Disclaimer: I do not own the Chronicles of Narnia.
A/N: Oi! Long time no write. But here I be at last with something new. This little Peter oneshot was inspired by a certain event that happened on a certain day involving a certain sandpit and a certain crazy writer…
I kind of jump around from past tense to present tense in this fic…it probably sounds extremely awkward, but it was a stylistic experiment, so please let me know what you think. Also, I'm not sure if they had Volleyball pits in America in the 1940's. Or even if they had Volleyball then. But if they did, this is what might've come of it.
A question for when you review (when, not if, s'il vous plait)…are you calling this new year 'twenty-ten', 'two-thousand—and-ten' or just 'ten'? I'm personally one of those 'two-thousand-and-ten' people, but I'm starting to have my doubts…
Castles in the Sand
America, circa 1946
"Going out for a walk, Pete?"
Peter Pevensie stopped with his hand on the copper-colored door handle. He turned his head just enough to see the speaker, and then nodded as he pushed the door open.
The young man sitting in the chair carefully set a finger between the pages of his book so as not to lose his place, glanced back further into the apartment at the crowd of laughing, loudly talking people, and then gave his friend a knowing look.
"Righto. I say, Pete," he added suddenly, after Peter had already walked through the door. Peter turned back again. Patiently.
Richard studied his face for a long moment, and then asked slowly, "Are you…feeling quite right, old chap? You look a bit green."
Peter let the frown relax and shook his head.
"I'll be all right. Just need a breath of air."
Some silence would be nice too.
He'd been in America fully three weeks. Peter turned those weeks over in his mind as he walked down the gray walkways beside the street. "A fantastic opportunity," his classmates had urged. "A chance of a lifetime." They'd come from Oxford to attend lectures by celebrated British and American scientists—and Peter really couldn't say that it hadn't been worth it.
But he was homesick. At least at Oxford he could visit his family on weekends—and he spent most of his time while not in class with Professor Kirke and his colleagues. But here…here he knew no one. It was rather a strange feeling, really.
From what Susan had said, Peter had been expecting America to be somewhat different. Of course, she had been younger, and of course, she was a girl. A girl who liked shopping and fashion very much indeed, and who was delighted to find that a single pound stretched further here than back home.
To quell his homesickness, Peter wrote. He wrote to Lucy and Edmund (and Susan too, even though she hardly ever wrote back) at least twice a week. They obviously missed him too, for there was hardly a day that passed that at least one letter turned up on his bedside table.
He was walking alone in the park when he saw the sandpit. A Volleyball pit. Richard's sister, who lived in America, played on a Volleyball team (or so Richard said), though Peter had never seen anyone actually play. After hesitating for a long moment (because what he was contemplating was rather childish and silly), Peter turned and walked toward the sandy place. Because really, what had he got to lose?
It only took one touch of the gritty warmth to relieve his mind of the dull thoughts of the day and to take him to higher, better places. He let the stuff run through his fingers in a trickling shower until it caught the breeze and became like shimmering mist. Delicious stuff, sand. Peter resisted the urge to kick off his shoes only for a moment, but then gave in. What would anyone care, really?
And then he was wading in the stuff, letting the grittiness fill the gaps between his toes and spread over his feet. Peter closed his eyes and imagined he could hear the cry of the gulls, and the splashing of waves upon the shore. He fell to his knees without opening his eyes and buried his hands in the warm sand. Dampness lurked beneath the surface, but it was a nice kind of dampness. Absently he scooped up handfuls of the wet sand and molded them in his fingers, remembering….
….a day on a beach, just eight years before. He'd been ten-years-old, braver than his sister Susan, and full of seriousness and smiles. The sky was so blue beside the sea. Peter had never seen the sky so blue before. It was always gray in the city—except for the nicest of days when picnics could be had. But it was always blue here—bluer than the eyes of his little sister, Lucy. Bluer than the flowers Susan had tangled in her dark curly hair. Bluer than Peter had ever imagined a sky could be.
Slowly, young Peter lowers his eyes from the blue sky and stares out at the horizon, at the frothing waves as they break on the shoals and cliffs to the left of the beach. It is a fantastic sight. The greenish-gray waste is open and inviting, beckoning a waist-high boy to the adventures narrated in the well-worn copy of Treasure Island that hardly ever sees the bookshelf any more.
The Dread Pirate Peter. He would sail the Seven Seas (or more, if he could find them) risking countless dangers and defeating the enemy time and time again. A Pirate to King all Pirates.
