MFB11: Peter’s Hand and Edmund’s Misgivings

Edmund had his back turned to the spectators as he slashed at Darian’s legs, only to have the Archenlandian knight make a clean jump over it. He quickly reversed his sword’s momentum to slash again backhanded, which Darian also leapt to avoid; however, it was at that precise moment that Prince Corin ran up to them, and Peter saw the blade of his brother’s sword — blunt but still dangerous — arcing directly towards the boy’s head. Flinging himself forward, he caught the edge of the blade with his right hand, blocking it from hitting Corin in the face. Heedless, the little Prince raised his wooden sword and struck Edmund’s side.

Whether he dropped his sword the moment he felt resistance, or the split second after when he saw Peter on the ground before it, or the next moment when Corin’s sword hit him, Edmund could never remember. But with a yelp of surprise, drop it he did, and turned to fend off Corin with his shield alone. This was not a difficult task, and King Lune came to his aid almost immediately, roaring with indignation.

Peter caught his breath and stood up, relieved that he had reached the boy in time, but his next thought was of his brother.

“You all right, Ed?” he asked, indicating the place where Corin had hit him with the wooden sword.

“Of course. What happened?” Edmund countered with a question of his own. “All of a sudden, I turn around and you’re both right there!”

“Forgive me, Sire, I should have warned you,” Darian said with chagrin. “I saw our Prince fast approaching, but had not the breath to say so.”

“Nor I,” Peter added. “I just wanted to grab him before he was in the thick of it.”

“And my eternal gratitude is due thee, King Peter,” the boy’s father said, looking rather shaken for all of his shouting, for he had seen how close the blade had come to his son. “‘Tis well they were only using blunts, else thy noble hand might have been severed from thy limb!”

A host of people had run up to them by now, including Queen Primela (who snatched her son up in her arms and kissed him and wept over him) and Per, who had turned a sickly colour.

“Sire, your Majesties,” he said, then swallowed, for his mouth had gone dry. “It is on my account that the Prince has so narrowly escaped harm. I should have been attending to him and caught him before he left his place… but I was taken by the match, and failed at my post.” He looked truly miserable as he added, “My Lord, do with me as you deem fit.”

King Lune stared at the boy, at a loss for words. Per’s father had aided the one who had bereft him of his first son; now Per was to blame for more trouble that might have befallen his second and only remaining son. But before he could pronounce his judgment upon the wretched youth, there was proof of how dire a situation had just been avoided, for Lucy (who had sidled up to her eldest brother) cried out at that moment.

“Peter! You’re bleeding!

“What?” Peter responded, holding up his hand and realising for the first time that a line of blood had been drawn on his palm. Edmund turned deathly pale as he gasped.

“Peter! By Jove, Pete, your hand!

There was a collective intake of breath (especially from the ladies) as a drop of blood rolled off to spatter on the flagstones below.

“What? Were they not blunts?” King Lune demanded, and several courtiers scrambled to check the blade that Edmund had dropped.

“Indeed, Sire,” one answered, “but it has a dent in it — perhaps from striking the edge of another — that has left it ragged.”

Peter, who had assessed his wound, spoke in a calm tone to soothe ragged nerves. “It’s only a scratch, your Majesty, nothing more. ‘Twill heal in a day or two, and is no great cause for concern.”

“Perhaps it would be so, if I did not count one drop of thy noble blood more precious than a firkin of my own,” King Lune replied, peering at the streak of red. However, it was soon blotted with a most unusual handkerchief of purplish-brown stains. Edmund had pulled it out from his pocket and was wordlessly holding it against Peter’s hand, his face ashen as he set the cloth, with extreme care, upon the injury.

“Ed… is this?” Peter began, thinking that he recognised the handkerchief. Edmund only nodded, not trusting his voice, for he yet feared the depth of the wound — the wound which he, however unknowingly, had inflicted upon his brother.

“It’s all right,” Peter assured him, understanding how he must be feeling. “See? It’s just taken a layer of skin off. I’ve got worse scratches from falling off of a Horse.” Seeing that Edmund was still biting his lip, Peter pulled him into a rough embrace with his uninjured hand, ruffling his hair light-heartedly and saying, “I shouldn’t think you could do any grave harm with a blunt sword, Ed, no matter how skilled you may have become!”

The relief at seeing that the wound was not great worked curiously on Edmund — but of course, he had been struggling with strange sensations in his stomach and chest all day; he had just had a fright, thinking that he had grievously injured his beloved brother’s sword hand; and he was now being held against Peter’s breast with the warmth of his brother’s other hand cradling his head. Perhaps he could not be blamed for what he did next: he burst into tears.

