Some Things Unseen
Disclaimer: I own neither Narnia nor any of its characters.
Setting: The Golden Age of Narnia (between The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy)
Warning: If you haven't read The Horse and His Boy and care about spoilers, don't read this. Go read HHB and then come back. )
"…Bar had given me to one of his knights and sent us both away in the ship's boat…I wish I knew that knight's name for he must have kept me alive and starved himself to do it."
– Cor, The Horse And His Boy
There was once a man named Hael, who lived in Archenland. His father had been a knight, and his father before him. Naturally, all Hael had ever dreamed of was being a knight just like his father. And of course, every knight ought to have many adventures and quests thru which he could prove his worth and become a hero.
He swung wooden swords and shouted challenges to the evil Calormenes (who were his friends—naturally, Hael was never the evil Calormene, but always the knight), began to ride and joust as soon as his father would let him. He was clever enough to do well at school and talented enough at swordplay, and always felt like he was chafing a bit—always looking for adventure, always looking for his destiny so he could fulfill it.
Sometimes, in an effort to force destiny's hand, he would run about the woods with his wooden sword, and once he had become hopelessly disoriented. He would been lost there forever had it not been for the kindness of a nearby centaur, who took him by the hand and led him through the forest. The glorious creature had a glossy chestnut hide, a bit of white on his left foot, and an ageless face that fascinated Hael to no end. Hael would have thought him like a doting grandparent had it not been for that almost palpable mysticism which surrounded him.
When they reached his father's house, the centaur let go of his hand, paused, then turned to him and spoke.
"Courage to you, child. You will have a great part in history, a part in a marvelous adventure, though you will not live to see it."
And with that, the centaur slipped back into the shadows of the woods, leaving Hael alone to ponder his words, and a strange heaviness came upon him, tightening and wrapping him in an invisible cocoon. But as we have already said, Hael was not the most intelligent of boys, instead always hell-bent on proving his bravery through one exploit or another, and his memory of the centaur's words stopped had focused solely on one word—adventure. Excitement flooded through him, and he ran to the house all a-twitter.
And so he had told everyone that he was going to grow up to be a hero, that he would be famous, that he would save the world. As a boy, his stories were met with awe; but as he grew older, they progressively brought confusion, then doubt, and finally outright dismissal—for Hael was a good fighter but not outstanding, clever but not brilliant. He was an ordinary boy who grew into a rather ordinary man—a good man, but not extraordinary. Ordinary people did not change the world or save it; they merely made it run. And they most certainly did not become acclaimed heros.
The disbelief over the years made even Hael forget about the centaur's words as his youth slipped into adulthood and he was named a knight for the kindly Lord Per. Several years later, Lord Per died and Hael began to serve his son, a high court official for King Lune. Then one night, Hael was called up to the local harbor.
Now, Hael had served Lord Per faithfully and steadfastly, and had loved him with a proper fealty. But Bar, Per's son, was not so kind nor fair as Per had been, and Hael had a sinking feeling that Bar's past misdeeds had now caught up to him. He put on his sword and his armor and followed the messenger to the dock.
"Get it going, get it going!" Bar was shouting at the sailors aboard the galleon. "Can you not properly man a ship? We must be off!" Bar was a priggish man and so unlike Per that Hael suddenly missed his old master dreadfully. Bar caught sight of him and motioned impatiently for him to get on board. The ship was pushed off and land a mere speck before Hael noticed the young boy sleeping in the captain's lodge.
He was not more than two years old, the same age as one of Hael's favorite nephews, with wispy golden hair that was tousled. He seemed calm enough and completely out of place on this old creaking galleon with all of its sailors running amok and Bar shouting orders until he turned purple.
Hael turned to a fellow knight, and asked, "Has Bar finally gone mad? Why has he called us here in the dead of night?"
The other's eyes widened. "You have not heard?"
"Bar has been caught as a spy for Calormen," another nearby said, anger evident in his words. "And as such, we must flee along with him for only Bar makes his knights swear to him above Archenland. By Aslan, if only I had known his character, I should never have entered in his service!"
