Chapter Eight: In the Lap of the Gods
Beware the Horror.
What did that mean? I looked to my companion and I knew without speaking that I would get no answers from her. Sirin sat beside me in comfortable silence as we waited for Peter to return from the armory. I turned her words over in my mind. Learn chess. Become a judge.
Beware the Horror.
Forewarned was forearmed. I would not be caught unawares, but I could not imagine what chess would have to do with anything.
Guard well the lion, O fox.
I would. Oh, how I would. I would keep him safe from his enemies and those that would use him and even from himself if I had to. And I would keep him safe from the Horror. Whatever that might be, it would not claim my brother.
The lion in question came jogging back to our spot on the bridge. Peter looked as if he'd dunked his head in a water trough and he probably had, given that the heat of the day was rising. His hair and clothes would be dry in a matter of minutes, but I wondered if he'd done it as much for relief as for a distraction from the thoughts that must have been running through his head. In that sense we were much alike - we both thought too much, and Sirin had given us enough to keep us busy for ages to come.
"Breakfast?" he suggested to Sirin as soon as he stood on the bridge. It was a typical Peter Pevensie question. We two were constantly hungry and it was well past the time we normally ate. As soon as he mentioned food I was starving where I stood.
"I will accompany you," Sirin announced, then cast a look at the skies. "For a while, at least."
I saw clouds gathering on the horizon and wondered if I should take them as an omen. I rejected the idea. If I wasn't careful I'd start seeing signs of doom in every aspect of my life, which was already complex enough, thank you.
We walked slowly back to the Cair and in the herb garden we came across Susan and Lucy walking just as slowly with Alkonost. The Gamayun shared a long look and a nod, both of them clearly satisfied. They consulted quietly with each other as I took a moment to study my sisters, for it seemed that Peter and I had not been the only ones to consult with a Gamayun about the future. Susan was content, almost serene, which pleased me since yesterday she had seemed unreasonably nervous, and Lucy was Lucy and therefore bursting to tell us everything Alkonost had said.
Alkonost looked up at the sky and saw the clouds gathering thick and heavy out over the Eastern Sea, and she faintly smiled, knowing what it meant. I sensed an air of reluctance about her. Sirin sighed, and sadly said,
"The moment of parting has come."
"But you just got here," Lucy argued. "Can't you stay? Please?"
"Can't you come with us?" countered the Bird of Joy just as eagerly.
"I . . . no," Lucy admitted after a moment of thought. "I don't have wings."
"Then for the now -"
"We must part."
They were back to that melodic habit of finishing each other's sentences. Sirin turned and bowed her head to Lucy, and Alkonost mirrored the motion.
"Aslan's blessings upon you, Valiant Queen."
"Bless as you have been blessed -"
"Love as you have been loved -"
"And balance joy and sorrow in all your life, dear one."
Alkonost faced Susan, inclining her head. "Take back what you do not need, Gentle Queen. The crown may rest upon your brow -"
"But know that you wear it on your heart."
Susan carefully lifted her crown from Alkonost's mass of blond curls and, bending close, she kissed the Gamayun's cheek before settling the golden band of flowers and leaves back on her head. She hesitated for a fraction of a moment, then she leaned over and kissed Sirin as well. With a smile on her face the Lady of Joy stepped over to where I stood by Peter and bowed her head as Sirin softly reminded,
"Remember that curses shall be blessings and sins shall be virtues, Just King."
I avoided all inquiring looks from my sisters as I reclaimed my crown from Alkonost. I settled it firmly on my brow before making my bows to the two sisters. That left only Peter, and the two prophets faced him in turn. A sudden gust of wind swept through the garden from the gathering thunder heads, stirring the trees and flowers.
Sirin spoke first. "High King, take back the weight of the world."
"At times this crown will weigh so much you will scarce be able to raise your head -"
"But raise it you must, for you have been set above all kings -"
"Save one. Do not forget you are not alone."
"There are others that will share this burden with you."
Peter bowed deeply in return as he relieved Sirin of his golden crown.
I stood beside Peter and he laid his hand on my shoulder. Susan drew close to Peter's side and at Lucy's touch I took her hand and held it in mine. The Gamayun looked upon us with approval. Sirin started the rapid exchange that advanced so seamlessly that it sounded like one person speaking.
"You stand before us united in faith -"
"Continue as you are -"
"Love," they finished together, their voices blending in melody. They exchanged a look, one happy, the other grieved, and then Sirin continued:
"And Narnia will grow with you."
"This sphere -"
"This world -"
"This land -"
"Your hearts -"
"Are the seat of Aslan's grace."
