A Sea of Golden Sand
The Courtship of Queen Susan
What is Commonly Known as Setting the Scene
Perhaps you have heard at some point the wonderful story that has been told all over Narnia; of how the High King Peter and his noble brother and lovely sisters came by magic to that kingdom in Narnia's time of greatest need, defeated the White Witch and were crowned by the great Lion Aslan. If you have not, you must take your teachers to task for failing to provide you with some excellent reading.
If, however, you are fortunate enough to have already heard the story then you will have the advantage, because you will know that the reign of King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund and Queen Lucy was known throughout Narnia as the Golden Age, and that Narnia was never a happier, more prosperous country than when the four kings and queens sat on the four thrones at Cair Paravel. This is not to say that Narnia did not have its share of troubles during that time, but it is to say that those troubles were never so well matched with times of peace and prosperity; nor were Narnians ever better governed than they were by those four great rulers.
Peter the High King was known for his nobility, his generosity, and his skill at battle. If ever the man had any fault, it was his desire to protect his kingdom and his beloved family ahead of himself. No Narnian could ever doubt that King Peter's first and last concern was the welfare of the kingdom he was proud to call his home.
His brother, King Edmund, had overcome a terrible thing in his past to become a wise and just ruler as well, and could always be relied upon to hear the case of any man who thought himself wrongly accused. No Narnian with any complaint was ever turned away from his throne, and King Edmund would have preferred to own no other fame than that of Narnia's most even-handed monarch.
Their sisters, Queen Lucy and Queen Susan, were as alike as day and night with all the loveliness of both. Merry, fair-haired Queen Lucy was the first to take up any challenge and loathed nothing so much as she did sitting still. Her laugh and her dimples were infectious and all the lords of her own land sought her for their bride, to her great amusement and delight.
Raven-haired Queen Susan was as soft and graceful as the moonlight on the sparkling seas. She was of a gentler and more guarded spirit than her younger sister; more reluctant to reveal her heart's meditations to those around her, and careful to conceal a small measure of steely, inner strength beneath a much softer gentility. Her grace and beauty drew suitors from distant, exotic lands to fight for her hand.
Nothing amused the two Kings so much as the sight of their sisters' bewilderment at these offers of marriage; as long as they had ruled Narnia there had been men offering for the queens, first for Susan alone but later for Lucy as well. It isn't the sort of thing that should surprise monarchs, since marriage is a very common political stratagem in Narnia and the countries around it, but the queens had not been born to such things so it took them longer to grow used to it. While over time they did learn how to gracefully turn down noble men of all shapes, sizes and motives, their amazement at the numbers of suitors never completely faded, and neither did the amusement of their brothers.
It was for one of these suitors that the kings and queens were waiting on a lovely day in early summer. This particular prince who desired Susan for his bride had already sent a party of ambassadors to treat for her hand, even before he had seen her (but this is the way these things are often arranged, so Susan had not thought the worse of him for it). Though the ambassadors had been a sour lot ("a troupe of travelling monkeys," Lucy had said, perhaps more spitefully than she had cause, but fortunately none of them had heard her) but they had not been in any way underhanded. Indeed, they had made every effort to be pleasant and obliging, so with Susan's consent Peter had extended an invitation to the prince himself, and it was for he that they waited now.
They were not, however, waiting in any great degree of state; indeed, any person passing by might not even have taken them for kings and queens, were it not for the simple beaten-gold and silver crowns they wore. They were stretched out on a rolling green lawn within the grounds of their castle, Cair Paravel, enjoying the cheerful glow of the past-midday sun. King Edmund was reading a book he had found in the castle library, King Peter and Queen Susan were playing a word game Queen Susan had invented, and Queen Lucy was making the longest daisy chain any of them had ever seen.
"What do you suppose he will be like?" It was Lucy who broke the silence, selecting a bright daisy from the shrinking collection at her side and adding it to her ever-growing garland.
