The White Armor Ball
A/N: This story lifts many characters and situations directly out of Thalion King's Daughter's wonderful tale Only Children. If you haven't read her works, you should (if only so this story makes more sense!) Edmund's secondary blade is borrowed from warrior4's story Lionsword, Tablesword. My heartfelt thanks to both authors for allowing me to borrow their creations.
Disclaimer: Narnia and its characters are the property of CS Lewis, Walden Media, and Disney. I'm just borrowing them and I promise to give them back when I'm done.
Chapter the First: At the Dawning of the Day
Chapter the First: At the Dawning of the Day
We moved silently and slowly through the room, minimizing every motion and step to keep our armor from clanging and rousing our intended victim prematurely. The only light was from the hall, and that was faint at best as our co-conspirators waited with suppressed mirth. Peter motioned to me, pointing to the small rug at my feet. I nodded my understanding and carefully moved it with my foot so that the general would have a muffled path to the bed.
Cautiously, Peter listened at the bed curtains, making certain we had not woken the bed's occupants. Reaching up, my brother pushed the curtain aside, all the way back to the bed post, revealing the two sleeping forms within. Jaer and Jaerin, Sir Peridan's sons, lay amidst a tangle of blankets and pillows, sharing the bed for additional warmth as winter in all its frigid beauty made itself known in the land of Narnia. Jaer's head was just visible, but the only sign of Jaerin was a cocooned lump on the far side of the bed. They were soundly asleep, secure in their belief that because this was Christmas Eve morn, our usual battle training had been suspended. They were absolutely right - the usual training had been suspended. What we had in mind, though, was anything but usual.
Peter, his armor and fair hair barely visible in the gloom, nodded to me, and I motioned to our cohorts waiting outside the room. Heavy hoof steps came from the hall as General Oreius began his role in this surprise, carefully stepping from carpet to carpet to muffle the normal din of his iron shoes. He held his swords firmly at his sides so that they would not make any noise as he moved towards the bed. I didn't need light to know that Oreius was highly amused and looking forward to this day - and night - as much as we were.
Leaning over Jaer's recumbent form, Oreius reached out his hand and lightly tapped the boy on the head with one finger. Jaer muttered something incomprehensible and tossed about before settling down again, his breaths deep and even. Oreius tried again with similar results, only this time we were able to make out a mumbling of, "Jaerin, stop!" amidst the noise as Jaer rolled onto his back.
I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing aloud as Oreius leaned closer. Peter had his hand pressed over his mouth, trying hard to contain him mirth. This time when Oreius tapped Jaer on the head, the boy's eyes snapped open wide. Before he could gasp at finding himself almost nose-to-nose with the general of Narnia's army, Oreius said in a severe tone,
"Rouse thee from thy sleep, Jaer Peridanson. 'Tis almost dawn and thou art late."
Jaer gaped at him, stunned into speechlessness. Oreius smirked, laying hold of the blankets.
"Up!" he commanded, yanking the covers clear off the bed, throwing them aside. A howl of surprise and alarm escaped Jaerin as the younger boy was rudely awakened.
"Late?" squeaked Jaer, noticing me and Peter.
"Aye!" I shouted. "Late!"
"Get up, lazybones!" Peter ordered.
More of our party was coming in from the hall, their lanterns and torches casting the room into long shadows. Sir Peridan moved through the crowd of soldiers to stand at the bedside of his sons. He, like the rest of us, was dressed in full armor, ready for a morning on the training grounds.
"Jaer, Jaerin," he said, a slight tone of censure in his voice. "Why aren't you ready?"
"Ready?" gasped Jaerin, his fair hair sticking out every which way. "What for?"
Jaer was hopelessly confused, and amidst my amusement I did feel a pang of pity for him. "There is no training today!"
"Who speaks of training?" cried Celer. The captain of the infantry pushed his way to the fore. Tall, fierce, and imperious, the Faun pointed directly in Jaer's pale face. "Training, Peridanson? I think not! I claim this one first!"
