MFB05: Stormy Weather

A few days later, a spring storm hit the coasts of Narnia (just like Queen Susan had been worried about) and the royal children were very glad to not be at sea. They had seen the clouds on the eastern horizon at dawn and sent home all those who lived in the Great Forest to ready their burrows, caves, and nests for the onslaught. Since they were not expected to hold court on a day like this, and since most of the castle workers were gone, they stayed in their private sitting room, playing chess in front of the fire or reading, occasionally remarking on the progress of the storm as it advanced upon the shore.

“I do hope Mr. Tumnus has made it home by now,” Lucy said, watching the wind buffet the tree branches about.

“He can’t be there yet, Lu,” Peter reminded her. “Arismenos was taking him almost to Beaversdam, but even a Unicorn can’t get there in half a day. I’m sure he’ll reach home before the storm does, though.”

The High King had lost two straight games of chess due to his own inattention and had given up pretending to mind, opting instead to drag a comfortable wing-backed chair and an ottoman near the French doors that opened on to the balcony. From there he had an unobstructed view of the sea and the storm, and he had sunk deeper into the chair as he had watched the fury of the wind whipping the waves into foamy crests.

Edmund cast glances in his brother’s direction from time to time, pretending to be watching the storm roll in as well. However, his furtive looks had been engendered by a sudden epiphany: that Peter was gazing at the sea for a glimpse of her — the Mermaid who had stolen his heart. And really, when one thought of it, wasn’t Peter always looking towards the Great Eastern Ocean? When he was gazing off into space, wasn’t it usually towards the sea — where she lived? The younger king’s heart ached with sadness at the thought, and he wished to share it with his sisters out of their brother’s hearing, but he dared not attempt it while Peter was in the room and, for the most part, awake.

Even though the High King’s eyes were half-closed, though, Edmund made another discovery — or rather, had a realisation: that Peter’s eyes were the same colour as the sea. If the Sun were shining, they would be bright blue; if it were cloudy and stormy like today, a dark, slate grey; and if the weather were somewhere between those two extremes, a greenish-blue, depending on how close the water (or his eyes) were to the forest. It made Edmund wonder if Peter might have some affinity with the ocean — perhaps even a magical connection — that had drawn him to the maiden who lived in its depths. He did not remember the exact outcome of the story of The Little Mermaid in our world, who had fallen in love with a prince (rather than the other way round), but he was pretty sure that it had ended badly.

He pondered if perhaps there might not be some magic in Narnia, however, that would allow a Mermaid to become a Human and live with her prince happily ever after. Or instead, would the prince be turned into a Merman to live with her under the waters? Would Peter choose to live that way if it were possible? Would he prefer being with the beautiful Mermaid over reigning Narnia with his siblings? Somehow, the mere question made Edmund feel despondent, although he had no proof that Peter would choose his supposed love over his family or his duty.

Being so distracted, Edmund was also soundly beaten by Lucy who, though herself distracted by thoughts of Mr. Tumnus and her other friends who were away from the castle, had still managed to be more attentive to playing chess than either of her brothers. When their game was over, Edmund walked over to the doors for a better view of the ocean. The many small windowpanes were spattered with water now, as the first of the black clouds had hit the shore and begun pelting the landscape with rain. Peter regarded his brother’s form, silhouetted against the windows, with aesthetic appreciation through his half-closed lids. The poise with which Edmund un-self-consciously stood there was sufficient to take Peter’s breath away.

“More lightning,” Edmund announced with a glum face to the room in general. “It’s getting closer, too.”

“I remember when you used to be scared of lightning,” Peter commented from deep within his chair. “Susan, too.”

“I’m not scared of lightning,” Edmund protested indignantly, turning to him with a half-scowl.

“You were only a baby,” Peter amended, not having intended to offend him. “In fact, it was right after Lucy was born. I remember hearing you crying in the nursery, poor girl, but at least you were with Mother. Ed, you had just been moved into my room — our room — a few weeks before to make way for Lu.”

While Peter was speaking, his youngest sister had come over to perch on his lap, as was her birthright, and even Susan gave up her embroidering (since the light had become bad, anyway) to pull her chair closer to Peter’s. Edmund stayed standing by the window, but his frown had been replaced by a look of intense curiosity.

