So...my computer had a meltdown. Moral of the story is, I wrote this on my tablet, so I know there are probably a ton of grammatical errors. As soon as my new laptop arrives I will come back and fix them.
This story was inspired by JustValiant1717 who asked how Peter and Edmund came to make the vows they referenced in my other story "The City Ruinous". I was quite fascinated by this question and of course had to come up with something. That got me thinking about the various oaths of fealty I imagined the Narnians would make to their newly crowned monarchs and the first half of this story was borne. The second half was written mainly while I was sobbing under my bed at two A.M. and listening to the soundtrack for The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian so...yeah...there's that. And yes, I was avoiding facing my final exams once again.
"Must they really? But that's ridiculous!" A moment later Peter felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment as he recalled Who it was he had spoken so disrespectfully to. "I'm sorry, Aslan."
The Lion chuckled softly. "I have not taken offense, Peter." Peter supposed that was all the pardon he needed, but he still felt rather ashamed of himself. "Now tell me," Aslan continued calmly. "Why do you feel this tradition is 'ridiculous'?"
"Not the tradition," Peter amended slowly, trying to force his thoughts into some semblance of order. "Just, the tradition in regard to my family. I understand the necessity for soldiers and subjects pledging fealty to their king." It was still bizarre to realise that the word king would now refer to himself. "But my siblings are sovereigns in their own right; I don't see why they should have to make similar vows."
Aslan sighed, more in understanding than impatience, and shifted slightly until He was resting more comfortably on the polished marble floor of the throne room. Peter shuffled his feet and resisted the impulse to pace as he tried not to glance nervously at the four thrones which loomed to his right. "All Creatures of Narnia pledge fealty to those who I have placed in authority over them," Aslan said at last, speaking slowly to allow Peter time to grasp the meaning behind his words. "But it is a mutual exchange. You will pledge yourself to the land as a whole, and to the Creatures that inhabit it even as they will pledge themselves to you, and you will pledge yourself to Me. Does it seem foolish that you, a sovereign in your own right, should pledge your fealty to Me?"
"No, sir." Peter glanced at the carved thrones in spite of himself and felt thoroughly miserable as he realised in how short a time he would have to sit there and listen to an entire country, and his family, pledge their lives to his service. I don't deserve it. I'm not worthy of such loyalty. He remembered the soldiers, his soldiers, falling lifeless to the ground at Beruna, the ease with which the Witch had overpowered the army and nearly taken her victory, and the absolute, effortless glee with which she had disarmed him. If not for Aslan all would have been lost.
Somehow worse even than those memories were the ones of his family; Lucy's dripping, torn coat as he held it up beside the great river, foaming jaws and gleaming fangs as they snapped together inches from Susan's ankle, and blood, bright against the spring grass of Beruna as it stained his hands and soaked into the ground, while his whole world narrowed to the pained, gasping sound as his brother fought to breathe.
"I've made a mess of everything, Aslan. I can't protect anyone. I don't deserve to be king, and I don't deserve to hear those I have failed in every way imaginable pledge their lives to me."
"Perhaps that is true. But by realising your own insufficiencies you have shown Me that you shall be a wise and fair ruler." Aslan seemed incredibly unconcerned that his chosen king was a complete failure and Peter felt his shoulders slump in despair.
"But the oaths," he persisted stubbornly. "The Narnians pledge themselves to the service of all four of us, I pledge myself to You, and my siblings swear fealty to both You and me. Can't they just swear it to You and leave me out of it?"
"Peter," for the first time the faintest hint of annoyance coloured the Lion's voice. "All who are in attendance today, save the oldest of the Dryads and Naiads, have known no other ruler save the Witch. Everything you do today must serve to reestablish the old traditions which I set down when this world began. You are to be the High King, Peter; all who would dwell in Narnia must pledge their loyalty to you. There can be no exceptions to this. However," He added as Peter opened his mouth to protest. "Who you choose to honour by pledging your own fealty to is your choice."
Oh. Peter stared at Aslan in slowly growing relief. "You mean I can make my own vows to them in return?"