Peter kneels in the sand beside Susan and helps her construct the tower and archway of the sandcastle she is so diligently building. Peter has always liked building things. The sweat somehow feels right on his brow—the clammy sand like it is meant to be molded by his quick fingers. Soon the castle is finished, and Susan sticks a bright red leaf in the highest tower as a flag, and a yellow one on the second highest.
"If I was a lady of noble birth," she says dreamily, "those would be my colors. Red and gold."
Red and yellow, practical Peter thinks, but says nothing in reply.
"Here, Susan." He picks up a daisy chain that Mum and Lucy made and twists it into a sort of crown, then laying it reverently on his sister's head. "You can be the queen, and I'll be the king."
"But what'll you wear?" Susan asks, looking round for more crowns, but seeing none.
"I do not need a crown, my Lady," her older brother replies with a grin. "For has it not been said that crowns of mere matter soon wither and vanish, but the True are crowned always in heart and manner?"
Of course, it hasn't been said, but as Peter sees it, it might've. And if he speaks eloquently for a ten-year-old lad, mayhap it is because he spends his time reading eloquent novels—a pastime looked down upon by those his age in present times.
"Wouldn't I just love to be a real queen," Susan sighs in the silence that has settled. "I'd wear a real crown, and have a horse, and wear long, red dresses, and eat biscuits all day long."
If this sounds silly and uncharacteristic of the practical Susan who now exists, it is because she is not now as she once was. The War is to blame for that, dispelling childish dreams and beautiful fantasies until all that's left is the sensible "If you ate biscuits all day you'd be sick," with which she would now respond to such a statement.
"Perhaps you could be a queen someday," Peter responds promptly. "You could always marry the king."
It matters to neither that the position for queen is already filled.
"Or you could conquer a country, Peter. Like Alexander." She says it so coolly, as if taking a country was everyday, humdrum work that any Alexander could pull off, that he simply has to smile.
As he watches the 'flags' trembling in the wind, however, Peter reflects on the thought. A king, is it? Surely that was at least as good as a pirate. And anyway, if he was a king he would have ships, and could sail to the horizon and further, to the end of the world—if there was one. And if he could do that, there was no end to the adventures he could have.
Peter looks up and sees a distraught Susan frowning at a guilty-looking but apologetic Edmund who is standing with his foot in the middle of their castle's wall, shifting from one leg to the other nervously.
"Sorry, Su…I foun' a piece of kelp, an' a pink-and-yellow seashell, an'…"
"Why did you break our castle?" Susan snaps crossly. She probably wants to push him out of the way, so she can assess the damage, but Peter grabs her hand and gives her a gentle smile.
"It's all right, Susan. We'll build a new one. Want to help, Ed?"
A sudden smile brightens his younger brother's face, and he at once plops down next to the queen and begins forming a new wall with his grubby hands. Peter grins at him, and says, "That's right. We'll build one even better than the first." He glances up at the bluest of blue skies and imagines, for a moment, that he is wearing a crown. "Together."
The sand fit in his hand like the hilt of a sword—perfectly. It felt so natural and right. Nothing has felt this right. Ever. At least, not since…
…not since he stood upon the soaring cliffs, looking down at the great golden stretch of sand that stood between him and his home. Home. Was that what it was, that castle crowning the rocky hill on the other side of the beach?
He feels so young—and yet he has more responsibility than anyone else in the entire country. A king…he stares at the golden crown in his hands and his throat constricts from the heaviness of it—the heaviness of the burden that it represents. Had he really once been so naïve to wish for such a thing? Peter doesn't know. He hardly knows anything anymore, except for politics and peace treaties and whose daughter he simply can't bear to invite to tea one more time.
So much land, Peter thinks as he scans the horizon, taking in everything, from the smooth green hills and forests to the west, to the gray plains to the north, to the ice-capped mountains that make up the southern border. So much responsibility—and how can he—a boy of just sixteen—possibly bear it?
His feet lead him forward, down the rocky hill on the other side of the cliffs, until his boots are kicking up the fine, white sand of the beach. Months of protocol and dignity Peter flings to the wind as he strips off the pinching leather—surely his feet haven't grown again!—and tosses the crown beside them.
The cool, salty water feels like heaven to his aching toes. He plunges in at a run, kicking at the foam for a few moments, but then retreats to the shore where he collapses in the sand and stares up at a sky of such a delicate blue that if he reached up and gave it a tap it would shatter into a thousand shards.
Slowly, he begins on a sand castle. The towers are tall and lean, and the ramparts jut out rather further than they need—but Peter doesn't care. He builds it with care and detail—though somewhat recklessly, not caring that the moat is too shallow to keep out invaders and that the walls could easily be scaled with use of grappling hooks. For once he wants to forget the lessons that have been his life for the past few years and just be.
