Lucy leans forward, rests her head against Edmund's shoulder. "It is very beautiful," she says, gesturing to the view, "this great gift."
"Yes," says Edmund, tilting his head to look at the sun. He smiles; continues tilting until Lucy is compelled to tilt with him and they fall backwards, lying on their backs in the grass, watching the clouds go by.
"That one looks like Aslan," Lucy says, and Edmund blinks.
"You always say that," he says, his voice soft, a warning, but Lucy does not hear him.
"That's because it always is Aslan," she says, sitting up, and Edmund looks away, watches Philip milling around and the flags of Cair Paravel in the distance.
Later he sits, crown heavy and back straight. He taps patterns in the arm of his throne, watches the Emissary from Galma bow to the thrones, watches the girls behind their veils as they wink at him; anything to avoid watching the light of belief in his beloved sister's eyes.
She slings her arm through Edmund's own, and as they walk the streets she laughs. "Brother," she says, "I love the bunting, floating in the wind. If only there could be festivals every week!"
"Shall we celebrate Mrs. Beaver's birthday next week, then?" he asks, and she gasps.
"It is that soon? I had forgotten it!" He grins at her chagrin, bumps her shoulder.
She stops by the gates, surrounded by the crowds and gazes up, and up. The new statue is the only structure within the palace free of bunting, and the crowds flow through the streets, part for the lion. She stills as she gazes, and a pilgrim jostles Edmund. Startled, he turns.
"Lady," says another pilgrim, her head bowed. "Will He bless us?" Lucy smiles, lifts the pilgrim to her feet as others crowd behind her.
"Aslan blesses us all," she says, her voice clear, her hands brushing shoulders, stroking fur and hair and feathers and skin like the wind. "Narnia has never been so blessed, that He should smile upon us and love us."
Edmund looks up at the statue; imagines Aslan looking back down at him, stern and sure.
Edmund looks away.
She sits before the fire, buries her toes in the plush rug. Edmund watches her trace the patterns, watches her until she looks up, meets his eyes.
"Ed," she says, "Why do you think He doesn't visit?"
"He's not a tame lion," he says, the words familiar and empty, and her breath is warm against his arm.
From the fourteenth bell to the sixteenth bell, he watches her take supplicants. She sits on her throne, and Tumnus presses close, breathes advice in her ear. She walks among the people, the whisper of her skirts as they brush the ground loud above the murmur of the supplicants. "Lucy!" they cry, and she takes their hands, brushes Tumnus away when the bell rings and he leans forward to move her on.
"Aslan will understand," Lucy says, and around her, the supplicants cheer, agree.
Edmund understands, too, and settles in for the wait.
King Edmund despairs at the libraries of Cair Paravel, empty these last centuries. The shelves are dusty and the rooms echo, and he has nowhere to begin. He whispers to Philip, to the Badgers, to Oreius, of the lost words of Narnia.
Books appear on the shelves and in the mornings in the Great Hall, offerings from Narnians, kept safe and dry beneath the earth. Narnians across the kingdom are moved by King Edmund's commitment to their history, by his commitment to knowing the past, when he locks himself in the library and starts taking notes.
He finds Aslan in the tales, and later, in the depths of time, he finds no lions, and he wonders at the absence.
Peter spends his hours in Council, and invites his siblings to join him. Edmund takes these meetings seriously, for all they are parlour tricks and infighting, and he holds his breath and counts the divisions across the table. Susan brings tales of emissaries and the ways of other nations, and Peter pauses in his oration, his hand resting on her shoulder.
Lucy is absent; she has other duties.
The Beavers are loud, rambunctious, ubiquitous. At high tea they tell tales of palace intrigues, from Cair Paravel and beyond. The prince of the Calormen is looking for a wife, and the servants of the Lone Islands work so hard, and the King of Archenland has a new fur coat, and it's so jolly and cheerful it sounds like nothing so much as gossip.
Later, Fox drops by, and fills the blanks as best he can, whispers of slavery and uprisings, but it's not the same, and Edmund misses those who have come before.
The lights in the hall are bright, and above the music he hears Susan's laughter, hears the rumble of Peter's merriment. He creeps up behind Lucy, listens to the name of Aslan on the lips of her admirers. He rests his arms on her chair, threads his fingers through her hair, and his grin sends her admirers away. "Ed," she says, half reproach, half exasperation.
"Dance with me," he says.
"I was talking with them of Aslan."
"Aslan will wait for you. He loves to see you smile."
She tilts her head, and he rests his chin upon her hair, messing her braids.
He draws her to her feet, and as she dances, she laughs, and he sees his reflection in her smile.
At night, he slips out of the keep, walks the streets alone. The breeze ruffles his hair; brings a chill wind from the North.
He stands at the parapets, watches for signs of betrayal; of dissent; of disquiet. Still, the sun rises, and he blinks in the dawn light and Lucy, barefoot, walks to the gates of the keep, rests her hands at the feet of the lion.
In the red of dawn, she glows with her faith in a distant God.
Narnia is solid beneath his feet, and he knows what he must do.
Across the room, Lucy looks up and meets his eyes, and he knows she knows.
A supplicant calls her name, and she looks away.
Edmund holds his breath.
He tastes rumours on the breeze; sends his runners to the winds and the words they bring back are soft and persistent, words of buzzards circling from the East and no handy accidents, no heroes.
In Council, Peter prevaricates; weighs the consequences, as he should. "They are coming, but perhaps not today." Behind him, Susan hums.
"The treaties," she begins. "They are so delicate and these alliances are so unsteady."
"I think we should go to war," Edmund says, like dipping his toes in the water, like not heeding their warnings on a bright summer's day.
"I am not sure Aslan would approve," Lucy says.
"Sister," Edmund says, rests his hand on Lucy's wrist, her pulse beneath his fingers. "What are our swords for, if not for fighting? They are a promise from Aslan."
"They were a gift from Father Christmas," Lucy says, but she nods; concedes his point.
She lifts her dagger from beside her pillow, and they emerge from the tents, her hair falling between her shoulder blades. She watches, curls her hand around Edmund's arm as he buckles his sword to his belt.
"Remember to clean your blade, Brother," she says, softly. "The blood of our enemies is a necessity, not a trifling concern."
He brushes his lips against her cheek, pushes her hair behind her ear. "We are an example," he whispers. "I shan't let you down."
She lifts a sword from the armoury, weighs it in her hand.
"You never do."
He rides beside his sister, warriors together.
She leaves her hair unbound, and the blade of her knife flashes in the dawn light as they creep up upon their enemies. Lucy laughs, and her grip is sure. Her voice echoes down the valley.
Edmund thinks she looks familiar, finally, and when she turns to him he does not look away.
When they ride, the lion rampant flutters red in the breeze.