Disclaimer: Edmund and Peter Pevensie and all the characters and situations in the Chronicles of Narnia belong to C. S. Lewis and not to me.
EVEN MORE INTRODUCTIONS
Oreius crossed his arms over his bare chest, frowning as he watched the young Kings sparring. For some reason King Peter was favoring the right side of his midsection, and King Edmund was obviously not putting his full strength behind his twin blades.
"Halt!" the Centaur ordered, and both foals stepped back, panting slightly but hardly pushed to their limit. "The two of you spar like week-old Kittens. A spring Lamb could easily best you both at once, fighting as you are. Now put some muscle into it."
The Kings began again, circling each other, eyes wary, neither of them seeming willing to strike.
"Go on!" Oreius shouted, and Edmund finally took a halfhearted swipe at his brother.
Peter jerked out of the way, covering his middle with his left hand, holding up the sword in his right to parry the Just King's blade. They stumbled about for a minute or two more, and then the Centaur held up his hand.
"Halt. Halt." He glared at both of them. "What is this? You haven't sparred this badly since before Beruna, How, and then you'd had your sword for only a day or two. Have you learned nothing in the past four years?"
Edmund ducked his head. "Sorry."
Oreius snorted in disgust. "And you, Wolfsbane. Are you hurt?"
Peter's face was suddenly red. "N-no. I'm fine."
"Then what's wrong with you?" The Centaur jabbed two fingers towards Peter's middle, and the foal flinched away from him. "Explain yourself."
Edmund swallowed hard. "We, uh–"
"Would visiting the points of the compass help you both focus?" Oreius asked.
The Kings looked at each other, dark and light eyes wide. Visiting the points of the compass was Oreius's favorite conditioning exercise as it involved having the young Kings run as quickly as they were able to the top of the north tower of the castle and then to the top of the east, south and west towers before returning to the training yard. It was grueling, but it was helpful for getting the foals to put their full attention and energy into the lessons he was trying to teach, lessons that might one day save their lives.
"Start again," he ordered instead.
Edmund looked worriedly at his older brother and then lifted his sword. "Come on, Pete."
Peter nodded, crouching a little and holding his sword low to shield his middle. Edmund swung one of his blades, clashing with Peter's, driving him back a step.
"Careful?" Oreius glared at them, halting the match once again. "Wolfsbane, tell me this instant what ails you. Are you ill?"
Peter ducked his head, turning a little away from him. "No, Oreius."
"Then what is wrong?"
"Very well." The Centaur took one of Edmund's swords and stood in front of Peter. "Come then."
Still crouching slightly, Peter lifted his sword. In two moves, Oreius had Rhindon on the ground and his borrowed sword pointed at Peter's middle.
Peter shielded himself with both hands. "Wait."
Oreius lifted one eyebrow and then prodded at him with his sword point. "What is it?"
"Right there," Oreius insisted. "What is it?"
Peter and Edmund exchanged another guilty glance, and then Peter started rummaging under his chain mail. Finally, he brought out something cupped in both hands.
Once again, the Centaur crossed his arms over his chest. "Well?"
"It's–" Peter smiled, cringing a little, and opened his hands to reveal a tiny Bunny with enormous brown eyes. "It's Poppy."
Oreius blinked. "Poppy?"
Both foals nodded.
Poppy peeped at the Centaur over Peter's hand, her little nose working furiously.
Peter stroked her back. "Poppy, this is Oreius. He's the General of our army."
"Hello," she said, her piping little voice barely audible.
Oreius bowed gravely. "Poppy, it is a pleasure to meet you. Now, if you would pardon Their Majesties, our Kings must continue their training. You must go back into the Cair until they have finished."
The Bunny pressed up against Peter, whispering something the Centaur could not hear, and the colt smiled down on her.
"Of course he likes you."
She stared back at Oreius, obviously unconvinced, and then nestled closer to the High King.
"It is not a question of liking, Small One," Oreius explained with his usual gravity. "I fear it is not safe for you–"
"But he said."
Oreius frowned, unused to having his orders questioned during training. "He said? Who said? Said what?"
"King Peter." The Bunny's voice was soft but very certain. "He said I could stay with him always."
"Did you tell her that, Wolfsbane?"
Peter swallowed hard. "I, uh–"
"Did you or didn't you?"
"I told her she could stay with me, Oreius. I didn't exactly say always, not every minute of every day anyway. At least I don't think so."
Oreius scowled. "What about you, How? What do you know about this?"
"Me?" Edmund cleared his throat and started again with his voice in its usual register. "I'm not actually sure. I wasn't there. But I know she's lost her family and Peter said she could stay, so, um . . . "
"This is no place for little ones. What were you two thinking bringing her in here and sparring, putting her in range of your weapons? She could have been stabbed or crushed. Now get her out of here."
The two colts looked at each other as if he had asked them to fall on their swords or, worse, to plunge those swords into each other's hearts.
"But, Oreius–" Once more, the High King looked at his brother.
"We just thought she . . ."
King Edmund's voice trailed off under the General's stern glare. Without another word, Oreius reached out, and helpless, Peter turned his small charge over to him. She looked even tinier in the Centaur's broad hand than she had before, and she shrank away from him as much as she was able.
"You needn't fear, little Poppy," Oreius said, his expression softening. "I will see you are looked after until training is finished. Then–"
"But he said."
Those big brown eyes filled with tears, and Oreius cleared his throat.
"Now, Poppy, I am certain the High King meant you were to stay here at Cair Paravel and that he would have you looked after, but from time to time he will have certain duties and obligations that will require–"
The tears spilled over onto the Bunny's twitching nose, and Oreius looked over at the Kings. He had charged fearlessly against armies of monsters and battled witches, but this little Bunny? As quickly as he could, he handed her back to Peter.
"A promise is a promise, Wolfsbane."
Peter held Poppy against his chest once more. "But, Oreius, how are we going to–"
"Perhaps, we ought to, um, vary our training regimen. Just this once. I, ah, do not doubt there will be times, Your Majesties, when patient endurance will benefit you as much as speed and strength. With that in mind, I think you both should visit the points of the compass." The colts groaned, but the Centaur held up one hand to silence them. "This time, take an easy pace." He glanced at Poppy. "Go slowly so you will be able to . . . observe your surroundings as you go. Consider it reconnaissance training. Go now."
The Kings looked at each other in astonishment, but when they turned to walk away, Poppy peeped at the Centaur over Peter's shoulder.
"Aren't you coming with us?"
"I?" Oreius cleared his throat. "I don't usually–"
"But I want you to come with us."
She blinked at him, and the Kings looked at each other, not daring to move.
The Centaur shifted on his hooves and then made a brief bow. "Perhaps, it would be instructive if I . . ."
He trailed off, daring the foals with a hard look to make a sound.
They didn't, but they were looking absolutely smug by the time they all sauntered towards the north tower with Poppy still cradled against Peter's chest. And Oreius's sharp ears caught what the younger King murmured to the elder.
The Centaur only smiled faintly as he walked behind them. After all, there were lots of training sessions in the Kings' future. Lots and lots of training sessions. They wouldn't be smug for long.
Author's Note: Okay, how could I resist having Poppy conquer Oreius?