MFB44: Sentimental Journey

King Edmund and his five companions — Per, Mr. Tumnus, Phillip, Phillip’s cousin Mitchell, and Mitchell’s friend Phineas — set out rather later in the day than they had hoped, since Felicity and Mrs. Dumplesugar kept running back into the castle for one more useful or absolutely necessary item that they had to take, and some of those items required that they remove a saddlebag and pack it all over again. But at long last they were off, the boys and the Faun waving cheerfully back at the girls until they turned a bend in the road and could not be seen for the trees. Peter heaved a deep, grateful sigh when they were out of sight — the oft-delayed farewell with Edmund had been torturous.

It had been excruciating for Edmund as well, and more than once (in his heart) he had almost decided to call the whole thing off; but once they were on their way, with the Horses cantering at a brisk pace and the cool wind in their faces, he was glad to have undertaken this trip after all. It was still high summer in Narnia, when the Trees are fresh with verdant leaves growing thicker than down on a chick, and their journey was made even more delightful when the spirits of those Trees stepped out to wave to them with their leafy limbs and bow to their young king. The little woodland animals also chirped and chattered in excitement to see them go by, and several Birds burst into glorious song for the travelers’ benefit.

The first day they rode through the Great Wood to the Fords of Beruna, where they would camp by the river in the same spot where the Narnian army had camped before their great battle with the White Witch’s army. Edmund had started out the day talking with Per about the different types of Tree-Nymphs and Animals they were seeing, but as they drew closer to the Fords he began to tell him more about the Battle of Beruna, which Per (being, of course, a knight-in-training) was fascinated to hear.

“It was Peter’s first time commanding an army,” Edmund recalled, seeing in his mind’s eye how small and yet very noble and courageous his brother had looked astride the Unicorn. “Sure, he’d bossed us three around a bit all our lives, but he’d never commanded anybody before. I don’t know how he had the nerve to do it at all — having to be at the very head of the charge, you know. It must’ve been terrifying…”

For a moment Edmund fell silent, lost in his thoughts, but Per roused him out of his reverie by asking what position he had fought in, and so Edmund recounted his role in signaling the archers.

“It was more of a formality than anything else,” he demurely added. “Peter had already told me what to do. I was just following orders.”

“I believe — if I may be so bold — that your greatest feat was accomplished by not following orders,” Phillip put in with an amused whinny, which was echoed by the other two Horses, who had also fought in the Battle. Edmund, turning red, had to relate how he had ignored Peter’s order for him to escape with their sisters, instead choosing to attack the White Witch and break her wand.

“He even fought past three ogres to get to her,” Phineas said, making Edmund turn redder still. “We were all amazed that someone so small (a-begging your pardon, Your Majesty, but you were no bigger than some Dwarfs at the time) could fight so ferociously!”

Edmund had very much wanted to tell Per about it himself, but had refrained for fear it would sound like bragging; and although a part of him was glad that Phineas had told his squire on his behalf, another part of him squirmed in embarrassment.

“That was the turning point of the Battle, Master Per,” Mitchell explained. “We had already lost so many because nobody else had the sense to break her wand, but once King Edmund removed that threat, we had a fighting chance. And then Aslan came with the rest of our fellows, freed from the Witch’s castle.”

At this point, Edmund asked Mr. Tumnus to tell the story again (mostly for Per’s benefit, but also since the Horses had not all heard it for themselves) of how Aslan had un-stoned all the creatures in the Witch’s castle and how they had rode forth to join the Battle.

“I was just so glad to be free and able to do my part, however small,” Mr. Tumnus said. “I’d been a traitor, you know — I was in the service of the White Witch for many years — but it was such a relief to be fighting on the right side again!”

“But Mr. Tumnus,” Per asked, not knowing what awful memories he would be dredging up, “if you were serving the Witch, why did she turn you into stone?”

There was an uncomfortable pause, for the Faun and three Horses did not want to say anything that would remind Edmund of the past, but it was inevitable now that Per had voiced his question. Edmund swallowed and saved them the trouble by answering it himself.