"Oh!" Peter let out an exaggerated exclamation of annoyance at having been beaten to be first, and he glared at Celer's smug expression.
Oreius shifted, a slow and wicked smile spreading across his angular face. "I claim him last."
Jaer stared, incapable of speech as he was parceled out, and it was my turn to complain at being beaten to the finish.
"Up," ordered Oreius, in a tone no one with sense would have argued with. He turned away as the crowd of soldiers filed out of the bedroom. "You have five minutes to be dressed. Wolfsbane, How, see to it!"
Peter and I laid hold of the boys and hustled them to the trunks that held their clothes and gear.
"Hurry!" Peter ordered. "Dress warmly!"
"What did you do?" Jaerin hissed at his brother as I yanked another shirt over his blond head. I dug in the trunk for heavy leggings, throwing more clothes Jaerin's way and wishing for more light so that I could see clearly. Clearly Jaerin was responsible for putting his clothes away because the trunk was a mess.
Jaer was hopelessly befuddled. "I - King - Sir - Peter!"
We paused for a moment, letting him to collect his scattered wits.
"What did I do wrong?" squeaked Jaer.
Peter grinned and yanked a tasseled hat over his ears. "It's not what you did wrong, good my friend, it's what you did right."
"But . . ."
Peter threw a heavy tunic at him, smothering him in quilted wool. "Put that on!"
We ignored their questions and protests as we found their boots (Jaerin had somehow managed to get one in the corner and the other under the bed) and gloves and the leather jerkins they wore for protection while training.
"Get your weapons," I commanded. "Hurry! Put them on as you go!"
Peter and I hustled them into the hall, Jaerin still struggling to get his right boot on properly. The corridor was empty, though well lit now. We urged them along, sorting out their weapons and shields as we went. Jaer tried to get more information out of us, but the only thing Peter said was,
"Adventures are only fun afterwards, Jaer."
There was no argument possible. Peter was an authority on such things.
Through the Great Hall, all festooned for the Christmas season in ribbons and evergreens, and out the main doors we rushed, herding our friends along. The morning air was very cold and crisp and mercifully still and the stars still blazed overhead. The Moon cast a silvery glow upon us as we made our way through the palace grounds, moving at an easy jog. By the time we got to the training grounds both boys were a little breathless but nicely warmed up for what was to come, which had been our intent from the start. Still alarmed, still trying to understand what all this was about, Jaer quietly gasped,
I felt myself smile as I took in the long row of soldiers, officers, teachers, and knights ranged against the far wall, waiting for our arrival. Celer started the formidable line of Fauns, Centaurs, Dwarfs, Satyrs, Nymphs, Talking Animals, and one lone Human, and Oreius anchored it at the very end. Every eye in the courtyard was focused on us.
Jaerin blanched, his mouth falling open. His older brother shifted back, readying himself for whatever trial awaited.
It was Peter who replied to Jaer's desperate question. "Now you prove your mettle, Peridansons."
"Jaerin with me," I commanded, dropping my hand firmly to his shoulder. "Jaer with Peter. You'll fight each person in the row and move to the next one at Oreius' command. Fight hard, fight well, and no matter what, don't stop until you're done."
"Done or done in?" muttered Jaerin, and over his head Peter and I exchanged a grin. I steered Jaerin down the line, past the knights and sword masters and soldiers, more than twenty in all, to where Oreius stood at the very end. I set Jaerin before the Centaur and I took my place in the line of soldiers right next to the general. I glanced up the line, able to spot Peter by his silver helmet standing a few places down from Celer. I looked past him to Jaer and I was pleased to see the determination in my friend's expression. There was no way he could know what we were about this morning, but I could tell his resolve was set to do the best he was able. A glance at the younger boy before me told me that Jaerin was of much the same mind, though perhaps not quite as sure and still fairly certain this was all his brother's fault. He was right of course, but he was not entirely blameless himself.
"You have explained the rules to them, Sir Edmund?" Oreius demanded of me.