"'Tis worse than that," the first said. "Bar has taken the crown prince, though for what reason I know not."
"Aye, and now the King will pursue and destroy us, and rightfully so," the other replied. "The King is fair and kind but no man will allow so great a misdeed as this to slide."
Hael listened in astonishment to this talk. "Surely you are mistaken! Has Bar truly slipped so far as to take away the prince? This is madness!"
"It is not so, my friend," the first knight said. "See the child in the captain's bay behind you—that is the crown prince himself."
"Bar will kill him if he must," the grim knight, Salvo, said. "He is angry at the King and will extract the most terrible of revenges that he is capable of. By Aslan! I cannot bear the thought of it. Though it is not my duty to decide what is right or wrong, but simply to serve my lord no matter how I may disagree with him, I will not stand by such a monstrosity."
Hael thought of that little golden-haired boy, and of his dear little nephew at home. "True, our oaths were to Bar, not to Archenland," he replied. "But may Aslan strike me dead should any harm come to the prince whilst I still take breath."
He held his breath as he regarded the other two. His words were as good as treason, and not to be taken lightly.
Salvo's response was rapid. "May Aslan do the same to me."
But the first knight said nothing, an ominous sign.
Six days passed as they struggled to outrun and outwit the Archenland fleet. But on the morning of the seventh, before the sun had gone up, a shout went up amongst the sailors. Archenland was in close pursuit and gaining fast; already their shimmering swords could be seen. Hael followed the other two knights to the ship's deck, where Bar was pacing like a madman in the captain's quarters.
"I had hoped to be further along before they found me out," he was muttering. "Now I am outmanned, outgunned, my men in mutiny, with no provisions, and no promises of help from Tashbaan.
"There is only one thing I can do to ensure victory. I must be rid of the boy. Yes, that will do, for Lune values his sons beyond all other, and to do so will repay him for all the trouble he has caused me—"
He suddenly looked up to see the horrified expressions of his three knights. "And what are you three fools looking at?" he shouted. "Why are you not at your posts?"
Hael stepped forward. "We do not see it fit to defend a lord who will slit the throat of a boy and claim it to be a victory."
Bar gave a caustic laugh. "Do you think so little of your oath, Hael, that you would abandon it to save a child? A child whose father will have you on the executioner's block before nightfall? Do you think so little of me as to think me so cruel?" He flung his arm towards the approaching ships. "I have no other choice! In minutes they shall board us, and run us through with swords, and reclaim the prince, and all the work I have done will be for naught!"
"Work you have done? You were a spy, my lord, a mere spy!" Salvo snapped. "How much favor could you possibly have curried from Calormen so to desert your own oath, that to Archenland?"
"More than you think, you simple-minded fool. For there was a prophecy earlier that bespoke of the boy's destiny to save Archenland from a great danger. I, of course, thought it prudent to rid Archenland of him as a favor to Calormen." Bar's eyes gleamed, and their maddened gaze chilled Hael's heart. "Do you think those in Tashbaan will regard so great a deed as mine lightly? Oh, my plans have gone awry, for I had planned to bring the boy alive to Calormen and present him as a gift to the Tisroc—"
"As a slave?" the first knight burst out, aghast. "He is a prince of Archenland, my Lord! And—"
"Cease your nattering, Meillan," snapped Bar. "Of course as a slave; and how much gold would Archenland have given up to have their dear crown prince back, safe and sound? But no, their quick pursuit has thrown everything into disarray, and I must ensure victory at all costs."
"If by victory you mean the death of the crown prince—by Aslan, your heart is blacker than the foulest waters of the South," Salvo growled. All about them sailors ran hither and thither, and their shouts and groaning of heavy machinery being moved into place made enough noise to last ten lifetimes. Swords were hastily inspected and sharpened, casting wild flickering lights all about the ship. Despite the tremendous racket, all the commotion went unnoticed by the four men. Both Bar and Salvo had slipped a hand to sword, and Hael tensed, expecting conflict.
