"…and that was when you came running in. So you know the rest of the story." Jaerin leaned proudly back against the pillows piled around his brother's head. Jaer grinned weakly at him.
"It wasn't so impressive as all that," he murmured, a crimson flush stealing up his face.
Peter laughed. "I think quite the opposite. Why, I only killed Maugrim because he sat there and howled with his chest and throat unprotected. If he'd been attacking like these were, I would probably be dead."
"Hardly, Peter," Edmund said. "Aslan would not have let that happen. But he is right, Jaer, don't try to underrate what you did. It was well done. And it's a brother's right to praise as it is to protect. Don't be embarrassed that he's proud of you."
"Pot. Kettle." Peter said, innocently looking up at the ceiling. Edmund blushed.
"I think it's time we're going now." The younger king stood hastily and Jaerin smothered a snicker. "Silvo and Martil are probably going mad with not knowing where we are an hour before the feast."
"It takes you an hour to get ready?" Jaerin gasped.
Edmund grimaced. "Hardly. But it takes them that long to be content that we are ready. Peter?"
"Of course." Peter stood and nodded to the Peridanson brothers. Jaerin abruptly remembered his manners and started to slide off the bed. He was waved back easily. "Do not trouble yourself on our account. Will you be at the feast tonight?"
Jaerin nodded. "Yes, Sire. I will. But Jaer is stuck here."
"A pity. Take care, Jaer and do whatever the healers tell you to do. You'll mend faster that way."
Edmund snickered. "What was it you said a moment ago, brother? Oh yes, 'Pot. Kettle.'"
This time it was Peter's turn to blush and Jaerin could not hold back his laughter. A moment later, the kings joined in. Jaer laughed a little too but he held his ribs with his good (relatively speaking) arm. Still chuckling, the Pevensie brothers made their way out of the room and headed back to their own quarters. Jaerin settled himself more firmly at his brother's side.
"You have to tell me everything you know. Everything that they say tonight. I'm counting on you to be my eyes and ears at this feast. Put those lessons you say Sir Giles has been giving you to good use."
"I will, Jaer. Don't worry about that."
Rien found them still together about half an hour later. Jaer was sound asleep with Jaerin leaning ever so slightly against him while reading a book. The younger boy raised a finger to his lips and she tiptoed to the bed while he eased out of it.
"What is it?"
"Mother said that you need to get ready for the feast. The rest of us are almost."
"I'll be there soon. All I have to do is change my tunic."
Rien shook her head. "And leggings, and boots, and shirt, and brush your hair. You'll have to be quick."
"Please," Jaerin rolled his eyes. "I'm not some girl that takes hours to get ready. I'll be ready in time."
The girl stuck out her tongue at Jaerin and flounced to the door. But before she left, Rien paused and looked back at the sleeping figure. "Is he doing better?"
Jaerin nodded. "No fever. But he still can't move much."
"I'm glad. You were both very brave."
"Well it's not like I could just stand there and let them use him for a chew-toy could I? Now go on, I'll be out in a minute."
Quickly moving over to his desk, Jaerin gathered up the clothes already laid out for him and changed. Leaving his brother still sleeping, he joined the rest of his family in the hall. There, he imitated his father and offered Rien his arm and the four walked to the feast together.
The Great Hall was ablaze with color. Flowers of every variety filled elegant vases that were set along table runners of ruby, emerald, sapphire, and amethyst tones. Birds and Beasts lined the assembly in their finest clothes. On the dais stood the four rulers of Narnia, resplendent in festal finery. Musicians tucked into some corner played a merry air. Jaerin sought to memorize every detail to tell his brother.
And the food! Oh the food. He had thought the meal served at King Edmund's birthday and King Peter's was without compare. But this! The lightest, fluffiest rolls imaginable, tender steaks, sweet puddings, fresh berries, crunchy salads, melting cakes. Jaerin devoured the delectable dishes like only a hungry boy can.
The only drawback to the whole feast was the empty chair to his right. Jaerin ate a dish of baked apples smothered in cinnamon and brown sugar and thought how much Jaer would have liked it—it was his favorite dish from Archenland. Instead, his brother was confined to soups and puddings until his ribs and collar bone improved. The last thing they needed was him throwing up and injuring himself further. Still, Jaerin wondered if he could sneak down to the kitchens later and bring something good back up. He could only try.
As the feast drew to a close and the tables were cleared away, King Peter stood and raised his hand for silence. Everyone complied swiftly. He smiled proudly at the crowd.
"Friends and Cousins," he said. "Today we are gathered in celebration of the second anniversary of our reign. We are blessed to have such wonderful subjects!"