"I have, General," was my instantaneous reply. Jaerin shot me a look of desperation which I ignored.
"To arms!" called Oreius. There followed metallic clatters and hisses and ringing peals as swords were drawn and weapons loosed and we readied ourselves for battle. Jaerin hesitated for a heartbeat, and then drew his short sword and shifted his grip on his shield. Both brothers carried practice swords of appropriate size to their height and strength, and since the blades were dull we stood a far better chance of being bruised than cut. The day was not without its dangers, though, as was true of every day that we trained, and the people lined up to fight the boys had been chosen expressly for their control.
Against the sheer size and might that was Oreius, Peridan's younger son looked like a Mouse about to challenge an Elephant. His eyes stole to me as I drew Shafelm III, for I knew he admired the blade, and so with deliberate intent I reached across and also drew my short sword, called Tablesword after my chivalric order. That simple motion seemed to drive home the fact for him that he and his brother were about to get thrashed by this merry band. I saw him swallow before concentrating on the much bigger threat that was Oreius.
Looking down at his tiny opponent, Oreius smiled that slow, grim smile I had seen time and again and spoke of doom.
He lunged, driving Jaerin back, and the test began.
The morning was planned to try Jaer 's - and by guilty association, Jaerin's - skill and tenacity and willingness to fight against impossible odds. Each person waiting in line knew the boys and the level of their ability and would tailor their assault to that degree (or perhaps a little above it, else how would they learn?) I watched Oreius spar with Jaerin, his movements slow and exaggerated in comparison to what I was used to. It struck me that two years ago, I had been where Jaerin now stood, and Oreius had moved just as slowly and with equal care. I looked over to where Jaer was defending himself against Celer and I smiled, thinking of Peter and how quickly he had taken to swordsmanship when we first started upon this path to be soldiers.
I snapped to the attack at Oreius' command. To my delight, Jaerin ran right at me with unexpected boldness as I slapped down my helmet's visor. Using Tablesword in place of a shield, I attacked with Shafelm only.
"Get him, Jaerin!" Peter suddenly yelled, and with that everyone waiting to fight began to urge the two boys on.
Inspired, Jaerin ducked low in his stance and surged upwards, forcing me to step back and to the side. I blocked his wide sweep with both swords just to give him something to brag about later, and let him push me a few more steps. Confidence building, Jaerin moved in too close to my shield arm and I shoved him back a few paces with one blow to his shield.
We had only been at it two or three minutes. For Jaer and Jaerin, I was sure, it seemed much longer.
I watched as the Nymph soldier Choin went at Jaerin with her stave. She taught him a new respect for the simple weapon as time and again she aimed for his feet, making him jump and dart about to avoid being spilled to the ground. I doubted he managed to get in a single offensive move of his own, so busy was he trying to avoid getting cracked in the shins. Beyond Choin, Jaer was faced off against Sir Giles. It was very amusing to watch the Fox fight. He was so fluid and quick and maddeningly just out of range that Jaer let out a bark of frustration.
Giles froze, but just for an instant and Jaer overshot his target. Sparks flew as Jaer missed the Fox and his sword hit the stone pavers. I couldn't hear what the knight said, but whatever it was only served to annoy Jaer all the more. It was like trying to swat flies with a hammer. Those of us that were waiting our turn roared out advice and encouragement.
And so on down the line the brothers moved, drawing closer to each other with every new opponent. When it was Peter's round he let out an almighty shout and launched an attack on Jaer that was all speed and little force and designed to keep him moving every second of the match. It worked. He didn't let up on Jaer for a moment.
Peridan, flanked by the Centaur captains Kanell and Xati, stood right in the middle of the line and he was given the pleasure of facing both his sons at once. True to form, Jaerin threw himself directly into the fray with an excited shout, getting into the spirit of the match with graceless vigor. His elder brother, fresh from a bout with Kanell, hung back a bit, soberly gauging the situation and seeking an opening. It was obvious that Peridan was enjoying the encounter immensely and he attacked his younger son and defended against his elder son. If Oreius allowed this battle to go on for longer than the others, no one could blame him. It was harder to tell whose pride was greater – Peridan's or his sons'. When Oreius called for them to move to the next person in the line, they paused briefly, sharing the moment and an affectionate smile. Jaerin's smile lasted only as long as it took him to face Kanell, of course, and Xati was enough to frighten anyone of sense, let alone Jaer Peridanson as he faced her next.
