Well, here this is. Hopefully I'm off to a solid start; the first half of this chapter was included in the preview provided at the end of The City Ruinous, but the second half is all new. Expect this story to contain espionage, Narnian politics, adventure, and ridiculous amounts of coffee. I still don't own Narnia or the Pevensies, however, Brickle, Athelstan, and most of the information about Peridan are my own creations.
Cair Paravel-The Sixth Day of the month Greenroof-Firstday
"Your majesty?" Peter sighed and cautiously opened one eye to peer blearily over at the nervous dwarf who was hovering beside his chair. Surely, I haven't been that cross, he thought, rather crossly, upon seeing the poor fellow's expression. In truth, he had been incredibly bad tempered since returning from his last Northern campaign with a broken ankle and a badly dislocated shoulder. Despite his foul mood at the prospect of being largely immobile for the better part of two months, he had stubbornly refused to allow Lucy to heal him with her cordial. A month into his enforced inactivity he was beginning to regret that decision, and his mood was steadily becoming more quarrelsome with each passing day.
"Your majesty?" the dwarf repeated timidly when Peter showed no signs of acknowledging him further. "A message arrived for you, your majesty; from the Lone Islands." He held out a roll of parchment sealed with the governor's official seal, and Peter sighed again.
"Thank you, Brickle. There's no use waiting for my reply." He hoped the dismissal was clear enough and was not sure who was more relieved, himself or the dwarf, when Brickle bowed quickly and hurried out of the room.
He broke the seal hastily and groaned when the parchment unfurled into what seemed doomed to be a very long and detailed report. The governor was a decent sort of chap, but he had a terrible habit of waxing poetic on all topics, from taxes to the price of ale in the local taverns. Edmund had once remarked that the Calormen and their influence on the Islands were likely to blame for the flowery language displayed by the nobles, and Peter now found himself reluctantly inclined to agree.
Athelstan, by the gift of Aslan, by appointment and by birth, governor of the Lone Islands and Lord of Narrowhaven, to Peter, by the gift of Aslan, by election, by prescription, and by conquest, High King over all Kings in Narnia, Emperor of the Lone Islands and Lord of Cair Paravel, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion; Greetings.
My dear and most noble king-
Peter found himself tempted, not for the first time upon receiving correspondence from Athelstan, to throw the parchment into the nearest fire and have done with it. Really, how much time must he waste on ridiculous greetings? I know my titles, and his, well enough that I do not need to be endlessly reminded of them. He half considered hobbling to the library in search of his brother and forcing Edmund to read the missive, but it was still early enough in the day for him to be acutely aware how dangerous that particular course of action would prove. Edmund was likely to be more short tempered than he was himself until mid-day-or at the very least until his fifth mug of coffee. There was nothing for it; Peter leaned back more comfortably in his chair, glared at his ankle when it protested against the movement, and reluctantly turned his attention back to the letter.
My dear and most noble king, greetings in these dark times. As you may be aware from my past correspondence, the Council of Narrowhaven is proving unduly troublesome. Despite repeated pleas by me for their more reasonable behaviour, they continue to blatantly flout your royal decrees and my edicts, and are openly supporting a movement for a secession of these Islands from the lands of Narnia. I am certain I need not tell you how disastrous this would prove for both of us. The councilmen are likely to call for my execution, should they succeed in wresting my power from me by trickery or by military force, and I can but hope that this circumstance will prove as distasteful to you, most esteemed king, as it is to me.
High King, I beg your aid immediately though it shames me to do so. I can no longer hold these Islands or fulfill the capacity you have entrusted me with unless you render me such aid as shall best crush this talk of secession. I would beg your majesty dispatch some portion of your army with all haste, and perhaps it will not trouble you too much to attend the next Council meeting in person or at the very least to send your royal brother in your stead? I beg you receive these tidings with the utmost consideration of their serious nature.
I remain your ever-faithful servant and the faithful servant of Aslan and Aslan's great Father, The Emperor Over the Sea. May Aslan's Blessings be upon you and your noble family and all those who dwell in your fair land.
Signed, Athelstan, Governor of the Lone Islands and Lord of Narrowhaven.
He read the missive through once more to be certain he had not mistaken its meaning and sighed for what seemed the hundredth time that morning. Given the circumstances outlined in Athelstan's letter, it did not seem an overreaction for the governor to request his presence and he briefly considered the necessity of sending for Lucy and her cordial. But no, he had long since decreed that the cordial be saved for only the direst of circumstances-since no one knew how many drops the bottle held. It would not do for him to prove himself hypocritical merely to allay the inconvenience of his situation.
