MFB06: Voyage to Archenland

When the storm had blown over and the Sun shone on Narnia again, the Dwarfs made short work of chopping the downed trees for lumber and firewood (none of them were Talking Trees, as Edmund had been correct in surmising that they could move out of most harm’s way) and otherwise tidying up the Great Forest. The royal children helped where they could, cleaning in the vicinity of the castle, and were setting up bean poles in the vegetable garden when Mr. Tumnus arrived. Their court of assorted Beasts, Creatures, and Men (who were beginning to return to Narnia after the White Witch’s defeat) slowly re-gathered at Cair Paravel, and soon Queen Susan was talking of a trip to Archenland.

The troop of Dwarfs also returned from the southern hills, having spent some time making sure that there were no Ettins or other foul creatures there, and aside from a Swamp Ghoul that they had captured and dispensed of, they had found no evidence of trouble. So King Peter authorised a letter to be sent to King Lune, requesting his hospitality for the space of a few days, and asked Meridian, captain of the Splendor Hyaline, to prepare the ship for her first voyage of the season.

“Oh!” Susan gasped upon hearing Peter’s orders to the captain.

“What is it, Su?” Lucy whispered. They were standing a few paces away from their brothers.

“I had thought… well, that Peter wouldn’t want to travel by sea, you know,” she explained, “where he’d be reminded of her.”

“Oh… I hadn’t thought of that,” Lucy said, rather morosely. “But… it’s so much nicer to go to Archenland by sea, and quicker, too. And maybe… maybe he wants to be reminded of her.”

“Yes. Or maybe he’s hoping to see her,” Susan added, with a sigh, “even if he knows… it’s hopeless.”

Lucy turned away to hide her tears, but she did not do so quickly enough, for Edmund noticed them. He approached her a few minutes later in the rose garden where she had retreated to weep.

“What is it, Lu? What’s wrong?” he asked, concern creasing his brow.

“Oh, Edmund! It’s just so sad, a—and dreadful!” she cried.

“What is?”

“Poor Peter! Here we are, going by sea,” she sniffed, “and he’s probably hoping to catch a g—glimpse of her.”

Edmund understood her meaning at once. He patted her back consolingly.

“It’s all right, Lu… I know it seems sad and all, but… you do realise, Peter is always looking out to sea, anyway.”

Lucy’s sob caught in her throat at his words.

“Y—You mean…?”

Edmund nodded. “I think he’s always looking, hoping to find her out there, somewhere… Maybe it will make him feel better to see her, even if nothing can come of it.”

Lucy pondered this for a moment before sighing, “I hope you’re right. But it just seems to me like it would make things even worse.”

However, as they made the preparations for their journey, their oldest brother seemed no more distracted or dismal than before, so while all three of his siblings watched over him attentively, they were relieved to find him handling the added burden so well.

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The morning of their departure, the Sun rose in a near-cloudless sky, and it was with great exuberance that the crew of the Splendor Hyaline hoisted the mainsail and (till they left the harbour) manned the oars. King Peter stood on the aft deck, observing with pleasure the smart manner in which the crew went about their business, and the Sun created a natural halo about his blonde hair as it was ruffled by the breeze. Edmund happened to glance up at his brother from the main deck and was impressed again, with the clear blue sky behind him, of how like a second Sun over Narnia the High King truly was. His eyes were a cobalt blue to match the sea today and his serene face was dignified yet full of mirth. For a long moment, Edmund did not take his eyes off of his brother, burning that picture into his memory.

As the children regained their sea legs and flitted about the deck in excitement, Peter was also enraptured by the sight of Edmund clambering dexterously up the rigging to the crow’s nest, and he watched in delight as his younger brother slid down the cordage to the deck again.

“You’re going to burn your hands if you’re not careful,” Susan cautioned.

Edmund rolled his eyes. “I think I know how to handle myself, Mum,” he said, causing his older sister to chase after him, and he took off down the hatch where she could not follow as easily with her skirts. Peter laughed and looked out at the sea, leaning against the port side of the ship, where Lucy joined him shortly.

“Peter,” she called as she drew near him, and he turned his most brilliant smile on her. Rejoicing to see him so happy, she flung her arms about him and looked out over the deep blue waters. However, the waves reminded her of the cause of his recent melancholy, and despite being wrapped in his warm embrace, she trembled.

“Lu?” he asked, noting the change in her. She looked up at him, her eyes wide with worry.

