I don't own Narnia or the Pevensies. I do own an Aslan costume, to which I am allergic, as I sadly discovered this Halloween day. I'm sorry I haven't been active recently. Various things factored into this...but here, I'm not dead, and not out of the fandom by any means. However, I'm having trouble getting restarted on "Twisting Fate," if you follow that...any suggestions and/or opinions about continuing are welcome. Thanks for being patient. May your God bless you, and if you don't have one, may you know you're not alone anyway. :)
Edmund is newborn. He nestles in his mother's arms, fragmented feelings and sensations pricking at his consciousness, his eyes still unopened. He knows no sights, he is but dimly acquainted with sounds and smells and tastes; all he knows is the soft warmth of his mother's bosom, the soothing rise and fall of her breathing. He is safe and contented.
Bliss, Edmund knows, is warmth.
Edmund is two years old. His mother wakes him in the morning and he painstakingly makes his way down the stairs to the kitchen, where breakfast is waiting. When he is finished, he is let down from the chair, and he walks to the living room, where he plays with his toys in the following order: blocks, soldiers, Lucy, stuffed rabbit. When the last of these is not where he expects it to be, he wails, a formidable wave of sound that makes his mother come running instantly, rabbit in hand, and all is well again. The order is not disturbed.
Bliss, Edmund knows, is routine.
Edmund is six years old. Peter meets him after school and they walk home together, Edmund immediately removing his uniform tie, which has been making him itchy all day. How Peter manages to stand it is a mystery to him. Scuffing his brown leather shoes on the sidewalk, he tries to start a conversation with his brother, but Peter is distracted by the general store across the way.
"Hey, Ed," he says, clinking the nickels in his pocket. He earned them helping Mother patch the screen door, and he's been keeping them with him at all times, just to show off. Edmund thinks it's rather annoying.
"What?" he asks crankily. He doesn't like school, doesn't like not being allowed to run around all day like he used to. Plus, the more Peter learns, the stuffier he gets.
"Do you want a piece of candy?"
Stuffiness forgotten, Edmund is rather enthusiastic about the idea. He readily agrees and the two of them cross the street and enter the store. When they leave, Peter's precious nickels are gone, replaced by two somewhat less precious pennies, and the two boys are sucking on identical candies, pale pink and rapidly disappearing. The flavor is perfect, and Edmund thinks he can forgive Peter for being boring sometimes. The sun seems a little brighter now, and it's okay that he didn't have the whole day to run around. A few hours is enough.
Bliss, Edmund knows, is candy.
Edmund is eight. School doesn't just restrict his time, now – it restricts everything about him. Just today, he was sent to the headmaster's office, and his knuckles were cracked with a ruler. It still smarts, and he nurses his hand as he walks back home, dried tears on his cheeks, anger and shame and resentment burning inside him. He won't tell his mother it was because he knocked another boy in the mud and called his father more than few nasty names. He only says he's never going back and slams his bedroom door.
Lucy tries to come in and talk to him, but he sits with his back against the door so she can't. Susan tries to talk to him from the other side of the door, but he ignores her, only glares angrily at the empty room, at the one bed with nothing on it, at Peter's things, gathering dust. His brother has gone to boarding school this year, and Edmund hates him for it. He won't ever say, because Peter has always been a terrific older brother, letting him play with his things and spending as much time with Edmund as with his friends, but now Peter is gone and Edmund has no friend in the whole lonely world.
After a while he feels guilty for thinking things like this, and he comes out and shakily apologizes to his mother and his sisters, partly out of fear for what his father will do when he finds out how rude he has been, but mostly just because he realizes it was a rather beastly thing to do. His hand is soaking in the warm water provided by his mother when the post comes, and there is a letter from Peter, Peter who had forgotten all about Edmund, Peter who didn't care at all, and there is a note at the bottom of the letter:
Ed – none
of the chaps here at school are nearly as much fun as you are. I
wish I was back home. Write me if you need anything.
