Were It Not For You

by elecktrum

A/N Once again, my dears, I'm battling it out with writer's block. Worst case to date, I think. So far I've been losing the fight, so this story is getting written at a snail's pace, even slower than Thole if that's possible. In short, I suspect this one's gonna take forever. Posting this prologue, though, is my promise to keep at it until it's done. My thanks go out to Zarz, whose review of Passing Down the Crown gave me the idea for introducing this story. The rating will change later on, too, because things will intensify down the road.

Prologue: Eustace

There are only so many places a chap can hide on a boat the size of the Dawn Treader, but so help me Edmund was doing an excellent job of disappearing. His unexpected outburst of an hour ago caught everyone from Caspian all the way down to the sailor he berated completely off guard. It was not like Edmund to explode like that (up until two weeks ago when I had been un-dragoned, such explosions had been my responsibility), and after he stomped off Lucy was almost in tears as we tried to figure out what could have sparked his fury.

So far as I could tell there had been nothing unusual happening. We had finished the evening meal (salted beef . . . again; the diet here is a challenge for anyone's digestion) and we were sitting about while Reepicheep regaled us with adventures he'd had as a child. If half of what he said was true then it's amazing he survived past his fourth birthday. The men not involved with sailing the ship were sitting about doing small tasks and a few of them were singing. I noticed that Edmund wasn't paying attention to the Mouse. He was looking to the front of the boat and there was an expression on his face that was positively chilling. I had seen him cross in the past, I had seen him sneer and frown and smirk. But I had never seen such a look on his face before in my life. If that was the expression he wore in battle then I could see why Narnia had never lost a war while he and his siblings reigned. I was struck dumb by shock because Edmund, who never seemed to lose his composure, looked positively murderous. Here. On the Dawn Treader. In the middle of the ocean. With the same people we'd been stuck here with for well over two months now.

He looked much taller when he stood up and I saw the anxiety that filled Caspian's face as Edmund strode past him. I was glad I wasn't the only one that noticed the sudden change in him. The king and I exchanged a look, each hoping the other would know what was the problem. Neither of us had the answer.

I scrambled to my feet to follow him, fairly certain I could escape my cousin's wrath since I was good at deflecting ire and fairly impervious to harsh looks. I hung back a few steps as Edmund approached the sailor that was singing. I listened to the words carried by the breeze. The song seemed formless, but it had an appeal that I suppose someone more romantic than me would call haunting.

Were it not for you
I would be nothing
for I would no longer be.
Were it not for you
my life would be
an empty, longing echo
of what a life should be.

I am yours as you are mine.
Depend on me
my love
my strength
and the strength of my devotion
O my love.

Edmund stopped a few paces away, staring at the man. The sailor halted, surprised, the words dying on his lips as he was confronted by the king of old.

"Where did you learn that?" demanded Edmund, his voice low and almost trembling with emotion.

The young man flushed. "A - a Narnian taught me it, Sire. A Nymph I met at Kellsalter. She promised to wait for me."

"She taught you that song? Did she tell you anything about it?"

Nervous and intimidated by Edmund's intensity, the seaman said, "The song, King Edmund? She . . . all she said was that it was from the Golden Age, or - or some time around then, remembered by her people." He stared at Edmund, at how pale he grew. "Sire?"

"That was not a song," hissed Edmund so savagely that Caspian rose, ready to intervene. My cousin looked capable of any violence. There was something about his stance, by the way his eyes narrowed, that spoke of a personal affront.

"Edmund," Caspian said quietly, drawing near. He put his hand on Edmund's arm. That was a mistake. Edmund started, shaking him off. He cast his fellow king a hard, angry look before he stalked off below decks. We watched him go in shocked silence. Caspian and I exchanged a swift glance and a shrug, and we both looked to Lucy. Wide-eyed, slack-jawed, Lucy was no wiser than we and she shook her head in disbelief.

"Let's give him a little while," Caspian suggested. He looked to the sailor. "Honder, quietly now, sing us that song."

I listened to the words. It was a love song, a declaration of devotion and a promise to be true and fast. Unless you disliked such sentimentalities there was nothing offensive about it. We could find no reason for Edmund's reaction.

"Perhaps the one who composed it is known to him?" suggest Caspian, sounding doubtful.

"Bad memories, maybe," I replied. "Lucy?"

"I never heard the song before," said she. "It's very pretty, and it does sound like the music of our age."

We gave Edmund a chance to cool his heels before Lucy and I set out to find him. Reepicheep and Caspian wanted to help in the search but Lucy dissuaded them, knowing her brother's temper. He was less likely to lash out at family. I went fore, Lucy went aft, and we sought King Edmund high and low.

