MFB34: Visiting Kings

The second day of the Archenlandian visit was spent on the beach, as the Centaurs had predicted that it would be an auspicious day to go bathing. King Lune was delighted when they suggested it since he rarely had the opportunity to stay for any length of time by the sea, having to return to Anvard before dark or risk tumbling down one of the sheer cliffs that bordered the paths to the mountain stronghold. As the Centaurs had foretold, the day dawned bright and hot, with just enough puffy clouds in the sky to offer some respite from the summer sun.

Corin was unsure of having sand between his toes at first, then was startled by an inrushing wave; however, when everybody else laughed at his drenched clothes, he realised that this was a good thing, and splashed and played with abandon. Susan had asked the Dwarfs to set up several large pavilions with no sides — to provide shade without blocking the sea breezes — where Queen Primela and most of the ladies stayed with her and chatted. Lucy joined the boys, though, in her modest swimming dress and pantaloons, and Lady Avenel gamely borrowed a set of Susan’s swimming clothes to bathe in the Great Ocean for the first time.

Mr. Tumnus and some other Fauns kept Corin company in the shallows while several of the knights joined Peter and Edmund to swim out into the waves. Even King Lune swam part-way with them, bobbing about like a great, floating cork; then he returned closer to shore and amused Corin by flopping into the water and sending large splashes and ripples towards the boy. The Dwarfs (who could not remain inactive for long) undertook to create a sandcastle large enough for the little prince to walk in, and the Talking Dogs helped to dig a large moat around it.

Lunch was a casual affair with lemonades, chilled teas, and all different kinds of sandwiches heaped up on platters, and everybody could take whatever they wanted and sit down wherever they pleased. There was no need for fussy table manners, either, since there were plenty of birds (not Talking Birds, of course, who were offered plates of their own food) to pick up anything that was dropped. Everybody got along so well that if it weren’t for the fact that most of the Narnians were very un-Human-looking indeed, you would not have known at all that there were folk from two different countries mingling there. Afterwards, more than a few heads were seen to nod as people quietly chatted or exchanged stories.

Edmund was sitting next to Peter, drowsily listening to him discuss with King Lune the discrepancies in the historical lore of how the border between Narnia and Archenland was established, when Lucy cried out from where she was gathering shells by the water.

“Mermaids!” she repeated, sending everybody on to their feet to stare at the beautiful Daughters of the Sea. There were more than a dozen of them leaping up out of the water as they made their way closer to the shore, and the people from Archenland — most of whom had never seen Merfolk — gasped to see their lithe, silver-green figures. Lucy was already wading out to meet them, with Lady Avenel following close behind.

“I wonder why there are so many of them,” Edmund remarked to no-one in particular.

“Perhaps they knew we were having a celebration of sorts here,” Peter replied over his shoulder as he walked out to the water’s edge. “I’m sure they could hear us splashing about.”

“Oh! They must have heard you, King Lune,” Edmund grinned, trotting out behind his brother. The older king was startled out of his reverie by this, and quickly grabbed Corin and hoisted him up on to his shoulders for a better view of their new visitors, wading out behind the two brothers.

The Mermaids who had surrounded Lucy placed wreaths of colourful seaweed around her neck, along with strings of pearls and smoothed pieces of coral. They handed her more of the same with meaningful glances at Susan, who was standing where the water lapped at her toes; one of the Mermaids pressed a lovely pink pearl into Lady Avenel’s hand, leaving her speechless with joy.

“Thank you, thank you,” Lucy beamed. “I wish we had something just as nice to give you in return… Oh!”

She ran back (as fast as the water would allow her) to a knot of Dwarfs on the shore.

“Quick, quick! Bring some of those pretty jewels that you gave me for my birthday — they’re in the Keep. I shouldn’t like to take these without giving them anything in return!”

Two of the Dwarfs immediately took off running to the castle, and she brought Susan’s share of the gifts to her, which were greatly admired by Queen Primela and the other Archenlandian ladies. Most of the menfolk had waded out to meet the Mermaids but now hung back, a little shy of the strange yet beautiful Daughters of the Sea, who swam around them with equally curious eyes. Peter and Edmund were presented with similar gifts by the Mermaids, and they now saw that there were Mermen, too — wearing helmets of fish scales and fins — approaching the shore in a large V formation.

“I say! There’s a whole flock or school of them. It’s a jolly good thing these people are on our side,” Edmund said to Peter. “I wouldn’t want to wage a sea battle with them spearing holes in my ship!”

“I should think not,” Peter agreed without taking his eyes off of the incoming group, who were, as his brother had pointed out, wielding spears.

