It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.
I've loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
-- “The Old Astronomer to His Pupil" by Sarah Williams
For now they saw the Prince.
No one doubted for a moment who he was. There were plenty of Beasts and Dryads and Dwarfs and Fauns who remembered him from the days before his enchanting. There were some old ones who could just remember how his father, King Caspian, had looked when he was a young man, and saw the likeness. But I think they would have known him anyway. Pale though he was from long imprisonment in the Deep Lands, dressed in black, dusty, dishevelled, and weary, there was something in his face and air which no one could mistake. That look is in the face of all true kings of Narnia, who rule by the will of Aslan and sit at Cair Paravel on the throne of Peter the High King.
--C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
Rilian never thinks of what to expect when he returns to Narnia.
Of course, that was the nature of the enchantment: he hadn't really considered Narnia at all in over ten years, except the overwhelming, terrible memories during those hours he was bound to the silver chair.
After Puddleglum and the children free him, he's so relieved that the Witch is finally destroyed and so surprised that he is still alive and his mind restored to him, that he doesn't think of much beyond the joy of seeing his father again. He rides steadily through the Underworld, thinking, The Witch is gone, and I am free. I am going home. It almost feels like the happy-ever-after end of a fairytale his mother told him as child- evil is destroyed, the enchantments are broken, and the Prince rides triumphantly home to greet the King. A very good end for the story.
Moments after Caspian's return, the king is dead. Rilian thinks the story has gone dreadfully wrong.
He thinks his father's death is perhaps the cruelest blow he has suffered, coming so soon after they are finally reunited (and unlike his mother's death, there is no serpent upon which to lay blame). The time Rilian spent as the Witch's captive is nothing but a vague, blurred memory to him, but he can see the toll those years had taken on the King, grief and misery etched in the worn lines of his face.
Rilian mourns not just his father, but those lost years - years they could have spent together in each other's company, if only Rilian hadn't been so rash and foolish, such easy prey for the Witch.
His father's body is carried back to the castle, and Rilian follows behind the litter, dragging his boots along the muddy path and dwelling on his regrets. He tries very hard not to think about how unready he is to be king.
In the castle, Trumpkin barks out orders, and the King's body is whisked away. Rilian remembers how his mother the Queen's body, dressed in her finest clothes, had laid in the Great Hall of Cair Paravel for several days while the people of Narnia came to pay their respects, and he imagines that his father's body is being prepared the same way.
He stands in the corridor as everyone scatters around him, feeling lost and bewildered, unsure as to what to do next. If he had ever imagined his homecoming, he knows he wouldn't have imagined this. The fairytale ending is fractured, and he can't seem to get back into the story. Then he hears a familiar voice calling his name, and his breath catches in his throat.
"Rilian!" He turns to see Lord Drinian approaching. He's changed - older and his face is lined and his hair is completely gone, but Rilian hears the same booming tones and sees the loping stride that Drinian learned on board the many ships he commanded, and never lost on land.
Drinian reaches him and pulls him into a strong embrace. When he finally pulls back, to look Rilian over (and Rilian remembers being on the receiving end of Drinian's sharp glances many times in his childhood and almost feels like quaking in his boots, as he did back then), Rilian can see that his eyes are damp.
"We've waited so long for your return," Drinian says, his voice soft with grief, but his eyes filled with wonder. "And look at you! You don't seem to have aged a day!"
Rilian nods ruefully. Everyone he's seen so far in his return to Narnia has said the same thing. "I think it was part of the Witch's enchantment - it kept me from growing older."
Drinian's face grows dark. "And the Witch? How did you escape?"
"She's dead. Slain by my own hand." Rilian knows he will tell the entire tale many times in the days and months and probably years to come. He doesn't relish the idea, but Drinian was with him at the beginning and saw the Witch with his own eyes. Rilian owes him the entire story, he knows.
