“In the thickest of it all
For the icy winds and the bitter frost
So the forest would be our own again.
Summer nights under the beam of the moon
That life would be long and full of prosperity
Our previous sorrows and fears.”
The sun was already high in the sky by the time the hooves of Peter's strong white stallion hit the stones of the paved road that would lead them to the very gates of Cair Paravel. From where he was, he could already smell the salt of the sea as the wind blew its scent towards him. The people of Narnia enjoyed seeing their High King leave the high walls of his palace, but the High King himself enjoyed the privilege of exploring the grassy plains of his kingdom.
"I look forward to seeing the preparations for the festival," Lord Peridan remarked as he rode up behind Peter. Peridan had joined the Pevensies in Cair Paravel three months ago, after it became known to the Kings and Queens that he was the grandson of a Narnian courtier who had been forced into exile during the early years of the White Witch's reign and had been living in Archenland ever since. Though they were only getting to know him, Peter had already established a firm friendship with the man. And he had to admit that there was some comfort in having another human around other than his siblings; also, Peridan was an early riser, just like him, which made him the perfect companion for his morning rides through the country.
Dorick, the old Red Dwarf councilor, had managed to convince Peter of the necessity of having a companion. "You are the High King, Sire. Though we understand these rides are for your personal enjoyment and therefore important to Your Highness' person, it is of the utmost importance that Your Majesty remain safe at all times, particularly given the state of the country at this moment. It would be a relief to us all if you were to take at least one able, trustworthy companion who might aid you in the event of any misfortune."
'The state of the country' had greatly improved as of late, Peter reflected with more relief than pride as they passed through a patch full of trees that momentarily blocked their view of the horizon around them, though towards the end of the road he could already glimpse the silver gleam of turrets in the bright sunlight. At the start of their reign revolts had started one after another, brought on by the followers of the White Witch who still believed they could take the power. Though badly planned and small in numbers, in most cases, these attacks had been vicious and Peter and Edmund had been forced to ride out many times and defend the Narnians from the assaults. Peter had come to fear that one of them would be killed only months after their coronation, but thankfully most of the savage creatures had been killed during the battles or had retreated to the north, where they would probably die out, scattered as they were.
"The preparations are scheduled to be done by midmorning," Peter replied with a grin as they left the shadow of the trees and rode up a small hill.
The view was breathtaking. Peter drew his horse to a halt and stared down into the grassy extension of land that lay between them and the beach of the Great Eastern Ocean. At the furthest point of the Peninsula was the hill upon which Cair Paravel stood in all her glory. The sun was so high that the shadow of the citadel obscured neither the bright green of the grass nor the golden-red banners that framed the sides of the road leading up to the large Western Gate, nor even the gleaming white sand and rocks that surrounded The Cair. Though he had seen it hundreds of times by now, Peter thought he would never grow used to the glory of the view. Hanging from one of the highest towers of the palace was the largest banner of all: The Great Lion's face roared gloriously in his direction, his golden mane shining in the light.
But his eyes were soon drawn to the grassland nearer to him, where a great multitude of Narnians were working hard, setting up a multitude of tents and pavilions, tiltyards, stables and outhouses, barriers and stands. The banners blew fiercely in the wind, and Peter could see small groups of creatures carrying large crates, barrels, and furniture, or pulling along wheelbarrows and carts. Peter turned to look at Peridan, who had a smile on his face, his shoulder-length brown hair flowing in the wind.
"I can feel the excitement from here, Sire," said Peridan, his grin widening, and followed Peter's stallion with a trot down the side of the hill towards the large expansion of hundreds of tents.
The first group Peter encountered was a group of Fauns carrying barrels and crates of wine into a large tent. They tried to bow as he passed, slowing his horse to a short trot, but nearly stumbled over themselves.
"Have care, my friends!" Peter called out towards them with a chuckle. "Lest formal courtesy deprive us from the sweet taste of good Narnian wine!"
"Aye Sire!" cried out a couple of red dwarves who were sitting on piles of firewood near the entrance of the tent, holding flagons of wine in their hands.
"Sampling it already, Rogin?" Peridan remarked sternly, though his smile gave him away, "At this rate you'll have finished it all, and there'll be none left for the Galman King and we'll have war at our gates!"
