MFB02: The Secret and the Confession

Edmund was playing chess that evening with Lucy while Susan chatted with Mr. Tumnus about possibly planning a trip to Galma in the Splendor Hyaline. Peter sat by the fire (which had been lit more for its cozy ambience than actual heat) and pretended to read a book. He was using a rather large tome so that he could steal long looks at Edmund, who furrowed his brows every time Lucy made a move, as she had become quite good from playing with Mr. Tumnus all the time. Peter had forgotten to turn the pages in a while, so absorbed was he in watching the various expressions that passed over his brother’s face, and was startled when he finally heard Susan call his name.

“What was that?” he asked, closing the book to give her his full attention.

“I was just saying, do you think it’s too early in the season to go to the Lone Islands? I wouldn’t want to be caught in a spring storm at sea,” Susan repeated.

“I should think not. But that’s a question best asked of our sea-faring folk,” Peter replied, rising to put the book back on the shelf. He decided to give up his ruse, inwardly scolding himself for dwelling on that which he could not have.

“Perhaps we could ask some of the Marsh-Wiggles what they think the weather will be like,” Susan said in a bland tone, although her words made Edmund and Lucy look up at her sharply in disbelief. “They live by the sea, so they should know best when it will be safe to set sail…”

“Yes, of course. Sounds like a good plan,” Peter responded absently, stretching his arms that had grown heavy from holding the large book. “I’ll leave you to it, then,” he continued, not noticing the look of alarm on the faces of his two youngest siblings. “I think I’ll turn in now. Goodnight, everyone.”

“Goodnight, Peter,” and “Goodnight, your Majesty,” rang out from the other four, but all of them exchanged troubled looks after he had left the room.

“He didn’t bat an eye when you suggested getting advice from the Marsh-Wiggles,” Edmund pointed out in shock, “as if they wouldn’t jolly well try to talk you out of setting sail in the first place!”

“I had to call his name three times just to get his attention,” Susan added. “He wasn’t reading that book at all… I didn’t see him turn a page for ten whole minutes!”

“I wish I knew what was bothering him so,” Lucy said with a little sigh.

Mr. Tumnus regarded all three of them and asked, quite reasonably, “Why not ask him?”

“You’re right, Mr. Tumnus,” Susan agreed. “We should simply ask him instead of wondering like we are, which doesn’t do anybody a bit of good. Lucy, you should ask him tomorrow — he’ll be more likely to talk to you.”

“Why do you say that?” Lucy replied with surprise. “He’s just as likely to talk to you, Su, since you’re the next oldest; or you, Ed, because you’re a boy!”

Edmund was feeling slightly uncomfortable at this point, torn between telling his sisters what he had already found out from Peter — which felt like betraying a confidence — and keeping what he knew to himself — which also felt like a betrayal, since his sisters were only worried for Peter’s own sake. While Susan, Lucy, and Mr. Tumnus discussed who would be the best candidate to confront the High King, Edmund decided to walk the fine line of diplomacy.

“Look here,” he interrupted, “why don’t we just leave Peter alone? He can tell us if he wants to. Maybe he’s not telling us because he doesn’t want to, or maybe he just can’t.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Susan said unhappily, “but it’s been going on for so long… And what if he’s just waiting for someone to ask him? You know how sometimes you really want to talk to someone, but can’t bring yourself to it unless they ask you first?”

“Well… yeah…” Edmund was obliged to concede.

“It’s not like Peter to keep secrets from us,” Lucy mused pensively. “I do hope it’s nothing too horrid!”

“But maybe… maybe it’s something that we can’t help him with,” Edmund doggedly suggested. “Maybe he doesn’t want to tell us because we would only worry more if we knew, without being able to do a single thing about it.”

“That would be like Peter — trying to protect us from something awful and taking all the responsibility on himself,” Susan fretted. “But I do wish he would at least let us try to help him!”

“I wish Aslan were here,” Lucy sighed again.