But the knowledge that the Witch is dead seems to be enough for Drinian, and he puts an arm around Rilian's shoulders. "You can tell the council tomorrow morning. Come now, you must rest. I'll see you to your quarters."
Rilian walks with him down the passages and up the stairways of the Cair, surprised to find his feet seem to remember the way, even if it's still not quite clear in his mind. "A council meeting?" he asks.
"Yes, there's much we need to discuss, and we need to have our plans in place quickly."
"Plans?" Rilian repeats, and he wonders if some of the enchantment is not still lingering and fogging his mind, for he feels rather stupid.
"Yes, for your father's funeral and your coronation. Both need to be soon." Drinian stops in front of a door that Rilian recognizes as his own. "But we will talk more about it tomorrow."
Rilian protests. "No, my lord, please join me. We can have a meal sent up... " When Drinian shakes his head, Rilian hurries on. "We don't have to talk about those matters - we can save it for the council tomorrow - but please, I want... would like to know more about..." He falters, unsure of how to say I want to know all about the past ten years, about my father, about Narnia, about everything.
But Drinian seems to understand, and he nods and follows Rilian into his rooms. They spend several hours in conversation and Rilian is so intent that he forgets to send for food, but Drinian doesn't seem to mind and keeps talking, answering questions Rilian didn't even realize he had.
Finally, though, Rilian is drooping with exhaustion and Drinian stands. "Get some sleep, your highness. We will talk more tomorrow."
After Drinian's departure, Rilian gazes around his chambers for a moment and the rush of memories threatens to overwhelm him. The desk where he spent so many hours studying the lessons from Doctor Cornelius; the tapestry on the wall depicting the four monarchs of the Golden Age of Narnia hunting the White Stag; the armchair by the fireplace where he sat with his father, while the King told him stories; the balcony opposite his bed where he spent so many nights with his mother, watching the stars and learning the names of his family in the sky; and his bed - oh, his same familiar bed, piled high with pillows and looking just the same as it did that last morning before -- and then Rilian cannot bear the memories any more, and exhaustion washes over him in heavy waves. He tugs off his boots before he collapses on the bed, sleep claiming him almost instantly.
His mother and father walk together along the beach, stopping to gaze up at the stars. He wants to catch up to them, calling out for them to wait, but his voice dies before leaving his lips, and his feet are stuck in the sand. He fears they will disappear before he gets to them, but his mother turns and sees him, and she opens her mouth to speak.
He thinks he won't be able to hear her over the distance, but her voice surrounds him, and he recognizes the song she sings, the same song she taught him as a child, the song they sang together to the stars.
"You are a child of the stars, my son."
He wakes. His face is wet with tears and his mother's voice still echoes in his ears, and Rilian closes his eyes again, hoping to slip back into the dream and his mother's arms.
But though he falls back asleep quickly, the dream is gone.
If his wishes mattered, Rilian would prefer to be left alone in his sorrow - but this is not to be. He is heir to the throne, and he remembers well the lessons of his father and mother, and how beloved they both were of all the Narnians. He wonders if he will ever be so beloved, if the Narnians will be able to forgive him his rash behavior and foolish obsession with the Witch that almost led to Narnia's downfall. He only hopes that he can do better, to live up to the legacy of love and honor and respect for all Narnians that his parents have left him. He would like very much to be a King they would be proud of. That would be a good end to his story, he thinks.
He rises early the next day, and walks all over Cair Paravel, inside and out, greeting everyone he meets - the maidservants and the cooks, the courtiers and the pages, the royal guards on the castle walls and the grooms in the stables, the gardeners and the army captains, and all the Narnians who are hurrying to Cair Paravel to pay farewell to King Caspian - Beasts, Humans, Dwarfs, Centaurs, Fauns - Rilian sees and speaks to as many as he can.
Most greet him with a mixture of joy and sorrow - pleased to see their Prince returned, but sad at the loss of their King, Rilian assumes. After several of these meetings, Rilian can feel himself relax. He feels welcome, and almost at home again.