But Bar unleashed his tongue instead. "Enough, Salvo! Ungrateful foul-tempered wretch, your own mother could not bear your misbegotten ways! Save your breath for the coming battle, you cur, and until then, do not question my judgment!" Salvo stared at him mutinously. "Be gone!" Bar snapped. It was a direct order and Salvo could not disobey it, though he did make it a point to brush past Bar rather roughly.
Bar took no notice and continued his tirade. "And you, Meillan, have you forgotten your own so easily? I had counted you to be my loyal support, but even you have become a turncoat—"
Meillan turned white with rage. "So this is how you reward me!" he cried. "You go too far! Does my Lord not remember that when I first learned of your communications with Calormen, I said nothing? When I saw you in the King's council room that night, still I said nothing? When I saw you with the Calormene lords, still I held my tongue. I, who have known all your comings and goings, who held your life in my hands and never once did what I now see is right, and yet you trample me underfoot with your treachery! Your gratitude is poison, my Lord, and may I never call you by that title again!"
Hael stared at Meillan. "You knew this all?"
Meillan nodded, a quick vengeful motion, but Hael did not miss the flash of regret. "I knew. I knew his plans to overthrow Archenland, and that he was disloyal to the King. But I am a man of my word, and I was loyal to my Lord, as I had promised."
"And of the plan to kill the prince?"
"That," and Meillan's voice turned deadly and cold, "That, I knew nothing about, and I would never have kept so quiet if I had know the depths to which this snake here would sink. My word is not so great as to supercede life, and I swear by the name of Aslan I would never harm a child nor take it from its parents."
"Be it as it may, you are still bound to do my wishes," Bar said contemptuously. "You will get your wish, you high-minded fool. You will not slit the prince's throat as you so feared but you will take him by boat at once and put him out to sea before Lune's men arrive on their ships. They will not retrieve the prince at all costs—am I understood? Or all you fear will befall."
Bar's last words seemed to strike a physical blow at Meillan. The man actually flinched before closing his eyes. "Yes, Lord Bar." The leaden weight in his voice was enough to drown a sea snake. Bar gave him a satisfied smirk, then left the room.
Hael grabbed Meillan. "You cannot do this," he said urgently. "You just said you could not—"
Meillan would not look at him; the once proud knight seemed to deflate in utter despair, head bowing and shoulders slumping bonelessly. "I have no choice. I must."
"Are you a mindless drone, that you would do another's bidding to commit evil?"
Meillan shook his head. "If it was just I, I would die before causing such a harm. That much you must believe me. No, Bar has taken my family to Calormen, and to where I know not. It was in this way that he ensured my cooperation. If I do not do as he asks…if the prince returns tonight…my son and my daughter will die."
"But Bar himself will most likely die tonight," Hael protested. "And with his death—"
"Bar's death will do nothing. It is the Calormenes who hold my children. They are listening closely, and if they receive word that the prince has been returned unharmed, my children will die. They are newborn babes, two of them, as alike as two blades of grass…" He drew in a shuddering breath. "I cannot let that happen."
"No," Hael agreed. "You cannot. But you cannot hurt the prince either—he is just a boy, too young to be a pawn in this foolish game."
They stood quietly in the captain's cabin, watching the sleeping boy, as the sounds above them reached fever pitch. Archenland's ships were close now, within five-hundred yards. Armor clanked and men cursed as the captains struggled to ready their regiments for battle. Sailors swore loudly and colorfully as they struggled to mend a gaping hole in the ship's port side. There was a long thin wail that rapidly subsided, like a thread being pulled out of a sweater, when one sailor leaned too far over and was lost to the sea. Fifteen feet from them, Salvo and Bar hurled insults at each other, seemingly oblivious to the approaching danger that was nearly tangible in the air.
Even the sleeping prince seemed to feel it, for he woke up and immediately began to cry. Meillan quietly picked him up and put him against his shoulder, rocking him softly and stroking the back of the boy's head with rough calloused hands, hands who with the help of a sword had slain countless, yet were infinitely gentle when a child was put in their care. Hael could see the tears in the man's eyes, and he thought it all so terribly, dreadfully, unbearably wrong.
"Put me on the boat."
