When King Edmund was sixteen, he saw Lucy and Tumnus kissing.
It was their Winter Solstice Feast at Cair Paravel, and the youngest Queen and her friend were hidden away in a darkened alcove that led to a balcony. Edmund halted. It had been a long time since he’d actually seen somebody kiss. That, or he simply hadn’t been looking. Maybe he noticed it because it was his sister or maybe because it was simply time for him to do so.
He paused mid-stride, just off to the side of the dance floor. And he looked around. There was Queen Susan speaking with Orius, their handsome centaur Captain. They sat side by side, not on the dais with the thrones, but off to one side of the grand hall in a pile of cushions where those creatures not made for sitting in chairs might be more comfortable. He watched the couples, awkward and beautiful as they swung about to the lilting waltz. Dwarves with badgers, fauns with dryads.
King Edmund bothered himself about a great many things. ‘Just’ his followers may have lovingly called him, but he’d learned to have a practical eye from his elder sister and charged himself with many duties. He was happy with his brother and sisters, being King in Narnia, but there had been a stirring within him that he’d denied for years. And now he looked about and realized that even in this world, he was different. He never thought he himself could be unnatural in a land of talking beasts and magic creatures. But he didn’t have the same desires as other men.
King Peter was striding about the floor, dancing arm in arm with a beautiful sea nymph.
Edmund supposed it was all right to have a handsome brother; he did not envy Peter for that. But he supposed it was dreadfully wrong to fancy him.
“Edmund?” Sighting the frightful confusion on his brother’s face, Peter had stepped out of the dance. “Edmund, I say, are you quite well?”
Edmund looked up into hazel-blue eyes in a tanned face framed by those sun-bleached blond curls. “Bit hot s’all,” he managed, gripping his goblet tighter and slipping off to the side.
He caught another sight of Lucy and Tumnus, holding hands and whispering together. Edmund made use of his status as King to pave a swift exit.
= = = = =
The doors were closed to the winter night and Edmund accepted a fur-trimmed cloak from the doorman, who was actually a bear. He pulled it round his shoulders and left by the tiny inner door out into the courtyard. Here, there was a wide open field, even within the wall of the castle. The moles had been talking about planting an orchard here. Edmund would be glad of the smell of ripening fruit in summer, but for now he liked the bright, cool stars that shone down on him, close-by and smiling. The stars in Narnia (though he could ill remember what he might be comparing it to) were so close, he thought that if he’d a mind to shoot an arrow he might strike one down, straight out of the sky.
Would it soar down like a falling star, scream like a hunted eagle? Would it burn a path to the ground and then explode?
Edmund buried his hands in the fur of the cloak and then crossed his arms, trying to keep in all the warmth he could. The fur was brown, and the cloak blue. The tailors always dressed him in blue, and Peter in red. Edmund didn’t much care either way, except that Peter always looked so strikingly handsome. He LOOKED the part of the King; maybe that was it. Edmund was too small and dark to look like much of anything except a schoolboy playing dress-up. His brother and sisters had cloaks like his, too. But theirs had white fur. Edmund hated white, and refused to wear it at all, especially fur. It reminded him too much of a too-long winter and the Witch who had ruled over it and drawn him into the coldness by playing on his hard, jealous heart.
Edmund would have dressed himself always in brown and green and blue, if he’d a choice. They were the colors of life, the colors of Narnia.
Even so, he didn’t mind the winter. He had at first. He remembered their first winter as monarchs, and how he could see the pity in Lucy’s eyes. She’d known of course, what that blanket of snow would always remind Edmund of, what cold days unfit for any useful thing would stir his mind to remembering. He wondered if she had ever guessed his irrational fear: that come summer the snow would not melt. That he might do some terrible thing, might call down another century of miserable winter.
But the spring had come, of course, and the snow had melted. Summer had followed and all the seasons in succession for years, and it was good of course, for no land should stay stagnant in any season. He sometimes wondered at their Calormene neighbors, living in lands of endless sands. To never know snow? Unthinkable! Or north of the marshlands where the terrible giants dwelled. Where they never knew the happy touch of a summer sun.
