It's The Thought That Counts
Glimpses from the whole of By Royal Decree, The Palace Guard, and The Stone Gryphon in the holiday season of giving.
Still not King. Still don't own this. With gratitude and admiration to the creator of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis. I claim no ownership interest whatsoever in any derivative fiction I write, and never have. Any original content in my derivative fiction is in the public domain and may be used freely and without notice to me or attribution. Rated, oh I dunno K? T just because it's easier that way?
Chapter 1: Narnia
Dalia, the Cheetah, sighed. She had been over this with her sons, Fooh and Beehn. It was Fooh's idea. It was always Fooh's idea.
"You should call me Dalia now, Beehn."
The young male flattened his ears and growled, aiming a lazy swat at his brother, Fooh, confirming Dalia's guess.
Fooh, unconcerned, stopped in mid-lick of his paw. "We hear everyone discussing what to give to one another at Yule. We were wondering what we should give to the High King."
"Usually, the Monarch gives some gift to the Guard, thought it is usually a very personal matter," Dalia told her sons. "Guards may give some token gift to the Monarch served."
"Meaty ox bones!" Beehn injected enthusiastically. "The High King would love those!"
"The gift is for him, not you, Beehn," Dalia explained patiently. Beehn was very fast, on his paws, but not in his thinking.
Fooh swatted his brother in return and made to try to steal the knuckle bone on which Beehn was contentedly gnawing.
"Something for him to play with?" Fooh asked. "A toy? Though the High King does not play very much."
"A rabbit! He could chase it!" Beehn suggested. "Or something round that rolls! With feathers!"
If Fooh were a human, he would have rolled his eyes at his brother.
"Did you have any ideas, Fooh?" Dalia asked.
"Since he does not like them at all, I thought of trying to give him a not-a-Princess." The young Cheetah paused, and Dalia thought she heard the more mature reflection of Lambert, the Wolf Guard of the Queen Susan and Sir Jalur, Tiger Guard to King Edmund. "But, I do not know how to give High King Peter a not-a-Princess unless I threaten and attack one when she arrives in Narnia."
"Queen Susan would get mad at you, and Lambert would growl at you." Beehn did, occasionally, have moments of insight. "Jalur would help."
"Help who?" Before she could correct Fooh's grammar, her son continued, "Help me attack the Princess or help Queen Susan try to rescue her?"
"None of them like Princesses," Beehn responded.
Dalia silently bemoaned her sons' speech. She had plainly failed as a mother and role model in teaching her Talking Beast children how to talk properly. What would the other Cats say? Or … she shuddered, Those Dogs?
Her sons continued their illiterate and bloodthirsty discussion oblivious to their mother's despair.
"If you ask, Jalur, Lambert, and King Edmund would all help attack a Princess, and Queen Susan would pretend she didn't see it," Fooh mused.
"Queen Lucy would help too," Beehn put in. The Cheetah was very fond of Queen Lucy. She stole bones out of the kitchen pots for him when Cook wasn't looking.
It was time for some intervention.
"I commend you both for your creativity," Dalia patiently told her sons. "As it happens, I know precisely what the High King would like to receive from you for Yule."
They traveled South. Peter showed her his road. It was the Red Dwarfs who had so wonderfully constructed it, of course, but still, to Dalia, it would always be Peter's Road. Traveling further, they feasted very well on the chickens raised in the joint Narnian and Archenland venture. It had some complex name in the treaty King Edmund had drafted; Peter had whispered to her that for him, it would always be Dalia's Farm.
Most of the retinue that traveled with the High King stayed on with King Lune. After a very long, very pleasant, rambling walk and talk with the Hermit of the Southern March, they left the rest of the escort at the Winding Arrow, forded the river, and continued on, alone, only Dalia, Fooh, and Beehn, with Peter riding his dumb stallion, Herc. The Eagles, Trice and Raffe, flew high, scouting, and would raise the alarm should anything seek to molest the High King. There would be no trouble, though.
When the rocks gave way to softer sand, and day eased to cool dusk, they found a dune and stopped. Fooh and Beehn were dancing with eagerness, eyes wide, and whiskers forward, tails lashing in excitement at the expanse of shimmering golden sand, as far as a Cat could see.
"Does it go on forever?" Fooh asked in a small, wondrous voice.
"No, Friend," Peter said. "The great city of Tashbaan is beyond it, two days' ride."
"Mummy, may we go?" Beehn demanded.
Fooh swatted his brother. "High King, may we go play?"
Peter laughed, fully, easily and set a fond hand on her own head. "You may. Though if you get too filthy, I shall make you bathe in the river when we cross back tomorrow."
