MFB27: Philosophy on the Beach

As the weather grew warmer, the royal children found themselves irresistibly drawn to the waters of the Great Sea, and clambered down the many flights of stairs that led to the sandy beach to the south of the castle. At first Susan and Lucy had exchanged worried whispers about the ocean reminding Peter of the Mermaid, but since their eldest brother seemed just as eager as they were to splash about in the water, and had, indeed, become more like his old self in the past few weeks, they hoped that his infatuation with the beautiful maiden of the sea had passed.

Per had no experience in swimming at all (as he had confessed to Edmund) so the two older Pevensies took it upon themselves to teach him. “As often as we travel to the Lone Islands and Archenland by ship,” Peter pointed out, “you can’t risk not being able to swim in an emergency.” That the High King took the matter so seriously impressed upon Per the importance of learning this skill, and also made him realise how much his new kings and queens cared for his well-being. He earnestly applied himself and was soon comfortable enough to ride the waves in from a little distance, exhilarated by the sensation as he crashed ashore with the four siblings.

On days that there were no appointments for audiences (and the requests became fewer in the summertime, since most people had better things to do than to quarrel), the entire Court of Cair Paravel could be found at the protected cove from morning till afternoon, with everybody helping to carry down a basket or two for their picnic lunch. The sands would become covered with the five-toed footprints of the Humans, the paw prints of the Beasts, and the hoof prints of the Fauns, Satyrs, and Horses. The four-footed Beasts could not navigate the castle stairs easily, but they made their way down the steep slopes to join in the merriment. It was a very young Court, after all, headed by the royal children; and after a hundred years of winter and slavery, the festive mood was still strong in all Narnians.

One such day when the sky was dotted with puffy white clouds that made Lucy think of profiteroles (which of course Felicity wanted to learn all about), Edmund and Per were having footraces with the Dogs on the narrow strip of wet, hardened sand between the dry beach and the waves. Naturally the Dogs always won, but Edmund had managed to awaken the latent competitiveness in his squire, so the two boys thundered to a hotly-contested though good-natured finish. Peter watched in silence from where he sat on a blanket, his arms clasped about his knees and a wistful look in his eyes.

“Why do you not run, your Highness?” Arismenos (the Unicorn) asked, bending down his long neck to peer into Peter’s face. “For having only two legs, your kind runs quite swiftly; and a foal of your tender years (begging your Majesty’s pardon) ought to be galloping for the joy of life.”

“Hush, Aris,” Farthur (another Unicorn and King Peter’s royal mount) interjected before Peter could reply. “The High King’s Grace shall do as he pleases. ‘Tis not your place to say what his Majesty ought and ought not to do.”

“My good Farthur, he meant no impertinence, I am sure,” Peter said mildly, patting Arismenos’ neck. “But the truth of the matter is, I would have no cause to boast if I won a race against those two, for I am so many years their elder; however, it would be to my great shame should I lose.”

Arismenos snorted to express his doubt that the High King could be bested by the younger boys, but Farthur only bowed his head courteously to his lord. Edmund and Per came panting up just then, thirsty and exhausted, so Peter leant back to pull a flagon of lemonade from one of the baskets, fishing out two chalices as well. He was startled when Edmund threw himself down on the blanket at his feet and proceeded to rest his chin upon his older brother’s upraised knee.

“Thanks, Peter — that’s just the thing,” the younger king said while he watched his brother pour the lemonade (a rather tricky thing for Peter to do with his hands threatening to tremble). “What are the girls up to?”

“Oh, I think they’re back there with the Dwarfs,” Peter answered, handing a carved wooden cup to each of the two boys. “They said something about making a sandcastle large enough for Felicity.”

“Ah! So that’s why those chaps are carrying buckets of water,” Edmund said, squinting a bit to see the activity better. “I thought the one they made last time was pretty amazing, but I see now they’ve moved the place even further back from the water’s edge. It’ll probably be safe there until the next spring tide.”

Per drank his lemonade in silence while Edmund chatted between gulps about their race, upbraiding Peter for not having joined them. The High King only made vague excuses, and kept his eyes focused resolutely on the horizon of the sea, which made King Edmund wonder — with a pang and worrisome prickles in his stomach — whether his old malady (as he thought of Peter’s infatuation) might have returned.

