Dedicated to Rose, my little sister.
Chapter 1: Impulse Buy
I stalked through the crowded, filthy streets of Tashbaan, my foul mood matching the smell of unwashed bodies, and the stench of human and animal waste. People jostled one another, pushing to get to the desired stall where some Calormene merchant called out in a loud voice trying to sell his product. Herbs, spices, heavy exotic food, and the somewhat overpowering smell of perfume lingered in the air, mixing in with the foul. The Tarkaans and Tarkheenas of Calormen were paraded through the packed streets on litters, heading for the silk merchants, or farther into the bazaar. Children of varying ages and degrees of filthiness darted through the crowds, few of them playing, the majority of them working.
I continued my fury-driven pace, not knowing where I was really going. Right now I just wanted to be as far away from the palace and that pompous fool of a Tisroc as I could be. I had been hoping for some fresh air and maybe a glance of the river that surrounded this accursed city, but it was obvious that I had gotten turned around at some point in the confusing, winding roads of the city. All I could smell now was the market. At least I could not hear that awful poetry being quoted at me every time I spoke.
I blew out a heavy sigh. The meetings to finish this trade agreement had not gone well at all so far, and it was beginning to wear on my nerves. I didn't see why it was so hard to agree, and because the Tisroc decided to dance around an actual agreement I had missed Lucy's thirteenth birthday celebration. I had sent her some of the more lovely jewelry I had found here, seeing as she and Susan seemed rather fond of it, but that didn't make up for me missing her birthday.
"Tarkaans and Tarkheenas! You have come seeking strong, reliable workers, and here I give them to you. Gather round, as we begin the bidding!"
I glanced up sharply; the voice that called was loud but whiny in tone.
Disgust welled up as my eye caught the raised, rickety, wooden platform that stood in one corner of the market, the obvious reason mostly high-class Calormenes were here. A heavyset man stood on the platform, a turban wrapped around his head. He was well groomed, obviously used to living a life of greater luxury than many other merchants who sold goods here. As I watched, he jerked a man forward, up the wooden stairs. I growled under my breath. My siblings and I alike hated the practice of slavery, but as a visiting monarch there was little I could do.
"Now sirs, here's lot twenty three. Fine Terebinthian stock. He's suitable for hard labor, or to carry that litter for you. Under twenty-five years of age, and not bad looking. Good, brawny fellow. Remove this man's shirt, and show all these fine people what a well-built example he is. There, see the muscle on this man! Is he not one of the most finely suited for work that any of you have laid eyes on? Twenty-five crescents from the gentleman in the corner. You must be joking, sir!"
The auctioneer scanned the crowd. "Ah! Thirty crescents from the Tarkaan over there. Very good, my lord. Do I hear thirty-five? And there goes thirty-five crescents from gentleman in the corner. Forty crescents! Do I hear forty-five? Forty-five . . . Fifty crescents! Do I hear sixty? Sixty crescents! Do I hear more? Seventy . . . seventy-five crescents! Do I hear eighty? Going once? Going twice? Sold for seventy-five crescents to the Tarkaan in the center! Bring the boy over to him would you, Kazar?"
I turned to leave. Such a trade was disgusting, and I did not want to watch the horrid practice. I was glad that we had banned the slave trade in the Lone Islands and felt a pang of despair that we could do nothing for those here.
"Don't you dare touch him!"
I whirled around. That voice had sounded very young and frightened. I hadn't thought that the merchants would be selling children. I focused on the stand once more to see a struggling boy pulled up the stairs. He looked no older than ten, with messy dark brown, or perhaps black, hair. He was covered in dirt and filth, and it looked as if he might have taken a beating or two recently. I felt my blood boil.
"Get down, runt." I saw Kazar kick someone down the stairs. I kept my eyes on the boy. I didn't want to watch this happen, but I couldn't pull myself away. The boy that was being auctioned off was fighting, but not as though he was frightened for himself. He fought for whatever he had left behind him.
"Jarid!" The cry rang through the bazaar. The boy on the stand battled harder, trying to get back to whatever he had been taken from. My heart gave a painful wrench. That was exactly what Peter would be doing in this kind of a situation for Susan, Lucy, and me.
