"And more," said Queen Lucy, "for it will not go out of my mind that if we pass this post and lantern, either we shall find strange adventures or else some great change of our fortunes."
"Madam," said King Edmund, "the like foreboding stirreth in my heart also."
"And in mine, fair brother," said King Peter.
"And in mine too," said Queen Susan.
My Fair Brother
Peter, High King of Narnia, stepped out of his royal bedroom on to the balcony facing the sea. The night breeze was brisk, blowing and tugging at the belt of his dressing gown as though admonishing him to return to the warmth of his bed. He had, at least, remembered to wear his slippers, without which the marble floor would have been chill against his bare feet, even now in the full bloom of spring. But the bracing ocean wind was a welcome friend that he had come to rely upon in the past few years, a councillor who cooled his body from feverish fantasies and moored his drifting dreams to reality.
It was madness, he knew, to be so disturbed from his rest by unnatural yearnings for one for whom he should, by all rights, harbour only fraternal if not regal affection. But nearly every night King Peter heaved sighs of impossible longing for his brother, King Edmund, who was fast growing from a boy into a youth, and thereon even more swiftly to manhood.
Just that day they had been sparring in the courtyard with blunt swords, and Edmund had disarmed him with a clever turn of his wrist. The younger king's expression of joy and proud triumph had taken the elder's breath away. Indeed, Peter had been so awestruck by the beauty of his brother's face that he was amazed that none other remarked upon it. And afterwards, sharing a stoup of water mixed with some wine to quench their thirst, he had observed his dark-haired sibling languidly leaning against the marble railing of the inner porch, his arms outstretched on either side as he rested his back against a column.
"I think I should have this blade bronzed," Edmund had jested, frank pleasure curving his lips. "It's the first time that I've ever bested you in a match!"
"It will hardly be the last, I'll warrant," Peter had replied, as much pleased at the outcome as his brother, despite his own loss. "And if you go bronzing every blade that you use to beat me, soon the castle keep will be filled with bronzed, blunt, useless swords!"
They had shared in easy laughter as their sisters and courtiers looked on, but for King Peter, the only one who mattered in that golden moment was King Edmund — his brother, his most trusted advisor, and the greatest, most desperate love of his life.
The breeze was turning cold now, but Peter lingered still on the balcony. In his mind's eye he was recalling the slender form of Edmund as he had leant against the porch, willing that image to overlie the railing before him now. His brother's hands were outstretched, just so, with his shoulders hunched ever so slightly, and if Peter half-closed his eyes he could almost see the wind tousling Edmund's dark hair.
Oh, to be permitted to tousle it himself, running his fingers through the silky black strands! Or better yet, to slip his hands around that slim waist and clasp that graceful figure to his own! But Peter knew that it would not end there; once begun, he would not be able to restrain himself from unleashing all of his unseemly passion upon his brother. And that would be the end of them both, for Edmund would be gravely affronted and aggrieved by such an outpouring of unnatural, unbridled lust, and Peter, for his own part, would be too ashamed to ever face Edmund or any other living creature again.
And so Peter reined in his base desires, denying himself any hope of release from the prison built around him by his own heart and mind.
Not many days later, King Peter sat resting in a comfortable chair overlooking the gardens on the west side of the castle. The day's work was done, and his sisters (the two queens) were gathering a few roses for the table while dinner was being prepared. They had just dispatched a small troop of Dwarfs to investigate the rumours of an Ettin spotted in the hills near Archenland, and although the High King had begun his musings on the unlikelihood of there being any giants — let alone two-headed ones — that far to the south, his thoughts had quickly turned to his brother, who had been persuaded to help Queen Susan in her quest for the perfect bouquet. He was now holding the stem of one particularly lovely white rose as Queen Lucy used her little dagger to cut it.
