Chapter 5: Peter and Merlin
It had been an altogetherly* exhausting and confusing day for High King Peter. He had awakened an hour earlier than usual in order to start reviewing his notes before meeting with his advisors to discuss the campaign against the Giants of the North (who were threatening war in a most clumsy, blunt, and troublesome fashion. After failing to catch the king of Narnia's attention by sending threatening letters which were not legible and even if they had been were like as not written in Giantish, the giants had been raiding villages near Ettinsmoor, although curiously enough they left most the people and Beasts alive, choosing only to smash a good many cottages, burrows, and chicken-houses).
He'd still been going over notes and calculating logistics when his siblings paraded down to the breakfast table at ten till eight, all fresh-faced and well rested. It is perhaps not entirely a surprise that he was cross as a Bear woken in December with them, until Susan exclaimed over how hard working he was and how lazy they all were and ended up mollifying the high king while somehow managing to force him to set aside his paperwork long enough to eat five pieces of toast, six scrambled eggs, and two sausages.
For the most part, it was agreed, King Peter managed his frustrating and exhausting work with a remarkably good temper. True, Edmund always had a coughing fit whenever the advisors were discussing it (in the high king's absence of course, but the badgers would bring it up and the centaurs always chimed in too), but really, for the amount of work he accomplished (most of which was far beyond the ordinary scope of a young man his age) Peter was constantly in brilliantly good moods.
But today, it was rather not the case. He had not snapped once at the advisors (even though Hootwing the Owl would ask questions every five seconds) and though his jaw was rather aching from clenching his teeth during Greengob the Marshwiggle's long, dry, and hopelessly depressing speech, Peter stood firm about not complaining or losing his temper.
At least, until the wizard came.
He'd been sitting at the conference table going over distances and numbers while occasionally leafing through books on military campaigning and old Narnian and Archenlandish battle records and making comments to Peridan and the others when the door slammed open. Peridan rose to deal with whoever it was, so Peter continued reading. He was wondering vaguely if it was Hootwing, back with more questions, or an intruder, when he heard the strange voice.
"Unhand me, you great lout. I am an ambassador—from Camelot (and if you don't know where that is, you should go back and study your geography). I've been hearing all about High King Peter and I've come with advice and…well, it's none of your business. Out! Out! All of you!"
Letting out a very long sigh, Peter rubbed his forehead, closed his book, and pushed his chair back. He knew that Peridan and the faun (an old friend of Tumnus' who'd been in Archenland helping King Lune during the Long Winter) were probably readying to draw their swords, or at the very least grabbing the visitor and starting to drag him away, but he needed a rest from logistics anyway.
"It's alright, Peridan. I'll see him."
He turned, just in time to see Peridan let go of the man's arm and begin hovering warily by his shoulder. The man was rather short and roundish. His most distinguishable feature was a very long white beard which had things stuck in it (or perhaps just things not brushed out of it) like twigs and leaves. He wore a red robe and a crooked pointed hat, and his eyes, which gleamed at Peter shrewdly from under large bushy white eyebrows, were like little diamonds: hard and shining.
"What can I do for you, sir?" It was asked in his most polite, grown-up voice (he'd had plenty of time to perfect it, too). However, instead of simply answering, the old man looked surprised and let out a little cackle.
"Good, good, some manners at least. But it's more a matter of what I can do for you." He tugged at his beard and squinted at the high king, then noticed that the other people (and various creatures) in the room were all watching the display. "Go on—out, all of you! You're not needed just now."
This was against all tradition, for strange guests to burst unannounced into the council chamber and start ordering everybody about. Peridan had a frown on his face, and Peter was inclined to agree that this was most unorthodox and not a good idea—especially since they were in the middle of planning a war.
"I am sorry, sir, but I don't think you—,"
"OUT!" shouted the old man. Then, glaring around, "Or I'll turn them all into frogs."
Seeing as one of them was already a frog (he was the Marshwiggle's personal assistant…), Peter almost balked, but there was a glint of something like mischief but more serious that lurked about the old man's eyes. It was clear that he was some sort of wizard, in which case he should not even be inside the palace, much less alone with the king in the council chamber. The faun had drawn his sword, now, not terribly thrilled about being turned into a frog, it seemed, but then something the old wizard had said found its way to the tip of Peter's mind.
