Disclaimer: I don't own Narnia or any characters you may recognize from the books or the movies, I wish I did but I don't...
Summary: The Four have fought for almost three years to remove the scars Jadis left on Narnia. Now the time has come for Narnia to look beyond her own borders. An Archenlandish lord brings warning of rebellion. But who among men can be trusted?
Sea of Deceit
Bright laughter filled the air. Peter grinned as he watched his sisters running between the wickets of their makeshift cricket field. Edmund was off in the bushes trying to find the ball that Lucy had hit. The girls were having the time of their lives as they both gleefully called out the runs between wickets. Even Susan had forgotten her decorum in favor of playing.
Peter chuckled as Edmund finally emerged from the bushes with a stubborn and somewhat confused Puppy hanging determinedly onto the cricket ball. His brother cast him a black look but still managed to keep an almost civil air about him as he turned to the squirming Cairn Terrier Pup. "Now look, you see, we've been playing with this ball quite a bit before you found it. Will you let go now?"
The Puppy just growled, kicking its little back legs even as it clung determinedly to the ball. The girls had stopped to watch and Peter didn't bother to smother his grin as Edmund rolled his eyes. His brother held the ball out to the girls, Puppy still dangling in the air, but they both backed away, giggling. Susan cleared her throat as she smoothed her skirts. "Edmund, maybe we should call it a game? We still have a picnic, you know-"
"And we won!" Lucy added cheerily.
Peter just barely covered his laugh with a cough as Edmund cast him another black look. Then his little brother sighed. "Fine. Here, Cherry, you can have the ball. We don't need it anymore." He crouched to set the Puppy on the ground, the ball still clutched in her mouth. The Puppy didn't even wait for a proper dismissal before she took off as fast as her little legs could carry her, head held high as she struggled to keep from tripping over the ball.
Peter slapped his brother on the back. "Can't win them all, Ed."
"We haven't won any today, Peter." His brother's dark gaze shifted to their elder sister. "Did you say there was going to be apple pie or chocolate cake with the picnic, Su?"
She didn't look away from where she was smoothing Lucy's fair hair back into some semblance of order. "I thought we could enjoy an apple pie and the remaining half of the chocolate cake from last night's supper."
Peter exchanged a large grin with his brother before he strode over to the girls and held out his arms. "Come on then, let's get to that picnic." He grinned at his baby sister. "And I think Lucy gets to decide where we picnic today."
"Oh! I know! Let's go down to the beach. Maybe the Lady Syrena will be singing this afternoon too with her sisters." She clapped her hands eagerly, fair glowing with excitement, before remembering to loop her arm through his as Susan took his left arm with more sedateness although she was also smiling.
The Gentle Queen nodded her silent approval of the plan and Peter called over his shoulder, "Come on, Ed. You'll get pie and cake and the Mermaids can sing about your sable hair and shell-white skin again."
His brother's inarticulate cry of outrage floated to him as Peter wisely picked up the pace and hustled his giggling sisters down the winding path through Cair Paravel's gardens. Peter laughed. Yes, it had been almost too long since the last time the four of them had had a day where they weren't training, going to war, settling disputes, or otherwise mending the damage Jadis' rule had left on fair Narnia. After almost three years, peace was finally filling the land. Now if only Edmund wouldn't kill him over Mermaids and Shell-White Snow White.
White walls, red and gold banners snapping proudly in the early summer breeze, sunlight glinting off silver armor, and not a Human to be seen save for a few merchants who had newly arrived with his caravan. The Man gazed up at the glistening sight that was Cair Paravel and could not help but marvel. It was impressive to behold, the city of kings, the home of the Four Thrones. He urged his big war stallion forward. Dozens of creatures out of legend filled the courtyard, ranging from leafy Dryads and blue Naiads to grave Centaurs and merry Fauns, as well as Big Cats and Bears to a stately Giraffe walking alongside an Elephant. He swung out of the saddle and looked around, wondering who might point him after his quarry.
"Excuse me, Sir!"
At the squeaking cry, he looked down and barely hid his surprise at being addressed by a Mouse. The Mouse's whiskers twitched and it held up a tiny stack of paper, a list if he were not mistaken. "May I enquire as to what business brings you to Cair Paravel? Then I will know who among the housekeepers can help you."
"I am Lord Armin of Archenland. I come on behalf of King Lune with a message for the Four. It is of an urgent nature."
