Disclaimer: I do not own Narnia or any characters mentioned in this fic.
The Lack of Sleep
It was the heat that kept them from sleeping. Of course, it had been worse on the Dawn Treader in the stuffy little room deep below deck than it was now, back in England. And yet, in a way it had seemed not quite as bad. The sea air had been fresh and the promise of adventure added to the inevitable exertion of each day at sea had made it easier to sleep – for the most part, at least. In the end, Eustace chalked it up to the humidity.
Of course, Eustace slept more easily than Edmund – a fact with which he had been immensely satisfied when Edmund wasn't being grumpy about it. Eustace had always felt so sickly compared to his cousins. He had frequent bouts of nausea, headaches and even occasional dizziness, besides being rather thin and not at all strong. Seeing Edmund, who he had long regarded as the enemy, suffer had often filled him with inner laughter and he still felt a small pinprick of satisfaction which he quickly banished.
Really, it should be easier for Edmund to sleep here than anywhere. His parents' house was clean and orderly with open windows, not at all like the Pevensies' house which seemed terribly cluttered to Eustace or like the Dawn Treader which was just small and cramped. Still, Eustace knew that his cousin wasn't sleeping tonight – just as it had been last night. Perhaps the cause was psychological in nature.
In the bed four feet from Eustace, Edmund groaned and punched his pillow in frustration, shifting his position in an attempt to get comfortable. Eustace began to think that perhaps he should talk to Edmund, but he wasn't trained at giving psychological advice and was horrible at talking to people in general. He wasn't sure if he had ever tried to comfort someone else in his whole life. Edmund let out a muffled shriek into his pillow and then flung it to the ground in a fit of anger.
"What's wrong with you?" Eustace asked and he knew immediately that this hadn't come out very nice. He wasn't sure that he could have phrased it any differently, though. It would have felt too awkward.
"What do you think is wrong?" Edmund snapped, throwing off the white linen sheet. "I can't sleep. It's this damn heat!"
"There's no need for language," Eustace said, perfectly happy to be back on familiar ground. This was almost a game between them. Eustace loved to play the goody-goody and Edmund seemed to like riling him. Despite the fact that his family was not at all religious, Eustace disliked cursing – partly because he thought that he sounded ridiculous when he attempted to do it.
"I'll say whatever I like," Edmund told him. In a sense they weren't really fighting. Eustace knew that neither of them felt anything beyond the mildest annoyance for the other at the moment. It was habit. Or maybe a bit more than habit. There was something intensely satisfying in the act of petty bickering for Eustace – especially bickering with the knowledge that the other party understood the game. He thought that it was much the same for Edmund, though he sensed that perhaps the impulse wasn't quite as strong with his cousin. He reflected that for someone like Lucy or Reepicheep, possibly even Caspian, that bickering would have the opposite result. It would work them up into anger or frustration. For Eustace it was a way of blowing off steam relatively harmlessly – provided, of course, that the other party shared this inclination. Perhaps it was intelligence, the desire for a good argument. If Eustace were being honest, though, it was probably just wickedness. As though he needed to pretend to be a bit nasty to keep from being truly bad.
"I shan't trouble with you if you are going to speak to me like that," Eustace told Edmund.
"Fine with me," Edmund muttered under his breath. Eustace could see his cousin shift angrily from the moonlight streaming through the curtains. Eustace lay still for a moment, staring at the plain, white ceiling. Just when he saw Edmund close his eyes, he tried again.
"Is it Narnia?"
"Are you trying to be annoying?" Edmund asked and then, a moment later, he seemed to regret his tone. "I'm sorry, Eustace, I shouldn't be so sharp with you."
Eustace made no reply to this and as Edmund said nothing further, Eustace assumed that his cousin had chosen not to speak of it. He yawned and rolled over to go to sleep.
"It's just –" Edmund said into the soft darkness, hesitating. Eustace turned over and looked at him. "I guess I thought that I would make up for it, someday. For everything that I did my first time in Narnia. But I never did, not really. And now I shall never go back to Narnia."
Eustace was not quite sure what was meant by this. He knew that Edmund had done something wrong in his first trip to Narnia – something terrible, apparently – but he had never asked what it was. Part of him was curious, but he knew that his reasons for wanting to know were mostly selfish. Curiosity and the desire to be vindicated in his earlier behavior in Narnia. Somehow if Edmund had done horrible things upon arriving to Narnia, then it made his behavior seem not so bad. He thought that Edmund wouldn't like to be reminded of it, but Edmund had hinted at it to him several times, almost as if he wanted it to be discussed. Eustace knew that it was impossible to discuss any subject with such limited knowledge. So he asked.
