield him as he needed to defend me. The price we paid for such a bond was at once terrible and beautiful. And worth it. Lion’s mane, but for one such as Peter no price was too great to pay. Somehow, wonderfully, he was my brother, and Narnia and Aslan had worked to forge us into something far greater than either of us had ever imagined. Apart, we were strong, but together we were unstoppable. What, then, had driven me to such wild ends at Loy as to face the worst of the Ettins by myself? Fury, yes, and determination, just as I had told Peter, but a great deal of what had motivated me had been that lingering shame and knowledge I carried with me since Jadis’ abuse. Peter was right. I would have done anything to spare him the humiliation I felt. Peter’s simple declaration, Ed, we have to stop them, had become like unto law for me. A direct command from Aslan himself would not have spurred me to further ends or motivated me more than my brother’s desperate words. Oreius’ concern and Peter’s worry were starting to make more sense to me. Despite my belief otherwise, Valerlan and his Ettins had managed to affect me, and probably more deeply than I realized. A long sigh escaped me. I wasn’t certain if the feeling in my chest was guilt or annoyance or some combination of the two emotions. I didn’t want to cause them any anxiety – Peter especially – but there was no controlling such a reaction. I had been so absorbed with Peter that only now, as he slowly recovered, did I have time for myself. I wasn’t exactly pleased with the opportunity for reflection and self-analysis, to be honest. Dealing with the Ettins had dredged up a lot of memories I did not want to address, especially now. There were too many issues of greater importance to address –

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Peter, the drought, the wedding. There would be time for memories and the pain they brought later. I was avoiding the issue, I knew, but its time would come. I heard movement before me and I opened my eyes to see Yoli, my well-meaning but annoying Harrier friend, slowly walking towards me. He paused, panting heavily in the afternoon sun, and I sat up straighter on the log that served as my bench. He was a loyal, honest Dog, uncomplicated of thought and pleasingly distracting. I waved him over. “Yoli, good friend, come out of the sun and cool off.” He hesitated. “Did you want to be alone?” “I don’t know what I want right now, sir, so your company would be welcome.” With a doggy little groan of relief the Harrier lay down close by my feet. I smiled faintly and leaned over to thump his side. He looked up at me, gazing with open curiosity in his brown eyes. “Are you lonely, King Edmund?” I paused, surprised by the question. “Lonely? Why do you ask?” “You seem that way. You’ve seemed that way since you returned from Ettinsmoor.” I stroked his head. “I suppose I have been in a way. I’ve been so busy. Peter hasn’t been himself and I miss my brother.” The Harrier rested his head on my leg in a comforting gesture. “He’ll be back, King Edmund. He has too much waiting for him not to come back to himself.” I smiled at his simple logic. Dogs were quite good at seeing things in basic terms, and for someone like me that over thought the least thing, they made for refreshing company. “And once King Peter is back to himself, then you can be content again,” he reasoned. There was no denying I had been on edge. Without Peter’s steadying presence I tended to be harsher and less patient than I intended in many cases. But not this one. I eased myself down to sit on the ground with him. The earth was dry and dusty and I noticed the grass was turning brown for want of water. The trees were listless without as much as a breeze to stir their leaves. A sigh escaped me. Narnia was parched, gasping for a drink. “We need rain, Yoli.” His whip of a tail slapped the ground, sending up a small cloud of dirt. He looked across the lawn, seeing what I saw, and knew that I was stating a fact, not a complaint. Inching closer, he leaned heavily against me, a Dog’s embrace. “My mother says that everything is a blessing from Aslan, and all blessings are good.” “Even a drought?” I wondered, determined to stay collected and free of annoyance. “Even a drought, King Edmund. Sometimes you have to look harder to see good past what’s bad. That way, when the rains come, the blessing seems all the greater. My mother says we Animals have been gifted with speech so that we can bless everything around us and sing Aslan’s praise.” « 316 »

“I’ve always counted you amongst my blessings,” I admitted. Tail wagging with delight and showering us both with dirt, Yoli said, “I’ve thanked Aslan for you every day since I was a pup.” I shook my head. “How could you know we’d come in your lifetime?” He smiled a doggy smile. “I didn’t. I just knew that you’d come.” A laugh escaped me. “Yoli, some day you’ll have to teach me to think like a Dog.” “It’s easy, King Edmund. We just think about one thing at a time.” “Dogs are lucky, then.” With an affectionate whine he pushed his nose beneath my hand so I had no choice but to pet him. I stroked his short hair and he smiled anew, awkwardly pawing at my leg as he said with all sincerity, “Yes we are, Majesty. We have you.” I leaned over and kissed his dusty head. “And thank Aslan, I have you.” §‡§ I am not particularly fond of tea – I far prefer coffee or hot chocolate – but I found myself looking forward to tea today. Normally we had guests or ambassadors or representatives of some sort or another joining us, but in light of the morning’s events – and given a lack of ambassadors and representatives this week - Susan had affirmed that it would be strictly for the family. After leaving Yoli and listening to tales and misadventures in getting married from about a Hen, a Nymph, a Horse, a Gryphon, and a Lion, all of them female and, I might add, all of them intent upon dragging their spouses or would-be spouses to the wedding ceremony tomorrow evening. Tomorrow. Dear Aslan, but I needed help! A day to go and I had nothing but a handful of notes written by an Opossum. Going directly to the library, I tip-toed past Irel, who was soundly asleep in his basket, and laid hold of all the books and scrolls Arthur Ravenwolf had set out for me on what I (and most everyone in Cair Paravel) considered to be my table. There were more resources than I anticipated and I hesitated, reluctant to rouse the old Hedgehog just to ask for a basket to carry everything. I started gathering up the books into a heavy pile. “Your Majesty?” I turned, dumping the books back onto the table. “Ah! Cheroom! would you help me?” The old Centaur nodded his head and bowed. “That was my intent, King Edmund.” Instead of helping to gather up the scrolls, however, Cheroom unrolled the first one he picked up and began to read it. “You’re researching weddings.” I could not help but sigh. “I have to perform one tomorrow evening.”

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He smiled and lifted the next scroll, scanning the contents before looking at me. “Majesty, if I may, I believe that this is one case where less research would be more. Blessings must come from within, and the truest ones are not based on forms, but emotions.” Easily said, I thought sourly, doubting that he had performed his first wedding ceremony at the ripe old age of twelve. Aloud I replied, “Never having done this before, some sort of structure to follow would help.” Knowing me too well to argue, Cheroom set the scroll down. “Has anyone described the ceremony to you?” “Minovin did, a little.” “Then sit, my king, and allow me to tell you more detail.” I was grateful beyond words and wondered where my sense had gotten off to that I did not turn to him first. Then again, things had been so disjointed of late. “. . . have them join hands or wings or paws and you should hold that bond in place with your own hands, like this . . .” His voice was deep and rich and soothing, like the rhythm of the waves, and I listened intently. It was so easy to lose oneself in Cheroom’s instruction. If Narnia in all her glory had been reduced to words on a page, Cheroom would have done them the justice they deserved. “. . . must remember you have been asked to bless a union. It is their faith in you and the words you will say that will bind them as husband and wife from that moment on . . .” I don’t know how long he spoke. Not long I think, for the ceremony is a simple one, but in its simplicity was its beauty and depth, and I felt a nagging sensation at my conscience. “Cheroom?” “Yes, Sire?” Stumbling through my question before I lost my nerve, I awkwardly wondered, “Does . . . does it ever matter that the person performing the ceremony has not always been . . . I mean, it’s such an important moment in peoples’ lives . . . shouldn’t the person blessing them be . . .” I didn’t know how to finish, how to describe myself adequately. I stopped talking when my dear teacher put his hand under my chin and lifted my head to look at him. “King Edmund the Just,” said the old Centaur in that same stern, gentle voice that Oreius used so often with me and Peter. “Do not doubt your own merit. Aslan set you upon the throne. That alone should tell you and all the world of your worthiness. You are King of Narnia. You are Narnia. Narnia, which is the seat of the Great Lion’s grace. What greater praise can be sung, O Son of Adam? What greater love hath Aslan than to give us such a ruler as you?” I had no answer. There was no answer. “What is past is past. Do not live there, Edmund Pevensie. Kanell and Xati know what you were. They asked you to marry them because of what you are. You are King Edmund the Just. Live that, my child.” « 318 »