Whoever Kazar was struggling with won the fight and dashed up the stairs. A younger boy threw himself at the slave merchant, grappling with his hold on the older boy. They must have been related, or very good friends.
"Let 'im go, you monster!" I watched as he ripped at the merchant, my stomach doing flips. There was no way I was going to let this slave trader separate siblings. With my mind made up, I pushed my way toward the block.
The slave merchant turned to look at me. I glared at him, surging up the steps.
"Can I help you my lord?" he asked, obviously unsure about how to handle this new situation.
"Let go of the boy," I warned, motioning for the other child to come nearer to me. He shook his head, and glanced back at his brother.
"What do you think you are doing?" I glared at the merchant.
"Well, sir I need to make my living after all. As the poets say, 'On the frilled couch of life few can sit, but those who take comfort on the floor are Tash's children indeed.' And thus as another illustrious poet puts it-"
As the slaver blinked and inhaled, considering his next rhapsodic platitude, I laid my hand on the hilt of my sword, my threat quite clear. "I have had my fill of your people's inane poetry. You shall be silent or I shall remove your ability to squeak."
My inevitable guards glanced at each other in amusement, and I held back a grimace. I was borrowing them from King Lune, forgoing my normal guards of Talking Animals and magical creatures to preserve the courage of Calormene men.
I let go of the hilt slowly and looked back up at the merchant, whose jaw mouthed unspoken rhymes. Raising my eyebrow, I reached for Shafelm's grip once more as the merchant's mouth snapped shut.
"These two seem like they're more trouble than they're worth to you, sir." I drawled the 'sir' across the sand of the marketplace. I could see the Calormen slaver entirely missed the sardonic insult. "I'll give you twenty crescents for the both of them."
"TWENTY CRESCENTS!? Foreign demon! You threaten my life, insult my poetry, and try to cheat me out of my livelihood! I'll not take less than one-hundred crescents for one of them!"
As the slaver purpled with embellished ire, I felt a tugging of my tunic. I looked down to see the younger boy tugging my tunic. The older one pointed to a cage off the edge of the platform where a younger boy and girl cowered with pleading eyes. I sighed.
"Please sir," the older boy pleaded, great tears now welling in his eyes. "We're family."
I looked down into the boy's watery brown eyes, and then slowly nodded. Some way, some how, I'd make the deal and face Peter's admonishments later. It wasn't as though it would take much to convince Peter anyway, he was a sap for a sweet smile. My brother had a good heart, and wouldn't be able to walk away from this situation.
"Seventy crescents? I wouldn't go higher than forty crescents for the four of them all together!"
The slaver's eyes bulged. ""Forty? These are prime servant material, milord. Why the little girl will make fine dressing slave for your lady. And the boys are natural footmen. If you insist on bidding for the lot, then I must say 120 crescents."
Concealing my intentions as best I could, I sneered. "120 Crescents? For children who look as if the first wind would blow them over? Surely you're not serious . . ."Glancing pointedly towards the thinning crowds around the stand, I said, "I might be willing to go as high as fifty for the lot of them."
"As the. . .You stand before me dressed as a foreign noble, yet you are a thief. I've had upkeep on these children for three months and my carrying costs alone insist I take no less than 110 for them." He crossed his arms, stared past his nose, and twirled his mustache at me.
My sword hand twitched, but I regarded the merchant coolly. "I'd imagine that sixty-five crescents would more than compensate you for your trouble. They're thin enough that it's hard to believe they've eaten their fill recently." At this, I allowed my eyes to wander to the other merchants, as if his answer mattered little to me.
He briefly toyed with his mustache, as if considering my offer, while frowning deeply. "Sixty-five barely covers my cartage fees and victuals for the week's journey it took to bring them here." He grabbed the young boy before me, tugging his tunic tight across his belly, showing how full and round it was. "I take good care of my wares, sir and will not have that disparaged. Ninety shall be my final offer to you this day."