"Oh shush, Peridan," one of the dwarves said in a raspy voice, though Peter could sense his amusement. "Unlike you Archenlanders, we Narnians have appreciation for good wine. Their Majesties need us to ensure that the visitors will get the best from our cellars. And the good Fauns have been hiding such big stashes in their caves for the past hundred years, I doubt anyone will go without!"
"Aye, there'll be enough for Bacchus himself if he decides to pay a visit."
The merry laughter followed them as they continue on their path, mixing with the anxious murmurs of a bunch of dirt-covered moles that were digging holes for the last few buildings that needed to be set up. One of them ran up to Peter's horse as he dismounted, taking off his leather gloves and grabbing hold of the reins. Behind him Peridan did the same.
"Master Lilygloves!" Peter said with a smile. "Are we finished yet?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," said the young mole proudly as it walked down the road with Peter. Peter never knew where to look when speaking to the Talking Beast; he knew that moles had eyes, but they were so tiny that he couldn't find them in the mass of fur and scattered dirt… and he knew Lilygloves was blind anyway. He decided to focus on the view around them. "The dirt's soft and pliable here, Sire. There's just one stable and two stands left for building and we'll have them finished in no time."
"We are on schedule then," said Peter gladly. "Thank you very much for your help. If you and your team need anything just let me know."
"Don't thank us, Sire!" said Lilygloves with a chuckle. "If anytime Your Majesties wish to bring us joy, just let me and my team plant you something up in Cair Paravel." His nose twitched as he sniffed in the direction of the large structure. "The dirt up there's perfect for gardening… perhaps a field of roses and an orchard or two…"
Peter chuckled. "I am sure Queen Susan will love that idea. I'll let you know. For now, though, let us focus on the festival."
"Of course, Sire," said Lilygloves with a wide smile, and he sank down on his haunches in what Peter had come to recognized as the mole's version of a bow. "I shall get back to work now, Sire!"
As the mole waddled off and narrowly avoided being run over by a cart full of barrels and crates of food and wine, Peter went further down the road, passing many pavilions with Talking Beasts running in and out carrying furniture or setting up barriers. He thought he caught a glimpse of a dryad or two smiling as they carried sweetly perfumed flowers into the tents. Somewhere along the way, Peridan took his leave and went to join a group of satyrs who were polishing trumpets in the shadow of a large structure that Peter imagined was soon to become the Tree of Shields.
The Summer Festival had been Lucy's idea nearly six months ago, when they had received a letter from the Tisroc of Calormen congratulating them on their defeat of the White Witch in terms that barely escaped a condescending and altogether dismissive tone. At the same time, there had been reports of panic among the Narnians as winter came upon the country again; this time a natural winter brought on solely by nature. But it seemed that the Narnians feared the return of the White Witch, and some of them even took the snow as a sign of her return to power. It took many rides in the cold snow to visit the settlements of Dwarves, Fauns and Talking Beasts to reassure them that their Kings and Queens remained alive and well and had no intention of allowing them to be enslaved ever again. But it became apparent to Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy that it was their job to reinstate the confidence and merriment that the Narnians had always been so known for.
A festival, then, was proposed, as a solution to both problems: on the one hand, the Narnians would participate in joyful festivity and a blatant display of their country's strength and benediction, reinforcing their confidence and giving them something to be excited about as well as promote unity between the different races and villages when working together. On the other hand Narnia's neighbors would visit the country and get to know its Kings and Queens as well as its people and customs, establishing Narnia as a powerful neighboring country in the eyes of the rest of the continent.
It had taken them the entirety of those six months to plan and develop the festival. Messengers had been sent to every country outside Narnia and every village within Narnia, inviting them to participate and bring their trade to the festival; even the distant village of the Marsh-Wiggles at the northern border had accepted to come, though they said there were likely to be storms and flooding during the week of the festival and they probably would all drown on their way to Cair Paravel. And so, over the past two months, more and more groups of Narnians had come up to the citadel bearing food, building materials and much talent, and they had slowly begun to put together the Summer Festival. A wide variety of entertainment was promised to all those who participated: dancing, jousting, sparring, feasts, races, bonfires, archery, boxing, apple-throwing, board games and any other sport imaginable. Nearly six hundred people were expected to participate, Narnian and otherwise, and the Pevensies had been keen to ensure that all of them enjoyed as much commodity as it was possible to give them.
Now, as he looked around him, Peter saw the fruit of all of their efforts and felt proud of Narnia for accomplishing so much.
