A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
It's a terribly trying thing, learning to be a Prince. Most Princes have it easy; they're born to it, raised to it, and usually manage to pick up a knack for the thing along the way. That's not to say that some of them don't do it badly every now and then, for surely they do; it is to say, though, that usually a Prince can at least say he's had the chance to learn to do the thing properly, and if he did manage to makes a mess of it, well, that's on his own head.
Prince Cor of Archenland, however, although born to Princehood, got stolen away from it at quite a young age, and instead of being raised in a palace was raised in a fisherman's hut, which did wonders for fostering humility but did little in the way of training him up for running a kingdom. And although Prince Cor's father, on getting him back after having done without him for several years, did reassure his son that the running of a kingdom could still be taught to a boy who had been raised in a fisherman's hut, Prince Cor had more than a few doubts on this count.
He did not voice them to his father, though, because Cor had learned from a young age that grownups don't like to have their firm assertions questioned. It did not occur to him that there were other things besides Princehood that he had to learn, too; it did not occur to him that learning to be a part of a family (where grownups did not behave as the grownups he had always known) might be as great a challenge as preparing to one day be King. Cor did not in fact think even for a minute that grownups in his new home might be different than the hard, cruel man who had raised him; he simply assumed that to question an assertion was tantamount to rejecting it outright, so for the first six weeks he lived in his new (old) home, he kept quiet about his doubts as to his own abilities, and tried very hard to catch up at just a few of the things he had not been taught when he should have been.
"I can't believe you can't read," Cor's brother, Prince Corin, had marvelled. Cor squirmed in his seat, and wondered if he ought to apologise for his illiteracy.
"Well, it . . . it just wasn't the sort of thing that Arsheesh felt I ought to know."
"I think it's marvellous," Corin enthused. "I wish I could have not learned how to read! Why'd you have to teach me letters, anyhow, Harold?" he demanded accusingly of their tutor.
Harold, who had by now become accustomed to boys, merely peered down his nose at his pupils and asked if they might get on with the lesson. Corin hadn't much liked this plan (he had, in fact, said something rather rude in response to its being suggested) and things had dissolved into chaos shortly thereafter, resulting in the boys being called in to conference with their father.
"Really, boys," King Lune had sighed, sitting back in his chair and looking at the Princes, "with what I pay Harold for putting up with what he does . . ."
"Well, Father, with the amount of complaints he makes to you, I think you should pay him much less," Corin offered, which observation led to Cor's staring in horror at his brother, and King Lune choking quickly into his fist.
"Be that as it may," the King sighed, having recovered his composure, "I need to hear fewer reports of insolence on your part, eh, Corin? And Cor," he turned a troubled gaze on his older son, "perhaps a bit more insolence on your part would not go amiss, hmm?"
Cor blinked, confused, and King Lune hastened to clarify.
"Harold is worried you don't understand the lessons. He says you hardly say two words from the time you come into the schoolroom until you leave. Is the work— is it too challenging for you, perhaps?"
"No, Father," Cor said quickly, "no, it's just . . . different."
"Yes, well, you'll make sure to tell us, Harold and me, if there's something you don't catch, won't you? I know it's all very new, and of course we don't expect you to adjust to it all at once. You'll pick it up in due course, I'm quite confident.
"But!" he beamed at the Princes with new energy. "I've just the news to cheer you both; we'll not be having any lessons all next week, for we've been invited to journey to Cair Paravel. A bit of sport is just the ticket, eh, now? It's getting a bit cooler, the woods are calling; your first hunt, Cor! Won't that be a treat?" and he looked so hopefully at his son that Cor assured him as heartily as he knew how that yes, indeed, a hunt was just the thing, even though, had he been perfectly honest, Cor would have also had to mention that he had never once considered going on a hunt and hadn't the least clue as to how he was expected to hunt anyway.
But these were the sort of things Cor was making a painfully conscious effort not to say, and so it remained unsaid even as he and his brother were dismissed, and Cor made his excuses to Corin before hurrying away to seek out Aravis. With Aravis, he felt less obliged to pretend.
Aravis he found in a salon. He knew it was called a salon because Aravis had told him so, and then ridiculed him just a little for not knowing that himself. Then she had apologised for making fun of him, and explained a bit about what a salon was for, and although Cor couldn't really see the attraction in a room that was meant mostly for music and needlework and quiet chatter, he could see it made Aravis happy so he had said he was happy for her.
Because there were no other ladies at court the salon belonged entirely to Aravis, and she had been made free to decorate it as she liked. This is what she was doing when Cor found her— she had a list in hand and was bossing the maids about with all the airs and graces of a Duchess. He watched her in wonder for a minute; he often forgot that she was like this, that she had been born into a fine house with any number of slaves and servants to command, and that living in a palace was far less strange to her than it was to him.