I held back a bitter laugh. There was no such thing as 'final offer' with men like him. I did not want these children to stay here, to be split up and sold to homes were no one really wanted them. I could provide them somewhere better to live, where they were free, just as long as I got him to agree on the price. I looked at the youngsters in front of me, pretending to consider. "Seventy-five."
A bark of laughter startled those bargaining at nearby stalls. "You drive quite the bargain, noble sir. I shall sing the praises of your skill tonight when I give Tash his tithe. Since I like you, I'll let you have them for eighty-five crescents and I'll throw in the chains at no charge."
Before the merchant could quibble further, I placed the requisite number of coins down in front of him. "Done. . .and you can save your poetry to use on someone else."
His laughter continued as he clapped me on the shoulder. Reaching into his belt I watched him pull out marking tools and a hammer. "Your name, sir?
I blinked. "My name?"
"Yes, your name. I am required to record all transactions for the assessor. Also," he held up the wrist of the younger boy to show the dangling blank tag attached to the manacle. "I must mark your property before turning it over to you."
In case the threat to immortalize me in verse had substance, I gave him the first name that came into my head. One that was not any well-known rulers of Archenland, or someone important from Narnia. It happened to be that of my horse. "Phillip."
He proceeded to mark each tag on the children and hand their chains and keys over to me before cheerfully wishing me a prosperous day and pocketed his gold. I stepped off the platform and hurried as far away from the market as fast as the children could walk.
The air smelled cleaner when I stopped higher up in the city, among the homes of the wealthier class. I took a deep breath and turned to look at the children I had just bought. The first thing that was to be done was take the shackles off. I hated the sight of anyone in chains, but seeing children in shackles was too much. I bent down and quickly unlocked them before tossing them away.
I stood back, trying to get a good look at them. They were all covered in dirt and soot, and I wondered when any of them had last had a bath. The oldest was the one that had been called to in the slavers market, the boy named Jarid. It was obvious up close that his hair was dark brown, and even messier than I had originally thought. His eyes were a dark umber brown, and it looked like underneath that filth his skin might have a gold tan. I wasn't sure, but I knew Susan would be able to tell.
I looked at the younger boy who had drawn my attention back to the bidding earlier. He was a bit paler than his older brother, with a lighter golden tan. His hair was a mess of light, sandy brown curls, and his eyes were a dark brown. He had a spattering of freckles across his nose, and I could tell from his stance that he thought I was going to be trouble. I already knew from the slave market that he would go to any lengths to protect his siblings, and it was obvious we had something in common there. I grinned.
The two youngest clung to each other and were partially hidden behind their older siblings. They were similar in looks, and I wondered if their personalities were as alike as their appearances. They had the same messy brown hair as their brothers, but their most striking feature was their eyes. Lucy would call the color amber brown, but they also had flecks of gold in them, as well as green. It was as if their eyes had stubbornly decided to be not just one color, but several. They were tan, just like Jarid, and obviously frightened out of their minds. I wondered if they had Calormen blood in their veins. Not as fair as Narnians or as dark as the Calormenes, they reminded me of some of the people I had met in King's Lune's court in Anvard. It was not uncommon for Archenlanders on the southern border of that land to intermarry with their Calormene neighbors. I imagined that if these four were cleaned up they would fit right in with any family living on the River Winding Arrow.
In fact, they all appeared frightened. Even the two older boys, though protective of each other and their siblings, could not hide that they were shaking just as badly. I wished I had some way to reassure them, but I was at an utter loss.
"No one is going to hurt you, I promise," I finally said, knowing that too many times that had been uttered as a lie.
The younger boy snorted. "Yeah? That's what they all say. What makes you so different?"
I grinned, even though grimacing was probably a better idea. I had been right when I picked him out as the troublesome one. I saw Jarid shoot him one of those silent brother-like warnings. My grin widened, and I wondered if Peter and I were ever that obvious.
"I happen to abhor the practice of slavery, little one. I just bought you and all of your siblings to keep you from being separated. And if that isn't enough to convince you . . ." I paused, a pang of pain ripping through my heart as I looked at them. What had these children been through? "Then I suppose time is just going to have to show you that I am telling you the truth."
