All preparations for receiving the Gloriosa went on without me and they arrived while I was still asleep. The court physician ordered me to stay abed all day. Oreius seconded the motion and the committee comprised of my sisters, my valets, Celer, Cheroom, and Aslan voted unanimously in his favor. I had frightened them badly, at least as badly as I had frightened myself. I spent the day reading about law and sending the Cats to Cheroom whenever I had a question. I also sent a Bat to Flisk to let the Unicorn know that Aslan said Peter was returning just as I had promised I would. I stressed to the Bat to take his time finding him and that we knew absolutely nothing more, so it wasn't worth Flisk's while to return to the Cair. The last thing I needed right now was an uptight Unicorn quizzing me for information I didn't have.
By the afternoon I'd had quite enough with the sick bed and got up. I felt far better and decided to at least show up at the feast. Eating something was another issue entirely. I dressed myself warmly and snuck out before Martil could sound the alarm.
The Cair seemed a bit busier than normal, but that was typical when we had guests. I asked a passing maid about the Galmans and learned that there were eighteen crew, four officers, and three passengers invited to the feast. The Galmans are a jolly people, much like the Archenlanders. They have three great loves: the sea, music, and stories and they're happiest when they can get all three at once. It was strange to have more humans about the palace, but welcome. The Galmans are our subjects and proudly so, living in harmony with Narnia's citizens. Because their island was so tiny and remote there were far fewer Talking Animals, all of them small, and no Magical Creatures such as Centaurs, who require a great deal of room to live and work.
I was leaning on the railing along upper tier of the reception hall watching the preparations going on below when suddenly a rough hand landed on my shoulder and whirled me around. I found myself face-to-face with a boy about Peter's age. He had light brown hair, hazel eyes, a dark tan, and his expression was one of absolute shock.
"Your pardon, friend!" he exclaimed, letting go as if touching me had burned his hand. "I thought you were the ship's boy, wandered off! From the stern you look much alike."
I wasn't sure what to make of that. "Is that a compliment or an insult?"
He smiled, showing crooked teeth. "A compliment, for he is a good sailor for his age. I am Ilando, of the Gloriosa."
"Well met. Your father is captain?" The Galmans, Avalynn had explained long ago, named their sons with variations of their father's name, similar to the way Archenlanders named their children from one base name.
The smile grew wider and he said with pride, "He is indeed. Do you live here at Cair Paravel?"
I realized he had no idea of who I was and that his openness and humor stemmed from that ignorance. I had missed free conversation with anyone my age and I wanted it to last, for he seemed a decent chap and it was refreshing not to be treated with tongue-tied reverence or empty flattery.
"Yes, I do," I replied.
"Are you a servant here?"
I nodded. "Of a sort, yes."
He gazed around at the rich decorations. "What's it like? Do you ever get lost?"
I smiled. "It's very grand and very cozy at once. And yes, I have gotten lost. Several times."
"I suppose even being a navigator on a ship wouldn't help in here."
"You just have to follow your nose to the kitchens."
Ilando chuckled and leaned over the rail as I had done, watching the servants setting the table. "The queens have invited us to a feast!" He was clearly thrilled. "Have you ever spoken to them?"
"The queens? Yes, I have. They're kindness itself."
"I would dearly love to meet them. My father actually had an audience with them and the kings when he brought the ambassadors here a few months past. I've heard both queens are very beautiful and that Queen Lucy is like a joyful song."
Coming from a Galman, that was a high compliment indeed, and I was glad to hear that on Galma Lucy wasn't dismissed in favor of Susan. "She is," I agreed.
"What are the kings like?"
I thought for a moment. "King Peter is very brave and and very smart. King Edmund is canny and a bit harder to pin down."
His voice dropped and he turned to me. "I heard he was a traitor to Narnia."
Surprisingly, that didn't bother me nearly as much as I thought it would. "He was," I admitted.
His confusion was evident. "Then how can he be a king?"
"You said it yourself, Ilando, he was a traitor."
"Why would he do that?"
"He must have had his reasons."
"Well, nothing could ever make me betray Galma," he boasted.
"Don't be so sure," I replied quietly. "You don't know for certain what choice you'll make until you're faced by that choice and every reaction your decision can cause."
He cast me a curious look. Clearly I'd given him food for thought, but to spare him I changed the topic.
"When do you sail?"
"On the morrow. A storm is blowing in from the west and my father hopes to outrace it."
"Can you really outrun the wind?"
He smiled proudly. "The Gloriosa is the fastest ship in our fleet. Some day, I want to be her captain." He brightened and laid his hand on my arm. "You should come to Galma, friend! Ship away with us and become a sailor!"
I laughed. "Thank you for the offer, but I'm afraid I can't leave Narnia just yet. I would like to see Galma, though."
"Then I will show you all the island," he promised grandly. "And this I promise you, friend, our beer and our girls are far superior to what you find on Terebinthia."
We both laughed, then looked down into the hall as things were finalized for the feast.
"I'd best go," I said.
"And I as well. Will you be serving at the feast?"
"I'll be there."
He clapped me on the shoulder. "I like white milon wine," he teased, for milon is one of the strongest vintages in Narnia and I doubted he'd ever drank more than a mouthful at a time. I nodded my head to him and hurried away. I felt better for the acquaintance and the chance to talk, even though it made me miss Peter all the more.
