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In Song and Story

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"What Narnia needs," Edmund said around his last mouthful of buttered scone, "is a newspaper."

His siblings gave him politely blank stares.

Edmund swallowed, then chased the food down with some delicately flavored water a rush of naiads had brought to Cair Paravel as thanks for pushing the northern giants away from their spring. Perhaps breakfast hadn't been the best time to begin this discussion -- his family, dearly though he loved them, were more of the owls' persuasion than the robins' -- but the idea had struck him as he fell asleep and it still seemed logical in the morning so he was almost itching with the need to set to work.

"You've lost me," Peter said.

"A proper newspaper," Edmund repeated. "Or at least some sort of organized messenger network, because what we have at the moment is a rumor-mongers' network and that does nobody any good. I have heard people claim that King Feyraud of Sarovence is still occupying Lantern Waste, or that he defeated us in battle and we had to pay him tribute to leave us in peace, or that he patted us on our heads and tricked us by offering sweets. Nobody will take us seriously at this rate. We need to spread the truth, not whatever slander, ditty, or flight of fancy strikes a traveler's interest enough to pass on!"

His voice squeaked on the last word and he clamped his mouth shut rather than continue.

Lucy stopped dead with her scone halfway to her mouth, forehead furrowed in thought. "Oh. Hmm."

Peter and Susan exchanged one of their infuriating elder-siblings-know-best glances.

"I understand your dislike of certain popular tunes, but are you quite sure a newspaper is the most sensible--" Susan began.

"I was right about the roads and I'm right about this, too," Edmund said firmly. "Newspapers. Think about it."

He wiped his fingers on his napkin and pushed his chair back from the table, leaving the idea to sprout.

---------------

"Ah, you mean a broadsheet!" Tumnus said when Edmund raised the issue with him over lunch in the library. "I've always liked broadsheets. I have a terrible head for rhymes, you see, so it's nice to have a written corrective for any wobbliness in my memory. My father had a very nice collection of songs from the first years of the Witch's reign -- the lyrics mocked her, but subtly, to evade the sedition laws. Has Lucy ever mentioned them? She helped me organize my collection when I moved to Cair Paravel."

Edmund, who did not like broadsheets in the slightest, was certain that they were not at all the same as a newspaper. Unfortunately, it was difficult to say precisely why when pressed, except that news articles weren't meant to be sung.

"A pity. Music adds interest. Then like royal proclamations?" Tumnus asked. "Which we ought to distribute in a more organized manner, now that I come to think of it, especially since people are returning to all the abandoned corners of the land and we can't be sure to reach them through the old resistance networks."

Edmund grimaced. "I know. I wanted to work on that as well. But that's not what a newspaper is either. A newspaper is meant to be independent, to keep watch on the rulers of a country and ensure that they remain honest."

"In that case, Your Majesty, you are entirely the wrong person to be establishing such a contraption," Tumnus said. He was scarcely bothering to hide his smile.

Edmund thought about that for a moment. "Bother. You're right. But nobody else in Narnia knows what a newspaper is."

His voice squeaked again.

"A conundrum indeed," Tumnus agreed. Then he patted Edmund's shoulder. It was more of a stretch these days, but still manageable, particularly when they were both seated at a writing table. "We've made do without a paper of news until now. We can manage for a bit longer. Ensuring the distribution of proclamations, summons, and writs, on the other hand, will rapidly become a problem unless somebody takes the business under wing."

"And that somebody should be me," Edmund said with a sigh. "Well, I meant to deal with that matter eventually. I suppose I can attend to it first, though it's not nearly as interesting as inventing the first Narnian newspaper."

"An excellent attitude, Your Majesty," Tumnus said as he unrolled a map and tacked its corners to the table. "Where shall we begin?"

---------------

"Peter and Susan think you're off your head, but I've been thinking about your idea and I say it's brilliant," Lucy said as she hooked her arm into Edmund's elbow and turned him neatly around in the middle of the corridor. "Nobody from Narnia seems to have heard of newspapers, but I don't think they're very different from broadsheets--"

"Yes they are!" Edmund said. "Newspapers are serious. Broadsheets are nothing but slander set to music."

