Chapter Thirty-Five: Remade
A/N I must extend my thanks to acacia59601 and floppyearsthebunny. Their reviews of the last chapter gave me some excellent ideas for this one. Jear, Jaerin and Rickat are on loan from Thalion King's Daughter. Lion Chapel is borrowed from Almyra. My thanks also to the1hobbit and the wonderful artwork which she drew to accompany Thole. I'm fortunate to have some outstanding beta readers who have contributed a great deal to this and other stories. And lastly, ten thousand thanks to all my readers who have stuck with me through writer's block and grufull Ettins and a long, dark journey for our kings.
'. . . that high-born king kissed Beowulf
and embraced his neck, then broke down
in sudden tears.'
Beowulf, lines 1871 - 1873
The silence was unbearable.
I missed Peter's quiet chatter as I helped him into the heavy, quilted tunic which we both wore under our armor. Normally he was talking and teasing me because I was the one who couldn't talk in the morning. That he was miserable and depressed and withdrawn did not surprise me. The day we had arrived back in Narnia, as Peter lapsed into a numb stupor right before our eyes, Oreius had drawn me and my sisters aside and warned us that this would probably happen. It was shock, a natural reaction to the horrors Peter had endured. That we expected a reaction, though, did not go far towards making it more bearable.
Better than anyone I understood what he was experiencing. I had wanted to react this same way after Beruna, but Peter would not let me. By his mere presence he had forced me to push through the emotions gripping me and I had faced down my demons. Like Jadis' blood they lingered still, but they did not command me. I wanted to do the same for him but I didn't know how and so I stayed by him every moment I could. It wasn't easy. I could deal with an angry and cranky and snappish Peter. Lion knows he had done the same for me for years on end and I was just returning the favor. What I could not deal with was the cold, uncaring silence that fell between us.
I secured the last tie on his back and without a sound Peter moved towards the door. Something within me snapped when he didn't have the decency to say so much as 'thank you.' Fury erupted – fury at the situation, at him, at being ignored despite my constant companionship. I had not slept well and it was an hour before we normally rose to go train and I was not in the mood for this detached coolness.
I set myself directly before him and demanded, "Do you want me to leave?"
He blinked as if he'd just roused. I had caught him completely off guard.
He had seen none of what he had done over the course of the last month. That alone set me over the edge.
"I'll go back to my own room," I offered sharply. "Is that what you want?"
Peter stared, shocked anew. He opened his mouth to speak but said nothing.
"Fine." I turned my back on him. "I'll help Martil shift my things. Pray make my excuses to Oreius. I'm sure he'll understand."
The moment I said this I felt a sinking panic in the core of my being. I did not want to move back to my lonely rooms. I considered these chambers we shared just as much mine as Peter did, but when there was no answer save the door closing behind Peter I knew it was too late to go back. I retreated to a corner of the room, brokenhearted and feeling helpless in ways that Jadis or minions or the Ettins had never accomplished. I felt terribly sorry for myself for a few moments until I realized that I had just named my own best hope for resolution. I dashed the tears from my eyes – for Peter could move me to tears with a glance - and let anger replace despair.
I had taken quite enough of this. It was time for reinforcements.
Bursting in on a soldier, let alone a Centaur, is not the smartest move one can execute, but I was so wound up I felt a match for anyone, even the general. I was far beyond caring, anyway. Luckily Oreius was already up and getting dressed or my fist on his door would have roused him. I was greeted with a curious look and a bow. I knew I surprised him simply because I was never, never so alert this time of morning and at best I communicated in grunts, not whole sentences.
That was all it took. In one fierce torrent all my frustration and fears came pouring out in a long, loud tirade.
"I have had enough of Peter!" I shouted. "I know he's hurting, I know he needs my love and support and I know it's the very least I can do for him after all he's done for me but I cannot abide his treatment of me or my sisters any longer! Lion's mane! He would never tolerate such conduct out of me and I won't tolerate it out of him anymore!"
And on, and on, and on. Oreius watched me pace back and forth in his rooms, listening patiently as I unloaded my anxiety and irritation with my brother, waving my arms and stamping my feet all the while. I was fairly certain half the palace was roused at my outburst. The Centaur general let me fume until I was worn out and there were tears in my eyes again as I thought that all my efforts to help were not enough and my brother was lost. Somehow I ended up in his gentle hold, crying against his chest that I did not want to go to my room. He let me finish my tantrum and when I was coherent and capable of rational thought again he sat me down on his huge bed. If anything of what I had just said or any aspect of my conduct confused him, he gave no indication.