The Mouse's eyes grew wide. "Oh my. I think, yes, I think you had best speak to the General first. It is Seventhday after all and their majesties are at the beach where they are not to be disturbed. I can- Oh! Wait! Wait!"
But Lord Armin had already swung himself back into the saddle and turned his charger's head toward the gates, ignoring the Mouse's squeaking cries, as he galloped away. He had no wish to attempt to convince the General of Narnia's Army that he should be allowed to speak to the Four, especially when the man or rather the Centaur's reputation as notoriously and fiercely overprotective had already flooded King Lune's court since that first diplomatic visit.
Peter looked up as he heard the guards shout a challenge and the sound of a horse squealing angrily. They had only just sat down to their picnic on the beach and he could not think what would cause anyone to intentionally break in on their hard-won ease. He had asked Oreius to make sure it didn't happen unless there was an emergency.
Rising to his feet, he instinctively rested a hand on his hip but Rhindon was not there. The guards who had previously been hidden, offering their sovereigns the illusion of privacy, had now come out in force to confront the intruder. A glance over his shoulder proved that Edmund had also risen even though the girls still sat on the blanket. Peter turned back to the commotion up the beach as one of the Tigers prowled toward them. The Tiger bowed his massive head. "Your Majesties, a Man from Archenland insists he has an urgent message from King Lune for you." His green eyes flattened in displeasure as he added in a growl, "And he refuses to wait until you have given your leave for his approach. Shall we remove him?"
Peter considered. "Did the man issue any sort of threat toward us, Ravi?"
The Tiger growled softly but shook his head. "No. However, the General's instructions were clear that your majesties were not to be disturbed and this man refuses to even speak to the General before speaking to you, High King."
"I think we better hear what this chap has to say, Pete." Edmund came to stand next to him, his dark eyes narrowed in thought. "But we shouldn't let him choose the battleground."
Peter smirked slightly to hear Edmund's adaptation of Oreius' oft-repeated instructions in the training yard but he also agreed. "Agreed. Ravi, see our guest is escorted to the small council room. He can await us there."
The Tiger bowed his head with a growl and returned to the other soldiers. Peter looked at Edmund and shrugged helplessly. His little brother only shook his head in feigned disgust. "I told you we couldn't get a real holiday. Something always happens." Then he jabbed a finger at him. "And you get to tell the girls."
"Tell us what?"
Both boys spun about to face their sisters. Lucy's sweet gaze was turned up toward them, but the dear Badger she was, she did not even hint at her disappointment that they had failed so spectacularly at her requested holiday. Still Peter felt more than a bit guilty as he wrapped his arms around both girls' shoulders and began guiding them toward the Cair. "It would seem, sisters fair, that a man has come to see us about a mysterious affair."
"Oy! No rhyming, Pevensie!"
Lucy giggled, a smile brightening her countenance once more as she hugged his arm. "I thought it was a very good rhyme, Peter."
"Why thank you, Lu."
Susan quietly spoke up, "Do you think we need to summon the whole council?"
Edmund jogged up on her other side. "I don't think he'll talk in front of the whole council. But we should definitely summon Sallowpad, Mr. Tumnus, Oreius of course, and at least one of the scribes."
"What about Nephele?" Lucy asked. "She's very good at writing everything just so and I can always read her notes."
Peter nodded. The Centauress was also one of their tutors in calligraphy (although she spent most of her time with Lucy and Edmund now) and she never talked out of school about meetings or court proceedings even when she couldn't always hide her mirth at some of the sillier cases brought before the Four, such as the gooseberry debacle. "Nephele it is."
"I'll get Trix and Denali to go find them." Edmund raced up the beach, sand flying in his wake, as he went to find the Bat and Cat pages.
Hampered by his sisters, Peter decided a more sedate pace would suit. He glanced at Susan, noticing the tiny furrow of worry tunneling between her brows, and squeezed her hand. "It's always interesting when other humans come to Narnia, isn't it?"
She offered him a slight smile. "So long as he's not looking for a bride or trying to hunt for 'Fell' trophies, I think we shall be all right."
Peter grinned. "That's the spirit, Su. Come on, girls, let's pick up the pace or we'll have to listen to Edmund crowing about how much faster he is all week long!"