Dumbly, I nodded, ducking me head in the hopes he would not see the tears threatening to fall. He was silent for a long while, letting me collect myself and regain my self control as I turned his words over in my head. Narnia? How could I be Narnia? What could Cheroom mean? It was a puzzle I did not have time to figure out just yet. When finally I looked up again the Centaur smoothed my hair and cuffed me lightly on the head, showing his affection in the manner of his people. “Look upon your role in their wedding as the honor that it was meant to be,” he advised sagely, smiling all the while. “No matter what you say, Sire, if you are sincere then their union will be blessed, for you yourself are blessed.”

Chapter Eight: A Lesson in Philosophy I appropriated Peter’s bed simply because it was bigger than mine and closer to the door and therefore a shorter distance to stagger with the pile of books I had taken from the library. He wouldn’t mind my borrowing his space if, indeed, he noticed at all. Dumping the heavy tomes onto the bed, I hurried off to tea. I was, of course, late, but no later than my siblings had come to expect me to be on a regular basis. Tea was set up on the veranda by the rose garden and the moment Lucy spotted me trotting down the hall she began to pour. I dropped into a chair next to Peter and stole a glance at him. Quiet as usual, he seemed both tired and relaxed. Lucy’s company had done him some good, but then she could always cheer him up. Someone - Susan most likely - had remembered my preference for coffee and served me some in a two-handled saucer more commonly used for hot chocolate. Despite the heat of the day I drank the coffee very hot before I sat back with a contented sigh, ready to listen to the various wedding plans and avoid mentioning my own lack of preparation. To keep from having to talk I rather overindulged in snozberry tarts. I felt justified, though, since snozberries are my favorite Narnian fruit and they have such a short season, made all the more scarce by this drought. Besides, I was hungry again and the little yellow tarts were too rare and delicious to let go to waste. I noticed that Peter didn’t eat much at tea or at the light dinner that followed. Later on, in our room, he made no comment about the pile of books or the little brother occupying his bed. Instead he lay down amidst the tomes and papers and set to reading the pages Arthur had marked for me in one of the books. I did my very best to remember everything Kanell had told me that morning in order to transcribe it along with Xati’s answers. It seemed as if an age had passed since the Giants had arrived and several ages since I had been asked to join the two Centaurs in marriage. Staring at the pages of notes, struck by the similarities in their answers, I waited for inspiration to come take me by storm and for the words to flow effortlessly forth from the pencil I clutched and onto the paper before me. I had no such luck. I knew what I needed, but the right words eluded me. Time passed. Inspiration ignored me completely. “Ed?” asked Peter when one sigh too many told him I was at an impasse. “I don’t know what to say. Cheroom explained what to do, but I don’t know what to say to them.” I looked at my brother. He was watching me with an odd intensity not unlike the « 319 »

look Oreius had given me in the armory. A thought occurred to me as I returned his gaze, and I hesitantly admitted, “I’ve never blessed anyone before. Not really.” “Bosh,” said the High King gently, the look in his eyes softening. “Certainly you have. Haven’t I heard you say that Dwarfish blessing a thousand times?” “It’s not the same!” I threw down the pencil in frustration and protest. “That’s always asking for Aslan’s blessing, not mine.” “But it is the same, Ed. You’re the one that’s there, seeing the need for a blessing and bestowing it on the spot. You might be asking for Aslan’s protection, but the desire is yours.” He set the book aside and leaned his head on his hand. “This time it’s just a bit . . . bigger.” “And more permanent,” I muttered, flopping back into the pillows. “Aslan willing, yes, it will be.” “I don’t know what to say,” I admitted, lifting my head to look at him. “How do you manage it? You rattle off blessings as easily as blinking.” He blinked. “Well, you can cut someone down to size with two sentences and a glare.” “Racking up casualties is not the point of a wedding, Peter.” Peter chuckled, and I could see him unwind a bit more. “That depends on the wedding, I suppose, and the in-laws. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just heartfelt and honest. When I bless someone, I just say what I wish most for them.” “But I want it to be perfect!” Now he smiled. “Knowing Xati and Kanell and how much they’re in love, you could just get up there and say ‘Aslan’s blessing and mine upon this union’ and it would be perfect.” I shook my head. “But why ask me?” “Why not?” he countered. “Both Kanell and Xati hold you in the highest regard. You’re a king and knight and scholar! Don’t sell yourself short, brother. There’s no one in the world I’d sooner have beside me or behind me in combat or debate.” “But . . . I haven’t always been the best person, Peter.” “Who has?” You have, I wanted to say, but I knew he would deny as much. Peter may not be perfect, but he was closer to the mark than anyone I knew, and his shortcomings just added to his charm. “Cheroom said . . . he said before that I was Narnia and the fact that I was made a king by Aslan is proof enough of my worthiness.” Peter nodded in agreement. “Precisely.” I waited for more, but without prompting that one word seemed the end of that train of sagacity. “I don’t follow. How can I be Narnia? How can any of us be a country?” I pressed, demanding more. « 320 »

Peter gladly gave me everything I asked for and more. “Aslan gave us to Narnia and Narnia to us. We are Aslan’s blessing upon Narnia. Each of us and all of us. Out of all the people in our world, he was waiting for us. And not just because of who we were, but of who we are and who we’ll be.” Sitting up, he folded his bare feet beneath him. “Oreius said something similar to me when he knocked some sense back into me the other day. He said, ‘When will you realize that you are Narnia?’” Our Centaur teachers must be in cahoots. That didn’t surprise me in the least, especially since they were related. I made a face, gesturing helplessly for him to get on with the philosophy lesson. “But what does that mean?” He turned and stretched out to rest his head on the pillow beside mine. “Narnia just isn’t a patch of land, Ed. It’s people, our people, joined by love and magic and revinim. It’s the wind and the waters and moonlight to dance by, music and wine and laughter. It’s the army and Parliament and those silly Mice and those poor Giants and -“ He paused to swallow. I could tell he was trying to brave his way past the memories of this morning and my heart ached for him. He struggled for control and after a moment he continued in a quieter tone. “By giving us to Narnia, Aslan has given us the greatest gift imaginable in return.” He shifted to a different tack. “Could you leave Narnia? Right now? Just walk away from all this?” I shuddered at the thought, remembering the moment I first stepped foot in Ettinsmoor. To say that land had been lacking in comparison to our home was an understatement. I could not imagine life without the clash of swords every morning and the wise voices of our teachers and counselors or rich clothes and bountiful feasts and the haunting music of Narnia. Life without Narnia would be a pale, disappointing echo, an imitation of life and beauty. “No,” I finally managed. “Because it’s in you. In your heart and soul. Val-“ He broke off. He had hardly spoken the name of the Ettin crown prince a dozen times since we had rescued him. With a shuddering breath he rolled onto his back, staring up the rich canopy overhead as he forced himself to continue. “Valerlan couldn’t grasp that. He had no regard for revinim and he was not one with his land or his people. He didn’t want to be.” “That sounds very lonely,” I replied softly. “He was, I think.” He stared directly at me, his blue eyes bright and his gold hair fanned out on the pillow. “That’s part of it, Ed. In Narnia, we’re never lonely. Not in that sense. We have Aslan. We have the land, and the land is alive.” “You’re right. When did you become so smart, Peter?” “Since coming here and having classes pounded into my skull. Though I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Edmund Randall: you are the smartest of us.” I scoffed. “I don’t feel it.” “That’s because you haven’t given yourself a chance to see it or feel it. You are. Trust me.” “I do.” « 321 »