“We woke up at the first big crack of thunder,” Peter went on, addressing his brother, “and you just stared at me across the room with those huge eyes of yours. You were too startled to even cry, I think, and of course you had no way of knowing what all the noise and lights were about. I kept talking to you, saying everything was all right, even though I was frightened to death myself!”

Lucy giggled at the thought of her eldest brother being frightened of anything, but just then a loud clap shook the windows and everyone jumped. Susan laughed nervously and confessed, “I still don’t like them, even though I know what they are.”

Peter nodded, pulling Lucy closer to his chest, where she nestled against him.

“You came into our room after the second or third big one,” he told Susan. “You were trying to be brave and not go to Mother, because you knew she was with the baby, but you were too scared to be in your room all alone. Once you came over, we both crawled into Ed’s bed and pretended to be comforting him, when we wanted just as much to be near somebody, too.”

“I don’t remember any of that,” Edmund admitted. “We must’ve been crowded in there!”

Susan laughed again, more relaxed this time. “Oh, no, we all fit just fine — we were that little! You had only been walking for a few months, I think, when Lu came along, and Peter was younger than Lu is now.”

The older two continued reminiscing as the storm grew in fury, and when the noise of the thunderclaps became so loud and so frequent as to make conversation impossible, they all simply watched the storm rage outside. Edmund came to sit on the floor between the two chairs, resting his chin on the low armrest of Peter’s chair, and Peter itched to reach out and stroke his brother’s hair. Lucy shifted in his arms a few minutes later, freeing up his hand that was closer to Edmund, and after arguing with himself whether he should do it or not, Peter decided that if his gesture were unwelcome, Edmund would move away. When the eldest Pevensie finally screwed up the courage to lay his hand on his brother’s head, he was rewarded by not getting it shaken off. He stroked Edmund’s hair very slowly and gently, hoping that he was conveying nothing but brotherly love, just like the affection which he naturally felt towards Lucy and Susan.

Edmund did not mind it in the least; in fact, he had something of a fetish (though he did not know it in those terms) for his brother’s hands. Ever since that day when the first stirrings of manhood had awoken within him — when Peter had helped him achieve his first release — his older brother’s large, calloused hands were a point of particular interest for the younger boy. He knew that they were rough from so much training with the sword, spear, and other implements of war, as well as from using farm tools in the palace vegetable gardens. Edmund helped out there with a good will, too, hoping that his own hands would soon grow as big. Even now it was with some envy that he saw Peter holding Lucy with his other hand, and he wondered what it must feel like for his sister to have her waist spanned like that. He knew, of course, how warm Peter’s palms usually were, so he could imagine the sensation.

Then he remembered the day of the picnic, when Peter had held him with both hands about his waist, supporting him as he had worked to undo his mischief. Had he not been so intent on his task, he might have derived more pleasure in feeling them placed so securely upon his person. As it was, he had leant against them freely but had been startled when they had suddenly gripped him beyond the bounds of comfort. In fact he had been bruised there, in the exact shape of Peter’s fingers, but not so much as to be sore except when he wore his sword belt for training the next day. Recalling what he had done to cause his brother to grasp him in such an iron grip, Edmund grinned — since the stain had come out in the end, it had been a good prank. And in hindsight, even the fact that he had had to clean Peter’s face with spit seemed humourous.

Susan turned her eyes back from the sea and caught a glimpse of Edmund’s sly smile, and was taken aback by the unusual tableau before her: that Lucy should be sitting on Peter’s lap, curled up like a contented Cat, was expected; but that Edmund should smile like the proverbial Cheshire Cat upon getting his head petted by his brother was not. And yet as his smile faded, she realised that he must have been thinking of something amusing.

“Penny for your thoughts, Ed,” she said, tucking her slippered feet up in her own chair.

“Hm? Oh… just wondering if we’re becoming more like Beasts, since we have so many of them for friends,” Edmund replied.

“How’s that?” Peter asked, still gently combing his brother’s hair with his fingers.

“Well, for one thing, I had to use spit to clean your face off,” he replied, with a flash of his grin returning, “just like a Cat or a Dog.”

“And here we all are, curled up like Cats or huddled in our burrows like Rabbits,” Susan smiled. “There may be some truth to that, Ed!”

“I think Rabbits live in warrens, Su,” Peter put in mildly. “It’s really a very clever setup… a good way to stay warm.”