Both of his sisters were beautiful, King Peter knew, each in her own way. Susan's dark tresses were as lustrous as her deep blue eyes, and she was like a rosebud on the cusp of the full bloom of womanhood. Lucy was a bright daisy, cheerful and gay, whose laughter delighted the hearts of all who heard her. But it was the poise and beauty of his brother Edmund that captivated his eyes, as the younger boy's slender fingers deftly bent a wandering branch out of his sisters' path. Peter had to force himself to shift his gaze to Susan as she approached him, holding out the flowers for his inspection and approval.
"Aren't they beautiful?" she asked, her cheeks rosy and rivaling the blooms.
"Indeed they are," Peter replied in a tone of royal approbation. "But no fairer than the hands that bear them."
Susan blushed delicately at the compliment, while Lucy perched herself on the armrest of Peter's chair.
"I'm so glad Mr. Tumnus found someone to prune them properly. I'm sure there are twice as many flowers this year as last!" she declared.
"Maybe not twice," Edmund laughed, "but they sure are outdoing themselves this year. You could have a new bouquet every day if you wanted."
"Oh, but that would be wasteful," Susan objected. "I'm sure they'd much rather be out in the garden than cut and placed in a vase indoors! And if the Dryads hadn't assured us that it wouldn't hurt them, I couldn't bear to cut them at all."
"You had better put those in water, then," Peter mildly pointed out, and the two girls agreed, leaving just the two brothers on the terrace.
"Penny for your thoughts," Edmund asked, as Peter looked back out at the garden to avoid looking at his enticingly handsome brother.
"Oh... nothing much," he answered with studied indifference. He was startled, however, when Edmund blocked his view, moving to stand in front of him.
"You've been mooning over something for quite some time now," the younger king stated, crossing his arms and knitting his brows like thunderclouds on the mountains. "Even Lucy's caught on. You've been... distracted, distant. Susan thought you might snap out of it once it got warmer, but here you are, staring off into space again. What is it that you're not telling us?"
"I... well, I—I've had a lot on my mind," Peter stammered out. "That's all! I mean, I am High King over all Narnia, and have more responsibility than any of y—"
"That's rubbish, and you know it!" Edmund interrupted. "We all make the decisions together, even if you do get to have the final say. And apart from that rumour of an Ettin down by Archenland — which is highly unlikely, if you ask me, and probably an old tree stump that someone saw after drinking too much at a spring dance — Narnia hasn't been so peaceful in literally a hundred years. There's absolutely nothing for you to be brooding about."
Edmund's scowl had deepened as he stated his points, but Peter could barely pay heed to his words. He could not help noticing that even scowling, his brother was handsome in a lordly way, and when Edmund paused, awaiting some response from him, Peter swallowed as though he were a small child who had forgotten how to do his sums.
"Well?" Edmund demanded, his keen eyes taking in his brother's discomfiture. A slight feeling of unease began to grow in his breast as he realised that Peter was avoiding his gaze. He was staring at Edmund's boots, as though some magical answer would appear there. Shaking off his own new-born anxiety, Edmund decided to test some of his theories.
"Are you worried about Mother and Father?" he prodded, in a gentler tone.
Peter shook his head. "No. Somehow I think... if Aslan wants us here, it's all right — he's taking care of everything. I don't even know how I know that, but... I feel certain about it."
"I know what you mean," Edmund agreed, mentally scratching that off of his list. "Are you worried that the Calormenes might attack us?"
"The Tisroc? No. He would never risk crossing the desert, and their fleet is too small to carry an army of any worth," was Peter's calm assessment. He was regaining his composure, mostly because he was keeping his eyes closed, as though pondering the questions posed to him.
"The Giants to the north?"
"Not likely. We may have a few more skirmishes, of course, before they learn their lesson properly, but we've made sure that the northern border is well defended. The Centaurs would never let them cross it without a fight."
"So what is it, then?" Edmund asked, running out of ideas. That is, all except one, which Susan had suggested several weeks ago, but he did not feel like bringing it up at the moment. And anyway, he thought, it's ridiculous! Peter is the High King, after all.
