Chapter Four: Things Narnian
"Tea you said, Your Majesty?"
Silvo's tone, I had to admit, took me aback. The nearest equivalent I could come up with at that solemn moment was just before the Battle of Beruna when General Oreius had sworn he was with me to the death. It had been as shocking as comforting to me to hear those words, and since that victorious day to this moment I had not quite experienced the same sensation of trepidation and determination, blended in measure. I looked at my valet with great interest, wondering what it was about tea with Lady Anelata that equated to riding into battle against overwhelming odds. Was he with me to the last crumpet?
"Yes, Silvo. Tea. What of it?"
"Majesty, I've been speaking to Miss Mary, Lady Saera's maidservant. She is well versed in the customs and etiquette of the court at Anvard."
Which meant to say, he had also been gossiping with the ladies, the kitchen staff, the chamber maids, and anyone else who had the least contact with the embassies from Archenland so that he could glean as much information out of them as he possible. I waited in anticipation of what he had to tell me.
"High tea in Archenland is not the casual gathering you so often enjoy here in Narnia. It's very formal, with certain forms and customs. It's considered extremely gauche if you stray from any of those forms."
"Oh. Small wonder the Duchess looked so put out a few days ago," I said, lifting my foot for him to wrestle my half-dried, sandy, salty boot off my foot. Our notion of tea was rather . . . sprawling.
"Miss Mary has struck up an acquaintance with one of the footmen for Lord Pol, and he mentioned that the guest list includes no Talking Animals and only such of the queens' ladies as closely resemble humans, such as Avraiva and Layla." His voice strained as he spoke, and I pulled back hard. He staggered a bit as finally the boot came off. With quiet despair he looked at my ruined footwear.
"Indeed?" I asked thoughtfully, and felt myself frown. I remembered Edmund's comments about Ambergriet the Skunk and the startled (and briefly stubborn) looks on the faces of the trade negotiators when they had been introduced to Tess and her assistants, a Satyr scribe named Shork and Ward Garrideb, a Gorilla and brother of my fellow soldier Athan. Stubbornness had swiftly turned to surprise as the negotiators struggled to keep up with the worthy Sow's brisk pace of talking and her staggering ability with numbers, and by the end of the day I heard reports of grudging respect for Cair Paravel's accountant (not to mention a bit of sullen annoyance when she corrected some of their math). "Narnia is perhaps disquieting for those who have never experienced her variety and magic. I was rather flabbergasted when Mr. Beaver first spoke to me."
Flabbergasted. A goodly word to express what I'd felt when in fact it was only Edmund being a beastly prat that kept me from screaming in shock at being addressed by a gigantic rodent.
"The inhabitants of Archenland have been removed from Narnia for a century, though they have long interacted with our people. Their society is more . . ."
"Structured?" I suggested.
"Stratified," he replied, holding up the boots as if he needed to arrange a funeral.
"I'll use them for the training grounds and mucking about with Edmund," I promised him. "No one cares what my boots look like when they're trying to lop my head off for my own good."
"The Calormenes would not agree."
"The Calormenes also dye their beards with saffron and indigo, sir."
Silvo smiled. "The Archenlanders do not allow their women the same power and authority and rights as the Narnians. You'll note there were no female guards or ambassadors. Their army is comprised of men alone."
A noise escaped my throat. "Can you imagine being the one to tell Captain Xati she's not allowed to fight?" I exclaimed. Almost shuddering, I added, "I'd sooner take on a Minotaur armed only with a fork. I'd have a much better chance of survival."
"I believe all of Narnia would agree, Majesty."
"Kanell especially." I grappled with what he'd said, for the concept was quite foreign. "So . . . if they keep women from power, how do they get anything done?" I was thinking of Susan and her remarkable ability to galvanize people to work, be it together or alone. Lion knows Narnia's government would be a lot less organized if Ed and I were solely responsible for everything.
The Faun smiled at my confusion. "Says Miss Mary, women are expected to apply themselves to domestic issues and arts, music, sometimes healing, handcrafts and child rearing. War and statecraft and diplomacy are the realms of menfolk."
"So women in Archenland are simply decorations?"
"They are expected to remain in the background."
