I don't own Narnia or the Pevensies. This one was scrawled in a notebook mostly on trains in Japan. Also, this computer has no English spell check and I never use a beta, so apologies for any humorous typos.
The Issue first came up over breakfast, before they even knew She had arrived. It was as innocent as this: Edmund looked down at the list of court appointments, swallowed his toast and asked, "Who's Princess Ellia?"
His brother the High King shrugged and reached across the table to pick up the juice pitcher. His sister Queen Susan coughed and found her eggs quite interesting. Ominously, his sister Queen Lucy burst out giggling, and had to stuff several pieces of peach into her mouth to shut herself up. Edmund looked up at her in alarm.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," said Susan quickly, shooting her sister a look. "Lucy put too much sugar in her tea, that's all. Eat your grapes."
"I h'vn't h'd 'ny tea," Lucy protested through the peaches, to which Edmund added helpfully, "And I don't have any grapes."
Frowning, Peter reached over to take the scroll from his brother. He studied it with a creased brow.
"First thing in the morning," he commented, glancing over at Susan. "What do you know about this, Su?"
She hurriedly stabbed an egg and shoved it in her mouth, then blushed and demurely lifted a hand in front of her lips.
"She can't speak right now," said Lucy seriously. "It would be very rude."
"Does this have anything to do with that...that Prince What's-His-Face-Bearing-Children-Madness from yesterday?" Edmund asked suspiciously.
"No," said Susan, swallowing. "Not really."
"Not really?" pressed Peter, his frown deepening.
Sighing, Susan set down her fork and pursed her lips.
"If you must know, she's here to be presented to Your Royal Highness, Peter."
This news was greeted by silence, save for the blink blink of two pairs of eyes and a thud as Lucy fell off her chair and shook with silent laughter.
"Lu!" Peter demanded. "What do you know that I don't? as High King, I order you to tell me!"
But his sister only laughed harder.
"Oh! Look at the sun," trilled Susan, standing and pulling a struggling Peter up by the ear. "We'd better get going. We don't want to be late, now, do we?"
"I'm not done eating!" protested Edmund. "And what does that even mean, she's here to be presented to Peter?"
"Just be nice," Susan told him, confiscating the roll he'd grabbed in self-defense. "Up you get, Ed. Lucy, stop giggling and make yourself useful."
"Yes, Mum," said her sister obediently. She got up off the floor and took Peter by the hand, pulling him out of the room before he could ask any more questions. When Susan swept after them, Edmund scrambled to his feet and followed, not wanting to be the last one into the throne room. Ten minutes later, the four found themselves seated and crowned, ready to oversee the daily court until lunchtime, as they did most days. At a nod from Peter, who still looked rather flustered, the Cair's head trumpeter cued the fanfare and It Began: a stumpy man (not a dwarf, though; you could always tell) stepped out into the center of the room and announced,
"To the court of Cair Paravel of the Four Thrones, I present Her Royal Highness, Princess Ellia of Negamry!"
"Where?" muttered Edmund.
"Beats me," Peter murmured back.
"Honestly!" Susan whispered hotly, leaning across her throne towards the two of them. "Haven't you studied your geography at all?"
"Not really," said Edmund. He was the Just, after all.
"It's the sixth island to the south of Galma, just northeast of Maurin on the Archenland coast."
"Wait, the one with the king who has twenty-odd wives?" Peter whispered back quickly, but Susan was sitting back on her throne, eyebrows raised pointedly as she stared to the back of the room. He quickly copied the gesture, as did Edmund. And that was when he saw her.
Most people have read about love at first sight. It is said that when such a thing happens, two hearts can leap across any distance to join one another in the truest, most passionate union imaginable. Unfortunately for Princess Ellia, it was only her heart that took the jump, whereas Peter's let out a little scream and tore off in the other direction while simultaneously trying to figure out a way to get back at Susan later.
It wasn't her face - she was actually quite pretty, with big brown eyes and plump pink cheeks - but rather it was the expression upon it. Peter shuffled through his vocabulary and finally settled on hungry though rabid and deranged were close seconds; she was staring at him in such a way as to make him wonder if he had accidentally doused himself in Worcestershire sauce that morning. This look so unsettled him that he rather forgot the ceremonial line that should have followed her presentation, and Susan had to jump in with "Cair Paravel welcomes the Princess Ellia" and shoot him a glare. On the far left, Lucy began giggling again, albeit silently.
"Salutations, oh great rulers of the superb country of Narnia," said the princess, curtseying deeply. "I come from the humble but noble country of Negamry as the daughter of King Troud, seeking an alliance between the courts, the people and the hearts of our countries."
"Ah," said Edmund, nodding. "Right. You may present the treaty."
"Ed," whispered Peter. "I don't think this is about a treaty."
The princess seemed confused by the younger king's declaration, and he in turn found himself rather lost. With a questioning glance at Peter, he flushed and spoke again.
