Originally submitted for the 2011 Narnia Fic Exchange. Many thanks to turkeyish for the prompt and lady_songsmith for the beta!
"As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being." — Carl G. Jung
Base Camp, Glasswater, Narnia. Thirdweek March, 1008.
He knew without opening his eyes that Turvalin was currently standing at the door of his tent, patiently waiting for acknowledgment. The last thing he wanted to do was move—he found himself at that perfect juxtaposition of warmth under the blankets and furs while the morning cold hit his nose. He breathed in the crisp air and snuggled deeper into his cot. Still, the squire would not go away—Edmund could hear him impatiently shifting from hoof to hoof.
"Your Majesty, your brother the High King has requested you meet him for breakfast. We will start to pack once you've gone to meet him."
"Mmm." It was both a protest and an exclamation of comfort.
He heard Turvalin drop something on the camp desk that clamored and slowly came to a rest. His armor, presumably, carefully cleaned overnight. "I shall tell his Majesty that you will meet him presently?" There was a flap of heavy fabric being lifted and falling, and Edmund was once again alone. The satyr was obviously not interested in waiting for an answer.
It was the one morning they would spare themselves from their drills. It was apparent that he did indeed sleep in later than usual, though it was still much too early for his tastes. However, they did need to leave fairly early to keep to the schedule Peter had sent along with the Hawk.
Surely, though, his brother would allow him an extra hour of recuperation, of sleep. For once, his dreams were surprisingly sweet, with flashes of grand feasts, fast horses, and pretty Archenlander girls with their shiny tresses pulled back in simple braids. Those types of blissful dreams were rare, and he attempted to return to them, sinking deeper into the furs. The sound of the waves hitting the shore not two dozen yards outside his tent was slowly succeeding in lulling him back...he urged his horse faster, the trickle of laughter from behind...
A sudden thunk! of his armor settling ruined that opportunity, and his body jerked awake with a start. Damn.Edmund slowly opened his sleep-crusted eyes, recoiling in dismay at the glowing brightness of his canvas tent. The thick taste of rum still hung on his lips, and most likely, breath. Were Lucy to be here and smell it on him at breakfast, she would most likely have turned her nose up in distaste.
As if she were one to talk, Edmund thought. She was the one that doubled the Galman rum order to begin with.
Edmund inhaled deeply, exhaling in a yawn. It seemed that a few of the Cats of his personal squad had been successful in their predawn hunt, and the aroma of potato and venison stew was penetrating his tent. His stomach emitted an impatient grumble in response. The combination of his dream and his hangover made him exceptionally hungry that morning.
Squinting against the dull light, Edmund sat up, immediately regretting the speed of doing so as his head gave a few pounds in protest. Turvalin had laid out his clothing on the stool next to him, as expected, and after quickly donning them against the cold, he reached under his cot, fishing for the flopped over pair of new boots.
Once he was all buckled in, Edmund sat back on his cot, propping himself up on his elbows. It was a rare morning, indeed. Despite having a slightly nauseous—hungry—stomach and a dull headache, he expected much, much worse. There should have been the night sweats. There should have been the familiar feelings of falling, falling, falling, or the heavy weight on his chest, as if a goblin was sitting on him, squeezing the air out of his lungs...
The dark thoughts started fingering their way into his consciousness, and Edmund forced himself to snap his attention back to the present. The previous night was a gift, and it was stupid to have let his mind wander so.
Hearing voices outside his tent, Edmund was reminded that his brother was most likely waiting for him, and he eventually stood up. A feeling of soreness from several days of flight still clung to his legs, and he was hesitant to fully stretch. He decided against it. He trudged over the wash basin and reached in to splash his face, but stopped. The cold water would only wake him up further, as stretching would have, something he was equally not interested in doing. He shook his hands dry and after strapping on one of his knife holsters, he emerged from his tent to face the day.
And instantly regretted it. Normally, Edmund would have found the cool dampness of the seashore invigorating, especially after a good hour of morning drills. This grey overcast morning, however, with the ocean breeze and the sounds of morning camp made him want nothing more than to return to his tent, crawl back into his cot and pull the furs up to his chin against the chill.
"Good morning, your Majesty," a nearby Crane purred at him, while two of his fellow compatriots followed suit with louder, whooping calls, wishing him morning greetings and blessings towards his sister. Susan was always a favorite amongst the Cranes, having been honored to learn their dance two summers prior.
Edmund acknowledged the greetings with a halfhearted salute and started on his way. The longer he could delay speaking in the morning, the better it was for everyone. The gulls around him scuttled this way and that, clearing a path as he continued down the beach, following the edge of camp towards the enticing smells, and, rather unfairly, his brother's tent right by them.
This morning, Glasswater was not looking up to its name—the early spring storm a few miles off shore the previous evening had churned the normally clear water into a swirling grey mass with dwarf-high waves breaking closer to shore than normal. What storm debris was still left on shore was slowly being collected by beautiful naiads. Edmund had learned years before that this was not done out of necessity, but as a courtesy to the soldiers. The stench of decaying seaweed and tiny crab carcasses was not the most pleasant thing to some of the encampment, even though several of the beasts mentioned that they didn't mind it as much. The Crows in particular seemed to be reveling in the task, swooping down through the camp smoke, snatching meaty morsels, and returning up to their perches on the remaining tent poles.
