Passing Down the Crown
Disclaimer: Narnia and its characters are the property of CS Lewis, Walden Media, and Disney. I'm just borrowing them and I promise to give them back when I'm done. Until the next story, of course.
Many thanks to Almyra and Miniver for once again holding my hand! You ladies are awesome!
Without wasting a moment the Gamayun plunged into her prophesies. "You gave me your crown and the weight of your world. When the time comes many ages hence and you are called upon to do the same again, will you give up your crown with equal grace?"
-Sirin, the Bird of Sorrow, Chapter 5, In the Lap of the Gods
"I haven't come to take your place, you know, but to put you in it."
Peter spoke in steady, controlled tones, reassuring the people of Caspian's camp. There was no question of who would be the one to control the situation henceforth. The kings of Narnia's Golden Age had stepped out of the legendary past and now the High King had just taken command.
I was the only one who knew what it cost him to say those words to Caspian.
A Badger, Trufflehunter by name, shuffled forward shyly, eagerly, to greet the High King. Peter leaned over and kissed the good Animal, smiling a bit as he said, "Best of Badgers! You never doubted us all through."
"No credit to me, Your Majesty," Trufflehunter replied, fidgeting happily. "I'm a beast and we don't change. I'm a Badger, what's more, and we hold on."
Peter froze, shocked at the Badger's words, and his smile faded instantly. He looked as if he had just been dealt a stunning blow as the enormity of what he had just said and done struck him. Hiding his reaction behind a bland mask of control, his eyes sought mine. Caspian's nervous voice filled the quiet that fell as Peter and I remembered the words of Sirin, the Bird of Sorrow, whose visit to Cair Paravel had wrought such changes upon us.
And bless the Badgers. They are beasts that do not change. What is more, they hold on and they remember.
The prophesies given us by the Birds of Sorrow and Joy in the third year of our reign were coming to fruition in rapid succession. The apple orchards, Susan's horn, the Badgers . . . and Peter had been called upon to hand over his crown.
He had just done so, and with more grace than these people knew.
Silence filled the chamber. It was an anxious, uncomfortable moment and I found all eyes on me because I was the one that held the High King's full attention. With a nod to indicate I understood him, I broke eye contact, knowing nothing else would yank Peter back to the here-and-now. He blinked, recovering his composure, and looked at Caspian.
What followed was inane chat that filled the quiet and kept Peter from concentrating, which I could tell frustrated him. Trumpkin and Cornelius insisted we all sit down and eat. The fare was awful stuff, but both Peter and I had consumed far worse in our day and, being genuinely hungry, we managed to choke everything down. The conversation was carried mostly by Trumpkin and Cornelius, for two Dwarfs together (or in this case, one and a half Dwarfs) cannot be silent for long, and we gained a good understanding of events in the camp without having to ask. It was not a pretty picture.
Caspian listened more than he spoke, staring at Peter with wide-eyed awe and occasionally remembering that I was in the room as well and trying to study me as well without seeming obvious or rude. If Peter's presence overwhelmed him, mine interested him. I had deliberately said very little and with Peter distracted, I was a bit of a puzzle for him to resolve while his hero brooded. I wondered how much Caspian knew about us and our history. Quite a bit, it seemed, because he could not keep from gawking every time we gestured or said a word. I was struck suddenly by how close in age we three were - he must have fallen somewhere between me and Peter in age, though he was closer to me in build - and yet . . . Peter and I were so much older in so many ways. I felt a pang for this young man seated on the floor a few feet away from me. There had been four of us to shoulder the burden of ruling Narnia, back in our day. Caspian would rule alone.
By his continued silence I knew Peter was thinking too hard and too fast to contribute much to the general talk. He cast me one look, a hard, desperate plea, and though no one but he and I knew it, command had just temporarily passed to me. I knew I needed to get him out of here, away from these adoring, expectant rebels, and give him the opportunity to collect himself. He would be fine, but for him to be at his best he needed to be alone for a little while. Peter needed a moment - perhaps several moments - to think in peace and to sort out his emotions.
