Chapter Thirty: Anniversary
A/N: Finally! After much wrestling with writer's block, it's done. Though I did try to present this from Brickit's point of view, the Chief Smith refused to cooperate, so it's not quite what I anticipated. If you've read my other stories, you'll know exactly where this one ends.
Ten thousand thanks to all of you who have read and reviewed this story, and ten thousand times as many thanks to my dear beta reader!
To King Edmund the Just, knight, adopted Son of the Clan, etc., etc., etc., from Chief Smith Brickit, greeting!
Many thanks for your kind invitation to help celebrate the first anniversary of Beruna. Sadly, I and my Clan must plead off due to a previous engagement at the same time. If you're still a king next year we'll come then and you can entertain us in royal fashion. In the meantime, I trust you're eating properly and I don't care how much weight you say you've put on, it's not enough. Eat more or my mother says she won't let you play in the smithy until you're stuffed at every meal.
Chief Smith Brickit
I lowered the letter, disappointed. I had so hoped the Dwarfs at the smithy would be willing to make the long journey to Cair Paravel to celebrate the first anniversary of the victory at Beruna. It wasn't as if we didn't have enough guests coming and the celebration would last a fortnight, but I missed Brickit and I would have liked to introduce him to my siblings. Well, the girls, at least. I had no idea of how he and the others would react to Peter. Civilly, I hoped. With a sigh I set the letter aside.
"Something wrong, Ed?" asked Peter, looking up from the letters and notes stacked all around him as we helped the scribes sort through responses to our invitations.
I waved at the message, feeling my disappointment mount each passing moment. "Brickit can't come."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I was hoping to meet him. Next year, maybe?" He sounded hopeful, innocent that he was. I had not, would not tell him about the nickname Brickit had bestowed upon him. He had enough titles and didn't need any more, especially if they were meant to be rude.
"That's what he said."
He pushed a pile of letters my way. "Well, here's a remedy for your sorrows. Let's see who else can come. I swear most of the Narnians are more excited about receiving their first piece of mail than celebrating our victory."
I chuckled, folding Brickit's letter and sliding it under my leg so it wouldn't get lost in the general crush, and got to work.
"Oh, look! There's Flisk! And Peter, look, he brought four . . . five . . . all six of his brothers!"
I looked to where Lucy was pointing, torn between excitement and awe at the sight of seven tall and graceful Unicorns. They made a large white splash in the midst of the crowd filling the courtyard. Beside me, the High King made a little sound of dismay and I bit my lip to keep from snickering. Unicorns were notoriously fussy and finicky, though fierce when roused, and now Peter had seven of them on his hands.
"Wonderful," he said with badly forced enthusiasm.
We stood on the landing before Cair Paravel's main doors in the cool of the morn, greeting guests and helping to sort out where so many people would be sleeping and eating as we had done every morning for the past few days. I was amazed at how organized the staff at the palace turned out to be, but since the celebration was our idea (well, it was Susan's at least) we were helping them as much as we could. Right now, by order of our overworked and beleaguered chamberlain Sir Giles Fox, we were making sure that all the visitors were happy and was aware of where they were to be housed. Massive as Cair Paravel was, we still weren't forced to utilize all the rooms for our guests; many Narnians simply preferred to sleep outdoors in the gardens, especially in the heat of the second high summer they'd ever known.
"That must be Lady Avalyn's mother," Susan exclaimed, pointing as a stately Giraffe passed beneath the towering gates. "And oh! The Mice came!"
We all strained to see Narnia's most recent (and despite their increased size, still the smallest) addition to the ranks of Talking Animals, for the Mice had been granted speech the very morning we fought at Beruna, a gift from Aslan for their gesture at the Stone Table. When they freed Aslan of the bonds holding him, he had in turn freed their tongues, and from what I'd seen and heard they were trying hard to make up for a millennium of silence because they rarely stopped talking. There was only a handful of them in the land, but it looked as if they were well on their way to establishing themselves because I saw several children keeping close to their parents.
Peter's voice was full of pleasure as he leaned close. I looked up over my shoulder to see that he was smiling, well pleased with himself as he said, "I believe you have some company."
Instantly suspicious, I followed his gaze to the happy, milling crowd of people in the courtyard, searching for what he saw. A dark look from dark eyes caught my attention and with a thrill I saw Brickit and Brint and Boont blocking the flow of celebrators. All three of them looked pleasantly cross. I let out a shout of surprise and excitement.
"He refused my invitation!" I exclaimed.
Peter laughed and gave me a push. "But he accepted mine!"
"What? Oh!" I swatted at him and set off down the steps as fast as I could run. I darted through the crowd, my anticipation and delight growing with each step until I slid to a halt before the Chief Smith and the masters.
"You told me you weren't coming!" I shouted without any preamble. If Dwarfs didn't say good-bye then they could certainly forego saying hello.
