MFB42: The Greatest Trial

When the hunt resumed after their repast, Edmund directed Phillip to hang back in order to “give our guests the best positions,” but in reality it was because he felt too numb to even attempt to join in. His eyes followed Peter as the High King entertained King Lune and the Archenlandian lords at the front of the party, while an ache gnawed at his insides where the hornets used to be, eating away at him until he felt completely hollow.

Since Per dutifully stayed close to him and Darian stayed close to Per, they formed their own small group, allowing Edmund to remain silent and lost in his own thoughts while the two lovers (well aware of their impending separation) made the best of their time together. Per recounted how he had spent his time thus far in Narnia and Darian listened with rapt attention. Both of them had noticed how disheartened the young king seemed ever since his chat with King Lune but tactfully did not mention it, waiting instead for Edmund to inform them himself what was the matter. However, as Edmund made no effort to start a conversation, they left him alone to his musings and spoke unobtrusively with each other.

Edmund was distracted not only by King Lune’s injunction against approaching his brother in an intimate manner, both in public and in private, but also — and more powerfully — by his mistaken conclusion that Lucy was the object of Peter’s love. He wondered if Peter felt as cruel a throe of pain from his inadmissible affection towards Lucy as he himself felt for Peter. Knowing that they both suffered from the same malady might have given him some comfort, since they now had more in common than before, but the burden of his heart seemed to grow heavier rather than lighter. He also could not help the sharp spasm of jealousy that seized him when he considered how his sister had acquired Peter’s love without so much as trying, when he so desperately longed for it and believed it to be beyond his grasp.

Even if I’d been born a girl, and not his sister, I wouldn’t stand a chance, he reminded himself. I’m not sweet and kind like Lu, and anyhow, Peter hardly notices any of the other girls since his heart is fixed on Lucy! How would I even get his attention? Pester him with food and drink like Lady Verinia?

This gave him pause, since it caused him to realise that a young woman in love had very few means by which to gain a gentleman’s affections. In fact, he saw with sudden clarity that he had done almost the same thing, in essence: appealed to Peter’s physical appetite (though of a somewhat different nature) to claim his attention.

I guess I shouldn’t have judged her so harshly — I didn’t know what else to do, either! I got Peter to do all sorts of things, even though he’d made it clear that he thought they were wrong and wicked, by keeping after him until he gave in… by taking advantage of what his body wanted! That’s why he had to tell me to quit, to leave him alone. I wish he hadn’t asked King Lune to say it, but I guess I had it coming… I didn’t realise why I wanted him to touch me so much, but I kept pestering him — just like Lady Verinia — until he’d finally had enough, and now he doesn’t want anything to do with me…

Edmund bowed his head in anguish, barely able to hold back his tears. He was, of course, too extreme in his assessment of the limitations which Peter had decreed; they were actually more of King Lune’s doing than Peter’s, but he was not able to make that distinction. Combined with the knowledge that Peter had confided in their friend rather than in him about the affairs of his heart, Edmund’s heart was heavy indeed.

I’ve acted like a fool… like a spoilt kid trying to get what he wants, even after he’s been told he can’t have it and mustn’t keep asking. No wonder Peter doesn’t trust me with important matters anymore! I wish I’d figured out sooner what the hornets were about… Comes from not being around Human People much, I suppose. But it does seem like horrible rotten luck to find out I’m in love, only to be told that same day to keep away from the one I love!

He sighed, oblivious to the concerned glances which Per and Darian cast his way, as well as to the bustle of the hunt a stone’s throw ahead of them. He tried to console himself with the thought that Peter was suffering in the same manner, but it only impressed upon him the capriciousness of love.

It doesn’t seem fair that Lucy should get all of Peter’s attention, when she doesn’t love him like I do… although it isn’t fair that Peter should fall in love with Lucy, either, since he can’t have her as his wife or queen. Poor Peter… I wish I could do something to help him with his pain. But I suppose I was only making it worse by harping on him so to touch me and stuff… Maybe the best thing I can do for him is to leave him alone, like he wants me to…

It was hardly a solution to his liking, but Edmund resolved to obey his brother’s request as best he could and to emulate him in his stoic acceptance of heartache. He attempted to rejoin the hunt and put on as brave a face as he could muster, although he succeeded in entertaining their southern guests about as well as he hunted; that is to say, none of his arrows hit their mark.

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Peter had also noticed how despondent his brother had become, and it did not escape his attention that it had occurred immediately after King Lune had taken that little stroll with him. Although the High King trusted his friend and ally implicitly, he could not help but be anxious about what the older man had said to cause such a reaction in Edmund. Once, during a halt for water, he attempted to approach his brother but was deftly prevented by King Lune. He wished to speak in private with that gentleman as well, but was thwarted by the presence of so many courtiers from both countries. He resigned himself for the moment, vowing to speak with Edmund at length when this visit of state was over.

He had occasion to speak with his brother rather sooner, though, when the hunters returned to camp and went to their tents to wash up and change for dinner. Edmund, who felt unequal to the task of facing Peter after being told that their intimate moments (which he so enjoyed) had become a burden to him, assiduously kept his eyes averted as he washed at his own basin of warm water. Peter sensed the tension and struggled to come up with a casual way of engaging him in conversation.