In a sense he was right, for Peter was trying hard not to stare at Edmund, who was flushed from the exercise and wearing a winsome smile that set his eyes alight, which might have melted even the most hardened heart. Peter lay no claim to possessing such cold sensibilities, and since his brother was lounging on his knee as though it were his own, just inches from his nose, it was almost impossible to keep his eyes off of him. They were both wearing their bathing clothes — loose knee pants over their undergarments with baggy, short-sleeved tunics, now beginning to dry out from their first dip in the water — and Edmund had a few grains of sand caught in his hair that Peter wanted desperately to brush out for him. He poured another cupful of lemonade and sipped it, just to give himself something to do, and returned his gaze to the distant line where the blue sky met the blue ocean.

Edmund followed his brother’s gaze, suddenly struck with the suspicion that perhaps he was staring out at the Mermaid of his obsession; however, the waters were devoid of any Merfolk, and the younger king nearly laughed aloud at his momentary lapse in memory.

He said there was no Mermaid, he reminded himself, or at least, that he wasn’t in love with any Mermaid. He can’t say who it is he is in love with, but as he seems to be sleeping better and acting more like himself, I suppose I shouldn’t worry… although I do wish he would tell me, at least. I can keep a secret! But Peter’s made up his mind, and he’s so honorable that he’ll probably really keep his oath till the day he dies…

Edmund observed his brother’s countenance without a word for several minutes, while both of them were lulled by the sound of the waves rolling in. The two Unicorns stayed at a respectful distance, as though standing guard over the two kings, and Per had wandered over to where the Dwarfs were building the queens a sandcastle of monumental proportions.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Edmund finally said, breaking the silence.

“What? Oh,” Peter responded. “I’m not sure they’re worth it.”

“Let me be the judge of that. You’re the one who said, after all, that I’m a ‘wiser judge’ in a lot of things.”

“I suppose I did,” Peter answered with a wry smile. “Well, I’m afraid they’re not pleasant thoughts, actually…”

He had only meant to glance at Edmund, but finding those large brown eyes fixed upon his own, he could not help but return the frank gaze. He almost lost his train of thought, but swallowed and continued his confession.

“You know how they say that beyond the sea is Aslan’s Country?”

“Sure. It’s where all Narnians go when they die. If they’re good enough, anyway… just like Heaven.”

“Right, so… what happens when we die? Do we go to Aslan’s Country, or…”

Edmund made a low whistle.

“I say, Peter! I’d never thought of that.”

“Well, like I said, it’s not a pleasant thing to consider,” he said apologetically. “I was just wondering, though, if we would go there, or find ourselves in Heaven like we’d always heard back in our own world — in Church, you know — or maybe even end up alive and back in England? Or worse, would our dead bodies get back to England somehow, so our people would at least know that we’re dead, and have funerals and bury us and all?”

Edmund bowed his head to rest it on Peter’s knee.

“Wow… I don’t know… When you put it like that…”

“It’s a conundrum, and one that only Aslan knows the answer to, I suppose,” Peter agreed. “The funny thing is, the more I think about it, the more I’d rather go to Aslan’s Country than the Heaven we learned about in our own world.”

“I suppose you could ask Aslan if he’d let you choose,” Edmund remarked, looking up again with intense interest. “After all, he asked you to be High King of Narnia, so wouldn’t your place be with the Narnians?”

“That’s what I tend to think, too,” Peter nodded. “But I was also wondering, maybe Aslan’s Country and Heaven are one and the same.”

“Oh!” Edmund gasped, startled and yet inspired by the idea. “That would be… That would be amazing! We could see Grandfather again, and all our other family — even the ones we never knew, or can’t remember since we were too young.”

“Right. But here’s another thought,” Peter began, then paused. “I wouldn’t mention this to the girls, but suppose… suppose Mother’s been killed in an air raid, and Father’s died in the War.”

“Peter! That’s an awful thought,” Edmund protested, looking truly shaken.

“I know, and I’m sorry. But I’m only bringing it up because I think it makes sense: that Aslan brought us all here because, back home, we’d be orphans.”

Edmund sat bolt upright and stared at his brother, openmouthed, for a long moment. The bees in his stomach, which had been humming happily while he’d sat there by Peter’s feet, were now frozen. He took a deep breath after realising that he’d been holding it, and as he expelled it, he felt more normal again.

“I think you’re right, Pete,” he conceded, his voice low but steady. “For all we know, Mum and Dad could’ve been dead before we walked through the wardrobe, or before we even arrived at the Professor’s.”

“England could be overrun by the Germans by now,” Peter sighed, “and we’d be none the wiser.”

“I suppose that could be why it didn’t bother us, you know — staying here to rule Narnia, even though Mum would be worried sick if she knew that we’d, well… disappeared.”

