Edmund joined the fencing club. He told his older brother this over lunch during the second week of school, because he always ate lunch with Peter, and the older boys who thought it beneath their dignity to eat with a second-year were not quite stupid enough to say so to Peter's face. They didn't understand when Peter burst out laughing, although Edmund seemed to get the joke, for he smiled and ducked his head and said, obscurely, that it would be good practice for when he went back.
"All the practice in the world won't be enough," Peter said, then glanced about the table and shut his mouth. There was a long, awkward silence before conversation trickled back in to fill the gap.
The fencing master had to admit that he was good; frighteningly good, actually. Oh, the way he handled a rapier was all wrong, and he made a great many mistakes in the first few weeks of practice, but they weren't the right mistakes. He wasn't at all clumsy or awkward with a blade; if it weren't utterly impossible, the fencing master would have said that Edmund's mistakes were those of an experienced swordsman learning a new weapon rather than those of a raw beginner. Of course it was impossible, so he didn't think that at all.
Edmund's older brother came to watch the practices sometimes but never applauded or shouted advice, just stood leaning against the doorframe with a strange, sad smile on his face.
"We ought to get some proper wooden blades," he said one afternoon, ruffling Edmund's hair affectionately. "I'd like to keep my hand in."
"But I thought He said--" Edmund trailed off. The fencing master, who was listening, thought that there was something significant in the way Edmund said 'He'.
"He did," said Peter quellingly. "But I'd still like to keep my hand in."
"Oh," said Edmund. "Alright, then."
And that was how it came to pass that, some weeks later, Peter showed up after practice with two weighted wooden broadswords in his arms. He tossed one to his brother as he came out of the salle. Edmund caught it deftly and met Peter's challenging grin with one of his own.
They didn't use the fencing salle, but took their blades out under the trees behind the brick buildings and fought, and felt like warriors and men instead of lanky boys on the wrong side of adolescence. The fencing master caught sight of them on the way to his car and watched for a long time. Edmund was as quick and graceful on the grass as he had been on the waxed floors of the salle, though Peter was working him harder than any of his teammates did, or--he was forced to admit, watching--could. There was an odd seriousness in the way the brothers fought, one dark, one fair, the dull thud of wood on wood and no words spoken. Peter was sixteen, nearly full-grown and more than a head taller than Edmund, but they were almost evenly matched. The bout went on for what seemed like hours until Edmund disarmed his brother with an expert flick of his wrist that the fencing master had never seen, let alone taught.
The practice blade flew through the air to land point-down in the soft grass, and Peter stood still, empty-handed. For a long moment, neither boy moved, and then Edmund offered his own blade to Peter, hilt-first.
There was an instant during which the fencing master had the odd but very strong impression that he was looking at two tall and bearded men, and that the clumsy wooden blade was a real sword, keen and dangerous. Then Peter shook his head, and Edmund laughed, and they were boys again, standing on the school lawn with their shirts untucked and their hair plastered to their foreheads with sweat.
"Perhaps I ought to take up fencing, as well," Peter said, loud enough for the fencing master to hear him. "I'm out of practice."
"Even when you were in practice, you couldn't take me," Edmund said, grinning as Peter yanked his sword out of the ground.
"I taught you that move."
"And so the student overtakes his master."
Peter laughed and pulled his brother into a rough hug, saying something in a low voice that the fencing master couldn't hear. When they broke apart, Edmund was still smiling, but there was something more serious on his face under the smile. "I wish you could go back," he said. "It won't be the same without you."
"Once a king of Narnia--" Peter began.
"--always a king of Narnia, yes, I know." Edmund shook his head. "Still, it won't be the same."
"No, it won't. Things never stay the same, you know that, Ed." Peter glanced up, saw the fencing master still standing by his car, briefcase in hand. Their eyes met for a long moment, and then Peter turned away. "Let's go and see what's for supper. I'm hungry."
The fencing master watched them walk back toward the buildings, jostling one another in a friendly manner. When they were out of sight, he got into his car and turned the engine on, then sat there for a long moment listening to it run and trying to puzzle out what he had just seen.