Then she turned and saw him, and her face warmed with a small smile, so that Cor forgot the look of the Duchess about her and saw only his friend.
"Doesn't it look nice?" she asked him, waving her hand at the room. Cor looked at it and said, rather doubtfully, that he didn't see it looked much different than it had yesterday, except that perhaps there were a few more piles of fabric than there had been before. Aravis sighed, rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"Well, never mind that, then; do you need something, Cor?"
"I . . . no, not really. Say, do you know that we're to go to Narnia soon?"
"Oh, yes," Aravis's forehead puckered a little as she examined her list, and made a notation. "Your father asked me this afternoon if I should like to come along."
"Will you?" Cor asked, and Aravis looked up in surprise.
"Why, yes, I said I would. If that's all right."
"Oh, no— I mean, yes, it's fine, I was . . . I actually hoped you would." Cor took an impulsive step forward, lowered his voice a bit and added, "I'd like to have somebody along that I— I know."
Aravis looked bewildered. "What do you mean? You know Corin and your father, and you know King Edmund and Queen Lucy too. I'm sure they'll be glad to see you again."
"Yes, but—" Cor stopped, then, and wondered how he could explain to Aravis that he didn't know any of them in a way that made him feel perfectly at his ease. They were his family and friends, yes, but they were family he'd not even known for two months, and they were friends who, however unwittingly and unintentionally, rather awed and intimidated him. At least with Aravis, one knew where one stood, and Cor didn't feel such a need to struggle to say the proper thing all the time.
Instead of telling her any of that, though, he simply mumbled that he would like it if Aravis could be there, too. Aravis looked surprised, then flushed and said of course she would be glad to travel to Narnia with them. Then she wheeled sharply around just in time to stop a young woman who was struggling in the wrong direction with a bolt of cloth, so Cor decided that this was as good a time as any to bow out and leave her to it, and did.
The journey to Narnia was an easy one, and the courtiers themselves were, for the most part, as merry as anyone might have wished. There were a few exceptions, though; these were Corin, who had recently been instructed by Harold to compile an essay of his week's experiences in Narnia as punishment for placing a frog in Harold's bed, and Aravis, who did not find that general merriment came naturally to her as of yet, and lastly Cor, who was lost in his own concerns about how his first visit to another kingdom as Prince would be likely to play out.
Cor had rapidly reached that point in his education that most good scholars all achieve sooner or later, namely, that place where one has learned just enough to realise how little one actually knows. Cor was humble enough to have reached it ages before many older men with better instructors might have done, but he lacked the confidence necessary to reassure himself that he could, at least, learn enough to get by. In fact, he was rapidly slipping into a funk, convinced that he was just the worst possible choice for Crown Prince that anyone could make— except, of course, that nobody had chosen him, he had simply been born, and there was the choice right there, made for everybody whether they liked it or not. And Cor was becoming rapidly convinced that nobody liked it at all, that he was the poorest imaginable choice, only they were all simply too kind to say so to his face.
Knowing this, you can now perhaps imagine the sort of mood he was in when they all rode up the hill along the road toward Cair Paravel, which road was lined with villagers who were eager to see and wave at the visiting court, and progressed under the portcullis to come to a halt in the courtyard of the castle, where the four Narnian monarchs and a good portion of their own court had turned out to receive the visitors.
Anybody familiar with these sort of ceremonies could have seen at a glance that this was not as much a meeting between allies as it was a joyous reunion between friends. King Lune swung down from his horse, pausing only to hand Aravis down from her horse and see her settled between his sons before he strode up to the Kings and Queens to greet them with easy familiarity.
Cor struggled to remember what Harold had told him about protocol in this particular situation, but it didn't seem to matter anyway, because although all the courtiers had made gracious bows to King Lune they had by now turned their attention to the Princes and Aravis. The Narnian courtiers knew, of course, that it had been Cor and Aravis who had been so key in saving them all, so that when the boy and girl stepped forward there went up such a cheer and cry of celebration that Cor felt overwhelmed by it.
A quick glance at Aravis comforted him just a little, for he could see that underneath her collected exterior she, too, was more than a little taken aback. Only Corin seemed to take it all in stride, beaming agreeably 'round at everyone and then following his father to greet and be greeted by the Narnian rulers.
As Aravis had said, Cor had already met Edmund and Lucy, but he had not met them as a King and Queen in their own castle. King Edmund looked much taller, somehow, with his crown on his head, and he wore snowy white hose and a handsome tabard that made him look very important. Queen Lucy had a lovely smile as usual, and she greeted first Prince Corin, then Aravis and lastly Cor with enthusiastic hugs, but she wore rich robes and a crown too, and looked so very much like anybody's idea of a very regal Queen that Cor found himself suddenly shy in front of Edmund and Lucy both.
