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Across the Worlds

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Friends of Narnia!
Across the worlds I call to you;
I, Tirian, King of Narnia, Lord of Cair Paravel, and Emperor of the Lone Islands!


I.

Lord and Lady, horse and cart
King and Queen and lamp to start
Stars and soil, hot and cold
Make the world with green and gold!

#

Grey clouds and old stone and the sour stench of petrol: these are how Tirian will forever after remember this last day in a foreign world. Strict, geometric, earth-toned buildings line the roads. Strangely-dressed citizens walk briskly without meeting eyes. The air is awash with the sound of tinny horns and distant shouts and the growl of beasts known as motors.

This world is not magical but mechanical. It is fantasy come to life.

A trio of boys ride past on metal frames with two wheels. Pedestrians carry sheafs of thin parchment like a common commodity. Lampposts grow on every street corner. The city is vast, complicated. Tirian thinks, This is the world that birthed our greatest heroes, and feels small and inconsequential.

As a child, Tirian had soaked up tales of the children from the land of Spare Oom. He’d learned the legends first by their nursery rhymes, then by their epic lays. He’d imagined journeying through the depths of Bism, sailing to the ocean’s edge, or soaring to a magic garden. He’d reenacted the fiercest battles of the Golden Age and sworn to stand as Narnia’s newest and bravest protector. But as he grew older, he learned from his father that maintaining peace can be more difficult and more noble than launching a war. He’d learned the value of politics and negotiations and stately visits.

He’d never expected to go on any real sort of adventure. Certainly had never expected to stride down foreign streets in the company of an immortal king.

(“Not immortal,” Edmund sighed when Tirian first tentatively broached the subject of age. “Time works different, is all. I’m younger than you think.”

Except his eyes -- oh, his eyes are so old. )

Edmund ducks into the space between two long buildings (row-houses, as they’re called in this world), and Tirian scrambles to follow him into the back lane. A small green-space exists between building and lane, contained by a stone wall nearly as tall as he is. Edmund trails a hand along the wall as he walks the lane, counting beneath his breath.

“This one,” he says, and then raises a hand to the branch that arcs overhead. For a moment, Edmund’s look of utter concentration is broken by a hint of wonder. Softly, he says, “I didn’t know they’d planted an offspring.”

And there does seem to be something about this tree that touches Tirian’s heart. Something that whispers of home, like the faintest memory of a memory, or like a story passed down through generations. This is not the tree planted from a seed of his world, but perhaps--

“Yes,” says Edmund, more decisive. “This is it.” And without further hesitation, he braces his hands on the stone surface and vaults into the yard.


II.

Take a prince to Archenland and sit him on a throne
Take a prince to Northern lands and lose him in the stone
Take a king across the sea and save the seven lords
Take a king towards the West and lose him through a door

#

They might have called it a casual weekend holiday, had any outside their company asked. The gathering had become an annual affair, a way for a particular set of friends to connect and entertain and remember. The Professor hosted, of course, his large and curious country house being the only place big enough to comfortably fit everyone.

Most of the Pevensies had come straight from London with Aunt Polly, crowding together in the train compartment and talking over one another in their eagerness. Lucy had made the others dizzy with her barely contained energy and, upon disembarking, took off ahead of them on the walk to the house. The boys had shouldered the bags, and assured Polly they’d dealt with heavier loads for longer treks in their prior lives.

Eustace and Jill had been having adventures of their own for the past week, and joined everyone late that first afternoon smelling of ocean brine and brimming with private secrets. They brought with them eels and wild herbs, and disappeared into the kitchen to prepare what Jill called an “authentically depressing Marshwiggle stew.”

Even Susan, with her full schedules and last-minute meetings, had managed to slot two days into her calendar this year. Her train arrived early on the Saturday morning; by the time Edmund crawled out of bed, she and Polly were elbow-deep in cake batter. Neither of them had ever been good at baking but it was a noble effort.

There were always plenty of activities at the Professor’s house, some more nostalgic than others. There were fields to walk, and bushes of fruit to pick, and a stream for swimming. A trunk in the Professor’s study held a set of medieval weapons the Pevensies had once determined to be nearly the real thing ; Peter brought these out to the yard, and an impromptu tournament was held complete with dueling and archery and even a display of flashy knife tricks.

