Harold and Morgan: Not A Romance
Chapter 20, Covered with Thorns
My longing for you keeps me in this moment
My passion gives me courage
Jalur hung back as the Hounds wove in, about, and around Banker Morgan and King Edmund. In a way very much like how Dogs herd sheep, everyone moved back and forth, this way and that, and very inefficiently, in Jalur's opinion. Still, they were crossing the lawns in the direction of the pyre set up on the Tilting Field. King Edmund had his arm around Banker Morgan.
The forward progress was impeded both by inefficiency and that Banker Morgan didn't want to go to the pyre. She was crying, very frightened, and very, very sad. The Hounds all begged her to come with them; they were very distressed and whimpering. King Edmund, who Jalur could tell was very irritated, was urging Banking Morgan to please do what they asked, right now, because the Hounds wanted it, the delay was making the situation worse, the Sun was rising, and the farewell needed to start.
Jalur knew King Edmund was very upset too. His King had been sullen, angry, and not communicating well at all. That wasn't a problem for him – Jalur felt what his King felt. But King Edmund had frequently been feeling one thing and saying another, and Jalur thought this could really be a problem with King Edmund and Banker Morgan now – and especially without Jina to help them. The pair of them usually did not understand each other very well even when they were calm and things were ordered.
Should I say something? But that would mean saying something. What do I say?
The voices got louder and everything tenser and then Rafiqa and Rufus sidled up to Banker Morgan. They were pleading with her to light the pyre because it was what Jina would want. They kept pushing their noses into her hands and against her legs.
Banker Morgan sagged in defeat, relented, and let them all steer her to the pyre.
The High King and the Queens were already lined up on one side of the pyre. The other Canines and everyone else in and about Cair Paravel - Beasts, Birds, Dryads, and the other Beings – were clustered around the pyre on the other three sides. Haizea and Liluye were there with other Gryphons of the Flight; the General, Jalur learned, was too weary to come.
"I need to stand with the others," King Edmund said to Banker Morgan, referring to how he was supposed to be with the High King and the Queens.
Banker Morgan was upset by this, too, but the Hounds were pushing and herding her to the opposite side of the pyre to be with them and Master Roblang had already moved to take King Edmund's place next to Banker Morgan. The Dwarf was supporting her and helping her walk.
Did this make sense? Where should Banker Morgan stand? With King Edmund? Or with the Hounds? Was there a proper protocol?
Banker Morgan saw the linen wrapped bodies on the pyre and began sobbing again. She tried to stumble away from it, but she was hemmed in by the Hounds pressing against her. She fell to her knees; Master Roblang went down with her, supporting her so she didn't throw herself on the ground.
Jalur withdrew to the outer ring of the mourners. His King was well-protected within the circle and it was not comfortable being around so many others. He could better do his duty on the outside.
He had been to many farewells, first in the Army then as Guard. Some farewells were sad, like this one. Sometimes they were happy, in a way – a celebration of a life well lived and rest well earned Master Roblang had told him once.
Cats didn't have much use for farewells, happy or sad. It wasn't in a Cat's nature to congregate with others for death, or anything else. Cats died as they lived – alone. In a peaceful death, a Cat walked away, into the Wood, and died. For a violent death, well, Jalur figured that you hurt a lot and then you died. However you got there, in the end, a Cat went to Aslan's Country.
The Sun was up. It was time.
The High King began. "Aslan, King of All, First and Last, your humble servants gather here to lament and farewell our friend, Jina. Aslan, your mercy is beyond measure. Please accept our prayers on behalf of your daughter and grant her entrance into your Country that she might join in fellowship with those already there. Grant that we may someday stand together with them in unity."
This part of the farewell, about granting entrance to Aslan's Country, Jalur really didn't understand. Any Beast could tell that the thing on the pyre wasn't Jina. It didn't smell like Jina or sound like her. What had made Jina the Hound she was left the moment she had croaked out a few words, convulsed, and died with King Edmund holding her. He had felt Jina leave her body. She was already with Aslan so why ask Aslan to admit her now?
Queen Susan spoke the lament for the dead in a shaky voice. "Sister Jina, we thank you for your friendship, your loyalty, and your wisdom. We thank you for your leadership of the Pack."
When the Hounds' moaning at this reference subsided, Queen Susan added, "We thank you for the love you gave to our friend, Morgan, and so also to us."
Banker Morgan sobbed as Queen Susan concluded, "Aslan, we thank you for the gift of our sister's life. We regret her loss for our sake but rejoice that Jina is with you."
Jalur was glad that Queen Susan had said these things about the friend Jina had been. He had liked Jina as well as any Beast. She had been a sensible, intelligent Hound who had made his management of King Edmund much easier. They had spent much time together when King Edmund and Banker Morgan had been together. He didn't really talk to anyone if he could avoid it and Jina had never attempted to make pointless conversation with him.
He would miss her quiet.
The keening of the Canines rose as Queen Lucy gently spoke the lament for those gathered around the pyre. "Aslan, you know the pain and loss of death. Your humble servant asks that you watch over us gathered here who mourn the death of our beloved Jina . Comfort us and let us hear the comfort that you offer. May your love for all your sons and daughters become the foundation of our hope that love never fails. Jina shall forever be held dear in our hearts."
Jalur wondered if King Edmund would weep or speak in broken words when he died. Tigers didn't live as long as Humans, so he would certainly go to Aslan before King Edmund did. King Edmund had been very upset when Merle died and he was upset now and Jina hadn't even been his Guard. Jalur always worried that maybe King Edmund didn't love him as well as Merle. Would his King mourn Jalur's own death as deeply as Merle's?
If there had been a crime or violence, King Edmund would speak the lament for the wrongdoer. Instead, he nodded to Master Roblang who helped Morgan sit up. Roblang put the flint and steel in her hands but Jalur could hear how her hands were shaking on the firesteel.
"I can't!" Banker Morgan cried.
The Hounds pressed in closer.
"You can do this, Morgan," Roblang said softly. "We'll do it together."