Setting aside my wooden plate, I addressed Caspian and Cornelius. "You'll excuse us. My brother and I have been on the move for days and we need to wash up. In our day there was a run at the base of the hill. Is it safe for us to go there? If it's still there, of course." As I spoke, I stood and offered my hand to Peter, hauling him to his feet.
They stared at us in astonishment. Finally Caspian nodded dumbly and the D.L.F. sputtered.
"Brickbats and battledores! Wash? Now? We've a war to plan and a tyrant to overthrow and you want to take a bath?"
I cast a hearty frown at the Dwarf, my patience wearing thin. It was time that they were reminded of exactly whom they were dealing with. "Each thing in its turn, good my Dwarf," I snapped coolly, my bearing imperious as I turned upon him. "You will show us where we may clean our hands and make ourselves presentable. It is neither meet nor our habit to remain dirty when the means to wash are available to us."
That cowed them all. I was not proud of myself for asserting my authority so blatantly, but they did not understand and I did not have to explain myself to them. Let them accuse me of being stubborn and a brat if they liked, I would do anything to keep their attention off of Peter for the now.
"Good my?" puzzled Trumpkin.
In a rush of painful understanding, I realized that little endearment, so common in our day, held no meaning for him. It was a tiny thing, important only that it was a mannerism of old, but I felt a keen sense of loss. How many times had we used that charming phrase upon our beloved cousins and each other? Certainly the song it derived from had been old even when I learned it, but what other things distinctly Narnian had been ground to dust 'neath the Telmarine's brutal heels?
"Lead on," I ordered shortly.
With a small shake of his head he led us out of the cellars and a short distance into the woods where a stream flowed through mossy banks. Peter had not said a word all this while, trusting me to watch over him and deal with the people around us.
"We'll return soon," I said, dismissing our guide. He hesitated and I glared. Trumpkin was no fool and Peter's silence had aroused his suspicions.
"Aye, King Edmund," the Red Dwarf said, accepting my words as a promise. With a quick bow he departed and I waited until he was out of sight to turn to my brother.
"Peter . . ."
He drew a shuddering breath. "Oh, Ed," he gasped. "What have I done?"
I took his cold hands, clasping them between mine. "What you were meant to do. What Aslan wanted you to do. You fulfilled Sirin's prophesy and your promise." I searched my memory - so much sharper and clearer here in the air of Narnia! and found Peter's exact words from so, so long ago. "Aslan wills it, Peter, and the recipient is worthy."
He shook his head, struggling. "I . . . I . . ."
"I know," I said.
There were tears in his eyes as he looked around at the dense old forest around us. The trees were heavy with lichens and the earth beneath our feet was spongy and rich with centuries of moldering pine needles. The air was moist and cool, the thick canopy of branches overhead casting the little stream into perpetual night. The forest was sleeping, waiting, remembering. Perhaps it was even remembering us. We had almost lost our lives here. Peter had knighted me here. I bore the name of this place: Sir Edmund of the How.
"I . . . oh, Ed, how could we forget?" he suddenly exclaimed, his voice betraying every bit of his misery.
I stared at him, uncertain of his meaning as he gazed with red eyes at the ground at our feet. As soon as he moved I realized what he meant and I felt a wave of shame that it had taken us this long to greet Narnia properly and as befitting her monarchs.
Peter fell to his knees and I moved right beside him as we both bent down and kissed the earth. Dear Narnia. Fair Narnia. Beloved home. The words ran through my head as I slowly sat up and leaned back on my heels. Peter stayed bowed, eyes closed, his forehead resting on the mossy ground. I placed my hand on his back, trying to bring him some sense of comfort.
He knew I would follow him anywhere, do anything for him, and so his relinquishing kingship to Caspian was doubly painful in that he did it for the four of us, taking the responsibility onto his own shoulders. It was very true to his character to do so. In keeping his promise made to the Gamayun all those ages ago, he had handed over his crown with grace and dignity as befitted the High King over all kings. In doing so he had ushered in a new age in Narnia. Now it was our duty to make certain this new age was given a chance to flourish, just as ours had.