But the real fun was the dinner party.

Among the vast homemade spread were meat pies and stuffed chicken, roast potatoes and baked apples, oaten cakes with honey, sweet tarts and fruit, and Susan and Polly’s slightly misshapen dessert. Peter had tried his hand at recreating a Narnian mead, which was impressive right up until the first taste. (Shortly thereafter, the Professor disappeared to the cellar to fetch up another bottle of more palatable wine.)

Lucy had always been the best storyteller, and she treated everyone to a grand rendition of The Boar In The Dancing Wood. More tales were shared, mostly memories. A rousing debate was held regarding the parallels between Narnian giants and their literary English counterpoints.

The last of the food was cleared away, another bottle breached. The candles began to burn low. And a comfortable, dream-like atmosphere slowly fell upon the room as the hour grew late.

Perhaps this was why the ghost appeared on this particular night. With the full circle of the Narnian allies gathered together -- of one mind and one mood, past lives reawoken briefly by a deep and insatiable longing -- is it any wonder that the walls between worlds did briefly thin?

#

“I am not a ghost,” said the crumpled heap on the floor. And indeed, he looked considerably more flesh-and-blood by the minute; no longer faded and transparent, no longer a dream or a vision but a man. His clothes were of a medieval style and bright enough to draw the eye, though dishevelled and torn. His hair was dark and long. When he raised his head, Edmund noted the deep red blood that cut a line down his chin and the purpling bruise below his eye.

He had, as Peter had noted, a look of Narnia about him.

“But you’re here,” said Eustace. He and Jill were the least shaken among them, being the only ones in the room who had ever actually seen a Narnian in England. Though Caspian, as Edmund recalled, had already been dead.

“I am not a ghost,” the man said again. His eyes wandered about the room in a manner Edmund thought oddly familiar, though it took a moment to place. Like their subjects of a bygone age, this man was trying to avoid meeting the High King’s gaze.

Edmund snorted. The man’s eyes fixed on him (no fear of the Just King, same as ever). “I am King Tirian of Narnia,” he said, “And I have come to ask for your aid in this hour of need.”

“You do look as though you need it,” said Edmund, and Susan clicked her tongue at him in exasperation.

Lucy was already moving around the table. “It must truly be awful,” she said, “if you’re able to come to us.” She knelt at his side.

“Mind the glass,” said Susan, mildly.

The shards of the Professor’s broken wine glass were sparkling all over the floor, with dark drops of wine splattered between like blood. Edmund tossed Lucy his napkin, which she used to clear the space around the man -- the king.

Tirian dropped his hand to the floor to brace himself as soon as she'd finished. There was more to the man's fatigue than his injuries. It could have come from the strain of passing through worlds, but Edmund did not think so. This was emotional, spiritual -- psychological.

Peter recognized this too. His voice was gentle when he leaned forward. “Tell us what you can, and we will see what we can do.”

#

No one knew how long the Narnian king would remain in England, though they rather doubted he would disappear before receiving some sort of help. Once the man’s tale had been completed, the Professor and Aunt Polly took him up to a guest room with plans to stay at his side while he slept. The rest retreated to the library, fortifying themselves with hot tea and biscuits.

This first strategy meeting was more guesswork than anything else, the king having provided them with little more than a basic sketch of his troubles. Notes were compiled based on the king’s rambling testimony, and a set of maps were retrieved from the Narnian corner of the Professor’s library. (In addition to the maps, the Professor’s Narnian collection included first-hand accounts of the Friends’ various Adventures, a hand-written Bestiary with copious annotations, a transcription of Golden Age oral poetry, a newspaper clipping relating to a particular incident at the Experiment House, a Hypothesis on the Time Differential Between Worlds, and a thick folio of ink drawings.)

There was a small silence as the most recent map was laid out on the desk. “Well,” said Susan after a moment, “It’s better than nothing.”

This was hardly true. Based upon the recollections of Eustace and Jill’s adventure to hunt down a stolen prince, this map was little more than a shapeless blob with a squiggley path leading North.

