Actions

Work Header

On a Transparent Belt of Ether

Chapter Text

Title: On a Transparent Belt of Ether
Rating: 14
Pairings: Caspian/Edmund
Genre: Romance, drama
Wordcount: 22k
Warnings: none
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Edmund the Just made his kingship telling people the right things at the right time. The night before Caspian’s coronation Edmund tells the anxious prince the right thing. It is only later, on board the Dawn Treader that he realises just what his words achieved.

Author's Note: On the whole the movie is best viewed as “the epic love story of Edmund and Caspian,” otherwise it may not be the most formulaic thing committed to film, but it’s certainly close.

Chapter breaks may seem a little awkward - I never planned for chapters. It was supposed to be ten pages, tops. I have no idea how this story happened, BTW. I sat down to type up a short, cute conversation, three weeks later it was nearing 20k, and I was already planning the sequel.

Betaed by yami_tai. <3 Thank you so much, hun, for all the hard work!

 

There was a nervous thrumming in the air, as though the land and the castle hadn’t yet seen past the excitement of the battle. It rose from the ground to the tops of the trees with such intensity that even the stars seemed to hum in tune with the earth.

Edmund had made himself comfortable on top of a high tower, with a bottle of wine and a goblet at his side. Festivities he could only stand in small amounts. Usually, by the time the drink flowed and coherent speech was a memory, he was long gone. He’d had a few drinks himself by now, and he fully intended to finish the bottle before he staggered back into his room. Although that would mean facing tomorrow -- accursed tomorrow -- and making the certain return to England even more unpleasant, but that Edmund could handle.

He stretched his legs out on the cool stone and flicked the torch on. The beam of light shot through the sky. It amused him for a few seconds, so he clicked it on and off, until the novelty wore off and he set the torch aside in favour of the wine.

It was good wine. A far cry from the old Narnian wine of their reign, when the trees themselves had selected the best grapes and brought them to the Cair Paravel winery, a dominion of fauns. To Edmund, that was the taste of Narnia. Still, this here wasn’t bad. Lacking some undefinable aroma, lacking in magic, perhaps, but worthy of a king’s palate.

Down below the noises of the courtyard were mellowing. The hour was late and the castle was settling at last, having finally spent the energy from the battle. Edmund sighed and leaned against the wall. He had a feeling this was his last night in Narnia, at least for a while, so what remained but watching the sky? He’d been denied a good-bye the previous time, he wouldn’t let that be so again.

Edmund knew, on an intellectual level, that the stars were moving. At least he knew they were moving above his home world, and so he assumed that they moved in Narnia too. Now it would seem they were galloping across the sky at a breakneck pace, trying to outrun the night. He closed his eyes and let the world turn around him for a few seconds.

He was going to miss the Narnian stars. Being a king, obviously, too, as Aslan would send him back to the world in which he was just another peep squeak, whose opinions counted for naught. Never mind that he was qualified to lead armies into battle, when his own family (barring his siblings, naturally) couldn’t comprehend that he was mature enough to handle himself.

Footsteps invaded his thoughts while he tried to doze. They were the footsteps of a adolescent, a boy rather than a girl, too. Edmund sighed and resigned himself to a scolding from Peter. He supposed he might topple the bottle over the parapet, send the goblet flying after it, but that wouldn’t disguise the smell of wine on his breath.

The door flew open and instead of Peter there was Caspian in the door. Edmund smiled at him and raised the goblet in a silent greeting.

“I apologise, Your Highness,” Caspian stammered immediately. “I did not mean to intrude on your solitude.”

“Not at all. Join me.” Edmund looked down at the remains of his bottle. There was easily enough to share, given how his head was already spinning. “Unless you would rather be alone?”

“No- No, I am content. Thank you.” Poor Caspian, too nervous to conceive of a proper excuse. Edmund wordlessly filled the goblet and handed it over.

“Have a drink.”

“Thank you, Your Highness.”

“Edmund, Caspian. Or have you forgotten?”

Caspian flushed, but took the wine and raised it to his lips. “I thank you.”

Edmund watched him carefully. “Escaping the festivities?”

“Yes,” Caspian said. “I’m- I know it is improper of me, but I could not stay there. Stay there, among all the Narnians, I mean.”

“You don’t wish to abandon the Old Narnians, I trust?”

“No! Of course not.” Caspian approached the wall carefully, to perch across from Edmund. “I do not wish to burden your conscience,” he said, but his flushed face and earnest gaze betrayed his urgent need to speak.

“I don’t think there is anything you can say that would burden my conscience,” Edmund told him.

“I fear tomorrow. And the day after. I fear your departure. I can’t- I don’t know if I can be king. How can I be king to people, whom my family, my ancestors, murdered by the hundreds?” Caspian wrung his hands and found the goblet clasped within them, so he finished its contents in one gulp and continued a long litany of doubts and fears and crimes that the Telmarines had committed against Old Narnia.

Edmund was silent throughout the speech. He busied his hands with refilling the goblet from time to time, and only intervened when Caspian’s gestures became ebullient enough to threaten his balance, a dangerous state for one perched on the parapet of a castle, taking care to keep the horror he felt from showing on his face. It was not meant for Caspian, after all, who was innocent of the crimes he was confessing too.

“I’m scared,” Caspian concluded, staring up at Edmund through half-lidded eyes. Caspian was drunk, Edmund realised then, with some surprise. His eyes were glassy and his face was flushed. The words had escaped his mouth with barely any movement, as though his body was no longer involved in the action of speaking.

Edmund sighed and reached out to take the goblet out of his hand, and then stayed with his hand clasped around Caspian’s for a long moment. “Caspian… Trust me. You will make a fine king.”

There was a shine to the young monarch’s eyes just then, as though the entire night sky wished to be reflected in his pupils. Edmund knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Caspian would have little to no memory of this night. He ought to lead Caspian down to his chamber, so that he would be awake and sober in the morning, but his own legs remembered his drinking then and he wasn’t sure he could support them both on the narrow staircase.

“Shall I tell you a story?” he said instead, as Caspian sagged against the stone wall opposite of him. “How much history of before your people arrived in Narnia do you know?”

“I know of your reign. I know of your defeat of the White Witch and I know of how Narnia blossomed under your rule.”

“Ah. I don’t expect certain parts of tale would be passed on much.” Edmund tipped the bottle up over his open mouth. It was quite empty. “I betrayed my family when I first arrived in Narnia. Betrayed them and betrayed Narnia itself to the White Witch, and were it not for the swift actions of Aslan and my siblings, my life would have been forfeit to the Witch. They snatched me back just as she was readying to take my life.”

“That’s awful,” Caspian whispered.

“I know.” Edmund looked up at the stars. No one had dared judge him after Aslan declaring the past foregone, no one even seemed to remember, actually. He remembered though. He would always remember, he suspected. “I was stupid and the misery I caused was quite beastly.”

For the longest time he had no idea just how horrid the consequences were, but this Caspian didn’t need to hear.

“I’m telling you this,” Edmund continued, waving his hand in the air, “because if treachery can be forgiven, and if the Narnians can trust a traitor on their throne and revere him, surely then you, who have no crime on your conscience, will be accepted without question.”

Caspian smiled, half-asleep already. “The stories of you are splendid,” he said. “Edmund the Just… Doctor Cornellius told me such stories.”

Edmund raised the goblet. “I’d drink to that… Except I have no more wine. Let us retire. There shall be more tomorrow, Aslan permitting.”

“Will you stay?” Caspian asked, his eyes open wide and pleading, even as Edmund helped him stand up. “Please? I cannot do this all by myself, I am just a boy, I cannot!”

“You’ll be a fine king,” Edmund said once again, when they were both stable on their feet. “Trust me, and if not me, trust in the Narnians. Trumpkin will stand by you, and he will tell you off when you go astray, as I’m sure many others will, and their advice is worth listening to.”

“I trust you,” Caspian, looking down, told his shirt. “But…”

Edmund wasn’t sure what prompted him to step closer to Caspian (he suspected it was the wine and the Narnian stars that he feared he wouldn’t see again), drop onto one knee and take his hand. Caspian watched him, confused and sleepy, as Edmund pressed a kiss to the back of his hand, like a subject would. “My king.”

Caspian trembled and took a step back. He caught himself on the edge of the wall, and stayed there, while Edmund sorted out the difficult business of getting back to a standing position. They made their way downstairs arm in arm, staggering at the landings. They bid each other goodnight at the door to Caspian’s bedroom.

Come morning the alcohol was just a painful memory. Edmund had to smile at the pained grimace on Caspian’s face, when the sunlight shone in his face. Clearly, the young prince -- or king -- wasn’t used to wine being poured so generously. He gave Caspian a nod, then it was time to step forth and through the door, back into the world where there was Algebra and Latin and where he was just a schoolboy.

