MFB47: Trouble in the West

Meanwhile, back at Cair Paravel, Peter was having a hard time concentrating on anything. He could not sleep well at night, worried as he was over Edmund (and, if he were to be completely honest, more than a little jealous that Per was with his brother on this trip and not himself), so he became less alert and more listless during the day. The Centaurs helping him in his studies were gravely patient; Susan took to sitting near him when they were discussing affairs of state, the better to nudge him when his attention wandered; and even Lucy — who herself was missing Mr. Tumnus as well as Edmund — noticed his melancholy and strove to dispel it by perching on his knee at every opportunity, prattling merrily about whatever news she had heard that day. Mrs. Hoppinger and Felicity did their best to tempt his appetite with dishes made from the fruits of the season, while Mrs. Dumplesugar coddled and fussed over him like a young kit of her own.

The High King was not insensible to their efforts, but he could not quell all of his sighs nor mask the sluggishness of his mind to any great degree. As hard as it had been to watch his brother from afar, yearning to hold him as a lover yet denying himself that pleasure, it was harder to not catch sight of Edmund at all. Peter was left to wonder what the two younger boys might be doing and talking about on their long journey; at times his fevered mind imagined that they might have begun to engage in the very acts of intimacy which Edmund had been so desirous of pursuing with Peter, which Peter himself had forbidden. Now he doubted the wisdom of having done so, for, in the absence of a male relation in whom to confide, he feared that Edmund would turn to his squire for advice and (what made Peter truly anxious) affection. And after seeing how intently Darian had pursued Per, Peter was certain that the boy was quite familiar with the ways of men as it related to pederasty — perhaps even more knowledgeable than Peter, whose exposure to such behavior had been purely accidental. It was not a notion conducive to restful slumber. And so Peter struggled through each day as best he could, while his sisters and subjects grew increasingly anxious for his well-being.

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Contrary to Peter’s worries, however, Edmund and Per were not in any danger of becoming intimate with each other, as they both already had objects of affection and each knew of the other’s; and indeed, what with all the Creatures of the Western Woods clamouring to see King Edmund and the many places that they were pressed upon to visit, they hardly had a moment alone. And of course the Horses were nearly always with them, and even though Mr. Tumnus had parted from them for two days to tidy things up at his home, he returned the following evening with twenty of his fellow Fauns who wished to perform dances for the young king and his squire.

The two Sons of Adam also kept busy by helping the woodland Creatures whenever they could. They carried mud for Mr. Beaver when he patched a section of his dam and assisted Mrs. Beaver in taking apart her sewing machine for oiling. Per was delighted to help Mrs. Weasel with her washing, just like he always did at Cair Paravel, and even offered to watch her little ones while she went to market. Edmund asked the Animals where they might wish for better roads and (after sorting through the confusing array of answers with the Dwarfs, who were quite clever about that sort of thing) called on the larger Beasts and Talking Trees as well to help with the task.

Almost as soon as he had been made king, Edmund had set out to ensure that the main thoroughfares of Narnia were well tended to — for that had been the first really practical thought he had come up with regarding the governance of the land, back on his cold trek to the White Witch’s castle. During her reign, the taxes levied on the Narnians had been used solely for her own pleasure, so for a hundred years the comforts of the Narnian citizens had been ignored: roads (other than the ones the White Witch used) had fallen into disrepair, bridges had crumbled, and certain foods (such as fresh fruit and vegetables) had been so hard to come by that some of the younger Beasts hardly knew what they were. With the proper seasons restored to the land, produce had become plentiful again, but it had been a very good thing that King Edmund remembered to repair the roads and bridges — especially since the Creatures could not have forded the Great River in some places once the Witch’s ice was melted.

Now Edmund commissioned the expansion of some of the narrow lanes in the Western Woods, which were little more than trails that had been kept passable out of necessity by the Beasts who used them. He also had the Dwarfs replace several steep, worn steps with shallower and wider stones so that even the smallest Beasts could climb them. Brambles were cut back to prevent them from scratching travelers (and offered to the Donkey families who lived nearby) and overhanging branches were pruned under the supervision of the Trees themselves, making more roads accessible for Centaurs and Minotaurs and other tall Creatures. On the whole, these improvements would make life better for all of the inhabitants of the area.

Within a few days of arriving at Beaversdam, though, Edmund had heard enough troubling rumours about a Harpy on the Western Cliffs to decide that it warranted further inquiry. With their original party re-assembled and a few of the local Fauns and Satyrs joining them, they set out early one morning to follow the Great River further upstream and to the west, making it to the Great Falls in the last dim light of the day. Here the River cascaded down from the high Western Cliffs in a sheer drop to Cauldron Pool, which bubbled and churned with the never-ending flow of water. They made camp a little way downriver, taking shelter beside a large boulder, for the Great Falls also sent up a spray of fine mist that would have drenched the boys’ clothes in an hour if they had stayed nearby.

