A Very Big Pile of Papers
"Well." A very young man —really a boy still— sat and stared, wide-eyed, at the very big pile of papers that sat before him. "Well."
The very young man was one Peter by name, formerly Peter Pevensie of London, England, now —as of just a few weeks ago— High King of Narnia, a magical land his youngest sister had found by walking through a wardrobe. And there was a very large pile of papers sitting on the table before him.
"Well," said Peter.
"Indeed," said Susan. Susan was Peter's sister, and she was eyeing the papers with, if it was possible, even greater disfavour than her older brother. Then, in case the point hadn't quite been gotten across, "my goodness."
"Yes," said Peter, and brother and sister stared at one another in great consternation.
"That's . . . an awful lot of paper," Peter said doubtfully. Susan pursed her lips.
Peter blinked. "I beg your pardon."
"Parchment," Susan repeated. "I think they call it parchment here. At least, the Dwarf I've just made Head Housekeeper called it parchment when she brought me some to make lists for her of things that want doing. There's a difference, I think. It's not— here, you see?" She held the paper up so Peter could see the size and texture of it. "It's really rather coarse. You can sort of see the little bits of— of tree in it."
"And that makes it parchment?" Peter wondered, leaning forward to study the top sheet with growing interest. Susan shrugged. It was very unladylike of her, but she wasn't worried about that just then.
"I don't know." She sat back in the chair beside Peter's. "It's just really such a lot."
"I know," Peter said, and chewed his lip.
"And we have to read all of it, I suppose."
"I— I think we had really better. They went to an awful lot of trouble to put it all together for us. And I think it's a good cause, you know; I think everyone here is great fun, and all that, no matter whether they are Beavers or Squirrels or Centaurs or whatever they might be, but– but I really don't want we four to be the only humans in all of Narnia, you see? Because some of what Aslan said to me before the coronation, he— he seemed to say that Narnia was meant to be governed by humans. And if this works out properly, we won't be the only ones governing things, anymore, so— so I really think it would be best if we read it all through."
"They can't all be applications for a restoration of stewardship, though, can they?" Susan asked in considerable —and not unjustified— dismay. "I mean, you only just issued the proclamation what, not even two weeks ago! Surely it will take a little while for it to reach everywhere . . . what were the names of all those places the humans fled to? I thought that Talking Goat gave you a list."
"He did," Peter nodded, and carefully pulled a crumpled piece of paper —parchment— from a fold in his doublet. "It's a little . . . chewed, though. I suppose even Talking Goats can't quite help themselves." And he displayed the slightly mangled list for Susan's scrutiny.
"The Seven Isles, the Lone Islands —there are a lot of names under that in smaller script. I suppose they're the islands themselves— Galma, Brenn, Terebinthia, Calormen —goodness, such names!— and Archenland. Is that all of them?"
"I suppose it must be. I wonder how many humans there are out there."
"And how many of them will want to come back." Susan studied the list a moment longer, as Peter regarded her in surprise.
"You think they might not?"
"Well," Susan shrugged again —she really wasn't usually so graceless, but everything had been so suddenly thrust upon them that she had made several concessions to manners that she normally would not have dreamed of doing— "I think there's a chance some might not. They've never lived here, any of them, have they? It would have been their fathers or grandfathers, or maybe even their great-grandfathers who left Narnia when the Witch took over. Narnia is just a place where their ancestors lived; it's not anymore home to them than it was to us just a few weeks ago."
"I suppose you're right," Peter conceded. "But surely at least a few of them will want to try to make a go of it, don't you think? We're offering them all the land that was taken from them —well, from their ancestors, then— in the first place. Surely that will tempt at least a few people."
"Oh, I'm certain it will," Susan nodded. "But I only hope it tempts the right people; I mean, those people who want to make things better for everybody, and are really willing to work to make a go of it. I'd hate to think we might end up with a lot of greedy younger sons just looking for a leg up, wouldn't you?"
Peter, who was beginning to see there was a great deal to this that he had not thought to think through, looked at Susan in something very like open horror.
"Oh, no, you don't think we will, do you?"
"I don't know that we'll end up with anything, Peter!" Susan was beginning to look a trifle put out as she shuffled through a very few of the many papers on the table before them. "I only know that this is an awful lot of reading to do, and that we've got any number of other things pressing on us, too. There's a whole lot of airing-out to be done all over the place —you wouldn't believe the wretched state the servants' quarters are in, it would be positively cruel of us to ask anything or anybody to sleep in there in the state they're in now— and there are food stores to be laid in, and— and just everything. There's a lot to be done, and I'm not sure if a whole lot of reading is the most important thing right now."