Aslan stood and stretched, the fur along His spine rippling. "You can. Whether or not you chose to do so is entirely up to you." A moment later Peter was alone, staring at the four thrones with a strange mix of trepidation and relief.
I don't know what to say, he realised with annoyance. Susan knew more impressive sounding words than he did, Edmund understood those words better than either of his older siblings, and Lucy dear, sweet Lucy, always seemed to know the right thing to say even if she lacked the necessary vocabulary to be eloquent about saying it. Susan's pledge would be eloquent and gracious, Edmund's would be so carefully worded that it would leave no room for doubt about its meaning, and Lucy's would be simple and heartfelt. What does that leave me with?
"Look after the others," his mother had begged him at the train station.
"Take care of them while I'm gone, son," his father had charged him as he picked up his suitcase on the last morning before going to war.
He smiled, an idea slowly forming in his mind. He knew the basic form of a Narnian oath of fealty-Orieus had already made his pledge before the battle-and all that now remained was to choose the words that were right for each of them while still reflecting his ultimate purpose for drawing breath. I will always protect you; all of you. I won't fail again.
The coronation itself was strangely reminiscent of a well-choreographed dance. There were titles and crowns, a terrifying moment when Peter nearly tripped over his cloak while taking his seat, and heartfelt cheers as the Narnians formally greeted their new kings and queens, but Peter couldn't quite concentrate on all of it because he knew what was coming next.
The Beavers stepped forward first, bowing to the four of them in turn and reciting the standard oath of fealty. "We will serve you, our rulers; uphold your laws and abide by your commands, come to your aid in war and honour this land in peace; till Aslan commands us otherwise or death takes us."
Next came Mr. Tumnus, the loyal fox, the centaurs, satyrs, dryads, naiads, and all the rest. Each spoke the words, sometimes separately, sometimes together with their families; some seemed a trifle reluctant, others were joyful, and others, fewer but still troubling, muttered the words with an air of hostility and would not meet the eyes of the four they pledged themselves to.
The soldiers made separate oaths to Peter and Edmund as their commanders, echoing the words Orieus had spoken to Peter before the battle of Beruna. "We will serve at your side, our kings; we will guard you in battle, follow your orders, share your joy in victory and your sorrow in defeat; till Aslan commands us otherwise, you release us from your service, or death takes us." Peter risked a quick glance over at his brother and found Edmund staring intently at the line of soldiers with a strange look on his face. He smiled slightly, now entirely certain he had been right. Edmund would not pledge fealty to him as a fellow sovereign, or a subject; he would make a soldier's vow and Peter fully intended to respond in kind.
At last the four newly crowned monarchs rose from their thrones and knelt before Aslan to take their own oaths. They recited the words in chorus, pledging themselves first to the land and its inhabitants and last, above all other oaths, to Aslan Himself. "We will rule over this land with justice and mercy, protect all who dwell here from those who mean them harm, strive to create peace and prosperity for all, and give our lives if necessary; till Aslan commands us otherwise or death takes us. We pledge ourselves to You, Aslan, to rule the land You have given us in accordance with Your will. We will abide by Your laws, honour Your decrees, and strive to serve You in whatever capacity You may require. This we swear to do until You release us from our vow or death claims us."
Aslan nodded, well pleased, and touched each of them in turn on the brow with his nose. Then came the moment Peter dreaded most. He stood and retook his place on his throne while the other three remained kneeling before him. After a moment Lucy stood and stepped forward slightly before curtsying beautifully and dropping back to one knee. She smiled radiantly up at him and spoke with such absolute faith and love that he felt ever more terrified of not being able to live up to her belief in him.
"I will rule by your side, dear brother; I will follow where you lead, and give you what aid I can. I will share with you the joys and sorrows of this kingdom, and my trust in you will be second only to my trust in Aslan. This vow I will uphold till Aslan command me otherwise or death take me." If it was considered slightly unusual for the person pledging fealty to launch themselves at their king and hug them upon completing the oath no one commented on the fact, and after a moment Lucy giggled, straightened her crown and retook her seat with some semblance of grace.