Edmund was beginning to feel rather sick to his stomach from keeping his sisters in the dark, especially since they were both imagining the situation to be (in his mind) far worse than it was. As he sat in silence with his thoughts churning, he did not realise that Mr. Tumnus was observing him with shrewd eyes.

“My Lord Edmund,” the Faun addressed him, making him start. “Perhaps you have some idea as to what is ailing the High King? As his esteemed brother, you know his thoughts better than any other — with my humble apologies to my ladies,” he added, bowing to the queens. “But if you were to hazard a guess as to what the cause may be…”

Susan and Lucy also saw the uncomfortable expression that crossed their brother’s face when presented with this request, and Lucy seized upon it.

“Ed! You do know something, don’t you? You’re hiding it from us, too!”

Although she had not meant her words to come out as an accusation, her reproachful tone made Edmund capitulate.

“All right, so I do — I just don’t know if I should tell,” he confessed. “Peter didn’t come out and swear me to secrecy or anything, but we got interrupted by the dinner bell (I was talking to him after you’d gone to find a vase for the flowers, you know) so he might not have gotten the chance to.”

“Oh, please, Ed,” Susan pleaded. “You know we only want to help Peter!”

“But is it, as you suggested, something for which we can offer him no help?” Mr. Tumnus asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t rightly know what to think about the whole thing…” Edmund admitted.

“Please tell us, Ed. And if it’ll be better for Peter, we can pretend we don’t know,” Lucy said. “I just hate to think of him burdened so, without any of us to help him bear it.”

“All right,” Edmund agreed, then took a deep breath. “I think he’s in love with a Mermaid.”

No!

“Oh, poor Peter!”

Mr. Tumnus looked grave as Edmund asked him, “It’s hopeless, right? A Man and a Mermaid?”

“I’m afraid so,” the Faun answered. “There is an old story about a Seagull that once fell in love with a Mermaid and dove under the waves so often to see her that it drowned. We tell the story to our kids and foals to teach them not to wish for what is impossible, lest they lose even the good things that they have.”

“But how awful,” said Lucy, close to tears. “Does she even know?

“How could she? It’s not like they can understand each other’s speech,” Edmund pointed out.

“Oh, but… sometimes, you can fall in love even if you can’t speak to each other,” Susan hesitantly suggested. “You know, how people talk about ‘love at first sight’? Maybe… Maybe she does know, and they’re both madly in love…”

Her brother shook his head. “That’s not possible — at least, that’s not the way Peter talked about it. He said she doesn’t give a fig that he’s High King, and that… well, I forget exactly what he said, but I think he mentioned how hard it is to be in love when the other person doesn’t love you back…”

Now Lucy really did burst into tears, and Susan became weepy as well. Mr. Tumnus patted the younger queen on her shoulder as she pulled out her oft-used handkerchief.

“There now, there now,” he soothed, “your brother is still young, and may very well meet another lady who will suit him better. The best thing for us to do is to let him be so that time can heal this heartache.”

“Perhaps we can try to cheer him up,” Susan said. “I see now why a sea voyage would never do! No wonder he was so distracted when I mentioned it. Perhaps a trip into the woods for a few days would be better, to visit the woodland people.”

“Oh! And a picnic in the forest,” Lucy added.

“Maybe a visit of state to Archenland — although they probably don’t have an Ettin roaming about,” Edmund contributed.

And so by the time they all headed to bed, they had come up with a dozen different ideas of things to do which they hoped would cheer up their beloved brother and High King.

 ‹‹‹‹‹ ж ›››››

Edmund hoped he had done the right thing in telling his sisters and Mr. Tumnus, but he could not fall asleep right away. As he lay in bed, wondering if Peter had asked him about that one particular Mermaid because he was jealous of her attentions, he heard a muffled sneeze from the balcony which he shared with his brother. He got up and put on his dressing gown, then shuffled out in his slippers to find the young High King leaning against the railing, gazing out across the sea with an unfathomable expression.

“Hullo,” he said, making Peter nearly jump out of his skin.

