The Conscience of the King III

"Peter, am I arrogant?"

I looked over at the two boys as they stripped off their armor in the next room. Peter was concentrating on a knot in his boot lace and did not so much as look up. Both seemed unaware of my presence.

"Yes," droned the High King, intent on his work.

Edmund glowered. "Allow me to rephrase that. Peter, am I being arrogant?"

In the same bland, distracted voice he said, "Yes."

There was a pause and then King Peter raised his head, catching the expression on his brother's face. "Don't worry, Ed, we're all arrogant at some time or another. You, me, Flisk, Tumnus, the Cat pages. All of us. You're also stubborn and annoying, but at least you're in good company."

"You're right. I have you."

"You're a king, Edmund," Peter reminded. "You're allowed to be a little arrogant now and then and if you ever go too far trust that I'll let you know."

Edmund conveyed his skepticism in one snort. Peter smiled and returned to the knot. "Are you asking what you should do about Tumnus?"

"Yes. I'd hate for Lucy to feel stuck in the middle of this."

"I think this is all a question of bad timing. You tried too soon after the coronation for Tumnus and now he's tried too late for you. But . . . giving it time might be the answer. I know you tried and it didn't work. Now it's Tumnus' turn to know what that feels like."

"I suppose he expected me to be more like Lucy. I doubt she ever accused him."

"Doubtless," grunted Peter. He gave up on the knot and sat on the bench beside his brother. "What kind of reaction did you want out of people after Beruna? Did you want them to just ignore the matter and move on, or did you want to talk about it at all?"

"Ignore. Definitely ignore."

"Then why not do the same for Tumnus? You've acknowledged the situation. Don't dwell on it. It happened, it's over, now carry on like Oreius said. I think Tumnus will come around eventually."

Edmund stared at what I thought was the floor, thinking hard. Then he reached over and yanked one of Peter's boot laces. With a deft twist of his wrist he had the knot undone. Peter cast him a sour look.

"Show off."

"Still in good company, brother."

Edmund gave his brother an affectionate shove. They both smiled, and I smiled along with them.

OoOoOoOoOoOoO

It took a day or two, but Tumnus finally caught on to Edmund's conduct and gratefully imitated him. When together, they were polite and proper as if newly acquainted. Edmund kept his distance, not about to open himself up to an affront, and Tumnus wisely gave him a wide berth, talking of nothing more complex than the weather for the time being. Queen Lucy noticed immediately and her flagging spirits were restored now that her best friend and her brother were at least speaking to each other, and that went far towards relieving the tension they had all felt since the Faun's arrival. I was very pleased with Edmund and to my surprise, I found myself somewhat pleased with Tumnus as well.

"General?"

I paused, the sharpening stone suspended in the air over my sword. Tumnus stood ill at ease at the entrance to the armory, eyeing the claymore that was almost as big as he. For a moment I wondered what it would be like going through life in a constant state of nervousness and not surprisingly, I couldn't even imagine such a thing. Setting the weapon down, I joined him and slowly we walked beyond the walled courtyard to the trampled fields where the army practiced maneuvers. At the moment the entire royal family was on the field under the watchful eyes of various officers, the queens practicing their archery and the kings enthusiastically beating on each other with quarterstaffs.

"I would like to apologize," Tumnus offered. He fidgeted with the fringe of the scarf about his neck. "I should not have called you arrogant."

Ah, that word again. I shrugged. "At times it's the truth."

"It was not my place."

I glanced beyond him. Queen Lucy had abandoned archery and stood in front of King Edmund. He was guiding her hands on the staff against their older brother. "As you wish. Have you spoken to King Edmund?"

"Not beyond normal conversation over tea. I'm grateful for his approach to the situation. I'm not unaware of the effort it must have taken to give me another chance. We've both erred. He was just more mature about it."

"Being a king, he had little choice."

"You see, I think that was my problem: he addressed the situation head on and I found myself . . . lacking. I don't think I quite expected him to be the king that he's turned out to be. I underestimated him."

"Many have." I smiled inwardly as I quoted King Peter. "It was all a question of bad timing."

He smiled a little sadly. "Yes indeed. Oreius, if you don't mind my asking, how long did you serve under my father?"

"Fifteen years. He and my own father both perished in the same battle."

"Fifteen years. I hadn't seen him for twenty. You probably knew him better than I."

"I knew a different Calimus."

"I envy you."

"You are your father's son in more ways than you realize."

"Perhaps it's better I hadn't seen him for so long. He wouldn't have been proud of me in the end."

"No." I pawed the ground, kicking up dust. "But now, I believe, he would be."

He was watching Queen Lucy as he spoke. "I doubt we'll ever be friends, you and I, but I'm glad we've found common ground. Thank you"

Just then the High King let out a shout and we turned to see Lucy, her quarterstaff guided by Edmund's hands, sweep Peter's feet from beneath him. He landed (properly, I was pleased to note) with a loud crash of metal. Lucy squealed in delight and Susan applauded. The brothers laughed merrily - Peter strewn on the grass, Edmund leaning on the quarterstaff.

Our presence caught the attention of the younger king. Edmund looked my way and his face blossomed into a wide smile that never faded as he included Tumnus in the greeting. I shook my head in warning and pointed behind him, but too late. A second later he yelped in surprise as Peter took advantage of his distraction to return the favor bestowed on him moments before, swinging his quarterstaff in a low, scooping motion that spilled Edmund onto the grass. Lucy giggled and clapped until Edmund seized the hem of her dress and yanked her down as well. She landed right on top of him as Susan darted out of range. All of them were shrieking with laughter.

Beside me, Tumnus laughed and I found myself smiling, still shaking my head.

"Or if not common ground, General, at least something in common sprawled on the ground."

I chuckled, watching as my sovereigns acted like the children they were, confident that at the same time they were so much more. "Indeed we do, Tumnus."

Fin