"I don't want to talk about it," Edmund said. This was highly irrational. Eustace was almost sure that he had brought it in order to be asked about it. He was learning, however, that people didn't always operate as much on logic as he often had. Much of his logic, of course, had been influenced by selfishness and turned out to be incorrect, but he still had to have a thought out reason for everything that he did. He decided to wait; if Edmund really wanted to talk about it, then he would. He was not disappointed.
"Lucy – Lucy was the first to discover Narnia," Edmund said after a minute, seemingly reluctant. "I didn't believe her. None of us did."
"Who would?" Eustace asked. He already knew this part of the story.
"Then I got into Narnia –"
"I say," Eustace said, realizing something for the first time. "Did you ever think that you and Lucy got into Narnia first because you were younger? After all, Aslan told you that you could not go back to Narnia because you were too old."
"Yes, of course," Edmund said, impatiently. "But it isn't important at the moment. Anyway, as soon as I got into Narnia, I met the White Witch."
"She's the one I've heard some of you talk about. Who ruled over Narnia for a hundred years."
"Yes. Anyway, there was this prophecy – this prophecy about us. It said that when two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sat on the four thrones that the evil times would be over."
"That doesn't sound like it would necessarily have to have anything to do with White Witch."
"It's a prophecy. It's vague."
"I don't know! The Witch thought it was about her, though. Everyone else did too. As soon as I told her that I had two sisters and a brother –"
"Why did you tell her that if --"
"I didn't know anything about her at the time. I didn't see any harm in telling her that I had family back in my world. She was rather kind to me, anyway. She gave me sweets and told me that she would make me a prince of Narnia. I later found out that the sweets were probably enchanted. She told me to bring my family to her in Narnia and I agreed," Edmund, who had now sat up on his bed, hung his head. "Then when I got to Narnia, I betrayed them and the Narnians and went to her."
"No you didn't."
"Betray them, I mean. Well, you may have betrayed your brother and sisters, but not the Narnians. You didn't have any sort of allegiance to the Narnians in the first place. Not that it was right to go to the Witch, but I don't know if it was treachery to Narnia."
"But I listened to their plans and I never made any indication that I was on the other side."
Eustace shrugged. "It's debatable then. But what I don't understand is why you are still so upset about this. Sure, it was horrible, but I think you did make up for it. You've – you know – served Aslan for years now. And you became a great King like – like Caspian." Eustace couldn't pretend that he wasn't a tad bit jealous of the Pevensies for their status as monarchs in Narnia. Just going to Narnia and having adventures had been an incredible experience, but being made a King would be unbelievable. On the other hand, it would probably be a lot of pressure. He knew that Edmund probably wouldn't even feel this bad about his experiences in Narnia if it weren't for the fact that he was a King and he felt that there were certain obligations and standards of behavior that went along with this.
Edmund had a half-smile on his face, but it didn't reach to his eyes. "Not much like Caspian, I'm afraid. But you don't know everything. There are … laws … I don't just mean the laws of kings and governors, you know, but laws that govern whole worlds or the universe."
"You mean like science?"
"No. Well, maybe. But science or what we call science is only a part of it, I think. The part of it that we understand in this world. At least we understand it a little. But then there is religion which most of us believe in but don't really understand. And there is magic which hardly anyone in this world believes in anymore."
"You are saying that they are all important?"
Edmund considered this as though he himself had never actually thought of it. "No. No. I'm saying that they are the same thing – but science only gets at part of it." This was a new concept to Eustace who had always been taught that science was everything – contained all truth.
"One of the laws set into Narnia from the dawn of time by the Emperor Over the Sea, Aslan's father, said that the Witch had a right to kill for every treachery – or else Narnia would be overturned in fire."
"What? That doesn't even make any sense. Why would Aslan's father give the Witch any power?"
"I don't know. I was never even sure if the law referred to her only."
There was a lull in the conversation as they both sat thinking about this. Presently, Eustace spoke to Edmund again. "So … why didn't she kill you?"
Edmund closed his eyes tight and Eustace sensed that this was it. This was the big secret that had been hanging in the air for so long. "Aslan took my place."
"The Witch killed Aslan in my place."
Eustace said nothing. He didn't know what to say. He knew that he should offer some words of comfort, but he wasn't used to comforting people and he was really horrified by what Edmund had told him. In the end, curiosity caused him to speak before compassion.
"But Aslan isn't dead."
"Didn't you try to … you know, talk him out of it."
Edmund shook his head. "I didn't even know about it. In fact, no one even told me about it until over a year after it happened. Peter and Susan wanted to protect me from it, I guess, but eventually they had to tell me."
"I wouldn't have told you."
Edmund shook his head. "I was mad at them for not telling me. Though I suppose I might be happier if no one ever did. There just comes a time in your life when you want to take responsibility for you're actions."
