Queen Lucy the Valiant fought the urge to yawn.
There were still two hours left of sunlight in the day, but still Lucy felt ready to collapse. Even so, stopping the negotiations was not an option. Not only would it be interpreted as a sign of weakness by the Hildersenters, but they had made a great deal of progress already that day. She could not, would not waste that momentum.
But it was still yet another long summer day in what had already been several weeks of difficult negotiations, and Lucy had to admit they were taking their toll. Physical and mental exhaustion threatened to overtake her. But they were close--so tantalizingly close--to working out a treaty both sides could agree on, and Lucy would not rest until she held a signed copy of that treaty in her hand.
She was flanked on both sides by a number of diplomats her brother the High King had sent with her, but they took their cues from her and she knew the success or failure of this summit ultimately fell on her own royal shoulders. Which meant she was responsible for an untold number of lives, both Narnian and Hildersenter.
Narnia could ill afford a war, Queen Lucy knew, not now. Hildersent promised to be the domino which sent the uneasy truce they had bartered with Calormen and Archenland sprawling. She knew how tenuous and dangerous such a situation could be. After all, once upon a time, before she had been a Queen, she had lived in a world which had been plunged into a war by the assassination of an archduke.
“About the land beyond Alaynia’s Wall--” she began.
Almost instantly, a Hildersenter emissary interrupted her. “That land belongs to Hildersent!”
That claim, Queen Lucy knew, was very much up for debate. But it didn’t really matter. Narnia had no settled body of international law (well, other than the Deep Magic itself, of course), and an army of magistrates was not going to convince the Hildersenters that the construction of Alaynia’s Wall--construction which she had herself overseen--did not constitute an act of aggression against Hildersent in and of itself.
“We would be willing to purchase the land,” Lucy told them.
The emissary opened his mouth, but this time, the Hildersenter chieftain beat him to the punch. “That land has belonged to Hildersent for time immemorial,” he said. (Again, Lucy was certain that this was not, in fact, the case.) “We would not sell it at any price, any more than I would sell the heart which beats within my chest.”
“A lease, then, perhaps?” Lucy offered.
The Hildersenter delegation looked confused. “A lease?” the chieftain repeated, uncertainly.
“We’ll make a payment each year in return for our use of the land,” Lucy explained. “You will still own it, but we will have the right to maintain our wall and house our soldiers.”
The chieftain looked thoughtful. “What sort of payment?” he asked.
Lucy almost sighed in relief, even as she mentally steeled herself for extended haggling over price. Her initial offer had to be low enough that she would be able to agree to a Hildersenter counteroffer, but not so low that they would take it as an insult. “Twenty thous--” she began, before she was distracted by a commotion outside the tent.
At the horizon, a small band of mounted figures had appeared making their way towards the summit. Lucy’s heart sank as she saw the red lion on a green field of the Narnian banner (the same banner which even now flew behind her) and alongside it flew a blue field with crossed white arrows and horn: the personal banner of Queen Susan the Gentle.
As much as Lucy was glad to see her sister, she knew her appearance here was not good news. Anything important enough to bring Queen Susan here in person would be sure to disrupt the negotiations. “My apologies, Your Eminence. I’m afraid I must meet with my sister and hear what news she brings of our kingdom.”
The chieftain revealed no emotion as he answered, “Of course, Queen Lucy. When we resume, you will tell us more of this lease.”
Queen Susan the Gentle watched with growing horror as her sister made her way towards their party. Lucy was almost unrecognizable: her skin dangerously pale, her eyes bloodshot.
“Luce, you look horrible,” Susan said bluntly.
Lucy managed a weak smile. “Then I look better than I feel,” she said.
There was no way Susan could tell her sister her news right now, she realized. She shuddered to think what a shock might do to her in her current condition. She turned to the soldier to her right. “Go fetch the healer,” she ordered.
The soldier gave a curt nod and rode off.
“Su, I’m fine,” Lucy argued, her voice petulant. “I’m just a little tired.”
“You look like you’re ready to collapse,” Susan contradicted. “Peter didn’t send you here so you could work yourself to death.”
“Susan,” Lucy said, “you didn’t come all the way here just to tell me I’m working too hard. Something’s happened. What is it?”
Susan frowned. Time was of the essence, but the truth was that Lucy would be of no help to anyone in her current state. “After you rest. It can wait.” It couldn’t, not really, but it would have to anyway.
Lucy looked like she wanted to argue but said nothing, probably too exhausted to put up a fight she knew she could not win.
The soldier returned with the healer. “And how may I serve you, my Queen?” he asked.
“You can mix a sleeping draught for Queen Lucy,” she told him. “She needs rest.”
The healer took one look at Lucy and nodded, a frown on his face. “Of course, my Queen. Queen Lucy, if you would come with me.”
Scowling, Lucy followed the healer.
When Susan turned her eyes away from them, she saw a Hildersent man walking up to them. “You are Queen Lucy’s sister?” he asked.
“Yes,” she agreed. “I am Queen Susan.”
“Your sister is fierce at the negotiating table,” he said, admiration clear in his voice. “Is she as fierce in battle?”
“She is,” Susan answered honestly, remembering the battle at Anvard. “There is a reason she is called ‘the Valiant.’”
The man nodded. “Such dedication to her people is commendable.”
“It’s going to get her killed if she’s not careful,” Susan said, letting her frustrations vent for a moment.