"Er. My apologies. I ah...seem to have been mistaken. Do continue."
With another curtsey, the princess stepped back into her entourage. Abruptly, Peter noticed one lady among them, a tall, portly woman probably in her late thirties. She was clearly Princess Ellia's mother, and if the expression on her daughter's face had been frightening, hers was utterly terrifying. He ripped his eyes away to focus on the rotund little herald, who had stepped forward again.
"On this the forty-third day of spring, in the shining court of Cair Paravel in the ever-prosperous country of Narnia, King Troud and the esteemed country of Negamry do open the suit of the Princess Ellia to the High King Peter. May the stars smile on the promising bud of such a union."
Susan could see Peter's mind scrambling, pulling frantically on the reins of this runaway meeting. He opened his mouth and closed it again, turning just short of beet red.
"I um," he stuttered, the formal words fleeing his brain and leaping out his ears to safety. "The ah...the court of Cair Paravel regrets to inform the Princess Ellia that um...the High King Peter, that is to say I...am...is...not accepting suits...I mean, not sursuing puits I mean not pursuing suits. There! Not pursuing suits. At the moment."
He finished with a sharp sigh of relief and received a glare from the elder of his sisters.
"Our condolences," she said, with much more grace. "We understand you have travelled very far to get here, Princess. You and your entourage are welcome to stay at the Cair as long as you please. In the meanwhile, perhaps another kind of alliance could be brokered between our countries."
"We have prepared a presentation of minstrelsy," said the herald, as if they had not spoken at all. Peter and Edmund exchanged a look. "A showcase of our beloved princess's virtues. No doubt the High King will find it most illuminating."
The little man stepped back, and two young men and a woman shuffled forward with lutes clasped in their sweaty palms. They looked up in expectation to the four monarchs. With a prompting look from Susan, Peter cleared his throat awkwardly and managed to mumble, "Proceed."
And they began to sing.
Edmund had never really thought of chastity as something that you could sing about in depth, but Princess Ellia's minstrels proved him wrong. Of the seven verses of their song, four focused on her utter untouchedness, the wholeness of her virginity, the purity of both her body and her soul. The extend to which they described what she had not done actually made him rather uncomfortable. He hoped that Lucy didn't understand and wished that he didn't - the song was like a health lesson in three-part harmony. When it was finally, blessedly over, an awkward silence settled over the court, punctuated by a few tentative claps from some of the kinder Animals, who quickly stopped.
"Thank you for that most...lovely ballad," said Susan at last, her voice strained.
"It was an honor to play for your majesties," said one of the minstrels, bowing. "Our princess has quite a lovely voice. If it please you, we could..."
"...oh no, no, that's quite all right," said Susan quickly. Peter seemed too shocked (and perhaps appalled) to say anything. She looked around for a distraction - something, anything to finish this unfortunate turn of events (she had predicted correctly only her brother's reaction to the proposal, not the tenacity of his unwanted admirer). But there was nothing to be had. Her eyes flicked back up as the herald came forward a third time.
"To the court of Cair Paravel of the Four Thrones, I present the Lady Vennicus."
"Oh dear," mumbled Peter as Princess Ellia's mother stepped forward - she did not look pleased.
"If I was named Lady Vennicus, I might look that way too," Edmund muttered under his breath to his brother.
That, of course, was Susan, who was trying to look as engaged in their guests as possible almost as an apology for her brothers.
"Just Lady Vennicus?" Lucy pondered to herself. Then the women was addressing them, and they all sat to attention in their thrones.
"Most noble kings and queens of Narnia," she began. "We have brought with us some tokens of our appreciation for your consideration of this suit, the finest Nega..."
"...but I'm not conside..."
"...mry has to offer. Firstly, we present to you a casket of aged cherry wine, from our groves on the northern shore. It dates back near eighty years in our cellars. Secondly, we present to you a dress of our finest linen, dyed with authentic crushed Gemmerberries and adorned with shards of lapis from the western mines. Thirdly, we present to you a selection of delectable choco..."
"...wait, wait, wait," Peter cut in, but Edmund waved a hand at him, sitting forward excitedly.
"Sh, Pete. What was that about chocolate?"
"No, no, no! Ed, shush!" Peter burst out in exasperation. He shook his head and looked back up at Lady Vennicus, who looked quite offended at the interruption. "Look, most noble and gracious and whatever else lady, I'm not quite sure you understood me. I said I am not pursuing suits at the moment."
"Actually, you said you weren't sursu..."
"...shut up, Ed. What I mean to say is that though I have no doubts that your daughter is a most suitable candidate for courtship and marriage and all that, I am not simply because I am...well, not. I am simply not interested. I am sorry to have wasted your time. If I had known sooner," and here he gave Susan a meaningful look, "I might have told you not to come at all. I am afraid I can accept neither your gifts nor your proposal. I wish you a pleasant stay at the Cair and a smooth trip home. Thank you."
