MFB10: Two Practise Duels

King Lune entertained his guests by taking them on a tour of the ramparts of Anvard, showing Peter in particular the various fortifications which he had recently undertaken to add. Although Cair Paravel was high on the cliffs above the shore and well-defended on its landed side, the High King took note in case it could be strengthened even more. Susan and Lucy hung back, chatting with Queen Primela as they strolled at a leisurely pace, and were joined by a few ladies from the court. The youngest of these tittered and giggled every time Peter or Edmund said anything, and were beginning to get on Edmund’s nerves.

“Here, you see, we’ve begun to add a layer of thickness, since the old stones were becoming rather weather-worn,” their host pointed out. The two Dwarfs (their names were Borglun and Dursolt) peered over with interest, for they were keen on anything to do with masonry or metalwork. Edmund leaned over as well, but was startled when he felt a hand grab his arm.

“Easy there, Ed,” Peter cautioned. “This part of the wall hasn’t been reinforced yet.”

Edmund flushed, only partially because the girls were tittering again.

“I’ll be all right. If they’ve lasted this long…” he muttered.

“I suppose… but better safe than sorry, eh, old chap?” Peter said placatingly, releasing his brother’s arm. Edmund almost wished that he hadn’t spoken in such a brusque manner — not that it would have kept Peter’s hand on his arm for much longer. He tried to ignore the silly girls following them by remembering the warmth of his brother’s touch, and realised how attentive Peter had been.

Maybe he really needed the rest, he thought to himself. Maybe he’s only been so distracted lately because he hasn’t been able to sleep!

He made a mental note to ask for chamomile tea again for his brother that evening, and to make sure that their own kitchens stocked it when they returned.

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For the midday meal — or feast, rather — Lucy made a point of finding Mrs. Dumplesugar and having her join them in the courtyard. Peter, upon hearing that the good Beast had stayed in the servants’ areas that morning, agreed wholeheartedly.

“You must remember, Madam,” he said, addressing the Raccoon very seriously when she arrived, down on one knee so he could speak to her better, “that we asked you to accompany us so you would enjoy yourself, and have some stories of our southern neighbours to tell your grandchildren.”

“Bless you, King Peter,” she chuckled, “as if the best stories aren’t told in the washroom! But since you’re kind enough to ask a humble Beast to dine with you, just like a real Lady, how could I refuse? I may be somewhat soapy still, but at least my paws and fur are clean to a fault!”

Her presence had a profound effect on Prince Corin, who had been too excited the day before to notice her, and who now eyed her with amazement as she talked to Peter. The High King courteously helped her up into a chair (which was quite a climb for her, being made for Humans) where she was made welcome by King Lune and Queen Primela. Corin stared at the Raccoon from across the table for a solid half-hour, barely touching his food and being (for a change) completely silent — although it was obvious, as Lucy whispered to Susan, that he was making designs on what must seem to him to be a most wondrous toy.

“Although you know,” Susan whispered back, “I think our darling rascal may have just met his match! For I’m sure Mrs. Dumplesugar wouldn’t let him get away with anything.”

Although this was very true, the matronly Raccoon also had a soft spot for all kits, kittens, cubs, and wee tykes, so when the princeling approached her after the main courses of the meal were done, curiosity gleaming like starlight in his eyes, she was kind enough to let him pet her fur and even hug her like one of his stuffed animals.

“Easy there, my dear!” she did gasp, when he had squeezed her a trifle too hard. “I’m not filled with sawdust, nor even wool, for that matter. See? My hands are as real as yours, and nearly as big!”

There could be no two thoughts upon the matter: Prince Corin was now smitten with Mrs. Dumplesugar, and would not be parted from her. His highness’ toy tea set was brought out (all very functional, only child-sized) and set on a low table, and the Raccoon poured tea while Queen Primela brought them some cakes from the dessert tray. The other Narnians found it very amusing to hear Mrs. Dumplesugar “playing house” like she might with one of her own grandchildren, and the entire assembly was hushed as the prince prattled to his new friend — trying without success to not chuckle when he could not pronounce her name properly and it came out as “Dump’sugar.” But the good-humoured Beast did not mind in the least.