But some (and they are mostly Humans) look at him with suspicious eyes and draw away from him. And Rilian hears various mutters and snatches of conversations as he moves through the crowds - concerns about his unchanged appearance, and the wicked nature of enchantments, and not trusting the Witch's pawn.
It's only then that Rilian realizes his homecoming is not a joy to all of Narnia, and that his story might not ever have a happy ending.
Rilian is the last to arrive at the council meeting. He opens the door, and sees them all seated at the long table, waiting for him, it seems, as they all look up expectantly and stand when he enters the room.
Drinian is there, of course, as is Trumpkin, and his father's other trusted advisers and friends: Glimfeather the Owl, Captain Lucasta of the Narnian Navy, Ironbolt the Centaur, and Terilus the Faun. Rilian doesn't remember Glimfeather or Lucasta being on the council before, and some of the others he remembers are no longer there. Drinian told him about the deaths of Desprina the Hare, and Doctor Cornelius. Rilian feels the weight of their absence heavy on his heart -- his father is not the only one he misses and mourns.
He greets them all, and receives their greetings in return, as he makes his way to a seat at the end of the table, the place he always took before when his father had him sit in on council meetings. But Drinian catches his eye and makes a quick gesture to the chair at the head of the table, the chair that belongs to the King.
Rilian hesitates for brief moment as he realizes that seat is his now. He's always known that someday it would be -- it just seems like "someday" came sooner than he expected. Of course, so many years have passed, but Rilian doesn't remember one day of them. He mostly feels like the 15 year old boy who sat at this table under his father's eye, and ran off after the Witch. And maybe he still is -- after all, he didn't grow older during his captivity. But right now, as he makes his way towards the head of the table, he feels about a hundred years old, as if the Witch's enchantment had kept him young physically, but accelerated his aging in every other way. He wonders if he's missed too much time to catch up, if his story really should be over by now.
Finally he takes the seat, slightly awkward and uncomfortable in what had always been his father's chair. I must get used to it, he tells himself, thinking of another chair that is waiting for him.
Rilian looks up and sees all eyes on him, and realizes they're waiting for him to speak. And he knows that they've probably heard most of the details already, but they want to hear it from him, so he opens the meeting by telling them the whole story, of how he chased after the Lady of the Green Kirtle, and was enchanted and taken to the Underworld. Their faces darken as he tells of the Witch's plan to use him to conquer Narnia and how close she came to achieving that goal. He recounts his rescue by Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle, and Jill and Eustace, the two children sent by Aslan to deliver him (Trumpkin grumbles when the children's names are mentioned, Drinian seems rather startled, and Glimfeather looks just plain smug), and how they finally escaped back into Narnia, and all the council members listen intently. "I assume Aslan took the children back to their own world," he concludes.
Drinian and Trumpkin are both nodding. "As He always does," Trumpkin agrees, and Drinian clears his throat, and continues on with the other business of the council.
And now Rilian hears about the things they didn't discuss last night, of the turmoil the country has been in since his disappearance. Without an heir to the throne, there had been much debate and argument over what would happen after Caspian's death. Rilian learns that his father had sailed to Terebinthia in hopes of finding Aslan, seeking the Lion's advice on who was to be King after him.
"We must have the coronation very soon after the funeral," Drinian says, repeating what he said to Rilian yesterday. "We don't want to wait too long. And we need to plan the coronation festivities. Open up the palace to all the Narnians, with feasts and music and dancing - we should plan for a week of celebrating. Give everyone a chance to see the new King."
"Why so soon, my lord?" Rilian asks. "Can't we just have a private coronation, and save the celebrating for the spring? Should we not give Narnia time to mourn my father the King? A coronation celebration immediately after the funeral seems … disrespectful."
Privately, Rilian does not feel like celebrating at all. He wishes for more time, simply to become accustomed to again being a free Narnian. He wants to visit all of Narnia: the snow-covered hills to the North, the peaceful woods and towns along the Great River, the farms and estates to the south. He wants to sail all along the coast, and relearn every inch of the country and her people, and make himself ready to be King and give the story a good ending. Right now, he feels unsure and unworthy to take his father's throne.