The turn of the seasons was good and natural and he no longer feared the winter.
Now, the snow was little but for a dewy cling of frost, and as Edmund stepped out into the field, it crunched away under his feet, and he left dark green footprints in the grass behind him.
“Hail, King Edmund.”
He turned to find an armsman had followed him from the hall. “It’s all right, Driscol,” he told the faun. “I shan’t go so far as the river.”
“All the same, I wish you’d take someone with you. A winter night is not the time for a king’s solitary strolls.”
“They are for this King,” Edmund told him with a gentle smile. “I don’t think the giants have come this far south!” he teased. “I’ll be all right; keep your post, and enjoy a cup of wine.” And he turned once more for the open field, eyes turned heavenward.
He heard the thump of hooves on wet grass softly receding and he saw his own breath fogging the air before him in little gasps of vapor.
Edmund took it into his head to wonder if Susan would marry. She was certainly of eligible age by now, and far more beautiful than any woman had a right to be. If she weren’t a queen, Edmund might be truly worried. But he trusted logic would keep her in her stead, as it always had, and that if her heart led her, it would not lead her astray. As for Lucy, he could not picture her ever wedding a man of any sort. Her love was too good and too much to confine to a single person. Whatever her relationship with Tumnus was, Edmund trusted it was safe, and he shouldn’t bother her about it.
But Peter, Edmund supposed Peter – as High King – had a duty to marry, and produce heirs. ‘I mean,’ Edmund thought to himself, ‘suppose none of us died; who would rule then, after we passed on?’ He didn’t think the creatures and talking beasts would ever fight about it, but now that Narnia was a nation known to other nations and had resources for the taking, it was not out of the question for some other men to seek their fortune and title here. Already there were Telmarines in the land. Some were at the Feast. Edmund couldn’t help noticing how often their eyes turned to his sister.
‘The older we get,’ he thought, ‘the harder it is! Is that the way it’s supposed to be, Aslan?’ He did not expect an answer, nor did he get one, but he finally decided that it only made sense. It would hardly be logical, after all, for life to get SIMPLER as one grew, especially if one were a King. Even more especially if one was a King who felt more than brotherly affection for his brother, the High King. “What a muddle!” he muttered to himself.
“What’s that, Ed?”
Edmund pivoted in a pinch, finding said brother behind him, in his own cloak of red and white. “You look like a Christmas decoration!” Edmund teased, smiling easily at fine, light eyes that twinkled down on him like a pair of warm stars, closer even than Narnian stars.
“Never mind what I look like,” Peter pretended to scold him. “I was worried about you.”
“You left in an awful hurry, Edmund. I saw you practically kick Beaver out of your way.”
“I did not!”
“You may as well have. What are you doing out here on your own?”
“I don’t need an escort every hour of the day, especially seeing as I’m still in the courtyard.”
Peter sighed then, and looked down to the ground. “It seems I’ve run out of arguments. Do you truly want to be alone? Or is my company tolerable for a bit?”
“Walk with me, if you like,” Edmund invited. “I daresay I’d rather you bother me constantly instead of everyone else a bit at a time.”
Peter smiled, and they turned more purposefully, heading out over the thin crust of snow toward the far wall.
= = = = =
They passed through the far gate there, and bid a good eve to the guardsmen. They rambled then through the common wood of Narnia, with sleeping trees pressing close, and snow in little clumps and drifts about them.
Peter, though still young, was wise for his years. He had already learned many things about being a King, and one of them was knowing when to speak, and when not to speak. He did not break the silence between them, thinking that it would be best for Edmund to say his mind first. The wait proved worthwhile.
“Peter, do you think you shall ever marry?”
“By the Lion, Edmund, I hadn’t thought about it,” he said after a moment. “I’m barely twenty. What put such questions in your head?”
“I was thinking of Narnia, and our reign,” Edmund truthfully replied, “and who should inherit it after our demise.”
