Two months to the day and my story is done. I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read and review this story. Your feedback and assistance has helped to improve it and has kept my own enthusiasm going. Thank you, thank you, ten thousand times, thank you!
Epilogue: In the Company of Horses
Looking back, the thing I remember most vividly was how happy we all were.
It was the second anniversary of the Battle of Beruna and once again all of Narnia was celebrating. After the spring we had, we deserved to indulge. The embassies from the islands were more numerous than last year and the Calormen ambassador was even more magnificent in his dress and gifts. The Seelie ambassador, Tition's uncle, had been here early in the summer and promised to attend next year's festivities with more of the Seelie Court. Once again King Lune was absent, but this time it was because his wife was well along with child and he did not want to leave her. Instead of his mother-in-law, Princess Eo, whom I was sure could not have been pried away from Anvard for anything, he sent his younger brother, Prince Lunell, who was even merrier and fonder of hunting than Lune. He was good, jovial company and particularly attached to the Big Cats, Sharet and Bal being almost constant companions. It was a sure guarantee that when they were together they were talking about stalking game.
The music and feasting and dancing had been moved indoors to the entrance hall of Cair Paravel when the weather turned foul and it began teeming rain. It made little difference. The hall had already been decorated and there was plenty of room and light and the Fauns and Satyrs and Nymphs seemed to enjoy the challenge of dancing on stairs. The singers and musicians, including the Dwarfs and their mighty war drums, had set up in the center of the hall and the dances formed a wide oval around them. The drums were so deep the beats seemed to penetrate the very being of the revelers, making everyone want to get up and join in the dance.
I glanced up at a balcony above where Lucy was leaning far over the railing to hold a conversation with a gracious Giraffe lady named Avalynn, who was our etiquette instructor. The Giraffe stood on the main floor as they talked, her long neck and legs ringed by many chokers and necklaces and, I think, some of Lucy's belts borrowed for the occasion. They were a very pretty sight, each so graceful and sweet in her own way. Lucy wore a beautifully woven band of sweet herbs and wild flowers in her hair, for the Fauns and Satyrs had crowned us again. Susan had herbs and flowers as well, whereas Edmund and I wore great crowns of green wheat and grass. They were sweetly fragrant and made us both sneeze.
I had spent an hour with Edmund's friends the Black Dwarfs of the Blue River Smithy, telling them in great detail how the knife they had helped Edmund make me had ended a war. They were smug and pleased, as much with their favorite king as with themselves and their craft, and they asked me endless questions about the knife and how it behaved (as they termed it) and how I found its balance and grip and what other uses I had found for it on the quest. They would have gone on all night if Edmund hadn't arrived to save me, promising them they could harangue me more tomorrow.
"They can't get over their own work," he explained, dragging me away.
I sat with Edmund on the main stairs. Four chairs had been set up for us, covered with cushions and furs to make soft seats, but we ended up on the foot rests leaning back against the chairs with our legs stretched out to the step below. Edmund's legs were almost as long as mine now, and he had the annoying habit of dressing out of my closet since the Nymph tailors couldn't keep up with his growth spurts. I was fairly certain I recognized my boots on his feet. We both held mazers, though I made it a point to water the wine down so that the dancers, not the room, was what spun. Our friends and advisors and teachers and guests were all present and milling about. It was all so informal and familiar that I think the Calormene ambassador was a little scandalized until Lunell got some Archenland wine into him. Dog Sir Giles Fox was there with his new wife, Vixen Lady Marion Fox (as foxly titles went), the Beavers, Tumnus, an entire balcony filled with raucous Gryphons lead by Cyn, Cheroom, and even Neth, only son of the River God Callum, had shown up with about fifty of his beautiful sisters.
Once again the Talking Mice performed for us, this time lining up on one of the wide marble railings. Mice are valiant and brave Animals, but they are not designed to dance and sing. I don't know how I survived this year, because despite all the work they had put into their little show, a chorus line of Mice was one of the single funniest things I had ever witnessed and I blamed the tears on the crown of grass and wheat. I think Edmund just kept his eyes closed through the whole thing. I would have to remember that for the future, though we were both suddenly subject to coughing fits as the performance came to its shrill climax.
"How many Horses are here?" I exclaimed a little while later, for there seemed to be an unusual number of them crowding the hall. They were gorgeously decked in wreaths and ribbons and all the finery and frippery their of which breed seemed so very fond.
Edmund shrugged. "More than last year?" he suggested innocently.