As the eldest queen, Susan stepped forward next and curtsied as Lucy had, before gracefully dropping to one knee. She met Peter's eyes briefly, then glanced away, seeming to struggle with the words for a moment. "I will rule at your side, my king, I will provide counsel when necessary, watch over the kingdom in your absence, and strive to follow your decrees. I will share your burden of ruling and rejoice in your successes; till Aslan command me otherwise or death take me." She curtsied again, then dropped back onto her throne with a visible expression of relief. Pledging fealty and acknowledging her elder brother as her king did not come as easily to Susan as it did to Lucy. She was more accustomed to being Peter's equal and viewing herself as his superior. Please let me say the right words to her, Peter implored Aslan silently and thought he saw the Lion dip His head briefly in acknowledgement.
Before he had time to wonder at it though, Edmund was kneeling before him. His brother did not meet his eyes as Lucy had done, he did not even raise his head as Susan had; he stared straight down at the polished marble floor, but his voice rang out clearly enough that no one could doubt the sincerity of the vow he was making. "I will serve at your side, my brother; I will guard your back, shield you from what dangers I may, share in your joy and in your sorrow; till Aslan command me otherwise or death take me."
The weight of that oath was staggering. Peter had expected something similar, had rightly surmised that Edmund would take a soldier's and not a sovereign's oath, but it was more difficult to hear than he expected. To guard and shield until death; hasn't he already done that? There had been enough blood soaking into the earth at Beruna to prove Edmund's loyalty already.
"Peter," Aslan prompted quietly, reminding him gently that all eyes in the hall were now fixed on him and now was not the time for introspection. Peter nodded and stood, trying once again not to trip over his cloak as he turned towards Lucy.
He didn't kneel as the others had done when addressing him, Aslan had warned him that it would not seem proper for him to do so, but he bowed deeply and smiled. "I will rule by your side, Valiant Queen; I will protect you with my life, strive always to bring you joy, and share in your sorrow. This vow I will uphold till Aslan command me otherwise or death take me." Lucy's face fairly glowed with happiness when he finished speaking and Peter could only guess the amount of self-control it took for her not to forget her ceremonial duties to hug him again.
Susan frowned slightly, looking almost disapproving when he turned towards her next, but the expression was replaced with relief and a radiant smile by the time he finished speaking. "I will rule by your side, sister; I will heed your counsel, seek your aid, and trust in your wisdom. I will share with you the duty of ruling and entrust the safety of our kingdom to you in my absence; till Aslan command me otherwise or death take me." He might not be able to publicly recognise her as his equal, but Peter hoped Susan at least would understand the meaning of his words. And if her smile was an accurate indication of her current mood, then she had understood completely.
He turned to Edmund next and was unsurprised when his brother did not look up; he was staring stubbornly at the edge of his cloak as he twisted it between his hands. The words Peter meant to say suddenly seemed very insufficient. He was meant to protect all three of his siblings, that was his duty, but it was more necessary to protect Lucy and Edmund, and Edmund was the one he had failed most of all. There were no words to mend all the hurt he had caused, but he had to try. "I will serve at your side, my brother; I will strike down your enemies, for your enemies are my own, I will protect you from what dangers I can, share in your triumphs and your defeats; till Aslan command me otherwise or death take me." I will not fail you again, he added silently, hoping Edmund understood, but if he did he gave no indication and Peter retook his seat with a feeling of defeat. It wasn't enough.
Aslan stepped forward then to address them and the room at large. "You have heard the vows of your rulers; they have pledged themselves to you, even as you have pledged yourselves to them, they have sworn fealty to me, and to each other. I now give all of you this promise; once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia. May you rule justly, kindly, and wisely, and may your wisdom guide your people until the stars rain down from the heavens. Long live Peter, the High King. Long live Queen Susan. Long live King Edmund. Long live Queen Lucy." The hall erupted into cheers once more as those Narnians who possessed hands clapped, those with hooves stamped, and all the rest expressed their joy in the manner which best suited them. Peter smiled genuinely for the first time that day and when he looked over at the others they were smiling too, even Edmund, though with less enthusiasm than Susan and Lucy.