Edmund gazed admiringly upon one of the enchanting creatures who had just picked up a mass of black, tangled weeds. After flashing him a beatific, distant smile and a wave in return, the dark-headed naiad tossed the seaweed clump back into the ocean, a trail of water streaming behind it. Edmund heard laughter farther out and saw that a pale head had emerged, reaching a sinewy hand up to catch it, followed by a quick dive—and a flicker of a tail a split second later. The mermaids and the naiads were apparently making a game of their task. Edmund had a slight urge to join in, but exhaustion and hunger won out. He instead turned his attention back to where the smoke from the fire was originating, and lazily made his way away from the beach.
Edmund and Peter's respective tents were on opposite sides of the encampment. Peter found it a good idea to have a monarch flanking each side of the army, with a captain in the front and in the rear, for tactical reasons. Deep down, Edmund believed it was because when they first went on campaigns together, Peter would be annoyed by the late night candlelight and shuffling of papers as Edmund would be by Peter's cheerful, overtly loud morning conversations. They never could even comfortably share a room, let alone a small Narnian tent. Wait, when did we ever share a room again?
Edmund heard before he saw his brother. Really, the loudness of his brother in the morning could be borderline absurd at times. It was no exception this morning as the laughter bounced around the enclosure of his section of camp. Edmund saw Peter talking animatedly with his helmet in hand and his sword in the other, eventually handing the former over to the faun on the receiving end of his morning instructions. The young squire, already balancing the remainder of his armor, perched it on top of his pile, and with a respectful if not precarious bow, quickly strode off. By the condition of the metal pieces, Edmund assumed the suit was off to be cleaned. It was traditional post-battle ritual, one that Edmund had remembered to see to upon his arrival. He hadn't trusted himself to remember to have it done that morning.
"Good morning, Ed!" Peter greeted as he approached, his volume causing Edmund to flinch and halt just short of where he was planning on stopping. He swore he saw a Crow take flight from atop Peter's tent in surprise, as well. "Sleep well?"
A loaded question. Peter was aware that Edmund was occasionally prone to unpleasant nights in which he would wake up physically shaking. Those nights with the accompanying disturbing dreams of the time before, of her, often came after battle. And especially after a night of drinking away the thoughts of the day's battle.
Peter himself was never witness to this, but he knew. He always knew. He suspected that Peter could hear Edmund's rare shout that would wake even himself up from across the corridor in the middle of the night. Thank Aslan those instances are few and far between. Or maybe he had witnessed the dryad maids swiftly exiting his rooms the following mornings, aimed directly towards the laundry, sweat-soaked sheets in hand.
More than likely, though, it was Lucy telling Peter directly her own concerns over him—he really need to stop going to her with private problems. He loved her dearly and knew she was only trying to help, but the girl was simply incapable of keeping things to herself.
Edmund was relieved that none of these were the case this morning, and he gave his brother a small smile and a nod of reassurance. Peter's face brightened, and after buckling Rhindon around his waist, he turned and led the way towards breakfast.
Edmund quietly fell into step behind his brother, stifling a yawn.
While they were set to make the trek home at midmorning, the majority of their army would stay behind for several more days until the remaining parties had checked in. The section of camp that Peter's tent was located was set to stay, though there was still a hustle and bustle of preparation as those remaining helped prepare for their small party's departure. The kitchen tent, on the other hand, was always a hub of activity, and once again, Edmund inhaled the enticing scents coming from within.
"Look here, sire!" came a call just feet from where breakfast was waiting. "We stumbled across a wild grove yesterday on our way in. We're thinking of naming them Valiants, for they are the color of her Majesty's rosy cheeks!"
Peter stopped in his tracks, causing Edmund to nearly run into him. "Toss me an apple, sir."
He recognized that tone. Honestly, he can be quite insufferable, he thought as he wisely backed up. Edmund saw the soldier—Peridan, one of the colonist recruits, Edmund recalled—throw an apple up and towards his brother and simultaneously heard the sound of metal scraping against metal. In a flash, Peter had unsheathed Rhindon and had deftly sliced the apple midair. The equally sized halves landed at Peter's feet, and his brother gave one a playful nudge with his toe.
There was a lazy smatter of applause and a whistle or two from those around them while Peter wiped the juice of his blade on his pants, smiling smugly before glancing teasingly up at Edmund. A challenge.
His eyes never leaving his brother's, Edmund garbled his first words of the morning. "Throw me one as well, Peridan."
Peridan's smile grew as he dug around in his basket for one. He purposefully tossed a particularly colorful apple high up and over.
Edmund watched the arc of the fruit in anticipation, his right hand fingering the pommel of the short blade strapped to his thigh—
—and caught the apple with his left, quickly taking a large bite of it.
Edmund smiled as he chewed. He pretended to ignore the laugher and slightly less lazy applause than what Peter received, glorying in the perturbed look on his brother's face. "Truly excellent, Peridan," he said around a mouthful of fruit. "Shouldn't have dropped yours, Peter."
"Oh, shut it, you," Peter scoffed and he roughly shoved his sword back into his scabbard, turning towards the kitchen tent.
The apple was delicious, but it was making his stomach rumble further, and he eagerly stepped once again in Peter's shadow.
The line at the boiling pot in the tent was only three fauns, a man and a dwarf deep, but the soldiers stepped respectfully to the side to allow their lieges towards the front. Peter nodded to them, and made his way to the stack of wooden bowls, reaching for two of them. "I was thinking we could have breakfast at The Claws this morning. What say you?" he asked, handing Edmund a bowl.
He was never comfortable going ahead of others, but Edmund gratefully took the bowl and smiled sheepishly, bowing to the waiting soldiers. They bowed back. He felt even less comfortable.
