MFB40: The Hunt

“In love?” Per echoed in surprise.

“With whom?” Darian asked.

“Ah—I… Well… I mean…” Edmund stuttered, caught off-guard by the question. Some of what Peter had told him rose to the surface of his memory and he feared that they might scoff at him (though perhaps not to his face) if they learned that he had fallen in love with his own brother. However, he also realised that of all his friends, these two were the most likely to understand his predicament.

“If you would rather not speak her name, your Majesty,” Darian hastened to add, “we shall respect your wishes. Forgive my impertinence — I was startled and spoke without thinking.”

“No, it’s all right,” Edmund said with a sigh. “It’s just that… I need you both to swear to the utmost secrecy.”

“Of course, my Lord,” Darian replied gravely, and Per clasped a hand over his breast as he vowed, “I would never betray you, your Majesty.”

“All right, then,” the wretched monarch responded. However, his doubts overcoming him, he demanded of Darian again, “But do you think that I… I’m in love? Really and truly?”

“From what your Majesty has described — jealousy to the point of pain, and overtaxed nerves causing a trembling in the body,” the knight mused, “and all this precipitated by the actions of, or centered upon, one specific person?”

“Yes. I… I hadn’t thought about it in that way before, but… yes.”

“And you find yourself drawn to her? Wanting to spend as much time with her as possible?”

“Uh, yes. Definitely,” Edmund answered, dreading the moment that he would have to inform Darian that it was a ‘him’ and not a ‘her.’

“Perhaps even — I crave your Majesty’s indulgence — even feeling desirous of this lady in a… physically intimate way?”

Edmund’s heart sank yet further. “Yes,” he whispered.

“And is every waking moment not otherwise occupied devoted to thoughts about her?”

All he could do was nod, biting his lip.

“Then there can be no doubt, my Lord,” was Darian’s somber pronouncement. “You have been shot by love’s cruel arrow… cruel, that is, if your lady does not return your affections; but perhaps your Majesty has been blessed by a kinder fate than… than those in the oft-sung ballads of love.”

If Edmund were not so distracted, he would have perceived that Darian had almost referred to his own woeful circumstance, but at the moment he could only lean against the nearest boulder in dismay.

“No… I fear I shall suffer the same sad fate,” he stated, slowly wrenching the words out. “For I have fallen in love with the most impossible of objects…”

The other two remained silent, waiting for him to speak of his own accord, while Edmund looked across the field to where the rest of the hunting party were gathered. He saw Peter walking with King Lune and, for the first time, recognised the longing in his breast for what it was.

“It’s… It’s Peter,” he finally confessed in a low tone, though there were none other close enough to overhear him, not even the Trees. “I know it’s foolish, but… I can’t help it.”

“Oh!” Darian gasped, surprised to find that King Edmund (like himself) was attracted to another male. Per simply stared at him, openmouthed.

“Is it really so bad? I mean, in Archenland, would it be bad to… to fall in love with your own brother?” Edmund asked, wishing to get past the worst of it.

“It is not unheard-of,” Darian assured him kindly, “even though it is rather rare… But with such a noble brother as the High King — well-knit in form and comely in countenance, not to mention his regal bearing and grace — it is hardly to be wondered at. As for it being considered ‘bad,’ your Majesty, I believe that most who have suffered the pangs of love would say ‘unfortunate’ instead. Surely, it can be no worse a calamity than falling for someone of one’s own sex, in and of itself.”

“That’s what I thought,” Edmund said, relieved. “Since it’s not like you can make babies, anyhow, I didn’t think it should matter that much! Once you got over the fact that, well… you don’t like girls.”

Per glanced over at King Peter, who was still talking with King Lune, and asked with foreboding, “Does his Highness… prefer the company of women?”

“I’m afraid so,” Edmund sighed, his heartache evident. “He doesn’t even approve of… you know, two chaps being in that kind of relationship. He says it’s wicked, and won’t hear of it. He won’t even… well…” Edmund swallowed. “Let’s just say that he’s very concerned with being proper about this sort of thing.”

“As well he should be,” Darian gently put in. “He is the High King, after all, and must set an example for his subjects in all things. He is also honour-bound (if your Majesty will pardon my candor) to produce an heir to the throne. In his position, he has no latitude for indulging in such tastes, even supposing that he had them.”

The lump in Edmund’s throat now threatened to choke him with its size as he nodded.

“It’s just that… I—I know it’s selfish, but I don’t want him to get married,” he admitted in a hoarse whisper, his expression stricken.

“Of course not, my Lord. That is only natural,” Darian said consolingly. Per drew near to place a commiserating arm round Edmund’s shoulders, wishing that he could do more to comfort his master.