Fortunately, they all arrived within moments of each other although Edmund still smirked at him before assuming a studiously blank look as they filed into the room. Peter's gaze went immediately to the stranger in the center of the room. The man was tall, an inch or so over six feet. Even his wine-colored tunic of fine velvet could not conceal the hardness that came from years of fighting nor could his stance be mistaken as anything other than a warrior at uneasy rest. His left hand rested on his hip in a way that bespoke of a missing sword (Oreius of course would have demanded he relinquish all weapons before permitting him into their presence). His age was somewhat ambiguous, perhaps early to mid-thirties, but his reddish-brown hair bore no hint of grey and his grey eyes were keen. The man offered a curt bow as they took their places in front of their chairs.
He opened his mouth to speak just as the doors burst open again. All eyes went to the dappled-grey Centauress who now filled the doorway. Her fair cheeks took on a red hue and her white-blonde hair fell forward to conceal her face as she bowed. Her dainty hooves clicked softly as she picked her way to the place nearest Lucy's chair. She quickly pulled a scroll, ink, and quill out of her scribe's bag and then looked expectantly toward them.
Peter smiled as he met Nephele's emerald green gaze. The Mare could be counted on to be late at least once a month. He nodded once and then turned back to the Man who was looking with disapproval at the scribe. Protectiveness of his people at once stirred in his breast but Peter kept the bite out of his tone as he spoke, "Your message indicated that you are here on King Lune's behalf, Lord . . ."
"Armin." The man's gaze flicked toward Mr. Tumnus and then to where the Raven Sallowpad was perched on the back of a chair. "I fear the news I bring from King Lune is most grave, High King. The Lone Islands are in the midst of rebellion against Narnian rule."
Edmund leaned forward, his dark gaze intense. "The Lone Islands have been a territory of Narnia since the time of King Gale and they even withstood the White Witch as Empress. Why would they rebel now?"
Lord Armin gave him a measuring look before he stated softly, "Because of the neglect the White Witch showed them. The present governor visits Tashbaan often and the lords who sit on the council have begun to speak boldly of casting off a Narnian yoke and declaring themselves a kingdom of their own. The Duke of Galma spread word of your disapproval of the slave trade to the other islands and Governor Gorm has grown fat on such trade." The man glanced around then took a half-step forward, making Oreius glare in warning as his hands tightened around his sword hilts, but Lord Armin ignored the unsubtle hint. "If you will forgive my boldness, Your Majesties, I must tell you that it will take a show of force to bring Gorm to heel. If the Four of you were to present yourselves at Narrowhaven and demonstrate to the governor and the lords that Narnia no longer intends to continue neglecting her overseas territories perhaps you will be able to nip this rebellion before it proceeds too far."
He paused then added, "King Lune has authorized a ship that will carry you to Narrowhaven on the morrow if that is your wish, Your Majesties. Archenland does not wish to see Narnia loses her ancestral holdings when it can be easily prevented."
Sallowpad flapped his wings and clacked his beak as he turned his head to fix a beady eye on the Archenlander. "And Lune sent a written missive as well?"
"No." Lord Armin spread his hands and shrugged apologetically. "Given the sensitive nature of Narnia's fresh treaty with Calormen, King Lune thought it wiser to send the missive by word of mouth alone. There have been recent instances wherein scribes' loyalties have been discovered to have a price." Again his gaze settled on Nephele for the briefest of moments, but the Centauress merely continued taking notes although she flicked her tail more vigorously than usual.
Peter frowned. "We are fortunate in Narnia to have such scribes who do not have a price. Your words today will not travel beyond those present, Lord Armin. We are also certain that rooms have been prepared for you along with the rest of your party."
Susan hurried to take over, a pretty smile curving her mouth. "We are most grateful for your warning, Lord Armin, and we shall take your counsel on the matter into consideration. However, it would be beyond the pale for us to detain you any longer. It is a long journey from Anvard to Cair Paravel, sir, and we know you must be weary. Pray allow Sniproot to show you to your rooms and take your ease while we deliberate what must be done."
Lord Armin bowed with perfunctory ease and then he strode out the doors. Peter caught a glimpse of a stout Muskrat waddling up to the man before the doors were shut again. Sniproot would see the Archenlandish lord was well taken care of.
He eased back in his chair and looked at the others. Sallowpad ruffled his feathers, Mr. Tumnus was fiddling nervously with his red knit scarf, looking very worried, and Oreius was scowling. Edmund glanced over at him and then turned to the chosen counselors. "How serious should we take this threat?"
