MFB21: Per Meets the Talking Horses

The next day they sailed uneventfully to the quay by Cair Paravel, arriving a little before the noon hour to be greeted by a gathering of their people — mostly Talking Beasts and Centaurs — who had seen the ship approaching. Per’s eyes grew as wide as saucers, trying to take in all of the furry, leafy, and fantastical beings of the Narnian court, who welcomed him warmly and chattered to their kings and queens about what had been going on in their absence.

King Edmund promised to show Per the castle from top to bottom, “But first,” he said, after they had finished their lunch in the great hall, “we must go see Phillip.”

“Who… or what, is he?” Per asked with some trepidation.

“My Horse — or at least, he lets me ride him,” Edmund amended. “He’s one of my best friends, too.”

He led them through the kitchens and down a back stairway to the cellars, where it was cold enough to make Per shiver. Edmund told him to select some apples from one of the many crates stored there, looking for ones that were unbruised and still more or less plump despite having been picked the autumn before. Then they headed out the west side of the castle, through the massive stone gatehouse, and left the path to cut across a field. Edmund had shown Per how to tuck the apples inside his tunic so that they could run down the gently sloping field, shouting in glee as they leapt over patches of fragrant clover. The boys hardly slowed when they entered the edge of the Great Forest.

“Not far now,” Edmund said after they had made their way through the trees for a few minutes. Presently they emerged in a green meadow where a number of Horses were grazing and sunning themselves.

“King Edmund!” cried one of them with a startled snort, and trotted over. “I didn’t think you’d be back so soon! Sallowpad said you would probably put off leaving Archenland since the winds were unfavorable yesterday.”

“They were, but we tacked further off-shore,” Edmund explained. “We had a manageable east wind today.” He saw the great chestnut Beast eyeing Per curiously and grinned. “This is Per, my new squire from Archenland. Per, this is Phillip.”

“H—How do you do,” Per said, trying without success not to let his nerves show. He was comfortable enough around normal horses, but had never met a Talking Horse before.

“Pleased to meet you,” Phillip replied with a smile (though of course Per had not yet learned to read a Horse’s expressions). “No offense, but you seem to be a bit lumpy, yourself. Perhaps if you divested yourself of those apples, you wouldn’t look like a Sow who’s been nursing a litter.”

The boys looked down at their tunics, and Edmund began laughing at the apt analogy, for the apples were lined up like so many teats down their fronts.

“You should be glad we had very large litters,” he told the Horse, while pulling out the apples. “We brought enough for everybody, I think.”

The other Horses had been hanging back politely, letting the king greet his friend first, but drew nearer with whinnied welcomes as Edmund passed out the apples one by one. Per supplied him with his when he ran out, watching in awe as the young king spoke to each of the Horses by name and inquired after those not present as well.

“We had a lovely time, thank you,” Edmund answered one roan mare. “King Lune was as jolly as ever, and Prince Corin as much of a scalawag as ever!”

That was met with a chorus of neighs which Per realised was Horsy laughter. When everybody had received an apple and moved off to graze again, Edmund clambered up onto the low-hanging limb of a tree that allowed him to speak to Phillip eye-to-eye, and munched on an apple as well. Per noted that the king had kept the most shriveled one for himself, leaving Per with two slightly wrinkled ones, and the boy sat on the grass and nibbled on the fruit, which had gone soft but was still sweet.

“…and all of a sudden, I turned and there was Peter on the ground, having flung himself in front of the little stinker to keep him from getting caught in the face by my backswing, while Corin himself never knew what danger he was in and started beating on me with the wooden sword we’d given him, if you please! But of course King Lune would have none of that, and roared like a Bear woken out of his winter sleep. I almost felt sorry for Corin, for his father actually had him tied up when I finished my bout with Darian a few days later. But it sure gave me a turn when Lu shrieked and pointed out that Peter’s hand was dripping blood!”

After catching Phillip up on their adventures in Archenland, Edmund climbed down and made ready to leave.