He had also sort of met Queen Susan, but it was not the sort of meeting that any etiquette-master could have condoned; they had not exchanged names, and indeed the whole time they had been together Queen Susan had thought that he was somebody else. She did not seem to hold it against him, though; indeed she was smiling at Cor and extending her hand to him, so he took it in his own and then wondered, belatedly, what he was meant to do with it. Panicked, embarrassed, he lifted a red-cheeked face to find that Queen Susan was not laughing at him at all— not even in a gentle, grown-up way. Instead she simply smiled warmly, squeezed his hand in hers and murmured, "well-met, your Highness; you are indeed welcome here."
Cor stepped back feeling enormously relieved, and turned to be presented to King Peter.
This was the first he had seen of the Narnian King, and the first thought that crossed the Prince's mind was why, he's quite young! And then he wondered what had made him think that King Peter must be old, but he could not imagine. Indeed, King Peter could not have been more than ten years Cor's senior, and the way he smiled his welcome at the Prince was less that of a Regent to an ally than it was that of one old friend to another.
"So this is the hero of the hour," King Peter smiled. "Well-met, your Highness." He extended his hand to Cor, and Cor clutched at it with a grim determination that he would at least do something with it, this time. It was King Peter, though, who shook the boy's hand and then clasped his elbow as well, looking directly into Cor's eyes.
"Art fully possessed of my fealty, your Highness," he said in a much softer tone, this one clearly meant only to be heard by Cor himself. "Hast delivered unto thy servant those things which are dear beyond measure. My own life I count as naught next to the lives of my family and the wellbeing of my kingdom. Know thou that here, in my home, art ever welcome."
Then he released the hand of the dumbstruck Prince, raised his voice to end the audience, and assured the guests that they would be taken directly to their rooms.
Cor had hoped to get a chance to speak with Aravis after their arrival, but his friend was whisked away to her room by the two Queens, leaving Cor little choice but to follow Corin through a maze of corridors to an apartment with which his brother seemed intimately familiar.
"I always sleep here, when we visit," he explained, as Cor stood awkwardly just inside the door and felt like an outsider. "Ever since the first time we came— although the roof leaked, then. My bed got all wet, and so did I, and Father says I was very angry."
"Was I here, then?" Cor asked. He did not remember anything before his life with Arsheesh, really, but sometimes Corin would speak of things that seemed almost familiar, and so Cor often liked to make sure it wasn't something he should recall. This time, though, the reply was to the negative.
"That was when Lord Bar had you kidnapped, when Father and I were away from court. That's why we had to leave, because Mother sent for Father and me to come home again when it happened. Apparently there was the most thrilling chase, though Mother and I had to wait at home as it happened. I don't really remember any of that, though," Corin reflected. "I caught that fever afterward, and I forgot a lot of things because of it. People mostly just had to tell me everything that happened before it. You know, I think it was awfully unfair of them not to tell me about you any sooner than they did. I mean, just think if they had! When we met in Tashbaan I would have known straightway who you were, and then you could have come home with us."
"Yes, but—" Cor started, then stopped. He had meant to say 'yes, but then we wouldn't have been able to warn anybody about Rabadash,' but then he worried that to say that might make it seem as though he thought highly of his own part in all the intrigue, and he didn't want to seem as though he thought himself so important, so he stopped at "yes, but" and then went quite red, and fell silent. Corin looked at him quizzically.
"But . . . nothing. I only thought of something. It's not important, really."
Corin looked frustrated. "Why do you do that?" he demanded.
"Start to say something, then go all pink and purple and shut up and say it's not important. You do it an awful lot, you know."
"Oh," Cor turned an even deeper shade of red. "I'm sorry. I didn't realise. I'll try to—" but this time it was Corin who interrupted him.
"No, you idiot! Don't apologise; what are you sorry for? I don't care that you do it, really, I only wanted to know why you do it. But here you are, acting like— like Queen Susan, or something."
This did not make anything clearer in Cor's mind; if anything, it only confused him further.
"I thought that you liked Queen Susan," he ventured, and then decided, based on the resultant, wild-eyed exasperation of his brother, that he'd somehow managed to put a foot wrong yet again.
"I do! Whoever said that I didn't?"
"But you just said that I was acting like—"
"Just because I like a person doesn't mean I don't think she can be a bit stupid about some things, sometimes. Like this whole mess with Calormen; d'you know she thought it was somehow her own fault? As if the Tisroc wasn't just slavering for the first excuse he could get to strike as all of us? Honestly, I can't stand reading history but even I know that Calormen's mostly had it in for us for centuries, yet there's Queen Susan, blubbing about how it's all on her— and then you! Apologising for something that wasn't anything really wrong to begin with."