At last he flops back on the sand and feels the warmth of it spread through his tired body. His hand ache from the merciless exposure to the gritty sand, but it is better by far than the ache that comes from scratching with a quill pen for three hours straight every morning.
Breathe in…breathe out...the brine air is new life to his lungs. His cheeks flush with color and his mind clears as the wind caresses his damp, tousled hair and he thinks, So this is what it is to be alive.
Later he hears footsteps approaching. They stop when they reach his side, and Peter opens his eyes to see a pair of bright blue ones staring down at him.
"Hullo, Peter," Lucy says with a cheeky grin, though seriousness lurks behind the delight in her eyes. "You oughtn't leave your crown just lying in the open. Who-knows-who might come along and steal it."
Giving her a weary smile, Peter sighs and flings his hands behind his head.
"I don't care. Who-knows-who can have it for all I care" He glances behind his sister, as if expecting to see someone else. "Is no one with you?"
Lucy wrinkles her nose and sinks down to sit next to him in the sand.
"I'm tired of being escorted. Brill is a nice sort of bodyguard, of course, but sometimes a body wants to be alone…"
Brill is a talking leopard—the only kind of bodyguard that Lucy will tolerate. She personally thinks he is cuter than he is fierce (though she would never say so to his face) but he has a smooth way of tricking her out of getting into dangerous situations that is much more agreeable than having a burly human male shove her out of danger's way or threaten to tie her up if she doesn't stay out of trouble. If Peter knows Brill right, he is probably lurking along the edge of the cliff, watching—but Lucy doesn't need to know that.
Sometimes a body wants to be alone…
The words echoes his own feelings exactly. He doesn't mind people, and some of his best friends are Talking Beasts, but still…
"I'll leave if you don't want me," Lucy says suddenly, her face clouding over with trepidation. "I didn't mean to interrupt your solitude—"
But Peter grabs her arm before she can go and holds on.
"Stay. I don't mind you, Lu."
The transformation in her face, as it shifts from doubt to brilliant joy, is overwhelming. She dives forward and buries him in a rough, silent embrace that brings back vitality and youth to the tired young king.
"I brought some bread and cheese—thought we could make a picnic of it," his sister says when she's through thanking him. "And I won't talk today. We'll just listen to the silence, won't we, Peter?"
Peter stares down into those happy azure eyes, and a slow grin spreads across his face.
"Aye, sister. That we will."
They're halfway into the picnic when Lucy notices the castle.
"What's that?" she asks through a mouthful of bread, pointing.
Peter glances at the object and allows himself a foolish smile.
"Oh…that. It's nothing. Nothing important, anyway."
Because this is what's important. This sitting in the sand and smiling down at his youngest sister while the sun shines warm at their backs and the salt sea breeze rumples their hair.
And suddenly the responsibility is bearable, because now Peter has someone to bear it with.
Something was forming in his hands—something like towers and walls and ramparts. And then he stops and lets it flow through his fingers, lets it fall against his skin. The wind catches it and blows it up at his face. He tastes the gritty dust on his tongue and in his teeth as he has not since…
…since he was hunched over his saddlebow, cloak pulled up over his head to block out the constant barrage of sand that was determined to choke him and fill his every being.
He is tired. Oh, so tired. But Peter presses on because he knows he must. Because somewhere out in this stretch of endless desert is someone who needs him very much.
Edmund, thou art an idiot, he thinks, and tugs his cloak tighter around his face. As if a runaway horse—even if it be our sister's favorite—is ample reason to fly in the very thick of the direst sandstorm that has risen on the Calormen desert since the beginning of our reign!
Who is the greater fool: the fool, or the fool who follows him? He can almost hear Edmund's dear, mocking voice teasing him on. But Peter would have been called a fool a thousand times over and not minded so long as his brother was safe.
"EDMUND!" he shouts, choking as sand fills his mouth and catches in his throat.
It is of no use. How can his brother hear him over the howling of the wind—provided that he can still hear, that is? And yet there is naught to do but plow onward, for by now even Peter himself is too far into the storm to find his way back.
The wind howls his name—or is something else? A dark figure appears through the gray swirling sand, and Peter presses his stallion forward with a muffled cry. In moments he is slipping off his horse and nearly knocking his brother to the ground with a rough, glad embrace.
"You little fool," he murmurs, though it is doubtful that Edmund can hear him over the wind. "If Aslan wills that we survive this storm—"
"I know, you'll have my head—and welcome to it!" his brother shouts back. There is a flash of a grin as the younger king draws back, but then Edmund flings an arm before his eyes to protect them from the flying sand. Peter watches with growing worry.