Meillan turned to him with a shocked expression. "What?"
"Put me on the boat with the prince," Hael repeated. "I will watch over him to see that he reaches shore alive. And no one will know the better if you tell them a story of my being lost at sea. The Calormenes will think him dead, and your children will live." He felt his pulse quickening, and his words flowed faster, as he put a hand on the other's shoulder. "Aslan willing, I can find a way to bring the prince back after we have made landfall, and by then you will have long-since found your son and your daughter."
It seemed to him the only agreeable solution, but even so Meillen was stricken. "And what if you cannot make landfall? What if you are lost at sea? Your wife—"
"I have no wife, and no children, and I have many brothers and sisters," Hael said quietly. "Sire, anyone may see that you are a decent sort of person. I offer this in full willingness."
"Aslan knows," Meillin said with a catch in his voice, "For I have done many wrongs in this life, but my children mean all to me. If you would do so, Hael, and spare me this terrible deed, you have my eternal gratitude and I cannot thank you enough."
So Hael and Meillan took the little prince down to the side boat, and Hael climbed carefully inside. Once there, Meillan gave him the little boy, not quite awake but starting to fuss, and Hael struggled to soothe him, holding him in that hesitant way men often do when they have little experience with children. Meillan then silently packed what provisions he could find into the boat, and handed Hael the oars before shoving them off into the starless night that was just turning into morn. There was a heavy regret upon the other's face—strangely enough, a regret that Hael himself did not feel.
The current was strong, and it was not long before Hael lost sight of the looming galleon, though he could hear when the galleon was boarded and the battle started. Now, even the shouts faded, and only the infinite gray dawn stretched long before him. The prince had woken up but was not crying, and Hael cradled him against his chest.
"What is it, little one? Why do you not sleep?" he murmured, feeling a strange kinship with someone so very different from him. The child looked up at him with a wide, innocent expression and Hael suddenly felt the strange, vise-like grasp of destiny as he looked into those big blue eyes. He had felt it only once before—when the centaur had spoken those words to him at the edge of his father's land, and now those words came flooding back into his mind.
"Really now, aren't you a bit old to be doing that?" he said softly, as the prince began to suck his thumb. "Oh, well, as long as you think it soothing; I certainly can't imagine it would calm me. But you'll grow up one day and realize that there's so much more out there for you to do than just suck your thumb. Why, when I was just a mite bigger than you, I would traverse the woods by myself, and once I met this fantastic creature called a centaur. Great beautiful things, you'll hardly believe your eyes. I had gotten lost and he brought me home. Told me I'd have a grand adventure, a place in history…I suppose I'll never have that adventure now, but maybe you will, in my place."
Tears stung his eyes as he realized how far out in the great sea they were, and he felt so very sorry for the little boy in his arms, for there was little chance that they would live to see land.
"You'll make it out alive," he vowed. "By Aslan's name, just as I promised…as long as I have breath, I will protect you."
Arsheesh the fisherman went out one night to find a stranded boat sitting in front of his hut. He approached it cautiously, for one never knew the form that Tash's wrath might take. He found a little blonde boy, thin and dirty and crying but alive, huddled against the gaunt figure of a young man in Northern clothing who could not be roused.
The story is known from here. Arsheesh took in the little boy and named him Shasta, who met a great war steed named Bree, and Archenland was saved from Rabadash, and Cair Paravel was not overtaken by Calormen. All this because of one young prince, and a nameless knight who swore to protect him.
And for this nameless knight, our Hael, let this be said: perhaps he was an ordinary man, but he did as he thought right and his deeds made the extraordinary possible—and for that he is, in the truest sense, a hero.
Special thanks to my beta reader, noiseforyoureyes, and my honorary editor, MJ.
Comments, feedback, and constructive criticism always welcomed.
Side Note: I just watched the trailer for Prince Caspian (the movie), and I am not happy that they decided to make Caspian a man instead of a boy—Caspian is Edmund's age in Prince Caspian (the book). I guess I'm just going to have to be one of those purists who is always decrying movie adaptations.
On the plus side, the actor who plays Caspian is rather pretty.