He knew this. He had known it before he spoke those words to Caspian. Coming from the High King, though, the words just carried that much more weight and meaning and finality.
I leaned over and gently pressed my lips to his hair. His only response was a short, heaving sob. I knew he was fighting his own reaction with every fiber of his being but I knew full well he needed to give in to his emotions for a while. It was less a cry for his kingship than for his kingdom. I opened my mouth but did not know what to say, how to ease his pain. It was too great to be contained. I had seen him like this before. Too many times before. Inconsolable grief and unconditional love vied within his breast, tearing him apart from the inside. I knew exactly what my brother felt in that moment. I felt exactly the same way, only I had not been blessed with the same ability to deal with my reactions.
So I did just what I always did - I put my arm around him and rested my head on his shoulder and tried to share what I could of his pain and my strength. I leaned against him, holding him tight. Dew settled upon us. The forest slowly woke up. Dawn would be here soon. He needed to express his emotions now, before the next stage of this venture began. He would have to face the day clearheaded and in complete command of himself and what passed for Caspian's army. As for me, my feelings would keep, because dealing with Peter's agony helped to ease my own. Through helping him, I found my balance, which was part of the reason he let me help him.
I could only hope I did not add so very much to the burdens he already bore.
For a long time we sat thus, Peter battling for control as I offered comfort and support. Finally his trembles eased and his breathing steadied a bit. I closed my eyes, listening to the stream, the birds, the living forest all around us. Drawing a deep breath, I started a prayer which Peter himself had written to Aslan, back when he was the same age he was now again. He had written others as he grew older, longer, more lyrical litanies that reflected his growing maturity and knowledge, but I always loved the heartfelt simplicity of his earliest attempt to express his thanks to Aslan.
"For this our land . . ."
I waited. He was supposed to answer with the rest of the phrase. I knew he knew the reply. I tried again.
"For this our land . . ."
Nothing. I gave him a little nudge.
"Come on, Peter. For this our land . . ."
His voice came out a cracked whisper. "We exalt thee."
"For its bounty . . ."
"We thank thee."
"For its safety -"
"We follow thy banner."
"For our strength in battle -"
"We emulate thee."
"For peace . . ."
He drew a shuddering breath and slowly pushed himself up, leaning heavily against me. "We pray to thee."
"Thy faith -"
"We return it to thee."
"Thy name -"
"Thy might -"
"For thy blessing -"
"We humbly kneel to thee."
"For thy love -"
"We proclaim your glory, O Aslan."
I swallowed, well aware that Peter was in tears. I forced myself to go on. "And so we offer our prayer to give thanks and love to thee, O Great Lion. Guide us, guard us, grant us thy blessing. Keep us in thy paws that we may keep thee in our hearts."
"Help us to serve Narnia as we ourselves are served," he finished in hushed tones. "Amen."
I had thought there was no way I could possibly be prouder of this my brother and king when he told young Caspian that he would not take his throne, but set him upon it. I had thought Peter could not be more a king than he had been at that moment.
I was wrong.
There, kneeling beside me in the dark and damps, his face wet with tears, his voice hoarse from crying, was Peter the Magnificent. Nothing could take that from him. Not for the first time his title fell short of adequately describing him. He was Narnia. We all were. That was why we had ruled so effectively for so long. I realized then that was the lesson Caspian needed to learn above all others. Win or lose - and when Peter went into battle he did not lose - Caspian needed to learn that to be king he must give himself absolutely to Narnia so that in return Narnia would honor and serve him. The Telmarines had fought and feared the land, but for Caspian there was hope.
A faint sound behind us caught my attention. I turned my head but if someone had been there they had slipped away. I stared into the darkness, but I sensed no threat. I returned my attention to Peter.
"Do you need some time?" I whispered.
He nodded silently, closing his eyes.
"I'll wait at the entrance of the How," I replied. "Don't be too long."