Though it was rare that Peter and Edmund could sit and just talk, the time was much treasured, especially post battle. When they were constantly by each other's side, things were just understood and not discussed. The time to flesh things out came when they needed to. But having spent the last several days apart—Was it five or six? They all blend together—Peter apparently believed they needed to set time aside for both debriefing and for the idle chat only brothers can share. Edmund much preferred these instances to happen in the evenings over drink, but he didn't seem to have the choice this time around.
Edmund held the remaining apple in his teeth as he held out his bowl with both hands to be filled by the Bear doling out the stew. Confident he wouldn't spill, he took out the fruit and said, "It has been awhile since we've been up there, hasn't it?"
"It was last spring, I think." Peter nodded his thanks to the Bear and the other cooks in the tent and led the way back outside.
Edmund smiled again apologetically at those waiting who had quickly reformed their queue. "As long as you think we can be back in time to leave according to your schedule, I'm up for it."
Peter glanced at him over his shoulder. "According to my schedule, we have a full hour allotted just for this."
"Lead the way then."
Edmund waited until they left the encampment and headed through the clump of forest towards the giant hill before he tossed away the core. Pretty good. Lucy will be honored.
When they reached the forest's edge at the base of a large hill, Edmund tilted his head to look up at their destination. The view from that high up could at times be hit or miss. On a clear day, one could see from the rolling hills—mountains, really—for miles, stretching from far inland where the forests grew to many leagues out to sea. The forests were thick, forming an armor that prevented the dense fog from penetrating the sheltered earth. The trees, the grasses, and especially the moss glowed as greens are wont to do under the diffused, grey light of an overcast day. The breeze off the ocean had a dampness to it that if one were to stay there for long, they would feel the tackiness of salt on skin. Normally in Narnia, the winds blew from the west, save for some coastal areas such as Glasswater itself, and the clouds would at times get caught in between the two systems over their destination.
The sun was slowly burning through, though, and Edmund could already see a break of the clouds forming over the hill that Peter was swiftly leading them. It was guaranteed to be warmer up there.
In this area to the south of Narnia, the rocks that jutted out from the hills were red due to the richness in iron. They looked like big red cat's claws, earning them their name. History said that the black dwarves used to mine in this hill, way back to the days of King Frank's grandsons, but the hill was since exhausted of its resources. Though unable to offer any goods from its insides, the vantage point at the top offered some brilliant views. The brothers had passed through the area about a half dozen times before, and always found time to sneak off to climb.
Carefully balancing the steaming bowl of his breakfast, Edmund calculated his way up to where Peter was leading him—one rock jutted out impressively about three-quarters of the way up, offering a natural landing at the top, covered in shallow grasses and soft moss. The recent rains signaling the beginning of spring had greened up the entire hillside, providing quite the contrast to the red rocks. It was there that Peter wished to breakfast, at their usual spot. They climbed in silence for several minutes, picking their way through the rough terrain up towards the their destination.
They approached the north side of their destined rock, and Peter scrambled up the side, eventually launching himself over to the top. He's much too graceful at this hour. Edmund decided to take a breather underneath first, taking advantage of the coolness in the shade of the shallow cavern before he made the final scramble up the side of the hill. Not only was the day starting to heat up, but his protesting muscles were also starting to feel warm from the hike. Next time, Edmund would know better than to not stretch in the morning.
"Come out from under there and join me, Ed, it's proving to be a truly stunning day!"
Edmund soon made to join Peter up above, the red dust crumbling under his hand as he clawed for handholds. This was truly a stupid idea to try climbing single-handed while carrying a bowl of hot stew. He had no idea how his brother managed it.
Not really hot anymore now, though, is it? It would have been much smarter to have stayed under the covers and asked one of satyr aides to have brought him a bowl. How nice it would be to have breakfast-in-cot, with the luxury of taking a nap right afterwards...
"Come along, Edmund!
It wasn't fair. With Peter's taller frame, he had a longer reach, and this climb was easier for him. Edmund struggled the last few feet of their climb, barely reaching for the last handhold that hoisted him up high enough to make the last scramble over.
He finally reached high enough that he could pass the bowl to his brother, and Edmund awkwardly heaved himself up over the edge on his side, rolling onto his back in exhaustion. The bright golden sun, though still eastwards, blinded him and he quickly draped an arm over his eyes as a shield.
As Edmund lay upon the rock catching his breath, the cool swirling breeze penetrated through the thin fabric of his shirt. He had developed a sweat from his climb, and the cold air made his skin pucker under his slightly damp sleeves. Edmund kept himself still, allowing the sun and the surface warmth of the rock to seep in. He could also feel a warmth from deep within the rock, the magic emanating from underneath to match the energy the sun provided. He imagined it was the earth at work replenishing the metals that had been taken. It was truly Narnian in nature, an example of something that he had learned the past few years never to question, and it warmed him to the core. With the crook of his arm completely shading his eyes, he was tempted to stay put and let sleep catch up with him. Forget breakfast.
Edmund could hear Peter walking around the top of the rock, with the occasional sound of a boot scuffing and the loud scrape of spoon against bowl as his brother ate while he puttered about, disrupting the natural peace and quiet their perch provided. He heard the sound of a rock being loosened and falling off their perch, landing below in a crunch. So incredibly loud.A nap was just not in the stars for him. At least not in the company of Peter. Edmund sighed in resignation.
Peeking below his sleeve, Edmund could see the marine layer still creeping along the edges of Glasswater, teasing them with occasional glimpses of the sandy beaches that stretched for miles right up to the Cair. Edmund knew that the early coastal chill would be felt down there when they started their journey home along the coast, so he tried to indulge in just a few more moments of sunlight soaking through the leather of his jerkin.