"I really could not guess," Susan spoke just a little repressively. If there was one thing that bothered Susan about the distribution of suitors, it was that Lucy was usually already acquainted with hers. As Susan's suitors were all foreign, it was very rare that she had already encountered them, and it was so hard to form an accurate opinion based only on the impression that the suitor wanted to convey. Lucy, however, remained undaunted.
"It's such a queer name," she said reflectively, nibbling on the stem of a daisy that had not qualified for the chain. "Rabadash. He sounds like a sort of root vegetable, doesn't he?"
"I do hope," Peter looked amused, "that you will not say this to his face. You would damage irreparably our already tenuous relations with Calormen."
"Pooh to Calormen," Lucy said around a mouthful of daisy stem, lacing another through her elaborate ornament. "I've no use for any of them- those ambassadors they sent over last month were perfectly odious, weren't they? Of course, I think they're all terribly grumpy over there, anyhow. It comes of all the sun."
"Are you saying you are not enjoying this weather?" This was King Edmund, looking over the edge of his book with a twinkle in his eyes. "Do you mean to tell us you would prefer storm clouds and rain?"
Lucy made a face at him and spat out her daisy.
"Of course not. But that's because of the balance. After all, we have green and blue to go with all the gold, haven't we?" So saying, she waved her hand about them all to encompass the walls of their palace gleaming gold in the afternoon sun, the lush green lawns that stretched out beneath them, and the rolling blue oceans just visible over the great wall at the foot of the gently-sloping garden. "Narnia is like a delicious meal, really, with all these lovely colours and shades of colours and such. You just feel if you could only eat it, you would love it more than anything else you'd ever tasted and never be hungry again. But Calormen is like a bowl of sticky sweets. You can enjoy a bite or two, but after that it just makes you sick."
"Lucy!" Peter was shocked as Edmund hooted with laughter, and even Susan had to smile at Lucy's frank assessment. "Truly, we shall have to lock you away for the whole of the prince's visit if you're going to start saying his country gives you tooth ache!"
"I never said that," Lucy said pertly, sitting up to study the progress she had made so far. "I said that his country is- oh, now I shall have to do this part over," she frowned, lifting up two sections of daisy chain that had come apart in her hands. "Su, won't you please do this part for me?"
"No, Lucy, really, I don't-"
"Oh, do please," Lucy danced the chain in front of her, "or I shall never see it through. You're so much better at them than I."
"Oh, very well," Susan smiled, and reached out to take the floral concoction.
"Susan, I'm surprised at you. I should have thought you immune to such shameless flattery by now," Peter twinkled at his sister as she accepted Lucy's chain and examined the links. "What with all of the persistent gentlemen you've fended off these past few years, surely polite refusal must now come as second nature to you."
"Such low humour ill becomes you, brother," Susan said tartly, rethreading Lucy's chain with care. "I hope we will not have to lock you away along with Lucy when His Highness arrives."
"No fear," Edmund reassured them all. He glanced up at the sun, which was well started on its descent toward the Western horizon. "It seems nobody will have to be locked away today. I thought the prince was supposed to arrive at midday."
"He was," Susan said mildly, choosing one daisy from amongst a pile of discards she had set aside to lace it back amongst its fellows.
"Well that's rude enough of him, isn't it," Edmund looked a little irritated, and Lucy popped up like a jack-in-the-box to voice her assent.
"It is! It's very undiplomatic, too, I think. But is it," she wondered meditatively, "motive enough to cut him completely when he does arrive?"
"Why not leave that decision to me, Lu?" Peter suggested, amused, and Lucy dimpled at him in that particular way she reserved only for her family and dearest friends.
"If I must," she wrinkled her nose at him, and got it tapped smartly by her older brother.
"Impertinence!" he decreed, as if pronouncing her guilty of high treason. "Impertinence to the High King! Guards!"
