MFB12: A Bath After the Dance

Although Peter was rather startled to hear Edmund’s misgivings about Lady Verinia, he had come to trust his brother’s instincts about people, and accordingly gave the Lady rather wide berth thereafter. When they returned to the courtyard to rejoin their sisters, she offered Peter a flagon of cider, which he accepted but only to give to Edmund (who was still thirsty and glad enough for it). Then she brought over a platter of tiny, buttered slices of bread with different jams; Peter’s rebuff was so courteous and polite that it hardly felt as such, but the Lady did sense it, and left the High King in peace for some time.

King Lune had taken his son to the Nursery again to instruct him, so Susan and Lucy had been keeping Queen Primela company along with the rest of the ladies of the court. Their hostess had been understandably morose ever since her son Cor had been stolen away, and although the two younger queens were trying their best to be engaging, Queen Primela would sometimes sigh and purse her lips. Lucy simply embraced her on those occasions, and Susan would hold the grieving mother’s hand.

Peter had sat next to Susan (for Mr. Tumnus was on the other side of Lucy) with Edmund right beside him, and in a lull in the conversation Queen Primela observed the two brothers with eyes full of sadness and longing.

“I had wished that my sons would have become even as you are,” she confessed with a mournful smile, “the younger helping the elder to rule as his councillor and best ally. Alas! My Corin must rule, and do so alone, though he seems ill-suited for it.”

“Surely, Madam, you are too hard in your estimation of him,” Peter gently countered. “He is as yet only a child, and who can say if his elder would have been the better king? I wonder about that myself, some days… My brother has proven the wiser judge in many matters, and the more patient. But perhaps Corin shall be the greatest king of all, with wisdom gleaned from all of his own mistakes.”

Edmund’s eyes had widened in surprise, his cheeks blushing and his mouth hanging ajar until he saw Lucy looking at him and suppressing a giggle, whereupon he snapped his mouth shut and blushed even more. Peter was never ungenerous in his praise, but this was high praise indeed (for Edmund greatly respected his brother’s judgment), and the younger king repeated the words in his mind to commit them to memory. He knew that he would treasure them forever, just as he treasured Peter’s regard.

Queen Primela’s smile grew and some of the sadness lifted from her.

“My dear King Peter, how right I hope you to be! For sooth, Corin has made more than his share of mistakes in his young life already, and if each one were to be a lesson learned, why, he truly ought to be the wisest king of all! And yet, I see how it is with you… As High King, you must care for all of your land and subjects; and your brother and sisters, in their turn, care for you. Is this not so?”

“We do try,” Lucy replied, looking up at her friend. “Peter’s responsible for us, too, you see — our mother charged him before we left her — and so he bears a heavier burden than the rest of us.”

“Oh, Lu,” Peter protested, now turning red himself. “You’re hardly a burden! And with most of the White Witch’s rabble stamped out, Narnia is easy enough to rule. But I’ll admit, I couldn’t have done it without you — all of you.”

Susan flashed him a smile, then turned back to Queen Primela.

“You needn’t worry about Corin, your Majesty,” she assured her. “As you have been like a mother to us in this world, and King Lune as our father, so we consider Corin to be our brother as well. Should he ever need our help in any way, we shall always be willing to lend it.”

“I thank you, my dear friends,” the Queen replied, embracing Lucy and clasping Susan’s hand while holding back her tears. “It is such a blessing to have friends like thee!”

“And it is rather nice having a younger brother,” Edmund mused with a grin. “I see now what a boon I’ve been to you, Peter!”

Although everyone laughed at his jest, Peter thought how true it was, even if there were moments when his heart felt as though it would burst from the abundance of affection which it was forced to contain. The dam at Beaversdam held back no less of a torrent, he was sure, as he gazed upon his brother’s fair, joyful face for as long as he dared.

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When King Lune returned, Peter asked the Dwarfs if they might show the royal ironsmiths how they went about their work, and they agreed with a good will, so the menfolk (including most of the knights and courtiers) traipsed to the smithy, while the ladies turned to sewing or drawing while they chatted. Lucy would rather have joined her brothers, but she consoled herself by drawing a tolerably good impression of Peter in his full armour in battle, which Lady Verinia much admired.

Dinner that evening was another feast, and afterward King Lune surprised his guests with a troupe of minstrels that he had called from a nearby village to provide music for them.

