MFB22: Edmund Hatches a Plan

After unpacking her trunk, Queen Susan had been heading to the gardens for a walk when she passed by the throne room and saw King Peter deep in debate with the Centaur Marcius, their advisor on foreign affairs. Thinking that her brother deserved a break from his work, having only just returned that day, she charmingly asked Marcius to relinquish Peter from his duties for the space of an hour so that he could accompany her to the gardens. Even Centaurs were not immune to Queen Susan’s smiles, and Marcius conceded that there were no pressing matters for the High King to attend to, withdrawing with a courteous nod.

“Thanks, Su,” Peter acknowledged as they strolled down the colonnade. “Although I don’t really mind it, you know… It feels good to be back home.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Susan agreed. “But you mustn’t over-do it, Peter. You seem to have slept better while we were in Anvard, but I want to make sure you’ll be all right now that we’re back. You were beginning to look… well, dreadful, to be honest, before we left. Tired, and old beyond your years.”

Peter opened his mouth to refute her claim, then closed it with a sigh. “You’re probably right. I hadn’t been sleeping well for a long while.”

“And now? Are you feeling better?” she asked as they stepped out into the garden, arm-in-arm.

“A little. I think going to Archenland was a good change of scenery, not to mention a welcome rest.”

“I’m so glad! But I’m worried that you might go back to being… tired, and withdrawn again.” She slowed to a stop on the path to look Peter in the eye. “Are things going to be any different now?”

Her brother had no answer to that, and his glance wandered to the orange tree which was in full bloom at the moment. He eventually returned his gaze to his sister’s large, anxious blue eyes — so like Edmund’s, and yet not.

“I don’t know,” he admitted at last. “Some days, I think I’m getting better… but then other days I feel even more hopeless than ever. I mean, I know my case is hopeless, but you’d think I would be able to… resign myself, I guess, to what’s ultimately inevitable. But then something happens to make me realise that… I’m just as hopelessly enslaved to my feelings. Even when they’re terribly inconvenient.”

He said this last while brushing back the hair that had fallen into his eyes with a gesture of frustration.

“Oh, Peter… I was afraid of that,” Susan murmured. “I was rather hoping, when I knew we were going to visit Anvard, that you might be… well, distracted, by one of the girls there. I’ve made some wonderful friends there, you know, and I thought Lady Verinia was particularly interested in you…”

“She was,” Peter responded bluntly. “I know, and I’m flattered, but… I can’t help it, Su. I didn’t wish to have these feelings to start with, and I can’t wish them away — any more than I can wish to have feelings for someone else.”

“Oh. I see,” she replied, although Peter could sense that she did not comprehend his situation at all.

“Look here, Su,” he said gently, “you’ll understand it once it hits you, whenever it does. You really have no control over it — only over what you do about it, and even that just barely. It’s a rum deal, but all you can do is make the best of it. I’m trying, I really am, but some days… some days, it just gets the better of me. That’s all.”

Susan reached up to smooth Peter’s hair (which he had disheveled earlier) with a maternal tenderness. Although Peter was older, she did feel, in a strange way, very protective of him, and his words were so sad — so laden with pain and suffering — that she was moved to tears.

“Oh, Peter,” was all she said, but he could read the sympathy in her face, and he raised her hand to his lips with a weary but grateful smile. They spoke no more as they walked through the rest of the gardens, but even her silent companionship was somewhat of a balm to Peter’s troubled heart.

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Edmund had not finished showing Per around the castle when they heard the silver bells ringing, calling them to dinner. However, having traipsed through the major part of Cair Paravel that afternoon, not to mention running out to the West Meadow to see the Horses, the two boys had worked up quite an appetite. Edmund took his seat next to Peter and motioned for Per to sit beside him as well.

Per still felt rather awkward about dining at the same table as the four kings and queens, for all of his previous masters had placed him at a separate table for the servants, and one of the knights (the one to whom Lord Bar had assigned him) had even made him stand and wait, serving the rest of the household, before he was allowed to eat his meager serving of gruel in the kitchen. In some ways his first day in Narnia had had a dream-like quality, and every so often he had pinched himself, trying to prove by the pain that he would not awaken to find it all an illusion. The food placed in front of him seemed real enough, though, so he tucked in with relish, as did King Edmund beside him.