A rumble in his stomach, though, reminded him that his lukewarm stew was currently sitting by his elbow. He slowly sat up and took the bowl, picking out a piece of grass that had landed in it and flicking it away. Damn it all, he thought, realizing his folly. He let out a grumble of annoyance. "Might I borrow your spoon?"
With a laugh, Peter tossed him his utensil. Apparently, he had already finished his bowl. Wiping the spoon on his breeches, he finally dug into his breakfast.
His brother let him eat in silence for a few minutes while he took in the sights. "I suppose there is going to be the usual paperwork when we get back for you, Ed. Any thoughts for the name of our campaign?"
Edmund chewed thoughtfully and swallowed before answering. "I'm thinking either 'The Great Telmar Incursion,' or just the 'Battle of Olvin Valley.' The first sounds nice and epic, something our grandchildren would surely love to read in the history tomes. However, I'm leaning towards the latter since it's more realistic. And I'm a realist."
The Telmarine rumbling on the west coast of Archenland was surprising and unexpected, and Narnia was quick in their response in coming to King Lune's aid. It was a friendship that was growing stronger and stronger since that very welcome first delegation from Anvard arrived at the gates of Cair Paravel four years prior. In solidifying and investing in their alliance by offering help with this latest confrontation, Peter hoped to be able to pull in assistance if—when—rumblings to the north towards Ettinsmoor got louder for Narnia.
But the battle with the Telmarines—Edmund thought it was strange that they would even attempt an encounter with Archenland. They were primarily a sea culture, with their country situated on the distant western shore. This was only Edmund's second time encountering them, the first being witness to a delegation the previous summer at Lune's Court. Edmund and his sisters had left Anvard before the Telmarines had, though. Judging by the last couple of weeks of battle, it was apparent that Archenland's negotiations with Telmar had not gone as smoothly as they had with Narnia.
The battle—A skirmish, really, in the grand scheme of things, he thought, stabbing at one of the many potato chunks in his stew—proved the Telmarines were vastly ineffectual as land fighters. They were archaic, even, and it was ridiculous of them to even attempt an altercation with the far superior Archenland and its allies. At least now they knew that when they fought Lune, they fought Narnia as well. Overall, it was a successful campaign, though Narnia suffered just over a dozen casualties, with about two score more injured. They could have fared worse, even though Edmund had lost several members of his own company. Sometimes the stupidest of fighters could cause the most damage, and Edmund was annoyed that he lost one of his best throwing knives to such a pathetic army. A petty loss, he knew, given the grand scheme of things. In actuality, the battle did not rest easy on Edmund's mind.
That was all nearly a week ago, and following the battle, Narnia's army broke apart upon their return home. Some groups combed the narrow north-south border of Archenland, picking off the stragglers from the Telmarine army that they witnessed fleeing once they realized all was lost. Another two groups of soldiers traveled south to serve as delegates, Mr. Tumnus being in their company, to pay a quick spring visit to Calormen. The Calormenes never trusted the long silence from Narnia during the winter months, and each year Tumnus would have to return to smooth their tensions and convince them that, no, the slight was not intentional, that their absence was merely one out of pure inconvenience due to the weather, and no, the Witch had not returned.
Edmund found that last part preposterous, but whenever he thought on it, he could feel his heart slipping. He shook his head and scraped the last of the stew out of his bowl. We should just set up an embassy of some sort to put all that nonsense to a rest, he thought, though he knew how difficult it would be to find Narnian representatives who both Calormen would find satisfying and who wouldn't mind taking up residence in Tashbaan.
Peter and Edmund had also split up on their return, only just reuniting the evening before. While Peter made a straight-shot across Archenland with his company of soldiers, complete with a night or two's stay in Anvard, Edmund had taken a squad with him along to the north along Glasswater Creek. Flying on a gryphon, Edmund zigzagged above the hills while his bands of mountain Cats and centaurs slowly swept through the thick forests, scouring the area for renegade Telmarines and any last remnants of the Witch's army that still seemed to come out of the woods from time to time.
It was a tedious and dangerous journey that threw Edmund into the role of the reluctant leader once again. Edmund knew he made a good commander, a logical and effective one, but the novelty of it just did not appeal to him as much as he imagined it would at one time of his life. But then again, the alternative of following anyone didn't appeal to him, either, save for his brother.
"It's a pity you weren't with us at Anvard, Ed," Peter interjected. "They had in residence several of the fabled Elephants of Southern Archenland. They were truly a sight to behold!"
That piqued his interest. Peter's methods of idle chatter tended to be effective with Edmund, even at times such as this when he didn't feel much like talking. He set his bowl aside. "Elephants? Were they talking Beasts?"
Peter stepped off from the highest point of the red rock and sat down to join him, unstrapping Rhindon in the process. "They didn't say anything," he said, laying his sword alongside him and lifting his face to the morning sun. "But they had that look about them, you know? I caught one eying me up awfully closely for merely a dumb beast." Peter looked over and gave his temple a few taps. "Regardless, Lune was at least honoring them with the respect such magnificent creatures deserved."
"I do wish I could have seen them."
Peter nodded and looked closely at Edmund. "Reports coming from the west and south indicate everything is going quite well."
"That's relieving to hear," Edmund simply replied.
"It seems that you were stuck with the most difficult journey."