Jalur heard the flint bang on the steel. Once. Twice. Over. And over. In other places and times, he supposed everyone might get impatient. Jalur didn't sense any of that. There were whimperings and sighs, those who cried were sniffing and he heard many muttered prayers. The Talking Birds were all quiet; even the morning song of the birds was muted.
The sudden crack of a sure strike was so loud, it startled some birds out of the trees. There was an odor of heat and char; then a curl of smoke floated up as the spark caught the dry straw of the pyre and grew to a tiny flame.
Jalur felt a sigh of relief. Everyone clustered around the pyre stepped back for the fire spread quickly, as all Dwarf-made fires did, smoky, hot, and true.
The Canines keened again in mournful, long, howls. Their voices rose with the smoke of the pyre.
King Edmund spoke and his words were strong and clear. "We bid you farewell, Jina. Do not let our grief keep you from your journey home. Go your way to Aslan's Paws, to His Country, at the edge between this world and the next."
The Four all joined hands and Jalur repeated aloud the final invocation with the other Narnians. "Friends, who have gone before us, welcome our sister to the place we all must go in fellowship and joy. Farewell, Jina."
The Canines tilted the mouths to the sky and howled. The smoke spiraled up in thin wispy curls and and carried their farewell of Jina Lady Hound to Aslan's own Country.
Grief and mourning altered everything, and memory most of all. Noll had been dead not even five years and Hoberry remembered virtually nothing of the aftermath. After making his confession, King Edmund had locked Noll up. Hoberry knew he had gone to the makeshift gaol, a sturdy, plastered storeroom they used for root vegetables in the winter. He remembered there had been a wizened turnip on the ground by the locked door but he did not remember pleading with his partner and mate of nearly 50 years or that they had both wept. Otieno had told him later.
There was a search of their home; King Edmund told him of it so Hoberry knew he had been there to open the locked cupboards. He remembered stitching up the velvet bolsters they had imported from Archenland but did not remember seeing the knife that had slit them open. All Hoberry remembered was Sallowpad seeing something that looked peculiar to his keen eyesight – was it a mismatched floorboard? A loose brick in the mantle? All Hoberry could remember was how shiny the Calormene crescents were that the Raven removed from the hiding place.
He remembered the sound of the dish he had been drying smashing on the kitchen floor when Queen Lucy had told him Noll had taken his own life.
If he could remember them, he was certain the strangest conversations he had ever had in his life had been in that aftermath. Grief did things to your mind. You said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time; you spoke when you should not speak, and were painfully mute when only words would do. And you would remember none of it.
He knew he had babbled a very long time to Mrs. Furner about his and Noll's collection of Calormene erotica; he had insisted Roblang was interested in herb gardens; he had argued with dear Tumnus about tea and wine.
It was a lie, Hoberry knew, that time mends all wounds. It didn't. The holes got smaller, you learned to walk around them, and the times you fell into them inadvertently became fewer and farther apart. But death left a wound in the living that never fully healed, no matter how much time passed.
They all stood by the pyre until the flames died and the smoke dwindled to nothing. The mourners who had gathered began to disperse. The Queens said something to the High King. They were exhausted; even the High King was swaying on his feet. They were all in clothing that was at least three days old. Queen Lucy's shirt was streaked with dried blood, probably her own, and her arms and face were scratched – probably from her own frantic flight to the Glasswater. Mrs. Furner was with them and the Physician had a wine skin.
No one was drinking the farewell toasts. That would come later. He knew the Physician and Mrs. Furner had doused the wine with a light sleeping draught. The High King and Queen Susan drank; the Physician was saying something about needing to look at Queen Lucy's injuries first.
The High King, surrounded by Cheetahs and other Cats, stumbled away in the direction of the Tree. He would comfort the Felines and finally sleep with them. Queen Susan walked with the Dryads into the orchard; a train of dejected, small woodland Beasts followed her. Hoberry would be sure each had a blanket but, for now, the Monarchs would take and give comfort and warmth from the Narnians in their company.
Banker Morgan had fallen to the ground after lighting of the pyre. King Edmund had to get down on his hands and knees to move through the pile of whimpering Hounds who had attached themselves to her.
Hoberry watched as King Edmund put an arm over her shoulders, trying to pull her into an embrace. Banker Morgan turned her head away, doubled over with a dry sob, and shrugged off the King's encircling arm.
He shared a glance with Master Roblang who shook his head.
This is not good.
"I know," Hoberry whispered to the Dwarf.
You didn't know until it happened. With death, some clung more closely to the living as the High King and Queen Susan were doing, and as King Edmund was trying to do; others, like Morgan, did not. Perhaps the heroic flight by Gryphon across the sea and through the night had come at too high a cost.
Rufus slowly stood from the pile of Hounds. The Dog walked to them, head down and moving as though in pain. Roblang crouched down to Rufus' level and touched the grieving Dog on his head, around his ears, and down to his shoulders; he let Rufus nuzzle his beard and face.
The Dog sighed. "She's gone to Aslan; you'll see to the…"
"Of course, Rufus," Roblang said. "Once you all leave here."
Rufus was asking of the disposition of the last of Jina's remains that had not burned. Birds and Gryphons preferred that their remains be left on the pyre and scattered to the wind. Canine custom had them buried.
"By the bathing pond," Rufus said.
As much as the Tower Library, the pond had been a place that had come to be closely associated with Morgan and so with Jina as well.
"Jina wore a chain with tree on it. It was a gift from Morgan's sire." He glanced at the pyre and quickly looked away again. "Will you…" Rufus' low voice broke into a growl.
"Does the Pack wish to keep it?" Roblang asked, when Rufus could not speak.
"For now," the Dog replied.
"I will see it delivered to the Run."
Rafiqa edged away from the other Hounds on her belly. King Edmund and Banker Morgan were still in their midst, sitting next to, but not with, each other. Their lack of physical closeness was a painful contrast to the way the Hounds were heaped upon one another and using scent, touch, and sound for support and strength.
No, this was not good at all.
Roblang opened his arms wider to include Rafiqa. Hoberry bent down and joined Dwarf and Hounds closer to the ground.
