My thanks to Elexandros and Almyra for their assistance with this story.
Disclaimer: To my disappointment, I own none of these characters.
The Conscience of the King
"What in Aslan's name are they doing, Oreius?"
"Apparently it's a game from the land of Spare Oom. King Peter called it . . . cricket."
"Cricket? Like the insect?"
"Only in name."
Standing beside me, Tumnus watched as King Peter took a running start, then threw a small ball at Queen Susan. There was a steely look in the queen's eyes as she gauged the pitch, her hands tight around a short staff that reminded me of a distorted oar. She stepped in and swung, sending the ball sailing over the hedge. King Peter let out a shout of admiration, setting off at a run to retrieve it. Standing behind Susan, King Edmund let out a groan and hung his head as his older sister hitched up her skirts and began to run. There were two sets of posts in the ground a set distance apart, with something about them I had heard King Peter call a wicket. Susan ran back and forth between the posts, her voice rising in laughter as she called out how many times she ran between them. Off to the side, Queen Lucy laughed and clapped, taking no sides in the game, though King Peter had been teaching her how to swing the odd little staff earlier.
"How is it played?" wondered Tumnus.
I shook my head. "I've been watching almost an hour and I'm none the wiser. All I do know is that Queen Susan is winning."
It seemed Susan had won, as Peter had yet to return with the ball and Edmund, with a dramatic flourish, gave up. It was several minutes before Peter came back, red-faced and with twigs and leaves in his hair. He looked at his brother collapsed behind the posts shaking his head sadly and his sister standing triumphant at the refreshment table nearby.
"I surrendered," admitted Edmund.
The High King tossed him the ball and then dropped to the lawn beside him. "Well done. It's less painful this way."
They looked up as Susan approached, a goblet held out to each of them. Behind her, her younger sister carried a tray of sweet cakes which she set on the ground before sitting with them.
"That was an excellent game, Peter," complimented Susan, passing her brothers the cups before brushing bits of twigs out of the elder boy's hair.
"For you, maybe," said Edmund. They all laughed as they sat together to take a rest from the heat of high summer. I smiled, pleased that they took the time to relax and be children. They needed moments like this lest they be overwhelmed by their duties and I was glad of the chance to observe them unaware, for they were so absorbed in their game and each other that they took no notice of me where I stood far back in the shadows cast by the trees. There were guards all about, Animals and Dwarves and Dryads, but we all allowed the monarchs their privacy and kept well back.
I turned to the Faun standing beside me. "What brings you here, Tumnus?"
He cast me a look that said he thought me nosy. I cast him one that broached no argument. I knew perfectly well why he was here. Though I had only met him within the last decade, I had known of Tumnus for years. Known of him, and disapproved.
"I've come to see Queen Lucy," was his predictable answer.
"She is otherwise engaged this morn," I replied. "Leave her be for now."
He frowned, marshaling his defiance. "She invited me here."
"So she did." I flicked my tail, annoyed at his presumptuousness and not about to be patronized by his likes despite his greater years. "And your reply indicated you would be here this late afternoon, which is when you will present yourself to her and not before. Her brothers and sister have many duties and responsibilities and rarely get to spend so much time together. She would feel obligated to leave them to entertain you or to include you in their company which, given your obvious dislike of King Edmund, would ruin their sport. So, you will wait."
He stared at me, speechless. Finally he sputtered, "How dare you! You are arrogant, General!"
"I am," I agreed, "and with good cause. You, however, are arrogant with far less cause. Walk with me," I said, stepping directly in front of him. It wasn't a request and for a moment I thought he might challenge my authority, but with a final glare at me he turned around and joined me. Behind us, the kings and queens decided to go swim and play along the shore. I knew the Dogs and Tigers - just about the only Talking Animals at Cair Paravel that actually liked going into the ocean - would follow and so I did not worry after them.
Tumnus was furious and I let him seethe. Everything I said had been true. It seemed to me he hoped that Queen Lucy's good graces and friendship would make people forget what he had been and done. While that might have worked with people who didn't know better, it would never work with me.
We walked through the fresh, lush gardens surrounding Cair Paravel. After a lifetime of nothing but winter I found the grounds particularly pleasing, though this part of Narnia was very different from my family's home to the southwest. I doubted the Faun saw anything of our surroundings, so angry at me was he.
"I knew your father well," I finally said, startling him. "I served under him for years. He was a brave soldier."
"And I was not," snapped Tumnus.
"Your words," I replied. "I have no basis to judge you as a soldier."
"There's nothing to judge. I have never served in Narnia's army."
I nodded. "You called me arrogant. Why? Because I wish for my kings and queens to have a day to themselves? Or was it because I reminded you of your own deceit?" I spat the last word, for it was distasteful in the extreme to me.
"What?" he exclaimed, stopping. "I helped her escape!"
