THE LESSER KING
Synopsis: After a long campaign away from Narnia, Edmund returns to find things have changed greatly in his absence.
Volume 1, Part 1
RETURN TO NARNIA
"The seas can be so warm and welcoming, and then so fierce and threatening." Edmund said wistfully, standing on the deck of the Splendor Hyaline.
"Sounds like my wife." Mr. Beaver chuckled, "But don't tell her I told you that, or I'll get more of the latter, if you know what I mean."
"Your secret shall be considered worthy of state protection, my friend." Edmund replied with a smile.
The Just King returned his gaze to the waters on the horizon, watching the sun dance upon it. The calm blue swell of the Eastern Seas were a stark contrast to much of the mountainous waters that had buffeted the Narnian First Armada on its journey home. King Edmund the Just led the armada on a campaign to Terebinthia and the Lone Islands . By all accounts it had been a success, strengthening ties and reaffirming loyalties to Narnia amongst the people. A factor that High King Peter considered paramount given the distant location of the Lone Islands relative to Narnia itself.
The influence of the Calormene Empire on the Lone Islands was a constant source of concern for Narnia. The diametrically opposite regime was far more powerful than Narnia, and if it gained a foothold in the Lone Islands , it could give them a platform from which to launch an invasion into Narnia. Currently, the geography and existence of Archenland between Calormen and Narnia had prevented any sizeable clash between the two nations.
"Penny for your thoughts, Sire?" Mr. Beaver asked Edmund, sensing his monarch was deep in thought.
"Oh, do excuse me. I am just thinking about the Lone Islands . I hope we have done enough to keep their loyalty to Narnia. I worry about the Calormene. While trade with anyone should be considered a good thing, the amount of trade being done with Calormene in the Lone Islands gives me pause. Hopefully it is unwarranted pause."
"Our campaign was a success by all accounts, Sire. I'm sure it'll all be fine."
"I hope so, Mr. Beaver. I hope so."
'Majesty! Cair Paravel has been sighted!'
Edmund turned at the sound of the cry from the lookout above. He rushed to the other side of the ship, staring toward the Narnia coastline. Home. It felt far too long a time since Edmund had seen his beloved Narnia. Far too long since his eyes had been graced with its beauty.
Like a diamond sparkling in the distance, Cair Paravel beckoned the Splendor Hyaline and its sister ships home. Edmund could not help the smile that grew on his face at the sight.
"Home, Mr. Beaver." Edmund said softly, "We are home."
JUST IN TIME
'All hail, King Edmund the Just returns!'
Edmund marched into the grounds of Cair Paravel at the head of the contingent of Narnian he'd taken on his campaign with him. Each man, woman, or child born on the journey took their place in the procession. For each had taken part in the campaign, and each deserved their welcome.
They had all been loyal to their King, even though the long journey to the Lone Islands had been fraught with difficult conditions. Several souls were lost in fierce storms and a skirmish with pirates whose bold attempts to raid the Narnian fleet gained them the prize of a resting place on the sea floor.
As their arrival was hastened by favourable winds, Narnia was not expecting the fleet to return today. As such, the welcome was not of a standard that Edmund expected. Still, what mattered most was that he had succeeded in his mission and was now home.
At the bottom of the main stairs leading to the entrance of the castle, Edmund stopped his procession. At the top of the stairs stood two lines of the High King's Guard, swords raised and crossed. High King Peter stood under the first set of swords, crown upon his head, impassive gaze upon his face.
"Narnia welcomes you, Brothers and Sisters, and your High King thanks you for your deeds." Peter's voice bellowed, "We here at home owe you a great debt. You have aided the cause of strengthening ties with our brothers across the sea. In gratitude for your actions, a week of celebrations will begin to welcome you all home. Today, a great feast awaits you all, where we shall serve you. By the Lion, thank you all."
Edmund was a little surprised at how formal Peter was being. That was usually Edmund's forte. However, these thoughts of Edmund's soon departed when Peter's gaze softened and a small smile adorned his face.
"My friends." Peter smiled, "Welcome home."
A chorus of cheers erupted from both the small gathering of well wishers, and the large sea of returnees. At this point, Edmund and his two most trusted, Mr. Beaver and Halvor the Satyr, broke away from the procession and proceeded up the stairs and under the swords held up by Peter's High Guard. Peter had already turned away to enter the castle.
By the time Edmund and his two companions saw Peter again, he was sitting in his throne. Edmund was surprised to see that neither of his sisters, Susan the Gentle, or Lucy the Valiant, were seated in their thrones. While Narnia had been surprised by Edmund's sudden return, he had expected his sisters would still be here to greet him.
"Edmund, I see you are well." Peter said, giving Edmund a warm smile and nod.
"I am well, Sire." Edmund bowed respectfully to Peter, "I seek to return to Cair Paravel, announcing the end of my successful campaign in the Eastern Seas on behalf of your majesty."
Edmund and both his companions fell to one knee, heads bowed. Peter chuckled, shook his head, and stood to his feet.
