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The Uneasy Path

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"Such parting break the heart they fondly hope to heal."
Lord Byron


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Chapter Four: The Parting at the Edge of the Sea
None of the crew spoke of it often, though they would have had a hard time explaining why, if asked. There was something more than solemn about those minutes on the deck, something less than sacred; significant, certainly, but more than that, too. It was as if the sea itself observed the parting of King Caspian, the Queen and her Brother-King, her cousin, and the Mouse.

What was said amongst them was heard by few, though more could see their expressions; Drinian alone was able to hear all of it, as he had his own farewells to say, and Rynelf heard most. They all heard King Edmund say to his cousin, “I'll tell you later,” when the latter asked what was going on, shortness making his tone a bit louder, but after that, only snatches of conversation were carried by the East Wind to the men's ears.

But they would never be able to forget the moment, the expressions and the words they did hear, any more than those who were saying good-bye could themselves.

 

 

 

***

“No, tell me, what on earth do you mean we're boarding without Lucy?!” Eustace demanded as the girl in question approached, Caspian a step behind her.

Reepicheep looked unsurprised and slightly sad, while Drinian, who had been standing with them, had to bite his tongue to not echo Eustace's own query.

“I told thee,” Edmund started, and then stopped. He was speaking as a king, he realized, to a subject, but this was Eustace, his cousin. Lucy's cousin. And no matter what control he was clinging to, no matter how he clung to it, he owed him more than short words and putting this entirely off. He breathed in, slowly—breathed in the salt air and ocean, breathed in Narnia, and understood, inside, a little more of how Lucy could do what she was about to, and wished selfishly that somehow they all could stay—and then breathed it out again. “Aslan,” he said finally, and now it was just Edmund talking to his cousin, “has allowed her to stay. And she's chosen to. I'll—look, Scrubb, I'll tell you more, I shall, but right now...” He trailed off, unable to find the words to finish, and it was a sign of the growth Eustace had gained on the ship that after opening his mouth again he closed it instead and merely nodded.

 

 

***

One thing all those who could see the event remembered was the tightness of King Edmund's jaw, the sorrow on the Queen's face mixed with the decision in her eyes. When the Queen—and it was then, perhaps, that many of them began to think of her as The Queen more than Lucy, or even Queen Lucy, theirqueen, for now and for perhaps a rather long time—bent over to pick up Reepicheep and hold him close, bury her face in his silver, silky fur, one or two smiled at the sight. All, however, were touched, especially when Reepicheep briefly hugged her back and pressed his small pink nose to her cheek, whiskers twitching, before scrambling down and towards the boat that he and the two boys were to take.

They remembered the looks on Caspian and Edmund's faces—serious on both, sorrowful on the former's and controlled and tight on the latter's—as they first clasped arms, and then held each other tightly, though none could hear what words passed between them.

 

 

***

“Remember what I said, Caspian,” Edmund quietly spoke near his ear. “Keep your vows, or I will keep mine. Keep her safe, brother.”

Caspian swallowed the lump in his throat, wished he could somehow do the same with the hard knot in his stomach, and replied only, “My King and my Lord. I will. Be well, be strong, and know that—know that you are always welcome, brother. Always.”

“I doubt I will be about to be welcomed,” Edmund said after a pause, though he would continue to hope up until the moment Aslan gently confirmed his fears about returning, “but I thank you,” and then pulled away.

 

***

None of them, though, could bear to watch the siblings say good-bye to each other. Each found himself looking away, focusing on the task that should be done at that time, rather than watching them part.

 

 

***

“Edmund,” Lucy said softly, and there she trailed off. Her eyes were wet, though no tears fell, and inside she found herself struggling over the matter again, wondering if she should just jump in the boat with them now.

And knowing, despite her thoughts, that she could not.

She watched her brother look at her, breathe in and out, and memorized the sight, knowing it might be a very, very long time and worlds away before she saw him again.

“All that could be said has been,” he said finally, and reached out to touch his sister's cheek with his right hand. “You have been more than sister to me, my lady. My friend, and my queen. I wish you well, and will ever find a way to you, should you need me.” And then his pale eyes softened, a little, saddened, and Edmund whispered, “I love you, Lu,” and pulled her into the embrace they both never wanted to break.

Until, of course, they had to.

 

 

***

The parting between the Queen and her cousin was shorter, and the faint murmur of Eustace's voice caused many of them to look back to that spot of the deck again. None were surprised to see the slight discomfort in the boy's stance, not to mention the confusion on his face—many of them had the same expression on their own—or the way he hurriedly hugged Lucy and was hugged in return, and then backed away; perhaps if he had known more, known that Lucy was not to return, Eustace would have spent longer on parting, but that is a story of what would have happened. No one is told what might have been.

The boy shook Caspian's hand, firmly, and then—Reepicheep having already bid his King good-bye—they all stepped into the boat.

Edmund's eyes never left his sister's until the boat was resting in the waves and he had to begin working with Reepicheep to navigate it East, East, further East.

The thing that all the men, though, remembered clearly as could be, was how the Queen stood on the deck, King Caspian's hand on her shoulder, and kept watch on her brother and the rest of the boat's occupants long past that.

Lucy watched them until the boat was a speck, and then until not even that could be seen.

It was only when Caspian gently pulled her up into his arms and carried her to her cabin that she moved away; it was only once he'd closed the door and held her tightly and rocked her, having realized how much she'd been struggling to make it through this, how exhausted and drained and pained she was from it all, that she let herself begin to sob. It was the kind of crying where you let out so much pain and exhaustion that you cannot even care that your eyes are red, or if your nose leaks mess onto the shirt of the person holding you, and she gave herself over it it. The only thoughts in her mind were prayers; prayers that Aslan would give her family the strength to get through the pain she knew was coming to them because of her actions.

And that perhaps, someday, He might be so kind as to let them understand that which no one but He knew, that she had only a gleaming of that He'd given her: that it was not only for herself, nor Caspian, that she was staying. That much was to come of this choice, for many, many more than just Lucy and her family and Caspian.

But that was far away, and the thoughts that dominated her mind were filled with wishes for pain to be lessened and and borne best it could be, for Aslan to help as He could, and for Edmund to forgive her someday for making him the one to tell the news to Peter and Su.

 

 

***

The boat sailed East, and the crew of The Dawn Treader went to their tasks, began to turn the ship about so it could begin its long trip back West, to Cair Paravel and Narnia, and Lucy cried into Caspian's shoulder as he rocked her back and forth the same way the waves rocked the ship.