Chapter 1: The Conscience of the King I
My thanks to Elexandros and Almyra for their assistance with this story.
Disclaimer: To my disappointment, I own none of these characters.
The Conscience of the King
"What in Aslan's name are they doing, Oreius?"
"Apparently it's a game from the land of Spare Oom. King Peter called it . . . cricket."
"Cricket? Like the insect?"
"Only in name."
Standing beside me, Tumnus watched as King Peter took a running start, then threw a small ball at Queen Susan. There was a steely look in the queen's eyes as she gauged the pitch, her hands tight around a short staff that reminded me of a distorted oar. She stepped in and swung, sending the ball sailing over the hedge. King Peter let out a shout of admiration, setting off at a run to retrieve it. Standing behind Susan, King Edmund let out a groan and hung his head as his older sister hitched up her skirts and began to run. There were two sets of posts in the ground a set distance apart, with something about them I had heard King Peter call a wicket. Susan ran back and forth between the posts, her voice rising in laughter as she called out how many times she ran between them. Off to the side, Queen Lucy laughed and clapped, taking no sides in the game, though King Peter had been teaching her how to swing the odd little staff earlier.
"How is it played?" wondered Tumnus.
I shook my head. "I've been watching almost an hour and I'm none the wiser. All I do know is that Queen Susan is winning."
It seemed Susan had won, as Peter had yet to return with the ball and Edmund, with a dramatic flourish, gave up. It was several minutes before Peter came back, red-faced and with twigs and leaves in his hair. He looked at his brother collapsed behind the posts shaking his head sadly and his sister standing triumphant at the refreshment table nearby.
"I surrendered," admitted Edmund.
The High King tossed him the ball and then dropped to the lawn beside him. "Well done. It's less painful this way."
They looked up as Susan approached, a goblet held out to each of them. Behind her, her younger sister carried a tray of sweet cakes which she set on the ground before sitting with them.
"That was an excellent game, Peter," complimented Susan, passing her brothers the cups before brushing bits of twigs out of the elder boy's hair.
"For you, maybe," said Edmund. They all laughed as they sat together to take a rest from the heat of high summer. I smiled, pleased that they took the time to relax and be children. They needed moments like this lest they be overwhelmed by their duties and I was glad of the chance to observe them unaware, for they were so absorbed in their game and each other that they took no notice of me where I stood far back in the shadows cast by the trees. There were guards all about, Animals and Dwarves and Dryads, but we all allowed the monarchs their privacy and kept well back.
I turned to the Faun standing beside me. "What brings you here, Tumnus?"
He cast me a look that said he thought me nosy. I cast him one that broached no argument. I knew perfectly well why he was here. Though I had only met him within the last decade, I had known of Tumnus for years. Known of him, and disapproved.
"I've come to see Queen Lucy," was his predictable answer.
"She is otherwise engaged this morn," I replied. "Leave her be for now."
He frowned, marshaling his defiance. "She invited me here."
"So she did." I flicked my tail, annoyed at his presumptuousness and not about to be patronized by his likes despite his greater years. "And your reply indicated you would be here this late afternoon, which is when you will present yourself to her and not before. Her brothers and sister have many duties and responsibilities and rarely get to spend so much time together. She would feel obligated to leave them to entertain you or to include you in their company which, given your obvious dislike of King Edmund, would ruin their sport. So, you will wait."
He stared at me, speechless. Finally he sputtered, "How dare you! You are arrogant, General!"
"I am," I agreed, "and with good cause. You, however, are arrogant with far less cause. Walk with me," I said, stepping directly in front of him. It wasn't a request and for a moment I thought he might challenge my authority, but with a final glare at me he turned around and joined me. Behind us, the kings and queens decided to go swim and play along the shore. I knew the Dogs and Tigers - just about the only Talking Animals at Cair Paravel that actually liked going into the ocean - would follow and so I did not worry after them.
Tumnus was furious and I let him seethe. Everything I said had been true. It seemed to me he hoped that Queen Lucy's good graces and friendship would make people forget what he had been and done. While that might have worked with people who didn't know better, it would never work with me.
