"Then the king was an old friend of yours!" said Jill ...
"I should jolly well think he was," said Scrubb ... "About as good a friend as a chap could have."
"What I want to say is this, that I'm the King's man."
At last Caspian turned to the others. He gave a great laugh of astonished joy.
"Why! Eustace!" he said. "Eustace! So you did reach the end of the world after all. What about my second-best sword that you broke on the sea-serpent?"
Eustace made a step toward him with both hands held out...
It was a hard thing sometimes, to be a king. Caspian the Tenth strolled the deck of Dawn Treader, hands clasped at the small of his back, enjoying the fresh breeze and gloriously light and warmth that came from the larger-than-life sun. As he walked, two sailors that had been guffawing together over some joke snapped to attention.
"Please, carry on," he said with a pleasant smile. He wished he could ask them what it was they had been saying, but he knew from past experience that they wouldn't feel comfortable sharing.
Drinian had had to take him aside, a very few days out from Cair Paravel's harbour, and ask him to stop trying to be friends with the sailors.
"You see, Your Majesty, you are the king, and just as it is bad for a captain to try to be chummy with his people, so it is for the king. It confuses them, and they don't know where the authority is, and it makes them nervous. The last thing you want, especially aboard a ship sailing to the Lion-only-knows-where, is nervous sailors."
"But I thought—we're going to be in such close quarters, for such a long time—" Caspian stammered.
Drinian's smile was both wry and sympathetic. "Aye. It's a lonely job, being king."
And so it was. Caspian had been so happy to see Edmund and Lucy return, for their friendship and companionship, if nothing else. At last, people of his own station—the only ones in all Narnia, come to that!—with whom he could be himself. It wasn't just here on the ship—it had been a long lonely three years. He was surrounded by lords and ladies, councillors and advisors, and yet very few friends. Even those nearest and dearest to him separated themselves from him. He could call them by their given names, but they called him Sire.
As glad as he was, though, to see his fellow sovereigns, it hadn't been quite so simple as he had hoped at the beginning. Everywhere he turned, it seemed, since they came on board, he (and they) was reminded of the past glories of Narnia. The Golden Age. The era by which everything he did was measured.
He knew Edmund disapproved of the way he handled matters on the Lone Islands. Caspian had wanted to ask the younger king for advice, but—yes, he could admit it to himself, if no one else—his ugly pride, that hideous inheritance from his uncle, had reared its head and made him determined to prove he could rule just as well as the Ancient Four, even if his ways were different.
Folly. Folly, too, to give in to his greed and pride at Deathwater (at least, he thought that was what he had done. He still couldn't quite remember). He knew quite clearly that Edmund had thrown his precedence in Caspian's face, and Caspian had wanted nothing more to strike him down for it. Thank goodness for Aslan's grace.
Above all, Edmund and Lucy together had a bond that he, Caspian, could never share. He could see them now, sitting with their backs against the rail and their fair heads together—Edmund's hair lightened almost to silver by the sun, while Lucy's still shone golden and bright—sharing an apple and laughing over some private joke. Caspian's heart squeezed.
Then he saw Eustace, perched awkwardly on a barrel just out of sight of the royal siblings, his face twisted in his determination not to scowl. Acting on the old adage that the best way to feel better yourself was to cheer someone else up (usually expressed in Narnia as "If you're feeling down, just talk to a Marshwiggle"), Caspian crossed over and leaned against the rail.
"Something troubling you, Eustace?" He grinned and winked. "Not still bothered over my second-best sword, are you?"
"Oh, ah—no," Eustace stumbled. He flinched. "Your Majesty."
There it was again. Eustace may have been the biggest nuisance ever known in Narnia before he had been dragoned, but at least he had treated Caspian as an equal then. Improperly so, but Caspian had found the lad's staunch refusals to acknowledge titles more amusing than anything else.
Now, though, he was trying so hard to do the right thing, and Caspian didn't have the heart to ask him to go back to calling him "Caspian," lonely though it may have been.
"Well, what is it, then?"
Eustace struggled for a moment longer, then sighed and gave in. "Them," he said, nodding toward his cousins. "I really used to hate them, you know. Only … only I think I was jealous, and that made me hate them."
"Jealous? How so?" Caspian was intrigued. Eustace didn't seem the type to indulge in jealousy.