Peter was obviously fishing. "I really don't mind," Edmund said. It was only a slight fib. "There is no better place on—or off, rather—earth for reflection than on the back of a swift-winged gryphon. Being able to observe at such height puts things in a very unique perspective." Edmund noticed a small clump of grass growing in one of the many cracks on the rock and started to pick at the leaves. "There are times that I rather like feeling small."
A hard concept, he was sure, for someone so larger than life as Peter was to even understand. His brother didn't respond, though, and they sat in further silence. They were content for a while, enjoying the brief respite in the sun. Edmund looked over his shoulder and noticed the clouds gathering again in the west. There was definitely another bout of strong weather looming, possibly bringing with it another storm. He turned back and concentrated on splitting a leaf of grass down the middle.
Edmund was quite aware that he would get very self-reflective post-battle. He always had, ever since the First Battle of Beruna. At first, it was purely a reaction of shock. These days, it was out of second-guessing, strategizing after the fact, making sure he had all the details, and to learn from their mistakes so as not to repeat them the next time around.
On top of all that, it offered Edmund time to appreciate his surroundings, what they all had and what they fought for. And to talk to Aslan, whether he was listening or not, for he was making fewer and fewer calls as their reign progressed. Perhaps they were doing things right. Edmund hoped that they were.
"I do not like the idea of a potential enemy on the west, though, Peter," Edmund finally admitted. The fact that they never had even considered the possibility of facing a second threat, as idle as it was, was worrisome. "Maybe we should have driven them back farther into the Wilds, proven more of a point."
"I wouldn't worry about it. This was just a rare occurrence. We're dealing with a seafaring people, after all. It's not as if this world is round and they'll come storming our eastern shore anytime in the near future. That's just silly."
Peter's point made perfect sense to Edmund. Though, so did the concept of a round world. That didn't seem quite as foreign an idea as it should, but then again, he was a thinker and explored most possibilities at least once. Edmund ripped up a few more blades and started tearing them into little pieces.
From their vantage point, the brothers could see down at the bottom of hill where formations of fauns, satyrs and centaurs were gathering. The morning drills would have been already completed—these were obviously the day's training exercises for those in the encampment that were staying behind. There was a natural slope of a large lawn right at the foot of The Claws but just before a cliff that fell shortly to the ocean. It was a truly beautiful section of Narnia, and there were much worse places for one to have to spend hours upon hours training.
The wind could not easily carry the sounds from this high up, but Edmund could hear the occasional call and response of the training songs used by their troops drift up their way on the breeze. Deceptively pretty melodies, ones that his sisters delighted in when they first heard them and would echo as they danced down the halls. Or, rather, Susan would sing them, while Lucy was the one that laughed and danced along. The melody the soldiers were singing now was one that Susan often sang.
His mind drifted to his elder sister. Susan's voice was certainly lovely. It reminded him of someone he once heard, long ago, perhaps on one of their state visits. One of the singers in Lune's Court that first time we visited? When she sang, mainly in the privacy of her siblings, she had the voice of a soothing alto, dark in color. Not at all like his sister Lucy's bright, clear voice...when Lucy was in tune, that is. Edmund and Susan were the only ones with the gift. When Lucy and Peter sang, they would make quite the musical journey across the various keys they would pass through. But Lucy's voice was beautiful nonetheless, in its own special way.
The soldiers below broke into a brief interweaving harmony, the phrase of movements matching the melody they each respectively sang. His sisters weren't too far off—the simpler movements certainly did read as a dance at first glance.
"It's a pity," Edmund sighed. "The thaw is over, Narnia is green again, the days are growing longer...and all it does is prompt stupid people into doing idiotic things such as attacking our friends, keeping us away from what there is to enjoy," Edmund said with disdain. The Telmarine army had first struck Archenland on the first full moon of spring two weeks prior—a time when blood boils and war is once again thirsted for after a long winter. "And it's just going to get worse next month on the next full moon, as it does every year."
Peter nodded. "Well, as they say, 'April is the cruelest month.'"
"What?" Edmund questioned, flicking a bit of grass off the rock. "Who says that?"
His brother's brows furrowed with his frown. "You know...I don't know," Peter admitted. "I'm sure I heard it somewhere. Maybe...maybe in that other place?"
That other place.A distant memory, one that only Susan seemed to have a clearer grasp on. In the first few years of their reign, of all his siblings, she would mention allusions to their murky past the most. Ones that the rest of them would be slow to recall, if at all. At first, they made the effort to reminisce with her, even setting time aside to do just so. But it became harder and harder for the three of them to remember than it did for Susan, not to mention their growing lack of interest in even trying. It led to much frustration on her part.
"I wish Mother were here. She would make you one of her tall chiffon cakes to at least take with you." It had been a couple weeks prior, when word had just come through from Anvard—they were set to leave immediately, and Susan had called upon him in his rooms as he packed in preparation. She had draped herself in the overstuffed chair by the window. "Do you recall the time, Ed, before that war, when she took us all to that park for your birthday picnic? I want to say it was Victor...Victory Park, or something of the sort."
And she's off again, Edmund had thought. "Mind handing me that book by your feet, Su?"
"Oh, of course." She had reached down to pick up the journal and held it out to him. "You and Peter have never left so early in the year on a campaign before. I do wish you could stay around for a few days, even if you can't wait until after your birthday."
"If we only had the choice," he had muttered, more to himself. Edmund had leafed through the book, deciding it was worth packing—it had enough blank pages in it that weren't occupied with his random lists, scribbles and sketches. Telmarines? What the hell do they have to gain in threatening Archenland? Edmund had thought as he shoved the book in his leather sack. He had looked up to see Susan gazing sadly out the window towards the bright morning light. "Perhaps you can arrange for a cake upon our return, hmm?"
