The Secret Chronicles of Narnia Trilogy: Part I
THE HIGH KING, THE DUCHESS, AND THE SECRET
It lay in the closed drawer of her dresser.
She eyed the handle. Could she do this?
She looked up and stared at her frightened face in the mirror. Her brown eyes were tired. Lack of sleep. What her husband's damned advisor wanted to her to do was impossible.
But if she didn't—"As soon as I tell him, he'll throw you out," the advisor's cruel voice replayed in her mind. "You and your bastard baby will be helpless, outcasts in a foreign country. As for your...'lover'..."
"I'll do anything," she'd pleaded, "as long as you promise that the baby—?"
"The baby will be safe, provided you cooperate. I will never tell your husband it's not his. A great man like him doesn't deserve the dishonor. "
"What do you want me to do? I can go to my father in the south; he'd surely take me in—"
"No, no, no," he smiled. "That's not good enough."
"Then what?" she asked, exasperated. She hated the power he held over her at this moment. He'd never liked her, and vice versa.
"I have access to a Telmarine herb," he said. "It's been called Marrina Felcar."
The blood drained from her face.
"You've heard of it, I see."
And now she was alone in her bedchamber, trying to gather the courage to do what she knew she must, for the sake of her child and her husband. Better she kill herself than he know that she'd loved...another...so passionately...for so long.
Neither her child nor her husband deserved to know the truth. They wouldn't—couldn't—understand the pain she'd born, being close to—but not having—the man whom she'd loved forever. The short time with her lover had been worth any punishment to her, but as for her daughter and innocent, loving husband...
"Crush the leaf..." he had said.
She took the leaves into her palm. She balled her fingers into a fist. The leaves crackled.
"Drop it all into the glass. The more you put, the faster it will go."
It was as if he was in the room with her, speaking the instructions as she went.
"Then drink it. Drink it all."
She looked down at the glass, unmoving. She closed her eyes, reminding herself for whom she was doing this. For her husband. For her lover. And for the baby.
She raised the goblet to her lips and swallowed the wine. Surprisingly, it tasted normal; the leaves had disintegrated.
She paused, curious about how it would feel to die. She felt nothing.
She downed the rest of the glass and looked at herself in the mirror. Odd. Wasn't death supposed to hurt?
Suddenly, the goblet crashed from her hands. There was no pain, only numb darkness as her already-dead body fell to the floor.
A baby's wail could be heard in the next room, crying out for a mother it would never know.
This is a tale that begins during the eleventh year of the Golden Age of Narnia, when all was well in the land of the North. The last remnants of the White Witch's army had been stamped out, the Giants had been temporarily beaten back across the border, and peace prevailed under the guidance of High King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy.
Our story begins when King Lune of Archenland sent his son Prince Corin north to meet the Four at the same time that Prince Rabadash of Calormen was also to make his first—and only—visit to Narnia. King Lune placed his son under the guardianship of Lady Saedra, a Duchess of Archenland, with the hope that his reluctant son would see the glory of kingship by being around King Peter and King Edmund.
But there was also a secret scheme that only King Lune and Lady Saedra knew about, a scheme that would secure the tenuous peace of Archenland for good…
A woman sat on the deck of a ship, reading a novel. At the sound of the exclamation, she looked up from her book to see an excited boy bounding across the long deck towards her. His messy blonde hair framed a face brimming with exhilaration. His royal clothes were dirty, as the clothes of curious children tend to be.
"What is it, Prince?" the woman asked, closing the novel. The boy was often excited about the smallest of things, so no alarm or strong interest could be found in her voice.
"Can you not see, my Lady?" the Prince replied, hopping up and down. "We've reached Narnia!"
The Lady quickly stood and put the book down on the barrel on which she had been sitting. She followed him to the port side of the ship.
"Does it look the same as you remember it?" he asked.
"It's only been ten years, my dear Prince," she smiled, looking out at the rolling hills of Narnia that had become visible while she was reading. "Places like Narnia don't change in ten years."
"How long until we reach Cair Paravel?" the Prince, Corin, asked.
"Oh, an hour perhaps," she replied, eying his dirty appearance and her own plain dress. "Perhaps we should start preparing ourselves for meeting the Four, hm?"
She smirked at his expression. The thought of squeezing herself into a tight dress that would bring excessive attention to her lady-parts didn't appeal to her any more than the thought of cleaning up appealed to him.
"My thoughts exactly. We can wait a bit."
The Prince grinned. "You know, I'm terribly glad it was you that Father picked to watch me for this journey. If it had been any other Lady, she'd order me scrubbed from head to toe and in every orifice!"
