Chapter Twelve: A Blessed Ceremony
A/N My thanks to Trecebo, whose poetry helped inspire parts of Edmund's blessing, and to Miniver, bestest beta reader ever.
There was quite a bit of activity in the Eastern Garden when we arrived. Susan was in her element as she directed guests and servants and musicians here and there, and Lucy's laughter reached our ears as she talked to some Centaur mares. I recognized Patri and Zadee from the canine debacle of two days ago and I could easily guess what they were discussing. I gave them a wide berth, automatically following Peter about as he wove through the crowd of people to go greet the Dryads who lived in and tended the garden.
They stood in a pretty, giggly, and colorful cluster by the little stream that wound through the garden. The flow was greatly reduced, little more than a trickle, but it sufficed to keep the exotic plants mostly fresh and blooming. The Dryads here were unlike most others in Narnia, for they had fair, round faces and dark, almond eyes and they were all exquisitely delicate. They wore bright robes and wide sashes decorated with leaves and they wore their hair (or whatever sufficed for hair on a tree spirit) in ornate buns piled high atop their heads. Chingo, the red featherleaf maple, was Lucy's size, and her daughter was much smaller still, while the ginkgos were tall and graceful. The Dryads bowed to us, shy and excited before so many visitors in their corner of Cair Paravel's grounds.
"You honor us with your presence, good kings," Chingo said in her sweet voice, and the ginkgos and their daughters murmured in agreement.
"Thank you for hosting the wedding in your grove, ladies," Peter replied, returning their bows. He focused on tiny Junko, and with a smile and another bow he said, "Lady Junko."
The little sapling hid her face behind her wide sleeve, giggling all the while, but it was only a moment before she peeped out to smile brilliantly, edging closer to her mother tree. I found myself smiling along with the ladies as Junko gathered up the courage to bow to Peter.
"Thank you for your visit," she whispered timidly, then concealed herself behind Chingo's long robes to giggle some more.
I looked to see Susan waving me over, and so we said goodbye to the Dryads and caught up with our sister as she hurried hither and yon. Only now did I notice that there were far more flowers in this garden than usual – Susan and her ladies must have stripped the flower beds to make the garlands and sprays adorning the trees and low shrubs. The effect was very pretty and the smell of so many flowers at once brought me close to sneezing.
"None of that during the blessing, Ed," warned my older sister. She glanced upwards, but the only thing visible was the canopy of pale green ginkgo leaves. "Oh, I hope the weather holds a bit longer. I'm glad I ordered the feast moved indoors. You can stand here to give you blessing," Susan said, pointing to something in the center of the garden, "and that way everyone will see you."
I stared at the silly little footrest with its tassels and velvet pouf and gilded scrolls and I could almost envision myself wearing Peter's hat before I stood on anything so ridiculous looking. I dared not glance at my brother for fear we'd both burst out laughing.
"They aren't here to see me; they're here for Kanell and Xati. I'll stand over there on that rock wall," I replied, pointing to the side. A low, mossy wall of dark stone formed the border of a terrace. "Lucy or Rien can stand on this . . . thing to see."
Susan gave me an exasperated look, but seeing I was steadfast in my determination, she gave up and ordered some potted roses to be moved over to my chosen spot. A Nymph servant moved the ugly little stool out of my sight. I sighed with relief at having escaped, only to stifle a laugh when Peter elbowed me in the ribs. He pointed out Jaer and Jaerin as they arrived with their family. They were both looking rather sullen in pancake-like hats very similar to what Peter and I had refused to wear.
"We need a law against such headgear," Peter whispered close to my ear, doing a poor job of hiding his mirth at our friends' expense. "They serve no purpose other than to make the wearer look absurd."
"Amen," I said in agreement, giving Peridan's sons all my sympathy. Jaer caught the amusement in my expression and he rolled his eyes. Clearly he had been forced to submit to this latest fashion by his mother. I knew that hat would be inexplicably lost before sundown, and Jaerin was certain to follow suit.
A happy commotion arose from the direction of the palace, accompanied by a blare of trumpets. All eyes turned, and songbirds, stationed in strategic locations along the path to the palace, brought word that the bride and groom were on their way.
