Chapter 1: Invitation
Black Dwarfs, Blue River
This is dedicated to everyone who enjoys reading about obnoxious Dwarfs, sneaky little brothers, and King Nancy. It was inspired by 'Late Night Meeting' by the1hobbit. Check out my bio for the link to her art.
Disclaimer: Narnia and its characters are the property of CS Lewis, Walden Media, and Disney. I'm just borrowing them and I promise to give them back when I'm done. Until the next story, of course.
Chapter One: Invitation
"This chap Brickit is being deliberately provoking."
Edmund sparked to that just as I knew he would. Anything that could vex his older brother was worth looking at in his book. Clad in loose and comfortable clothes for sleeping but looking far from ready to call it a night, he crawled across my bed so he could look over my shoulder at the letter I held.
"With handwriting like that, I agree. Are you sure you're reading it right? You're not holding it upside down, are you?"
I nudged him lightly with my elbow in response to his teasing. "Listen, will you? I'll read it."
He draped himself heavily across my shoulders and back as I struggled to make out the appalling handwriting. Clearing my throat, I read aloud:
"To Their Majesties, the newly crowned kings and queens of Narnia from Brickit, Chief Smith of the Blue River Smithy, greeting!
"Having survived one queen and all her evils and having been forced in the past to ply our noble trade without compint . . . compensation - Oh, he can't spell, either - in the form of supplies or valuables, you will understand that we will not willingly place ourselves in the thrall of anyone sporting a crown and the supposed authority and its abuse that accompanies such rank, nor anyone who has not the nerve to face us with their request for armaments and craft but rather sends lackeys bearing parchment decorated with seals and we therefore refuse your overtures and bid you come yourselves or leave us in peace.
Brickit, Chief Smith, Blue River Smithy"
I glanced at my brother as I finished. Edmund was staring with wide eyes at the paper. I waited in anticipation for the explosion I knew was about to come. Even as I watched his expression went from amused to indignant; I knew already what the end result of this would be. The situation would be more than Ed could resist.
"Thrall?" he finally sputtered. "Sporting?" He leaned closer and snatched the page from my hand, staring at it, turning it over, and finally he looked at me in disbelief. "This is all one sentence!"
"Told you he was being provoking." I took the letter back. "The thing is, Ed, the Blue River Smithy produces the finest weapons in Narnia. Even the smiths here at the Cair admit that, much as it pains them. We need them willing to work with us."
"They have to be Black Dwarfs," he snorted.
"Oh, yes," I agreed. I had already spoken to Blait, Chief of the Black Dwarf clan, about this Brickit fellow and the report had not been promising even by their low standards. Brickit was grouchy, crass, argumentative, highly skilled, and, just as his letter claimed, a victim of the White Witch's tyranny.
Edmund frowned, that thunderous fury he was so well known for in Finchley and which he was learning to control and apply here in Narnia darkening his expression. He did not like that we had been insulted in this fashion and he was struggling to come up with a suitable response. I let him seethe, having already worked off my (much milder) outrage at Brickit's insinuations.
"Let me see that again," he insisted, seizing the letter. His lips moved faintly as he struggled to read the sprawling script. "Come yourselves or leave us in peace," he quoted softly, savagely. He sat back on his heels and looked at me with smoldering eyes. "Well. That sounds like an invitation to me."
"Invitation? Really? Strikes me as a challenge."
He snorted. "They're Black Dwarfs. It's the same thing. I'll go."
"We need them, Peter. You said so yourself. I'll go to the smithy."
"What will you do?"
Casting me a haughty look, he shrugged and said, "I'll win them over with my charm."
I stared back at him. Charm? Edmund Randall Pevensie? "Lion preserve us," I muttered.
"Oh, he will, Peter. He will," Edmund reassured me. "It's the Blue River Smithy and this Brickit chap that needs to worry."
I found myself grinning, mentally agreeing and wondering if Brickit deserved an advanced warning. I considered my brother's fiercely determined manner, the steely-eyed gleam as he read the letter once again. This would be a good opportunity for him to prove himself, I felt, and really, he was the best one of us to take on a pack of obnoxious Dwarfs. I settled back as he fumed and planned, watching him in silent satisfaction and delight.
"You think a week is enough?"
Edmund snorted. "I'm sure it will be more than enough for me, Peter."
"I wish you'd at least take Martil along to look after you," I said, slowly folding the tunics he'd tossed on my bed as he packed a few things.
"I know you do, but a week on my own will do me good. Besides, I'm sure he could use a break from me."
I made a little sound of disagreement. Our valets loved to fuss and fret over us. As near as I could figure, it was their whole purpose in life.
My fellow king paused in his packing to gaze at me from across the bed. He knew me too well. "Peter . . . don't worry. I'll be home soon. If I can't win them over we'll send Lucy after them next."
I laughed, a little reassured. It was only a week, after all.
"Lucy could charm a hag into submission," continued Edmund, shoving clothes and supplies into the saddle bags ranged across the coverlet. He buckled on his sword as I straightened out the contents of the nearest bag, slipping in a letter Susan and Lucy had prepared for him to find. I tied it closed and slung it over my shoulder.
"Come on, the girls are waiting to say goodbye."
He paused, smiling. "I'll miss you, too."
Chapter 2: Invitation
Chapter Two: A(r)rival
Chapter Two: A(r)rival
"This is it?"
I felt my jaw drop. I'm sure I expected something along the line of the blacksmith shops in Cair Paravel - tidy affairs with well-organized ranks of tools and supplies and masters and apprentices. What I got was something entirely different.
"The Blue River Smithy," said my Satyr escort in an uninspired tone. He cast an equally dubious eye at the ancient and ignored slate-roofed structures before us. There were half a dozen buildings that seemed to melt into the hilly riverbanks or got swallowed whole by the ancient trees of the forest. It was a dreary place and I reminded myself - not for the first time - that I had given myself a week to get through to these Dwarfs. Seven days. A sennight. I could endure this place for that long, I was sure. It couldn't be any worse than my old school, except perhaps for the food.
Mayhap it looked better in the daylight. Or in the summer. It was hard to imagine so unpromising a location producing the best weapons in Narnia, and therefore the world. The damp twilight of spring was upon us as we dismounted and I led Phillip and the few guards with me towards the little settlement. There were voices - more odious than melodious - rising up in song from a thatch-roofed long house on the edge of the clearing. Light spilled through the thick glass windows and I gathered the entire population had come together for their evening meal. Leaving Phillip with my escort, I boldly strode through the smithy. No challenge rose up as I approached and knocked.
The voices didn't stop. If anything, they got louder. I felt a growl rise up in my throat. I was tired and hungry and disappointed. I knocked harder.
Furious, I banged on the door with my fist.
The singing mercifully stopped and a moment later the door was yanked open. Inside was brightly lit and I caught a quick glimpse of carved beams, wooden benches, and dozens of black-haired Dwarfs of all ages ranged around a table that ran almost the length of the room. A blast of warm air and the smell of smoke and beer reached me.
"What?" demanded the bristling, wire-haired Dwarf before me. He was almost my height and he stood with his legs splayed and his hands on his hips. By his affected, imposing manner and the fact that he answered the door, I knew this was the Chief Smith. Blait had explained that greeting newcomers was the privilege of whoever headed a Dwarfish community. The manner of greeting, of course, was left to the discretion of the particular branch of the clan. Clearly this was the Blue River equivalent of making a strange traveler feel wanted. I pushed right past him into the room, ducking my head under a beam until I could stand straight.
"Hey there!" he sputtered. "You can't just come in like that!"
"Be you so civilized that you prefer I use a window?" I returned, peeling off my gloves. I bowed politely to an elderly dame and a handful of daughters. "My ladies. Aslan's blessing upon you, fair ones." The delighted girls giggled in response and the dame chuckled with amusement at this show of civility. Obviously courtly manners were in short supply here. All the better.
The Chief rushed around to place himself between me and the table once again. "Who said you could come in at all?"
I pointedly ignored him, casting my gaze around the snug room before addressing him. "You did."
He snorted. "I'd never ask some scrawny spawn of your ilk into my home!"
"Really?" I drew the letter from the pouch at my waist. "This appalling example of penmanship says otherwise. Shall I remind you of your own words?" Without waiting for a response I opened it and read, ". . . we therefore refuse your overtures and bid you come yourselves or leave us in peace. Signed Brickit, Chief Smith." I glared at him. "Leaving you in peace was not an option after such a warm and open invitation. So." I folded it away. "Here I am."
"And who are you?" challenged the Dwarf, at the end of his patience. He was clearly astonished that his challenge had been taken up. Blait had warned me that I could not expect a polite reception and that I had to offer as much abuse as I received in order to gain any standing in the eyes of the Chief. That, for me, was not a problem. I already knew I could handle Brickit and I'd already won over the ladies.
I looked at the smith as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I'm Edmund." I waited, then slowly enunciated as if speaking to an idiot. "Your king."
"Narnia's king, maybe, but not mine, boy!" he bristled, pointing a stubby finger at me. "What do you want?"
"Your good will."
That took him aback. He drew himself up to his full height and glared from beneath his shaggy eyebrows. He had shining, deep-set black eyes and a permanent scowl. Gazing at him, I sensed a familiar hurt. Once upon a time, his trust had been warped and used against him. Perhaps it had been Jadis' manipulations, perhaps he had been betrayed by family or friends. Either way he bore the scars upon his spirit, making him wary and defensive. That I could understand. All too well.
"Such things are not given," he hissed, poking me in the chest.
"Not if they're worth anything, no," I agreed, leaning into his touch and disarming him further. "They're earned. Hence my reason for coming here."
He stared. There was not a sound from any of the expectant and highly entertained Dwarfs around the table. I dropped my gloves onto the closest bench and removed my cloak, claiming some territory by laying it over the seat. I turned to this Brickit chap with a faint smile.
"So when do I start?"
Chapter 3: Bitter
Chapter Three: Bitter
Chapter Three: Bitter
I spent a miserable night on a lumpy pallet in a smoky little chamber. The Dwarfs, Brickit especially, did not know what to make of me and I made little or no effort to enlighten them. Phillip and my escort I dismissed the next morning. Much as I would have liked them to stay, their presence would have hindered my progress with my oh-so-charming host and I suspected I would be too sorely tempted to ride off on Phillip before I managed to accomplish anything here. Phillip was very reluctant to go, but he left only after I agreed to send a courier to find him if the Dwarfs got out of hand. Since I had not brought any couriers with me, the good Horse contacted a local family of Fruit Bats that were willing to carry messages for me.
"All your baby sitters run off?" teased one of the Dwarfs as I stepped alone into the long house for breakfast. The Dwarfs were bustling about and seemed incapable of doing anything quietly. Luckily I had been up for a while. I am not the best company in the early morn.
"No," I returned. "I dismissed them. I didn't want you to feel frightened."
The old dame laughed, setting a plate of food before me and pouring me something dark to drink. I thanked her warmly and bid her good morn.
"You like beer?" demanded my companion.
I tasted the bitter stuff in my cup. It was positively grainy on my tongue. "Yes, I do. What is this?" I stared into the liquid's murky depths, hoping this wasn't what they meant by beer.
"Ha!" yelled a new voice. Brickit strode in. "That's one for the tadpole, Brint!"
"My name," I said, "is Edmund."
Brickit snorted. "Not even a tadpole, this one. Spawn you are."
I ignored him and attacked the plate of eggs and toast.
He dropped heavily beside me. Sandwiched between Brint and Brickit, I realized they must be brothers or close cousins for they looked much alike and had the same mannerisms. Brickit reached right across me to snag a piece of toast from Brint's plate. "You speak as if I should care about such things, whelp!"
"What do you care about?"
With a hardened sneer he reached for his belt. On the table before me he set a double-bladed dagger of exquisite and intricate workmanship. The metal shone with a silvery blue tint, the keen edge flashing in the faint light. It was as elegant as it was beautiful.
"Steel," Brickit hissed. "The finest, purest metal in all of Narnia. Its secret is mine and my family's. Take it in your hand, Spawn. You'll never hold better."
I obeyed. The knife was a little unbalanced for my larger hand and longer fingers, but even my inexperienced eye could tell it was a weapon unparalleled.
"It's beautiful," I said, setting it down again. My admiration pleased them. After a moment of deep consideration Brickit demanded,
"So. You're here. Barely invited. A burden to us all. What do you intend?"
"I intend to secure your good will, as I said. You care about steel and metalwork; I care about Narnia and her defenses. The better the weapons, the better the defense."
He huffed and Brint faintly echoed the sound. "Huh. What's that to me?"
"Everything if you want to keep working your craft in peace."
He shrugged. "Peace I had until last night when you darkened my doorstep."
I smirked, tasting that awful beer again and wondering if it was possible to grow used to something so bitter. "Peace you have because the White Witch was overthrown last Sunbend."
Brickit glowered, though at me or his memories I could not say. There was no denying the truth of my words.
"Would you prefer the rank and file of Narnia's soldiers to depend upon inferior weapons? Because even the smiths at Cair Paravel very grudgingly admit that Blue River steel is superior to theirs."
"Ha! And well they might!" crowed the Dwarfs, pounding the table in delight.
"Spy!" decided Brint, pointing at me. "He's a spy for them eastern smiths!"
Not even Brickit could support so outrageous a claim. When I rolled my eyes at the accusation he imitated the gesture. The old dame passed by with more 'beer' and swatted Brint in the head and snapped,
"He's a king, ain't he? Kings have no cause to spy and why should he when all he wants is weapons?" She glared at Brickit. "You listen a'him well, Chief Smith Brickit, and keep your tongue behind your thoughts."
I realized this must be their mother because neither Dwarf dared make an answer. We waited in cowed silence until she bustled away and then the interview continued.
"So what is it you and these other lofty monarchs of Narnia wish of my lowly smithy?"
"If I were so lofty then I wouldn't be sitting here and if you were so lowly then I really wouldn't be sitting here," I replied.
"What do you want of us?"
"We want you to make us weapons. Swords, armor, lances, knives, and so on. We simply ask that you work for us and with us. You'll be well paid."
"I should expect so. Is this 'we' the four of you or the royal we?"
"I'll let you choose."
"How do I know you're any better than her late majesty?"
I swallowed, taking a moment before I made my reply. "Did she come to you herself? Did she ask or did she threaten? Did she give you any reason under the stars to trust her?"
"No," he admitted. "But then you haven't given me a reason to trust you, either."
I thought of pointing out how being here at all, alone, armed only with Shafelm and that back on my pallet, were blazing shows of trust on my part and my siblings', especially Peter's. Instead I said, "Then tell me how I can give you reason."
He gave me an assessing glare. "Afraid of a little dirt, Your Majesty? Can kings work?"
I gave the look right back. "Try me."
Chapter 4: Trying
Chapter Four: Trying
Chapter Four: Trying
Blessed Aslan, I never knew a person could be so worn out. Lock me in the training grounds with Kanell and Oreius any day over being the poor brute that has to clean not only a blast furnace but the oven for tempering coal as well. Dirtier, dustier, greasier, smellier tasks cannot be imagined. I scrubbed and scraped stone-lined walls and hauled away barrow after barrow of ash and grit. By the end of the day I was regretting not bringing Martil as I emerged from the oven coated with a sticky, tar-like byproduct of coke, with a layer of ash atop that. I reeked of smoke and burnt oil. My clothes were a complete loss and my boots had gone from maroon leather to a nasty patchwork of black soot and sticky tar and dirt. To top it off, it was a cold, rainy day and perfectly miserable in every respect. I must have looked a sight, because the entire settlement turned out to see me when I was done. Brickit, who had assigned me these jobs with a wicked gleam in his beady eyes because he knew I couldn't back down, thrust his frizzy head into the oven to inspect my work.
"Not as clean as it could be," he muttered, shaking his head.
I was sorely tempted to hit him over the head with the bucket I carried, but that would not have secured me anything but an even crankier Dwarf with a concussion. Another annoying factor in all this was that all the brushes and brooms and shovels I had used today were scaled down to a Dwarf's size, effectively doubling the workload, so I considered the bucket inadequate for my intent.
"I'd like to see you do better," I said, setting down the bucket to keep temptation at bay.
"I'm sure you would, but the Chief Smithy does not engage in such lowly tasks as scraping tar off of ovens. We reserve that job for tadpoles and spawn and visiting kings."
I stepped away from the bucket.
"Still," he muttered, eyeing me, "it could be done worse considering this oven hasn't been cleaned in years."
"What?" I exclaimed.
"Mmm. Ovens really don't need to be cleaned. Easier to just build new ones when they get this clogged up."
I gave him my deadliest glare.
He smiled, delighted with having infuriated me. "Besides, we just trade with our cousins in the Moon Mountains for coke these days. It's much easier than making our own."
I looked longingly at the bucket as I collected myself. I banished fantasies of cracking him over the head and forced myself to adopt a pleasant expression and voice. "So you're saying all this work was for naught."
"Not the blast furnace, which could have been cleaner."
Temper, Ed, I heard Susan's soft voice in my mind. Temper indeed! It was boiling, but if I blew up now I'd just be giving Brickit what he wanted. The Dwarf was positively glowing with smugness.
"Shall I remind you of your own words?" quoth he with a little too much glee. "Try me."
By the unspoken rules of such combat, I had to concede his victory. Still, I wasn't going to go down without a fight and there was no way I was leaving the field without drawing some blood of my own. Victory may be his, but it would not be complete.
"Well done," I replied. "Do keep trying, Chief Smith."
All I wanted to do was collapse on that lumpy, so-called bed they had given me and not wake up for a week. My arms ached and my knees were sore from crouching and kneeling. My head was pounding from the stench and fumes. Still, I was too filthy to sleep comfortably without washing up. I pulled out the saddle bags that held my supplies and hunted for some soap. It was then that I found the note tucked in amidst my extra clothes. It was addressed to me and I recognized Susan's handwriting. I sat down on the floor, gingerly stretching out my legs, and broke the wax seal to read:
Aslan's blessing upon you, brother, and this mission you've undertaken. I know it won't, can't be easy, but don't lose sight of what it will mean for us and Narnia in the end. And for you as well! Look for a balance between their needs and wants, and ours. It's there, you just have to find it, and when you do, nourish it.
Don't worry about Peter worrying about you. Lucy and I will keep him busy.
With much love,
I smiled. Asking Peter not to worry was like asking the sun not to rise or the winds not to blow. It was as much a part of him as his protectiveness and his big feet. Beneath Susan's note, written in bright green ink, was Lucy's rougher script. She had yet to master the quill and I smiled at the splotches here and there in her note.
By the time you've found this you'll have left Cair Paravel, but I as I'm writing it you're still here and I miss you already. I'm wishing you were back before you've left. I know what you're doing is very important, but please don't push yourself too hard. I know you don't think you do, but you do. Trust me on that. Just do your best and I'm sure the Dwarfs will be very nice. I've been told Black Dwarfs can be grumpy, but then you can be grumpy and nice, too.
P.S. Susan's right, we'll keep Peter too busy to worry!
I sighed, pleased that they had written this and glad I hadn't found it on the journey to the Blue River. I knew I had their support but it was nice to have that backed up in writing, especially after such a trying day. I read it again, wondering at Susan's words. And for you as well. What did she know that I didn't? I was trying to prove myself, that I knew, but to whom?
I leaned back, too tired to think or move as exhaustion settled in upon me. I fell asleep where I sat, still filthy and reeking from my first, rather awful day as a diplomat.
Chapter 5: Sparks
Chapter Five: Sparks
Chapter Five: Sparks
"Why is he sleeping on the floor?"
"Maybe boys don't sleep in beds or he doesn't like his."
"Do you think he went to sit down and missed?"
"Quiet, Brack! He'll wake up!"
"That's only why Gran sent us here, Baia!"
Voices - young voices - penetrated the thick, heavily reinforced walls of sleep that protected me from the world and the world from me. I ignored them, desperate to go on dreaming of a hot bath.
"But he's so tired! He fell asleep in his work clothes! Gran would let him sleep!"
"Gran's not the Chief Smith any more, is she? Come on, we have to wake him or Uncle Brickit will be angry."
My shoulder was seized and I was shaken a little too roughly for manners. I woke up all at once and with a savage growl, my right hand going for my left hip even though my sword was hung on the wall. I swung at the hand on my shoulder at the same time, knocking someone away and shouting something incomprehensible to anyone, myself included. Two small shrieks rang out and there was a tramping of feet as my visitors . . . attackers . . . awakeners ran off.
I let out a groan as I forced my eyes open and my situation came back to me in one great and unwelcome rush. I was still seated next to the pallet. Every muscle in my body seemed to have seized up and cramped simultaneously. I had the most horrid taste in my mouth and when my stomach gave a growl I realized I hadn't eaten since the midday meal yesterday. When I tried to move I discovered the tarry stuff I'd gotten all over myself had solidified and cracked. I hadn't even removed my boots. I dropped my head back with another groan, longing to just drop back into sleep and suspecting it was futile. I was awake and I was not happy about it.
That's not to say I dislike the morning. I like it very well. I just dislike being woken up. Peter knew, from years of trial and error, how to go about it best: a poke here, a call there, a pillow whipped across the room. Grabbing me and shaking me is not the wisest course of action.
With effort I stood and made my stumbling way to the wash basin. I didn't dare look in the mirror - not that my bleary eyes could focus so well yet - and I splashed icy water on my face. It didn't help and in moments the water was too filthy to use. There was nothing else for it. I had to wash in the river despite the temperature. Muttering under my breath, I took soap, took a towel, forgot clean clothes, and shuffled out into the damp morning air and straight into Brint.
Hands on hips, his features twisted into a scowl, his surly crossness was not nearly as impressive as his brother's. He looked about to upbraid me for my rude awakening but before he could draw breath, I let out a vicious sound between a hiss and a growl that shut him up and made him take a step back. I was almost at the edge of the compound when he finally sputtered at my back,
"And a good morn to you, too, Spawn!"
By the time I made it to the long house, breakfast was almost over and word of my conduct had spread throughout the smithy. By the heaping plate of food the old dame set before me and the pinch she gave my cheek as I thanked her, I gathered I had either impressed or intimidated the lot of them. Seeing as how she smiled and the men tried to suppress their laughs, I suspected it was the former case. Still, I needed to apologize to my unfortunate victims. Well, the children sent to rouse me, anyway.
"Do you always wake up so well?"
I looked up to see Brickit standing across from me. I noticed he kept the table between us. Perhaps I had intimidated them.
"Not always so well," I replied, telling the truth. I took a mouthful of that awful 'beer' and he laughed as I grimaced. With effort I swallowed the stuff and asked, "So what will I do today?"
Shrewdly, he scrutinized me. "Today . . . you run coal."
I had no idea what that meant, but I did not like the sound of it any more than I trusted his smug grin. I dared not sigh out loud, but I knew full well I was in for another exhausting day. I could only hope I'd have enough energy left to make it as far as my bed.
At least I couldn't complain about being cold today, because I spent most of time next to a furnace. I was assigned to a team of four Dwarfs - a master smith and three apprentices - and it was my job to fetch and carry. We worked in a structure with only two walls and a roof, one of four such buildings that comprised the heart of the smithy. Initially the Dwarfs were all churlish and rude, but as the work started in earnest there was no time for bad manners.
The work they were doing fascinated me - they were forging spearheads and it was amazing to see the plain metal being turned into beautiful, shining points. Somehow they were able to make each one exactly the same. The ring of the hammers and the hiss of steam mixed with their voices and the roar of the fires blended into an odd sort of music and I enjoyed the day even though I could not watch as much as I wanted to.
"Coal!" snapped the Master and I tore myself away to shovel more coal into the furnace. It was dusty, sweaty work, though I had to keep my leather jerkin on to protect against the flying sparks. None of them resisted the impulse to call me Spawn, though when I didn't respond they all learned my name quickly enough.
More sparks flew at the end of the day. Brickit came by to inspect the two dozen spear points that had been produced in our little corner of the smithy and he grunted with approval at the wares laid before him. He found a flawed one that got tossed into the heap of shavings and bits to get reworked. I was eager to see why he had rejected it and I strained for a glimpse of it. Catching sight of my intense interest, he picked it up again.
"See here?" he pointed to a wrinkle in the shaft. "Looks like a caterpillar? Uneven blending of steel. Apprentice work, that. If this were to break, it would happen here. But," he tossed the spearhead back into the scrap heap, "it won't get the chance. Restock the coal then put up your shovel and barrow, Spawn. You can clean out the ash in the morn when it's cooled. The rest of you, clean up!"
I nodded my thanks, surprised at being dismissed so lightly but anxious to go wash. I was done in minutes, a few barrowfuls of coal sufficing to refill the bin. As I put the shovel back on its hook one of the apprentices called,
"You! Put these tools away. Make sure they're cleaned!"
"Aye," another added, "and give the floor a good sweep."
I turned and faced them. The Master had already left and it was just me and three Dwarfs twice or thrice my age and not quite my size. I recognized their bullying tactics all too well and I knew I had to end this right here and now.
"I don't think so," I said. "I'm here to do my own job, not mine and yours. If you're so lazy that you don't wish to do your own work, then don't. I believe the Master and Chief Smith will know who's responsible for what."
And without another word I left, well satisfied with the day.
Chapter 6: Colors
Chapter Six: Colors
Chapter Six: Colors
"See? He slept in the bed this time!"
"Brack, do you think he'll shout again?"
"Maybe. I hope. Papa said he didn't talk for almost an hour after he woke up."
"Maybe he couldn't."
"He might just like to growl like the talking Bears over in the Lantern Waste!"
Why, why, why wouldn't they let me sleep? I lifted my head with a moan and I was rewarded with muffled giggles. I finally spotted my tormentors: a boy and a girl, both very young, both very small. I muttered something unintelligible and dropped back down on the poor excuse for a pillow beneath my head.
"Time to get up, Edmund!" said the boy, giving me a shake. I swatted back in a futile attack and forced my eyes open just to glare at him. It rather lost the effect when I shifted a bit and almost fell off the pallet.
"He's up! Come on, Baia!"
Up. Brack said that so easily. When I got home I was going to sleep for a week. A month. I slowly pushed myself to a sitting position and I was surprised to see the little girl standing beside the bed studying me.
"Good morn," I rasped, barely human at this hour. I swung my legs over the edge of the pallet and jarred my feet. I kept forgetting how close to the ground the beds were here. "Ow."
She bobbed a little curtsy. "Good morn. Your hair is mussed."
She went over to the dressing stand and came back with my comb, handing it to me expectantly. I sighed, dragging it through my hair once or twice.
I handed the comb back. "You fix it."
She obliged, spending a few moments making me more presentable. I leaned heavily into my hand so she could reach my hair and tried to stay awake.
"What is your name, my lady?" I asked.
She giggled at being called lady. "I'm Baia."
"My name is Edmund."
She found a knot amidst my tangled hair and tackled it enthusiastically. The pain of having hair ripped out of my head went far towards waking me. "I know. Are you really the king of Narnia?"
"I'm a king of Narnia. My brother Peter is king, too."
"Does he look like you?"
"Not really. Peter looks like our father and I look like our mother. His hair is yellow and his eyes are blue and he's taller than me."
"Yellow?" She sounded horrified and I supposed she had only ever seen dark hair all her life. "His hair?"
"Yes, goldish-yellow. It suits him. He's very nice," I added, feeling a need to champion him. "Nicer than me. At least in the mornings." That last I muttered, and Baia smiled at my tremendous yawn before growing serious. I then found myself the subject of a long and intense examination, and through bleary eyes I returned the favor. Baia had very large, brown eyes and straight black hair hanging in a braid down her back. She was rather cute and it was nice to converse without having to constantly defend myself.
"Are you done growing? You're the tallest person I've ever seen besides the Dryads in the elm trees."
"Not yet. I'm not a Black Dwarf, you know. I'm a boy. We can grow quite tall. At least I hope I do," I confessed.
"I thought you were grown up already. You're tall and you talk like a grown up."
"I suppose I do," I agreed. "It comes from being a king and being blessed by Aslan and talking to a lot of different types of people. I have some strict teachers, too. One of them teaches me how to speak and how to argue."
She blinked. "He's a good teacher."
My day was very similar to the one before except for the fact that two out of three apprentices tried to make my life difficult. They left things in my path and one of them, Bort, wasted a lot of time trying to trip me. My training under Cair Paravel's three sword masters stood me in good stead and I dodged their traps and ambushes easily enough. The Master caught on to their shenanigans when he tripped over a set of tongs and planted his bearded face into the sand floor. The third apprentice, the only girl in the group, brushed the sand from his beard and quietly advised him that one of her peers had deliberately set it there and why. What followed was a rather spectacular explosion of curses, oaths, threats (some of which were carried out on the spot with my coal shovel), shouts, and sundry other displays of fury that disrupted and amused the entire smithy.
I was very impressed by the Master's vocabulary and his sense of what was right, though I wasn't sure if he'd have behaved quite so quickly if I wasn't a guest of sorts and a king. Later, when I got to know him better, I was happy to learn that he would have responded so loudly regardless. Black Dwarfs may be caustic, rude, and obnoxious but that doesn't mean they tolerate unjust conduct or condone bullies.
"And Edmund! Don't hesitate to crack them in the head as I have done if they disobey the rules of conduct again!" Handing me back the shovel, he rounded on the hapless pair of apprentices. "This is a smithy, not a playpen for children! If you want to play games, go back to your homes at the Caldron and bother me no more!"
Thus ended the tirade that left Bort and his comrade quaking in their boots. It made for a satisfying afternoon and thereafter they left me alone. I still fetched and carried and they could still call for coal and water and supplies, but they did their own work and dared not murmur about it.
Later in the day I was returning from the river lugging two buckets of water (and for once I was glad the buckets were small and therefore not so heavy) when I noticed something that gave me pause. I set my burdens down to rest my sore arms and stared across the compound where another master smith and apprentices were sharpening and shaping some axe blades on grinding wheels. Long streams of sparks flew off the union of metal and stone like fireworks.
"Now what?" demanded Brickit, striding across the compound towards me and waving his arms in annoyance. "Haven't you caused enough trouble for one day, Spawn?"
I ignored his rudeness and kept staring. "The sparks are different."
I pointed. "The sparks are different. On the middle wheel they're long and white but on the other wheels they're shorter and red. Why?"