Aurelius was approaching him. The large chestnut centaur was wiping his hands on a rag as he walked towards Peter, giving him a deep bow in a majestic manner that no other creature could ever hope to imitate. No matter how many times he spoke to these creatures, Peter could never shake the feeling that he was too small to be giving them orders, High King or not.
"High King," said Aurelius in his deep, rumbling voice. He was the one in charge of the management of the last preparations. "We are nearly finished. The dwarves have already brought in the last supplies of bread, butter and milk, and the Fauns should be bringing in the last of the wine within the next few minutes. The decorations are being set as we speak and the moles and beavers should be done with the building within the next hour."
Just as Peter was about to reply, a Black Dwarf walked up to them, adjusting his cap. He gave a short bow, a roll of parchment in his hand. "Your Majesty, I have counted all the tents and it seems we've got just about enough space for everyone, assuming the giants aren't coming along too." His beady black eyes jumped as he looked up at Peter in alarm. "They aren't, are they?"
"Do not worry yourself," said Peter, shaking his head. "The Buffins have already been spoken to and they have assured us they have found other sleeping arrangements further up the shore. Just make sure the trees know that they can't be too close to the pavilions. I do not think the Calormene Prince will take it well if he finds himself suddenly surrounded."
The Dwarf gave a curt nod and with another bow, was gone. Peter hoisted himself onto the saddle once more, now closer to the centaur's height. He felt a bit more comfortable. "Do we know when they are arriving, Aurelius?"
The centaur glanced at the sky. "Two eagles left earlier this morning; they should be back with news soon."
"Very well," said Peter. "Thank you. Oh, and make sure the dwarves don't finish all our wine."
Peter almost thought he saw amusement in the centaur's eyes as he rode away towards the Western Gate of Cair Paravel.
As he drew closer he could hear the crashing of the waves on the ocean, and the smell of salt once more reached his nose. He wondered if the sirens cared much for the Summer Festival; they had been alerted, of course, but hadn't seemed very interested in it, as they hardly ever did. He turned his gaze away from the ocean and focused on the large, gleaming walls of the citadel. He had always admired the way they glittered in the sun, almost as if they were made of marble, like the floors of some of the more elegant buildings he had seen in England. He knew this was impossible. As far as he knew, there was no marble in Narnia, and the truth was that the walls were really a very light grey color instead of white, but whoever had constructed it had been a brilliant architect. (Peter had heard mixed stories about whom it had really been; stories that varied from different Kings to theories that said Aslan himself had built them somehow with help from the Merepeople. Peter didn't trust any of these, though he knew Lucy often enjoyed listening to the various versions). Cair Paravel truly seemed like the shining heart of the nation.
The banners flapped in the wind as he crossed through the gates that were wide open; even here he could see groups of Fauns and dryads carrying things out towards the grasslands from the cellars and the spare rooms of the palace. Faun, satyr, centaur and Dwarf guards dressed in Narnian colors stared straight ahead as he rode by. Oreius and some of the other centaurs who had been turned to stone by the White Witch in her castle, and revived by Aslan himself, were responsible for this training. The Narnians had long forgotten the ways of the court after one hundred years of hiding, and it had taken all the efforts of those who were old and held the memories and traditions close to heart to bring Narnia into a disciplined and systematic way of life. The Pevensies would never be able to thank these enough; they themselves had had no idea how to be Kings and Queens, and still often needed their guidance. Oreius and Dorick, along with Mr. Tumnus and Peridan, had become their closest allies and councilors in the court meetings.
Susan met him at the top of the steps of the Great Hall, already dressed in a soft blue gown with golden embroidery. Though less than a year had passed since they had reached Narnia, Peter found it difficult to reconcile his sister, the Queen of Narnia, and the young bossy girl who had walked through the wardrobe with him; she simply seemed entirely different in every sense. She had matured. And it wasn't only her… Edmund and Lucy had also changed greatly. He supposed they were probably experiencing the same disconcertment as he was; there was stubble on his face that hadn't been there before, and muscles on his arms and chest that he hadn't even known existed. There were scars, too. The battles they had fought in such a short time had already taken their toll.
"Finally, you have returned!" Susan exclaimed anxiously, picking up her skirts as she went down the steps from where the thrones were to where a small table had been set out to serve breakfast to the four of them. It was currently empty, though Peter could see Susan's dryad handmaiden waiting patiently by the doorway in case they were in need of anything. "There are so many things we have yet to take care of, and the delegations should be arriving soon."