*****

The English sun was nowhere near as bright as the one in Narnia. Edmund caught himself as soon as the thought crossed his mind and banished it. This was no time to reminisce, it would surely bring him nothing but pain.

He looked away from the sky in the window and focused on the Latin grammar book before him. His task for the afternoon, the translation of a portion of Latin text, was done, but it was another matter that captured his attention -- Tom, the poor fellow who shared his class and (unfortunately for him) did not share his quick mind, was struggling with the words.

“That’s an ‘ae’, not an ‘e’. It is pronounced as ‘a’, and it is indicative of Genitivus or Dativus, in nouns of this type,” Edmund explained patiently for the fifth time.

“Right, sorry.”

“No trouble at all.”

Tom was a nice enough chap, reasonably bright, but for his trouble with Latin. He was set to inherit his father’s law practice, which Edmund (having met Tom’s father previously) thought amusing. Tom was kind, most of all, and unable to twist the truth in any way he might want it to go. If his father hoped for the practice to continue flourishing as it had under him, he was going to be disappointed.

“Ed?”

“Sorry, lost my place. What are you on?”

Tom pointed and Edmund was soon so engrossed in the art of explaining the inexplicable turns of the dead language, that he missed Peter’s arrival entirely.

“I think I’ve had enough for today,” Tom said with a sigh, when Peter and Edmund corrected his abysmal pronunciation in unison. “I’ll catch you tomorrow.”

“Certainly.” Edmund nodded and rested his chin atop his folded hands and watched Tom leave. “Oh, won’t this week finally be over, already?”

“I’ve got mail for you,” Peter said handing him an envelope. “It’s from mother.”

“Oh?” Edmund ripped open the envelope and skimmed the letter quickly. Mother was never keen on long letters, and this one was exceptionally concise. “Oh, bother!”

“What is it?”

“We are to stay with Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta in Cambridge over the summer, Lu and I!”

“Bother,” Peter said with as much feeling. “I bet Eustace won’t be happy to see you.”

“Do not remind me.” His head fell onto the table with a loud thump. “It’s going to be a hellish summer, I’m sure of it.”

Peter was silent for a good long while. Edmund could tell his thoughts had strayed far from Eustace or Cambridge. “Hey, Ed. That kid, Tom. I thought you said you were friends.”

“We are friends, why?”

“Do you ever talk to him?”

Edmund gave his brother a long look. “What on earth are you on about?”

“You speak to him like he was a foreign diplomat.” Peter leaned over the table and lowered his voice. “Certainly not like he’s your friend.”

This was news to Edmund. He had deemed himself decent, on all accounts; he was eager to help out when necessary, played cricket whenever asked, and shared whatever sweets mother sent him. If he sometimes had difficulty speaking as a peer would to his classmates, well, it was not their fault his experiences were so different to theirs.

“I do consider him a friend,” he said eventually, to which Peter responded with a raised eyebrow. “Though perhaps I don’t have many close friends.”

“Indeed. How many people know that you would trample infants in their cribs to get the new Heyer novel?”

“You, obviously.” One person too many, far as Edmund was concerned.

“Why aren’t you going to Aunt Alberta’s?” he asked, as he skimmed the letter again. It only mentioned him and Lucy, and father’s trip to America, of which he was already aware. “And what about Susan?”

Peter winced. “Su is going to America with them. She wrote to me today. I’m going to stay at Professor Kirke’s. No,” he continued after Edmund opened his mouth to protest. “I know, and I asked. Apparently he lost the big house somehow, so there’s no room for the three of us where he’s living now.”

“Bother,” Edmund said again. “What a summer this going to be!”

*****

Cousin Eustace was a right prat, which was no shock whatsoever. He was born a prat, and -- Aslan permitting -- he would die a prat, by being shoved overboard by a friendly gust of wind.

No, Edmund wasn’t going to entertain that thought, no matter the comedic value. Eustace was a prat, but he was kin; he was a stranger to Narnia and he wasn’t evil (in a manner of speaking) and for all those reasons he would have respect and all the care Edmund could stomach to give him, bless his own kingly heart. He thanked Aslan daily for Lucy, whose compassion was so much greater than his. It made him feel guilty for running and hiding whenever the little blighter opened his mouth to whine some more, but in truth what words were there to tell a man who was unwilling to listen?

“Are you hiding, King Edmund? There are more remote places on the ship.”

“I am merely choosing my battles,” Edmund replied. Caspian was standing behind him, a small smile on his face.

“An answer worthy of a diplomat.”

“If there’s a better way of handling Eustace, I haven’t found it.”

“He is a handful, true.” Caspian leaned against the side of the ship. “It is often hard to believe he is your kin.”

“Believe me, I wish he wasn’t. Then again, Narnia has a way of changing people, so perhaps Eustace has a chance yet.”

Caspian hesitated and then stepped even closer. “Like it changed you?”

Edmund looked at the young King, who was watching him earnestly. “I’m- I’m sorry if I overstepped. I meant no offence.”

“I’m not offended.” Another moment of staring and Edmund felt the nag of something much like a long-forgotten memory creeping around in the back of his mind. It surfaced eventually, slow and thick like honey, and Edmund felt a wave of heat crawl up his face. He had, well, forgotten was not the word. He rarely forgot events or facts, and so he recalled with perfect clarity his talk with Caspian on the last night they spent in Narnia that time. What was coming back to him now was the wine and the wind, the flush on the young king’s face and the stars reflected in his eyes. “I’d almost forgotten I spoke to you about it.”

“I haven’t. It gave me much comfort, when I thought the burden of kingship too great. I wished, many times, to be able to thank you for it. I am most grateful for the opportunity.”

“The tale of my treachery comforted you?” Edmund said under his breath, uncertain yet whether he ought to feel offended -- Caspian’s smile would indicate otherwise -- or complimented.

“I barely recall the tale, to tell you the truth. Drink had been involved.” Caspian stood up straight, and unless Edmund was seeing things, the king was blushing, however slightly. He tried to recall what else he had said that night, that Caspian would find a comfort, but couldn’t. “I should like to hear it again, the whole story, if you will oblige me.”

This was a right puzzle. Edmund stared at his hands, willing his heart to calm. “If you wish,” he said slowly, “I will tell you the story. Though I admit it is painful for me to recall the events.”

“I would hate to cause you pain.”

“Yet you want to hear it.”

Caspian shook his head. “I wish to know more about you. I should very much enjoy hearing stories of your world, too.”

Dimly, Edmund was beginning to recall the balls held in the halls of Cair Paravel. He recalled the words spoken in the shadows, and those spoken in the brightness of the afternoon, to and by ladies who sought favour from King Edmund the Just. The realisation was perhaps not as striking as his school masters would like it to be -- King Edmund had once been eager to exchange pleasantries of such nature with both the ladies and the lords, for Narnia did not discriminate in that regard -- but he wasn’t entirely sure how to handle himself when it was Caspian who said the words.

“My world is not a happy place. There was, or there is, a great war going on right now.”

“Were you taken from the battlefield?”

Edmund laughed, bitterly. “No. In my world I am still considered a child, not old enough to fight in a war.”

“You’ve had great many victories as king.”

“Yes, as a King of Narnia. It wouldn’t have been well received if I boasted of those victories in England, as they would think me mad. People do not believe in magic.”

“How so?”

“It is considered the stuff of fantasy or an old wives’ tale at best, which is made all the easier for the lack of talking beasts or trees.”

“Maybe they are merely asleep, as the trees in Narnia had been.”

“If that is the case, they have been asleep so long, they have likely forgotten how to speak altogether. No, I’m certain the trees in England never spoke.” Edmund gazed in the distance, somewhat wistfully. “I often wished they had, after we returned. It would have been a great comfort to hear even a whisper.”

Caspian straightened. “Are you still unhappy? Even now?”

“I don’t think it is possible to be happier than I am now,” Edmund said, carefully concealing a smile. “Perhaps only if Aslan himself promised that I could stay for good this time.”

“We shall hope, and in due time, ask this of him,” Caspian said. “Tell me, do you still remember the art of the sword?”

*****

“Land north!” called the sailor on the observation deck.

Edmund started, a dangerous thing to do when one was busy fitting a new reefline onto the sail. He turned away from the sun and stared hard into the distance. There was a cloud on the horizon, and beneath it a darker spot that had to be dry land. Thankfully, he was almost finished, and so some minutes later he was jumping onto the deck and racing to the poop, where Drinian, Caspian and Reepicheep, were already sharing a spyglass to inspect this new land.

“It seems quite odd, from this distance. Like a great mountain, only it’s as though it doesn’t touch the water at all,” Caspian said, passing the spyglass to Edmund.