All four of them looked at me with wide, questioning eyes. "What are your names?" I asked to make conversation. I did not want to bring these children back to Narnia without being able to introduce them to the court, our teachers, our friends, and my siblings.
"What's yours?" This time it was Jarid who spoke.
I smiled softly. "I am King Edmund the Just, co-ruler of Narnia with my sisters Queen Susan and Queen Lucy, and my brother High King Peter. I am also the Duke of the Lantern Waste, Count of the Western March, and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Table."
I couldn't help but chuckle at the blank stares I received. I suppose it was a bit of a shock, finding out one of the Kings of Narnia had just purchased you.
"Honestly?" whispered the little girl. My smile widened. She was an angel, just like Lucy.
I watched as Jarid gave me a long appraising look, as though deciding if I could be trusted with something as simple as his siblings' names.
I did not rush him. That would only destroy what I was working towards. I did wonder though, trying to understand what they could have gone through in such young lives. Jarid looked about the age Lucy had been when she had come to Narnia. Finally, he drew a breath and spoke, motioning to each of his siblings as he did.
"I'm Jarid, and just so you know, I'm nine. That's Ollie, I mean Oliver," he gestured to the boy with sandy curls, and I smirked. "He is six, no sorry, just turned seven." I held down a laugh as Oliver glared at his brother. Obviously he was very proud of his new age.
"And the twins are called Cyrus and Cole, and they are . . ." He paused to look to Oliver. "They're six now?" Oliver nodded the affirmative. "Yes, they're six."
"Pleased to meet all of you. My name, as you already know, is Edmund, and no you do not need to call me King Edmund, thank you. I turned fifteen a while ago. I have an older brother named Peter, He's that High King I mentioned, and he is eighteen now. I have two sisters, named Susan and Lucy. Susan is seventeen, and Lucy is the youngest of us, she just turned thirteen two days ago."
I felt a tug on my tunic again, and looked down to see Cole clutching my sleeve in her hand, leaning as far away as her twin would allow.
"King Edmund?" she whispered, her voice quiet and sweet.
"What are you going to do with us?" I saw every last head jerk up, and I knew they were all listening.
I thought about that. I hadn't given it too much thought, other than to get them away from that awful slave trader, but she brought up a very good question. What was I going to do with them? I couldn't very well leave them to wander Tashbaan, they were likely to get snatched up again, and they would be homeless. Neither could I simply drop them at the doorstep of Archenland. And I wouldn't subject anyone, especially a group like this, to living in the Tisroc's palace with all his ridiculous rules. That left Narnia, where I was sure any number of our subjects would take in any of these lovely children. But I had an idea that no one would take in all four of them, and I could not forget Jarid, tears streaking down his face whispering, 'We're family.'
Which left me where? Having them move into Cair Paravel? The Cair was defiantly large enough to house these four, considering the host of guests we housed on any number of occasions. They would be welcomed with open arms, and treated as children should be treated. They would be taught by teachers similar to those who taught my siblings and me, and I could see them becoming perfect ladies and gentlemen. But I wasn't the only one who lived in the Cair, and having them move in might be a last resort. Some might even see it as by taking in Jarid and his siblings, the Pevensies had adopted heirs. That was not my intention. Would our subjects accept these orphans, seeing as they had come from Calormen? It was hard to say. There was no lost love between the two countries, for many reasons, including their practice of slavery.
"We can take care of ourselves you know. We don't need your help, or your charity," Oliver spat, breaking into my musings. He must have thought that my taking too long meant I was trying to think of a good lie. He continued on though, not allowing me to explain.
"After all, it's not like you've handled things well so far."
I frowned, thoroughly confused. "What do you mean?"
"How you haggled. You went from saying you would only give fifty crescents for us, to sixty-five. That's a fifteen crescent increase. I've watched too many lords haggle over someone, and they only go up by fives or tens. A fifteen crescent increase showed him how desperate you actually were, even if you didn't act it. You made it way too obvious."
I blinked. He was obviously smart.
"Ollie, shut your mouth," Jarid snarled, glaring at his younger brother.
