We Two Kings
They have already spent a lifetime building up a kingdom together, the High King and the Just. They've shed tears and poured sweat and spilled blood in tandem. They've breathed the state. When Peter sends his brother a fleeting glance in those initial moments after meeting young Caspian, Edmund knows precisely what it means.
Is he ready?
The royal brothers are sober when they remember that none of the splendours of Narnia are truly theirs to battle for anymore.
A pang twists Edmund's gut with a sharp wrench, and he is man enough to admit to himself that even he is not completely impervious to feeling envy.
Edmund wasn't made spymaster without due reason during the Golden Age of Narnia, and so he doesn't even blink when he senses someone hovering along the periphery of the immediate vicinity. The waters of the Ford of Beruna are tripping merrily over the stones of the riverbed tonight, and the clear, rushing sound is infinitely soothing to him after the excitement of the past few days.
"Caspian," he says, once his visitor is standing beside him. His eyes have yet to leave the brilliance that is the setting sun. How he has missed his beloved Narnia.
"How did your Majesty know it was me?" the new monarch asks. A slight breeze ruffles his dark hair, and in that moment, to one who didn't know any better, he would appear to be the younger of the two. He certainly feels younger – Edmund is his junior by a few years, yet he also happens to be the Just of legend. And Caspian knows exactly what that entails. He is no fool.
"I could tell by your gait." Edmund's answer is idle, but it jolts Caspian out of his reverie.
Caspian remains silent as Edmund bends down to scoop up a handful of small, smooth pebbles.
"Your Majesty has no intention of joining in the festivities tonight?" Caspian finally asks, after Edmund has skipped two of the stones along the river's surface.
"In a bit," Edmund replies. He sends three more stones down in quick succession. The sky is growing darker all around them, the coolness of the day's end brushing gently over their faces.
The sound of Narnian horns bellowing out a rich, joyous tune rides towards them on the waves of the wind, and the noise makes both boys smile. One is grateful to have found such wonder when he had least expected it, while the other is glad simply to be back at all, throne or no throne.
When Edmund finds his calloused palm empty of stones, he turns to look at his companion, contemplating him silently in the waning light of the dying day.
"Is something the matter, your Majesty?" Caspian asks after a short moment. He finds that while he is still slightly uncomfortable when in the mighty presence of the ancient High King Peter, there is something almost relatable about the younger king.
"You tell me," Edmund replies, moving to seat himself on the riverbank.
Edmund motions for the other king to join him. He waits until Caspian is comfortable before he responds.
"Tell me what's bothering you, Caspian."
Caspian laughs. "Nothing is wrong, your Majesty," Caspian says, a bit confused when Edmund continues to study him with piercing eyes that seem years older than they really are.
"You can tell me, you know," says Edmund matter-of-factly. "I've been there before."
Caspian finds that he doesn't know quite what to say.
"I was a traitor to this land and to Aslan, once." Edmund's voice is low, and his eyes gleam as they are focused on a patch of trees in the distance. His back is erect, while his hands rest lightly on his knees.
It is Edmund's turn to laugh when Caspian audibly sucks in a deep breath and looks sharply over at him.
"So you haven't heard that particular story yet?" Edmund asks dryly.
Caspian shakes his head, still at a loss for words.
"It's rather simple, really." Edmund shrugs, an elegant little gesture that is still natural to him, even long after his days at court. "I nearly got my brother and sisters killed when I sought out Jadis – the White Witch."
"Why?" Caspian finally croaks out, throat slightly parched. He briefly wonders if the ferocity that he has seen in the face of the boy-king during battle masks something more sinister. Then he is ashamed, because he has seen Edmund move closer to death than anyone ought in the name of Narnia.
Edmund looks at him. "I was young. And the Turkish Delight was uncommonly delicious."
Caspian merely gapes, looking not at all like a king of Narnia.
"I really don't have any excuse for it." Edmund is serious now, and he frowns, turning it all over in his mind. "But I do know that when I met Aslan, and found out that I was to be made a king even after all that I'd done and all that I had been, I was terrified." Here he shoots a quick glance at Caspian, but this time it is the other boy who is staring out, unseeing, into the distance. "What right did I have to be a king," Edmund continues, "when I had been the worst traitor Narnia had ever known?"
Silence moves to descend over the two boys. Even the river seems to be more hushed, as though eager to leave both boys to their own heavy thoughts for a few moments.
"I don't even really understand anything about Narnia," Caspian finally murmurs after a long while. The words are barely audible and hesitant, as though he is afraid to admit such a thing out loud. "It's fantastic and wonderful and I've fallen in love with it all already. But it's like something out of a dream – and how do I grasp that in my hand and rule it as a king? Who's to say I won't be just as bad as – as my uncle?"
It takes Edmund a while to answer, and in the time before he does they hear the shouts and laughter of the Narnian revellers more clearly than before.
"Well, Aslan approves of you, for one thing," Edmund says finally. "And if there's one thing I know, it's that Aslan's never wrong. And then there's the fact that it's not you who rules Narnia, not really. She chooses you and embraces you…and you're meant to go along with it as well as you can. She's wild, but that's the best thing about her."
Edmund stands up, and Caspian follows him. Both boys turn towards their friends. Towards Narnia as they know it.
"Besides," Edmund continues, "no offence, but surely nobody could do any worse than old Miraz."
Caspian laughs, the easy laugh of a boy relieved of his heavy burden. "No offence taken, your Majesty."
"Oh yes, and one more thing," Edmund says nonchalantly, after they have begun walking back towards the festivities that call out warmly to them over the length of the night.
"Do please call me Edmund."