It was odd, Edmund thought, and even odder still as they approached. Though it seemed impossible, the island did not touch the sea. Edmund stared open-mouthed at the rock, which was hovering perhaps thirty feet above the surface of the water at its lowest, with nothing for support but a handful of lianas hanging from the rim. The waters underneath were calm and dark. A little to the west there was a waterfall, spilling over the rim of the island directly into the sea.

“Well, this is interesting.”

“How does it stay up?” Lucy asked.

“Magic,” Edmund said. “I know of nothing else capable of such a feat.”

“Shall we try going up, Majesty?” Drinian asked as the men gathered onboard, each watching the strange land. Eustace was standing there with his mouth open, occasionally spouting a line about gravity and the importance of it, and his inevitable complaints to the British Consul.

Caspian, with his gaze firmly fixed on the island, nodded. “There should be support enough with the ropes, and our supplies need replenishing. Water we can get at the fall, but if there’s game to be hunted, it needs to be hunted all the way up.”

Drinian called at once for the sail to be reefed and for all available men to take to the oars. Within a quarter of an hour they reached the thickest cluster of lianas (the only cluster, in fact, to be composed of more than three separate lines), whereupon a problem emerged: they were not strong enough to support the men.

“It is a high climb, Majesty, and I fear the weight of any of the sailors would be too heavy a burden,” Drinian said, having tried the ropes himself and succeeding in tearing one from its roots.

“I’ll go,” Edmund said. “I’m lighter than any of you here, except Lucy. I should be able to make it,” he added with a touch of doubt. He had climbed previously, though never to such heights without support. He shrugged it off. The island floated over water, and though a fall from such a height would not be pleasant, he ought to have no trouble surviving it.

“Your Majesty,” Reepicheep said immediately, “I am the smallest here, and I climb with ease. I should be the one to go.”

“I thank you for volunteering, Reep, but you are not a hunter. King Edmund, if he chooses to go, has a much better chance at replenishing our pantry.”

“Be careful, Edmund,” Lucy said. “It is frightfully high.”

“Don’t I know it! Here, let me have your bow. I will try to search for more lianas, but in case there’s none, I shall do what I can on my own.” Lucy fetched her bow and a quiver of arrows, along with a knife, and Edmund, soon as he had fitted them to his person, started the climb.

It was easier than he expected. Though frail, the lianas were knobbly and offered plenty of support for hands and feet, so if he pushed to the back of his mind that they proved to be delicate enough to snap under the weight of one man, this was quite the adventure. Edmund was breathing hard by the time he reached the edge of the rocks, but from there it was even easier -- there were plenty of nooks and crannies that he could worm his hands and feet into. He didn’t dare to look down when he heard the cheer of the crew. Instead he made it over the edge and fell onto the lush grass and breathed deeply, until his heart stilled. Only then did he dare to lean over the edge, looking back the way he’d come.

He saw the anxious faces -- at least he assumed them to be anxious, as at this distance it was hard to tell -- of the crew, as they in turn watched Caspian steadfastly following Edmund’s lead and climbing ever higher. “The fool!” Edmund thought, not a little irritated.

“I could have managed on my own,” he told Caspian as the king heaved himself over the final edge and devoted his time to catching his breath.

“Of course,” Caspian said, “but why should you? Let us see about the ropes now.”

Really, one would think he was a child, in need of constant supervision, Edmund thought, but didn’t get to finish even that, because just then the island shook and started tilting. Edmund lost his footing and by the time he was falling in earnest, the ground was almost vertical and so he fell into the thick jungle, closely followed by Caspian.

When the shaking stopped and the island had righted itself once more, Edmund was now lying on the ground holding on to the nearest tree with both hands. One of Caspian’s hands was tangled with his, and they were both as white as a sheet. “What was that?” Caspian whispered.

“I don’t know.”

Slowly, creeping on all fours, they made their way back to the ledge. The lianas they used to climb were gone, torn from their roots, except from one, which snapped some distance from the edge. Edmund dared to look down, and saw that a great creature -- he couldn’t be sure, but it looked like a griffin -- was attacking the ship. It got as far as to scratching the port side, before one of the archers took it down.

“Majesty!” they heard the anguished scream of Drinian, along with Lucy’s shrill cry for Edmund.

“We’re fine!” the yelled in unison. Some of the sound must have got through, because the crew, as one, cheered. “We will find another way down,” Caspian yelled. “Though it could take days, the jungle is very thick!”

Edmund looked around. Days was right. It seemed that this was the sole spot that the jungle hadn’t yet claimed for its own; a narrow shelf, which tapered into a sheer cliff on one side, and by a thick, green forest on the other.

“Well, your Majesty, shall we?”

“What on earth possessed you to come up here?”

“It wouldn’t be sporting to leave our royal guest all by himself,” Caspian said.

“You have a very strange view on personal security, Caspian.”

“I hardly think a hunting party dangerous.”

“If we come across another griffin, it might be.”

“Surely, not, when I have you to protect me.”

“If my archery skill is what you put your faith in, you will be disappointed. I am just good enough to shoot a deer at close range, if it’s standing still. Lucy is a fine archer, except she doesn’t climb as well as me.”

“We shall have an interesting time then,” Caspian said.

Edmund laughed. “That I don’t doubt.”

Conquering the jungle proved to be no small feat. Fortunately Caspian had the foresight to bring along a machete in place of a sword, and so he took point, hacking at just enough of the shrubbery to let them through. Even so, they moved slowly.

“You’d think a magic island would be easier to navigate,” Edmund said, when Caspian’s best efforts cleared enough space for them to slide between a fallen tree trunk and a thick thorn bush with long, blade-like leaves, one at a time. “It was surely no more than three, four miles across.”

“At this rate it will take us days to get to the other side. And none of these plants look suitable to make rope.” Caspian slashed at a particularly stubborn branch. He was winded already, and they had barely walked a hundred yards.

“Here, let me have a go.”

Edmund managed to get them through another hundred, though when they finally stopped he was sweating and about to fall to the ground. “I need a rest,” he stammered.

“How much further do you think we can go today?”

“It has been noon when we started here, what time can it be now?” Edmund leaned against a tree, and looked up at Caspian. There was no sky visible from where they sat, though the sun still shone through the thick leaves, bathing them in golden-green light, which became more gold than green the longer they spoke.

“It’s been a couple of hours, at least. Possibly three. It cannot be long before darkness falls.”

“I sure hope we can find some food before then.”

“Water at least there is aplenty.” Caspian nudged a leaf with the tip of the machete, spilling most of the clear water within onto Edmund’s head. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Edmund collected himself from the ground. “I was aching for a bath.”

“Maybe we can find a bath more fitting for a king further along.”

“Never you mind a bath, I would be far happier with a laid table.”

“Some of these trees must bear fruit.”

“Some that are not poisonous, maybe. Let us go further -- I think I am rested enough.” And on they went, struggling through the undergrowth, until finally -- after perhaps an hour -- they got to a place where the jungle lost some of its thickness and they could walk more sedately.

Twilight was upon them, faster than normal, because of the foliage. The edges between the shadows and light blurred, but before darkness could fall fully, leaving them stranded and hungry in the dense forest, Caspian grasped Edmund’s shoulder. “Look!”

There was something much like an orchard there, interspersed with the trees that made their journey so far, so difficult. There was fruit on the higher branches of the other trees, yellow and pear-shaped, such as Edmund had never seen before, and would likely never see again.

“So, should I climb, or will you?” Caspian asked, having dumped his belt and the machete on the ground.

“Don’t let me stop you,” Edmund said, already racing for the nearest tree. They were tall, much like oaks, and gnarly, so climbing them was no great hardship. Though the first few yards were more difficult, further up the branches were thick and close together, so Edmund found that within minutes he was above the level of the forest. From there the island seemed quite small indeed, though it was hard to say if it would be any easier to navigate. The mountain towards its centre looked a lot less steep from here, too.

“If we find nothing, we will be forced to jump,” Caspian said quietly, making himself comfortable on Edmund’s branch.

“I would very much like to avoid that.”

“So would I. Do you think there’s anything to hunt up here?” As if to answer Caspian’s query, a flock of birds flew up from a tree nearby. They were slow and fat, so much so, in fact, that Edmund wondered how was it possible that they were flying at all.

“Those even I could shoot,” he said.

The sun started disappearing beneath the island. “We should probably get down.” Caspian said, very quietly. Edmund nodded, but as they started on their way down, he remembered the fruit and how desperately hungry he was.

The fruit were quite soft to the touch, smooth and easy to bruise, but their juice was sweet. It was unlike any fruit in Narnia, Edmund thought -- it tasted like orange and apple and honey. Each was as big as a head of cabbage.

“Well, they don’t seem to be poisonous,” he said and started taking off his shirt.

“What are you doing?”