His hand still hurts and he still misses his brother, but Edmund isn't quite so angry anymore. At least he hasn't been forgotten, he thinks. At least Peter's alive, and at least Peter isn't making friends that will replace Edmund. And his own note! Edmund sleeps that night on Peter's bed, dreaming of when his brother will come home. He misses him something terrible, even if he pretends not to.
Bliss, Edmund knows, is normalcy.
Edmund is eleven. Peter says boarding school isn't so bad, once you get used to it. Edmund doesn't think he's ever going to get used to it. And besides, Peter wasn't as little as Edmund is now, and he didn't have freckles for the other boys to make fun of, or long, awkward, skinny legs and knobby knees that peek out between the uniform shorts and the socks. And he didn't have such a big mouth, which Edmund realizes is a big part of the problem.
Johnston is the worst of them; he likes to make Edmund run errands for him and writes out messages to be carried to his various cohorts. Sometimes the messages are quite vile, and though Edmund rarely looks at what it is he's carrying, he often gets hit for peeking. The worst is when the dean catches him and takes it away and apparently this time it was something particularly foul, because the end of the day sees him weeping into his pillow, lying on his stomach because the backs of his legs are burning so fiercely he thinks it a miracle he'd managed to stagger through the rest of the day.
In that moment, he wants Peter – not mother, not father, but Peter, who has probably gone through the same thing. But Peter, being in a different form, is in a different dormitory and has different teachers and different friends and the two rarely see each other, and even when they do Peter does nothing more than give a tiny smile and a nod and hurry off along with his crowd. There is never a word spoken between them. Edmund thinks Peter is a coward, and thinks of all those things Mother said about Peter looking out for him, and knows it is all a lie.
He spends the first term lurking, taking the hits, hiding the bruises, doing what the older boys tell him, the stationery he's supposed to be using to write home growing moldy in the corner. He never goes to Peter, and Peter never comes to him, though once when Edmund is sick up in his room he gets a note, telling him to feel better and offering some advice on how to get by. The advice is chillingly useful in his situation, and Edmund has the niggling feeling that Peter actually knows everything about what's happening to his little brother right now and just isn't doing anything about it.
He's pretty sure that that's worse than Peter not knowing.
Second term is worse than the first, because at this point the other boys are getting bored and Edmund is a form of amusement, especially when he's in trouble. Edmund is still struggling to find a balance between pleasing the teachers, who cane him, and pleasing the other boys, who rough him up and call him nasty names. He can never please both, because inherently, pleasing one is displeasing the other. And so he finds the happiest medium he can instead, getting the cane one day and the fist the next, until he wonders if God made him only to be a vent for others' frustration. Peter still doesn't talk to him.
By the end of the year, Edmund can't count the number of bruises he's got, but he can count the number of words Peter has spoken to him out loud on two hands and a foot. They are:
"Mum says write."
Not that he's counting.
Bliss, Edmund knows, is unattainable.
Edmund is eleven. The snow is cold but his anger is hot, and he is angry – angry at Mum for sending them away, angry at the war for taking Father, angry at Susan for babying him, angry at Lucy for being right about the world in the wardrobe, but somehow he finds the most anger for Peter, stupid, golden Peter, in whose shadow Edmund has been forced to stand his entire life. He wraps his robe about him and marches into the white, billowy drifts, ice stinging his ankles and snow gathering in his slippers, but he is too angry to care much.
With the crunch crunch of his footsteps comes a twisted sort of satisfaction, knowing he is defying Peter with every step he takes into this cold, lifeless land. And when the sleigh comes, he goes there too, because he can just hear Peter's voice, stay here, Ed, I'll deal with this, don't be stupid and it feels so delicious to do just the opposite. Somewhere in the back of his head, he knows this isn't quite the right thing to do, but he's been doing a lot of the wrong things lately anyway, so what's one more? Besides, she seems nice enough.
Edmund sits in her sleigh, wrapped in warm furs, pressed a bit too close to her side for comfort, but perhaps things are just different in this place – Narnia, did Lucy call it? – so he lets her do what she likes, and listens to her speak. The end of their encounter leaves him with sugar on his lips and thoughts in his head. And as he rolls his eyes and allows Lucy to lead him back into the real world, he considers his options, thinks things over. Of course, in the end he only manages to make Lucy cry and get Peter even more irritated with him, but since he hates Peter, this doesn't bother him much.
