MFB25: The Trees’ Visit and a Late Night Snack

When Edmund and Per came downstairs, still somewhat damp from their bath and ravenously hungry after all the exercise of that afternoon, they found Peter and the girls in the throne room, finishing up some business with two Dryads. One was a willowy Aspen lady with bright, almost yellowish leaves in her hair, and the other was an elder of the Firs, whose bushy eyebrows seemed very like the bristles of the stately evergreens. They had come in response to the High King’s request for lumber, which the Governor of the Lone Islands wished to purchase, to report where some suitable fallen timber could be found. The Trees had no use for the gold to be collected from the sale, but did ask if a trench might be dug on the south bank of the Telmar River to facilitate the drainage of rainwater, for Firs are not fond of swampy land. King Peter promised to send a team of Dwarfs and Moles for the task, and they would be paid for their labour with the gold from the Governor, so everybody would be satisfied.

The Fir elder, called Windbough by most (since his true name was not pronounceable by other Creatures), made a slow bow to the High King before turning and inclining his head to King Edmund. A smile grew upon his leathery lips when he saw Per, staring at him in open-mouthed wonder. Edmund did not catch his friend’s expression until he had already started to introduce him.

“I’m so glad to see you, Windbough, and thank you for coming so far from your Tree,” he began, his warmth genuine — for he had always been fascinated by trees, even in England, and the Narnian Trees had taught him more about botany than he would have ever learned in his own world. “I’d like to introduce you to Per, my squire, who has just come with us…” — here he paused, catching Per gaping at the tall Dryad — “…from Archenland. I don’t believe he’s met one of your kind before.”

“We are well met, Per, Son of Adam,” Windbough pronounced with solemn weight, although Edmund knew enough of the Dryad to recognise the twinkle of humour in his eye.

“I—I’m very pleased to meet you,” Per answered, recovering himself. He had seen a Birch Dryad upon his arrival in Narnia, so the Aspen Dryad did not seem so strange, and he was able to bow with relative grace when introduced to her. Her name was Eliadra, and she had offered to guide the Dwarfs to where the fallen Trees were. Peter was already consulting Dursolt on who should be sent to fetch the lumber and who to dig the trench, while Susan asked the kitchen staff to prepare appropriate dishes (dirt, mostly) for their arboreal guests.

Dinner that evening was a more formal affair than the night before, and afterwards a group of seven Fauns came (at Lucy’s request) to sing some woodland folk songs. Per was astonished beyond words when even Windbough joined in the spontaneous dance, but he was soon caught up by the music — which seemed to infect one’s feet, making them itch to move — and found himself twirling around with Eliadra, the Fauns, and the royal children. Even Peter didn’t mind dancing when it was with his own people, the sundry Creatures and Beasts of Narnia. Edmund laughed as he passed Per, seeing that the boy was beaming with delight.

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When the dancing had finally drawn to an end and the children traipsed upstairs to their chambers, Per offered to help Edmund change, which made the young king grin with amusement.

“You know, I never really understood that part — as though I weren’t old enough to dress myself!” he told Per. “You’d think a king would have enough sense to be able to do that much… unless he had really complicated clothes. But I don’t, thank goodness! So there’s no need to stand on such formality.”

Bidding his squire goodnight, Edmund changed into his nightshirt and bathrobe, then padded down to the kitchen in his slippers. Felicity was waiting for him with a tray already loaded with treats.

“Golly!” was all Edmund could say when first presented with the tray, which had stacks of plates balanced precariously one on top of another, with cakes, biscuits, treacle, and other items too numerous to mention.

“I didn’t know what King Peter might like, but I do hope there is something to suit his fancy here,” the Stoat eagerly said, standing on her hind feet just to look over the top of the stack.

“Felicity… I… I’m really grateful for all the work you’ve put into this,” Edmund began, feeling awful for what he had to say, “but there’s no way I can carry this upstairs! At least, not without tripping over my feet and smashing everything to bits. And that’s not even counting the kettle for the water… And really, all we need is the chamomile tea, so Peter can sleep. You needn’t even prepare a cup and saucer for me, since I have no trouble sleeping. So… maybe just a biscuit or two for Peter — in case he’s feeling peckish — and the tea service will do.”

He managed to convince the good-hearted cook to remove most of the items, although realising that she had baked a little cake especially for them, he couldn’t help but tell her that it smelled delicious and that his brother would probably like it very much indeed. What with the milk and honey and lemon to go in the tea, and the cake and a mountain of biscuits, the tray still ended up being quite heavy, and Edmund had just picked it up when Felicity remembered the kettle, so he had to set it down and hang the kettle from his arm before starting all over again.

