Author's Note: This fic can be found in my "Challenges" work as well. It is the arc that helped me win the Narnian Awards 2010 award that I mention in the summary of that fic. I hope you enjoy it!
This fic takes place 6 years into the Golden Age and 1 year after "The Horse and His Boy". Edmund is 16, Lucy is 14, Peter is 19, and Susan is 18.
Disclaimer: They put the "fan" in "fanfiction" for a reason.
Summary: Edmund awakes to find himself aboard a slave ship in the middle of the Eastern Sea.
Edmund groaned, turning his head to the side slowly. His entire body screamed in agony. His head throbbed and there was a feeling of a dried crust coating the left side of his face. His shoulders were stiff from being held in a strange position for who knew how long. His wrists and ankles were bound tightly with a rope, wrist to wrist, ankle to ankle, and then ankles and wrists together behind his back. The rest of his body boasted scattered cuts and bruises, the result of a struggle. When and where that struggle had taken place, as well as against whom, the King couldn't quite remember. He knew it had been a fight for his life, and he knew he hadn't had his sword at the time.
"Supper time." A gruff, sadistic voice broke through the haziness. Edmund's eyes shot open. The teenager had mere moments to take in his surroundings before he felt his binds removed. He was in what appeared to be a ship's hold. Crude bunk beds were nailed into the walls. A person was perched upon each one, two on several bunks. From what Edmund could see, all of the people were young, none older than twenty. All were bound by the wrists, and all looked half starved.
Edmund felt a rough hand roll him onto his side. The cold smoothness of a knife pressed against his wrist before slicing through the thick rope and freeing his hands. The King immediately drew his arms forward, his shoulders cracking uncomfortably at the movement. As soon as his ankles had been freed as well, the boy leapt off of his own bunk. He stared at the person before him, fists clenched and ready to defend him if necessary. The man was tall, towering a good head or more above Edmund. His dark skin and black beard bragged of Calormene heritage. Though not the heaviest man Edmund had ever seen, he was thickly built, and the teenager guessed most of the mass consisted of muscle rather than fat.
"Where am I?" He demanded, though he had a fairly good idea of the answer. The man simply smirked and placed his hands on his hips.
"I command you tell me what I am doing on this ship." Edmund immediately regretted his words, knowing well that Calormene men did not take commandments from Narnians with much enthusiasm.
"Command, eh? And just who do you think you are to command me on my ship, little one?" The smirk had not vanished from the man's face, though his brown eyes had grown much sterner.
Edmund resisted the urge to reveal his title. He was well aware of the hatred Calormenes held toward Narnians and Archenlanders. Their attack on the Archenland kingdom near a year ago had proven that. If this captain was anything at all what he appeared to be, he would have Edmund killed without a thought.
"And so the boy grows silent," The ship captain hissed. He took a few steps toward the Just King, his hands crossing over his chest smugly. The man's eyes narrowed as he inspected Edmund. "A fool's pup if I ever saw one. All bark, but too scared to bite. Certainly not bred to attack, that's for certain."
If only he knew. Edmund thought, mentally smirking but keeping his outer appearance stern and unafraid.
"If I'm to get a good price on you, I'll have to hope the women take a liking to your looks. Otherwise, I won't get a half a crescent. You're far too scrawny to do any real manual labor. I'll bet you haven't worked a day in your life. Spoiled Archenlander, you are," The captain spat to the side before taking a step back. "If you want to live another day, boy, I suggest you keep that mouth of yours shut and do what you're told."
Once the man decided he had said everything he needed to say, he spun on his heel and marched out of the cabin. Moments later, several crew members brought the dozen prisoners a meager meal of fish and bread. The small amount of fish was cold and the slice of bread was stale, but it was something. Once everyone had gotten their rations, the crewmen walked out with the same pompous flair as the captain.
As Edmund took his first bite of fish, he noticed a young girl staring at him with wide eyes. She sat across the aisle from him, her brown hair frizzy and eyes weak due to weeks away from home. She looked stunned, shocked, and perhaps a bit awe-struck. With a quick glance around the cabin, the Narnian King noticed that she wasn't the only one giving him such a look.
The young King opened his mouth to speak, but was quickly silenced by a flurry of movement. He saw the girl nod to a boy next to her before rushing to kneel next to Edmund. The boy returned with a moist cloth and handed it to the girl, who in turn began dabbing at Edmund's face. He had forgotten about the crusted feeling. When the young woman pulled it away to change corners, he saw it was coated with red. Blood. Edmund winced when she touched the cut on his temple.
"Are you daft?" The girl spoke up, her voice carrying the same horrified and excited tone as her expression had moments before.