My observation momentarily startled him, but he hid it quickly. "Cast iron and steel, boy. Soft metal gives a longer, lighter spark. Dense metal has short, red sparks. I'm surprised you noticed."
It was my turn to share that feeling. "Why?" I returned. "I'm here to learn."
He snorted. "What about securing my good will?"
I smiled and picked up the buckets. "Isn't that the same thing?"
Chapter 7: Letters
Chapter Seven: Letters
Chapter Seven: Letters
Sorry to bother you while you're charming the Dwarfs, but the Weavers' Guild from Anvard and Chiya-by-the-Sea got here sooner than anyone anticipated - two days after you left - and we got right into negotiations since the Sheep and Alpaca and all the other Narnain representatives were present and eating up the evergreens in the formal garden. We reached an agreement after three days (who knew dyes and wool could be so valuable?) but then the Weaver's Guild got stubborn and insisted that they needed the agreement of all the monarchs on the document to legitimize it. Personally I think they just want it for show, but could you sign this copy of the agreement and write me up something authorizing me to put your seal on it? The Guild members aren't a bad lot, but they keep looking behind the tapestries and moving the carpets and if Oreius trips one more time on a rolled-up rug I think we'll be minus a weaver or two. Some of them brought their families, too, and one of the little girls tried to pick up that big Rabbit buck, Lt. Porida, and carry him around. It was not good. If nothing else, do it to save the garden because the Dryads have taken to swatting the Angora Goats if they get too close.
I hope things are going well with your own negotiations and there hasn't been any bloodshed. The girls are driving me mad. They won't leave me alone and I can't get any studying done. Speaking of girls, Blait found me yesterday with a belated suggestion for you to try to win over the women of the smithy. I suppose it's some unspoken secret in Dwarfish circles, but the women have a great deal of authority and influence over the menfolk and if the ladies like you that will go far towards to bringing the men around. He mentioned something about being served bad food and cold beds and no laundry getting done when the women are not pleased, so if you're in need of allies, look to the ladies.
Hurry home. I miss you. It's two against one and quiet moments are a thing of the past. I even miss your snoring.
I smiled faintly as I finished the letter, then I looked up to the Centaur officer before me. He and a handful of swift-moving soldiers had clattered into the smithy at a dead run a little after the midday meal to deliver Peter's letter of two days ago. My appearance had shocked them almost as much as the fact that I was shoveling coal for anxious Dwarfs that bellowed and shouted during some vital point in producing wire. The Centaurs had to wait beneath their brilliant lion banner until the master saw fit to dismiss me and now they were trying hard not to be scandalized at the sight of a king blackened with coal dust and ash.
"The agreement with the Weavers' Guild," the lieutenant said, producing another document.
"Not with these hands," I replied, displaying my filthy palms. Peter's letter was covered with smudges and I could feel the grit coating me. "Let me wash up first."
"Oi!" demanded a familiar voice. "Oi, where you think you're going, Spawn?"
The towering Centaur and Elk soldiers looked with interest and amusement as Brickit stomped over in a fit of fury. I stopped and turned as the Chief Smith cast the little band a sneer. His face was red and his frizzy hair stuck out at odd angles and he was positively dancing with pent-up rage.
"There's work as needs being done!" he sputtered, clearly showing off before the army.
"The master dismissed me for the now, Brickit. I have some royal duties to attend to and a letter to write for the High King."
"What, he can't write his own?"
I displayed Peter's letter. "He writes quite well, Chief Smith. Far better than you. I just have to read and sign a trade agreement and authorize him to use my seal. Is that so difficult?"
I knew that would be his response. He had worked himself into quite the foul mood and he planted himself right before me.
"Wire won't shovel coal!"
"Then let Bort do it!" I said just as loudly. "And seeing as how I need a witness to my signing the agreement and authorizing Peter to make use of my royal seal, I hereby appoint you."
I stalked over to the trough where we all washed up at the end of the day. I hastily scrubbed my arms and hands clean and ducked my head in the cold water to work some of the dust out of my hair. Only then did I take the agreement from the lieutenant. I looked to the Dwarf.
"You think that by having some fancy-pants soldiers show up uninvited and unwanted and trampling through this smithy you can start ordering a Dwarf around in his own home? I think not!"
"Centaurs don't wear pants, sir, and royal appointments, no matter how brief, are not given lightly." I lowered my voice and leaned close. "Unless you want to feed four Centaurs, Brickit, give me half an hour and they'll be out of your beard. I need two signatures out of you. Wouldn't you like to see your signature on a trade agreement with Archenland?"
I'm not sure which appeal reached him - feeding Centaurs or signing official documents - but he drew himself up to his full height and snapped,
"Fine! Fine! So long as this is the last we see of them. Fine!"
"Thank you," I replied. "Lieutenant, have you paper and ink?"
"Aye, majesty," he said, and he slid a small satchel off his shoulder and handed it to me. "Queen Susan sent this for you."
I opened it up. Inside was paper, Gryphon quills, and a small bottle of ink.
"Bit of a hint, that," commented Brickit sarcastically, peering in at the gift.
"Rather," I agreed. "Wait here, sirs."
"I, Spawn, by the grace of Aslan, sometimes called the Just, King of Narnia and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Table, hereby grant and authorize my elder brother, High King Peter, sometimes called the Magnificent, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion, Emperor of the Lone Islands, etc., the right and authority to affix my royal seal upon the trade agreement with the Weavers' Guild of Anvard and Chiya-by-the-Sea dated the twenty-first day of Mayblossom, 1001. Signed by me and witnessed by Brickit, Chief Smith of the Blue River Smithy on the banks of the Blue River by Aundroe Pass."
"I know what it says, Brickit, I just wrote it."
"La, very fancily wrote. Too bad you can't spell your own name, boy."
I suspected he was rather tickled to have his signature affixed to something so official sounding because it was the third time he'd read it aloud, each time replacing my name with his nickname for me. I was too absorbed in reading the agreement to pay him much heed. Peter was right about dyes and wool being valuable. No wonder the cashmere and angora Goats was so smug about their wares.
"What's the etcetera?"
"What?" I looked up.
"Etcetera. What else is this Peter?"
He spoke my brother's name with unwarranted contempt, probably because I was here and Peter wasn't. I blinked, my mind on textiles, not titles. "Um . . . Lord of Cair Paravel, Guardian of the Northern Marches, Master of Redhaven, Grand Duke of Terebinthia and . . ." I wracked my memory for the last of Peter's numerous titles. "Keeper of the Lion's Seal."
"How come you don't have so many titles?"
"I'm more fortunate than Peter is." I failed to mention that I had more titles than I'd listed. I just stuck to the ones most important to us both. Most of them were just for show, anyway. I finished my study of the trade agreement and seizing the quill, I signed my name to it. "Here," I said, sliding the parchment over. "Sign right here."
He complied, writing very large and looking very satisfied. I set the sheet aside for the ink to dry.
"Thank you. I'll be back to work in a few minutes."
"See that you are, Spawn."
I waited until he was gone, then I hastily wrote a letter of my own.
If I ever attempt anything like this again, have the goodness to stuff me into a sack and not let me out until sanity returns. A week? What was I thinking? Lion's mane, brother, it will take a lifetime to get through to these Dwarfs! Brickit is everything Blait warned us he would be. I've been working here in the smithy doing the drudge work and picking up bits and pieces of how they work metal - they're remarkable craftsmen even if their beer is just a step away from something poisonous. I think they're a good people overall, just cautious because they've been hurt in the past.
As for the advice, I think I won the good ladies over from the start. It's amazing how far manners will take you and Brickit's niece has appointed herself my awakener, brave girl that she is. And as for our dear sisters, they worry about you worrying about me, so don't and they'll leave you alone.
I want to succeed here, Peter. I can't back down or they'll never trust us or work with us. I promise I'll write some more soon, but I must get back to the smithy. We're making wire. I miss you and the girls and Martil and decent food and my bed.
P.S. I do not snore.
Chapter 8: Gran
Chapter Eight: Gran
Chapter Eight: Gran
I had to be reminded in the morning that it was Seventhday. I had no idea of what it meant for the Blue River Smithy, but in Cair Paravel my brother and sisters would linger in bed, linger over breakfast, and unless there were any pressing duties, do whatever they chose with the day. I suspected I would not be allowed such liberties.
Sitting in my usual seat at the long table, I took a few moments to watch the Dwarfs as they interacted. Families sat together or close by one another (Baia and Brack sat between Brint and their sharp-faced mother) and while there was a great deal of grumbling going on at all times, it was good-natured and lovingly meant. I noticed that younger girls served the apprentices that were more distantly related, but Brickit's mother made the trip down the length of the table to set a plate before me herself.
I rose to greet her. "Good morn to you, lady, and thank you," I said, taking the warm plate of food: eggs, sausage, mushrooms, all topped with an apple fritter. She smiled and poured me a cup of that brutal beer.
"Eat afore it's cold, Majesty."
"Please, call me Edmund. Most everyone else does."
Her dark eyes sparkled with amusement. "Aye, except thems as wastes their breath calling you Spawn. You can call me Gran, as most everyone does."
I smiled. "That seems too short a title for a grand old dame such as you, but Gran it is, lady."
She chuckled and swatted at me to get on with my meal. I sat down and set to the hot food with good appetite. It was a few minutes before I looked around again. I saw Gran take a seat by Brickit and I wondered that he seemed to have no wife and family besides his mother and brother. I think he would have liked to have children though I was certain he'd do nothing but complain about them endlessly. Family was extremely important to Dwarfs of both the Black and Red clans and children were one of the few things they treasured above gold and jewels.
I finished every last bit of food (Dwarfish plates being disappointingly small) and I was trying to drink the beer without tasting it when Brickit dropped into the seat beside me so abruptly I choked on my mouthful. He gave me a few sharp whacks on the back that almost knocked me into the table as I struggled to recover.
"You won't win any good will by dyin' on us," he grumbled, dropping a plate of fritters before me. "Well, maybe some. Eat. Mother says you're too thin."
His mother must be in league with Susan, then, because she has the same complaint. I happily speared one of the treats and set to, pushing the plate towards Brickit. He gave me a look, then took one.
"I don't know what you do in your palace on Seventhday, but we poor smiths can't not work. There'll be no smithing going on, but there's plenty to keep one's hands busy."
I chewed and swallowed. "Of course. What can I do?"
He grinned and snagged another fritter as he rose. "Whatever my mother tells you."
As it turned out, I had a very good day helping Gran and I learned a great deal on more subjects than I ever expected. It was pleasant not to be yelled at every few minutes even if I had to fetch water and wash dishes and peel enough potatoes to feed thirty-four Dwarfs and one boy.
"Thank you for the extra fritters this morn," I said as soon as I stood before her.
"You need them. Here now, sit you down and take this knife and see you don't waste too much in the peelin'."
I complied, memories of helping my own mother in the kitchen standing me in good stead, because my efforts satisfied her and the other ladies as they prepared the evening meal. On Seventhday they only ate twice, in the morning and then an early supper so that the cooks could have time off.
"He's trying you again," Gran said, bringing her stool close to mine. She carried a great armload of wild fresney and she immediately began to cut the pale new greens from the roots. "Most menfolk, they'd be shamed to be at a woman's beck and call unless she was a master smith."
"I have sisters," I offered as my defense, "I don't mind." I watched her for a moment, taking in her iron-gray hair peeking out beneath her mobcap and her deeply lined face. "Baia said you were once Chief Smith."
"That I was until I couldn't swing a hammer strong enough to do justice to the craft. That was . . . twenty winters or so ago. We were waiting long for you and your kin."
"What was it like? I mean the Winter?"
"Hard. Hard on life. Hard on spirits. We were luckier than most Animals, being able to trade more. A few we helped, but most assumed we worked for her and kept a distance."
I was silent, sorry I had asked, ashamed of the question that rose in my mind that I dared not ask.
Gran looked at me. "We didn't want to. We wanted to work our smithy in peace, but peace there was none. It was right after Brickit stepped in as Chief Smith that they came, demanding weapons and armor for her Fell Beasts. We refused. Then that Minotaur general of hers -"
"Ottman," I provided, hating the sound of the name. I remembered his stench, his slavish devotion to Jadis, his horrifying strength as he shoved me into a tree and ordered me tied up.
"La, that was his name. He came, foul and twisted thing that he was. It was he as killed my son's wife, and she with their first child, as she journeyed home from the Lantern Waste to see her family."
I blinked rapidly, resting the knife on my leg so as not to hurt myself. "I'm sorry," I whispered.
"It was long before your time. You're not to blame, lad. You're to be thanked for ridding us of them." She sniffed, likewise pausing in her labor. "If you can call what we did working for them, then aye, we did, and I defy anyone to blame us. I'll give Brickit credit, though. Never was an order on time or complete and I never thought I'd be proud of a son for producing such shameful quality steel as to make a good smith weep. Too much sulfur and you get a steel so brittle in the cold that just a smart blow or two will crack it. Ottman may have taken his Blaine, but to be sure we fought in our own way and many a life in her forces were lost to Brickit's sabotage."
"I'm glad to hear that," I replied, impressed by his daring.
"So you see why he's hesitant to welcome you with open arms."
"I do. I hope he can see the difference between the likes of Ottman and us."
"He can. Dense he may be a'times, he's no fool."
I picked up another potato. "I meant what I said when I first got here. We do need his good will and good weapons."
"You just keep going as you are, Edmund. Show him you're not afraid and a true king. Truer than that pasty-faced wench as set herself up as queen," she finished in a muttered growl, and I grinned to hear Jadis called a wench.
"Now," and Gran's surprisingly strong hand pushed me down onto one of the benches in the long house. "We make more than weapons here! You've sisters, so you'll appreciate this. Or they will."
The meal was cooking, the room was swept and dusted, and the young girls were resting or sewing or quietly talking. Laid before me was a quantity of silver wire and tools and metal rods of different widths with a shallow shaft cut into their length. There were silver and gold beads and turquoise beads and some brightly colored stones for which I had no name. Without preamble, Gran lifted one of the rods and began to wrap the silver wire around it, twisting the tube as she went.
"Wrap the wire tight," she said, handing it over and guiding my hands. "Each turn right up against the next. Guide it, lad. Feel it. Put yourself into your work."
"What is this for?" I asked. My fingers were turning black from the silver, and the rod grew heavier as I twisted the wire down its length.
Gran snorted and a few of the younger girls came along to see what we were doing. Baia came and sat beside me, watching with her big, brown eyes and learning right along with me.
"Take this," and Gran wielded a small pair of wire cutters, "And fix it in the channel and cut each one on an angle like so. There! Steady now!" She handed over the cutters and watched as I followed her instructions. Soon I had a pile of tiny rings before me.
"So you tell me what this is for," teased Gran.
"Jewelry," I smiled. "I didn't know this was how you made links."
"If we forged each ring we'd take a century to make a suit of mail. String half with beads. We'll make a necklace worthy of a queen."
That night, alone in my snug, low room, I pulled out the delicate little necklaces and bracelets I had made under Gran's instruction and laid them out on my pillow. They were very simple and had a few clumsy links, but I was extremely pleased to have been the one that made them. For Susan I had used silver and turquoise beads and for Lucy every other link held a dark green bead like jade. These would be my thanks for their letters and support. I wrapped the chains in a handkerchief and stowed them in one of the saddle bags before I lay down. Resting my head, I pondered what I had learned. So much lost, so much gained. I felt a great sympathy for what these people had endured, but at the same time I was glad to have a better understanding of them.
I started a prayer to Aslan, hoping he approved of my efforts, asking for his blessing, but I fell asleep before I could finish.
Chapter 9: Relative
Chapter Nine: Relative
Chapter Nine: Relative
The following day was rainy. Not a light sprinkle as my first day here, but a downpour the likes of which turned the yard to mud and swelled the Blue River until it roared by the settlement and turned brown with sediment and was unfit for washing or drinking. I growled and hissed at Brack and Baia when they shook me awake, delighting both of them so completely that they shrieked and clapped their hands before running off to tell everyone again how beastly I was in the morning. Why the Black Dwarfs thought this was a virtue I had no idea, but the sight of my savage, shuffling figure heading towards the long house for breakfast made them smile as if Father Christmas had presented them with a new anvil.
Gran set food before me and without thinking I drank a large mouthful of that so-called beer. First thing in the morn it tasted even worse than I remembered. I was awake immediately, gagging and coughing and trying not to spit it out. I caused such a long and loud scene that everyone turned to watch.
"Can't handle his beer," I heard one of the master smiths mutter in disgust when I could breathe again and they were assured I would survive breakfast.
It was not an auspicious beginning of the day. Everyone, it seemed, was in a mood as foul as the weather, though exactly why I didn't learn until later in the day. The Master was frustrated at the rain and mud since he had intended to show the apprentices how to cast ingots of pig iron for the production of cast iron. The ingots are cast in molds pressed into dry, compressed sand, and it was far too soggy to attempt anything of the sort. The Master had expected to be able to collect the sand from the riverbank today (or, more correctly, for me and Bort to collect it) and his lack of foresight infuriated him. He vented his anger at the apprentices and since I wasn't a viable target for their annoyance, they snipped and snapped at each other. For my part, I was cold and tired and stiff and very glad when noon came and we could eat.
I was surprised when I stepped into the long house to see half a dozen strange Dwarfs seated at the far end of the table talking to Brickit and Brint. A bit rougher-looking than my Dwarfs, they fell silent when they spotted me and just stared with their coal-black eyes. I returned the look steadily. I was used to being stared at by my subjects and a few more hard looks certainly weren't going to affect me.
"Who are they?" I asked Gran as she bypassed the apprentices as usual and served me a bowl of stew and some dark bread.
She glanced up the table, not entirely pleased to have guests. Black Dwarfs are unlike most Narnians in that respect, and I was doubly glad I had been (somewhat) invited. "Cousins. Miners from Moon Mountain."
"Why are they here?"
"Jealousy. They want to see if the rumor is true and if my son has a king at his beck and call."
I smiled for her benefit. "He might, if he'd ever learn my name."
She resisted smiling back and instead gave me a fond poke in the shoulder. "They're an unpolished lot, but sharp. Be on your guard around them."
"La, my lady."
The room was a bit quieter than usual and by the tension in the air I got the feeling the cousins were not well liked by the inhabitants of the smithy. They drank more than my Dwarfs and their language and manners were cruder. I couldn't tell if the dislike was personal or professional, but Brickit was clearly laboring on a diplomatic mission of his own. Everyone ate quickly and returned to work early, glad to escape the place.
I turned, not in the least surprised that it was Brint who called. He beckoned me to join the little party still seated at the far end of the table. They were finished with the meal and were now eating apple cake. I hoped they didn't offer me any because I'd tried to eat a piece of the stuff at breakfast and it was so dense, heavy, and tasteless that I would have sworn a Centaur had provided the recipe.
"Aslan's blessing upon you, cousins," I said politely, sitting down uninvited.
Naming them 'cousins' disarmed them for a moment, but it was an affectionate term we four rulers had adopted to call the population of Narnia. Susan had found the reference in an old document and Lucy had been beside herself to be able to count everyone in the country as part of the family. These miners might not be a pretty lot, but they were no less deserving of the diminutive than anyone else in the land.
"Cousin?" snorted one of the newcomers. "You're not any cousin of ours!"
I smiled benevolently. "Perhaps not, but you're a cousin of mine. Every being in Narnia is."
They didn't know what to make of that. Brickit shot me a warning glare which I chose to ignore. Blait, Chief of the Black Dwarf Clan, had told me in no uncertain terms that I should never exaggerate or evade or tell an untruth when asked a direct question by his people. To establish a reputation for honesty was vital if I was to succeed here, and really, a king should never speak falsely. I'd done that often enough in the past that the bitter aftertaste still lingered on my tongue and served as a lesson to me.
"Why are you here?"
I glanced at Brickit. "I'm here because your cousin is stubborn."
They couldn't argue that fact, though their quick agreement annoyed the Chief Smith.
"So what are you doing at this smithy?" demanded another Dwarf. His tone let me know that he thought little of his cousins' craft. When he bit into his piece of apple cake and I knew he'd be chewing it for a good ten minutes. I wondered if Brickit had served it on purpose.
"Why?" sputtered yet another, wisely avoiding the cake. His long beard was braided and held fast with silver clips, and by his finer clothes I guessed he was the leader of this little troop.
"Because until I learn more that's all I'm good for."
They absolutely did not know what to make of me and, just as with the inhabitants of the smithy, I did nothing to help them in their comprehension. I didn't mind the rude interrogation - they were curious and this was simply their way of asking.
"Let me see your hands," demanded the leader.
I obliged, holding my palms up for them to see. My hands were heavily calloused and around the nails was stained by ground-in coal dust.
"I see you can work, at least," he muttered, disappointed at the proof I presented. "You don't act like a king!"
"You've seen other kings?" I asked, borrowing a phrase my brother had used when so challenged by a very young Faun whose father was in the palace guard.
The Dwarf had a similar reaction to that of the little Faun: a blank look followed by a frown. He poked his finger on the tabletop before him, annoyed.
"But why are you here?"
I answered quietly. "Because I was invited."
They sat back, astounded at so simple an answer to what was them a very complex situation. I smiled and rose to my feet.
"You'll excuse me, good cousins, but the Master promised he'd show me how to draw wire today since we can't cast ingots as he planned. Good day to you."
"Well, Spawn, you confused your new cousins a good deal."
I looked up from the heavy length of wire I was trying to wrap around a wooden spool. The spool was on a crank and I was feeding the wire onto it gradually, but the stuff insisted on twisting this way and that and refused to lie evenly. It had been wrapped before by an apprentice but had not been properly secured and almost half its length had come undone. I was growing flustered as I tried to keep it from tangling more and it must have shown on my face. Brickit stood watching my efforts with mild interest.
"Good," I replied shortly. "It's healthy."
Striding forward, he pushed me off the crank. "Feed it slowly. Let it untwist itself as you go."
I relinquished my position and took up the length of wire, letting it run through my gloved hands to remove any clinging sand as he turned the crank. It was much easier with two people.
"Were they satisfied with what they saw and heard?" I asked after a while.
He gazed at the spool, making certain the wire lay tight and even. "Yes and no."
"Hence the confusion. And what of you, Brickit? Are you satisfied?"
"Yes and no," he echoed. He pointed. "Kink."
I quickly saved the wire from wrapping too tight upon itself and forming a kink. Once the crisis was past I asked, "It will be a week tomorrow. So have I won your good will?"
He was slow in answering. "Not so that I trust you and yours."
"Fair enough," I said, swallowing my disappointment. It didn't come as such a terrible blow, really, because he had said both yes and no. I was fortunate to have made any progress at all. "Tell me what I can do, then."
"I've little experience with kings and boys and spawns," grunted Brickit. "I've only known queens and tyrants and ice. I don't know what to tell you. Not yet."
"I know what you mean," I said quietly, concentrating on the wire.
I fed the last of the cable onto the spool. Securing the end of the wire, he helped me lift the heavy spool off the crank and together we carried to a corner of the shop and set it down amidst a dozen similar spools. Panting a bit, I wiped my brow on my sleeve.
"Well," I said, smiling faintly, "then I'll stay. Let me know if you think of anything I can do."
Chapter 10: Dearest
Chapter Ten: Dearest
Chapter Ten: Dearest
"Who wants to go first?"
"I will! Let me. Mine's the heaviest. There must be something inside!"
"All right, Lu! Prove to us right now that Narnia's younger king remembers how to write."
I giggled at Peter's happy teasing and took a seat on a foot rest close by the fire. Peter and Susan settled down on the floor beside me and we leaned close and warm in the cozy sitting room that divided my room from Susan's. Three letters had arrived today carried by gigantic black Fruit Bats who lived close by the Blue River Smithy. Though there were only three letters, about twenty bats brought them. After talking to them a little while we figured out that they had all wanted to carry the letters to us, so Edmund charged the lot of them with delivering his messages and they had taken turns carrying them.
We had hurried through our evening meal and dessert, making ourselves wait until we could settle down and comfortably enjoy Edmund's news. I missed my brother so much that not opening his letter immediately was almost as bad as waiting for presents on Christmas morning.
I broke the red wax seal and unfolded the thick paper. Something heavy for its size slid into my lap and I carefully lifted a metal arrowhead. It was shaped very much like a narrow aspen leaf with a heavy stem, and there was an delicate scroll design engraved on the flat surfaces. Susan and Peter leaned forward to see it as I lifted it up. It glinted almost mirror-bright in the light of the fire as if in memory of where it had been born.
"It's beautiful," breathed Susan, her eyes aglow.
"And sharp," Peter said, able to tell at a glance. "Careful," he warned as I placed it into Susan's ready palm.
"Read the letter, Lucy," begged Susan, turning the arrowhead so she and Peter could admire it from every angle.
I cleared my throat, and I was so excited I was almost breathless as I read them Edmund's letter. It was dated from two days prior and showed a few scratches from the Fruit Bats' claws.
Thank you for the letter from before I left. I found it my first full day here and I needed it badly. I had spent the day doing useless and very messy work and I was very tired and annoyed. It was good to hear from you and Susan. I hope Peter is behaving.
The smithy is hard by the Blue River, a full two days gallop from the Cair. The Dwarfs here are all from the same branch of their clan with a few distant cousins serving as apprentices. They're not as friendly as the Red Dwarfs we're used to at the palace, but once you get to know them they tend to smile more than scowl. Most of them, anyway. One girl, Baia, is younger than you and she and her brother Brack wake me up every morning. For some reason they think it's fun. Their grandmother used to be Chief Smith and she's taken a shine to me.
I've been working with one of the master smiths and three apprentices. I run around a lot and fetch things and tend the furnace in the shop. It gets fantastically hot and the metal turns white-hot then brilliant yellow-orange and red as it cools down. It's very pretty to see and the master makes the most amazing weapons. I'm including an arrowhead he was going to discard so you can see some of his work. He didn't like the balance on this particular one after it was engraved and sharpened and he let me have it. Pretty, isn't it? They don't believe in making anything plain that can be made beautiful. Be careful, it's very sharp.
I know I said I'd stay a week, but that's not long enough. I'm going to stay longer because I haven't really gained Brickit's trust. They've had their experiences with people that ruled Narnia before and they weren't at all good. I have to show them that we're different in as many ways as I can, and since they respect hard work and sarcasm, I'm the one for the job. It also helps that I have dark hair. Baia was horrified when I told her Peter had yellow hair - they don't like things that are too different from what they're used to. I don't think Peter would have survived ten minutes here.
P.S. Don't tell Peter I said that!
I clapped a hand over my mouth and looked up at Peter, trying not to giggle at his expression. He shook his head, trying to scowl but bursting into a smile that led to a laugh instead.
"Hath he no faith?" cried Peter in mock despair.
"He knows you too well," said Susan, nudging him.
"And what's wrong with being blond?" he wondered, rocking to the side as she elbowed him gently. "As if I can help it."
Susan leaned close, smiling brilliantly at him. "Nothing, Peter, it's just that so far you're the only one we've seen in Narnia. Now read yours."
Grumbling and still shaking his head, Peter broke the seal on his letter.
Deliberately provoking is a gross understatement, dearest brother.
I'm going to stay another week. My apologies to everyone that expected me back and I hope Martil can find enough dust to keep him busy, but I think Brickit is testing me and my resolve . . . among other things. He said I haven't gained his trust but I think - no, I know I've made some headway. He seeks me out now and then and gives me some instruction or help and I think he likes that he hasn't rid himself of me quite yet. I have to use the momentum I've built up to gain his good will. I know I can do it.
I hope the Weavers' Guild has gone away and that the girls have backed off a bit from their 'worrying about you worrying about me' plot. Lion's sake, just don't give them anything to work with, will you? Am I the only one in this family that doesn't worry without good cause?
And I do not snore!
"So you two are driving me mad on purpose?" yelled Peter. He wasn't angry or hurt, not really, he was just teasing us.
"You do worry," I said, realizing we had been crowding him quite a bit.
"Maybe," he said, "but not letting me study won't help!"
Susan gave me back the arrowhead and reached over to put her hand on Peter's knee. "You're right. We were trying to keep you too busy to worry. We won't bother you so much, we promise. He'll be home soon, Peter."
"I'm not worried," he defended. "Not really. I just miss him. We've just never not all been together, that's all. And he does so snore," Peter added under his breath.
"Well, listen to your brother and don't give us cause, then," said Susan, opening her letter.
Here's some of your paper and ink back. Thank you for sending it, I forgot to pack some. Everything here is Dwarf-sized and I probably could only fit a few words on a sheet of their paper anyway.
I think things are going well, though I'm extending my stay. A sennight isn't enough time to see this through. I don't know what I was thinking when I took up this challenge. It's a bigger project than I anticipated, and diplomacy has ended up having some very odd demands, including scrubbing out an oven for making coke and learning how to draw wire. I'm willing to do whatever it takes. I will say that I'm enjoying the work and learning about their craft. I'm not enjoying being woken early every day of the week and the stuff they call beer (there's almost nothing else to drink) could remove the paint off my shield. I suppose I should be grateful they don't try making wine, though Brickit's brother thought he could smoke sausages over a coal fire and ruined breakfast this morning. I liken the Black Dwarf cuisine to that of Centaurs - filling but bland, heavy, and in desperate need of salt.
The Dwarfs here are gruff but on the whole very kind in their way. You'll be happy to hear Brickit's mother thinks I'm too thin, just as you do, and has taken to feeding me extra at almost every meal, just as you do.
I miss you all terribly, but I think these people need us the same way we need them. I have to try my hardest.
Susan pursed her lips, glancing over the letter again. "Oh, he's going to come home hungry."
I laughed and raised a finger. "And in want of a bath."
Peter was smiling fondly as he stared at his short letter and something in his expression struck me as very wise and knowing. I think he was reading between the lines and seeing far more in the words than even Edmund meant. Of us all he knew Ed best and was closest to him. There was pride in my oldest brother's voice as he said,
"He's going to come home a success."
And because Peter had no doubt of that fact, neither did I.