“And you can manage this wedding ceremony, brother.” He smiled at me then, that gentle loving smile that meant the whole world to me. “The blessing will come.” And I, for one, knew better than to doubt the word of the land’s High King. “Peter?” “Hmm?” I was thinking of when he had gone into the Western Wild to get the apple from the Tree of Protection in order to save me from Jadis’ curse. In those months without him, I had felt ancient before my time. Upon return home he had been so exhausted, so worn, that he had seemed so old to me. We were all older and more mature and responsible than children our ages should be. Such was the price of kingship, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. “How old are you?” “Fifteen. You know that.” “You don’t sound it,” I said in a whisper. Peter’s expression turned sad, though his smile lingered. I knew he understood my meaning. “I don’t feel it.” Chapter Nine: A Gift A/N: My thanks to bumbarash for her help with Peterkins’ vocabulary and to Miniver for making this story fit for consumption. §‡§ Twelve steps. Nine. Four. One . . . I dragged my leaden feet up the last few steps and collapsed on the last one, unable to move another inch. I leaned against the stone wall beside me, but it retained the heat of summer and gave no relief. Panting, I didn’t even have the energy to peel off my sweat-soaked gloves. A few paces away, Peter was somehow still on his feet, doubled over and gasping for breath as we finished yet another run up the tallest tower in Cair Paravel. Of Jaer and Jaerin there was no hint – they were not nearly as used to this sprint as Peter and I were. I knew we wouldn’t see them for a good quarter of an hour, if not longer, even though they started right behind us. If I hadn’t been so busy trying to calm my breathing I would have smiled. This would teach them to be curious and volunteer for such things as joining us in our weekly race to the Queen’s Pavilion – Oreius wouldn’t let them decline after this. “Raise King Edmund’s banner,” called Susan. A moment later she was leaning over my shoulder, loosening the ties on my gorget and gauntlets and exposing my neck and wrists to the ocean breeze. Immediately I felt cooler and I pushed the heavy gloves off my forearms. With a gentle shushing sound Susan handed me a goblet of cool lemonade. “Drink, Edmund,” she ordered, gingerly lifting the nasty gloves by the leather ties and handing them off to one of her ladies, who carried them away on a silver salver. Susan gathered her skirts and sat beside me, watching with sympathy as I slowly regained control

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of my breathing. Behind us, I could hear Peter coughing as he thanked Lucy for a drink. Susan glanced back at him and then leaned close to whisper, “Was it a very bad night?” I looked up at her, realizing she knew Peter well enough to figure out he would not have slept well, and reluctantly nodded as I swallowed the last of the lemonade. Peter rarely had nightmares, but when he did they were vivid and horrifying and it was very hard to wake him up. His encounter with the Slinkedorslunks had sparked the worst memories of his time with the Ettins, moments so dreadful that he couldn’t even bring himself to speak of them, though knowing what he had witnessed and endured, I could easily guess. I had ended up on his bed, holding him and driving away the terrors of the night, only to wake up being held by him in turn. “And you?” pressed Susan, touching my arm as she took the empty cup. “I was too busy for nightmares,” I admitted. Understanding and sympathy softened the expression in her anxious blue eyes. She leaned over and kissed me on the temple. “I’ll get you more lemonade.” I heard movement on the spiral stairs below and could only hope that Peridan’s sons didn’t trample me in their triumphant arrival. Give that they were probably walking up the last half of the tower and resting every landing (as Peter and I had done the first time we were sent on this run) and at best would be dragging their feet when they reached this point, I felt quite safe and under no obligation to budge. I was surprised, then, to see Sra Sysyks slowly coming up the steps. He was a Monitor Lizard, sometimes called a Dragon because of his size though he was not any sort of Wyrm, and he was one of the Cair’s foremost scientists. Seeing his squat silhouette weaving towards me, I automatically glanced at the sky beyond the doorway where I was perched. Sysyks was obsessed with the weather and would spend hours atop the Cair’s various towers making observations and taking endless notes. He was often to be seen in the company of my tutor Cheroom and Dame Utha, our navigation instructor, for they all shared a mutual fascination with the skies and climate. I was astonished to note that the clouds that had gathered overnight had not dissipated at sunrise, and the banners snapped in the brisk breeze. It had been so long since we’d had clouds in the sky that I blinked in surprise before scooting out of the Dragon’s way. “Good morn, Sysyks,” I said, my voice hoarse from running. “How goes the weather?” “Good morn, King Edmund,” he rasped deeply, flicking his forked tongue at me (for Monitors, that was considered mannerly). “If you will give me some time, I hope I will be able to give you an answer.” “Have at it, sir,” I smiled. He hissed politely and slowly climbed past me, greeting the ladies and Peter. I laboriously got to my feet and stumbled over to join my brother where he leaned against one of the pillars holding up the decorative dome of the tower and now him as well. Peter was looking to the east, staring with hope at the clouds amassing on the horizon. “Look,” he said softly, pointing at the dark banks.

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In a single word Peter’s voice betrayed his fatigue. I stole a glance at him, taking in his pale, thin face and the dark shadows beneath his eyes. I had wanted to forego our training today, but he had adamantly refused. Seeing him in the light of day, I wished I had insisted. At least we had no royal duties today. Or, rather, at least Peter had no royal duties today. I still had the wedding to perform . . . survive . . . endure. Whatever was I going to do? “Pray for rain, Ed,” Peter whispered, yanking me back from my musings. “La,” I said, letting the wind cool me as I looked out to the Eastern Sea, thinking it was so strange to hope for darkness. Susan returned with two goblets of lemonade for us. The wind picked up her long, black hair and blew it every which way. With a smile I raised my glass in salute to her and the clouds. “Aslan grant us a blessing of rain . . . among other things.” §‡§ “Ed?” “Argh!” I threw my quill down and folded my arms in a full-blown pout. “Peter, why can’t I write anything?” Both my brother and the Fox kit that bore his name looked up from where they were had a chess board set up to play a game of fox and hounds (in such matches, Peterkins always insisted on being the fox and we strove hard not to let him be beaten by a mere hound while trying to pound some semblance of strategy into his skull). We were seated on carpets around a very low table used for smaller animals, like Foxes, and I was determined not to stir until I had some notion of what I wanted to say for the marriage ceremony. “I can write my name,” volunteered Peterkins, carefully using his little paw to move the black knight representing the fox to an open space on the board. “That’s about all I can write at the moment, too,” I muttered. My brother studied his little pack of hounds. “As Mathe would say, Edmund, you must write the right rite.” I snorted. Everything was a rhetoric exercise to Mathe, and he had successfully infected the pair of us. Peterkins looked up from the board with interest. “Are the Centaur captains still getting married?” He spoke in disbelief, as if Kanell and Xati were insane for not calling off the whole thing. “Yes, good my Fox,” said Peter, reaching over to ruffle the fur atop his head. “Blin!” muttered the kit, shaking his head in disgust at girls and the romantic perils they presented to the male population of Narnia. I saw Peter mouth the word, and then look up at me helplessly. “Blin?” he wondered. I recalled that Peter was an amateur when it came to his namesake’s habit of using words known only to himself. “Blin?” I inquired. “Is that anything like grufull?” “Grufull?” echoed my brother, lost in this particular conversation. He looked at me desperately. « 324 »

