Epilogue: In the Company of Horses
That night, and every night for months on end, Peter and I started talking.
Seated on my bed, huddled close and wrapped in blankets, I told Peter about that first day without him, my fear and loneliness, how Kanell drove me so I would not dwell on his departure, how drained the day had left me. He told me of his anxiety over me, how he stayed up until midnight almost nightly, how lonely and empty the world seemed past Narnia's borders.
As time went on, I learned about Lasa and the Kraken and King Frank and I finally heard all the thrilling details of his conflict with the Host of the Air. Peter learned about Ilando and Mrs. Tibs and Jadis and about the dreams that tried so very hard to kill me and the storm that nearly did. We discovered how our dreams had bound us across the distance between us and that Aslan had answered our desperate prayers. There were many tears shed by both of us. Tears, yes, but not a moment's shame in them or the comfort we gave each other. And at the end we understood exactly how much we meant to each other and how much each was willing to sacrifice for the other.
In a word, everything.
I didn't keep my end of our pact. Not entirely. I didn't tell him all the details. I couldn't. I did tell him about the Deplorable Word. The mere memory of Jadis whispering it to me left me nearly unconscious, with burst eardrums and a horrible nosebleed that frightened Peter out of his wits. He was afraid to mention Jadis for days afterwards and it fell to me to bring the subject up again. I made certain to relay everything Aslan had told me about the word, especially the facts that I would never be able to forget it and that no matter what, it would wreck havoc if ever said aloud. Henceforth the use of the word 'deplorable' was heavily frowned upon in our court at Cair Paravel.
I told him about the dreams but . . . I left some finer details out and he knew it. Not even Aslan knew about all the nightmares. There were issues I wasn't prepared to face yet. I knew my brother had his suspicions, and I'm sure his suspicions were absolutely correct. As I had said to Brickit, Peter is no fool. I just wasn't prepared to talk about everything Jadis had done to me. Some of the things were simply too twisted to dwell on. I suspected I wouldn't understand it all myself for years to come or perhaps never. He didn't press me, but I knew he would listen when I was ready to talk.
Still, we talked, gasping and laughing at each other's adventures, growing closer and getting to know each other better than we ever imagined. It helped strengthen us and through us, Narnia. I don't think either of us at first had realized exactly how much we needed to come to terms with. Of course we still argued and teased each other, and I never grew tired of crow jokes. I don't think Peter did, either.
With less than two weeks to go before the second anniversary of Beruna everything was extremely busy at Cair Paravel. Peter had escaped to Clearwater Creek to settle a very minor border dispute with Archenland that centered on, of all ridiculously silly things, strawberries. The fact that he went at all was evidence to how completely Susan had annoyed him with all her nagging worries over the upcoming celebrations. Neither Peter nor I could quite comprehend the fuss generated over a few feasts and parties. The complainants in the strawberry issue hardly needed Peter there, but he bolted out of Cair Paravel as if the place was on fire. I would have gone with him, very gladly, too, and for exactly the same reason, save that I had to spend some time at Kellsalter. The Dwarf engineers had learned about my friendship with the Blue River Dwarfs and essentially did not want to be shown up by their obnoxious Black cousins. Whenever they needed a crowned head, I was their first choice and they made sure to mention every visit to Brickit until I forbid them to annoy him that way. I was not at their beck and call and I hardly wanted my friend's nose out of joint, but they begged me most urgently to come and when Susan started talking about decorations I was glad to go.
I took Phillip and Yoli and Valons with me to Kellsalter the day Peter fled south. Kanell didn't even ask for leave to accompany us, he just joined my little party as we set out from the stables, ostensibly to act as my bodyguard. I suspected his wife might be in league with Susan and he, too, was keen to get away.
It was a beautiful summer day and we took our time, talking all the while. The sun was hot, the breeze off the ocean smelt of salt, and despite the frenzy of planning going on in Cair Paravel I was perfectly happy. Indeed, I could have gone on all day.
Half a mile from the planned port we spotted a Red Dwarf, one of the engineers, waiting on the trail with two of the Otters that lived nearby.
The Dwarf bowed, sweeping off his hood. The Otters likewise bowed and one of them giggled, looking up at me quickly and squirming. I dismounted to greet them.
"Aslan stand between you and evil," I said in the traditional Dwarf greeting. "I'm glad to see you, cousins. I trust all is well?"
The Dwarf, Mitterwig, seemed very amused. "Things are more than well, King Edmund, but . . . there is something that we feel requires your attention."
"Lead on, good Mitterwig," I replied, not certain of what to make of the situation but willing to indulge his humor. We walked along and I waited until we were almost at Kellsalter before I asked, "So what is it that requires my presence?"
"Not so much a what as a who, your majesty," said the Dwarf and the two Otters, youngsters both, hummed in agreement. The smaller of the two giggled every time she looked my way and almost tripped over herself when she caught my eye and I smiled at her.