Chapter 11: Spent
Chapter Eleven: Spent
Chapter Eleven: Spent
I could not suppress a groan as I finally sank down onto the wooden bench at the communal table. Every inch of my body was filthy and ached and I knew that without a boiling hot bath between now and going to sleep there was no way I was going to move on the morrow. The only bath available was in the river though, and the thought made me shudder.
The past two days had been an absolute frenzy of productivity at the smithy when a load of finely crushed iron ore arrived unexpectedly from the mines to the south. The ore had been carried across the plains by a trio of Giant brothers who were on their way to Caldron Pool to visit their mother. To the relief of the Blue River Dwarfs, the Giants didn't linger long past breakfast once they tasted the beer.
We had worked each day from the moment we finished breakfast until well into the night to extract the iron from the mineral. It was complex work, more so than I had ever thought it would be, but I saw very little of the actual smelting because the demand for coal never ceased and I never stopped moving. All the furnaces were kept ablaze and Brickit grumbled happily as more raw material was produced. It was almost enough iron to see them into the summer months, he had said as the liquid metal was poured into molds of compressed sand. The molten pools of cooling iron had gone far towards satisfying the Master, and he came dangerously close to smiling at the sight of so much pig iron. They would make cast iron and the steel for which they were famous from this base material. The female apprentice, Binya, most junior of the three, was freed up in order to help me. There was no time for grumbling or petty grudges or even to think about anything other than the level of coal in the bin. We worked together well, Binya and I, wasting no words or precious energy as we got the job done.
Leaning heavily on my hand, I stared at the plate of food set before, unable to bring myself to eat. I was too worn out to have an appetite. I couldn't even smell the food over the stench of sweat and coal and burnt metal that clung to my clothes. Around me, the apprentices ate mechanically. The table was emptier than usual because the children had already been fed and were asleep. I envied them, wishing there was someone here tall enough to carry me to my bed. It struck me as amazing that I was actually longing for that low and sparse little room in Brint's house, and that the short, narrow, lumpy bed therein seemed the height of comfort. Either I was exhausted beyond measure or I had been here too long. The two options were too closely linked to tell them apart.
"Eat," ordered a gruff voice right beside me.
I managed to move my head far enough to look up at Brickit and let out a long sigh. "I'm too tired."
"Eat," he repeated, sitting down with his back to the table. "Spoon in hand, food in mouth. Simple even for you."
I couldn't even make an effort to return insult for insult. "I'm not hungry, Brickit."
"And do you think I want to explain to a king and two queens that you perished of starvation?"
I snorted. "I'm far from that point."
"Then eat and remove yourself a little farther from it."
I couldn't even taste the stewed venison, but a few mouthfuls down my gullet satisfied him. My limbs felt heavy and weak and the even the tiny spoon seemed weighty as lead in my grasp.
"You did good service these busy days, Spawn," he said.
I smiled faintly, too weary and stiff to do more, but happy to hear it.
"Edmund! Edmund, wake up! Wake up, King Edmund!"
I coughed and groaned, too tired still to even swipe or growl at Brint's children. I was rocked roughly back and forth for what seemed an eternity and finally I managed to open my eyes. Brack grinned at me. I hated him.
"Wake up, King Edmund! Wake up!"
"Nnnny," I grunted, pushing myself up and him aside. "Go 'way!"
Giggling, they obeyed, rushing off with more energy than was right. I flopped back down and went straight back to sleep. It seemed like mere seconds before I was being shaken again.
"Edmund! King Edmund, you need to wake up!"
This time I roused with my traditional hiss and bared teeth. Repetition had dulled its effect on Baia.
"Breakfast is served!" Baia almost shouted. "It's dawn!"
"I'm up," I snapped savagely. "I'm up! Go away!"
But I lied. The moment Baia skipped off I was asleep again. Nothing short of dumping me in the river was going to wake me up today and Aslan help the Dwarf that tried it.
"Not fevered, is he?"
The voice was muffled, but even so there was no mistaking the concern in Brickit's tone. I couldn't tell if they were in the room with me or just outside and I honestly didn't care so long as they didn't expect me to move. I was neither awake nor asleep, but in some cozy and heavy place between and I hoped I wasn't called upon to leave it.
"No," Gran patronized. "Exhausted he is. Leave him be and let him sleep. You push him too far, Chief Smith."
"I?" exclaimed the Dwarf indignantly.
"Aye," his mother agreed softly, and in my hazy state I could just imagine the frown she unleashed on her eldest son. It was glorious. "King he may be, and a willing hand in the smithy, but you've forgotten he's not more than a boy. He's of an age to Barlon's son and I don't see you working him so hard."
I could sense his shock as Brickit gasped, "What?"
"You let his height fool you, you fool! He's a child! A child filling a man's role and you set him at labor beyond his years and make his task here a chore. The High King of Narnia has entrusted his only brother to you, Brickit! He's given you an opportunity that has your cousins sputtering jealous and has made the Red Dwarf Clan green with envy. Don't be an ass and waste what your kings offer you. They aren't like her. They're nothing like her."
And on that warm and forceful testimonial, I lapsed back into a sleep so deep that I didn't even dream.
I was awake when the door opened and Baia, shy for once, peeked into the room at me. Too comfortable to lift my head, I just smiled.
"You can come in, Baia."
She didn't smile, but she looked pleased to obey, coming in to stand beside the bed with her hands clasped behind her back. "Mama sent me to wake you and see if you wanted to eat. Dinner is almost ready. Are you hungry?"
"Very." I sat up stiffly and hung my head and coughed. I still felt very heavy and I knew that I would sleep well tonight despite a full day spent in bed. If I didn't stretch the moment my feet touched the ground I doubted I'd be able to stand up straight.
"Gran brought you more blankets. Were you sick?" Baia wondered, fetching my comb. "I was sick this winter and I had a fever and threw up my food. It was nasty."
Her candor and self disgust was amusing. "No, I'm not sick. I was just too tired to get up."
She nodded sagely. "I think you scared Uncle Brickit."
"Did I?" I mused as I dragged the comb through my tangled hair. "Good."
Gran pinched my cheek as I thanked her for the heaping plate of food set before me. It seemed to me the Dwarfs were uncommonly merry for their kind, which really isn't saying a great deal since Black Dwarfs tend to look down upon raucous celebrations as a waste of time. One of the master smiths, the youngest of them, began to recite what at first I thought was a poem. There was a certain pleasing meter to his words. I listened for a little bit and I realized, after almost every word began with a 'B,' that he was telling the family tree to the children. The youngsters all listened raptly and the adults waited with predatory anticipation for a flaw in its telling. I listened for a little while and decided that it had to be the single-most boring thing I'd heard since I set foot in Narnia. I gave my attention back to my dinner and let the sound of the speaker's deep voice lull me like music.
I blinked. The Chief Smith and his brother sat down on either side of me, both of them eyeing me cautiously as if I might break. Brint carried a pitcher of beer and he refilled our cups.
"Much," I said, trying to swallow some of the sour liquid without pulling a face. "Thank you."
"These arrived for you by royal courier over the course of the day," said Brickit, handing over several tightly folded despatches. "Your brother sent them. The last arrived but an hour ago and the courier couldn't wait. My mother didn't want to wake you."
"She wouldn't have been able to," I muttered, suddenly concerned. The wax seals were black, not the normal red, signifying the urgency of the information. I hastily grabbed one of the letters, recognizing Peter's lion seal even as I broke it and unfolded the heavy paper. The message was brief, just a few lines, and I tossed it aside and seized the next. I was aware of both brothers watching me intently as I tore through the despatches. They weren't in any order but all in a similar vein and the last one I opened was the last to arrive.
Chapter 12: King Nancy
Chapter Twelve: King Nancy
Chapter Twelve: King Nancy
Brickit eyed me keenly. "Chaos at the Cair what without you there to spread early morning cheer?"
"No." Intent on the despatches, I ignored his flippant attitude. "Not at Cair Paravel. More of a local disturbance, really."
"Disturbed he is, now," said Brint, nodding sagely.
I jabbed him with my elbow. "Here. Read this if you're capable."
It's definitely a Werewulf and it's heading south along the Great River. It was last seen on the eastern bank not too far outside of Beruna. Oreius has dispatched some soldiers and scouts to the area under Celer. They'll find out if it's a Fell remnant of the Witch's forces or just some unfortunate that's been bitten. Given that it's been avoiding contact, I suspect the former. Luckily we haven't received word of anyone being hurt. I know you're well removed from Beruna, but please do be on your guard and don't travel east until I can get word back to you. Most Narnians are immune to Werewulf bites, but we're not.
I watched Brickit and Brint as they read Peter's last (and most detailed) despatch. Brint moved his lips as he made out the words and it seemed to take an eternity for them to finish. I knew there was no way they could claim they didn't understand because Peter's penmanship was worthy of envy - far more readable than Brickit's scrawl. Better even than Susan's, in truth.
"Those others?" asked Brickit, gesturing towards the stack of letters.
"More of the same."
The Chief Smith frowned at the small pile of paper, which was probably more stationery than he used in a year, and then gave me a quizzical look.
"Is this brother of yours always so nervous?"
"What?" I stared at him and hissed, "Nervous? Lion's mane! There's a Werewulf on the loose!"
He rolled his eyes dismissively. "Well south of here and across the Great River. We needn't worry, Spawn."
"La," Brint agreed. "Seems as if this brother of yours is worried enough for the lot of us."
"Last they saw it wasn't that far away from here!" I argued, trying to get through to them. "Peter's not certain!"
"Took him four letters to get that across?"
I rolled my eyes impatiently. "Brickit, you're missing the point!" Deliberately, it seemed.
"Sure he can be trusted on his own without you?"
I wasn't, but I certainly wasn't going to let them know that. "Peter is far more capable than I am! Now will you listen to reason?"
Brint shook his head. "Far more capable? Not very, then?"
Sighing in mock sympathy, Brickit gave his brother a long look behind my back and went right on teasing me. "King Peter it is? Are you sure?"
"What?" I demanded, confounded and wildly annoyed at the pair of them.
"Very anxious behavior for a king, wouldn't you say, brother?"
"La. Extreme, even."
"As if you have anyone but me to compare him to!" I defended hotly, completely forgetting my original concern at this attack on my only brother.
Brint shrugged. "We make do with what we have. Which isn't much."
"Four letters in a day? Five in a week?" Brickit goaded. "Are you sure you don't have three sisters, Spawn?"
"Perfectly!" I raged, forgetting to keep my voice low. "How could you -"
"Well, they did fulfill the prophesy," allowed Brint in a tone I didn't trust at all. "It never said the Sons of Adam couldn't fret and swoon and worry."
"He does not - oh, that is quite enough! That might have some sting if it didn't come from a Dwarf who wears an apron!"
"Nervous little Nanny he is without his Ned close by," finished Brickit with a wicked gleam in his eye. "Nancy you said he was named?"
I gave him the same look I had given the Boggles at the Stone Table the day I had been knighted. I had killed the Boggles, and Peter and I had slain over a dozen other Fell Beasts including Dwarfs. With effort I clung to what remained of my composure.
"No," I snapped. "Two things, good Dwarfs, before I give in to the desire to knock heads together. First, you will cease mocking your kings. If my brother strikes you as anxious he has good reason!"
"Oh, aye," they agreed far too easily.
"Secondly," I hissed, "my name is Edmund."
Beneath their beards they were grinning. Suddenly it struck me exactly how far I had let them goad me down this path and I felt myself blush furiously. They had planned this from the start and I had walked right into their trap. Blast!
"King Spawn it is," Brickit laughed. "Odd name, but fitting. Now does your brother prefer King Nancy or Queen Peter?"
I stared hard at the table, wondering how much damage I could with such a small fork. It wasn't a very promising weapon. I took a deep breath and grit my teeth. "Brickit?"
Forcing myself to keep my voice low and even, I cast diplomacy to the wind and quietly promised, "You are going to die."
He laughed and pounded the table, and I realized that was the first time I had really heard the sound come from him or had seen him enjoy himself outside of working the forge. For all it was at my (and Peter's) expense, it was very nice to see and hear such genuine pleasure, especially out of a Black Dwarf, for there are those that claim they don't know how to laugh at all. I wondered how rare an event it was for him to let loose in such a way, because the Dwarfs around the room were casting us amused, approving glances.
"La," he agreed, "but not today, Spawn!"
I glowered. "Don't be so sure."
Both of them were laughing even harder than a moment ago and Brickit dug a fifth despatch out of his shirt. He threw it on the table before me, saying, "It arrived with the first one, which is why we let you sleep the day away."
Growling, I snatched it up, recognizing Peter's script.
To Chief Smith Brickit of the Blue River Smithy from High King Peter, greeting!
Allow me to alert you to a possible dangerous situation arising in the neighborhood of the Great River between the Branching of Rivers and the Southern Marches in the shadow of Mt. Pier. A Fell Beast, possibly a Werewulf, has been reported on the eastern bank traveling towards Beruna. I ask that you take every caution with the safety of your people and my brother and refrain from travel in that direction until the soldiers sent to Beruna can secure the area. I am sending this same warning to other settlements in the region, and I will send news through King Edmund as it becomes available.
In thanks for the hospitality you have extended to my brother,
Peter, High King of Narnia
"Guess we have to keep you," chuckled Brickit, wiping tears from his eyes when I looked up from the letter.
They had known all along. They had known and they had taken full advantage of the situation. I didn't know whether to laugh or fume, so instead I loosed my worst glare upon the Chief Smith. "I despise you."
"They mean no harm or disrespect."
I turned to find Brint's sharp-faced wife standing a few paces behind me. I had stepped outside for some fresh air and to cool my temper and she had followed a few minutes later. She seemed worried that perhaps Brint and Brickit had gone too far with their taunting.
"I know, Lady Bly," I said. "My brother and sisters tease me, too, and I them."
"I have not heard my husband or his brother laugh so well since their younger brother was lost to the Winter," she continued. "That they treat you so, rough as it may seem, is just a sign of their fondness for you."
I thought of the numerous swats and smacks I had received from my Centaur teachers as they showed their fondness. At least the Dwarfs' liking didn't come with bruises. So far.
"Are they fond of me?" I couldn't help but wonder.
She smiled, and her features softened. "More than they know."
Chapter 13: Lithin
Chapter Thirteen: Lithin
Chapter Thirteen: Lithin
I'm so, so sorry to do this to you again. I'm afraid it can't wait and I hope you'll forgive me, but you're closest to the problem right now.
Word came yesterday from the Beavers that the families of the Lithin Satyrs, the ones that sided with the Witch at Beruna, are being abused by some of their neighbors – intimidation, refusals to trade for food stuffs, refusals to teach the children, and so on. According to Mrs. Beaver the families had nothing to do with the conduct of the Lithin and they're rather desperate. Can you spare a day to ride over there with the troop I'm sending and meet with the families? We just need a little show of force and royal good will around Lithin and with the families. Susan will be heading out there herself the day after tomorrow, but she can't go until Lady Maturin of Terebinthia departs, for the lady is quite touchy about such things as protocol and a bit out of humor to find herself demoted now that there are humans in Cair Paravel once again.
Celer hasn't spotted the Werewulf as of his last report. It seems to have vanished and I'll admit that makes me nervous. Do be careful, Ed. I'm sending Susan with a large escort and they'll take the road through Pillar Wood, not the Dancing Lawn, to reach Lithin. I've also sent word to King Lune to alert Archenland's northern border, but I doubt the Werewulf will leave Narnia.
If you can't make it, I understand and Lt. Silverwing will go ahead and secure the families until Susan gets there. If you can make it, then my heartfelt thanks to the Chief Smith for his assistance.
I sighed, folding up the hasty letter as I raised my eyes to the massive Mute Swan cob standing before me. Lieutenant Flenleel Silverwing commanded a small troop of soldiers that waited down by the river. To my delight, Phillip had accompanied them and now stood quietly by. The lieutenant fixed me with his small black eyes and shuffled his webbed feet a little impatiently while beside me, Brickit stood with folded arms and splayed legs. The Dwarf was silently fuming at this third interruption from the High King and I knew he thought Peter presumptuous for sending my armor, neatly wrapped in a bundle and strapped to Phillip's saddle.
"Does he do nothing but pick flowers and write to you all day?"
"Not much. He just runs the country and its holdings."
"Well?" Brickit demanded. "Now what can't the Nancy do without you?"
"Don't call him that. He's your High King and mine as well. I have to go to Lithin. It won't take a day."
"Say it correctly, Spawn, and like a proper Narnian or don't say it at all. Lit-hin."
Silverwing, who could speak but rarely did so, hissed at Brickit's abrasive mannerisms. More used to the Dwarf, I just nodded, correcting my pronunciation. "Lithin. Thank you."
Brickit glared. "So first you impose yourself on this smithy, eat of our food, seek our good will, and now we're just a home base for you to gad about the countryside and show away."
"I cannot forget that I am a king and have a duty to fulfill." I handed him the letter. "Innocent women and children are being abused and held responsible for the conduct of their Fell kin. Would you have me stand by and do nothing?"
I watched him as he read Peter's words and his anger at me and the sudden appearance of soldiers shifted to anger at the situation. I suspected he had faced similar accusations in the past. Perhaps he still did.
He glowered, handing back the page. "You'll return?"
"I will." An idea struck me. "Why don't you accompany me?"
By his expression I knew I had caught him off guard. It was a good sensation. "Come as my guide. I'm not as familiar with this part of Narnia as I would like to be. I need your expertise and I may need a royal witness."
"Use your Horse as a witness!"
"He's not mine. I'm his. Besides, you've already been apppointed."
"I never said I'd do it for more than two signatures worth!"
"And I didn't specify the duration of the appointment."
"Half an hour, you said!"
"It didn't take that long. You still owe me at least five minutes."
He stomped his feet. "I'm going nowhere!"
"I'm the Chief Smith!"
"Then see how well you've taught the masters and leave them to their own devices for a day. These are women and children, Brickit, and they're being unjustly accused. If you won't come along, I still must go, and I would very much like to be welcomed back here."
When he said nothing in response I just nodded and unstrapped the bundle from Phillip's back. "I'll be right back."
Luckily the greaves covered the nastier stains on my boots. As I unfolded the heavily embroidered tabard I found my crown nestled securely in the stiff fabric. There was also a small pouch that jingled, and when I opened it I was surprised to see a handful of coins: small golden Lions and slightly larger silver Trees. I looked at them with interest because, surprising as it may sound, as monarchs of Narnia money was something that rarely passed through our hands. Everything was provided for us and so we had few occasions to need currency. Peter's thoughtfulness (and thoroughness) made me smile, though I knew Brickit would not be able to keep silent at the sight of the finely wrought armor and crown. Hastily I finished dressing. It wasn't easy to accomplish on my own as I was used to Peter helping me, but I managed. I transfered Shafelm from the everyday leather scabbard I had worn here to the decorative sheath that matched my armor. The sword's familiar weight on my hip was very comforting. I tucked the pouch of coins into my tabard and as I settled the silvery crown on my hair I realized that I had missed its presence.
I was aware of every eye in the place focused solely on me as I walked back across the smithy. The strong colors of my red and gold tabard and glittering mail were strangely bright and flashed in the faint sunlight. I was used to having people stare, but in this setting it felt odd. Brickit, Flenleel, and Phillip were still waiting more or less patiently, and the Dwarf snorted in professional jealousy as he took in my armor. It was very finely made, even he could see as much though he certainly wasn't ready to admit it.
I had my foot in the stirrup and was about to swing into the saddle when Brickit abruptly snapped,
"Fine! Get up on your Horse, Spawn, and make room."
I gave him a dubious look. Brickit scowled and pointed a stubby finger.
"You invited me!"
I grinned, turning my face away and catching Phillip's amused look. I mounted up and Brickit upended a bucket and stood atop it as a mounting block. Gripping his arm, I heaved and pulled him up behind me. He muttered and shifted until he was comfortable, seizing hold of my sword belt at Phillip's first step.
"Don't drop him, Phillip!" I called, taking the reins loosely.
"Shan't," said my friend as he found a smooth and steady gait. Flenleel took to the air and gestured the soldiers to follow.
"Upriver to Aundroe, and then west," grunted Brickit. "And slow down, ya nag, you'll shake me to pieces!"
But Phillip just laughed.
Chapter 14: Traitors
A/N The mention of electrum is not, I repeat not a self-insert! Honest! The idea of Peter and Edmund's armor being made at Aslan's command comes from Almyra's story The Armor of Aslan. If you haven't read it, you should!
A/N The mention of electrum is not, I repeat not a self-insert! Honest! The idea of Peter and Edmund's armor being made at Aslan's command comes from Almyra's story The Armor of Aslan. If you haven't read it, you should!
Chapter Fourteen: Traitors
I must admit that it was difficult not to show off before Brickit. Surrounded as I was by soldiers, though, I knew that if a single gesture or useless order got back to Oreius I would be feeling the general's gentle correction in the form of a firm smack in the head that had nothing to do with the Centaur's affection and everything to do with wasting time and energy. Besides, there were better ways to prove myself to the Dwarf.
He clung to my belt tightly and eventually gave up complaining about being bounced about. Used to the motion of horse and rider after a little while, he instead launched into a biased analysis of my crown and armor.
"That's not silver you're wearing on that dense head of yours," he called.
"Oh?" I asked, glancing back over my shoulder. He was rather red in the face. "I wondered that it never tarnished."
"It's an alloy of gold and silver. It's valued above gold and jewels because it occurs so rarely in nature. Electrum it's named. It's found just east of Beruna, in the mines beneath Culros' Tower."
"I haven't seen that yet."
"Nor I, I just know that's where them shifty-eyed eastern clans get their precious metals."
I grinned at his description and assumptions as he started telling me how my mail could have been made better. It was a short and resentful list, which told me the Dwarf smiths that had fashioned this suit - and that at Aslan's express command - had done an outstanding job.
"Oi, ya nag! Stop aiming for every bump and dip in the path" snapped Brickit, swatting at Phillip. "I saw that! That was a'purpose!"
As we rode along the Blue River towards Lithin many greetings were called out as we were recognized – Dryads and Nymphs and Talking Animals and Birds sang out to us and we soldiers answered in like tones. Brickit ignored all the greetings called out to him and concentrated on being moody. Naiads appeared in the waters and playfully splashed the soldiers and flirted so outrageously that Lt. Silverwing hissed and landed in the river just to scold them. I just laughed, knowing he'd have no effect on their spirits and that he'd probably lose his voice in the process.
The cob caught up with us in a few minutes, looking grumpy and ruffled enough to rival the Dwarf riding pillion behind me. I knew he'd failed in his mission against the Naiads. Waving him forward to join me, I said,
"We're almost there. Do you know exactly where these families live?"
Flenleel looked back at the archers and a Faun hurried forward. "I am familiar with the area, King Edmund, and I can lead us to them."
"Not directly," I decided. "Lead us around Lithin. My brother asked us to make a small show of force and good will. We'll ask about for them. Let word spread." I looked at Brickit. "Walk or ride?"
"Walk, Spawn. Aslan did not make Dwarfs to be parted from the earth."
We walked. Brickit kept close and growled impatiently at Phillip. The Horse had taken a shine to the Dwarf (or perhaps he simply enjoyed annoying him) and spent a good deal of time sniffing and nuzzling him and making a pest of himself as only Horses can. It was very entertaining from my perspective. I asked almost everyone we met if they knew where the families of the Lithin Satyrs dwelt. Many people looked surprised or uncomfortable or a little ashamed and directed us to the northwest and the caves there. I smiled pleasantly and thanked everyone and left a sense of guilt in my wake, though I rebuked no one. These Narnians knew their own failings.
One old Faun, clearly one of the ringleaders against the families, snorted at us. "I know why you're here," he snapped, stamping a hoof and pointing at me. "You think we'll accept them! Forgive them! They're the sons of traitors and deserve what they get!"
I froze, my heart skipping a beat, and I felt myself go a little pale. As I turned to face him, I thought of Peter and the pacific calm my brother displayed when confronting such ignorance and inflexibility. I had seen him do it a hundred times on my account and now I drew upon his example. Do not react, I heard my brother's firm voice in my head as I looked for the right words, but defend yourself without growing defensive, Ed. I took a deep breath and kept my features bland, but when I spoke my voice was loud enough for everyone to hear.
"So what will you call my sons?"
The old Faun's eyes grew huge as he realized exactly what he had said and to whom. I waited. I could feel Phillip seething in fury and I knew the Horse and many of the soldiers were glaring at the Faun. Silverwing hissed dangerously. Brickit watched through narrowed eyes, his arms folded tight across his chest. The tension became almost unbearable.
"I beg your pardon, King Edmund," the old Faun stammered, unable to meet my eye any longer. He bowed his grizzled head in shame.
I thanked Peter a thousand times over in my thoughts as I quoted him directly. "It's not my pardon you need to beg, sir," I said, and I knew my brother would be proud of me.
My spirits were dampened somewhat after challenging the old Faun. Such confrontations were growing fewer in number, but they were always draining and left me shaken. Peter's sterling example had taught me that facing the truth squarely usually resulted with the accuser feeling embarrassed for their conduct, such as in this case, and repetition had eased my own reactions. We stopped a distance away from the scene and I took a moment to collect myself. Leaning my head on Phillip's neck, I made myself match the Horse's long, slow breaths and let calmness and balance return. Idly, I combed his mane with my fingers, the gesture an almost unconscious need to touch someone dear to me. I wondered at myself, for a year ago I would not have done anything so demonstrative. Still, learning to show affection like this was worth a thousand battles with the likes of the old Faun, and Peter's loyalty and faith in me was my foundation.
"Better?" Phillip pressed, nudging me with his nose.
"Much," I replied, managing a bit of a smile.
Brickit was unusually quiet as we made our way to the caves, but I was aware that he was watching me closely, gauging me and my conduct here in my domain versus his.
There were five families in all. The caves they inhabited were snug affairs, not unlike Mr. Tumnus' home, but not nearly as well furnished. I was not surprised to see that the wives and daughters of the Lithin Satyrs were Nymphs and the sons were Satyrs. When Nymphs bear sons they are always the same race as the father while the daughters take after their mothers, which is why there are no female Satyrs or Fauns and no male Nymphs. The wives of the Lithins were unusually grave for Nymphs as they stepped out into the sunlight to greet us. To me they curtsied, all of them very curious and nervous and perhaps even a little frightened.
"Good day, ladies," I said. "I hope we are not disturbing you."
"Not at all, King Edmund," said one of them, a tired-looking girl with pale blue skin and hair. Her clothes were very worn and she looked as if she could use a healthier diet. "May I ask why you have come?"
"Because you need me."
And she burst into tears.
We stayed a few hours with the Nymphs, meeting their families and listening to what they would tell us. I sent the soldiers to collect some wood to restock their depleted supply of fuel and I gave the Faun archer a handful of silver Trees to get them enough food to last a long while. The gold Lions I distributed among the wives. As it turned out, not all the neighbors judged them as harshly as the old Faun, but there were enough people of his way of thinking to make their lives very difficult and their future uncertain.
"My sister Susan will be here in three or four days," I promised them. "She'll be better able to sort out the schooling issues and making sure that you are left in peace."
"We did not agree with our husbands' views," said one of the Nymphs as we sat in her cave drinking tea. Like her blue-skinned sister, she looked weary and spent. "We did not see the White Witch as our queen. But they were still our husbands and they provided for us."
"We'll do everything we can to help."
She smiled as she looked through the open door. A number of small Animals had gathered on the edge of the clearing. Some looked curious and some looked contrite and a few carried bundles or baskets.
"You've already done a great deal, Sire."
I had Brickit back at the Blue River Smithy before sunset. He had been very closemouthed on the ride back and I suspected he was as lost in thought as I was. The few children of the smithy were lined up to meet us and to see the exotic-looking soldiers in the troop, for Swans and Zebras and Lions usually preferred to stay in more open areas. I think the Animals were equally curious. Dwarf children are rarely seen because they do not leave their homes until they are adults.
"You'll head back tonight?" I asked Flenleel as I assisted Brickit down from Phillip's back. The Chief Smith grunted and stretched his sore legs, complaining as he walked about stiffly. Phillip nuzzled at the back of Brickit's neck, producing a sputtered curse from the startled Dwarf.
Silverwing nodded to me, ducking his head low as we both ignored the many variations of the word 'nag' being thrown at my mount.
"Good. Be careful. Give me a moment to get this armor off and Phillip can carry it back for me. Give a full report to the High King and the queens. They'll want to know every detail." Both of my journey to Lithin and of my condition and progress here, of that I was certain.
"You're not returning?" asked Phillip, laying off of teasing the Chief Smith.
I grinned, for Brickit had grown still, listening even as he pretended not to.
"Not yet. Not until I'm done."
And when the Black Dwarf moaned and cursed his ill fortune at his inability to rid himself of this useless presence cluttering up his smithy, I knew he was well pleased.
Chapter 15: Fiddleheads
Chapter Fifteen: Fiddleheads
Chapter Fifteen: Fiddleheads
There was a noticeable shift in the smithy's attitude towards me after we returned from Lithin and got back to the business of smithing. Perhaps it had been the sight of armor and crown as visible reminders of exactly who and what this boy in their midst really was. Perhaps it had Brickit's report of my conduct towards the wives of the Lithin Satyrs. Perhaps it had been the swift and painful conflict with the old Faun and the defensive attitudes the soldiers showed for me. I didn't know and I didn't care. One of the apprentices shoveled coal right alongside me and helped refill the bins at night. It was enough for me that my work load was lightened enough that I wasn't exhausted at the end of each day and I had a chance to interact with the Dwarfs more.
They were a cranky lot, but they honed their ornery natures into being perfectionists in their craft and they were remarkable to observe. The Master let me try out a few more skills, kindly giving me half a dozen different types of spear points and arrow heads to destroy on the grinding wheels one afternoon so I could get a sense of how different types of metal sparked and smelled and reacted to stone. To his amusement I ground the points down to nubs, but at the end of the afternoon I could tell the different grades of steel apart from the softer grades of iron.
The local Animals began stopping by the smithy to meet or see me and occasionally bring me gifts, much to the annoyance of Brickit and Brint. I did amass a considerable collection of jams and teas and walnuts (my taste for them having been established by the Squirrels just east of the Stone Table), which I gave to Gran and the daughters to use. Brickit might have complained about the interruptions to work but he did not turn up his nose at jam tarts. I tried to warn the neighborhood animals about the Werewulf, but like the Dwarfs they equated distance with safety and didn't take the threat very seriously. They were so complacent that I began to wonder if my concern came more in defense of my brother than actual worry about the Fell Beast.