We walked through the fresh, lush gardens surrounding Cair Paravel. After a lifetime of nothing but winter I found the grounds particularly pleasing, though this part of Narnia was very different from my family's home to the southwest. I doubted the Faun saw anything of our surroundings, so angry at me was he.
"I knew your father well," I finally said, startling him. "I served under him for years. He was a brave soldier."
"And I was not," snapped Tumnus.
"Your words," I replied. "I have no basis to judge you as a soldier."
"There's nothing to judge. I have never served in Narnia's army."
I nodded. "You called me arrogant. Why? Because I wish for my kings and queens to have a day to themselves? Or was it because I reminded you of your own deceit?" I spat the last word, for it was distasteful in the extreme to me.
"What?" he exclaimed, stopping. "I helped her escape!"
I kept walking, forcing him to run to catch up to me if he wanted the conversation to continue. He darted past and stood before me, blocking my way. He was a fraction of my size and his fury was something almost palpable. I leaned forward, my harsh words for his ears alone.
"You were in the pay of the White Witch, Faun. You can't deny it. The Trees and Robins at the Lantern Waste have confirmed this. You would have turned Queen Lucy over to Jadis for what? Silver? Perhaps to conjure up a sense of pride of having done your duty by a false queen? A swipe at your father? Perhaps simply to save your own life? After having acted so base, you dare to stand in judgement of your own king? Of my king? Of Aslan's king? If Edmund betrayed you it was out of ignorance and enchantment and while you may have suffered her cruelty, so did he. He, at least, has admitted his sin." I stamped the earth. If it were not for Edmund, it really wouldn't be worth my effort to be angry with him. "So tell me, Tumnus, why did Jadis arrest you and turn you to stone?"
I thought back on the moment when we had snatched Edmund from the Witch's encampment. I confess that I had not expected him to be so young, so very small. He had been sorely mistreated. His body bore the marks of exposure and beatings and he was weak from exhaustion and hunger. Edmund had collapsed in my arms the moment the ropes were cut and he fell asleep minutes later, even before we were out of danger.
I had wanted to hate him. I had rescued him expecting to despise him as a traitor. I had thought evil of him and I anticipated his meeting my expectations. All my hatred was completely undone by the trust he placed in me as he fell asleep against my chest. I had no brothers of my own. Until that instant, I had never felt the lack.
Like most Fauns are apt to do when cornered, Tumnus lashed out at me.
"What about Sir Giles Fox?" he snapped.
I frowned. "They have made their peace, though of what concern that is to you or what bearing that has on this discussion, I cannot say. I saw and heard King Edmund apologize to you after the coronation. I also saw you walk away without a word. This I will tell you, Faun Tumnus, son of General Calimus, under whom I served Aslan and my beloved country: Queen Lucy in all her goodness has forgiven you your transgressions against her. Aslan has shown you His favor. Who are you to carry a grievance against the very king you crowned at His behest in Cair Paravel? You may be her friend, but King Edmund is her brother and your king. As his subject you owe him conduct becoming his status." I leveled a hearty glare at him, defying him to argue with me. He stared back, pale beneath his tan. He looked a great deal like his father, though he lacked the general's fire. There was strength of a kind in him, for he had defied Jadis in her lair, but it was not his place to stand in judgement of Aslan's choice for Narnia's king.
"I will tell the queen," he breathed.
I shrugged, unimpressed by the threat. I think we both knew whom Lucy would choose were she forced to decide between friend and brother. "Tell her what you will, so long as you tell her the truth, Tumnus. All of the truth. And if you omit any details rest assured I will provide them to Her Highness. Perhaps you should go find a place to wait and think until this afternoon," I suggested firmly.
He drew a deep breath, knowing full well he had little choice, and turned away.
It was Queen Susan, whose feet were bare and whose long hair was all windblown, who very prettily asked me to take tea with her and her siblings once they came back from swimming hours later. I think my great size frightened her to an extent and the fact that she made such effort was touching. As one does not refuse a queen, I gladly accepted the invitation. I had to slow my steps almost to a crawl to keep apace with her, but she happily entertained me by telling me about her day, unaware that I had observed a great deal of it from a distance.
