MFB20: The Voyage Home

The Narnians had enjoyed their walk up to Anvard on their way in, and walking back would have been even easier since it was mostly downhill, but King Lune would not hear of his guests going on foot. So after breakfast and some tearful goodbyes (for the womenfolk at least) the party was mounted on the finest Horses to be found in the castle, and King Lune himself with several of his knights escorted them to the harbour where the Splendor Hyaline was anchored.

Per had not slept all night, having been too excited about his new prospects, and barraged King Edmund during their ride with questions about Narnia and his new duties. However, his Knight was still nursing a Strawberry-Cordial-induced headache and was rather dull in his answers, so King Peter hung back from the head of the group to give Per some more thorough responses. Even though the boy was still somewhat in awe of the High King, he felt a great deal more at ease after that.

The crew of their ship had not been idle during the past few days; they had been busy trading and buying things for which Archenland was famous, such as sausages and cheeses. (Their Goat cheese was considered a delicacy by Fauns, the more so because Archenlandian goatherds were kind to their Beasts, even if they were dumb, ordinary ones.) Belowdecks, every nook and cranny of the ceiling was hung with the goods they had stocked, and King Lune added several barrels of wine and rum to their cargo as a parting gift. He also insisted on treating them to an early lunch in the little harbour village, so what with one thing and another, it was well into the afternoon before they finally set sail.

Per was queasy since this was his first time on board a seafaring vessel, but Lucy persuaded Peter to let her give their new companion a whiff of her magical cordial, which was all it took to set him to rights. He soon found his sea legs and Edmund (who secretly wished that he might have sniffed the cordial as well, but was too embarrassed to confess why to his sister) roused himself to show him the ship from stem to stern. At one point the younger king led his new squire to the poop deck, where the High King was discussing their course with the captain.

“There’s no need to hurry,” Peter was telling Captain Meridian. “If the winds are contrary, we can beat to windward while there’s still light and weigh anchor tonight. There’s no sense making the men row when we won’t make it home before midnight even with a strong south wind, so we may as well wait until tomorrow to arrive. I’m sure Oreius will figure out what we’re doing.”

“I will give the order to tack close-hauled, then, your Majesty,” the older man replied, relieved that the king was not over-eager to get home.

“I say, Captain,” Edmund put in before the man could walk away, “I just saw how much stuff you have in the hold now!”

“Indeed, your Majesty — the cooks at Cair Paravel charged me to fill it as much as safely possible, with a list of their desired provisions as long as my arm.”

“Well, I guess we hadn’t really thought of that when we invited Per to come to Narnia with us,” the younger king said, looking rather pointedly at his older brother, who furrowed his brows.

“You’re right, I had overlooked that,” Peter admitted. “Captain, do you think there’s room to hang up one more hammock?”

“I can tell you right now that there isn’t,” Edmund interrupted, “but don’t worry; Per can sleep in my bed, and I’ll just bunk with you, Peter. It’s only one night, after all.”

Peter opened his mouth with half a mind to object, but since Per was standing right behind Edmund, his eyes opened wide in concern, all Peter actually said was, “Oh… right. Of course.”

“There’s no need for that, your Majesties,” the captain protested. “I’m sure we could move a few things around and… er… squeeze the lad in, even if it might be a bit… snug.”

Edmund shook his head with a laugh.

“Oh, don’t worry, Captain! We don’t mind — and besides, I can’t imagine how you could fit one more strand of sausages, let alone a whole hammock! It’s our own fault that we didn’t think of how loaded the ship would be, and anyhow, we sleep back-to-back all the time when we go to the wars, so it’s no bother at all.”

Peter could not help but agree to that, but as Edmund dragged Per away to climb up to the crow’s nest, the High King thought he saw a look of triumph on his brother’s face.

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That night they weighed anchor at a little bay, hoping for better winds in the morning, and most of the crew turned in early. Lucy and Mr. Tumnus wanted to finish their game of chess, so Peter kept them company; however, after the game was over and the two had retired to their respective cabins, Peter remained on deck, sitting with his back against a barrel. He gazed beyond the mast at the stars that formed The Hammer.

He wasn’t sure what Edmund had meant by manoeuvering him into sharing a bed again, or even if he had actually seen him smirk at his success. Perhaps it had simply been the most practical way of settling Per into the ship, nothing more; but if Edmund had deliberately used circumstances to this end, what was his purpose? Peter bit his lip, wondering if his brother had noticed the effect his presence had upon him, and might have contrived to tease him in this manner.