“Is it safe?” King Lune asked calmly, knowing that the Merfolk did not understand Human speech but could read faces just as well. “They look like an army going to war.”

“They do, but I doubt that they would have prefaced it with gifts if they meant us any harm,” was Peter’s equally calm assessment. Nevertheless, he felt better when Oreius sloshed up beside them bearing his shield and sword, with the banner of Narnia upraised.

“Look who comes behind, my Lord,” the Centaur said while handing Rhindon to Peter, his gaze set beyond the line of Mermen. “It is Triton himself, the King of the Sea People.”

“What can they mean?” Peter queried. “They come bearing gifts as well as arms.”

“Doubtless they knew of the convergence of kings today,” Oreius replied. “It was foretold in the stars that the paths of the Powers would intersect upon the shore. The Sea Folk must have read the stars, also, and saw what stability such a meeting would bring.”

“You didn’t mention all this before,” Edmund noted, though not accusingly. “Did you know that we would be meeting the Sea King?”

“I am not as adept as others in the art, your Majesty,” the Centaur admitted. “All I saw was that there would be peace and strength when the kings of earth met upon the sands of the Great Sea today, when the great lords of the heavens also meet at the edge of the Path of Light.”

Here his explanation was cut short as the Mermen formed a straight line just beyond the shallows, less than a stone’s throw away from the three kings, to remain in place while the waves rolled beneath them. They moved up and down with the crests as master riders might sit on nervous horses before a battle, and the effect was quite imposing. The Mermaids swam out to join them in the deeper waters and began to sing in their wild, high-pitched voices.

“Fishy ladies!” Corin declared, having finally found his voice.

“They’re called Mermaids,” Peter told him with a smile.

“Oh, bother,” Lucy said, coming up to join her brothers, her hands filled with loose gemstones. “They’re too far out now…”

When the song ended, everybody could see that it had been in preparation for the arrival of their King: Triton, son of the Sea God and wielder of the Great Trident which could cause or calm mighty storms at sea. He was now close enough to look Peter in the eye, and the two kings regarded each other for a long moment. When Triton raised his Trident to the sky in a silent salute, Peter did the same with Rhindon, although King Lune (being nearby) was surprised and somewhat awed to see that it was not as an equal, but as the High King acknowledging the fealty of his subordinate king. He had never seen Peter look quite so solemn or so magnificent before.

Triton lowered his Trident then, and raised a large white shell adorned with strands of seaweed to his mouth. When he blew the horn, a note of such power filled the air that all who heard it — men and women, Humans and Creatures alike — felt as though they could swim to the edge of the sea or run to the ends of the earth and not be tired. It was wild and fierce and demanding, yet so full of joy that it nearly made you weep, and stirred your blood to do great acts of courage or kindness or both. There was not a pulse that did not quicken at the sound.

Just as suddenly as it had started, the trumpet call ended, and King Triton turned on the crest of a wave to return to his own domain. The Mermaids followed in exuberant splashes (which looked very like a dance) with the Mermen swimming after them more sedately. When they were all gone from view, the Humans and Creatures left on the shore drew deep breaths as though just awaking from a dream.

“Well. That was certainly a rare sight,” Edmund summed up as they waded back to dry ground.

“I didn’t get the chance to give them these,” Lucy sighed, showing Peter what she was holding.

“We could ask the Seagulls to chase after them,” Peter suggested. “Hullo, there, Snowbreast! Would your people be so kind as to take these to our visitors? They left the shallows before my sister could present them herself.”

“Gladly, your Majesties,” the great Bird bowed, and after Lucy had distributed a few jewels each to a dozen or so of them, the Seagulls sped away over the waters in pursuit of the Sea People, to drop the sparkling gems into the delighted Mermaids’ outstretched hands.

‹‹‹‹‹ ж ›››››

Nothing makes you quite so tired as a day in the hot sun, and the royal children and their guests — having spent most of the day on the beach — turned in early that evening. Their bed-time tea was served in the den again, and afterwards as Peter pulled on his nightshirt in his bedroom, he heard a light tapping on his window pane.

“You needn’t stand on ceremony now,” he said with a wry grin. “The door is open, after all.”

“I just didn’t want to barge in on you if you weren’t ready,” Edmund countered. “Besides, you had your back to me. I didn’t want to startle you.”

“You wouldn’t have,” Peter said, stifling a yawn as he sat down in the chair. Edmund waited until he was comfortably settled in before assuming his own usual position, legs flung over one of the armrests and an arm tucked behind Peter’s back. Pressing his cheek against the older boy’s shoulder, it was Edmund’s turn to yawn.

“It’s catching.”

“So they say.”