Much later when the celebrations had nearly died down, and Aslan had slipped away, Peter finally found a moment to slip out of the Great Hall himself. He leaned against the railing of the balcony overlooking the Eastern Sea and sighed. Susan had been right, as usual; he had expected the world to be a great deal smaller than he was finding it to be. After all, they were technically inside a wardrobe; how could a land within something so small be so vast and beyond his understanding? And somehow, he was king of it all; the realisation made his head spin dizzily.
"You shouldn't have said all that," Edmund announced, sounding slightly cross. Peter had not heard him come onto the balcony, which was hardly surprising considering how quiet his brother could be when he wanted to.
"Shouldn't have said what?"
"You know perfectly well what." It was hardly an auspicious beginning to a conversation and Peter sighed heavily. "I suppose you had to say something, what with everyone expecting you to, but it wasn't necessary to make a promise you should never have to keep." Edmund still wasn't looking at him; he was staring down at the gleaming silver water with a ferocious scowl.
"I fully intend to keep it. I know I've done a terrible job protecting anyone so far, but that needs to change. Things need to be different now." I'm sorry. But he couldn't quite bring himself to say it; not yet, not with Edmund scowling and so unlikely to forgive him.
"Aslan must believe you've done alright so far; He made you High King." Peter blinked, surprised and remembering the similar words Edmund had spoken before the Battle of Beruna. "Aslan believed you could, and so do I." Even if that had been true then, surely it couldn't be now, not after he had failed so colossally at leading his army to victory.
"It's alright, Peter," Edmund continued quietly, turning to face him at last. "I don't expect you to protect me anymore. I betrayed you, Narnia, Aslan, and everyone else. I know you had to say something in there because everyone was watching you, but you don't have to pretend in private. According to Narnian law, oaths sworn unwillingly are not binding, so you are free to do as you wish."
Peter stared at him, too shocked by the calm resignation in his voice to question how Edmund seemed to know so much about oaths in Narnian law. "Look here Ed, I know we've had our disagreements, and I know I was far too harsh with you, but surely you can't believe I would swear a false oath just to save face."
"Of course not, unless you were swearing it to a traitor for the sake of creating a peaceful kingdom. You could have simply sworn that we would work together for peace in Narnia and saved yourself the trouble of lying." He turned back to studying the sea far below and Peter wanted to shout in frustration. He had long ago determined it to be utterly impossibly to reason with Edmund when he was like this, but still, he had to try. Maybe if he had tried all along things would have turned out very differently. Peter sighed and rubbed a hand across his aching eyes; the golden crown on his head was heavier than it looked and the headache he had been fighting all that afternoon was becoming impossible to ignore. It doesn't matter now, he told himself crossly. I have more important things to worry about.
"Yes, I could have," he said, responding to Edmund's stubborn insistence. "But I didn't. You claim I had to say something to you because everyone was watching. Is there anyone watching now?" He looked around dramatically, though he knew full well they were alone. Susan was somewhere behind them in the hall, still scurrying about, trying to keep everything well organised even though the celebration was over for the most part, Lucy was curled up, asleep on her throne, despite how uncomfortable that must be, and the few Narnians who remained were too concentrated on the wine in their goblets and the food on their plates to take notice of their two kings talking in low voices on the balcony. Edmund shook his head and glanced uncertainly at Peter with a hint of fear in his eyes. What does he expect me to do? Throw him off the balcony for being a traitor? It seemed ridiculous but somehow Peter would not have been surprised if that was exactly what his younger brother was thinking.
Traitor. That word kept appearing in Edmund's speech far more often than Peter liked and he was determined to change that if he could. "You think the oath I made isn't binding; well, I want it to be. I will serve at your side, my brother; I will strike down your enemies, for your enemies are my own, I will protect you from what dangers I can, share in your triumphs and your defeats; till Aslan command me otherwise or death take me. There's no one here to hear those words except for you, and I fully intend to keep that vow. Even you can't argue with it now."
For a moment Edmund looked like he intended to argue, then he nodded sharply and continued staring towards the East. Peter sighed again, nearly ready to admit defeat; if Edmund wasn't willing to listen there wasn't much he could do. If Edmund was determined to hate him. and to hate himself, how could Peter hope to change his mind? Then he heard a faint sniffle. "Are you crying, Ed?"