"Master?" Rafiqa asked in a small, sad voice. "What of Morgan? She needs a Guard, but maybe she doesn't want a Hound anymore…"
Rufus growled. "Morgan is one of the Pack. No one else may Guard her…"
"Peace, Friends," Roblang said quietly. "Your loyalty is a credit, but let it be for the moment."
Hoberry did as he had seen Roblang do and rubbed Rafiqa's domed head. He felt her tremble under his hands. "Jina was more dear to Morgan than any other, save King Edmund," he told the Hounds. "Give her time to grieve."
Rafiqa and Rufus both heaved heavy, near identical, sighs and returned to the other Hounds.
He and Roblang both stood. The Dwarf tilted his head and they withdrew, farther away, and out of earshot of the sensitive Pack. Even the Crows and Ravens were quiet; they stayed in their perches in the Trees and trees, sullen and hunched.
Roblang sighed, an echo of the Hounds. "She needs help."
"Yes." Hoberry looked carefully about and saw Jalur on the other side of the pyre, crouched down; his eyes were slitted and he was lashing his tail. So that Jalur would not overhear, he whispered even more softly, "King Edmund as well, for surely this has opened old wounds for him."
He was referring to how Merle, King Edmund's first Guard, had died violently, in an ambush – a victim of the conspiracy of which Noll had been part.
Roblang glanced to Jalur, indicating that he understood the reference and the reason for his discretion. Jalur could still be very prickly about the fact that he had replaced the King's much beloved Boarhound. "Given the magnitude of the loss, they are neither well-suited to understanding one another here." Roblang said. "I'll stay here and keep watch."
"Do you require anything?"
"No. I'll just sit under the tree over there and have a smoke and a quiet talk with Aslan."
He admired Roblang's ability to bespeak the Lion now. Hoberry knew it would be a few days before he would be serene enough to do so. I'm not ready yet, Aslan.
He went into the Palace and with Mrs. Furner and they tried to pick up where they had left off two days ago. Or was it really three? They needed to light the ovens and start the bread again – the last loaves had risen and died in the pans, unbaked. They needed to replace the torches, change the linens, and freshen the rooms. The Cows, Goats, and Chickens had been very understanding, but there was milking to do, butter to churn, and eggs to collect. Vegetables had to be picked before they rotted on the vine and there were so many other details to see to. They had a small army of willing helpers, but still the tasks of daily management were many and more than once, they wished to consult Queen Susan or the High King.
Instead, he and Mrs. Furner delivered a blanket to each of the Monarchs who had fallen asleep where they had stopped: the High King was with the Cats in the Tree; Queen Susan was in the Grove, sheltered by a crooning Dryad, and surrounded by Rabbits, Hedgehogs, Mice, and the other small ones. They found Queen Lucy curled up on the floor of the Cave with Briony and the other Canines.
At dusk, he and Mrs. Furner went back to the pyre. Roblang was still leaning against the tree, legs stretched out. Most of the Hounds had left; a few still lingered. King Edmund was lying on ground, sound asleep, between Rufus and Rafiqa. Hoberry did not think Morgan had moved from her slumped over position.
"If we can get everyone away," Roblang muttered, rising from his watch.
It required effort. It was as if they had all aged during the hours of their vigil. The Pack had lost one of their leaders and so they crept about uncertain and bereft of their usual brisk, collective purpose.
Roblang was speaking to Dusmia, a Bitch from Jina's first litter, and Conall, who was Rufus' brother.
"Try to encourage them to eat," Roblang was saying to the Hounds. "At least drink. No one is on the duty roster for the next two days, but send to me any who need something to do. Alert me immediately if any fall ill. We need game for the Palace table so the Pack will lead a hunt by the end of the week."
The Dwarf rubbed his hands over Dusmia and Conall and Hoberry appreciated anew how truly gifted Roblang was with the Beasts of Narnia. Roblang knew the Pack needed jobs to do and temporary leaders with Jina gone and Rufus mourning. He had compassionately given them both.
Just the mention of the word hunt was enough to make several heads and ears perk. Tails were not wagging, and they were uncommonly quiet, but the Hounds clustered around Dusmia and Conall and moved away toward the Run. The Pack's dens were upwind of and out of sight of the pyre, another bit of foresight by Roblang.
Mrs. Furner wrapped a blanket around Morgan and was helping her rise from the ground. Jalur was pushing King Edmund with his nose. "Your Majesty? It is time to go inside."
King Edmund rolled up and blinked like an owl. "Nightfall? Already? It's all run together."
"Grief does that, your Majesty," Hoberry told him.
He threw a blanket around King Edmund's shoulders and they all staggered into the Palace. He and Mrs. Furner had tried to make it cheerful and sweeter smelling to lift the gloom. The sconces were lit in the entry and on the stairs. They'd opened windows and left the doors open so that scent of herbs from the gardens and bread baking in the kitchen would spread.
Rafiqa and Rufus had followed them into the Palace. It bothered him to see that Morgan was deliberately turning away from the Hounds and ignoring them. This was surely hurtful to them and it was not good for her.
They climbed the stairs to the landing that led to the Monarchs' private wing in one direction and the guest quarters in the other.
King Edmund tried to steer her to his rooms. "Morgan… I… would you…"
Morgan pushed him away. "I'm going to my own room. I want to be by myself."
Still King Edmund followed her as she reeled down the hallway. By common accord, they all hung back, he and Mrs. Furner, the Hounds and Jalur. Hoberry did not hear the words King Edmund and Morgan exchanged. He saw Morgan dart under King Edmund's arm, fumble at the door to her seldom used room, and slam it behind her.
Over the next night and day, they tried. They all did. Did they try hard enough? Did they say the right things? It was a haze. Hoberry delivered trays to Morgan, but she refused everything except coffee and tea. Mrs. Furner did not put linens on the bed in Morgan's room, trying to get her out of the room and with King Edmund, but if Morgan slept, it was in a chair. She refused Mrs. Furner's offers for a badly needed bath and change of clothes – Morgan was still crusty with sea salt and in King Edmund's shirt and trousers. The Hounds and Jalur huddled in the hallways, whispering to one another. Hoberry did not know what they overheard but it was obviously not good.
