Royal banquets in Narnia were always magnificent occasions and the honouring of a guest made it even more special as Caspian realized the origin of this custom began in the Golden Age. Numerous tables, groaned with the dishes lavishly and lovingly placed by an unending retinue of staff who kept replenishing the courses.
An entire table contained meat and fish dishes. A honey glazed, roasted pig with the customary apple was the highlight of that section. Fowl stuffed with almonds and raisins, trout and salmon in different types of sauces, crayfish, lobsters, oysters, shrimp and even squid were sent out platter after platter. Other tables held a myriad of fruit, bread, cheese, pastries and vegetables enough to make one's head spin. The centrepiece was an enormous honey comb, the amber liquid oozing from the white, waxy comb. All the bears naturally flocked to that table for their desert.
Warm bread and a plethora of jellies, cakes, sherbets and pies together mingled with the scent of golden apples, grapes, apricots, red pears, melons, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and blackberries the size of Caspian's finger was enough for a stomach to rumble with pleasure. The wine flowed from golden decanters, dark, rich red liquid which made his head heady and the lighter white wines, he saw Queen Lucy sipping delicately. The Kings and Dwarves preferred the taste of Archenland ale and Caspian could tell, by their red cheeks and glazed eyes, they were positively drunk.
"Dates from Calormen. Try it." Rasmus informed him, pointing to a small, dark fruit which looked more like a squashed beetle in Caspian's opinion. Surprisingly it was sinfully sweet and he took three more.
He was seated two seats to the left of Peter as they sat around, a circular table. Like the Table of the Knights of Narnia, the tradition of equality was as important when dining. Hours passed as they conversed heartily and it was easy for Caspian to win the hearts of the courtiers around him. He listened appreciatively and attentively to their tales, regaling them with a few of his own, which seemed to enthral all of his listeners. This was what he loved the most of the Narnians. Interacting with them and discovering what made each one of them special. Already he had become soft hearted towards Cherry the Stag and the Court's resident, self proclaimed and irrepressible Mother, Mrs. Beaver.
"Caspian dear, have some more crayfish and trout. You did not even try it." She cajoled as he declined politely. Not wanting the Court to know of his painful reaction especially to trout. He remembered the first time he tried it and his tongue had swollen to the size of a melon. Trumpkin had become frantic looking for Dr. Cornelius to cure him. Those memories were priceless.
"Thank you for the offer Mrs. Beaver but I am stuffed to the brim." He replied hoping she would choose another target for her affections but he was wrong. He was the Guest of Honour for today and all niceties were given to him.
"Nonsense dear. You hardly ate all afternoon." She responded and to his horror, placed a huge heaping of trout in mushroom sauce, before him. "There now, you eat all that up and I will get you some of that melon for desert." She replied tucking into her own dish as he heard the quiet snickers of Lucy and Peter next to him. Even Edmund was having a difficult time to maintain a straight face as he sipped his drink. Caspian knew asking them for help would be useless, since it seemed they were the usual recipients of Mrs. Beaver's parental indulgence.
"Leave him be dearest. The poor lad is turning green." Mr. Beaver interjected gently admonishing his wife and attempting to save Caspian from the task of eating the fish.
"He needs to eat more Beaver. Look at him, he is too thin." She replied sternly, signalling for a plate of melon to be sent, as Caspian's stomach reacted with an unpleasant gurgle.
"I think the lad needs nothing but some fresh air to regain his appetite." Mr Beaver tried once more as his wife grumbled quietly. Peter's head was bowed but his shoulders were shaking with the uncontained laughter at Caspian's predicament.
"I agree with Mr. Beaver." Edmund replied feeling sorry for their guest. "Cherry would you escort Lord Caspian to wherever he pleases?" he asked as the stag looked up from his meal and nodded.
"It would be an honour My King." He replied as Caspian stood a relieved look on his face as he faced the Royal family.