Another nod, and then I leaned over and kissed him on the temple, which was the nearest bit of him. As I rose he fumbled for my hand, gripping it tightly for a moment. I held on firmly in return before releasing him, my heart relieved.
Hastily I washed my hands and face in the cold stream, and the water refreshed and chilled me. It was not far back to the hill that covered the Stone Table and a few paces into the clearing I paused. I stood still, absorbing the staggering difference in the place since I had last been here. A slight figure detached itself from the shadows of the low entrance and Caspian hesitantly approached me. He was wide-eyed, like a deer poised to flee. I suspected I had found the source of the sound I had heard. One look in his face confirmed my suspicions.
"I am sorry, King Edmund," he said immediately, ashamed. "It was not my intent to eavesdrop."
I shook my head. "Such prayers are made to be heard. Why did you follow us?"
"Nickabrick wasn't the only one that thought that way, just the loudest. I was afraid for you and King Peter. You've been away so long."
I smirked at his unintentional reprimand, thinking that a little action would have benefited Peter immensely. It always helped me clear my head. "We're quite capable, Caspian, though I thank you for your concern."
I must have hit a nerve because even in the faint light I could tell he blushed. I suspected legends of our ability in battle had endured. As if he remembered his youth anew, the young king seemed to deflate a bit and his shoulders drooped. "And I . . . King Edmund. Is it . . . do you think it's safe for your brother -"
"I wouldn't have left him alone if it wasn't," I said as kindly as I could.
He nodded, and clearly he was overwhelmed by curiosity and confusion. "My apologies Sire, but why did you kiss the ground?"
"Not the ground, Caspian, but Narnia. We always kissed Narnia when we returned to her. It was a tradition we started in the second year of our reign. Peter had been kidnapped by the Ettin Giants and taken to Ettinsmoor. After I got him back, the first thing he did when he stepped over the Northern Marches was kiss Narnia, and so we've done so every time we come home."
He gnawed on his lip, absorbing this. "I . . . I don't know how I'll be able to live up to you and your brother and sisters."
"You can't," I replied, "and I don't suggest you try. Ours was a different age, a different Narnia, an ancient majesty. Preserve and honor what you can of the past, Caspian, but don't live for it or in it. So long as you love and revere Aslan and revinim, serve your country before yourself, and defend her at every turn, you will do very well."
"I want to," he breathed. "I want to so badly, King Edmund. I'm not sure I know how."
"You'll learn. We did."
My simple reply seemed to comfort him, but the fact that he did not question and seemed to understand revinim came as a greater comfort to me. Cornelius had taught him well. If that concept was not lost, Narnia was not lost. Trust the Centaurs, trust the beasts to maintain the deep, simple belief that united all the peoples of Narnia and allowed them to live in harmony.
"Now what will we do?" pressed Caspian, desperate for reassurance and action.
I gave in to the urge to smile slightly. "We wait for Peter to finish washing up."
That was not the answer he expected and he blinked. "But . . ."
"Trust that Peter will think of the best course of action," I soothed. "He's not the High King over all kings and queens of Narnia for nothing."
"All? How . . . how can he be king over kings that came before him?" asked the prince, confounded. I got the impression that this was a question he had posed to himself and possibly Cornelius and had yet to receive a satisfactory answer.
Despite the gravity of the situation, I grinned at the gentle, long-standing joke my siblings and I shared. "I was king before Peter was, Caspian."
There was a long silence, and then Caspian made a little sound of, "Oh!" that told me he, like so many people, had assumed that Peter had been crowned first and derived his authority from his age and rank. He had not. Lucy was the first of us to enter Narnia and she was the first of us to be crowned, as was fitting. Peter was High King by virtue of being eldest, yes, but that wasn't the only reason. He was the High King simply because he was Peter, and anyone that knew him, if only for a little while, saw that.
As I faced my companion I wondered why he was whispering. Caspian had a very serious expression on his face and I could see a hint of the man he would someday be. A sense of relief filled me. He would do well by Narnia, and she by him.