"It will be fine, Su," he said. "I just returned from speaking to Aurelius and everything is running smoothly."
She stared at him pointedly.
"Oh," he muttered, looking down at his dusty boots and trousers. He cleared his throat. "I shan't take very long. Where are Edmund and Lucy?"
"Edmund was getting out of bed, when I last left him, but he is faster than you, so will not take long," Susan replied with a teasing smile. "Lucy is out in the gardens."
Lucy was always out in the gardens at this time of the morning. She seemed to wake up earlier than any of them, and every day she seemed to make some kind of pilgrimage down to the gardens at the center of the citadel, walking under the trees and sitting on the grass. Susan had originally expressed a concern that she might be lonely, but it soon became apparent to them that Lucy found joy in these morning walks. They had even heard her sing a song or two, now and then, or kneel down in the grass and speak in a hushed voice what sounded like a prayer.
Peter sighed and met Susan's gaze, seeing his worry reflected in her eyes. They had many concerns about Lucy, particularly lately. "She is still a little girl, Peter," Susan had whispered to him one night after dinner, before they parted ways to go to bed. "I am not sure she is prepared to deal with all the responsibilities and the problems that this sort of life throws at us."
It was true, Peter had thought. Every day they were walked from one council room to the next, either discussing the trading situation with Galma or the defense strategy should the Northern Giants attack. Then they were forced to take classes on every manner of subject, for Kings and Queens must be well educated… from ordinary spelling and calligraphy to dictation and the Ancient Narnian Tongue, and they were encouraged to take part in arts of every kind as well as train in diverse forms of combat. On top of these responsibilities were the trials and the counseling that as Rulers of the land they must take part of.
Susan had thrived in the classes and arts, as well as archery, having always been a good student in school. While she found training and council meetings long and dull, she never let it show, and when the time came to give advice or judgment before her subjects, she was gentle, kind and never wearied. Peter struggled with many of the classes, particularly calligraphy; but he was perseverant, if not stubborn, and managed to do well in them in spite of himself. Training exercises were his favourite part of the day and he always put every ounce of his energy into it, yet he always found the energy to aid his subjects.
Edmund was the strategist, the intellectual one, and yet he excelled in training as well. Peter often thought that his only fault was that he pushed himself too hard. Though nearly a year had passed, Peter suspected that Edmund had still not entirely forgiven himself for his betrayal with the White Witch; he would often catch him deep in thought, and while Edmund had always been serious, even as a young child, there was something almost mournful about him at times.
But Lucy… Lucy was barely over ten years old. Though she seemed full of that inherent joy that always seemed to bubble up inside her, both Peter and Susan wondered what she was really thinking. "Is it right of us to force her to sit still, study and work hard all day? She's only a child… she shouldn't be forced to be a Queen for an entire country when she's so young. She's still so naïve… she doesn't deserve to be mixed up in all the battles and violence that we're exposed to…"
Peter snapped out of his thoughts and turned his head to see Edmund standing in the doorway of one of the many corridors that lead into the Great Hall of Cair Paravel, dressed in an elegant dark blue tunic woven with silver thread and looking the part of King Edmund the Just. "Look, I'm starving too," said Edmund, raising his eyebrows and glancing at the breakfast laden table. "But shouldn't you go get dressed now? We're rather short on time."
"I told you," Susan said with wide eyes, nudging him with her elbow as she passed him and went to sit down at the table, grabbing a slice of toast and setting it in her plate. "Hurry and come back looking like the High King of Narnia."
Edmund laughed as she handed him a platter full of bacon, moving it just out of Peter's reach as the High King in question tried to snatch a piece to eat on his way.
"Fine, I'll go," Peter said, narrowing his eyes and pretending to be angry at them. "There had better be some of that left when I get back."
Shortly after Peter had left, Lucy came traipsing in, her reddish blonde hair flying freely behind her, unlike Susan's dark locks that had been held up in braids. There were even a few minuscule flowers in her hair, which Susan suspected was the work of one of the dryads that lived in the court gardens. Her golden and red dress only served to make her smile even brighter.
"I am so thrilled," she said excitedly as she sat down at the table quickly, reaching for a glass of orange juice. "Mr. Tumnus says the dryads are likely to dance at one of the festivals. We have not seen such a thing since our coronation!"