"Well, it wasn't just that they were always so … so them. You know. Not before Narnia, but after. Always confident. Always … happy. Even in the middle of the war. I mean, they weren't happy about the war, but they had something inside them, something that … well, just look at Lucy! She … she glows. And it's clearer here, but you could see it even there. And I hated that because I couldn't understand it—though now I do, of course, it's Aslan—but it was also …"
"Yes?" prompted Caspian gently.
Eustace looked down and scuffed the toe of his boot against the side of the barrel, listening to the water slosh inside. "I never had a brother or a sister," he said, his voice so low as to be nearly inaudible to anyone listening less intently than Caspian. "And I didn't want one, but it's hard sometimes, being all alone. And they always have each other. Peter and Susan, they have that eldest-sibling thing, and Edmund and Lucy because they're the youngest, and then Lucy and Peter because they are so much alike, and Edmund and Susan because even though they aren't all that much alike they are both the quiet ones, and Lucy and Susan are close because they are sisters, and Edmund and Peter are brothers …"
At this point the longing in his voice, through all the tumble of soft words, had because nearly tangible, and Caspian's own heart ached in sympathy. Oh, he knew what Eustace was feeling, yes indeed he did.
"And I know I'm their cousin, but it's just not the same thing," he ended, looking acutely uncomfortable and embarrassed.
"I have a cousin," Caspian said, very carefully not looking as Eustace, but staring back at the creamy white wake they left behind them.
Caspian nodded. "It was for his birth my uncle decided to kill me, that he might inherit rather than me."
"Indeed. When Aslan offered the Telmarines the chance to go back to your world, I rather thought my aunt would take him and go. But she chose to stay, though she rather understandably wants nothing to do with me. I have given them an estate in the north, away from the woods and the sea, and they live there with my aunt's chosen retainers. I have seen my cousin but a handful of times in the four years since his birth." Caspian looked directly at Eustace again. "I too know something of loneliness. I have often wished for a sister … or a brother." Or a mother and father, or even an uncle who was not intent on murdering him, or an aunt whom he knew was scheming to take the throne for her son.
Caspian decided not to burden Eustace with those details. Instead, he continued,
"It occurs to me, Eustace, that we are rather alike in some ways."
Eustace's eyes nearly bugged from his head. "How … how could I ever be like you?" He looked down at his scrawny arms and soft hands, still blistered from his practices with Caspian's third-best sword (Caspian was devoutly thankful he had insisted upon bringing so much of his own personal armoury with him. Trumpkin had scoffed at the notion, but Caspian had not wanted to be caught in a battle with unfamiliar weapons, should something happen to his own. And with the way Eustace swung a sword, it was likely he would go through all of them by the time their voyage was done anyway), looked at Caspian, and shook his head.
Caspian laughed and nudged him with his elbow. "Not like that, you simpleton." Proof of Eustace's change, he was able to take the teasing with a faint smile instead of bristling. "No, we are both … despite our friends and family, we are both somewhat alone." Eustace still looked blank, and Caspian suddenly felt uncertain. What if he'd misjudged the changes in Eustace, what if he scoffed at him?
Well, he'd come this far; he might as well go all the way.
"I would very much like it," he said, almost shyly, "If I could call you my brother."
Eustace fell off the barrel.
Caspian peered over the edge. "I say, are you all right?"
The younger boy scrambled to his feet, brushing hastily at his mussed clothes. "I'm fine. Did you—d'you really mean it? I mean, you'd want to be my older brother, like Peter and Ed?"
"I'm afraid I could never be the kind of elder brother the High King is," Caspian began ruefully, when Eustace interrupted him.
"Oh, that's all right, I could never be like Edmund anyway. I'm not good enough."
"But," the king continued, "I'd be willing to give it a try, if you are."
Eustace bit his lip and nodded vigourously. Then his face shadowed. "But … what about after?"
"Well, I don't think Aslan means for us to stay forever. What about after, when we've gone back, and you are still here?"
Caspian felt unexpectedly sick to his stomach, thinking about them all leaving. Whatever his feelings of insecurity around them, having Edmund and Lucy—yes, and now Eustace—here with him was the best thing that had happened since he became king.