They had no mercy, Brickit and Brint, now that they had discovered that my weakness was all things Peter, and they rarely wasted an opportunity to call him 'Nancy.' Since I was here and Peter wasn't (never mind that he was helping to run the kingdom) the Dwarf brothers had concluded that the High King was more concerned with picking flowers and fretting over nonsense than actually being a warrior king. They had no idea whatsoever of how forceful Peter could be, nor of what I had put him through at Beruna, nor the intensity of his protectiveness and devotion. They refused to listen to reason and I refused to listen to their insults.
Since the Chief Smith and his chief crony seemed incapable of learning names, I took to correcting them with my elbow. I'd hear that hated name and find and excuse to get close enough to land my elbow in their ribs. Once I cracked Brint in the side and he cried,
"I didn't say a thing!"
"No," I agreed with a smile, "but you were thinking it."
He couldn't deny as much and stalked away, muttering.
Seventhday came again. At breakfast I received another despatch from Peter, delivered by a magnificent Bald Eagle, and its arrival heralded more ribbing and abuse. I was quite tired of their antics by now, but when Brickit and Brint took up their usual stations on either side of me they deliberately sat just out of range of an elbow strike.
"So what has King Nancy's knickers in a twist this fine day?"
"His name is Peter and they've lost the Werewulf," I replied. "Captain Celer thinks it may have doubled back."
"It's in Archenland by now, Spawn," Brint assured.
I gave him a dark look. "Are you in league with it that you'd know? According to my teachers few Magical Creatures venture far past Narnia's borders."
"Which teacher would that be? Dance?"
"You know, you're not nearly as clever as you think yourself to be, Brickit!"
"Clever enough for you, Spa-ow!"
Suddenly Brickit winced and let out a yelp as his mother cracked him in the head with the metal tray she carried. Brint was next and he yelped louder. Then a sharp blow landed squarely on the top of my head and I instinctively ducked and gave a cry, rubbing the offending spot as we looked at Gran. She fixed us all with a wicked glare the likes of which I had not felt since I last trained under Oreius.
"Behave, ye men! There's children present as are more mature," she growled. "There's no a one of ye so young as to not get along nor so old I can't put ye over me knee. Call yerselves chief, master, and knight, do ye? Cease this name calling!"
She stalked off. We didn't dare move or speak until she was well away.
"Be you a knight?" wondered Brint, awed at the notion.
I nodded silently and finally grunted in assent.
"She hit him," murmured Brickit, disbelief filling his voice. A moment later both Dwarfs were staring at me as if they hadn't seen me before.
"La, she did, now," realized his brother, looking and sounding amazed.
I rubbed my head. "La, she certainly did."
"Mother's never hit anyone but us before," gaped Brickit. He sounded positively crushed.
Brint was in shock. "She likes you."
"Not too much, I hope," I muttered.
Thrown to her tender mercies once again, I still found Gran to be a far more pleasant taskmaster than her sons. After I helped clean the dishes from breakfast she called Baia and Brack and handed each of us a basket and sent us upriver to pick fiddleheads to go with dinner. Baia was put in charge of the expedition as she was the only one of us with experience, having accompainied Gran on such a mission a few days before. She was very excited at her first command and tore outside as fast as her short legs would allow. Brack and I had to jog to catch up to her.
The children led the way northward to a swampy bend in the Blue River. The river splintered into a number of smaller streams, spreading out into a maze of islets and tussocks before regrouping further downstream. Centuries of rotting leaves and pine needles made the ground spongy and moist and moss and lichens grew thick and lush along the banks of the slow-moving waters. The leaves were still in the bud and the Dryads were not fully awake yet (something I could appreciate), so thin sunlight filtered all the way down through the canopy. At this time of spring the days were growing long and warm while the nights were still cold, and the absence of insects made the task of picking our way through the brush far more pleasant than it would be a month from now.
Baia and Brack were quick to point out the crowns of shuttlecock ferns growing on the mossy banks and we set to harvesting the tightly-coiled shoots. They smelled green, like grass, and stained our fingers and nails. The real challenge was staying dry; the ground was so moist my boots became soaked. I ignored the wet and the chill and simply enjoyed the break in routine and the company of the Dwarf children.
I heard a distinct, hoarse call and I looked up to see a Mallard Duck sitting on her nest in a sheltered little bower on the opposite bank. She was marvelously camouflaged in her suit of brown feathers. I smiled at the quack that was equal parts greeting and warning and said,
"Good morn, cousin. Aslan's blessings upon you."
Her tail wagged quickly and she tilted her head, trying to make me out. "Good morn. You're very tall for a Black Dwarf."
I heard Brack giggle somewhere behind me. "Not a Dwarf of any kind. I'm a boy."
"A boy!" she exclaimed. "Then that would make you a Son of Adam and our king!"
"One of your kings, lady. I'm Edmund."
"Your Majesty." She bowed her head. "The Squirrels over in the tulip trees said there was a king at the smithy. I would stand, sire, to show proper respect, but my nest is full and soon you'll have a dozen new subjects."
"Well met. Congratulations on so many children."
"It is good to nest outdoors again. So this is spring!"
I found myself grinning at her pleasure at the return of the seasons. "The first of many."
"And you're gathering fiddleheads! Last year the season was so swift the Dwarfs had no time to gather any before it was summer." She gestured with her wing. "Up there a little ways is choked with them. You can fill your baskets without walking a hundred feet."
I thanked her warmly. "Baia! Brack! This way!"
The children caught up to me and after meeting the Duck, we pressed on and found the spot she had told me about. The ferns grew thick and deep and with happy shouts brother and sister set to harvesting the shoots. I worked beside them for a while, and then moved a little further up stream so as not to deplete the plants too much. Setting my basket down, I bent to break off a handful of greens when I spotted something in the mud. I pushed the ferns aside to see better.
I felt a chill move down my body from my head to my toes as I realized what it was.
A paw print. It was huge. Not entirely Wolf, neither was it entirely Human. Like the creature that had made it, it was had features that belonged both to animal and man. Humans didn't have such long claws. Wolves didn't have heels. It was so fresh that water hadn't started pooling in the deep indentations.
I felt my breath hitch, and then a twinge of panic seized me, squeezing my chest like a band as I realized I was not armed. I had left the smithy without Shafelm. Gran had just sent us off. I hadn't given the sword a thought as I tried not to lose Baia.
Sweet Lion, now who was complacent?
A sick feeling settled in my stomach. I stood up slowly, listening intently and scanning the surrounding brush as I struggled to keep my breathing in check. Quiet. It was too quiet. I could hear Brack's and Baia's soft voices. No birds sang. No trees rustled. I could smell nothing but the swamp and the mild scent of the fiddleheads. My mind flew back to the very end of winter, when Peter and I had been assaulted by the rebel Trees at the Stone Table. The crushing silence before their Fell Beasts attack had felt exactly like this.
We were being watched. I could feel it. A cold, ruthless stare. Icy as the Winter that Aslan had banished.
I edged back to the children. How far had we come from the smithy? A mile? More perhaps, it was hard to tell. Could such small children run so far?
"Brack. Baia." I had to force myself not to shout. "We have to go."
"You forgot your basket," said Baia. She tried to push past me to fetch it and I seized her.
"Forget it. Listen to me now. We must get back to the smithy."
Baia put her hands on her hips. "Not without the fiddleheads! Gran said so!"
I shook my head. "No. Back to the smithy. Now!" I hissed the last word, pushing her along. "Brack! Come on!"
I whirled on them. "I am your king!" I said tightly. "I command you obey. Leave the baskets. Come! Hurry! Hurry!"
I frightened them, but thankfully they listened. I took each by the hand and moved back the way we had come.
I saw the Mallard before the children did. Feathers and down floated on the air and on the surface of the slow-moving water. The nest was torn apart, eggshells littering the bank amidst a smear of blood on the moss. She never had a chance.
I pulled Baia close and turned her head away. "Don't look! Brack, don't look!"
He gasped and hastily cast his eyes down. They caught my alarm and Baia started to cry.
"Shh. Hold on to my hands," I ordered, pulling them along. "Don't let go. No matter what, don't let go."
They were trembling. I moved them along at a trot and they made no complaint. The swamp seemed endless and in their terror the children could not find the path. Pausing to get my bearings, I listened. Beyond our gasping breaths I could hear nothing.
"Which way, Brack?" I panted. "Look for something familiar. Remember the course of the river."
Wide-eyed, he licked his lips and then hesitantly pointed a little to the left.
"Come on," I ordered, stepping out. "Hurry."
Thank Aslan, he was right. The scrub brush gave way to taller woods and a path. The river gradually picked up momentum and with it Baia's panic grew. She whimpered and tugged at my sweaty hand and started to slip free as she tried to run ahead. I seized her by the sleeve.
"Edmund!" breathed Brack.
I looked behind. Something slouched and hairy moved on the path, shadowy and unclean. It stopped, sniffing the air. Sweet Lion, but we were upwind.
"Run," I rasped. "Lion's sake, both of you, run! Run!"
Chapter 16: Wulf
Chapter Sixteen: Wulf
Chapter Sixteen: Wulf
Panic robbed Baia of reason even as it gave me the strength to snatch her into my arms. She was slight, barely the size of a two-year old child and she clung to me tightly and whimpered in fear.
I still gripped his hand, ready to drag him back to the smithy if need be. He was breathless and terrified but he understood what was at stake. Aslan bless him, his short legs never stopped for a moment. I had never before appreciated how small Dwarfs were. The adults are the size of children and the children are tiny.
A glance behind showed the path was clear, which was almost worse than it being occupied. There was no sign of the Fell Beast, no sounds but our panting breaths and pounding feet and Baia's quiet sobs. I was trying to remember anything I had learned about Werewulfs, but memory failed me and I came up with absolutely nothing except for the fact that they were horribly fast - far faster than Dwarfs or boys. I had seen Werewulfs at Beruna and the Stone Table but I had never fought one. Peter had fought them. Peter had killed them. Peter, who would not have forgotten to bring his bloody sword along!
I let out a gasp of relief at the sight of a slate roof through the trees. We were almost back. I finally released Brack and resisted the urge to put on a burst of speed. I wanted to shout out a warning to them but I had no voice.
Brack stumbled over a root and sprawled on the ground. I skidded to a halt, plowing up the moist dirt, and seizing his coat, hauled him to his feet with might I didn't know I possessed. His face was bleeding but it was of no consequence. I doubt he even felt it.
Baia's shriek of terror was well timed - the moment she recognized her home she found her voice and almost deafened me with a piercing scream. I welcomed the pain because her cry alerted the whole smithy in one shot. As we staggered into the clearing doors slammed open and voices were raised. I didn't stop despite the questions thrown at me.
"Inside," I gasped. Baia had a death grip around my throat with both of her short arms. "Stay inside! Were-Werewulf!"
I ran straight to Brint's home. Slamming the door open with my shoulder, I almost knocked myself unconscious on the low lintel. Bly and Brint cried out in surprise at the sight of us all muddy and bloody and screaming. Bly jumped up and rushed to tend Brack's face. Baia refused to release me. I didn't stop until I reached my room at the end of the short hallway. I finally pried Baia's arms from around my neck and dropped her on the pallet. Brint rushed into the room as I snatched Shafelm off the wall.
"Edmund, what is this?" demanded the Dwarf.
I shoved past him. "The Werewulf! The Werewulf! It's here!"
There was no time to strap Shafelm to my waist and I realized I had forgotten to return the metal sheath when I sent my mail and armor back to Cair Paravel. All the better. It was much sturdier than the leather sheath and I could use it as a shield of sorts.
Bly was tending to her hysterical children. She looked up in alarm as I moved through the main room of the house.
"King Edmund - what?" she asked desperately.
"The Werewulf! The Werewulf Peter's been warning us about! It's here! Now! It murdered a Duck and chased us back here. Move, Brint!" I shouted that last at the Black Dwarf blocking the door.
"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded, incredulous.
"Defending my subjects! Either help me or get out of my way!"
"You're a child!"
"I'm a knight of Narnia!"
"You think you can kill that thing yourself?" shouted Brint.
"I can try!" I snapped hoarsely. "Stand aside!"
The door was shoved open and Brint was bounced aside by his elder brother's entrance. Brickit frowned in confusion and concern.
"What is this? What's going on?" he immediately asked, staring at my disheveled state and furious bearing.
I took the opportunity to move outdoors, pushing past both Dwarfs. "The Werewulf," I panted, suddenly hot now that I was still and had time to notice. "It's here. It followed us."
Lion's blessings be upon the Chief Smith! He did not waste time with questions. He did not hesitate or doubt my word. Brickit just followed me outside and shouted at the small crowd gathered.
"Bowmen! Get your weapons! Move your families to the long house! The Wulf is here! We will defend our home!"
Like Brickit, they never hesitated, but dashed hither and yon to obey, alarm giving them speed. The Black Dwarf looked to me.
"Have you a plan?"
Plan? What sort of question was that? I had no notion of their defensive capabilities or even the full layout of the smithy. I stared at him in disbelief.
"Kill it?" I suggested as if it was the most obvious option.
He was about to lose patience and reply when a scream erupted from across the compound. In that instant I was moving towards the terrible shrieks and yanking Shafelm from its sheath. The scream was picked up by other throats, mine among them as I loosed a battle-cry.
I ignored Brickit's shout. No time to think. No time to plan. Beyond all thought or sense or reason I raced deeper into the little compound, fear for the Werewulf's victim spurring me on. Instinct told me Brickit and Brint were a few steps behind, laboring to keep up with my longer legs and lighter frame. I gave them little thought. I did not have to protect them as I did the children. There would be no retreat now. We would only attack and defend.
"This way!" ordered Brickit, veering to the left. At least he wasn't arguing with me.
Beneath the huge trees was cast into shadows, though the ground was kept clear between the few buildings. A small rill cutting through the compound slowed down the Dwarfs. Putting on a burst of speed, I leaped over it, landing heavily and keeping Shafelm well away from my body as I'd been taught. I could hear curses rising as my comrades struggled up the steep slope of the stream. There were other voices, less distinct, and I prayed they were the bowmen because Aslan save me, I had no idea of what to expect from this creature. The last time I had been in pitched battle was two months ago, but then Peter had been right beside me throughout the fight.
Perhaps it was just as well my brother the High King wasn't here with me now. He would be enraged at me for being so foolish as to go it alone.
But then Peter really couldn't argue - he himself would have done no less.
The screaming grew more panicked and I darted around a small chicken coop to see one of the older daughters of the clan backed against the wall of her house. A pitchfork was clutched in her hands and she was using it to keep a dark, wiry form at bay. Another scream rang out, but it wasn't the girl, it was her little sister crouched on the ground right behind her. Both girls were bleeding and the elder fended off a shaggy figure.
The Werewulf was a foul-looking thing - matted hair the color of coal covered its scrawny body. It stood on two feet, though I knew it could just as easily move about on all fours. Long, sinewy arms were raised, displaying clawed hands and fingers with too many joints. A shaggy tail lashed the air, helping it to balance as it stepped closer, taunting the girls and driving them to break and panic to make them that much easier to attack.
I dared not use my sword with the girls so close to the Werewulf, but I still clutched the metal case that housed the weapon. With a shout I swung the flat side of the sheath at the beast's head. It heard me and ducked, but it was a shade too slow and the sheath cracked it in the side of the head a glancing blow.
With a savage growl the Werewulf looked at me. Hideous. The face was mostly wolf - it's snout was too wide for a canine but too long and tapered for a human. Long teeth and a scarred nose and blue eyes that were more human than animal finished off the monstrous features. I darted back a step as it sniffed the air, a maniacal gleam filling those eyes. It made a gibbering, crazed sound and finally formed words.
Oh, wonderful. I was a delicacy. I raised Shafelm, gauging the distance between me and the Werewulf, and I tightened my hold on the sheath.
"Kill you," it said in a guttural voice. Saliva and foam dripped from its mouth and in a rush of fear I remembered Peter's warning that we as Humans were not immune to the bite of these fiends. "Kill you, Son of Adam!"
Suddenly it jerked forward and yipped in pain as the Dwarf girl let out a grunt of effort and fury and drove her pitchfork into its leg. Ah, the women of Narnia. There are none more capable in the whole world. Torn between two threats, the Werewulf used the momentum of her strike and lunged at me.
"Run!" I screamed. "Run!"
She seized her sister and they fled. I swung as the Werewulf lurched into range, those long arms reaching across the distance between us. My timing was off - the blow was a moment late. I felt Shafelm impact its ribs, the blade biting into unclean flesh even as its clawed fingers scratched 'neath my jaw and down my neck. I shouted in fury and pain, a cry echoed by the monster I fought, as we became a fouled mass of steel and limbs and confusion.
Then powerful arms seized me around the waist and I was yanked bodily to the ground. I was too caught up in the urgency of battle to understand what was happening and tried to struggle, kicking and fighting.
"Down!" shouted Brickit, trying to hold me.
"Fire!" Brint ordered in that same instant.
The familiar hissing hum of arrows whizzing overhead brought me back and I stilled, letting the Dwarf hold me down. Pain exploded in my head from the blow the Werewulf had landed and the impact on the ground. A flash of memory assailed me: Ginnarrbrick, the bite of his whip, a knife pressed to my throat, his weight pinning me, the cold of snow beneath me, his sadistic, knowing laugh . . .
"Still!" hissed Brickit. "Be still, you fool!"
An unholy cry split the air, a howl of of hatred and defiance and fear. More arrows flew above. I could hear their impact upon flesh and I remembered the razor-sharp points the Master had shown me. The cry of pain became a gasp, then a whimper.
Oh, dear Aslan, that wasn't the Werewulf making that sound. It was me.
I opened my eyes, staring at the branches and the hints of blue sky beyond. It was not Winter. Brickit was not the White Witch's minion. They were gone. Dead. They could not touch me.
Please, Aslan, don't let them touch me.
An unnatural silence filled the air.
"Dead?" demanded Brint nervously.
Someone kicked the Werewulf's corpse.
"La. Dead as a herring, praise be to the Lion."
More silence. No one knew what to say or do. Everything had happened so quickly. Not a quarter of an hour could have passed since Baia and Brack and I had returned from gathering fiddleheads.
I shifted and Brickit let me go. I twisted away from his hold, away from the bloody, hairy heap that had been the Fell Beast. Somehow I gained my feet, stunned and aching and frightened still. I clutched Shafelm's grip desperately, feeling my strength drain away. I took a few, unsteady steps. My jaw burned and my tunic was bloodied and I couldn't breathe without shuddering.
I forced myself to look at Brickit. Something about my expression kept him from coming any closer, but something in his aspect told me that he wanted to help as desperately as I needed it. Everyone was absolutely still and every eye was fixed not on the slain Werewulf, but on me. I realized in a rush that their anxiety had shifted from the safety of their home and families . . . to me, their king.
Narnians all, they were. My subjects. My cousins. My friends.
They were nothing, nothing like the Black Dwarfs who had served the White Witch.
The Chief Smith took a step towards me. "Sit before you fall, boy. You received the worst of it."
He caught me as my legs gave out and he eased me down to a seated position, peering at me in concern all the while. I stiffened at his touch and then I looked down at his tan, calloused hands and saw that they trembled slightly as he steadied me and gently wrested the sword from my fingers and set it aside. Brint called out for someone to come dress the scratches on my neck. Smiling kindly, Brickit gave my shoulder a squeeze, then carefully he raised my chin to check the long scrapes, looking but not touching and talking all the while. "I suppose this means I'll be obligated to listen in the future, Spawn, seeing as how the Nancy was right to worry."
I raised an eyebrow, as close to saying 'I told you so' as I thought it would be proper for a king to get.
"Of course, if he hadn't used up all the worry in Narnia, there might have been some left for the rest of us and we would have been more alert."
I snorted faintly, which was all the amusement I could manage. Brickit held me steady and spoke nonsense and wit to distract me from my pain and reaction. I closed my eyes, leaning into his touch, and said a prayer to Aslan, giving thanks to him for watching over me so closely this day.
Chapter 17: Opposites
Chapter Seventeen: Opposites
Chapter Seventeen: Opposites
I dreamed the most marvelous dream that night.
I was walking on a white sand beach, the lingering heat of the day warming my skin as the gentle waves tumbled in and wrapped around my ankles before quickly retreating. The sky was a deep indigo while the horizon showed a dark rainbow and orange-dyed clouds as the sun made his way to the west and a well earned rest. Stars already twinkled overhead, and I fancied I could faintly hear their song blending in with the voice of the ocean and stirring the faint, scented breeze. I had rarely been so content. It was a perfect evening, a perfect setting, and I had the perfect companion.
Aslan walked slowly beside me, silent and steady. His great paws took small steps to match mine and he lifted his head to test the breeze, his golden eyes half-closed as he drank in the beauty of the evening. I rested my hand in his mane, wishing the dream would go on forever.
Another wave swept around our feet, the water turning my companion's paws a dark gold. As I looked down I spotted a scallop shell, white and shining in the starlight, and I stooped to lift it out of the water. It was a pretty thing, as perfect as the moment, and I held it out for Aslan to see. He looked at it and smiled.
"From the darkest depths of the sea that comes," said the Lion, his voice as soft as the breeze. "It has had a far journey."
I set the shell back down into the salty turf. "I know how it feels."
"Yes, you do. And if you allow yourself, you'll have even greater distances to traverse."
I looked up at him. "If I allow myself?"
I pondered this as we walked, taking the words and the moment into my heart. "What is this place?"
"The shore of the sea."
"Why are we here?"
"Because you need me. What happened to frighten you so today? It was not the foe you fought that caused you to panic, my son, but the foe you feel you cannot fight."
I reflected, remembering the traumatic events of the day. He was right. The Werewulf had frightened me of course, but he had not exercised any real power over me. It was not the Werewulf that had broken my nerve. I had done that to myself.
"I . . . I remembered when I first set foot in Narnia and I first met Ginnarrbrick, the Black Dwarf that served the White Witch. Being thrown down by Brickit like that . . . I . . . remembered and . . . I panicked."
Aslan nudged me with his nose, and his breath was sweeter than the breeze as it filled and fortified me. I welcomed the sensation like the desert welcomes rain. "It is not an unreasonable fear, Edmund, and you faced it bravely. But you know for yourself that the Dwarfs of the Blue River did not serve Jadis as well as she thought."
"I know." I dropped my gaze, staring at the foamy waves brushing my feet and listening to the swish and hiss of the water. "I wish I hadn't screamed like that. I think I scared them." And me, I thought.
He knew my thoughts. "Being frightened is not always a bad thing. Your reaction today drove home a point the Blue River Dwarfs had not considered very well."
"That you and your family have suffered and sacrificed for this land as well as any of its inhabitants, and that as kings and queens you will go on sacrificing for Narnia's sake."
I considered. "It doesn't seem like much of a sacrifice to me."
"That is why you are a king."
I sucked in my breath, startled at this affirmation. Aslan spoke on.
"Ginnarrbrick is dead, Edmund, slain by your sister's arrow. He cannot hurt you ever again unless you allow him to do so. Memories fade faster if you don't dwell in their shadows."
I nodded my agreement. "It's not easy."
"Worthwhile things rarely are." He gazed at me intently and his ears flattened in sympathy. "You miss your family."
"Yes. Terribly. Especially after today," I confessed easily. "I just want to be home. I miss Peter most of all."
"Of course. He knows you best. But you cannot leave the smithy until you are done."
"Done? I'm not done?" I thought of bitter beer and the stench of coal ash and sweat. I had hoped to leave the smithy within a day or two. "What's left to do?"
"You must talk again, to start."
"Talk?" I frowned in confusion.
The Lion looked at me with amusement. "Yes. Talk, Edmund. You haven't spoken a word since you ordered the daughters of the clan to run away. You're frightening your friends."
"Oh." I hadn't realized. "Oh. Sorry. What else do I need to do?"
He sat down in the sand and placed his huge, warm paw upon my shoulder. It was a comforting weight. His eyes glittered as bright as the stars above.
Was Aslan almost laughing?
"You must learn all you can from Brickit."
I felt a frown settle upon my features. "But I . . ."
I considered. Time spent at the smithy at Aslan's command promised to be far more interesting than running coal and fetching water. The Lion watched me progress from confusion and disappointment to determination to follow his order to the best of my ability. I could stay another week. It was just a sennight and I had told Brickit that I was here to learn. Covering his paw with my hand, I nodded and said, "Of course."
He leaned closer. "And Edmund?"
"Keep listening to your brother. He is wiser than he knows."
I broke into a smile. He knew full well about my reliance on Peter's conduct and the example my brother set for me.
"Always," I promised.
I awoke to warmth and darkness in my cramped little room. My jaw ached but my heart felt lighter as I recalled the dream. I wondered if it had really happened, if I had been on that beach with Aslan, but then decided that was a moot point because real or not, the effect upon me would be no different. It had been a long time since I had felt so content and for a while I just laid awake and enjoyed the sensation. It almost seemed a reward for all the trials of the day.
Finally I roused and fumbled about and managed to light the small oil lamp beside my bed. By the white light I took stock of myself. I had been changed for sleeping, dressed in clean tunic and trousers that I had appropriated from Peter's closet long before I left Cair Paravel. I saw the tunic I had worn earlier today draped neatly on a chair, all traces of blood and Werewulf hair scrubbed away. I found my boots and pulled them on, pleasantly surprised that they were dry once again, and as I buckled on my heavy leather belt my stomach growled, sharply reminding me I had not eaten anything since breakfast. Well. Perhaps I could find food as well as talk in the long house.
Standing, I felt wide awake, as if I had slept myself out even though I had no idea of the time. I was sore and stiff, but this was a feeling I was used to from endless practice on the training grounds under Oreius' watchful eye. My jaw and neck hurt - the Werewulf had landed a blow as well as a few scrapes - but the cuts had been cleaned and salve applied and I felt no fever or hotness of infection.
Carrying the lamp so as not to bark my shins on the furniture or hit my head on the low rafters, I made my way through Brint's cozy house. All was dark and quiet and when I stepped outdoors into the cool spring air I was greeted by the sweet, cheerful calls of the tiny bell frogs inhabiting the banks of the Blue River. I paused to listen and let my eyes adjust to the light of the moon. I could see a ruddy glow from the long house, so I extinguished my lamp and left it by the door before making my way to the thatched-roof building that was the center of the smithy.
At first, by the illumination of the glowing embers in the large fire place, I thought the house was empty. A motion at the far end caught my attention and I recognized Brickit's silhouette by the hearth. He watched as I closed the door and then walked the distance to join him. From his seat by the fire he studied me for a long moment, his expression unreadable in the darkness, and he gestured for me to take one of the low stools. I sat, drawing a bit closer to the warmth and light. For a span we both gazed into the remains of the fire, neither of us willing to break the silence, and finally Brickit stirred.
"I assume you're hungry," he said.
"I am," I replied in a whisper. I had meant to match his tone but somehow I could not raise my voice.
He rose, returning in a few moments with a plate of bread and cheese and dried fruits that he handed to me. Because of my aching jaw I had to eat very slowly, but the food tasted all the better for it. He returned again with a pitcher and a cup for me. He refilled his cup and poured for me and for the first time I welcomed the bitter beer upon my tongue. He let me make some headway with the food before he asked,
"Yes. Thank you." I took a sip of beer. The silence had gone from comfortable to smothering. There was so much we both needed to say and ask and share. Where to start?
"Brack and Baia – are they well? And Beal's daughters - were they badly hurt?"
"They're fine, boy. All of them. More scared than hurt, thank Aslan," he added. "I say it again; you took the brunt of it." The Dwarf sighed. "My brother took a party up the river. They buried the Duck and her nestlings with all due ceremony. The local Animals and Dryads were grateful."
My throat constricted and I had to stop eating. I set the plate aside, realizing I had not known the Mallard's name. "It seems like so long ago."
"Really?" he countered, pouring more beer. "Odd. To me it feels as if it's still happening."
Silence. We stared into the fire, watching the embers slowly crumble and cool.
"Must be past midnight," he said. "You slept the day through."
"And I take it you haven't slept at all."
"Can't. My mind's too full of what might have been."
"Peter's like that. He frightens himself with possibilities. Oreius is always lecturing him about it."
"It will take a long time to fade."
"Aslan told me not to dwell in the shadow of memories."
"With memories like these it's hard not to."
I sighed. "La."
He looked at me shrewdly, knowing I understood him fully. "So what happened that made you scream like that? You scared us all, each and every one. What hurt you so, Edmund?"
I stared at the fire, wishing it was hotter so as to burn away the lingering chill of an unclean touch. My mind registered the use of my name for the first time. I did not want to speak on the matter, but he deserved something, some type of answer. Brickit had saved my life and in return I had terrified him. If I had not spoken to Aslan in my dream I doubt that I would have had the strength to reply.
I looked up, looked at him, willing him to understand and ask no further.
"Jadis," I whispered, and said no more for a very long time.
Chapter 18: Pact
Chapter Eighteen: Pact
Chapter Eighteen: Pact
Brickit left to refill the pitcher and when he returned he was also carrying Shafelm. I blinked in quiet surprise to see my sword in his hands and I received it from him gladly. Once again I had completely forgotten it, but luckily the situation now was not nearly as dire as gathering fiddlehead ferns. I laid it across my knees as Peter and I had gotten into the habit of doing with our swords when at rest. Brickit, wisely not pursuing our last topic, watched me with amusement since I could not hide my pleasure at the sight of the sword.
"What name?" he asked, jerking his chin at the weapon and moving on to much safer subjects than witches and werewulfs and emotions.
"Shafelm." I could not keep the pride out of my voice. "Blade of the Western Wood."
He nodded. "Centaur make that is."
"Yes," I said. "They gave it to me before Beruna. How can you tell it's Centaur work?"
"Easy. The taper."
He reached for Shafelm and I handed it over. It was too long a weapon for him, but he did not draw it fully from its sheath. He held it up so I was looking straight at the sharpened edge.