Edmund managed to reach the upstairs hallway without incident and was struck with an idea as he passed Per’s door. He kicked at the base of it lightly, careful not to lose his balance, and had to repeat the improvised knock before a sleepy Per opened the door to see what the noise was about.

“Your Majesty!” he said in some surprise.

“I’m sorry to get you out of bed, but I thought you might be able to help us with this,” Edmund told him, holding out the tray. “Felicity baked the cake just for Peter, but could you take a couple of the biscuits? The old girl would be so disappointed if we left anything, especially after I made her take off half of the things she’d set out, but I can’t imagine that the two of us could eat all of this. Oh, take another biscuit or two — we really don’t need so many!”

Per took another biscuit and remarked, “So… you’ve continued serving King Peter chamomile tea? I wish you would have mentioned it, your Majesty. I would have brought it up for you.”

“Oh, don’t worry — I don’t mind,” the other boy replied.

“But King Edmund… this is exactly the sort of job I ought to be doing. In fact, I’ve been feeling rather… well, odd, since I don’t have any real work to do. If you could let me do this every night, I’d at least feel like I was making myself useful. Otherwise, I don’t know what I’m doing to earn my keep.”

“Well, if you’d really like the work, I could use another hand,” Edmund answered. “Not that I want Felicity to keep piling up the tray like she did tonight (you should’ve seen it!), but if the two of us split the load, it would be much easier. Plus you could help us finish the treats. All right, then: tomorrow night we’ll both go down to the kitchen.”

With that settled, he bid Per goodnight again, and went down to Peter’s door to kick on it as well. His brother responded immediately, having been waiting — wondering if Edmund were coming — and when he didn’t come in on his own, Peter opened the door to see what the matter was.

“Sorry, I couldn’t set this down without risking spilling something,” Edmund explained, and Peter laughed and took it off of his hands, setting it down carefully on the hearth.

“I’m surprised you managed all the way up here on your own,” he commented.

“I stopped by to give Per some of the biscuits, and he offered to help me starting tomorrow — says he wants to feel like he’s earning his keep.”

“Well, have you assigned him anything to do? Apart from following you around, that is.”

“Not really,” Edmund admitted, hanging the kettle over the fire. “I suppose I should have him polish my armour and stuff. I’ll take him to the armoury tomorrow and get him situated with the Dwarfs in charge there.”

“Good idea,” Peter responded, sitting against the wall in the same spot as the night before. He wasn’t sure if Edmund had already had his fill of sitting on his lap, but wanted to show that the offer was still good, should he wish to take him up on it. Edmund glanced over and saw his brother watching him with an inviting smile, and crawled over on his knees. The bees were not only humming in his stomach, but making that whole organ turn somersaults inside of him.

“Are you sure I’m not too heavy?” he asked, hesitating.

“Of course! But if you’re so worried,” Peter replied, spreading his thighs, “you can sit between my legs.”

This suited Edmund perfectly, as he found out, for when he leant against Peter with his bottom on the floor, he did not have to curl up to fit under his brother’s chin, and once Peter had clasped his arms around him, he felt very snug indeed. The bees buzzed their approval all throughout his body.

“Say, Ed,” Peter began, trying to distract himself from focusing on his brother’s soft curves. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” came Edmund’s swift reply, muffled slightly as his face was buried in Peter’s bathrobe.

“Have you been having any… nightmares? About… you know… when you were a prisoner?”

He carefully avoided mentioning the White Witch, although Edmund knew immediately what he meant.

“Well… sometimes. Once in a great while I’ll wake up cold, thinking I’m back in her dungeons,” he admitted. “Usually it’s because the blankets have slipped off or something silly like that. Once I woke up with a start, thinking I was tied up to that tree again — where that nasty Dwarf of hers was pricking me with his knife — but I was just tangled in the sheets. It took a while for my heart to stop pounding that time, though, even though I knew full well that she was long gone…”

Peter’s arms tightened about Edmund in a protective embrace.

“I’m so sorry,” he murmured into his hair.

“Why? It wasn’t your fault. I was the one stupid enough to believe her lies,” Edmund countered, matter-of-factly.