"Are we - am I - asking too much of you and your family? This is . . . not your war."
"Yes, it is, Caspian, because this is our home. You must understand that there is nothing each of us wouldn't do for Narnia. We have gladly, happily, gratefully given our all for her and for Aslan." I swallowed, remembering how far I had gone to save Narnia. "No sacrifice is too great. You must learn that. You will rule by the consent of the ruled, and therefore you must serve the people and the land before you serve yourself."
"I will," he swore, and I believed him. He drew a deep breath, collecting his nerve once again. "Is it wrong that I don't feel as if I'm fighting my own people when I face my uncle? I am a Telmarine, after all."
Reaching out to lay my hand on his shoulder for a moment, I said firmly, "No, Caspian, you are Narnian, just as I am. You are not fighting your own people. You are fighting for your people."
He sighed, ducking his head to hide his relief. I had given him what he needed and wanted to hear.
A snapping twig told me Peter was returning and I gave Caspian a final little smile before turning to greet the High King. Even before I saw his expression I could tell by his stance that all was well, and that his balance had been restored. There was no trace of tears or any emotion on Peter's face save resolve. I knew without being told that Peter had an idea and that it was a clever one. Whether or not I would like it was a different matter, for our options were as limited as our resources. My mind clicked through some possible scenarios, and I dared not abandon any of them as too stupid for Peter to try.
"Shall we?" he asked, motioning to the shelter of the How.
Caspian looked about to start asking questions and so I gave him a nudge with my elbow to lead the way. If I had to wait for answers then so did he. We wound our way back through the tunnels and past the echoing chambers until we could hear Trumpkin's sputtering rants and Cornelius' soothing replies. Trufflehunter sensed us first and hissed at the others to be still and to stop being silly if they could manage it. Peter chuckled at that last and I found I was equally amused.
Trumpkin looked about to explode in our direction with another blistering (and blustering) tirade about wasting time, but Caspian raised a hand, silencing him with a gesture. I was glad to see the Dwarf obeyed. It was a small thing, but important, though I wondered if the D.L.F. would have obeyed without me and Peter present.
Peter spoke as if nothing had happened and we just hadn't spent the last hour doing anything but discussing our next move.
"Now," he said, stepping to the center of the chamber to command our full attention, "Aslan and the girls are somewhere close. We don't know when he will act. In his time, no doubt, not ours. In the meantime, he would like us to do what we can on our own."
I'm not sure which excited Trufflehunter and Cornelius and Caspian more - the prospect of action, the fact that Aslan was nearby, or the fact that Aslan had commanded us to act. They each clearly wanted to say something but Peter kept talking as if he hadn't just jolted all their expectations.
"You say, Caspian, that we are not strong enough to meet Miraz in pitched battle."
That 'we' was not lost on Caspian. "I'm afraid not, High King."
Peter nodded and I braced myself.
"Very well then," he replied in the same steady pitch he used before going into battle, the tone of voice that spelled doom for anyone brazen and foolish enough to challenge the Sword of Narnia. Though the others in the room couldn't recognize the meaning behind his tone, they clearly recognized its force. His blue eyes met mine, fierce determination burning in his expression as he said, "I'll send him a challenge to single combat."
Silence. The New Narnians sat in astonishment and shock. Clearly not a one of them had ever thought of such a thing.
I had, and I didn't like it. Not one bit. I thought it was far too dangerous, and yet . . . no one in the world was better suited to stand up to this pretender to the throne. No one else here was warrior enough to defeat Miraz. Peter stared at me, waiting for some sign. He didn't need my approval; it was my support he sought.
As if I could give him anything less than everything I had! As if he needed to ask for it!
I stared back, my expression hard. He knew I didn't like his plan, but that didn't matter. He didn't like it either. He needed me behind him even though Aslan knows I was already there for him.
So I did the only thing that I could - I gave him a wicked little smile. Relieved, he nodded.
We were here to save Narnia, and save her we would. By Aslan's grace, at the end of this day, Old Narnia would deliver the New.