“We weren’t exactly thinking about studying up for next time,” said Jill, somewhat defensively. “Besides, your map from Caspian’s time should still be relatively accurate.”

The accuracy would be left to King Tirian to confirm, but it was at least a place to start. While settlements had likely changed and evolved, there was little doubt the general landscape would have remained the same. Lucy traced a finger along the Great River, travelling from the Eastern sea across the land and into what had been thick dryad woods. “The poor trees,” she said softly.

Peter set a coin down beside her finger. “The stable,” he explained.

Another marker was added for the King’s Lodge. Peter hesitated as he picked up a third coin. “We don’t know much of anything, yet.”

Edmund had claimed the Professor’s seat, kicking his feet up onto a clear corner of the desk while he watched the others pour over the map. “The thing is,” he said at last, “We don’t even really know why he’s here.”

Eustace looked at him as though he were daft. “To get help for Narnia, obviously.”

“Sure,” said Edmund, “But what help? How? Why come here to help a problem there?”

“Strategy,” said Susan.

“Training!” said Lucy.

Peter said nothing at all, but his knuckles were set against his chin and his eyes were distant and thoughtful.

#

Perhaps the best sign that this was becoming a new Adventure in and of itself was when Susan excused herself early the next Monday for a walk down to the village. When she returned, her hair hung loose about her shoulders and her expression was more Queen of Narnia than Secretary of Government Official.

“I sent a telegram to inform my work of an unavoidable family emergency,” she explained. “Now I can properly focus on the business at hand.”

Most everyone was in the kitchen pulling together a haphazard breakfast. Few had actually slept (as is often the case when the world has suddenly rearranged around you), but even Edmund had roused himself at an early hour to greet the king when he finally emerged.

Instead, it was the Macready who entered the kitchen next. She found them making a mess with the eggs and screeched at them until they fled back to the library to await her properly cooked meal. The Professor lingered behind to take on the brave task of informing the Macready that another guest had joined the household, and received a loud hurumph for his trouble.

“Someone should probably go find our king,” said the Professor once he reached the library. “I do live in quite a maze of a house. He’s probably lost.”

“Or still sleeping,” countered Edmund, who was regretting not remaining in bed himself. The comment was a mistake; all attention now on him, it was only inevitable that the others would put him to the task of hunting down the missing king.

#

“This is quite the castle,” said Tirian, who was very lost indeed.

Instead of venturing downstairs, the king had managed to travel in quite the opposite direction and ended up three rooms from the main hall by the time Edmund managed to locate him. He was standing at ease, hands clasped behind his back and head tilted slightly as he admired a set of armour.

“That’s ceremonial,” said Edmund. “Too heavy for battle. And it’s old. We don’t really wear armour like that anymore.”

“Fascinating,” said Tirian, and his eyes were lit up when he turned. “To think that I am here in this world beyond the world. Looking at your people’s armour and weaponry and --” His hand hovered over a Venus figurine before he blithely pressed on, “And all while conversing with a king from the legends of old.”

He turned his attention from the artifacts to give Edmund an unreadable look. Edmund crossed his arms defensively and leaned against the doorframe. “Let me guess: I don’t exactly live up to expectations.”

“I-- wouldn’t say as much.”

“Was that a pause?”

The Narnian flushed. “No! Not at all.”

“It was! You’re severely disappointed in me, aren’t you?”

To Tirian’s credit, he recovered quickly. “Legends don’t typically have bed-head.”

“Fair.” Edmund ran a hand through his hair, effectively worsening the situation atop his head. “They don’t dress in the English style, either.” He glanced ruefully down at his trousers, which looked horrifically plain in comparison to Tirian’s much grander, if bedraggled, Narnian garb. “I promise I shape up after breakfast.”

Tirian brightened notably. “A meal! Wonderful! I admit I am quite looking forward to partaking of your English breakfast delicacies.”

“And then we’re going to talk strategy,” said Edmund, well aware that Tirian was about to be disappointed in another way, but determined to ignore that topic so that someone else would be forced to explain the sorry state of English meals. “We think we’ve come up with a decent plan to prepare you for saving Narnia. A sort of training schedule, if you will.”

“I look forward to it!” said Tirian, still glowing with excitement.