After listening to their play for a while, King Lune engaged Peter in a discussion on Horses, since his grooms had been much impressed with how the creatures in the stables of Anvard had improved after the King (during his last visit to Cair Paravel) had taken some advice from a few Talking Horses. Peter was happy to supply what he had learned from Farthur, the beautiful Unicorn whom he had ridden during the War against the White Witch, as well as from his other equine friends, and Edmund joined in where he could, passing on what he had heard from Phillip (his usual mount). Soon they were surrounded by the various lords and knights of Archenland, who were eager to glean what knowledge they could; for although it was not directly from the Horses’ mouths, as it were, the Narnians had information nearly as valuable. The three queens and the other ladies gathered to talk of things that were more interesting to them, such as dresses and dances, while Per (the young page) kept an eye on Prince Corin, whom Mrs. Dumplesugar was still keeping amused.

When their stomachs had settled, however, both Peter and Edmund were eager for some activity — especially Peter, who felt as though he had done nothing all day until this point. They were usually kept quite busy at Cair Paravel, what with holding court and learning their lessons and training in warfare, so a day of leisure (while it might sound pleasant) was rather off-putting. As though sensing their restlessness, an older knight approached the High King with a respectful bow.

“Ah! Lord Harvers, I had forgotten that you had not met our young friends before,” King Lune said, then turned to King Peter. “He keeps to his mountain fortress in the west for the most part, but happened to be here when I received thy missive, so I persuaded him to stay a little longer.”

After the necessary introductions had been made (very formally and properly), the Lord addressed Peter with reserved enthusiasm.

“We have seen how well your royal brother handles his sword, even a wooden one, against the most… cunning, of opponents,” he began dryly. “It would be an honour to match swords with your Highness, of whose skill I have heard much, and whose conquests are legendary.”

“The honour is mine, good Sir,” Peter answered, “for I perceive you are a knight of most noble worth to be entrusted with the protection of Archenland’s western borders. Any lessons I may learn from a man of your experience are invaluable.”

And so some blunt swords were brought out while Lord Harvers had his page bring his mail shirt, which (it must be admitted) paled in comparison to the finely-wrought Dwarfish mail that Borglun fetched for Peter from his quarters. But the High King chose to use a shield supplied by Anvard’s armoury so as to not have an advantage over the older knight in equipage. The dinner tables had been set in the shade, leaving the sunlit outer area of the courtyard as a ready stage for their match, and even the ladies paused in their conversations to watch.

The two started slowly, testing the swords and shields, but once they had both gained a good sense for their borrowed gear, the contest began in earnest. Lord Harvers was indeed a skillful swordsman, seasoned by skirmishes with wandering brigands as well as the occasional Calormene spy, and Peter was grateful that this was only a training match. However, the High King of Narnia had been taught by some of the fiercest Centaurs, Minotaurs, and Dwarfs in the land, and held his own against a Man old enough to be his sire. Edmund watched and cheered his brother on, swelling with pride at every artful stroke that Peter dealt and wincing whenever he took a heavy blow from the Archenlandian lord.

Both became winded at about the same time and agreed to cease, parting with a cordial handshake and mutual regard for the other’s mastery. Edmund leapt to his feet, looking for a pitcher of water with which to fill Peter’s cup, when he saw the Lady Verinia approach his brother with a chalice.

“You fight most admirably, your Majesty,” she said with a charming smile. “Your skill belies your youth, and does credit to your royal blood.”

“Thank you,” Peter replied, somewhat out of breath as he took the cup and drank. “But I fear I must disappoint you, for in our own world, our blood is no nobler than that of the common tradesman. It is only by Aslan’s grace that we have been placed upon our thrones.”

“Then noble character must outweigh noble birth,” she countered — almost purring, Edmund thought. He did not realise that he was scowling, but suddenly felt as though the bees in his stomach had turned into hornets and were trying to sting their way out in all directions.

“Well said, well said!” King Lune cried, clapping Peter on the shoulder. “For to keep my Lord Harvers on his toes is no mean feat, and at thy tender years, too! Aslan must truly be as wise as he is great, to have chosen such a one to be his deputy.”

Peter blushed at the effusive compliments, turning to his drink again. Lucy came and clung to him (having missed her chance, like Edmund, to bring him a libation) and he was glad for the diversion which she provided.

“You did marvelously well today,” she told him with the simple adoration of a sister. “I think it helped that you were able to sleep so long this morning!”

“I don’t doubt it,” he agreed, then turned to Edmund. “I’m sorry I ever disparaged you for your thoughtfulness — I would be a most ungrateful wretch if I didn’t acknowledge that what little embarrassment I suffered then has saved me from greater embarrassment now!”