It was the General who broke his silence first, looking grave as he crossed his brawny arms over his chest. "Any rebellion would be viewed as a weakness by our enemies, My King. However, I do not believe Lord Armin is presenting us with the whole truth in this matter."
Peter frowned a little, thinking back over what Armin had said and what he had not said. "But without going to Lune, there is no way to know one way or another which part or parts he held back on and if Lune truly has a problem with spies among his scribes . . ."
"It is very likely this is true, High King," Nephele spoke up without ever raising her gaze from her notes. "The Tarkaan Nedesh attempted to bribe several of the scribes when he visited Cair Paravel last spring. Unfortunately, I was not allowed the chance to kick the ankle-biter as he was invited to leave early after offending Lish."
He bit back a snicker at the thought of Lish, a very sedate and extremely proper Orangutan, pelting the Tarkaan with the oranges he had been eating for luncheon. Oreius shifted on his hooves, drawing Peter's attention again. "Be that as it may, Lord Armin's counsel should be rejected. If all four of your majesties were to travel to the Lone Islands, it would present too easy an opportunity for assassination or abduction. Especially when one considers the proximity of those islands to Calormen. We have no ship or crew of our own who would be wholly loyal to your majesties. There is too much at stake for Narnia to risk losing all four of you at once."
Mr. Tumnus' brown eyes were wide and panicked as he tapped his little cloven hooves nervously against the marble floor. "Oh dear! Oh dear! To lose all four of you with your reign barely begun and Narnia only just secured! Why it would be a disaster. We would be lost!"
Sallowpad clacked his beak. "Too true. Too true. Even Archenland cannot be fully trusted. If they are unable to secure their own nest, should we trust them with the most precious treasures of Narnia?"
"But, we can't just toss the Lone Islands over," Edmund interjected.
Lucy nodded, blue eyes lighting with what could only be excitement, as she added, "Aslan expects us to look after everything and everyone He has given us and that must include the Lone Islands too."
After debating the matter for several hours, they had only come to a partial agreement. The Four would not travel together to the Lone Islands despite Lord Armin's advice. However, they had yet to reach a consensus on what alternative they should take instead. Peter finally stood from his chair. "I think it will be best if the four of us discuss the alternatives amongst ourselves and then we shall reconvene tomorrow morn." He caught Edmund's look and added, "After breakfast."
If Peter had hoped to get through supper without being pounced on by the girls, it was in vain. Lucy pouted at him, arms crossed and blue eyes big and pleading. "But, Peter, they're my responsibility. Aslan gave me the Eastern Sea after all. Let me go or take me with you."
"Oh, Lucy, you mustn't!" Susan protested, casting a worried look at him. "You only just turned eleven and we have a difficult enough time making the other kingdoms take us seriously as it is and that is when they come to Cair Paravel. And if the slavery is as rampant as Lord Armin implied-" She bit her lip, cutting off the words that no doubt would have revealed the worrisome proposal one of the Tarkaans had presented last fall when sweet little Lucy was still ten. Fair hair was coveted in the south.
Peter stabbed his venison a little more vigorously than usual. His knuckles had been split when he decked the Tarkaan for daring to propose such a fate for his baby sister but it had been worth it. He glanced up and met Edmund's dark gaze. His brother nodded slightly. It was agreed then.
Lucy was still trying to persuade him. ". . . I could go with you and-"
"No." Peter shook his head at her pout, determined not to cave this time. "No. You and Susan will stay here in Cair Paravel. Edmund and I will go and suss out the situation at Narrowhaven and if this Governor Gorm has truly set himself against us and against Aslan. Then if it is safe, you may tour the Lone Islands with us."
Susan still looked worried. "But they will recognize you. And if there's a rebellion going on . . . Oh, Peter, surely you remember what happens to royals when they go blithely into a revolution."
He reached across the table to take her hand and squeeze it as he offered a lopsided smile. "Don't worry, Su, Ed and I will go in disguise. We won't reveal ourselves until we've the lay of the land and we shan't tell anyone to eat cake." He winked, winning a slight smile from his sister.
Edmund looked up. "Did someone say cake?"
A/N: Please Read and Review! So obviously I've decided to do something different, more book-verse than movie-verse this time, and definitely outside of the ALitD universe. This should be . . . interesting. I hope y'all will enjoy this new adventure though. Leave a review and let me know what y'all thought about this one.