I rolled my eyes. "Brilliant observation, Ed."
He snorted. "To a brilliant question."
"Aren't those my boots?"
He was saved from answering. Suddenly the drummers burst into a long, loud roll announcing the start of a new dance. Ed and I scrambled to our feet as everyone cleared the floor, swarming up the steps and onto the railings and perches as a troop of Centaurs, both male and female, galloped into the hall. They faced each other in two long rows as the drums sent out a fast, pounding rhythm, unaccompanied by any other instruments, the Centaurs began to dance.
I had never seen or imagined the like. They were graceful creatures and they moved their hooves in steps so complex as to be amazing, their timing so exact that at times it sounded like only one Centaur, not twenty. They clapped a counter-rhythm with their hands, somehow keeping the beat going. It was very much like Morris Dancing, only instead of bells and sticks they had their hooves to punctuate the rhythm. At times the drums stopped so we could hear the steps and by the looks of the Narnians all around us this was truly a rare treat to see. I had never seen its like and I was lost just watching them. The Fauns and Nymphs and Satyrs, dancers and revelers all, were watching and smiling and gasping in awe as the tempo picked up and the dance became wilder. The Centaurs circled about and swung their partners, rearing and stamping all in perfect time. It was the most remarkable performance I had ever seen, and that included last winter's Great Snow Dance.
The drums roared in a mighty crescendo and the dance ended in a frenzy of precision. Everything stopped at once, Centaurs and drums, lined up exactly as they had started, and for a moment there was absolute silence in the great hall. Then we erupted in cheers, screaming and clapping and shouting out our appreciation. The drums and music started up again and the Centaurs began another dance, simpler and merrier and the Narnians streamed down the steps to join in. I spotted Susan opposite a female Centaur, trying to learn the steps. The Centaur was smiling and slowing down so Susan could follow. I nudged Edmund, pointing her out and he grinned as he watched.
"Oh, Su!" he admonished in disgust when she stepped the wrong way. "That's not how it's done! Here!"
He thrust his mazer into my hands and rushed down the stairs. Dodging through the dancers, he slid to a halt behind Susan, grabbing her around the waist to stop his momentum and, holding her at arm's length, he began to dance right along with them, acting as the back feet. Susan was still taller than he and he leaned this way and that to see around her, catching his crown of wheat whenever he leaned too far. I laughed so hard I fell back into my seat, and I could see the delight on the faces of Susan and the Centaur as the whole hall exploded with mirth.
"Peter! Peter, come dance with us!" begged Lucy, running up the steps. She seized both of my hands and I let her pull me onto the floor close by where Susan and Edmund picked their way through the dance. Her waiting partner, of all people, was Oreius.
"I'm dancing with the general," she belatedly explained, reaching up to take his hands and casting me her most charming smile.
I burst out laughing, grabbing her waist. "I suppose I am, too!"
For the first time since I had met him I heard Oreius laugh long and loud as he began to dance with my sister. He kept the steps simple and she followed him with bouncing enthusiasm while I hung on and provided the back-up feet for her. It was great fun and very, very amusing, especially when we got hang of what we were doing and could actually keep in step. Oreius could dance quite well, and he was heartily entertained at having both queen and king as his partners. When the dance ended I stood with my siblings by the musicians in the middle of the floor, still laughing at Oreius' expression.
A Bat, tiny and brown, came flapping up to Edmund and landed on his arm. They were his particular messengers, just as Susan used Hummingbirds and I used the small Cats. It crawled up to his shoulder and they had a whispered conference, then Edmund lifted the Bat off his shirt and held it high over his head so it could launch.
"Peter, we have a surprise for you!" said Edmund, giving our sisters a significant look. Instantly Susan broke into a brilliant smile and Lucy squealed with anticipation, jumping up and down in place a few times before she called, "Mr. Tumnus! Mr. Tumnus! It's time for Peter's surprise!"
I was amused by their reactions already. At Tumnus' order the main doors were flung open to the weather. A swirl of cool air swept the hall, then in stepped a vision of burnished silver and gold. I felt my heart race at the sight and fresh tears burned my eyes.
Rhye had come to Narnia.
"Peter High King!" she shrilly called across the hall, tossing her head in greeting, but I was already rushing across the floor to greet her. She seemed inordinately pleased as I threw my arms around her neck. She rested her head on my shoulder affectionately, then nudged me and nibbled at my clothes and crown. "King Peter! Where is your mane? I scarce know you!"