"See the flat, how it tapers so gradually to the point? This is a blade for slicing, not thrusting. Give a Centaur a sword and he'll want to cut you to ribbons with it, not stab you. Stabbing is for Fauns and hacking is for Satyrs."
I blinked, realizing he had just summed up Cair Paravel's sword masters (and my teachers) very neatly.
"The cross-guard, too," he added. "Centaurs tend to make them plainer than Dwarfs. 'Tis a good, solid bit of work they gave you. I've seen worse craftsmanship and I've seen better, but not much."
Well it certainly was made well enough to penetrate Dwarfish armor, because Jadis, with her sense of irony and cruelty, had used this very sword to disarm Peter during Beruna and then stab him in the arm. Peter always laughed at the memory and offered to return the favor with Rhindon, which I politely declined. I found myself eyeing Brickit keenly. "Have you made better?"
His eyes grew wide at the notion and the imagined slight upon his work and family honor.
"The least of my blades would put to shame the work of any other smithy in the land, Spawn."
With a little smirk I murmured, "Really?" as I recalled the magnificent knife he had shown me that first day here.
Brickit leaned forward. "I was taught my craft not only under my mother, but under my grandfather, Chief Smith Branset, who was called the greatest sword smith in the world and made blades for knights and kings and even for that Tisroc on his ivory throne."
"Can you show me?" I asked.
"You've seen my work."
I shook my head. "No, no. I mean show me how, Brickit."
He snorted, feigning disgust. "Why should I show anything to an arrogant whelp like you?"
We were definitely on safer ground if we could insult one other again. It was a relief for us both.
"General Oreius says you don't really know a thing until you can teach it."
"And who is this General Oreius?" he demanded, though I suspected he already knew.
"No one particularly special. He just rescued me from the White Witch and led the army next to Peter at Beruna."
He snorted, staunchly refusing to be impressed. "I've taught many an apprentice to make blades."
"Then teach me."
I smiled, remembering Aslan's amusement. "Because I want to learn."
"Again I ask why?"
"Because I still want your good will. You respect learning. I've seen that! I want to learn. So teach me."
He drew a deep breath, staring at me with his dark eyes, and after considering my words and his own he slowly said, "You have my good will, Edmund Pevensie. What is more, you have my respect."
I blinked, astonished by this confession.
"But I refuse to waste my time teaching someone such skills only to have them forgotten or worse still, abused. If I show you this craft how will I know you'll care for it as I do?"
"I would never forget or abuse anything you taught me. I give you my word -"
"Words are easily forgotten."
"Pax! If you'll be silent and let me finish I may be able to prove otherwise, Chief Smith."
He harrumphed and waited impatiently.
"I give you my word I'll return. Let that be our pact – my service to this smithy for your service to Narnia."
"Seems to me I'm getting the short end of the bargain."
"You're one to talk of short! Not many people get to order a king around. Besides, I'm the one coming up short if I have to endure this poor excuse for beer that you drink."
He glared, and I could tell he was highly pleased by the train of conversation. "Two weeks," he finally decided after a long pause. "Two weeks a year at least you must give me, to be made up if missed."
"You have my word."
"Think the Nancy can spare you so long?"
I shook my head. "You know, Brickit, you're going to meet Peter some day and believe me, sir, when I say that you will sorely regret that choice of a name for him."
The Black Dwarf smirked and leaned far back in his chair. "I've no regrets, Spawn. Doesn't matter this way or that if the title fits your Queen Peter or not. It's enough that it drives you spar and gets the blood boiling. 'Tis healthy."
"Ohhh," I breathed, instantly seething and trying to hide it. I was only partially successful, but it pleased him to see me cross. "Oh, good my Dwarf, you will regret that statement."
He grinned. "Never. Drink on it."
We finished our cups of beer to seal the agreement. I grimaced at the sour, bitter, painful, biting tang of it, finishing with a gasp.
"That is awful!"
He chuckled, refilling the cups. "Brint and Bort make it."
I gagged. "Much is explained by that."
"I'm a hard master," he warned.
"Do tell," I returned quickly. "You can't be any harder on a body than this stuff you call beer."
He dismissed my comments with a gesture. "When I work the smith in earnest, boy, it's masters who work under me, not apprentices."
"I'm no master."
"Nor even an apprentice. Spawn you are."
I smiled, wincing at the pain it caused in my jaw. Pleasure filled me as I realized exactly what he was offering. It wasn't an apprenticeship. It was far more specialized. "Then look at me as a challenge, Chief Smith."
"Oh-ho," he laughed. "I already do!"
He slammed back the beer, then stood. "Come! Run and fire up the furnace as you've been taught! Hurry! It's time you learned how to swing a hammer."
It was hours before dawn, he'd been drinking beer since before I'd arrived, and he hadn't slept since yesterday. I had been terrorized and had terrorized, I'd grappled with a crazed Werewulf, been traumatized by old memories, and walked with the Lion all in the span of a day.
Chapter 19: Circle, Steel, and Missed
Chapter Nineteen: Circle, Steel, and Missed
Chapter Nineteen: Circle, Steel, and Missed
The fire was burning but still too young to be hot enough for Brickit's purposes. Never wasting a moment, the Chief Smith lit a number of lamps and set them about the shop so that it was almost as bright as day. We weren't in my usual shop where I labored under the master - this one was deeper inside the compound and had a wider array of tools and equipment. This was where the Chief Smith worked to produce such swords and armaments as to be worthy of kings.
He began by tossing me a heavy leather apron such as the smiths wore and a pair of gloves that had spent many an hour over burning coal and metal. He proceeded to name all the tools we would be using - pincers and fullers, the different types of anvils, twist hammers and drop-face hammers and dog hammers and files - the list seemed endless. Then he handed me a rectangular ingot of cast iron and another of steel and I received a lesson on how the two could be married together by hammering and folding to make weapons with the durability of the cast iron and the hardness of the steel. I listened intently, dazzled by the sheer complexity of the craft and the amount of information being thrown my way.
"But this," and Brickit took the steel block from my hand and thrust it into the fire, "is what you'll work with."
He added a few more pieces of metal to the little blaze and extinguished most of the lamps, for work such as this depended upon gauging the hotness of the metal, which is best done in dim light. The Chief Smith then gave me a talk on color and forging heat, having me check the ingot often to gauge the color of the metal as it slowly heated through. The fire was too small for the metal to get white hot, but when it was yellow-orange he showed me how to pull it from the glowing embers with tongs. He showed me, and then he had me don the heavy gloves and fish the metal out of the fire myself. I had thought running coal was scorching work, but it paled in comparison to laboring directly over the furnace.
"Now what?" I squeaked, tongs and glowing yellow ingot in hand. It was so hot that I was afraid to move.
"Put it on the anvil, Spawn, what else? Hold it tight, ya dolt! Now," he yanked the glove off my right hand and gave me a hammer, "see about hammering this to be as long as the hammer itself. Practice, Spawn. Get used to the motion."
I was surprised to find that the actual hammering was easier than I thought it would be. As long as it was hot enough, the metal was malleable and obedient. When it cooled too much for me to proceed easily Brickit had me thrust it back into the fire to reheat. Once I was done mangling the ingot I had a chunk of metal that was no longer even, lumpy, bumpy, slightly warped, and as long as the hammer in my hand.
He examined my efforts with a wry look. "Well. That was industrious." He took the ingot, tongs and all, and turned it this way and that as he explained. "See here now, you pounded this side harder, making it thinner so the other side curved in upon itself. Don't fight it, guide it. Don't waste your strength by hitting harder than you need to. What you do for one side you must do for the other in shaping metal. Here." He shoved the ingot back into the fire. "Take another. Try again."
This time he stood beside and behind me, guiding my moves. I let him take me by the forearm to swing the hammer. He used shorter, more precise motions than I had, and a lighter touch.
"Turn," he ordered, and I flipped the ingot over. "Now try. Light. Even. You want to shape it, not kill it, boy. It's metal, not a cockroach."
I smiled. There was a certain beauty to this art, a unique music generated at the slight bounce of the hammer as it impacted the glowing metal. Even the anvil rang with its own notes as it cushioned and absorbed each blow. The metal was beautiful as it slowly cooled from yellow to orange to red, a thin sheen of carbon building up on the surface and marring the darker colors. Small, vicious sparks flew, burning bright and piercing when they penetrated my clothes, or dull and wasted when they struck the leather apron. I stole a glance at Brickit as I measured the ingot against the hammer and I was thrilled to see the pleasure in his expression as I worked.
Dawn slowly crept over the east and gradually the smithy woke up (if they hadn't already been roused by the racket I was making). Brickit and I had been at the shop for hours and we both were tired and dirty and content with the night's work. For my efforts I had a sore arm, a few new burns, and some elongated ingots. They weren't quite as smooth and even as how they started out, but each effort was slightly better than the previous one.
Brint stomped over, clearly looking for me since Baia and Brack would have discovered my empty bed. He looked us up and down, took in his brother's attitude and my handiwork at a glance, and nodded gruffly.
"Breakfast," was all he said, making it an order.
I realized exactly how hungry I was as I untied the apron and hung it up again. I paused, my hands still resting on the protective clothing. It was armor of a different sort. The leather had been worn smooth by use and sweat and fire. I looked at it a long moment, wondering whose it was and hoping I would not dishonor the owner with my efforts.
"Come, Spawn," said Brickit. "We'll work some more after we've had a meal and a rest."
I smiled, and for once I obeyed when he called me that. As we entered the long house silence fell. Gradually the talking resumed in hushed tones as if the Blue River Dwarfs did not quite know what to say to me after yesterday's events. I moved to take my usual seat at the foot of the table, but Brickit stayed me.
"No," he said. "Not down here. You sit with my family."
I blinked in surprise, staring at him speechlessly. I was well aware of the importance Dwarfs placed upon family.
Brickit grumbled, annoyed at having to explain himself to this ignorant boy he'd been saddled with. "You protected my niece and nephew. You saved two Daughters of the Clan. You defended this smithy with your life. You eat with my family or you don't eat at all."
Great Lion, how far had I come that I was delighted to be so threatened?
Without a word I followed him to the head of the table and he set between him and his mother. I would have sat on the other side of his mother, but he deliberately set me beside him. I looked about and noticed once again that children sat between their parents. I also noticed that every eye in the place was fastened on me. The scrutiny was intense and I wasn't sure what to do to remedy the situation.
"Best say something," muttered Brickit sternly, reminding me of Aslan's instruction to talk and set their minds at ease.
I smiled faintly and addressed the assembly. "Good morn."
That broke the spell and a rush of relief spread through the room. Normal conversation resumed and quickly rose to the usual deafening levels. Bly set a pitcher of beer on the table and with a resigned sigh I reached for it, pouring cups for me and the Chief Smith. Food was served, and for the first time I realized that Brickit was the last one served in the hall. I learned in later days that this was a Dwarfish tradition - the Chief had to be sure his people were fed before he partook. From my old vantage point I was too far (and too busy eating) to see, but a sense of manners and fairness made me set my fork down. Brickit said nothing, but I knew he waited and watched. Gran set her own food down, then fed her son, and it was only when she sat that I began to eat.
The grand old dame gave me a long, assessing look. I smiled to reassure her, realizing how badly I must have frightened her and her family.
"Hasn't worked you too hard now, has he?" she asked, motioning at her eldest.
"Not at all, my lady. He's teaching me."
She nodded and I strongly suspected that Brickit would be getting an earful the moment I was out of range. We ate in silence, and gradually I came to realize I was quite weary with having been up and working the forge all night. I paused, and then smiled at the thought that I had indeed worked the forge.
"Rest for the now, boy," ordered Brickit, snapping me out of my reverie. "We've come far in a night. Get some sleep. After we eat at midday we'll resume."
Please sit down and refrain from panic as you read this. I'm fine. The Werewulf can't say the same. Celer was right - it doubled back up river and happened on the smithy this Seventhday past. We managed to slay it before it could hurt anyone at the smithy, though I'm sorry to say it did kill a Duck and her clutch. It was quite a nasty piece of work and I want to thank you for all the warnings and reports you sent. The Dwarfs thought it was all a bit much at first, but in the end you were quite right and there's one less Fell Beast to account for. I will say that the Werewulf's appearance went far towards securing the good will of the Dwarfs here at the smithy. I'll tell you everything when I'm home. Now go back and read that again, Peter. It's dead. I'm fine. I just got a few scratches. I do not snore. Stay at the Cair. Do not come charging out here with half the army! You can fuss to your heart's content when I get home and I promise I won't complain.
Word reached us from Lithin. It seems Susan settled things nicely and the wives of the Lithin Satyrs are going to establish a school of their own. I saw lots of children in the area when I went, so with some royal backing they'll do very well. She's probably home already so you know that, but the locals were very excited to receive two royal visits in a sennight.
Pray remain seated, brother. There's more. I'm going to stay another week here. The diplomacy is done with and we have the good will of the Blue River Smithy, but I'm not done learning. One more week, please, Peter, and then I'll be back. Tell Martil I want the bath tub filled to the brim with boiling hot water and very clean clothes and anything but beer to drink when I get back.
I must go. Brickit has decided I'm to make my first project. He's starting me very, very small - a ring. I suspect I'll be at it all day and night, considering what I've done to metal so far. If you've stayed seated this far into the letter I promise to make you one.
My love to the girls. I miss you terribly.
I stared at the letter. It didn't say as much as I wanted to, but some things, like the fight with the Werewulf, would be better told in person. I folded up the note and melted wax on it to seal it. Across from me the Fruit Bat shifted in excitement. This wasn't one of the ones I had employed previously. She was younger and smaller than the original twenty or so Bats that had taken my letters to the Cair and she had been followed by only five other would-be couriers.
"Where are your brothers?" I asked, eyeing the motley assortment of Bats that matched her in age and wingspan, neither of which was as considerable as the first slew of Bats I had employed. When I asked one of the local Robins to fetch me a Fruit Bat courier, these six curious youngsters had arrived before I could start this letter letting Peter know the Werewulf had been killed. They were happily exploring the long house and the wonders it presented. Luckily most everything here was made or wood or metal so they couldn't break anything. Removed from their element they tended to be clumsy.
"Halfway to Cair Paravel, I suspect, Sire," she said with a laugh. She was eager to be off and see the castle and its lord for herself. Behind her, one of the Bats was well on his way to getting stuck in one of the pitchers used for serving beer. As she spoke I saw him slide in head first and not come out.
I frowned and stood to rid the pitcher of its new occupant. It hadn't been washed from lunch and I feared the beer fumes might do him in. "They went to the Cair? Whoever sent them?"
"Brickit. This he did in the morn, with three letters for your king and queens."
"He did?" I paused, confused, the upside down vessel in my hands as I tried to pour the Bat onto the table. I heard a muffled giggle and looked into the pitcher. The Fruit Bat grinned up at me, the cheeky little scamp. "Pull your wings in, sir."
Why on earth would Brickit be writing to my siblings? And oh, sweet Lion, what if he up and called my brother Nancy? I would kill him. There would be nothing else for it. I'd just have to pray that Aslan would understand.
"Well. Bring this to High King Peter. And remember . . ."
"I must not hand it over unless he's seated and promises to stay that way," she replied, reciting my instructions back verbatum.
I shook the pitcher and dumped the Bat onto the table, petting his fuzzy black head. "You can stay a few days at Cair Paravel if you like and if your colony can spare you. There's lots of Bats there and you'll get to see the Eastern Sea."
They rustled their wings in excitement at the invitation and whispered amongst themselves. I smiled and handed over the letter.
"I have to go, good cousins. Brickit expects me back. Aslan between you and evil."
"And between you and the Chief Smith," answered one of the Bats. I laughed, but I was unable to keep from wondering why Brickit would be sending messages to my family.
Chapter 20: Hammer to Fall
Chapter Twenty: Hammer to Fall
Chapter Twenty: Hammer to Fall
"So . . . These rings you made. You'll be wanting them engraved?"
I was waiting for breakfast to be served and since I wasn't entirely awake and I found myself grunting something to the affirmative. Brickit, who was being far too helpful to be trusted, looked thoughtful and almost sage as he folded his hands and pondered the mysteries of scratching a letter into a metal surface.
"Bunta is the best engraver here, wouldn't you say, Brint?"
"Aye," said Brint, more intent on his beer than his brother.
"We'll have her engrave them for ya, lad. That will be an 'S' and an 'N' I take it, then?"
I groaned and dropped my head into my folded arms. It was too early in the morning and I hadn't gotten nearly enough sleep. I had spent all yesterday afternoon and a good part of the evening and night shaping thick strips of silver into signet rings. I had learned a great deal and enjoyed the lesson immensely, but now I needed about a hundred hours of sleep and something besides beer to drink. I was very surprised to learn that silver was nothing like steel to forge. The precious metal was worked at room temperature by careful hammering, tapping and shaping, with a minimal amount of soldering and an amazing amount of filing and polishing. It had taken me one full day, two masters, three explosive arguments over proper technique, four violent arguments over proper technique, and five tries to achieve something like success, and that with the masters breathing down my back as I worked and constantly complaining that I was too tall. In the end I had made two very plain, heavy rings that passed the critical inspection of the masters, the Chief Smith, and me.
That was yesterday. Silly me, I had mentioned to one of the masters that I wanted to give one of the rings - the final and best one I had made - to Peter. I should have known by now that what was known by one Dwarf at sunrise would be known by all of them come sunset.
"No, Brickit," I replied without raising my head. "That will be an 'E' and a 'P.'"
"Right," he agreed too easily. "Spawn and Nancy it is."
"You're not funny," I mumbled.
"Yes, I am," was the glib reply.
"Then you're very easily amused."
"Just as you're easily aggravated, Spawn."
"If I find anything other than an 'E' and a 'P' on those rings I will tell the entire world the Dwarfs of the Blue River Smithy are unlettered and daft."
"You wouldn't be telling them anything they didn't already believe."
Grumbling a reply, I sat up for the sole purpose of glaring at him. I wasn't at my best and it had no effect whatsoever. Brickit smiled winningly at my nasty, early morning persona and asked,
"So tell me, boy, what is it you wish to do?"
I shook my head. Understanding of his meaning had yet to penetrate. What did I want to do? I wanted to sleep.
"You've produced naught but jewelry to this point," explained the Chief Smith as his mother set a plate before me. "Any spawn can work silver. You've proven as much. So what do you want to learn to make?"
I knew the answer instantly. There was no mulling over my reply. Before I could draw a breath to speak Gran set breakfast before the Chief Smith.
"Think on it," he ordered, though somehow I thought he already knew what I would say. "We'll talk after breakfast."
After breakfast, however, turned out to be a bit later than anticipated when three of the grumpy and uncouth cousins from Moon Mountain returned. I could sense the tension immediately and without being told I slipped away and went back to my old task of running coal as Brickit dealt with them. Since my status had changed in the smithy I wasn't yelled for quite so much and the master called me to his side to assist him more than once. It was far more interesting than shoveling coal and fetching water, I must say. He even allowed me, under Bort's watchful eye, to hammer the edges of some spear heads to ready them for sharpening. Bort surprised me by being a patient and able teacher.
When it came time for the midday meal I felt a pang of hesitation as I entered the long house. Brickit sat in his usual spot and the cousins were ranged around him. He glanced my way and with an imperceptible nod motioned for me to take my seat beside him. The cousins were surprised at what to them was brazen behavior as I greeted them. There was very little room between the Chief Smith and his miner peer, but fortunately I was a skinny thing and I fit neatly between them.
"Well met, cousins," I said pleasantly. "Thank you, Lady Bly," I added as she poured me some beer. I noticed it was grainier and worse-tasting than usual, as if it came from the bottom of the barrel. All they needed to do now was to serve was some apple cake to drive off the unwelcome visitors.
"King or no, you've not been invited!" snapped the eldest of the cousins.
Brickit's reply was matter-of-fact and calm. "Nor does he need to be, Biss. The rumor that brought you here is true. He placed himself in danger's way for the sake of this clan and saved four of our children from the Werewulf. He bears the wounds to prove it. He eats with my family now."
I couldn't tell if this was simply shocking or extremely horrifying to the visiting Dwarfs. Biss' expression was carved of stone and his companions drew back and exchanged scandalized looks before eyeing me and the scratches on my jaw and neck with deep suspicion. I suppose the notion of adopting a human rather revolted them, but then Black Dwarfs are not the most tolerant or fair-minded creatures in Aslan's creation. I was fortunate in my choice of Dwarfs, for mine were wiser and more open-minded than most. Brickit had already said that these cousins were confused and Gran had called them jealous of my presence. I wondered if there was any way of resolving their obvious disgust, but I realized that anything I said or any gesture I made towards them right now would be looked upon as trying to mollify them and salve their wounded pride. I decided that until I knew better, I would leave the cousins to each other and trust they could settle their differences in a somewhat civilized manner.
"I suppose thanks are in order."
I dumped my shovelful of coal into the half-full barrow before turning to the Chief Smith. "How so?"
"Your noxious presence has chased off my cousins. The only thing worse than uninvited guests are uninvited guests that are related to you."
"Remind me not to drop in uninvited," I grunted, leaning on the shovel for a quick rest. When I came back here again I needed to bring tools of the proper size, not to mention a decent pillow. "So shall we look at our pact as a standing invitation, then?"
"Only if I'm free to return the favor."
I grinned, shoveling some more of the stone onto the cart. "Only if you learn my brother's name."
"I know the Nancy's name, lad, I just choose not to use it."
I rolled my eyes. Clearly this was going to be a long and drawn out war.
"So," Brickit said. "Have you thought on what you want to make?"
"I didn't need to. I want to make a knife. Nothing as fancy as yours, of course. But . . . something as elegant."
"Elegant?" he echoed, trying out the word. His bushy eyebrows rose as he applied the word to his own work and found it suited.
Facing him squarely, I replied in earnest. "La. Something worthy of a king. Worthy of my king. I want to make something to thank Peter."
"Thank him for what?" demanded the Dwarf, picking up a shovel. He dumped more coal into the barrow.
"A lot of things," I said. "Mostly for not giving up on me."
Brickit gave me an odd look. "Why would he ever think to do that?"
I snorted. "Because I was beastly."
He grunted in response.
"Also to thank him for sending me here," I added after a pause, pushing the shovel into the pile of coal, "and for sending me to Lithin. I think he saw before I did that I was the right person to do this."
Another cascade of shiny black rock was added to the barrow. Brickit was unusually thoughtful and finally he said, "'Tis not a simple task."
"Then you'll just have to make certain I do it right then, won't you? After all, the whole of Narnia will know where their High King's knife came from."
"Aye, his spawn of a brother!"
"Who learned under the gentle tutelage of you," I finished with a grin. I winced as the scratches on my neck reminded me of their presence.
"Sore?" Brickit pressed.
"Only when I smile, really."
"Good. Don't smile."
I rolled my eyes instead. "So will you teach me?"
"Only on the condition that you do exactly as I say and that if the end result is less than perfect, you start again."
"Agreed. I won't give him less than my best. Ever."
He set his shovel down. "Go empty this and get your apron on."
"Now?" I wondered, a faint whine slipping through. It was almost time for dinner and I was tired and filthy and very hungry.
His black eyes were sparkling. "Can you think of a better time?"
I could, but there was no way I would say as much. Despite the pain it caused, I smiled.
He returned the smile, knowing exactly what I was thinking. This was another test, a test that I had passed. "Then get thee moving, Spawn!"
Chapter 21: Trade Agreements
Chapter Twenty-One: Trade Agreements
Chapter Twenty-One: Trade Agreements
My thanks to Estriel for naming the bats and to Miniver for all her help!
Julie has made some amazing and wonderful artwork to accompany this chapter. Please check my profile for the link to her deviantART page to see Peter and the baby bats!
To Queen Susan the Gentle, Mistress of the South, etc. from Brickit, Chief Smith of the Blue River Smithy, greeting!
Understanding, as you must, the trials and burdens assumed when one becomes the elder sibling of a wearisome and obnoxious brother, I approach Your Majesty with a sympathetic proposal equal parts recommendation and request in reference to your younger brother Edmund, King of Narnia. Blessed as you have been with a fine, upright, restive, spruce, and extremely compassionate elder brother in the form of High King Peter, if it please Your Majesty I beg you to consider leaving Edmund here at my smithy, thereby ridding yourself of his tiresome humor while at the same time providing him with food, shelter, and the means to learn an honorable trade, for I tell you plainly the lad has a shining future as a Master Smith.
I beg Your Majesty consider this offer.
Brickit, Chief Smith of the Blue River Smithy
I stared at the document in open astonishment, unable to keep an amazed laugh from passing my lips. Looking at Lucy as she perused her own letter from the Chief Smith, I wondered if she had received a similar offer. Her face was puckered into a frown as she mouthed some poorly spelt word or worked through the Dwarf's bad penmanship and I knew that her message had to rival mine for audacity and nerve.
The Fruit Bats employed by Edmund to be his couriers while at the smithy had unexpectedly returned just an hour or so ago while we were holding court. They had delivered their letters to Sir Giles Fox, our chamberlain, and hurried off to enjoy the local caves before their return to the Blue River. At first we had thought Edmund had written again, but when the letters turned out to be from Brickit I had at first been concerned and now . . . now I didn't know what to think.
Lucy raised her eyes from the parchment, stuck dumb with amazement for a moment. When finally she found her voice, it came out in a squeak.
"It's from Brickit! He wants to trade his brother for Edmund!"
"What?" I laughed. "He asked me if he could keep him!"
We looked at each other and burst out giggling. I handed Lucy my letter and she gave me hers. It was an equally verbose offer to trade Brint for Edmund, and like my note it detailed the advantages to be gained by having a master smith around and the joys of not having the likes of our annoying brother (Brickit's words) cluttering up the Cair.
"Is he serious?" wondered Lucy.
I shook my head, unable to reply. The Chief Smith may very well be in earnest, but we certainly couldn't take him that way.
"What's so funny?" asked Peter, striding into the sitting room. He smiled to see our amusement and poured himself some wine.
"Here," I said, handing him the letter with his name scrawled across it. Peter frowned as he recognized the handwriting, but spotting similar letters in our hands and going by our reactions he knew something was amiss but that nothing was wrong with Edmund. He dropped into a chair and sipped his wine and started reading his letter.
A moment later he almost spewed the wine out as he started coughing and choking and trying to breathe again. I hurried over and gave him a few sharp blows on the back. Recovering, Peter stared at the paper, absolutely taken aback, and finally he tore himself away from Brickit's letter to gaze up at us. His gaping expression was very comical and I knew my own face had to be a close reflection of his. I held up my letter.
"He's asking to keep Edmund."
Lucy piped up, waving her own note. "He asked to trade his brother for ours."
Peter shook his head and finally managed to say in a raspy gasp, "He asking to buy him from us!"
We stared at each other for a moment, not a one of us sure how to react to these outrageous and ridiculous offers. Then Lucy giggled, and I felt my own shoulders shake as I asked,
"So how much is Ed worth?"
"Susan!" cried Peter, scandalized. He realized a moment later that I was teasing and he burst out laughing as well. He read his letter again, his amusement growing. "At least he said please."
"Asking to buy him is a bit much," Lucy replied.
Peter collected the letters and read them all. He muttered and fumed and finally exclaimed, "Restive? Spruce? What on earth has Edmund been telling them about me? And does this chap actually think we'd part with our brother?"
"Probably not," I reasoned. "I mean, do you actually think he spoke to Edmund first?"
Lucy giggled and Peter smirked. "A very good point. Obviously he didn't since Edmund seems convinced the beer there is poisonous."
"Really, we should send him some good beer from the cellars," Lucy suggested. She leaned over Peter's chair and read from his letter. ". . . pray that you name a fair price in gold and weapons and other valuables for the continued presence and service of your brother, Edmund." She gave Peter her best wide-eyed and innocent look. "What would Ed say?"
"Just that Brickit could never afford him," Peter returned. "At least, never afford to feed him."
We all enjoyed the moment and the sheer absurdity of Brickit's proposals when Marin, one of Peter's Cat pages, slid into the room.
"Majesties, your pardon," she lisped. "Couriers have arrived for King Peter from the Blue River Smithy. The message is from King Edmund."
Peter was in high spirits as he smiled at the tabby. "Send the couriers in please, Marin. I can't wait to hear what he thinks about Brickit's notion of keeping him," he added quietly as the Cat moved towards the door.
"Wait! Slow down!" she called suddenly, and we all looked up.
A moment later the room was full of excited, clumsy, squeaking Fruit Bats that didn't have the sense to pick a spot to land, but flapped about the room and knocked into things and each other. There were six of them, but from the racket they made there seemed to be many more and Lucy and I ducked for cover. For a moment there was pandemonium, and then Peter jumped to his feet and caught one of the Bats in both hands.
"Silence!" he ordered. "All of you! That's enough! Land now! This is no way to conduct yourselves!"
He had the disadvantage of being the tallest thing in the room. Bats being Bats, they all swooped in and landed on him from every direction, covering him from head to waist in fuzzy black.
"Ow! Stop that!" he ordered as one of the Bats tugged on his hair.
"It's real!" exclaimed the Bat, ignoring the order for a moment. "Zante, Corinth, look! It's real!" Little sounds of awe rose up and the couriers completely forgot their duty in light of examining Peter's hair for themselves.
Peter sighed and in a monotone said, "I refuse to believe I'm the only blond in the history of Narnia."
Suppressing a smile, I went to his rescue. I helped the Bats untangle themselves from his clothes and each other and set them around the room. It occurred to me that they were rather small and young. They were all very eager and happy and charmingly curious and they left Peter disheveled and a little irked, with one juvenile Bat still on his hands.
"What name has your mother blessed you with, lady?" asked he, holding the Bat at eye level.
"Sultana," said she, bowing her head as she realized in whose hands she rested.
"Welcome to Cair Paravel. I believe you have a message for me."
She remembered the tightly folded letter she clutched in her claws, and I saw her grip on it tighten. "I do, King Peter. It's from your brother."
"May I have it, please?"
"Not yet, Sire. King Edmund told me I was not to give it to you until you were seated and promised not to panic."
"What?" he demanded instantly. "Panic?"
"King Edmund made me promise to make you promise," she said in a small voice.
Thoroughly fed up, Peter was about to protest when I simply said, "Peter." It was not Sultana's fault that Edmund knew his older brother so well.