"It's not the same," she had turned her attention back to the room and smoothed the imaginary wrinkles in her dress. "Nothing could beat Mother's cakes with her wonderful lemon glaze."
Leaning against his desk, Edmund had merely looked down to watch Susan's hands idly move across her skirts. Poor, dear Susan."I'm sorry, I don't remember them," he had gently admitted. "Or her anymore, to be honest."
Susan had looked up to meet his eyes. "But Mother!" she had exclaimed. "You don't—you don't at all?"
Edmund could only shake his head in response, and had turned away to finish gathering parchment and ink from his desk. He hated seeing her like this. I should really consider acquiring a larger bag, one that could fit all the contents of my desk that I am loathe to leave behind.
But Susan had not been done pleading. "What about...what about how Mother used to hold you—and you would sing together, back when you were very young. Don't you remember?"
The way Susan would always conclude those talks with that last desperate question brought out a sense of guilt in Edmund. It was apparent that that connection between him and his mother, something he could vaguely remember even at the best of times, obviously meant something to her. "But you even have her eyes, Ed!"
After a few years, Susan had slowly given up on mentioning it, the instance a few weeks prior being the first in many months. As they recalled their past less and less, she pushed for them to remember fewer times than before. Whether she slowly started to in turn forget or not, Edmund did not know. It never even occurred to him to ask. For some reason, though, he felt that Susan never gave up, would work against the trickle, the easy feeling of forgetting that they all felt. Edmund knew it was a puzzle that haunted Susan, presenting a logic she just couldn't explain.
Edmund realized he was the most understanding of Susan, knowing what it feels like to have something weigh heavily on your heart and soul. Though even his sister would be the first to admit that whatever haunts her memories pales in comparison to those that haunt his—what he would give for flashbacks of warm eyes and close hugs.
"It hasn't been exactly fair for you, has it?" Peter asked, interrupting his thoughts.
Edmund felt a pang of anxiety in his gut at the direction his brother's conversation was taking them. "How do you mean?"
Peter took a moment before responding, his focus momentarily taken by the troops training below. A lone voice sang out three notes, and a chorus responded, swords thrusting in unison. "What was thrown at us when we first arrived. We were all quite young, granted. But I don't know if I could have handled what you had to at the age you were. I barely managed at thirteen." The chorus split up in two parts, one half advancing in treble, the other retreating in a baritone harmony. "And now this. This going off to battle every spring, as we have for the past several years."
Edmund didn't say anything. He stretched out one foot in front of him and noticed the toe of his boot looking rather worn. A little too worn.
"It isn't fair that you never got a proper childhood. Boys should be collecting bugs, playing games with friends, climbing trees...or even having pretend battles with stick swords." Peter looked pointedly at Edmund. "No boy, no child should have gone through what you have."
"Are those things you did when you were ten, Peter?" he countered.
Peter looked thoughtful. "I don't know. I don't remember much of being a child—but that's just part of growing up, I'm sure."
His brother had a point. Perhaps that was the reason their past was so blurry. Maybe Susan just has an extraordinary memory.He considered filing it away to think upon further, but since he didn't bring a journal with him to breakfast, he was likely to forget to add it to his daily scribbles of random thoughts.
"We were all forced to practically grow up overnight, weren't we, though? None as much as you have, Peter, I'm sure. Or Lucy," Edmund added.
His brother emphatically shook his head. "I disagree. I've always been used to being the eldest, taking care of you lot." He said the last bit lightly. "And Lucy had the benefit of always having the three of us to look after her. None of us had to overcome the obstacles that you did."
Edmund was silent. They were teetering into dangerous territory. His heart was racing with the anticipation of finally sharing, of letting go of the troubling thoughts he shared with no one. But there was also the fear of dredging things up, bringing them to the surface and making them even more apparent. He preferred to keep things buried, when on the good days they would rarely make themselves known. That part of him was holding tightly to the dark thoughts, putting up a good fight in not wanting to let go.
"Do you feel her, Edmund?"
Edmund felt a cramp form under his bent leg and stretched it out. It was the one question he had hoped his siblings would never ask, inevitable as it was. He was unsure what it was that had finally prompted Peter to ask this after all these years. Edmund sighed. "Yes. No... I—I'm not sure how to describe it," he said. "I don't feel like I did when she was alive and present."
Peter kept quiet, listening intently. A draft of wind came from behind, ruffling his light hair out of place.
"But there is something there, something that is growing," Edmund admitted, his voice cracking. He started picking more grass and shredding them in a pile. "It's a dark place. I don't feel in control of it, and that frightens me. That not even the brightest days in Narnia could ever make it go away."
"You mean like a shadow?" Peter prodded gently.
Edmund swallowed. He felt suddenly exposed, sitting with his brother discussing such things out in the open on top of The Claws. "Yes. Yes, like a shadow," he said. "It's a dark and heavy weight that I cannot shake off, and I can't tell if it's me or just an imprint that—that she left on me."
"Well, there's nothing wrong with shadows, Ed. You can't have shadows without light, after all."
"But you can have light without a shadow," Edmund countered. "Right?"
That gave Peter pause. "That's true," he slowly said. "But it doesn't seem very bright without the comparison."
Edmund looked dumbly over at his brother. "It's been eight years of this, Peter. Eight years of the nightmares, of waking up not knowing where I am, not being able to breathe." His brother had no idea what it was like to have her influence inhabit his very being. It was a feeling he would not wish on anybody, and there was no way for Peter, nor anyone else, to ever comprehend what it all entailed, save for the Lion himself. "Are you saying that I should feel this way?" he scoffed.