"By Jove," he muttered, then louder, "I beg your pardon, sir, but where did you say you were from?"
"Camelot," the wizard repeated. "Camelot, you dunce! Don't they teach history in schools these days?"
It was Merlin, then. Few English schoolchildren grow up without having down some of the rudimentary basics of the mythology and legends of their own country. If it was Merlin, then he probably wasn't an enemy of Narnia. And that last bit had sounded a bit too much like an old professor Peter had once known (at least, he thought he'd known—perhaps it was from a dream) to belong to a threatening personage. After a momentary internal debate, Peter shrugged and said, "Very well. Go on, Peridan, Menelaus, everybody, and I will entertain our guest alone for the moment."
"Sire," Peridan began, but shut up when Peter shook his head. He and the other advisors and various courtiers left the room as quickly as they could.
"Now," said Peter. "Am I right in guessing that you are Merlin, chief wizard and advisor to King Arthur?"
"Of course I'm Merlin," the wizard replied, rolling his eyes. "Really, young Pevensie, you are a bit slow on the uptake. Not altogether unlike another young student I had, though, so don't worry—there is hope. Now. I'm here to ground you in the fundamentals of nature and make sure you have all the knowledge necessary to keep from having your country revolt in the next five years."
"Ah." Peter rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, I've been king for about five years already. Everything seems to be going alright."
"Yes, seems," said Merlin. "Seems. But how to know? I know about your family—how you were dropped here in Narnia at ridiculously young ages (younger even than Wart was when he was crowned) and expected to just pick up a scepter and rule. At least they made your crowns to size."
"Sir, it isn't that I do not appreciate your…intent. I do not claim to know everything a king needs to know, but I doubt that anything you could do would allow me to learn in such a way that Aslan would approve of." Peter felt a bit awkward saying it, but it had to be said. "Magic, sir, is rather…frowned upon, here. There was a witch who enchanted everything for a hundred years, you see, and our people are still a little wary. My experience thus far has been that learning by trial and error and advice is better than any tricks or spells."
Merlin laughed. It was a little surprising, because Peter had been expecting a more furious reaction.
"You have Talking Beasts here, young Peter. I would wager that no trial, error, or advice could ever hope to teach you how they feel or what they think in the same way that becoming one would. Do you agree?"
"Well…" Peter chewed on his lip as he thought. It seemed the rhetoric and debate lessons were finally coming in handy. "Even if I don't know how it feels to be a Talking Beast, I can still respect and listen to them. I don't see how becoming a beast would increase the respect and courtesy I extend to them."
"Ah, but that's just the beginning of it!" Merlin set a carpetbag on the table and began riffling through it, yanking out a book here, a stool there (he sat, ignoring the rules of protocol, not that Peter really minded anyway), and a pair of half-moon spectacles. "You see, becoming a fish or bird has to potential to teach you fundamental lessons about the basic nature of humanity. It's a theory I've been working on for a few millennia, now, and it has proved informative every time. Now. With Wart we started with fish. I don't seem to recall seeing a moat around here…have you got one?"
"No," said Peter, a little regretfully. They didn't really need one, but he'd always thought they were a grand idea.
"Hmm, pity." The old man squinted upward, looking around the big room. "Squirrels are usually next, but the size of this room and the safety it presents against hawks and such (for the first bit) bids me name birds as the first lesson. So." He fixed his shining eyes on Peter. "What bird would you like to become?"
For those readers who are unfamiliar with Merlin's other student (a young boy named Wart who one day became King Arthur), that particular young boy decided to become a Merlin. It might have been in flattery of the wizard in order to get on his good side, but a Merlin, being a sort of falcon, was a logical choice for young Wart, and not a bad bird to be. However, the flattery made Merlin come to believe that Merlins were actually the best birds. This fact is inconsequential at this instant, but it will become extremely significant in a moment.
As the old wizard studied him closely, the high king rubbed the back of his neck (it was a gesture he often performed when feeling a bit out of his depth). He did not want to be turned into a bird. He had a war to plan and a kingdom to run and three younger siblings to take care of. He finally found himself saying, "Please, I'd rather not. There are these giants, you see, up north, and I've got to plan…"
"What bird?" Merlin snapped. "I know you'd rather not. You're that sort of boy—unimaginative and overly responsible. But if you could choose—any bird, and I'm not saying I'll do it—what would it be?"
