As her older brother stoked the fire, Lucy filled the kettle from a tap set into the wall over a pair of massive stone sinks, the marvel which had been one of Edmund's first projects as king. He had commissioned a large cistern in the tower above the kitchens and had helped lay the piping himself alongside the workers. He had been so delighted with the project's success, that his brother and sisters had initially called it "Edmund's pride and joy." By now, however, having been at it for so long, they simply referred to it as the "Pride and Joy," and the servants and especially the kitchen staff mostly did the same.
By the time the kettle started bubbling merrily away over a crackling fire, Susan returned from the creamery with a chilled stone pitcher of milk. Lucy procured five earthenware goblets from the buttery and set them out on the worktable in a neat row. The eldest queen wrapped a thick cloth around the kettle handle and poured out the hot water, stirring in dollops of fresh, rich cream skimmed from the top of the milk, and adding the final touches each liked best – lemon for Edmund, honey for herself and Lucy, and tonight, very generous splashes of brandy for Palomnus and Peter. When all was ready, Susan presented Peter with his goblet first, and he offered up the thanksgiving to Aslan before closing his eyes and taking a sip. The others quickly followed suit.
"Oh, Su," he murmured, melting against the hard worktable, "More delectable than anything found in the stores of Calormen. Better than the sweetest meats of Archenland. And even, I daresay, more satisfying than the greatest feasts of our own fair Narnia. Your skill increases with each batch."
"Most delicious, my gracious highness," Palomnus added, "My gratitude abounds."
"I just cannot fathom how you put in the exact amount of milk every time, sister," Lucy said, staring into her goblet as if it would yield up Susan's secret.
"I've had plenty of practice," was her eldest sister's reply, "and a good teacher."
"Who?" Edmund asked curiously, as he squeezed a few more drops of juice from the lemon quarter into his drink.
There was a long pause. Peter glanced up at Susan to see her sitting with her fingers wrapped tightly around her goblet, a far-away, almost dreamlike expression on her face. Eventually, she spoke.
"Mother," she said, and this brought with it a profound silence.
"It seems so long ago," Susan continued, still contemplative. "Do you recall her making us cambric tea after those particularly bad air raids?" Lucy shook her head no, but Peter nodded.
"Not very well," Edmund said somberly. "I don't remember anything of England very well. It's all so foggy somehow."
"Is it bad not to remember?" Lucy whispered then, to no one in particular, "and is it horrid of me not to care I don't?" Her question hung in the air, unanswered by her siblings, and Palomnus, wisely, said nothing – merely sipped at his tea and listened, his bright eyes moving to each of his sovereigns' faces in turn.
Finally Peter shook himself slightly, a little shivering motion rippling across his skin. "Aslan placed us here in Narnia to carry out his perfect will," he said, his voice firm – the High King taking command of a situation and rendering judgment. "If he wishes it, he will send us back to that other world. For the present, fair consorts, let us further enjoy the drinks our royal sister made for us out of the kindness of her heart," he smiled at Susan, who gracefully inclined her head, "and spend no more dreary thoughts on what once was."
The spell broken, each busied himself with his goblet, and it wasn't long before Lucy was doing a quick washing up in the scullery. Palomnus extinguished the lights and relit their candles, while Susan shut the outside doors, and Edmund, after banking the fire once more, took charge of Peter.
"Are you recovered, brother?" Edmund asked quietly, as the older king drew on his dressing gown. "Are you in need of further aid?"
"I am well," Peter said, inhaling easily and finding the horrible pressure gone. "I feel as though I will fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow."
Edmund gave him a long, appraising look and then grinned. "I say truly, my lord, if you are able to fall asleep smelling like you do, there is little that can keep you awake."
The loud yelp that followed startled the queens and Palomnus from their chores, and they glanced up to see Peter chasing Edmund from the kitchen, his dressing gown billowing behind him.
"Oh botheration," Lucy exploded, slightly vexed, "Peter should know better! And they'll both trip over something in the dark and break their noses or bark their shins, and then we'll have to stitch them up. Come on, Susan." Drying her hands, she took up one of the candlesticks and followed her brothers up the stairs.
She found the High King in the Great Hall, standing completely still, leaning forward slightly as he focused on the darkness around him, attentive to the slightest sound, the slightest movement. He held up a hand sharply as she came up, and she stopped, puffing with irritation. Suddenly he swung around and in one swift moment pinched out the flame of her candle and slid behind her. "Peter Pevensie!" she hissed, "Cease this foolishness! Fie on you, do you wish to have another fit? You're just asking for trouble!"
"Hush, Lu," he whispered, laying a finger against her lips, "Ed's here somewhere, and your squawking just gave me away."