Peter nodded solemnly. “It is worth considering,” he acknowledged. “I never worried about it, I suppose. I thought, of the four of us, surely someone will marry, somewhere along the way, and have children. It would hardly matter who. I confess I never thought of settling with a girl. I shouldn’t think I’d take to any of the foreign women we get in these parts. The Calormene girls are too strange and dark. They don’t love the same things we do. The ones from Telmar are all right, I suppose, but I don’t think I should ever fall in love with them.” He paused then, and they continued their slow walk. Finally, he added, “To be honest, I always thought it would be Sue. She loves how they court her, you know. I don’t see why she shouldn’t find some one of them appealing enough to let woo and wed her.”
“That was always my thought too,” Edmund agreed. “Susan WOULD marry; she would like a family.”
“You sound relieved.”
“Well, you’re always full of adventures and other magnificent things. Your life is too dangerous!” Edmund half-joked. “A wife would be forever left at home worrying. And Lucy, you know, I don’t think she could ever pick one man over any other. And if Susan did not either, then it would fall to me.”
“And that’s bad?” Peter asked, curious and without accusation.
“Well, I don’t think I’d like marriage all that much.”
Peter couldn’t help laughing. “No?”
“No! Besides which, I’m not like other men.” Edmund, perhaps, had not meant to speak his thoughts aloud. But he had, and with a darker air than he could have wished.
“What do you mean?” Peter asked, distressed by that tone.
“Well, you know what they say,” Edmund muttered, “about not mixing. A dwarf can’t love a squirrel, you know. Nor a centaur a unicorn, nor any other creature some other!”
Edmund was incredibly vehement, his shouts fogging hot in the air, his eyes turned wet and wide, aimed wildly into the dark forest. Peter felt sorry for him. “Are you saying you’re in love with an owl or some such?” he asked lightly, trying to break the mood.
Half a smile cracked King Edmund’s face. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “No. Not a beast. But what if I did? Despite what people say, would it really be so wrong?”
“I don’t know, Ed. And Aslan is not here to tell us.”
“Well then, what would you say?”
“You’re the High King, and my brother, what better authority could I ask?”
Peter thought long and hard as still they walked through the Narnian woods, until they could hear the river.
If Edmund was worried that he would not receive an answer, he did not show it, but kept only his sedate pace and admirable silence.
When the trees opened up before them to the river, the moon and stars shone down on the rippling water and everything was brighter. Slowly, Peter said, as though he evaluated the worth of each word before he uttered it, “If Aslan were here, I do not think he would say a love could be wrong.” He looked out over the water, betraying nothing.
“And you?” Edmund asked. “Is that what you say?”
Peter turned his head to find Edmund’s dark eyes peering longingly up at him. Unconcerned what question he might actually be answering, or what it might mean, Peter told him, “Yes. I say if you love someone, Edmund, it can’t be bad.”
Edmund nodded and took a deep breath. Then he let the breath out in a heavy sigh and turned his own dark eyes on the water. “You wouldn’t say that, if you knew. But it’s good to hear, just the same.”
Peter said nothing, letting Edmund believe what he would.
They watched the river until their feet felt frozen. Peter turned first, and Edmund followed only a moment behind him. They retraced their steps homeward through the dark wood.
“It’s not a dwarf, is it?”
“No!” Edmund chortled, his laughter stuttering happily out into the night.
“…is it a ferret?”
“I know! A walrus.”
“You’re sure it’s not a dwarf?”
= = = = =
The return of the Kings to the hall was cheered on all sides, and for the rest of the night, Edmund’s spirits could not be called into question. He spoke with a visiting marshwiggle for a good while, debating the likelihood of drought come summer, and flood before that. Then the young King danced with each of his sisters, and several maids visiting from Telmar, and lastly with Mrs. Beaver, who was always flattered to be invited into any activity by the Kings and Queens, no matter she and her husband were considered great friends to the four children.
Then, Edmund shared a round of whiskey with the local dwarves, and congratulated the winner of a recent archery contest by playing as her partner in a round of whist. He ended the night by having one cup of wine too many, which is how every young man should finish a royal feast, if he possibly can.