But his wishes are not terribly important, he knows, and Drinian is shaking his head.
"I'm afraid we need to act quickly in this, your majesty, or there may be trouble."
"Trouble?" Rilian glances around the table at the other council members, all nodding at Drinian's words.
"You must understand, sire," says Lucasta, her voice patient while explaining to Rilian what everyone else already knows. "In the years that you were gone, there was much discussion over who would take the throne after your father's death. And while many were content to trust Aslan that you would be returned to Narnia, or that Aslan himself would tell your father who to name as heir, there were others who weren't content with that."
"And those others, we can call them traitors," Trumpkin says, and Rilian knows he means it to be under his breath, but his voice rings out loud and clear in the council room.
Terilus clears his throat. "They don't think of themselves as traitors, though. More that they are concerned Narnians, who wanted an heir to the throne, to ensure a peaceful succession."
Rilian nods. "I see. They had someone in mind, then?"
"Yes, sire," says Glimfeather with a nervous hoot. "Your cousin, the Lord Favian."
"Grandson of the traitor and usurper, Miraz!" Trumpkin shouts. "We'll not have any of his blood on the throne! Aslan would not allow it!"
Rilian holds up his hand. "But surely now that I am back, that dilemma is solved. There is no need for my cousin to take the throne."
The others exchange glances, and Glimfeather hoots again. "I'm afraid, sire, that there are some whooo... whooo.... don't trust you."
Ironbolt's face is grim (well, Rilian thinks, grimmer than usual for a Centaur). "They are worried, your majesty. They can see that you've not aged at all, and your return to Narnia, coinciding with your father's death, has some concerned that the Witch may be behind the whole thing, and that she may... still have control of you."
Rilian's voice is sharp. "The Witch is dead, and I am free from her enchantments!" But again, the rest of the council exchange nervous glances and there is a long pause.
"There are rumors, sire, that you are not... that perhaps... you are an imposter," Terilus says finally. "That you are not the son of Caspian X, but a Witch's puppet, enchanted to look like our missing prince."
"Banjos and broomsticks! It's ridiculous! Anyone can see he's Caspian's son, just by looking at him!"
"Yes, Trumpkin, we all agree," Ironbolt says. "But there are some who doubt, and some who are thinking of their own gain, if Lord Favian takes the throne. They would like nothing better than if they could discredit his majesty, and already they are spreading the rumor that he is not the son of the King and Queen."
Rilian takes a deep breath and tries to keep his anger from spilling over. The Witch kept him alive all those years, just to make her conquest of Narnia legitimate. And even now, with her dead, some imagine she still controls him. Rilian wonders if he will ever be truly free of her.
Drinian's voice is quiet. "So you see why the need for urgency, sire. We should act before they do. It's not impossible that they will still protest, but once you're crowned King, their claims will have less power. I suggest we have the funeral in two days, and your coronation the next morning. That will allow time for the people to travel here for the ceremonies."
"And hopefully not allow too much time for Lord Favian to rally his supporters," Lucasta adds, a dark look in her eyes. "We would not want him to issue a challenge, sire."
Rilian nods. "If we must, then that is what we shall do." And he listens as the council make their plans, all the while wondering what he will do if called upon to prove his right to the throne.
The funeral is a long ceremony - Rilian doesn't remember his mother's being quite so long, but there are many rites and rituals, both traditional Narnian and Telmarine, to send a King to his final rest. The service is held in the Great Hall of Cair Paravel, packed almost to bursting with Narnians, both Old and New, come to pay their respects to the King. Telmarine priests offer blessings, the Fauns perform an elaborate farewell dance, the Centaurs deliver their messages from the skies, and the Dryads sing, low and sweet, to end the ceremony, as they file out of the castle for the burial.
