"Take one, and pass the rest back," Mr. Keene said, handing Peter a stack of paper. "Carefully, Pevensie, don't rip them."
"Sorry, sir," Peter muttered, barely looking at the sheet as he took one and passed the stack on to James. Summer term had only been in for a month, and Peter's cares were still back in Narnia, Aslan's last words to Susan and him still ringing in his mind. He still couldn't believe that he would never return, not after all he had seen and done there.
"This was written by a Canadian soldier, during the Great War," Mr. Keene said, pacing back and forth across the front of the room, the cane that kept him out of the current war thudding against the ground for emphasis. "Read it to yourselves, and try to sort out what it means. We'll discuss it as a class in fifteen minutes."
Peter looked down at the sheet of paper without much interest. He hadn't had much interest in anything lately, just as he hadn't after his first trip to Narnia. The real world seemed dull, washed out, as if all the colors and excitement had somehow evaporated. At least the poem he was supposed to be reading was short.
He gave it a quick, cursory read-over, then frowned as the words started to sink in. He read it again, slower this time. He didn't know a poppy from a daffodil, but he did know that it was a flower, and he could easily imagine a battlefield graveyard covered with flowers - it was Narnia, the Fords of Beruna, where he had defeated the White Witch to become High King.
Well, perhaps there weren't that many graves there, since the dead had been given to their own peoples and not all of Narnia's inhabitants buried their dead. But the thought was certainly the same. And there were certainly more graves there by the time he had returned this last time, with all the Telmarines that had fallen and been buried.
Peter shook his head. He didn't want to remember the battles. He had ruled for almost fifteen years, most of them peaceful. Why were those years so much harder to remember? He shook his head again, hoping to chase the darker thoughts out before returning his attention to the poem.
The larks, still bravely singing, fly/Scarce heard amid the guns below.
He managed a small, sad smile. That was almost what he had just been thinking about. The battles overwhelming the peaceful times. And while Narnia had no guns, he could remember a couple of individual larks. One of his advisers during his reign had been a Talking Lark. The Lark's name, however was escaping him, which Peter just took as further proof that everything Narnian that didn't concern a battle was fading. Peter clung to the thought of the Lark as he continued with the poem, unwilling to let go of any bit of Narnia that he didn't have to.
He had to set the paper down and stare out the window for a moment after the second stanza. He hadn't known anything about most of the soldiers who had followed him to their deaths. There had been a lot of them; there was no way he could have known them all. But he hadn't really known any that died at either of the Battles of Beruna. Even among the soldiers who had died fighting the giants, or in a dozen minor skirmishes, Peter realized he hadn't known nearly as many as he probably should have. But they had surely had lives of their own. Maybe some of them had been in love. Maybe all of them had been in love. And they had left their homes, families, and lovers to follow him and die.
He stared out the window some more until he was sure he wasn't going to embarrass himself by crying in front of his entire class. The last stanza, when Peter worked up the courage to look back at it, comforted him somewhat. He had never broken faith with those who had died for him. He had never let them down, or turned his back, or ran away. He had fought for them as well as he knew how, and led as well as he was able. He had held the torch thrown to him as high as he could, made his reign into Narnia's Golden Age, and given it peace for a time. He could only hope that he had given the soldiers who followed him peace as well.