Besides, he reflected (slightly more smugly than the situation merited), Edmund is the diplomat. I may as well send him as go myself, and by doing so I may spare myself the ordeal of dealing with Athelstan. In my current mood, I'm more likely to order his execution than I am to find a resolution to the situation. Unless…unless I can solve two problems simultaneously. The sudden, inspired thought was enough to make him smile and nearly forget his ill mood.
"Brickle!" His ill mood returned somewhat when the dwarf in question did not immediately reappear. Lion's Mane! Is it too much to ask for a servant who responds? "BRICKLE!" Yet still there was no response, and no ruddy faced dwarf rushed into the room. "BRI-"
"Did you need something, your majesty?" asked a somewhat harried sounding voice from the vicinity of the fireplace and Brickle tumbled into the grate, so covered in soot that even his bright red hair appeared dark.
"What the blazes were you doing in the chimney?" Peter demanded, forgetting for a moment the reason he had summoned the hapless servant.
Brickle had the good sense to look abashed and stared down at his filthy boots. "Cleaning, your majesty."
"Cleaning?" If Lucy had seen his expression at that moment she would have giggled and asked if his eyebrows were trying to escape from his face. "Without a brush, good cousin?" The unfortunate Brickle shuffled his feet and said nothing. "Perhaps you would be so good as to inform my spying brother that I require his presence. Send for Queen Lucy as well, if you would." Brickle bowed hurriedly and seemed about to bolt from room, but Peter couldn't quite resist calling after him. "Oh, and Brickle?"
"Yes, your majesty?" he mumbled miserably, tugging at his sooty beard.
"I would advise against telling King Edmund that you thought hiding in the chimney would be an effective method of keeping an eye on me." Despite his cross mood, Peter could not help being amused by the latest antics of Edmund's rather inept agent.
Brickle grinned, obviously relieved that Peter would not mention the details of his failure to Edmund, and gratefully backed out of the room, tracking a good bit of soot with him. Peter rubbed a hand across his eyes and glared at the trail of grime. Susan would doubtless be very displeased at the current state of his chambers, even if there had not now been a fine layer of soot covering the floor around the hearth and leading to the door-that meant servants with buckets and brooms and other various cleaning implements for him to trip over should he even attempt walking.
He glared at his ankle yet again and muttered an eloquent and heartfelt curse against the giant who had managed to injure him. There were few things that Peter hated more than being forced into a state of inactivity by an injury, especially one he felt was as trivial as a broken ankle.
Edmund arrived to hear the last few words of his phrase and raised his eyebrows sardonically, but wisely did not comment (he most certainly had no right to). He dropped gracefully into the chair opposite Peter, sighing in annoyance.
"Care to tell me why Brickle is covered in enough soot to block a chimney?" As far as morning conversations with Edmund went, this one was beginning better than Peter had hoped.
"I should have guessed he was one of yours," Peter remarked lightly, studiously avoiding answering the question. "Care to tell me why you find it necessary to spy on me?"
"I'm not spying on you, I am ensuring that you stay out of trouble and in your chambers where you belong." Despite his denial, Edmund looked distinctly annoyed at being caught.
Rather too annoyed to be believable, Peter thought with more than a little amusement. "I see. And to do so you saw it necessary to assign your most inept spy to watch me?"
Edmund grinned somewhat sheepishly. "I thought you might find it rather amusing. You are drearier than a Marsh-wiggle and more cross than a mountain giant when you're bored."
Peter had to admit it was an accurate assessment of his temperament, and it was true enough that Brickle's antics had proved amusing. He shrugged in defeat and allowed himself to smile. Edmund seemed inordinately pleased by this response, and his face took on an expression which could only be described as gloating.
"As entertaining as this conversation is, I am assuming you didn't interrupt a Council meeting to talk about Brickle's inept methods of spying?"
His brother sighed in response to his blank look and shook his head in mock despair. "I think, perhaps, it was your royal skull that giant crushed, rather than your ankle. Perhaps you have entirely forgotten that the Council meets every Firstday? Alas, that I cannot so quickly forget it," he added with a hint of real annoyance. "I much prefer the Parliament meetings, at least those are at a reasonable hour." The Narnian Parliament was comprised mainly of Owls and met every Fifthday an hour after Sunset as opposed to the Council, which convened an hour before breakfast every Firstday, and much to the dismay of both brothers, often lasted until midday.