“It should be easier to carry them down this way. I don’t think they are poisonous, but just in case, it would be more sensible to eat them on the ground.”

Caspian agreed and so they fashioned a bag out of Edmund’s shirt and climbed down with great care, for it was already dark. The ground was the only option they had, but as it was covered with thick grass, it was as comfortable as a mattress in Cair Paravel. The fruit were quite excellent, thick and sweet, but not sickly sweet. They were much like pears, though more creamy, and with one large seed in the middle.

“I’ve never seen such trees in Narnia,” Caspian said when they finished eating. “Though right now I would like a bath.”

Edmund agreed -- on the sea cleanliness always came with a thin layer of salt, and add to that the exercise and then the sweet juice, they were both sticky. There was plenty of water in the nearby leaves, but as the night fell and the wind quieted down with it, Edmund heard something far more promising: the sound of water trickling over stones.

Sure enough, they only needed to walk a short distance through the great trees to find a small pond, into which a small stream fell from the height of about ten inches. High above the pond there was an opening in the tree canopy, so that on the far side, where the water was still, stars were reflected on the surface. There was virtually no light to see by, a thoroughly strange sensation.

“I really hope Lucy doesn’t worry about us too much,” Edmund said as he sat down to remove his boots. “It would be beastly to have her worry when we’re enjoying ourselves.”

“She will worry, until you are back safe on the ship,” Caspian said with a chuckle. “But I do hope her mind is not too troubled, while we’re here.”

The night was warm, so Edmund shed all his clothes without much care and stepped into the water. It was perfect, warm enough for comfort, but cool enough to be refreshing. He closed his eyes in bliss and let himself sink under the surface, until he felt the tiredness and aching dissolve and float away. He opened his eyes underwater, somewhat shocked to discover that it was lighter down here than it was on the surface, and that Caspian was staring at him, just as surprised as he was. The glow turned his face pale like that of a ghost, and Edmund feared that he would dissolve were he to touch it.

He and Caspian resurfaced at the same time, and Edmund didn’t quite know where the impulse came from, but he splashed a handful of water in the king’s face, earning himself swift retribution in the same vein and soon they were having an outright battle, as though they were schoolboys and not kings.

They were breathless with laughter when, some time later, a truce was declared and they trudged out of the pond to put on their clothes in the nearly complete darkness. Strange, that above the surface the water was as smooth and black as ink, marred only by the reflection of fireflies floating over its surface.

Despite their exertions during the day, sleep was slow to claim them, so they lay side by side, watching the fireflies chase one another through the air.

“Edmund,” Caspian said after a while. “Would you tell me the story of how you arrived in Narnia?”

Edmund turned, so that, were there any light to see by, he would be looking into Caspian’s eyes. “Why do you want to know?”

“It seems to weigh on you, even still. May-hap it will help to talk about it.”

“I wonder if it would,” Edmund muttered, though of course that was the one thing he’d never tried previously. “I was ten,” he began, and slowly he told Caspian of how Lucy had been the first enter the wardrobe, and come running straight out, how there was nothing there when they looked, but then, on the second time, how he had become quite enchanted with the White Witch and what befell thereafter. To his great surprise, he found the words came easily, even when the tale turned to the part he had only heard when Susan and he fought, not a year after they became rulers of Narnia, and she let slip (or hint, at least -- but the rest Edmund wheedled out of her later) just what had been done to save him.

When he finished, he thought for a minute that Caspian had fallen asleep, it was so quiet. “I am most thankful,” he whispered at last, “that you were saved.”

Edmund smiled and then yawned. “Thank you,” he whispered. Minutes later he was asleep.

Chapter Text

Edmund woke early, for there were still long shadows underneath the trees. Caspian was still asleep, but not for long. They had some more fruit for breakfast (strangely, it was not half as bothersome as having to feast on apples for two days) and set out again to make their way across the island. It was easier, though not by much -- they still needed to cut through the thickets, but there were fewer of them.

“It’s strange, but this is rather like a road, or a path anyway,” Edmund said. They were moving in more or less a straight line, and on both sides the jungle was so thick, that not even light could penetrate it.

“Let’s hope it will see us through to the other side,” Caspian said.

Around midday they found a clearing, not as comfortable as the one they spent the night in, but one thoroughly covered with lianas. “Should we take some back with us?” Caspian asked, trying to lift one. It came off the ground easily enough, but carrying it would require great strength, especially in the quantities they required.

“Let us go on,” Edmund said. “We must be about halfway across and since we’ve got this far, it would be a shame not to discover what else this island has to offer.”

“I agree. Drinian surely won’t assume us dead for at least a week, perhaps more.”

“Looking at Drinian I imagine he would sooner learn to fly than abandon you for dead.”

“There is that.” Caspian laughed, no doubt imagining, as Edmund was, Drinian attempting such a feat with his usual seriousness. “Onward, then!”

A short while later they were faced with an unexpected obstacle: a wall of stone rose before them. The only way forward was to climb, for the jungle on either side was too thick to allow them to pass. They would have turned back, were it not for a sliver of light Edmund could swear he saw flickering on the floor. He bent to the ground and beckoned Caspian to look as well.

“There’s passage?”

“I think so.” Edmund sat back on his haunches and gazed at Caspian thoughtfully. “The hole’s not too narrow, I reckon we can crawl through it easily and there seems to be light on the other side.”

“We’ve gone this far,” Caspian said, and so they crawled through the tunnel to come up in a cavern wide enough to fit all of the Dawn Treader. It was well-lit too, for the domed ceiling had an oculus that let in plenty of light. Directly beneath it there was an age-old tree, weathered by storms, but still fertile, if the apples on its branches were any indication. Edmund felt a shiver ran through him. This was a very old place, he thought, and the magic was so thick here, it was almost palpable.

“There ought to be another way out,” he said as quietly as he would in a cathedral. “Look along the walls starting from here, I’ll go the other way round.”

Caspian nodded and they parted ways, moving along the walls and checking for drafts and light. “There’s one here!” Edmund heard Caspian call, just as he came upon a tunnel as well, but they both continued, until Edmund came half-circle and found that Caspian wasn’t there to meet him. He straightened and turned, to find the king standing underneath the great tree and reaching out for one of its fruits.

“Caspian!” Edmund cried. The feeling of foreboding welled up in him, and rightly so, because just as Caspian’s hand touched the apple he was dropping to the floor like a stone.

Edmund was at his side in an instant, grateful to find the fall didn’t seem to do any harm, but that gratitude soon gave way to anxiety, as Caspian would not open his eyes, no matter how much he was shaken. With his heart in his throat Edmund bent his head to Caspian’s chest, listening for the beat of his heart, and was relieved to find it.

“He’s alive then,” he said aloud, hoping to reassure himself, and to quell the panic that had his hands shaking and closed his throat. Caspian was alive, it was the truth, but it was only partly reassuring -- Caspian breathed and his heart was beating, but both were slow, slower even than those of sleepers.

Drinian was surely going to kill him, Edmund thought in despair, as he sat heavily next to the sleeping Caspian and hid his face in his hands.

This was not the time to despair, however. Edmund shot his feet, and raced for the nearest cave exit. Shaking and volume had no effect, but perhaps a shock would, he thought as he poured a good-sized pitcher’s worth of cold water onto Caspian’s face.

There was no reaction.

How else to wake a sleeping person, Edmund wondered in desperation, as he watched the faint raise and fall of Caspian’s chest. A fall, perhaps? No, that only worked for the dreamer within the dream.

The tree shook over his head, like there was a wind rustling its branches, even though in the cave there could be none. Edmund rose, all the same. He might be less perceptive than Lucy about these things, but he knew magic when he saw and felt it, and the cavern was overflowing with it. Good or bad, he wasn’t sure; his heart trembled, but then it was trembling before, ever since Caspian had fallen.

The invisible vortex quieted and a figure detached from the tree.

“You are not a hamadryad,” Edmund said, keeping himself between Caspian and the strange apparition. It was quite like one, he supposed, but lacking the tree-like characteristics. Then again, it hardly seemed human, either. It was tall and willowy, but its gender was anybody’s guess.

“Indeed, I am not. I am tasked with guarding this tree.”

“What happened to Caspian?”

“This is a sacred place, son of Adam,” it said. “If you come in good faith, you will be permitted to enter, but not much further.”

“We come in good faith. We mean no harm. We seek a way out, and provisions for our ship, no more.”

“This tree will not be disturbed, by anyone.”

Edmund bit his lip. “He meant no harm.”

“That is not for me to decide.”

“Please, can’t something be done? Caspian is the King of Narnia, he must return, at all cost.”

“Crowns and countries don’t matter. No one is king, nor slave, nor lady or peasant. All are equal here.”

Edmund clenched his hands. “He can be woken, though, can’t he?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

The guardian smiled, or at least Edmund thought it smiled -- he was having a difficult time seeing whether it had a face at all. “In the way all such spells are broken, by a journey and a sacrifice.”