"No one has ever spoken to the captain like that. Even Adem here hasn't." The brunette thumbed at the boy who had handed her the cloth. He was a tall man, though not yet eighteen by the look of his face. His toned muscles and slightly tanned skin gave away his farming past, but his eyes held the hue Edmund had seen in so many a wounded warrior. Proud and defiant, but trembling with pain.
"Hush, Lain," Adem said harshly, apparently ashamed by the truth. "I know when to fight and when to be still."
"Even so," The girl, Lain, shrugged. "He's still the first I've seen. What's your name, kid?"
Edmund pondered the question for a moment, turning his gaze to his plate. Dare he speak the truth to them? He did not want the captain to find out he was King, but if someone didn't know, he had that much less of a chance of getting home.
"Eamon." Edmund whispered.
"Eamon?" Lain paused in her handiwork, giving Edmund a once over. "It suits you. How old are you?"
"I'm sixteen." The Just King answered, this time honestly.
"You are a kid, aren't you?" Lain smiled softly, tilting her head a bit. "I'm nineteen."
The cabin was silent for a moment as everyone cleaned their plates. Edmund finished his dinner as slowly as he could manage, knowing that it would be more satisfying in the long run.
"So, how were you taken?" The girl spoke up once more, apparently the only one in the room willing to speak. That got the teenager thinking. He remembered bits and pieces of what had happened, but slivers of time were missing.
"I'm not exactly sure." He admitted, wincing again and hissing with pain when she brushed across his wound. "I was out for a ride when-" Edmund stopped short, his eyes widening. Phillip! He had been riding with Phillip when they were ambushed. What had happened to his Stallion?
"Eamon…? Are you alright?" Lain asked, looking at him with concern.
"My Horse! I don't know what happened to him!" Edmund blurted.
"Easy there, kid. Was your horse a stallion?"
"Yes. Phillip." The King looked at the girl.
"And his coloring. Was he a dark horse?"
"No, he was a lighter chestnut." Edmund bent his fingers back one at a time, one of the many nervous habits Peter had been trying to break him of. When Lain's face brightened, however, the teenager stopped and gave her a more intent look.
"I do believe I saw your stallion," She said calmly. "A couple of the crewmen were leading him up the plank just after they carried you on board. He was a feisty thing. He kept trying to bolt and chase after the man that had you. It took seven men to get him into the stable area." Despite his worry over his Horse, Edmund couldn't help but smile.
"That's Phillip for you. He didn't look hurt, did he?"
"He had a pretty good gash on his shoulder and a bit of a limp, but nothing that looked near life-threatening." Edmund looked down in shame. How could he not protect his Horse?
"Don't worry, kid," Adem spoke up. "I can get you in to see him, and without risk of getting in trouble at that," The King's head snapped up, eyes wide. "You just need to keep that temper of yours in check. Another one of those outbursts and Tahj will have your head mounted on a plaque."
"Tahj? Is he the captain?" Edmund asked, his voice a bit harsh. He had heard that name many times before. The man was infamous in Narnia and Archenland. He was a favorite among the slave traders because of his ability to choose good workers and the ease with which he kidnapped them. Few had managed to escape him, and those that had told some frightening tales.
"He is," Adem nodded solemnly. "You've heard stories about him?"
"I have." Edmund returned the nod.
Before the conversation could continue further, the door to the cabin flew open. Prisoners scurried away from the opening, the fright in their eyes unmistakable. Standing in the doorway, casting a long shadow into the room, was the captain. He stepped in and strode down the small aisle, glowering at his young captives. With every few steps he would pause and point to a person. They would stand and nervously walk toward the door, stopping just a few feet away from it. It wasn't long before Tahj reached Edmund, Adem, and Lain. He looked down on them and smirked, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Is our pup injured?" He said, his tone half mocking and half caring. "Best clean that up before you head up to the deck. You're raising the sail today."
"Sir, if I may," Edmund looked up when Adem spoke. "I do believe Eamon will do better to work in the stables."
"So, our dog has a name. But Adem," The captain turned to face the boy who in turn stood like a stone, only the slightest hint of fear shimmering in the teenager's eyes. "Since when do you find it appropriate to challenge my word? You've been the most cooperative barbarian yet. I would hate to see that change." Something in Tahj's voice frightened Edmund. His tone was too smooth, too honest. It wasn't right.
"He knows about horses, sir." Edmund could tell that Adem had noticed the off key of the captain's voice as well, and yet he continued. He was either brave, stupid, or both. "I would suggest putting him in the stables. Unless you want your horses mistreated. I'm sure flea-bitten piles of bones would make a good-"
Adem was cut short by a backhand to the face. His hand immediately flew to the offended area, and Lain jumped up in shock. She reached to look at his split lip but was shoved to the floor before she could reach the boy.
"Stay out of this, wench." Tahj hissed. He turned to face Adem who met his gaze evenly.
"I thought you learned your lesson last time, boy. Keep your mouth shut or I will shut it for you."