“Great,” said Edmund, who had taken just about as much of Tirian’s earnest enthusiasm as one could be expected before the first coffee of the day.

#

Later, once Tirian had been herded to the library where he had immediately engaged Eustace in the dreaded food inquisition, Edmund retreated to a back corner of the room where Lucy was finishing her tea. She’d perched on the back of a large chesterfield and was thumbing through the Professor’s book of Narnian poetry.

“I’d forgotten he wrote these down,” she said, briefly tilting the book for Edmund to see as he settled onto the seat beside her legs. “Do you think Tirian knows The Lay of Father Time? It’s so terribly aggravating that we could never remember that bit in the middle.”

“It’s been a few thousand years,” Edmund pointed out.

“And poetry is timeless.” She giggled. “Timeless? Father Time?”

“Yes, haha.”

She pouted. “Finish your coffee. You’re no fun before your first cup.”

“This is my second.”

“Oh dear.” Lucy closed the book and peered at him. “You’re annoyed. Worse than usual, I mean.”

He could have denied it, but there wasn’t much point when he knew she wouldn’t believe him anyway. And, truth be told, he was quite irritated. “It’s just… been awhile,” he said. “I’m glad to see a Narnian again. I am. We have a chance to learn so much about how things are there. It’s just… He’s just so… so…”

Lucy gave Edmund a sympathetic look. “Awed? Enthusiastic?”  

“He’s like a puppy,” Edmund decided.

“Quite a compliment, coming from you.”

He snorted. “No. Not a Hound. A puppy. All floppy and big-eyed and naive.”

She set the book aside and slid down onto the seat beside him. “It is quite a challenge to learn a new world.”

“It’s not that. He doesn’t speak sarcasm. I don’t think he even understands the concept of sarcasm.”

“Perhaps,” Lucy mused, letting her eyes wander to the King in the corner badgering Eustace about how eggs could be eggs when they came from powder instead of chickens. Their cousin was getting quite worked up, his cheeks bright red. In comparison, Tirian’s face was mild and open and honest -- except for what could have been the slightest crook of amusement at the corner of his mouth.

Edmund pulled his own gaze away to stare moodily at the carpet.

“He is very nice to look at, though,” said Lucy mildly. “From an objective standpoint, of course.”

“No, he isn’t,” said Edmund much too quickly. “I don’t know. I didn’t notice.”

“Mm hm.” She rested her head on his shoulder, looking contemplatively across the room. “We should put together a list for Jill and Eustace, if they do go back with him. Things for them to find out while they’re there.”

“We know you’ll be busy fighting off Calormenes and their false prophet,” said Edmund. “But would you mind setting aside a few hours to memorize the last five generations of history?”

She punched his arm lightly. “I mean, it would be nice if they could.”

Another thing he couldn’t exactly deny.


III.

First he was a little god a-romping in the field
Then he was an older man, his giddiness concealed
Now the youth has come to take your loneliness away
Take his hand and hold him close and maybe he will stay.

#

Mornings were for weapons training, a specific regimen carried across the worlds from the Golden Age itself. Tirian had always felt comfortable with a sword, but the others made abundantly clear the difference between competence and deadliness. It was not enough to simply have the skills to defend oneself; Tirian had to learn to kill (or disarm) in the space of time it took his opponents to draw their swords.

Eustace and Jill were there each day as well, honing their own skills alongside him. “It’s been our daily routine for years,” Eustace explained during a break between bouts, “So we’ll be ready when we’re called.” He fought with a ferocity similar to the beasts of Narnia’s armies, but prefered long-range weapons like the crossbow. Jill, on the other hand, was more light on her feet; her speed and small stature lent her a frightening advantage when using a blade.

The drills would last for hours as the sun climbed the sky. The air shivered with the ring of clashing blades. “Again,” called Lucy and, though Tirian’s muscles shook from fatigue, he raised his sword for another strike.

(He remembered too well his failure to avenge the dryad’s forest and the ease with which the Calormenes had disarmed him. He would not allow such a thing to happen again.)