He drew a deep breath, mastered his impatience and anxiety, and resumed his seat. "I promise I will not panic."
She handed over the letter and he set her down on the nearby table. Hastily he tore open Edmund's message and I saw him blanch and suck in his breath as he read the first few words. Unconsciously, he slowly stood. I knew he wanted to pace, but little Sultana piped,
"You promised, Sire!"
"What?" he wondered, completely distracted.
"Sit, Peter," I reminded softly.
"Oh." He dropped down again on the foot rest before the chair, eyes locked on the document. Three seconds later he stood and started to stride across the room, his voice rising up. "Lion's mane!"
"Peter!" Lucy admonished. She pointed at the frightened Bats.
With a little growl he sat on the window ledge. As we watched him read the letter, he went from pale with fear to red with emotion and I could only imagine what Edmund had to say. I turned to the couriers, suspecting they could be very easily distracted.
"Why don't you go rest before you return to the Blue River? The page Marin can direct you to food and a place to rest."
"Can we see the Eastern Sea?" one of the Bats exclaimed, and immediately they all clamored to see the ocean.
"Ask Marin to show you," I replied.
They enthusiastically swooped off in search of their duly appointed Cat guide. I closed the door and then Lucy and I stood close and regarded Narnia's High King. There was a tumult of emotion on his face - relief, anxiety, desolation. I felt my heart go out to him and taking Lucy's hand; we settled on either side of him and leaned close.
"He won't be back for another week," Peter said dully. "He's not quite done."
I felt a pang of disappointment, but I suspected it would take more than that to generate such a strong reaction out of Peter. "Is that what's upset you so?" I pressed.
He shook his head, looking up at me. When he spoke, his voice was soft and conveyed so much more than mere words ever could. "The Werewulf. The one I'd been warning them about. It attacked the smithy."
I gasped, and Lucy echoed the sound.
"Was Edmund hurt?" we both demanded.
"Scratches, nothing serious. Here. Read for yourselves."
He handed over the letter and Lucy came to my side to read. Peter let out a sigh and rubbed his temples and I knew he was well on his way to a headache.
"He's well, Peter," I said, knowing the source of his distress. "He hasn't been hurt. You did what you could and Edmund and the Dwarfs did what they had to."
He let out a shuddering breath and Lucy, dear sister, twined her arms around his waist to comfort him. He bent over and held her tight.
"You miss him," Lucy stated simply, and Peter nodded. She looked up at him, trying to lighten his mood and get him to smile. "Even though he snores?"
"Especially because he snores," Peter said quietly. "Then at least I know he's right there."
Oh, Peter. How well he loved his only brother. I smiled and joined their little knot, resting my cheek against Peter's shoulder. We all missed Edmund. By his own words he missed us as well, but I had a great sense of pride that he was seeing this challenge through. Clearly the Dwarfs adored him enough to try to keep him there. I smiled at the notion and then smiled at my elder brother, knowing he held the same pride for Edmund.
"He's doing very well," Lucy consoled.
Said Peter, "I knew that he would."
"Well," I replied, resolving myself, "If he's not back in a week, I say we go and get him. He's had enough fun."
To my relief, Peter smiled faintly. "Fun? I don't know if he's exactly having fun, Su, but whatever he's having I'm sure that by the end of the week he'll have had quite enough."
Chapter 22: Aim
Chapter Twenty-Two: Aim
Chapter Twenty-Two: Aim
"Your aim needs some work, boy."
I looked up from where I instinctively clutched my left hand to my chest with crushing strength. My poor fingers, caught between hot metal and a hammer by an ill-timed, poorly-aimed hammer strike, were already throbbing with agony and holding them so tightly did not really help, but I could not bring myself to let go.
Brickit sighed in sympathy for what I was feeling and with a small groan I doubled over, resting my head on my knees as I waited for the pain to fade. Finally he sat beside me, and after a few minutes of letting me suffer he nudged me with his elbow.
"Let me see," he ordered. "Come on, Edmund, give me your hand and I'll let you know if you'll get to keep some or all of it."
I uncurled just enough for him to inspect my fingers. They simultaneously felt on fire and flattened and I gasped as he ruthlessly forced my hand to unclench. Seeing stars for the second time in just a few minutes, I bit my lip to keep from crying out . . . or just crying.
"Aye, it hurts, but it won't last forever and you've probably felt worse learning to swing a sword," he said, ignoring the tears in my eyes and the sweat on my face as he felt down the length of each finger on my left hand, flexing and curling each one in turn. "Naught's broken, though you might wish otherwise. You shouldn't lose any nails."
I couldn't help but make a sound of revulsion at the thought.
He chuckled. "We've all done worse, Spawn, and so will you in time. You got the lesson over with early in your career: keep your fingers out of the way of a swinging hammer. We'll get you something cool to keep it from swelling and you'll be right as rain."
As good as his word, he sent an apprentice to fetch a bucket of fresh water and he had me soak my hand in the cool liquid. I sighed in relief as a chill gradually replaced the pain. Tired and miserable, I sat hunched over with my hand in the bucket. He left me for a few minutes and came back with the piece of steel I had been shaping. It was cold and gray by now, and Brickit leaned over to hold it at my eye level.
"'Tis a good start," he said. "But it won't do. See here? The tang's not long enough for the balance you want. Don't forget who and what you're working with and who and what you're making this for. Hold up your hand. The dry one, Spawn. I've no mind to get wet."
Resisting the urge to splash him, I obliged. He pressed his hand against mine to compare the sizes. His hand was wide and his fingers stubby, the skin rough with calluses and scars and burns. In contrast my hand was slight and my fingers long and fine.
"See? They keep trying to make a knife for a Dwarf, not a Son of Adam. You've got to keep in mind that you're making this for the Nancy and I assume his hand is larger than yours, and will just get larger."
I nodded in agreement.
"So the blade must balance against the hilt. See here."
He drew his knife and held the elegant blade beside my rough first attempt. I wondered at my temerity at thinking I could make something a fraction so beautiful.
"The weight of metal and wood and leather must be considered, the cross-guard and pommel and grip, to oppose the weight of the blade."
I stared, trying to take this all in. Brickit displayed the knife I had started.
"It's well shaped. Nice and even. You've an eye for this sort of thing, Spawn."
If it was the truth or just an attempt to lift my flagging spirits, his kind words were what I needed to hear. I smiled, my jaw a little less painful than the day before, the ache in my hand lessened as I reached for the hunk of steel. I turned it this way and that, examining my own handiwork and looking at what was right and wrong with this first attempt. It was a good start. It was well shaped. The Chief Smith had praised my work.
I would do better tomorrow.
"Better," grunted Brickit, looking hard at the fledgling blade I held tightly clamped with pincers, "but it's too thick to be flexible and balanced. Narrow the blade, Spawn, and don't forget it's for Nancy, not for Baia!"
I didn't sigh or grumble as I thrust the hunk of steel back into the fire to reheat. Rather I glared at the glowing white blaze, annoyed with myself for forgetting to keep so many factors in mind. Balance, weight, shape, flexibility – each aspect had its own demands that had to be met, and my complete inexperience was hampering me. I shifted my glare from the fire to the Chief Smith.
"Show me what I have to do," I said, and it was as much ordering as imploring him to help me. He cast me a look, gauging my mood and fatigue, and slowly shook his head.
"Take a rest first," he replied, relieving me of the hammer I gripped. "Rest, a drink, sit for a spell. You've been going all morn. I'll come back and we'll work on it."
I wanted to argue, but he was right. I was worn out. Reluctantly I nodded and he shooed me off and away from the forge. I dragged my arm across my forehead, wiping at the sweat and dirt gathered, and I wondered if I would ever really be clean again in this life time.
Retreating to the furthest corner of the shop, I sat on the floor and bent my knees close to my chest, waiting for the aches to fade. I rested my head against the plaster wall and let out a long sigh, willing my body to take advantage of the moment of peace. As I stared at the soot-blackened rafters, my mind wandered to Mathe, my rhetoric teacher, and I tried to think of as many words for 'tired' that I could. It was a long list. Eventually it occurred to me that save for an extra 'r,' tortured was an anagram for tutored. I snorted. Mathe would be proud.
I wondered at the time and what my siblings were doing right now. Probably having tea. We did that a lot for some reason. I didn't particularly like the stuff, but I would not have refused some right then. Anything but that grainy beer. My letter to Peter should have arrived and I could only imagine his reaction. Poor Peter. I knew it would alarm and upset him, but better that he should hear it from me than anyone else. I still didn't know what Brickit had written to my siblings but I assumed I would find out eventually.
I looked up and was pleasantly surprised to see Baia standing before me with a dewy tankard in her hands. I had not seen her since breakfast (waking me up didn't count since I rarely remembered actually seeing her) and I hadn't had a chance to talk and ask her how she was since the Werewulf attack. Before I could stand up and greet her properly she held out the cold tankard to me.
"It's ginger water, with a little early mint and honey. Gran made it. I thought you might like some."
"Thank you, my lady," I replied, grateful and touched at her thoughtfulness. I relieved her of its weight and she sat down beside me. I drank a mouthful of the spiced liquid. It had a sharp, sweet taste that was pleasant on the tongue and it went far towards cooling me and my sore fingers. After a few minutes I looked at Baia.
"How are you?" I asked. "You weren't hurt on this Seventhday past, were you?"
She shook her head, studying me closely. "Papa said that you were the worst hurt of us all. Does your neck hurt?"
"A little. Were you very scared that day?"
Nodding, she said in a serious tone, "I was very scared. I was afraid the Werewulf would eat us all."
"I was afraid of the same thing," I admitted, taking another drink.
"You?" she asked, awed. "But you saved Bess and Belleel! Mama told me that you ran right after the Wulf and didn't even wait for the archers."
"I'll admit it wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done, Baia, but I'm glad I did it. Would you like some?" I offered the tankard and she reached for it with both hands. We slowly savored the treat, sharing it between us.
"If you were so scared why did you chase after the Werewulf?" she asked softly.
I smiled, handing over the tankard. "Finish it, Lady Baia. I chased after the Wulf because as a knight it's my duty and as a king of Narnia I have to keep my people safe no matter how frightened I am."
"Uncle Brickit says you're part of the clan now."
"I'm greatly honored that he says so, too."
"I'm glad you're in our clan. That makes us really cousins." She smiled and leaned close to whisper, "Cousin Biss was very angry with Uncle Brickit that he did that, and Uncle Brickit said he's seen rocks that are smarter than Biss!"
I chuckled more at her expression than to hear Brickit lace into his suspicious and moody cousin. Baia giggled and I thought how well she would get along with Lucy. "You know, Baia, if we're really cousins then you're also related to my brother and sisters."
Her eyes flew open wide. "Even your brother with the yellow hair?"
"He's the only brother I've got."
She frowned, digesting this unforeseen and unsettling development. "But how can a Black Dwarf have yellow hair?"
"The same way a Black Dwarf can be a boy. Family is what we decide to make it."
After a few moments of quiet contemplation, Baia said, "I think I'll just count you for now."
"Now," lectured the Chief Smith, "this is a respectable start and cold filing can work wonders, but that's not why you're here or what I intend for you to learn."
Brickit had collected me soon after the midday meal and he hovered close as he tried to cram years of knowledge and skill into me all in an afternoon. It was overwhelming and exciting all at once as he critiqued my latest efforts.
He lifted my third attempt, the blade that was too thick. "Better than the first two, especially considering the distraction of two masters trying to instruct you at once. But you can do better and I know you want to."
"La," I agreed quietly. I looked up at him, tired and determined. He seemed to recognize something in my expression. Perhaps he had been in my position once upon a time, because he nodded sagely and clapped me on the arm.
"So. Build up the fire, Spawn! I'll help you choose your metal and we'll get to work."
Chapter 23: Temper
Chapter Twenty-Three: Temper
Chapter Twenty-Three: Temper
A/N: My thanks to Warrior4 for helping with this chapter!
"Patience, King Edmund. You didn't learn to run a kingdom in a day."
I sighed in frustration and disappointment, looking up from the table to give Gran a wry look. Another round of labor – this time with Brickit himself breathing down my neck and complaining that I was too tall – had resulted in yet another failure. The blade had cracked and had to be abandoned. "I've been at this more than a day. And I'm still not too sure about my ability to run a kingdom."
She chuckled and patted my shoulder. "We've a saying among our people, young king: Only a fool gilds refined gold. What you lack in skill and experience you make up in drive. You can do this, unskilled though you may be. I can see it in you. You've the glint in your eye that tells me you will do your brother the High King proud."
I considered for a moment. "And Brickit?"
The old dame smiled. "Oh, lad, he couldn't be prouder than he already is."
Her words pleased me more than I could say. To think that when we met Brickit and I had done nothing but exchange barbed words and snide remarks! We still did, but the intent behind them had changed so gradually over the past few weeks that all the bite was taken out. "I have only three more days here before I have to go, Lady."
Gran gave me a look at once sly and wise. "Mighty Aslan sang the world into being in a single morn. Think of what you, his chosen king, might accomplish in the time you have left here. Remember success is not always measured in the finishing, but in the trying."
I blinked, astonished at her faith in me. It was amazing, really, the level of confidence Narnians placed in us, their kings and queens. At times it was daunting, but right now I let her trust bolster my enthusiasm.
Brickit sat down beside me a few minutes later. As soon as we were fed our evening meal I poured him some beer and fixed him with an indomitable look. "Hurry it along, Chief Smith," I insisted. "We've work to do."
He smirked at my expression and tone, but I noticed he also ate faster than usual.
Once again I started with a blank hunk of silver-gray steel, and just as every time before I thrust it deep into the glowing embers of the fire until it shone yellow-hot and ready to be shaped. I hammered and sweated and ignored the sparks burning me and my clothes as I poured every effort into keeping my word to make something worthy of Narnia's High King. The only difference now was that I had the Chief Smith directing every move and every hammer strike with a precision that was remarkable. He stood opposite me at the anvil, with a slim wooden stick in his hand that he used to point to the exact spot for me to strike with the hammer. By the tone of metal impacting metal he could tell if the strike was hard enough as I pounded the steel into shape, and under his direction a long, narrow blade began to form that was superior to anything I had produced thus far.
"Harder," he ordered, pointing to the cooling metal. We were both intent to the point of obsessive. There were no words exchanged between us. There was no calling for conversation. The only sounds were a hammer hitting steel, the soft rush of the fire, and the Dwarf's gruff voice as he commanded each step. "Again. Turn. Here. Lighter. Again. Again. Back in the fire with it!"
And so we went on, coaxing the steel with heat and hammer blows, finding balance and heft and symmetry between us and in the metal. We were alone in the shop, the masters having left long ago. I had no notion of time or any thought beyond following his terse instructions. Now and then he took the hammer and worked the knife a few blows, his expertise correcting the flaws my inexperience wrought. Still, the majority of the actual labor was mine. I was so focused, so bent on following his orders that it didn't seem like work at all. I didn't grow tired, my attention never wavered. The need to work and to do this well consumed me utterly, overshadowing any desire to pause and rest. We moved from the hot aura of the forge to the relatively cool air by the anvil, sweat mingling with sparks as the day turned into the evening and then into the night.
It was very late when Brickit left me for a while, grunting at me to watch the fire. The knife was resting back in its fiery bed of coals when he returned. To my surprise he had two buckets of fresh water and he dumped them into the slate slack tub close by the forge.
"Pull that free," he ordered, motioning towards the knife.
I obeyed, pulling the glowing metal free with a pair of tongs. It shone with radiant heat in the barely-lit shop, a brilliant cherry red. I studied my handiwork at a safe distance. It felt right this time. It would not crack. It was balanced and well shaped.
This was a knife for my brother. Finally.
"Steady," said Brickit, staring at the blade. "Wait a moment. When I say, into the bath with it. Point first."
I waited, staring, wondering what he was waiting for. Brickit never even blinked as he looked at the knife. A few long moments passed as I tried to calm my pounding heart, and then he snapped, "Now!"
I dipped it into the stone tub. Immediately an angry, almost pained hiss rose up sharply and steam filled the air. The sound was squelched as abruptly as it began when the knife was immersed and at Brickit's order I dropped it fully into the tub and backed away. Hot steel met cool water and the liquid instantly boiled. I wiped my brow, suddenly tired and breathless. It was a good feeling, similar to the end of a long, hard practice session on the training grounds at Cair Paravel.
"Why did you have me wait?" I asked after the water and my heart both calmed.
"Hmm?" he rumbled, frowning.
"Why wait? Why not quench it immediately?"
Brickit realized what I was talking about and a faint smirk touched his lips. Taking the tongs from my hand, he moved to the tub, fishing about in the steaming water. He lifted the knife by the tang and examined it from all angles in the dim light. After a long while he nodded, satisfied with what he saw.
"Because timing, Spawn, is everything. For the temper a blade such as this needs, the metal was too hot." He offered me my own work, and I tested the metal with my gloved hands before I took it from the tongs. I turned it this way and that, aware that he was minding me closely. I could not keep a slow grin from spreading across my face. I held it out to him.
"What say you, Chief Smith?"
He took the still-hot blade in his calloused hands, holding it between his fingers by the point of the blade and the tip of the tang. It was more than a foot long and the metal shone with a dull, silver sheen.
"I say get some rest," he replied after a few minutes of contemplation. "Tomorrow we'll make the cross-guard and you'll get to learn the very fine art of filing and polishing Blue River Steel."
"Talons, feet, and claws,
Belly, fins, and paws,
Hooves, hands, and tails,
Wings, mouths, and nails."
Baia and I straddled a bench in the long house, hands before us a she taught me a Narnian clapping game. Unlike the clapping games I had seen Lucy play with her friends, Baia and I each kept one hand before us at all times, the backs of our hands maintaining constant contact. Our free hands met above and below the stationary ones, sometimes clapping against our own hands or thighs, sometimes twisting over to strike our partner's hand. My fingers were still quite sore but she had mercy on my novice status in the game and moved slowly enough for me to follow.
"Southern Marches swampy,
Northern Marches cold,
Eastern Sea so soggy,
Western Woods so old."
Like many Narnian games and rhymes, this one taught as well as entertained – in this case the game focused on navigating around Narnia. I smiled as Baia concentrated. She had much further to reach when playing with me as opposed to her friends that were closer to her in size, though I tried my best to make it easier for her.
"Leopard, Ship, and Horse,
Spearhead pointing north,
Culros, Hammer, Crown,
Shine when sun goes down."
I missed a beat and her hand and she giggled at my efforts as I tried to compensate. Brint came and sat beside his daughter, watching us play.
"Teach him well, daughter," he said with a laugh, and there was obvious pride in his voice. "We don't want him getting lost in this land he rules."
"I still get lost in my own palace," I admitted, much to their amusement.
"And by the by," added Brint, "the parents of those Fruit Bats you sent to Cair Paravel came looking for their brood last night while you were making a racket."
I stopped mid-clap. "What?"
"Seems the Robin you sent asked the wrong family for volunteers."
I closed my eyes. I should have known. "Oh, no . . ."
Brint let me suffer a few moments longer before he shrugged. "No worries, boy. They're more upset with their offspring than with you. They at least should have known better." He chuckled. "Every family has its idiots. This generation of Bats is just more blessed than most."
Shaking my head, I said, "I'll have to apologize."
"Don't bother. It will do the young ones some good and as I said, the parents laid the blame where it belongs."
There was no time for further conversation as the daughters began to serve breakfast. I thanked Baia for the game and took my usual seat. Almost immediately a plate of food was set before me and Brickit dropped down into his chair next to me.
"Hurry it along, Spawn!" he all but yelled in my ear. "We've work to do!"
I grinned, delighted to obey.
Chapter 24: Worthy
Chapter Twenty-Four: Worthy
Chapter Twenty-Four: Worthy
If I thought there was anything in the least bit romantic or magical in making weapons I quickly abandoned those childish and silly notions when it came time to polish a blade. The best I could say was thank Aslan I hadn't tried to make Peter a sword because I would have had to stay at the Blue River Smithy an additional month just to get the thing polished. Polishing was a long, boring, and in the end quite smelly job, though at the same time the end results were very satisfying.
Brickit wouldn't let me touch the blade I'd forged the night before, but he made me start out by heating and tempering one of my earlier attempts and practicing on that. Polishing was accomplished by rubbing the metal with a series of flat stones, each one of progressively finer quality all the way down to clay from the banks of the Blue River. Each stone had to be moved in a different, consistent direction to avoid scoring the metal too much and Brickit told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to touch the tang. After leveling a few choice threats, he explained that polishing the tang was counter-productive and could cause the grip to come loose.
With a series of five polishing stones, a bowl of clay, and a bowl of water arrayed before me, I set to work. The practice blade was tightly clamped in a vise on a work bench and after a quick tutorial in even pressure and water as a lubricant and the importance of following but one direction Brickit let me have at it. He came back often to check my progress and told me when to switch stones and direction, each time showing me the exact angle and starting point for each swipe of the stone. That didn't happen as often as I would have liked, but I will say that I was fascinated to see the steel gradually acquire a smooth sheen that got shinier and brighter as the morning wore on until Brickit threw a rag at me and told me to switch to the clay. I had thought the clay would be easier to use than the stones, but I was wrong. It clung and got under my nails and it stank. My hands were aching by the time I was done, but I had never been so pleased to get so muddy (even though some of the clay got in my hair and dried as hard as plaster). When I wiped the steel down one final time the blade had a surface that was almost mirror-bright with a faint bluish tinge to it.
"Not bad for the first try," Brickit allowed in a grudging tone that told me he was very pleased with my first efforts. "Fairly respectable work. 'Tis easier to polish double blades like this with no false edge, believe it or no. Of course," and here he freed the blank from the vise and turned it over, "you'll want to be doing both sides."
I made a sour face at him as if that was obvious, but in truth I had completely forgotten the other side of the blade. I stretched my sore shoulders and shook my hands to ease the tightness in them.
"Now," he said, rambling on in much the same manner as he wrote invitations, "were this the Nancy's present it would get polished and the cross-guard added, then go to Master Boont for the grip to be fitted and sanded and then you'd have two more times at it with this clay mix and some oil. But, seeing as how you didn't destroy this, you can start on what you made last night. Mind, now, you must take care not to distort the shape and 'ware the edges! These things don't need to be sharp to cut a finger."
He set up Peter's knife in the vise and once again showed me the right angle to move the roughest of the stones. I hesitated, and the Chief Smith gave me a little poke in the arm.
"It won't polish itself, Spawn."
I flicked some water at him in retaliation and with a chuckle he let me get to work. If I lingered longer and rubbed the stones with greater care than before, I think I can be forgiven. I watched the metal grow smooth and buff under my strokes and I tried to imagine Peter's expression when he finally saw this and held it in his hands. In my mind's eye the knife was done and I could see it clearly, a neat dagger for everyday use, sharp, strong, and elegant. He would be thrilled in his quiet way, just as I was thrilled to think that I was the one to make this for him. It was more than a weapon or a tool by now. This knife was a pledge and an icon for Narnia's High King, a symbol that spoke of a depth and passion the words for which I did not yet possess. I could say I loved Peter and I had, but this gift would show my brother how great my devotion had become these past few months since Beruna. My actions, my work, would speak for me, and all the emotion I could not express fully I now poured into my labor.
Since coming to Narnia I had learned that the merest of things – a handkerchief, a kiss, a quiet promise – had a greater, more profound meaning and dignity than any monuments or memorials of metal and stone. And so it was with the knife. From the rough ore taken from the heart of Moon Mountain to the ingots cast in sand to the steel blank I had hammered into shape to the knife gradually taking on a dull sheen beneath my hands, love and devotion and skill had followed this gift at every stage of its journey. Like me, it had come from darkness to light, shaped and tempered with care, and like me, I knew it would be loved and treasured. And so, like me, I had to make it into something worthy.
Chapter 25: Shagreen and Hornbeam
Chapter Twenty-Five: Shagreen and Hornbeam
Chapter Twenty-Five: Shagreen and Hornbeam
"Well now," Brickit said, standing over me to look at my finished handiwork. "Well now, lad," he echoed as he carefully loosed the blade from the vise. He held it by the long, full tang and turned it slowly, examining the shaft of metal from all sides. I waited anxiously as his dark eyes studied the shining-bright steel in the fading light. For some reason the blue tint to the metal seemed more pronounced to my eyes than on the first blade I had polished. I thought it was beautiful.
"Well now, King Edmund," he finally said, sinking down to sit beside me on the bench. He gazed at me with wonder and something akin to admiration. "This . . . is very well done. Would that all our apprentices approached these things with such passion."
I stared at the knife blade, once again amazed at my own work. It was worth raw, aching fingers and sore arms and back to have silenced him this way, if only for a moment. "Now what happens?" I asked, and I was surprised that I could not raise my voice above a whisper.
"Now I make the cross-guard." He glanced at me, looking almost apologetic. "You haven't the skill for that yet and it's more than I can talk you through. My mother said you're leaving in two days, so if this is to be completed we need more help from the masters."
I nodded gratefully. I was surprised I had made it this far on my own.
"After we add the cross-guard, Master Boont will make the grip. She's already got wood aplenty; it just needs to be affixed. Then you polish it some more and my mother wraps it in leather and my brother sharpens it. After that the masters decide if it will be allowed to leave our smithy."
I suppressed a smirk. "And if it's not allowed to leave?"
"You get to visit it next year when you come. Don't worry, lad, I'll take good care of it."
Giddiness overwhelmed me and I snorted. Brickit chuckled, pleased to have made me laugh. He gave me a push.
"Come along, Spawn, and I'll show you how to fuse metal to metal."
Brickit was absolutely right – the cross-guard was far beyond my skill level to make and affix to the blade. He made it look very simple – almost annoyingly so – but after I ran some coal and sweated for another hour or so, the blade had a plain cross-guard and a small rounded pommel, both of which were made of bronze and fused neatly to the tang. I was anxious that the heat would undo my polishing, but Brickit scoffed and dismissed my worries, reminding me that I had to polish it a few more times anyway. He was rather casual with my time, but I supposed since this smithy was his kingdom he was allowed to be.
We left the fire to cool and Brickit walked me over to the carpenter's shop. He was already speculating on the type of wood Master Boont would choose for the grip. He dismissed ebony and mahogany as too heavy and boxwood as too light and finally decided that some sort of ironwood would suit to balance out the finished product. My opinion on the matter was not solicited, not that I had one to offer.
I had not been paying close attention before when Brickit mentioned Boont. The master carpenter, it turned out, was female and the first Black Dwarf I had ever seen with blue eyes. She was, nonetheless, all Black Dwarf and she cast the pair of us a hearty glare.
"What were you about all day that a simple knife took from sunup to sundown to polish? What have you taught this boy, Brickit?"
Without waiting for a reply she stomped off into her workshop, leaving us to follow if we dared. Brickit motioned me on and we stepped into the large shop. I paused and let out a little exclamation of amazement at the sheer number of tools filling the place and hanging from the rafters and walls. Most of them I couldn't identify, nor could I identify the dazzling varieties of wood piled and stacked all about the place. Completely distracted, I ran my fingers over woods of every color and grain imaginable – pale green and golden blond and red and brown and even dense, dark ebony from Narnia's southernmost mountains. There were bows and poles stacked up against the walls, bundles of arrow shafts ready for heads and fletching, axe handles, and wooden swords. Weapons weren't all that was produced here – there were cooking utensils and bowls and other household implements, some of them intricately inlaid, and I smiled to see some beautifully carved animal toys.
"Edmund!" snapped Brickit, bringing me out of my reverie. He spoke my name quickly, as if it were distasteful and needed to be dispensed with quickly, but at least he didn't call me 'Spawn' in front of the master. I suppose being polite tasted sour to him, but I nonetheless hurried over to join him and Boont. The carpenter was examining the dagger, testing the weight and balance on her finger tip. She stared hard at it with narrowed eyes, deep in thought.
"Well?" Brickit pressed.
He earned himself another glare. I was glad to see I wasn't alone in receiving them.
"An ironwood," she announced. "Hornbeam, I think."
"Ha!" crowed the Chief Smith, smacking me on the back hard enough to make me stagger.
After another smoldering glare, Boont demanded, "What kind of leather?"
"Shagreen," Brickit replied without a moment's hesitation. I had no idea of what he was talking about, but Boont did and she nodded.
"Come back after breakfast," she ordered, walking away with the knife in her hands, and we beat a hasty retreat.
"Now what?" I wondered.
"Dinner," he replied, "lest you have a better idea."
I had scarce heard a better suggestion, and I realized I had forgotten to eat lunch. Maybe there was something to Susan's regular nagging to eat more. "Not I."
"Wake up! Wake up, King Edmund!"
I groaned. How, how, how could Baia and Brack be so wide awake? They were worse than Peter. Not even Lucy was so chipper when she woke up. I hissed and threw my pillow in their general direction. A moment later it was thrown back and hit me in the head. Dragging myself upright, I staggered to the basin and washed up, tempted to dunk my head in the water. I couldn't remember when I had last washed my hair and suddenly I longed for my valet and the deep marble bathtub in the dressing room Peter and I shared. A hot bath was quite my idea of paradise at the moment.
"You awake, Spawn?" Brint called.
"NO!" I growled, rounding on him as he stood in the doorway.
"You look awake," he countered brightly.
"Well, I'm not!"
He chuckled. "Then sleepwalk yourself over to the wood shop after breakfast and I'll see you after my mother is done with you."
I muttered something unintelligible, not really following him, and I didn't speak again until I thanked Gran for my breakfast. Afterwards I made my way to see Boont. The master carpenter smirked at me and my nearly alert state as she presented me with the knife.
I stared speechlessly. The tang was completely encased by grayish-yellow wood. It was perfectly smooth and swelled slightly in the middle. I took it in both hands, amazed at the difference the grip made. I had thought it looked like a knife before, but I hadn't realized until that moment how greatly I had been influenced by what I wanted to see. Thiswas a dagger. What I had made up to this point was merely a skeleton of one. Boont watched me closely, enjoying my reaction.
"It's beautiful, Lady," I finally managed to say.
She gave me a little bit of a smile. "Respectable work for a first try," she agreed gruffly. "You're not done yet, though. Off to the river for some clay and polish it again."