The sound of more voices and construction reached our ears as we came up to the natural harbor chosen for Narnia's first port. I took in the stunning view below - the cliffs, the ocean, the deep forest reaching all the way to the edge of the sand - with great pleasure and satisfaction. A pier was being constructed and several temporary buildings were already up along the water's edge. Ultimately the whole place would be made of stone and fortified.
I heard a distant, echoing neigh and Phillip's ears perked up sharply. I glanced at him, wondering if he recognized the voice.
"And now who requires my presence, sir?" I asked.
Mitterwig grinned and pointed to the beach below. "Yon filly from afar, good my king."
I gasped, a noise echoed by everyone in my party, and I fell back a step.
A Winged Horse almost the same color as the pale gold sand raced along in the surf, laughing at the Seagulls keeping pace with her. She had huge, silver wings and her shrill voice echoed joyfully off the cliffs as she leaped and pranced about as happy and energetic as a foal. We stood in speechless awe, and then I breathed,
It could only be she.
Phillip had never looked so thrilled. He let out a mighty whinny, then shouted, "Rhye!"
She stopped short, her legs splayed and her tail high, looking around and finally up. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
"Phillip!" she squealed in absolute delight, spotting our small party far above on the ledge. I didn't even know Horses could squeal like that. Without hesitation she started running and launched herself into the air with a wild cry. We watched in absolute amazement. Wings sweeping through the air, she rose up on the wind, charging straight for us. Alarmed shouts erupted from every throat as we scattered in all directions. Rhye landed right where we had been standing, her mighty wings and sheer momentum sending up a cloud of dust and sand.
"Phillip! Phillip Bwinny-hra! It's me! It's me! It's Rhye!"
She was so excited that she turned a full circle, almost dancing in her eagerness. Phillip laughed and recovered, going up to meet her nose-to-nose.
"Rhye! Aslan's blessing upon you! Welcome to Narnia, daughter of Pennon!"
"You made it back!" she exclaimed. "How is Peter High King? How are you? You have a different saddle! I met Dwarfs! And Otters! Oh, what are you?" she asked, spotting the rest of us. She gaped at Kanell, so huge and dark. "You're a Centaur! Oh, Phillip, now I've met a Centaur as well! What are you? You're very pretty," she said to Valons. "Oh! A long-legged Otter! With spots!"
Yoli looked stunned, terrified, and scandalized simultaneously. The Otters giggled and collapsed into a heap.
Then Rhye turned to me, and her wonder only seemed to grow and she stared, standing still for the first time. "You . . . you're his Edmund. You're his brother! He came west for you." She ducked her head to me. "I must thank you, my king. If you had not been cursed, I never would have met Peter High King and learned a song or come to Narnia."
I almost cried aloud at her notion of logic, seeing as how it had been so hellish upon me and Peter alike. Still, there was something so disarming and appealing about her that it was impossible not to feel joy at every word she said. "Yes, but . . . how did you know it was I?" I asked, daring to reach out and touch her soft nose.
She laughed and even before I heard her reply I found myself laughing along with her. Peter was right, she was absolutely charming and her enthusiasm was infectious. "He said you were much alike, save that you were night to his day."
A very Peter-ish reply. He had far more poetry in his soul than I did and in truth we barely looked alike. He favored our father and I was undoubtedly my mother's child. I laid my hand on the mare's smooth neck. "I have to thank you, Lady. If you hadn't brought Peter to the Garden, I wouldn't be alive right now."
Phillip shifted uncomfortably. Rhye's eyes grew wide. "I was going to say it was nothing, King Edmund, but I see that it was far more than that. I am glad to have served you and your brother."
"Be welcome in Narnia, Lady Rhye," I said, "for now and always."
"Peter said I should come. Where is Cair Paravel? I was following the river but then I smelt grass like I've never met before and then I saw this ocean and I've lost my way, though the Dwarfs have been very kind."
I smiled. "You're not far from it."
"May I go with you to see Peter?"
"He's not at the Cair right now. He's gone south, but he'll be back in a few days and . . ."
I trailed off, an idea forming in my mind. If we could keep her arrival quiet for now, we could surprise Peter like nothing else at the anniversary celebration. It had not been an easy spring and he needed cheering. Rhye, lovely Rhye, might be just the thing.
"Rhye," I finally said, "would you like to be a surprise for Peter?"
"Surprise?" echoed Rhye, excited anew. "How do I be a surprise?"
I wanted to say, "Just keep breathing," but I suspected that would only confuse her. I looked at my companions. Each and every one wore a grin that matched my own and I knew they were with me.
"First of all, we can't let Peter find out that you're here for a few days yet."
"I'll hide! I'll be quiet!"
"And I'll send some grooms to brush your mane and tail and clean your coat."