"Calm yourself, King Edmund," he said softly and in absolute contrast to my fury. "Pray do not forget Aslan's wisdom when he reminded you this autumn past that you are but a child still. You have shouldered a mighty burden and born up well. Allow me to address the issue."
It was such a relief to share this worry, though I knew he was just as anxious for Peter as the rest of us. He cuffed me lightly on the back of the head as Centaurs are wont to do to show their affection and I managed a small smile, feeling myself gradually relax.
"Rest here awhile, Majesty. I will go down to the training grounds."
I nodded, drawing a shuddering breath. I watched him collect a few things and he headed for the door.
"Oreius?" I called after him.
He paused, looking back at me.
"Knock some sense into him, will you?"
The Centaur bowed, and something about the faint smile on his angular face told me that was a command he intended to obey.
It was not an easy vigil. Curiosity and anxiety eventually overwhelmed me and, unable to bear not knowing any longer, I slipped out of the general's rooms and hurried to the training grounds. Midway there, in the faint light of dawn, I spotted Jaer and Jaerin, Sir Peridan's sons, on their way to their lessons under Rickat. They were developing into uncommonly good comrades and I enjoyed their company, though duty kept me from spending as much time with them as I would have liked. Hearing me coming, they waited, waving as soon as they recognized me.
"Good morning, King Edmund," they chorused, both of them bowing rather awkwardly. They still weren't used to the Narnian bow, which differs from the way they used to bow in Archenland.
"Good morn," I replied. Once again I was struck by the subtle differences between Narnia and Archenland, for we never said 'good morning.'
"Are you training today?" wondered Jaerin, looking me up and down.
I realized I wasn't dressed for it, never having gotten past the first layer of clothing, and I shook my head. "I don't know yet. That depends on General Oreius and my brother."
That confused them a bit but they hurried their steps to keep pace with me. We passed a few guards moving about on their patrols but I grew increasingly concerned when we could see the barracks surrounding the training grounds but could hear no sound within. I bolted ahead without a word, almost frantic, and I skidded to a halt in the archway leading to the large court where we were taught to be warriors.
Oreius looked up from where he lay on the ground holding Peter. Their weapons lay scattered about, discarded on the flagstones, and my brother was very still and quiet as Oreius clasped him against his chest.
The two boys caught up with me, breathless.
"King Edmund! What – what's wrong?" gasped Jaerin, alarmed.
I gestured sharply for them to be silent. Jaer took one glance at the scene before him and hissed for his younger brother to hush. I turned to both boys and pointed away from the arch.
"Over there," I ordered, leading the way.
Jaer followed me silently, clearly unsure and concerned. When Jaerin didn't budge Jaer seized his younger brother by the collar and hauled him along.
"I want you to find Captain Celer right now," I said, determined to protect Peter's privacy since we had so little of it in our lives. "Quickly and quietly. Tell him no one is to enter the training grounds until I say otherwise."
"But -" Jaerin started.
"Quiet!" hissed his older brother, and under our combined glares he fell silent.
I wasn't done with them yet. "You are not to speak of what you've seen without permission. Is that understood?"
They were astonished at my vehement tone, but they realized that right now I was not just their friend but their king and as my subjects they were bound to obey. Not surprisingly, Jaer nodded first and his brother followed suit a moment later. Satisfied, I motioned for them to leave. "Go find Captain Celer. Quickly. Do whatever he tells you to do after."
I watched them head for the barracks before I turned back to the courtyard, satisfied that they would obey. Oreius looked up again as I entered and he nodded for me to come closer. I crept forward, my fears coming to the fore once again. Peter lay in the Centaur's hold, partially braced up by one of Oreius' forelegs. I dropped to one knee beside them. Peter drew a shuddering breath and slowly pulled far enough away from Oreius that he could look at me.
He looked awful, pale and tired with a livid red mark on the right side of his face, but there was a quiet calm in him that had been missing for a month. His blue eyes were dull but no longer soulless and the gentle confidence that Valerlan had destroyed with his sadistic treatment while not restored, was clearly not beyond repair. Peter wanted to be Peter again.
He reached out and I took his hand. He extended further and gripped my forearm then his grip shifted and he yanked me in close. Cool, hard armor felt familiar and right in my arms and around me as he wrapped me in his embrace. He was trembling. We leaned heavily against Oreius, a tight jumble of limbs, but the general did not mind in the least.