"Maybe not," Peter sighed, "maybe not." He felt, for far from the first time, an edge of panic creeping in on him. This wasn't anything like the games they'd played as children, wielding tin swords and duelling over glass gems and rescuing each other from "prisons" made of overturned kitchen chairs. This was running an actual kingdom; this was government, and it was knowing that each decision they made would affect hundreds of thousands of their subjects, and it was all horribly daunting and dreadfully difficult.
"We should ask somebody for advice, I suppose," Susan decided. "It's rather good luck we've got all these Ministers to help out, I suppose, though they do fuss at one so, don't they?"
Peter agreed that they did do that. "But I suppose you're right, we ought to ask their advice. I know there's a lot to be done, but I can't help thinking it might be easier to get it done if— if we have other people here to help us do them."
And Susan said that there might be something in that.
"But for now," Peter made a feeble and wholly ineffectual effort at straightening some of the papers out, "I suppose we ought to just leave these as they are, and see about—" But he broke off here, for the great doors at the end of the council chambers were thrown open with a wild bang, heralding the arrival of the pair's two younger siblings, Edmund and Lucy, and bringing with them a gust of wind strong enough to blow a good third of the papers all about the room in a dreadful sort of snowcloud.
"Oh!" Lucy stopped in her tracks, and covered her mouth with both hands. "Oh, Peter, I'm sorry; Susan, we hadn't any idea, we just— oh, I am sorry, here, let me help," and she rushed forward at once to catch an armful of papers as they fluttered down.
"What is all this?" Edmund demanded, catching a few of the sheets and studying them. "Writ of purchase . . . patent of nobility for the house of— of— good night! This is unpronounceable."
"Let me see!" Lucy dropped her armful of papers on the end of the table, and turned to study the paper. "Umm, that is tricky. It looks like . . . maybe . . . Lor-in-ven-der-gall? Only there's too many g's and l's, I think. Maybe you're meant to gargle some of them." And I am certain she would have tried this, had not Peter spoken first, asking if they might have a hand in getting everything gathered up once more.
"Don't bother even trying to put it in any sort of order, though," he reassured them as everybody went about, stooping and scooping up the fallen documents. "I doubt it would matter much anyway— it's all a terrible jumble. I can't believe these were preserved for so long; I know a few of them are new, but most of these are over a hundred years old. They don't look it, though, do they? The archives must have some sort of magic about them, or something, or perhaps cold is good for papers. I don't know."
"Whatever it is, it seems to have worked," Susan decided, but she didn't sound too happy about it. "I suppose it really is important that we get at least some of this underway, or else it will take us the better part of a year to even begin to get around to them."
"That proclamation of Peter's ought to help, though," Edmund decided, tidying the pile of documents he had stacked on the table in front of him. "That was a pretty good idea on your part, Pete; announcing that all properties stolen from lords and nobles at the start of the Witch's reign and all the lands that people had to leave behind when they fled would be restored to human stewardship. I imagine we'll get at least a few applications out of that."
"Yes, and it will be nice to have a few other humans around, I suppose," Peter said, echoing his earlier comment, "but . . . I hope I'm not getting distracted by something unimportant. Susan says there's an awful lot to be done right here in the castle, after all."
"Well, there is," Edmund agreed, "but there's other things that need doing, too; I've been talking with that Dwarf Gruffle you appointed Minister of Agriculture, and he says it's a grand idea, getting some of these lords and such back here. He says as far as they've heard, the way the old system worked was a lot like a sort of modern version of the old feudal system back in . . . the other place." For even now, not even a month in Narnia, they had begun to forget a bit about England.
"Not with serfs, surely!" Susan looked horrified at such an idea, and Edmund said no, of course not.
"But the lords owned their bits of land, and they had tenants who paid a sort of rent and worked the land— farmed it, and such. It was all very closely monitored, and everything, so none of the lords could ever get away with cheating their tenants or taking more than their share, and to all accounts it worked quite well."
"It does sound very orderly," Susan observed, and Peter said there might very well be something in it.
"But for now," he set the last of the papers back on the table, "it's not the first of our concerns. For now I think we ought to see to getting this place habitable again, and maybe reinforce the wall along that road that leads to the mainland. I suppose a hundred years of snow would do damage to any road, but it seems to have done an especial lot to that one; I don't fancy the thought of a mudslide burying the first envoy that comes to welcome us."
