Chapter the Fifth: Knight
When nothing happened for a few minutes I slowly lowered my sword. We were both breathing in shuddering gasps, filthy and bloody and weakened as our strength ebbed with our alarm. It wasn't until the wind stirred again that Peter slowly eased himself down to one knee, leaning heavily on his sword. I sank down beside him, not even able to kneel, dragged down by the weight of my armor. My ears were ringing and there wasn't a single part of me that didn't hurt. Stupid and numb, I found myself staring at Peter's hands still gripping the pommel of his sword. There was blood and tufts of long, dark hair caught in the fine rings of his gloves.
For a moment I wondered if Father ever felt like this.
Slowly Peter looked over at me. His face was bruised, bloody and spattered with gore, his tabard was shredded, and his cloak was gone. I knew I had to look at least as bad as he did. Somehow he managed to smile at me, trying to get his ragged breaths under control. Tears stood bright in his eyes as he hoarsely managed,
"Well done, Ed."
I gave him a crooked smile, knowing he was relieved beyond words that I was whole and alive. We would react later. Right now, we just accepted the fact that another skirmish had been fought and won. "You too."
He coughed and smiled again. I wanted to thank him for his words, for believing in me so completely and for his absolute trust. He had never doubted that I could guard his back and his confidence had carried us both just as my belief had carried him at Beruna. I was about to speak when suddenly there came a crash of branches and angry shouts as Oreius fought his way through the Trees. Where his flanks were exposed was streaked with foam and bloody scrapes. He whirled, both swords drawn, and it was evident that he had fought as hard as we had.
Peter surged to his feet at the first sound, dragging me up with him. We both sighed and sagged, relieved as the general spotted us. There was shock and anxiety written plainly on Oreius's face and with a thrill I realized the Centaur was terrified for us.
"Oh, thank Aslan," muttered Peter, lowering his sword. With a small groan of pain he put one hand to the back of his head and leaned over.
And that was how I saw the Cougar I had wounded earlier gather himself and leap off the ruins of the Table straight for-
I didn't know I screamed. My body moved of its own accord as my hand closed on my sword. I seized Peter by his tattered tunic with my other hand and thrust him aside. He sprawled, scrambling for his weapon as I lunged at the Cat. The Cougar let out a growl as he leaped, fangs and claws bared. I didn't have time to fully extend my blade and so I turned into those claws, ducking my head down. He had been going for Peter, the taller of us and his teeth overshot my head with a snap! A horrible weight smashed into my back and shoulder, staggering me and knocking the wind out of me. There was no time. The Cougar tried to sink its teeth into my shoulder and met only armor, but its claws were once again working through the mail and into my ribs. I braced the pommel of my sword and stabbed behind me with whatever strength I had left, my voice rising to match the physical effort. The blade sliced through my tabard and slid along the chain mail, guiding it straight past my hip and into the animal's belly. The Cougar shrieked and jerked his head to the side in agony, smacking into my head and sending me reeling. I fell, pain in my neck, in my shoulder and arm. I could hear Peter screaming my name and I was happy, knowing he was alive.
I saw a flash of silver, heard Edmund yell as he twisted about and took a sharp blow to the head. He staggered, the pain-crazed Cougar trying to yank away from him. I had my sword in hand and rushed headlong to my brother's side as he collapsed. I shoved the beast off of him, ready to strike, but it was dead.
"Ed?" I gasped, dropping down beside him. "Edmund?"
I was barely aware of Oreius galloping up. I wanted to be sick as I fell to my knees. I had seen this scene once before and a familiar panic descended on me. I reached for him, afraid to touch him, afraid of knowing. Was he dead? Dying? Oh, Aslan . . . My hands were shaking too hard even to steady him. What would I tell Susan and Lucy?
"He's breathing, King Peter," assured Oreius.
I barely heard him, so intent was I on my brother. I saw Edmund twitch, then he gasped and jerked awake with a wild cry of, "Peter!" He threw himself upwards, terrified and blind to me right before him. I caught him in my arms and crushed him to me. I couldn't hold him long enough or close enough. I knew I was crying. He held me closer, running his hand through my hair. It comforted me more than I could say.
"Peter. Peter, it's done. It's done," he whispered in my ear, his breath catching. "Are you all right?"
Weary, I nodded and drew back, sniffing as I asked, "You?"
He looked so small. His dark eyes stood out so starkly in his pale face. "Think I sprained my sword arm. It hurts."
"You saved my life."
"And you kept me alive. Side to side and -"
"And back to back," I finished with him, producing a fiercely proud expression upon our general's face.
"Majesties," Oreius pressed, looking us over nervously, "are you injured?"
We both shook our heads and Peter said, "I don't think so, Oreius. Not too badly, anyway."