"I thank you for your generosity My Lieges. The fresh air is exactly what I need at this point. If you require my services at any point, I shall be here. Please excuse us from the feast." He replied bowing as all three gave him leave. Cherry trotting beside him as they made their way out.
"Edmund dear, do eat some more of that fowl and bread." He heard lastly as the attentions of Mrs. Beaver turned to the King instead and chuckled.
"Mrs. Beaver is loved by us all, but there are times when it does become exasperating." Cherry volunteered as they strode past guards, heading towards the Palace Gardens.
"She means well." Caspian replied. Now they were alone, it was time to ask about Susan.
"Cherry, I was wondering..." He began as they stood before a huge garden maze and ventured in.
"About what Caspian?" he replied biting off a piece of the foliage and chewed carefully as he looked up to Caspian, a thoughtful expression in his eyes.
"I have heard there are four rulers of Narnia. Two Sons of Adam and Two Daughters of Eve, if my memory served me right. Yet I have met only three. There was an empty throne on the dais." He replied casually as they walked past figures of animals, cleverly crafted from the surrounding shrubbery.
"The Queen Susan, I am afraid is gone." Cherry replied swallowing the leaves.
"Gone?" Caspian echoed, his heart sinking with the new information. Had something befallen her? He had to pry more before any conclusions could be made.
"She is in Archenland at the moment, with some of the Court's retinue. The Tarkheena Aravis on her last visit begged our Queen to accompany her back to Anvard and well, you know how close Corin is to Queen Susan. When those two approach the Queen with any request, it is very difficult for her to refuse. Poor Cor, I have no idea how he manages to control those wildcats, but I am certain even the Crown Prince, gets involved with some of their schemes ever so often. As they say, love is blind and we all know he loves Aravis, even if he does not say it." Cherry babbled, innocent to the impact of the news on Caspian, who stopped a few feet behind, listening in horror to his words.
"Corin? Who was this, some suitor?" He thought as he felt the stirrings on envy flow into the pit of his stomach. Already his disadvantage was greater, not only did Susan not know him, but there were suitors!
"Caspian? Caspian! Are you all right? You look deathly pale. I warned you about that squid." Cherry nudged him with his antlers, half cajoling him as he shook himself from the stupor of the depressing news. Regardless of the emotions stirring within him, he had to find out as much information necessary.
"I am fine Cherry; do not fret yourself over me. So, Queen Susan has many suitors? I have heard she is very beautiful." He asked casually, hoping there was no longing in his voice to give his true purpose away.
"Both Queens are our living reminders of Alambil and Aravir on Narnia. Queen Susan's beauty has inspired many poets to compose lays and minstrels to sing her fine qualities." Cherry explained to him.
"That I know only too well." He thought, remembering the copious amounts of ink and parchment he had wasted to compose a poem for her, waiting for the right opportunity that never came.
"As for her suitors, they come to Cair Paravel all eager and leave disappointed. After Prince Rabadash's unsuccessful attempt to woo her almost three years ago, Queen Susan is more cautious than necessary but no one blames her, after their narrow escape from Calormen. I do not listen to the gossip of the court, but... here Caspian, bend down so I can whisper this." Cherry instructed as he complied, the warm nose of the stag, touching his hair. "The courtiers say, Lord Peridan is quite fond of the Queen and is seen very often in her company. Rasmus told me discreetly, through news from Isabel, that Queen Susan herself has taken a fancy to him and may accept his hand if he does propose." Cherry whispered as Caspian felt the stung of the news.
"Corin and Peridan? How many suitors were there?" he thought anxiously as he attempted to be as nonchalant on the valuable information Cherry was relaying.
"Lord Peridan? Who is he?" he asked as Cherry looked up incredulously.