“What must be sacrificed?”

“That is for no one but the one to break the spell to know.”

“There is only me here.”

Again the creature gave a smile, or so Edmund thought. “Then you will do. If you wish to wake your friend, you must first find him.”

Most confusing. Edmund felt quite foolish, and rightly so, when he said, “He’s right here.”

“No, he is not. The spells that protect the tree whisk trespassers into the land of a strange making, where nothing is quite real, where they must wander for all time, unless there is one who can find them again.”

Edmund didn’t much like the sound of that. “What do I do?” he asked all the same, because there wasn’t much of a choice, really. He wouldn’t jolly well return without Caspian.

The guardian stepped to the side. “Come, and put your hand on the tree. Be warned, however: there is much pain and loss awaiting you on this road. Many who travel there find that the land robs them of things they hold most dear, but for you it shall be worse.”

“For me?”

“Because you are Edmund,” the guardian said, and dissolved into thin air.

Edmund froze for a moment, with one hand almost touching the trunk, but not for long, as his mind was already made up. He laid his palm against the tree and he felt himself fall into the great black nothingness.

*****

Edmund woke on a sunlit patch of grass. The sky was blue and there was a sweet smell in the air that he couldn’t identify. “Edmund!” someone called. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Edmund replied. Tom was leaning over him with an anxious expression on his face.

“Thank God! The ball hit you rather hard.”

“Ball?” It was only then that Edmund took in his surroundings. He was in a park, an English park by the looks of it, and by his side there lay a cricket bat. He stared at it. It was an ordinary thing, scuffed and scraped around the bottom, as though it was often kicked and dragged. “What’s going on?”

“We’re playing, don’t you remember?” Tom had that anxious look on his face again, and the few boys behind him seemed equally concerned. “Maybe we ought to see a doctor, you are frightfully pale.”

“No, that can’t be right,” Edmund said as he stood up and his vision swam about him. He had been in Narnia, well, in the world in which Narnia was in, and this was England!

“Tom, did you see Caspian?” he asked, before he could panic in earnest.

“I told you before, the only time I was abroad I was in France,” Tom told him with slight reproach in his voice.

“No, Caspian is a boy, a man… He’s older than us by a few years, dark haired. About this tall.”

“Master Carroll is quite like that, are you sure you are okay? You’ve been acting weird since you got back from that summer vacation. Your cousin’s place in Cambridge, was it?”

“No.” Edmund’s anxiety grew until he was sure his eyes were playing tricks on him. “I don’t think I am,” he said, for there was the fear rising in his gut, cold and slippery like the skin of an eel. Was he in England after all? Narnia could play tricks on you, it may well be that he was sent home and Caspian was left alone, sleeping under that ghastly tree, where no one would ever find him again.

Maybe he was home for good, never to see Caspian again.

“No,” he whispered, and Tom cocked his head in surprise.

“Edmund?”

“I think I need to rest,” he said. “My head hurts.”

“Yes, you’d better. Come, I’ll see you home.”

Edmund barely remembered the walk home, only that his mother was quite surprised when she opened the door. “So early home, Edmund? I wasn’t expecting you for hours.”

“He had a fall, Mrs Pevensie,” Tom said, as Edmund slipped past her and trudged upstairs. “He said he needs to lie down.”

“Oh dear! Is he well? Edmund?”

“I’m fine,” he called before the door to his room closed. He was fine, but for the fact that he couldn’t breathe. He shoved a fairy-tale book off his pillow -- Lucy had taken to reading her stories in his bed, when he wasn’t there to chase her out -- and threw himself across the bed, in the hope of chasing the dark thoughts from his head, when he heard the voice. Less than that -- it was the sound a whisper made against glass, infinitely faint and yet filling the silence with its might.

Edmund sat up and looked around. With his eyes closed he got off the bed and walked, until he thought he could hear the voice the loudest. When he opened his eyes he was standing before the mirror.

“I am going mad,” he told himself, as he reached out to touch the image. It flickered and Edmund could see, for the briefest fraction of a second, Caspian’s face, peering at him anxiously as though through an expanse of water. “I must be going mad,” he said again, as the vision disappeared.

He returned to his bed and slept restlessly for a couple of hours.

The following days were not much better. He would catch glimpses of Caspian’s face in the mirror, or a window, or even on the reflective surfaces of kitchen utensils. More than once he would wake in the middle of the night, breathless from nightmares, calling out Caspian’s name, only to have Peter glare at him with increasing suspicion.

“What is wrong with you, Ed?” he would ask.

“Nothing, just a nightmare,” Edmund would say every time and turn his back.

It wasn’t a dream, he knew that much. Lucy took great pains to speak to him often, but every time she opened her mouth inevitably she would start talking about the Dawn Treader, and Edmund would freeze, because there would be Caspian, beckoning to him from the nearest windowpane, screaming his name or else wallowing in anguish.

“Edmund?” Lucy said, when, during one of such conversations, he shot up and raced out the living room. “Are you well?”

“No, I’m not. I keep seeing Caspian,” he told her quietly, when she found him hidden in his room, though to his misfortune Peter happened to be walking by and heard.

“Him? Why would you be seeing him?”

“I have no idea. Maybe we’re needed in Narnia.”

Peter bit his lip and squeezed Edmund’s shoulder. “I know you worry, but it is beyond our reach now.”

“Well, what if it isn’t?”

“If you have a plan, by all means!”

“People can get to Narnia in all sorts of ways!”

“Name one that doesn’t require Aslan intervening.”

“There has to be something!”

“Look, Ed,” Peter said, forcing his head up. “I know you miss the place, Lord knows I do too. But you have to let it go! We are never going back there.”

“I keep seeing Caspian,” Edmund said desperately. “I know I need to get back there!”

There was a brief moment of silence. “Look, I hate to be the one to say it, but… It’s been months. Caspian may well be dead now. Probably is.”

“He was barely twenty when we were on the ship, tell him, Lu!”

“He was, but Edmund, you know how the time passes in Narnia. I fear Peter may be right.” Lucy was worrying the edge of her book, and had spoken this quietly, as though resenting herself for thinking it in the first place. Edmund knew how she felt, because in that moment he resented her too.

“He is not dead,” he said out load. “Not yet.”

“You don’t know that. You have no way of knowing that, Ed.”

“I know.” The vision of Caspian, lying pale and hurt on a stretcher seemed to flicker across the polished surface of the lamp. There was dried blood smeared across his face, over a scar that Edmund didn’t know. There were lines of age on his face, marks of profound sadness and fear. “I need to go,” he said.

“No, Ed, you need to stay right here.” Peter drew up to his full height. “You will cease this gibbering, I order you.”

“You will not give me orders!” Edmund shook off Lucy’s hand and stood up. “I am going back to Narnia, because I know that it needs me!”

“It needs you? Come on, Ed, at least do us the courtesy of treating us like intelligent people, if you cannot be sane about it.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“It’s not Narnia you really worry about, is it,” Peter said in his best High King voice, equally full of compassion, anger and command. Edmund bristled. He stood it in the old days, in Narnia, when he was king and thus his emotions were to be tightly controlled and not fully his own. Here was another matter entirely. “It is not Narnia that wakes you up and it is not her name that you cry out when you wake.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that you need to forget about that Telmarine,” Peter said, “I don’t know what spell he cast on you, Ed, but I’m telling you, it has to end.”

“I will not be ordered. Or told what to do.”

“I am your high king, or have you chosen to forget that?”

“Here you are just my brother,” Edmund said viciously. “Or have you chosen to forget that?”

“I have not, but...”

“You are right though,” Edmund said with a sigh. Behind Peter, through the window, Caspian screamed his throat raw and Edmund felt his heart clench, and become a dead weight in his chest. There was blood, plenty of it, though he couldn’t see anything but Caspian. “This must end.”

When he considered it carefully enough, there was only one way that he was certain -- as certain as he could be -- that would take him to Narnia. His mind would not rest since his return, his heart would not cease its frantic beat, not until he saw Caspian again and saved him from this dreadful fate.

“Ed… I know it haunts you, but it’s going to be fine. I had nightmares too, last year.” Peter laid a hand on his shoulder and Edmund shuddered.

“I know.”

“Trust me. Aslan knows what he’s doing.”

Edmund wasn’t quite so certain. He slept that night, but it was a short sleep, and the nightmare -- the same nightmare that had haunted his nights for months -- woke him at dawn. It was Caspian, it was always Caspian, still and pale as death, growing older by the second, until finally he breathed his last and his face dried, leaving behind a naked skull that grimaced at Edmund until his eyes snapped open to the grey English dawn.