Later, he finds himself alone in the room for the moment, with the light off, but he isn't getting into bed just yet. No, for a time he sits there in the moonlight, thinking about it – a king, over all his family. Better than them. Perhaps, he thinks, perhaps he'll let Susan and Lucy be ladies in his court, not queens, but not servants either, since they're just silly and obnoxious, not…not…not Peter. His brother, he decides, he will make his personal servant and make him to the most menial and filthy tasks of all, cleaning the stables for the reindeer and picking the burrs out of Edmund's great fur coats while Edmund himself watches on and bosses him around just as Peter does now.
And he will throw vast parties, and all the people in that cold land (there are people, aren't there?) will come flock about him and laugh at his jokes and make fun of Peter, who will be scrubbing the floors at that moment, or feeding Edmund so that the King of Narnia does not get his hands dirtied with the sugary perfection of his Turkish Delight. And oh, that Turkish Delight, he will eat it every day, for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, and he will never tire of it in a million years, especially when it is he eating it and not Peter, who will crave his brother's candy like Edmund has craved his affection all these years, but their cases will be the same, and Peter will go hungry. Edmund would love to see all these things.
The light comes on. He looks up, lifting his head and his thoughts from their previous positions, and he finds himself looking up at his older brother. Peter doesn't look pleased. It's not surprising; after all, Edmund did just make his favorite sister cry. Lucy always gets whatever she wants, thinks Edmund resentfully. She just has to cry and Peter and Susan come running.
"Ed," Peter says sternly. Edmund rolls his eyes. "Ed, you're not making this any easier."
Edmund doesn't bother to respond, but instead climbs into bed and links his hands behind his head casually. He doesn't have to please Peter anymore. After all, tomorrow he'll be a king, and kings don't need to please anyone, especially their servants.
"Edmund, look at me," Peter says, taking a few steps over to put a hand on the headboard of the bed. Edmund tilts his head a tiny amount, his eyes roaming lazily over to look at Peter. "You've been a right brat these last few days. None of us are any happier about this whole situation than you."
Edmund thinks vaguely that it's not true. He almost doesn't say it, because something inside him says it's not nice, but then he remembers that he doesn't have to be nice. So he opens his mouth.
"You are," he says indolently. "You like pretending you're Father."
Peter's hand, previously moving nervously on the knobby headboard, freezes. Edmund doesn't have to look to see the look of incredulous hurt on his brother's face, because of course it's Peter and he's so good at looking like he's never considered whatever it is you're accusing him of. Always pretending to be so good, so guiltless. But Edmund knows better.
"I'm not Father," Peter says, his voice quiet and hoarse, and Edmund feels a satisfied twinge, knowing he's managed to get under Peter's skin.
"No, you're not," Edmund agrees, the tone of his voice suggesting something much more reproachful than his words would. Then he rolls onto his side with his back to his brother, pulls the covers up over his shoulders, and pretends to be asleep.
Bliss, Edmund knows, is power.
There are manacles on his ankles, and the taste of mold lingers in his mouth. The air, damp and freezing, bites viciously at the exposed skin of his face, hands and knees; he can't remember being so cold or hungry or lonely or guilty in his life. He won't yet admit that he regrets coming here, because regret means apologizing and apologizing is something he can't do because how do you apologize for something this bad? They're probably dead by now, probably lying somewhere, their mangled corpses staining the snow red…
…but he hates thinking that, so he lets the ice numb his aching heart and settles down to wallow in self-pity and hatred. He will realize later that these are the things within him that she twisted, manipulated to hold him captive, how she played off his thirst for affection, his craving for approval until he would sacrifice anything to feel the warm touch of her cold hand. And sacrifice he did. Edmund knows now, he has sacrificed his life, and the lives of all his siblings, if not the life of every creature in Narnia.
