MFB43: Push and Pull

Peter could not remember when he had last seen his brother and would have gladly gone in search of him, but the royal dance was in full swing, preventing him from leaving unobtrusively. When he was certain that Per and Darian were missing as well, he felt a momentary shudder of dread.

By Jove, I hope they’re not… teaching him — or showing him — anything else!

It was late when the Archenlanders began to yawn and slip away to their own tents by ones and twos; however, the Narnian Fauns, Dwarfs, and Nymphs were known to dance all night, so it was with mounting frustration that the High King watched the number of revelers dwindle. Eventually, though, it was only a small group of woodland folk in the circle, and since Susan and Lucy had turned in for the night and none of their guests remained, Peter felt that he had fulfilled his duty. He entered his own tent quietly, seeing that the lamp next to Edmund’s bed had been blown out.

Unfortunately, he did not see that there was a low table (at a comfortable height for Felicity) set on the floor with the usual tea things, as he was distracted with trying to ascertain whether Edmund was sleeping or not. He tripped on a corner of the table, stubbing his toe in the process, and set the china to rattling as he crashed to the floor.

“It’s all right, Pete,” came Edmund’s dry voice from the darkened side of the tent. “You needn’t tiptoe around — I’m awake.”

“Fat lot of good it did to try, anyhow,” Peter replied, chagrined. “Sorry, old chap. I didn’t see this here… Would you care to join me for a spot of tea?”

He proffered the invitation with some humour, hoping to persuade him in that way; however, the only response he received was an expressionless, “No, thanks.”

Feeling snubbed, Peter went about his usual routine of preparing for bed, but could not dispel the growing sense that something was awry — that his brother’s lack of interest was due to more than simple weariness. Remembering his despondent mood of the day, Peter decided to confront him before it could carry over into the next, and sat down next to Edmund’s bed where he lay with his back turned to the room.

“I say, Ed,” he began softly, “is anything the matter?”

“What? No, of course not,” Edmund replied — too hastily, Peter thought.

“You seemed to be out of sorts today… and you left the dance rather early, too.” Met with silence, Peter sighed and took a more direct approach. “What were you talking about with King Lune?”

Edmund bit his lip. He had crawled into bed while the sounds of merry-making were still echoing through the camp, and (imagining Peter to be dancing with Lucy again) had had another cry, which had only left him feeling more miserable and alone. Then he had found, much to his dismay, that he could not sleep, despite feeling tired; his mind was too much occupied with thoughts of Peter. By the time the object of his obsession had walked into the tent, he had scolded himself into vowing to be good, to obey the elder king’s advice, and to bear his heartache without breathing another word of complaint. But now his heart threatened to overflow the flood-gates of his resolve and spill out of his mouth in a torrent.

Peter’s misgivings were also growing as Edmund’s silence grew darker and, without thinking, he placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“Please, Ed… tell me what’s bothering you.”

Edmund drew in a long, shaky breath — wishing that he could revel in the warmth of his brother’s touch — and chose his words carefully.

“I just wish… you would’ve told me directly, instead of having King Lune tell me.”

“Tell you what?” Peter prodded, unsure of what he meant.

“That you don’t want to… do what we used to do. I suppose you had told me that it bothered you, even this morning, but since I did promise to not do that again — or try, anyhow — I wish you would’ve left it at that. You didn’t need to set King Lune after me on top of everything you’d already said…”

“I didn’t mean to ‘set him after you,'” Peter explained, beginning to understand Edmund’s contention. “I only wanted him to talk to you, so you’d see that I’m not the only one who thinks it’s wrong.”

“Then why… why did you have him tell me that… you didn’t… you don’t want to…” Edmund fought the rising hurt and anger. “That you don’t want to hold me anymore?”

Peter gaped in amazement for a second before saying the first thing that came to mind: “I never said that!

There was a pause as Edmund digested his answer.

“You… You didn’t?”

“No. I… I don’t know why King Lune said anything of the sort,” Peter began, then realised that he did, in fact, know why. “Well, I suppose it’s because he knows what it could lead to, and it’s wicked, so he wants us to avoid such things, but…”

Edmund finally roused himself to sit up and stare at Peter with pale, tear-stained cheeks. If his lamp were lit, it would have been obvious that he had been crying, but as it was his face was still hidden in the shadows.

“So you never told him to forbid it?”