He left home that morning, bright and early, putting up his best smile. He ought to feel sorry, his mind was telling him, for mother was quite worried and Peter gave him a concerned look, whenever father wasn’t interrogating him about the exam, but he was beyond caring.

“Edmund!” Lucy called. “Pick up some bread while you’re out, would you?”

“Certainly,” Edmund said, already on the other side of the road.

He stepped into the bakery on his way back. There was a short line, and it was warm and thoroughly soaked in the smell of fresh bread. On the wall over the door there was a clock.

It was seventeen minutes past ten.

Edmund closed his eyes. The jolly voice of the baker drowned in the hustle and bustle noise of a railway station. Edmund was standing in the middle of a crowd, beneath the great clock. Ten eighteen. He walked through the station, unseeing. People would jostle him as they walked past, but he paid them no mind. He reached the station a few seconds before ten twenty, and the train was already arriving.

The train had slowed some, as it rolled into the platform, but it wouldn’t stop. No, it was the express set to pass Finchley by and keep on speeding all the way to Charing Cross.

Edmund was standing at the edge of the platform as the train sped his way. He closed his eyes when he felt the wind rush towards him and took a step forward.

It hurt a whole lot less than he expected it would.

“What are you doing, my son,” he heard. When he turned, Finchley was long-gone and Aslan was staring at him sternly. There was nothing around him, just the wide expanse of whiteness.

“Sir, I need to go back. Narnia--”

Aslan growled, low in his throat. Edmund lowered his gaze. “Caspian needs me.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I keep seeing him, and he is hurt and screaming for help, I know something has happened. I must return, please, sir.”

“Edmund,” Aslan said gently, “You are wrong.”

“I cannot be.”

“But you are. You never left Narnia; not since you, your sister and your cousin arrived.”

“How can that be,” Edmund started saying, then remembered the tree. It was all crystal-clear in his mind now, though it had been hazy during the time in England, and when he remembered he was there again. Caspian was still asleep on the ground, the light hadn’t changed, and Aslan was still there, staring at him with great indulgence in his wild eyes. “Is that what awaits me upon our return?” For if it was to come true, if it had to come to pass… No, Edmund didn’t fancy himself that weak. Surely, even if it was his destiny to succumb to madness, he would have resisted longer.

“What awaits you? No.”

“Am I to go mad? For this seemed so real!” If nothing else, the fear and pain that raked his heart each time he caught the glimpse of Caspian’s face, that was real. All the rest, well, Edmund could reason with the rest. Aslan waited patiently for him to continue. “I don’t think that’s what I would have chosen,” he said with a great deal more strength than he thought he had. “I know I wouldn’t.”

“I know, my child. I know it will weigh on you, deceive you even. You must be quite brave now, for what the guardian said is true, and this will be painful for you.”

“Sir, please. Am I to go mad? Has this vision been in any way true? Would I have been safer not coming here at all?”

The great lion, for the first time in Edmund’s reckoning, looked abashed, a sight thoroughly strange. “I never speak of what would have been, Edmund. This place, however, has its own purpose, that it must fulfil. Not even I can change the rules that are already written down.”

“But is it true?”

“It is as true as any dream,” Aslan said, and Edmund, who knew a fair deal about dreams through the psychology books he sneaked into his dormitory, stood up straighter.

“What is its purpose then?”

“Haven’t you realised that already?" Aslan said and when Edmund blinked he was gone.

Edmund was left staring at nothing for the longest while. Then, finally he looked to Caspian, pale (though not quite so frightfully pale as he had been in the dream-vision) and motionless. Perhaps this was madness, Edmund thought as he knelt by his side. Perhaps this is how it must begin and I saw how it must end, though I cannot for the life of me have imagined a more different path.

Perhaps, he thought as he leaned further down to touch his lips to Caspian’s, all would be well, in the end.

He didn’t look to see whether the kiss had had any effect, for he was already by the exit to the great cavern, flat on his stomach, looking for a speck of light. He found there was plenty -- the jungle must be a lot thinner on this side.

“Edmund,” he heard Caspian say.

“There is plenty of light here,” he said. “I think we should have an easier time going this way.”

“Edmund,” Caspian said again, grasping the back of his shirt. With some reluctance Edmund rose from the floor to look at the king.

“Yes?”

“You kissed me,” Caspian said, barely containing laughter.

“In the fairy books that is the only thing to try, when there is one of royal blood in an enchanted sleep,” Edmund said.

“I know no such stories.”

“I suppose you might not have Briar Rose here.” Caspian was standing entirely too close for comfort, for Edmund could not shake the visions from his mind, not quite yet.

“I don’t think we do. Would you tell me?”

“I rather think the age for fairy-tales is long past, wouldn’t you say?”

“I should always be glad to hear your stories.”

Edmund laughed, and for at least a moment his heart lightened. “You are quite peculiar, did you know that? All right, I shall tell the tale, I promise. But not here. As we walk.”

He was right in saying that the jungle was thinner. At times Edmund thought that he could almost see the ocean, though that was of course an illusion. Still, it took them less than a day to reach the edge of the island, and the time flew by, as Edmund told Caspian the tales that mothers tell their children in his world.

“So, a prince’s -- or king’s -- kiss awakens the whole castle of sleepers?”

“Yes. Come to think of it, there’s another tale, of a princess and an apple, which really, if you’d known it, would have saved us plenty of heartache.”

“Heartache?”

“It was not quite so pleasant a thing as you imagine,” Edmund said looking straight ahead, and if his voice shook a little, that wasn’t anybody’s business but his own, “to see you fall unconscious all of sudden when there is nothing that could have caused it.”

Caspian was silent for a moment. “I am sorry,” he said. “But… I don’t think I am too sorry.” He waited for a heartbeat and asked, so quietly Edmund had to stop in his tracks to hear him, “Are you?”

“I’m not,” Edmund said, truthfully, even as Caspian’s hand gripped his.

They whiled the dusk away braiding together lianas that grew in great amount in a thicket not far from the edge.

Come morning, Edmund took the bow and set out hunting, as best he could, and Caspian lowered the rope, so that they could reach the Dawn Treader without leaping off the edge. As Edmund departed from the clearing, which opened out to the sea, he heard the joyous roar of the crew, far off in the distance, no doubt as joyous at the prospect of a meal as they were to see their king alive and well.

Edmund hoped he wouldn’t disappoint, but fortunately for him and the crew, the birds of the isle were slow and dumb, and so even he was able to shoot plenty of them without too much trouble.

“I see you’re not half as bad an archer as you make yourself out to be,” Caspian said upon his return to the ledge.

“I am perfectly dreadful, it is the birds they make such excellent targets.” Edmund dropped another couple onto the already substantial pile. “They barely move, and with their colours they are easy to pick out even in the dense growth. I am quite sure Lucy would be able to shoot the berries in their beaks without harming them.”

“Perhaps if you had a better bow -- I don’t think this is quite right for you.”

“I am not quite strong enough to use a bow made for sailors. Though yes, I wish it were a touch stronger.”

The fowl along with the fruit, along with was still on board, had given them provision enough to stock the ship for another three weeks’ worth of voyage. Edmund wondered, for the only map of these parts of the world he’d seen was hardly to scale, whether they’d have enough for the journey.

“It is quite a place,” Caspian told Edmund. He was already standing on a protrusion of rock, so that only his upper body was visible over the edge. “I think I shall miss it.”

“I know,” Edmund said simply. Narnia was no doubt wonderful, but here, in the forest, he felt like a boy again, free of worries and concerns. He was going to miss that carelessness.

Their reception was quite delightful. Lucy hugged Edmund and wouldn’t let go until she was quite certain he was whole, and even Eustace looked vaguely pleased to see them, which was possibly the most shocking of all.

“So what happened up there?” Lucy asked curiously.

“We are not quite sure,” Edmund replied, bending the truth just a little. “There’s a jungle up there, and I swear, it was difficult enough just getting through it. It was better on this side, but where we started -- it took us two days just to get to the middle.”

“No, I mean, what happened?” Lucy lowered her voice, and stared at Edmund like she used to back in the Old Days of Narnia, like she knew all his secrets. “I know something happened. I can see it in both your faces.”

“I saw Aslan,” Edmund said, because it was certain to divert her attention and explaining that he had quite possibly abandoned any happiness England might have had in store for him for the sake of the rest of the journey, that was too much for him right now.

True to form, Lucy brightened enough to rival the sun. “Aslan! What did he say?”

“Not quite sure,” Edmund said, which was true enough. He was nevertheless quite sure what it meant. “You know how the memories here can be.”

“Yes, it is quite dreadful,” Lucy was saying, but in that moment Edmund caught Caspian’s eye over her head and all became background noise.

When he shook himself out of the reverie (it must have been no more than half a minute) Lucy was giving him a knowing look, one that he would much rather never see on her, ever, as it indicated she had posed a question and seen the answer in his face.