After dinner, Edmund would have dragged him off to see the rest of the castle again, but Mrs. Dumplesugar firmly intervened.

“Eh, King Edmund, you’ll run the poor boy ragged, and him only on his first day, too!” she remonstrated. “You’ll have plenty of time for gallivanting around tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that. But first things first: we must get some clothes for him to wear when he’s not out gadding about with you.”

“Mrs. Dumplesugar!” Edmund protested, with an exaggeratedly wounded air. “I beg your pardon, madam, but I do not ‘gad about’!”

“Well then, call it what you will,” she replied, very pertly, “but if he’s to serve in the royal court of Narnia, I shan’t have him wearing a stable-boy’s outfit every day. It’s not like he’s a Beast, more’s the pity, whose coat is as good as anything; but as he’s Human and must be clad, I’ll see to it that he’s dressed respectably. Now, if you’ll just follow me, my dear, I think there are some old tunics of King Peter’s that still have some life in them, and should fit tolerably well.”

Edmund trailed after Mrs. Dumplesugar and Per as she took him to a room near the royal quarters, where all of the children’s old clothes (at least the ones that weren’t ruined) were stored, and helped her pull out some of his brother’s less formal attire. Per had never owned more than two shirts at a time, and did not see the need for any more than that, but the Raccoon insisted that he’d need at least two for doing his chores in, two for training in, and one or two nice ones for feasts and such.

“For if you rip one of them,” she said, showing him an oft-mended tunic that Peter had worn when he trained in swordfighting, “you must give us at least a day to sew it; and you wouldn’t want to miss the next day’s training, now, would you?”

Edmund soon grew bored with watching Per trying on different clothes while Mrs. Dumplesugar basted some of them to fit him better, and since she was also keeping the boy company with her kindly chatter, the young king headed to the den to see what his siblings were up to. He found Susan and Mr. Tumnus bent over a game of chess, and Peter in the chair by the window with Lucy predictably in his lap. The hornets were back in a trice to torment Edmund with their painful stings, but now that he had put a name to them and knew them for what they were, he found that he could manage them more easily.

After all, he reminded himself, Peter’s my brother, too, so I can spend as much time with him as Susan or Lucy — probably even more, because we’re both boys. Why should I be jealous of them, or anybody else for that matter? We train in swordfighting, and wrestling, and boxing… And besides, I’m the only one he’s ever bunked with! On the whole, I get to do more things with Peter than anybody else does, so I really have no right to be jealous.

He sat down on one of the couches, feeling slightly awkward — though each of the others had glanced in his direction with a smile — and leafed through a book that happened to be lying on the table. He was determined to let Lucy enjoy her time with her favourite brother (Edmund knew this without feeling the least bit of disappointment or resentment about it) without interruption, reasoning that he could afford to be generous with sharing Peter’s time.

What had not occurred to Edmund to ask himself yet was why he was not equally jealous of anybody spending time with his sisters. Even if the question had been posed to him, he might have replied (very logically, in his mind) that since Peter was the eldest and also the High King, his affections might be said to be more valuable; or simply that girls, while nice, weren’t interested in the same things as boys, and were not as desirable to him as companions. Which would have been a true statement, for not only his sisters but in general, since Edmund had yet to meet a girl whose beauty he could not assess with analytical detachment.

While he skimmed over the pages of the book (which was boring, which was probably why the person who had brought it out had discarded it) he could not stop himself from glancing over occasionally at Peter, as Lucy told him the latest news from around Cair Paravel: how Mrs. Watson, the Anteater, had caught her tail on fire and been laid up for two days; how an old tree in Owl Wood had finally rotted out, leaving a family of Squirrels without a home; how Gimmel the Dwarf had been startled by his brother Hummel and dropped his hammer on his toe, nearly breaking it; and other such tidbits that she had garnered from the castle staff. But the next time Edmund looked over at the cozy pair, he saw Peter’s hand resting protectively on Lucy’s elbow, and the once-calmed hornets began prickling his stomach again.