"How dull for Archenland. Especially when their ladies are so pretty," I added softly, thinking of fair eyes and golden hair. "But what if a lady won't remain quiet, I wonder." I looked up to see him watching me closely, and I got back to the matter at hand. "So. Silvo. Tea with the ladies. What must I do and not do to maintain my reputation for shining parts?"
In the end the tea party was not quite the trial my valet had painted and I had anticipated, but I was glad of his council. Held in a pillared hall I wasn't certain I'd ever seen before or not (Cair Paravel being so very, very large and grand), one of the first things I noticed was the absence of Peridan and Saera. I noted the snub and tucked the information away for later contemplation. Silvo, I was sure, could have told me the reasons for the hostility between the two families, but it seemed a private and rather touchy matter and no business of mine.
The seating was segregated, men from women and all carefully arranged by rank as we were served refreshments. The Duchess must have consulted with the pastry chefs because many of our favorite tarts and biscuits were passed around on silver plates. It was a wise move. Snozberry jam tarts always served to put Edmund in a good mood (or at least a slightly better mood). He'd been more than a little surly at luncheon when I reported in to my siblings what was expected at formal teas in Anvard's court. ("We're kings and queens in our own palace! Why should be subject to their rules?" "It's called etiquette, Edmund dear, something you're well versed in. Besides, if you can drink Brint's beer you can drink the duchess' tea!" Susan had replied).
It wasn't until the first round of tea had been drunk that, at a very small signal from Aneles, the gathering relaxed a bit and mingling became socially acceptable. I rose to thank our hostess, as was expected, while Edmund spotted one of the lords wearing a dirk that was clearly of Calormene design. I knew I'd seen the last of him for the next half-hour or more as he took his coffee, a plate of tarts, and made a beeline for the bit of foreign metal work.
"I hope you're enjoying yourself, King Peter," said a welcome voice, and I turned to face Anelata. She wore a frock of the palest pink, and I thought she looked quite lovely. "Thank you again for accepting our invitation."
"How could I refuse after you braved a Tiger just to ask me?"
Anelata smiled and quietly laughed, looking down for a moment to hide a flash of embarrassment. "I didn't know that Anadyr was just a baby, a – a cub," she finished, clearly not familiar with the proper names for the myriad of exotic children in Narnia. I found it charming that she was learning, though. "She seemed so fierce! As big as any of the hounds my father left or even a wolf I once saw when riding along the river Wye. That was very frightening. I think I would have like a Tiger with me then."
I was glad we had found something to converse about so easily. "Anadyr is the largest of her siblings. She'll be very happy to have been called fierce."
"Do Tigers grow quite large?"
"Yes, indeed. They're the largest of our Big Cats. Larger than most Lions I know, in fact. If you like, lady, I can introduce you to her father. He's a guard here at Cair Paravel. I can also introduce you to a Wolf who writes poetry."
"I think . . . I think I would like that, King Peter," Anelata replied, blushing pinker than her dress. She cast a swift glance toward where her mother sat amidst queens and ladies, and I remembered I had to thank the duchess for her kindness.
"Tomorrow, perhaps?" I suggested. "I could escort you to the gate before we start on the day's court."
Trying hard to suppress a smile, Anelata nodded, her eyes shining with delight. I grinned, inordinately pleased to have been the one to bring her such pleasure. I bowed to disengage myself, because I knew I could have gone on talking to her all day. "I must go thank your mother for the tea, lady, but I'll send a page 'round to greet you after lunch on the morrow. Until then."
Lucy had re-acquired her music-loving young noble and Susan was listening to something Prince Vanine was saying, so when I stepped over to Duchess Aneles I was hardly surprised that her ladies drifted away, leaving us to talk. As I sat down beside her, I thanked her for the pleasant reception.
"I hope you and your daughter are comfortable here in Cair Paravel," I said after we exchanged a few general remarks.
"Very much so," said Aneles, glancing around at the grandeur all about us. "Yours is an impressive home."
"'Tis Narnia, my lady," I said in deference to my land.
"A lovely and very varied one, to be sure, High King. I met a charming Fox today in the company of Queen Susan and I was curious, because she gave her name as Lady Marion."
"Yes," I said, smiling at the mention of my friend's wife. Sir Giles and his family were great favorites in the court, and his son was my namesake. "Vixen Lady Marion Fox. She's the wife of Dog Sir Giles Shyashlar Fox, Knight of the Arrow."