Peterkins considered, mentally comparing the meaning and impact of his unique vocabulary. “It’s not as bad.” “But still bad,” I established. I shook my head in mock sympathy and tried the word again. “Blin. You say that now, Master Fox.” He frowned as Peter moved a pawn representing a hound into his fox’s path. “I’ll say it then, too,” he muttered. “When?” asked Peter, trying hard not to smile. “When a vixen wants to marry me,” was his confident reply as he focused on the board. “Ah,” said Peter sagely. “But what if you want to marry her, Peterkins?” Scandalized at the notion, Peterkins let forth with a noise of disgust. “Why would I want to?” Peter smiled, but I didn’t. In this one case, at least, I was rather on the Fox’s side. §‡§ I was fortunate in the fact that my brother knew me so well. My frustration and anxiety over the wedding ceremony stirred his sympathies, and when Peterkins was called away by his mother to help the ladies decorate, Peter leaned across the little table. “Are you regretting agreeing to this?” A sigh escaped me. “Yes and no. I want to do this. I’m honored to do this. But why am I having such a terrible time?” “Because you care so much. Listen, Ed, I said this before: it doesn’t have to be perfect. You’ve never done this before, but neither have they! I’m sure if Kanell and Xati knew how hard you’ve been trying that they’d be happy with anything you say.” He was right of course, but I still wasn’t satisfied. Suddenly the quill was snatched from my fingers. I looked up in surprise. “Maybe writing it out isn’t the thing to do. Talk to me. What does giving this blessing mean to you?” “I . . . I don’t know. It’s a chance to thank them for all they’ve done for us. And . . . and . . .” I fumbled about, shy of admitting my own fears of yesterday and my sense of unworthiness. Peter, like Cheroom, would protest such a feeling. “All things are blessings,” I quoted with a sigh. “And all blessings are gifts,” he finished quickly. “Even being unable to write?” “It’s gotten you to talk more, hasn’t it? So this is your gift to the captains. This is what they want from you. What do you want for them?” “I want them to be happy,” I said slowly, remembering what both Centaurs had said to me and my own hopes for their future together. “I want them to always be able to talk to each other like we can and I want them to respect each other and the choices they make. I want their love to grow and I want them to have lots of children and to see their children have children and I want them in our lives for ages and ages to come.” « 325 »

Peter waited, his smile slowly growing. “There you go, Ed.” He handed me back my pen. “Write that down. There’s your foundation. Now build on it.” I stared at him, astonished, and I hastily obeyed, the feather quill scratching across the paper as I recaptured what I had said. I stared at my own words, suddenly reassured to have something, anything written out even if it wasn’t very well said. I looked up at him anxiously. “Peter . . .” I had chased after him from Lake Asher in the Lantern Waste to Loy Keep in Ettinsmoor for the sole purpose of getting him back. I had faced monsters both real and imagined in the forms of Ettin Giants and my own memories to reach that end. He sat before me hale and whole, a living testament to what love and determination and fury can achieve. After all that, why did I still hesitate to speak? By the light in his eyes I could tell he knew what I was going to say. He saw right through me and my doubts. Old beyond his years he may be, Aslan had also granted him wisdom and insight. When he spoke his voice was soft, his words embracing me and drawing me out from my uncertainty. Our emotions had been laid raw these past few days and to hear him was like a healing balm. “Before I went into the Western Wild and then again when I got back, Aslan said to me that my grace was Narnia’s blessing.” That made perfect sense to me, even if it hadn’t come from Aslan. “I had months to think that over. Blessings are gifts,” he repeated. “The ones I’ve received from Narnia are, I think, greater than the ones I’ve given.” He ignored my incredulous look – he knew exactly how highly I thought of him and his position as High King – and silenced the protest rising to my lips with a small gesture. “The greatest gift Narnia has given me has been my brother – his life, his love, his loyalty. Aslan willing, some day I’ll be worthy of him. And when I’m worthy of such a king, then so will Narnia be. When that day dawns, Edmund Randall, I will be truly blessed, and in every way.” I sat is stunned silence to hear such an act of devotion. He did not see himself worthy of me? How could that be? He was Peter, the High King, chosen by Aslan . . . as I had been chosen. I stared at him, my mouth hanging open. Cheroom’s words, Peter’s words suddenly came into sharp focus for me. Life. Love. Loyalty. That was what I wanted for Kanell and Xati. For Peter. For Narnia. For Aslan. I would simply return what they had already given me. I had only to give voice to what was already there. Peter stood, smiling at my reaction. Leaning over, he pressed a kiss to my hair. “Not even Aslan is as fortunate as we,” he said. “We’ve each been blessed by a brother, Brother.”

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Chapter Ten: A Star’s Spear I was still scribbling away when Kanell and Xati approached me a little later. So absorbed was I by the torrent of words rushing through my mind that I didn’t even notice when Peter stepped away to check on Susan’s progress or that the Centaurs had replaced him. It was only when I realized that I was running low on ink that I looked up and realized my audience had changed. I was rather astonished to see the pair of them together, but it was just past noon and the wedding was not until sunset. “Captains,” I said, scrambling to my feet to greet them. They seemed amused at my state and I belatedly realized my fingers and cuffs were smeared with ink. I hoped I’d be able to scrub it off before the ceremony. “Good mor – I mean good afternoon. I trust everything is well?” I had a hideous notion of them calling the whole thing off, thereby making all my anxiety a wasted effort, traumatizing the chefs, and rendering Peterkins triumphant. It must have shown on my face, because Xati smiled. “All is well by us, my king,” said the mare. “We just wanted to make sure that all is well by you.” “I’m almost done, I think,” I said, smiling. “Done?” wondered Kanell. “With the blessing,” I said happily. “I finally know what I want to say.” They exchanged a puzzled look and then gazed at me with interest. “You’re writing it?” wondered Kanell, his white teeth flashing a smile in his dark face. I froze, a chill running up my spine and a sinking feeling in my stomach at their reactions. “Shouldn’t I be?” Was there some Narnian tradition running contrary to my conduct? That would be just my luck! Xati elbowed her betrothed in the ribs. “It is unusual but not incorrect,” she said, addressing me but in reality telling Kanell to be silent. “Most people performing the marriage blessing are more familiar with our customs. In truth there is no real, set ceremony beyond the blessing itself, though some species have their own accepted forms. There is naught wrong with writing out your words, my king, and by doing so we’ll have an accurate record of your wishes for us.” Meaning that most people make the blessing up on the spot, I realized, reading between the lines. I was not so eloquent. Not yet. So far I proved to be articulate only when I was very cross or when Peter was being dense. My expression betrayed me again, because a moment later Kanell’s big, heavy hand gripped my shoulder. He leaned far over to address me eye-to-eye. “My king . . . Edmund, do not concern yourself over trifles,” he said, his deep voice tinged with gentle humor. “If your resolve is true then your blessing will be as well. We did not ask this of you with the intent that it should cause you distress. We asked you because you, Edmund Pevensie, are important to us both. No matter what you say this eve, be it simple or powerful or if it lasts for hours on end, it will suffice.”