“Our legends tell of a great warrior,” the Hildersent man said. “Once, a demon captured his wife and put her on the top of the tallest mountain. The man climbed the mountain for a thousand days and a thousand nights, not even stopping to eat or drink, until at last he collapsed and died on the thousand and first day. The gods were so impressed with his feat that they hung him in the stars to shine as an example for us all.”
“What happened to the wife?”
He shrugged. “The legends do not say.”
“Typical,” she muttered to herself. “Well, I’m afraid that Queen Lucy will have to return to Cair Paravel when she awakes.”
The man frowned. “The negotiations are not complete.”
Susan nodded. “I’ll be taking her place,” she told him. “We are both Queens, so I am equally empowered to speak for Narnia.”
For a time that was without duration, there was oblivion. It was sweet, and restorative. Then, slowly, it receded and awareness returned. She was Queen Lucy, of Narnia. The Valiant. She was in Hildersent, brokering a peace treaty. Susan had sent her to bed with a sleeping draught. “Susan?”
“I’m here,” her sister said, her voice gentle. That was her epithet, “the Gentle.” Susan was gentle. Edmund was just. Peter was magnificent. Lucy was valiant.
Still groggy, Lucy opened her eyes. “Susan?” she asked again.
Susan just smiled. “Good afternoon, sleepyhead,” she said.
Lucy blinked. Afternoon? It was evening when she took the draught. “How long did I sleep?”
“Eighteen hours,” Susan answered. “You needed it. Here, eat this.”
Lucy took the pastry from her sister and ate it quickly, then accepted a cup of juice as well and washed it down. “Okay, I took your blasted sleeping draught. I’m rested. Now out with it, Su. Why are you here?”
For a moment, Susan looked uncertain. Then she took a deep breath and answered. “It’s Mr. Tumnus. He’s ill.”
Lucy felt her grip on her cup loosen. She had to grab it with both hands to keep from dropping it. Susan was right not to tell her last night, she reluctantly (and silently) conceded to herself.
“You need to return to Cair Paravel with the Cordial,” Susan told her. “I’ll stay here, complete the negotiations.”
Lucy paused, biting her lip. It wasn’t that Susan was not a skilled and competent diplomat. But Lucy had spent the last month developing a rapport with the Hildersenter delegation, a rapport that Susan lacked. Switching negotiators mid-negotiations would at best set the process back weeks. At worst it might cause the entire summit to unravel.
Every part of her wanted to race back to Cair Paravel and nurse Tumnus back to health. But she could not put the kingdom in danger for the sake of one faun, no matter how close a friend he may be.
She rose from her sleeping pallet and crossed the tent to her chest. “Here,” she said, retrieving her Cordial from the chest and passing it to her sister. “Take this to Mr. Tumnus. A drop should be enough. Tell him I’ll see him when the negotiations are over. It shouldn’t be much longer--a week, a fortnight at the longest.”
“Your place is at his side,” Susan argued. “I can handle the negotiations.”
No, you can’t, Lucy wanted to say, but kept quiet. Still, she knew it to be true.
A grey squirrel--one of Susan’s attendants?--poked its head into the tent. “Your Majesties,” the squirrel said, her voice high-pitched but melodious. “Hekk Lhakeem has requested a word with the two of you once Queen Lucy is awake.”
Hekk Lhakeem was the Hildersenter chieftain, the head of their delegation. “We’ll be right out, Linea,” Susan answered. “As soon as Queen Lucy is dressed.”
Lucy dressed quickly, and they were out of the tent and ushered into Hekk Lhakeem’s presence. “Queen Lucy,” Lhakeem said, “Queen Susan tells me that a close friend of yours is gravely ill.”
“That’s correct,” Lucy agreed. “I’m sending her back to Cair Paravel with a medication which should treat his illness.”
The chieftain frowned. “If your friend is ill, you should be with him.”
"I'm needed here," Lucy said. "Queen Susan is not familiar with the intricacies of our negotiations. I'll be able to return to my friend once we have a signed treaty in place."
Hekk Lhakeem nodded. “I agree that it would be best if you continued to conduct the negotiations," he said. "No offense to you, Queen Susan, but Queen Lucy is right. She and I have grown to understand each other in the past month. I would rather not have to begin anew.”
“I understand completely,” Susan said diplomatically.
“That’s why I had our scribes write this up this morning,” he said, pulling a scroll from a knapsack and extending it to them. Susan took it and unrolled it, her eyes suddenly going wide as she read what was written on it.
“This is very generous, Your Eminence,” Susan said. “Narnia thanks you for your benevolence.”
He nodded. “Queen Lucy,” he said, “I hope your friend recovers quickly and fully.” Then he left.
“Well, what is it, Su?” asked Lucy after several seconds of silence.
“It’s a treaty,” said Susan. “A temporary treaty, lasting two months.”
“What does it say?”
“It gives us everything we’ve asked for,” Susan said, dumbstruck.
“For now,” Lucy pointed out. “They’ll bargain just as hard as they have been once negotiations resume again.”
“Of course,” Susan answered with a smile. “And you’ll do the same, I have no doubt. But in the meantime, there’s nothing keeping you from returning to Cair Paravel to see Tumnus.”
And the two Queens set out to Cair Paravel, to bring healing and comfort to a dear friend.
Queen Lucy did return to Hildersent, of course, and a permanent treaty was at least agreed upon. That treaty remained in place for over a thousand years, through the Dark Age of Narnia up until the reign of Caspian V. And through all that time, it was known as Queen Lucy's Peace.