My companion blinked as she absorbed these Animal titles. Almost every type of Animal had a different means of referring to themselves, and many gave themselves complex names and designations. Horses were the worst offenders, favoring long, showy, and highly unpronounceable names. Others, like Okapi, liked simple means of addressing males and females, while others, such as the Tortoises who cared for the nut orchard, had no use at all for titles of any sort and called us by name (when they called us anything at all).
"What . . . what is she lady of?"
I noticed the careful tone Aneles used, and I knew she was seeking information. Well, talking about titles was no state secret, so I replied, "She's a lady of Narnia."
"Has her family any land? Or her . . . husband?"
Like her daughter, she seemed to struggle with proper terms. "Marion comes from the swamps on the Southern Marches, where her family has lived for generations on end. Sir Giles' family dwells not far from the Lantern Waste."
"She's the lady of a swamp?"
"Not of a swamp, she just comes from a swamp."
"But who owns the land? The Foxes?"
I finally caught her meaning. "No one. Narnia, the whole land, belongs to Narnians. You might own your home, but no one can own the land."
"So . . . it belongs to the crown?"
Shaking my head, I said, "No. Everything belongs to Aslan. We use the land, we work it and mine it and farm it, and in the end we all return to it. So I can't own Narnia any more than I myself can be owned. I'm part of it and it's part of me and every native of this land is my cousin."
I could tell the notion of being related to a beast or tree or body of water was rather unsettling to her, but rather than pursue such questionable lineage, she carried on with what interested her most at the moment.
"But surely as High King . . ."
With a smile I accepted another cup of tea from Layla, one of Susan's ladies-in-waiting, thought the duchess did not quite hide all her displeasure at the minor interruption. I kept talking to keep her attention, determined that no fault should be attached to the Nymph. "I actually own very little. My armor is mine, I suppose. It really won't fit anyone else. I have my sword and crown and my horse. I have some books and odd gifts but most everything else is mine simply by virtue of the fact that I make use of it."
This was not what she was expecting to hear. "So . . . your aristocracy?"
I considered before answering. "Ours is an aristocracy of character, Duchess. Simply being Narnian ennobles all my cousins. Every male is addressed as 'sir' and every female is worthy of the title 'lady.'"
She sparked to this, feeling on safer grounds. "Have you no noble families?"
"Yes," I replied. "All of them."
She laughed a little nervously, and I think she believed she was being teased. "They can't all be noble!"
I wasn't laughing. "Why not?"
"Why, King Peter, then everyone in the country would a courtier! A peer!"
"Exactly. That's why my siblings and I ask instead of order. I'm glad you understand, Duchess."
"But . . . you must have a hierarchy of worthies!"
"Whatever for?" I wondered. "We have our advisors and teachers and Parliament, and there are degrees within crafts and ranks in the army, but no real hierarchy."
"You are the High King! You are above the others, placed there by Aslan himself!"
"I'm High King by virtue of having been born first. I am not above any member of my family unless we absolutely can't make up our minds. I am not above the least member of Cair Paravel's staff. I go to war with these people, help them to bring in the harvest, and I listen to whoever advises me best. I care for my own horse when I ride him, I carry my own weapons to the armory, and I serve as I am served. There are some things like laundry and weeding that I'm not allowed to do because I'm so awful at it, but I have tried." I watched her closely as these revelations staggered her. "You seem surprised."
"I am. It is not every king, high or low, that would so humble himself."
"I don't know what you mean by a low king, Duchess," I said a little coolly, "for no such thing exists in this land, but I don't see how being modest and unassuming and lending a hand can be considered a failing."
She lifted her chin slightly, weighing this polite rebuke. "I spoke out of line, King Peter. You astonish me with your humility."
Disappointed was more like, it seemed. I bowed my head, choosing to ignore her poor choice of words in light of her ignorance of things Narnian. I wasn't in any way offended. Narnia was so vast and diverse that it was difficult for some people to take in. I wondered what the Duchess of Chlanda-on-Wye would say if she knew that Queen Lucy was constantly reminded to put on shoes and that King Edmund was the adopted son of a Dwarf clan and Queen Susan, when she learned that Ambergriet could not read, paid for the schooling of young Skunks, and that I was waiting with quiet anticipation to be godfather to a whole clutch of crowned cranes, whenever they decided to hatch and grace us with their company.