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A Challenge of Speech

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"What happens when they go back throught the wardrobe? Do they still talk like they learnt to talk?" – the ladies of AsCast asked in their third episode about the Four's manner of speech at the end of LWW.

A while ago, I was listening to the audiobook of LWW, and I noticed the Professor's little speech at the end of the book, where he kept saying, "What's that?" to the Pevensies' questions. Of course, Lewis probably just used that to break up the speech, but it made me wonder if you were conversing with him, what you would actually think of his constant need for clarification. That, along with some questions raised in Episode 3 of AsCast, made me write this.

Special thanks to AsCast for pushing this idea forward in my head. Everyone should go listen to AsCast, it's a awesome :D.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything. If I did, the Pevensies wouldn't speak like they do in Chapter 17 of LWW and this fic wouldn't exist. Any direct quotes you recognise comes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

"They made good laws and kept the peace...and liberated young dwarfs and satyrs from being sent to school..."

- Chapter 17, LWW

"No," the Professor said, "I don't think it will be any good trying to go back through the wardrobe door to get the coats. You won't get into Narnia again by that route. Nor would the coats be much use by now if you did!"

Edmund had to credit the man with this insightful observation. Fifteen years had passed in Narnia since they shed their coats on the way to the Stone Table, after all. Indeed, Edmund was not sure what the Beavers did with the coat he wore that he left at their lodge. No doubt they gave it a proper burial, considering it was made of animal fur. Edmund was not even sure they would recognise the coat even if they happened to see them again.

Peter's voice broke through Edmund's musings, startling him when it was not the deep resonance that Edmund was accustomed to, but much more child-like. Even Susan and Lucy, who had told the Professor the bulk of the story, sounded much younger, but the difference in their voices was not so pronounced as in Peter's.

"Good Professor, think you that we shall return to our most magical kingdom in the times to come?" Peter asked.

The Professor, for some reason that Edmund did not understand, smiled and said, sounding amused, "Eh? What's that? Yes, of course you'll get back to Narnia again some day."

Edmund frowned at the Professor's opening. It was the fifth time since they began their story that the Professor felt he had to ask them to clarify their meaning. Edmund could only find two explanations for this. Either the Professor was hard of hearing, or they were speaking unclearly. Edmund quickly brushed aside the latter explanation. Indeed, it could not be so, for they, who were monarchs, whose words were listened to, dissected and analysed everyday, by subjects, allies and enemies alike, could not afford to be unclear in their manners of speaking. They had learnt, early in their reign, to not only enunciate but also to speak so that their meaning was absolutely clear.

So caught up as he was, Edmund completely missed what the Professor was saying, and only managed to pull himself back to hear.

"…don't mention it to anyone else unless you find that they've had adventures of the same sort themselves."

"Even so," Susan said, "how shall we ever happen on such information if we speak not to others about it?"

The Professor looked amused again, and it was making Edmund rather annoyed. Indeed, he didnot see anything so amusing, and it seemed rather like the Professor was mocking them. Did the Professor really believe them? The idea that he might not bothered Edmund, who had had experience with many an ambassador who disbelieved the honour he placed on his words, even if they did not say so outright. They nodded and pretended that they believed him, and cursed him as a liar behind his back and sought to provoke him to not keep his words. It was as if his very name, the Just, challenged them to provoke him into being unjust.

"What's that? How will you know?"

There it was again! Perhaps they should speak a little louder for the Professor's sake. Now that he had concluded that the Professor was a bit deaf, Edmund found himself no longer annoyed at the man. After all, he could hardly help not being able to hear clearly! By the Lion, even Edmund himself had at times struggled to hear the tiny twitters of his smaller subjects, such as birds and mice. And Edmund and his siblings were smaller now. Perhaps their voices had grown softer too, with the change.

Yet still, he did not know why the Professor was amused with their questions. And of course, he had completely missed the Professor's answer again. Perhaps that was it. Perhaps the Professor had explained his amusement in the answer and Edmund had been too busy thinking to listen. He chastised himself and paid attention to the Professor again, only to hear…

"…Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?"

School! What did that have anything to do with anything? Did the Professor think that they would allow such evil institutions as schools in Narnia? To lock the country's young promises up in a room together to quarrel among themselves and learn nothing? Why would they waste adult energy on keeping dozens of young ones in their place at a time, when it was obviously impossible for one person to handle so many children? No, schools have long been abolished in Narnia, and all of their young subjects had been educated at home, with private tutors who would achieve a lot more having only to take care of a few children in the same family with varying levels of maturity. After all, they could then rely on the children to keep each other civilised, rather than slaving over twenty or thirty children of the same immaturity.