Narnia's other three monarchs were in disreputable shape - sunburnt, their hair stiff with salt, their feet bare - but they rose to greet me with genuine good will and happily included me in their midday meal. I was pleased to see them so relaxed. As always, I was astonished by how much the kings could eat in a sitting. For such small creatures, their appetites were immense. I smiled as Queen Lucy poured me tea and asked about my day. Where Queen Susan was lovely and gracious, Queen Lucy was charming and welcoming and she put extra effort into making me feel comfortable in the presence of my monarchs. Though the tea was served on a low table set on a blanket, only the queens sat. Peter and Edmund stood all the while to keep me company, knowing how awkward it is for my kind to rise once we've laid down. We had a merry time and I was struck once again at what excellent company these four were.
The light meal was almost at its end when Lucy let out an excited squeal and jumped to her feet. "Mr. Tumnus!" she cried and raced across the lawn to where she'd spotted her friend. I could hear their warm greetings, but my eyes were fixed on the two boys beside me. Edmund pursed his lips, clearly bracing himself for an unpleasant task. Beside him, his brother the High King frowned slightly, his expression darkening when he noticed Edmund's reaction. I was glad to see I was not alone in my opinion of Lucy's friend.
Laughing and skipping, Queen Lucy tugged the Faun along with her, completely unaware of the tension in the air. Tumnus bent over Queen Susan's extended hand and then bowed to the two kings. It was evident to anyone who might be looking for it that both he and Edmund were self-conscious. The small party broke up soon after his arrival.
Chapter 2: The Conscience of the King I
The Conscience of the King II
The Conscience of the King II
". . . so I thought that was a bit . . . boorish, I suppose."
"Come again, Ed?"
Before me, on a stone seat next to the training grounds, I heard the sound of metal-on-metal as Edmund smacked his brother's arm.
"Pay attention! Yesterday. After dinner. Tumnus . . ."
Peter's tone was stern and I could tell he knew something of the situation between his brother and the Faun. "If he was rude . . ."
"Not rude. Insulting, actually. You and Susan were helping her ladies sort out that issue of the Ostriches and the Kangaroos racing in the halls. When Lucy left to get her embroidery to show him, Tumnus said to me that as someone that had also been in the White Witch's employ he had no right to harbor a grudge against me."
"What?" Peter's shock was evident and I didn't have to see him to know his exact expression. His voice betrayed all. He was dumbfounded. "Her employ?"
"Shout it out to all of Narnia, why don't you, Peter? Lower your voice. Yes! He said her employ."
"Tumnus worked for Jadis?"
"Worse yet, he thought I did too!"
"Shh!" shushed Peter. He was quiet, trying to assimilate this information. When he spoke again, his voice was much softer. "What did you say?"
The younger king barked a laugh, but I could hear the strain in his voice as he referred to his inauspicious start in Narnia just a few weeks past. "I told him flat-out I'd never worked for her in that sense and I didn't appreciate him assuming anything about me or what I'd done. He's one to talk!"
"What did he do?"
"It was awkward. I think he was praying that Aslan would appear and swallow him whole."
"No doubt. Does Lucy know this?"
"If she does she never mentioned it to me. You know how she is with confidences."
Celer and several other officers approached the archway leading to the courtyard opposite from where I stood. I gestured for quiet and for them to wait outside, out of earshot. They obeyed instantly. I did not like to eavesdrop, but it was not intentional. Clearly they needed to talk right now and if I moved from the doorway of the armory they would hear me. Moreover, I was the one responsible for the situation and I dare not let it get out of hand.
"Remember . . . the letter Maugrim left in his cave." Peter spoke slowly, wracking his memory. "Arrested for high treason against her majesty. High treason. Against her."
"Not Narnia. I hear you. All traitors belonged to her."
"And she did turn him to stone."