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I snorted at the notion of talking for hours – I instantly had a mental image of Susan and Lucy trying to stay awake and Peter faint from hunger and swatting mosquitoes as I rambled long into the night. I smiled up at him. “Aslan grant me some restraint in that respect, sir,” said I. Kanell grinned back. “Aye, King Edmund.” Xati spoke up, reaching into the leather pouch over her shoulder as she spoke. “It is customary for those going to be married to present a gift to the one who performs the ceremony. Kanell and I thought long and hard on what would be a suitable gift. We ask that you take this, King Edmund, as a measure of our respect and esteem.” I recognized the words as being very close to what she had said two days ago on the training grounds. I could not refuse if it was an established custom, and so I accepted the gift with both hands. She placed in my hands a long, thin, flat bundle wrapped in a piece of bright silk and tied with a ribbon, and at her encouraging nod, I unwrapped it. A little gasp escaped me. It was a dagger, one clearly made for a Centaur, very old and very finely wrought. That it was unadorned did not detract from its elegance – this was the weapon of a warrior, someone who had no time for fripperies or decorations but needed something strong and reliable. I pulled it from the plain leather sheath to reveal a straight blade of silver-gray steel, barely tapered to a wide point. It was a little longer than my forearm and the grip was a bit too large for me, so I would have to grow into it as opposed to outgrowing my swords. My experience in making knives under the tutelage of Chief Smith Brickit of the Blue River Smithy stood me in good stead at that moment because I could tell, even with my limited knowledge, that this knife was expertly made and a work of art unto itself. I sat down with a thump on the low table where I had been working, staring at the dagger in speechless awe. When finally I could tear my eyes away, I looked up to see both Centaurs smiling at me, pleased by my reaction. “This was made for my grandmother, Arna, by the Centaur smith Sungale,” Xati said warmly, her eyes bright as she relayed the blade’s history. She seemed positively delighted at the effect the dagger was having upon me. “He was the finest smith of his time and he forged this for her out of a piece of steel from a Star’s spear, fallen to earth. With this knife General Arna slew the fell Gryphon Dravigont, the White Witch’s first and best general. Bear it well and with the same pride my grandmother bore it, King Edmund.” I swallowed, trying to find my voice. Finally I managed to as faintly, “L-lady, shouldn’t this be an heirloom of your house?” “My daughter will bear her great-grandmother’s sword,” Xati replied with fierce pride, shifting slightly to show the broadsword hanging at her side. “This is the blade known as Stella Telum, forged from that same metal as your knife in the last year before the White Witch seized this land. It has only ever been drawn for the service and glory of Narnia. This is the heirloom I will leave my daughter.” Slowly I spoke, getting back to my feet and quietly vowing, “I swear to you that I will never do anything to dishonor this blade, Captains, and when I am gone it will be returned to your heirs.” « 328 »

By the smiles I received I could tell that was the exactly right answer to give. Xati leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Kanell showed his affection with a gentle smack to the back of my head then he steadied me with his big hand. “It is your gift to do with as you will, King Edmund,” said he, “and I pray it is not returned for many ages to come.” “As do I, sir.” §‡§ It was fortunate that Kanell and Xati had arrived when they did because I was so completely overwhelmed by their gift to me that for the next hour or so I couldn’t write. Instead I stared at the dagger, testing its heft and balance and wondering what stories it would tell if it could speak. “Where did you get that?” I looked up to see Lucy, who looked just like a flower in a pretty gown of yellow and pale green, standing close by. She stared at the blade with wide eyes, giving me a hint of what I must have looked like when I first unwrapped it. I held out the knife for her to take, knowing how she appreciated fine knives. “It’s a gift from Xati and Kanell for performing the wedding. It’s made from a Star’s spear and it belonged to her grandmother, General Arna.” “It’s beautiful,” she whispered reverently. “It must be very old!” “It was made in the year 899.” “Oh, Edmund, how wonderful!” I silently agreed, smiling as I took the knife back from her. “So how goes the wedding, old girl?” “Oh!” she exclaimed, and by her tone I knew someone had to be misbehaving. “Would you believe that all four pastry chefs made wedding cakes? Plus that old Dwarf that cooks for the officers, Baldon! His has ten tiers! And it’s the smallest one! We have five wedding cakes, Edmund! Five! And we have to serve them all or all the other pastry chefs swear that they’ll quit.” I snorted a laugh. She almost waved her arms in frustration, completely unaware of how cute she really looked – an angry lily flower. “Don’t laugh! Narnian tradition says that all the wedding cake has to be eaten that night! We can’t leave until the cake is all gone and we couldn’t even ask the Slinkedorslunks to stay and have some! We are going to be eating cake for days and days in that same bower where the wedding is taking place! It will get stale before we can eat it all!” That did it. She was so emphatic that I burst out laughing. She lost all patience and stamped her foot at me, which just made me laugh harder. I tried to rein in my reaction because Lucy was genuinely upset, but she was too close to the situation to see how funny it really was. “Lu,” I finally managed, wiping the tears from my eyes. “Lu, all you have to do is invite the whole army! There won’t be enough cake to go around!” « 329 »

She folded her arms across her chest and glowered. “You haven’t seen what a ten-tier wedding cake looks like, Edmund Randall!” “Maybe not, but I know how much a Centaur can eat.” “It’s taller than you.” “Most things are, Lu,” I grinned. “Except you and Brickit.” She was fighting the desire to laugh back at me. “Promise you’ll eat three slices,” she finally said. “Five,” I pledged recklessly. “One from each cake.” Her face blossomed into a smile, and with a happy little shout she gave me a hug strong enough to squeeze the breath out of me. “You really are a very good older brother, Edmund,” she said bluntly, though I understood the full meaning behind her words. She looked up at me, her arms still tight around my waist. “I’m very lucky to have you.” I hugged her back just as hard. “Not as lucky as I am, Lu.” Chapter Eleven: A Confession The day continued to be cloudy, a welcome relief from the weeks of relentless sunshine and blistering temperatures. With my new knife and the stack of papers in my hands I wandered through the wilted gardens, looking at my notes and organizing my thoughts. I very much wanted to show Peter the gift from the Centaurs and get his opinion on what I had written. I walked and walked through the maze of flower beds and shrubs and bowers until I suddenly realized that I had no idea of where the wedding was going to take place. “Brilliant,” I muttered, feeling lost even though I really wasn’t. I knew exactly where I was except in relation to the wedding. I sat down on a mossy stone wall overlooking the Eastern Sea and gazed at the pages I had written out. There was a common thread running through these notes and the conversations and my thoughts and it was upon that vein that I concentrated. I was so long at it that I completely missed the passage of time - the very protracted passage of time, in fact. “Ed!” I roused at Peter’s shout. Looking up, I saw my brother jogging down the steps from the herb gardens and towards my perch. I smiled to see him - he was red-faced and out of breath for the second time today and he fell onto the wall beside me, gazing at me in exasperation. “Where have you been?” he panted. I shrugged. “I wandered around and then I ended up here. Why?” He let out a growl of amusement and annoyance, his shoulders slumping. “Why? Do you or do you not have a wedding to perform in two hours?” I stared at him, panicked anew. “So soon?” I squeaked.