"Forgive me Caspian. I keep forgetting you are new to our land. Lord Peridan is one of the most feared warriors second only to High King Peter, in all of Narnia and Archenland. Though he lives here, he was born at Anvard and was chosen by King Lune of Archenland to represent their country during all treaties and negotiations. The favour he has found among the Royal family and his deeds are renowned. He is the Champion of Archenland at our annual Summer Festival." Cherry explained as they sat before a fountain, hidden in one of the grottoes.
"I see now Cherry. When is the party be expected back in Cair Paravel, and what is this Summer Festival?" he asked looking at the water, cascading down the stone nymph fountain.
"Today actually. They should return by dusk, if all goes as planned. Considering they have Cor, Corin and Aravis in that party. They may be delayed an hour or two only because of the insatiable curiosity of that trio. The Summer Festival takes place every year in one of our surrounding woodlands. It is some weeks away. High King Peter has chosen Owlwood for the venue. There will be dancing, bonfires and feasts all night long for several days. The Dryads, Naiads, Tree folk, and all Narnians look forward to this time excitedly. I love the Summer Festival, but especially the games which take place before." Cherry replied excitedly as he pranced around the fountain.
"A tournament?" Caspian asked as Cherry nodded.
"Yes, usually between Narnia and Archenland. Though it has been such a long time since any of our Knights won the Title at the games." Cherry said mournfully, his excitement deflated.
"Why so?" He asked curiously. The soldiers of Narnia were legendary in their skill.
"It seems no one is a match against Lord Peridan. For as long as I have been attending, none of our Knights have been able to defeat him. It is amazing to watch his performance though, he moves like the air around us. Thank Aslan he fights for us." Cherry replied as he chewed on some more grass.
"What about the High King and King Edmund, can they not compete?" he asked, an idea beginning to form in his head.
"Nay. It is open to everyone but the Royalty, or else the Title would remain with us forever. There is no warrior alive to combat successfully against our High King. Even King Lune, who was a great fighter in his younger days, admits our High King Peter is incomparable." Cherry replied, the pride in his Sire evident in his tone.
"That he surely is." Caspian agreed genuinely. He knew from experience, the ferocity of Peter even when he was not at full strength, the battle against his uncle had proved that. "Cherry, if one wanted to enter the tournament, what would be the protocol?" he asked quietly, threading his fingers around the short blades of grass.
"Speak to our High King and together all four of them would accept or decline your offer. No supplicant has ever been turned away. This year is even more important we have a good showing, especially with the Calormen delegation attending." Cherry replied coming to a halt beside Caspian.
"From the responses I heard at the table, I take it, this is not too favourable." He asked as Cherry nodded.
"Since the last attempt made by a Calormen was to kidnap Queen Susan and attack Narnia. We have all be somewhat sceptical entering into an alliance with them. However Aslan's timely intervention saved us all from a bloodier battle than we expected. Prince Rabadash is a changed man so I have heard and encouraged his ailing father the Tisroc to strengthen our ties, by sending a delegation to witness some of our traditions. The rumour is, due to Rabadash's punishment by Aslan, even though he has been forgiven by Narnians, we all think he still will not chance attending and sends his sister the Tarkheena Dhira instead. That is certainly momentous. According to Calormene customs, their women play a secondary role in politics." Cherry informed him as he stared into the flowing waters. This was a chance to prove his intentions, especially to the dubious Edmund.
"Do you think, the High King will allow me to enter?" he asked quietly as Cherry's ears and eyes perked up.
"I see no reason why they would not. Would you really do it Caspian?" Cherry asked unable to believe his ears.
"Certainly. How else can I prove myself and loyalty to Narnia? Or do you doubt I will not win against Lord Peridan?" Caspian teased as Cherry almost choked on the last snatches of grass uprooted from the cultivated hedges.
"You are obviously a trained combatant. I can see that from your gait and assuredness." Cherry replied thoughtfully. "I am certain; you would not underestimate the prowess of Lord Peridan. It would be great news indeed, if you can return the Title to Narnia." Cherry said wistfully.