Finally, just as I was about to give up and let him mope, I found him. If I had thought about it, I would have looked here first because he was in just about the only place in the Dawn Treader that one could hope to get a bit of privacy – Caspian's cabin, the one that the king had given over to Lucy to use. I had overcome my resentment of Lucy having the best accommodations when I realized the only alternative would be to share a cabin with her – it was far better to kip with Caspian and Edmund even if my cousin did snore (a fact which he denied).

He sat on the bunk, not quite over his fury yet. I admit I was surprised by his capacity for wrath. The first thing I got upon entering was a scowl, and then a long sigh escaped him. There was a locker of sorts opposite the bunk and I sat down on it, waiting for his mood to improve. It was a long wait, but finally his anger faded. That or he was just too tired to maintain a surly frame of mind. He was out of practice, just as I was.

"He didn't mean anything by it," I finally said when I was sure it was safe. "Honder. To him it's just a song."

Edmund raised his eyes to mine. There were occasions – and this was one of them – when his eyes were far too old for a mere boy. There was depth and pain and ancient memory reflected in them. A heavy price had been paid for Narnia's Golden Age, of that I was certain.

"Just a song," he echoed. "Have you ever had something stolen from you, Eustace?"

"Well, I suppose Pug stole my freedom, but I got it back. No. I've lost things, but I can't think of anything someone's taken from me."

"You're lucky."

"I suppose I am."

We were silent for a long while, and I was astonished to realize that for the first time, silence in company did not make me uncomfortable. Finally I stirred.

"Was the song stolen from you?" I wondered, not certain if my question would spark more anger. Normally I would not have cared if my cousin was cross, but now . . . I didn't want there to be such tension onboard the Dawn Treader. We might be together for a very long time and getting along was a necessity. Even I could see that.

He looked at me. Even sitting in the same small cabin Edmund Pevensie was a million miles away.

"Among other things," he finally whispered. "And it wasn't a song. It was an oath of fealty."

An oath of fealty. The way he said it seemed to fill the room, and I felt a little shiver at the emotion behind those words.

"Did you write it?"

"No, I didn't. But I did write it down in my private journal."

"Your – oh."

I realized, now, why he was so angry. Someone had read his journal. Someone had violated his privacy and made known what was clearly very near to his heart. Someone had been very indiscreet indeed. It didn't matter to him that in this land over a millenium had passed - to him it was barely a year ago that he and his family had stumbled out of Narnia. I felt a pang of guilt even though I was guiltless. Up to the point where I had met Aslan, I probably would have been so callous and indiscreet, given the opportunity.

Edmund stood up, covering the distance to the window in three strides. He looked out at the wake, at the setting sun, and when he spoke his voice was soft, barely audible over the sound of waves and water, as he recited the oath of fealty to me.

I will always be at your back
and by your side
and I will place myself
between you and evil.

I will defend you with
my sword,
my words,
my body,
and my love.

I will serve you,
as you have served me,
as we both serve Narnia
and her Creator.

Let me keep your fears at bay
and let me convince you
that you deserve all this and more,
my king.

Were it not for you
I would be nothing
for I would no longer be.
Were it not for you
my life would be
an empty, lonely echo
of what a life should be.

I am yours as you are mine.
Depend on me
my love
my strength
and the strength of my devotion
O my king.

It wasn't quite the same as the song. It was stronger. Deeper. Powerful. What had inspired this oath? It was a better oath than a song, and despite himself Edmund spoke the words with great emotion. More than he intended, of that I was certain. Or maybe not, since he was a king and this his land and he had no fear of expressing himself when he wished.

"I'm sorry," I said for the first time in my life. It was not so difficult to say because I meant it honestly.

"Being a king was a lot like being on this boat. There was almost no privacy. We were always on display. Most of the time I didn't mind, but there were times when it was bloody annoying." He pursed his lips, turning around to face me. "If I had known this would happen I wouldn't have kept a journal at all."

"Edmund," I began, and then halted. Who was I to lecture him, a king? It was too late, though, I had his full attention and he was waiting for me to continue. Well, if I couldn't lecture a king I could lecture my cousin. "They don't know what it means to you. To them it's just an old love song. You said yourself so much of the old Narnia was lost, but your subjects remembered it for over 1,300 years. Whoever said those words the first time said something worth keeping."

He stared at me with an intensity that was, I'll admit, intimidating.

"Peter swore that oath, Eustace."

I gasped, astonished. Peter? My opinion of my eldest cousin had been revised since I'd seen the awe and respect that the Narnians expressed every time he was mentioned. But to think that Peter Pevensie, whom I had once called a stuffed shirt, could write something so deep and moving . . . I was amazed.

"To Aslan?" I wondered.

Edmund shook his head. "No. To me."