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“Yes, little brother,” he teased, smiling. “We’ve been looking all over for you. Susan is in a rare state and I swore I’d find you and get you ready.” He stood. “So. Pray allow me to make good on my promise.” We didn’t make it very far because Peter spotted the knife and we stopped so that he could admire it and hear its history. We became so absorbed in our conversation and aspects of the knife that we both forgot about getting ready. So deep were we in a discussion on how I could compensate for the oversized grip that we both jumped when a deep voice yelled, “Wolfsbane! How!” Oreius. The general was out searching for me as well, and by his tone and his use of our chivalric names he was far from being in a jovial mood. From where he stood framed by pillars and trumpet vines he looked unaccountably fierce for such a pretty setting. He was frowning - never a good thing from a Centaur - and his tail flicked and swished in annoyance. Kanell was Oreius’ good friend and fellow soldier and Xati was a distant relation. Oreius was determined to see the wedding went off without a hitch, and it seemed that at the moment, I was the only hitch. “Blin!” Peter muttered guiltily, handing the knife back to me as he realized what had happened. “Ah, yes, Oreius, we were -“ “About to return to the palace and prepare for the wedding,” he finished with inarguable finality. There was a hint of amusement beneath the stern expression, but neither Peter nor I wanted to press our luck and we made no effort to take advantage of his humor. “I know. Your sisters the queens sent me to find and conduct you to the care of your valets.” “We’ll be getting along then,” I volunteered, edging past him. “Indeed you will,” agreed the general, his hand falling heavily on the back of my neck, “and I’ll escort you.” Peter tried to protest. “That really won’t be . . .” He shut up when Oreius fixed him with a hard look. “Come along, Sir Knights,” ordered Oreius, herding us towards the Cair. “You will not be late.” Nor were we. Silvo and Martil were armed and ready with hot water, soap, and brushes. In short order Peter and I were scrubbed clean (with all ink stains removed) and dressed in whatever tunics and leggings constituted our most recent formal wear. We were both unconscious of fashion, Peter especially so, and we gave no thought to what we wore beyond our clothes fitting and being comfortable (and if left to my own devices, I simply dressed out of Peter’s wardrobe anyway). Clad in gold and blue, Peter sat on my bed as I submitted to Martil’s comb. We had long ago struck a deal with our valets that we could sit on our beds so long as we didn’t try to make them in the morning. My brother looked tired but content and he took the opportunity to finish his inspection of General Arna’s knife. He even went so far as to draw the knife I had made him for comparison, and in his hands the blades shone blue and gray. “What will Brickit say?” he mused.

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“He’ll be insanely jealous, I warrant,” I said, flinching as Martil found a tangle in my hair. “Ow. How often do the Stars lose their spears?” “Star Iron is said to have magical properties,” Silvo said, bustling over with Peter’s boots and a hat. “Things made of such metal can never be lost or broken.” “Not even by Star Iron?” wondered Peter, setting the knives aside to don the footwear. He wouldn’t touch the hat, a rather silly affair that looked like a pancake with a brim. Silvo smiled to himself, glad to be teased by his king after that month of bitter coldness. “I cannot say. I only know the legends.” He handed Peter the hat and I saw my brother promptly toss it across the bed a moment before I was engulfed in embroidered green fabric. “Cheroom might know,” I said, wriggling through the tunic. “We’ll have to – Oh! Oreius.” Our escort was back and waiting in the hall. Clearly the general was taking no chances with us wandering off or getting distracted again. We were hastened along and within a few minute’s time I was once again gathering my mess of notes and hurrying after Peter, my new knife a welcome weight on my waist. Adjusting my clothes a final time, I suddenly realized that I had been so distracted by Peter’s interest in the knife that I had forgotten to ask him to look at what I had composed for the blessing. “King Pe-“ “I am not wearing that hat, Silvo!” Peter called, darting out into the hall before his valet could catch him. “But-“ I tried to stifle my laugh. Peter glared. “Edmund wants to wear it.” Sputtering, I managed to insist, “He does not!” “Fine,” the High King declared. “When General Sir Oreius Heydensrun deigns to wear a mushroom on his head, so will I.” For some reason we could not fathom, our valets seemed to think that if we weren’t wearing our crowns then some other form of headwear was essential before we could be permitted beyond our room. Oreius balked at being dragged into the midst of this longrunning battle, but he looked at the hat in Silvo’s clutches much the way he would have looked at a venomous snake poised to strike. “I won’t!” I muttered stubbornly, secretly delighted to see so much emotion out of my brother. “Wisely said,” agreed the general, his eyes narrowing sharply. He glared at Silvo as if daring the Faun to come a step closer, allowing us to present a united front against silly hats. Thus rescued by our general, we beat a hasty retreat. “Where is the wedding?” I asked, trying to organize the papers in my hands. Peter smiled faintly. “The Eastern Garden. It fared the best in this drought.”

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The Eastern Garden was not named for its location – it was actually on the north side of Cair Paravel – but because of the exotic foreign plants grown there. Strange grasses, bamboo, stunted little trees, and bizarre flowers filled the sheltered grove, and it was a favorite haunt of the Peacocks that lived and worked in the palace. Most of the plants had been imported from Calormen’s tropic coast and the southern island holdings of Archenland, but a few of the trees were native to Narnia and some of them even had Dryads. “Who is that feather-leaf maple there?” I asked, trying hard to remember the name of the delicate little tree spirit I had met only once or twice before. Her tree was a tiny red maple no more than four or five feet tall with leaves as dainty as lace. “Lady Chingo,” Oreius provided. “Didn’t she have a daughter?” “Junko,” said Peter. “And who are the Gingko Dryads?” “Ladies Lo-Lan and Su-Bao. I think they have daughters as well.” I blinked. “I won’t remember all that.” “You don’t have to,” Peter said. “I will. You just remember what you want to say.” The main doors of the palace stood open, for it was very stuffy inside with so much heat trapped by the stained glass windows. Outside wasn’t much better. The air was very still and heavy, and the clouds lay low and dark and thick. Peter sighed, and he looked to the sky with satisfaction and relief. “It’s going to rain.” “Not on the wedding, I hope. Perhaps we should move indoors for the ceremony.” “Why?” wondered Oreius. He, too, was scanning the skies, and after a moment he looked down at my brother and me. “If it rains we’ll simply get wet. The captains won’t be any more married for being dry.” Peter chuckled at this very Narnian logic and I found myself joining him. Oreius folded his arms across his chest, commenting, “Perhaps you’ll be wanting your hats, my kings. Should I send for your valets?” With a snort of protest, Peter gave me a push and we darted ahead of the Centaur before he could act on his suggestion. Oreius followed a few paces behind us as we made our way to the Eastern Garden. I plucked at my brother’s sleeve. “About the blessing, Peter . . .” “La?” “Will you look it over for me? When we get there, I mean. We should have a few minutes.” “I’ll be happy to, Ed, but really, anything you’ve written will be perfect.” “Then you can make certain it’s perfectly written.” Peter smiled. “Now is a little late to change any of it, don’t you think?” « 333 »