"Cheer up my friend; we may have that chance yet." Caspian consoled patting him lightly on his head. "We should return now, the evening is fading and I would like to ask The High King for the honour to represent Narnia, before he leaves Court." He said as Cherry made dizzying leaps around the fountain in sheer ecstasy.
"Victory for Narnia and Aslan. How sweet the news sound on my tongue." Cherry sang noisily as Caspian laughed.
"I am curious though, what prize could be of such value, for that much honour to be at stake?" he asked curiously, his boots crunching against the pebbles in the garden pathway.
"To be crowned Champion of the Games and escort Queen Susan to the Summer Festival." Cherry said innocently as Caspian's heart began hammering. "Knights and noblemen of Narnia have been vying for years for the latter, but all are thwarted by Lord Peridan." Cherry replied as Caspian fought the urge to laugh at his friend's annoyance with Peridan.
"Well then, we should not disappoint Her Majesty once again. Come we should find the King at once." Caspian urged as they picked up pace, heading for the Great Hall.
South of Narnia, the once mighty Calormen stood silently as the sand dunes in their desert. After the attempted invasion on Archenland and Narnia and the subsequent humiliation of their Crown Prince three years ago, the once powerful country, now stood on the brink of anarchy. Their people a proud race of Merchants , Traders and an army of fierce warriors were on the brink of collapse, not because of the lack of wealth but their military losses to the smaller Northern countries. Most Calormenes loved their Tisroc but the rumours of his impending passing and the state of chaos whispered to be brewing among the Royal family, did not allay their fears of Calormene returning to its past glory. Indeed, none but three individuals knew of the plans set into motion which would change the course of their History forever.
Beneath the surface of peace among Calormen, Narnia and Archenland, a dark bubble of madness was about to explode and in it, only a few willing to adapt to the necessary changes, would live to enjoy the fruits of this insane plot.
Hidden within the most secret of secret rooms found in the Tisroc's Palace, deep beneath the bowels of the earth Prince Akatosh second in line to the throne, together with the Vizier Tarim were locked deep in discussion of the future of Calormen. The Prince's face a mask of anger as he paced furiously along the perimeter of the darkened room.
"Peace? How I detest that word! Is this the grand scheme which my brother desires between those filthy Narnians and the noble Tarkans? Tash show me the way into that demon filled land and I would gladly slice the heads of those Heathen Kings, spitting them to a pole before our walls and leave their rotting corpses for the vultures of the desert!" Akatosh roared as his servant Shalan, trembled in sheer terror. The last time he had witnessed his Master in this mood; twenty men lost were beheaded before the public, for not returning with a runaway slave.
"My Prince, your humble servant ask what is your plan of action against these barbarians? Your father the Tisroc (May he live forever) listens now only to the counsel of your brother and we remember only too well the revenge against Susan of Narnia, ended in our greatest defeat. Prince Rabadash will not be as hasty to attack them again, after his unfortunate predicament." Tarim slithered, clicking the long nails of his fingers together, his beady, onyx eyes approving of Akatosh's wild, youthful fury.
"My brother is a coward. He shames the line of Tash and all our ancestors by letting these insignificant countries continue to exist with their insufferable beliefs of freedom and equality among all their people. Only those strong enough to survive every unbearable torment should have the chance to exist. My father has been too spineless in dealing with those barbarians and my snivelling brother agrees to his advice only because of that demon who disgraced him three years ago." Akatosh fumed, sitting on the divan as Shalan rushed to make his master comfortable, the prince impatiently waving him off with a bejewelled hand.
"Your brother finds much favour among the court and in the eyes of the Tisroc (may he live forever) yet there are grumblings among some of our Tarkans, soldiers and even the peasants. They, who crave for the glory of a Calormen past. We were a country existing before those savage Kings and Queens of Narnia arrived. War, rampage and conquest are the glories we thrive for. Will you forsake the customs of your ancestors because your brother has decided the Fate of Calormen survival, rests on harmony among the countries?" Tarim asked as he prostrated himself before the Prince.
