This changed quite a bit from the first draft to what you're about to read. I hope it's not too disjointed...it's now nearly 11:30pm and I normally like to do one final edit while I'm properly awake, but I'm feeling very impatient tonight. Please let me know what you think!
Oh, and sorry about Bilingual!Caspian...I simply couldn't resist. The idea of the Telmarine nobility preferring a different language was inspired by Angelike Riddle's story Speaking in Tongues - you should read it, if you haven't already. It's fantastic. But yes...on with the story.
"Thank you, my good lady. This is excellent fare."
The young faun scampered off looking immensely pleased, and Peter scowled as he witnessed the smile drop from the Telmarine prince's face. Caspian wrinkled his nose, swallowing a large dollop of the stew with the air of one trying to get something extremely unpleasant down the hatch before the taste really kicked in. Feeling rather annoyed, he called out from his station by the door.
"They've given you the best of everything, you know. You might as well enjoy it."
Caspian started, looking wildly around the room, up and down and all around as one does when one is among a company of Narnians, for the source of the voice. Rolling his eyes, Peter stepped from the shadow of the door.
"Ah, High King Peter." He seemed to consider leaping to his feet and bowing respectfully, but settled instead for shifting over on the stone step he had made his table, and gesturing for the other boy to make himself comfortable. Peter did, glancing at the pale stew and feeling ever so slightly more sympathetic to the prince's plight. To be fair, it did look rather awful. Still, it was hot and filling, and most of the army would have to live on far less appetizing rations while the war lasted.
"That doesn't look too bad," he lied, staring pointedly at the stew. Caspian, misconstruing his meaning, held it out politely.
"Would you, ah, like some?"
Peter declined, raising an eyebrow. "I wanted to talk to you," he said bluntly. "About all these faces you keep pulling every time someone tries to extend a bit of hospitality to you."
"I am not pulling faces," said Caspian indignantly, simultaneously proceeding to unconsciously pull one. "The Narnians have been very good to me. I am sincerely grateful for their hospitality."
The issue of said hospitality was one that had been bothering Peter for some time now. Caspian, he felt, did not seem to have grasped that warfare meant giving up the ordinary comforts of home; in fact, he was beginning to suspect the young monarch of being something of a spoilt brat. It grated on his nerves to hear Caspian's rueful sighs as he lay down on his hard pallet at night, and to see him pick at the precious supplies the Narnians so carefully procured for him each day.
"You don't look very grateful for that stew," he snapped back.
Caspian knitted his annoyingly aristocratic brows. "High King, I do not follow."
Peter sighed heavily. "I'm trying to say," he said through gritted teeth, "that you need to be more appreciative. There's nobody around to pamper you anymore, and you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself about him."
Caspian's eyes flashed. "You think I am pampered?" he cried, glaring disbelievingly at Peter. "Listen, I am no spoilt and sulky child. If I am feeling a little homesick, that is my own affair. It does not interfere with my duty, nor impair my ability to fight."
Peter's eyebrows nearly disappeared beneath his hair. "Homesickness?" His voice sounded rather sharper than he intended, but he continued regardless. "How can you be homesick at a time like this? Do you really miss Miraz that much?"
Caspian's expression darkened further. "I do not miss Miraz," he said, his tone icy. "I miss my home, and my servants whom I was friendly with, and I miss dining on food I could digest." He had got to his feet, pacing angrily and seeming to speak more to himself than to Peter. "Is it so ridiculous to miss having a family, to miss living in a world I understand?"
At these words, Peter felt his gut clench uncomfortably. He had embarrassingly clear memories of those long-distant nights during the beginning of his own reign, when he would curl up under the covers of his strange, vast bed and cry for his parents and his house and his old life in Finchley. He felt an unwelcome stab of sympathy for the young prince.
"Tell me," he said, guiding Caspian back to his seat firmly. "What was it like, before…before you left?"
Caspian blinked at him, looking taken aback. "My King?"
"It helps to talk about it." The corner of Peter's mouth twitched. "That's what the girls always say, anyway. They're better at the whole comforting thing than I am."
Caspian grinned at him half-heartedly. "I appreciate your concern, King Peter, but I do not need comforting."
"Very well, then. Tell me about it anyway."
"Well…" Caspian swirled the stew in the bowl thoughtfully. "Life in Telmarine court is different to how you might know it. We have different rules, different codes of etiquette. We usually do not even speak this language."
"Really?" Peter leaned forwards, intrigued in spite of himself. "How did you get to be so fluent in English, then?"
"English?" Caspian looked puzzled. "That is not what we call it." He shrugged, smiling almost apologetically at the High King. "It is tradition, really. You see, when our ancestors came to Narnia, they had to learn to speak the tongue of their new neighbours to enable trades and negotiations to go forth. Over the generations it has become the prevailing tongue among peasants and the lower classes, but the nobility still prefer to use our native tongue. It is a sign of respect for our heritage."
Peter supposed he shouldn't have been surprised, but the knowledge still fascinated him. "I can't even seem to get the hang of French," he said, feeling a little disgruntled at being so outclassed in the linguistic department.
"French? I have not heard of it."
"You don't want to," Peter assured him earnestly. "It's frightfully difficult to get the hang of."
Caspian chuckled, and Peter became aware that all their usual awkwardness and formality had melted away in the space of this conversation. Caspian was astonishingly easy to talk to, and Peter almost wondered why he hadn't tried before. "You were telling me about court," he prompted. "Who were your friends? Did you have playmates?"
Caspian snorted. "There were no children at court," he said. "Only the offspring of the servants, and I was not permitted to associate with them."
"Gosh." Peter grimaced. "What did you do, then? Didn't you get lonely?"
To his surprise, Caspian's cheeks flushed pink. "I…you would think it silly," he muttered reluctantly.
Peter's curiosity was piqued. "No, come on. I won't laugh."
The other youth sighed resignedly. "Well…when I was a small child, I used to imagine that the four of you were my playmates. My…my nurse told me stories about you, and I always wished for you to come back to Narnia so I could meet you." He bit his lip awkwardly, a crooked smile quirking the corners of his mouth.
Peter's eyes were wide. "You played games about us?" He allowed a huge grin to spread across his face. "Wow…I can't imagine how strange it must feel for you, what with us suddenly turning up in front of you." The thought dawned on him very suddenly, and he realised it explained a lot of the disbelief and befuddlement he had occasionally caught Caspian regarding them with.
"I always fancied you would make a good friend," replied the prince cheerfully.
"Well, you can always consider me your friend." Peter's voice was suddenly serious and he held Caspian's gaze pointedly. "We've got a lot in common, it seems." He got to his feet, prodding the bowl of stew that had stood forgotten as their conversation progressed. "Eat. You'll need it." He left, casting one last smiling glance back at the prince who was once again eyeing his meal as though it had done him great personal injury. This time, though, the sight didn't irritate him as much as it did before. He was starting to think that maybe Caspian wasn't as bad as he'd initially thought. In actual fact, the boy was quite likeable.
Their easy camaraderie lasted all of five minutes. When Peter next saw Caspian, they were back to their usual tense formality. Peter still didn't agree with any of Caspian's opinions, and he still thought the youth had a lot to learn about leadership. Deep down, though, he felt a small twinge of respect that hadn't been there before for the prince. Perhaps, when the war was over and the tension relieved, they could grow to be proper friends. It was a surprisingly appealing idea.