I know I should be working on The Guardian, but this little fic just fitted the season. Merry Christmas everyone!
Disclaimer: I own nothing that is already C. S. Lewis'.
A Very Taxing Christmas Eve
'As a badger's average yearly income is less than a faun's, then the taxes requested from a badger must be less in value than that of a faun. However, due to the difference in the trade value of the tax taken...'
Peter shook himself further awake, and reached for his wine goblet, sighing when he saw that it was empty. Gazing around at his darkened study, he looked at the clock and saw that it was just after midnight. He rose to his feet to get a fresh cup from the side table by the door. He did not usually drink wine other than at dinner, but it helped keep him from losing his temper at the paperwork covering his desk.
He was trying to set up an efficient tax system for Narnia and not having much luck. Using the White Witch's form of taxation (if you had something she wanted, she took it) was out of the question, but the records that detailed the old Narnian system had either been lost or very badly damaged over the hundred years of winter. Peter had been trying to decipher what few records could be found and used for days now. He needed to have the system ready by next week when there would be a general parliament with representation from every species and clan in Narnia. Most of the delegates were already at Cair Paravel for the Christmas celebrations, and five days after Christmas they would sit down and discuss everything that needed doing in the kingdom, including the tax. The deadline was rapidly approaching and Peter was no closer to a solution than he was a week ago.
Lucy's suggestion that taxes be abolished altogether was met with stern denials from all the counselors. General Orieus pointed out that the weapons that the army used were paid for by the taxes, as was the soldier's pay. The castle housekeeper, Lady Aster, a slim Dryad, mentioned that the food, supplies and other castle equipment was paid for out of the royal treasury, which in turn was supplied by taxes. Lucy seemed quite upset at the reaction her innocent comment had gotten, but Peter gently told her that taxes in and of themselves were necessary, only unfair ones needed to be thrown out. Searches were made for the old records, but there was little luck and Peter was left to try and make due with what he could find. His siblings had tried to help but Susan and Lucy were heavily involved with the Christmas celebrations and Edmund was called upon to help with trade disputes, so Peter was left to figure out an entire tax system by himself.
That was why the High King Peter was up to all hours of the night in his study, racking his brain for solutions to problems that spawned more problems until his head was ready to split. Peter reached for the wine pitcher to refill his goblet when he stilled. Someone was in the room that was adjoining his study. That happened to be his sitting room, where no one should be at this time of night. All the servants were in bed and wouldn't be disturbing him at night anyway. Any of his siblings would have made more noise and would not have been trying to be stealthy as the intruder was doing. Peter quietly went back to his desk and picked up his sword, Rhindon, from where it was leaning against the desk and as quietly as possible slid it from it's sheath.
Peter cautiously poked his head around the door into the darkened sitting room. The intruder was large and human shaped, but Peter couldn't see him clearly by the limited light of the banked fire. He was standing by the table near the fireplace with his back to Peter, and was fiddling with some of the items on the table. Peter couldn't tell if the man was armed, but he didn't want to risk losing the element of surprise by being noticed. Peter knew the room and slowly crept up on the man and coolly slid the tip of Rhindon's blade under the intruder's chin.
"I don't know who you are," Peter said, sternly. "But you had better have a very good reason for sneaking around my apartments in the middle of the night."
The intruder had stilled instantly at the feel of cold steel against his throat, and slowly raised his hands to show that he bore no weapon. Peter slowly pulled his sword away from the other man's flesh but did not lower it or pull it away completely.
"I'll admit that I'm occasionally caught while making my rounds," the man said in a familiar voice. "But this is the first time I've ever been held at sword point because of it!" The man slowly turned his head to face Peter and the king could finally see his visitor's face clearly.
Peter drew his sword back in surprise. "Father Christmas! Sir... what are you... I am so sorry, sir," Peter stammered as he quickly re-sheathed his blade. "What are you doing here?" Peter blurted in confusion.
Father Christmas straightened and smiled at the bewildered and apologetic king before him. "It is Christmas morning, Peter," the older man said, smiling.
Peter ran his hand through his hair, breathing heavily from the shock and adrenalin letdown. He counted days back in his head. "It is Christmas! I've been so busy that I hadn't even noticed! I'm so sorry for attacking you, but I truly didn't expect anyone to be in my rooms."
Father Christmas laughed. "Easily forgiven, if you will forgive me for startling you?"
Peter seemed to get a hold of himself for a minute and said, "Oh, certainly, but where are my manners? Do sit down, sir!" Peter bent down and started poking up the fire so there would be light and warmth in the room. "Unless you have to leave right away of course."
Father Christmas laughed and willingly took a seat by the fire. "I will have as much time as I need today. I can stay for a bit."
"Would you like something to drink?" Peter asked. "I can get something from the kitchens, or I can make some hot, spiced wine here if you like."
Father Christmas looked almost furtive when he looked around for eavesdroppers. "A spot of wine wouldn't be amiss. Don't tell anyone though, the children always seem to think I love milk best."
Peter grinned as he got the wine from his study and some spices out of a box on the mantelpiece, then settled on the hearth to heat the wine. "Milk is something that children can leave for you. Rare is the child who's parents would let them leave wine or strong drink."
The older man laughed. "And now you see why I'm so happy to stay and sit with you! Unless you too are going to be plying me with milk and biscuits?"
Peter joined in the laughter. "No, though Lucy might!" The two men, young and old, laughed for a few more minutes then settled back into their chairs with a warm goblet of wine.