The burial is held up at Queenspoint, a jut of land overlooking the Eastern ocean, a favorite spot of Rilian's mother when she was alive. The name of the place is far older than that - it's called Queenspoint on some of the ancient maps recovered in the ruins of the old Cair Paravel - but his mother smiled at that and said it was obviously a favorite place of Narnian Queens, so no wonder she loved it. She took Rilian there often when he was young, and they watched the ships sail in and out of the harbor by day, and at night studied the skies together, naming all the stars. She would gaze off over the sea and tell him about her father's island far to the east, and of the journey when she accompanied his father back to Narnia on the Dawn Treader.
Queenspoint is where they buried his mother, and today his father will be buried by her side. There had been some talk in court about burying him at the old Telmarine castle, where all the other Caspian Kings are buried, but Rilian knows his parents must be together and had quickly silenced the suggestion.
The procession up to Queenspoint is a long march, and the beating of Dwarf drums accompany each step. The Dryads act as pallbearers, carrying the casket made from the gift of their wood, and it is their responsibility to see it placed back in the earth. As the Dryads lower his father's casket into the ground, singing their farewell song, Rilian stares at his mother's stone. It's a simple white stone, with a star carved above the inscription. Alecto, Queen of Narnia, Lady of Stars. Rilian thinks for a moment that he must see to a stone for his father, then realizes that the Dwarfs probably have one ready by now.
Indeed they do, and the mourners are solemn and silent as the Dwarfs set it in the ground next to his mother's. It's another white stone, this one carved with a lion's head above the inscription, which is more detailed than his mother's. The eldest of the Dwarfs reads it aloud, for all the mourners to hear. "Caspian X, King of Narnia, Lord of Cair Paravel, and Emperor of the Lone Islands. The Seafarer."
After the casket is buried and the stone erected, there are more rites and rituals to be performed, more farewell songs and dances, and at last, the mourners lay the flowers they carry on the freshly mounded earth. Rilian accepts the torch from Terilus the Faun, and sets fire to the flowers. "May this light guide you to Aslan's Country," he intones, his part in the final ritual, and the mourners repeat his words.
Now there is only the long walk back to Cair Paravel. Rilian glances back from time to time - night has fallen by now, and he can see the fire steadily burning up on Queenspoint. It will burn all night, he suspects, as the Narnians come and add their own flowers to the flames.
Drinian walks beside him at the head of the procession, talking in a low voice about plans for the coronation, but he stops short as they reach the main gate of the castle. Rilian looks up and sees why - his cousin Favian waiting there, flanked by a troop of at least fifty armed men.
Ironbolt is behind them, and he says, "Not to worry, your majesty. The Royal Guard will protect you, and they are far outnumbered by our army."
And indeed, Rilian sees the Guard moving into place around him. But still, he worries as Favian begins speaking.
"Narnians! This man before you claims to be our Prince! My cousin, who has been missing for these many years! But look at his face!" Favian draws his sword and points it at Rilian, and Rilian can hear the low growls of the Wolves of the Guard, and the shocked murmurs running through the crowd at Favian's treacherous act.
"Stand down, my Lord!" Ironbolt warns, but Favian ignores him and continues.
"His face is the same as the day he disappeared! He has not aged at all, in all this time. And he was a prisoner of the Witch, they say, under a deep enchantment. How do we know he is not still enchanted? Indeed, how do we know this is our Prince at all? He could be yet another of the Witch's tricks, sent to destroy Narnia for her." And around Favian, his supporters voice their agreement.
Rilian glances around at the crowd, and sees that some are looking at him warily, and not just the ones accompanying Favian. He notices Ironbolt signaling to the archers up on the walls of the Cair, and sees them ready their bows. Favian notices this as well.
"Look! This false prince intends to shoot me where I stand, to silence me from speaking the truth and what all can see. I am a true prince of the House of Caspian, not this pretender! I am the true heir to the throne!" He throws a challenging look at Rilian, and Rilian wonders for a mad moment if Favian truly is the hero in this story.