“Edmund,” she started saying, but he was already rushing away towards the galley.

“I think they might need help with plucking the birds,” he told her, knowing that this was possibly one task that would put her off following.

Edmund had long ago found that skinning and cleaning animals allowed him peace of mind. The task was thoroughly unpleasant and more than a little disgusting, but at the same time the reality of it was so overwhelming that unwelcome thoughts couldn’t venture close enough to disturb him. What was more, it was sure to keep Lucy (and Eustace, who would have starved if the task of supplying food for himself fell to him) away. Edmund wasn’t so sure about Caspian, but the man was a king, and from what Edmund could ascertain the Telmarine court was more like the courts of Europe, in that the king did not do menial work. Not that he had done this great many times during his own reign, but he had hunted a good number of times, and it had been bad form not to do it yourself then.

Chapter Text

They sailed east from the Floating Island then, on a favourable wind carried them at a steady pace for five days. It was a wondrous time, when each morning he would wake to find Caspian gazing at him with fondness that robbed him of his breath, and every night he would fall asleep in his hammock with his hand stretched out so that he may brush Caspian’s when the ship leaned far enough to that side. The days were busy, for at sea there is always plenty to do, and more still to be done later. Five sunrises they’d seen, but on the fifth day there was no sunset, as the wind picked up and then a storm was upon them.

Edmund had seen a few storms in his time, but none so terrible. They were cast about as though the great ship was no heavier than a walnut, and huge waves eclipsed the sky more than once.

Those were sleepless nights for Edmund, more often than not, and only a little because of the storm. The groundwork had already been done by the nightmares that plagued his head at night. He didn’t remember them, or at the very least tried not to remember.

The days weren’t that different from nights then. The sky was almost as dark and the waters just as turbulent. Edmund woke from a dream; a hateful, hideous vision of death and destruction to rival the battle for Narnia that nearly claimed his life. He jumped out of his hammock and strode through the hold (though in reality he was forced to tread on the wall, as the ship was at such an angle that Edmund feared capsizing) and out into the raging storm. A sailor rushed past him with a soggy rope in his hands and Edmund grasped its end, throwing himself into securing the boat, so that it wouldn’t slide and fall overboard when the wave hit them at this angle. His hands burned before long, but he was the smallest of the men allowed up top (Reepicheep, being as light as a feather, was told in no uncertain terms he was to stay below, as any of the gusts of wind would whip him overboard) and so he could crawl beneath and around obstacles on deck to secure the bindings. Every now and then a wave would wash over his head, but there was no rest to be had amidst the nightmares and the grey skies that threatened to swallow their world whole.

“Enough, Edmund!” Caspian was there, all of sudden, thoroughly soaked by the rain and the seawater, and shaking him. “You need to rest.”

Edmund had barely any strength left in him, so when Caspian wrapped an arm around his shoulders and leapt, as one does when the ship is heeling at a frightful pace and in no certain direction, and thrust them both into the hold, through which they would reach their cabin.

“What is the matter?” Caspian asked, hurriedly pulling Edmund’s soaked shirt off his shaking frame. Edmund’s fingers were so stiff they could hardly move. “Why won’t you sleep? Plenty will remain to be done tomorrow, you will be sick of it yet. I half wonder you aren’t sick of it already.”

“I can’t sleep,” Edmund murmured into the soaked collar of Caspian’s shirt. The king was delightfully warm, though of course a mere moment out in the storm was enough to drench a man to the bone. “I keep having nightmares, I don’t even know what I’m seeing, but it’s terrifying.”

The floor shook underneath their feet and Caspian, and Edmund with him, lost their balance. There was a dull thump overhead and Edmund surmised Eustace hit his head on the boards, as there was a muttered complaint and then snoring again.

“Your Majesties?” came a voice from above and Edmund made a half-hearted effort to disentangle himself from Caspian’s embrace. “Are you well?”

“Quite fine, Reep, go back to sleep.”

“I find it hard, Majesty. Is there anything I can do?”

“Were you a magician, I would have tasked you with preparing some hot ale for King Edmund,” Caspian said. “But here is a harder task: convince his royal highness that sleep is necessary, when he insists on thrusting himself into the midst of the storm whenever I take my eyes off him.”

“I will seriously hurt you,” Edmund hissed at that, but Caspian just laughed and held him tighter, until the cold brought upon by the sea finally started to ebb away.

“It is amazing then that His Highness could run off this often,” Reepicheep said solemnly. Edmund stiffened at that, but there was no reproach, nothing in his voice but a calm observation. “I would never presume to tell your Majesty off, but…” the mouse began and Edmund groaned.

He slept well that night, having succumbed halfway through Reepicheep’s lecture and the following morning the storm gave signs of breaking up. Sure enough, before the next dawn the air was clear again and though the Dawn Treader had taken some damage, mending her was not too difficult, and then, after a few stressful days of no wind and no hope, for the provisions would surely not last for long, land at last.

Edmund didn’t even pretend he wasn’t hiding on the fighting deck, when Caspian intruded on his solitude, as he often did.

“Have you seen anything from up here?”

“A nosy king, who won’t mind his own business,” Edmund said, and it was only partly in jest.

“Why is it such a surprise to you, that I look out for your well-being?”

“I am grateful for your concern, I am. However I can handle myself. I am not an unruly child who needs to be governed.”

“I have never thought of you like that,” Caspian said, a touch offended. “But I do not like having you out of my sight.”

There was precious little Edmund could say to that, because it would have been hard to pretend that he wasn’t watching Caspian walking around the ship from above. He distinctly remembered having this argument with Peter before, too, which made hearing the exact same words from Caspian’s lips a touch more disturbing.

“You are not my brother, nor my superior, nor are you tasked with my well-being, Caspian. Please remember that.”

Caspian’s eyes narrowed. “We should be ready to get to the island soon. Will you come?”

“Of course.”

Perhaps it had to follow, that given the slightest provocation they would be at each other’s throats, though Edmund still watched the proceedings from behind his own eyes with detached interest. He had swung his sword and came at Caspian with murderous intent, which had to be at least somewhat genuine, else why would he be standing there, with a naked sword in his hand?

The deed weighed on him, so that not minutes later he took the -- admittedly, excellent -- excuse to go rushing after the disappeared Eustace, though in that, too, he was foiled, when Caspian insisted on following.

“Cannot take your eyes off me, can you?” Edmund muttered under his breath as they ascended the slope. Gravel fell from where they stepped, but ahead Edmund could see many more such tiny disruptions. Someone had walked here, and the crew had taken the other way. “This way.”

“Will you not look at me?”

Edmund stopped and turned to gaze at Caspian. “I wish to apologise,” he said before the king could say a word. “My behaviour was unpardonable. I have nothing in my defence, and yet I ask your forgiveness, your Majesty.”

He felt quite warm when he saw the expression Caspian levelled his way. It was intense, heated, and yet, though shame clearly played a part, shameless. “I have much to regret in my words and actions, now that my mind is clearer, too. I’d forgiven you already.”

“Thank you.”

Of course, then they discovered the treasure grove, and Caspian had to ruin the moment of tender understanding with a whispered, “In the face of such discovery, I should be glad to entertain a rematch.”

*****

The altercation at the Dragon Island cave was not fully gone from Edmund’s mind by the time they were on board again, though there were more pressing concerns to address, namely that of cousin Eustace and his unfortunate transformation.

Still, when Edmund found Caspian alone in the cabin, he felt strangely bashful about entering. “Do you wish to be alone?”

Caspian shook his head, so Edmund took a seat next to him. “It’s a fine mess we are in now, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I think so. Have you any counsel?”

“Not really, no.” They sat in silence for a while. Out on board the men were grumbling about dragons and dead weight, some of them, Edmund was alarmed to hear, were genuine. This could prove to be a problem, as his honour demanded he kill any who made an attempt at Eustace’s life, and executing any of Caspian’s crew didn’t bode well. That thought was cut short, however, when Caspian began to speak.

“Edmund,” he said. “I knew what would happen when I went to touch that tree.”

“Excuse me?”

“I dreamed, the night before, and in my dream I saw a thing, I don’t know what it was, but it told me that if I did, then you would have to save me, and that you would be mine if you succeeded.”

If I succeeded? And you still did it?!” Edmund shot up, whirling round to glare at Caspian. “How could you have been so foolish?”

“I do not regret it. I would do the same even now.”

“You are a wicked fool, then!”

“I’ve only done what I had to do!”

“Had to do? You foolishly risked your life, risked Narnia’s future, and for what?”

“For you, Edmund.”

Edmund bit his lip. “I don’t matter,” he said finally.