Peter was too worn out even to cry, though I knew he wanted to. Instead he held me crushing tight, seeming to forget I wasn't wearing armor. I would be bruised on the morrow but I didn't mind. I did not want or need an apology. Words were useless. All I wanted was my brother back.
He kissed my hair, a blessing from the High King. I realized that he had not kissed me that way since my birthday. It had been far too long. I leaned heavily against his shoulder, glad my brother was finally home, and I gave silent thanks to the Lion.
"Don't leave," Peter whispered, his voice hoarse. "Please don't leave, Edmund."
"Never," I promised.
When I woke up alone again, I knew exactly where he was.
I had no notion of the time except that it was too early by far. Rising, I put slippers on my feet and a robe around my shoulders and I stalked through the dimly-lit castle, heading down and to the east. The guards knew how useless it was to talk to me right now and so they didn't even try, but I could feel their bright eyes on me as I passed and I knew that they approved even though I grumbled every step of the way.
I wound my way through the great hall and down the back stairs all the way to the long corridor where Lucy and I had discovered the charming little room we now called Lion Chapel. Coming back to himself, Peter spent a great deal of time here. I slipped into the chapel, well aware of what I would find waiting for me inside. Peter had eschewed the cushioned seats and sat on the silk rug the Tisroc had sent us in honor of the first anniversary of Beruna. I couldn't blame him. Aslan knows I had spent my fair share of this past autumn sitting in exactly that same spot. There was a certain warmth and comfort to be found in this place, this sanctuary. Here, in this room blessed by Aslan we could escape or embrace our roles as monarchs depending upon our need.
I didn't know if he was praying for forgiveness or strength or understanding or if he simply sought the peace and shelter of the little chapel, but he was there as often as he had been down in the training yard last month. He did not stir as I closed the ornate door behind me. The only light came from the elaborately wrought lamp hanging overhead - Dwarf work and very old - that cast a circle of golden light all around him. When I sat down close beside Peter he let his breath out in a little sigh. He was much himself now, though there was a lingering hurt that faded only very slowly. I had never seen him so despondent for so long and I didn't know what to do beyond show him he had my love and constancy.
"So I've been thinking," I said abruptly, as if it wasn't well past midnight and an indecent hour for anyone but Bats and Owls and Opossums to be awake. I automatically dropped my voice to a whisper as if we were exchanging confidences. "What would you say to some sort of litany we could say to Aslan, some kind of prayer? We could recite it when we wanted to say something but don't have the right words."
That seemed to spark something in him, I noted with a rush of gratitude. He stirred, blinking, still looking so careworn.
"Like what?" he wondered, equally quiet.
Put on the spot, I wracked my brain. "Well . . . going into battle, for example. Something short and to the point like, 'Aslan, please don't let me die!'"
To my satisfaction and delight, Peter actually laughed. It was a short sound, but his amusement was genuine. "I think we say that anyway. Perhaps something a bit more . . . poetic?" he suggested.
"La," I agreed quickly. "That's where you come in. There's a lot more poetry residing in you than me."
His expression was distant, as if he searched within his own self for the sense of fear and daring he experienced before entering a conflict. We did so knowing each battle could be our last. In defense of Narnia we went gladly, knowing the worth of what we defended. What kept us from breaking and running? How did we pluck up the courage to enter the mêlée time and again? Battle was a horrifying experience and it had its own . . . not beauty, but appeal. In part it was duty that drove us, another part was honor, and yet another part was that we did not want to be thought of as cowards. These things mattered, for Peter had become a knight before he became a king, and I had earned the right to call myself a knight before I could call myself a king.
When he finally spoke, Peter's soft voice was as far away as his expression, as if he saw something deeper and greater than this hallowed place.
"Aslan, Great Lion, defend us in combat. Safeguard our lives or welcome us to your land."
I sat in silence and let the simple words wash over me. Fill me. Fulfill me.
"Exactly," I breathed. "Say it again, Peter."
He pursed his lips, dropping his head as the dam he had built to contain his emotions was slowly eroded away. "Aslan, Great Lion, defend us in combat. Safeguard our lives or welcome us to your land."
"Amen," I finished softly, inching closer to him. I was desperate for Peter to believe it himself, so I begged, "Again."
There were tears in his eyes and his voice was reduced to a broken undertone. "Aslan, Great Lion, defend us in combat. Safeguard our lives or welcome us to your land."
"Amen," he echoed.