I thanked her time and again until she threw me out of her shop. I didn't have to go so far as the river initially – I still had my bowl of river clay saved from the day before and this I used, under Brint's critical eye, to polish the blade again. I polished the cross-guard and pommel for good measure, giving them a dull luster. I wiped it down time and again until the blade shone bright in the late morning light, and then I leaned my head in my hand, staring at it, weary and happy at once.
"It's not very becoming on a king," Brint commented, suddenly standing over me with a smirk on his lips.
"Hmm?" I looked up at him in surprise.
"Clay isn't your color, Spawn."
"Wha? Oh!" I finished in disgust, realizing there had been clay all over my hand that was now ground into my hair. He laughed as I stomped out of the work shop.
So I ended up going to the river after all to wash the mud out of my hair. The water was cold and the bugs were swarming and I was tempted to wear clay in order to stay dry and unbitten. Brack intercepted me on the way back and told me I was to fetch my riding gloves and join Gran in the long house.
I found the grand old dame examining my handiwork. There was a pleased gleam in her dark eyes as she hefted the knife and felt it for balance and strength. She had an assortment of unfamiliar tools laid out on the table and a strange hide the likes of which I had never seen before. It reminded me of a huge, dark, dried mushroom.
"What is that?"
"Shagreen leather," she replied, amused at my tone. "It comes from queer ocean fish from far to the south where the Eastern Sea is always warm. The fish is flat and shaped like a diamond with a long barbed tail, or so they say."
"A ray?" I wondered, but there was no more time for speculation as Gran expertly measured the grip against the edge of the leather. Moments later she took a blade and began to cut the hide in a long, continuous strip. It seemed a shame to cover such lovely wood, but even I could tell the grip was too smooth for a proper hold. Under Gran's instruction I wrapped the wooden grip, but no matter what I did the leather – which was very rough against my fingers - wasn't long enough. She let me struggle for a while before taking knife and leather out of my hands and once again I was shown by a master craftsman how to make something work. She pulled and stretched the black leather until all the wood was tightly covered and the strip overlapped only slightly.
"See? Now unwind that and we'll affix it in place."
The glue she used was nasty stuff and smelled so foul that I did not want to know how it was made. The strip wrapped over itself at the base of the grip and at the top it fitted tightly into a narrow lip left in the pommel and clamed tightly around the leather. I was rather amazed at the detailing Brickit and the other masters had put into this because I would not have thought of half the things that were to the Dwarfs quite ordinary.
"There." Gran handed me the blade with its rough coat of leather. I stared in quiet awe, barely noticing as she pulled out more, heavier leather pieces and said, "Now for a sheath."
I proved quite hopeless at sewing the layers of leather together that she cut out for the sheath, though. I wore my gloves at this point to protect my hands from getting lacerated on the thread. Two long, heavy needles were used, passed in opposite directions through the holes punched in the leather, but I pulled the oiled thread too tight and broke it so many times that Gran got fed up and, like Boont before her, threw me out.
"Go annoy Brint!" she ordered, slamming the door behind me, her patience with me gone.
So I sought out the master smith in his den with the express desire to annoy him. Brint was expecting me (Gran's voice having carried very well) and he held his hand out for the knife.
"Now what?" I asked hesitantly.
He grunted. "Now we eat. After that, you watch as I sharpen it. Unless the Nancy can't be trusted with anything sharp, in which case you're done."
I made a face at him and shook my head, thinking of Peter's remarkable skill with a sword or javelin. I slapped the knife into his waiting hand. "Don't hurt yourself, Brint."
Chapter 26: Waiting
Chapter Twenty-Six: Waiting
Chapter Twenty-Six: Waiting
I did not sleep well that night. The day had been misty and my bed felt damp and I was more anxious than I wanted to admit. Tomorrow, after breakfast, the Masters of the Blue River Smithy would make the final decision as to whether or not the dagger I had made would be allowed to leave.
A strange sense of nervousness gripped me. It was rather like knowing I had to take an important test in the morn or put on some type of performance where I had to remember a long soliloquy. I had done all I could up to this point; the final decision on my labor was completely out of my hands.
I thought if this was how Peter felt when he worried. Small wonder he had so much trouble sleeping those first few weeks after our coronation. The fact that I missed him – and my sisters and my valet and my bed and food that hadn't been endlessly stewed – did not help me find any relief. For a long while I just stared into the darkness of the room, wishing the morning would come just as greatly as I dreaded its inevitable arrival. I had no idea of what I would feel if they found the knife inadequate and refused to let it represent the smithy. Would I be able to withstand such crushing disappointment? And I would be disappointed, terribly so despite my best efforts. I wanted to succeed here. I had succeeded here. I just . . . I just so wanted to watch Peter's expression as he realized what I had made for him. I wanted him to have this knife. That would be my reward: to see all our hard work in the hands of the High King.
Rising, I lit the small lamp beside my bed and crossed the room to retrieve the knife. It flashed silvery-blue in the light as I drew if from its leather sheath. Brint had sharpened the blade to a razor's keenness, tapering the point and edges. There was a certain deadly beauty to it now, but part of its beauty was the sheer simplicity of its lines. It was as much a tool as it was a weapon, and somehow I had crafted it. After a while I returned it to its sheath and extinguished the lamp. I didn't feel any better than before as I lay down once again to await the dawn.
I sighed, tossing on the lumpy pallet. I had to learn not to borrow trouble.
I was up early and I shocked Brack and Baia the next morning by waking them up. It was Bly's idea, one I eagerly latched onto, and I'll admit I derived a great deal of pleasure out of rousting my tormentors from their warm beds for once. Both children were delighted and screamed as they defended themselves with their pillows. By the time they were up we were all breathless from laughing and Bly had to hurry them along to get dressed in time for breakfast.
Brint was waiting for me just outside the door. I stood before him, the knife in hand, waiting anxiously and hoping my emotions didn't show so plainly as to betray me.
"Come eat," he ordered gruffly, waving me along. I had the feeling he knew exactly how I felt, as the labor of every apprentice here at the smithy had to undergo similar examinations. "After breakfast the masters will call for you."
"Wonderful," I muttered, close on his heels.
I kissed Gran on the cheek in thanks for sewing the sheath for me. Brint, catching wind of our exchange, threatened me if I tried the same thing to thank him for sharpening the blade.
"I'd sooner kiss my horse," I retorted. "At least I know his hair is combed."
"La, I take it you do it for him." He snorted and pointed a stubby finger at me. "Don't be trying that, either."
I dropped into my usual seat beside Brickit and sulked. I hadn't felt this unhappy since my second or third day here. At least then I'd just been miserable and lonely, not miserable, lonely, and sick with worry that all my hard work would be rejected. Really, at that point I hadn't started working hard. I leaned my head on my hand. Sweet Lion, was this diplomacy? I preferred the parts where I got to hurl good-natured insults or clean ancient coke ovens. This waiting for council meetings and the decisions of cranky authorities was, in some ways, as nerve-wracking as waiting for a battle to start, which I for one could say with certainty.
"Something wrong, Spawn?" Brickit asked with something akin to cheer in his voice. He clapped me on the back as he sat down.
Still not lifting my head, I looked over at him, reaching my free hand to pour him some of the small beer. "Diplomacy," I replied, unable to keep from making a face.
He gave me a little push. "And what's the worst that can happen, lad? King Nancy waits another year for a better knife. No lives will be lost and you just smashed your fingers flat for naught."
I couldn't cling to my foul mood when he put things in such perspective. A small laugh escaped me and I finally sat up straight, better able to put a brave face on things as I swiped at him in defense of Peter.
Brickit raised his cup of beer. "You've accomplished your goal in securing our good will, great Aslan save us all from ourselves. What you achieve beyond that is your own."
His words merited some thought. I looked at him perhaps more intently than ever before, and I wondered at the changes we had wrought upon one another these few brief weeks. I looked at him and I realized he was happy, genuinely happy, perhaps for the first time since he lost his wife and brother. There, then, was my foremost personal achievement, both as a king and a would-be diplomat. No matter what happened, in the end I hadn't failed.
The masters waited after breakfast, shouting at the nosy apprentices who would have lingered to take themselves outside and get to work. When the hall was clear they all sat down again, facing each other across the table with Brickit at the head. Mercifully I wasn't expected to stand up or do anything other than wait in my seat next to Brickit. Indeed, as Brickit put it, I was allowed to be still, silent, and it was permissible for me to sweat, but I could do little else.
There were seven masters in all with Gran counted among them. Only one of them I did not know personally, a gruff-looking (relatively speaking, that is), older master whose long beard was shot with gray. He looked somehow familiar but I could not place him beyond having seen him at meals every day for the past three weeks. My own master was there, and Beal, father of the two girls I had saved from the Werewulf.
"So," Brickit said, "we're here to decide if the work of yon apprentice is worthy of representing our smithy. Moreover, it falls to us to decide if the work of one king is worthy of serving another." He reached for the knife where it rested on the table before me. "I helped to forge this blade. It is not for me to decide."
I blinked, surprised, as he handed the blade to his brother. Brint took it and handed it to their mother, saying, "I helped to sharpen and shape this blade. It is not for me to decide."
Gran passed it to Boont. "I helped to finish this blade. It is not for me to decide."
"I fashioned the grip of this blade," Boont declared, drawing it to have a look at the finished product. "It is not for me to decide."
A sinking feeling was filling my stomach. At this rate would there be anyone left to make a decision?
My master spent a long while staring at the dagger, feeling its heft and testing its flexibility and strength by driving the tip into the tabletop, which earned him savage hisses from Gran and Boont. He ignored them as he went on with his examination.
"It is well shaped and tempered," the Master finally declared. "It is less for a king and more for a brother. I would allow this work to leave our smithy so long as it goes only to a brother's hand."
Brickit smiled slightly as I let out my breath.
"There is no question of that," said the Chief Smith.
Beal now held the dagger. He stared long and hard at it, then at me. Slowly he rose to his feet and when he spoke his voice was thick with emotion. "I did not help to fashion this blade, though I wish to Aslan that I had. That way I might have been able to express some thanks to the knight who risked his own life to save my daughters from the jaws of a Fell Beast. I cannot speak without being biased, and therefore it is not for me to decide."
My own throat tightened in sympathy for the difficulty he had in speaking. I regretted not seeking him out myself, but it seemed I had not had an idle moment since the Werewulf had been slain. Beal nodded his head to me and resumed his seat, handing the knife to the last master.
"Well, Master Barret?" asked Brickit.
The gray-bearded Dwarf cast me a sour look as he took the knife. He drew it, scowled, snorted, and finally sneered, "Manling work. It might do for a Son of Adam but not for our smithy."
I couldn't decide which stung more – his rejection of my work or being called a manling. Clearly it was meant as an insult, and not in any way one of the playful slurs Brint and Brickit and I had gotten used to exchanging. I sat in stunned silence, staring at Barret, aware that all the masters were glaring at him.
Brickit slowly stood. "You, Barret, are no less biased than Beal save that he is fair enough to remove himself from judging. You are here to judge the work, not the person that did it, nor the one it is meant for. Nor are you here to fight for our cousins in Moon Mountain. Your brother is well enough equipped to fight his own battles. So tell me now, and tell me in truth with one hand upon the Lion's tail, what it is about this blade that is flawed."
I realized then that Barret look very much like Biss. The miner's resentment of my presence at the smithy must have affected his judgment. I suspected there was a deeper bitterness here than met the eye, something beyond letting a dagger leave the grounds of the smithy. I had landed in the midst of a family civil war.
Barret snatched up the knife again, clearly furious at being so cornered. "The balance is off."
"I balanced it," Boont immediately snapped. "If that is the case, the fault is mine." She stood up and held out her hand. "Give it me that I may correct the flaw. The High King of Narnia will receive naught less than my best."
He glowered, clearly not about to cross the carpenter. I couldn't blame him. Barret cast Brint a look similar to the one he had thrown my way and snapped,
"The tip of the blade is too thin. It will snap the moment it touches bone."
"Say as much to the table!" the Master replied in kind, pointing to the half-inch deep gouge he had made.
"And I smelted the iron that made the steel," Brickit added. "You used steel from that very batch just last week, Barret, and you found no flaw in the metal you forged. So I bid you tell me why this blade should not represent this smithy."
Silence. The full weight and might of Barret's glare was unleashed upon me and I, Edmund, King of Narnia, returned the stare with ferocity to match. It may not be my place to speak or move, but nothing prevented me from defending myself from his wordless attack.
"After all," Brickit said, "the knife is going to a Son of Adam. It comforts me that you think so highly of men and kings that this work is not nearly good enough to grace their hands. You have my thanks, Master Barret, just as I'm certain you have the thanks and good will of the other masters."
If thanks and good will equated to murderous intent, Barret certainly had it in good measure and from every direction. I was too cross at his groundless hatred of me to be anxious.
"Twist my words and opinion as you will, Chief Smith." He pointed at me. "This one eats with this family but he has no name. You call him apprentice but he has paid no price and no servitude. If his sad attempt satisfies you and your masters then who am I, your cousin, to argue?"
"He has paid with blood and his servitude will last a lifetime," Brickit replied evenly. He smiled faintly. "And given that he will visit but once a year, so will his apprenticeship. He called us family first and this clan's name is his. Open your eyes and you'll see that the only sad attempt here is a grown Dwarf pitting himself against a boy."
Barret glowered, glancing at his peers. Boont very much wanted him to say something more, that was obvious, but he gave her no satisfaction.
"It is my right to refuse its leaving."
"Indeed," agreed the Chief Smith. "Just as it is Edmund's right to hear you explain to him and us everything he has done incorrectly in fashioning this knife, so that we might mend his ways. So." He resumed his seat, motioning for Boont to follow suit. "Begin."
The master smith said nothing. We all knew that there was nothing he could say that would not be based in resentment of the fact that I was not a Black Dwarf. Time passed without a word being exchanged. I knew the masters of the smithy were prepared to wait all the day through.
Barret abruptly stood. He glowered at the lot of us and finally snarled, "Then begone with ye, Son of Adam, and take your knife when you go. 'Tis good only for your - "
"Enough!" Beal commanded, standing. Of the two he was by far the taller and more imposing, and he spoke with quiet authority. "You will not insult a member of my family, Barret. Take your own words and begone. We are done here. King Edmund has our permission to take the knife from this smithy." He deliberately turned his back on his cousin, picking up the knife as he faced me. "Pray tell the whole world where this was made, Edmund of Clan Welent."
I leaned across the table to take it from Beal's hand, my heart racing. "I shall do so with pride, good my cousin."
Chapter 27: Bid Me Not Farewell
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Bid Me Not Farewell
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Bid Me Not Farewell
"I need a drink."
Brickit chuckled as I sank down onto the bench once again, the knife clasped in my sweaty hand. Save for me and the Chief Smith, the long house was empty. The masters returned to their work shops. Gran had returned to her own chores. Brickit poured us each a cup of small beer and then dropped down beside me.
"It's never easy," he soothed. "That went smoother than I thought it would, though."
"Smooth," I echoed, forcing down a mouthful of beer. I grimaced. "What have I ever done to Barret?"
He snorted, amused. "You were born, lad. You've met his brother, our cousin. They both resent the existence of anyone that's not a Black Dwarf, they resent the fact that you're here, and they resent the fact that I've adopted you into this clan."
I eyed him keenly over the top of my cup. "Did you adopt me just to annoy them?"
He laughed. "No. No. Not entirely," he muttered, hastily taking a sip.
"Ha!" I exclaimed, elbowing him. He laughed into his beer.
"We've a saying in these parts, a saying my cousins are learning is very true, and that being it's easier to catch the lion than to let him go. Barret caught a larger one than he anticipated, and he's fortunate to emerge with his hide intact."
I thought of Boont and her simmering fury, and I had to agree.
"So," the Chief Smith said, looking over at me, "I take it we can expect to be up to our waists in soldiers tomorrow, sent by Nancy to make certain you get home without any scraped knees or dings?"
"Yes, they should be here on the morrow, but based on your height there won't be that many soldiers, Brickit. Won't you be glad to be rid of me?"
"No," he replied. "I've gotten used to your noxious presence."
"Your charm overwhelms."
"As does yours, Spawn." He clapped me on the knee. "Away with your knife, lad, then get thee to work. This is a smithy, not a tavern, and we must earn our keep."
I smirked, finishing my beer in one swallow, then I rose and followed Brickit to the door. We both shouted in surprise when dozens of huge, dark objects poured into the long house and flapped around noisily, all of them calling out to us and each other in piercing tones. The Fruit Bat couriers had returned from Cair Paravel.
I stumbled back into the table as something hit me squarely in the chest. I looked down to see Sultana clinging to my tunic and grinning up at me, well pleased with herself. More of the younger bats alighted on my shoulders and back as Brickit bellowed at the rest of them to land. An instant later I got slapped in the face with a large, delicate wing as a Bat set down on my head, clinging to my hair. It took a few moments, but finally all the Bats had landed about us and the room. A great swirl of dust filled the air, knocked down from the rafters and the thatch.
"We're back!" Sultana exclaimed breathlessly.
"Really?" I couldn't keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
She nodded. I could hear Brickit fussing and fuming at the older couriers ranged along the rafters. One of the little Bats dropped down to the table and stuck his head in our abandoned cups, looking for the last drops of beer.
"And did you deliver my letter?" I asked, trying to shoo the Bat away from the beer.
Another nod, and all the little Bats felt the need to tell me every detail all at the same time so in just a few moments I got the entire tale in a nutshell. I had known Peter would be so upset. Oh, well, that just mean I would have to put up with his fretting and delayed reactions to his only brother being imperiled.
"Did you see the Eastern Sea?" I asked, interrupting a description of the fruits available at Cair Paravel.
"We got wet!" they squeaked happily. "It's salty! We can't swim!"
"Do tell." Why wasn't I surprised that they would try?
"Look! See? It's really real!" said the Bat on my head, and he leaned over into my face to display his prize. I stared at the scattering of fair tendrils he clasped in his paw. First I was astonished, then I was horrified.
"You tore out my brother's hair?" I exclaimed. "That is - You are never to do such a thing again! And what do you intend to do with that? Oh, don't tell me. Whatever it is, it's disgusting."
Clinging to his tangled prize, the Bat giggled. They all did. I put my hands on my hips, but it's rather hard to be stern or forceful when enveloped in Fruit Bats.
"And why didn't you tell me you're not from the family Phillip asked to help me?"
Completely unimpressed by my anger, they exchanged confused looks (except for the one on the table, whose head and shoulders were deep inside Brickit's cup) and Sultana said,
"You didn't ask."
I sighed. I would have rubbed my head but there was already a Bat there. "Well, your families are worried. You'll have to go home directly. Thank you for delivering the letter for me, but next time you have to let me know if you're allowed to leave this area or not. Agreed?"
They nodded, delighted at the prospect of a next time.
"And there is to be no pulling out of hair ever again."
"Nfff," muttered my disappointed hat, easing his grip on my bangs.
"Come along." I scooped up the drunkard and ducked outside. "Home with you! All of you!"
They giggled and called good-byes as they flapped off. Well, all except for the one I held. I recognized that cheeky grin. I was tempted to pitch him in the air, but with my luck he was too drunk to fly and would just plummet back to the earth.
"This is a habit you need to break, sir," I said. I set him down on a bench outside the long house. "I expect you gone when I get back here later." He just rolled over and spread his wings out to catch the morning sun, asleep instantly. I sighed, then looked up as Brickit exited the long house, one of the couriers - the real couriers - hanging from his arm.
"Ah, well, never hurts to ask," he was saying, and for the first time in my life I saw a Bat shrug. I remembered then that Brickit had written to my brother and sisters and I was immediately curious as to what he was talking about. A moment later, though, at some unseen signal, all the Fruit Bats swooped out of the building and into the sky, black against blue. Brickit caught up the Bat on his arm and gently tossed him upwards, calling,
"Aslan between you and evil!"
"What doesn't hurt to ask?" I wondered, eyeing him closely.
He cast me a smug, sidelong look. "Questions," was all he said, not about to enlighten me. "Get on now, Spawn."
That evening we celebrated with food and spirits and music. Gran said they always honored an apprentice whose work was accepted by the masters, but Brint said they were just happy to be ridding themselves of me. I suspected that most people's attitudes - the apprentices in particular - fell somewhere in the middle. The meal was less organized and noisier than usual. There was a wider variety of food than I had seen before and for once the meat wasn't stewed but roasted. The table was heavy with game pies and fish caught in the river and great, round loaves of bread and seed cakes and nut cakes and all sorts of pastries and cheeses. There was even wine - or so that's what the Dwarfs called it. It was almost as clear as water and tasted like turnips and for the first time I found myself wishing for their small beer. I contrived to knock my cup over and after cleaning the spill I hastily reverted to the bitter, grainy drink that was slightly less awful then the wine.
A grumbling from Bort's direction told me that this feast was, perhaps, a bit more elaborate than usual, but one of the Daughters hit him with a tray and reminded him that I was also a king and a guest. No one but the most steadfast Black Dwarf (in this case, Barret, who left as soon as he had eaten) could not have enjoyed the gathering and presently the apprentices got over their muttering and threw themselves into the festivities. I made it a point to thank all the masters and I even met Beal's daughters, Bess and Belleel. Both girls blushed and curtsied to me, shy as they faced me. I praised the elder girl's daring in fending off the Werewulf with her pitchfork and for stabbing him in the leg, then hastily heaped some praise on the younger girl for screaming so loudly to rouse the whole smithy. Beal listened with quiet pride, his gratitude and pleasure plain upon his face.
As I stepped away from them to greet Boont I was struck by a pang of regret that I would be leaving tomorrow. I realized I didn't know half of these good Dwarfs as well as I would have liked. I think that if I hadn't already negotiated my return next year that I would have found any excuse to return. I recalled my dream of Aslan and I was suddenly doubly grateful that I had stayed. If I hadn't I never would have made the knife or gained such allies in the masters or made Brickit so happy, nor would I have learned so much about being a diplomat.
One of the apprentices began reciting the family tree and most everyone fell silent to listen and wait for mistakes in its telling. I listened closer this time, rather amazed that anyone could keep so many names and generations straight. Bad enough I had to learn all the kings and queens of Narnia! There weren't nearly as many monarchs as Black Dwarfs over the past thousand years. When the apprentice, so young that he didn't even have a beard yet, missed a name, there was a good-natured roar through the house as everyone pounced on the error. I laughed along with the rest of them and drank his health. Then someone produced a lute and began to play. The Dwarfs that weren't eating burst into song, a loud and raucous and not very melodic sound filling the long house. Since I didn't know the words, I just ate more and let myself be entertained.
The Daughters of the Clan all gathered together and sang a song of springtime, and Brack stood on his bench and gave us a silly piece about a Squirrel that was burying acorns and was annoyed because he kept finding gold wherever he dug. More individuals sang then, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. The songs were simple, as were the melodies, and most of them I had never heard before. I was thinking of how much Lucy would enjoy this when Brickit plopped down beside me and said,
"Give us a song, Edmund of Clan Welent!"
"What?" I blinked, caught completely off guard.
Brickit grinned, realizing he'd surprised me with such a request. "A song! Surely you can sing! By Aslan, you can't be any worse than my brother!"
He had a very good point. Brint sang like a Horse. No, he was worse. I stared, trying to think, and my traitorous brain went completely blank as more of the Dwarfs caught up the Chief Smith's request and called for me to sing. Slowly I stood, for our Dryad voice instructor insisted that we always stand to sing, and I automatically clasped my hands together, one atop the other and held at the waist. I tried to think of a song, of anything to give them. A hush fell and they all looked to me in expectation.
"Um . . ."
I floundered. In an attempt to help, the lute player picked out a few random notes and by lucky chance hit on a chord that jogged my memory. One of the last songs I had learned before leaving Cair Paravel sprang to mind and I happily seized upon it. The song was very old, a poem set to music in a style that had been popular in the Fourth Century. The style was whimsically called 'hurry and wait.' It was very expressive, each stanza sung at a leisurely pace and the chorus slightly faster and more melodic. I drew a deep breath, grateful for the first time that I had been blessed by a good voice and the inability to forget song lyrics once learned, and I began to sing.
"I beg you bid me not farewell
Bid me fortune on my journey.
For the span I dwelt 'neath your peaceful spell
Was spent in blessed company.
But time it flows
and ceases not
I leave, my love,
to seek my lot.
So bid me not a fond farewell
Ask the Lion to bless my journey."
I abruptly realized I was singing a love song. Sweet Aslan, could I have picked anything less appropriate for this setting? The lute player managed for a while to accompany me, but gradually he fell off and just listened. I certainly couldn't stop now, so I cast my apprehensions to the wind and let the song fill the silence, praying that this was not the moment my voice chose to break.
"The fairest treasure in all the land
has begged me one more day to stay.
But 'round her finger a golden band
is my promise to return one day.
For time it flows
in ceaseless stream
let memory serve
to preserve this dream.
So kiss me now, bid me not farewell
Beg the Lion to bless my journey."
I held the last note, letting it fade as I'd been taught. As I dropped my hands there was not a sound. No one moved. Every eye in the place was fastened on me with an intensity I could feel. Suddenly self-conscious, I wondered at their reaction and if I had somehow offended them. I looked to Brickit. He had his hand pressed to his mouth and his face downcast. His eyes were closed, and to my shock and grief I realized he was fighting a losing battle against his tears. I stole a glance at the assembled Dwarfs and I realized Brickit was not alone in his reaction.
What had I done? What had I said? I searched for Gran in the crowd, but she was leaning into Bly's shoulder, her face hidden. Still, no one made a noise or moved and I felt confusion and panic grow in my breast. I looked around, wishing someone, anyone would make a sound.
"I'm sorry," I finally managed, unable to endure the pain I had unwittingly caused. "Sorry," I mumbled as I clambered over the bench pinning my legs and bolted out the door.
Chapter 28: Blaine
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Blaine
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Blaine
I had no idea of what to do or where to go the moment I stumbled outside the long house. I stood uncertainly for a while in the cool evening air, half-expecting to hear laughter or voices behind me, but the smithy was unnaturally quiet. It was as if the world was holding its breath, waiting for a sound to break this silence. There was no relief coming, though, and finally I sought my room in Brint's house. I thought to pack my things for the return trip, wishing the soldiers were already here to take me home. Given the chance I would have left immediately.
My worn, stained, singed clothes had been laundered and were neatly folded on the bed. I laid hold of one of the saddle bags and began to bundle the clothes inside, barely aware of what I was doing. My heart was hammering in my chest and I set my jaw against the painful tightness rising in my throat. I sniffed, pausing to wipe my eyes as my vision blurred slightly.
At last I gave up and sat down on the low pallet, holding my head in my hands. What had I done? I could only think my choice of song had, indeed, been completely wrong for reasons I could not define. I pressed my head hard into my palms, trying to counter the pain of the headache I felt growing behind my eyes. I wanted to understand. I wanted to cry. I wanted Peter. If my brother was here right now, I knew his arm would be around my shoulders and I'd be pulled close and warm into his ready embrace and he would not say a word if I gave way to tears. Somehow he always made things right, and I wondered how I had ever thought I could survive without him.
What had I done? How had I managed to move Brickit to tears and cause Gran such grief? Why had that song silenced everyone present? What did it mean to them? I went through the words in my head. It was a love song, a song of parting and hope and promise. I did not know who wrote the original, nor yet the melody, but I knew it was quite old. Why would it move them so?
I lowered my hands, staring at my discolored fingers and dirty nails without really seeing anything. I could not shake or explain the image of the Chief Smith bowed in misery and heartache. Had I undone all my hard work with one song? With a sigh I leaned against the wall, wishing I was home, wishing my brother was right beside me and not a two-day ride away. I leaned back in the corner, too miserable to even brace my head with the pillow, and I tried vainly not to think.
What had I done?
I started, sucking in my breath as I roused from a stupor and squinted at the brightness suddenly filling my vision. Brint stood in the doorway to my chamber, the oil lamp in his hand casting a white glow. I had no idea of the time, but it was dark in the little cottage. I slid over to the edge of the bed, not getting up as I silently nodded for him to enter. I wasn't sure if I wanted any company outside of my family, but then like it or no, Brint was my family.
It had been a trying day. A trying week. I was paying the price for so much anxiety and labor and so little sleep. Brint looked very tired as well, I thought, as he set down the lamp on the table, and with a long sigh he sat close beside me and imitated my posture by leaning his elbows on his knees. We sat for a long time, and I felt worse with each passing moment.
"I'm sorry," I finally choked out. I didn't know what else to say. I gestured helplessly.
"It's not you, Edmund," he finally said in a subdued tone. "You're not at fault."
I didn't even look at him as he laid a warm hand upon my shoulder. It wasn't relief that I felt, just confusion. The master smith drew a deep breath and tried again. "That song you sang, Bid Me Not Farewell. Know you that was a poem before it was a song?"
I nodded. "So my music teacher told me. She said it was from the Fourth Century."
"Aye, written by a Black Dwarf named Blaytom. He was a warrior and a craftsman and one of the finest poets of his age. It's because of him that we Dwarfs never say good-bye, even to those who pass into Aslan's Country. We bid people a safe journey, and if we like them, we also tack on a wish for their safe return."
"A very Dwarfish thing to do," I mused.
"We don't do it often," he admitted, trying to make me smile. I obliged him a little. "We none of us knew it had been set to music, nor yet that a king would know of our ancient Clan poets, nor yet that our king should have so fine and clear a voice." Brint's hand squeezed my shoulder, bracing us both, and he got to the heart of the matter. "You know my brother was married."
"Blaine was from the Lantern Waste. Bright and beautiful was she, learned, wise, too valuable a pearl to be buried in the mud of the Blue River. She would have none less than Brickit for her husband, though, and he just a master then. He didn't just love her; he lived her. She was his earth, as we Dwarfs say." He swallowed. "Then Brickit was made Chief and within a month's span the Witch's Minotaur general came here demanding we make weapons for her army. Brickit refused, praise Aslan, against the wishes of some of our own masters."
"Would one of them be Barret?" I asked dully, already able to guess the answer.
Brint grimaced. "One would."
I sighed, quoting my rhetoric tutor, "Much is explained by that."