If Cor had been thinking even a little clearer, he'd not have said it, but he wasn't, so he did.
"I'm awfully sorry, but—"
Corin was not in a mood to receive another apology. Such was his reluctance to receive it, in fact, that he reached for the nearest object to hand (it was his own boot) and threw it. Unfortunately for Cor, his brother's aim was true; the older boy caught the heel of the boot in his eye, causing him to yelp in spite of himself.
He'd gotten knocks before, of course, from Arsheesh and from several of the men who had bought fish from them (and, one memorable time, from the tiny, toddling daughter of one such) but this was the first real blow he'd been dealt by his own brother, and he was shocked, not so much at being hit, as he was at how very much it upset him to be hit by his brother at all. He couldn't help himself— he felt his lip begin to quaver and so, rather than let Corin see him cry, he groped behind him for the handle of the door, wrenched it open and stumbled backward through it, out into the corridor.
He ran without having any idea where he was going. He had never been in Cair Paravel before, so he hadn't much choice but to stumble along blindly until he found a place to have a good cry. He found it sooner than he expected. Rounding a corner at random, hoping he might find a quiet stairwell, he found instead a small door. A timid knock brought neither invitation to enter nor admonition to go away, so Cor gathered his courage and pushed the door in. The room he found on the other side of the door was a library— he only knew that because they had one at Anvard, and he'd asked his father why they had a whole room with nothing but books. King Lune, of course, had been deeply surprised.
"Why, 'tis a library! A place where books are housed and read. Have you really never seen such a thing?"
Cor had never; nor had he read any books at all in his life, nor indeed could he even read, so the library had not held much fascination for him at the time. Now, though, he thought that perhaps a library was a fine place to have a cry, so he ventured into this one, found a large, soft chair pulled up close to an empty fireplace, and curled up in that to accomplish his purpose. Then, deeply embarrassed to have been crying and generally just exhausted from weeks of schooling and a day of travel, Cor dropped off to sleep and knew nothing of the world around him for nearly an hour.
Cor woke at last to the sound of the library door opening, then closing. He stirred and stretched, then heard rich, warm laughter, followed by voices.
"A badger! Badger indeed! Liken me to a badger again, brother, and I'll give you such a blow as to ensure you'll not wake for a week!"
"What, should I be cowed by such a threat from the man whose first boxing match ended before it even began? Very grand indeed you looked, Ed, slipping on that clump of leaves and putting yourself out for the count. Most considerate of you, to save your opponent the— oomph!"
The sentence terminated in a solid thump and a rush of breath. Cor, now almost entirely awake and aware, recognised the voices of Kings Edmund and Peter. He also recognised the sound of a scuffle, and he wondered if perhaps this was a duel. He had never seen a duel before, but he knew that in Calormen, at least, men died fighting them. Cor hoped he would not hear one of the Narnian Kings kill the other. True, it seemed an unlikely thing, but if this were in fact a duel . . .
It was as he reflected on this that it occurred to Cor that he might be considered to be eavesdropping, something he had recently given his word that he would never do again. Anxious not to eavesdrop any longer, he scrambled quickly to his feet, tumbled out into plain view and blurted "sorry— sorry! I fell asleep."
Two very startled Kings stopped, mid-tussle, and straightened to look at Cor. He wasn't a terribly pre-possessing sight, with his hair smushed and mussed, his eyes still red from tears and blurred with sleep (and one of them swelling up quite handsomely where the boot had struck it) and his travelling clothes rather the worse for wear. Both Peter and Edmund looked at him quite kindly, though, and Cor understood from their expressions that he would not be in trouble for falling asleep in the chair and waking to accidentally eavesdrop.
"Most people who come in here to sit and think usually do fall asleep," King Edmund volunteered. "Something about the atmosphere, I think. Most relaxing. Er—" he glanced at his bother, and seemed to read some sort of unspoken instruction in his face, for he nodded and made vague noises of apology to Cor before backing out into the passageway, leaving Cor and Peter alone together.
"It occurs to me," Peter said to Cor, "that one day you and I shall be Kings and allies both. I think it might be suitable for us to take counsel, don't you?"
"I— I—" Cor hated to think that he must look as much an idiot as he sounded. "I suppose you're right, Sir —Sire— only . . . my father's King right now, you know. Shouldn't you maybe ask him, instead?"