“I say,” Edmund observed, once they had a fire going, “this boulder must have been a part of the cliff before. See how the seams and cracks are at odds with the ground? It must have crumbled off of the cliff-face and tumbled here. Maybe the River seeped through one of the cracks until it split and knocked off the whole thing. Golly, that must’ve been a dreadful sight!”

Per squinted up at the cliff but could see very little since the Moon had not yet risen. “There must have been a great noise when it fell, indeed. From what I saw of the cliff as we drew near, it stands very tall. My Lord Edmund, what lies beyond that precipice?”

“The Western Wild — it’s not Narnia proper, although some of our People live there,” Edmund answered. “It’s mostly rocks and trees (not the Talking kind) until you get to the Great Mountains. One of the old maps at Cair shows that the Great River starts in a valley up in those mountains. There’s supposed to be a special hill made by Aslan, a garden of sorts, where the River first springs out of the ground, although nobody I’ve talked to has ever been to it.”

Of course Edmund said that because he didn’t yet know that the Professor (with whom he had at least exchanged greetings, back in England) had been to Narnia when it was first created, let alone that he had journeyed to the Garden with Fledge the first Flying Horse of Narnia on an errand for Aslan. He had heard of the Lord Diggory and Lady Polly in his History lessons with the Centaurs, but he didn’t know the Professor by that name and had not met Miss Plummer.

At any rate, as they were finishing up their supper with some berries that the Satyrs had found along the banks of the River, a few Squirrels and two Moles came to see who the travelers were. The Beasts were startled but pleased to discover that King Edmund himself had come to investigate about the Harpy, even though all of the Squirrels’ fluffy tails drooped at the mention of the she-monster.

“Eh! That’s a sad business, that is,” said one of the Moles, shaking his head.

“You’ll be wantin’ to talk to Rupert the Pig,” said the other, “seein’ as ’ow he’s lost two o’ his brothers.”

“What?” Edmund gasped. “So the rumours are true?”

“Aye, Your Majesty… too true,” answered the first one (his name was Douglas) with a sigh. “Why, just t’other day, Lloyd the Badger was snatched up the moment he peered out of his door — right in front of his wife, Eileen, who hasn’t dared come out of their burrow since. Been cryin’ her eyes out, she has, and who can blame her? They just ’ad their first litter this spring.”

“We’ve been a-diggin’ more tunnels around these parts, so’s we can get food to each other without comin’ to the surface, you see,” the other Mole (Stephen) explained. “The Harpy seems to come out most times at night, so you can imagine how we all avoids comin’ out when it’s dark! Even the Owls have ’ad to move away on account of her eatin’ up all the bats in these parts.”

“And yet, my good friends, you ventured out to warn us of the danger, didn’t you?” Edmund said, horrified at their news but touched by their courage all the more. “I thank you for your kindness, and for risking your own lives for strangers that you didn’t even know.”

“Aww, shucks, it was nuthin’,” said Stephen, blushing (though you couldn’t tell through his dark fur). “We couldn’t very well leave folks as didn’t know to get snatched up by the likes of her.”

“And we ’ad no notion that you were Knights and Horses with swords an’ all,” Douglas added. “I can’t tell you, Your Highness, ’ow glad we are to see you come to deal with the monster. Even the Centaurs, as big and strong as they are, can’t get to ’er since she flies over ’em and hides in a cave high up on the cliff.”

The Squirrels offered to guide them to the various victims’ families the next morning (the Moles preferred to stay underground while the Sun was out), so with renewed determination Edmund promised the Beasts to rid their forest of the Harpy if it was at all within his power to do so. Having learned that many of the Talking Animals had already fallen prey to the monster, the young king did not think he could fall asleep, and — since it was now obvious that they would need to keep guard all night — he decided to take the first watch. Per, who was also feeling sick to his stomach at the thought of those bereaved, grieving families, joined him.

Edmund was looking up at the sky, wondering if he would be able to see the Harpy as a shadow against the bright stars, when the Moon rose up from the distant horizon of the Sea. He could not see it at first since they were surrounded by trees, but the velvety blackness between the stars grew brighter, to a dark hue of blue, and some of the leaves in the treetops shimmered with the pale light. Thinking that his balcony at Cair Paravel would be bathed in the moonlight, Edmund felt a sharp stab of pain in his heart when he realised that Peter might be out on that balcony at this very moment, looking at the same heavens. He wished that his older brother were with him now (not just to help him with the Harpy) and was almost overcome with longing for him.