Edmund was his usual sparring partner, which had been intimidating at the start. That impression did not exactly lessen -- the man was even more intense when he fought, that wry humour stripped away to reveal nothing but deadly force and accuracy. These matches were the first time Tirian really felt he could see the Just King beneath the English facade, though these glimpses never lasted long. He would catch Edmund’s eyes and think ah, there he is , and then with a twist of the swords he would find himself knocked flat on his arse once again.

#

Afternoons were for strategy, for inked maps and proposed deployments and countless hypothetical scenarios. Those first few days were nearly an interrogation, until Tirian’s throat was sore from explaining every element of Narnia’s defences and politics and foreign relations. Each time he thought there couldn’t possibly be more to say, there was another query, another line of thought, another tangent that couldn’t possibly be relevant except that it was.

“Tell me again about the Countess of Beaversdam,” said Susan, “You said she hosted a benefit last fall. Who was invited?”

And off they’d go again, round and round while the Professor took copious notes and the High King watched and listened from the straight-backed chair he had taken for his throne.

Sometimes though, there was a pause as the famed rulers of old caught each other’s eyes; this would occur more and more often as the days progressed. Gradually, the questions became fewer and the discussions longer.

“Tell me what would happen if an army began to amass on the Western border,” Peter said, and the game continued.

#

Evenings were for adventures, explorations of the Professor’s humble estate and the nearby town. Some things were shockingly similar, others impossibly different.

For one thing, there were only humans here (or at least, the only animals he saw were dumb beasts, and the trees did not answer). In this, it was much as though he had travelled back in time to the Telmarine reign when the good Narnian peoples lived in hiding. He tentatively asked Lucy once if something similar had happened to this world, and she looked very sad and told him she hoped not.

The buildings in town may have been different than he was used to, but the types of shops were not. He got great joy from visiting the grocers, and would pour over their newspapers to laugh at the funny block-ish letters. Eustace tried to explain what a printing press was, until it finally occurred to Tirian that he was describing some type of whimsical machine that accomplished the same task as a copy-letter spell.

Other days involved tramping through the back hills of the Professor’s estate, venturing into wooded areas and along winding streams while trading Narnian tales back and forth. Some, Tirian had heard before, in one variation or another; others were entirely new. “They never write epic poems about the embarrassing stuff,” said Eustace, after Lucy recounted to great laughter the time he ruined Caspian’s second-best sword. (Tirian did not mention that he was actually quite familiar with The Struggle of Sir Eustace and the Sea Serpent, which was usually recited by children jumping rope.)

Edmund had been leading the group along the river, and paused atop a large glistening stone. “Don’t go thinking those serious poems aren’t embarrassing, too,” he warned. “People start to think of you as a hero .” And Tirian flushed red as the Just King’s eyes met his own.

#

He learned plenty about these Spare Oom heroes during this time. Learned to know them as people , not just grand legends of old. The Lord Digory, who had planted Narnia’s Guardian Tree, was also just a slightly eccentric old scholar with lots of books who reminded Tirian of his own grandfather. The Lady Polly, whom all the others referred to as Aunt until even Tirian adopted the habit, was not unlike his current stablemaster back home. And both Eustace and Jill exhibited the same breathless passion and optimism as his younger cousins.  

Even the Pevensies were surprisingly normal beneath their royal roles. Lucy was joy personified, full of endless energy and always hugging and bouncing and chattering away. Susan was efficiency and fond exasperation, like a mother cat doing her best to keep her kittens in line. Even the High King was Peter underneath: quiet and thoughtful and sometimes lazy and full of deadpan jokes that Tirian almost didn’t catch half the time.

And Edmund, well -- Edmund was the Just King, champion of all Tirian’s favourite stories. But he was also grumpy in the morning, and pessimistic, and full of endlessly dour commentary. His moods should have been enough to drag anyone down, but Tirian found himself attracted to them instead. As though he simply needed to study the man further to reconcile the conflicts between the famed Edmund of Narnia and the grouchy Edmund of England.

#

“Have you figured it out, yet?” asked Edmund one evening.

The others had all dashed ahead in an impromptu footrace, leaving him and Edmund alone on the trail. Until now, it had been quiet between them; Tirian never quite knew what to say when it was just the two of them.

He tried and failed to think of a prior conversation that Edmund might be referencing. “Figured out what?”

“Whatever it is you’ve been looking for in my face.”