"Perhaps I will. But I have a mind to discuss some things with you and you alone, your Highness, so if you would grant me an audience," Peter ushered Cor back to his chair, and then took the facing chair for himself, "I should esteem it a great favour. Although," with a more solemn look at his guest, "as anyone knows, you have already done me a greater favour than any man has a right to ask."
"I?" Cor was alarmed. "I— oh, d'you mean that— that thing with Rabadash? It was just— any old person would have— that is, anybody would have done that."
"I am afraid," King Peter said gently, "that there, you are mistaken. 'Anyone' would not have. They might have wanted to, they might even have known that they should, but they'd have prevaricated, formulated reasons why they were unable to . . . they would have laboured to excuse their inaction in their own minds. You, too, could have told yourself you owed nothing to these strangers from a foreign land, and yet you did not. You risked much, in warning us— you and the young lady both, and the Horses too. I do not regard such service lightly, Cor. Your father has every reason to boast of his son."
"I— me?" Cor blinked. "Father boasts of me?"
"Frequently," Peter nodded.
"Oh, but—" Cor felt at a loss. "But I'm not really good at anything! I suppose I can ride all right, but that's about it. I don't know how to do anything a Prince is supposed to do." He looked mournfully up into the sympathetic face of the High King of Narnia. "D'you know, I can't even read?"
"Reading can be learned, though," Peter smiled. "Reading can be learned, table manners and diplomacy and shooting and history and a thousand other things that we labour to hold in such high regard can all be learned, through diligent study. But courage, humility, self-sacrifice and loyalty . . . Cor, the world would be a much different place if these were the sort of things a schoolmaster could drum into the heads of his pupils. Your father does not boast of your skill with a sword, your prowess in the tilts or your aim with your bow anymore than he makes such boasts of your brother. He boasts of those things he knows could not ever be taught you— your true heart, your willingness to learn, and your readiness to risk your life to save people you had not even met."
"Oh," Cor said, and felt somehow as though he had just been picked up, twirled around and then set down in yet another strange land. "I didn't know he did that." He paused, considering. "I suppose," he said at last, "I don't really know my father. I mean," he hastened to add, "I like him very much, and I think he's just wonderful, but I don't know much of anything about him."
"And how could you?" Peter smiled. "You haven't seen him for most of your life. King Lune is a good man and a trusted friend of mine, yet I can easily see why it would be difficult for you to see him as family." He paused a moment before delicately enquiring, which a glance at Cor's swelling eye, "and . . . how fares it with Corin?"
Cor flushed, and ducked his head so that his eye was better shielded from the High King's knowing look.
"Oh, it . . . fine. I think I just made him angry."
Peter nodded thoughtfully. "And would I be overstepping myself to enquire if the disagreement was . . . serious? Grave in nature?"
"What, because he threw a boot at me?" Cor wondered, provoking Peter to a sudden fit of coughing and gurgling into his fist.
"Threw a— a boot, did he?" the King repeated, once he'd gotten a handle on his seizures. "Erm— well, yes, all right then. Is the throwing of a boot the mark of a grave disagreement with Corin?"
Cor shrugged helplessly. "That's just it— I don't know. I've never had a brother before. I've never been a brother— I don't even know how." He looked beseechingly at Peter. "Is it serious, if a boot is thrown?"
Peter, regarding Cor, was conscious of a sudden rush of sympathy for the boy. When his siblings had first told him of the Crown Prince's return to Archenland, he had wondered how Cor would adjust. Now, having the Prince himself sitting in the chair opposite, he could see that Cor was desperate to adjust but had no idea how the thing was to be accomplished.
"Well," Peter said gently, sitting forward in his chair, "I think it would really depend on the brother who did the throwing. I mean, a day can hardly be called complete in our household if Edmund doesn't throw something at me. He calls it target practice, of course," he added, and Cor, who did not know why this would warrant an 'of course,' found himself nodding as if he understood. "I am sure there are some brothers in whom throwing a —erm— boot would indicate pretty strong anger. However, I am almost positive that Corin is not one of them."
"Really?" Cor was both hopeful and scared to hope. "You mean, he might not hate me, or—" he stopped, as he saw that King Peter was staring at him in some dismay. "What is it?"
"Cor, did you really think he might hate you?"
"I— well, yes; at least, I wondered. I think I make him cross an awful lot, you know," he reflected. "At least, he gets upset at me a lot."
"Hrmm. Yes." Peter hesitated. "Cor, I am sure you would in time discover this for yourself, but perhaps it might make things easier if I were to explain. Corin is a most . . . reactive young man. That's not to say he does not become justifiably angry, from time to time, but it is to say that there are times when he might be said to . . . overreact."
Cor squirmed and squinted up at the King. It was a strange thing but, even though he knew what Peter said was true, he found he did not like to hear the man saying it. To his own great surprise, he heard himself blurt, "please, Sir, I— I wish you'd not talk about him like that. At least," apologetically, "not when he's not here to defend himself."