The lady stared at him a moment, then finally bowed and stepped back with a stiff face.
"We thank you for your time. We shall spend a single night here, then return on the morrow. If you should change your mind before then, please let us know."
Peter gave a nod, and the four monarchs stood to mark the end of the meeting.
"You are free to restock your ship from our stores," said Susan kindly. "May there always be peace and goodwill between our countries."
The looks they received as the entourage dribbled out of the throne room didn't exactly bespeak peace and goodwill.
The four of them did not speak of it again until dinner, because it seemed that before then, wherever they went, the Princess Ellia and her mother went too. They popped up at lunchtime, when the Pevensies were just about to sit down; Ellia casually parted Susan and Lucy to sit between them and proceeded to make eyes at Peter through the whole meal; Vennicus wedged herself between Peter and Edmund and nearly reduced them to tears with tales of her daughter's accomplishments, most of which involved rescuing injured woodland creatures and/or singing in front of large crowds of people (Lucy noticed though that nothing was promised about the quality of said singing). After that, the two women followed the kings to their daily weapons lesson and oohed and ahhed over every movement of the javelins the boys were learning to use. When Peter and Edmund finished and went upstairs to bathe, Ellia descended on Susan with a thousand questions about her older brother, while Vennicus inserted herself into a conversation Lucy had been having with one of her minstrels. And at dinner, just minutes into a discussion of said aggravations, they appeared yet again, prompting Lucy to clap her hand over her mouth and desist from relating her own story.
"You know, this is a lovely, lovely castle," said Vennicus, clasping her hands together and hovering over the table awkwardly. "And so big. You could get lost in a place like this."
"Really?" muttered Edmund. "I was just about to suggest that."
"Thank you," said Susan to the lady, forcing a smile and kicking her brother under the table. "I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening as well. We shall see you off tomorrow morning, then."
The implicit goodbye sailed gaily over their heads, dropping at last into a surprised faun's soup with a plop.
"It must be lovely to all have your own chambers, so private and separate," said Ellia with a pretty smile.
"Actually, our rooms are connected," Lucy said before anyone could stop her. "Mine and Susan's on one side of the hall, Peter's and Ed's on the other."
"Oh, is that right?" Vennicus replied vaguely. Peter and Susan glanced nervously at one another.
"Enjoy your dinner," said Ellia breezily, and the two of them floated out.
"I smell trouble," said Susan.
"You smell trouble?" Peter repeated incredulously. "You created trouble!"
"Well I certainly didn't invite them!"
"I didn't know they'd be this bad, Peter. Look, it was going to happen eventually anyway, and she was pretty and around your age and I thought you might actually consider it if you were surprised enough."
"Since when are you so keen to marry me off, anyway? I'm seventeen!" he complained.
"I'm not!" his sister protested. "But at some point, Peter, you're going to realize girls exist and maybe then you'll thank me for forcing you to learn to talk to them!"
"I already know how to talk to girls. I'm talking to you, aren't I?"
"I give up!" Susan cried, throwing up her hands. "Just be careful tonight. I have a feeling they haven't given up just yet, if you know what I mean."
"I don't," said Lucy.
"Good," said Edmund.
"All right, Su, I'll watch out," Peter sighed, setting his fork down. "Ugh. I can't believe it's come to this."
That night, Peter performed a very thorough check of his room before removing so much as a sock. He looked in and under the bed, in the wardrobe, behind both doors, on top of the canopy, in back of his desk, on all sides of the couch, out on the balcony, even in the fireplace and up the chimney. Only when he was satisfied that his bedroom was 100 percent safe from any potentially compromising situations did he finally undo his royal belt and begin to strip down to his royal underwear. He had fastened about half the royal buttons on his royal pajama shirt when a scream from next door shattered the silence of his empty room.
In a flash, Peter had lunged for and drawn his sword, bolting to the door and throwing it open. Never mind anyone who saw him in his royal underwear - his brother's safety came before his own dignity. With a cry of challenge, he charged into the room next door with sword aloft and eyes alight.
"Oh, thank goodness" said two voices at once. Stumbling to a halt, Peter lowered his sword in confusion. His brother was cowering behind the armchair beside his bed, the dagger he kept in his nightstand clutched in one trembling hand. On his bed, the covers were half-drawn as if he'd just been getting in, and a certain princess was blushingly covering herself with his sheets, looking at Peter with big, embarrassed eyes. He opened his mouth and shut it again in what Lucy had once affectionately dubbed his "flabbergasted fish face."
"What...what..." he stammered.
"What are you waiting for?" Ellia demanded. "Aren't you going to defend my honor?"
"Aren't I going to what?" Peter repeated in disbelief.