We all looked over as several Fauns and Satyrs fought their way through the brush as Oreius had earlier. I sighed in relief to see Flisk and Phillip with them. Several Dogs followed and began sniffing about as our soldiers hurried over to where we sat by the Stone Table.
"What happened?" I asked.
"It was the Trees, wasn't it?" whispered Peter. His voice was almost gone.
"They thought to isolate you and allow the Fell Beasts to kill your majesties," answered Oreius, a stamping hoof and a flick of his tail sure indicators of his fury. "We all were trapped and fighting our way free. There was no way to reach the Stone Table. Even the Gryphons were snared. There are many Trees here loyal to the memory of the White Witch." He looked over at Celer. I had never seen a Faun look more savage or angry, and the good captain nodded at the general. I glanced at Peter, knowing he had the same thought: we two were the targets, not our party.
"Their time is coming,"Oreius promised severely.
"Soon," added Celer. He seemed to be taking the attack personally. "They have seen first hand how your majesties deal with Narnia's enemies. I suspect few of them will give us much cause for worry."
Peter sat himself next to me. "Did we lose anyone?"
"All have been accounted for, Sire," answered Celer. "Two of the Dogs, Satyr Tandaric, and one of the Cats have been injured. The remaining Centaurs and Cats are sweeping the surrounding area. The Trees, I believe, have given up for now." His voice was sharp and I was heartily glad we were on the same side. Even as he spoke more of our soldiers, including the Gryphons, joined us by the Stone Table.
Oreius leaned far over and a moment later yanked my sword free of the Cougar's corpse. It was covered with blood and hair and who knew what else from the bodies of the dead. Not that I was in much better shape. I found myself making a face and Peter smirked at my expression as I rose to receive the sword from Oreius.
"Clean your sword, Edmund," Peter said firmly.
"Ugh." It was disgusting.
I watched as Edmund gingerly took the sword in his left hand and I looked to my own blade. My sword was just as dirty as his and I cast about for something to clean it on. Finally, as I had the day I killed Maugrim, I wiped it on the damp grass and dried it with a scrap of my tabard. Edmund followed my example, awkward with his injured arm. I waited at the foot of the platform until he was done polishing the blade with the remains of his cloak, just as Celer had drilled into us, before I spoke.
"Kneel before me," I ordered.
The Narnians recognized what was about to happen and they all drew their weapons, saluting. The Talking Animals drew closer in excitement and approval. Edmund frowned, confused, but for once he obeyed without question. His movements were stiff as he sank down on one knee with his sword held downwards before him. He watched me, still confused, before he suddenly realized what was about to happen. I saw the flash of joy and surprise in his eyes before he bowed his head.
My voice was still shaky and my hands were unsteady. I had to use both hands to hold my sword as I lifted it and slowly touched the tip to his right shoulder, then his left as I said as clearly as I could:
"Rise, Sir Edmund of the How, Knight of the most noble Order of the Table."
Edmund's face blossomed into a smile that was warmer than summer. I felt a rush of pride and love for him. Sheathing my sword, I helped him to stand. I hesitated a moment, then leaned over and kissed him on top of the head only because it looked slightly cleaner than his cheek.
"Peter!" I groused, much to the amusement of the soldiers around us.
"It's tradition for the king to kiss a new knight," insisted my brother.
I shook my head in disbelief. "Since when?"
"This moment," said the High King with a finality that made the words law. "And just for good measure..." He grabbed my head and kissed me again.
I couldn't take it any longer and I hugged him tightly despite all our aches and pains. A knight. I was a knight. The first of my order. Peter must have made the rank up on the spot, but it was fitting in so many ways and I was so glad it came from him and nowhere else. His pride in me was my greatest treasure. I knew I was grinning like a fool, and all our subjects seemed just as happy as we were. Peter let go, then turned me to face the handful of assembled warriors.
"Noble soldiers of Narnia, faithful and beloved subjects, I give you our brother Sir Edmund of the How, Knight of the Order of the Table."
"Sir Edmund! Sir Edmund! Sir Edmund!" cried the warriors in Narnian tradition, raising their swords. Peter's voice rose hoarsely as well and the Dogs threw back their heads and howled. I blushed, feeling the heat rise in my face, ecstatic and exhausted to such a degree that I was at a loss for words. I saw Phillip toss his head and I knew he was proud, and Oreius actually smiled at me for a moment.
Peter looked to the Centaur. "Oreius?"
"Let us retire from here and tend to our wounded. This place is yet fell, my kings," said he, back to business, "though the only rebels left are the trees. They will be dealt with."
Peter stood beside me and put his arm across my shoulders, holding me close to his side. "Then let's go home."