“I think it’s wonderful that we’re turning into Beasts,” Lucy piped up with a delighted smile. “They’re such nice people!”

Everybody laughed at the incongruousness of that expression, then jumped as another lightning flash struck a tree not far from the castle.

“Oh, I hope that wasn’t a Talking Tree,” Lucy worried.

“I think those chaps would know how to step out of the way,” Edmund pointed out. “They’re really quite limber, you know.”

“Haha,” Peter laughed dryly. “I get it! ‘Limb’-er? Good one, Ed!”

“I didn’t even mean it that way,” his brother admitted. “I guess I’m just naturally talented!”

Right then Mrs. Hoppinger, the Kangaroo, pushed a cart laden with tea things into the room, and the children all realised that they had become rather peckish and rearranged themselves on the sofas. Peter sighed at having to relinquish his hold on his brother’s soft hair, and Edmund also noted that his head felt colder now without Peter’s hand upon it, but neither of them let on that they missed the contact, choosing rather to tuck in to their toast and crumpets.

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Peter was drowsing in his chair again while the girls were playing chess (a rather better-played game than the previous ones) by the fire. Edmund had been trying to read a book — a dry collection of discourses on the existence and role of Father Christmas — by the light of some candles, but it was straining his eyes and boring to boot, so he gave it up and wandered over to the windows again. He thought Peter was asleep and sat down lightly on a corner of the ottoman by his feet.

“Bored?” his older brother asked in a murmur, so as to not startle him.

Edmund nodded, turning to look at him.

“We could play hide-and-seek,” Peter said, his lips curving upward, “but who knows where that might lead!”

“And we mightn’t get to be kings and queens there,” Edmund agreed, returning his smile.

“Besides, I think I might win this game,” Lucy called out from the other side of the room, where Susan was frowning over the chess board.

Peter straightened himself up in the chair, since he had slid down over the past hour, and made more room for his brother to sit at his feet. Edmund made himself comfortable and gazed out at the sea, now a roiling mass of black waves, then suddenly turned back to his brother, who was also looking out across the churning expanse. Peter’s eyes were, he saw, nearly as dark. And he also saw a yearning and a wistfulness there — although he never suspected that the one on the forefront of his brother’s mind was the one sitting closest to him in the room.

“I suppose… the Merfolk know how to weather storms all right, don’t they?” Edmund began. Lucy and Susan’s heads snapped up in alarm, and if they had been much closer, Susan would have pinched her younger brother for broaching such a sensitive subject.

“Oh, of course,” Peter replied, unflustered. “They’ve lived beneath the sea for ages. They know how to take care of themselves, I’m sure.”

Edmund regarded his brother so thoughtfully and for so long that Peter sensed his gaze and met it.

“She’ll be all right, then… You don’t have to worry about her being safe, right?” he asked.

“Who?” Peter asked in turn, then quickly recovered himself. “Oh! You mean… yes, of course,” he answered. “Yes, I’m sure she’ll be just fine.”

But for some reason, his answer unsettled Edmund. Or rather, the manner in which he had answered did not ring true. However, Peter himself (knowing how perceptive his brother was) decided to try a diversionary tactic: he grabbed Edmund in an embrace to drag him back into the chair, making him sit on his lap as though he were their youngest sister.

“Hi! Hey!” Edmund yelped as he felt Peter’s arms wrapping around him, as strong as steel but not uncomfortably tight.

“Since Queen Lucy is otherwise engaged,” Peter said in a mock official tone, “your Majesty must serve in her place as the High King’s royal Teddy Bear.”

“Surely you jest,” the younger king gasped, trying to wriggle out of his brother’s clutches.

“Nay, my dear brother,” Peter gravely replied, holding him even tighter and trying hard not to laugh. “You must stay here until the Queen’s grace has finished her match with her royal sister.”

“Hurry it up, Lu,” Edmund grumbled, ceasing his struggles to lie back against his brother’s chest.

“We’re almost done,” Lucy assured him, while Susan bit her lip, one hand poised to move her Knight.

Despite what he had said, Edmund was rather disappointed when Lucy won the match three moves later and came over to claim her rightful place on Peter’s lap. He had been delightfully comfortable there, held snug by both of his brother’s large hands, which left warm imprints on his body for a while afterward.

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