I opened my mouth to answer, but found I could say nothing. I stopped in my tracks. He was right. A wave of anxiety swept over me. Aslan help me, but I was frightened. It wasn’t standing and speaking before our subjects that alarmed me – we did that on a regular basis – it was the possibility of disappointing these two Centaurs. They had done so much in service to me, to Peter, to Narnia. I wanted to do as well by them. “Edmund.” I felt Peter’s hands on my shoulders, supporting me. “Ed. Listen to me. Are you listening? Good. Don’t wander off. The past few days have been . . . trying, I know. Give yourself a chance! Do you remember when Aslan told us we would have to have faith that the other would remain constant?” I nodded. His fingers tightened, biting into my shoulders. I barely noticed. “Just because I made it back from the quest for the apple does not mean for an instant that my faith in you has ever faltered.” He swallowed, steeling himself. “When Valerlan seized me and I woke up to darkness, I never doubted that you would find me. Not once.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I doubted Aslan, but I never doubted you.” I stared at him, thunderstruck, but I knew that Peter would never speak an untruth, especially about something so vitally important to him. In trying to comfort me, he had laid himself bare. I absolutely did not know what to say or do save stand there in stunned amazement. Pain shone in his eyes as he confessed to this crisis in faith. I shook my head, knowing Aslan would understand. A situation so frightful and desperate - who could blame Peter for succumbing to his fears? If I could be forgiven for all I had done I knew that Peter would never even face accusation. Of that I was certain. Leaning forward, he gently kissed me on the forehead. His voice was thick with emotion as he said, “No more worries. No more doubts, brother. I have none.” He held me at arm’s length, and for all the emotion he was experiencing in that instant, his smile was genuine. “You will carry this office most fairly, my king.” I had no answer save to lunge into his embrace and hold him as tightly as I was able, trying to convey with touch what I could not express with words. His faith gave me strength, and my strength sustained his faith - a cycle that seemed as natural as the seasons. How could I doubt when he did not? I was at once drained and renewed as his arms closed around me, and I dropped the pages that had given me such anxiety to hold him that much tighter. Looking up at him, at the gentle and protective expression and the clear blue eyes shining with pride, I smiled. My brother was home and all was right in the world.

Chapter Twelve: A Blessed Ceremony There was quite a bit of activity in the Eastern Garden when we arrived. Susan was in her element as she directed guests and servants and musicians here and there, and Lucy’s laughter reached our ears as she talked to some Centaur mares. I recognized Patri and Zadee from the canine debacle of two days ago and I could easily guess what they were discussing. I gave them a wide berth, automatically following Peter about as he wove through the crowd of people to go greet the Dryads who lived in and tended the garden.

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They stood in a pretty, giggly, and colorful cluster by the little stream that wound through the garden. The flow was greatly reduced, little more than a trickle, but it sufficed to keep the exotic plants mostly fresh and blooming. The Dryads here were unlike most others in Narnia, for they had fair, round faces and dark, almond eyes and they were all exquisitely delicate. They wore bright robes and wide sashes decorated with leaves and they wore their hair (or whatever sufficed for hair on a tree spirit) in ornate buns piled high atop their heads. Chingo, the red featherleaf maple, was Lucy’s size, and her daughter was much smaller still, while the ginkgos were tall and graceful. The Dryads bowed to us, shy and excited before so many visitors in their corner of Cair Paravel’s grounds. “You honor us with your presence, good kings,” Chingo said in her sweet voice, and the ginkgos and their daughters murmured in agreement. “Thank you for hosting the wedding in your grove, ladies,” Peter replied, returning their bows. He focused on tiny Junko, and with a smile and another bow he said, “Lady Junko.” The little sapling hid her face behind her wide sleeve, giggling all the while, but it was only a moment before she peeped out to smile brilliantly, edging closer to her mother tree. I found myself smiling along with the ladies as Junko gathered up the courage to bow to Peter. “Thank you for your visit,” she whispered timidly, then concealed herself behind Chingo’s long robes to giggle some more. “Edmund!” I looked to see Susan waving me over, and so we said goodbye to the Dryads and caught up with our sister as she hurried hither and yon. Only now did I notice that there were far more flowers in this garden than usual – Susan and her ladies must have stripped the flower beds to make the garlands and sprays adorning the trees and low shrubs. The effect was very pretty and the smell of so many flowers at once brought me close to sneezing. “None of that during the blessing, Ed,” warned my older sister. She glanced upwards, but the only thing visible was the canopy of pale green ginkgo leaves. “Oh, I hope the weather holds a bit longer. I’m glad I ordered the feast moved indoors. You can stand here to give you blessing,” Susan said, pointing to something in the center of the garden, “and that way everyone will see you.” I stared at the silly little footrest with its tassels and velvet pouf and gilded scrolls and I could almost envision myself wearing Peter’s hat before I stood on anything so ridiculous looking. I dared not glance at my brother for fear we’d both burst out laughing. “They aren’t here to see me; they’re here for Kanell and Xati. I’ll stand over there on that rock wall,” I replied, pointing to the side. A low, mossy wall of dark stone formed the border of a terrace. “Lucy or Rien can stand on this . . . thing to see.” Susan gave me an exasperated look, but seeing I was steadfast in my determination, she gave up and ordered some potted roses to be moved over to my chosen spot. A Nymph servant moved the ugly little stool out of my sight. I sighed with relief at having escaped, only to stifle a laugh when Peter elbowed me in the ribs. He pointed out Jaer and Jaerin as they arrived with their family. They were both looking rather sullen in pancake-like hats very similar to what Peter and I had refused to wear. « 335 »

“We need a law against such headgear,” Peter whispered close to my ear, doing a poor job of hiding his mirth at our friends’ expense. “They serve no purpose other than to make the wearer look absurd.” “Amen,” I said in agreement, giving Peridan’s sons all my sympathy. Jaer caught the amusement in my expression and he rolled his eyes. Clearly he had been forced to submit to this latest fashion by his mother. I knew that hat would be inexplicably lost before sundown, and Jaerin was certain to follow suit. A happy commotion arose from the direction of the palace, accompanied by a blare of trumpets. All eyes turned, and songbirds, stationed in strategic locations along the path to the palace, brought word that the bride and groom were on their way. “Oh!” exclaimed Susan, shooing everyone into place. The musicians started playing and children darted about and jostled for spots where they could see. I saw Peterkins and his sisters happily running between the legs of taller Animals, causing havoc and laughter. Susan pointed to my spot, and I nodded as if to let her know I knew exactly where I intended to stand. A moment later Lucy came skipping through the crowd, and she seized Susan’s hand and Peter’s as well and pulled them towards me. “Are you ready, Ed?” she asked. I smiled at her enthusiasm. “I’m hungry for cake, if that’s what you mean,” I replied, producing a laugh from her. She gave me a quick hug. Susan leaned over and kissed my cheek. “Take your time and speak clearly,” she whispered, smiling beautifully. There was pride in her clear blue eyes. “And don’t be nervous!” Nervous? She had no idea. Peter put his hand on my shoulder. “Anything you say will be perfect, Ed.” “Thank you,” I whispered in return. My reward was my brother’s gentle smile as he joined the girls where they stood by Peridan and his family, and I assumed my chosen spot on the terrace wall. The joyful din rose in volume and more Narnians crowded into the garden as Kanell and Xati arrived. An honor guard of officers bearing drawn swords came first, lining up along the path. Flowers and petals showered down from well-wishers pressed between the officers, and somehow no one was trampled. A breeze that smelt of salt air and rain suddenly kicked up, stirring gowns, long hair, feathers, and leaves. People turned their faces skywards for a moment, excited at the promise of rain, before their attention returned to the bride and groom. I felt my heart beat a little faster with anticipation when I finally spotted Kanell’s tall, dark form moving along the garden path. He was dressed in armor, which was commonly used as formal wear for most army officers, and even without sunlight the polished metal gleamed. He escorted Xati by the hand, and I was surprised and pleased to see the little mare decked in ribbons and flowers of every color. I had never seen her so made up before and for the first time since I had met her, I saw her fierce determination replaced by blushing delight. it suited her, if only for today. Both Centaurs were smiling broadly, and the flower petals fell as thick as snow as they entered the lush little grove. Kanell glanced « 336 »