“Peter… are you still very sad?” she ventured.

“Sad? Why?” Peter rejoined, then realised what his sister was getting at. “Oh, Lu… don’t bother about that anymore… Nothing will ever come of it, I know, and it’s high time I got over it.” He bent down to press a tender kiss on her forehead. “I’m sorry to have made you worry over me, but I’m sure it will pass soon…”

She hugged her brother tightly and wished with all her might that it would be so.

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Late that night, after the two queens had gone to bed in their cabin, the Splendor Hyaline weighed anchor in a bay just north of the mouth of the Winding Arrow River. From there it was an easy day’s journey on foot to Anvard, the capital of Archenland. The High King was loath to visit King Lune with a great company, so he had decided not to have the Centaurs and Minotaurs come on this trip, and the only retainers that would accompany them to Anvard were Mr. Tumnus, two Dwarfs, and Mrs. Dumplesugar the Raccoon. Their luggage would be carried by a non-talking donkey.

Edmund had insisted on staying up until the ship had reached the bay, watching the crew in fascination although he yawned quite frequently, to Peter’s amusement. When all the work came to an end and the sailors headed below decks to their hammocks, Edmund gladly made his way to the cabin he shared with Peter, but his older brother stayed up on the aft deck and gazed at the crescent moon as it rose over the sea.

“Is there anything the matter, your Majesty?” Captain Meridian asked, having finished inspecting the boat for its readiness to take the royal entourage on shore the next morning.

“Nothing, Captain,” Peter answered with a forced smile. “Everything seems to be in good order. Goodnight, sir.”

If it had not been for the wan moonlight, the captain might have noticed something amiss, but being also tired from the day’s journey, he accepted the High King’s words and retired to his own cabin. Peter continued to sit there, contemplating the moon and wondering if he would ever truly be cured of his unnatural obsession with his brother.

“Oh, Aslan… why did he have to be so beautiful?” he whispered to the clear night sky.

Finally, he rose and tiptoed his way down the steep stairs under the hatch to his cabin, where Edmund lay sleeping in the bunk above his own. He could not help stopping to admire the younger boy’s fine features in the candlelight. The small flame warmed his brother’s delicate face with a golden glow and his lashes seemed even darker from the shadows that they cast. His breathing had slowed considerably, attesting that he was in the deepest halls of sleep, and as though drawn by magic, Peter stepped closer. Edmund’s lips were parted invitingly, even enticingly, and Peter’s restraint wavered for a moment — a moment of weakness in which he pressed his own lips to his brother’s. The softness that he found there made the worst of his base desires arise within him.

“Mmm…” Edmund moaned, stirring and turning away, and Peter was left to hastily change into his nightshirt and slip into his own bunk, his cheeks (even in the darkness) burning with shame. Though he soon fell asleep, it was only fitfully, for he wandered through feverish dreams in which his beloved brother was always just out of reach.

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The next day was as bright with promise as the first, but Susan noticed the dark shadows under Peter’s eyes. She made no mention of it, and while they walked through the dense forest at the foothills of the mountains, none other of their party seemed to mark it. But when they stopped in midmorning for a break, Edmund sidled up to her with a significant look.

“He’s not sleeping well, I don’t think,” he began without preamble. “I’ve heard him out on the balcony late at night, back at Cair, and he didn’t come down to the cabin right away last night, either.”

“I do wish he hadn’t decided to travel by sea,” Susan murmured, watching as Lucy sat on their eldest brother’s knee to share a flagon of lemonade. “He’s just torturing himself by pretending that nothing’s wrong…”

“Maybe,” Edmund agreed, with a worried glance. But right then Peter was smiling, snatching a drink and listening to his little sister prattling about their friends in Anvard to Mrs. Dumplesugar (who had never been to Archenland before), so they set aside their concerns for the time being.

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One of the reasons the kings and queens of Narnia so enjoyed visiting Archenland was that King Lune and his wife, Queen Primela, had a wonderfully rambunctious son, Prince Corin. They had actually had another son, Corin’s twin brother Cor, but he had been kidnapped by a wicked traitor and lost at sea. Queen Primela had been inconsolable and King Lune no less devastated, but they both claimed that their spirits lifted to have their young royal neighbours visit them, and so the four Pevensies were glad to leave their home behind for brief periods to enjoy a change of scenery.