"No they aren't," Lucy said. "I've read Mr. Tumnus's collection and they're all about whatever the Witch had done the week or so before the song was written, only disguised a bit so the singers wouldn't get in trouble. Besides, if people aren't used to paying for gossip, they won't want to pay for gossip just because it's written down."

"News isn't gossip. It's the truth," Edmund protested as they entered the great hall, its tapestries, pillars, and carvings cast into deep afternoon shadow, without torches to bring them back to shining life.

"Gossip can be true. Anyway, people won't pay for gossip, but they will pay for broadsheets. So we hire someone to write songs about things we want everyone to know, print them in batches, and pay travelers to carry them around and sell them at the usual price." Lucy opened the door to the seawalk parapet and tugged Edmund into the brisk autumn air. "I think it's two to five pence, depending on how many verses and if the songwriter has a good reputation," she added.

"That's not what I wanted at all," Edmund said as a wave crashed against the cliff beneath their feet. "I want a proper newspaper."

Lucy placed her hands on the parapet wall and hopped up to sit on the flat, windswept stones. "Aslan's mane, Ed, you do sound as if you've gone off your head. What is so special about newspapers in particular?"

Edmund groped vaguely at the air, trying to explain. "It's... reporters go around to find out things that have happened and secrets that powerful people are hiding, and they write what they learn. Then all the stories are printed on the same sheet of paper and taken to shops for people to buy, or delivered to their homes for a fee." His voice squeaked. He cleared his throat and continued. "It ought to be several sheets of stories, with daily editions, but Narnia is small and I don't expect miracles. I thought one sheet, once a week."

Lucy nodded. "Broadsheets. We can set up a company with a special seal so people know any songs with that mark are about things that really happened, and make sure to print a collection every week, but it's silly to insist on inventing something new and foreign when we could use a thing that's already here."

"But I don't like broadsheets. Have you not heard the ones about us, Lu? They make us sound like complete idiots half the time, and--"

"--and that's half the point of newspapers, isn't it? To keep people from thinking we never make mistakes, and remind them we're only human," Lucy said.

Edmund paused. Slowly, he shut his mouth.

"I shall be very extra specially kind and not say, 'Ha, so there,'" Lucy said as she kicked her heels against the parapet wall.

"Saying that you shan't say something is practically the same as saying it for real," Edmund said absently.

Lucy stuck her tongue out at him. "Fine, then. I'll say it. Ha, so there! I'm right, you're wrong, and all we need to do is find someone to organize the broadsheets a bit more. People will come to expect knowing what has happened every week, and perhaps in a few years they won't even require their news written in rhyme and set to old folk tunes. Who knows! That might be how newspapers started in the other place, beyond the wardrobe."

"That may be so. But I don't want to wait a few years. I want the songs to stop now."

"You could write a law to ban them," Lucy said.

Edmund shook his head. "No. I couldn't. That would be wrong."

His voice squeaked again. He leaned against the parapet wall, buried his face in his arms, and sighed.

Lucy reached down and stroked her hand through his wind-tousled hair. "I don't like some of the songs much either," she admitted. "But I think all we can do is try our best to love Narnia and all our people, and work to make them safe, and happy, and free."

"I know," Edmund said.

They stayed like that for a time, until a gust of wind combined with a particularly large wave to drench them both in chill, salty spray. Edmund stood and helped Lucy down from her perch on the wall. Her hair was as tangled and damp as his, and the back of her dress would stain if not cleaned properly and promptly. His own tunic sleeves were likewise at risk.

"Bother. We'll have to change before dinner or Susan will scold," Lucy said as she opened the door to the great hall.

"I won't tell if you won't," Edmund said as they stepped back inside. He turned to lock the door and said, without meeting his sister's eyes, "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Lucy said. She linked their arms again and set off through the dim expanse of the great hall, toward the light and life of the rest of the castle. "So. Are you ready to talk about broadsheets?"

"Do you know, I think I might be," Edmund said. His voice squeaked, and he pulled a terrible face. "But only so long as I don't have to sing."

Lucy's laughter spilled around him like sunlight.