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Peter happened to steal a look in his brother’s direction (cautiously, mindful of King Lune’s warning), wondering what the three young friends could be talking about, and was startled to see Per’s affectionate gesture towards Edmund. It was with difficulty that he turned his face away, trying to maintain a calm appearance as he agreed with Glordus’ suggestion to move the hunting party on. From the way that Darian had dogged Per’s steps ever since the Archenlandians had arrived in Narnia, Peter was quite certain that the two boys whom Edmund had seen kissing were none other than Per and Darian, and he now felt that they must be responsible for his brother’s sudden and persistent interest in physical intimacy.

I do wish I could get him away from them, he thought with irritation. He doesn’t need them to plant such shameful ideas in his head! But of course, Darian is our guest and must be treated with courtesy; and Per is Ed’s squire, so he has to stay close to him…

Peter himself had kept his distance from Edmund since that morning, in part out of shame for having very nearly lost control over his bodily yearnings, but also out of the fear that he might let slip a word, glance, or touch which would reveal his unnatural attraction towards his brother. Now he wanted nothing more than to cast caution aside and wedge himself between his love and all others, with the thinly-veiled excuse of protecting him from their corrupting influences, when in truth he wished to capture Edmund’s attention and keep the gaze of those luminous brown eyes focused solely upon himself.

I really must speak to him, was the only thought that crossed his conscious mind, with some vague notion of warning him about consorting with those other two. As they rounded out the morning’s hunt by shooting some waterfowl, the party stopped beside a clear, cold creek to drink and (for those who had been dressing the meat) to wash up, so Peter took the opportunity to approach Edmund. As he came closer, however, his original intentions were set aside for more pressing matters.

“Edmund!” he whispered fiercely after gasping at what he saw. “What happened to your face? And your hands, too — they’re all scratched up!”

“Oh, uh… I tripped and fell into some brambles,” Edmund answered uncomfortably, hoping that he would not be pressed for more details on where or when he had encountered those brambles. Of course Per and Darian had noticed the scratches, too, but had not mentioned anything for fear of embarrassing the young king; Peter had not seen them in the dimness of the tent that morning and, having succeeded in avoiding his brother for the past few hours, he was shocked to see them for the first time by the light of day.

“Do they sting?”

“No, not anymore. They’re not that deep.”

“Still… you should have them looked at by one of the Centaurs. It’s a pity Mrs. Dumplesugar didn’t come with us — her salve worked wonders on my hand…”

“I suppose she’ll lecture me when we get home, since the thorns tore my hose, too,” Edmund sighed.

“She won’t mind making you a new pair, especially since you would have outgrown them soon enough,” Peter pointed out. “But she’ll let me have it if I don’t get you treated as best we can—”

“Oh, Peter!” Edmund protested. “They’re already healed over, so don’t make such a fuss about it. Honestly, you can be as bad as Susan sometimes…”

The retort that had begun to form on Peter’s lips died there. Do I fuss too much over Ed? Am I letting my feelings for him show? he wondered, standing irresolutely for a moment. He took a deep breath before replying, “Fine. Just be sure you keep the cuts clean, and don’t pick the scabs off until they’re well healed. Mrs. Dumplesugar will have my skin if you go home with any of those infected.”

“I know jolly well not to scratch at them,” Edmund shot back indignantly. “I’m not a child!”

The moment the words left his lips, the younger boy regretted them, and the hollow look that came over Peter’s face only made him feel worse.

“All right, then — I’ll leave you to it,” Peter said quietly before picking his way back to where Arismenos (his ride for the day) was cropping up some grass. Although he scolded himself for pothering over Edmund and offending him by stating the obvious, the sharp words uttered by his love had been a blow. Suddenly, he wanted to be rid of the hunting party, to be back in his own room at Cair Paravel where he might be allowed to nurse his sore heart in privacy; but of course that was not to be.

As for Edmund, who had not been feeling well to start with and then was shocked by the discovery that his inner turmoil had been caused by falling in love — with the one person in the world who seemed most determined to reject all advances of that sort — he nearly became sick at the realisation that his words had crushed his brother’s spirit. He could tell by how Peter threaded his way through the rest of the hunters (dazed, as though in a trance) that he had been grievously hurt, but he felt paralysed and could not follow.

“Some water, my Lord?” Per asked, holding out the water skin which he had just re-filled. He had approached in time to catch some of the brothers’ exchange and was surprised to find them so at odds with each other.

“Thanks,” Edmund said morosely and took a sip. At least it helped to settle his stomach. “I can’t believe I just did that…”

“Did what, your Majesty?”

“I bit back at Peter when he was just being… Peter, you know — always worrying about things — but I got so annoyed that I spouted off without thinking.” He took another drink of water, swallowing hard. “I was an ass.”

Per glanced around to make sure that nobody was around before saying in a low voice, “I don’t understand, King Edmund… I thought that you loved your brother?”