Tirian flushed as he realized abruptly that all his side glances had been noticed, and he turned his attention forcibly to the trees. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said stiffly.

“Uh huh.” Edmund raised an eyebrow as Tirian glanced over again. “You’ve been doing it for days. It can’t still be the bedhead.”

“It isn’t bedhead,” said Tirian. “It isn’t anything. I haven’t been doing anything.”

“I do not believe that.”

They walked a little further. Tirian tried to think of another topic, but nothing would come to mind. Better, perhaps, to just face the situation head-on. “The truth is--”

“Oh, you’re going to tell the truth, now?”

Tirian stopped walking. His face felt incredibly hot. “The truth is ,” he began again, “I’m trying to see who you really are, underneath. You said it yourself: you aren’t simply the king that saves the day in all my favourite stories. You’re a good deal more -- er, less--”

“Ouch,” said Edmund. He didn’t really seem to mind the evaluation. In fact, he almost looked more amused than Tirian had ever seen. “Is that all?”

“What?”

“Did you ever really think I hopped on my horse and merrily whistled my way to every battle and quest? That’s Peter’s job.”

“So you argued the entire way instead?”

“It’s called playing devil’s advocate,” Edmund said. He was standing very close to Tirian now. “That’s the role of a pessimist, you know. To point out all the ways things could go wrong.” He arched his eyebrow again, as if daring Tirian to come up with a suitable counterpoint.

Tirian had the sense that if he tried to debate, Edmund would count it a win. So instead, he offered, “You are quite good at it.”

Edmund looked very pleased, and there it was again: that look in his eye of someone old and wise and very tired. His voice dropped. “Thank you. I could provide lessons, if you’d like.”

“I can think of better things we could do,” said Tirian softly.

#

And so the deep hours of the night, when the moon crested the sky and the stars danced bright but silent -- those became the hours reserved for the wordless comforts found between two souls. Their relationship was a gradual slide into inevitability, like an encounter written across the stars: destined to burn bright and short and hot.

#

“It had to happen,” Edmund told Tirian one day when it was just the two of them in the library. “Your earnestness is like a black hole. I am doomed to forever try and fill it with my sarcasm.”

“An impossible task,” agreed Tirian happily, “But one that someone ought to take on.”

They were seated on the floor, arms pressed comfortably together as they poured over the same book. It was the volume of poetry, of course. Tirian apparently thrived on the stuff, with a special fondness for old legends and heroic kings.

“I know this one,” said Tirian, excitedly jabbing at the page. He raised his head, eyes half-lidded as he called the epic to mind. “ Down beneath the surface where the earth itself breathes hot with life--”

There were variations to the words but the gist of the poem was the same. Edmund closed his eyes, allowing Tirian’s voice to carry him off to a near-mythical world deep beneath the ground where streams of lava flowed like lifeblood and wine was squeezed from edible gemstones. He became more aware of the heat of Tirian’s body against his own, and of the smell that clung to him of earth and grass and Narnia.

Is that all this is? he thought suddenly. Am I homesick?

For Tirian was Narnia through-and-through. His skin, his eyes, his voice, his smell -- all of it was an ever-present reminder of a home to which Edmund would always long to return. But there was more to him, too: the shape of his jaw, the almost ever-present awe in his words, and the way the corner of his mouth would twitch just a little when he riled Eustace up by playing dumb about simple things. Tirian was Narnia, but he was also more than that.

“Oho!” exclaimed the Professor from the doorway. “Is that The Hymn of Bism I hear? The changes are due to the passing of centuries, I would assu-- oh. I see you are busy. Don’t mind me.”

And the moment was broken. When Edmund opened his eyes, he was no longer a young knight venturing down through dark caverns in search of a legendary land. He was just an ordinary man in ordinary England.

An ordinary man next to a king from another world, he amended, and reached his hand to meet Tirian’s.


IV.

Tell me goodbye when you leave on your quest
Tell me goodbye when you step through the door
Tell me goodbye should you leave evermore
While hunting the Stag in the woods of the West

#

It does not take long to dig up the little box of magical rings.