I laughed, hugging her harder. She was used to me with long hair, but I was also the only blond in all of Narnia at the moment and there was no mistaking me.
"Rhye! Rhye! You came! I can't believe you came! You look lovely! When did you get here?" I exclaimed. She had been groomed and brushed and braided and decked with flowers and ribbons. She was beautiful beyond words. Small wonder the hall was packed with Horses!
"I've been here two weeks! I've learned new songs! And I heard music!"
My family joined us and she greeted them with familiarity. Susan touched Rhye's soft nose and said, "Rhye arrived two weeks ago while you were down at Glasswater and we have done everything to keep her out of sight until now to surprise you."
"It worked! I had no idea! Su, have you gone for a ride?"
"No!" Susan exclaimed. She did not like heights at all, but I could tell by their grins that Edmund and Lucy and ridden far and fast. "It's amazing!" Edmund burst out.
Remembering my promise, I looked at Rhye's hooves and everyone, including Rhye, followed my gaze. She had not been shod, though her hooves had been filed and polished. My siblings all smiled knowingly.
"We thought we'd let you give the order," said Edmund. I was fairly certain Rhye had spoken of little else.
"Tomorrow, Rhye, just as I said, you'll have shoes of silver and gold."
"Could I have bells, too?" she asked, wide-eyed and irresistable. "I heard some on those fluffy little woolies and they sound like music."
She meant the Sheep, many of whom wore bells. Susan answered. "You'll have as many as you like."
I laughed and kissed the Winged Horse on her nose. Susan didn't know what she was getting herself into. Phillip came up just then, presuming on his close acquaintance to greet Rhye. I could see the other stallions in the hall were thoroughly jealous, as were all the mares but for different reasons. Rhye, completely unconscious of her breathtaking beauty and unaware she was the center of so much attention, immediately began barraging Phillip about our quest and if he had ever tried sugar and the customs of Narnian Horses and what was good to eat at the banquet and if he knew the same songs she did. I had a thousand questions for her, but they could wait. I let Phillip take her attention away, promising myself a long visit tomorrow, perhaps even another ride if she was willing. She moved through the crowd graceful as a swan, meeting excited courtiers and Horses and nibbling on the decorations.
"I can't believe she came!" I exclaimed, delighted.
"I can't believe we managed to keep it from you," said Edmund smugly.
"She's as wonderful as you said, Peter," Lucy added. "And she loves music! I taught her some new songs!"
"Lucy!" Edmund frowned. He wagged a finger at her. "Never burden a Horse with a song!"
"Unless she asks!" countered our youngest queen, and we all laughed. Then I grabbed Susan's hand and lead her onto the dance floor as the music started anew. Lucy dragged Edmund along before he could escape her clutches. We all ended up dancing with Niaids and getting soaked in the process since they're always dripping wet.
As midnight grew closer Edmund visibly - and understandably - grew tense. I stood beside him on the stairs as this year Susan was making the midnight toast, and we held our mazers at the ready, both of us thirsty from dancing. There was no shouting out to a rowdy crowd as I had done on the beach last year. Everyone in the hall fell silent for their gentle queen as Susan lifted her own mazer.
"Narnia, tonight we celebrate victory and freedom and the lives of our two kings," Susan called out, flashing us a smile. "Drink a toast with me now! Narnia, Aslan, and our Magnificent and Just kings who banished the White Witch from our land forever!"
The great hall erupted into cheers as we lifted our wine in salute. Beside me, Edmund snorted faintly.
"I didn't do anything," he grumbled.
"I beg to differ," I replied and drained the wooden bowl.
He snorted again and finished his wine just as Cheroom, stationed over by the water clock set up just for this purpose, let out a shout. "Midnight! To freedom!"
More celebrating, more cheering, people toasted and danced everywhere around us, but I just stood there, my eyes locked with Edmund's as we waited.
Praise be to Aslan, nothing happened.
Then I realized it was absolutely silent. I glanced about the hall. Every eye was on my brother and me. I looked back at him and he smiled, then threw his arms around me and kissed me on the cheek. I crushed him to me, tears in my eyes.
Music and cheers erupted anew and the anniversary celebration began in earnest. Edmund finally drew away, holding me a moment, his smile never fading. Lucy and Susan rushed up the steps to claim their hugs and kisses and Edmund surprised me by kissing each of them first, something I had never seen him do before. I cannot remember feeling such love and joy in all my life.
Nothing had happened.
Nothing, except we had truly defeated Jadis