"We are blessed in you! Blessings to you!" The chorus of voices rang out.
"At this time last year, strange portents worked in our land, threatening the life of our Royal Brother. But by the grace of Aslan, and with the help of you, my cousins, we have overcome. There is so much more I could say, but…but I find I do not have the words. Thank you for another year in your service."
Amid the shouts and cheers that rose up, the Four stood and bowed together. Then, while the others sat back down, Queen Susan remained standing her gentle smile full of humble joy.
"My brother speaks rightly," she said when the clamor stilled. "No other ruler could have more gracious subjects. This year has brought many trials for all of us. You have stood by us, supported us, and encouraged us through it all. It is we who thank you for your dedication and the honor you show us…"
Queen Susan continued in the same vein for a little while longer before yielding the floor to her younger sister. Queen Lucy's address was similar though she spoke more of Aslan than anything else. Last, King Edmund spoke, reliving how his family had enabled him to make it through the darkest days. Jaerin listened intently to each person, trying to remember every detail to tell his brother. But toward the end of King Edmund's speech, he slowly became aware of a great crowd behind the thrones. Somehow, the three swordmasters, Sir Giles, Cheroom, and the other members of the King's council—including his father—had unobtrusively stationed themselves behind the Four. His interest spiked. Something big was going to happen.
As the applause for King Edmund died down, King Peter stood up once again, pride and love shining in his blue eyes. "Before we continue with the festivities, there is yet one thing more that I would do. General?"
The centaur bowed and offered a small sword to King Peter. At least it seemed small until the king took it and Jaerin realized it was only Oreius' size that made it appear so. He grinned as he recognized the hilt—it was the exact same style as King Edmund's old sword, Shafelm II that had broken against the giant.
"My brother," King Peter said. His voice took on a more regal air and Jaerin recognized that it was the High King speaking. "This spring, you risked life and limb in Our defense and in the defense of Our beloved land. A sword was lost in that battle and We ask that you take this one now from Our hands as token of Our appreciation for your service."
King Edmund stood and bowed. "It was Our pleasure to serve."
"This We know. And for this reason do I, Peter, by the gift of Aslan, by election, by prescription, and by conquest, High King over all Kings in Narnia, and Lord of Cair Paravel do bestow upon you, Our most Beloved and Royal Brother, the Dukedom of Lantern Waste. Will you accept this from Our hands?"
Jaerin held his breath as King Edmund slowly reached out and took the sword from his brother's outstretched arms. Then, as a continuation of the movement, he knelt on the dais before King Peter, his hands clasped on the sword hilt as if in prayer. The queens remained seated, smiling proudly at their brothers—they had known this was coming.
For a long moment there was a breathless silence and then King Edmund spoke in a voice half-choked with tears and yet somehow still clear and loud enough for everyone gathered in the Great Hall to hear. "Peter…My life, my love, all that I am and ever shall be, my body, my mind, the whole of my being, spirit and soul, I pledge now to thee my beloved and sovereign lord, o thou who art worthy of so much more than I in this mortal state can give. Protector and protected, teacher and pupil, master and servant, father and brother. All these things thou art to me…" He choked on the last words.
King Peter dropped down in front of his brother. "…and I am the mirror to thee," he added and wrapped Edmund, sword and all, in a fierce embrace.
Watching them, Jaerin felt keenly the absence of his own brother and he slipped away before anyone could notice, resolve growing in him. He strode through the halls of Cair Paravel back to his own rooms. A healer, a faun whose name he could not remember at the moment, was coming out when he arrived.
"Shh," he said. "I've just gotten him to go back to sleep."
Jaerin nodded shortly. "I'll be quiet."
He crept to his brother's bedside and knelt beside it, watching the rise and fall of the covers as Jaer slept. Finally, he spoke.
"I'm not as good with words as King Edmund or King Peter or even you. But I swear this, brother: So long as Aslan grants me strength, I will be your shield. I will fight with you in every battle whether we are together or apart. No matter what, I will be there. I…You're my brother, Jaer, the best brother anyone could ask for. I will be yours too." He laid his head down on the bed.
When Peridan came in late that night to check on his sons, he found one bed empty. Jaerin was curled as close to his brother as he could get without jarring the splints while Jaer's good arm rested lightly across his head. He smiled and drew the covers over both of them before backing softly out. They would do well.
A/N—Edmund's oath and Peter's response belong to Elecktrum and appeared in her story When We Were Kings.
Next chapter: In which Jaer makes an interesting discovery.