He fully expected the King to chastise him for this boldness, so he was very startled to find that, instead of scolding, King Peter was smiling.
"He may not be here to defend himself," Peter allowed, "but you are. And in you I see not only his friend, but his brother, though you may not feel it at the moment. A brother is born for adversity, Cor."
"He— d'you mean, to hate each other?"
"No," Peter laughed, and it wasn't a mean laugh at all, but rather a warm and somehow comforting laugh. "No, I mean that a brother is born for those times when his kin have most need of him. A friend may always be there— indeed, he must be, else after a time he ceases to be called friend. Corin does not want for friends, you may be assured; but you are his brother. Whether he is alone in the world or his company is sought by thousands, you will always be his brother. And if you cannot bear to hear his faults honestly and lovingly listed, not even when he has just thrown a boot at your face . . . you will not only make him the best brother any man could ask for, but he may also count you among his truest friends."
Cor was not accustomed to receiving such frank praise, particularly from grownups. He flushed, and squirmed, and I'm afraid that he stared in blank confusion at King Peter for a minute or two. But Peter, who knew quite well what it was to find oneself suddenly thrust into a position one had never expected to hold, only smiled kindly at the boy until at last some of the confusion left him, and Cor was able to think of what to say.
"That's awfully kind of you to tell me, Sir," he said quietly. "I mean," quickly, "Sire. Your Majesty. Or— or—"
"Peter," King Peter suggested, smiling. "Why not simply call me Peter and save ourselves the confusion, hm?"
Cor was again flustered, but this time not quite as badly as he had been before, and he recovered faster, too. Peter, watching him, knew then what he had already begun to suspect was true— frightened, flustered or not, this boy would one day be a King who would wear his crown well.
"All right, then— Peter," Cor said at last, prompting another smile from his new friend.
"Very good. Now, then, I think we've had enough of this sitting about, don't you? It's a fine day outside, and I've heard high praise of your horsemanship. I've a mind to see what you make of my new charger. He's like nothing I've ever seated before— I daresay you'll find him something of a handful." Then, catching the concerned look on Cor's face, he smiled and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "But don't worry," he admonished the boy, "I have every faith you'll prove equal to the challenge."
Cor was pleasantly surprised to realise that King Peter did not seem to only be talking about the horse.
The horse, as it turned out, did indeed prove a challenge. King Peter had named him Tarva, and Tarva was determined to make life difficult for everyone around him. He was a Southern-bred animal, and Cor had seen many of the stallion's type as he and Aravis had journeyed through Tashbaan, but even his relatively untrained eye could read something especially fine in the creature's sleek, muscular lines. His hands, though, were too occupied with the reins and his legs far too busy with the horse's flanks for him to pay much attention to Tarva's conformation. Peter stood some distance away, watching Cor hard at work, and aside from calling out the occasional suggestion he mostly kept silent.
Cor had only just begun to get a feel for Tarva's tricks and tactics when the door from the palace to the stableyard opened, and the Queens emerged with Aravis between them.
"Oh, Peter, you let him ride Tarva?" Queen Susan was alarmed. "He could be killed!"
"Well, we've all got to go sometime," Peter grinned, then saw that his sister was truly distressed and so hastened to reassure her. "You needn't worry, Su, Cor has him well in hand. He's got a marvellous touch on the rein— you see? None of this yanking him about like a marionette on strings; see how he's got him at the heel, there? Not a horseman in a thousand can learn a thing that quickly. He has a natural seat."
"You'd not say so if you had seen me when I started riding," Cor volunteered. Aravis, however, repudiated her friend with her usual abruptness.
"No, his Majesty is quite right. You learned very quickly; Bree told me so himself. Some people just do well on a horse, almost from the start; something to do with their balance, I believe. My brother was— was one such." Then she grew grave, and solemn. Cor was too busy with the horse he sat to notice the change in his friend, but both the Queens set gentle, comforting hands on her until the girl squared her shoulders and stood straight once more.
Shortly thereafter the door opened again, this time yielding to King Edmund and Prince Corin. Both of them wandered over to lean on the fence and watch Cor's progress with Tarva, who had by now finally seemed to accept the presence of the determined little fellow on his back, and was now ready to show him exactly what a young man could do with a real horse.
The expression on Cor's face when at last he dismounted was one of incandescent delight. Tarva bumped an imperious nose against the boy's shoulder, nearly knocking him flat, but Cor didn't even seem to care. He rubbed Tarva's nose with great affection (Tarva did not appreciate this liberty but he did tolerate it, albeit with poor grace) and then handed the reins over to a waiting groom before he crossed to join the onlookers.