"Maybe Aslan will let you stay," he said hopefully. "After all, your cousins were here for years and years their first visit."
Eustace scrunched up his face as he thought about it. In the background, Caspian could hear Reepicheep piping his dryad song, and Drinian scolding a sailor for leaving a rope coiled on the deck where anyone could trip over it or the seawater could ruin it.
"Yes, but … somehow I don't think he'll do that again. I mean, Lucy says he never does things the same way twice. And …" he looked embarrassed again. "It's not that I don't like it here, because I do, now, I love it, but … I think I'd start to miss my home after a bit."
Caspian released his hopes and his breath in one long sigh that drifted away on the briny breeze. "Yes. You're right. Well then, what of it? We can still be brothers, though parted by worlds. After all, we shall both come to Aslan's Country in the end, shan't we?"
Eustace's face was very expressive. He had clearly never thought of that before. "Gosh. Aslan's Country. D'you really think I'll make it there, too?"
Caspian suddenly felt very much like an older brother. He clapped Eustace protectively on the back. "Of course you will. Aslan has touched you, and he does not let his children go. Now," making a deliberate effort to shake off the mood of seriousness that had gripped them both, "Shall we go practice a bit more with the sword?"
Eustace squared his shoulders. "Yes," he said, more resigned than excited. "Maybe you can teach me how not to chop off my own foot on my backstroke. Edmund nearly died laughing the last time, and I thought I was going to need Lu's cordial again."
Caspian smothered a chuckle. "Don't worry. We're all clumsy when we first learn."
"Not as clumsy as me," Eustace said gloomily, and this time Caspian really did let himself laugh, the bright sound filling the air and causing those who heard it to wonder wistfully what the joke was.
As they passed Edmund and Lucy, now both staring out over the rail and talking quietly, Caspian was pleased to find there was not even a pang over their close-knit relationship.
Now he, too, had a brother and a friend.
When all the commotion at the Experiment House had faded and it was time for Caspian to return to his own place, he sheathed his sword solemnly and stood looking at the other two for a moment. The young lady smiled shyly at him, and he nodded solemnly to her.
"Lady, I am thankful for all that you have done for me and for my people."
She turned pink. "Oh—that's all right. It was nothing. I mean—well, it wasn't nothing, but it was …"
Eustace hissed something in her ear, and she turned her head to glare at him. "Yes, I know what to say, Scrubb!" She turned back. "It was an honour, Your Majesty."
Caspian chuckled low in his throat. The lady stepped back, and it was time to say goodbye to Eustace. The lad's eyes were suspiciously bright again.
"I'm glad to have seen you—just once more," he choked. "I'm glad to know for myself that you aren't really dead. Or, you are dead, but you're not …"
Caspian pulled him into a firm hug. "I will see you again, my brother. And we shall share many more adventures, when we are both come to Aslan's Country in our proper time."
Eustace nodded and wiped his eyes on his sleeve.
"Come, my son," Aslan said. "We must return to our own place."
"Goodbye," Eustace said, standing as straight and tall as he could.
"Until we meet again," Caspian said. With one final, lingering glance at the strange and fascinating world his brother called home, he placed his hand on Aslan's back and went beyond the wall.
Author's Note: There were many, many things I disliked about the Dawn Treader movie, but one part that I did like, and that touched me very much, was Caspian's comment at the end that the Pevensies (and Eustace) were the closest thing to family he had. Additionally, I've always been intrigued by the love and respect Eustace bears for Caspian in The Silver Chair, when we don't see much interaction between them in VDT. I had already established in my own personal Narnia "canon" that Reepicheep acts as Eustace's conscience and a reminder of how to be a knight, while Edmund is his hero, Susan irritates him (and vice versa), Peter intimidates him, and Lucy is ... well, Lucy. That left friendship for Caspian, and yet the way Eustace talks about him it seems Caspian is more. Then I realized they were both only children, close to The Four but not part of them, and ... lo, this fic was born.
Plus, Eustace and Caspian are my favorite characters to write, so it was fun to write something featuring both of them.
The bit about Caspian's cousin is, in fact, a teaser of sorts for a future post-VDT, pre-SC fic I've been plotting for ... oh, about half a year now. I'm hoping that this fic will spur me on to actually start writing that one.
As always, any reviews are greatly appreciated.