“No. I just… I needed you to understand. He meant well, I’m sure, but maybe he forgot to say that it was what he was telling you to do, not me…”

“So… it’s not like… we can’t have our tea time, like we used to?”

The hope in Edmund’s voice nearly tore Peter’s heart asunder, but he considered what he was being asked.

“Ed… if I could promise to not lead you astray in this, I suppose it would be all right… but the fact is, I can’t. I have trouble remembering what I should and shouldn’t do sometimes, when… when my body wants something so badly. Maybe it is better that we not… not get so close and… intimate.”

Even in the dim light, Peter could sense that Edmund became crestfallen at his pronouncement.

“It’s not that I don’t want to, of course,” he hastened to add. “It’s just that… I don’t want to lead you into a mistake that I can’t seem to avoid. I’m still the oldest, and I’m responsible for you and the girls — I have to set a good example. You understand that, don’t you?”

For a long moment, Edmund could not reply. When he finally did, it was in a low, lifeless tone.

“I understand. But by that argument, you’ll always be responsible for us…”

“Y—Yes, I suppose I will,” Peter conceded. “That’s all right, though… I don’t mind it, because you’re all dear to me…”

Some more than others, flashed though Edmund’s mind unbidden, and he suddenly felt the need to lie down and face the wall of the tent once more. The tears that stung his eyes trickled noiselessly onto his pillow.

“Ed?” Peter asked, startled by his precipitous movement. Edmund did not reply, for he could not trust his voice, and Peter was left staring at the dark bundle under the blanket.

“Ed… please don’t be sore,” Peter said at long last. “I can’t bear to think that… you’re angry at me over this. I’m sorry that I can’t control myself like I ought, but I really don’t know what else to do about it. Please understand…”

Presented with such a heartfelt plea, Edmund knew he must answer or be saddled with regret, so he drew in a deep breath.

“I’m not sore at you,” he enunciated slowly and carefully, though still turned away from his brother. “I just wish… things could be different.”

“So do I,” admitted Peter. Then, setting his hand on Edmund’s shoulder once more to give it a gentle squeeze, he rose and slipped into his own bed. It was a long while after his lamp had been darkened that either of the brothers was able to fall asleep.

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After another day of hunting, the royal party returned to Cair Paravel, and the Archenlanders made ready to return to their homeland. It was a bitter parting for Darian, who stole as many private moments with Per as could be managed under the circumstances; at least Edmund gave his squire permission to do whatever he wished, which made things somewhat easier on the lovers.

Edmund himself was withdrawn and often silent, choosing to spend his time alone rather than join in the festivities — a fact that was noted by more than a few of the Narnian court. Mrs. Dumplesugar hardly scolded him for his torn hose, instead conspiring with Felicity to tempt him out of his melancholy with his favourite dishes, but it was hard to know what were his favourite dishes; in any event, the cooking staff already had their work cut out for them.

So for some it was with a well-concealed sigh of relief that their guests left early on a day that promised good traveling weather. The four kings and queens of Narnia rode with their friends for a while through the Great Wood before bidding them farewell and turning back to the castle. Per had accompanied King Edmund, of course, though he spent most of his time riding beside Darian in wordless companionship; at their final parting, they merely clasped hands. Whatever they wished to say to the other had already been said. Edmund courteously pretended to not notice his friend’s tears, as did most of Darian’s fellow knights.

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The denizens of Cair Paravel were busy for a few days afterward, cleaning out the castle and sorting through what had been moved to accommodate their visitors, but soon most things had settled back to their usual routine. The only thing that had changed was Peter and Edmund’s private bedtime tea, which was now served in the sitting room for Susan, Lucy, Mr. Tumnus, and Per as well. Edmund acquiesced to the change without comment and Peter reminded himself that it was for the best, although he missed spending time with Edmund alone more than he cared to admit, even to himself.

It was during one such tea, when Sallowpad the Raven had joined them, that Edmund announced his desire to travel to the Western Wild. Per, of course, had been privy to his planning, but his royal siblings were caught by surprise.

“By yourself?” Susan had asked immediately, her brows arching in disapprobation.

“Don’t be silly,” Edmund scowled. “I’ll be with Phillip, and Per will come, too. Phillip is already asking around to see which of his cousins would like to carry Per.”

“Oh! Will you go to see the Beavers?” Lucy wanted to know.