Father Christmas took an appreciative sip, then another. "This is very good, you have excellent taste."
Peter toasted Father Christmas with his own goblet. "There are some benefits to being a king," Peter said with a small smile that turned into a yawn before he could stop himself.
"You should be in bed, you know," Father Christmas said, sounding a little concerned.
"I know," Peter sighed. "It's just that I have so much left to do in order to be ready for the meeting, and there is so little time left."
"You are no good to Narnia if you work yourself sick, Peter," the older man gently admonished.
"I know," Peter repeated. "The other three do try to help, but they either have their own things to handle or just don't know how to do something. It should get better soon. After the Parliament I should be able to take a rest."
Father Christmas shook his head. "No, Peter, running a kingdom never stops. Unless you learn how to let others do the work you will run yourself into the ground."
Peter gave a soft, amused snort. "I'm trying to set up a fair tax system. Who can I give that little project to?"
Father Christmas gave a shrug. "I won't deny that there are some things that only you can do, but save your energy and time for those and let someone else handle the little things. Don't think I don't know that you have been doing every thing yourself, including coping your own letters and then filing them."
Peter had the honesty to look sheepish. "I keep thinking that I need to hire a secretary, but I never find the time."
It was the older man's turn to snort now. "We will see about that." Then he drained his goblet and rose to his feet. "What you need right now is rest."
Peter started to protest about things that he still needed to do, but the grandfatherly man would not take no for an answer. Before Peter could truly put up a fight he was in bed and Father Christmas was pulling the blankets up over him. Unwilling to bother fighting it any longer Peter let his eyes drift closed and said sleepily, "Merry Christmas, sir."
Peter heard a chuckle above him and felt a gnarled hand gently smooth his hair. "Merry Christmas to you as well, Peter."
Peter awoke to Lucy bouncing on his bed hard enough to nearly knock him off of it.
"Wake up, Peter! It's Christmas!" the youngest queen cried.
Peter rubbed his eyes and smiled at his sister, who was still bouncing rather enthusiastically in the vicinity of his kneecaps. "I'm up, I'm up," Peter said. He crawled out of bed, feeling remarkably well rested considering the time he had gone to sleep.
"What did Father Christmas bring you, Peter?" Lucy asked, as Peter pulled on his robe and slippers. "He left me a gorgeous new dress, and the maid said that he left me a pony as well!"
Peter cheerfully tuned his sister out as he nodded a greeting to Edmund and Susan who had just come through the door into his bedroom. From the look of alertness in his sibling's faces, Peter knew that he was the last one up.
"Peter, where are your presents?" Lucy asked in confusion, looking around his bedroom. Then before Peter could answer, Lucy poked her head into his sitting room where he had sat with Father Christmas and said, "Oh, here they are!"
Peter followed the energetic queen into his sitting room and started examining his gifts. There was a fine new cloak, warm and soft, and Peter willingly tried it on at Susan's request. Underneath the cloak was a large, leather bound book. There was no title on the cover but when Peter opened it, he started to laugh out loud. He couldn't stop grinning in delight as he flipped page after page of detailed descriptions of the tax system that had been used in Narnia for centuries before the White Witch's reign. This was exactly what he needed! Now, all he had to do was read through the book and maybe change one or two outdated laws and everything would be ready!
Edmund took the book from Peter and looked at it. "Father Christmas gave you a book on taxes?" he asked in disbelief. "What kind of a present is that?"
Peter took his book back and gleefully held it to his chest. "Exactly what I wanted for Christmas!" Edmund raised an eyebrow as if to suggest that his brother was out of his mind, but refrained from further comments. Peter started happily flipping through the book again and this time he noticed the note in the front cover.
Your other present will arrive later today.
Curious, but happy, Peter left the book and cloak in his room as he and his siblings dressed and went downstairs to breakfast. After breakfast, they exchanged gifts with each other and presented little tokens to their other friends around the castle. Lucy dragged everyone out to the stables to see her new pony, and they all came in to the castle again smelling of horse yet happy for the time spent together.
During dinner one of the pages came up to Peter's side and said, "There is someone here to see you, your majesty. He says that he's expected."
Peter couldn't recall expecting to see anyone, but he nodded and told the page to bring the visitor in. A few moments later, the page returned followed by a faun that looked to be only a few years older than Peter himself. Peter had never seen this person in his life and had no idea what was going on.
The faun gave a polite bow as he approached the table where the royal family was still eating.
"What is your business here, good faun?" Peter asked.
"My name is Mr. Darrow and Father Christmas sent me," the faun said. "I'm to be your new secretary, he said. If that is all right with you of course."
Peter started to laugh in sheer delight. It seemed as though Father Christmas was not going to let him put off finding a secretary for more than a minute. "That is quite all right with me!" Peter exclaimed. "In fact, I think you are one of the best Christmas gifts I've ever received!"
Mr. Darrow seemed a little put out at being referred to as a Christmas gift, but was soon put at ease once Peter explained.
There were few changes needed to modernize the tax system, so Peter had plenty of time to spend relaxing and being with his siblings. Over the years Mr. Darrow proved to be worth his weight in gold and it was an inside joke among the castle staff that the faun was nicknamed "The High King's Christmas Gift".
Peter never forgot Christmas again and if he was still awake, he would greet Father Christmas as he made his rounds and they would sit and talk for a bit. But, even on those years that Peter would be in bed asleep by midnight, every Christmas Eve the High King would secretly leave at least one bottle of his best wine out for Father Christmas.
Merry Christmas Everyone!!