"No indeed," agreed Susan, who had only just gone through the first of the correspondence they had received from neighbouring kingdoms, "I can't imagine anybody would enjoy that. We'll need to have it fixed by next week; that's when the envoy from Archenland is due to arrive."
"Can I put you onto that, then, Ed?" Peter wanted to know, and Edmund assured Peter that he could.
"I'd like to look at the whole infrastructure, actually," Edmund added. "A lot of the smaller roads got sort of flooded over during the thaw, you know; clearing them might make travelling much easier for everybody."
"Very good," Peter decided. "And— Susan and Lucy, you'll see to the castle, is that all right? Get it all cleaned out, and— and healthful, and that sort of thing?"
"It will take some doing," Susan said grimly, "but I suppose there's nothing for it but to try, is there? Lucy, do you want to see to the storage and public chambers or the living quarters?"
Lucy, after debating a moment, decided that she would see to all the sleeping chambers and private quarters, with the close help and supervision of their Dwarfish head housekeeper Mrs Clogg, so Susan agreed to look to the storage areas and all the public rooms. Peter, who felt a bit of the weight lift from his shoulders with every decision they made, nodded in no small relief.
"That's good, then. And I'll be sitting with the Ministers for the next little bit, and seeing what they have to say about the state the kingdom is in. I don't imagine we've seen the end of the Witch's forces by a long shot, and while they can't do much to us in any very big way, they could still be no end of a nuisance, and I'd just as soon root them out as soon as possible."
"Oh," said Susan, "but do you think we'll really need to?" And then, when the others asked her what she meant by that, she explained. "I only think that if they're really out there, we won't have any rooting out to do, that's all. I really rather think," this said with great apology, "that they'll already be looking for us."
It was, they agreed, a very sobering and appropriate note on which to part.
The running of a castle, as you may or may not know, is a very large affair. There are layers upon layers of things to be seen to, and they cannot all be seen to or even learned about in the space of a few months. There are staff to be hired —and staff are badly needed, too, in a castle that has sat empty and uncleaned for such a vast amount of time— and a whole castle to be sorted out and parceled off.
Ministers must be given rooms, since they need to be close at hand to do their advising, but when your Ministers aren't human they aren't given the sort of rooms humans are, so you find quite soon that the stables have got to be seen to, too (though of course these are a special sort of stable, and not at all like the stable where the regular dumb beasts are kept— though those stables have got to be seen to as well). And then it becomes a point of contention between your newly-appointed Head Housekeeper and your newly-appointed Head Groom who it is that gets to attend to the stables that house the Ministers, because the Talking Animals in Narnia aren't at all like the dumb ones, so do they qualify for cleaning from the housekeeping staff? Or, because they are animals, after all, do they qualify for cleaning from the stable hands? Bearing in mind that the stable hands will take great offence if you imply that they are not competent enough to clean out the luxurious stables inhabited by the Ministers, and you will see what a dilemma this posed for Susan and Lucy. In the end a very elaborate, rotating schedule was contrived that meant nobody was completely happy, so the Queens deemed it a success, and moved on to other problems.
As the spring thaw melted into a proper spring it began to rain, and they found that the castle roof was in dire need of patching. Water leaked in through cracks and holes so small they were nearly invisible to the naked eye, and the upper storage rooms flooded with a vengeance. Jolly King Lune of Archenland was visiting when the rain began. He was driven from his newly-cleaned bedchamber when a persistent leak began drip-drip-dripping on his head, and was forced to bunk with a pair of Dwarfish kitchen hands as another room was cleaned for him. His young son, Prince Corin, was moved in with the Queens with a view that he should bed down on the couch in the sitting area between their two rooms, but one roll of thunder put paid to that idea. Lucy and Corin both ran straight into the older Queen's room at the first crack of thunder, and Susan awoke the next morning to find her sister smushed against her side and a trembling little boy huddled under the blankets at the foot of her bed. As the rain showed no sign of slacking any time soon, Corin's couch was moved into Susan's room for Susan's own use so that Lucy and Corin could share Susan's bed for the rest of the Envoy's stay, with Susan singing lullabies to drown out the storms.