It was cruel and not entirely truthful of Merlin to say that Peter was unimaginative (though he was overly responsible—not a bad thing), but he was in a rush because Arthur might need him back in Camelot. And Peter was rather in a rush to get rid of the old wizard, hoping that if he just named a bird and then showed Merlin out before he could actually perform any kind of spell (because surely it would be in one of those dusty old books he'd just unpacked from the carpet bag) he could get back to work without any more disturbances.
"An owl," Peter said sharply. "A parrot. I don't care—do colorful birds take longer?"
The fact that he had not chosen a Merlin gave the old wizard a bit of a temper. The fact that he had chosen an owl first made it a bit more of a temper (for Merlin had an owl back home who was constantly raving about how much better he was than other birds—for it was a talking owl—and now it seemed that someone had chosen an owl above a Merlin which meant his own owl might be right). And the fact that he thought colorful birds would take Merlin longer than ordinary birds was an outright slight against the wizard's skills (albeit unintentional).
Merlin pointed his wand at Peter and said, "Colorful, is it? Alright—so be it!"
And then he said a spell and something exploded around Peter, and then he was a good deal smaller, and had feathers. Yellow feathers.
Oh, yes. An altogetherly** exhausting and confusing day for High King Peter to be sure.
It wasn't until Corin burst breathlessly into the hallway with his face red and hair flying and looking like he'd seen a ghost that Edmund began to wonder if something had gone wrong. Edmund jumped to his feet and caught Corin, who had tripped over the carpet and had been about to go sprawling across the floor. The prince gave him a startled look and said something like, "ED! He's a canary! The wizard's balmy, and you've got to get him out of there!" except that it was all jumbled and run together and told in breathless spurts.
"Stop," said Edmund. He set Corin back on his feet and said, "Say it again, but slower."
Corin held up a finger. "Can't…breathe…"
A young brown-haired man came stumbling through the same doorway. He looked a little relieved when he saw Corin, and a little more relieved when he saw Sir Kay beginning to rise from the bench.
"Oh, good. Has he told you about Merlin?"
"He hasn't?" The young man smacked his hand to his face and moaned. "I didn't want to be the one…"
"He's turned Peter into…into…" Corin was making a valiant effort to speak his message.
He didn't need to finish his sentence, for Kay was already cursing (knowing by experience what had happened, for Arthur hadn't been the only one the old wizard had tutored) and Edmund was lunging toward the door, half drawing his sword, because if the high king was in danger…
There was a mumble from inside, and the door lock jammed. Edmund jerked at the knobs with all his might, beginning to get a little frantic (it happened, when Peter was in danger). Then Kay came up behind him. Suspiciously, Edmund drew his sword the rest of the way. Supposing this had been the intent—for the knights to get Merlin inside the king's chamber, to change him into something permanently or, even worse kill him? He'd assumed, since they were from Camelot, they were on his side, but now things were beginning to look differently.
"Guards, to me," he said, his voice ringing in the echoing corridor. "I warn you, sirs, not to try anything. You are far outnumbered."
But Sir Kay was shaking his head, not even stopping to look round and take in the faun draw his weapon, and the Tiger move to a defensive position on Edmund's right. He struck Edmund as the sort of person who didn't mind leaping into a fight, so it was strange (if he was truly trying to help kidnap Peter) that he had not drawn his sword.
"If this was Merlin's plan, it was not in my knowing. He will not harm your brother, I can assure you. I think he is trying to help the young king—as he helped my brother, Arthur. By turning him into…well, creatures. To broaden his mind."
"Then why has he locked the door?" Edmund growled the words through clenched teeth.
Sir Kay set out a sigh and shrugged. He held his hands out in front of him, well away from his sword. "Let me talk to him. Not that he listens to me, but as Arthur's seneschal, I've got at least a little sway."
Still scowling, Edmund hesitated and then jerked his head toward the door. He did not lower his sword, though, and said to Corin, who was watching all of this with very wide blue eyes, "Go get Peridan, and any guards you can find. NOW!"
He looked at the brown-haired man, wondering if he would be any sort of threat, but the man's eyes flickered up to meet his own mildly, and he shrugged. "My name is Dinadin, your majesty. You've probably heard how clever I am with my sword. So clever that I don't even carry it with me."
It was true. He only had a lute.