“But I was the one who drove you to it,” Peter said, not letting up his tight hold on his brother. “I was so hard on you when I found out that you’d been to Narnia before… even though you were right — we didn’t believe Lucy when she told us about it, so why would you have expected us to believe you? And I was downright spiteful when I gave you that coat…”

“Oh, Peter! Come off it!” Edmund demanded, suddenly sitting up and turning to face him. “I know you feel responsible for everything and everybody, being the oldest and all, but I should hope I’m man enough to admit my own faults! I wanted to believe the White Witch — I wanted to be the only one made a prince and a king! It was my own selfishness that got me into that mess, so don’t go shouldering the blame for that on top of everything else, for heaven’s sake! It’s not like you don’t have enough to worry about already, without adding my faults to the pile.”

Peter gaped at his younger brother, his mouth opened to protest but with no words coming out. Partly, he was silenced by the flashing fire in Edmund’s usually mild eyes, into which he was now staring with abandon. He had often felt, before, that he could drown in those depths, and now he had sunk into them unawares.

“Um… all right,” he mumbled, trapped by the intensity of Edmund’s glare as well as the full beauty of his brother’s face when seen at such close range. Peter’s unwontedly vague answer gave the younger boy pause, but in a gentler, more compassionate tone, Edmund continued his little lecture.

“It’s no wonder you can’t sleep at night, if you keep blaming yourself for stuff you only had the smallest part in! You needn’t worry about all that rot — I’ve got over it, and I was the one who’d actually run off and blabbed to the Witch what Aslan’s plans were. It helps that Aslan himself forgave me, of course, but if he could forgive me, I’m sure he can’t still be mad at you. You need to let up on yourself, Peter — like you said, Aslan may have made you the High King, but it’s not like he made you any older or wiser. But he must’ve known you’d make a great king, just as you were.”

Peter could not form an answer, and his hands had slipped down to rest on either side of Edmund. The younger boy picked up the one at his front and rubbed it in his own, as though warming it.

“And you needn’t worry about my nightmares, either — they’re not that bad, and I don’t see them half as often as I used to. Come to think of it, I haven’t had any frightful dreams at all, lately… must come from having you right next to me every night.”

The coy smile that curled Edmund’s lips made Peter nearly drool with desire, and he felt a dangerous twitch in his nether regions. He swallowed hard before attempting to speak.

“Actually, Ed… last night I wasn’t. I slept in your room, since I couldn’t move you that far.”

Edmund’s startled look spoke plainly that he had not known of it.

“You were asleep when I left, and still sleeping when I came back in the morning, so you didn’t notice,” Peter explained. “But I’m glad to hear that you haven’t been bothered by those dreams as much.”

“Why didn’t you stay here?” Edmund asked slowly, troubled by the hornets again. “Don’t you want to sleep with me?”

“Ed… it’s not like that,” Peter sighed. “I would love to sleep with you — I mean, I don’t mind it at all, and it’s rather nice when it’s cold out,” he amended. “But like I’ve pointed out before, we can’t help what happens with our bodies sometimes, and I… well, I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Shadows flickered on Edmund’s downcast face as a certain incident — when his brother was fast asleep and unaware of his actions — was brought up in his memory. He had “helped” his brother achieve release, but without his consent or knowledge. For the first time, he felt a twinge of guilt over what he had done that time, and realised that he had (however unwittingly) crossed the invisible line which Peter had been trying to describe to him.

“Oh,” was all he could say in response to his brother’s pronouncement. He was glad that the kettle started to hiss and announce the water’s readiness just then, and busied himself with making Peter’s tea. He felt the loss of Peter’s arms from around his person acutely, and wished he could crawl back on to his lap again while watching him divide the cake into equal halves.

“What, don’t you have a cup?” Peter asked, noticing its lack for the first time.

“No. I don’t need any tea, since I can sleep all right without,” Edmund replied.

“Well, you need something to wash the cake down. You can drink out of mine, from the other side.”

This cozy arrangement mollified Edmund somewhat, aided by Felicity’s delicious cake. When they had devoured every last crumb of it, he poured another cupful of the tea, and was gratified by Peter offering him a seat on his lap again.

“Ed,” the older boy said, carefully choosing his words as he stroked his brother’s curly hair, “I don’t want you to ever think that I don’t want to be with you. It’s just that sometimes… in some cases, we have to avoid doing certain things — perfectly innocent things, in and of themselves — because they can lead to something worse. That’s all.”

“All right,” Edmund answered, sincerely. He was comfortably nestled in his brother’s embrace again, and the bees were humming in a low, happy monotone. They stayed that way for a long while before Peter nudged him awake and sent him to his own room, but even then, the feeling of contentment remained. He did, however, wonder for a brief moment what the “something worse” that Peter mentioned might be; but he soon drifted off into restful slumber, where his dreams were of sunlight and his brother’s kindly smiles.

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