King Edmund was miserable, repeatedly knocking on Morgan's bedroom door and trying to speak with her. Whatever he attempted, it did not work and he would leave her room shortly thereafter. Lucy's visits were a little longer, but to no apparent benefit. The High King and Queen Susan never made it passed her shut door.
The Otters left dead frogs and crayfish for her on the Palace steps. The Crows roosted in branches outside the window of her bedroom.
The Trade Winds sailed into the harbour early the following morning, flying Linch and Seven Isles colours, and seeking news of their Banker. A crew sent a rowboat to the beach and rowed away again with Morgan in the stern and barely a word spoken to anyone.
In Morgan's room, they found ripped and crumbled parchment, which Hoberry recognized as an old contract that Morgan and King Edmund had kept in the King's rooms. There was a golden Lion broach on the dresser.
Dictated to Master Roblang, Cair Paravel, by Rafiqa, Junior Hound, Palace Pack
Dear Banker Morgan:
Hounds do not speak letters much. We scent and hear, feel, and see, and a letter doesn't give us any of that. It's hard for me to use words when I can't sense you so far away. Before I spoke this to Master Roblang, Mr. Hoberry let me go to the bedrooms where you slept. Your scent was still there and it made me miss you more. Under the bed I found a handkerchief that you cried in during Jina's farewell. Mr. Hoberry said he was sure you would not mind if the Pack kept it for you, safe. So, we are and I hope you will return to get it back.
My mother's greatest joy was being your friend. I would like to be your friend and guard you and help you as my mother did. If you will have me.
Master Roblang said I should finish this with what I feel, so I say,
With sadness because we love and miss you,
As was his custom, Jalur stopped every morning in the Cair Paravel staff room before guarding King Edmund for the day. He would consult with Mr. Hoberry and Mrs. Furner, review the organization chart, and determine what of King Edmund's business would require his personal management. That morning, he could hear Mrs. Furner in the kitchens with Cook discussing the last of the apples to be picked and all the potatoes to be dug up before the ground froze. Jalur did not like fruits and vegetables at all.
Mr. Hoberry was within the staff room and Jalur pushed open the door with his nose.
"Good morning, Jalur!" the Faun said. "You are just the Beast I wished to see."
Why anyone would want to see a Tiger was something Jalur never could understand. He never wanted to see anyone except a Tigress when she was receptive to mating.
Mr. Hoberry was holding a paper-wrapped package. "This arrived for you."
He snuffled the package in Mr. Hoberry's hand. "It does not smell dangerous. It smells like travel and paper."
"That is good, then," Mr. Hoberry said. "Would you like me to open it for you?"
Mr. Hoberry did so. "It is a book." He turned it about in his hands for Jalur to see.
"A book? I have no use for a book. Who would send me a book?"
The Faun turned the book over in his hands. "There is a card. Hmm, ah, yes, I see now." He held out the card but the writing was very poor and so it was hard to read. Jalur squinted and he could just make it out some of it.
"It was to be Banker Morgan's Yule gift to King Edmund." Jalur said, staring at the writing.
"Yes. She intended to be here for Yule and ordered it before Jina died."
Mr. Hoberry opened the book. Jalur realized that, though he did not understand it, he had seen something like it before. "Banker Morgan has a book like this."
"Yes, she does," Mr. Hoberry said, slowly turning the pages. "She had the first volume. This is volume two."
"And?" Jalur finally prompted. Mr. Hoberry was looking at the pages in the book very carefully.
"Banker Morgan knew this book would arrive while she was still away and wanted you to keep it until she could surprise King Edmund with the gift at Yule."
"But now she isn't coming for Yule," Jalur said.
"No, she is not."
It was very dreary and no one knew what it all meant or if Banker Morgan was ever coming back. There had been no word at all for weeks. The Otters had also moved to the Glasswater to eat the snakes and Jalur was missing them as much as King Edmund was missing Banker Morgan.
Mr. Hoberry closed the book and studied the letter – he could probably read the scrawl better than Jalur could.
"So should we send the book back since she won't be here?" Jalur asked.
"This is a very difficult book to obtain," Mr. Hoberry said. "I'm sure King Edmund would like to have it even if Banker Morgan is not here to give it to him."
"Oh, very well, then." Jalur didn't really understand that but he supposed it was a Human thing. And, apparently a Faun thing. It was all too ridiculously complicated for a Tiger. "So perhaps I should hide the book and give it to King Edmund at Yule?"
"Yes, I think so," Mr. Hoberry said. He slipped the letter into the pages of the book. "He will know it is from Banker Morgan, of course."
"Well I wouldn't give King Edmund a book," Jalur replied. He was feeling testy about this whole exchange. This was suspiciously like Human behavior that was sometimes so subtle it was inexplicable to a Tiger. "I can hide it in the Library. There are many places there he never goes."
Mr. Hoberry began wrapping the book back up carefully and tied it with twine. "Jalur, did King Edmund arrange a gift for Banker Morgan?"
Jalur snarled. In addition to all the other management of King Edmund, he was also called upon to cope with his Monarch's courtship idiocies. "Manage Lovers" (or Former Lovers, or whatever Banker Morgan was) was, much, much, much more tiresome than "Eat Threats To Monarch." He had overheard some of the exchanges between King Edmund and Banker Morgan before she left and it had been as if neither had been speaking the same language. He'd tried to help but King Edmund had just snapped that it wasn't Jalur's business and Banker Morgan just started crying when he tried to talk to her. And then she'd left without saying anything to anyone.
He had been dealing with it, constantly, and it was exhausting. King Edmund was moping, irritable and being utterly impossible, even worse than his usual Spring mood. His King had decided to be anywhere but Cair Paravel, or Archenland, or Seven Isles, even though the weather had been horrible. So King Edmund had dragged him to Galma and Terbinthia for Yuletide shopping. Jalur was very annoyed about it. He hated shopping.
"I thought not," Mr. Hoberry said with a sigh that almost sounded disapproving. "Do you not think it would upset her if she gave him something and he did not reciprocate?"
"Probably," He lashed his tail and nearly upended a rickety shelf of books. "What do you think?"