"Oh!" exclaimed Susan, shooing everyone into place. The musicians started playing and children darted about and jostled for spots where they could see. I saw Peterkins and his sisters happily running between the legs of taller Animals, causing havoc and laughter. Susan pointed to my spot, and I nodded as if to let her know I knew exactly where I intended to stand. A moment later Lucy came skipping through the crowd, and she seized Susan's hand and Peter's as well and pulled them towards me.
"Are you ready, Ed?" she asked.
I smiled at her enthusiasm. "I'm hungry for cake, if that's what you mean," I replied, producing a laugh from her. She gave me a quick hug. Susan leaned over and kissed my cheek.
"Take your time and speak clearly," she whispered, smiling beautifully. There was pride in her clear blue eyes. "And don't be nervous!"
Nervous? She had no idea.
Peter put his hand on my shoulder. "Anything you say will be perfect, Ed."
"Thank you," I whispered in return. My reward was my brother's gentle smile as he joined the girls where they stood by Peridan and his family, and I assumed my chosen spot on the terrace wall.
The joyful din rose in volume and more Narnians crowded into the garden as Kanell and Xati arrived. An honor guard of officers bearing drawn swords came first, lining up along the path. Flowers and petals showered down from well-wishers pressed between the officers, and somehow no one was trampled. A breeze that smelt of salt air and rain suddenly kicked up, stirring gowns, long hair, feathers, and leaves. People turned their faces skywards for a moment, excited at the promise of rain, before their attention returned to the bride and groom.
I felt my heart beat a little faster with anticipation when I finally spotted Kanell's tall, dark form moving along the garden path. He was dressed in armor, which was commonly used as formal wear for most army officers, and even without sunlight the polished metal gleamed. He escorted Xati by the hand, and I was suprised and pleased to see the little mare decked in ribbons and flowers of every color. I had never seen her so made up before and for the first time since I had met her, I saw her fierce determination replaced by blushing delight. it suited her, if only for today. Both Centaurs were smiling broadly, and the flower petals fell as thick as snow as they entered the lush little grove. Kanell glanced my way and I found myself smiling with pleasure to see them so happy, so in love. I closed my eyes for a moment, winging a prayer to Aslan. I knew he would hear it. I could only hope that he would grant it.
Aslan, Great Lion, let my words be worthy of this moment.
Slowly, with never a sense of haste for the pending storm, Kanell walked his bride around the grove. Their hooves, and the petals that drifted down from their flanks, marked wide a circle in the moss and grass with me at the center. Finally they stood before me, Xati on my right and Kanell on my left. They released hands to bow in the Centaur fashion to me. Even on my low terrace wall I could barely look Xati in the eye. Everyone waited in anticipation.
"Greetings," I said, beginning the ceremony. I swallowed, remembering Cheroom's instruction and trying to speak clearly. "Peace and long life be upon you and all who bear witness to this joyous ceremony."
I extended my hand before me. Immediately Kanell and Xati clasped wrists, dark to fair, large to small, man to woman. Over this bond I set my own hands, top and bottom, holding them together and closer still. Thunder rolled, echoing off the distant hills, a booming promise of renewal for the parched and gasping earth. I smiled. Nothing could be more fitting for this moment. I looked at the two Centaurs as they gazed directly at each other. I knew, as they knew, that they were already married. Narnia herself had blessed this union and all they needed was for me to publically acknowledge it.
"Of all the blessings Aslan has granted this land, surely there is none greater than love," I said, raising my voice for all to hear. I spoke slowly, my lingering anxiety fading now that I was finally starting. "It is in celebration of love that we come together today."
Opposite me, across the lush clearing, Lucy took Peter's hand in hers. He glanced down, smiling warmly, and he pulled her close against him. His smile did not fade as he looked up and let me see all the pride and love he held for me. Lucy was grinning in happy excitement and Susan, her long hair pulled straight and limp by the humid air, was positively aglow.
By the Lion, I was fortunate to call them my own! There was nothing I could not do with them behind me.