"I did not say that." Peter reached over and placed a hand on Edmund's shoulder. "She is gone, Edmund. Truly gone. And we are on the brink of fully annihilating her remaining followers."
"Yes, I am fully aware of that, Peter," Edmund snapped in reply, shaking his brother's hand off. Only too aware, and it was easy for Peter to say this. He wasn't the one to have encountered the remnants the past couple of years. No matter if it was luck or by the will of Aslan, Edmund was not amused by the odds working in Peter's favor in that regard.
"Stop it. I am also fully aware of the circumstances," Peter admonished, his voice rising. "I know, and I am truly sorry you have had to take on the brunt of it yourself these past few times."
Edmund glared darkly at the pile of shredded grass. Those last few times amounted to five bloody altercations, which led to six fatalities. Seven, Edmund corrected himself, thinking of the other night. Seven of whom I considered my friends.
"But how much of this really is about her? You said before that you can't feel her directly anymore, right? Not like when she was alive?"
Edmund nodded slowly. He did say that earlier, that it was vastly different than before. The release had begun before she even died, back when the wand had been broken. He remembered the feeling of hearing the wand snap under his sword, how his breath was literally taken away, struck with a sense of shock that left him momentarily dazed. That same moment that left him completely numb and vulnerable. The mental force was gone, swiftly replaced with the physical one in which she struck him down in retaliation.
And then Peter came, and then Aslan, and then Lucy, and then it was all over. In a span of mere minutes, the physical pain was released, the psychological attack—though slightly eased after his talk with Aslan that dewy morning—had ceased, and Edmund was left behind with this shadow.
"And the nightmares. Are they nightly?" Peter continued. "Are they a regular occurrence, or do they happen more when you're reminded of what happened before?"
Edmund considered the most recent instances, including the night before last. He had slept under the stars, but had woken up in the middle of the night feeling constrained, not being able to move. They had only just burned the last minotaur hours prior at sunset and buried good Kavalus the Leopard soon after when the moon rose. "I suppose it's the latter."
"And you actually slept well last night, did you not?" Peter questioned.
Edmund blinked. "I did, actually," he conceded.
Peter sat back and looked up to the sky. "The memories will never go away, Ed. You just cannot let the darkness of her memory overtake you. You're not fighting her demons anymore. It sounds more like you're fighting your own," Peter concluded.
Edmund understood what his brother was saying, but didn't completely agree. She'll always be a part of me, Pete. Even if she does seem to be gone.
"Suppose I am mainly fighting my own demons then, as you say. Then I wish there was something to fill the dark place. I'd like to feel whole, and I don't know if that's possible," Edmund muttered, looking back down at his grass pile. He spread them out on the red rock with the palm of his hand.
"You already are whole," Peter's tone had softened, and he waited until Edmund had shifted his attention out towards the grey sea before continuing. "It's merely an aspect of yourself you have yet to master. But it's who you are now. Our experiences shape us, after all."
"Even though my experiences are of the most wicked sort," Edmund added.
"Yes, even though," Peter agreed. "You have a brilliant mind, Ed. Maybe there's a way you can find a way to embrace this shadow aspect and use it to your advantage. You're King—you have the power to do that."
The musical sounds of the training exercises from below drifted to a close. There was one last call from the leader, and one chorus response that Edmund found himself automatically humming along with. The company broke formation and individuals formally clasped their mock opponents' arms in respect before drifting back towards camp.
Edmund glanced over at Peter and found him gazing proudly on the departing soldiers.
His brother eventually turned back to him with a hesitant smile. "You know, we all have our own shadows, Edmund," Peter admitted.
Edmund stared dumbly at his brother. He could not imagine what sort of troubled thoughts Peter may possess. True, he had the expected challenges and difficulties of being High King, but he managed to take them all in stride, being the strong and charismatic leader that he was. And Lucy! Brilliant Lucy, with her bright eyes of constant mirth and hope...what dark aspects could they ever possess within themselves?
"We are all like the moon up there," Peter said, pointing above. There was still a dwindling patch of blue sky between the greyness above the ocean and the system from the west, and the small half-moon peeked through. "You can't fault her for her darker half, can you? She waxes and wanes—it's just her nature and nothing will change that. We can't change her. We have no business in doing so."
Edmund met his brother's kind gaze. Sometimes Peter had the ridiculous ability to state something in the simplest of terms, things that would take Edmund an entire afternoon to comprehend and define. But it was true, all of what he said. "This is getting all too allegorical for my tastes," Edmund sniffed.
"But it all makes sense, doesn't it?"
Edmund didn't say anything. He watched a gust of wind blow away the grass pieces, leaving only a few behind. He slowly brushed away the rest.
Peter sighed in frustration, causing Edmund to look up. Peter looked like he didn't believe he had gotten point across. Edmund, for some reason or another, chose not to assure him that he had and stayed quiet.
"Who knows what the future holds, Ed. You've come far these past eight years since our coronation, and I am very proud of you. And you're still growing, after all," Peter offered. "Maybe it's just a hint of growing pains that are affecting you—I know I've experienced my share," he said, turning to face the sea.
It was much to think about. He was glad there were still a few days' journeying before they arrived at the gates of Cair Paravel, and even more glad that he had blank pages left in his journal. There were many thoughts to organize, thoughts that were best considered in the solitude that only flight provided. I need to master the art of writing while balancing on a flying gryphon.