"He's wonderful!" he blurted, drawing a laugh from Peter and smiles from all others present.
"There are several stablehands who'd disagree," Edmund observed. "He's not exactly a peaceable animal."
"And since when was a peaceable nature required of a war horse, anyhow?" Peter retorted. Edmund grinned.
"Well, for all you care to ride to wars, a peaceable horse would surely match you best."
"Two more words, Edmund, and I might be forced to take offence," Peter warned, but he was smiling. Edmund's expression was far too innocent to be credited as he raised one thoughtful eyebrow.
"Two words?" he echoed. Then he was forced to drop to a crouch as Peter made a grab for him, missing by the merest hair's breadth. The Queens were laughing, Corin was watching with avid interest in the outcome of the scuffle, and even Aravis, though she took a small, careful step back, seemed to be smiling as though at a fond and familiar sight. Cor looked dubiously first at the wrestling Kings, then at the lookers-on, then back once more to the Kings, who had broken free of each other, laughing, to call it pax before they turned back to the others.
"But where is King Lune?" Lucy wondered, looking around. "Surely we have not abandoned him to the mercies of our ministers!"
"I expect Father is still sleeping," Corin said. "He does get tired after a long ride. Do you need him?" An eager gleam lit his eyes. "We could go wake him for you."
"If your father ever heard that I had allowed you to wake him, Corin, he'd be quite right to take it as an assassination attempt on my part, and declare war," Peter said dryly. "No, let him sleep. But we've no councils to sit this afternoon, and the sun has not yet deserted us. Perhaps . . . a ride?"
"Ooh, lovely!" Lucy agreed, so Corin said yes as well. The others were not long in adding their assent, so the horses were readied and all seven of them were soon on their way into the King's Wood, the forest that grew some distance behind the castle.
Cor was secretly glad that Peter had taken Tarva for his own use, leaving the Prince a perfectly suitable mare to ride. Tarva was a bit too much horse to handle on the open trail, but the mare was a treat. She had a nice, lively step (and the firm, no-nonsense nip she had delivered to Tarva immediately quelled that animal's hope of any blossoming romance) and Cor found her a nice change from his own pony, who was yet too wearied from the trek to Narnia to bear his master through the wood.
Corin, too, expressed delight at seating a proper horse, but he did so much more openly than Cor, by challenging Queen Lucy to a race. Lucy accepted eagerly, and soon the pair of them were lost to the track ahead, leaving the rest of them ambling on at a much more placid pace.
"I have a new poignard I'll wager to anyone who cares to contest Lucy as the winner," Edmund offered. Nobody took him up on it at first, but Cor did venture a question.
In reply Edmund deftly freed his from his belt, passing it over for Cor to examine. The dagger was finely wrought and delicately balanced, and Cor rather liked the way it felt in his hand. He looked back to Edmund.
"Is it— would a writing set be a fair wager? A travelling writing set, in a chest? It's . . . I think it's quite a good one. It's new, and rather fancy. I've not used it at all— I don't know how," he admitted. "Not yet, anyway. And rather than have a fine writing set I don't know how to use—"
"—why not a dagger that you could use?" Edmund finished. "Quite right. Very well, you'll wager on Corin's being the winner?"
"Of course," Cor nodded, and leaned over so that he and the King could shake on the bet. Aravis looked doubtful.
"Won't he allow her Majesty to win, though?" she wondered. She was still working out the finer points of Northern concepts of chivalry, but she had gotten at least as far as that in her observations.
"Not Corin," Cor said, and wondered at his own confidence. "He'd never insult her like that." Then he caught the looks of surprise from both Narnian Kings and their sister, too. He felt awkward, but persisted. "It's true, though, isn't it? He'd no more insult her by depriving her of a fair contest than she would insult him by— by pretending helplessness, or something stupid like that." He addressed Aravis. "You know— wouldn't you hate it if I let you win something like that? It would make it seem I thought you couldn't win on your own."
Aravis looked surprised, then thoughtful. She nodded to concede the point, and then all of them looked up at the leisurely-paced return of Corin and Lucy. The pair were laughing, and on sighting their approaching family and friends they waved and halted, waiting to be overtaken.
"Well?" Edmund wondered as they all drew abreast. "We've a wager on, so we'll need to know the outcome. Who's our victor?"
"Lucy, of course." It was Susan, speaking with quiet confidence for nearly the first time since they had left the stable yard. Lucy scrunched her nose modestly.
"It was mostly Aravir, really," she said, patting the neck of her mare. "She simply flies along— I can scarcely feel her touch the ground. But yes," with a wide grin for her quietly-smiling sister, "I did win."
