The Palace Guard
Chapter 1 - Wrasse
I promise to never cause you harm and to protect you from all ill and danger.
I give you loyalty with love, respect with fealty, and discretion with honour.
I place my body, mind and heart in service to you.
I swear this Guard's Oath before Aslan and in His Name, until you release me, until death takes you, or the world ends.
-Guard's Oath Sworn To Narnian Monarchs
"Now, Bree," he said, "you poor, proud, frightened Horse, draw near. Nearer still, my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast." The Horse and His Boy, Aslan to Bree.
In Year 2, Golden Age
Should have, should have, should have. Should have seen it. Should have predicted it. Should have trusted our Beast instincts. Should have prevented it.
But for the grace of Aslan, High King Peter, Queen Susan, and King Edmund were not dead.
Wrasse lashed her black tail. There was no excuse and it was beyond unpardonable.
Her Panther perceptions had told her something was off. The He-Wolf, Lambert, had sensed it as well. Humans, though, were still new to them, regrettably. The unfamiliarity notwithstanding, she and Lambert had both felt there had been something wrong about something in that Island group of Humans, in those last moment additions to the delegation. To her and Lambert's everlasting regret, neither of them had been able to name the source of the unease and had not trusted what instinct had told them.
To Beasts, it was simply impossible for murderous intent to hide in a seemingly innocuous appearance and manner. One Beast would always sense what one of its own kind intended. Plainly, it was all too easy for one human to deceive another.
Should have, should have, should have.
Aslan, I thank you, the Panther whispered for the hundredth time that day. Our Guard will not fail again.
She turned about in her pacing the front of the locked doors of the Council Room. Master Roblang, the Red Dwarf Sergeant at Arms, and Pliny, the Centaur sage, were approaching. Wrasse heard their low voices and smelled them and their anxiety long before she saw them. Intellectually, she knew they were loyal; both had served at Beruna and faithfully in the year since. Still, she felt the prickle of alarm stir in her again, for both Dwarf and Centaur had that uncertain gloss of not-Beast. In that not-Beast quality, Wrasse had now decided, there could dwell something she now labeled as deceit.
Instinctively, Wrasse growled, blocking the door. Lowering to a crouch, she felt her hair rise on her back. As Centaur and Dwarf turned the corner, they slowed and approached her cautiously, as well they should.
They were both armed; Pliny had a long knife, Roblang, a short sword. Trusted though they were, Wrasse was not going to permit any not-Beast in the Monarchs' presence with a weapon. She was not sure if she would ever permit it ever again.
"Hold, Friend Wrasse," Pliny said calmly. "We will disarm." The Centaur slowly removed his knife from the sheath strapped across his chest. "Roblang?" he said, in a way that was both a polite request and an order if the Red Dwarf had been in Pliny's chain of command, which he was not.
"Arms Sergeant without arms?" Roblang grumbled.
Wrasse growled again. "You have arms," she reminded him. "It is weapons you may not bear in the presence of our Kings and Queens."
Red Dwarf and Centaur both complied, setting their knife and sword to the side of the heavy doors. Wrasse circled about them, inhaling deeply, touching both with her whiskers, letting her tail slide against her fellow Narnians. Her inspection was more than scent, touch, and sight; she wanted to feel these two, and allow her Cat instinct to guide her. She did not trust the not-Beast in them because that was where the malice and duplicity had hidden from her. In fairness, though, as she circled, she did not sense any wrongness. Worry and concern they both projected surely, but no ill intent.
"What is the mood of the Four?" Pliny asked as Wrasse wove between them.
"Frightened, I should think," Roblang said, holding his arms out so Wrasse could touch him with her nose and whiskers.
"Not at all, Master," Wrasse corrected. "Our Monarchs are very, very angry." She stopped circling and growled through the door. "Master Pliny and Master Roblang, your Majesties."
They heard the lock click from the inside, or she did anyway. It was King Edmund on the other side of the door. As she had instructed him, once he had unbolted the door, he moved away, further from her perception, with Merle following. Only after they were away did Wrasse push the door open. She went in first, permitting Pliny and Roblang to follow her, but interposing her body between them and those in the room.
Wrasse made Centaur and Dwarf stop behind her as she took in the mood of the conference. There was a large table and she perceived, but could not see, the High King and the Queen Susan at the far end. The reason was that Lambert was crouched on top of the table, blocking her view of the seated Monarchs.