“Now, my good Mr. Goat’s-foot, you may dance to your heart’s content!” he grinned, slapping Mr. Tumnus’ back.

“Your Majesty is the picture of kindness,” he replied, “although ’tis no drudgery for a Faun to play and dance; however, I shall enjoy the dance all the more for having new music to learn.”

And with a graceful bow Mr. Tumnus asked Queen Susan for the first dance, a rollicking tune from the Archenlandian hills, and they stepped out briskly to the great delight of all who watched. Edmund begged Lucy to be his partner (for he would rather dance with her than be paired with a girl he didn’t know), and they joined in, their feet moving in time to the high-spirited music. Which left Peter standing alone, with the Lady Verinia at his side. Not wishing to appear ungallant, he asked her for the dance, which she happily accepted. Peter’s first concern was that he not tread upon her toes, but to her credit she was an excellent dancer, and in a few turns had put Peter so much at ease that he did as well as his brother.

They were all winded from the pace of the first dance and sat out the next, which was an old country dance that required the dancers to clap and slap their elbows and knees at intervals. King Lune and Queen Primela joined a few of their courtiers on this one, for it was from the western mountains where the Queen had grown up, and there was much merriment as King Lune mistook which part to slap, and once headed in the wrong direction. Then for the third dance, Peter hastily got Lucy as his partner, Susan was asked by one of the young nobles, and Mr. Tumnus enthralled the musicians by joining them with his pipe. Edmund shrank back, hoping that their host would not insist on finding a partner for him again.

“King Edmund,” came a voice from behind him, and he turned to find himself facing the Lady Verinia. “How charmingly you dance with your sister!”

“Thank you,” he answered, flushing and hoping that his dislike of her didn’t show on his face.

“Both you and your regal brother seem to prefer the company of your sisters,” she remarked, “but I assure you, the women of Archenland would love the chance to prove how amiable we are to our guests.”

“I—I’ve no doubt you would — I mean, you are,” Edmund amended. “But we’re used to our sisters, you see, and they’re used to us. Susan hardly even turns a hair anymore when Peter steps on her feet.”

“You are as jovial a wit as our King Lune,” she tittered. “King Peter was quite adroit when I had the pleasure. I cannot believe that he so often missteps!”

“He hasn’t much lately. The Dryads have been teaching us, and I daresay we’ve both improved.”

“Indeed! The Dryads teach you to dance? Tell me, what are they like?”

While Edmund did his best to describe the leafy tree people to her, the song ended and Peter stepped to the edge of the courtyard alone, for Lucy was now dancing with King Lune. Even Mrs. Dumplesugar had allowed herself to be dragged out by Prince Corin, and kept him to the edge of the swirling dancers as best she could while still keeping time. She moved quite well for someone with (it must be admitted) rather rotund hindquarters, and was the perfect height for the little prince.

As the High King laughed and clapped with the other onlookers, though, his eyes were roving through the crowd in search of his brother, and he started when he saw with whom Edmund was speaking. But he saw almost as quickly that his brother was addressing her out of courtesy, not willingly, for there was a tell-tale furtive glance, revealing that he was looking for some distraction to tear him away. Peter wished with all his heart that he might be able to provide it, but knew that if he approached them he could not neglect to ask her for another dance, and resigned himself to at least finding another partner. There was no shortage of them, after all, and so for the next hour he danced with as many young ladies as he could manage, and never more than once with any of them.

Meanwhile, the Lady Verinia was truly fascinated by the many wondrous creatures who lived in Narnia, and since she saw that the High King would not be asking her to dance again, she was just as happy to learn about his country from his brother. For she could not help but notice how close the two brothers were (having seen the tender solicitude with which each had cared for the other during the course of the day), and hoped to gain information from the younger that would aid her in addressing the older.

“So there are actual winged horses in your realm?” she asked.

“Yes, although they’re very rare anymore. Peter thinks that most of them have gone beyond the Western Wild to hide from Men, who’ve tried to capture them and tame them. They don’t like being saddled and ridden, and I can’t say that I blame them! But they flew out to pay their respects when we toured the western border. Majestic creatures… I wouldn’t have the nerve to try to ride one without its permission, though.”

“What other wonderful creatures are there, pray tell? Although… forgive me, for I am keeping you from the dance…”

Edmund shrugged. “It’s no bother, really. I don’t much care to be paired off with someone I hardly know…” He glanced out at the dancers and caught sight of Peter with a slender girl with long, dark hair, and seeing his brother smiling at her made his breath hitch. Swallowing, he tried to think of another creature that might be interesting to Lady Verinia, and suddenly remembered a very marvelous sort of creature indeed.