Later that night, long after the celebratory fires have died down into a few scattered ashes and everyone else has surrendered to peaceful, happy slumber, Edmund lies staring up at winking constellations he hasn't seen in what feels like an eternity.
"Do you think he'll do fine as king?" Not even the sleepy overtone of Peter's voice next to him is enough to mask the anxiety.
Edmund's grin is well cloaked by the velvety darkness of the night. Peter is the High King, the Magnificent, through and through. Always concerned, always protective. Nothing will change that – neither time, nor world.
Edmund's answer comes resolutely. "No more or no less than I did."
Peter nods, although his brother cannot see it.
They both know very well, after all, that both Aslan and Narnia have chosen. And that has to be good enough for the both of them.
The glorious sun is suspended high in the sky, and the sweet scent of lilies lingers all around.
King Caspian has just told all of them that he does not plan to return to Narnia, and when the door to his cabin slams shut behind him with a resounding crash, nobody knows quite what to say.
Lucy nudges Edmund in his side, and when he looks over at her, her eyes are full of reproach.
"Say something to him," she whispers furiously, sending a meaningful glance at the door behind which they all know the newest Narnian king sits and fumes.
Edmund sighs, because he doesn't particularly feel like playing the role of schoolmaster today. But he strides after Caspian, because he'll be damned if he'll have to report back to the perpetual High King with the unfavourable news that they were both wrong, and that their beloved Narnia lies in danger when neither of them possesses any power to save her.
Caspian stands hunched over the table that sits in the middle of the cabin, his shadow falling over the curious map that was a gift from the Magician. The king's hands are splayed on the tabletop, and Edmund can very clearly see the tension that is shooting through his old friend – the lines of his face are taut, and cobalt veins stand out harshly against the paleness of the skin on his hands.
"Caspian," Edmund says, his voice rough in the small room. When there is no reply, he moves so that he directly faces the other man. "Caspian," he says again, quietly.
Caspian looks up, an ugly grimace twisting his features.
"You know you have to go back," says Edmund. He looks down at the map, sees Narnia and the thrones at Cair Paravel marked clearly, and there is that old familiar pang inside of him again.
"I'm the king of Narnia now, you can't tell me what to do." The other man's voice trembles with barely-suppressed anger.
Edmund laughs, but it is a short one, and Caspian wants to wince at the brutality of it. "You're not exactly acting like a king right now," Edmund bluntly points out. He feels himself growing angry with Caspian, for the bitterness laced in words not fit for a king of any place, let alone beloved Narnia.
Caspian looks as though he wants to strike him, but Edmund has already drawn the sword that is strapped to his side. There is a fury within him now, and it is palpable inside of the close quarters. And for a fleeting moment, fear darkens Caspian's eyes, because it has been so long since he has seen the ancient king looking so cool and deadly – and he's never yet had the misfortune of having to face that head-on. The metal glints purposefully between them.
Edmund sighs, sheaths his sword once more. "This is my last visit to Narnia," he murmurs, moving to stare outside of the tiny window. He looks into the unwavering blaze of the sun, marvelling once again that he can look straight into the centre of that inferno without feeling pain.
"What?" Caspian asks. He stares dumbly at the back of the other king.
Edmund shrugs. "It's already my third time here," he says. "Peter and Susan only had two chances."
"But Aslan hasn't said- "
"I just have this feeling." Edmund turns to face Caspian again. "This is the only place I want to be. But I'm getting older. The further I go, more letters from home never arrive." In that moment, he sounds decades older than he looks, and Caspian feels very much like an errant schoolboy.
"Narnia will always welcome you, your Majesty," Caspian says, his own temper momentarily forgotten in the light of the other man's sorrow.
"What have I told you about that?" A grin flashes over Edmund's face. "I've done all that I can for Narnia. I've given her an entire lifetime and more. But it's not my place any longer to do that – it's yours." He pauses, looks thoughtful and not a little bit wistful. "And I must admit, I'm more than a bit jealous of you."
"Jealous?" Caspian scoffs, and his face twists again into something nearly hideous. He feels as though he is choking on his selfishness – only of course he refuses to call it that. "Jealous that I have to forgo my own desires? I never asked- "
"You forget yourself, Caspian," Edmund snaps, words clipped and tone icy. "Your so-called desires greatly resemble treason."
"Am I just meant to forget who I am in favour of the throne, then?" Caspian whispers, and his entire body sags visibly. Defeat dims his eyes.
Edmund shakes his head. "The throne is exactly who you are. Narnia's chosen you, remember? You owe your very life to her."
Caspian stumbles back, sits heavily on his bed, rubs a hand wearily over his face. He has no reply, but Edmund isn't really expecting one.
"Narnia needs you, your Majesty," Edmund says quietly, before slipping out of the room to leave Caspian to battle his own inner turmoil.
When Caspian tells them that he has spoken with Aslan, Lucy tilts her head to look at Edmund. And the two siblings share a smile, because really, who was expecting any less?
And then it is time for the two old friends to say goodbye to each other.
When Caspian opens his mouth to apologize, Edmund shakes his head with a warning look.
Caspian smiles ruefully. "I'll take care of her," he says, as they clasp hands in a strong handshake.
"I know you will," Edmund replies.
"Thank you," Caspian says, and there is a defiant tilt to his chin that dares Edmund to refuse the apology they both know has been slipped into the two words.
King Edmund the Just grins, the easy grin of a boy making amends with his best friend. "I know," he says again.
And then they embrace, but they are not ashamed to do so, because they are both great men and great kings, and thus have no reason to be embarrassed by the bonds of brotherhood.
"Do you think he'll do alright?" Lucy asks, sounding anxious, after they have lost sight of the fine shape of the Dawn Treader.
"No more or no less than I did," Edmund answers with certainty.
And that's good enough for the both of them.