“I do,” was his quick reply. “It’s just that… it’s hard to think straight when you’ve got all these bees and hornets crawling around inside of you, stinging you on the inside, and now that I know what they’re from, it almost seems worse… They made a bigger racket the closer Peter came, and then I had to try not to let on that I—I like him, and Peter kept going on about these silly scratches…” Edmund pressed his palms against his eyelids. “I just feel so stupid.”

“Well, if it troubles you so much, your Majesty,” Per made bold to say, “perhaps you should apologise to King Peter.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Edmund agreed, and — galvanized by the simplicity of the idea — strode off in that instant. He rushed to catch up with Peter before the High King had begun the rather arduous task of re-mounting the Unicorn (for of course no one in their right mind would suggest putting a saddle on such a majestic Creature, and it is difficult to mount even a regular Horse without stirrups), grabbing his hand to catch his attention.

“Peter… I… I’m sorry,” he panted, slightly out of breath. “I didn’t mean to be… so short with you. That came out… all wrong…”

“Oh,” the High King responded, still somewhat dazed. “Oh, Ed, it’s all right — I was being a nag, and fussing at you like you didn’t have any sense. I’m sorry…”

Before Peter could say any more, Edmund threw his arms about him in penitent relief. Naturally, Peter’s hands slid around to his back to hold and comfort him, although the next moment he had recovered enough to feel the eyes of all the others upon them. Patting Edmund awkwardly in what he hoped was a brotherly gesture, Peter detached himself from the one who, more than any other in the world, he wished to hold and cherish forever.

“Well then, I’m glad that’s cleared up,” he said in a jesting tone to remind him that they were not alone. “We should get back to the camp for lunch.”

Edmund nodded, a little disappointed that their embrace had been cut short but reassured that they were no longer in discord. He wore a tired but genuine smile when he returned to Per, who stood waiting next to Phillip with a delighted smile of his own.

King Lune had noted the brothers’ brief display with keen interest, and how unreservedly affectionate the younger was with the elder.

He knows not what pain it must cause his brother, he mused while they rode back at an easy canter. He is too young to be mindful of the yearnings of the flesh. How tortuous it must be for Peter! To have one so trusting, and so fair, to be yielded into his custody! I cannot fault him at his tender years for growing more fond of the lad than he ought.

‹‹‹‹‹ ж ›››››

When they returned to the camp, Susan was still teaching Corin how to shoot, for he had bawled upon being left behind when the menfolk left for the hunt. Felicity and her helpers had a marvelous spread prepared, and the Fauns quickly roasted some choice cuts of the venison that the hunters had brought back, wrapping them in strips of bacon left over from breakfast and basting them with wine. Everyone ate heartily, for they were all hungry from being out in the open air, but even so there was no lack of food.

As pleased as King Lune was to hear of his son’s progress with the bow and arrow (small ones made by the Dwarfs to fit Corin’s hands), he left the table and ambled over to where Edmund was having his scratches tended to. One of the Satyrs had a salve for just such wounds, and Lucy was helping to apply it.

“How now, my young friend,” the older monarch said as he approached. “All cut up? And was this the cause of thy lack of shots thus far?”

“Good my Lord,” Edmund replied, feeling a blush creep up his neck, “I wished only to leave that honour to you and our other guests.”

Lucy finished slathering the last scrape on his knee and gave the jar of salve back to the Satyr.

“That’s very polite of you, Edmund,” she said with an approving grin, “but next time, try to avoid the thorn bushes, too!”

When her brother stood up, muttering his thanks, King Lune clapped him on the shoulder and led him away in a confidential manner.

“Come walk with me, King Edmund,” he said softly. “I have somewhat to say to thee, which is for thy benefit as well as thy noble brother’s.”

Edmund knew instinctively what it was about, but could not refuse.

“I suppose this has to do with when you found me sitting with Peter,” he began, earning him a piercing look from King Lune.

“Indeed. As well as how thou accosted him today, moments before we rode here.”

Thinking back, Edmund’s blush spread to his face.

“Are you going to tell me that that was wrong?”

“Wrong to have such sincere devotion for thy brother? Nay, my friend,” the older king deflected. “‘Tis only right and good. But I would recommend expressing thy affection in… less intimate ways. Thou art fast approaching the summer of manhood, leaving the spring of youth behind; it behooves thee to act with more reserve, as befitting thy station.”

Edmund scowled at the ground and said nothing.

“Thy brother hath already grown into the first portion of summer,” King Lune continued, “and is subject to its powers and passions. Thou must be mindful of them and, as thou loveth him, abstain from doing aught that would trouble him.”

Halting and turning to face him, Edmund declared, “I can’t help it — I love him!” with such ardour that the older man could not mistake his meaning.

King Lune stared at him for what seemed an hour before breathing, “Aslan help us!”

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