“Have you been to the sea very often?” he asked her.

“No, only once. It is lovely, but I prefer the mountain air to the salt breeze.”

“Well then, you’ve probably never seen a Mermaid. I wonder do they even swim this far south? Although I suppose they can jolly well go wherever they want to…”

Lady Verinia stared at him openmouthed for a moment. “There are Mermaids? Truly?” she asked in awe.

“Oh, yes! And Mermen, too — Merfolk, we call them. They sang to us on our coronation day in Cair Paravel, and come by every first of Spring as well. Sometimes they’ll swim alongside our ship when we visit the islands. Beautiful creatures, simply breathtaking,” he stressed. “You can tell they’re intelligent, too, for they have their own language, but we simply haven’t learned how to speak it yet. They seem to accept the High King as having authority over them, somehow, even though they must have their own king to rule them under water.”

He came very close to mentioning that Peter was smitten with one of them, but held his tongue, reminding himself that it was not his secret to share. Besides, what did it matter if the Lady Verinia knew that her case was hopeless, as long as it was hopeless? So he moved on to describe the Centaurs (of which the Lady had met one, who had accompanied the Narnians on their last visit to Anvard) and other creatures, until the dance was ended and he was free to retire to the room he shared with Peter.

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Per and the other servants had prepared the bath for them again, and this time Edmund insisted that Peter go first. However, Peter could not use his bandaged right hand, and although Per was willing to do whatever was necessary (especially since Peter had saved Prince Corin from harm), Edmund also wanted to help.

“Ed, I’m not helpless, you know… I still have one good arm,” Peter protested as his brother cast off his shirt — exposing his pale skin to be gilded by the glow of the fire — and grabbed a cloth from Per.

“I know you’re not an invalid,” Edmund replied, “but since it was my blade that cut you, I ought to at least fill in for your right hand.” So saying, he began washing his brother’s feet while Per washed the High King’s back. Peter, not having a cloth to use himself, could only watch helplessly as his half-naked brother bent to scrub his legs, working up to where his rebellious member was ready to betray him at any second. He closed his eyes and tried to think of the most vile, disgusting things that he had ever seen, blocking out the sight of Edmund’s smooth, white skin and soft, tender lips—

FAUGH! Hi! Edmund!” Peter suddenly cried out in protest, jumping in surprise and almost leaping out of the tub when his brother (with no qualms or reservations whatsoever) grabbed his privates and attempted to wash them.

“What? Sit still, won’t you?” Edmund retorted. “You’re sloshing water all over. And it’s not like I’m scrubbing that hard!”

Shocked, Peter settled back into the tub, his mind seemingly frozen from the realisation that his brother had no sense of impropriety over what he had just done. Or rather, was doing — for he once again scrubbed the most sensitive part of Peter’s anatomy (although more gently this time) before moving up to his stomach and thereon to his chest with perfect aplomb. At least the shock had the effect of keeping Peter’s baser desires in check, and once he had been thoroughly washed, he waited only long enough for his hair to dry — blowing and drinking his chamomile tea in haste — before plunging into the haven of his bed.

He half-listened to his brother talking to Per as he took his own turn in the bath, laughing over the events of the day, including getting his head smacked by Prince Corin. Peter was still shaken over the fact that Edmund had no inhibitions in touching another man’s privates, even though he was his brother, and determined to talk to him about it as soon as they were alone. However, once the tub had been removed and Per had bid them both goodnight, Peter found it impossible to broach the subject.

Edmund crouched before the fire, sipping the chamomile tea that Per had brought for him, too, and feeling quite content. Peter had not been injured badly, and had paid him some of the highest compliments he could ever have hoped for. Helping to wash his older brother had also been an interesting experience, for it had allowed him to look at as well as feel (through the cloth) a grown man’s body — something he hoped to soon gain for himself. It was with satisfaction that he sighed before slipping into his bed.

“Goodnight, Peter,” he called.

“Goodnight, Ed,” came the muffled reply. But whereas Edmund fell asleep almost immediately, Peter’s thoughts lingered for a long while on how his brother’s hands had passed over his body, and how disturbingly delightful it might have felt had he not been so mortally embarrassed.


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