"Peter promised I could have shoes of silver and gold!"
"You'll get them, but I'll let Peter give them to you. So you'll help me?"
She nodded, thrilled. I couldn't take it any longer and with a happy laugh I threw my arms around her neck, hugging her tightly.
Peter was satisfyingly breathless as he watched the Winged Horse move through the crush of revelers. "I can't believe she came!" he cried, positively aglow with pleasure. He was so excited that he didn't seem to know what to do with himself and he wasn't bothered in the least that we were all friendly with Rhye by now.
I snorted. I knew whose company he was going to be keeping on the morrow. I didn't mind. It would be worth dealing with ambassadors and well-wishers all day to let him have some fun. He had not looked so happy in quite a long while, but that was a tale for another time. "I can't believe we managed to keep it from you."
Lucy swayed to the music, her smile never fading as she reached up and straightened my crown of green wheat and grass. "She's as wonderful as you said, Peter, and she loves music! I taught her some new songs!"
"Lucy!" I frowned at her. Hadn't she learned a lesson on the ride back from the Lantern Waste last Yule? I could only pray she didn't like those awful, monotone equine chants, too. "Never burden a Horse with a song!"
"Unless she asks!" countered our youngest queen.
Amidst our laughter Peter seized Susan's hand and lead her onto the floor as the music for a springbok, a very spirited dance that involves far too much skipping, struck up. One voluntary dance a year was enough for me and I had already used it up on Susan and the Centaurs, but Lucy has an iron grip when she wants and there was no escape. It wasn't so bad, especially when about twenty of Neth's Naiad sisters joined. Despite myself I blessed our dance teacher because I neither tread on any toes nor lost step once. By the end of the dance we were soaked through from the dripping wet daughters of the River God and the slick floor made the skipping bits very interesting.
I couldn't help but feel antsy as midnight crept upon us and the feel steadily grew to fear bordering on panic as the minutes passed. A year ago tonight Jadis had felled me with the deathless spell and I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps she had something else, something equally nasty in store for me. Granted her blood had been expelled from my body, the memories of the curse were shockingly vivid even a year later.
Standing next to Peter, I looked down at the happy crowd of our subjects. Rhye was surrounded by Horses and even a few Unicorns, for Flisk had arrived and brought his six older brothers. I saw Tumnus doting on Lucy, Sir Giles whispering something in Marion's ear that made her giggle, Oreius standing beside his great-uncle Cheroom as we waited for him to announce the second anniversary of Beruna. They were happy. Even Peter. I looked up at my brother and saw that the last shadow had finally left his face and he was as content as our good cousins. I breathed a sigh of relief for him, wishing the next five minutes to be over for me.
A Faun brought us the heavy wooden mazers we had left on the stairs. With a smile he poured red wine into the ancient bowls as everyone prepared for Susan's toast. She lifted her own smaller mazer and called out,
"Narnia, tonight we celebrate victory and freedom and the lives of our two kings. Drink a toast with me now! Narnia, Aslan, and our Magnificent and Just kings who banished the White Witch from our land forever!"
Oh, no. I felt the blush creep up my cheeks as the crowd erupted into cheers. I snorted faintly and Peter looked down at me.
"I didn't do anything," I muttered.
He chuckled. "I beg to differ."
I rolled my eyes and together we drank long and deep to Narnia and Aslan and each other. Just then Cheroom gave a shout from his station by the water clock, his deep voice booming across the hall.
"Midnight! To freedom!"
The assembly went wild with delight. The drummers beat their instruments and all around the great hall Narnia celebrated the end of tyranny by dancing and shouting and toasting. I stood on the stairs frozen in place, a deep fear keeping me from moving or even looking away from Peter. I waited, waited for the agony to arch through my body as Jadis punched her broken wand through my sternum and out my spine. Waited to lose all sensation but the hideous sucking feel of the jagged crystal being yanked out again. Waited to fall, dying. I stared up at my brother and I knew, just knew, that he was anxious for the same thing.
No pain, no gasping for air, no searing numbness robbing my legs of their strength. It was like the night Peter had planted the Tree of Protection.
Praise be to Aslan, nothing happened.
Peter blinked, then glanced at the hall. I suddenly realized it was deathly silent. Following his gaze, I realized every eye was focused on us kings. I smiled weakly at the crowd, suddenly breathless, and when I looked at Peter again there were tears in his eyes and he was smiling so beautifully that I threw my arms around him and kissed his cheek, knocking off the woven crown I wore. Catching the band before it fell, he held me so tightly I couldn't breathe and I didn't care in the least. Our subjects let out a tremendous cheer and dancing and music erupted all around us. I pulled back to look at Peter just as Susan and Lucy came up the stairs at a run, hand in hand. I met them a few steps down with hugs and kisses, holding them close as they both cried right along with me.
Nothing had happened.
Nothing, except I had not lost.