The old Edmund would have seen this as something of a triumph. You see, Peter promised to keep them safe – if Edmund endangered them, or himself, he had beaten Peter, diminished him in the eyes of the people who mattered. But this is not the old Edmund, and this is no triumph; this is his greatest failure, as it has put into vision all his great wrongs, every little thing he has done wrong in the past.
He doesn't want Peter's approval now, as he knows he did then. Now, all he wants is his forgiveness.
In his fevered dreams, alone in that prison of ice, he can picture his family so clearly, how things used to be. He can see Mother, sewing away at something he'd ripped, patiently replacing the tears with her neat stitching, until he can barely see his carelessness. He can see Father, always ready with a smile and a hair-ruffle (prized beyond reason) for his youngest son, even after a trying day at the factory. He can see Lucy, with her bright eyes and immeasurable faith, and Susan, with her nose in her books despite his teasing, and most of all he can picture how Peter would be standing, waiting for him like he did when they were little and they would walk home together.
That Peter is gone now, just like that Edmund is gone too, and perhaps both of them have gone a little wrong, Edmund thinks. He hasn't thought this much in years, really. He hasn't been in a place so still and cold that even his thoughts sound like shouts. Thinking hurts, after some time, so he closes his eyes and lets the deep, sharp blue claim him in sleep.
Bliss, Edmund knows, is not for him.
If Edmund were Peter, he would say something – anything – to ease the awkwardness. But he isn't Peter, and Peter, who has frankly never been very good with words, isn't saying anything. Edmund can't say it because it's not he who has to forgive Peter (or is it?) but Peter who has to forgive him. And so the moment freezes, Peter standing at the entrance to the tent with the flap still in his hand, and Edmund sitting on the hammock, wishing desperately to break this painful eye contact but unable to do so.
It seems an age before Peter lets the flap fall and brings his other booted foot into the tent. Edmund has not yet been given Narnian clothes, and he feels very silly, even though it is Peter wearing the tights. Peter's movement was the excuse he needed took away, and now he stares across at the empty hammock, shoulders tense, knees pressed together and hands white-knuckled at their rest. Still, nothing is said. But he can feel Peter's eyes on him, and where he once thought Peter was so simple, he now finds it impossible to figure out what his brother is thinking.
Another moment passes, and Peter unfortunately moves into Edmund's line of vision, sitting down upon his hammock; his eyes never leave his brother's dark, curly head, even when Edmund quickly bows it to avert his gaze to the floor.
"Well," Peter says at last. There is a lot going on outside, but it all is muffled by the tent, so Peter's voice sounds very loud to Edmund. Peter is still looking at Edmund, but Edmund won't look back.
After another minute, Edmund suspects Peter hasn't anything beyond "well" to say to him, and he knows forgiveness is not to be his. His brother is waiting for an apology – for him to beg for mercy, maybe – and then he will probably tell Edmund how disappointed he is, and Edmund will feel that plunging expulsion of all hope within him, and for the rest of his life he will…
"I'm sorry," Peter says awkwardly. Edmund looks up in surprise. Peter turns his head to the side and stares at the red and gold patterns of the tent's fabric. "I've really made a hash of things, haven't I?"
"What?" Edmund says. It comes out as a hoarse choking noise, and he clears his throat before he tries again, with better results.
"I shouldn't have let you wander off," Peter says. Edmund thinks this had very little to do with Peter, and fails to see how it is his fault. But his brother continues. "And I shouldn't have done anything to make you want to wander off. I'm sorry."
Edmund mumbles something indistinguishable; even he doesn't know what it's supposed to be.
"Are you all right, Ed?" Peter says, and there is a pained worry in his voice that makes Edmund suspect his brother might possibly feel as awful about this as he does. Edmund shrugs. He wants to put this behind him. He doesn't want to be fussed over. But Peter reaches across the distance between them (a vast space, in their reality) and touches his arm nervously (Edmund can't say gently, though he wants to).
"M'okay," Edmund mumbles in response to this. His lips hurt when he speaks too much.
"You're cold," Peter says quietly. Edmund shrugs. "Come on, we can…we can…" He trails off.