"Blaine was off visiting her family. She hadn't said a word to anyone but her mother, but she was with child. Their first. Just north of Aundroe, Ottman killed her along with her brother and cousin who were escorting her home, in order to punish Brickit for his refusal. To protect the Clan and his wife's people, Brickit gave in to their demands."
"Gran said he did a terrible job of it."
"Shameful, even, I'm proud to say, and they too stupid to ever think he might exact some revenge. So." Brint settled his stocky self a bit deeper in his stance. "So. Bid Me Not Farewell was Blaine's favorite poem. She quoted from it all the time, and since her loss it has not once been recited by any of this clan. The last thing she said to Brickit when she set out to the Waste was 'So kiss me now, bid me not farewell -'"
"Beg the Lion to bless my journey," I finished.
"He begged Aslan. He pleaded and he prayed when she didn't return. Finally we set out to search and found her . . ." Brint let out a mournful sigh. I knew he didn't want to tell me, but I also knew he wanted me to understand, to save both me and his brother from any more hurt.
"I thought he would die, as our younger brother had died. We were all born to the Winter, my brothers and me. We'd no notion of what seasons were. Up until then, we waited in hope that Aslan would come and deliver us from the cold and the White Witch. When he lost Blaine, and later learned he had lost a child as well, Brickit became angry. Bitter. Dark. There was an emptiness in him nothing could fill. He felt abandoned by Aslan, felt Narnia had been abandoned by Aslan, and he lost faith."
I bit my lip. I knew what it was like to be so lost. That I could understand all too well. I remembered my first impression of the Chief Smith when I barged in upon the smithy. I had sensed a deep, lingering pain in Brickit, and in my ignorance I had laid that pain open.
"And then in a mad rush Aslan returned and brought the spring and suddenly the Four Thrones were filled by obnoxious children who refuse to leave us alone. The High King sent us his only brother and you would not be put off or intimidated or shamed despite Brickit's best efforts." He smiled. "I have rarely been so pleased by anything as when you stood outside that coke oven and looked as if you wanted to murder my brother for making you clean it." A laugh escaped him at the memory, but he looked up at me in all seriousness. "You have no notion, Edmund Pevensie, of how greatly my brother needed you. Needs you. He almost wept when he told me about all you said and did in Lithin. If he didn't trust in your promise to return, he would never let you go."
I stared, his words rendering me speechless. While I had been needed in the past, it was always because of what I was, be it a Son of Adam, a brother, or a king. I realized then and there that Brickit, like Peter, needed me for who I was.
"He did not mean to hurt you, Edmund, any more than you meant to do anything but give us a song," Brint was saying. "He would never . . ." He paused and took a deep, shuddering breath. "Brickit was not prepared for you to know that poem, or to have it sung so beautifully."
"Where is he now?" I asked.
"In his shop. Probably making another battleaxe. It's what he does when he's upset."
Brint watched me closely, anxiously, and I wondered what it must have cost him to come here knowing that I, and not he, was what his only brother needed most. I wasn't sure that I would be able to do the same. I was still far too jealous of Peter's affections, and Aslan willing I would never have to find out. How could anyone ever call the Black Dwarfs cold and lacking in affection? They were guarded against strangers, yes, and suspicious, but beyond that barrier they were passionate and devoted to those they loved. There was such proof of that sitting beside me, and if the day ever dawned that I was faced by a similar situation, Aslan help me face it with the same dignity as Brint now displayed.
I stood up, feeling stiff and sore and tired. I shrugged off my fatigue and squared my shoulders.
"I'll go run coal for him."
I could hear the savage pounding of metal on metal long before I reached the shop. The Chief Smith of the Blue River Smithy was working out his frustrations in the only way he knew how: by pitting his own strength against fire and steel. Despite the lateness of the hour many of the Dwarfs were not yet abed, lingering by their doors. The interruption of the celebration had upset them all, and clearly they were deeply concerned over Brickit. I sensed a wave of relief in my wake as I made my way through the compound. I entered the shop silently and went straight for the leather apron that was mine. It wasn't really necessary to wear the apron to shovel coal; I simply preferred to wear it. It was a different kind of armor.
Brickit noticed me as I was pulling on my gloves and he paused in mid-swing, staring at me in relief and regret and a whole torrent of emotions not easily expressed. I met his gaze steadily, knowing exactly what he felt. We each had hurt and been hurt and all of it was pointless because it was not meant, would never be meant.
Words were inadequate to the moment, and so I took up my shovel and got to work. We worked until dawn, with never a word needed between us.
Chapter 29: Home
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Home
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Home
I jerked awake, blinking stupidly as I lifted my head from my folded arms. Gran stood at my side, her hand on my shoulder as she leaned over to catch a look of me. I made a noise and slowly started to move, stretching in place like a cat and rubbing my eyes to clear them. I had fallen asleep at the table in the long house waiting for the inhabitants of the smithy to rouse. Brickit and I had worked all night long and for the life of me I could not remember a single thing he had made, if, indeed, he had made anything at all. We had ended up in here to rest and the moment I put my head down I had succumbed to exhaustion.
I wiped the soot on my face onto my sleeve and ran a hand through my filthy hair before forcing my eyes well open. Gran smiled at my antics and set a plate of food before me. I stared at it, surprised. It was later than I thought and when I looked around I realized that the Dwarfs, all the way down to the youngest children, were present at the table and had been quiet to let me sleep. They were busy eating, but many of them stole glances my way and gradually subdued conversation filled the room when they figured out I was not going to drop off again. Through bleary eyes I stared at my plate of food, knowing I needed to eat but lacking the energy necessary to pick up my fork.
"Eat," said a voice close beside me, and I looked to my left to see Brint in his usual place just beyond Brickit's seat. He leaned across and poured me some beer. I picked up the cup and stared into the murky depths. I could not bring myself to taste it.
"I hate this beer," I finally declared, setting it down. I sounded and felt like an obstinate child.
The master smith frowned at me. "So why didn't you say so before?"
"What?" I exclaimed, turning on him. "I've been complaining about it from the start!"
"The morning after you arrived you said you liked beer!"
"This is not beer! This - this is . . . liquid torture!" I sputtered, not caring in the least that I insulted the smithy's so-called brew master.
He stared at me as if he'd never seen me before. "Then have coffee."
I stared right back. Coffee. They had coffee. For three weeks I'd been drinking bitter, grainy, almost-flat small beer day in, day out, and now, at the eleventh hour, I learned that they had coffee. Words failed me.
"Bly," called Brint, catching his wife's eye as she bent over the fire, "pray bring some coffee for the Spawn."
I was so nonplused I couldn't even thank Bly as she set a steaming mug of coffee, cream, and sugar before me. It was hot, strong, and fresh and quite possibly the best thing that I had tasted in three weeks. I didn't care that I scalded my tongue as I drank.
"You could have told me!" I finally snapped at Brint.
He shrugged in that infuriating way of Dwarfs. "You could have asked."
I grumbled and set to my food with good will. Halfway through the meal I finally asked, "Where is Brickit?"
"Setting our cousins from Moon Mountain straight. They arrived soon after you fell asleep. When he refused them entry to let you rest they started arguing and he dragged them away so as not to disturb you."
"Oh, no." I dropped my head back on my arm, barely missing my plate. "Tell me they're not arguing over me again."
"As you wish: They're not arguing over you."
He chuckled in reply. With a groan I stood, and Brint reached out and seized my arm. "This is his battle, not yours, and he's in fine trim today."
"Brint, I've caused enough grief."
He let go of my arm, smirking. "I wouldn't call what you've caused grief, Edmund."
I gave him a wry smile and climbed over the bench. I was a little light-headed from fatigue as I made my way to the door and I blinked at the brightness of the dawn. It looked to be a beautiful day, a good day to travel. Pausing, I listened. I could hear raised voices close by the entrance of the smithy and I followed the angry sounds. On the far side of the thicket-choked entrance to the compound I saw Brickit and Barret and the same three miners that had been here before. I slowed down before anyone noticed my presence, listening and watching and wondering if coming out here had been wise.
Arms folded across his chest, his long beard flowing almost to his belt and his frizzy hair running rampant, the Chief Smith of the Blue River Smithy was indeed in fine trim. His eyes were bright with suppressed anger and I could read tension in every line of his body. He was listening to Biss. Clearly his cousin could match his ire and I saw Biss gesture and rant, his voice rising up.
". . . insult my brother for the sake of some manling that's been here less than a month and somehow managed to worm his way into your good graces! You grant your countenance too easily, Brickit!"
"Are you so jealous of his presence that you would rather I not grant it at all and alienate our monarchs?" snapped Brickit. "Are you and your brother so short-sighted? Barret looks to be insulted at every turn. He rejected Edmund's knife not on its own merit but because it was the work of Human hands. And damn fine work it was for someone who's never swung a hammer to metal before he came here."
I felt a flush of pleasure at the praise, able to ignore Biss' insulting remarks in light of Brickit's defense of me.
"You go further than can be tolerated! Than will be tolerated! Jealous? Ha! Next you'll be calling him your son and letting him speak in council!" thundered Biss, waving his arms.
Brickit seemed to consider that a fine idea. "And if I take that advice? Then what? Your options are very limited, cousin. You'd speak against your own clan? Remember that a king bears the name Welent now, given him by the Dwarfs here. I doubt he'd take kindly to what you imply."
With a growl Biss said, "I've implied nothing, Chief Smith!"
"See that you don't ever, then. I do not speak for Moon Mountain, Biss, nor do I try to. Don't you try to speak for this smithy. Your brother is not chief here, nor will he ever be. It is not his place to call you every time he's displeased with my decisions." He glared at Barret. "Aslan granted you were born with two feet, Barret. Stand on them. If you're so dissatisfied with your lot here, then pack your tools and return with your brother. I'll not stop you. On the same note, though, I will not abide any insult to my family be they Dwarf, Human, or otherwise."
"You insult your race by naming that manling part of this clan!"
"Do you want to repeat that statement to Beal and Boont?" invited Bricket, effectively stopping Biss in his tracks. "You're very brave when backed by your brother and masters. Allow me to call mine and we'll see how well they receive your opinions."
There was no answer. I couldn't blame Biss. I would not have wanted to tangle with Boont and clearly the miners had no desire to face her either.
Brickit's voice was calm, but I could hear the stubborn finality in his tone. He would discuss this no further. "How I choose to run this smithy and this branch of the clan is my business, cousin. What do you care who sits beside me at meal times? I tell you now, Biss, that boy has done more good in three weeks here than you've done in your whole life."
I blinked, astonished and pleased by his testimonial. I backed away from the meeting and took a seat on a low wall outside the nearest cottage to wait. I could still hear them quite well. Most likely half the smithy could, too.
"Unless you're here to negotiate for another load of ore, Biss, remove yourself from my smithy. And Barret! Think on what I've said as well. I am Chief here and no other. Remember that."
Brickit stalked away through a break in the overgrown hedge, leaving his cousins to see themselves out. He started slightly when he spotted me. Whether it was because I was there waiting for him or awake or if I looked a sight, I could not say, but his anger turned to amusement. He even smiled a bit as he came and sat close beside me, his expression telling me that I was less than presentable at the moment.
"I'm surprised you're up."
I hung my head, my body devoid of energy. "So am I. Gran woke me so I could eat."
"You should get more sleep."
I shrugged. Sleep sounded wonderful right now, but I wanted to talk instead. My tired mind just couldn't find the right words.
"I'm sorry if I caused you any trouble with your cousins," I finally managed.
He turned on me sharply. I blinked as he pointed a stubby finger in my face. "Don't you apologize for their misconduct, Edmund," he said fiercely. "You've done naught wrong, and more right than you know." Realizing that he was actually yelling at me, Brickit calmed himself. "Besides, it's an old feud, an old jealousy that you revived."
I could tell he very much wanted me to ask what it was about. I said nothing, letting him stew for a little while. He was growing increasingly agitated. When he couldn't take it any more, he elbowed me in the ribs.
With a laugh I asked, "So what makes Biss so jealous? Is it your dashing good looks or that rapier wit?"
"Beyond those, which, I may add, were well guessed, our dear cousin Biss has had a marriage suit rejected not only by my dear Blaine but by Bly as well and more recently -"
"Boont?" I ventured cautiously. Brickit nodded and I winced. "Oh."
"One's pride doesn't recover so easily from such smart blows," he agreed, "especially pride on a scale such as Biss possesses. So many refusals should come as a sign for him to mend his rude ways. And now his chiefest rivals . . . have you, king and kinsman and manling."
I snorted at his gentle teasing and leaned heavily into my hand. Manling. It was a silly word. "Such a prize."
He gazed upon me, and he was perfectly serious as he said, "I can name none greater."
"It has been a good three weeks," I replied. "I've learned a great deal."
He scuffed at the mossy ground. "As have I."
"Thank you for showing me how to make a knife. Maybe I'll do better next time."
"La, you will," he assured me. "Not that this try is any call for shame."
We fell silent, neither sure what to say, neither of us quite willing to face the fact that I had to leave.
"I am glad you came," Brickit admitted softly, staring out across the smithy. "And yet more glad that you stayed."
"I'll be back."
"I know," said the Chief Smith, and he smiled.
Celer was at the head of the troop of soldiers that arrived an hour later to escort me on the two-day ride home. There were a great many of them, far more than brought me here, and I sensed the first inkling of the gigantic ado Peter was going to make over me. Clearly telling him that he could fuss to his heart's content had been a mistake.
The Faun captain grinned widely as he greeted me and I realized at that moment that I had truely been missed in Cair Paravel. It was a good feeling even though I knew I would be missed by the Dwarfs here as well. Phillip nuzzled me warmly and snorted at my dusty clothes before he wandered off to harrass Brickit a final time. I hastily and haphazardly packed my things, taking care with the necklaces and silver rings and knife and stuffing everything else into the saddle bags by brute force. Shafelm I strapped around my waist before I darted outside to find that everyone in the smithy had turned out to see me off. Some, like Bort and Barret, seemed glad to get rid of me. Others were not so pleased to see me leave. Baia turned her face up to me for a kiss on the cheek, and I kissed Bly and Gran as well, thanking them for their hospitality. Not a one of them said good-bye, but many of them wished me a fair journey and a safe return.
The moment I swung up into the saddle I knew I was going to be sore by the time I saw the Eastern Sea again. I had not said farwell to Brickit, nor would I. Instead I smiled at him where he stood with Brint and Gran.
"I'll keep the Bats busy if you will," I proposed.
"Done, Spawn," he replied gruffly.
"Aslan between you and evil, Chief Smith."
"May He stand between you and evil as well, Edmund of Clan Welent."
We were six hours west of Cair Paravel when a shrill cry caught our attention. Looking up into the noon sky, I saw a Gryphon scout wheel upon the wind.
"Cyn?" I wondered, looking to Celer.
The Faun shook his head. "Manon, Sire." He smiled. "Your family must be just ahead."
I found myself smiling back. "Thank you for the warning, Captain."
Minutes later we heard hoofbeats, then shouts and laughter, and then on the road ahead I could see the unmistakable form of Peter on his black mare Jett, reigning the big horse hard back so as not to outstrip (or trample) Lucy's little palfrey. My heart leaped at the sight of them and I instantly yelled,
"Hi, Phillip! Run!"
The good Horse obliged me, letting out a neigh as he raced ahead of the soldiers. Peter was waving and called my name long and loud, giving Jett her head. We met midway between us. My joy at seeing my brother again was matched only by his joy at seeing me, and I could not reach him fast enough. He was dismounting before Jett stopped and the moment my feet touched the ground I was enveloped in a crushing hug that I returned with all the force that I could.
Suddenly Peter stiffened. Then he coughed. Then he gagged. Just as quickly as I'd been seized, I was at arm's length and my older brother was gulping for breath. Finally he raised his head, staring at me. There were tears in his eyes and they weren't quite tears of happiness.
"When is the last time you had a bath?" he wheezed.
Oh, dear. "Um . . ." I tried to remember. "When I left?"
"You're riding downwind all the way home."
Then Peter laughed, held his breath, and hugged me again even tighter.
Chapter 30: Anniversary
Chapter Thirty: Anniversary
Chapter Thirty: Anniversary
A/N: Finally! After much wrestling with writer's block, it's done. Though I did try to present this from Brickit's point of view, the Chief Smith refused to cooperate, so it's not quite what I anticipated. If you've read my other stories, you'll know exactly where this one ends.
Ten thousand thanks to all of you who have read and reviewed this story, and ten thousand times as many thanks to my dear beta reader!
To King Edmund the Just, knight, adopted Son of the Clan, etc., etc., etc., from Chief Smith Brickit, greeting!
Many thanks for your kind invitation to help celebrate the first anniversary of Beruna. Sadly, I and my Clan must plead off due to a previous engagement at the same time. If you're still a king next year we'll come then and you can entertain us in royal fashion. In the meantime, I trust you're eating properly and I don't care how much weight you say you've put on, it's not enough. Eat more or my mother says she won't let you play in the smithy until you're stuffed at every meal.
Chief Smith Brickit
I lowered the letter, disappointed. I had so hoped the Dwarfs at the smithy would be willing to make the long journey to Cair Paravel to celebrate the first anniversary of the victory at Beruna. It wasn't as if we didn't have enough guests coming and the celebration would last a fortnight, but I missed Brickit and I would have liked to introduce him to my siblings. Well, the girls, at least. I had no idea of how he and the others would react to Peter. Civilly, I hoped. With a sigh I set the letter aside.
"Something wrong, Ed?" asked Peter, looking up from the letters and notes stacked all around him as we helped the scribes sort through responses to our invitations.
I waved at the message, feeling my disappointment mount each passing moment. "Brickit can't come."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I was hoping to meet him. Next year, maybe?" He sounded hopeful, innocent that he was. I had not, would not tell him about the nickname Brickit had bestowed upon him. He had enough titles and didn't need any more, especially if they were meant to be rude.
"That's what he said."
He pushed a pile of letters my way. "Well, here's a remedy for your sorrows. Let's see who else can come. I swear most of the Narnians are more excited about receiving their first piece of mail than celebrating our victory."
I chuckled, folding Brickit's letter and sliding it under my leg so it wouldn't get lost in the general crush, and got to work.
"Oh, look! There's Flisk! And Peter, look, he brought four . . . five . . . all six of his brothers!"
I looked to where Lucy was pointing, torn between excitement and awe at the sight of seven tall and graceful Unicorns. They made a large white splash in the midst of the crowd filling the courtyard. Beside me, the High King made a little sound of dismay and I bit my lip to keep from snickering. Unicorns were notoriously fussy and finicky, though fierce when roused, and now Peter had seven of them on his hands.
"Wonderful," he said with badly forced enthusiasm.
We stood on the landing before Cair Paravel's main doors in the cool of the morn, greeting guests and helping to sort out where so many people would be sleeping and eating as we had done every morning for the past few days. I was amazed at how organized the staff at the palace turned out to be, but since the celebration was our idea (well, it was Susan's at least) we were helping them as much as we could. Right now, by order of our overworked and beleaguered chamberlain Sir Giles Fox, we were making sure that all the visitors were happy and was aware of where they were to be housed. Massive as Cair Paravel was, we still weren't forced to utilize all the rooms for our guests; many Narnians simply preferred to sleep outdoors in the gardens, especially in the heat of the second high summer they'd ever known.
"That must be Lady Avalyn's mother," Susan exclaimed, pointing as a stately Giraffe passed beneath the towering gates. "And oh! The Mice came!"
We all strained to see Narnia's most recent (and despite their increased size, still the smallest) addition to the ranks of Talking Animals, for the Mice had been granted speech the very morning we fought at Beruna, a gift from Aslan for their gesture at the Stone Table. When they freed Aslan of the bonds holding him, he had in turn freed their tongues, and from what I'd seen and heard they were trying hard to make up for a millennium of silence because they rarely stopped talking. There was only a handful of them in the land, but it looked as if they were well on their way to establishing themselves because I saw several children keeping close to their parents.
Peter's voice was full of pleasure as he leaned close. I looked up over my shoulder to see that he was smiling, well pleased with himself as he said, "I believe you have some company."
Instantly suspicious, I followed his gaze to the happy, milling crowd of people in the courtyard, searching for what he saw. A dark look from dark eyes caught my attention and with a thrill I saw Brickit and Brint and Boont blocking the flow of celebrators. All three of them looked pleasantly cross. I let out a shout of surprise and excitement.
"He refused my invitation!" I exclaimed.
Peter laughed and gave me a push. "But he accepted mine!"
"What? Oh!" I swatted at him and set off down the steps as fast as I could run. I darted through the crowd, my anticipation and delight growing with each step until I slid to a halt before the Chief Smith and the masters.
"You told me you weren't coming!" I shouted without any preamble. If Dwarfs didn't say good-bye then they could certainly forego saying hello.
Smugly, Brickit produced a well-worn letter. "That's because the Nancy's invitation was so much nicer and far more polite than yours, Spawn! And I quote, 'I beg that you will refuse his invitation and accept mine instead. It is my hope to surprise him with your presence, and by accepting my invitation you can in all honesty plead off for a previous engagement if you choose to come.' Far more impressive and engaging then your terse afterthought of a letter."
"Don't be fooled, boy," Brint grumbled. "He had it memorized the day it arrived."
Boont folded her arms and glared up at the palace. "We should have brought more food. We could starve to death by the time we found the kitchen in so huge a place."
"Is it just the three of you from the smithy?" I asked brightly.
"Aye, 'tis all we could spare and that could walk so far and that could abide putting up with such frippery and carousing," said Brickit.
"Good. Three of you are quite enough," I snapped. I motioned them to follow me. "Come along!"
They all frowned and glared and looked stubborn. "Where?" Brickit demanded.
I put my hands on my hips. "To meet your host. You're not my guests. You're Peter's. The least you can do is say hello."
They all looked up to the landing. Peter was talking to one of the Platypus farmers that raised trout and water plants in the wetlands down by Glasswater. Both were very animated and Peter laughed aloud at something the farmer said, for few Narnians can tell jokes better than a Platypus, who by their very natures are rather facetious creatures. Even at this distance I could tell that Peter - tall, lean, tan, with his blond hair bleached almost to the color of straw by the summer sun - impressed them more than they would ever admit. Plainly my brother did not spend his days writing nervous letters and picking flowers as they assumed.
"Mighty tall," muttered Brickit.
"Mighty strange hair," Brint replied.
"Mighty sight gentler on the eyes than you lot," said Boont to her companions, straining to get a better look at Peter. "I like that one already."
My Dwarfs grew quieter and fidgeted more as I practically dragged the brothers up the steps. Boont alone climbed up without a guilty conscience and she gave up waiting for the men folk to stop acting like fools and children. I had no worries about either Brickit or Brint misbehaving at this point – I could tell they were both uncomfortable to meet the object of their disdain. Peter, blissfully ignorant of their abuse, caught sight of us and said something to the girls before he was drawn away by Sir Giles. The two queens turned to us with wide smiles and I knew instantly that both Dwarfs were smitten. I took a second look and decided my sisters did look particularly pretty today, so the Dwarfs probably weren't alone in their sudden adoration. I supposed their coloring helped – red and black hair were tones any Narnian Dwarf could relate to. I noticed they were both wearing the jewelry I had made them, too. That wasn't saying much in Lucy's case because she almost never removed hers, just as Peter never removed the signet ring.
"Those are your sisters?" gasped Brint, staring. "The queens?"
I frowned, wondering who else's they could be. "And my brother the High King!" I said through clenched teeth.
"Hang the Nancy," they muttered, dismissing Peter's existence. "You never told us they were so pretty!"
"You never asked," was my glib reply, which shut the pair of them up. It was quite a good feeling, actually.
Lucy had already dashed down a few steps to meet Boont. I could see Susan studying the carpenter closely, surprised to see a woman wearing trousers (though I'd be equally surprised to ever see Boont in skirts). Joining them, I quickly and properly said,
"Master Boont, these are my sisters Queen Lucy and Queen Susan. Dearest sisters, this is Boont, Master Carpenter of the Blue River Smithy."
"You look mickle easier to get along with than your brother," was Boont's rather blunt assessment of the introduction, looking the queens up and down in an approving manner.
"We are!" chimed Lucy without thinking, throwing fuel on the fire.
Having thus charmed Boont into a good mood at my expense, I aimed my younger sister at Brickit and Brint.
"Good cousins of Clan Welent, allow me to introduce Queen Lucy. Lady, I present to you Chief Smith Brickit of the Blue River Smithy and Master Smith Brint, his brother."
Lucy bobbed in a curtsey, her curls bouncing and she smiled widely. She was just the thing to ease them into relaxing and perhaps even be nice. "Thank you for teaching Edmund so much. I'm sorry I had to say 'no' to your letter, Chief Smith, but I'm sure we would have both missed our brothers."
Or maybe not.
"What?" Brint and I asked together. I looked to Brickit, who looked as if he'd swallowed a hot coal, and Brint looked to my sister.
"Oh," Lucy said in a tiny voice, one hand going to her lips. She blushed as pink as her gown as she realized she'd misspoken.
Brint and I exchanged a suspicious look and then we each turned to our closest relative.
"Hold on! What's this about?" I demanded. "Lucy!"
By the rate of her squirming I knew it had to be something that had been kept from me for a while. I checked Brint's progress. He was nose-to-nose with his older brother and they were bickering back and forth. Boont had abandoned us completely and was off talking shop to some Dryads.
"Well," Lucy began, darting a desperate look to our older sister. "Well, you see, Brickit wrote to us while you were at the smithy and - and - Susan!"
At Lucy's squeak, Narnia's Gentle Queen swept over to us, dazzling Brickit with her smile. I folded my arms impatiently, immune to her charms.
"What's this about letters from Brickit while I was at the smithy?" I demanded. "Lucy just said something about how we'd both miss our brothers . . . ?"
Susan's smile went from dazzling to forced as she looked between Lucy and Brickit. I knew without question there was a conspiracy going on here. I was about to pounce when Susan turned.
"Peter!" she called sweetly, waving him over.
Mild and smiling and pleasant, the High King unwittingly entered the fray. He bowed in greeting to the Dwarfs. "Welcome to Cair Paravel, Chief Smith Brickit. I'm so glad you -"
I held up my hands to silence him. "None of that!" I exclaimed. "What did he write to you?"
Peter blinked. "Which time?"
I whirled on Brickit. "You've been corresponding with him? When you write one letter for every three that I send?"
"What?" asked Peter, lost.
"No!" cried Brickit, stung at the accusation. "Just the first note and then about the Werewulf and . . ."
"And?" I prompted. "You said it doesn't hurt to ask! What did you write to my family? Why did those Fruit Bats tell you 'No'?"
"Ah!" Peter caught on. He cast Susan and Lucy a quick look, incapable of telling an untruth. "Well . . . let's just say you very favorably impressed the Chief Smith, to the point where he asked to extend your stay . . . indefinitely."
I stared at Brickit, open-mouthed. Finally I found the words. "You tried to keep me?"
He shrugged, and sensing he had an unlikely ally in my brother, eased a bit closer to Peter. "It was worth a try. You never know until you ask, after all."
"So I've learned! But why did Lucy say both brothers?"
"Aye!" agreed Brint, braced to be offended.
Susan gestured. She glanced at Brickit apologetically and tried her hand at a bit of diplomacy. "Well, Ed, he thought, possibly, we might enjoy Brint's company in exchange for yours."
The silence that followed was broken when Brint hissed, "I'm telling Mother!"
I looked at my brother. None of my suspicions were relieved. "So . . . He asked to trade me for Brint . . ."
Lucy nodded, grinning. "He asked me that, actually. And he asked Susan if he could keep you and Peter -"
She broke off and blushed again and hid behind Peter and Brickit.
I wasn't sure who deserved my glare more, the stubborn Chief Smith or my smug and serene brother. I leaned in close.
"What did you write to my brother, Brickit?"
The Black Dwarf drew a deep breath. "Well . . . I proposed an exchange of gold and goods."
That last was mumbled so fast and low that I could barely make out what he was saying. I gaped, then looked to Peter. "He tried to buy me?"
"He tired." Peter smiled at the Chief Smith, shifting my ire from the Dwarf's to his own shoulders where, Aslan help me, it would have a short life. "He could never afford you, Ed."
I blinked. I did not know what to say or think or do. Should I feel complimented? Insulted? Scandalized? Amused? Finally I settled upon smiling at these my dear families, knowing it wouldn't be long before I gave in and spent the day entertaining the Dwarfs. For now, though, victory in this particular field was mine.
"I'm so very glad they're your guests, Peter! Enjoy them!"
And I walked away from the lot of them.
Later that evening the celebration was moving down to the beach beside the Cair. A huge bonfire was to be lit and the feast and revelry would last until dawn. I was looking forward to the novelty of it, for tonight was the first anniversary of our victory at Beruna. It promised to be an exciting ending to a wonderful and thrilling day, a night of music and dance and rejoicing.
Peter was already getting changed when I entered our room and I hurried to shed my dress clothes for the plainer outfit Martil had already laid out for me. The valets had insisted we not wear our best clothes to the beach. They knew us too well. Without my asking Peter helped pull off my boots and I noticed he could barely suppress his amusement. He burst out laughing when he tugged too hard and stumbled back gracelessly, my right boot in his hand. Relenting, I laughed along with him and he dropped down beside me. Quietly he said,
"It's a measure of Brickit's affection that he went to such lengths to keep you."
I snorted. Not an hour after I had left them, I had gone back and saved Brickit from Peter's enthusiastic company. My brother had completely ignored the Dwarf's growing frustration as the legend of Nancy was undone (for a day, anyway) by Peter's poise and charms. "La, I doubt he'd written so much in all his life as in this year."
"By his handwriting, I'd say you're right." He leaned against me, pulling me close in a one-armed hug. "Not that I blame him for trying to keep you, of course."
"Of course," I replied in sarcastic tones. "Anyone would have done the same. Peter?"
"La?" he asked, imitating me.
I looked up at him slyly, unable to resist asking, "So how much am I worth?"
Chuckling softly, Peter kissed my hair. "More than all the air or the water or earth could ever produce. You are the world, good my king, and such things can't be bought at any price." He gave me a shake, his eyes bright with anticipation. "Come on, Ed. Let's grab the girls and get down to the shore. We have so much to celebrate tonight!"
I grinned. Truer words had never been said.