Proper Narnians All
The open sky, blue and cloud-studded, was as welcome to all the Dawn Treader's crew as the gentle breeze that filled her sails. After so long in the storm, everyone spent as much time on deck as they could manage. Even the time ashore on Dragon Isle had not erased the need for sun and air. So it was not uncommon for Edmund and Caspian to take their meals up onto whatever scrap of deck would not be in the crew's way.
The appearance of a grumpy Eustace was not uncommon, either. Although he was trying to be better, there were occasional setbacks, and as any commander could tell you, food was morale. "Isn't there any decent food on board?"
"Be glad of it," Edmund said mildly, before Caspian could snap. "You won't get fish at home for some time." He spooned up the last of the rich stew in his bowl with deep appreciation, even after weeks at sea. Caspian had an excellent cook aboard.
The young king, diverted at always by mention of this strange other world, asked eagerly, "Why not? Have you no fishing fleets in your world?"
"There's a great war on," Edmund explained, setting his bowl down, intending to take it back to the galley later. An attentive sailor whisked it away; he nodded his thanks to the man. "Many things are scarce. It's almost impossible to get fish outside of a port."
Caspian turned this over thoughtfully. "It goes to the soldiers first? That's proper," he said approvingly. "But then you — and the High King, of course —"
"Edmund's not a soldier!" Eustace interjected, laughing a little. Caspian went hot at the insult — really, the boy was still intolerable despite his improvement! — but Edmund was nodding.
"Too young," he explained to Caspian. "Peter too, though not for much longer."
"Too young?" Caspian echoed, confused. He'd certainly seen the kings of old in battle; who would deny them?
"Things are different there." He shrugged, unconcerned, then leveled a stern look and pointing finger at Eustace. "You, coz, could stand to learn some tact. For school, if nothing else. The bigger boys will be after you, otherwise."
"They do that anyway," Eustace muttered.
"Bullies?" Caspian sat up, alert, at that, feeling a new sympathy for him. "That won't stand," he said stoutly. "We shall teach you swordplay, so you can defend yourself."
"We don't use swords in England," Eustace retorted, but he tried to say it politely.
Edmund, thoughtful, said, "You should learn anyway. It's useful."
"How?" Eustace demanded, not without justification, he thought. "I can't exactly challenge Them to a duel!"
A small, wry smile crossed Edmund's face. "Do you think they'd go after me?" he asked.
Eustace, new to this courtesy thing though he was, still knew that the polite response would be 'no', but he also knew he was expected to be honest. And the honest answer was, "Yes." He hoped his cousin wouldn't be too offended. Edmund had shot up, but he was still skinny, and was the sort of boy who was perpetually found with his nose in a book. Exactly the sort of target They preferred.
Far from being offended, Edmund had expected that response. He nodded calmly. "The boys at my school certainly tried, before we came to Narnia," he admitted.
"Did they?" Caspian asked, surprised. "I wonder that they dared."
"I was a bit of a titch," Edmund said. "And I had no notion how to stand up for myself, then. That's what we can teach you," he added, to Eustace.
The younger boy was valiantly trying to keep the skepticism off his face, but really failing miserably. "With a sword?"
Edmund grinned, and stood up. He took a step closer to his cousin, and something shifted. As his expression sobered, he seemed to grow taller and broader. Eustace was suddenly quite certain no one, not even Them, would want to fight him. Why hadn't he ever done this before? "I don't think I need a sword, do you?" Edmund asked quietly.
"N-no," Eustace managed, frantically trying to remember how many times he'd annoyed Edmund before the painting came to life. His cousin stepped back, and was himself again, grinning at Eustace from where he leaned against the rail.
"How did you do that?" Caspian demanded, as amazed as Eustace. "Can you teach me?"
"You don't know?" Edmund paused to consider that. "You only have to know that you can. Learning to use a sword gave me the confidence to do it. Well, and meeting Aslan, of course, but you both have."
Caspian frowned slightly. "I am not certain why fencing would teach you to do that. It is just one of many lessons any noble must have."
"Perhaps that's the difference," Edmund mused, "expectations." He subjected Caspian to an assessing look. "You did well enough in Narrowhaven."
"Did I? I was terrified," he admitted.
"It didn't show. Which is exactly the point." He motioned Eustace in closer — the boy had backed away at that earlier display and was still hovering nervously. "Fear just encourages predators of all sorts. You ought to talk to some of the Animals about it, Caspian; I'm sure they'd be willing to help you. Eustace, I think fencing will help you like it did me. If you want to learn?"
Eustace chewed his lip anxiously. "You think it will make Them leave me alone?"
"It's not magic," Edmund said honestly. "You'll still have to face up to them, probably a few times, before it sticks. But bullies like that are cowards at heart. They'll go looking for an easier target, after a while."
Eustace started to nod, then stopped, his face contorting with the effort of thought. "I don't want Them to pick on other people, either," he said slowly.
Caspian and Edmund shared a smile. He was learning, indeed. "Well, that's harder," Edmund said, "but I think we can work on it. We'll have all summer to practice before you go back."
"Well… all right then."
"I'll get a sword," Caspian offered, ducking into the cabin.
Edmund and Eustace just looked at each other for a moment. Then Eustace said — it was not quite a whine — "I'm still hungry, though."
Edmund couldn't help the laugh that bubbled up. He said, "Have you tried the stew? It's very good."
"Harold and Alberta say meat is terrible for the digestion…"
"We're made to eat some meat," Edmund pointed out. "Just have a taste. You oughtn't let other people make up your mind for you, even if they are your parents."
"You think?" This was clearly a new concept. Edmund just nodded, letting his cousin consider it until Caspian reappeared.
"My second-best sword," the king explained, handing a belt-wrapped scabbard to Eustace. "A proper Narnian weapon for a proper Narnian."