Edmund and Susan promptly discarded their book and chain, respectively, and tackled their sister to the lawn, pinning her arms down as she shrieked with laughter and tried to twist free.
"What shall we do with her, Your Majesty?" Edmund asked, trying to sound particularly gruff and ominous. Peter pretended to consider as Lucy writhed on the ground, giggling helplessly.
"She must atone," he decided at last, "by presenting us with a costly treasure for our coffers."
"Have you anything of value to offer His Majesty, Prisoner?" Edmund's lips twitched with the effort of remaining serious, and Susan stopped tickling her sister long enough to let Lucy catch her breath and consider.
"Well . . . I do have a lovely daisy chain," she said meekly, and Peter pointed at commanding finger at her.
"Let it be brought to us to examine."
So Susan fetched the daisy chain and handed it to Lucy, who made a great show of bearing it over to Peter and bowing ridiculously low before him, and Peter pretended to consider the offering as his two "guards" looked on. At last he nodded solemnly, and accepted the chain.
"This will do nicely for our Royal sister; she looks well in daisies. You are pardoned, Prisoner, and you are commanded," he passed the chain back to her "to bear this to our sister, the Queen Susan, and adorn her with them."
Giggling, Lucy raced over to Susan and did as she'd been told, carefully arranging the lengthy chain about the hips of Susan's kirtle and up, over her shoulders to form a flowery mantle.
"There," she stepped back, beaming, and Susan blushed, trailing her fingers over the profusion of flowers.
"I feel like a garden," she mumbled.
"Suits you," Edmund grinned impishly, and Susan threw a daisy at him. Peter smiled at them both, and was about to speak when a sudden blare of trumpets drew them all up short, and had them looking toward the eastern wall.
"It's the envoy!" Lucy clapped her hands, apparently forgetting her prejudices against the country that reminded her of a bowl of sweets long enough to get excited about company arriving. Grabbing up her skirts she raced over the lawn, scrambling up the narrow stairs set into the side of the wall to peer over the parapet.
Edmund followed close behind his sister, but Peter and Susan hung back, sharing the sort of smile that older siblings tend to when they're amused by their younger ones. Then Peter's expression turned more serious and he put a hand on his sister's shoulder, dislodging a daisy as he did.
"Sister-" he stopped, cleared his throat and began again. "Susan. I ask that you . . . you must understand that this prince, no matter how powerful his father's armies may be and no matter how dour his ambassadors might have been, will remain in my mind the same as any other when it comes to his suit for your hand. First and foremost, he must win your approval; then and only then will my own opinion count for something."
Susan's own smile was both understanding and grateful, and she patted his hand reassuringly.
"Thank you," she said quietly, and the weight of relief behind those words made Peter feel suddenly uncomfortable. To cover this, he smiled down at her in what he hoped was a carefree manner.
"Well," he said, suddenly as bracingly British as any Narnian king ever was, "this is it, then."
"Yes," Susan said softly, and if her hand trembled on his arm just a bit then we must forgive her, "I suppose it is."
And together, the pair of them started across the lawn to welcome the Calormene prince to Narnia.
A.N.: Happy thirteenth birthday, Erin! I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I'm enjoying writing it. You're a special cousin and a wonderful girl, and I only wish I could have given you more.
I hope this hasn't been too slow a setup for most people. I know Lewis tended to get into the action right away, and I really am trying to follow the pattern he laid out, but this isn't going to be particularly action-packed until closer the end. I do love these kids, though (although I suppose by now they're not exactly kids anymore) and I love having them interact. I always liked to think they never lost that connection that made them fun to read in the first place, and I hope that I've managed to get that across. I also hope I managed to re-capture the courtyard of Cair Paravel with some degree of accuracy; I took the description given in Prince Caspian and imagined it alive and blooming, and this is what I got.
Up next: The Much-Too-Much Envoy to Cair Paravel, wherein we meet a prince, Lucy voices her opinion and Susan keeps hers to herself.