“It’s because he didn’t turn Lucy over to the Witch like he was supposed to. He would have got away with it, too, if I hadn’t wandered into Narnia and met the White Witch, and told her that my sister had already met a Faun. That was the second time that Lucy had come to Narnia… I hadn’t believed her story about meeting him at all (none of us had, really) and I’d followed her into the wardrobe out of spite, just to tease her about her imaginary world. And then, even though I found myself here in a totally strange world, just like she’d said, I didn’t have the wits to keep my mouth shut. As if that weren’t bad enough, I ate the enchanted food and drink the Witch offered me, and even promised to bring Peter and the girls to her castle! All because she said she would make me king, and make the others my servants. I was sore at Peter for scolding me about teasing Lucy — I was really rotten to her, so it was no more than I deserved — but I was such a selfish beast that I actually wanted to pay Peter out.”

Per’s jaw dropped in surprise, for he could not imagine that there had ever been a time when the two brothers were on less-than-amiable terms.

“The third time we came to Narnia (or rather, the third time for Lucy) all four of us made it in together,” Edmund continued. “I tried to trick the others into going to the Witch’s castle, but when that didn’t work, I slipped away from the Beavers’ house alone to go to the Witch, and told her everything that I’d heard the Beavers saying — their plans to take us to meet Aslan, and where he was gathering his forces… everything. All because I wanted another piece of Turkish Delight!”

“You mustn’t be so hard on yourself, King Edmund,” Mr. Tumnus put in gently. “You had no way of knowing that her food was enchanted, and once you had eaten it, you were under its spell. Alas! I had no such excuse. I knew she was evil, and chose to do her bidding, anyhow.”

“As did many others, my dear fellow,” said Phineus (who was carrying the Faun). “Those were dark days, when even the stoutest hearts quailed before her wand in fear. You were brave enough to defy her commands and protect the Lady Lucy — which is more than some would have done. Do not dwell on your mistakes, especially since you overcame them when it was hardest and most necessary.”

“And you, King Edmund,” Phillip spoke up, “you suffered cruelly at the Witch’s hands, and nearly had your throat slit by her. I know, for I found you in that wood, exhausted, half-starved, and tied to the tree. And yet you faced her on the battlefield and did what none else had dared to do — almost at the cost of your life. You have proven that you are a true Champion and King of Narnia; Aslan would not have crowned you if it were not so.”

There was hearty agreement at this, which assuaged Edmund’s regrets somewhat.

“King Peter was a sight to behold on the battlefield as well,” Mitchell said, hoping to turn the subject to happier things. “He was scarce but a colt himself, but fought against Creatures twice his size with the heart of a Lion!”

The conversation moved on to the great celebration after their victory and the coronation at Cair Paravel, but Edmund’s thoughts lingered for a while on Peter, and how his brother had hugged him so tightly — so wonderfully tightly — after Lucy’s cordial had revived him. He yearned to be held that way again, even if only as a beloved brother, but wondered if his true wish — to be ravished by Peter as Per had been by Darian — would ever be granted.

Is it really so wrong? he mused, as he had so often before. I know Peter and King Lune think it’s wrong, and Peter says Father would, too, but… what would Aslan say? Would he condemn it and forbid it, too?

There was no way to know the answer, of course, since Aslan was not a tame lion, much less someone you could send for when you wished to see them. In fact, Edmund realised, he didn’t even know how one would go about looking for Aslan.

Perhaps we aren’t meant to… Maybe we just have to do the best we can without him, and hope for the best. But I do wish he would come by sometime so I could ask him…

It occurred to him, with a start, that Aslan might visit Cair Paravel while he and his companions were still in the Western Wood, in which case he would have missed an opportunity to ask the great Lion directly; however, they were already well on their way and (after all the fuss that their departure had caused) he could not in good conscience call off the journey now. Resigning himself to whatever might happen in his absence, Edmund tried to imagine what Aslan might say in response to his question. The answers that seemed most plausible did not please him, and those that he most hoped for seemed least likely.

Thankfully, he found that the more he thought about Aslan — remembering the kindness in his eyes and the light dancing off of his golden mane — the less he was thinking about Peter and aching for what he could not have, which was a welcome respite in and of itself. It also put him in a mind to visit the Stone Table, which he had not seen since it had been broken.