And when they got home, he was eager to consult with Susan. Lately, she seemed to be there more for him, to thoughtfully approach him when she noticed him out of sorts. The offer was there, his for the taking, but perhaps Edmund had just been too unready, too immature to seek out her counsel. Maybe it was time to remedy that.
Peter stood up and stretched. "Come on," he said, kicking Edmund's boot. "We best be off before it starts raining. And it looks like there's still quite a bit of progress that needs to be made down in camp before we can head out."
His mind still whirling with everything his brother said, Edmund braced himself to stand. With a groan, Edmund slowly staggered to his feet.
"Sore?" Peter teased.
Edmund grunted again and gave his side a slight stretch. "Quite." When flying on a gryphon, there was no walk to trot to canter to run. There was just fly, and his entire body was feeling all five—Six?—days of doing just that. His back protested as he stooped down to pick up their two bowls from breakfast.
His brother strapped Rhindon back around his waist. "Maybe we should have gotten up and done our drills," Peter offered. "You'd feel a lot better then."
Edmund merely glared at his brother and rudely gestured for him to lead the way. After a mock salute and a laugh, Peter sat on the edge of the rock and launched himself down to the small landing below. Once he tossed the bowls down to Peter, Edmund did the same, and the brothers started their trek down.
The edge of a large storm cloud had already swallowed the waning moon and was swiftly threatening taking the sun with it. The breeze also picked up at that time, blowing a strong chill wind amongst the wild green grasses that were slowly replacing the mossy rocks the closer they got to the bottom. Edmund looked down and saw a few tiny purple blooms peeking along the trail. Crocuses, he proudly remembered. And amongst those, taller stalks—"Those are daffodils, Ed, just like the ones on Susan's crown!" Lucy had taught him—were on the brink of blooming, their tight pale green and yellow buds ready to open.
Edmund got lost in the wild beauty, absolutely amazed that one hillside alone could provide a shower of reds, greens, yellows, and purples, all glowing in the grey light of the morning. This is what we fought for, he reminded himself. And the reason why I still feel the way I do after all these years.
"Ow! Damn it." Edmund was so caught up in his thoughts that he did not notice the jutting rock until it was too late.
Peter stopped and turned. "What's wrong?"
"My foot." Edmund stooped down and gave his now exposed big toe a poke. A dumb move, and he hissed in pain. "It's bleeding. My boot is completely worn through—I just dragged my foot against the rock here."
Peter took a step up to bend over and take a look for himself. "You'll live."
"I know, it's the principle of the matter," Edmund retorted. Ow.
Peter looked back and forth between his boots. "Didn't you just have those made?"
"Yes, and they're still not completely broken in, either. Damn. I don't think they're even worth fixing. Come to mention it," Edmund paused, wiggling his toes, "The right one also feels rather tight. Damn," he repeated. "I rather liked these..."
"Well, you're a growing boy!" Peter said, with a rough, yet affectionate, rub to his head.
Edmund slapped him away. "Oi, cut it out..."
Peter merely laughed and continued down the rocky path. Edmund tucked the flap of leather around his red, sticky toe, and followed him.
His thoughts soon returned to their earlier conversation. Peter did have an interesting idea of using his own state of mind to his advantage, maybe even taking the whole idea literally. Why not? I like keeping to the dark corners. If it was an element and tactic that he could actually embrace, as his brother suggested, he could use it to help protect Narnia. He could stick to the shadows where he could remain the keen observer without attracting attention. Pick up on the subtle cues and energies that his brother might miss in at state dinners, political negotiations, or even the battlefield.
I could leave the light to Peter, Edmund thought. Edmund didn't particularly like being the center of attention anyway. He preferred quiet acknowledgement of his achievements over public recognition. He had been in the spotlight once before, and that was enough for him.
"I hope my armor is ready. Have to look good for home and to face the subjects, after all," Peter jokingly called back to him. "And let's make sure to grab some of those apples for Lucy. She'll be absolutely delighted to see them, especially at this time of year."
Edmund didn't answer and instead concentrated on climbing down a tricky part of the path, trying his best to ignore the sting in his toe.
The sun had finally succumbed to the threat of the storm clouds just as they reached the halfway point off the small mountain. The two stopped for a short respite before continuing. Edmund observed that climbing down could be deceptively harder than climbing up. The brothers looked out towards the east and noticed a second wave of soldiers were arriving at the grounds, lining up in formations to begin the ritualistic training exercises.
"You really need not be so hard on yourself, Edmund," Peter said, breaking the silence. Edmund broke his gaze from the troops to look at him. "After all, whatever struggles I have faced over the years, you have also taken upon yourself and have handled it all brilliantly, even at such a young age as you were when we were first crowned."
Edmund looked down at his bloody toe, uncomfortable with the praise his brother was offering. "Really, Peter..." A gust of wind came up, blowing a dark lock into his eyes and in the distance came the first roll of thunder.
Peter merely shrugged. "Well, it's true," he said. He turned to look over the soldiers as they began singing. "You've grown a lot. And you teach me how to be a better leader every day." Without waiting for an answer, Peter continued down the path towards camp.
But Edmund felt he still had so far to go—a knot of fear still sat in the pit of his stomach, despite all that his brother had said. There was much to plan and much to confront within himself before he felt he actually lived up the standards Peter claimed he did.
The first slow plops of rain started pelting his shoulders just as another roll of thunder echoed and bounced off the hills around him. With one last glance down towards the troops, Edmund frowned, and continued climbing down off The Claws.