"Narnia stands as the center -"
"Of the universe. And you Four -"
"You are held to be blessed -"
"By the Divine. You have felt Aslan's kiss -"
"You have received His wisdom -"
"His trust -"
"And His faith. His father -"
"The Mighty Emperor Beyond -"
"Over Sea has seen his beloved Son's work -"
"And He has smiled at the pleasure -"
"And beauty -"
"And love if it."
"Remain true to Aslan -"
"Each other -"
"And yourselves. Once a king or queen in Narnia -"
"Always a king or queen. That is a promise -"
"That will never be broken," the two ladies finished in chorus.
I listened in growing awe, trying to absorb this torrent of information and wisdom. A thousand questions rose up in my mind but I did not voice a one of them. I knew, somehow, that they were for me to answer, not the Gamayun. Peter's grip tightened on my shoulder. A quick glance at his face told me he wasn't anxious, but thrilled at their words. I pulled Lucy in a little closer and squeezed her hand. I could see she was smiling. Next to Peter, Susan made the faintest sound of wonder, a small, breathless, "Oh!"
The winds kicked up again, sending hair and skirts and feathers flying every which way. I could smell the coming rain on the wind and the great clouds started blocking out the sun, casting the morn into twilight.
"Great was the joy at our meeting," chimed Alkonost.
"Greater is the sorrow at our departure," wept Sirin. "But there is no great sorrow -"
"Without a promise of joy. It grieves us to leave you and Narnia -"
"But remember our words and we will always be with you."
"Are no barriers."
"We shall meet again, O -"
"Kings and queens. Until that time -"
"The blessings of the Gamayun upon you -"
"And all that you accomplish."
They spread their wings and bowed deeply. Bunched together in a little knot, we returned the salute as best we could without untangling ourselves. The two sisters looked skyward, their wings still wide, and they both tensed as if about to launch into the air. Eyes as gray as the clouds above waited for the right moment, and then Alkonost cried, "Now!"
A golden glow like sunshine suddenly radiated from Alkonost, engulfing both of them. My eyes were opened beyond sight for a moment, just as they had been when I ate the apple from the Tree of Protection. I had the swiftest vision of towering angelic forms, like winged beings of light standing before us, brilliant and beautiful and wise beyond measure.
Then they were gone. I looked up and saw a gap in the clouds, catching the briefest glimpse of blue sky. For a fleeting span we were bathed in that golden warmth, that blessing, and then the shaft of sunlight vanished as the clouds swept over the opening to the sky. Thunder roared and a heavy, pelting rain began to fall, drenching us in moments and splashing us with mud. We just stood there in the garden, close, touching, in contact with each other and with the land we loved. We stared up at the stormy sky, our tears mingling with Sirin's.
We missed breakfast and all our lessons entirely. We returned to Cair Paravel filthy from head to toe because we had stopped to splash in the mud. A strange, happy giddiness seemed to have filled each of us and a mud puddle the size of a bed had been too tempting for Susan to resist. She'd splashed Peter and started a fight that left us splattered and grubby and glowing with pleasure. The ladies-in-waiting were horrified, our Faun valets were scandalized, and it took so long for them to get us clean to their satisfaction that when we finally sat down together, it was to eat lunch.
We watched the storm die down through the open doors of the sitting room that joined Lucy's and Susan's rooms. This was our usual spot for meals together. We were all fairly quiet, each having a great deal to mull over. I suspected that my siblings were as glad as I was not to have gone through this alone. So much had been said and left unsaid. We would need each other to puzzle out all that had happened . . . and might happen.
After the meal we wandered back towards the Great Hall. The storm was breaking up swiftly now and sunlight streamed down through the stained glass windows of the hall. There was a great deal of activity, the hustle and bustle of a grand and busy and happy palace. We stood atop the stairs watching our subjects with renewed pleasure.
"Well," Peter said, and his voice and expression were filled with such content and pleasure that I had to smile, "I think I'll go find the head gardener."
"Foxgloves?" wondered Susan. "Whatever for?"
"I need to plant some apple trees," the High King replied. He offered his arm to her. "Care to come along, Su?"
She happily looped her arm through his.
Lucy shook her head. "I'm going to go get my lute and see if Juliver can give me another music lesson."
Susan smiled broadly, then looked to me. I spotted a familiar, brick-red form moving slowly and deliberately across the hall and I shook my head, declining the invitation.
"No, thank you. I believe I'll go lose a few rounds of chess. I'll see you later." I left them smiling as I hurried down the steps, calling, "Sra! Sra Sysyks!"
The Monitor Dragon raised his head and flicked his tongue. "Majesty?"
"Come, sir! Come beat your king at a game of chess."
The gigantic lizard looked astonished and amused at once, for he knew, just as all Cair Paravel knew, that it was far from my favorite pastime. Thanks to Sirin that was all about to change.
"As you command, King Edmund."
"You are to have no mercy," I said with a wry grin.
He hissed a laugh. "I shall have none, Sire."