= = = = =
Edmund was unsurprised to awaken early the next morning with a throbbing headache. He moved very slowly, crawling from the bed and slipping his feet into fur-lined slippers. He paused before he stood, and then winced as he drew on his dressing gown. The sun was not yet up, so he struggled with the candle until he had a light, and padded softly from the room.
He waved away the concerns of early morning servants, indicating that he was going to the kitchen, and had no need of any comfort.
He descended the spiraling stone staircase past the larder and to the great kitchen, where a scullery maid was already hard at work setting up the pots and things for breakfast to be made. Edmund bid her good morning and scuttled round to the cabinet where the spices were kept. He retrieved a jar of dried leaves that had a pale, ashy color. He withdrew one and crumbled it into powder in his hand, licking the bitter residue off his fingers. “Uck,” he mumbled, turning to find a glass of water.
Upon turning to take in the whole kitchen with a clearer eye, he was shocked to find a figure seated at the far end of the low-ceilinged room, where a few scarred tables were huddled in a corner for the fauns at arms and other simple guests to have a hasty meal. “Peter?”
Sensing a confrontation, the maid, a nimble rabbit lass, scurried out of the kitchen on some business or other.
“Peter!” Edmund called louder, striding across the room. He slid onto the bench opposite his brother. “Peter, can you hear me?”
The High King sat with his elbows perched on the surface of the table, hands clasped together before his face, and hazel-blue eyes – although they were aimed at Edmund’s chest – seemed to take in nothing at all. But finally, his brother’s voice must have registered, for some focus came into worried eyes, and he looked upon the younger king.
Edmund’s dark hair was smushed about from the pillow and stuck up at odd angles, his face was pale from newly waking, but his dark eyes were bright and alive.
Then the younger King saw that Peter still wore his fancy outfit from the feast, the red velvet and gold embroidery, and lace at his cuffs. “Why Peter, have you not slept at all this night?”
“No.” The answer was flat and uninterested.
“But what’s wrong?” Edmund asked, leaning forward, as though to better demand the other’s attention.
“I was only thinking.”
“That’s a long time to sit thinking,” Edmund observed.
On the table there was a pitcher and empty glass. Edmund poured some water and drank. He pushed the glass across to Peter. “You should have some.”
Peter eyed the glass, but didn’t drink.
“Edmund, what did you mean? Last night at the river?”
The color drained out of Edmund’s already pale face. “I thought… we covered that.”
“I want to know who it is.”
“No,” Peter corrected himself. “I know who it is.” He met Edmund’s deep dark eyes. “I want to hear you say it.”
A hot flush suffused Edmund’s face, crawling up from his collar. “Why?” he whispered, glancing to the many doorways. “Why must it be said? It’s bad enough…”
“What?” Peter matched his whisper, but he had no embarrassed blush to his features, nor any fear in his eyes.
“It’s bad enough,” Edmund repeated, barely loud enough to hear. He had leaned across the table and was unable to look away from Peter’s solid gaze. “Knowing it is bad enough. Saying it would make it real.”
“Make it real,” Peter echoed, also leaning across the table, entranced by Edmund’s smart, dark eyes.
Edmund could feel the heat within him now, surging up and through him like the repetition of oceans’ waves. His breath came shallow and short as he trembled and tipped his head to meet his brother’s.
Peter’s mouth was soft as a girl’s, and supple, so pliant and willing. But he pressed firmly against Edmund, kissing him with a King’s strength.
Tears broke through the closed lids of Edmund’s eyes as he felt that tingling heat between them, passing back and forth like a breath. He gasped and pulled back, a spark in his eye as he smiled at his High King.
Peter’s eyes crinkled in amusement, his mouth curving into a leer. “I was right.”
The smile faded from Edmund’s face. “But is it not wrong?”
Brows furrowed in thought, Peter tilted his head and wondered. “It seems sometimes, that we did not always live in Narnia…”
“I’ve wondered it myself.”
“But this IS Narnia. And what may be wrong elsewhere, I believe it is right, in Narnia.”
= = = = =