Fooh and Beehn ran off to chase shadows and birds and tumble over the dunes. Peter unsaddled Herc himself, watered him, and let the stallion enjoy a good roll. The horse settled down with the feed bag.
Peter tossed his bedroll on the ground, his saddle rather more carefully, and settled himself against both with a contented sigh. Dalia sidled up next to him, accepting his stroking touch with a contented purr.
Together, in silence, they watched each Star come out to sing Good Evening to the High King of Narnia.
"Thank you, Dalia, for this adventure. You always know what I want."
Dalia rested her chin on his knee, wrapping her tail about them both.
"Happy Christmas, Peter."
"You promise you will not laugh?" Queen Lucy repeated.
"I cannot laugh," Briony repeated to her very nervous friend. "Even if I could, I would never laugh at something you give me."
Wolves did not laugh. They could smile and sigh, and so she sighed. "I promise my Queen."
With her teeth, Briony pulled the coverings off the bed in which Lucy had been hiding.
"Oh very well!" With an exaggerated sigh of her own, Lucy loosened her arms, which had been closely wrapped about a flat package, and set the gift on the bed.
Briony studied it. It appeared white, with black etched all over it, framed, square, about the size of a platter from which Mrs. Furner would serve dinner.
"I did a very poor job of it…" Lucy began.
"This is stitching, is it not?" Briony asked, beginning to perceive black shapes emerging from the white background and resolve into something. Oh Aslan, please let me recognize what your daughter has made.
"Yes," Lucy said.
"You loathe stitching," Briony said, all amazement. "Yet you made this for me?"
"And you can't tell what it is! I knew it!" Lucy wailed. "It's just rubbish!"
"Hush, my Queen and give me a moment. You know my sight is not as yours."
And then, surely with Aslan's grace, Briony saw. "Oh, my Valiant Queen," she whispered. "It is beautiful!"
With a heart so full, Briony did something most improper. She leaped up on to her Queen's bed and joyously licked her face. Lucy threw her arms around her.
"Do you like it? I wanted them to be Ula, Jak, Honia, and Lyall, but they all came out looking like hairy piles of sticks." Lucy hugged her more tightly. "It was so disappointing; what I did looks nothing like your beautiful Pups."
Briony nuzzled her head under Lucy's chin. "Save for my children themselves, and your friendship, this is the most wonderful gift I have ever received, my Queen."
Excerpted from Remembrances by Mister J.B. Hoberry, Faun, Head Housekeeper, Cair Paravel, On the Tenth Anniversary Of The Departure of the Four
When his mate, Briony, died, we all knew that Aslan would soon call Lambert home. The light was gone from the Wolf's eyes and his muzzle had turned fully white. Yet, the great Wolf lingered some months longer, enduring the winter. That year, the winter was bitter and cold, as if Narnia herself sought to remind us of what the Four and Aslan had given. On the eve of Yule, when Cair Paravel was given over to merriment, I saw Lambert slip away. It was then I remembered that on Yule's eve every year, Lambert and Queen Susan would, as their gift to one another, repeat their vows.
Lambert's own service predated the Guard's Vow; indeed his service was the model for much of what it came to be. What the Queen Susan's vow was to her Guard, I do not know and will not speculate. The bond between Guard and Monarch is a deep one, and though I had the privilege to observe it both during the Reign of the Four and in the years granted to me thereafter, no bond was closer and more profound than that between Lambert and Queen Susan.
As I watched the Wolf leave Cair Paravel, I understood. Lambert had waited until Yule so that he might again swear his fealty to his Queen, now gone from this world and our Age.
We found his body at the stream the next morning. It was there Lambert had first entered service to Queen Susan, it was to that place they returned, every year, and it was there Lambert swore his oath one final time before giving himself to Aslan's paws.
I know that Aslan spoke long to Lambert the day of the Departure. While it is always said that Aslan would tell no story to you but your own, we who knew them all the best believed, and do still to this day, that Aslan told Lambert of Queen Susan's story yet to come. If so, it was indeed a great gift of the Great Lion, yet none deserved it more than he who served the Gentle Queen. Sometimes the stories are so intertwined, so complementary, that one cannot be told in full without the other. If that is true, then surely it is true of Lambert and his Queen.
Jalur was fed up with the delays. He yawned, making sure his King saw his flashing canines.
"We are in the Library. We are alone. King Edmund, will you please tell me now what has you in such a state of anticipation?"
"I did not know you were so impatient for your present!" his King teased.
"I am not impatient for the present." Well, perhaps a little. "Your tension is annoying me and making it difficult to nap, which I shall need to endure the festivities this evening and tomorrow."