Startled, Peter felt the sobs wracking Edmund’s body as he wept silently and uncontrollably. His arms were wrapped around his younger brother’s shoulders in a trice, holding him in a tight embrace as he tried to give him some comfort.

“It’s all right, Ed; it’s all right. It’s only a scratch,” Peter murmured into his ear, as Edmund clung to him and Lucy and Susan gaped in surprise. “Shhh, Ed… Don’t worry, it’s nothing,” Peter continued to soothe. He knew that his brother was distressed, and though he did not understand why he was distressed to such an extent, the most important thing was to calm him and reassure him.

Even King Lune was taken aback by the young king’s reaction, but soon he had reasoned out an explanation.

“Ah… he took quite a turn, it seems, and for good reason! First he sees my scoundrel of a son running into his blade, and his royal brother throwing himself in harm’s way to protect him, and then he fears that he has wounded his brother! Through no fault of his own, mind you, of course,” he added. “No, the fault was all Corin’s, who has yet to learn how to await his turn,” he continued, rounding upon the boy in his mother’s arms. “Thou hast disgraced me twice already this day, and had best not try my patience again, or shalt regret it for much longer than thou usually dost!” Then he turned, and in a more measured tone, addressed Per. “I cannot fault you for not having wings wherewith to catch my son, for none knows better than I how swift of foot he is. Doubtless, this shall teach you to attend to your duties better hereafter; I require no more, and no less, than that. We shall not speak of it again.”

Thankfully, by the time King Lune pronounced the final word upon the whole matter, Edmund was able to pull himself together and nod to Peter’s whispered queries. Yes, he was all right; yes, he knew that Peter didn’t blame him; and yes, he would very much like to retire to their room to wash up and regain his composure. Peter thanked Darian on Edmund’s behalf and suggested that they might be able to continue their match on the morrow, to which the knight graciously assented, wishing King Edmund a better day than he had had heretofore.

“Aye, for my blackguard son has assaulted him twice already, in violation of all rules of conduct and decency,” King Lune agreed. “My good King Edmund, ’tis been a trying day for thee indeed! But I promise thee, Corin shall be tied to his chair before thou or thy blessed brother draw swords in my court again. Never fear!”

Edmund could only nod his thanks, and Peter voiced them for him, excusing themselves for a while. Lucy made to follow them, making some mention of her magic cordial, but Peter told her emphatically that it was not to be used for mere trifles such as his scratch.

“If it please your Majesties,” came a voice from around their knees, “I have some salve that works wonders, and I have some bandages packed away, too.”

“I’ve no doubt you can mend this as expertly as any doctor, Mrs. Dumplesugar,” Peter replied with a smile growing on his face. “And I would be indebted to you for your services.”

“It’s my pleasure, to be sure, your Highness,” she beamed. “It’s been so long since I’ve had my own kits tumbling about, getting cuts and scrapes and all…”

She scurried on ahead to dig out her things, while Peter led Edmund, one arm across his shoulder, at an easier pace. They said nothing, even when they had turned down so many corridors that the noise of the assembly had faded away, for Edmund’s composure was still fragile, now that he realised that he had broken down and wept, like a girl, in front of the entire court of Archenland. For Peter, every sniff and residual sob was heart-wrenching, and he knew not what to say to comfort his brother. He was, however, appreciative of the fact that Edmund had not cast off his arm from his shoulder as he had half feared he might.

Once in their room, they found their washbasins and pitchers replaced already, and while Peter made sure that his wound was clean, Edmund washed his face and attempted to regain his internal balance. Mrs. Dumplesugar came in soon thereafter, wielding a jar of her homemade ointment and some bandages, as promised, so Peter sat on the floor where she could more easily attend to him.

“There, that’s done,” she pronounced, tying the ends of the bandage. “You mustn’t get it wet for a day or so, your Highness, or if you do, you must have it re-dressed, but by tomorrow night the skin should have grown together — at your age perhaps even sooner, I shouldn’t be surprised! — and in another day it will harden, and in another it will be as good as new. I daresay it may have taught the little prince a well-deserved lesson if you hadn’t stopped the blade, but I must confess I haven’t the heart to scold the scalawag myself, much less to see him scarred! You did a good and noble thing, you did, King Peter, and I hope they have poets here in Archenland as can write a decent ballad about it. I would dearly love to hear a story-poem sung of how you saved the Prince’s neck from the fell sword of your most fearsome brother!”