Edmund sighed. "I don't know what he ever said to Lucy, but in the end he did help her escape and he did stand against Jadis. I'll give him that."
"And what did you do so much worse than what he did?" Peter asked hotly. His tone startled me because I had never heard him speak so passionately before. "Yes, you were a traitor, but what does that make him?"
Only Peter could ask such a question of his brother and I was relieved to hear no hint of offense or hurt taken when Edmund answered.
"I suppose it's a question of scale."
"Scale be damned," snapped the elder king and I blinked to hear anything akin to a curse pass his lips. "He repented and so did you, but somehow his conduct is swept away under the carpet while yours is displayed before the whole country. How is that fair?"
"Lucy adores him. I know he thinks the world of her."
With a snort Peter asked, "Don't we all? Lucy gives her love very quickly. Loving is easy. Liking someone as well is the challenge."
"So I've heard," Edmund answered softly. "For Lucy's sake I want to work this out, though I don't think our Mr. Tumnus is very fond of me."
"Too bad for him." Peter made a scoffing noise and I heard someone, most likely Edmund this time, get smacked by an armored glove. "Perhaps it's because you've owed up to it. That takes courage. Maybe more courage than Tumnus has."
"Or since I'm a king, he holds me more accountable."
"You weren't a king yet," Peter replied. "And it's not his place to stand in judgement of Aslan's choices."
"Nor ours. He did crown us after all, so clearly he's in Aslan's good graces. I for one won't question that choice."
There was a shift in attitude, and the steely resolve I had noted in Peter before now became evident. "Agreed. If Aslan's forgiven him we can't do less. I'll admit I'm not in the most forgiving mood right now, given his conduct towards you, though. What do you want to do?"
"I suppose I'll try talking to him. I just don't want Lucy to get wind of any of it. Or Susan."
"I could speak to him."
"No. No, thank you. I wouldn't want it to look as if I tattled."
"We're kings. He's our subject. If he can't respect the person, he should at least respect the title."
"Can I quote you?" teased Edmund.
"Please do." Peter made a noise of disbelief. "Aslan's mane, where would we be now if he had met you before Lucy?"
Edmund likewise gave a disbelieving huff. "Not here, I can assure you."
"I shudder to think of it."
They were silent, thinking on that hideous possibility. Finally Edmund stirred.
"Where on earth is everyone?"
I watched the four children carefully over the next several days. My father, whom I had always honored and held to be the wisest of Centaurs, had told me that since I had two ears, two eyes, and only one mouth, I should listen and watch twice as much as I spoke. As I aged, I understood better the sagacity behind his words. I had discovered that there was a great deal people gave away about themselves without ever uttering a word, and so I knew exactly when King Edmund spoke with Tumnus.
Clearly it had not gone as well as Edmund had hoped because he held himself more aloof than I had ever seen, while Tumnus was an absolute study in rue. I was beginning to suspect there was more truth behind Peter's suggestion that Tumnus lacked the moral fiber to face his shortcomings than the High King knew.
I was watching Sharet and her troop of Cats sharpening their claws on some old, dead tree trunks late Fifthday morning. They gained so much satisfaction from the simple exercise that it was a pleasure to watch, though they tended to reduce the trees to mulch in almost no time at all. Most everything the Cats did was a game to them, even the heaviest training, and their morale was unparalleled even in this most enthusiastic of armies. Wood chips flew as two huge Tigers raced to destroy the remains of the tree trunks, roaring out their excitement. A crowd of appreciative soldiers and gardeners gathered round, cheering and urging them on as they dodged flying chunks of wood.
Tumnus. I had been expecting him for some time now. I turned to face him. Clearly he was distressed, though the slightest things tended to set off most Fauns.
"Yes?" I asked.
"I tried speaking with King Edmund."
I made no comment, just gazed at him. He squirmed uncomfortably and admitted,
"I fear I made things worse."
"You fear?" I echoed, arching an eyebrow at him expectantly.
Tumnus looked at me in shock. "How did you know?"
"I pay attention to my surroundings. King Edmund has been rather closed of late."