But High King or not, Peter was now backed into a corner and, like a rabbit chased down by a terrier, he knew that there would be no escape until he had answered Edmund to his satisfaction. He finally met his brother's brown eyes, hesitating for a moment before speaking in a low tone.
"Ed... have you ever been in love?" he asked.
Edmund blinked, caught off-guard despite the fact that Susan had suggested this very thing.
"I... uh... no," he managed to reply, his cheeks flushing to a bright pink. Peter heaved a deep sigh, longing to kiss those cheeks, and cast his eyes back down to his brother's boots.
"It's not all that it's cracked up to be," he informed him with sober mien. "If the other person isn't in love with you... it can be the hardest thing in the world to bear."
"B—But... Peter, you're the High King!" Edmund pointed out, rather needlessly. "Who wouldn't want to be... y'know... your... sweetheart."
As the younger brother blushed furiously at the term, a smile crossed the older brother's downcast face, although it was overshadowed with sadness.
"This may come as a surprise to you," Peter responded dryly, "but some women don't give a fig about how important you are, even if you're a king. And it's not like I could command them to love me... I wouldn't be much of a king, then, would I?"
"No," Edmund admitted. "You'd be a tyrant. And I don't think you'd stay king for long if Aslan found out."
"But, look here," Edmund said, still nonplussed, "even if she doesn't care two pence about your being king, why wouldn't she like you well enough, you know, for just being Peter?"
The High King of all Narnia came close to tears upon hearing the confidence implied in his brother's words. He took a deep breath to steel himself, and replied with care.
"I appreciate the sentiment," he said, making an attempt at levity, "but not all women are swept off of their feet by my charms."
"But have you tried to... well, woo her, at all?" Edmund persisted. "If she knew how much you liked her, maybe she'd change her mind..."
Peter's lips curled with humour at those words.
"And how, pray tell," he began, "would I actually woo this lady?"
"I don't know... Write her poetry and stuff," his young brother responded.
"Hmm. I hadn't thought of that," Peter said, a grin audible in his tone. "So I know now that if you should ever start writing poetry, you're in serious danger of falling in l—"
"Oh, come off it!" Edmund interrupted crossly. "We're supposed to be talking about you."
"Were we?" Peter replied, still smirking. "What about that Mermaid who was singing to you the other day? She was breathtaking."
"Of course she was pretty — they all are," Edmund retorted. "But she was no more singing to me than to any of us! I just happened to be standing closest to her, that's all."
Peter's smile was becoming more genuine, although he had not been ingenuous in posing this question to his brother. He had noticed, on the first day of spring when the Merfolk had come to sing, how entranced Edmund had been by one particularly beautiful Mermaid, and it had pained him to think that his brother would soon become a man and would one day woo and wed a lady who met his fancy. But he was relieved to hear him vehemently deny any special attachment to the Mermaid — the day when Edmund would be lost to him for good was yet some time ahead.
"If you say so," Peter drawled, hoping that he hadn't irritated his brother overmuch. "And it's just as well, since I doubt it would work out — she being a creature of the sea and all."
"Of course it wouldn't," Edmund scowled. "I'm not daft, you know! I wouldn't fall for someone like that."
Peter's eyes suddenly lost the mirth that had filled them with light, and he stared out across the garden again in pensive meditation.
"It's not so easy," he murmured, in a voice so low that his brother could barely hear him. "You can't choose the one for whom you fall. Sometimes... even if you know it's impossible, you just can't help it."
Edmund opened his mouth as though to form an answer, but remained silent, observing Peter with a growing heaviness of heart. He thought he finally understood what had been troubling the High King for the past few months.
As he stood there by his brother, unable to offer any words of comfort, the silver bells in the Great Hall began to ring, signaling to all in the castle that dinner was ready to be served.
A/N: Edmund is about 13~14 and Peter 17~18, around three years after they came to Narnia.