Kingship was proving to be even more daunting a task than Caspian had expected – and despite the help of his advisers, he was feeling woefully unprepared for it. Hours spent studying Narnia – the real Narnia – with Trumpkin, and statesmanship with Lord Asturian were taking their toll, and whenever he had a moment free, he took his favourite bay mare and went riding in the woods. His Telmarine advisers – the handful of loyal lords who chose to remain – urged caution, but he knew he needed to show his people he trusted them, even if he still feared them sometimes. There were bound to be many, like Nikabrik, who did not take it kindly to being ruled by a son of Adam.
After one particularly lengthy history lesson, much of it spent unlearning a great deal of what he’d been taught by his uncle’s professors, Caspian calculated he had a few hours left until sunset and went down to the stables. There were thousands of acres of forest to explore and he relished those hours spent discovering the hidden reaches of his kingdom, learning about his people.
Half an hour later he was riding through the sun-dappled forest, the mare picking her way easily along what looked to be a long-abandoned path. There were many in the forest, witnesses to a time when this was an integral part of the kingdom and not the last refuge of talking beasts and Old Narnians fearful of men’s rule. Caspian hoped to see them restored and fully used during his reign.
Suddenly a patch of light appeared between the trees and he entered a small clearing, bright and warm in the late spring sunshine. There was a copse of young beeches in the centre and he could hear running water nearby. The grass was strewn with wildflowers, purple, pink and gold, and bees buzzed lazily about.
Caspian dismounted and led the mare to the brook at the edge of the clearing, looping her reins around an overhanging branch, then crouched near her on a moss-covered boulder and splashed cool water over his face. He rose and turned to look at the idyllic woodland scene around him, half-expecting fauns and satyrs to materialise in between the trees. This was certainly not the forest he’d been taught to fear and despise by his childhood teachers. In fact, as he sat down in the warm grass, it was hard to believe that he had ever considered this forest an alien threat.
A drowsiness came upon him and Caspian stretched out himself out on the ground, soaking in the sun’s rays, and let his eyes close. The heat, the sweet smell of the meadow flowers, the buzzing insects were all adding to the feeling of peace, and making him feel sleepy. As he allowed himself to fall into unconsciousness, he thought he heard a laugh, but dismissed it as a figment of his imagination.
The hand that trailed softly against his cheek some time later, however, was definitely real. He jerked his head up with a gasp, opened his eyes and found himself staring at two startlingly lovely faces poised over his. Mischievous green eyes, flowing hair plaited with leaves and buds, honey-coloured skin and dimples to put the fairest Telmarine maiden to shame.
“Who are you?” he whispered, feeling utterly foolish at being caught napping in the long grass. Undoubtedly Lord Asturian would berate him for conduct unbefitting for a king.
The women? girls? laughed, and he recognised the sound he’d heard earlier. Not a dream, then.
“Your Majesty is very pretty,” one of them said, her caress descending from cheek to neck, and Caspian shivered under her touch. He was still groggy from his sleep, and his body all too willing to react impulsively, the blood rushing to his groin in what he feared would constitute yet another display of inappropriate behaviour. He scooted back and propped himself on his arms, the better to observe his companions.
At second glance, he realised they were not human – too ethereally beautiful for one, and with a fluidity of movement that recalled saplings in a breeze rather than the animal play of muscles under skin.
“You’re dryads,” he marvelled.
He’d seen pictures, and thought he’d caught glimpses before, but this was the first time he saw them in front of him – elegant willowy creatures clad in leaves and bark, their flesh gleaming with the polished sheen of carved wood, but their touch soft and light on his skin.
They laughed again.
“I am Willow,” one said.
“And I Beech,” the other added, and Caspian could see the subtle differences in them, not just in their leaves and bark, but in the green of their eyes and the grace of their movements.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” Beech said, smiling, and his time when she reached for Caspian she unlaced his shirt skilfully and placed her hand on his bare chest, reducing him to awed silence. Willow was no less bold as she advanced on him and straddled his hips.
Caspian let out a strangled groan. This was territory for which he was singularly unprepared, since Lord Asturian, and Miraz’s professors before him, had always chosen to focus on the young prince’s intellect and fighting skills, rather than educate him in the pleasures of the flesh. Caspian had wanted to remedy this but had discovered that even becoming king did not make it any easier to express his wishes in the matter, although apparently it offered some unexpected opportunities.
He ceased to think rationally at this point, because Willow had effortlessly opened his breeches and taken his shamefully erect member into her hand, and the sensations were so exquisite he could focus on nothing else. His world became a maelstrom of senses as the dryads took it in turn to caress him with long supple fingers, until one of them – by then, he had no idea which – sank onto him while the other kissed him with a mouth that tasted of moss and green wood and sweet grass.
He reached blindly with his hands, grasping soft rounded breasts and hips, fingers sinking into secret damp warm clefts, desperate to touch and feel as much as he could while the dryad rose and fell above him, her palpitating warm flesh tight around him, bringing him closer to ecstasy with every move.
When release flooded his senses, he thought he had never experienced such pleasure, and finally understood why men looked down on boys, and why wars were fought and kingdoms lost for love and lust. He felt shame, briefly, thinking of Queen Susan’s kiss, wondering what she would be like to bed, and then blessed oblivion claimed him.
He awoke just past sunset, and the woodland clearing was empty and quiet. His mare was grazing peacefully where he had tied her, and the only reminder of his fevered encounter was his state of undress, and the leaves scattered around him. He picked a handful, beech and willow together, and tucked them in his shirt with a smile.
It may not have been the kind of lesson that Lord Asturian had had in mind for him, but as he rode home in the dusk Caspian felt more like the King of Narnia than he had ever since the crown had been handed to him.