“I say, Ed,” he finally began, “are those cuts healing up all right?”

“They’re fine,” was Edmund’s curt answer.

“Oh. Good,” he responded, at a loss for words yet again, since the last time he had pursued the subject it had not ended well. While he rubbed himself with the soapy cloth once more for good measure, pondering what might be a safe topic to bring up, Edmund dried himself off and donned his dinner tunic. It was made of soft velvet in a deep shade of green that set off his fair features perfectly, and Peter paused in his motions to see him in it, even by the dim lamp light.

“Wait!” Peter called out when Edmund turned to leave the tent. “Your collar…”

“What?” Edmund asked, fingering the front of his collar aimlessly. He had looked back without thinking upon being called, and now was trying hard to not stare at Peter, who had crossed the room in two strides and was standing mere inches from him, naked from the waist up.

“Here… It was tucked under in the back,” the older king explained as he smoothed it.

Edmund found himself transfixed by the sight of his brother’s chest, a wide expanse of muscle under a taut skin bespeckled with freckles, slightly damp yet from the recent washing. There was one freckle in particular which stood out because of its darker shade, just above his right nipple. Edmund turned crimson when he realised that he could not take his eyes off of that spot — even more when he realised that Peter had noticed his intense scrutiny.

“What? Did I miss some dirt?” Peter asked, glancing down at himself self-consciously.

“N—No, I… uh… It just reminded me of Jeneth, the charioteer of the Moon,” Edmund replied, referring to the star that crossed the Narnian sky just ahead and slightly to the south of the Moon.

“Oh!” Peter laughed. “I suppose we should inform Sageion that he can use my freckles for an astronomy lesson if need be — perhaps on a cloudy night.”

Edmund only nodded before stumbling out of the tent, and inhaled deep draughts of fresh air as he walked briskly towards the dinner tables. His heart was thumping much faster than usual, which did not help his flushed cheeks, so he decided to take a turn around the field to stretch out his legs (since he had been riding all day) and to regain his composure.

It wouldn’t be so hard if Peter weren’t so handsome! he thought miserably. I can’t help but notice, since I’m with him all the time… I don’t suppose anybody else can love him like I do. I love every bit of him, down to the last freckle! Why, I’ll bet none of those girls (glancing at a group of young ladies from Archenland) would care about his freckles half as much as I do, even if he chose one of them to be his queen! It’s intolerable to think that he might marry someone who doesn’t love him and adore him as much as he deserves to be…

This notion was only strengthened when the High King came out to the tables dressed in his royal-blue tunic, looking truly Magnificent as he smiled upon his guests and subjects. Peter, though aware that Edmund was still preoccupied by whatever he had discussed with King Lune, was encouraged enough by his joke about the star (which of course put him in mind of the happy evenings that they had spent together) to be satisfied that his brother was in no immediate danger, and had decided to throw himself full-heartedly into the festivities as befitting the host.

The meal was a scrumptious affair with fresh meat from the hunt and fresh fruit and vegetables brought in by the generous Narnians of the area. After loosening their tongues with wine, several Fauns began to sing some country ballads to the accompaniment of reed pipes and tiny harps, then the Dwarfs began clapping or tapping the tables in time to the tune. Pretty soon the tables were whisked away altogether to make room for dancing, and it was a jolly time of laughter and music as the various Narnian folk clopped, brayed, hooted, or shuffled along with their Human friends.

Peter, thirsty from the day’s activities, had imbibed a little more wine than was his wont; it made him slightly giddy, but he skipped about with a carefree lightness as he switched partners — sometimes dancing with the girls from Archenland, sometimes with the Nymphs. In fact, he did better when he didn’t worry so much about stepping on toes, and not only enjoyed the dances more but also presented himself to greater advantage. He had no lack of dance partners, of course.

Watching him, Edmund grew determined to follow his example, and for his first dance asked Lady Verinia (much to that lady’s surprise) for he sincerely felt that he had wronged her in his initial judgment of her character. Though he doubted that she was as deeply in love with his brother as he was himself, she obviously held Peter in high regard, which recommended her discernment and taste; and in a way Edmund felt some affinity towards her, as a prisoner sentenced to the gallows might feel about another prisoner doomed to the same fate. Neither of their suits could succeed, he was certain, and while it did nothing to ease his own pain, it did not add to it by presenting the possibility of her some day becoming Peter’s wife and queen.

He went through several more tunes, dancing with some of the less giggly girls as well as two Dryads and a Naiad. Deciding to sit out the next song, he accepted the chalice of pale wine which Per handed him and took a few sips before something caught his eye, almost causing him to drop the cup. Peter, in high spirits from the wine and music, had chosen Lucy to be his partner for this dance; and, since he had no qualms about showing how fond he was of his sister (unlike the reservations he might have had regarding Edmund), he was smiling as broadly and brightly as he ever had. That by itself could hardly have warranted Edmund’s reaction, but coupled with his already firm belief that Peter was in love with her, to see them laughing and frolicking together was more than his heart could bear. Hardly had he thrust the chalice back at his startled squire before he fled into the nearest part of the woods.