Completely indignant, the youngest queen of Narnia was about to tell her brother where to step off when Susan and Palomnus came up the kitchen stairs together with their candles, the light pooling before them. Just as they stepped out into the Great Hall, Edmund came flying out of the darkness with a terrific shout, his hands raised above his head, fingers splayed. Both young women shrieked, Susan dropped her candle, Palomnus bleated in shock, and Peter leaped forward, grabbing his younger brother and wrestling him into a headlock. They were still tussling when everyone else had reclaimed their candles and their dignity.
"Oh, very smart, you two," Susan said scathingly, "Simply brilliant. Peter, are you a complete idiot? Edmund, stop that at once! What are you trying to do, wake the whole castle or set the place on fire?"
The brothers separated, laughing in convulsive gulps, and the High King bent with his hands on his knees. "Exercise is good for me," he said, panting, "Or so I've been told. Toughens the lungs."
"Oooh, Peter!" Lucy exclaimed, wishing she could strangle him, "If you don't behave, I'll bring out my cordial and cure you completely! There's plenty left!"
Peter shot her a glance. "You know my orders, Lu," he said, straightening, "Only in direst circumstances."
"Your highness, if you do not take care, you may be in poor enough health to warrant its use." Palomnus said disapprovingly, and Peter sighed. "Perhaps," he conceded. "But am I not even allowed to defend myself against the slander cast upon me by my own brother?"
"No!" Lucy said, crossing to him and taking his arm, "It's not slander if it's true. You do smell a little ripe, my lord."
A roar of laughter went up at this and the subsequent expression on the High King's face. "Abuse is all I suffer," he said, tapping Lucy's nose with his forefinger, "Be wary, my sister, or it may come back to haunt you."
She raised her brow archly at him in response as they returned to the royal quarters. "We shall see, brother," she said, "We shall see."
Susan left them at her chambers after giving each of her siblings a warm hug. They gave her their thanks for making the tea, and she retired with a smile. At Edmund's rooms, the brothers clasped arms briefly and the younger king kissed Lucy on the forehead. "Sleep well, both of you," he said, pinching his nose with his brown eyes twinkling. He had to duck quickly inside before Peter could reach him, and his laughter came to them from behind the closed door.
Palomnus had trotted on ahead, and he stood in the entrance of Peter's chamber, ready to usher him inside. Peter paused with Lucy on the threshold. She faced him seriously, her mirth subdued. "Is there anything else you require?" she asked, "I would be pleased to sit with you for a time."
"No thank you, Lucy," he responded, pulling her gently into a close embrace. "You have been a hero tonight, as always and as ever. I know I will sleep peacefully."
She held him tightly for a moment, her face pressed against his shoulder, and then stepped back. "I will see you on the morrow, then, my lord. May Aslan keep you until then."
"May Aslan keep you, beloved," Peter replied and watched her go down the passageway and into her own chambers before turning to his valet. "Lead on," he said.
The faun helped Peter off with his dressing gown and into bed, drawing the coverings up and snug. "Leave the bed curtains, please, Palomnus," Peter said, "and the window open. The fresh air will ease my rest."
"Very good, your majesty," Palomnus said. "Do not hesitate to call me, should you require anything at all."
Peter smiled wryly. "I will," he said, and Palomnus gave him a slightly reproving look before entering his own small sleeping chamber and leaving the High King alone once more. He lay back against his mound of pillows and looked out through the open window. He could just see the fading stars winking against the midnight velvet of the night sky. Peter took several deep breaths and found himself yawning mightily. "Thank you, Aslan," he whispered in prayer, "for restoring me. And most especially for giving me such a family as this." And he fell asleep to sweetened dreams, knowing he had been heard.
AN: I decided to put this at the end, so I could blather on to those who care to read and not annoy those who don't. Thanks, and don't forget to review!
Now, note #1: Peter's injury. Here in my sandbox, Peter suffered massive blunt trauma to the chest during his campaign against the giants on the Northern frontier (as this piece is actually a companion to my much longer work, For Ever Kneel'd). In doing research on the injury, I came to the conclusion that I could indeed, as I gleefully said to my husband, "crush Peter's chest and get away with it." Yes, he gave me the same look you're no doubt giving the screen now. All this TMI to say that I am not medically trained and only did the basic research and felt I should explain myself. :o)
Note #2: Speech! As this story comes after The Horse and His Boy, I tried to keep the speech consistent with that book. I'm always a little put off by the formality when I come to the very end of LWW, and so while I tried to avoid that extreme, I also tried to keep what there is natural. Always a struggle!
Note #3 (yes, the last one): Lucy's cordial. In The Horse and His Boy, Lucy laments that Peter has strictly charged her not to carry her cordial commonly to battles. One can therefore extrapolate from this that the High King has decided opinions on what calls for a use of the magic cordial and what does not (I mean, not carrying it to battle in which his siblings might be injured grievously? Not sure what he was thinking there…). I'm sure the cordial would do its work in an instant, but Lewis has already given me an excuse for keeping this a story… :o)
Thanks for reading, and don't forget to review!