"Rest assured my skull is as thick as ever, I simply forgot it was Firstday. I hope I didn't interrupt anything of import?" He felt rather guilty at missing another Council meeting due to the healers' insistence that he remain in his chambers. It was entirely unfair that Edmund should have to deal with the often quarrelsome nobles on his own.
Edmund shook his head, scowling and still presumably bemoaning the earliness of the hour and the necessity of missing breakfast, and therefore, coffee. "Not really," he said at last. "Just rumours of impending war with Calormen, ambassadors arriving from Telmar, and apparently suitors arriving to plead for Susan's hand in marriage."
"The usual then?" Peter found it rather amusing that the Council was still addressing the same matters it had been the month previously.
Edmund nodded, then turned his head to peer out the window at the sun's position in the sky. "They'll be debating the finer points of our current treaty with Calormen for a good two hours yet. Now, what was so important?"
Peter glanced back at the door impatiently. "We should wait for Lucy; you don't happen to know where she is, do you?"
Edmund leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, obviously intending to sleep if Lucy did not arrive soon. "No idea, she doesn't require constant watching. Lucy, at least, knows how to keep out of trouble."
Peter chose to ignore the rather pointed remark in favour of being quietly amused at the idea of Lucy managing to keep out of trouble. True, her troublesome situations usually involved torn dresses, skinned knees, and inordinate amounts of mud rather than skilled assassins or disgruntled countesses armed with cutlery (that is an entirely different story and has doubtless been told in other places), but Lucy seemed to find trouble nearly as often as Peter and Edmund combined. At least, if Susan's accounting of her various escapades was to be believed.
As if his thoughts had conjured her, Lucy came sweeping into the room in a swirl of muddy skirts and disheveled golden curls. Surprisingly, she was not accompanied by her usual trail of equally muddy small Animals and, other than the state of her skirt and hair, she appeared nearly proper enough to keep Susan from despair.
She kissed Peter soundly on the cheek, wisely avoided repeating the action with Edmund, and, heedless of the soot, sprawled down before the hearth.
Edmund opened one eye and smirked at her disheveled appearance. "Nice of you to join us, Lu. What was it this time; a troupe of lost Rabbits perhaps?"
Lucy scowled in mock indignation and tossed one of her thoroughly muddy shoes at him; Edmund caught it deftly and tossed it back with a vaguely disgusted expression. "You can't have been waiting that long! Brickle only found me five minutes ago and I came straight up, and it wasn't the Rabbits this time. I was helping the Dryads tend to the gardens. Really," this to Peter, "what could be so important to call me indoors on such a beautiful day?"
Peter passed Edmund the governor's letter, and Lucy scrambled to her feet to read the document over her brother's shoulder. Peter smiled at the look of annoyance on Edmund's face-he absolutely hated it when anyone read over his shoulder and Lucy was the only one who could do so and escape being smacked soundly over the head with whatever he was reading at that particular moment. Peter had learned that lesson very quickly when the book Edmund had happened to be reading at the time was a very weighty treatise on Calormen law.
"Oh dear!" exclaimed Lucy, her sunny expression clouding when she finished reading. "Poor Governor Athelstan! It must be terrible for him to know his own counselors are plotting to overthrow him." Edmund said nothing as he reread the letter quickly, but his expression darkened.
"What are you going to do, Peter?" Lucy asked, dropping back to her seat on the floor. "You simply cannot go to Doorn with your ankle, should I fetch my cordial?"
"I'll go," Edmund offered simply, half rising from his chair already. "I'm sure the dockmaster can have the Splendor Hyaline ready to sail by the end of the day."
"I'm sure he can," Peter agreed, silently bracing himself for the coming explosion. "But you won't be going; Lucy will."
"Have you entirely taken leave of your senses?" Far from being explosively angry, Edmund's voice was entirely calm, and Peter groaned inwardly. Why can't he just shout and have done with it?
"No offense, Lu," Edmund continued in the same quiet tone. "But I really don't see how you can believe it wise to send Lucy into what could become a diplomatic nightmare or a dangerous military situation in a matter of moments and one misplaced word."
"And that," said Peter slowly, choosing his next words with utmost care, "is precisely why I am sending Lucy. Provided of course, that you are willing to go, Lu?"
Lucy frowned slightly, glancing between her two brothers with obvious unease. "Of course, I'll go if that's what you want me to do, but I can't help think Edmund is right. After all, he is the diplomatic one and I'm rubbish at politics."
Edmund was obviously still considering Peter's last statement, and Peter could identify the exact moment his quick-witted brother understood the reasoning behind the plan. His scowl faded abruptly, replaced by a thoughtful look as he studied the letter in his hand. "I think you may be right, Pete. They won't expect Lucy and they will doubtless underestimate both her capabilities and her intelligence."