"Yes, yes, of course, Ed." Peter said, waving away Edmund's formality, "Come, come."
Peter beckoned Edmund forward and greeted him with a fierce, tight hug. Edmund winced a little in the fiercely tight embrace, but welcomed it nonetheless. He smiled and tightened the hug himself, patting Peter's back. It felt good to be home, breathing the familiar air of Narnia.
"Oh, Ed!" Lucy cried out suddenly, showing no pretence of formality as she dashed into the throne room, "You're home!"
Holding her skirt up and running barefoot, she crushed Edmund from behind, leaving him sandwiched between herself and Peter. She'd just come from the royal vegetable gardens, and her feet left a trail of dirt behind them that the ushers were already rushing to clean.
Edmund made a grunt, crushed between his siblings. He expected this sort of thing from Lucy. She'd always been a free spirit.
"Lu, where have you been!?" Peter whispered, not breaking the three person hug.
"Oh do forgive me, I was playing in the gardens well on the outskirts. I came as soon as I heard the trumpets!" Lucy said, kissing Edmund's spine and hugging him tightly again, "It doesn't matter now. I'm here, and so is Ed! He's home!"
"And when do you expect Susan will return, Peter?" Edmund asked his brother, "I had expected she would be here."
The pair walked through the large crowd gathered for the banquet, giving nods and smiles when needed. Edmund was far more interested in learning what had taken place during his absence. He had a lot to catch up on. He was also most joyed in spending time with his siblings, though the absence of one left a sorrow in his heart.
"I had also hoped she would be here by now, Ed." Peter frowned, before he feigned a smile and put his arm around Edmund's shoulder, "But at least you're home. Excuse me for a moment."
Edmund's mouth hung open, as he'd been about to speak before Peter slipped away from him. He found Peter's sudden departure displeasing. Besides the usual bluster of announcing Edmund's triumphant return at the earlier banquet, and making the usual speeches, Edmund heard little from Peter. Their conversations had been brief at best. Peter had not even asked for a detailed briefing of Edmund's campaign.
While Edmund assumed that their time apart might have caused their bond to lose some of its familiarity, he was still surprised to see that manifested in Peter's aloofness. Edmund knew his brother well enough to know he was keeping an emotional wall of sorts between them. A distance. If this wasn't the case, Peter would have terrorised Edmund with his typical touchy feely hands on nature. Constant hugs and closeness, relentless pestering of details from Edmund's time away. A closeness that came with being brothers and best friends. A closeness that came with trusting one another implicitly.
"Mr. Tumnus." Edmund said, approaching the faun with a dutiful nod, "Have I been away so long that I have lost the ear of my brother? I fear I have been. Even Queen Lucy seems … distant."
"Oh, Ed." Lucy gushed, squeezing Edmund's hand and grinning at him, "You are awfully paranoid, aren't you?"
"Well, I am the spymaster after all." Edmund smiled, surprised and grateful for her sudden appearance at his side, "I have seen little of you since my return, Lu. Peter as well. I do hope that the morrow brings us more time together. Beyond these … engagements."
"I know it will, Ed." Lucy smiled, leaning up to kiss his cheek, "But tonight is a night for all those who have returned today. And I, as a grateful Queen Lucy, must ensure I share my attention to as many of them as possible. I promise you, that tomorrow you will have my attention completely. Besides, you already have my heart, must you have my time as well? We mustn't be greedy now, Ed."
Lucy smiled brightly. The type of smile that always made Edmund glow and smile in return. He cupped her cheek and nodded gratefully. He could not fault her logic or noble intent.
"As you say, My Queen. As you say."
"And on that note, I will have to leave your side for a little while so that I may continue to spread my thanks and joy with our returned subjects." She made to leave before she turned back to Edmund, "I am so very happy to have my pair home. You have no idea, Edmund."
She gave Edmund a sudden hug, before she left him just as Peter had. Yet unlike Peter, her departure did not leave Edmund feeling underwhelmed. Indeed she had brightened his whole evening. A familiar warmth for his heart, long missed during his absence.
Lucy ended up at Peter's side, the two laughing and carrying on with a familiarity that Edmund and his brother seemed to have lost a little. Perhaps that would change in time. Now that he was home, there was no reason for it not to.
"Are you alright, Mr. Tumnus?" Edmund asked, noticing the faun's lack of attention.
"Yes, Sire. Do forgive me." He said with a bow.
"Of course. Is something wrong?" Edmund asked, "You seem … distracted."
"I should take my leave of you, Sire. Do excuse me."
Hurriedly, Mr. Tumnus took his leave, and once more Edmund was alone. He had the strangest sensation that nobody was interested in his company for any extended period of time.
"Mr. Beaver." Edmund said, approaching his friend, "Have you noticed anything … strange since our return today? As if everyone else knows a great secret we are not yet aware of? High King Peter, Queen Lucy, and Mr. Tumnus all seemed in a great hurry to leave my side."
"I wish I could say the same, Sire, but ever since I got back, I've had nothing but an earful from my wife, so I'm afraid it's just you." Mr. Beaver chuckled, "But I suppose I have noticed a … I suppose you could say pensive mood in the air since our return."