Peter marveled at how natural it seemed to hold Edmund in his arms, stroking and petting him as he’d seen their mother do with Lucy when she was a baby; however, Edmund was hardly an infant, and was not even, strictly speaking, a child anymore. Their swim out to the rocks that day had proven that. When some of the hardy men of Archenland had not been able to keep up (though of course, many of them lived in the mountains where swimming was not a sport in which they could often engage), Edmund had matched his brother stroke for stroke — a feat which would have been unthinkable only a year ago. Peter thought that he might have grown another inch or two in the past few months as well, quickly catching up to him.

“So… what do you want to talk about tonight?” Peter asked, hoping that his brother would not choose a difficult topic.

“Oh… nothing much,” was Edmund’s sleepy reply.

“Good. I’m not up for any deep discussions.”

“Me, neither.”

They were simply enjoying the comfort of each other’s company in silence when Peter saw a small shadow dart past them into his room.

“Corin!” he said in surprise, rousing Edmund.

“What? Where?” the younger king asked.

“I just saw him crawl under my bed,” Peter explained, as the form of King Lune appeared at his balcony door.

“My humblest apologies,” their friend began, then stopped abruptly, seeing the intimate posture that the brothers were in. Edmund blushed, embarrassed at being thought of like a child; Peter paled, knowing what less innocent reasons one could have for caressing a younger boy on one’s lap. King Lune regained his composure to continue, “I believe my scapegrace offspring ran in here a moment ago…”

“Yes, indeed,” Peter replied, recollecting himself. “He should be under my bed…”

It took the three of them working from each side to flush out their prey, who was (as usual) fighting against being sent to bed, despite rubbing his eyes from exhaustion. But in the end King Lune had his son firmly in hand and trotted him out to the balcony, where he was handed over to his Nurse (who had been standing there wringing her hands).

“My hearty thanks for your help in capturing my madcap prince,” King Lune said formally to the brothers as his son was taken away, still protesting. Then, remembering how he had found them earlier, he added, “and my sincerest apologies for disturbing your… repose.”

“Oh!” Edmund gasped, having forgotten about it while trying to get Corin out from under the bed. Flushing, he quickly said, “You must think I’m a big baby — worse than Corin — to be sitting on Peter’s lap like that—”

“It’s just that we like to talk over the day’s events in private,” Peter interrupted, having conceived of a plausible and more-or-less truthful explanation. “Oftentimes we’re off doing separate things, so it’s good to fill each other in at the end of the day.”

“I see,” the southern king responded dryly, staring hard at Peter and the look of guilt on his face (with which he was familiar from dealing with his own son). “And doubtless, it is conducive towards that end to be so… close?”

Peter thought that he would choke on his answer even if he had one, but to his surprise Edmund spoke up, having used the extra moment to sort out his thoughts.

“It’s just nicer that way,” the youngest king put in, still flushed but determined to be heard. “I don’t know if I’ve told you about it before, but when I was rescued from the White Witch and Aslan brought me back, Su and Lu came up and hugged me right away. I know you meant to make me feel welcome, of course,” he said, turning to Peter, “but I didn’t feel like you had forgiven me — not really and truly — until after the battle, when you hugged me even with the armour and all. I just didn’t feel like everything was right until that moment.”

“Oh, Ed,” Peter whispered, unable to say anything more.

“It’s all right — it was my own stupid fault,” Edmund assured him. “And I was a pretty miserable blighter before that, I know. But at any rate, I… I like it when you hold me like that, because it reminds me of when things really got better — when all of the bad stuff was over and done, and… you were glad to have me as a brother again.”

Forgetting their guest’s presence entirely, Peter grabbed Edmund in a crushing embrace, speechless from the emotions surging through him. The younger boy thought that his bones might crack, then decided he didn’t care if they did, and hugged his brother back with all of his might. King Lune looked on in mild surprise, his initial concern dispelled for the moment.

“Well, then,” he said in a low tone, gently reminding his young hosts that he was still there, “I should leave thee to thy confidences and caresses. Goodnight, my friends.”

“G—Goodnight,” Peter stuttered, embarrassed once more, and Edmund echoed the word. They slipped out of their embrace rather self-consciously as the rotund King of Archenland made his way back to his room.

“Well… I suppose I should be going,” Ed began.

“We should both get some sleep,” Peter reluctantly agreed.

“Pete?”

“Hm?”

“Would it be all right if… if I slept with you again?”

Peter paused to consider this, but the voice of his better judgment was drowned out by his longing to hold his beloved brother again.

“I suppose…”

When they bid each other goodnight for the last time, it was with Edmund tucked firmly in Peter’s arms as they lay in the High King’s comfortable bed.


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