No sooner had the heralds at the gate of Anvard announced their arrival than little Prince Corin came running to meet them, as fast as his short legs could carry him. The truth was that he had been caught in some mischief — stealing honey from the tea table set out to welcome their guests — and was hoping to escape punishment by fleeing into his friends’ arms. But while Queen Susan picked him up and hugged him fondly, sticky fingers and all, she was quite firm in returning him to his exasperated Nurse. Queen Lucy tried to talk some sense into him, and King Edmund tickled his chin to put him in a good humour, but in the end he had to be carried off, howling, to be given his second bath of the day.

King Lune greeted them warmly, embracing them and remarking how much they had grown (especially Edmund) in the several months that they had not seen each other, and the Queen also clasped hands with Susan and Lucy, delighted to see her young friends again. When all the necessary introductions had been made (Mrs. Dumplesugar no less welcome than anyone else, for Archenland was populated mostly by Humans and it was a rare treat to have a Talking Beast visit Anvard), King Peter had the Dwarfs present their host and hostess with gifts — finely-crafted armour and a silver tankard covered with Narnian scenes for the King, a set of mirrors and hairbrushes for the Queen, and a very small wooden sword and shield set (made to last and with the royal crest of Archenland emblazoned on them) for Prince Corin, with promises from both the kings of Narnia to play with him to his heart’s content.

Their high tea turned into a splendid welcoming feast as the Sun set over the western mountains, and after the torches were lit, Mr. Tumnus was requested to play some Narnian dances on his pipe. It was a merry sight to see him piping and stepping in time to the music with Queen Lucy as his partner, and the bravest of the courtiers begged Queen Susan for a dance as well. King Lune clapped his hands and turned to the two brothers.

“Come now, my dear lads! Surely there are some pretty young maidens in our court who could tempt you to dance as well? They have all been in a dither since they heard of your coming.”

Peter blushed but managed to keep his composure.

“Sir, my brother is the better dancer — perhaps he might be persuaded to entertain your lovely ladies.”

Edmund threw him a horrified look, which made King Lune laugh heartily.

“Well then, King Edmund! Let me show you the choicest flowers of my realm,” he crowed, dragging him off to meet a group of girls who had been ogling and whispering amongst themselves about the two handsome young kings. Edmund was soon paired with a fetching red-haired girl with freckles, who was also somewhat shy, but after a turn around the courtyard they were laughing and chatting like old friends. Peter watched them with a smile affixed upon his face, even though his heart ached as though it had been rent in two.

King Lune came back with another young lady on his arm — Verinia, the beautiful blonde daughter of a nobleman, and a close friend of Susan and Lucy from their previous visits. Peter stood up in deference to the lady as they approached.

“Of your courtesy, Lady Verinia, you must help me make the High King welcome,” King Lune told her with an exaggerated wink. “His majesty claims to be less of a dancer than his light-footed brother, so we must attempt to keep him happily occupied here. Unless, of course, you might persuade him to join his siblings with your charms.”

“Your Highness is as intractable as Prince Corin,” she demurely objected. “Perhaps his majesty is tired from the day’s travels.”

Peter bowed courteously before pulling out a chair for her.

“Indeed I must admit, I do not travel as well as heretofore,” he said as she sat down, “but your presence makes me forget my weariness. And the company of such great friends as we always find here is a balm to soothe any aching feet — or hoofs, for that matter,” he added, seeing Mr. Tumnus and Lucy swing by their table.

Lady Verinia had already noted (what King Lune had not) that Peter had dark circles under his eyes and indeed looked weary, but thought it must have little to do with his travels since his sisters were dancing as though they had not journeyed on foot to the mountain castle that day. She also thought his eyes seemed dark with some hidden sadness, but she tactfully did not mention it, turning their conversation to the storm that had just passed through both lands and the delights of traveling by sea.

Queen Primela joined them with Prince Corin in her arms (to prevent him from running out amongst the dancers) and, seeing her struggling with her little son, Peter offered to hold him in her stead. He talked to the boy so seriously and earnestly of how they would play all day on the morrow that Corin soon forgot his disappointment at being kept out of the dancing. King Lune showed him the sword and shield that his friends had brought for him, which of course he wanted to hold, and Peter (still keeping the wriggling boy on his lap) instructed him on how to hold the sword and bear the shield — without trying to lop off his own father’s hand, much to the ladies’ relief.

“Sooth, my dear King Peter,” King Lune declared, “you shall make a great father someday!”

Peter could only blush and stammer his thanks, while Corin bounced on his knee, eager to go to war.

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