"I fear so, yes," Mr. Hoberry replied slowly. "Do you know what she might be pleased to receive?"
Gift giving. Aslan save him, he was being consulted on Yuletide gifts. Again. Next year, in defence of the Narnian monarchy, he would eat all the shopkeepers in Galma.
"She likes ink and parchment. She doesn't like flowers."
"I know she was looking for this book," Jalur said.
"That is an excellent idea, Jalur. It is also the sort of gift best enjoyed with the giver."
"It is. As it happens, the Fauns are familiar with this type of Calormene literature. Though Human-specific, it is not without applicability." Mr. Hoberry smartly tied up the book and set it on a shelf Jalur could reach easily. "I know of a bookseller in Tashbaan who specializes in this material and I know that there are other volumes available." Mr. Hoberry paused and Jalur realized a response was expected.
"Would you order something for Banker Morgan? From King Edmund?"
"But of course, Jalur. I can have it sent directly to her House in Narrowhaven."
"Thank you," Jalur replied.
"It is my pleasure, Jalur. Truly, it's the least I can do."
The breakfast room was usually too chilly at Yule but the windows had such a lovely aspect the four of them all bundled up. He and Lucy drank tea, Peter and Susan had their coffees, and together they watched the young Beasts romping outside through their first Yule snowfall. The Cubs and Puppies were an especially joyful sight that morning.
There were many Pups in the Cave and the Run this Yule. For the Canines, it was surely part of the way that they commemorated Jina and her litter who had never had the chance for life.
Edmund determinedly pushed the grim thoughts away and watched as Dusmia's largest, cockiest Pup was rolled by an even larger Leopard Cub. They were all laughing over the antics and even Jalur wasn't complaining. The Tiger had his nose pressed to the window pretending to not be interested that his own Cubs were wrestling in the snow with the Wolves from Lyall and Daci's litter.
"Jalur, do you wish to go outside and join them?" Edmund asked.
"Why?" Jalur replied.
If Jalur wanted no part of the romp, remaining uninvolved was more challenging for Briony and Lambert. On the one hand, they were very proud of their son, Lyall, and their grandpups romping in the snow. On the other, Lambert did not wholly approve of Daci's management of his legacy.
They drank the last of their cups just as playtime outside ended. The birds had flown off with all the breakfast crumbs they had tossed out the windows. The Hounds managed to round up their Puppies and Felina was carrying one squirming Tiger Cub in her mouth and pushing the other along. Lyall and Daci were herding their own exhausted Pups. "You would have never let our Pups get so overtired," Lambert muttered to Briony. "I think we should go help carry them back to the Cave. They might lose the Pups in a snow bank."
Briony looked expressively at Lucy and growled at her mate.
"If we do not leave soon, Mr. Hoberry will be setting up for luncheon," Lucy said, rising from her chair.
Susan's mouth was twitching in amusement at her grumpy Guard. "And you and I have very important gift wrapping still to do!"
Lucy and Susan joined arms at the door and went out, laughing at some great conspiracy.
The Wolves dutifully followed their Queens– undoubtedly to save their charges from scissor cuts and tangles in twine and ribbons. Lambert was still grumbling.
Edmund knew he had to make a quick getaway.
Peter, however, was a clever strategist himself and so pushed his chair back and stretched his legs, effectively blocking his planned escape. "Edmund, I know you have not …"
He interrupted his brother, hoping to forestall the awkwardness. "Peter, not now? Please?"
"How do you know what I am going to say?"
"Tone," Edmund responded. "Context. Cadence. Word choice. The meaningful pause."
"The brow knit with concern?"
"That too. Which will then be followed by the subtle suggestion which will escalate to the blunt demand that we adjourn somewhere private to dissect my feelings as a butcher disembowels a haunch. Followed by…"
"The weary, exasperated sigh of 'Edmund is doing it again,'" Peter concluded.
"Precisely." Edmund went the long way around the breakfast table to avoid Peter's blocking manoeuvre. His brother, did, however, have a long reach and Edmund could not avoid the hand on his arm as he tried to slide by.
"So, not today. It is Yule. But when, Edmund? It has been weeks and you have said nothing but…"
"Mope and carp?"
"I was going to say, you have said nothing but surely should."
"Fine," Edmund repeated.
"How can you possibly be fine when you yourself admit to moping and carping?"
Edmund shrugged away Peter's hand, feeling his very short temper give way. "You and Lucy prefer to discuss things over and over and treat them as if they were opportunities for profound affirmation of our familial bond. The day either of you comes close to my former situation is the day on which you may offer opinion on my current state, and not until."
His words had uncomfortably increased in volume and intensity. But Peter didn't snap or thump him to the floor which Edmund knew his rude behavior deserved. His brother didn't say anything at all, but stared with that sympathetic understanding which was both infuriating and made his own bad manners appear even worse.
"I apologize, Peter, for saying such things. I don't know what comes over me."
And here they were right back where they started. "I am not going to take that bait, Peter. I assure you that for me picking over it simply…"
"Makes it bleed?" Peter finished as Edmund floundered to finish the metaphor.
"Yes." And the wound still hurt too much to risk injury again. "There is no point to discussing it. It's not…"
"Precisely. I want to enjoy the holiday and we have our gift exchange this evening and the feast tomorrow. Please just let me be and do this my own way…" Let me ignore and dismiss what could have been. I had thought I was loved, I had thought her loyal and obviously was grievously mistaken on both counts.
"Very well." With the deep, disappointed sigh, Peter let him go. "But, Edmund, please think on this. Morgan is undoubtedly grieving."
Edmund scowled. He didn't want to hear her name any more than he wanted to hear his pathetic duping and failure bandied about.
"Surely she does not understand that we who share in her grief could have helped her, if she had permitted it."
"Thank you, Peter for stating the obvious."
"The point, brother mine, is that those here who love you share in the grief you are bearing alone and we could help, if you permit it."
"Thank you for your sentiment," Edmund replied, hearing how stiff and stilted the words were. "I will take it under advisement."
He pushed by Peter. "Jalur!"
Edmund knew he didn't need to summon his Guard as if he were a dumb pet; but it gave him something to bark out when he couldn't really yell at anyone or hit anything.