“What’re you doing up?” he asked, startled.

“I couldn’t sleep, and I heard you sneeze.”

“Oh. Well, you shouldn’t be out here — it’s getting cold.”

“Neither should you.”

Peter sighed with a self-deprecating smile.

“You’re right, we should both go inside.”

As he turned and entered his own room, he was surprised to find that Edmund — beautiful Edmund, his pale skin lit blue in the moonlight — was following him.

“What is it?” he asked, trying hard not to gape.

“I need to talk to you. If you’re not going to sleep right away, that is,” his brother amended.

“No. I can’t sleep, either,” Peter told him, and motioned for him to sit with him on the edge of his bed.

“Pete… I’m sorry, but I told the girls. And Mr. Tumnus.”

“Told them what?” Peter asked, not catching on.

“What you said, before dinner today.”

“Oh!” Peter drew a quick breath, paling at the implication. “You mean…?”

Edmund nodded, feeling miserable. “About you and the… Mermaid.”

For a second, it was on the tip of Peter’s tongue to deny any such attachment to a Mermaid, but he caught himself in time. After all, he could hardly tell his brother (or sisters) the truth, so this could be a convenient misunderstanding — a misdirection of sorts.

“I’m sorry, Peter,” Edmund said wretchedly, misconstruing his silence to be a reproach. “But the girls have been worried sick about you! And so have I. You haven’t been yourself, it seems, for so long… We just want to help.”

Peter felt his heart skip a beat at his brother’s off-handed confession to having worried about him and, realising that Edmund was condemning himself for betraying an implicit trust, hurried to reassure him.

“It’s all right, Ed — don’t worry about it. I… I suppose they would have found out sooner or later, anyway. Girls are good at that sort of thing… and I’m sorry I’ve been shutting you all out. I didn’t even realise that I was. I guess I’ve been a bit… self-absorbed…”

Of course he knew, even as he said this, that he had actually been absorbed in someone else — his fair brother, who was even now sitting next to him in the darkness. He felt such a strong urge to grab Edmund and clasp his arms about him and never let go, that it was only with a conscious effort that he kept his hands gripping his own knees.

“Susan noticed first,” Edmund told him, relieved that his older brother did not seem too upset. “She said you weren’t paying attention, sometimes, and stared off into space a lot. And I thought… well… I almost thought you were avoiding me for a while there.”

This time, Peter feared that his heart would stop outright. When it continued to beat, however, he measured his words to respond to the all-too-true accusation.

“I’m sorry, Ed… I didn’t mean to,” he lied, hoping that Aslan would not judge him too harshly for the falsehood. “I’m afraid I’ve just been distracted… and selfish. I keep telling myself not to dwell on something that’s so obviously impossible, but sometimes… I just can’t help it.”

Edmund nodded, a slight movement that was hardly visible in the darkness of the room, since it was lit only by the moonlight coming in through the window.

“The girls and I — and Mr. Tumnus — were hoping to cheer you up,” he informed his brother, wanting to move on to brighter topics. “We were thinking of having a picnic, and maybe visit Archenland for a bit, and… and a bunch of other stuff.”

Peter was touched to know that his siblings and friend were so concerned for his welfare.

“Thanks. That means a lot to me,” he told him. Then before he could restrain himself, he had reached out to ruffle Edmund’s hair — an affectionate gesture that he had not indulged in much as of late, fearing that it would lead to other, less innocent displays.

“Don’t mention it,” the younger king responded, in an unconsciously dignified tone. “We can talk more about it tomorrow. I think I can go to sleep now.”

“All right. Goodnight, Ed.”

“Goodnight, Pete.”

As his brother retreated to his own room by means of the hallway rather than the balcony, Peter let out a deep sigh and congratulated himself on weathering the encounter without causing any awkwardness. Truth be told, he had very nearly suggested to Edmund that he stay the night with him — in his large, royal bed — which he knew would not have ended well. Not that Edmund would have accepted such an outrageous invitation, of course.


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