En Aletheia, Philos
Summary: Peter has always sought the respect and obedience of his brother, but his utmost love and trust? That takes a skill beyond that of the strongest warrior and proudest King.
Rating: K+ for now, may change if the action gets more violent.
Notes: This picks up directly where the last chapter of "Between Worlds" leaves off. While I had told the perspectives I set out to tell in that story, there was still some unfinished business that I wanted to address - namely Peter and Edmund's broken relationship on the communication lines. Why can't Ed just talk to Peter about his problems? Cause he's always gotten struck down, that's why! I've set out to fix that in this story and build the foundation of the next fifteen or so years of their brotherhood. Plus, it means Peter/Edmund fluff at the end of it. Yay! This can be read separately or together with "Between Worlds," although the proper explanation of what's going on here can be found at the end of that story. With no further ado...
Whicker flicked his ears back at Peter. He always knew when something was up. Of course, he was not a Talking Horse, but his more loquacious brothers had recommended Houyhnhnm-Whinny-Hee-Whicker to the High King for his discretion, composure, and uncanny perception of his rider's moods. And he did not complain quite so much as the Talking Horses when his name was promptly shortened to a manageable syllable or two.
"Good lad," Peter murmured with a fond pat of the faithful steed's withers, before nudging him to break into a trot and catch up with Edmund a half dozen paces ahead.
He would never understand how Edmund had come to be chosen by Philip, the most droll and stubborn of the royal stables, nor why the Horse insisted on remaining his mount even after the crisis of imminent battle was over. (For bearing human riders, even the King, was not counted exactly as quite the thing among the Talking set.) But Peter had to admit, they were a pair and a half.
He pulled up beside Philip, who gave him a great roll of the eye and huffed at Whicker, who huffed back. Peter was very sure they were talking about him. Well, the concern was wasted on him – Edmund was the one who was acting queerly. He had not said much during their brief training session that morning while they awaited the arrival of the Archenland cohort….but…
"Not too tired, Ed?" asked Peter, turning to look at his brother in the fading afternoon light. He paused before adding, "Lucy says you haven't been sleeping much lately." Peter braced for the retort he and the girls had come to expect for their troubles lately, but he would take anger over silence any day.
It didn't come. Edmund grinned at him. "Lucy always did like to sneak into our room when she couldn't sleep, didn't she? Guess it's hard to break the habit. Especially when she knows the castle better than anybody there, with all its secret corridors."
Peter was most certainly not expecting that. Whicker tossed his head; astonishment was not an emotion he endorsed. After a few moments of considering the best approach, Peter settled on continuing this new lighthearted thread. "I know," he answered ruefully. "It's almost impossible to say no to her. Still our baby sister, even as a Queen." Our. It sounded good to his ears.
"She always could tell, you know," said Edmund, but didn't immediately continue. Peter looked hard at his brother, trying to discern what he meant exactly, while searching his face for clues. That was the other odd thing about Edmund today – his face was untroubled by the lines of strain and reserve that had recently clouded his countenance, but more than that, it seemed to almost…glow? That must be a trick of the light. Yet there was no denying that Edmund's eyes had no darkness in them anymore, only pure steady frankness.
The clatter of hooves ahead of and behind them was the only sound for several minutes, as Peter waited for him to continue.
"Back when – you know, I started to go wrong, back in England – Lu always could tell when things weren't quite right," Edmund explained at last. "Even when no one else saw it. A fellow can't have many secrets around someone like her."
Peter suddenly felt intensely envious of how simple Lucy made it to love Edmund. She was the first to hug him back into their family when he was returned to them and no one could think of what to say. The first to smile and say "that's alright!" when he made a royal muck of things. And the only one to push into his room and his heart when he had started systematically shutting them all out. He envied the closeness she felt to Edmund, as close as between her and Peter or Susan, where nothing Edmund said or did could shake it. And he envied the way Edmund spoke of her, like she understood him and did not shy away from him when he needed someone to simply be there. Peter wished he was that someone.
His voice was oddly husky as he replied, "You avoided the question, you know. This time – well, it's not going to be as easy as before this time. I don't want you to fight if you aren't feeling up to it." It was clumsy, but it was the best Peter could come up with on the spot. Nobody ever accused him of being good at this feelings business.
Whicker pranced uneasily at this disturbance in his rider's equilibrium. Peter stroked his neck reassuringly.
"Don't worry about me," said Edmund, an extraordinary gentleness in his tone. Almost as though he was worried about Peter's concern. "Everything will really be all right this time. I'll – I'll explain later. But, Narnia is much more important right now. Like you said, there's some nasty work ahead of us."
Peter nodded, although he had not yet put the question of Edmund out of his mind. "Thank the Lion for the centaurs. At least we need not worry about the fires further ravaging Narnia's borders, thanks to their swift work."
"Yes, now we only have ravenous Weres and Hags to deal with," said Edmund drily. "Quite a relief, that."
Peter knew that it was just Edmund's way to make light of things he actually cared deeply about, however that didn't make it any easier to hear of the lands under the clear Northern sky, Peter's own charge, so lately under siege of flame and destruction, bantered about. "Now Ed, look here –"
"Peter, don't lets argue any today. Today of all days," Edmund pleaded. Peter looked down at the pommel of his horse, whose back was currently tensed with anticipation. He sighed. How easily he slipped back into old ways.
"Very well," Peter conceded, kneeing wary Whicker to sidle close to Philip. Close enough that he could reach a hand and place it, as a brother might, on Edmund's thin shoulder. Underneath them, Whicker shuddered and Philip gave an answering humph! "Pax?"
Edmund's face still shone as though lit from within. It must have been the way the setting sun shone through the trees onto their path. "Pax. Of course. It's what we're here for." He reached out to touch Peter in return, but at that moment Philip danced away, snorting Humans! under his breath, and Peter dropped his arm, the moment broken, and urged his steed toward the gap between them and Edmund cantering away.
But til dusk when they broke for camp, Peter did not speak again but wove his hands in Whicker's well-combed mane and tried to absorb through its dense threads all of the powers of discernment that he himself had somehow missed when Fate was divvying up attributes to her playthings.
"Houyhnhnm" is the name of the intelligent race of horses in Gulliver's Travels, and is apparently where Lewis got the name of Hwin and his other onomatopoeic Horse names. I think it's pronounced "Hooee-hin-hin-um" or something like that ;-).
The original plan was to write a one-and-done but obviously, this is turning into a many-legged monster. Thanks to WillowDryad for the eager encouragement to write this beast!