He stalked out of the breakfast room and stomped across entry. The advantage to so widely communicating his anger was that everyone else would avoid him, which in truth, most everyone had been doing these last weeks.
Taking the stairs up, two a time, Edmund wanted to recapture that fleeting happiness from earlier – and knew just what might do it. His pace quickened.
"My King?" Jalur asked.
"In the Library there is something I wish to share with you."
"My Yule present?"
"Perhaps," Edmund teased.
Jalur rumbled and walked faster. His swinging tail betrayed his excitement. To be fair, Edmund knew he had been very keen on it himself. He ignored as not relevant why seeing to every possible detail of Jalur's present, and those for Peter, Susan, and Lucy, had so occupied him for a month.
Before the frost set in, he'd found reasons to go to places they had not been together. He'd spent a ten-day with Lord Abnur on Galma, done a lot of shopping and even more sullen drinking. Abnur had very wisely given up women over a decade ago and had the blessed benefit of somehow knowing everything, without Edmund saying anything. Abnur had not once asked him to moan about his feelings, had amiably agreed that yes, women are inscrutable, and then there had been the very helpful here, let me pour you another drink. Abnur had even managed the polite no, not this time, and the Edmund, my friend, it's time you went to bed, alone.
Later, nursing a hangover and resentment for her that had dulled to an ache, Edmund realised that Abnur had empathized with how felt terribly wronged he had felt, yet never criticised her.
Abnur was an extraordinary diplomat.
For Yule shopping he prowled the shops and crafthalls of Terebinthia and Galma – not the ones with trees on the doors – and not Archenland, not Seven Isles, not Tashbaan, not those other places that had been important to them. When they had been a them.
The Library was quiet and very empty. Edmund had avoided the place for weeks until work finally forced him back. It was easier to return here once he'd ordered the other desk, her desk, removed.
Jalur yawned, making sure his King saw his flashing teeth. "Now that we are here will you please tell me what has had you in such a state of anticipation?"
"I did not know you were so impatient for your present!"
"I am not impatient for my present."
Edmund disagreed; Jalur was more excited than he would admit. Rather like his King in that he was feeling something and refusing to admit… Not relevant.
"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. I have had quite the difficulty keeping it a surprise for you. I knew you would be able to smell it."
Jalur's nose and whiskers were twitching.
Edmund went to the safe and felt along the edges for the tiny splints he kept in the hinges. He'd not forgotten them since Noll had tried to plunder the safe – a trail of events that began with Merle's death and from there, eventually, to the Tiger now looking eagerly over his shoulder. He opened the locks and withdrew the package.
Jalur twitched and a rumble came out, part growl, part mewl.
Edmund laughed. It was wonderful to laugh and he was delighted to give so much joy to his loyal, long-suffering Guard, who has certainly borne the brunt of his temperament. He quickly pulled the wrapping off. The gift – he still had not decided what to call it – was the length of his arm, shaped like a long bone, and made of very, very tough ox hide, stuffed with wool and stitched together with gut and twine.
"Is that what it smells of?" Jalur asked in a voice full of hope. He was already drooling.
"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 and Mr. Hoberry to have this made for you."
He put the bone-shaped pillow between his hands and squeezed. It squeaked. Jalur's tail lashed so hard, he knocked over a chair.
"What is it?" Jalur asked.
"I do not know quite what it is, but it is for you."
"But the smell?" Jalur asked. "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."
It had been painful but necessary to return to the place of Jina's death. Do not let my grief keep you from your journey home, my Friend. Only after that pilgrimage had he been ready to make the farewell toast with his brother and sisters. She should have been there with them … not relevant.
With more force than necessary, Edmund lobbed the pillow to Jalur.
The Tiger caught the toy easily between his teeth, carefully bit down, and the squeak sounded just like an Otter chirp. Jalur growled, tossed the pillow into the air, caught it by an edge and shook it. It sounded like rattling bones and breaking necks. Jalur clamped down on the pillow again and growled.
It was the most satisfying gift he had ever given and his Guard's enjoyment was the best gift in return he could imagine. The Dwarfs had outdone themselves. Edmund owed them a cask.
"Twank u," Jalur managed to say, even with the toy stuffed in his mouth. Edmund touched the great head bent before him.
"You are very welcome, Friend."
Edmund closed his strong box and replaced the splints.
Jalur spit out the toy. "I have something for you as well,"
"Oh?" That was surprising. Jalur had not given him gifts before. It wasn't in the Tiger's nature.
"It is on a shelf in the back." Jalur went down the long aisle but kept turning back to eye his new toy. Edmund wondered if he should assure his Guard that having given the gift, he was not going to steal it away. Jalur disappeared in a row of shelves and came back with a package wrapped in linen and twine in his mouth.
Jalur dropped it into his hands and went right back to his toy, settled in the middle of the library in a patch of weak sunlight, and wrapped a possessive paw around it.
"In this, I am a messenger," Jalur said.
Edmund carefully removed the wrap. He knew what it felt like, the shape and heft of it.
The Language of Love - Volume 2! "Jalur, how did you get this?"
"It is from Banker Morgan. She sent it to me and Mr. Hoberry to keep and give to you at Yule."
Edmund opened the book, slowly turned the richly illustrated pages, and ran a finger lightly over the illuminated text.
A piece of paper fluttered out. He bent down and picked it up, gingerly. Jalur snorted into his pillow.
He would recognize her scrawl anywhere. She had written it before Jina died, when a whole future had awaited them.
The "Harold" was struck out and she had written "Edmund" in the margin.
I don't write much better than I speak and I don't want to dictate this. I found it! Volume 2! Look especially at illustrations 4, 13, and 22. We need some things to do them properly so I'll pick those up and bring them back with me when I return, for good.
We'll have all winter to try them and every winter after that. Summer too.
Could you look up what the Narnia Regalia says about marriage and bonds? Jina and Eirene told me the story about the Monarch's bonding with Narnia but what do we have to do for ours? Among the banking Houses, it's usually a contract and if you aren't in a House you sign a book at the Governor's House and may hire a House to write a nuptial agreement. I'll have to work it out with my father what's needed on our end. Bankers haven't married Kings before.