“Excuse me, Sir,” Per ventured, holding out the last apple to Phillip, “but if you would like…”

“How thoughtful of you,” the good Horse said, daintily plucking it out of the boy’s trembling hand. “Of course, at this rate I shall become as fat as a Pony, but I am fond of apples. And you needn’t call me ‘Sir,’ Son of Adam — but let us be friends.”

“I say,” Edmund put in, a thought having just occurred to him, “in our world a squire is supposed to take care of the knight’s Horse, too, but I don’t suppose you really need caring for, do you?”

“There’s always the saddle and gear,” Phillip pointed out. “I can’t very well put them on myself! And if you’re any good with a curry-comb, I could use a good brushing every so often — before any festivities at court, you know, such as tourneys and feasts.”

“I do know how to care for regular Horses,” Per replied, “but please, your Majesty, I don’t know where the stables are.”

“We’ll go by the stables, then, on our way in,” Edmund assured him. “Our Horses are free to come and go as they please, so they only use the stables when it’s cold or wet out.”

“And I’ll come in when there’s something a-hoof, like quintain practice,” Phillip added, “so you can saddle me for it. There are Fauns and Dwarfs in charge of the royal stables, but I’m sure they won’t mind giving up the honour of a-dressing me.”

Per had been watching the Horse’s expressions while Edmund had talked to him, and thought he saw Phillip’s large lips curving humourously, belying his dry words.

“Then the pleasure will be mine,” the new squire said with an answering smile. He was beginning to feel more comfortable about his future in Narnia, now that he was learning what some of his duties would be.

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They were met by a sleek Panther as soon as they entered the castle courtyard, having finished their tour of the empty (and very clean) stables.

“Hullo, Elsa!” Edmund called. “Your fur is looking especially glossy today. Have you been out hunting?”

“Indeed I have, your Majesty,” the great black cat purred. “My cousin invited me for a visit, south and west of the Shuddering Wood. They have such an infestation of rodents there, in the rocky hills, although I daresay we two made a dent in the population.”

Edmund said in an aside to Per, “Not the Talking kind, of course.”

“Oh. Of course,” Per responded, and then Edmund introduced him to Elsa.

“Mrs. Dumplesugar asked me to watch for your return,” she told the king. “She wished to ask you which room Master Per shall have. She will have his linens brought up when you have decided.”

“Oh! Right. Bless her for reminding me,” Edmund said fervently. “Thank you, Elsa — I’ll see to it right now.”

And so they headed up several flights of stairs and to the east side of the castle where the royal children’s quarters were. Their trunks had already been brought up for them and were waiting in the hall to be unpacked and put away; Edmund pulled his into his room before Per could help him.

“So this is my room, and the next one over is Peter’s. Next to that is what we call our ‘den’ — although it’s more like a proper parlour than not, but it’s cozy, and it’s where we gather to play chess or read or whatever,” Edmund explained. “It’s also got the best views, since it looks out over the sea to the east as well as the coastline and the forest to the south. Susan’s room is next to it, facing due south. It gets the most sunlight, and gets beastly hot in the summer, but she says she doesn’t mind. Lucy’s is next to Susan’s, and she does mind when it gets hot, but then she uses the spare room next to mine. At least if you’re facing the sea, you can get some breeze in from the balcony. Although even Su’s room isn’t bad since we’re so high up here. Oh, and the bathroom is across the hall,” — here he led Per over to show him — “so you don’t have to carry a tub into our rooms every night.”

Per’s eyes grew wide as he took in the large marble bath, almost big enough to swim in, while Edmund demonstrated how the water was hauled up by an efficient system of pulleys and heated over the large fireplace along one wall.

“On the other side of this wall is the Sick Room — we figured it would be the warmest and most comfortable place to go when you’re feeling out of sorts. Susan holes up in there whenever she gets a bad headache, since the sunlight does bother her then,” Edmund continued, leading the way back out into the hall. “Anyway, like I was saying, Lucy uses this room in the summer,” opening the door to show Per a quick glance inside, “so we’ll have to leave that open, at least for now; but what about this one?”

