I wasn't going to post this until later tonight, but I got my final marks back today and they have made me feel very generous! So enjoy!
Bow to the crown, bow to throne
Bow to the One whose Favour you own
Remember their eyes are watching the fray
Then bow to each other, and fight as you may!
- Heather Dale, Bow to the Crown
The Narnian Kings and Queen spent various portions of the night before the tournament in sleeplessness.
Lucy, predictably, found slumber first; she was the first to seek it. Stretching out happily in a bed that wasn't hers, she felt much the same way you would the first time you were away from your own home, perhaps at school or in some unexplored place where you felt safe enough to not be scared, but still found things new enough to be very exciting. She wiggled about happily for some little time, enjoying the novelty of it all, before at last she dropped off to sleep, a happy smile still gracing her lips.
Susan was awake some time longer than her sister; her own bed was in the same vast chamber as Lucy's, but quite on the other side of it so the small lamp by her bed did not disturb her sleeping sister. She kept the lamp burning long after Lucy had put her own out, and focused carefully on the little scrap of pristine cambric stretched across the embroidery frame.
The needle that had stuck Lucy earlier in the day had stained a very tiny section of it rusty-red, but Susan, ever-practical, had worked to incorporate it into the scarlet field she was crafting, and she rather fancied it looked all the better for having been marred in the first place. It wasn't until well past midnight that the gentle queen smiled in tired satisfaction at what she had wrought, then freed it from the balsam frame to set carefully aside until morning.
Peter, too, sat up rather late, but that was because he had no choice. The Duke of the Lone Islands had come to him nearly in tears to wail that the banners for one Count had been soiled because they had been kept too close to that same Count's horses, and they could hardly be flown the next day beside all the other banners; it would be disgraceful to even consider such a thing, given the state they were in. The Duke was consequently beside himself, and begged Peter to come himself to explain the situation to the Count, who really didn't see what all the fuss was about and had said they could just fly them soiled, for all he cared.
On their way to meet this careless Count, the High King and the worried Duke had met up with none other than that ardent duo of Grigg and Herrild, Lucy's ever-persistent suitors, who had both been in a race to see who could get to Peter first and beg his permission for Lucy's hand. While Peter tried to fend them off and the Duke fussed and fretted, a trio of fauns with a grievance to air also came upon them and began nervously asking Peter if he might grant them an audience, so what with one thing and another, it was well into the darkness of early morning before Peter found his own weary way to bed.
For all his siblings' trials and delays, though, King Edmund still managed to be the last of the four sovereigns who remained awake. He sat in the wide window of his room, gazing upon the great white moon long after the rest of the castle was abed. His face, already pale in the silver glow of moonlight, was made even whiter by the thought of what faced him tomorrow.
"Why must he have such faith in me?" the young king moaned softly, one troubled hand ruthlessly kneading his leg. "It's one thing for him to put on the robe and crown and say all is forgiven and we can go on as ever . . . but to put me out there under his name, in front of everybody . . . I don't know that I can do it. I don't mind so much when it's my name I risk. My name's such a small thing. But his . . ." Edmund trembled, his jaw working furiously.
"He's king. He's MY king. He's the High King . . . in every way. And he wants me to represent him. I'm certainly no High King. I'm not even a fit substitute. Peter, you great idiot." He stood up abruptly, paced a furious line along his floor, then returned to collapse abruptly on the window sill once more. With a soft moan, he rested his feverish brow against the cool stone, wishing with all his might that his brother had asked some other man, knowing all the while that Peter would never have considered any other.
"Please," he said softly, "please . . . I couldn't bear to let him down."
And thus did King Edmund spend the better part of his night, his hours filled with anxious pacing, his turmoil unobserved by any save the silent, unjudging moon. It was not until the sky began to pale and the joyful morning star winked her merry goodbyes that the weary man was at last able to drag himself off to bed for a few hours' restless slumber.
Since not all the monarchs spent such restless nights as Edmund, not all of them found it as difficult as he did to wake up the morning of the tournament.
"Oh, lovely, lovely day!" Lucy laughed out loud as she sat up in bed, greeting the sunlight that spilled through her windows and pooled in every corner.