"I insulted him the night I arrived. It wasn't my intention, but that's what it turned into: an insult. I managed to say everything wrong that I possibly could. And just yesterday he tried to broach the subject again and I shut him out. I could not bring myself to face what stands between us and now he must think I am the worst kind of person. King Peter was cold to me. Queen Susan frowned at me." He shuddered, for his was the type of personality that wanted to be universally liked. "Even Queen Lucy noticed and her I would spare above everyone else."
"Why come to me?"
"Because you understand. Not me so much as the situation."
"A fair enough answer. I ask you, what is it about King Edmund that intimidates you so?"
He opened his mouth to protest, then shut it again, miserable. "You wouldn't understand, General Oreius. You're a brave and noble soldier and I . . . I can't even admit the truth. I worked for Narnia's enemy. I almost betrayed the girl that is now my best friend and my queen. I lack the courage of even a ten-year-old child and I hold that against him."
I eyed him askance, amused. Briefly I wondered if the Faun's complaint of cowardice centered around not being brave enough to do the job he was paid for or because Edmund so readily confessed his sins, an example Tumnus could not bring himself to follow. "You just admitted it to me."
"You're not the injured party," he grumbled, realizing he had, indeed, just confessed all.
"Aren't I?" I returned. "Perhaps not directly injured but by insulting my king, you insult me. Moreover, he's distracted now and lack of concentration on the training grounds can result in accidents, in which case I would not only be insulted, but furious."
He stared up at me. Though my tone was light, he knew my words were deadly serious.
"You faced Jadis, Tumnus. Find the courage to face Edmund. He at least won't turn you into a block of stone. It's time you learned why he's called the Just."
The next morning, Sixthday, promised to be wet and dreary. Of course that changed nothing in our morning routine and by five hours past midnight my two young kings stepped into the courtyard in full armor. As usual, Peter was the more alert of the two. Edmund would stop yawning as soon as he started moving in earnest. Our Sixthday training was normally less formal and structured than the previous five days. I knew both boys enjoyed this time the most and I always made sure that they had fun with it since this time was theirs.
So as we stepped out of the armory I was rather perturbed to see Faun Tumnus seated in the courtyard on the same bench Peter and Edmund had occupied several days ago, waiting for us. We stopped in our tracks as he stood up and bowed to the kings. Peter's expression was hard and distant. Edmund struck me as more annoyed than anything else.
"We are holding class, Tumnus," I said, letting my tone tell him I did not appreciate the intrusion
"I apologize to Your Majesties and to you, General, for the interruption" Tumnus replied. He was almost stammering in his nervousness. "King Edmund, would you indulge me with a few moments of your time?"
I caught the look the Pevensie brothers exchanged. Neither boy was very pleased by this development and both resented that the Faun kept them from one of the things they looked forward to the most all week. Peter opened his mouth to speak when Edmund silenced him with a small gesture. Not a word was exchanged, but their body language said all as Peter offered to deal with this development and Edmund gratefully refused.
"Excuse me, Peter, General," said Edmund, stepping away to join the Faun.
We withdrew to the other end of the courtyard. I could tell Peter was agitated and I laid my hand on his shoulder. "Be at ease, Sir Peter."
"I would rather Tumnus had chosen another time to soothe his own conscience," snapped Peter. I had never seen him so cross. It was rather impressive.
I watched the two slight figures at the other end of the yard. Tumnus was gesturing, leaning in towards the king, and Edmund stood straight and dignified, his shield in hand. He was more a king each passing day. Their voices were too soft for us to catch any of the exchange, but I knew it was intense. Edmund listened more than he spoke. When he finally did speak, I could see the tension drain out of the Faun. It seemed he had found his courage after all.
And then Edmund turned and walked towards us, his armor ringing. Tumnus stared after him in surprise. Clearly he had expected something more than what he received.
He looked back, waiting. Tumnus was at such a loss that I almost pitied him. Beside me, Peter watched the scene with a cool, keen look in his fair eyes.
"I . . . I hoped we may be friends," Tumnus faltered, very aware of all attention upon him.