I kept walking, forcing him to run to catch up to me if he wanted the conversation to continue. He darted past and stood before me, blocking my way. He was a fraction of my size and his fury was something almost palpable. I leaned forward, my harsh words for his ears alone.
"You were in the pay of the White Witch, Faun. You can't deny it. The Trees and Robins at the Lantern Waste have confirmed this. You would have turned Queen Lucy over to Jadis for what? Silver? Perhaps to conjure up a sense of pride of having done your duty by a false queen? A swipe at your father? Perhaps simply to save your own life? After having acted so base, you dare to stand in judgement of your own king? Of my king? Of Aslan's king? If Edmund betrayed you it was out of ignorance and enchantment and while you may have suffered her cruelty, so did he. He, at least, has admitted his sin." I stamped the earth. If it were not for Edmund, it really wouldn't be worth my effort to be angry with him. "So tell me, Tumnus, why did Jadis arrest you and turn you to stone?"
I thought back on the moment when we had snatched Edmund from the Witch's encampment. I confess that I had not expected him to be so young, so very small. He had been sorely mistreated. His body bore the marks of exposure and beatings and he was weak from exhaustion and hunger. Edmund had collapsed in my arms the moment the ropes were cut and he fell asleep minutes later, even before we were out of danger.
I had wanted to hate him. I had rescued him expecting to despise him as a traitor. I had thought evil of him and I anticipated his meeting my expectations. All my hatred was completely undone by the trust he placed in me as he fell asleep against my chest. I had no brothers of my own. Until that instant, I had never felt the lack.
Like most Fauns are apt to do when cornered, Tumnus lashed out at me.
"What about Sir Giles Fox?" he snapped.
I frowned. "They have made their peace, though of what concern that is to you or what bearing that has on this discussion, I cannot say. I saw and heard King Edmund apologize to you after the coronation. I also saw you walk away without a word. This I will tell you, Faun Tumnus, son of General Calimus, under whom I served Aslan and my beloved country: Queen Lucy in all her goodness has forgiven you your transgressions against her. Aslan has shown you His favor. Who are you to carry a grievance against the very king you crowned at His behest in Cair Paravel? You may be her friend, but King Edmund is her brother and your king. As his subject you owe him conduct becoming his status." I leveled a hearty glare at him, defying him to argue with me. He stared back, pale beneath his tan. He looked a great deal like his father, though he lacked the general's fire. There was strength of a kind in him, for he had defied Jadis in her lair, but it was not his place to stand in judgement of Aslan's choice for Narnia's king.
"I will tell the queen," he breathed.
I shrugged, unimpressed by the threat. I think we both knew whom Lucy would choose were she forced to decide between friend and brother. "Tell her what you will, so long as you tell her the truth, Tumnus. All of the truth. And if you omit any details rest assured I will provide them to Her Highness. Perhaps you should go find a place to wait and think until this afternoon," I suggested firmly.
He drew a deep breath, knowing full well he had little choice, and turned away.
It was Queen Susan, whose feet were bare and whose long hair was all windblown, who very prettily asked me to take tea with her and her siblings once they came back from swimming hours later. I think my great size frightened her to an extent and the fact that she made such effort was touching. As one does not refuse a queen, I gladly accepted the invitation. I had to slow my steps almost to a crawl to keep apace with her, but she happily entertained me by telling me about her day, unaware that I had observed a great deal of it from a distance.
Narnia's other three monarchs were in disreputable shape - sunburnt, their hair stiff with salt, their feet bare - but they rose to greet me with genuine good will and happily included me in their midday meal. I was pleased to see them so relaxed. As always, I was astonished by how much the kings could eat in a sitting. For such small creatures, their appetites were immense. I smiled as Queen Lucy poured me tea and asked about my day. Where Queen Susan was lovely and gracious, Queen Lucy was charming and welcoming and she put extra effort into making me feel comfortable in the presence of my monarchs. Though the tea was served on a low table set on a blanket, only the queens sat. Peter and Edmund stood all the while to keep me company, knowing how awkward it is for my kind to rise once we've laid down. We had a merry time and I was struck once again at what excellent company these four were.
The light meal was almost at its end when Lucy let out an excited squeal and jumped to her feet. "Mr. Tumnus!" she cried and raced across the lawn to where she'd spotted her friend. I could hear their warm greetings, but my eyes were fixed on the two boys beside me. Edmund pursed his lips, clearly bracing himself for an unpleasant task. Beside him, his brother the High King frowned slightly, his expression darkening when he noticed Edmund's reaction. I was glad to see I was not alone in my opinion of Lucy's friend.
Laughing and skipping, Queen Lucy tugged the Faun along with her, completely unaware of the tension in the air. Tumnus bent over Queen Susan's extended hand and then bowed to the two kings. It was evident to anyone who might be looking for it that both he and Edmund were self-conscious. The small party broke up soon after his arrival.