my way and I found myself smiling with pleasure to see them so happy, so in love. I closed my eyes for a moment, winging a prayer to Aslan. I knew he would hear it. I could only hope that he would grant it. Aslan, Great Lion, let my words be worthy of this moment. Slowly, with never a sense of haste for the pending storm, Kanell walked his bride around the grove. Their hooves, and the petals that drifted down from their flanks, marked wide a circle in the moss and grass with me at the center. Finally they stood before me, Xati on my right and Kanell on my left. They released hands to bow in the Centaur fashion to me. Even on my low terrace wall I could barely look Xati in the eye. Everyone waited in anticipation. “Greetings,” I said, beginning the ceremony. I swallowed, remembering Cheroom’s instruction and trying to speak clearly. “Peace and long life be upon you and all who bear witness to this joyous ceremony.” I extended my hand before me. Immediately Kanell and Xati clasped wrists, dark to fair, large to small, man to woman. Over this bond I set my own hands, top and bottom, holding them together and closer still. Thunder rolled, echoing off the distant hills, a booming promise of renewal for the parched and gasping earth. I smiled. Nothing could be more fitting for this moment. I looked at the two Centaurs as they gazed directly at each other. I knew, as they knew, that they were already married. Narnia herself had blessed this union and all they needed was for me to publically acknowledge it. “Of all the blessings Aslan has granted this land, surely there is none greater than love,” I said, raising my voice for all to hear. I spoke slowly, my lingering anxiety fading now that I was finally starting. “It is in celebration of love that we come together today.” Opposite me, across the lush clearing, Lucy took Peter’s hand in hers. He glanced down, smiling warmly, and he pulled her close against him. His smile did not fade as he looked up and let me see all the pride and love he held for me. Lucy was grinning in happy excitement and Susan, her long hair pulled straight and limp by the humid air, was positively aglow. By the Lion, I was fortunate to call them my own! There was nothing I could not do with them behind me. “I was asked to bless the marriage of Kanell and Xati, but in truth the blessing is upon me and Narnia and all of you, my dear cousins, for we have been privileged to bear witness to this love.” I paused, not searching for the words I had written, but letting them come to me. “Kanell and Xati, you stand here willingly, each seeking the same things from the other: life, love, and loyalty. May Aslan grant you these things and more, and may you grant them to each other. I charge you to remember that you are each your own person and worthy of respect, and leave no words to chance. Do not lose sight of each other, good my Captains, or what it was that brought you together today. Aslan grant that you have children and yet more children to carry on the song of your days, and may that song never fade.” A sigh rose up among the ladies present. I must have hit upon quite the romantic note. The clouds above seemed to sigh along with the ladies as a warm, moist breeze swept through the bower. It smelt of rain and leaves. Distant thunder echoed and the sky grew

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darker still as if telling me to get on with it, but I would not be rushed. It was not just for Kanell and Xati that I spoke. “In years to come, when you look upon each other, remember this moment. Remember this promise, this blessing of life. Let it run freely. I bid you hold truly, speak wisely, love deeply.” I don’t even know if the bride and groom heard a word I said, so intent were they upon each other. I squeezed their wrists a little tighter and Kanell blinked, coming back to the moment. The first stray drops of rain, carried by the wind, struck the leaves overhead. I had to speak louder to be heard. “Above all, Captains, may you be blessed with joy and peace and may you always find these things in each other. And so I say blessed be this union and blessed be all that results from it. Blessings from your king, from Narnia, and from Aslan.” I looked up and blinked as a drop of water fell on my cheek. “And blessed be the rain.” Slowly I let go of their wrists, signifying the end of the ceremony that simply reinforced that which was already in place. I stepped back, but Kanell and Xati just went on staring at each other as if the rest of the world didn’t exist. Finally the mare reached up with her free hand and touched his cheek, slowly and gently as if she thought he was a dream, not flesh and blood. Kanell took her slim fingers in his hand, drawing her close. When they finally kissed I expected half the ladies present to swoon. A great cheer rose up as everyone present gave voice to their excitement and joy. A flash of lightning blinded us, cutting off the happy shout and making everyone save the newlywed couple jump in alarm. Seconds later thunder boomed and the children present cried out and hid under their mothers or the nearest lady’s skirt. Susan and Lady Saera swayed as frightened chicks and kittens and chipmunks and other babies sought shelter beneath them. Working together, the ladies gathered up the babies and, laughing all the while, made their way to the palace. I saw Peter chuckled as he scooped Peterkins up into his arms, gently reassuring the little Fox. Rain began falling in earnest now, and with cries of excitement and dismay the wedding guests rushed back to the shelter of Cair Paravel. “Captains?” The two Centaurs, husband and wife, pulled apart, drinking in each other for a few moments before they turned to me. I blinked at the water getting in my eyes and simply said, “It’s raining.” They looked up, astonished, and then they realized that we were almost alone in the clearing. Both of them broke into broad smiles. “Thank you, King Edmund, for a blessing so glorious,” breathed Xati. She leaned over and kissed my cheek. “As we have been blessed, so may you be.” I smiled, feeling myself blush, and Kanell gave me his customary cuff to the side my head to show his thanks. I motioned them on ahead, muttering, “To the palace, Captains. We have five cakes to eat.”

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They laughed and slowly walked ahead, leaning close to each other and completely oblivious to the pouring rain. The clearing was empty now but for me and my brother and Peterkins. Peter set the kit on the ground, saying, “On with you, Master Fox! Watch for puddles!” With a valiant shout the little Fox ran off, aiming for the mud. Straightening, Peter looked pleased and more content than he had in over a month. I sighed, thrilled to see him more at peace with himself. It had been too long. Far too long. “That was well said, Ed,” he complimented. I smiled, pleased. “Thank you.” With a shrewd gleam in his eyes Peter asked, “That wasn’t what you wrote at all, was it?” I ducked my head, almost laughing. “Bits of it were close, but . . . no.” Laughter rang through the clearing and a moment later I was wrapped in Peter’s crushing embrace, held tight and lovingly and warm against his chest, sheltered for a moment against the weather. “I told you,” he whispered happily. He kissed me atop my head, granting me the blessing of both the High King and my only brother. I held him back just as tightly, glad for the rain that would hide my tears. I was grateful beyond words that he was here, alive, himself once again . . . for if Peter’s grace was Narnia’s blessing, then surely at that moment I was Narnia.

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