Edmund is the one who counts the paces, checks the map, and jabs a stick into the earth. He’s the one who breaks ground with the shovel, instructing Tirian to stand watch even though the whole point of their disguise is to look as though they’re supposed to be doing exactly what they’re doing. Tirian leans against the stone wall, dividing his attention between the empty alleyway and the hint of flexing muscles beneath Edmund’s workman uniform.

When Edmund makes a little sound of discovery, Tirian abandons his post to peer down into the wide-and-shallow hole. And there it is: a little metal box smeared with mud. It looks very inconsequential.

This is the end, Tirian realizes abruptly. With the discovery of this box and the rings within, he can now travel home to his own world, his own country. The adventure will be at its end. This special thing that has developed between himself and the Just King of Old will be at its end.

“Smaller than I would have thought,” says Edmund, and bends down to lift the box from the soil.

They can hear the hum as soon as he cracks the lid, though the rings themselves are hidden beneath a thick cotton cloth. Edmund shifts it aside gently, his breath catching at the glimmering green and yellow.

Make the world with green and gold, thinks Tirian, and it is all he can do not to reach out and touch those rings right this very minute. Not because he wants to leave yet, but because their song fills him with with a dream-like but powerful desire.

“Later,” says Edmund, and he shuts the lid of the box sharply.

(“Don’t you want to go back?” Tirian asked one morning in the dew-covered grass. And Edmund had stretched a hand up to the sky and whispered, “More than anything,” in a voice filled with an agonized want, “But at least you are here. That is enough.”)

#

They take the train back to the Professor’s house, and it is a quiet ride.

#

Narnian ceremonies are meant to be performed out of doors, and so they prepare a circle of beaten grass in the back field around an old boulder that will serve well enough for a table. Almost without thought, the Pevensies take up a position at each point of the compass: Lucy for the eastern sea, Edmund for the western woods, Susan for the southern sun, and Peter for the clear northern sky. Oldest and youngest fall in on either side of the High King: Digory at his right hand, with Polly across from him; and Jill at his left, staring over the stone at Eustace.

Tirian feels briefly as though he is intruding upon something very ancient and very private. And then Edmund turns to him and extends a hand, and Tirian bites his lip and steps forward into the circle at his side.

Edmund has carried the box of rings since first pulling it from the earth; now, he moves forward to the stone and tips it open. The rings spill out onto the stone to gleam bright in the dusk. Their hum shivers the air, both disturbing and enticing. Digory breathes in deep, and Polly clasps her hands tight at her front.

“Go on, travellers,” prompts Lucy. Tirian, Jill, and Eustace step forward to the stone, the latter pulling on a set of gloves before dividing the rings between pockets just as Digory and Polly had done so many long years before: yellow for the left, and green for the right.

“Remember,” Digory says, “Yellow for the Wood. Green for home.” Green for Narnia, green for England. Both have been home, at one time for another. And so it shall always be.

#

There is never a proper way to prepare for a forever-goodbye. There is only the aching anticipation, the caught breaths and unfinished thoughts, and a solemn grief as yet unleashed.

“I fare thee well, Just King of Narnia.”

“May Aslan keep you safe, King Tirian.”

And despite all those other unspoken words, those fears and pleas and hopes, those silent longings -- lips touch, and it is enough.

#

Eustace takes Tirian’s hand, and then Jill’s. He gives a nod to his cousins.

The High King gives his final blessing.

And then Jill’s hand slips into her pocket and--

just

like

that

--they are gone.

#

When he returns to his empty flat two nights later, Edmund locks the door and sets his bag on the front chair and sighs. Silently he moves through the front room, past the kitchen, down the hall. His bedroom is too quiet. He turns on a light.

A breeze drifts through the window, carrying an enticing memory of summer grass and fresh wine and lusty songs. Edmund closes his eyes and breathes it in.

“I would have liked to go back once more,” he says without turning.

“Whatever for?” asks the ageless youth on the windowsill. “I am right here.”

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When came Emeth--
Seventh son of a Tarkaan,
Bright-eyed and hot-blooded,
Eager for noble battle on Narnian plains--
Emeth of Tehishbaan,
Servant of Tash,
Soldier of the Tisroc,
Saw shame in the actions of his betters
And did lay down his sword for the Narnian king.

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