"I know just what you mean."
"But in my case, there is no making up for it. Nothing I could ever do –" Edmund stopped here and Eustace nearly winced from the emotion in his cousin's voice.
"I don't think it was that bad," Eustace said, after a bit. "I mean, what happened was horrible. The worst thing that could have happened. But what you did? It could have happened to anyone."
"No it couldn't have. Only to someone who was self-absorbed and greedy."
"It could have happened to me," Eustace said quietly. This was really what was bothering him. That you could cause such horrible events without even really meaning much harm. Small meanness have dreadful consequences.
"Maybe," Edmund agreed. "But it didn't happen and you'll never know for sure. All that matters is what actually occurred."
"I don't know. Isn't what is in your – you know, your heart, the most important?" Eustace was not at all used to discussing this sort of thing.
Edmund who obviously was used to discussing this sort of thing was able to expand upon this idea. "Well, I suppose that even a very bad sort of person might do good things, if it would advance him or the pressures from his friends were strong enough. But I don't know if a very good person would do bad things. Both thoughts and actions are important. It is easy to be bad, hard to be good."
"Is it?" Eustace asked, weakly. All this was making his head swim.
"Well," Edmund said. "It is for me. I would expect it is for most people -- but maybe not. I remember being a very, very small child, practically a baby. It was always pretty easy for me to tell a lie or to pull Susan's hair or to – I don't know – steal a sweet or something. But Lucy, for example, never did those things, even when she was very small. Maybe she wanted to and I just didn't know it, but I think it would have been as hard for her to be wicked as it was for me to be good. Do you think that some people are made with a greater desire to do good from birth?"
Even this question stumped Eustace for a moment as he had only recently begun to think of people as "good" and "bad". People could be smart or stupid, interesting or boring, educated or ignorant, but never simply good or bad according to Eustace's previous education. Presently, though, after thinking about it, he did have something to say. "It would be only logical. I mean, if some people are born more beautiful than others and some are born more intelligent, then why shouldn't some be born more … good."
Edmund seemed troubled by something and had taken on an almost defensive posture. "I don't mean to make excuses, you know. It is just something that I have thought about. If it is true, then it seems unfair, in a way, though I suppose that it is partly jealousy on my part."
"Sort of the way I've always thought it unfair that some people have too many good traits."
"What do you mean?"
Eustace reddened. "Oh, you know how some people are intelligent and good looking and talented and – oh – I don't know, everything. They should be allowed to have one or two really good traits, but not all of them." Eustace always thought of the Pevensies like this. Even though Lucy thought that she wasn't as pretty as Susan and he knew that they all thought of Edmund as the "smart" one, Eustace thought that they were all above average in almost everything. They didn't even know it. It was so unfair.
Edmund chuckled. "That does sound like you."
"I'm sorry," Eustace said. "I know it sounds horrible."
"No, no. I can see what you mean, I suppose."
Eustace was quiet for a moment. "It still seems awful, what happened to you, though," he said after a moment. He knew that Edmund was still thinking of how he had hurt others, but to Eustace it seemed quite terrible for Edmund. "Don't you ever wish that Aslan had told you what was going to happen beforehand?"
"You mean that he had given me a choice? Sometimes, I suppose. I like to think that I would have made the right choice and taken my own punishment. But really? I don't think that I would have. Maybe I would now. But then I was still weak, though I was trying to be good."
Neither of them questioned the idea that it would be better to die than for Aslan to die. After meeting the Lion, Eustace could imagine nothing worse than causing this event.
"Anyway," Edmund said, "if I had died, the prophecy would not have been fulfilled, would it? Aslan always knows what is best."
"Sometimes, I feel that he knows so much that I am afraid to look at him," Eustace said, a bit shyly. "I mean, he is so wise and good and – and I feel like he can see right through me. Even just looking at him is so terrible and wonderful it's like – it's like --"
"Like looking into the face of God," Edmund said.
Eustace didn't grasp these words for about a minute, but then suddenly exclaimed, "Do you mean to say that you think he is God?"
"What else? Listen, he knows everything – much more than any ordinary person. He even knows what we are thinking. He is able to shape events in the Narnian world to an incredible degree …"
"Oh," Eustace said in relief, "you only mean that you think he is a god. I thought that you meant he is – you know God. Like you learn about in church."
"But that is what I meant. God, or Christ, if you like. I didn't always think it, but lately … what he said to Lucy and I before we came back here. About looking for him in this world. It made me think."
For some reason this was quite frightening to Eustace. Up until now he had been thinking of Narnian reality as almost wholly distinct from the reality of their own world. Magic and miracles may all be very well for Narnia, but that sort of thing did not happen here – did it? "I suppose you are used to thinking of this sort of thing," Eustace said to Edmund. "Your family was always interested in church."