"Perhaps it is simply because we have been away for so long." Edmund surmised, "Though I am somewhat surprised that Queen Susan is not here. I will speak to Peter about it before bed."
Edmund attempted to do just that, many hours later. Long after the festive spirit of the banquet was over, and the celebrations had moved to a bonfire in the forest, surrounded by music and wine. He approached Peter's chamber doors and nodded to the High Guard either side of it. Normally he would have simply knocked on the door immediately, ignoring the guard. Not because he meant to be rude, but simply because their function was to guard, not to be annoyed or interacted with.
"Is King Peter long asleep?" Edmund asked one of the guards.
"Sire, the High King is not in these chambers."
"Oh." Edmund frowned, "He must have joined the faun dancing. I will speak to him in the morning then."
"Yes, Sire. Good evening, Sire."
Edmund nodded to the guard before he turned and made his way to his own chambers. Chambers he would have to reacquaint himself with again. As he did so, he passed Susan's chambers and couldn't help but feel a sense of melancholy for her absence. Despite her absence, two members of the Royal Guard, an order below the High Guard, stood outside her chamber doors.
"Where is Queen Susan?" Edmund asked suddenly, deciding if Peter would not discuss this with him, perhaps these soldiers would, "How long has she been away and how soon do you expect her to return?"
"We do not know where she is, Sire." One of the guards spoke, "We only know she left after a …"
The other guard quickly shushed his companion, which only served to annoy Edmund. How dare they try to keep something from him. He was their King after all.
"You are not High Guard. You are Royal Guard. If I ask you something, you answer it." Edmund snapped at them both, "Now answer me, or your next guard duty shall be in the marshes."
"Please, Sire. We know little and do not wish to be a party to gossip or speculation. Factually, we only know that Queen Susan left a month ago after a very heated argument with the High King. It was a very …" The faun guard, Mantius, said, frowning somewhat, "It was a very distressing argument for all who heard. Hurtful things were said on both sides. The next day, Queen Susan was gone. Some say she left of her own volition under cover of night with her most loyal centaur, Lero. But … there are some who say they saw her being taken away by members of the High Guard."
"Mantius, that is utter nonsense! Even speaking such a vile rumour is tantamount to treason." The other faun guard, Deceuns protested, "King Edmund, please ignore such proclamations."
"You, Deceuns, I remember. But you …" Edmund said, pointing to the other faun, "Mantius, is it? I do not know you."
"Sire, I have only been a member of the Royal Guard for eight months, well after your departure. You had no reason to know who I am." Mantius replied, "Please forgive me if I have spoken out of turn."
"You have done no such thing. You have stated yourself that what you speak of is rumour, not fact. So you have born no false witness. I thank thee for speaking plainly. At least someone is prepared to give me some answers." Edmund said, giving both fauns a nod before he continued on his way.
Such information had caused Edmund a great deal of concern. There was absolutely no way that the latter rumour of Susan being kidnapped by High Guard could be true. Peter would never order such a thing, and the High Guard did not breathe unless their High King let them.
Edmund stopped when he heard what sounded like a low groan. He raised his eyebrow and looked about him for the source of the noise. Another sound, almost a moan, carried faintly through the passage.
"What in Aslan's mane is that noise?" Edmund asked, walking faster along the passageway to where he believed it was coming from.
Suddenly, Edmund was approached by two members of the High Guard. One was a gorilla, the other a dog of large stature. They stood in Edmund's way, making it obvious they were there for a reason.
"Sire, do you wish to sleep now?" The dog asked, "We have come to escort you to your new chambers."
"My new chambers? What are you talking about? My chambers are straight ahead, opposite Lucy's." Edmund protested, "And what was that noise?"
"Oops." The gorilla grunted, "Forgive me, Sire. That was us. We, umm … didn't think anyone was around and we were goofing around."
"Two members of the High Guard 'goofing' around?" Edmund asked suspiciously, "Be that as it may, kindly step aside so I can return to my normal chambers."
"High King Peter has given us strict orders to show you your new chambers. They are already prepared and awaiting you, Sire. We are sure you will be most pleased. They are blessed with a far greater view than your previous chambers." The Dog said, "They are back the way you came. Past the High King's chambers."
"What?" Edmund asked in surprise, "Did he extend the wing?"
"He did, Sire. Chambers right next to his own. The High King wished for his brother to be closer to him." The Gorilla said, nodding his head, "Does the Just King not approve?"
"I …" Edmund said, smiling softly, almost relieved, "I … that is … very thoughtful of him."
"The High King has missed his brother greatly." The gorilla said, still nodding his head, "He wishes your bonds to be strengthened."
"Then I shall have to thank him in the morning." Edmund said, still happily surprised by this news, "Thank you, Gentlemen. Thank you."
"No thanks is required, Majesty." The Dog replied with a soft bow, "We exist only to serve ..."
- To Be Continued -
Edmund learns more about what has transpired in his absence, including a secret that could prove devestating to Narnia's stability.