“Thank you, Mrs. Dumplesugar,” Peter responded, “but I think they’ve made quite enough songs exaggerating our deeds in Narnia alone!”

“Shall I get the stains out of this, King Edmund?” she asked, waving the handkerchief that now had blood on it as well.

“No! I mean… Please… just wash it, and leave the marks be,” Edmund amended.

“As you wish, your Majesty,” she said, gathering up her things.

Even after she had left the room, Peter remained sitting on the floor, since Edmund was now staring off into space with a troubled expression, pacing the room aimlessly.

“Is something bothering you, Ed?” he asked softly.

“No. I’m fine,” was his all-too-quick answer. He took off his mail shirt and tossed it on to his bed. Peter waited, and his patience was rewarded, for Edmund (twisting his fingers in nervousness) broke the silence by rescinding his previous statement.

“Actually, there is something bothering me,” he confessed.

“Tell me,” Peter urged.

“Promise you won’t laugh?”

“Of course.”

Edmund looked as though he already regretted what he’d said, but could not go back, and ended up blurting out the first thing that came to mind.

“Do you like her? What’s-her-name, Lady Veranda or whatever — the one that’s always fawning over you.”

“Lady Verinia?” Peter asked in turn, startled.

Edmund nodded.

“Uh… She’s a nice girl, and has been very helpful,” Peter tenuously began. “I think she’s been a good friend to Susan and Lucy, too. Why? Do you… Do you fancy her?” he asked, the suspicion making his heart skip a beat.

NO! Of course not,” Edmund scowled, and there was a ferocity in his denial that left no room for doubt. “I… I just… I don’t know. I don’t like her. I don’t like the way she’s always bringing you food, and drink, like she’s… — all right, I’ll just come out and say it! — like she’s trying to bewitch you or something.”

Peter’s jaw hung open for a minute.

“Y—You think…?”

“Oh, I don’t think she’s a real witch or anything, of course,” Edmund retorted, rather cross from feeling guilty (and rightfully so) for making such an unfounded accusation. “I don’t have any proof, if that’s what you want, but I just get this uncomfortable feeling whenever she gives you something to eat or drink. She reminds me of the White Witch.”

Peter digested this before he made a reply.

“You may be more right than you know,” he slowly stated. “I’d felt her arm against mine, just before I saw Prince Corin dash out — in fact, if she hadn’t touched me, I mightn’t have seen him in time. Anyway, I’m sure I hadn’t moved, but her arm brushed against mine, so I was about to apologise to her. You may be right in saying that she’s trying to bewitch me, although not in the same sense as the White Witch… just that she’s trying to make me like her. And that’s not a crime, you know. In fact, most chaps would be flattered.”

Edmund swallowed, seeing things in a more reasonable light now.

“So… are you?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

“Flattered? A little, of course. She’s a pretty girl — who wouldn’t be? But… if she’s hoping that I’ll start courting her in earnest, I’m afraid she’ll be disappointed… I’m just not ready for, you know… that sort of attachment. Not just yet.”

If Peter knew how much relief his words had afforded his brother, he would have been curious as to the reason why; but Edmund reined in his emotions, not wanting to end up blubbing like he had before, although his heart was doing cartwheels inside his chest.

“Maybe you’re right about the food, though,” Peter continued. “I haven’t turned down anything she’s brought me, and maybe that’s given her false hope. I wouldn’t want her to be dashed, later… I should start refusing some of the things she brings — not everything, of course, since we’re guests here and I don’t want to be rude, but just enough that, well… she won’t get her hopes up.”

Edmund nodded, suddenly ceasing his pacing to plop down on the floor in front of Peter.

“It’s not like I thought she was actually giving you enchanted food, you know,” he explained, with a sheepish smile. “It’s just… she made me uneasy. Like she was coming after you.”

Peter returned the smile with a tenderness in his eyes that Edmund had come to expect.

“It’s all right — I won’t be captured so easily. Not by a Daughter of Eve, anyway…”

Which reminded Edmund of the Mermaid, and he could have slapped himself for having forgotten. For how could a Human girl, no matter how lovely, compete with the ethereal beauty of a Mermaid? He had been worried over nothing!

“We should probably get back to our host,” Peter remarked, and Edmund agreed, feeling much lighter in spirit.

As they walked down the long hallways, Edmund had already forgotten his embarrassing behaviour from earlier, for his brother was smiling and complimenting him on his last match. The Sun was shining, so the storm was soon forgotten.

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