Just then, the door out into the hallway flew open and a red-faced Lady Vennicus burst in. Her eyes quickly took in the scene - Ellia, however naked in Edmund's bed, Edmund himself behind the chair clutching his dagger, Peter brandishing Rhindon in his royal underwear.
"What villainry is this?!" she cried in dramatic outrage.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's not jump to any..."
"...that your own brother should attempt such..."
"...now you know that's not what..."
"...I'm completely appalled! I presume you will..."
"...don't go presuming anything! He did abso..."
"...expect a public apology by morning, and full..."
"...don't be ridiculous, why would I..."
"...and a duel right this instant!"
"A duel? You must be crazy!" Peter spluttered.
"A duel!" Vennicus repeated, drawing herself up to her full height and staring him down. He gaped back.
"Your brother has endangered the honor of the Princess Ellia! You must challenge him to a duel to defend it."
"Yes, a duel!" the princess chimed in.
Peter let out a short, unamused laugh.
"My brother still believes in cooties, good lady; you can hardly expect me to believe that he..."
"...do not," protested Ed from the floor, but it was halfhearted.
"Shush, Ed. Look, I understand you're quite set on this suit but it simply won't happen. You can slip your naked daughter into every bed in the Cair and I still won't change my mind. I'm going to ask you kindly to leave now. My brother and I would like to get some sleep."
"And I'm actually going to ask you not so kindly," said a new voice from the doorway; Susan stood there in her nightgown, a robe draped over one arm and several of the palace guard behind her. "In fact, I'm not going to ask at all. I'm telling you now that you're leaving, and informing you that you'll be escorted."
Vennicus spluttered, but it was all she could do. Clearly, not one of the guards was even entertaining the idea that Edmund had done anything inappropriate. Recognizing defeat, she drew herself up one more time and managed to stammer out,
"I shall...I shall tell everyone that King Peter enjoys the company of men!"
"If princes don't expect to be courted, spread the word."
While he and Edmund turned their backs, Susan helped Ellia into the robe she'd brought for her and soon the princess and her mother were shuffling out between two armed fauns and a satyr, heading for their own chambers.
"You know I'm not sleeping there," Edmund said after they had left, eyeing his disturbed bed.
"Why not?" asked Susan curiously.
"Cooties," said Peter.
He wasn't sure if it was that comment that did it, or if Edmund was somehow holding him responsible for the night's events, but Peter found himself sleeping on his couch that night while his little brother enjoyed the comforts of the High King's bed.
The following morning, after Edmund had prodded him awake and smacked him in the face with a cushion for good measure, Peter dressed himself and accompanied his family down to the docks to see the Princess and her entourage off. A few courtiers had gathered to pay their respects but no one was sorry to see them go. As a few centaurs loaded the last few crates of supplies on board, a lone trumpet sounded from the castle entrance to herald the arrival of the travelers, and the Pevensies turned to face them. No one in the entourage looked very pleased, though the minstrels, guards, ladies in waiting et al looked as though they might not be so sad they were leaving empty-handed as that they were leaving at all. Ellia and Vennicus looked predictably disgruntled and sulky.
"Smooth sailing," Lucy wished them kindly, smiling. They brushed past without a word, but she was unfazed.
"Better luck with someone else's brother," muttered Edmund.
While the party started up the gangplank, Lucy sighed and leaned up against Peter's shoulder a little.
"It's too bad for them, really," she said thoughtfully.
"Why's that?" asked Susan, looking over at her sister.
"If you'd gone through with everything and married Princess Ellia, Peter, Vennicus would have become a Lady of Esteem in her own court."
"What's that mean?" Edmund asked, wrinkling his nose. "And how do you know?"
"Peter was right, yesterday," Lucy explained. "King Troud has twenty-six wives; Vennicus is just one of them. But if one of their children marries well, for example to a foreign king, then they become Ladies of Esteem. Naturally that comes with a bunch of special privileges. And I asked one of the minstrels, that's how I know."
"That explains a lot," said Peter.
"Well they can go find some other king to victimize," Susan frowned. "Narnia has enough kings and queens as it is."
"Too true," her older brother muttered, shooting her a look.
"Oh, some day you'll actually want them to come running," she shot back defensively. "Then you'll thank me."
"Yeah, but by then all he'll be getting is princes," smirked Edmund. As Peter rounded on his brother to cuff him upside the head, the Negamrian ship began to hoist sail and turn with the wind, moving to face out into the harbor. On deck, Ellia and her mother appeared to wave dutifully (if unenthusiastically) at those gathered on the dock. When Peter waved back, though, the princess abruptly made a rude hand gesture.
"You know," said Susan, arching one eyebrow. "I get the feeling that bits and pieces of that song weren't entirely accurate."
"After last night, I'd have to agree," said Peter with a grimace.
"I don't get it," said Lucy, frowning. And three voices replied as one,