"No." Came the slightly choked defiant response which was instantly contradicted by the stifled sob that followed it.
"What's wrong, Eddie?" He automatically resorted to using his old nickname for his brother, momentarily forgetting how much Edmund had seemed to hate it recently. To his surprise Edmund did not immediately start shouting and storm away as he had been known to do, instead he began crying in earnest and threw his arms around Peter's neck before burying his head against his shoulder.
"I'm sorry." The words were so muffled and distorted by tears that Peter nearly missed them and it was only when they were repeated again that he could be certain of what exactly Edmund was saying.
"So am I." Peter patted his back a little awkwardly and wondered if Susan might be better suited to comforting a sobbing Edmund. "I was trying so hard to be like dad that I forgot how to be a brother, but I want to learn how to be again, if you'll let me."
Edmund mumbled something that vaguely sounded like "It's not your fault," but Peter couldn't really be sure.
"It isn't entirely yours either you know." No response. "Edmund?"
"Do you really want to call a traitor your brother?"
There was that word again; Peter was starting to hate it, not because of what it meant, but because Edmund seemed to find it synonymous with himself. "You aren't a traitor anymore. Aslan forgave you and so have I."
"You have?" Edmund pulled away and stared up at him in shock.
"Of course, I have; you already proved how sorry you are about all of it. And please, don't make almost dying your automatic method of apologising." For once attempting to lighten the mood by joking seemed to work and Edmund grinned, wiping his eyes hastily on the edge of his cloak.
"I might, considering I never do as I'm told. I say, Pete, you aren't going to hug me again, are you?"
Peter wisely decided not to point out that it was Edmund who had hugged him and settled for shrugging instead. "I probably will at some point; you might as well get used to it."
Edmund grinned and yawned leading Peter to suspect that he really didn't mind hugs as much as he always pretended to. He wandered back into the hall, still yawning, and was promptly waylaid by Susan who presumably insisted that he go to bed immediately. Peter smiled as he watched them argue good naturedly before Susan won as he knew she would all along.
Lucy was still asleep, curled up in a seemingly impossible position on her throne and Peter was happy to see that Edmund paused on his way out of the hall to drop a quick kiss on her forehead. Lucy stirred, but did not wake and Peter doubted anything short of an air raid would wake her before mid-day. At least air raids aren't something I have to worry about here.
A moment later Susan joined him on the balcony, smiling wearily but peacefully. "That was nicely handled earlier," she said quietly, without a hint of sarcasm. "Thank you, for what you said."
"I meant it; I will do my best to listen to you. Maybe if I had all along things would have turned out differently."
She looked thoughtful and shook her head slightly. "I'm not sure that would have been better. It turned out alright in the end you know." She yawned and kissed him on the cheek. "But as long as you're listening to me, you should get some sleep."
"I will," Peter promised quietly. "I'll make sure Lucy gets back to her room first though." They both looked back into the hall at their sleeping sister and smiled fondly. "Goodnight, Susan." Susan nodded, mumbled something that might have been goodnight in return, and shuffled away, looking half asleep already.
Peter watched her go, still smiling, and lifted the heavy golden crown from his head at last. He turned it between his hands, studying the designs and wondering what they meant. It was still heavier than it looked, heavier than he had expected it to be, but the weight was more bearable than it had been before. Perhaps more accurately it was worth bearing. Worth bearing for Lucy, who would sleep peacefully in safety and wake to continue in loving her siblings and her new country with all her heart. Worth bearing for Susan, who was already becoming a queen capable of watching over Narnia and her siblings with gentleness and love. Worth bearing for Edmund, who had already given so much and who Peter knew would never fully forget his past misdeeds, but would spend every moment proving himself worthy of the title Aslan had given him.
The newly crowned High King of Narnia settled the crown back on his head and slipped back into the Great Hall. He stopped to gather his youngest sister up from her throne, nodded to the silent guards, and disappeared through the doors at the other end of the hall. Far below on the golden sand that bordered the Eastern Sea a Lion looked up at the now silent castle and smiled.
Hope you enjoyed this ridiculously long one shot. Please do leave me a review...it would brighten my finals week considerably :-)