The poem on illustration 4 says how I feel better than I ever could. Maybe you could tell me sometime which one describes best how you feel about me? I think it's easier for us to use the words others have written than to try to come up with on our own.
With a shaking hand, he slowly turned to illustration 4 and the accompanying text.
My longing for you keeps me in this moment
My passion gives me courage
Although I may try to describe Love
When I experience it I am speechless
Although I may try to write about Love
I am rendered helpless;
My pen breaks and the paper slips away
At the ineffable place
Where Lover, Loving and Loved are one.
Edmund closed the book and, for the first time, felt more sad than hurt. He had grudgingly justified it as her arbitrary choice and it was his duty to respect it even if Morgan's abrupt departure had felt like betrayal and cowardice. Maybe their bond wasn't strong enough. Maybe they didn't deserve happiness.
Or, maybe they just had not fought hard enough for it.
"I did not give her a gift," he admitted to Jalur. "I couldn't give the one thing she would want. I can't bring Jina back." He had come to believe that Jina had been more important to Morgan than he was.
"But, you did send a Yule gift," Jalur said.
"I did? How?"
"Through Mr. Hoberry, we obtained another volume of that book and had it sent to Linch House. You forgot to include a note, so when you write to thank her for the gift, you may include it then."
"I have meant to write her. I have not known what to say to her."
"And now you do. Please convey my best wishes to Banker Morgan and that I hope to see her in the Spring."
Jalur settled his massive head on his new pillow; it squeaked and he rumbled in pleasure at the sound. His eyes started to close.
Edmund stared at the Tiger. Jalur and Mr. Hoberry had conspired to do what, out of hurt and anger, Edmund had not been able to do. What he should have at least tried to do.
My passion gives me courage
"Your Majesty? Something amiss?"
"No my dear Friend. Nothing at all. I shall do as you ask. And, thank you."
"You are welcome."
"Aslan's blessings on you this season, Jalur."
"And to you, my King."
Hoberry didn't hear the knock at first. He had been playing his pipes and watching the flames dance in the grate. The bang was not the winter wind, but a knock on his cottage door.
It was King Edmund. Hoberry had a sudden, disorienting return to the day when the King and a company of Rats, Crows and Roblang with a steady knife tore his home apart looking for evidence of Noll's betrayal.
But that had been summer not winter and the King had been grave and today he was alone, smiling, and there were flecks of snow over his cloak. "Your Majesty!"
"I apologize for bothering you so late, Mr. Hoberry, but …"
There was a terrific roar. The King turned around and they both watched as Jalur tossed his new leather toy high into the air, leaped up, snagged it in jaws, and came crashing down into a snow bank, savagely shaking his head. The toy went flying.
They both laughed. Jalur was acting just as an enormous, stripped kitten.
"He enjoys his Yule gift," Hoberry said.
"He does and my thanks to you and Mrs. Furner for assistance in seeing it done." The King paused. "Might I have a few words…"
"Of course, King Edmund, my apologies." Jalur growled, stalked, and then pounced on his toy. Snow and leaves flew in all directions. "Please come in."
King Edmund stepped across the threshold and Hoberry shut the door. "May I take your cloak? Would you like a glass of spiced wine for the holiday?"
"No, thank you. I'm expected back to open gifts with the others. But I did wish to speak with you. I understand from Jalur that it is through your auspices that Morgan received a gift from me?"
He was momentarily flummoxed and knew he should have planned for this inevitable query. The King did not appear angry, but he could hide his emotions and intent very well when he wished to do so. Best to own up to it. Lying always made the problem worse.
Hoberry thought again of Noll, dead by hanging in the storeroom.
"I hope you will forgive my presumption, King Edmund. Banker Morgan had told me she intended to be here at Yule and when the book arrived, it was clear she had intended it for you. I could not very well reveal the need to reciprocate a gift when you were to be ignorant of the cause."
"I'm not angry, Mr. Hoberry. I do prefer to maintain the illusion that I can see to my affairs alone. Jalur, of course, emphasizes daily that I require a great deal of his personal management and, though I am concededly ignorant as to its precise contours, I suspect you play a significant role in that management."
"Your Majesty, I don't know that…"
King Edmund crossed his arms across his chest and awarded him that raised, sardonic eyebrow in which Queen Susan most particularly excelled.
"We all do what must be done to see it done," Hoberry settled upon.
"Quite. To that end, I must write to Morgan and…" King Edmund sighed and sagged a little. "I feel dishonourable taking credit for a gift that was yours in idea and execution. Yet, I am very grateful that you and Jalur took the initiative. Your management prevented me from compounding the errors, I suppose."
Hoberry weighed the options of how to best respond. He and so many others very much wished Banker Morgan to return. Leszi had not paid up on the case of wine. He'd lost a considerable sum to the Murder. And Narnia needed Morgan of Linch. King Edmund did not need Banker Morgan – he had, after all, grown into a wise King and good man without her. However, King Edmund was a better, gentler man with Banker Morgan. It was an important distinction. Love improved upon what was there.
"Please consider it my Yule gift to you and Banker Morgan, your Majesty. As with the courting of before, I would have certainly rendered similar, discreet assistance to you if she had been here for Yule."
"True, I would have asked you and Mrs. Furner what would be appropriate gifts." The King rubbed a hand over his face. "So you do not object if I take more credit than is my due?"
"To the contrary, your Majesty! I insist!"
There was another roar from outside; perhaps Jalur's toy had tried to escape.
King Edmund smiled and looked happier than he had in weeks. "Very well. My thanks for your discreet assistance. So I am clear, what precisely did I sent?"
"You ordered volume 3 of The Language of Love through a specialty purveyor in Tashbaan and had it sent directly on to Linch."
"Volume 3!" King Edmund exclaimed. "I had no idea the Calormenes were so expressive!"
"There are 6 volumes, in fact, your Majesty. And a special Appendix."