"Can you read or write?" I asked, curious now. Jarid shrugged, as though the ability to read and write was not something to worry about. Perhaps for him, it had never been. The life of a slave could not have taught them anything resembling literacy.
"I could, a long time ago, but Mother never got around to teaching anyone else before . . ." he trailed off.
"Before she passed away?" I asked gently. He nodded mutely.
"I see," I murmured. I was thinking of my own father, who was worlds away, and who had left us so suddenly. I thought of our mother, putting us on the train to Professor's, and still doing the right thing no matter how much it pained her to do so. My siblings and I had all lost family members, in different ways then perhaps death, but it was obvious it hurt just as much either way.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the twins, Cyrus and Cole, blink sleepily. With a jolt, I realized how tired they all must be. There was no telling when the last time they had gotten a decent night of sleep was, or if they had even slept the night before. But before I could suggest going to my rooms up in the palace of the Tisroc, they both swayed forward, ready to hit the ground. I lurched forward to catch them, placing one of them on either hip, their heads both coming to rest on my shoulders. My guards moved forward to take the children from me, but I shook my head. I didn't want to frighten Cyrus or Cole, and handing them off to my guards would not help me gain their trust. This was something I needed to do.
"Come on; let's head back to my quarters. Your brother and sister are exhausted."
The other two followed without another word, and I made sure to keep an eye on them as we made our way up through the crowded streets. It seemed to take a lifetime before we reached the walls, fountains, and groomed lawns of the palace. Now I knew how my mother had felt when she had taken us into London. Two servants hurried to open one of the side doors, and I shoved Jarid and Oliver in front of me so they were not shut out. I saw the two servants exchange curious looks, but they said nothing. Let them wonder.
Another servant opened the door to my room, and this time I caught the guilty glance that Jarid threw their way. He obviously felt as though he did not deserve to have this done for him, and it was a habit I hoped he would leave behind in time.
Martil, my valet, met me at the door, his expression one of shock and dismay as he eyed the children that I carried. I grinned, and nodded my head towards the two boys that stood behind me.
"I've made a few purchases, Martil."
"They have fleas!" Martil exclaimed in a low, horrified, voice.
"I probably do too now, but worry not; there was no charge for the fleas." My grin widened, enjoying every moment of his distress. I moved around his petrified form, continuing on to the bed chamber. I saw Jarid edge around Martil, trying to stay as far away from him, and as close to his siblings as possible. I held back a chuckle.
I settled Cyrus and Cole on my bed, pulling the silky comforter down and motioning to the others. They had to be tired; I could see it in their posture, even as they stared longingly at the mounds of pillows and soft blankets.
"Come on," I coaxed, as I turned my gaze back to Jarid and Oliver. I said nothing, allowing them to make their own decisions, and soon after Jarid was helping Oliver up onto the soft mattress.
I tucked the comforter around them and waited until they all were fast asleep, looking far more peaceful then when they were awake. Perhaps they trusted me more than either side realized. I looked towards the door to see Martil staring at me.
"Please send a message to the Tisroc, Martil. I desire to meet with him," I requested. Martil nodded and disappeared for a moment, presumably to track down one of the court officials. This agreement would either be finished within a few days, or I was leaving for Narnia. I didn't think I could handle four children without my siblings, and I couldn't wait to be home anyway. This presented the perfect excuse.
"Your Majesty?" I turned to look at my valet. My poor, suffering faun valet. I put him through so much, and enjoyed every minute of it.
"The message has been sent to the Tisroc, and now you are going to bathe."
"Martil, really I do not need a flea bath!" I protested, trying not to chuckle.
"Would you embrace your brother right now?" the faun queried. I didn't even need to consider it.
Martil glowered at me. "Would you hug one of your sisters?"
"Susan would squirm, and Lucy would hit me, so no."
"Exactly. To the bath, King Edmund."
"Peter would let me hug him," I grumbled as I followed Martil towards the washroom.
"King Peter also kissed the skunk, Lady Ambergriet, on her birthday."
"She's the sweetest skunk we know, Martil! Besides, Silvo kissed her."
I paused at the door, and glanced back at the sleeping figures on my bed. What had I gone and gotten myself into?