"I've accepted your apology and I've forgiven you, as you've forgiven me," Edmund replied sharply. I could tell he was provoked because that was when he was at his most eloquent. "At the moment that's all I'm prepared to do. I'm sure some day you'll get your wish and we'll be on friendly terms, if only for Lucy's sake, but not right now. Now is time for my class. Good day, sir."
His face was set but I could tell he was strained emotionally as he joined us. Neither boy looked at the Faun, giving him the opportunity to slip away and lick his wounds.
"All right, Edmund?" Peter softly inquired.
He took a deep breath. "I wish he'd waited until later," he muttered, clearly upset by the confrontation. I suspected he was in far better shape than Tumnus. He looked up at me. "Oreius, I -"
"Sit," I ordered. "Both of you."
They gladly obeyed. I let them calm down for a few moments, folding my arms across my chest and regarding them carefully.
"Your Majesties, I must apologize. This situation with Tumnus was brought about due to a conversation I had with him the day he arrived."
"It's been coming either way, General," Edmund answered quietly. Beside him, his brother nodded.
"I certainly haven't forgotten his conduct towards Ed at our coronation. And now we find out he was actually working for Jadis! The fact that he was ever angry at anyone that helped overthrow the White Witch strikes me as pretty rich and frankly hypocritical."
"We are not all warriors, my kings," said I. "There is a mighty lesson to be learned here. As my father said, a fool forgives and forgets, a tyrant neither forgives nor forgets, and a wise man forgives, but does not forget. King Edmund, you are familiar with this most of all. You have been forgiven and now you have forgiven."
He nodded his agreement without a hint of reluctance. When he spoke, his voice was firm. "Neither position is comfortable, but I will not apologize to Tumnus again."
"Nor should you, for by doing so you'd be opening yourself up to another affront. Patience is not a bottomless well and you are a King of Narnia. Forgiveness does not require liking. That I can say with authority."
"So now what do we do?" wondered Peter.
I smiled faintly. "You carry on knowing you've done what you can up to this point." I looked up as the clouds, already dark, began to release the first few drops of rain. "Come! We're done here."
"But we haven't had our lesson!" protested Edmund.
"Haven't we, Majesty?"
Chapter 3: The Conscience of the King III
The Conscience of the King III
The Conscience of the King III
"Peter, am I arrogant?"
I looked over at the two boys as they stripped off their armor in the next room. Peter was concentrating on a knot in his boot lace and did not so much as look up. Both seemed unaware of my presence.
"Yes," droned the High King, intent on his work.
Edmund glowered. "Allow me to rephrase that. Peter, am I being arrogant?"
In the same bland, distracted voice he said, "Yes."
There was a pause and then King Peter raised his head, catching the expression on his brother's face. "Don't worry, Ed, we're all arrogant at some time or another. You, me, Flisk, Tumnus, the Cat pages. All of us. You're also stubborn and annoying, but at least you're in good company."
"You're right. I have you."
"You're a king, Edmund," Peter reminded. "You're allowed to be a little arrogant now and then and if you ever go too far trust that I'll let you know."
Edmund conveyed his skepticism in one snort. Peter smiled and returned to the knot. "Are you asking what you should do about Tumnus?"
"Yes. I'd hate for Lucy to feel stuck in the middle of this."
"I think this is all a question of bad timing. You tried too soon after the coronation for Tumnus and now he's tried too late for you. But . . . giving it time might be the answer. I know you tried and it didn't work. Now it's Tumnus' turn to know what that feels like."
"I suppose he expected me to be more like Lucy. I doubt she ever accused him."
"Doubtless," grunted Peter. He gave up on the knot and sat on the bench beside his brother. "What kind of reaction did you want out of people after Beruna? Did you want them to just ignore the matter and move on, or did you want to talk about it at all?"
"Ignore. Definitely ignore."
"Then why not do the same for Tumnus? You've acknowledged the situation. Don't dwell on it. It happened, it's over, now carry on like Oreius said. I think Tumnus will come around eventually."