"Precisely." Peter allowed himself a moment to feel rather pleased at his own brilliance. "If you or I go the councilmen will know what to expect and be on their guard; if Lucy goes they will likely fail to see her as a legitimate threat and will be more prone to making mistakes and betraying themselves."
Lucy still looked rather uncertain. "I really am terrible at politics, and deceiving people. Oh dear! What if I make a terrible mess of everything and the councilmen succeed in seceding? Even saying it is problematic!"
Peter was unsurprised when Edmund happily accepted the challenge of convincing Lucy that she was more than capable. "Politics really have very little to do with it Lu, situations like this are nearly always driven by greed rather than political precedent. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open and pretend to understand nothing at all about it. I'm sure that you'll have all the proof of treason you need within a week, and your guards can escort the guilty members of the Council back to Cair Paravel to be tried. You'll manage it beautifully."
Lucy nodded, still somewhat reluctantly, but managed a smile. "If you really think I can do it. I suppose I should pack," she ran a hand through her messy curls and smiled a touch ruefully. "And comb my hair, otherwise Susan is likely to do it herself." She rushed out in the same flurry of brown mud and golden hair as she had entered, and Peter smiled fondly after her. He was inclined to wonder optimistically if she might resolve the situation in the Lone Islands simply by smiling at the Council. If only it were that simple.
Edmund stood as if to follow her, but stopped in the door to look back thoughtfully. "You know, dear brother, despite my frequent comments to the contrary you are rather intelligent."
"Thank you?" I think.
"You cannot have failed to wonder if the current political climate in the Lone Islands is entirely the product of a few greedy Lords' scheming. It seems likely to me that the people may be discontent as well, and the support for the Council may be greater than we have been lead to believe."
"No, that possibility has not escaped me," Peter agreed heavily. "You may as well sit back down; our own Council will have to do without your return today, I'm afraid."
"It is their loss, not mine," Edmund remarked lightly as he dropped back into the chair. "I take it I will be going to Narrowhaven after all?"
Peter nodded, unsurprised that Edmund had at least partially guessed the rest of his plan.
"But not on board a Narnian ship or under my own name. Perhaps a merchant ship to Galma and then on to Doorn?" he paused, frowned slightly, and them shook his head. "No, not Galma. The problem doubtless originates with Calormen and their influence on the Islands. So, from here to Tashbaan, and then to Narrowhaven. There is a Calormen merchant vessel docked here that leaves for Tashbaan tomorrow morning; I daresay a northern merchant who is distantly descended from a minor Calormen house could manage to book passage."
"I daresay such a person could," Peter agreed dryly.
"And if that merchant happens to do a little spying in Tashbaan before continuing on to the Lone Islands, the Tisroc, may his ignorance be matched only by his cowardice, will never be the wiser to it." Edmund was very obviously enjoying the prospect of escaping council meetings in favour of spying on Calormen and the Council of Narrowhaven; his eyes were sparkling with slightly ghoulish glee.
Peter almost regretted the next aspect of his plan; he very much doubted Edmund would find it quite so agreeable. Still, it was necessary for his relative peace of mind, especially after what had occurred the last time Edmund visited Tashbaan. "Do you think you could formulate a similarly suitable story for the fair haired Archenlander who will be accompanying you?"
True to his prediction, Edmund scowled at the question and crossed his arms. "I could, if I were stupid enough to take such a person with me. That Archenlander would not happen to have a broken ankle, would he?"
"No," Peter reassured him quickly enough to utterly destroy the notion he intended to accompany Edmund himself. "But you are taking Peridan with you."
Edmund stared at him, opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again and continued staring as if Peter had taken leave of his senses. "Peridan?" he managed to croak put at last, looking truly aghast.
Peridan was the most recent addition to the Narnian court and had, until a month prior been residing in Anvard as an advisor to King Lune. Lune had reluctantly relinquished his services when Peridan begged to return to his family's ancestral lands near Cair Paravel, and Peter had equally reluctantly accepted his services as Royal Advisor. Peter's reluctance had little to do with Peridan himself (he was an able enough advisor and a pleasant enough person) and more to do with that fact that the Archenlander seemed utterly in awe of all four of Narnia's rulers. This had proved rather trying on more than one occasion, and Peter was close to despairing that Peridan would ever prove a valuable asset to the court.