It had been mere minutes since he had scolded himself for feeling jealous towards his sister, but the sight of Peter’s hand on her arm reminded him (unfortunately) of how that same hand had fondled his own body with such tender care before. And not only that, but of how — for reasons that he did not yet fully understand — that particular brand of touch had been forbidden to him. He did not equate it with the innocent caress in which Peter now held Lucy, of course, but it still left him with a sense of loss and privation, even of unfairness, and his heart ached with such a powerful yearning to be held by his brother that he was rendered quite breathless. His argument about how much more time he spent with Peter was blasted to smithereens, for it was not so much the companionship that he craved as the actual physical contact.

Just as he closed the book and staggered to his feet, intending to escape to his own room, one of the servants (an Otter, Mr. Griswold) came in and announced that the bath was ready. Edmund thought nothing of it, since usually the girls went first, but Lucy called from her coveted perch on Peter’s lap.

“You can go ahead, Edmund — you’ve been busy all day, showing Per around, so you must be tired.”

“Oh… Thanks,” he managed to reply, for (although he knew that she meant it kindly) he could not help thinking that it gave her that much more time to sit cuddled in Peter’s arms. He bit his lip and threw his things together before heading into the bathroom, where he scrubbed himself rather vigorously, making Mr. Griswold anxious for the young king.

“Your tender hide isn’t made for such abuse, your Majesty,” he cautioned. “You’ll rub yourself raw if you’re not careful!”

Edmund took several deep, deliberate breaths while the Otter washed his back with more moderate pressure. He had regained his composure by the time he stepped out and dried himself, but it was because he had settled upon a course of action. Peter would insist on the girls taking their turn in the bath before him, gentleman that he was, so Edmund knew that he had some time to get ready. He toweled his hair as dry as he could, then put on his heavy bathrobe and slippers before heading down to the kitchens.

Most of the cooking staff had turned in for the night, but there were two Dryads preparing the bread dough for the next morning (which had not made sense to Edmund at first, until he had realised that yeast was a kind of living thing, too) and a Stoat named Felicity who was puttering about, putting away the last of the pots and pans.

“Why, bless me!” she cried, in her high-pitched squeak. “If it isn’t King Edmund! What can I do for your Majesty? Perhaps you’re feeling a bit peckish? Would a sandwich be to your liking, or maybe a bit of mincemeat pie?”

“No, thank you, Felicity,” he replied with a smile, “but I was wondering if we might have some chamomile tea around.”

“To be sure, to be sure,” she piped happily, skipping across the worktables on all fours to fetch it from the cupboard. “I can stoke the coals and have some water boiling in just a few minutes, your Highness. But would you like something to nibble on while you wait?”

“Actually, it isn’t for me, and you needn’t boil the water – I’ll just borrow a small kettle for that if you don’t mind. It’s for Peter, to help him sleep,” he confided. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he hasn’t been sleeping well for a while now, but they gave him chamomile tea in Anvard, and it seemed to help.”

“Ah! We have indeed, your Highness — bless you, we all noticed that something was the matter — though we never guessed that he was looking so poorly because of trouble sleeping, or we would have served him the tea ourselves! Such a pity, such a pity… but I’m glad that you’ve found something to help him, King Edmund! Do you think the High King would care for something to eat with his tea?”

Edmund thought it would not be amiss to offer his brother a few small biscuits, so he helped Felicity put together a tray with the tea things — adding tiny pitchers of cream and honey, which could be put either on the biscuits or in the tea itself, and then a jar of jam, “just in case” as the Stoat said, her whiskers twitching in excitement. Edmund had to draw the line at sardines and toast, however, and dissuaded her by saying that he could not carry up the tray if she loaded it any more.

And so, by the time he returned to the royal quarters with the heavy little tray and kettle full of water (which he had to be careful not to spill along the way), both of the girls had finished their baths and Peter was taking his. Edmund stepped into his brother’s empty room and set the tray down with a grateful sigh, then hung the kettle up in the fireplace to heat the water, and settled down on the rug in front of the fire to wait.

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