"I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's faces when they get here," Edmund said with a grin as he took a spoonful of scrambled eggs. "I still can't believe none of the other countries have Talking Beasts and Fauns and Dryads and the like."
"Let's hope there's not a good reason for that," Susan murmured. "Make sure you don't laugh; I'm sure they'll find it offensive."
Edmund raised an eyebrow at her. "You expect me to laugh? I have the best poker face of us all!"
Susan further proved his point by laughing at his remark.
"I only wish Mr. and Mrs. Beaver could come," Lucy said rather sadly.
"They could not travel all the way here," Susan reminded her. "The trip would prove too long for Mr. Beaver's legs."
A few minutes later Peter came in nearly running, his golden tunic and well-combed golden hair giving him a majestic aura. The effect was slightly ruined though, by the way he absentmindedly fingered his golden crown as he sat down at the table and reached for the pan of scrambled eggs with his other hand.
Lucy laughed and snatched it away from him, grabbing a napkin and polishing it clean of his fingerprints. "Only you would actually bring your crown to breakfast with us. I gave mine to Klaia."
"I didn't have time! Susan has been rushing me since the moment she saw me… I don't want to waste time having to run back for it."
Just as he was finishing his last bite of bacon, they heard a flapping of wings followed by the sound of hooves against stone. An eagle flew through the main entrance and landed on the floor a few feet away from their table. Behind him, a Faun ran in, stopping at a distance as well.
"Good Morning, Your Majesties," said the eagle in an amiable tone. "Forgive me for interrupting your meal, but I have news. The delegations are near already, and should all be arriving within the next two hours."
They soon found themselves sitting under a pavilion on a well polished wooden dais with garlands of flowers hanging from above and perfume in the air. Two centaurs stood on either side of the pavilion, guarding them so mightily that Susan found herself worrying that the guests would feel threatened by their presence. She knew it was necessary to show power, though, and she held back her remark.
The first delegations of guests that arrived, however, were Narnian ones, and though the Kings and Queens hadn't been waiting for them specifically, they were nonetheless received joyfully. Those from towns farther from Cair Paravel had been forced to arrive later, and among them were the Marsh Wiggles, who presented them with many carts of salted fish which they offered generously, though they warned everyone that the "fish have gone rotten in the sun, I shouldn't wonder, cause us Wiggles are terrible at preserves. We'll all get food poisoning, no doubt about it." A cheerier crowd was the Grey Fauns, who entered dancing to a small band of fiddles and pipes, followed by a surlier group of black dwarves who complained about the noise yet presented everyone with great loaves of rich bread and many pieces of ham. All in all, things were going successfully, and as Susan turned to look at her sister, she saw that Lucy all but danced in her seat to the tune of the Fauns' music.
Soon enough, however, the first foreign delegation arrived. It was announced by a single trumpet blast and a gryphon that flew over the camp, calling out that the King of Galma had arrived. Peter stood up quickly and his siblings followed, leaving the pavilion and making their way to beach as soon as they caught sight of a large ship crossing the horizon.
The harbor wasn't that far from Cair Paravel, but they were separated from the peninsula where the citadel lay by a rocky hill upon which stood one of the two small watchtowers that guarded the Cair.
Horses were brought forth for the Kings and Queens (not Talking Beasts, of course. These were trained, dumb horses. A group of Talking Horses was present in the camp, particularly keen on participating in the racing, but nobody would dare ask them if they could be ridden unless it was a matter of life or death). A group of nearly thirty Narnians left the camp in the direction of the docks; a single Faun trotting ahead of them carrying the Narnian banner upon which Aslan roared. Behind them followed a cart carrying a small group of dwarves, the entire band of Grey Fauns, Oreius and another centaur, a satyr and a large group of Talking Beasts among which were two leopards, a badger, many intensely curious dogs, two badgers, various rabbits, hares and an eagle or two.
They dismounted at the beach, where three dogs were given the task of watching the horses. Peter thought it fitting that they were sheep dogs; he wondered if anyone else in Narnia other than his siblings would understand the joke. The Narnian dogs didn't divide themselves in different races, so he doubted they would understand the concept.
The sand tickled Lucy's feet as it made its way into her shoes, but she resisted the urge of pulling them off and walking barefoot; this was not the time. The group was not as loud as it had been before as they drew nearer to the shore, though the Fauns skipped from here to there joyfully and there was a pleasant yet hushed chatter among the Talking Beasts. Peter led the way over the sand, his crown and his golden hair gleaming in the sunlight, looking truly magnificent.