Edmund’s face lit up as he grinned, although he was still feeling the stings prickling his stomach.

“Don’t mention it,” he managed to reply, finding himself suddenly tongue-tied as his brother (his complexion ruddy from the exercise and the praise) smiled upon him. The younger king thought his heart might burst with pride, quite literally, from being related to such a splendid and magnificent High King.

“Would your Majesty care for a honey cake?” Lady Verinia asked, now bringing a plate of them.

“Thank you, I would,” Peter said, sitting down for a break. “They look delicious. Lu, do you want half of this?”

As he split the cake with his youngest sister (for he had taken it more out of politeness than actual want), Edmund swallowed hard. Why didn’t I think of that? he berated himself, remembering how he and Peter often craved sweet things after their training. He was also feeling something akin to what he had felt towards the White Witch (once he had been disenchanted, of course) towards the Lady Verinia, although he was being rather unfair. The young lady of Archenland had been captivated by how well King Peter had performed in the match, and was understandably moved to bring him food and drink, knowing that they were, perhaps, the easiest way to catch his attention. She had also noticed how uncommonly handsome he looked today, now that the dark circles under his eyes had disappeared, and was thinking to herself how marvelous it might be to be wooed by such a fine specimen of a Man, and no less than the High King of Narnia!

Edmund turned away, biting his lip as the hornets stung him and a nameless unease gripped his chest with roiling tentacles. With downcast eyes he saw Prince Corin still at play with Mrs. Dumplesugar, and moved to join them.

“Pardon me, your Majesty,” came a voice from behind him before he had the chance to sit down, and Edmund found himself being addressed by a young knight, somewhat older than Peter. “If I may be so bold, I should very much like the favour of seeing your skill in full measure, without, er… accommodating a much younger and shorter opponent. And, since I seem to be the only one brash enough to ask such an impertinence, I am offering myself as your opponent — or victim, as the case may be.”

“I hardly think you need worry about that,” Edmund said, since the knight, though slim, was a full head taller than he was. “But I would be glad to match swords with you, Sir, if you would be so kind as to give me your name.”

“Darian, your Majesty, at your service,” he answered with a neat bow.

“Ah! I take it you’re a second son, too.”

“Third, actually,” Darian replied. “Dar, the eldest, is with our father in our northern territory, which borders the green lands of Narnia — green once again, thanks to your Majesties ridding this world of the abhominable White Witch. My brother Darrin is in the service of our King, and I have only just been knighted. I wonder at my own daring for craving such an indulgence, but having seen your royal brother fight (and you notice how none other dares challenge him), I could not help but wish to see your own skill put forth in a more equitable light.”

Edmund had not bothered with his mail shirt to play with Prince Corin, but he needed it to practise with Darian, so they parted for a few minutes to each fetch their gear. King Lune had been so intent in his questioning of Peter regarding his heritage in our world, especially the ranks of peerage in England, that the two young men had almost started their match before the two kings noticed.

“It seems thy brother has found a more worthy opponent,” King Lune remarked, noting who it was that now faced Edmund in the courtyard. “I knighted Darian not three months ago. He is quick on his feet, and has the eyes of a hawk.”

“So I see,” Peter agreed as the pair began to test each other with steps as light and convoluted as a dance.

“Do you train with your royal brother often?” Lady Verinia asked, having held her peace while Peter had spoken of his country in the other world from whence he had come.

“Oh, yes,” he answered, his eyes never leaving Edmund’s moving figure, “every day, almost. His skill has grown as quickly as his stature, and I fear he will soon prove the better swordsman. Ah! Well countered, there!”

The young lady was more than a little discomfited by the High King’s distraction, but wondered if perhaps he was still insensible to the subtle allure of the fairer sex — being more interested in sport and such boyish pastimes — and thought to test him by feigning an accidental bump against his arm. She succeeded in tearing his eyes away from the dueling pair, and he turned to apologise for jostling her (gentleman that he was) when in fact he had done nothing.

“A thousand pardons, my Lady—” he began, but suddenly broke off, for he caught a glimpse, beyond her shoulder, of the tiny form of Prince Corin charging into the fray (as he perceived it) with his wooden sword upraised. One moment, King Peter was before her; the next, he had darted into the courtyard after the intractable Prince.

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