The fire crackled and caught Caspian’s attention. He had been sitting here alone, thoughts lost in the wondrous happenings of the day. In the next chamber over, he could hear the shouts and laughter of the Narnians in the Howe getting ready for war with a late night of drinking and stories.
He couldn’t help but feel left out; he wasn’t truly a Narnian. Caspian was a Telmarine, the tenth in a line of oppressors, the representation of everything the Narnians aimed to defeat tomorrow.
Eyes on the flames of the campfire before him, a noise to his right made him flinch. He squinted into the shadows, dazed from the firelight, until finally Caspian could identify the figure as Lucy, Valiant Queen of Narnia.
“This is not a night for sitting alone, dear prince. Tell me, what thoughts have your attention at this hour?”
Her words were honey and ice: a solid question encased in the sweetness of a child’s voice. For all the stories told of these legendary rulers, he had never thought of them as children. Those stories had never exactly mentioned age, and it was difficult to guess from the pictures in the Howe. But as small and young as she was, Lucy in this moment looked every inch the Queen who had ruled fifteen years of a Golden Age.
“I think of war and friends,” he began, fiddling with the sleeve of his shirt. “I did not have many friends in the palace but, even though I was not especially close to anyone, there will still be those among the soldiers tomorrow I would not wish to harm.” Caspian felt his cheeks heat up at the unexpectedly intense confession.
Lucy nodded, which he didn’t see, his eyes on the ground in front of him. “It is a hard thing to fight against those to whom you are close. But think of this: would you want these new friends you are fighting with tomorrow, these brave and noble Narnians, to fall at the hands of those Telmarines you once knew?”
Caspian thought about it. He gazed once again at the flames in front of him as he tried to imagine these Narnians-- these people who took him in on Trufflehunter’s word-- falling in battle. Lucy stayed mostly silent, humming an old Narnian tune under her breath.
Then Lucy broke into a grin. As she laughed, the spell was broken and Caspian was stunned to see how much she looked like a little girl again.
“Hey Ed, he isn’t too bad, right?”
Caught off-guard by the change in topic, Caspian frowned at Lucy’s words. She winked. Then, only because he followed her gaze, did he see Edmund slip out of a dark corner. The king crossed the room, his movements silent as he drew forward to take a seat on Caspian’s other side. For a moment, only the sounds of the fire and far off drunken singing of the Narnian soldiers could be heard.
Then Edmund scoffed.
“Quit doing your unsettling test of character, Lu. Trumpkin and the rest already said he could be trusted.”
“You say unsettling, I say effective.”
“It can be effective and creepy at the same time, Lucy.”
Caspian could only watch as brother and sister launched into a verbal sparring match across the fire. Perhaps he would have joined in, if only he knew what to say or had the daring to interrupt. Only as Caspian began to feel it may have gone on too long, him not speaking, did he felt a hand on his shoulder.When he looked up to see Susan, Caspian was only moderately surprised.
“We just ignore them when they get like this,” she said with a soft smiled and drew her hand away as Peter came up behind her.
The High King nodded. “Good to let them work of some steam before battle.”
Lucy and Edmund welcomed their siblings then with joy, gesturing to the empty seats around the fire. Susan, holding her horn in one hand, sat down where she had been standing, directly next to Caspian. Lucy moved over and Peter took a place on her other side. He’d brought his sword over, and lay it almost reverently across his knees. Caspian only now noticed that Lucy was holding her own gift as well; the little diamond bottle gleamed like fire between her fingers.
Edmund had started playing with his spyglass. Once everyone was still, he pushed it closed with a click and set it across his own legs to mirror Peter’s pose. A sense of solemnity fell over the circle. The chaos from the other room seemed to fade away. And then, eyes fixed upon the fire, Edmund spoke:
“The night before a battle,
We all must get together,
To drink and sing and share,
We get to know each other.
For once we are familiar,
Only then we have the faith,
To trust ourselves in war,
And make it home in grace.”
When Edmund stopped speaking, all four siblings were silent. Caspian looked from face to face, seeing the warring emotions each wore and trying to understand. It took time for each to surface from their daze. From the other chamber came a rousing and very rude song about a moose, which seemed to have been going on for some time.
Lucy was the first to speak again, catching his eye with a wry smile. “It isn’t exactly our first time going off to war.” For everyone could tell how Miraz’s meeting at the Howe would only end in battle.
Caspian’s surprise must have shown on his face. Susan breathed a laugh and explained, “Even Lucy and I would join our brothers on the front lines.”