"I doubt that!"
"I'm serious! You don't know the women in Court, Lady Saedra. They're a lot stuffier than you people on the coast."
The woman, Saedra, shook her head. "You underestimate the people from the coast, my Prince. My nanny turned her hair grey trying to turn me into a proper Lady! I daresay she only half succeeded, for my father spoiled me terribly."
"I wish my father would spoil me," Corin pouted, looking back at the coast of Narnia.
Saedra studied him for a moment, trying to see if the Prince was trying to make a joke. She had considered herself horribly spoiled by her lenient father, but Corin's father, King Lune, spoiled him far worse.
"I know of no other boy in Archenland who owns a pony, my Prince."
He looked at her with a revolted look. "A pony! For a boy of my age? I've had that pitiful creature since I was seven! For all I care, Father can give it away to whomever he likes. I want a real horse, a man's horse. Surely you had a horse by the time you were my age!"
Saedra tilted her head and thought. Had she had a horse at his age?
"Yes, I did," she admitted. Being spoiled was probably the only advantage to being an only child and motherless, something she and Corin both now had in common. Saedra's mother had died shortly after giving birth to her, and Corin's mother died just recently.
"But, I wasn't promised my own suit of armor for my birthday," she reminded him, raising her eyebrows and tilting her chin down.
He pursed his lips, considering that thought fully. Finally, he said decisively, "I'd rather have a horse."
"Maybe you'll get one for your next birthday too," Saedra chuckled, and then suddenly looked around in alarm. "By the Lion, are we there already?"
More and more sailors were coming out onto deck, and land looked closer than ever. The first mate locked eyes with Saedra and walked over. "My Lady, we will be docked at Cair Paravel in fifteen minutes."
She gave a cry of alarm and turned to Corin. "Prince, run to your cabin and put on the nice clothes that you set aside."
Corin nodded and started jogging towards his cabin.
"Oh, and make sure you wash your face and comb your hair!" Saedra called after him. She turned back to the first mate. "I'll be in my cabin as well if you need anything."
"Of course, my Lady."
Saedra heeled around and went to her cabin. Once inside the cool, dark room, she stopped and looked around frantically. Where should she start?
"The mirror!" she said aloud, and ran to the full-length mirror bolted to one wall. She peered into it, her eyes still adjusting to the darkness. As she stood there, staring into her own wide brown eyes, she realized how fast her heart was pumping. She was nervous.
There's nothing to be nervous about! she thought to herself, turning her face every which way. She raked her fingers through her long brown hair, wincing as she hit knots. I'm not nervous. I'm just excited.
She grabbed her brush from the vanity and started brushing. When she realized how violent she was being, she stopped and stared at herself again.
"You are nervous, you fool! You haven't seen the Four in ten years, since we were children! And now, under these circumstances…."
She licked her lips and put the brush away. She went to the trunk and fished through it, trying to find the nice dress that she had put away for meeting the Four...and Prince Rabadash.
She stood up and wiped her brow.
Prince Rabadash: the man that King Lune wants me to marry.
It had seemed so simple back in Archenland when Lune had made the proposition to her. He had written to her, telling her how Prince Rabadash of Calormen was going up to meet the Four at Cair Paravel, and that word was he was looking for a wife. Wouldn't it be nice if Saedra were to happen to make the Prince fall madly in love with her? It would solve so many problems between Calormen and Archenland...
Saedra shook her head of these thoughts. I shouldn't have said yes. She picked up the special dress, walked over to the mirror, and held it up in front of her.
She didn't flatter herself that Lune asked her this because she was especially enchanting; it was simply her relatively high rank. She was the most eligible woman in the country, as all the other women above her were dead or married.
Father would have talked me out of it and saved me the trouble...if he were still here...
He wasn't. Her father, Duke Dane of Harden, had been dead the past six years. He had left his only child, a girl, a seventeen-year-old Saedra, a dukedom to manage all by herself. Now twenty-three, Saedra had fought her way into being generally respected as a person, though she wasn't "nearly as good as a man."
Saedra brushed thoughts of her father out of her mind and started changing into her nice dress.
I wonder what the Four are like now. Will they be offended if they find out the real reason we've come up to Narnia?
The truth was that she wasn't doing this just for Lune; she was doing it for her province. Ten years before, the province of Harden had been devastatingly pillaged by Calormene pirates. The Tisroc afterwards claimed ignorance, but did nothing to stop it. Now that Saedra was in power, she would do anything to make sure it never happened again.