Everyone within a three-mile radius knew when it was Peter's turn to fight again because he let loose another battle-cry that stopped Jaerin in his tracks and drew a cry of shock from the boy. Their shouts echoed off the walls and the High King laid into his opponent with the same speed and enthusiasm as he had used against Jaer. It was my brother that I watched through the match, I will confess, for his skill and grace with a sword was beautiful to see. He carried no shield today, just Rhindon, and the mighty sword shone bright in the growing light.
When Jaerin faced Sir Giles, even Oreius chuckled to see the boy chase after the Fox. As he had done in his first match, Giles stayed just out of range, just a moment ahead of the boy. At one point Jaerin dove, trying to tackle the Animal, but Giles darted right between his legs and Jaerin caught nothing but the cold stone and the Fox ran right back over him. In that instant Jaer joined his brother on the ground as Choin swept his feet from beneath him with her stave, dumping him on his rump. Both boys sprang up immediately.
It was my turn again and I raced past Choin to engage Jaer. He was puffing for breath, seizing upon the brief opportunity to gulp a few mouthfuls of air. He had a right to be so winded, having fought more than a score of duels, but at the same time Jaer had a tendency to hold his breath while fighting. Peter used to have the same problem and on more than one occasion had almost blacked out for want of air. It was not a habit that was easily broken.
I used both swords to attack because I knew Jaer would be better able to defend himself than his brother. Without a sound I crossed my arms before me and swept both swords up in an underhanded motion, blocking his first strike. I flicked the shorter sword forward, forcing him back, and the match was on.
He was tired, I could tell, and I tried my best not wear him down too badly since his next challenge was chief among Cair Paravel's swordmasters. Still, I was not about to let him off easily, either. Spinning, sidestepping, driving forward, I kept one blade constantly engaged against him, giving him very few opportunities to get in any blows of his own, but on those rare occasions he was able to land some sound strikes with sword and shield. Gradually I realized that I was smiling. Jaer's determination to finish well against me, his king and friend, was evident. Even if I wouldn't let him, clearly he was willing to give his all.
I stopped my next swing and paused long enough to say, "Well fought, sir."
Panting, Jaer managed to give me a wry, appreciative smile in return as I quit the field. Oreius did not dash forward. He didn't need to. Grasping the massive sword that was his favorite weapon, he took slow, ominous steps towards Jaer, the sounds of his iron-shod hooves echoing off the stone walls. There was no other noise save the faint snatch of whispering carried by the breeze. In days past I had been Jaer's very position myself and I did not envy him in the least. A little distance away, Celer was stalking Jaerin with equal determination, and after a moment I realized the boys were being herded together. I recognized the tactic as one that had been used on me and Peter time and again. I glanced down the line of fighters to catch my brother's eye. Peter flashed me a smile, well aware of what I was thinking:
Side to side and back to back. Keep close to your brother, for each of you is the other's shield.
Side to side and back to back. Keep close to your brother, for each of you is the other's shield.
Oreius' constant litany echoed in my mind. It was a lesson these boys were about to learn the same way Peter and I had learned it: by example. I looked to Peridan. He was tense, clearly anxious for his sons but well aware that they were in no danger. He had the look of a horse that wanted to bolt into action. Watching the general and his foremost captain about to engage in battle against my friends, I knew exactly what Peridan was feeling.
When the two boys were a step or two away from each other, the swordmasters attacked, driving them back. Jaer and Jaerin bumped together, spared a swift glance at each other, and immediately grasped their situation. Thus reinforced, both boys faced their opponents with renewed confidence and vigor.