Or maybe, he thought with a sudden jolt, I said something in my sleep — called his name or something — and he heard it! Maybe he knows already…!

He felt his blood run cold. If Edmund knew of his unnatural yearning for him… but no — if he had, wouldn’t he avoid being at close quarters with Peter like the plague? But then, why would Edmund wish to sleep with him in the first place?

I wonder if he’s lonely, or afraid of something? Peter mused. He has been crying rather easily these last few days… What could be bothering him, though?

He wracked his brains but could come up with nothing useful. In fact, he was so deep in thought that he did not hear the hatch open behind him nor notice the soft footfalls of bare feet upon the wood.

“Peter?” came Edmund’s voice in the darkness, making him jump. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you… but aren’t you coming to bed?”

“Uh… of course,” he replied, feeling his heart beat like a frightened bird trapped in his throat. His brother was standing there with a blanket wrapped around him, looking strangely waif-like and younger — more vulnerable — than usual.

“You were thinking about her again, weren’t you?” Edmund demanded, a hard edge to his tone.

“Who?” left Peter’s lips before he could catch himself.

Her, of course — the Mermaid.”

Peter gasped as he realised what his brother was referring to.

“Um… well… yes,” he lied, recovering somewhat.

Edmund sat down on the deck beside him, still shrouded in the blanket. He had lain awake in the cabin below, waiting for his brother to come down for what seemed an eternity while Per snored like a Dwarf, tired from the day’s excitement. When he heard Lucy and Mr. Tumnus enter their cabins with no sign of Peter, he had brooded on what might be keeping his brother. The only reasons he could think of were, either Peter was pining for the beautiful Mermaid again, or he simply did not want to be crammed into the small berth with his little brother.

Edmund had eventually come in search of Peter, but even having the less odious of his suspicions confirmed somehow left him feeling more forlorn than before. The hornets were back, stinging his insides, and his face was wrapped in shadow as he contemplated the net-like patterns cast by the Moon shining through the rigging.

“Peter… if there were some way you could… turn into a Merman, or live under the water… would you do it?” he asked.

“What? Of course not!” Peter replied quickly. “I would never leave you and the girls, not to mention abandon Narnia! I mean… it’s not like I’m the only king, of course, but what would I say to Aslan if I left my duties without a decent excuse?”

Edmund breathed a sigh of relief, audible even to his brother.

“All right. I didn’t think you would, but… I didn’t know, for sure.”

“Ed…” Peter began, comprehension creeping into his mind, “you didn’t really think… I mean, you weren’t worried that I would actually leave Cair Paravel, were you? To go chasing after some Mermaid?”

The pause before Edmund responded was answer enough.

“I hoped you wouldn’t. Or that there wouldn’t be a way you could,” he finally said in a low voice.

“Oh, Edmund!” Peter cried, heartbroken. “How could you? Well, all right — I’ve been mooning around long enough that I can’t blame you for worrying if I’ve gone queer in the head, but… I would never leave you — and Lu and Su — for some… Mermaid, or girl, no matter how pretty she might be!”

Edmund looked up at last to gaze into his brother’s eyes.

“You mean that? Honestly?” he asked in a whisper.

“Of course I do,” Peter told him, placing an arm around his slender shoulders. He was mesmerised for a moment by the starlight reflected in Edmund’s dark eyes. Swallowing as he reminded himself that this was his brother, Peter patted him in what he hoped was a brotherly gesture. “I should think you would know me well enough by now, Ed! I’d never just take off and leave you all in the lurch.”

Abashed, Edmund played with a corner of the blanket.

“I’m sorry. I was just… worried.”

“All right. But you do know that there’s no reason to be, don’t you?”

Edmund nodded, feeling the stinging of the hornets settle down into the more manageable hum of the bees swirling in his stomach.

“Ed…” Peter groped for the right words. “Has this been bothering you? I mean… no offense, but you haven’t seemed quite yourself lately…”

Edmund continued to twist the blanket around his finger.

“Well… maybe…” he admitted. The truth was, he had not really considered what had been eating away at him or why he kept feeling these strange and novel sensations (partly because he hadn’t had the time), but now that this possibility was presented to him, it seemed as likely a reason as not.

“Oh, Edmund…” Peter murmured, feeling awful. He had not disabused his brother nor the others of the notion that he was in love with a Mermaid because he had figured that such a creature — who was both Human enough to be the object of his love as well as alien enough to be an impossible match — was as good an approximation for his brother, who was also unattainable and far more inadmissible. However, he had not foreseen that Edmund might become distressed about the possibility of his leaving in pursuit of said object.