"You dare ask me whether I have forgotten the sagas of my father's sire and those before him? Need I remind you, the songs of blood, gore and glory to Tash and Tashbaan were the first memories imprinted in my soul, you snivelling worm! Were you not present, as my father's father placed this very blade in my hands and instructed me to carve my name in the flesh of that captured Archenlander as a boy of eight? " Akatosh screamed as he rose quickly and kicked the Vizier three times hard in his ribs, doubling the man into a ball of bloody sputters, his jewelled turban flying off into a dark corner.
"Forgive me my Prince. I mean no disrespect and neither have I forgotten of your prowess in the art of war." Tarim coughed a trickle of blood from his mouth dribbling down to the rugs. "I too would desire nothing more than to raze those cities and make their people slaves to all of Calormen. I ask you for a way to make this a reality." He whimpered wiping away the blood with the back of his hand.
"There is one way." He replied crossing his arms, one hand stroking his beard thoughtfully. "My sister Dhira has been sent to represent Calormen at the Narnian Summer Festival to be held some weeks away. I cannot imagine my father thinks by sending a woman, alliances will be formed." Akatosh mused as Tarim looked up.
"The princess is as beautiful as a lotus blossom. Should one of the Narnian Kings become besotted..." he began as Akatosh swiftly aimed another heavy blow in his direction, sending him sprawling into the silk cushions.
"Fool! I would never agree to that match. My sister is a descendant of Tash Himself and a Narnian swine together in marriage? Their child would swiftly feel the blade of my scimitar against its tender flesh. Never forget, I am not Rabadash who was blinded by that snivelling Queen." Akatosh roared as Shalan cowered behind the divan. This was no man but a monster.
"O Prince of Men, if I may humbly enquire, is your plan against the Narnians?" Tarim volunteered steering Akatosh into the previous path of discussion.
"I will accompany Dhira under the guise of protection and win over the Narnians as my brother did. Then under the cover of darkness, I shall execute my plan of action." Akatosh smiled hungrily, frightening the other two.
"Which is what O Beloved Prince of Warriors?" Tarim dared to ask as he protectively curled into a ball.
"To capture a Queen of course. The Barbarian Queen Susan shall be mine and after her brother ransoms her life for his kingdom. I shall present my bounty to father and he shall have no other choice but to grant me the honour of being the next Tisroc instead of that whimpering cur Rabadash. I have succeeded where he failed. Calormen shall once again; taste the sweet ecstasy of victory and power shall be mine for the taking. Tarim be loyal to me for life and the position of Grand Vizier shall be yours for the taking."Akatosh crooned as he rubbed his hands together, a maniacal laugh escaping from the pits of his body as Tarim looked up towards him, his wizened face not betraying the worry from within.
"The Prince Rabadash will not take kindly to your plans My Prince and the Narnians will be on guard against any manner of foul play." Tarim replied as Akatosh looked towards him, one brow arched in indifference.
"He will accept them Vizier, what choice shall he have, when his innards are strewn all over the desert for the buzzards and his bones are gnawed upon by the wild dogs. As for the savages, under the cover of night when all is quiet, no one shall even know the barbarian queen is missing until we are far away." Akatosh laughed as he prodded Tarim with a curled shoe, leaving both remaining men trembling with dread as he stalked out of the room.
A.N. A million thanks to ALL of my reviewers. Every one of your comments really and truly makes me thankful having wonderful people who take the time to read, and enjoy. It's because of you guys that authors of fan fiction really strive to excel at their work. Kudos to you all!! I'm really glad you're enjoying it and don't worry I promise you, since the background plot is set. The rest of chapters are mainly Susan and Caspian interactions. Thanks for keeping me company in this little journey and don't forget to read and review.
BTW I've always felt, Mrs. Beaver is like a mother to all of the Pevensie's and that's why she is allowed to call them by their names instead of titles.