As the Galman Ship drew nearer they could see the banners that the ship flagrantly displayed: the silver bear catching a fish in its jaws over a blue and green background. It was a low yet long ship, with large triangular sails that gleamed white in the sunlight, flags fluttering in the wind high above them. Countless rows swished to and fro as the ship neared Narnia, its long, thin prow aiming for Cair Paravel. They could see men moving on the deck. Edmund shifted nervously.
"It looks different than the pictures I've seen in England," he said over the noise of the crashing waves.
"It's a beautiful ship," Susan remarked.
Lucy's eyes gleamed. "We should get a Narnian ship built!"
Edmund looked interested. "We would have to find someone with experience in that, though," he said in a low voice. "And I don't see anyone around here that might have it…" He glanced at the dwarves who were shaking sand out of their boots and then at some of the Talking Beasts, particularly the feline ones, who were looking rather miffed at the feel of the strong wind and the loud water.
Peter didn't have a chance to make a remark, because the ship had almost reached them. They stepped onto the dock and a badger walked forwards to offer Susan a parasol, which she politely refused. While the badger moved towards the back of the group, the rest rearranged themselves behind the Kings and Queens; the centaurs guarding them on either side, Dorick, the Faun with the banner, and a leopard named Witrow right behind them and the rest following afterwards.
As the ship drew nearer, Lucy could see words emblazoned in dark paint upon the side of the prow: The Star Seeker. It was a good name, she thought, but rather unusual. The sides of it had been painted a deep blue, and from where she was, she could see the rows of sailors sitting below the deck. They no longer had to row, however, for the waves were doing their work for them and The Star Seeker was docking on her own.
"King Reghorius is the son of King Serlam II, and he comes from a long line of Kings descended from the man who founded Galma." Dorick was speaking in a low voice to the four of them.
"So it's been in the family for ages."
"Yes, Sire. Galma's main trade is fishing, and most of its commerce is directed towards Calormen, though some of it goes to the Seven Isles from time to time. They've managed to stay away from any of the mainland wars and haven't had a battle for years. Its relationship with Narnia prior to the Great Winter was good, but there were rumors that they refused Narnia aid when the Witch first began her attacks, which caused them to lose all their trade with Archenland, who has remained our steady ally since its very beginning."
"I don't like them," said Witrow matter-of-factly. "They smell like fish."
"I thought you liked fish," Edmund put in out of the corner of his mouth as some dwarves, centaurs and satyrs moved forwards to help anchor the ship and place the boardwalk.
"Not rotten fish," said Witrow, looking offended.
Lucy could see the sailors now, and she could easily pick out the knights among them for their bright clothes of bright greens and browns. They stood proudly, wearing short swords on their belts, some of them carrying shields or a quiver of arrows and a bow. Their skin had once been pale, but they were burnt brown by the sun. Lucy couldn't smell rotten fish of any sort from the boat, but she could hear the leopards muttering behind her.
Slowly, a small group of people began to disembark. Ahead of them all walked a banner man carrying the emblem of the Galman Nation, and behind him came King Reghorius of Galma, a very plump, short man with graying hair and a short grey beard which hid his neck from view. He wore long robes of bright blue and silver sash. On his fingers were many rings. His crown was large and glimmered silver as he dismounted with some difficulty, rubbing his hands together momentarily and then outstretching them, inclining his head slightly in their direction. His skin was tan, yet not as dark as that of his subjects, and his blue eyes gleamed as he met their gaze.
"My Lords and Ladies," said the King of Galma, greeting them with a courteous smile that almost seemed forced. "It is an honor to be here, in a country we once thought long lost to us humans."
Edmund caught the furtive glance the King gave towards the centaurs and the Fauns nearby. He held back a smirk.
"I thought all the Galmans ate was fish!" Witrow exclaimed in a loud, amused whisper that thankfully didn't carry towards the Galman delegation. "How does a man get that fat?"
"Quiet, Witrow!" Oreius hissed in his deep voice. Witrow fell quiet, his ears flat on his head. As daring as the leopard was, he wasn't mad enough to cross a centaur.
"We are equally honored to have you as our guest during the Summer Festival, King Reghorius," said Peter with an amiable smile from where he sat. "We hope you enjoy the accommodations we have provided for you and your men, and we look forward to celebrating alongside Galma during these merry days."