Sir Kay approached the door carefully and knocked upon it with his gauntleted fist. "Merlin? Keep up the good work and you'll get us all killed. If you don't open this door right away, they're going to have about fifty men with crossbows in here in less than five minutes and shoot me and Dinadin dead. And a battering ram for the door."
There came a sort of annoyed chuckle from inside. "Battering rams do not trump magical doors, Kay. Tell the other boy that his brother will be human and quite the wiser in an hour if only he will not interfere. They haven't got magic here—not my kind, anyhow. It's the chance of a lifetime for him!"
Kay gave Edmund a questioning look, and, still glowering, Edmund shook his head.
"He won't have it, Merlin. Now open the cursed thing up!"
There was a long, mournful sigh from inside, and the old man said, "Fifty men, you said? With crossbows? Arthur would never forgive me."
The door clicked, and Edmund flung himself against it. At last it swung open easily, and without a glance at the wizard (even though he actually was the threat), Edmund looked around for his brother.
A little yellow bird hopped up and down on the desk, whistling shrilly. Edmund sheathed his sword and walked across, kneeling so that he was at eyelevel with the bird. Sure enough, it had blue eyes and that worried expression (worried for a bird, anyhow) that was so characteristic of Peter.
"Great Scott," Edmund said, putting out a shaking finger toward the little bird. "Is that you, Peter?"
The bird bit his finger. Yes. It was most definitely Peter.
"Serinus canaria domestica," Merlin said, sounding very academic as he poured himself a cup of tea (where had that tea kettle come from, Edmund wondered, and all those books?). "Canaries are renowned for their bright yellow color (we did want color, didn't we, King Peter?) and their lovely aptitude for song."
"Listen," Edmund shook his stinging finger, sending Peter a look, and turned to glare at Merlin. "You may be a wizard from the legendary days of England, but you are now in Narnia. The laws of this world and court are far different from the ones you may be accustomed to. That being said: Turn. Him. Back."
"Aha ha ha," Merlin laughed, the twinkle back in his eye, "The other young king. You know, Kay, you were always a little jealous of Arthur's lessons. Perhaps young Edmund would like to be turned into…a Merlin, or some other beast of wing?"
"No thanks," Edmund said, narrowing his eyes. "Will you change him back? I'm sure the noble Canaries of Narnia would not mind having the High King number among the ranks of their race, but I don't particularly care to have a bird-brain for a brother—nor will my noble sisters, I think."
"Ah." Merlin raised his bushy eyebrows. "I could make you all canaries."
"Not the point, Merlin," Kay put in.
"This seems to be a great misunderstanding," the wizard said, sipping his tea thoughtfully. "You see, I mean to change him back eventually. The entire purpose of his transformation was to teach him whatever lessons might be gained by living for a while within the body of a bird. He's not harmed. He can speak, if he'll only calm himself and think."
This was said with a pointed look at the Canary. It stopped its incessant tweeting and appeared to take a deep breath. "Ed. Ed. Jove, I can talk! Ed, I'm alright. Don't hurt him or I might be stuck like this—" and then he appeared to comprehend what he had just said, sank into a little yellow ball of fluff on the desk, and proceeded to look like the most depressed Canary anyone had ever seen.
"Stand down," Edmund said to the guards. Then, to Merlin (and Kay), "Forgive me for assuming the worst. I see now that you don't mean us any harm. But much as we appreciate your kind offer of instructing us in this somewhat other than orthodox method, we prefer to trust in our advisors, experiences, and Aslan for our knowledge."
Merlin shook his head. "You too! You boys are some of the most unimaginative and boring youths…what kind of people are there in this county, anyway? Wart never…ah, but you've been kings already. You've had a chance to learn where he did not." He eyed the two boys (or rather, the one boy and one Canary) a little differently, with a bit more respect. "This is all most interesting. I shall have to tell Arthur about this. It is refreshing to see two youths such as he becoming kings even younger than he was when he was crowned and still turn out alright. Gives me hope. In fact, I've learned a few things I may take back in time to teach him (I live backwards, you know)."
He stood, tapped his wand on the table (everybody stared as the books and teapot lined up and floated back inside his bag), and turned to look at Kay. "Well then. We're done here. Where have Lancelot and Gawain got to? Off charming all the ladies of the place I shouldn't wonder."
He looked as though he was about to leave. Edmund cleared his throat. "Sir. Will you change my brother back?"