Out of bed in a trice, she flew over to the window to lean out as far as she could, inspecting the tournament fields that stretched out beneath her. The banners of all the lords and castles that competed were flying high; highest of all flew Peter's own red-and-gold lion banner, followed closely by Susan's ivory horn, Edmund's gilt scales and the simple scarlet outline of her own bottle of cordial, incongruously crossed with her little dagger.
Hugging herself with glee, Lucy rushed across the chamber to where Susan still slept. Gazing affectionately at the softly-snoring lump in bed, the younger sister waited as long as she could bear before she leaned in and happily shook the elder awake.
"Susan!" she carolled softly into her sister's ear, "Susan, do get up! It's the first day of everything! Ed's going to fight today- don't you want to give him your gift?"
Susan seemed perfectly willing to surrender that honour if it meant she might sleep a little longer, but Lucy was having none of that. She coaxed, wheedled and cajoled until Susan had to get up just to make the noise stop. Then, as the older Queen at once headed to the luxurious vanity that had been provided for them so she could put herself to rights, Lucy turned her attention to the piece of handiwork that Susan had completed the night before.
"Oh," she gasped softly, catching it up, "oh, Su, it's your best yet, I'm sure! Edmund will look well with it. Though I'm not sure he would want to wear it into battle . . . it's almost too lovely."
"Don't be silly," Susan spoke perhaps a bit more shortly than she would have done had she been more awake. "It's meant to be taken into battle, and that's what Edmund will do with it; I won't have it being made into an ornament or any silly thing like that."
Nodding agreeably, Lucy set the scrap of fabric down where she had found it and went to join her sister on the long bench stretched out before the panes of mirrored glass. Side by side, in companionable silence, they began to get ready for the day.
They had almost finished their task when a flurry of little knocks on their door were quickly followed by the breathless appearance of Gertilda, the plump little Duchess of the Lone Islands, who was only marginally less awed by the visiting royalty than her husband. The Queens had made rather a pet of her almost at once, in much the same way that older girls at school will do with a wide-eyed little newcomer, and had affectionately nicknamed her Tilly. They may also have called her Silly Tilly in private, but I really wouldn't like to say for sure, and in any event I am sure if they did it would only be with greatest affection.
Tilly was panting and anxious as she stammered out the news that His Royal Majesty the High King Peter was awaiting Their Majesties' Pleasure in the Audience Chamber, and if Their Majesties didn't find it too Terrible an Inconvenience, perhaps they could Do His Majesty the Honour of Joining Him Forthwith?
Tilly, the Queens had noticed more than once, tended to speak as if mostly everything were in capitals. They may or may not have discussed this at greater length than was really necessary when they were in private. I really couldn't say for sure.
"Of course we will be right along," Susan murmured, inspecting the position of her crown as Lucy gave her hair one last tug and plopped her own crown carelessly on top of everything. "Thank you, Tilly," she added, offering the breathless Duchess a special smile, "for coming to tell us."
Blushing and curtseying, Tilly tried to back out but ended up colliding with the doorframe. She very nearly upset herself onto her ample backside before she finally righted herself with an effort and scurried out, leaving Lucy and Susan to avoid each other's eyes and bite the insides of their cheeks to keep unqueenly smiles from their faces.
"Ready?" Lucy asked presently, a hint of a laugh caught in her throat, and Susan nodded serenely, giving her golden crown one final adjustment.
"Indeed," she murmured, and together the sisters rose and swept from the room to join Peter (and if their graceful exit was somewhat spoilt by a burst of girlish giggles as the door swung shut behind them, well, then, who am I to criticise?).
Peter met them both in great state in the audience chamber. Both girls thought he looked most resplendent his in robes of deep scarlet and gold, and the noble brow that bore his crown looked as if it might have been formed for that purpose alone. Susan smiled joyfully and Lucy gave a glad little cry at the sight of him, but Peter looked so regal and solemn as he turned to receive them that both sisters felt the occasion called for a certain amount of gravity, and managed to slow their rushing steps to a stately walk as they crossed to greet him.
Peter quite spoiled it, though, by catching them both about the waist and spinning them in a wide circle. Both girls shrieked, but Peter just laughed and held them closer, kissing each queen fiercely on her forehead before at last setting them back on their feet and taking a step back to smile at them both.
"Are my Ladies ready for today's amusement?" he wondered, and Susan said they were, as Lucy glowed with quiet pride at being one of Peter's Ladies. So Peter extended an elbow to each of them, and the trio led the way out into the large royal box, the anxious Duke and Duchess scurrying along behind them.