"You are very kind," said the King, his smile not quite reaching his eyes. "I am pleased to see that though you are young, your country seems to thrive under your rule, King Peter."
"High King Peter," Edmund put in, a polite smile on his lips. "All four of us are Kings and Queens, but my brother is the High King."
Nobody missed the condescension in the King's voice or the look in his eyes when he apologized. "Forgive me, High King Peter," he said. "You must understand that it is all rather confusing for your neighbors."
The silence could have been tense had the King not turned to motion towards something behind him.
"Allow me to present my son, Cadoc," he said, and a young boy no older than fifteen stepped forwards rather awkwardly. He was tall and lanky, his blonde hair falling in his face a bit and his eyes furtive as he bowed before them. He had the distinct look of someone who feels sick and is trying to hide it.
"Your Majesties," he said in a low voice.
"Speak louder," they heard the King mutter to his son through his forced a smile, before continuing to speak to them. "You must forgive my son; he is not feeling well at the moment, but I assure you that he will be participating in the tourneys and win our country some admiration through sparring during this festival."
"I am sure we will all find it most enjoyable," Peter said, his smile genuine as he glanced towards Cadoc, who really did seem on the verge of having an upset stomach.
"And this is my wife, Queen Amisse." Said the King, gesturing to his side. A young woman appeared; Susan thought she didn't look a day over thirty; she felt an odd stab of pity in her chest. The Queen looked rather shy as she bowed before them, and Susan smiled at her kindly. Amisse smiled back tentatively.
While the monarchs had been speaking, the knights had moved to stand behind the King of Galma and his son in a line. One by one, they began to introduce themselves: Lord Desmet, Lord Backqer, Lord Janghar, Lord Claeys, and many others. Some of them were quite young, while others seemed to be rather old for the intense physical activity they were expected to partake in. Meanwhile, the sailors brought all manner of boxes, crates and chests from the ship, and also led a few horses off the ship. A small group of men moved forwards from the delegation and set down a small chest before the dais.
"A small gift for Narnia to remember Galma by," said the King with an arrogant smile. A Dwarf stepped forwards from behind the Pevensies to take the chest and put it away, where it would be taken to the treasury of Cair Paravel.
"Strings of true pearls from the depths of the Galman Sea," said the King. "I hope you find the gift to your likings."
"They are lovely," Susan said with a bright smile. "Indeed the nation of Galma is most generous. We are afraid we have little to offer in exchange for such generosity."
"We could start by a good flagon of mead," said the King with a laugh.
"Mead shall be provided, then," said Peter with a chuckle. "And good wine and beer as well, for your family and all your men."
The badgers and the Fauns set up a small tent with chairs near the dock for the Pevensies, for the gryphon had flown over them once more, announcing that the Calormene ship was but half an hour away. So, while the Narnians helped the visitors carry their things to camp and provided horses for the King and his family, the Pevensies sat in the shade and listened to the sound of the waves and of the many voices of the people around them while eating fresh fruit that a dryad had just brought for them.
Lucy had a far-off look in her eyes as she buried her now bare feet in the sand and took a bite out of a ripe peach. Susan knew what she was going to say before she said it.
"Remember that time we went to the beach with Mother and Father?"
Edmund laughed. "The water was ice cold but you got in anyway because you said you didn't want to miss out on the experience."
Lucy giggled, leaning back in her seat, because nearly all the visitors had left the shore by now. "That was about… two years ago. Well, that is counting years in England, without counting these two years in Narnia. So, four years, really. Or was it more?"
Nobody said anything. Lucy shrugged and sighed contentedly, but Susan frowned.
"Where was it?"
"What?" asked Edmund, turning to look at her.
"That beach," he said. "Where was it?"
"I don't know," said Edmund bemusedly. "Does it matter?"
"Edmund, we went to that town nearly every summer holiday before the war started. We should know!"
"Well I don't!" Edmund said, looking taken aback. "I don't remember where it was."
They fell into an uncomfortable silence, and they all looked at each other before looking away quickly. It was one of those things that they didn't like talking about much; England. Too many confusing conversations ensued. Susan wasn't sure why it was confusing, but that was the way it was. It was as if England was slowly slipping out of their memories.
She shook herself. It shouldn't matter. They were in Narnia now.