Per hastened to set the chalice down and took off after his knight with Darian following close on his heels. They found the young king weeping, leaning against the trunk of a gnarled tree as though he could not remain on his feet without its support. Per approached him with caution.

“King Edmund?”

“Go… Leave me alone,” he sobbed.

Per turned to Darian, unsure what to do, when the much larger figure of King Lune entered the forest behind them. Having seen his young friend turn away from the merriment with a stricken face, the older monarch had hurried from the other side of the ring of dancers to offer his assistance. Although checked in his steps by the muffled sounds of misery emanating from the tree, he rushed to Edmund’s side and clutched him in a bone-creaking embrace.

“My poor lad! My poor, unfortunate, unhappy boy!” he murmured, petting Edmund as though he were a much younger child — as though he were his very own son, Corin’s brother, only somewhat older. “What a cruel blow hath Fate dealt thee!”

Feeling Edmund’s slim body convulse against his own, King Lune wondered (for the first time) if he might not have been mistaken to hide the two brothers’ true affections, each from the other. How much wretchedness could be dispensed with if only they knew that their love was mutually reciprocated? How much relief would they both gain if they could share, in perfect honesty, what now lay hidden deep within their hearts? But King Lune was wise enough to realise that it would not — could not — stop there: once they had learnt of their common passion, it must be consummated. Once consummated, the two kings of Narnia might never be persuaded to be parted, to the detriment of not only their kingdom but also of their neighboring countries, of which Archenland was the chief by nature of geography as well as political alignment.

It would never do, King Lune firmly told himself, while commiserating with Edmund’s heartbreak with all of his tender soul. Forgive me, my friend, but as thou canst not weigh this matter indifferently for thy youth and yearning, I must be resolute in thy stead! May Aslan grant you peace and comfort in this, perhaps thy greatest trial…

Edmund, not knowing what manifold musings were passing through his friend’s mind, allowed himself to cry freely upon his breast; for King Lune was still one of his favourite people, and it was comforting to be held in tacit sympathy as he let fall the tears which he had held at bay all afternoon. When his weeping had subsided, there seemed to be an even greater emptiness inside of him than had been heretofore, but at least the hornets were no longer stinging him.

“Thank you, my Lord,” he sighed, pulling out a handkerchief with which to wipe his moistened face. Seeing the stains upon it — of the berry ink he had used to scribble on Peter’s face, as well as of Peter’s blood from when he had cut his hand — caused Edmund to double over with a gasp of pain. King Lune caught him, concern etching deep lines in his brow.

“Wilt thou rest now, my friend?” he asked, signaling with a glance for Per to approach.

“Yes, I… I think I shall,” Edmund agreed, and consented to be led by his squire through the shadows of the wood, back to Peter and his tent.


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8 Comments

  1. Mikhaela

     /  2015/09/26

    I don’t leave comments on fanfics, but chapter literally made me cry uncontrollably. I hope you realize how you have ruined my productivity for the past three days as I read chapter after chapter. Not only is your writing style disgustingly beautiful, I hate how you switch between Shakespearian and WWII English so effortlessly. Seriously, stop doing that- you put some published authors to shame.
    I’m kidding by the way, love every bit of your work 🙂

    Reply
    • Oh, dear… I just reviewed this chapter (it’s been so long since I wrote it) and it truly is the worst chapter of this whole story. My humblest apologies for the angst, but it will be resolved, I swear! And also my profusest regrets for distracting you from your daily tasks, but alas, there are still thirteen more chapters and many more yet to be written…
      Thank you so much for your kind words, despite the pain this must afford you.
      Ever your humble servant,
      Thea

      Reply
    • Lys

       /  2016/06/08

      My exact thoughts too! I can’t stop reading this 😂

      Reply
  2. I. Hate. Lune.

    Reply
  3. Every time I reread this, I just… I just want to hurt Lune, and deeply.
    For as good as his intentions may be, the phrase “The way to hell is paved with good intentions” fits awfully well here.
    It may well be my own present tendency to darker thoughts, but Lune could have certainly driven Edmund to a premature death, what with his (admittedly) self interest.
    So he really should be grateful that Edmund, even in such agony, managed to keep himself more or less together. I know of some who would have gone right over a cliff, if only hoping to stop the pain their supposedly unrequited love causes them.

    Please, ignore my current disposition, it shall pass.
    I’m just imagining Aslan looking upon Lune with sad disapproval.
    And Lune falling and getting impaled in a cliff, but again, just ignore me.

    Reply
    • No worries — I agree. Some of the most well-meaning people have inflicted the worst kind of damage with their words.
      Sorry I haven’t written the continuation of this story in so long… but eventually we will come to the time where King Lune’s wife and queen dies. Sometimes it takes experiencing a deep grief to become understanding of another’s grief.
      Thank you so much for reading (and re-reading)!

      Reply

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