Edmund snorted, and then hastily clarified. “Sue might say the front lines, but she and Lu -- well. You might say they were better in the background.”
“Poisons,” whispered Lucy with decidedly too much glee.
“P-poisons?” repeated Caspian. He had heard about the Valiant Queen’s medical abilities, but poison was something that had never made it into the stories.
“Don’t think I approved of Lucy’s ‘second job.’” Peter glanced at his youngest sister who had an innocent smile on her face. “The hospitals made sense. This--”
“Also made sense.” Lucy’s innocent look dropped away abruptly. “Don’t start this argument again, Peter. You know there were times it was necessary.”
Caspian’s eyes widened.
Susan laughed. “Peter never approved of anything underhanded. He complained to me constantly about Edmund’s spying. I was just grateful he was actually good at it... somehow.”
Peter muttered something under his breath about how there was a reason underhanded activities were known as underhanded activities. The others ignored him.
“What about you, Susan?” Lucy turned it on her sister. “Peter never approved of you using the excuse of diplomacy to go to other countries and blackmail all the nobles. How many times did you blow off the official engagements?”
Peter was the one who caught Caspian’s wide stare. He laughed, not unkindly, then explained. “We may be known now as the greatest monarchs ever but most of that was not our own doing. The first thing we did when the coronation party died down was learn what had to be done, then delegate the work to the appropriate Narnians. Many of them understood how to a kingdom much better than we did.”
Caspian nodded once. That made sense.
“We were literally children,” Lucy added, as though they weren’t anymore.
Susan took over the story. “We then realized that there weren’t too many things that needed to actually be overseen by the Queens and Kings.“After a year, everything went down to normal levels and we didn’t have much to do. We were figureheads.”
“We were bored.” Lucy interjected.
Edmund glared at her, the fondness evident in his gaze. “We weren’t bored. We were… well, anyways. We each took a hobby. I went into espionage. Lucy took to medicine and shocked us all when she told us the other uses for medical knowledge.”
Susan frowned at Lucy, before turning to face Caspian. “I took to blackmail. And Peter…” She frowned.
Lucy smiled. “Peter tried to take care of all of us by staying in the castle and doing all the boring paperwork so we didn’t have to.”
“I went off on campaigns,” Peter protested. “Occasionally.”
“Occasionally,” the others echoed.
With Cornelius as his tutor, Caspian had learned to identify stories with underlying lessons. “You’re saying…”
“We’re saying,” said Lucy, “if you’re going to be king, you need to know two things.” She held up her hand, one finger pointed to the ceiling. “One: there are going to be a lot of Narnians -- and Telmarines -- very good at running countries. Use them.”
Valid advice. Caspian nodded.
“And two: find a good hobby.”
“If you’re really bored,” added Edmund, “Go on a quest. Go hunt down your own gift from Father Christmas, like I did.” He patted his spyglass fondly, and Caspian had the startled realization that there was more to the device than he’d realized.
Susan leaned forward. “I don’t know that they remember your quest, Ed. I haven’t seen anything about the spyglass on the walls.”
Edmund looked affronted. “That can’t be right. Caspian, you’ve seen it, right?”
Caspian opened his mouth and then paused, unsure of what to say. “I, uh--”
Taking the hesitation for the denial it was, Edmund leaped to his feet. “I don’t believe it.” He started off towards the corridor, and then paused to look back at the others. “Well? Is anyone going to help?”
“What, help you find an iconograph of your spyglass?” said Susan. “Count me out.”
And yet, minutes later, Caspian found himself getting dragged through the Howe with all four legendary rulers in search of a particular set of images depicting King Edmund the Just’s Grand Quest for the Gift.
“Couldn’t we ask Trufflehunter?” he asked Lucy as she fell alongside him. “Beasts remember, correct?” Ahead, Edmund had pulled out his magical silver torch and was running the beam along the walls. Susan and Peter were guessing at the meanings behind those images.
“They do,” she agreed happily. “And we should! But we’ll let Edmund have his fun, first.”
They turned another corner, and Caspian took a breath. “Your question from before,” he said. “You’re right. I would not like to see any of Narnians fall by my side in battle.” He turned and looked into Lucy’s eyes and found an understanding there. “These people have saved me. I must save them too.”
She patted his back gently. “And we’ll help you. It’s why we’re here.” And with a last grin, she dashed forward to catch up with the others. Caspian took a torch from the wall and held it to the nearest image, admiring the courage in the postures of the four rulers by the light of the flame.