"Where is your cloak?" he bellows above the roar in his ears.
"Back at King Lune's castle!" Edmund shouts back, and then chokes on sand and begins coughing violently.
Without hesitating, Peter grabs the lead ropes from his brother's hands—so he did find Susan's mare after all—and tackles Edmund to the ground. Using his cloak as a sort of tent to shield them from the raging wind and sand, Peter ties the reins of Edmund's horses to his own, and then lets go. The horses will survive the storm—and his stallion will keep the mare and Edmund's own steed from wandering too far.
At last, when Edmund ceases to cough, he blinks and gives his older brother a strange look.
"Why?" he asks after a moment.
Peter grins slightly and glances up at the rough leather of his cloak.
"Mostly, brother, because it will shield us from the sand. We'll have to lift it every now and then for air, and to keep us from being buried, but it—"
"Not the cloak, High King," his brother retorts with a wry grin, though then he turns serious. "Why didst thou come after me? I could hear you telling King Lune that only a fool would have the lack of sense to plunge into a sandstorm."
Peter fumbles for the right words in silence for a moment, and then raises his eyes to meet those of his brother.
"I would rather be a fool with you, brother, than a king without."
The look in Edmund's eyes is enough to satisfy Peter that he's said—and done—the right thing. And later, when the storm has ended and the searchers pull them out of the sand barely conscious, it's the first thing that comes to Peter's mind. He glances down at the hole that remains where he and Edmund lay. Somehow his blurry eyes see a castle—a castle in the sand.
"It's our castle, Ed," he croaks through the layers of dust and dryness in his throat. "Ours, always. Because whether fools or kings, we're in it together. Always."
The voice was so sudden and unexpected in Peter's ear that he jumped at least three inches. Opening his eyes, he saw a boy who couldn't have been more than four feet high eyeing him nervously. From behind the boy, a little girl with curly ginger hair peered at him, her freckled face wrinkled in curiosity.
"Mister, are you okay?"
Peter drew in a long, ragged breath, and then smiled slightly.
"Yes, thanks. I'm quite well."
The boy eyed him skeptically, even meeting his gaze with a stubborn look in his eyes.
"Whatsa matter with your voice? How come you talk funny?"
Ah. A young American. Peter grinned, for the accent of the young boy staring down at him was just as foreign to him as his was to the boy.
"I'm from England. We talk a little differently than you over there."
"Oh." The boy raised an eyebrow and looked down at the sand. "What are you doing here?"
By 'here', he obviously meant the volleyball pit—not America. Peter shrugged and tried to keep from blushing as he realized how ridiculous he must look playing in a sand pit without his shoes. Susan would be mortified to hear of it.
"Just playing. I like sand—don't you?"
Staring, the kid gave a quick glance down at the sand by Peter's knees.
It seemed he only knew how to ask questions. Lucy had gone through one of those stages once. Ask, ask, ask. Their mum had nearly gone mad with trying to keep her quiet.
Peter looked down in the sand where the boy had indicated and saw, to his surprise, Cair Paravel, complete with the great hall, pinnacled towers, and a portcullis. It was all made of sand—but he had no memory of making it.
"It's a castle," Peter said quietly. "A very special castle."
The little girl's eyes seemed to be fixed on the towering structure (towering, in the sense that it would've looked towering had she been about half an inch tall). When she noticed Peter watching her, she gave a shy smile and disappeared behind her brother again.
"My name is Peter," he said. He noticed a strange mitt-like thing under the boy's arm and recognized it as a thing the Yankees called a 'baseball glove'. "Do you play ball?"
The skepticism disappeared as the boy gave him a freckled grin, held out a hand, and said, "Yeh. My name's Davy, and this is Josie. She's shy."
"I noticed," Peter replied dryly, shaking the proffered hand. "Would you like to help me finish this castle? It still needs a moat…and a stable, and armory…"
And so the three of them played—lived, really, in a world of their own of castles and kings and dragons—until the sun began to sink in the western sky. For now, Peter didn't care how many curious or shocked glances came his way. Because while he was molding towers and telling stories that he knew like the back of his hand, he was no longer the schoolboy Peter Pevensie, but once more King Peter the Magnificent.
And really, when it came down to it, he was just Peter, who didn't mind getting his hands dirty building castles for joyful smiles.
For crowns of mere matter soon wither and vanish, but the True are crowned always in heart and manner. The sand in his hands had set him right. The touch of it reminded him that he was still a king—and, most importantly, for whom he was a king.