Her nostrils flared with the stench of blood – drying Wolf blood seeping through the bandage wrapping Lambert's side, the faint odor of Queen Susan's and King Peter's blood, Human, and each very distinct. The High King and Queen both had their hands and arms wrapped from the knife wounds they had taken defending themselves from their desperate assassins. Queen Lucy sat at Peter's right hand, her child's young body seething, eyes still bright with angry tears she had been shedding on and off all day. King Edmund was edging along the wall, wary and angrier still, followed closely by the Boarhound, Merle. Jalur, the sullen Tiger detailed from his Soldier duties to temporary Guard, blinked at her from a corner of the room.
"Jalur, please take my place at the door," Wrasse instructed him. "Let no one else approach until we have finished."
"Your Majesties," Jalur murmured, by way of a formal farewell, and stalked out of the room. Roblang shut the door as the Tiger left, and the clink of the lock rang overloud in Wrasse's ears.
"Master Roblang, sit please," came the High King's voice from behind the crouching Wolf. "Master Pliny, please be at your ease."
Pliny's clopping hooves echoed in the silent, tense chamber as he slowly walked forward to stand at the table's edge. Centaurs didn't sit. Roblang took a seat next to him in one of the Dwarf-proportioned chairs.
Wrasse jumped up on to the table, seeing why Lambert had chosen it. It gave a good vantage for leaping and permitted her to place her body between any intruder and the sitting Monarchs. She trusted Merle to handle the defense of King Edmund. The Hound had shoved the King's would-be attacker out the tower window. And may the dumb crows feed on the broken body, she thought savagely.
"Lambert, Wrasse, we thank you for your vigilance," Queen Susan said. "But we do wish to be able to see our other loyal subjects as well."
Lambert growled his disagreement.
"Lambert," Queen Susan countered firmly. "The errors of the past will not be remedied by overly zealous caution now. We have trusted Friends Roblang and Pliny with our lives before. We called them here because we trust them still."
Wrasse might have disagreed with that, but the High King was already saying "Thank you, Friends," with such quiet authority, she backed up reflexively in response, automatically wishing to obey. She turned her body so that she could observe and sense, but would not block their Majesties' visual contact with Pliny and Roblang. Lambert mirrored her movements on the other side of the table.
"Have you reviewed Wrasse's recommendations?" High King Peter asked.
"We have," Roblang said gruffly, speaking for them both. "We have some concerns, but they can be overcome."
Speaking in his low, measured voice, Pliny added, "We deplore the circumstances that have necessitated this but we agree that assigning a permanent personal Guard to each of you is necessary for your safety and the security of Narnia."
There were relieved nods and a sense of acceptance from all, save one. With a cry of fury, Queen Lucy bolted out of her seat. "I hate this! I'm not going to do it! I'm not going everywhere with a guard!" The Queen ran around the table, fumbled with the lock and threw open the door. Skirting around the startled Tiger, she flew down the hall, out of sight in moments.
"Go, Jalur!" Wrasse called to the Tiger. Wrasse could still hear Queen Lucy's bare feet flying across the stone as she ran. "Guard the Queen!"
The Tiger spun around and disappeared.
King Edmund followed Merle to the door, closing and locking it again. "Perhaps a Cheetah for my sister?" he asked, grinning a little.
"Cheetahs neither climb nor swim well, and do not have the endurance to travel great distances at speed," Pliny said. His flank shuddered at a passing fly. "Thus, Cheetahs may be a poor choice for our Valiant Queen." Pliny spoke so dryly, the Kings and Queen laughed, a small break in the brittle tension.
Looking directly at Wrasse, the Centaur sage said gravely, "Wrasse, we fully support you, but finding suitable Guard to suit each of our Monarchs among the Beasts alone will be a difficult task."
Wrasse flicked an ear and settled back on the table. "I know it, Master."
"You suggest a guard at all time?" the High King had asked, as Wrasse laid out her plan. Again.
"Yes," she repeated. Again. The High King and Queen Susan had requested this private audience with her after the meeting. She had wanted to dismiss Lambert, but the He-Wolf would have none of it. His trailing of Queen Susan was more akin to a lap dog, than to a Wolf. Lambert would take the comparison ill and so she did not mention it.