"Oh, that." Merlin scratched his head and muttered, "Now what was that spell?" He scratched his head and tugged at his beard, but at last shrugged. "Forgot it. It happens all the time. Don't worry, though. As a precautionary measure, I've made it to wear off in an hour. Just keep him away from falcons and cats."
The depressed Canary let out a harrumph, and Edmund, for the first time in the strange situation, had to fight back a grin.
The wizard swept out on the same path as he had come, Kay and Edmund and Dinadin and about a dozen guards trailing in their wakes. Corin had found Susan and Lucy as well as calling Peridan to aid (Peridan was left to guard the Canary-Peter, who refused to go out and farewell the wizard and knights), so they came with Gawain and Lancelot in their company to where the horses had been brought back out.
"I should have liked to have stayed," Gawain said to Lucy, grinning and accepting the somewhat wilted flower she offered him, "but Merlin seems rather in a rush to move on. Arthur needs him constantly, anyhow. Don't know what we'd do without him, back in Camelot."
"Just as well," Lucy said. And then, with a giggle, "Once you leave, I'm going to try to teach Peter to fly."
She had not been very much alarmed to hear that her brother was a bird. Lucy, unlike the others, had a far greater trust in Aslan to protect her family and see that all was well, and if it was Aslan's will that Peter remain a bird for the rest of his days, then Lucy would simply have to accept it. She was glad, however, that in this case he would not (remain a bird forever), which meant that she had to take every opportunity to…enjoy the situation.
Susan still struggled with whether or not to say something about Guinevere to Lancelot, but at last she decided to let it be. She was also rather worried about Peter (feeling that she should actually leave the company and rush to him to make sure he was alright, but feeling a certain duty as hostess to her guests as well), and that made her absentminded. She almost blushed when Lancelot swept her a bow and kissed her hand, because even though she'd gotten used to the courtesy paid her by knights of the land, this was Lancelot, and he definitely grew more handsome to look upon once one understood his character and personality a little better.
"My lady," he said, holding her gaze a second longer than perhaps was proper. "Would it be forward of me to ask for a favor from your most gracious hand? As it is likely I may never chance to come to your fair court again, it would be something to…remind me of your gracious hospitality and kindness to me and my fellows."
She smiled at him, and gave him one of her embroidered handkerchiefs (one of the dainty silk ones she kept about her simply so that when men asked for her favor, she didn't have to give them one of her actual handkerchiefs, which were really made of cotton and were much more useful than the silk kind people expected a queen to carry). It was a very knightly and romantic gesture, and she supposed that it was alright, although a bit strange to think that sometime in history, Lancelot had ridden about with her handkerchief. A professor she had once known would have had something to say about that.
Edmund (who still looked suspiciously at Merlin) shook hands with Kay and apologized again and thanked him. It was a very gruff farewell.
Corin gave Dinadin two apple tarts (he had asked for them, this time, and Cook recognized the significance of the deed and gave them to him). They exchanged a grin, and Corin realized that he had an awful lot of older brothers for an only child (and Dinadin started appreciating his idiot brother a little better afterwards).
About Peter the Canary, there is little more to be said, except that he remained such until the riders from Camelot were far out of sight of the castle Cair Paravel, and well out of reach of his sword (though it was generally agreed thereafter that he had learned, and therefore everyone at the Cair had learned, the significance of meddling in the affairs of wizards).
When Peter did change back, he was very cross for the rest of the day, and refused to eat any sort of poultry for the next week. However, he soon became his usual cheerful (for the most part) self, and was thereafter noticed to have a remarkably good singing voice for a boy his age.
*In French, one creates an adverb by adding "ment" (exceptions do exist) on the end of an adjective or such. The author of this story suggests that it should be possible to do thusly in English, except, of course, with 'ly'. Hence the somewhat improper but more easily read beginning sentence of this chapter.
**See above note.
A/N: Thanks so much to everyone who stuck with me through the long period of no-updates. :) Forsooth, thine loyalty and encouragement hath given this story an ending at long last. It's funny, because when I first had the idea, it seemed silly, but I liked it. And then it turned out there were other people like me out there, who thought it was silly but they liked it too.
So, thank you, fellow Arthurian legends know-it-alls, Narnians, and those who are a little of both. For letting me know I'm not the only one who thinks Merlin turning Peter into a canary is good entertainment...:D