"No. I mean, sure, I went to church. Mother and Father made me. But I didn't particularly like it. And I never thought too much about God. Not until now."
"If you're right – why – that would change so much. I never even thought--" Eustace trailed off as he pondered it.
"I know," Edmund said. "It scares me, a bit. Christians have so many rules. Of course, Aslan has rules too, but they never seemed like rules. Sometimes it was hard to do what he wanted, but it was never so – so formal. And he never had so many rules as they do." After a moment, Edmund spoke again, quietly. "I suppose all this makes me the Judas."
"You should really go to church sometime," Edmund said, a bit stiffly. "If for no other reason than to be able to talk about these things. Do you think that I'm right, though, about Aslan?"
"I can believe almost anything, after Narnia."
Edmund gave a slight smile that Eustace could barely see in the lessening moonlight. "When we came into Aslan's country – I think I really knew, then. I think Lucy was right, by the way. The hardest thing about not going back to Narnia is never being able to see Aslan again. And to be shown a glimpse of that beautiful country only to have it ripped away – back to the mundane drab of our world. It is almost too much to stand."
Eustace had not thought of it in this way. The country beyond the end of the world was beautiful, of course, but most of Aslan's words there were intended for Edmund and Lucy. And if Eustace couldn't get back to Aslan's country, at least he had the hope of getting back to Narnia again. He supposed things would look much more glum if he had no chance of getting back to Narnia again.
"Wouldn't it be amazing if God spoke to one so directly in this world?" Eustace asked. "Or if you could sail to his country – on a – on a ship." The very idea sounded ridiculous to Eustace. He could believe in the idea of a God, but that he would be so physical, so real just seemed primitive.
"God is beyond the spheres," Edmund said, a bit sleepily.
Eustace tried to make some sense of this statement, but failed miserably. "What?"
"The Medieval idea of the universe? The planets and stars all turn in the separate spheres around the Earth and beyond them all is God. Haven't you ever heard of it?"
"No," Eustace said, a bit cheekily. "You'll have to excuse me. I was busy learning about the real solar system."
"Real? But how can you be sure? Have you traveled the heavens? Walked the eight planets?"
"There are nine planets."
"Are there?" Edmund said. "One of my teachers told me it was eight." He seemed to be getting drowsy, now, but Eustace was wide awake, his mind whirring. He was reminded of something he had heard a girl at his school say once, that had not meant much to him at the time. She had said that the best conversations happened late at night when one couldn't sleep, with a good friend. Eustace was constantly learning new things about people and about how much fun it could be when people liked you.
"Your teacher must not be up to date at all. Pluto was added quite some time ago," Eustace told him with a bit of superiority.
"Oh, yes, Pluto," Edmund muttered.
Eustace was often amazed that Edmund didn't know more about things like this. He often felt that he and Edmund just missed really being on the same page. There had been several times lately when the two of them had engaged in really interesting conversation, but their educations were contrary to one another. Eustace's education had always been about science and numbers, cold, hard facts and repetitious patterns. No emphasis on Latin or Greek: languages were useful only so that one could read about science. Very little literature and certainly no fairy stories. Quite a bit of study of government, but little of history beyond the recent. Although Edmund probably knew more about science than Eustace knew about those other subjects, his education also seemed limited. He knew about history and law and literature and religion, but not as much about the natural world.
Edmund and Eustace had never got on very well when they were younger. Eustace was close enough to Edmund's age so that they felt competitive, but enough younger so that Edmund felt he could push him around a bit. Edmund had been rather a bully when he was younger, in all honesty. Eustace had learned to watch his tongue around Edmund just a tad more than around the other Pevensies. Peter and Susan were old enough to overlook him and Lucy wasn't much for fighting, but he had learned that Edmund's tongue could be as sharp as his and Edmund was – well – bigger than him.
Since Narnia, the two of them had been getting along much better, but Eustace always got the feeling that they could be really true, lifelong friends and there was something standing in the way. Eustace turned to his cousin again only to find that Edmund was asleep. He nearly laughed out loud. Somehow, he had thought the night would end with some great epiphany, but he supposed that real life was seldom ever like that. Eustace got up and opened his window a bit wider, hoping to keep the room cool enough so that Edmund wouldn't wake up again in the night. Then he climbed back into his bed and tried to sleep.
AN: I would really appreciate reviews. I have so many fics going at once right now, but this one had to be written right away because the value wasn't in the idea behind it, but in the dialogue and character development which I would have forgotten about after a while. Anyway, it didn't turn out exactly as I planned, but hopefully it is pretty good, nonetheless.