"I was asked to bless the marriage of Kanell and Xati, but in truth the blessing is upon me and Narnia and all of you, my dear cousins, for we have been privileged to bear witness to this love." I paused, not searching for the words I had written, but letting them come to me. "Kanell and Xati, you stand here willingly, each seeking the same things from the other: life, love, and loyalty. May Aslan grant you these things and more, and may you grant them to each other. I charge you to remember that you are each your own person and worthy of respect, and leave no words to chance. Do not lose sight of each other, good my Captains, or what it was that brought you together today. Aslan grant that you have children and yet more children to carry on the song of your days, and may that song never fade."
A sigh rose up among the ladies present. I must have hit upon quite the romantic note. The clouds above seemed to sigh along with the ladies as a warm, moist breeze swept through the bower. It smelt of rain and leaves. Distant thunder echoed and the sky grew darker still as if telling me to get on with it, but I would not be rushed. It was not just for Kanell and Xati that I spoke.
"In years to come, when you look upon each other, remember this moment. Remember this promise, this blessing of life. Let it run freely. I bid you hold truly, speak wisely, love deeply."
I don't even know if the bride and groom heard a word I said, so intent were they upon each other. I squeezed their wrists a little tighter and Kanell blinked, coming back to the moment. The first stray drops of rain, carried by the wind, struck the leaves overhead. I had to speak louder to be heard.
"Above all, Captains, may you be blessed with joy and peace and may you always find these things in each other. And so I say blessed be this union and blessed be all that results from it. Blessings from your king, from Narnia, and from Aslan." I looked up and blinked as a drop of water fell on my cheek. "And blessed be the rain."
Slowly I let go of their wrists, signifying the end of the ceremony that simply reinforced that which was already in place. I stepped back, but Kanell and Xati just went on staring at each other as if the rest of the world didn't exist. Finally the mare reached up with her free hand and touched his cheek, slowly and gently as if she thought he was a dream, not flesh and blood. Kanell took her slim fingers in his hand, drawing her close. When they finally kissed I expected half the ladies present to swoon. A great cheer rose up as everyone present gave voice to their excitement and joy.
A flash of lightning blinded us, cutting off the happy shout and making everyone save the newlywed couple jump in alarm. Seconds later thunder boomed and the children present cried out and hid under their mothers or the nearest lady's skirt. Susan and Lady Saera swayed as frightened chicks and kittens and chipmunks and other babies sought shelter beneath them. Working together, the ladies gathered up the babies and, laughing all the while, made their way to the palace. I saw Peter chuckled as he scooped Peterkins up into his arms, gently reassuring the little Fox. Rain began falling in earnest now, and with cries of excitement and dismay the wedding guests rushed back to the shelter of Cair Paravel.
The two Centaurs, husband and wife, pulled apart, drinking in each other for a few moments before they turned to me. I blinked at the water getting in my eyes and simply said,
They looked up, astonished, and then they realized that we were almost alone in the clearing. Both of them broke into broad smiles.
"Thank you, King Edmund, for a blessing so glorious," breathed Xati. She leaned over and kissed my cheek. "As we have been blessed, so may you be."
I smiled, feeling myself blush, and Kanell gave me his customary cuff to the side my head to show his thanks. I motioned them on ahead, muttering, "To the palace, Captains. We have five cakes to eat."
They laughed and slowly walked ahead, leaning close to each other and completely oblivious to the pouring rain. The clearing was empty now but for me and my brother and Peterkins. Peter set the kit on the ground, saying,
"On with you, Master Fox! Watch for puddles!"
With a valiant shout the little Fox ran off, aiming for the mud. Straightening, Peter looked pleased and more content than he had in over a month. I sighed, thrilled to see him more at peace with himself. It had been too long. Far too long.
"That was well said, Ed," he complimented.
I smiled, pleased. "Thank you."
With a shrewd gleam in his eyes Peter asked, "That wasn't what you wrote at all, was it?"
I ducked my head, almost laughing. "Bits of it were close, but . . . no."
Laughter rang through the clearing and a moment later I was wrapped in Peter's crushing embrace, held tight and lovingly and warm against his chest, sheltered for a moment against the weather.
"I told you," he whispered happily. He kissed me atop my head, granting me the blessing of both the High King and my only brother.
I held him back just as tightly, glad for the rain that would hide my tears. I was grateful beyond words that he was here, alive, himself once again . . . for if Peter's grace was Narnia's blessing, then surely at that moment I was Narnia.