I write to thank you for the Yule gift. Jalur was quite unimpressed with the book but he and Mr. Hoberry did see it delivered into my hands. Jalur thoroughly enjoyed his new Otter chew toy. He has taken to sleeping with it and hides it in the Library so that no one else will steal it. Whoever deigns to mock him for it receives a terrifying growl.
The irony of your gift to me and mine to you is that here we now sit, each with our own copy, an ocean apart, and unable to enjoy either gift together as we had both intended. And so, I hope that we will see you again, in the Spring. "We" does not convey the whole of what should be written and said. I hope that I will see you again in the Spring.
Jina is the second Hound most dear to me who passed unexpectedly and brutally from my arms into Aslan's paws. This means that I do understand your bond to Jina and how it feels to lose that greater, better part of yourself. Hounds do not live as long as we do and I have long thought it is because they have less to learn of life and love than we poor Humans. They give so much and so well, their lives burn out that much quicker. Surely it is a strain to live with such a great heart.
Though I know it will grieve you anew, Jina's last words were of you. You were very much in her mind. She went more easily into His Paws knowing that she would see you again in Aslan's Country and that until that time, the Hounds of the Pack would always be by your side.
I feel this was our first real test, Morgan, and that we failed each other. I scarce remember what I said to you but it was surely not what you needed. For my part, I was hampered by my own grief and the horror of reliving my loss of Merle, my first Guard, barely 5 years ago. Also, it pains Jalur so much to hear of Merle, I must be doubly cautious. Jalur does not understand how I could have loved Merle so well and yet also learned to love him, differently yes, but as deeply, once my grief passed.
For your part, in thinking on it further, I fear that this was the first time someone you deeply loved died unexpectedly and violently. I worry that you now bear this burden alone with those who love you, yes, but who may not understand your profound loss. Grief shared is grief lessened. These weeks would have been more bearable for both of us if we had endured them together. We were separated before our work of mourning could even begin.
The Narnians are making songs and stories about the heroic flight of the General and the brave Baker. We should be hearing them together.
It came to my attention recently that members of the Pack are, in odd, quiet hours, being escorted by Mr. Hoberry into my rooms and yours. The purpose is so that the Hounds might perceive whatever of your scent still lingers in those places and keep your memory fresh and alive. This means there are many who doubly mourn. We grieve for the loss of a very great and noble Hound and we grieve for your sudden departure and no assurance of your return.
Their perception is greater than mine. You are gone and I cannot sense your presence except in the odd item I find – a tie for your hair, a scrap of parchment, a broken quill, a bookmark.
I hope you will return. You have very much become a part of our life, and mine. I wanted to make our life together, my love. It ended before it even started and I most ardently wish it otherwise.
You asked what passage from volume 2 most expresses my feelings. I found two.
From illustration 15,
Oh Sweet Bitterness!
I will soothe you and heal you
I will bring you roses
I too have been covered with thorns
The roses, of course, are metaphorical.
And from illustration 7,
In your light I learn how to love
My old self is a stranger to me
Because the idol is your face, I have become an idolater
Because the wine is from your cup, I have become a drunkard
I used to read the myths of love
Now I have become the mythical lover
With my deepest affection and love,
P.S. I sincerely request the return of my shirt and trousers, but only if you are wearing them.
To: King Edmund the Just, Count of the Western March, Duke of the Lantern Waste, Wandbreaker, Knight of the Order of the Table
From: Seth Gage Stanleh, formerly Assistant Director, House of Stanleh
Duffle Clan Hold
Forgive me in advance if my method of address is impertinent. I hope this season finds you and your family well. I have enjoyed a pleasant Yule with the Duffle Clan and gladly accept the offer made by your esteemed sister to visit Cair Paravel at the turn of the year.
My purpose in writing is three-fold. First, please accept my condolences on the death of Jina.
The report of venomous snakes in Narnian lands is my second reason for writing. I draw your attention to the Menagerie at Tokat-Rize (hereinafter "Menagerie") represented by the House of Stanleh. You may recall that the Menagerie was one of the entities identified by Assistant Director (hereinafter "AD") Morgan of Linch as likely to be receiving funds from the Zalindreh Building and Works (hereinafter "ZBW") for purposes of funding the aggressive ambitions of Prince Namavar and his faction. The Menagerie has, most likely, since dissolved.
My sister and I had only passing familiarity with this account as it was managed by our late grandfather. Nevertheless, I specifically recall observing significant sums directed from ZBW to the Menagerie to an account referred to as "Serpent." As it was a menagerie, my sister and I thought it of no consequence; certainly the account went through the normal confirmatory review by the other Houses during shut-in and approval at Conclave.
In light of the current situation in the Glasswater, I find it a peculiar coincidence and in speaking my concern to Master and Mrs. Duffle, they urged me to write.
Further, upon the occasion of Jina's death, Otieno mentioned the death of another guard under violent circumstances that ultimately resulted in the apprehension of a ring of Mole spies led by a Faun who later took his own life. Otieno intimated that there was a suspected Calormene connection in these events.
The Menagerie had a related entity, whose purpose was, the Director told me, to pay agents who advanced Calormene interests in the North. I recall that the entity abruptly folded about five years ago. Again, our Director handled the account himself and so my information is both old and scant.
A Banker does not speculate. Nevertheless, I do wonder if this situation in the Glasswater is a new phase of a long range plan dating at least to the spy ring.
Last, I understand that the Narnia crown has approved the Lagour venture. As I assisted you, AD Morgan of Linch, and now the Duffles in making the business case, and having just now provided information important to the security of Narnia, I respectfully submit my credentials for continuing work on the Lagour venture. I request permission to undertake the ongoing, confirmatory audits of the operation to assure its compliance with Narnian priorities. I would like to discuss the matter with you or your representative at your convenience.
Former AD, House of Stanleh
And here ends Death of a Hound, Part 3 of Harold and Morgan: Not a Romance. The conclusion, Part 4, The Golden Age, will follow in the spring of 2013.
The poetry is excerpted and adapted from The Love Poems of Rumi, edited and translated by Depak Chopra
The part with Jalur receiving his Yule gift from King Edmund is in It's The Thought That Counts, now slightly revised and told from a different point of view.
If you are reading, I hope to hear from you.