It was with this reflection in mind that Edmund answered the Professor. His voice was calm; he had long learnt to keep his annoyance in check. One did not display one's emotions for the whole world to see when one was King.

"We know not, good sir, for schools have long been abolished in Narnia. Such institution only breeds contempt and evil in our subjects and we found not use for them. 'Tis a most unprofitable use of our kingdom's resources."

"Even so, my good brother speaks rightly, Sir," Lucy said, nodding equally solemnly. The corners of the Professor's mouth twitched again; this time, Edmund could almost see why. It was strange to see such authority and dignity radiating out of so slight a girl. "Our experience found that our young subjects gaineth more through private tuition, where they receive the attention that is their due."

"Aye, you are wise to do so," the Professor conceded. "I wish to Aslan that you could have authority to do the same here."

Edmund was immediately, and rightfully, horrified. "Here?" he spluttered in a most un-kingly manner. "There are schools here?"

"Oh but of course, my dear boy," the Professor said, smiling. Edmund bristled at being called boy, let alone dear. "Surely you have not forgotten?"

The Professor was chuckling now, and Edmund scowled. He had forgotten. Even now, standing here in front of the Professor, he found himself fleeting in and out of memories. One moment he felt he was King Edmund. The next, looking at very unfamiliar and young versions of his brother and sisters, he would suddenly realise he was equally forced back into his ten-year-old body again, and was no longer King Edmund the Just, but Edmund Pevensie. It was most disconcerting.

"Oh," Susan exclaimed, "the good Professor speaketh right! It all comes back to me now. Here, in the world of Spare Oom, which is not called Spare Oom at all, we are but children, and school children. Oh, how could I forget?"

School children? He would have to go to school? How Edmund's stomach turned at the thought. But just as he was going into a mental rant about school, the Professor's voice broke through his thoughts again.

"Well, fear not, fear not," the Professor said, still chuckling. "It's still the holidays yet. You should have plenty of time to get used to the idea again. And perhaps work a little on how you speak, too."

"And pray tell, what is amiss with our manner of speech?" Edmund asked testily, sounding more annoyed than he intended. Indeed, contemplating school had not done much to alleviate his irritation.

His tone seemed to startle the Professor, who peered at him closely for a moment, and then swept a look at his siblings. It was as if, finally, the Professor had realised they really were not the children who, to his knowledge, he saw last at breakfast. That, indeed, years had passed for them, and they were, quite unwillingly, back in their childish bodies, if not quite in their rightly childish mind.

In turn, Edmund himself felt some regret at his anger at the Professor. He slowly realised that while for them, fifteen years and a whole era had passed, for the Professor it had been mere seconds, or no time had passed at all. Indeed, the Professor did not doubt their words, but the actual impacts apparently took a little longer to sink in. Both they and the Professor obviously needed a little time to consider the whole implications of this adventure. Edmund begin to grasp, now, that he was no longer King. He realised, too, that he should allow the Professor to speak to him as a boy, as surely, the Professor needed time to recognise that he was a man in a boy's body.

Peter was speaking, and Edmund pulled himself together to listen. "I begin to recognise now, good brother, that we speaketh in different manners than does my kind Professor. Indeed, I know not how to describe it, but his manner of speech sound quite foreign to mine ears, though we do speak the same tongue. Sir, I wonder yet, did we once speak as you do?"

"Oh yes, you certainly did, Peter, but it occurred to me now that a great deal of time has passed for you." He turned to Edmund, and suddenly Edmund realised the Professor was about to apologise to him.

He beat the Professor to it, shaking his head wearily. "No, no, let me apologise, sir, I was overly sensitive, unduly so. I confess myself uncomfortable in this entire situation and allowed it to affect my manners."

"I wonder, sir," Susan asked, "are our manners so utterly foreign here, in this world? For I cannot judge myself, so long had it been since I was last here. I begin to recall now, yet so much is still unclear. I feel as if I am arrived in a strange land, having yet to learn their culture. Yet I understand well that there was a time when we lived here, and everything was not so strange."

"No doubt, if after fifteen years had passed, as you have said, it would be strange, my dear. I fear your being here might not help you adjust as much, as it is only myself, Mrs Macready and the three servants in the house. You would be better off in society where you would be exposed to more conventional manners. Yet perhaps you may begin to remember after a while here."