"Lesson? I thought that was a challenge." Edmund watched on, mentally telling Adem to shut up.
"You'd be wise to learn the difference before you are sold. I would much like to keep you in good condition for the sale, but if I feel I must ruin you, I will not hesitate to do so."
"Duly noted, sir." Adem smirked and sat down next to Edmund.
"You, dog," Tahj turned his glare to the younger teenager. "You'll work the stables today, but if they are not perfect by sundown, you and your 'advisor' will be refused tomorrow's rations. Do you understand?"
Edmund nodded, staring down the captain. He hated being powerless. If he had been on his own turf he would have made quick work of this man. But instead he was trapped on Tahj's boat, surrounded by his men and with no force of his own. Without a decent weapon or backup, he was helpless.
The captain left the cabin in a hurry, every captive near the door filing out behind him. Edmund gave Adem a disheartened-though-grateful look as he stooped down to help Lain. She pushed him away politely before standing up on her own.
"Are you alright?" Edmund asked, still holding out a hand in case she needed it.
"I'm perfectly fine. Now go you fool, before you and Adem are both starved. You're skinny enough as it is." The ebon-haired boy smiled and turned to walk out the door.
"I said I knew when to fight and when to keep still." Adem called after him. Edmund stopped and spun around, finding himself looking at a smirking Archenlander. "That was the time to fight."
Edmund shook his head and smiled, flabbergasted by the farm boy's attitude. He had been right, Edmund knew. He was testing his limits, but he was right. Tahj wasn't afraid to kill, and he certainly wasn't afraid to beat someone into submission. The fact that Adem had survived with only a red cheek and a split lip was testament enough to his claim.
"Go!" Lain commanded, giving him a small smile. Edmund complied and scurried out the door, shutting it behind him. He mounted the steps that led to the deck, freezing at the top stair. He had seen the ocean many times before, but now was different. Land was nowhere in sight. Nothing but the salty blue of the sea surrounded the boat, and Edmund began to panic. If they had been heading to Calormen, they would have gone the way of the river. The banks would have stayed in view, and the air wouldn't be so sticky. Instead, they were drifting across the Eastern Sea.
"What are you doing, boy?" the harsh tone of Tahj broke Edmund out of his thoughts. "You're to be in the stables. Now go!"
The captain grabbed his shoulder and pushed him roughly toward the door that led below deck. Using the momentum, Edmund stumbled to the wooden frame, opened the door, and raced down the stairwell. He was greeted with a few nickers, a stamp of a hoof, and then silence. Darkness engulfed him, the only source of light being a small crack in a covered window at the end of the hall. Edmund felt his way toward it, ripping it open when he got a good grip on it.
"Phillip? Are you in here?" Edmund called hesitantly, scanning the ten stalls. Six horses' heads poked out of the first six stalls, one of them looking all too familiar. Grinning broadly, the King raced down the hallway and engulfed his Stallion's neck in a hug.
"I was worried about you, my King." Phillip said, smiling in a way that only Horses can.
"And I about you." Edmund concurred. "A girl said that you had been limping, and had a cut on your shoulder." The teenager opened the stall door and walked in, looking his friend over for any other injuries.
"A knick from an arrow and nothing more, Sire." The Horse insisted.
"Please, Phillip," Edmund smiled. "Don't call me by a royal title. If not out of simple familiarity then out of caution. They don't know I'm King Edmund here. In fact, they don't know me as Edmund at all. They think my name is Eamon. But that's beside the point. What of your limp?"
"They don't know? Well, they are well aware that I am a Talking Beast, I am ashamed to say. They overheard us speaking in the Wood." Phillip paused, a mischievous glint glazing over his eyes. "My limp, Eamon, is of my own doing. One of those beasts tried to tether me, so I reared and landed on his arm. It certainly made him leave me alone after that, but I'm afraid the landing was a bit bad. I will be fine with time, though. But what of you? You look awfully battered. I feel terrible. I shouldn't have let them near you."
"It's my fault, Phillip. You mustn't reserve any guilt for yourself. I should have heard them coming, or at least brought a few of my Guard with me like Peter had said. If there's one thing I'm not looking forward to when we get out of here, it's having to listen to Peter's I-told-you-to-be-careful speech. He seems to build on it every time something goes wrong." At this, Edmund smirked.
"You cannot be blamed," The Horse insisted. "I am the one with better hearing-"
"Shall we not get into debating over guilt? What is done is done, and now all we can do is find a way to get away from here when we dock."
"If I may ask, do you know where we are? The rocking of the ship seems far too choppy for river water, and the air isn't as clear as it would be if we were to sail next to a desert. It feels almost salty."
"I think we're headed for the Lone Islands." Edmund said, looking down. "But I can't tell. I didn't see a speck of land. We're surrounded by ocean water."