Edmund threw open the next door to reveal a room with few furnishings (only a bare bed and a chair in the corner) yet every bit as spacious as his own — in fact, it felt even larger because it had so very little in it. But what drew Per in to stand breathlessly next to his new king in amazement was the view of the ocean that filled most of the opposite wall. For this room also had a door to the balcony, flanked by two windows of equal size (although each pane was small, your eyes soon learned to disregard the crisscrossing lines of the frames) that allowed the scenery to be a sort of picture, taking up nearly the full wall on that side.

“Oh!” Per whispered, unable to find adequate words.

“Do you like it?” Edmund asked with a grin, although sure of the answer.

“I… c—can’t believe… Are you c—certain, your H—Highness?” Per stammered.

“Of course! I’m going to need you somewhere close at hand, and if Lucy hadn’t already moved so much of her things into the room next to mine, I would have suggested that one. We’ll see if she can’t be persuaded to give it up; but in the meanwhile, you can use this one. If you like.”

That last bit he tacked on to tease Per, who was still staring in disbelief.

“King Edmund,” he said, licking his lips and swallowing hard, “I—I’ve never had a room to myself, let alone… one so… so beautiful!

“It’s settled then,” he declared, and had just turned to fetch Mrs. Dumplesugar (or the linens) when a hand reached in to tap on the open door.

“Settling Master Per into his quarters, are we?” Mr. Tumnus asked cheerfully, peering into the room. “It looks a bit empty at the moment, but I’m sure we can find a few chests and shelves to make it feel more homey in no time. For now, it is the great land of Spare Oom, ready to be conquered by a brave Son of Adam!”

Edmund laughed with the Faun over the old joke, and although Per did not know what was so funny, he was so overjoyed with the prospect of having a room — and one with, quite literally, a royal view — that he simply joined in their laughter.

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Once Per’s room had been fixed up comfortably, with a soft bed ready for him to fall into at any time, they explored the rest of the castle. Edmund took him first to the highest tower, from where he could get his bearings in Cair Paravel as well as the lands around it.

“Mr. Tumnus has rooms on the west side so he can look out towards his home. You can’t really see that far, of course, and even if you could the taller trees of the Great Forest would be in the way, but that’s still what he prefers. Sometime we should ask if we can go with him to Lantern Waste. Oh, by the bye, I’m the Duke of Lantern Waste, so I ought to ride out there more often to make sure things are going well. Now that I have you as my squire, maybe I’ll have the chance to go without the whole court tagging along. Not that I don’t enjoy going out with a large hunting party, mind you, but sometimes it’s rather nice to travel quickly and without such a to-do. And we really must go visit the Beavers sometime soon, but everybody will want to go for that! We’re all very fond of the Beavers.”

He was pointing out the lay of the castle to Per, since the tower gave them almost a map-like view of the grounds, when suddenly his voice trailed off. Puzzled, Per followed his gaze to the gardens, where the High King was walking with one of his sisters (Queen Susan, Per decided), his arm offered gallantly for her to cling to. From this distance they could not make out if the pair down below were laughing or in deep, cloistered conversation, but Peter’s outline was unmistakable as he bent his head closer to Susan.

Edmund had been stung again by several of the elusive hornets in his stomach, only now — with a sudden and undeniable clarity that stunned him — he realised what they were. They were the pangs of jealousy, and they grew in intensity as he watched his sister do something to Peter’s hair. He found himself gripping the edge of the stone parapet so hard that his knuckles turned white, and unclenched them with surprise and embarrassment.

“Uh… Well. Where was I?” he asked, taking a deep breath to steady himself. The revelation had shaken him, but he was determined to give his new squire the information he needed to fulfill his duties. Luckily for Edmund, Per was so overwhelmed with all that he was learning to take much note of his knight’s brief discomfiture.

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