With one arm still wrapped around his brother’s shoulder, Peter braced himself for what he was about to do.

“Ed… I need to confess something to you,” he began, his expression grim.

“What?” Edmund asked, anxiety tensing his body as he feared that something unpleasant was forthcoming.

“There is no Mermaid,” Peter very clearly stated.

“Wh—What do you mean? I saw her as clear as day — you saw her yourself!” Edmund responded, confused.

“No, I mean… I was never in love with any Mermaid,” Peter clarified. “That day, when I told you that I was in love with someone, I teased you about the Mermaid because she was rather fresh in my mind. Then you just assumed that she was the one I had fallen for.”

Edmund stared at his brother with his mouth agape as he began to grasp what he was saying.

“I’m sorry — I didn’t deny it, and let you believe it was her,” Peter apologised, feeling worse than his brother could have known. “I deliberately misled you, even though it was by saying nothing. It was simply easier than telling you the truth.”

Edmund remained silent for a whole minute, during which time Peter grew increasingly uncomfortable but had the sense not to make matters worse by talking more.

“So… who is it?” the younger boy demanded at last.

“I can’t tell you,” Peter answered with a sinking heart. “Please don’t ask me, Ed, for I really can’t. I… I vowed I wouldn’t tell a soul. This is a secret that I must take to the grave.”

Edmund lapsed into silence again, pondering this new turn of events as the hornets returned to torment him.

“It’s because I told the girls and Mr. Tumnus that first time, isn’t it,” he said flatly, his voice as dark as his shadowed, downcast face. “I knew I shouldn’t’ve… at least, not without your permission, but—”

“Edmund! NO!” Peter denied with vehemence. “That’s not it at all! I know you can keep a secret, and that you wouldn’t tell a soul if I asked you not to. It’s just… It’s very private, and… oh, bother! I don’t even know how to explain it,” he said in frustration.

“It’s all right,” Edmund said in a tone that belied his words. “I get it. I’m too young to understand, a—and you’re afraid I might let it slip again—”

No! That’s not true! Oh, Ed…” Peter slapped his head with his free hand, shut his eyes, and thought furiously. “All right, think about it this way: If I told you who it is, how would you feel about that person?”

“I don’t know… It would depend on the person, I guess.”

“Yes, but… you would know that this person was causing me pain — through no fault of their own, of course, but still. Wouldn’t that make you feel… I don’t know, maybe a bit angry, or resentful, that they couldn’t do anything about it? For my sake?”

Edmund considered this for a moment before conceding, “Yes. I suppose so.”

“And so it would do more harm than good,” Peter pressed his point, relieved, “if I were to tell you. So you see why I can’t so much as hint at who it might be.”

Edmund slowly nodded. “Yes. And it must be someone I know, so even a hint might help me work out who it is.”

“Well… yes,” Peter confirmed. “But it’s not because I don’t trust you to keep quiet about it, all right? I just… I don’t want to burden you with the knowledge.” This much, at least, was entirely true, even though a greater motive for him was not wanting to face the horror and disgust of his beloved, which would surely follow.

“All right,” Edmund sighed, and meant it this time. “I wish I could help you somehow… but I understand why you don’t want to tell me.”

“Oh, Ed,” Peter said, pulling his brother into a rough hug. “You are helping me, by keeping me company and… by caring. You probably can’t fathom how much of a comfort it is, just to know that you care about my ridiculous infatuation.”

“Of course I do!” Edmund declared indignantly. “I want you to be happy, Pete! But I… well, I don’t jolly well want you to go live under the sea, or anything like that, you know… but I do care if you’re sad or down.”

His slender arms had wound their way about his stockier brother and Peter, in turn, had clasped Edmund even closer.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, then pressed his lips briefly to his brother’s head. Edmund felt a warmth spread from deep within his breast, lulling the bees into a lethargy so that they only tickled the insides of his stomach. Peter, however, was having his heart squeezed like an orange, bleeding drops of pain and yearning as he held his brother in his arms — so near, yet so unobtainable.

“I suppose we should get to bed,” he said regretfully as he pulled away. Edmund agreed and stood up, still draped in the blanket in lieu of a bathrobe. They slipped down the stairs and into their cabin (Edmund taking care not to trip on the blanket) where Per was fast asleep. It was not long before the two brothers joined him in slumber, Edmund nestled tightly against Peter’s chest.

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