Edmund stared at what I thought was the floor, thinking hard. Then he reached over and yanked one of Peter's boot laces. With a deft twist of his wrist he had the knot undone. Peter cast him a sour look.
"Still in good company, brother."
Edmund gave his brother an affectionate shove. They both smiled, and I smiled along with them.
It took a day or two, but Tumnus finally caught on to Edmund's conduct and gratefully imitated him. When together, they were polite and proper as if newly acquainted. Edmund kept his distance, not about to open himself up to an affront, and Tumnus wisely gave him a wide berth, talking of nothing more complex than the weather for the time being. Queen Lucy noticed immediately and her flagging spirits were restored now that her best friend and her brother were at least speaking to each other, and that went far towards relieving the tension they had all felt since the Faun's arrival. I was very pleased with Edmund and to my surprise, I found myself somewhat pleased with Tumnus as well.
I paused, the sharpening stone suspended in the air over my sword. Tumnus stood ill at ease at the entrance to the armory, eyeing the claymore that was almost as big as he. For a moment I wondered what it would be like going through life in a constant state of nervousness and not surprisingly, I couldn't even imagine such a thing. Setting the weapon down, I joined him and slowly we walked beyond the walled courtyard to the trampled fields where the army practiced maneuvers. At the moment the entire royal family was on the field under the watchful eyes of various officers, the queens practicing their archery and the kings enthusiastically beating on each other with quarterstaffs.
"I would like to apologize," Tumnus offered. He fidgeted with the fringe of the scarf about his neck. "I should not have called you arrogant."
Ah, that word again. I shrugged. "At times it's the truth."
"It was not my place."
I glanced beyond him. Queen Lucy had abandoned archery and stood in front of King Edmund. He was guiding her hands on the staff against their older brother. "As you wish. Have you spoken to King Edmund?"
"Not beyond normal conversation over tea. I'm grateful for his approach to the situation. I'm not unaware of the effort it must have taken to give me another chance. We've both erred. He was just more mature about it."
"Being a king, he had little choice."
"You see, I think that was my problem: he addressed the situation head on and I found myself . . . lacking. I don't think I quite expected him to be the king that he's turned out to be. I underestimated him."
"Many have." I smiled inwardly as I quoted King Peter. "It was all a question of bad timing."
He smiled a little sadly. "Yes indeed. Oreius, if you don't mind my asking, how long did you serve under my father?"
"Fifteen years. He and my own father both perished in the same battle."
"Fifteen years. I hadn't seen him for twenty. You probably knew him better than I."
"I knew a different Calimus."
"I envy you."
"You are your father's son in more ways than you realize."
"Perhaps it's better I hadn't seen him for so long. He wouldn't have been proud of me in the end."
"No." I pawed the ground, kicking up dust. "But now, I believe, he would be."
He was watching Queen Lucy as he spoke. "I doubt we'll ever be friends, you and I, but I'm glad we've found common ground. Thank you"
Just then the High King let out a shout and we turned to see Lucy, her quarterstaff guided by Edmund's hands, sweep Peter's feet from beneath him. He landed (properly, I was pleased to note) with a loud crash of metal. Lucy squealed in delight and Susan applauded. The brothers laughed merrily - Peter strewn on the grass, Edmund leaning on the quarterstaff.
Our presence caught the attention of the younger king. Edmund looked my way and his face blossomed into a wide smile that never faded as he included Tumnus in the greeting. I shook my head in warning and pointed behind him, but too late. A second later he yelped in surprise as Peter took advantage of his distraction to return the favor bestowed on him moments before, swinging his quarterstaff in a low, scooping motion that spilled Edmund onto the grass. Lucy giggled and clapped until Edmund seized the hem of her dress and yanked her down as well. She landed right on top of him as Susan darted out of range. All of them were shrieking with laughter.
Beside me, Tumnus laughed and I found myself smiling, still shaking my head.
"Or if not common ground, General, at least something in common sprawled on the ground."
I chuckled, watching as my sovereigns acted like the children they were, confident that at the same time they were so much more. "Indeed we do, Tumnus."