There was, of course, no contest. The sons of Peridan fought valiantly and together, but in the end, when Oreius finally called a halt, they were too worn out to do more than double over and gulp at the cold air. Well pleased with themselves and the boys, Oreius and Celer exchanged smug smiles before turning and nodding to me and Peter.
We broke ranks, Peter and I, and hurried to check our friends. We would have to get them indoors soon so that they didn't get chilled after working up a sweat, but first there was one more thing we needed to accomplish this morning and we needed Jaer and Jaerin on their feet for it. As Peter bent over Jaerin, I leaned down to see Jaer, and through his breathlessness and fatigue he managed a wane smile at my inquiring look. He blinked as Peter tapped each of them on the shoulder to get their attention.
"Bright eyes are watching you, Peridansons," he cautioned, nodding to the wall.
The two boys turned, their chests still heaving as they tried to recover their breath. Twin groans escaped them as they saw Narnia's queens, such ladies-in-waiting as could endure this cold, their mother and their little sister standing on the wall behind us. Delight shone on the ladies' faces and in their eyes. Dressed in all their finery and furs, they made a lovely and bright splash of color against the dull gray stone. They had been there the whole time, bearing witness to this test and the one to follow. Jaer and Jaerin had been too intent upon the action in the courtyard to notice the shadowy figures on the wall behind us and too busy to hear their soft voices and cries of astonishment and encouragement.
Every inch the knight, Peter strode forward, dragging the still-winded Jaer along with him. He saluted with Rhindon and called, "My ladies, do your champions please you well?"
Susan and Lucy pushed back their fur-lined hoods as they stepped to the edge of the wall. Their cheeks were cherry red from the cold and they smiled merrily.
"We are most pleased and impressed, Sir Peter," Susan replied, playing along. "They have proven themselves loyal and true. I would know this bold warrior's lineage." She gestured gracefully at Jaer, still held upright in Peter's grip.
Behind the queens, Rien giggled behind her hands, excited at having her brother singled out for so much attention and the courtly formality we now used as part of this little drama. Saera was aglow with pride at watching her sons and husband prove themselves to the worthies of Narnia. For good measure I hauled Jaerin by the scruff along with me and joined Peter and Jaer.
"By your leave, my queens!" I called. "His good mother, Lady Saera, stands at your side with your ladies, Queen Susan. His sire is of ancient Narnian stock and is known to you, for it was he that our Valiant Queen knighted as Sir Peridan Cwengarde in the Order of the Vial this Mayblossom past."
As always, Peter struggled not to laugh out loud at the mention of Lucy's chivalric order. To cover for his amusement, I turned and called,
"Cwengarde! Cwengarde! Your queens desire your presence!"
We watched as Peridan detached himself from the knot of soldiers and hurried over. His pleasure at the morning's activities was evident in his aspect and the glint in his eyes as he glanced at Jaer, and then looked to his queens. Behind us, the other Knights of Narnia – Giles Fox, Oreius, Kanell, and Celer – drew closer. Behind them the soldiers began to form a barricade, reducing the field and blocking off any means of escape. Blithely unaware, Peridan bowed to the queens.
"Be you the father of this goodly warrior?" asked Lucy.
"Aye, Queen Lucy, I have that honor," he returned.
"And is his father as ready as he to prove his mettle?"
Peridan whipped out Fahdane, that legendary sword that had been handed down through generation of his family. He held it high so that it flashed in the morning sun. "On my oath, Queen Lucy, this sword is ever at the service of you, your family, Narnia, and Aslan. You have but to give me your command."
Lucy smiled, and her innocence and charm completely disarmed the knight. "Sir Peridan, the word is given!"
He hesitated, uncertain of her meaning, and suddenly he became aware of the fact that he was surrounded by rank upon rank of able fighters. Peridan looked back, taking in the sight of sons and kings and knights and swordmasters and soldiers ranged between him and any hope of escape.
The day's second test of skill, tenacity, and the willingness to fight against impossible odds was about to begin.
We all had our weapons drawn.
We all were smiling.
We all attacked him at once.