"Peter, if I wanted to be captured and executed for treason I would take you along, broken ankle and all, or Brickle. Since I am not taking either of you, then you can accurately conclude I am rather fond of continuing to breathe-unimpeded by my neck being severed. I might pass as a distant descendant of a Calormene family, Peridan certainly won't, and he provides the added disadvantage of being conspicuously polite to me. I doubt he could behave with the required stealth if his life, and mine, depended on it. And, both our lives are very likely to." The objections were raised in such a reasonable manner that Peter nearly found himself agreeing to withdraw the order. Then he shook himself, realising crossly that he had nearly fallen for the tactics that served Edmund so well when negotiating treaties; reason paired with just the right amount of sardonic humour and a charming smile.
"That was an admirable attempt, little brother, but my decision is final. Take Peridan with you and try not to get him killed."
Edmund growled something inaudible-which might have been younger brother-and continued scowling. "I concede, under protest," he said at last with a reluctant shrug. "I might as well use this opportunity to find out if we can trust him or not, but I warn you, if he proves untrustworthy I will not guarantee his safety."
"I would not expect you to." Have you ever not protested when making concessions? Peter added silently, though judging by the eye roll his younger brother directed at him, Edmund had guessed what he was thinking.
"But really," Edmund continued, obviously serious about protesting the point. "Peridan? Have you ever managed a successful conversation with him?"
Peter thought about it for a moment and scowled. He had, in fact, had several conversations with the new Royal Advisor and all of them had proved mightily trying. Peridan was so deferential in manner that he risked being forever labeled as a fawning imbecile by his fellow advisors. Peter suspected that he would prove a decent sort of fellow in common company, but his overstated respect for all Narnian dignitaries often proved the most foolproof way for Peter to acquire a headache. Still, he wasn't about to tell Edmund that.
"Have you tried to have a successful conversation with him?" he countered calmly.
Edmund shrugged dismissively. "I didn't try particularly hard after the sixth time he used my full title. If he does that in Calormen, I swear I'll-" But just what Edmund planned to do should such a circumstance arise Peter would not discover, for at that very moment a terrible clamour arose from the courtyard below the window.
Edmund paused in mid-sentence with a frown, crossed the room quickly to look down in the direction of the disturbance, and immediately laughed at the spectacle that greeted him. Peter growled in annoyance and stumbled to his feet (or more accurately, foot), holding the other foot which was attached to his injured ankle several inches off the floor, and hopped precariously forward to join Edmund at the window.
He arrived just in time to identify the retinues of Susan's three most recent suitors and a moment later found himself torn between laughing and cursing. The Telmarine Duke, instantly recognisable by his dark hair and pointed beard, had just punched the Galman Lord, who Peter was rather inclined to like more than the others. The Galman stumbled back, straight into the Calormen Tarkaan, who immediately dropped a warning hand onto the hilt of his scimitar. The guards intervened before a fight could break out in earnest, and Peter breathed a sigh of relief at the lack of blood and entrails on the paving stones.
Edmund laughed heartily at his expression and clapped him on the shoulder with enough force to nearly send Peter tumbling to the floor. "You know, Pete, perhaps Peridan's company won't be so bad after all. At least I won't be stuck here with three quarreling suitors and a very cross Susan."
Still laughing he stalked out of the room, leaving Peter to glare after him and silently berate himself for not accepting Lucy's cordial when he had the chance. Susan was always incredibly cross when there were multiple suitors quarreling over her hand in marriage, and Peter often found himself more inclined to run the fellows through than hold civil conversation with them. He was reluctantly forced to admit he felt rather envious of Lucy and Edmund both as he hopped back to his chair with a sigh. He determined then, that there was nothing he hated more than forced inaction while everyone else dispersed to do various, useful things. He could only hope that his siblings would return to find all of Susan's suitors still in possession of their limbs and their wits-limited though the latter may be to begin with.
A few additional notes: First, I would like to thank my beta reader PaintingMusic14 for once again proving herself indispensable.
Second, the incident involving disgruntled countesses armed with cutlery has actually not been recounted elsewhere...it could be though, if anyone is interested.
Third, this story is intended to read somewhat differently than my previous work. It involves much more research for accuracy, and at times draws heavily from political theory, theology, and WWII era espionage. Since all of these things require a good bit of research and complicated revision, updates will likely not be quite as swift as they have been on past stories. And yes, I really do mean it this time. I have a number of chapters already written, and am in the process of revising and proofing them, so updates will be on a weekly basis for the foreseeable future.
And lastly, please review! I love hearing what you think :-) Guest/Anonymous reviews are always welcome as are single word reviews such as "good", "terrible", "boring", etc. Thanks for reading!