"I'd like that," Edmund says. Peter chuckles weakly and gets to his feet.
"Come on," he says. He doesn't extend his hand to Edmund, but Edmund has a feeling that this is not because he doesn't want to, but because he is afraid that it will be rejected. He sees now just how much of a brat he must have been, to scare Peter this badly. Perhaps Peter thinks he will run off again, and join her. But he's never going back.
If Edmund expected things to become perfect right away, he would have been disappointed. But as it was, he barely expected to live, much less be rescued and taken back by his family, and have Lucy forgive him without a second thought, and Susan ask him if he was all right, and have Peter even look at him ever again, so every extra little gesture, every touch of their hands, feels like a miracle to him. It doesn't bother him that Peter doesn't tuck him in at night; the fact that he can hear his brother's even breathing is enough. It doesn't even bother him that not everybody in the camp trusts him. He wouldn't, either.
Edmund is relearning what it means to be a family. He knows he doesn't have long to do it – he and Peter will probably be casualties in this war before two days have passed – but this is time enough for him. It is more than he thought he would be given.
Bliss, Edmund knows, is a second chance.
It is a quick stab, in and out, and it's remarkable how short a time it took to remove him from this world. He already has one foot in the next when he hears Peter scream for him, but he calmly thinks that it's too late. And he smiles.
Bliss, Edmund knows, even as he dies, is redemption.
Edmund is eleven and much more. His eyes, which once saw colors and shapes, now see beauty. His ears, which once heard noises, now hear music and laughter. The celebration has gone long into the night, and Lucy has already fallen asleep, but he has had his eyes closed to the world for long enough, and does not wish to miss anything anymore. So instead of going to bed, like Susan is pestering him to do, he stands out on the balcony above the main courtyard and watches the dancers.
The sky is black and velvety above them, the torches bold and warm as they cast their light before the light feet of fauns and nymphs. To Edmund, all is a whirl of joyful color, and he cannot help but smile as he rests his elbows against the railing and watches it. After a time, he feels someone come to stand beside him, and knows it is Peter without looking. He isn't sure how this works. But it does.
"Enjoying yourself?" Peter asks, looking out over the kingdom Edmund will always think of as his brother's, not his. Edmund nods, a quiet contentedness on his face, and the brothers stand there for some time in one another's company. The smell of smoke and wine drifts upwards to them. Neither minds it; it smells of the richness of their country, and the happiness of their countrymen, and perhaps the foundation of the new friendship they are building. Edmund knows better than to try and build the first back up. He is a different person now.
"Thank you," he says after some time, and his voice is nearly lost in the happy shouts of the revelers below. Peter looks at him quizzically.
"For what?" he asks, curious.
"For being patient," Edmund says, unsure of what else to say. Peter won't get it. He isn't good at getting it, as brothers go, but Edmund doesn't need him to understand; he only needs him to be there. Peter blinks, seems to think about it for a moment, then gives up.
"You're welcome," he says knowingly, turning back to the scene before them.
"I know I am," Edmund teases. Peter reaches over and pulls him into a one-armed hug, mussing his hair viciously enough that his little brother's crown is knocked askew, but there is a grin on his face.
"You haven't changed a bit," Peter says, laughing and leaning back onto the railing. Edmund smiles thoughtfully.
"Yes, I have," he argues. His brother shrugs, and looks away again.
"But the good things haven't changed," Peter says simply. Edmund doesn't really know what to say to this, so he doesn't say anything, but stands at his spot and inhales the smoky night air for hours until he begins to dream of golden lions and castles on the shore, and has to be taken to bed by a capable centaur. In his dreams, he is king over the greatest country ever seen, and he rules with justice and mercy, surrounded by his family and his subjects, until the stars rain down from the heavens. It is a most lovely dream, but it is one he wakes from without regret.
Life comes and goes, but Edmund has learned a few things. Narnia has changed him – so too has the great lion Aslan, and his family – but all have done it with the same tool. All have molded him with the one thing Jadis never learned the power of.
Bliss, Edmund knows – bliss is love.