"'Tis strange," Lucy said, "I do recall the feeling of Narnia being a foreign place to us, once upon a time, when we first reigned upon the thrones of Cair Paravel. Yet how willingly did we embrace that strangeness, that we never experienced before! And presently, we seem so reluctant to welcome this world from whence we came."

"I fear leaving Narnia behind," Susan said. "For if we are to change our manners and take upon ourselves to speak not of it, one day, perhaps, we might forget. This world became to us like a dream when we were in Narnia. How shall Narnia become to us as the days pass?"

"Forget Narnia!" Lucy exclaimed. "No, sister, surely we cannot. This world became dream-like for us, surely because we were but children as we traveled to Narnia, living only handfuls of conscious years. Yet we ruled and lived and loved Narnia for longer. How shall we ever forget it? How shall we ever forget the Lion who created it?"

"My Gentle sister, I must confess that I agree with my Valiant sister, for we four have known Narnia in such way that I am sure we never knew this place," Peter agreed. "I understand your fears, yet I believe if we place our faith in Him, He shall not let us forget."

Edmund nodded. "Aye, my brother speaketh rightly. Aslan brought us to Narnia for a purpose. I do not believe we leave Narnia merely by accident. Nay, 'tis His work, for sure, though upon my honour, I cannot explain why. Yet He works in mysterious ways, that we may not always understand. 'Tis not for us to question Him, but to trust in Him."

"I understand well your counsels, dear brothers and sister," Susan said, "yet still, I fear. I know not what, whether myself, I will forget or this world will make me forget."

"We all fear, sister," Lucy said gently, taking her hand, "but we also cannot lose faith, for I believe He will always be with us."

"Aye, you are always the valiant one, sister, and having enough faith for us all. I shall have to learn by your example," Susan said with a smile.

There was a brief pause in the conversation, when all of them, Edmund was sure, thought of the Lion, who brought them here, who brought them together.

Then, the Professor spoke again. "And indeed, you are here now. You cannot go on speaking like you do now, people would think it very strange. You will draw more attention to yourself than necessary, even if you can blame living with a dusty old professor for a whole summer made you talk like this. Even then, Mrs Macready might be the first to wonder at your way of speaking."

"Your advice is sound, good sir," Edmund said, "yet how shall we start? For we remember little from this world. Our manners have become so natural to us that we think not upon it."

"Well, reading books would be of no use, as most books in this house are quite old and I don't have any contemporary children's book. Perhaps listening closely to conversations between Mrs Macready and the servants and I might help. Indeed, you could start by remembering this is England and addressing each other by name and using contractions."

"Contractions?" Peter stared blankly, as though never having heard of the idea before, even though grammar was covered extensively in their rhetoric tutorials in Narnia.

Edmund frowned. "Contractions make for very untidy speech. I should be appalled to speak thus."

"And yet you must, otherwise your speech sounds entirely too archaic. Why, for children your age to even enunciate so well is already an achievement."

"The good Professor gives good counsel, bro – " Lucy started to speak, then paused. Then she tested the names on her tongue, as though never having said them before, "Peter, Susan, Edmund. For if we spoke in the manners of Spare Oom – no, England –before and did learn the language of Narnia, surely we can relearn our old speech. It shall be a challenge!"

A challenge, indeed! It seemed that her word decided it all, for Lucy knew, as Knights, Edmund and Peter were never ones to not take up a challenge. Edmund could see it all settle. Yes, they would learn to speak like they did when they lived in Spare – no, it was not Spare Oom, it was England. They were in England now, and would speak as the English do.

"'Tis true! It will be a challenge," Peter agreed, "but I have yet to meet a challenge I cannot conquer!"

Of course, trust Peter to be the first to vocally accept the challenge. And Edmund knew he would too. It could not – couldn't – be that hard, surely.

"I suppose we could attempt it, at the very least. It cannot – can't – be that hard," Susan echoed his thoughts. "Especially for you, Edmund, for you learnt Carlomene to negotiate trade with them. This is the same language, just a different manner of speaking."

"Yes, you are right, of course," Edmund finally conceded.

It was the same language. Just a lot sloppier, less poetic and containing contractions.

"Just hope that when you go back to that school of yours, you will not lose all your ability to converse intelligently," the Professor said dryly.

School. And contractions. A challenge, indeed!