It's my responsibility to protect my people, and if marrying Rabadash is the way to do it, so be it.
The last time she had seen the rulers of Narnia, they had all been children. High King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy had recently deposed the White Witch and been installed as rulers by Aslan Himself. Duke Dane had been sent up as an emissary from Archenland to greet the new rulers, and had taken his thirteen-year-old daughter Saedra with him.
Saedra grimaced as she remembered how snobby she had been at first.
Well, you were awfully spoiled, she comforted herself. You didn't know any better, right?
Saedra had been downright snooty to the High King Peter. Deep-down she had been jealous of his power as High King, and had expressed it as disdain. Susan and Lucy hadn't been too thrilled with the way Saedra had treated their brother, but they had tolerated her when they had to. The one person with whom Saedra had made a genuine friendship was Edmund. Edmund was simply amused and fascinated by her, and enjoyed the way she could make Peter turn red with fury. Either way, Edmund was the one she had missed when she left.
But now? Ten years later?
They all probably still think I'm a spoiled tomboy! she thought with chagrin.
She struggled with the last clasps in the back, wishing she had been able to bring her old nanny Gilda along to help her put on the fancy dress. Gilda had been left behind to manage her dukedom for her, since she knew Saedra's mind more than anyone.
Wisps of sounds started coming in through the windows, and she knew they had arrived. She checked herself in the mirror one more time, applying some last-minute touch-ups. She almost didn't recognize the proper woman in front of her. Her brown hair was perfectly straight, her face was lightly touched with eyeliner and lip balm, and the embroidered red gown pinched her waist and pushed up her chest to gasping heights.
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," she said to her reflection, and stepped outside.
The pier was packed with people. Saedra and Corin carefully walked down the plank, eying all of the creatures that had come to see the new arrivals. Corin's face was glowing with anticipation as he looked at all of the species that he had only heard of. There were Dwarves, Centaurs, Fauns, and Talking Animals of all shapes and sizes waving at them. More than once Corin would point to something to ask what it was, and Saedra would say, "That's a Minotaur," or, "That's a Satyr."
Saedra felt a lump of nervousness rise up in her throat as she scanned the pier for humans. At first she couldn't see any, but soon two women and a man could be seen walking through the crowd. As they went, the crowd parted for them and bowed reverently. Each of them wore crowns that Saedra recognized, and she waited at the base of the gangplank for them, unsure whether she should meet them or wait. She opted to wait, gripping Corin's hand.
The three stopped in front of her, and she curtseyed to them. "Your Majesties."
The King bowed and the Queens curtseyed.
"We welcome your Ladyship to Narnia," the dark-haired King said with a twinkle in his eye. "It has been far too long, Lady Saedra."
He was tall, much taller than before. His broad chest filled out his emerald tunic, and he was a man in every way.
"Thank you, King Edmund," Saedra said as gracefully as she could. She felt like she was being suffocated...her tight dress, the hot sun that seemed to have become hotter while she was in her cabin, the crush of people around them, and her deep nervousness made her strongly uneasy.
She turned to the two women who had pleasant expressions plastered onto their faces. One was tall, with long black hair and penetrating blue eyes. The other was shorter, with light hair and a heart-shaped face. They had every appearance of looking happy to see her, but she had dealt with royalty long enough to know that there was no joy to spare behind their eyes.
"Queen Susan, Queen Lucy, it is an honor to see you again."
"The honor is ours," Susan said in a honey-smooth voice.
Saedra turned to Corin and introduced the wide-eyed lad to the monarchs, then asked, "I must ask, your Majesties: What has become of the High King and Prince Rabadash?"
Was that too obvious? she wondered. Lune wanted me to be discreet in my seduction of Rabadash...Is it strange to be asking for him right away?
If they noticed anything amiss, they gave no clue.
"My brother Peter is taking a tour of the Northern Lands," Susan replied silkily. "He sends his regrets, but he won't arrive for a week or so. It is precautionary since we've had troubles with Giants."
"Prince Rabadash's travels have been delayed, and he won't be here for a fortnight," Lucy added.
"But this gives us a chance to catch up!" Edmund smiled at Saedra.
She tried to smile back, but she was feeling a bit light-headed at the prospect of being around Cair Paravel any longer than necessary. The land was beautiful, but the Queens obviously still did not like her.
"Please, may we go up to the castle? I think Prince Corin may need to rest after the journey," she said, fishing for any excuse to get indoors.
"Of course!" Edmund exclaimed, and rushed to take her arm.
"I do not need a nap!" Corin protested, but no one listened.