"Is Edmund very anxious, do you think?" Lucy wondered, using her brother's steady arm as leverage to propel herself onto her tip-toes, and get a better view of the vast field.
"Edmund knows what he's about," Peter answered calmly, then gently handed Susan to the cushion placed before her seat, and urged Lucy to take her place at hers.
All three of them stood before their chairs as the Duke made a very grand announcement about the honour King Peter did them by his presence, and then Peter's strong, clear voice rang out across the field as he declared the great tournament of the Lone Islands officially opened. Trumpets blared, the sisters and their brother took their seats, and with great fanfare the challengers rode out onto the field.
Edmund was among them, naturally, and Lucy had to try very hard to not forget herself and wave at him. She knew this wasn't done at tournaments, of course, having been to so many of them, but if you have ever been to cheer on a beloved friend or family member on Games Day at school, you will know exactly how she felt. Edmund was so impressive and noble looking that it was hard not to be excited for him. It seemed to Lucy that there was just something about seeing her brother looking so regal and solemn on Ram, his great black horse, that made her want to jump up and wave for all she was worth.
Susan, who suspected Lucy would feel that way, was quick to make a little sign to Peter that he had better move things along if he didn't want Lucy to lose her composure and begin cheering Edmund on before the tournament had even begun.
Peter understood the sign very well, since Susan had made it so often in the past, and he stood to announce (looking very grand and serious as he did) that as High King he had reserved the right to appoint a champion in his place.
"We have decreed," he said as all of the onlookers listened with rapt attention, "that our well beloved and royal brother Edmund, King of Narnia, Duke of Lantern Waste and Count of the Western March, Knight of the Noble Order of the Table, shall serve as Champion in our place. Our confidence in him, his abilities and his honour," and here he turned softer, more brotherly eyes on Edmund (who was by now very pale and solemn indeed) "is unparalleled. May every man here today fight with honour, and may the best of them win the day."
Then he sat back down amid applause that shook the ground like thunder. Susan patted Peter's arm in thanks, and Lucy wiggled happily in her seat as the cheers rose up around them.
"Oh lovely!" she cried softly, under cover of the noise, and Peter and Susan both smiled at her as the Duke stood and announced the jousting would begin.
At this announcement some men left the field and others took up positions just off it. As King, Edmund had the honour of facing his opponent first, but before he did, Susan stood and waved him over to the front of the royal box.
Drawing Ram to a prancing halt before the box, Edmund looked up at his sister, who smiled down at him with a tender affection much different from that displayed by the wiggling, enthusiastic Lucy; one look at the lovely, warm smile on Susan's face, and Edmund felt rather as if spring had come for him alone.
"I have something for you," Susan said softly, and produced a lovely piece of snowy white cambric- a large handkerchief, lovingly embroidered by a sister who would never ride to battle with her brothers, but would have gladly sent a piece of her heart each time they went if only it meant that they would come home to her safely.
Edmund took the beautiful thing from her, holding it in a gauntlet that, for all it had been fashioned by the finest Dwarfsmiths in Narnia, suddenly looked gauche and clumsy next to his sister's exquisite handiwork. He examined the piece of art carefully, and felt a sudden lump rise up in his throat as he saw what she had made.
Upon a field of blood-red scarlet (and a tiny drop of Lucy's blood) their brother's rampant golden lion reigned above a set of delicately-wrought, gilded scales. Susan had spent hours making sure that Peter's symbol and Edmund's were both worked into the fabric in perfect harmony, and when Edmund looked back up at his sister he felt less than half as worthy as he'd done a moment before, and yet at the same time he felt twice as certain that this was, after all, something that he could do.
"Thanks awfully, Su," he managed to choke out, and Susan blushed in response to his evident appreciation.
"It's nothing much, really," she murmured, unable to hide her pleasure at his reaction, "merely a trifle. But for all you're going out under Peter's name, you're still you, after all, and I did so want you to ride under both your colours. May I?"
Edmund said she might, so she reached toward him and carefully bound the fabric to the handle of his lance, arranging it so that it fell in such a way that the symbols and colours were plainly seen. Then she sat back in her chair, and Edmund backed Ram up until they were squarely facing the royal box. His heart was pounding dreadfully in his chest, but he held his lance upright as he faced them all.