The crew of the Gloriosa was comprised of Men and Talking Animals and all were very animated and excited at the prospect of a feast. The party was small enough that we all sat at one table with a number of our courtiers mixed in to keep the conversation flowing. It wasn't an overly formal affair. Lucy, the founder of the feast, sat at the head of the table with Captain Ilano on her right and Astrad on her left. Susan sat at the foot with the first mate at her right and an awestruck sailor on her left.
I was enjoying another bout of feeling horrid a few minutes before the meal started and I almost begged off. Lucy compromised by simply reserving a seat for me in the center of the table. When I finally mastered the nausea gripping me I slipped into the room without fanfair. Catching the eye of the wine steward, I gave him a whispered order before approaching the table.
Immediately all the Narnains stood and bowed and a moment later the surprised Galmans - most of whom had never seen me before - also rose and bowed. "My apologies for not joining you sooner," I said, quickly taking my seat so they could resume theirs. "Please, continue."
On my left was a Water Rat that was astonished and rather tickled to find himself seated next to his king. On my right was an elderly dame with silver hair and blue eyes. I greeted them both before scanning the table. Just as I found Ilando, seated down by Lucy, I saw the wine steward fill his glass. He was blushing furiously and gave me the most apologetic look, but I only smiled in return to let him know there were no hard feelings for anything he had said or done and saluted him with my wine. With a relieved, hesitant smile he lifted his wine to me and we both drank. He almost choked on the powerful milon wine, but he laughed when he realized I had called his bluff.
I was surprised to learn that the old lady beside me, Dame Utha, was the learned tutor that the Galman ambassadors had promised, but it turned out she had a genius for mathematics and navigation and had served aboard many vessels in her time. She struck me as a little flinty, but when we began to discuss astronomy she became quite passionate and I had the distinct impression I had just found Cheroom's soulmate. She had brought with her a map maker and quite a lot of necessary equipment which she described at length. I found myself looking forward to her classes even if the math might be a little beyond me at the moment. I hoped she was prepared to have her name massacered by everyone in the kingdom, too. In Narnia, a 'th' sound is only pronounced at the beginning or the end of a word, never in the middle. Her name would thus be rendered 'Oot-ha' by our pronunciation, not 'Ooth-a' as they said on Galma.
The Rat was of old Galman stock and served as the boatswain on the Gloriosa. He had many, many tall tales, and some not so tall, about life on a ship that he told in very clipped words, always snapping his teeth and with much dramatic flourishing of paws and tail. Like Ilando, he eagerly invited me to go to sea, talking of pirates and treasure and kraken and monstrous strange fish from the ocean's depths. He was good company and could not get enough of the soft bread served to him with quince jam on the side.
I survived about an hour and ate half a bowl of soup before I felt myself fading. I caught Susan's eye and with a shake of my head let her know I was through. She looked worried, but I smiled faintly. I could make it back to my room by myself. When I rose from my chair everyone but Lucy and Susan stood and bowed.
"I ask your pardon again for leaving you so soon," I said. "Pray enjoy yourselves. I bid fair sailing to the Gloriosa and her able crew. May Aslan bless your journey home."
They drank my health, for which I was grateful, and I left the feast. Moments later one of the palace servants, a lovely Dogwood Dryad, caught up with me in the hall.
"Your Majesty, one the Gloriosas asked leave to address you. It's a boy close to your years. He said his name is Ilando."
"I met him earlier. I'll gladly speak to him, Bithney."
I waited in the entrance hall and moments later Bithney escorted the Galman to me. Ilando bowed awkwardly, then stammered,
"K-King Edmund, I would like to a-apologize."
"I - I was rude and I laid hands on you and..."
And he had called me a traitor. I was shocked to realize he thought he might face some punishment for it. However distasteful it may be, though, it was the truth.
"Ilando," I said, "If you had known who I was would you have spoken so freely?"
"No!" he exclaimed, horrified. "Of course not!"
I gave him a wry smile. "Which is why I didn't say anything. Most new people I meet, my friend, say what they think I want to hear. You said what was in your heart, and I thank you for that rare gift."
He blushed. "I'm...sorry I thought you were a servant."
I forced a smile even though my stomach twinged painfully. "We're both servants, Ilando. You serve the Gloriosa, I serve Narnia."
He thought on that a few moments, then smiled back. "You're right, King Edmund."
"Told you I was canny."
We parted soon after on very good terms with mutual promises to show off our homelands at the first opportunity. He returned to the feast and I slowly made my way up the steps, the guards and servants keeping especially watchful eyes on me as I passed. On the top landing I looked up to see Aslan waiting for me in the hall. He had declined going to the feast, perhaps for the express reason of meeting me right now.
"That was well said, Edmund," he complimented, and I knew he meant my conversation with Ilando. "There is much to be gained by cultivating such bonds of friendship."
"I seem to be getting better at it," I replied. "And it's nice to have friends like Brickit and Phillip who say what they think and mean exactly what they say."
He smiled. "It is indeed. Such ones speak out of love and affection."
I leaned on him, so golden and warm, and rested my head against his, so glad he was here, so lonely for my brother.