While Edmund and Peter sat down with King Lune in the relatively dry dungeons at Cair Paravel to hammer out some fine points of their trade agreements, Lucy at once put out a call for any creatures skilled in roof repair, and the summons was answered by a series of enthusiastic Squirrels and Talking Birds. As the birds fetched bits of straw and string and mud, the Squirrels carefully patched the holes and fashioned new gutters to draw the rain away from the roof. These gutters let rain run down off the sides of the castle, and on seeing the way the rain made a wretched state of the castle lawns, Susan sent for some diligent little Moles. These enthusiastic little chaps tunnelled drainage ditches away from the castle, into the moat, and for good measure they widened the moat as well, seeing as it had caved in badly under the weight of the melting snow. The one thing that really cast a pall over the events of that spring was not the leaking roof or the muddy lawn, but the sudden departure of the Archenlandish envoy, effected in great haste when urgent summons from Queen Lora in Archenland called King Lune and his people back to the castle at Anvard ahead of time, cutting the visit short by several weeks.
Spring eventually warmed and became summer, which meant that the monarchs could leave off castle repairs and lawmaking in order to venture further afield and see what state the rest of the kingdom was in. They were pleasantly surprised to find many of the properties abandoned by nobles at the start of the Long Winter were, if not in pristine condition, at least potentially habitable with only a minimal bit of work. Susan began to keep a careful list of all the properties and their respective conditions, and Lucy set about gathering estimates on the amount of time and work it would take to put each one to rights. Edmund found he could finally start his road repair scheme in earnest, and Peter began to receive a steady stream of replies from lords and ladies from all corners of the world.
"Some of them are terribly promising," he observed, as the four filed down to the seashore to take a brief, much-needed break from planning all the end-of-summer envoys to foreign parts. "I expect that our visits to these lands will turn up no end of useful people; it's a grand scheme, really. Gets a few extra bodies out of the way for the people who are housing them now, and it frees us up to focus on the diplomatic end of things, if the properties are all being supervised a bit closer to home."
"That one you got today was especially nice," Lucy reflected as they emerged from the castle onto the sun-drenched lawns. "I liked that he wants to bring his whole family straightaway . . . some of them want to just come themselves and look around, but he sounded as if he really meant to pitch in with both hands. And that's just the sort of folk we want for Narnia, isn't it?" Then, without waiting for an answer, she kicked off her slippers and darted down over the remainder of the lawn, over the soft white sand of the beach, and into the lapping tide. Peter, grinning, raced after her, but Edmund hung back, and Susan contented herself with settling onto the grass and tilting her head back to enjoy the sun.
"This," Susan sighed, smoothing the skirt of her gown, "is so much nicer than making laws."
"What," Edmund dropped to the grass beside her, "have you decided you don't like bossing people around after all then?"
"Ed . . ." Susan didn't look reproachful, exactly; she looked something closer to hurt. Edmund sat up quickly, and begged her pardon.
"I didn't mean that," he said, and touched her hand in a clumsy, earnest gesture of contrition. Susan mustered a smile, and said that was quite all right.
"I just don't think," she sighed, "that I will ever get any of this quite right. To have to see things cleaned and put to rights is one thing; I can do that. But to have to see a whole kingdom cleaned and its people put to rights just . . . Edmund, I'm really not certain I can!"
"Well," said Edmund, "nor am I. But it's our job now, isn't it? And somehow I don't think we'd have been given it, if we weren't going to be any good at it, eventually. Although," he concluded, "that's not to say that I don't think we'll be in need of a grand holiday every now and then; I mean, it's the sort of job that seems to demand it, isn't it?" And Susan agreed that it was.
"Do Kings and Queens get many holidays?" she wondered, and Edmund pulled a rather serious face at hearing this.
"I don't know," he admitted. "I suppose we might ask somebody. I rather doubt it, though, so we had really better make the best of this one . . . oho! Peter, you'd better watch yourself, she nearly had you, just now!"
His attention diverted by the antics of their brother and sister in the tide, Edmund sat up and watched the action, leaving Susan to drop back onto the grass and study the sky.
It seemed hardly fair, she thought, that the one job in the world that required a person to be so wholly and completely invested in every job held by everybody else was the only one that didn't come with a holiday. Something, she thought, would have to be done about that . . . but later. For now, she made up her mind to enjoy the sweet delight of lying back for just a moment, and not having to think of Queenly duties. For she knew in her heart of hearts that Edmund was right, and this was as much of a holiday as they were likely to have for a very long time.
A.N.: New story! It's rather refreshing, really; I'm enjoying the fresh start feel I get each time I begin a new chapter.
Not many notes for this one, except to say of course that I have no claim, legal or otherwise, on CS Lewis and his exquisite Chronicles of Narnia. I am just delighted to have had the chance to read them, and to now have the chance to muck about in a world that's not my own!
Up next: Calling on Kingdoms, wherein some neighbourly visits are arranged to neighbouring countries.