I edged nearer still, wishing I had dragged along some blankets when I left our room. We would have to store some in here for nights like this. This wasn't the first time one of us had sat vigil in here and it certainly wasn't the last. I dared bring up the subject that had brought us to this point. "He did, Peter. Aslan did just that. He defended us both and kept us safe. He helped me to reach you. He gave you the strength to endure."
"I doubted him, Ed. I doubted Aslan."
I shook my head, feeling something of an expert on being forgiven and therefore in a position to lecture. "Tell me you weren't terrified. I was. When we found blood and bones in Jadis' castle, I panicked. You think I didn't doubt? I thought you were dead, Peter. When we found out you might be alive I would have done anything to get you back."
He leaned against me. "I knew you would come."
"So was it doubt or fear you felt? Do you honestly think Aslan will do anything but praise you for surviving and protecting Narnia from invasion?"
"I ordered Valerlan to thole, and he bade me do the same."
I recognized the word from our grandfather. Only Peter could get away with such a word in conversation. "You did, Peter. You endured. You held on and stayed true to Aslan's word, to revinim. And to yourself, brother. That's all that matters to me." I leaned over so as to look into his face. "There's more to combat than swords."
He sniffed loudly, fighting tears. It was a losing battle. I reached for him, wrapping my arms around him and pulling him close to me. I would have given anything to take this grief from him and he knew it and so he shared what he could of it with me. Strong arms clung to me tightly, crushing close. I was his anchor, his base, just as he was my leader and protector. He had wept for Vimal and Lonn and Boris and Tyxy and the Apis cousins and for his beloved Jett, slaughtered right before his eyes. Now, finally, he quietly cried for Peter Pevensie and the nightmare he had lived through. Oh, thank Aslan, he had lived.
Peter's voice was barely audible. "Thank you."
I shook my head, drawing back to gaze at him. "You don't have to thank me, Peter. You're my brother and my High King."
I did not need to say more. We were silent for a while, each of us grateful for the other's presence. Eventually I stirred, nudging him a bit.
"Maybe a prayer to give thanks next. Thanks for victory and our lives and . . . whatever else we need."
"I already have one," Peter replied so seriously I missed the mischievous glint in his eyes.
"You do? A thanksgiving prayer?" I was surprised.
"Yes. You've heard it, but I've had reason to say it time and again. Right now, even."
I frowned, wondering what he could mean. "Out with it, then, Pevensie!" I ordered.
Peter smiled faintly and quoth, "Aslan, thank you for giving me an easily aggravated, clever, and wise brother."
I sat with my mouth open, recognizing the words and praying he didn't slap a kiss on me as he had the day I showed him the Codex Consors. Peter's smile slowly widened at my gaping expression.
"Well," I huffed finally, trying to recover, "I don't know about 'easily aggravated.'"
"I do," he snorted and we both chuckled. It was a moment of confidence and warmth. At last we were both at our ease and I knew Peter would be able to sleep again.
"Are you still heading for Glasswater at sunrise?" I pressed. "I mean - strawberries? Really, Peter!"
"Susan might drive me out of my mind with all this decorating if I don't," he answered, sighing in unspoken exasperation. "It's a party! A party that's a fortnight away! Why so much fuss?"
I shrugged, about as ill-equipped to understanding girls as he was, if not more so. "You know what she'd say: 'It's our anniversary!'"
With a dramatic groan he shook his head. "Remind me to elope if I ever find a girl I want to marry."
He was joking, but for some reason I could not define, the notion of my brother running off to get married was disturbing to me. I did my best to hide my reaction to his innocent words. He didn't notice, but said,
"Glasswater is the safest place for me right now. Will you come along?"
I wanted dearly to accept the invitation, but I had other obligations. "I can't. Word came from Kellsalter after we dined last night. The engineers are calling for a crowned head. Again," I added in an annoyed mutter.
A smile played at his lips. "Then you must go. I'll just be two days, three at the most."
"Take three," I advised. "Susan was talking flowers the other day."
He shuddered. "Three it is."
I looked up as I felt the weight of his gaze upon me.
"Can you believe it's been two years since we came to Narnia?"
I thought back on what I had been and what I had become, the lessons learned, the love gained, the forgiveness granted. We had come so far, all of us, but me most of all. I smiled at him and it was my turn to press my lips to his forehead, to return the blessing he had so often bestowed upon me.
"La, King Peter, I can."
'But generally the spear
is prompt to retaliate when a prince is killed . . .'
Beowulf, lines 2029 - 2030