"I'll give you my writing set when we get back, then," Cor promised Edmund. Edmund, on the verge of reassuring the boy that he needn't worry about it, saw that Cor was taking this wager very seriously indeed, so he nodded instead.
"That will be just fine," he said solemnly, and then he left off talking, for the path narrowed a bit, requiring them to break down into groups of one or two abreast that they might all fit. This new arrangement found the princes in the lead, with the Narnian kings paired behind them. Susan rode a bit behind her brothers, and Lucy and Aravis rode behind Susan, so conversation naturally broke off into smaller groups as they travelled.
"I say," Corin said quietly, looking at his brother, "you bet on me?"
"Well, yes," Cor nodded.
"Oh, you shouldn't have done. Lucy's as good a rider as I, if not better, and that new mare of hers is simply first-rate. I hadn't really any chance at all."
"That doesn't matter," Cor said, and wondered how he could be so strongly certain of the fact. "You're my brother. If I was going to bet at all, I'd never bet against you. It— it's just not how it should work."
He half-feared Corin would find something in this speech to use to deride him, but he needn't have worried. Corin sat very still and quiet in his saddle for a minute, then spoke in an especially low, controlled voice.
"Well— thanks, Cor."
Cor, feeling suddenly uncomfortable and not even knowing why, said no, really, don't mention it, so Corin didn't. Then, curiosity striking him, the younger boy wondered "what did Edmund bet?"
Cor described the dagger to the best of his ability, and Corin issued a respectful whistle at the description. "Would have been nice," he reflected. "We'll have to see if we can't get him to lay it against something else before we go home."
"All right," Cor decided, "but honestly, Corin, if it's another horse race— leave it to me this time, won't you?"
Corin swivelled in his saddle to stare at his brother in open-mouthed astonishment. Cor, nervous and worried he'd not made the gibe just right, nevertheless found himself grinning wickedly at Corin's expression of shock.
"Oho!" Corin cried. "Is that a challenge? I warn you, I give no quarter!"
"No," Cor grinned, "no, I know you don't." And to be able to say that, about his own brother, with such conviction— it was the most wonderful feeling in the world.
"Well, then," Corin caught up the reins and rose in his stirrups, "give the word."
So Cor gave the word —it was more of a shout, really— and they were off, the pair of them galloping neck and neck, soon vanishing from sight of the startled riders behind them. There was a moment's quiet riding, and then—
"I'll give my poignard to the winner," Edmund decided.
"And the winner," Peter mused, "will in turn give it to the loser."
"But the loser will decline," Edmund predicted, "because he lost it fairly—"
"—and they'll end up sharing it," Peter finished. Both brothers shared knowing smiles, then looked ahead to the point in the trees where the princes had disappeared. "Or, of course," Peter reflected, "they could fall into debate over the outcome of the race, and one could use the knife to kill the other . . ."
"Yes, equally possible."
"Well— close, then," Edmund decided. "Very close."
Peter smiled and lifted his gaze once more to the path. "Yes," he decided, "yes, I do believe they will be."
And the horses ambled onward under the blue summer sky.
A.N.: This story wasn't written to any prompts, but rather as the fulfillment of a promise to Francienyc, whose new story sort of shoved the idea for this fic into my head (we do that to each other, apparently). It was originally meant to have a much narrower focus than this, but it sort of burst upon me in every regard. That means that this isn't the story I meant to write today; rather, this is the story that decided today was the day on which it would be written! I argued with it, but it won out, which means not only am I mad enough to argue with my own creative processes but apparently I am also sufficiently inept at rhetoric to be cowed by them. This is terribly embarrassing.
The quote from Proverbs used at the start of the story replaced the lines of a Heather Dale song that I was going to use for this, since once I got done with the story the focus of the song didn't seem to fit anymore; still, the song definitely applies to both sets of brothers, since it has been rendered both as "True and Destined King" and also "True and Destined Prince," so either way, it works! As for the quote I did use, it fit what needed to be said within the context of the story, but I must confess was awfully tempted to use another translation I found, since it seemed to fit Corin especially well— "a friend always loves, and a brother is born to share trouble."
I am also working feverishly under a self-imposed deadline, here. I have given myself until my next day off work to focus on finishing all Narnia fic that I plan to post before the end of the month, because come my next day off I switch gears back into original fiction and will not allow myself to write any more fanfic until at least March, so I had better make sure to have finished and banked everything that will need to be posted before March rolls around. Of course, when March rolls around I may just topple over from the strain of treating my writing like it's a second full-time job.
Which I hope it will be, very soon.
Meantime, though, I merely poach characters from people who have already been published, and I do hope that CS Lewis will find it within him to forgive me for stealing so very many of his own creations.