“I think so. It’s never troubled us like it should have under normal circumstances, anyway. And I also think that Aslan knew when we’d need to come over — for I don’t doubt that he made it so we would come when we did, and not a minute sooner or later (remember when we checked the wardrobe, after Lucy’s first visit?) — and had prepared the four thrones for us, as well as the prophecy, hundreds of years in advance.”

Edmund considered this, speechless by the enormity and intricacy of the plan Peter was proposing, with his eyes cast out over the sand and the sea. Peter took this opportunity to wrench his gaze away from his brother’s captivating face, and joined him in watching the waves rush in.

“I think you’re right,” the younger king murmured after a long while. “I know it wasn’t coincidence that there were just enough thrones for the four of us, and I know jolly well that Aslan must have been behind our coming to Narnia. I even suspect that he knew what I’d do… and let me do it, even though he must’ve known what the consequences would be — what sort of price he’d have to pay in my stead…”

“Ed… I’m sorry,” Peter started, heartsick to have reminded his brother (however inadvertently) of the hardest blot of his life.

“No, don’t be,” Edmund shot back. “It just makes it that much more… kind, and gracious, that Aslan would let me be king, too. That he’d prepared a throne for me, even though he knew what a wretch I was! And not like the throne the White Witch had, either, made of threats and cold magic that did nobody any good. I’m glad he let me be king, but not so I could lord it over everybody, like I wanted to do when she promised it to me. He showed me by example what it means: that you take the fall for what goes wrong, even if it isn’t your fault, and never breathe a word of complaint at the unfairness of it all. I’m sorry for having been such an ass, but I’m grateful that he let us come here. Even if… no, especially if our parents are… are dead.”

Peter did not even realise what he was doing until he had done it, and by then he had already grasped Edmund’s hand tightly in one of his own.

“That’s the other thing I was thinking, Ed,” Peter said, hoping to take his brother’s mind off of his past. “If Aslan’s Country and our world’s Heaven are the same place — although mind you, I’ve no proof that it is — then we’d be able to see Mum and Dad again, too. Or maybe… maybe it’s like our world and Narnia, where there are special ways that you can get from one place to the other, and we could ask Aslan to let us go visit them. I don’t think he’d mind that, you know… I think it’s only proper that we tell them where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing, especially if they have worried over us.”

“Of course. I can’t imagine that he’d object to that,” Edmund managed to reply. He was suddenly thirsty, but didn’t want to bother filling his cup with lemonade again — at least not yet, for he was enjoying the warmth of Peter’s hand wrapped around his own and did not wish to disturb it. Unfortunately, they were disrupted anyway when their sisters and Per walked up. Peter hastily withdrew his hand and turned a slightly forced smile at the others.

“You have to come see the sandcastle, Peter!” Lucy cried in excitement, plopping down on the blanket next to her oldest brother. “It’s simply amazing!”

“I’m sure it is, for I can see it from here, too,” Peter laughed.

“What were you two talking about just now?” Susan asked, settling herself down with more grace. “You looked so serious!”

“Oh… nothing much,” Peter responded.

“Yeah — nothing you girls would be interested in,” Edmund added.

“Oh! Peter!” Lucy gasped in dismay. “I’m so sorry!”

The next moment her arms were flung about his neck, and Peter tried to sort out what she meant.


She looked up at his face with tears welling in her eyes and choked out, “The Mermaid!”

He gaped at her, then gathered her up in his arms.

“Oh, Lu! I’m the one who should be sorry!” he moaned. “I should have told you sooner — I was never in love with a Mermaid! Ed thought I was, and I never denied it, but… Great Scott! I shouldn’t have made you all worry so much…”

“Well, if it’s not a Mermaid, who is it?” Lucy asked with her guileless eyes open wide in wonder.

“I can’t tell. Please, Lu, don’t ask me. I… It’s not something I can talk about.”

For a moment, Peter was truly wretched, but his sister quickly placed a forgiving kiss on his reddened cheek.

“It’s all right, Peter. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,” she told him.

“Why don’t you come see the sandcastle?” Susan mentioned tactfully, getting up to lead the way. “It’s quite the masterpiece! They made three storeys sturdy enough for Felicity to run around in.”

Peter was grateful for the distraction, and walked over to inspect the sandcastle modeled after their own Cair Paravel, Lucy hanging from his arm. Edmund and Per followed more quietly, each lost in their thoughts, for Per had learned of the High King’s heartache for the first time, and the younger king, having been reminded of it again, could not help wondering for the hundredth time who the object of his brother’s affection was.

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