“Of course. That’s the main thing, you know — I want to introduce Per to our friends, not to mention show him the western side of the country. After all, I’m supposed to be the Duke of Lantern Waste, so my squire should jolly well be acquainted with it.”

“I wonder, Your Majesty, if there might be room for one more in your expedition?” Mr. Tumnus asked politely.

“I was about to ask you if you would like to join us, Mr. Tumnus,” Edmund explained. “I thought you might like to go back to your house and make sure that everything is in order. We can ask Phillip to find another Horse for you to ride as well.”

Peter listened to the plans taking shape with a sinking feeling — not so much concerned for any dangers that might lurk along the way, for Narnia had become quite peaceful and safe since the days of the White Witch, but simply because he knew that he would miss his brother terribly during his absence.

The truth was, he had already begun to miss Edmund, who had honoured his decision for them to maintain a safe distance by retreating almost entirely from his (and their sisters’) company. Of course they still spent much time together, such as during their lessons from the Centaurs and when giving audiences in the throne room; however, in combat training Edmund chose (ever so subtly) to be paired with Per, who was quickly growing into a good match for his knight. In his free time as well, he was most likely to be found in the company of his squire, with Phillip joining them on occasion. Peter fought hard to master his emotions when he realised that his eyes were following the younger boys, with particularly bilious feelings arising within him towards Per.

It’s good for Edmund to have a friend his own age, he argued with himself. Per needs to learn about Narnia, and Ed is doing a good job teaching him — as he ought to be. With Darian gone, I don’t suppose Per could be such a bad influence on Ed, so I shouldn’t worry so much…

Of course the problem was that Peter was not worried about Edmund as much as he was jealous of him. It did not take him long to admit it, but to rectify it was another matter.

This is ridiculous… After all, I was the one who told him we shouldn’t be so close… But I never thought he would choose someone else to be close to! By Jove, I hope he’s not… not getting close to Per like… like that! He wouldn’t, would he? He only thought it was all right for us because we were brothers… but then again, he knows that other boys do it, now… and I practically told him that it was worse for brothers than it was for two unrelated boys…!

With such a growing sense of dread, it was not surprising that Peter began falling prey to his old malady of insomnia, despite Felicity’s nightly oblations of chamomile tea and treats. What he did not know was that Edmund had also caught the affliction, lying awake at night to pine for Peter’s arms just as Peter, in the next room, longed to hold his brother and kiss his tender brow. Part of the reason why the younger king was so often absent from the castle was to hide himself from scrutiny, for he saw the dark circles grow under his eyes every morning in his mirror, just as they had with Peter in the early stages of his infatuation with the fictitious Mermaid. Edmund was living in dread of being found out, since his symptoms were so similar to his brother’s, and of being pressed by one or the other of his siblings as to who was the object of his affections.

As his reflection informed him of his deteriorating appearance, Edmund sought out more unconventional excuses for being absent from his family, and finally hit upon the trip to the Western Wild. He hoped that the physical activity would force his body into some rest at night, and that by leaving the almost ubiquitous presence of Peter the High King behind, he might gain some relief from his heartache as well.

And maybe if I spend some time away, I’ll be able to sort out my feelings, Edmund secretly hoped. After all, who ever heard of someone falling in love with his own brother? Even if he is the most handsome fellow around… Maybe if I’m not around him so much, and get some fresh air, and meet some new People (he meant Animals and Creatures, too, of course) I’ll be able to get over it. At the very least, the hornets won’t bother me as much, since I won’t be seeing him with Lucy all the time!

This last thought was what ultimately tipped the balance for him; for, in spite of spending every spare minute away from those two of his siblings, Edmund could not help but notice how often they were together, and was tormented by the hornets each time — in fact, the pain seemed to have grown even worse, now that he knew what caused it. And unfortunately, Peter had begun to take solace in his youngest sister’s company as his only brother had grown so distant, creating more occasions than ever before where his true love would happen to come across them together. Had he known what sort of pain this afforded his beloved Edmund, he would have refrained from it completely (or as much as was possible without aggrieving his sister), but being oblivious to his brother’s feelings, he unwittingly had created the very reason why Edmund wished to quit the castle altogether.

So with an equal admixture of anticipation and dread, Edmund prepared for his journey, while Peter attempted to brace himself for it.

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