"A personal Guard shall accompany you always, when you travel, when you go on the road, in the Palace, on the grounds, everywhere. There may be others about you, of course, and usually will be, such as escorts, Palace staff, and soldiers. This personal Guard, however, is for you alone, reportable and accountable only to you and with no other responsibility save your protection."
"The term we use is 'bodyguard,'" the High King said. "What about when we are called to battle?"
"That may be one point at which a personal Guard would not be necessary; however, I believe trying to carve out exceptions may undermine the purpose."
"I agree, Wrasse," Queen Susan said, shifting her bandaged arms. The Queen was in more pain than the High King, though she hid it well. "Best to begin with a broad policy, and as we become accustomed to it, we may modify it later."
"I further recommend that we have the Dwarfs disable locks on the rooms, save the treasure and coin stores, and perhaps the Council Room." Not having to break through a locked door had allowed Merle to save King Edmund's life.
"Even in our private rooms and bed chambers?" King Peter asked.
"Especially there, High King," Wrasse said firmly. "When you are at your ease is when you are most vulnerable."
"Even when we sleep, or bathe?" King Peter said this with a frown, creasing toward worry.
"A Guard ... always?" Queen Susan finished with emphasis and an increasing concern similar to that of her brother.
"Yes." Something of this new arrangement seemed to be bothersome to both Monarchs. Wrasse wished that they would speak more plainly if that were the case. She reminded herself that they were both Human and young and sent a silent prayer to Aslan for patience and wisdom.
Tentatively she asked, "Are you worried about having a Beast in your private quarters and otherwise with you always?"
They both looked at the other, perhaps communicating silently as Humans sometimes seemed to do, and then nodded. Wrasse considered this, thinking it actually a bit silly. Yet, her King and Queen did not, and so she was obligated to aid them in this difficult time as best as she was able. "Assuming we can assure ourselves that your rooms are secure from outside attack, I do not believe it will be necessary to have a Guard physically with you at all times."
"Yet, you said we are most vulnerable there?" Queen Susan asked.
"Understand My King and Queen that for Beasts of certain sensitivities, we can hear, sense, and smell you regardless. We do not need to see you to know you are safe. That better hearing and scenting is why we are insisting upon Beasts, rather than your other good subjects as personal Guards."
King Peter and Queen Susan both were surprised with this, she felt. They had certainly grasped quickly how to best use to tactical advantage the innate abilities of all their subjects. Perhaps they had not fully considered that these fundamental attributes in their Good Beast subjects had relevance even in more personal and intimate ways.
Queen Susan giggled, a little, though she was nervous, not happy. "So, we can expect to never have privacy?"
Wrasse needed to understand Humans better. She understood solitary Beasts such as the Great Cats and Bears. She also understood their opposite, the social, pack and herd Beasts, like the Dogs, Wolves, Horses, and Deer. To this latter category, Humans certainly belonged. Yet, Humans also wished for privacy? Why would a social or pack Beast seek privacy? In fact, a social Beast was insecure in the absence of his or her herd. This privacy seemed very strange. Perhaps one of the Red Dwarfs might be able to explain what it meant to her.
"Su, Wrasse is saying is that we actually do not have any privacy now. This Palace Guard arrangement just makes it formal, with clear orders and responsibility, so there's never an opening to exploit."
"That is it exactly, High King," she told them. "From this point onward each of you shall have a Guard and this Beast shall never go beyond the range at which he or she may perceive you. How personally close the Beast will be will depend upon the perceiving of the Beast."
Lambert added in his sonorous, growling voice, "You may not see us, but we will be there. We will always be there."
Queen Susan smiled at the He-Wolf and Wrasse thought that at least the elder Queen's Guard was assured. A big dog with bigger teeth would do, she supposed, if that was what the Queen wished.
King Peter let out a breath of tense air and then laughed, more heartfelt. "Well, Su, it will be strange having someone under foot at every turn, but I suppose we'll get accustomed to all this, eventually."
"Circumstances may change, Peter," Queen Susan said, though Wrasse could tell she didn't really believe it.
"That is all, Wrasse, thank you," King Peter said.
It was a dismissal, which meant that the High King did not yet fully appreciate what had transpired.
"Begging your Pardon, High King," Wrasse corrected gently, "but you may not dismiss me. I am your Palace Guard until you select a permanent one."
Chapter 2, Lambert and His Queen