Smugly, Brickit produced a well-worn letter. "That's because the Nancy's invitation was so much nicer and far more polite than yours, Spawn! And I quote, 'I beg that you will refuse his invitation and accept mine instead. It is my hope to surprise him with your presence, and by accepting my invitation you can in all honesty plead off for a previous engagement if you choose to come.' Far more impressive and engaging then your terse afterthought of a letter."
"Don't be fooled, boy," Brint grumbled. "He had it memorized the day it arrived."
Boont folded her arms and glared up at the palace. "We should have brought more food. We could starve to death by the time we found the kitchen in so huge a place."
"Is it just the three of you from the smithy?" I asked brightly.
"Aye, 'tis all we could spare and that could walk so far and that could abide putting up with such frippery and carousing," said Brickit.
"Good. Three of you are quite enough," I snapped. I motioned them to follow me. "Come along!"
They all frowned and glared and looked stubborn. "Where?" Brickit demanded.
I put my hands on my hips. "To meet your host. You're not my guests. You're Peter's. The least you can do is say hello."
They all looked up to the landing. Peter was talking to one of the Platypus farmers that raised trout and water plants in the wetlands down by Glasswater. Both were very animated and Peter laughed aloud at something the farmer said, for few Narnians can tell jokes better than a Platypus, who by their very natures are rather facetious creatures. Even at this distance I could tell that Peter - tall, lean, tan, with his blond hair bleached almost to the color of straw by the summer sun - impressed them more than they would ever admit. Plainly my brother did not spend his days writing nervous letters and picking flowers as they assumed.
"Mighty tall," muttered Brickit.
"Mighty strange hair," Brint replied.
"Mighty sight gentler on the eyes than you lot," said Boont to her companions, straining to get a better look at Peter. "I like that one already."
My Dwarfs grew quieter and fidgeted more as I practically dragged the brothers up the steps. Boont alone climbed up without a guilty conscience and she gave up waiting for the men folk to stop acting like fools and children. I had no worries about either Brickit or Brint misbehaving at this point – I could tell they were both uncomfortable to meet the object of their disdain. Peter, blissfully ignorant of their abuse, caught sight of us and said something to the girls before he was drawn away by Sir Giles. The two queens turned to us with wide smiles and I knew instantly that both Dwarfs were smitten. I took a second look and decided my sisters did look particularly pretty today, so the Dwarfs probably weren't alone in their sudden adoration. I supposed their coloring helped – red and black hair were tones any Narnian Dwarf could relate to. I noticed they were both wearing the jewelry I had made them, too. That wasn't saying much in Lucy's case because she almost never removed hers, just as Peter never removed the signet ring.
"Those are your sisters?" gasped Brint, staring. "The queens?"
I frowned, wondering who else's they could be. "And my brother the High King!" I said through clenched teeth.
"Hang the Nancy," they muttered, dismissing Peter's existence. "You never told us they were so pretty!"
"You never asked," was my glib reply, which shut the pair of them up. It was quite a good feeling, actually.
Lucy had already dashed down a few steps to meet Boont. I could see Susan studying the carpenter closely, surprised to see a woman wearing trousers (though I'd be equally surprised to ever see Boont in skirts). Joining them, I quickly and properly said,
"Master Boont, these are my sisters Queen Lucy and Queen Susan. Dearest sisters, this is Boont, Master Carpenter of the Blue River Smithy."
"You look mickle easier to get along with than your brother," was Boont's rather blunt assessment of the introduction, looking the queens up and down in an approving manner.
"We are!" chimed Lucy without thinking, throwing fuel on the fire.
Having thus charmed Boont into a good mood at my expense, I aimed my younger sister at Brickit and Brint.
"Good cousins of Clan Welent, allow me to introduce Queen Lucy. Lady, I present to you Chief Smith Brickit of the Blue River Smithy and Master Smith Brint, his brother."
Lucy bobbed in a curtsey, her curls bouncing and she smiled widely. She was just the thing to ease them into relaxing and perhaps even be nice. "Thank you for teaching Edmund so much. I'm sorry I had to say 'no' to your letter, Chief Smith, but I'm sure we would have both missed our brothers."
Or maybe not.
"What?" Brint and I asked together. I looked to Brickit, who looked as if he'd swallowed a hot coal, and Brint looked to my sister.
"Oh," Lucy said in a tiny voice, one hand going to her lips. She blushed as pink as her gown as she realized she'd misspoken.
Brint and I exchanged a suspicious look and then we each turned to our closest relative.
"Hold on! What's this about?" I demanded. "Lucy!"
By the rate of her squirming I knew it had to be something that had been kept from me for a while. I checked Brint's progress. He was nose-to-nose with his older brother and they were bickering back and forth. Boont had abandoned us completely and was off talking shop to some Dryads.
"Well," Lucy began, darting a desperate look to our older sister. "Well, you see, Brickit wrote to us while you were at the smithy and - and - Susan!"