Susan was smiling at him, as lovely as any May morning and twice as calm. She was glowing with the soft contentment that most mothers reserve for their children, and he realised with rather a start that Susan had always looked on all of them as being much in need of mothering; he only wondered now when they had stopped resenting it so. He also wondered for a moment how she could be so composed in the face of what could well be a crushing defeat for all of them, then decided that the moment she wanted them to know, she'd be the first to explain it.
Lucy, of course, was shining bright, her whole face glowing as she sat on the edge of her chair, her hands tucked under her so she wouldn't forget herself and wave at him. She saw him watching her, and gave a whole-body wiggle that he supposed was meant to take the place of the energetic waving she favoured. He also wondered briefly at the two dejected young men who kept casting sorrowful, wounded looks her way, but since they didn't seem to bother her he decided it could wait until later.
Lastly, he allowed himself to look at Peter. His brother, who was the greatest man Edmund knew, looked out into the field upon him and smiled. Edmund felt a horrible quiver in his stomach as he realised, for far from the first time, that Peter had no expectations of Edmund save that, win or lose, he fight with honour and thus acquit himself as a King and Knight of Narnia ought to do.
Edmund swallowed hard, and for just a second wondered if things would be very terrible for him if he suddenly dug his spurs into Ram and the two of them bolted for the shore, as far away from the tournament as they could get. It was a terribly tempting prospect, and he considered it very gravely for just one, desperate second. Then reason returned to him, and he remembered Peter's instructions of yesterday: bow to the crown, honour the throne from which he reigned, and remember that the favour of the Lion went with him. Those, at least, he could do.
With care, he kept his lance aloft and made as deep a bow to Peter as a mounted man could. Peter, for his part, inclined his head just as deeply in acknowledgement of his brother and his champion. Then, since the throne from which Edmund reigned was in Cair Paravel and rather far away, he bowed instead to his sisters. They both bowed solemnly back at him, just before, with a nudge of outside knee and tug on inside rein, he pivoted Ram and the two of them trotted into place at the far end of the field.
Far away at the other end, he could just make out the colours of his opponent. They each made their salute to one another, as knights who face each other will do. Edmund wasn't sure who the man he faced was, and right now it didn't much seem to matter; all that mattered was that as he raised his lance high to signal his readiness, the scarlet-and-gold token that fluttered there in the wind reminded him of the last part of his pact he had to honour.
"For Aslan," he reminded himself softly, "for the favour He shows His appointed King." And then, hoping it was all right, "And please, Aslan, if you don't mind- for Peter, too. Because . . . he believes in me."
Then Edmund brought his visor down with a clang, and as he tightened his legs around his horse he knew, from somewhere deep and far away inside him, that Peter was right; those who fought under the banner of Aslan knew that to win or lose under that banner was a small matter indeed, compared to having fought under it at all.
"This is it, then," he told his horse. "And I suppose, after all, there are worse things than losing with honour, aren't there?" And Ram, who knew as much as any horse can know, drew back onto his hind legs with that little bugling cry that is particular to war-horses from the South, as if to say that indeed, there probably were.
Then the flag before them dropped, and together they charged. And all that remains to be said is that for years afterward, whenever anybody asked what the great tournament on the Lone Islands had been like, those who had been there always said the same thing: nobody in all of Narnia had ever fought so well, nor so nobly, as had King Edmund on that day.
A.N.: And that's entirely everything! Please don't think me terribly unfair for leaving it like this; I did consider seeing it through to the end of the tournament, but it just didn't want to come out right that way. As I was wrestling with the idea of it, I finally realised the reason it wouldn't work was that the song that inspired this in the first place isn't about winning a fight, nor was it about losing it. It's about walking out onto the field with honour, and knowing that whether or not you win, you'll walk off it with honour, too. It's the sort of message that I think fits Edmund especially, because he's had such a hard time of it in the past with his own honour that I think he deserves a fic that focuses principally on his ability to fight with it.
I did have a lot of fun getting this together; once I realised how it had to end it fairly flew out, all thanks to that marvellous song, and again, I can't recommend Heather Dale's work highly enough. All of that chivalry lends itself marvellously well to so many Narnia fics, and a few of the Romance-based songs also suit other characters rather well!
Thank you all for your very generous reviews; they mean so much to me, and they help me focus my writing even more, which, if everything works as it ought, should make things more enjoyable for you to read in turn!