"Fair enough, my good Tiger." King Edmund rose from his desk and crossed to the strong box. "I have had quite the difficulty keeping it a surprise for you. I knew you would be able to smell it."
"Oh." Something that smelled. That sounded … promising.
King Edmund removed the splints from the hinges, opened the complex locks, rummaged around and withdrew a heavily wrapped package.
Jalur twitched as he caught the familiar scent. His whiskers and ears swiveled forward automatically; he uncoiled and stalked toward the package his King was quickly unwrapping.
He could not quite conceal the eager, rumbling growl. "Is that what it smells of?" he asked hopefully, licking his jowls as anticipatory drool pooled in his mouth.
With a laugh, King Edmund withdrew a tough looking pillow sort of thing. Ox hide, it seemed, though ox was not the predominate smell.
"Indeed it is. Having banished the Otters to the Glasswater, I know you miss them. So, I worked with the Dwarfs in the Smithy and Mrs. Furner to have this made for you." With some force, King Edmund squeezed the pillow very hard between his hands and it uttered an appealing squeak. He shook it and there was a rattling noise.
"What is it?" Jalur asked. He really wanted to take the thing in his mouth and shake it very hard and toss it across the room. That squeak sounded almost of the real thing.
"I do not know quite what it is, but it is for you."
"But the smell?" Jalur asked, not fully believing this extraordinary gift. "It reeks of Otter."
"Once it was made, I took it to the Glasswater and let the Otters play with it. They had quite the time with it. I had to promise them more snakes to get it back."
With a sudden movement, King Edmund lobbed the thing toward him. Jalur caught it easily between his teeth, and mouthed it.
It was delicious.
He carefully applied pressure and it squeaked. Growling with pleasure, he tossed the pillow up in the air, caught it by an edge and shook it. It sounded like rattling bones and breaking necks. Jalur flipped the thing away and pounced on it. Again it made that very satisfying squeak of pain as he clamped down upon it in his jaws, the scrumptious, gamey taste filling his mouth.
His King was smiling.
"Twank u," Jalur managed to say, even with the pillow stuffed in his mouth. He offered his head, and his King, for a moment, placed his hand there.
"You are very welcome, Friend."
King Edmund turned to close his strong box and replace the splints, not something he had ever forgotten to do in the years since Jalur had first become his Guard.
Only his long training as a Soldier gave Jalur the discipline to drop the Otter chew so he could speak. "I have something for you as well."
"It is on a Library shelf in the back." With great reluctance, he turned his back on the Otter chew, confident that King Edmund would not have given it to him if he had wanted to keep it himself. He quickly retrieved the gift from where he had hidden it among the cookbooks and brought it back gently in his teeth.
"A book?" King Edmund asked.
Jalur was gratified to perceive his King's surprise and pleasure when he pulled away the paper wrap.
"How did you get this?" King Edmund began slowly and carefully turning the pages, his delight evident to Jalur's sensitivity.
"In this, I am a messenger," Jalur admitted. Really, how could a Narnian Tiger obtain a book of Calormen poetry? "Lady Morgan and I discussed your Yule gift. She found this in Tashbaan, and sent it to me, and now I to you."
The letter Lady Morgan had included fluttered out from the book's illustrated pages. Jalur had tried reading a little of the poems and did not understand a word of it. It was a Human thing.
King Edmund chased the note down and retrieved it from the floor, handling it so gingerly, he seemed to fear the letter might bite. Jalur snorted and then inhaled deeply of the divine Otter scent in his new chew pillow.
"I did not give her a gift," the King said quietly. "A letter, but…"
"Yes, you did," Jalur interrupted, settling again in his favorite spot. The weak winter sun did little to warm, but there was light.
The King looked up from the letter he had received. "I did?"
"Yes. Through Mr. Hoberry's assistance, I obtained another copy of that book and had it sent to her House in Narrowhaven. You of course forgot to include a note, so when you write to thank her for the gift, you may include it then."
Jalur settled his massive head on his new pillow; it squeaked in protest and he rumbled in pleasure at the sound, so very like the foul little vermin. His pillow smelled like Otter, sounded like Otter, tasted like Otter, but did not speak like Otter. He let out a contented sigh and yawned.
Through drooping eyes, he saw King Edmund staring at him. "Your Majesty? Something amiss?"
King Edmund shook his head, finally. "No my dear Friend. Nothing at all. Thank you."
"You are welcome."
"Aslan's blessings on you this season, Jalur."
"And to you, My King."
Chapter 2: In the House of Russell