“King Edmund,” came a low whisper from Per — a welcome distraction.

“Yes?”

“I… I was wondering… Your Majesty, I’ve never seen a Harpy,” the boy hesitantly confessed.

“Oh! Well, I should jolly well hope not,” Edmund responded, also whispering so as to not awaken the others. “They’re nasty Creatures, and I’d hoped we’d got rid of all of them by now… They have the body of a woman, sort of, but very ugly, and wings like a bat, and razor-sharp talons like birds of prey. I’m sure they could easily carry off most of the smaller sorts of Animals — even the Talking ones — as they’re pretty strong. I’ve never heard of a good Harpy, come to think of it. I’ve a feeling that they’re all bad, through and through. If this one has been… snatching up a—and eating… our Talking Beasts, we must put it to death. I just hope we’ll be able to quickly, before anybody else gets… taken…”

Edmund said this last with a shudder, and Per (who had turned rather pale at the description of the monster) wholeheartedly agreed.

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In the morning they first visited Eileen the Badger, who was finally persuaded to come out of her home, by a different door than the one from which her husband had been snatched. Her neighbors had been supplying her with enough food for her family, she told Edmund between dabbing at her eyes with a tiny handkerchief and wringing it out. The young king pulled out several Lions from the money-bag on his belt (he had very little need of them while traveling, since it was quite easy to live off of the land during the summer) and pressed them into her paw — one for each kit — with the promise to send more upon his return to Cair Paravel. She was speechless with gratitude, bobbing curtseys to him again and again, while her brood (delighted to be freed from the confines of their burrow at last) scampered about on the grass under Per and Mr. Tumnus’ watchful eyes.

“Look there, Your Majesty,” one of the Satyrs, Echaphas, said as he pointed to a large branch of the oak tree that spread out over the Badgers’ home. “Claw marks on the bark — the Harpy must have perched there and lain in wait for them.”

“Indeed. She must have seen their door at the base of the tree and planned it,” Edmund agreed with a grim countenance. “There can be no doubt then: she is targeting Talking Animals as prey. She must be destroyed at once.”

The Squirrels next led them to Rupert the Pig’s home, a stone cottage with a black slate roof in the middle of a field. Rupert had a thriving farm with a coop full of hens, but he remarked bitterly how the Harpy had not even attempted to get at them.

“She took my youngest brother first… Roy had always been small, and was a tad slower than Robert and me,” he explained, keeping his bristled chin from quivering with some difficulty. “He lived in a house with a thatched roof — she tore it apart and carried him off, no doubt to her lair… Then, scarcely a week later, she got at my other brother, Robert… His house had wooden shingles, but she tore them off, too… As you can see, I’d shingled my roof with slate last year — hauled them up from the quarry myself — but she tried to pry them loose as well the other night. That’s when I hurled firebrands at her until one of them singed her wing and she gave up. I was all in a muck sweat, I can tell you (a-begging Your Majesty’s pardon), huffing and puffing from the work, but I was right glad to have at least given her some pain after what… what she’d done to m—my brothers…”

Here the aggrieved Pig broke down into sobs, and Edmund could not help but shed kingly tears of mourning as well, for he could imagine how devastating it would be to lose his own brother — his very dearest brother, Peter — and the pain in his heart could not be contained. When they had both had a good cry (Rupert on the young king’s shoulder), Edmund gripped the Pig’s arms and looked directly into his eyes.

“Rest assured, my friend: by the Lion’s mane, I shall avenge your brothers’ deaths!” he swore.


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6 Comments

  1. Chloe83

     /  2012/10/09

    amazing!!! i love your writing so much~ stayed up all night, reading this story 🙂 i hope i could read more of the story soon!!! Ed is so cute 😉

    Reply
    • Thanks so much! Sorry to keep you up all night… 😉 I haven’t been updating it like I would like to, but I’m hoping my life is beginning to slow down now.

      Reply
  2. I can’t breathe.
    What the fuck?
    How do you leav this like that?
    Completely unresolved?
    I mean I knew it was going to be a slow boild up, but I figured, it wouldn’t have taken more than 47 chapters.
    So now I’m left wondering.
    Probably for forever.
    When you stop writing for this long your done forever.

    Reply
    • Real life has been hectic, but I do intend to finish this. Would it help to know that they’ll have a Happily Ever After in the end?

      Reply
  3. Still checking this every day waiting for update!! 😀 Will continue to do so – Don’t cha just hate it when real life gets in the way of fantasy?

    Reply
    • Awww, thanks so much! I’ve been in a slump for the past few weeks (bad reviews for my book) but I do hope to get back into the swing of things soon!

      Reply

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