Author's note: Thanks to Calathiel of Mirkwood for beta-ing this years ago, before the craziness of my life forced me to sit on it.
As the sun sank behind the western hills, a large troop of magnificent beings emerged from the forest, weary, but with the light of victory shining in their faces. As the creatures lifted their eyes, gasps and cheers sprang to their throats as they beheld the object of their search – a stone castle, sparkling beside the eastern sea. One and all, they burst into a run. Soon the seashore was covered with creatures dancing, singing, skipping and standing on their heads in pure joy. Once eager to reach the castle before nightfall, the band was now completely dissolved, intent only on celebration.
Their leader, a large centaur named Oreius, tried briefly to regain order, but he soon conceded and allowed those who had remained obediently in ranks to join the festivities. They stopped only long enough to make torches to light their way to the castle once darkness fell. Oreius himself walked solemnly through masses of his countrymen, searching for the four human children he had sworn to protect. Four young, alien children. His kings and queens.
He found them finally by the edge of the ocean amidst a gaggle of other young creatures. After assuring himself that they were in no danger, he settled in to watch over them.
Sweet little Lucy had obviously enchanted many of her shy young subjects with her honest, friendly demeanor. The young ones, many of whom had at first been too shy to look their future monarchs in the eyes, were now chasing and splashing her as eagerly as they were each other.
Nearby, Peter was giving pig-a-back rides to many of the smaller animals. As Oreius watched, Peter dropped to his knees in the surf, which soaked the duo of young squirrels riding on his shoulders, and then stood back up, grinning as they spluttered and giggled with delight.
Susan sat at the edge of the sand with some of the older girls, letting the surf lick their toes as they braided each other's hair. Oreius also noted, disapprovingly, that many of the older boys were lingering near Susan, racing, wrestling, and otherwise showing off. The girls giggled at this spectacle, but Oreius gave the boys a stern glare, and they moved to a more respectful distance.
Edmund was the only one of the four for which Oreius felt a twinge of worry. The boy walked slowly by himself, body angled toward the sea, eyes forever looking east. All at once, he stopped and sank slowly to his knees. Alarmed, Oreius started forward to assist Edmund, but something held him back, a feeling that warred with every natural instinct he felt to protect the boy. He kept his distance. Edmund sat on his knees, head bent until it touched the sand. He rocked back and forth several times, and then went still.
At this point, Oreius had stopped breathing, eyes riveted on Edmund's prone form. After a moment that lasted an eternity, the boy finally stood up. He wiped grit and moisture from his face, and then looked around himself, peering, as if he had never seen so clearly before. His eyes rested on Oreius. For a moment, the centaur general saw in Edmund the king he would one day become: stern and strong, but with a heart overflowing with mercy. Oreius lowered his eyes, placed one fist across his chest and bowed his shoulders, accepting his new king. When he looked back up, Edmund's face was the face of a little boy once more, but in it was visible a hope, and a steadiness that was not there before. Oreius knew that he had just seen the lion's work in Edmund.
An excited cry went up from among the other young ones, and Oreius turned his attention to them once again. Aslan had appeared and was frolicking with the children in the surf. They laughed and splashed and held onto his mane with hands and paws and talons, and he kissed them with his tongue.
Edmund turned and saw the great lion, and ran to him. Aslan held out one paw and drew the boy close, as Edmund buried his face in the lion's fur. Then, he let go and joined the other children in a romp about the shallows. But for just a moment, Aslan turned his head and made eye contact with Oreius. He winked and smiled his wonderful, infuriating lion smile, and Oreius knew that whatever challenges the future may bring, Aslan had left Narnia in very good, very small, hands.