“My dear friends, I must beg your indulgence,” he began during a lull in the conversation. “It occurs to me that I haven’t yet seen the Stone Table where Aslan paid the price of my guilt — at least, not since the day before the Battle of Beruna. It would be a good thing for Per to see as well, I think, and not just because it’s an important landmark. Next to meeting Aslan in person, I think it’s the closest thing (or place) where one could get a sense of who Aslan is. Would you all be amenable to turning aside from our planned course to visit it for a while? Although I realize, it will add nearly a day to our travels…”

The Horses agreed to it at once, insisting that it would take far less time than he had estimated to divert to the site (since they were riding, not marching as Edmund had been the last time he had traveled from the Stone Table to Beruna), and Mr. Tumnus was as curious as Per to see the cracked Table, so they decided to journey south the next morning to the hill where it sat, before rejoining the Great River further west to follow it up to Beaversdam.

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Lucy had wanted to tell Edmund what Aslan had done — what terrible mockings and beatings the great Lion had endured at the hands of the Witch’s hordes, and how he had been slain on her brother’s behalf — but Susan could not bear to see Edmund crushed by the weight of that knowledge, and so the sisters had not told the whole story to anyone, not even Peter. However, one day not long after their coronation, Edmund himself had brought up the topic.

“I say, Su — why didn’t you at least let us know you were leaving camp with Aslan that night?” he began, after a lengthy discussion about the (then-recent) Battle of Beruna, and how close a shave it had been; in fact, how very nearly it had been a disaster, if Aslan had not come back with reinforcements. “Peter and I had quite a turn when we got up in the morning and found you and Lucy gone, too!”

“We didn’t want to wake you, since we knew you would be fighting a battle in the morning. You needed your sleep,” Susan fibbed.

“Susan!” Lucy said in a hushed yet reproachful tone. When both Peter and Edmund looked at them inquiringly, the girls blushed. Suspecting that his sisters were hiding something dreadful, Edmund insisted on being told everything, which Lucy (rather unwillingly, despite having thought that he ought to be told, earlier) then hesitantly began to relate. The boys listened in stunned silence until Lucy was finished.

“It should have been me,” Edmund stated, his face pale. “I ought to have been the one killed…”

“No, Edmund! Aslan knew what he was doing,” Susan spoke up. “If you’d been killed by the Witch, you would have stayed dead! But because Aslan willingly died in your place, and had committed no treachery himself, the Deep Magic was overruled by the even Deeper Magic and Death couldn’t keep Aslan dead anymore. It was the only way it would have worked!”

“Su’s right, Ed,” Peter said quietly. He had risen to stand by the window (they were in the Den) and remained staring out at the ocean. “But if anyone were to have taken your place, it should have been me. I goaded you to betray us; I should have died in your stead. Then Aslan could have led the troops, far better than I…”

“No, Peter!” Lucy gasped. “What if… What if you’d stayed dead, too? Because you were partly responsible?” She ran up to him and threw her arms about his waist. “If you’d died, it would’ve been as bad as Edmund dying! We all would have been miserable…”

“I really do think,” Susan said, joining them by the window to place a hand on Peter’s shoulder, “that it had to be Aslan himself. Only he could have managed it. And in a way… he did it for all of us. So that we could all be here, together…”

She turned back to look at Edmund, who had been contemplating his shoes for a while.

“Edmund… it wasn’t just for your sake that he did it — it was for ours as well, because we love you…”

Catching her gaze, he stood up and walked over to his siblings.

“In that case… I owe you all my life, too,” he said soberly.

“Oh, Ed! Don’t be silly,” Lucy said, grabbing him in her embrace as well. “Of course we love you! You’re our brother.”

Peter had smiled at that and pulled Edmund even closer into their circle.

“She’s right you know… Whether you like it or not, you’ll always be our brother!”

‹‹‹‹‹ ж ›››››

Edmund could not stop the tears from blurring his view of the night sky as he remembered that momentous day, while lying beside their campfire on the shore of the Great River. The River Rush was a quieter babble in the distance, a few paces to the east, adding its voice to the nearer, louder song of the Great River as it passed over the stones of the ford. He stifled a sob when he thought of the freckles on Peter’s chin that he had likened to stars, since he could see Jeneth, the charioteer star that rode through the heavens just ahead of the Moon.

Per sensed his knight’s restlessness and — being quite familiar with the cause of his melancholy, since he was suffering in much the same way himself — made free to move his rolled-up cloak (his pillow) and blanket right beside the young monarch. Without a word he placed one arm on Edmund’s shoulder, and soon found his hand gripped by Edmund’s in gratitude. They slept, huddled against each other for comfort, too tired for dreams that night.


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2 Comments

  1. Is it wrong that a part of me low-key ships Edmund with Per/Peridan?

    Reply

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