At Lucy's squeak, Narnia's Gentle Queen swept over to us, dazzling Brickit with her smile. I folded my arms impatiently, immune to her charms.
"What's this about letters from Brickit while I was at the smithy?" I demanded. "Lucy just said something about how we'd both miss our brothers . . . ?"
Susan's smile went from dazzling to forced as she looked between Lucy and Brickit. I knew without question there was a conspiracy going on here. I was about to pounce when Susan turned.
"Peter!" she called sweetly, waving him over.
Mild and smiling and pleasant, the High King unwittingly entered the fray. He bowed in greeting to the Dwarfs. "Welcome to Cair Paravel, Chief Smith Brickit. I'm so glad you -"
I held up my hands to silence him. "None of that!" I exclaimed. "What did he write to you?"
Peter blinked. "Which time?"
I whirled on Brickit. "You've been corresponding with him? When you write one letter for every three that I send?"
"What?" asked Peter, lost.
"No!" cried Brickit, stung at the accusation. "Just the first note and then about the Werewulf and . . ."
"And?" I prompted. "You said it doesn't hurt to ask! What did you write to my family? Why did those Fruit Bats tell you 'No'?"
"Ah!" Peter caught on. He cast Susan and Lucy a quick look, incapable of telling an untruth. "Well . . . let's just say you very favorably impressed the Chief Smith, to the point where he asked to extend your stay . . . indefinitely."
I stared at Brickit, open-mouthed. Finally I found the words. "You tried to keep me?"
He shrugged, and sensing he had an unlikely ally in my brother, eased a bit closer to Peter. "It was worth a try. You never know until you ask, after all."
"So I've learned! But why did Lucy say both brothers?"
"Aye!" agreed Brint, braced to be offended.
Susan gestured. She glanced at Brickit apologetically and tried her hand at a bit of diplomacy. "Well, Ed, he thought, possibly, we might enjoy Brint's company in exchange for yours."
The silence that followed was broken when Brint hissed, "I'm telling Mother!"
I looked at my brother. None of my suspicions were relieved. "So . . . He asked to trade me for Brint . . ."
Lucy nodded, grinning. "He asked me that, actually. And he asked Susan if he could keep you and Peter -"
She broke off and blushed again and hid behind Peter and Brickit.
I wasn't sure who deserved my glare more, the stubborn Chief Smith or my smug and serene brother. I leaned in close.
"What did you write to my brother, Brickit?"
The Black Dwarf drew a deep breath. "Well . . . I proposed an exchange of gold and goods."
That last was mumbled so fast and low that I could barely make out what he was saying. I gaped, then looked to Peter. "He tried to buy me?"
"He tired." Peter smiled at the Chief Smith, shifting my ire from the Dwarf's to his own shoulders where, Aslan help me, it would have a short life. "He could never afford you, Ed."
I blinked. I did not know what to say or think or do. Should I feel complimented? Insulted? Scandalized? Amused? Finally I settled upon smiling at these my dear families, knowing it wouldn't be long before I gave in and spent the day entertaining the Dwarfs. For now, though, victory in this particular field was mine.
"I'm so very glad they're your guests, Peter! Enjoy them!"
And I walked away from the lot of them.
Later that evening the celebration was moving down to the beach beside the Cair. A huge bonfire was to be lit and the feast and revelry would last until dawn. I was looking forward to the novelty of it, for tonight was the first anniversary of our victory at Beruna. It promised to be an exciting ending to a wonderful and thrilling day, a night of music and dance and rejoicing.
Peter was already getting changed when I entered our room and I hurried to shed my dress clothes for the plainer outfit Martil had already laid out for me. The valets had insisted we not wear our best clothes to the beach. They knew us too well. Without my asking Peter helped pull off my boots and I noticed he could barely suppress his amusement. He burst out laughing when he tugged too hard and stumbled back gracelessly, my right boot in his hand. Relenting, I laughed along with him and he dropped down beside me. Quietly he said,
"It's a measure of Brickit's affection that he went to such lengths to keep you."
I snorted. Not an hour after I had left them, I had gone back and saved Brickit from Peter's enthusiastic company. My brother had completely ignored the Dwarf's growing frustration as the legend of Nancy was undone (for a day, anyway) by Peter's poise and charms. "La, I doubt he'd written so much in all his life as in this year."
"By his handwriting, I'd say you're right." He leaned against me, pulling me close in a one-armed hug. "Not that I blame him for trying to keep you, of course."
"Of course," I replied in sarcastic tones. "Anyone would have done the same. Peter?"
"La?" he asked, imitating me.
I looked up at him slyly, unable to resist asking, "So how much am I worth?"
Chuckling softly, Peter kissed my hair. "More than all the air or the water or earth could ever produce. You are the world, good my king, and such things can't be bought at any price." He gave me a shake, his eyes bright with anticipation. "Come on, Ed. Let's grab the girls and get down to the shore. We have so much to celebrate tonight!"
I grinned. Truer words had never been said.