The crowd is growing restless, and voices are rising, arguments breaking out. He hears Trumpkin shouting his protests. Rilian holds up his hand and calls out, "Silence!" When the crowd subsides a bit, he addresses Favian. "My cousin, you are wrong. I am Rilian, son of Caspian X, King of Narnia and Queen Alecto. Tomorrow I take the crown, and you owe me your allegiance."
One of the men by Favian's side steps forward, and Rilian recognizes him as Lord Carew of Ostacre. He remembers him as an oft-complained about thorn in his father's side, a man with a crafty look, one who seemed to think he was entitled to much that did not belong to him. Indeed, that has not changed over the years that Rilian has been gone, and Rilian now realizes that the Witch was not the only villain in his story. "Prove it then," Carew says, though he does not shout like Favian. But even so, his words are heard clearly over the noise of the crowd. "Prove to us that you are Rilian of the House of Caspian, and that you have a right to the throne of Narnia."
Rilian hears the angry voices in the crowd and knows that many, if not most, believe in him. Drinian puts a hand on his shoulder. "They are treacherous, your majesty. Shall we have the army take them, before they do something rash?"
It would be the quickest solution, Rilian thinks, but he also knows that if he doesn't stop this now, these rumors will follow him the rest of his life. He glances around again, at the crowds of Narnians watching the confrontation, at the Guards and the archers waiting for a command, at Favian and Carew and the rest of Favian's men, all looking very determined. Blood will be spilled tonight, if he is not careful. Rilian does not want the funeral of his father and the eve of his coronation marked by death and dissension -- he does not want to take the throne in that fashion, knowing it was exactly the way that the Witch had planned. He knows too, that if he does take the throne by force and with blood spilled, it will never truly be his, and the violence will mar not just tonight, but the whole of his reign.
"We're waiting," Carew says, a sly smile on his face. "Show us your proof that you are the son of Caspian and Alecto." And by the smug look Favian is wearing, Rilian realizes that they think he is trapped, that there is no proof he can offer beyond his face, his clear resemblance to his father and forefathers. And by calling that into question, they think they have already won.
But they are wrong. Rilian is the son of kings, but he is also a son of the stars. He tosses his head back, staring up at the night sky, and begins to sing.
He sings the songs his mother taught him, the songs he learned all those nights in his childhood, the songs naming each star in the sky. He sings to them, calling to his family, drawing them down. And when he finishes his song, there are stars on earth surrounding him, tall beautiful people with fierce faces, all shining and brilliant and terrible to look at.
The crowd is silent now, hushed and reverent as they gaze at the stars surrounding Rilian. And Carew and Favian and his supporters are all staring with open mouths, and many look ashamed.
"There," Rilian says, and his voice is hoarse and strained, from the power of his song, but it still rings out clear in the hush of the crowd, as he gestures at the stars surrounding him. "There is your proof, Cousin. You see that I am Rilian, son of Caspian X and Alecto, the Lady of the Stars. From my mother I inherited the right to call on the stars, just as from my father I inherited the throne of Narnia. You have no claim, and you must take your men and leave Cair Paravel now. The stars will go with you, to guide you all safely to your homes."
Lord Carew frowns, and for a moment Rilian thinks he will make another protest, but as the stars surge past Rilian and towards Favian and his men, Carew obviously thinks better of it. And Favian and Carew and the others withdraw, leaving Cair Paravel with the stars following them, a glowing procession lighting up the hills and roads of Narnia.
The stars take up the songs Rilian sang as they walk along, and as each one passes Rilian, they bow to him. And now the crowds find their voices again, and the cry rings out in the night. "Long live King Rilian!"
Rilian looks back up at Queenspoint, and sees his father's funeral fire still burning. His parents are both gone. The Witch is dead, her enchantments are broken, and Rilian is free. It sounds almost like the end of a fairytale, but Rilian realizes his story is just beginning.