This roused Caspian to a rage Edmund thought him incapable of; it was far from the childish display of temper in the cave, far even from what he saw as they faced Miraz. “You are mad, then, if you think yourself so inconsequential,” Caspian hissed in a low voice, stepping so close Edmund could feel the heat of his body.

“I said no such thing. I said I don’t matter, that I shouldn’t matter to you! The very last thing you should be worried about is my favour.”

“Then, pray tell, what should I be worried about? Should I be off romancing some poor girl I barely know, that I do not know, just because her father thinks it would be a grand idea to have a king for a son-in-law?”

“Yes, if the interest of Narnia lies that way!”

Caspian smirked. “Perhaps, and if were you able to look me in the eye and say the same thing, I might have considered it.”

“You are a fool. You are a king, why can’t you remember that you are a king?”

“I know I am, believe me, every hour of every day I remember that I am king and I curse it.” Caspian stepped forward to place his palms above Edmund’s shoulders on the wall. “Stay with me,” he said. “Return to Narnia with me.”

“Return to Narnia? To what end? Would you have me kept as the Calormen Tarkaans keep their slaves, to serve and entertain their masters? Would you have me dressed up like a doll to sit at the foot of your throne, as though I was a favoured pet?” Edmund’s eyes narrowed and he regarded Caspian with cold anger. “I shan’t ever challenge you again; I was wrong to do so. But I wouldn’t suffer it, any more than you would in my place.”

“You would be my king,” Caspian said. It struck Edmund in that moment that he had thought this through thoroughly; that he believed what he was saying and that horrified him. “Hasn’t the High King Peter himself had you as his consort? Narnia thrived then.”

“I should certainly hope not, as Peter is my brother,” Edmund said. “Narnia thrived, as you say, but Narnia had two queens then, too. I rather think the time when two kings could sit side by side and rule in harmony is long past.”

“We could bring it back.”

“Could we? How then do you propose to solve the problem of heirs, as I’m quite certain you would get none out of me?”

Caspian grimaced. “I expect that a queen would be necessary at some point.”

“I am thankful you are seeing sense again. Understand,” he continued in a much gentler tone, “I would be happy as your consort, though undoubtedly you would find me fiery and disagreeable at times.”

“I would expect no less.”

“But Caspian, you would need a queen all the same. Supposing you found a woman that you found agreeable enough to marry and carry your child, why would you think that I could stand it?”

“I have blood-kin in the country. They are loyal to me. I see no reason why a child of my father’s blood couldn’t be king at my passing.”

“You are just as stubborn as an ass.”

Caspian shook his head with a strangled half-laugh. He then looked into Edmund’s eyes with an expression so fierce Edmund feared he would be incinerated on the spot, such was the heat in his chest. “Perhaps I am stubborn. Tell me though, why can’t I have you, when it is you that I want?”

There was a low growl that interrupted them, before Edmund could find his voice in the face of the admission he was rather trying to avoid. They turned, as one, to find the golden relief on the wall moving. Its golden mane shook in time with the small waves rocking the ship.

“Aslan,” Caspian said, awed and not a little terrified.

“My son, you are being quite foolish,” the head said. Edmund lowered his head and in the same moment grasped Caspian’s forearm, which proved to be the only thing to stop the king from lunging at the lion’s likeness.

“Foolish? How is this foolery?”

“You must know that Edmund is not yours to keep,” Aslan said, at which Edmund stepped in front of Caspian.

“Begging your leave, sir, but that is not true.” Because damn it all, if there was even a glimmer of hope Edmund would have stayed, and suffered even the future queen, just for the chance to remain by Caspian’s side.

“My children,” Aslan said, “You know very well you may not remain together forever. You must return to your world, Edmund, when your task is done, and Caspian, you know that you must in time choose another.”

“Why not him!” Caspian cried, stepping round Edmund towards the image of the great lion. “Why not?”

“There is a time and a place, son of Adam, and for Edmund this isn’t it.”

“He could make it his.”

“His family is in his world,” Aslan said kindly. “His future is in his own world.”

“Then I shall go to his world! Surely there is a bridge to take me there, as my ancestors come from that world as well.”

“My son, you have a duty here. To your country and to your people. Narnia must have a king, and so you must have an heir.”

Caspian bit his lip and looked away. Edmund watched warily, for there was a dangerous note of impetuosity in the way he held himself, all too apparent when eventually he started speaking, slowly, as though each word was coming to him from afar. “Then, if I cannot have Edmund, I shall search the world forever, I shall sail from the East to the West, I shall travel the deserts and the oceans, for I swear I will not wed, not unless there is a star fallen from heavens at my side,” Caspian proclaimed passionately. Tears had gathered at the corners of his eyes, as even he knew, he must have known, that the effort was fruitless.

Aslan bowed, as far as the limits of the frame would allow. “Your choice is your own, but remember: you are a King of Narnia,” he said. “Whatever you do, remember that.”

The great relief stilled, leaving the golden lion’s eyes hollow and -- Edmund thought -- sad. Caspian staggered back until his back hit a wall.

“That is not fair!”

“It is not.”

“Don’t you care?” Caspian turned to Edmund with an accusing gaze. “Don’t you wish to stay with me?”

“Don’t be daft.” Edmund stood stock still, gazing at the likeness of the lion. “I would have given anything to stay. Damn my family and damn England.” Damn the dark future in which his mind was torn apart by visions in mirrors. He turned to Caspian with difficulty. “But, much as I love it, this isn’t my world. Sooner or later, even if I chose to remain and hide from Aslan -- if that’s even possible -- there would be a door that calls to me, and I would fall through it, regardless of wish or will. That’s what happened to us that first time. We’d forgotten all about England, but then there was the hunt and we saw the lamppost and though we tried to stop, we couldn’t, as though there was some invisible force pulling us back.”

Caspian shook his head. “It is not fair, that we should be parted in this way,” he said.

“We are here now, both of us.”

“For how long! Until some strange force whisks you back to the place you came from? Am I to wake each morning worrying whether I find you, or whether you’ll be gone from me?”

“Caspian,” Edmund said, reaching out, trying, if nothing else, to quell the scream that he saw budding. “Hush.”

“How can it be? How can he be so unfair?” Caspian yelled. Edmund’s heart broke, as every word seemed to him raw and torn from Caspian’s soul. “Damn him, and damn Narnia, too, because I will follow you to your world, no matter what!”

“Enough!” Edmund lunged and slammed Caspian against the wall, knocking the breath out of him. “You will remember your place, your Majesty. You are the King of Narnia, as am I, and to her and her people is our duty, first and foremost.”

“Then I don’t want to be king anymore.”

There was a soft knock, and Lucy stood in the open door. “Are you okay? Edmund? I heard yelling.” She was blinking, for it was very bright outside, and Edmund was grateful that she likely couldn’t see in the gloom of the cabin too well.

“We were just arguing, don’t worry about it.” Please, don’t let her come inside, Edmund begged inside his head. Don’t let her see that Caspian is nearly sobbing on the floor, and that I, too, am distressed and hurting, because if she sees she will know it was no argument that rendered us this pathetic. “Actually, can you fetch us some wine?” he said, mustering the most normal voice he could afford.

“Drinian has some fine bottles in his cabin,” Caspian said. He slid to the floor, all energy gone. “Tell him he can have his pick from the royal winery upon our return, tell him he can have the wine cellar, for all I care.”

Lucy nodded, and was gone for some minutes, and when she returned she carried a heavy glass bottle, of what Edmund could tell from the merest glance was the finest Narnian wine. Following her was the captain himself, clearly eager to see where it went.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Lucy asked when Edmund took the wine from her. He had to press against the door with all his strength to prevent Lord Drinian from tending to his king. “Are you hurt, either of you?”

“We are both fine, Lu, we are. Having a bit of an argument. Just give us some time.” To Drinian Edmund said: “Thank you, Lord Drinian. His Majesty promises this will be replaced, with interest.”

“My King, anything you desire of me, always,” Drinian started saying, but Edmund was already closing the door, despite protests from the other side. There was a latch on the door, thankfully.

They were alone with the bottle. Caspian sat in his corner listlessly, not looking up. Edmund found a goblet, just the one. He filled it up and offered to Caspian, sitting next to him.

“What is the point?” he whispered. “You will be gone, and I will be forced to marry some, some squinty princess. I might as well throw myself overboard and swim east, and maybe then Aslan would judge me worthy, maybe then you would be allowed to stay with me.”

Edmund did not scare easily, but the dead tone of Caspian’s voice shook him. He downed the wine, set both the goblet and the bottle aside, then he cupped the young king’s face with his hands and forced their eyes to meet. “I swear to you,” he said, “that it will not end with my return. I will beg Aslan for the chance to see you again, every day, and I know -- listen to me! -- I know that we will not be parted forever. I swear it!”

“Have you the confidence to make me such a promise?” Caspian asked, and there was a spark of hope in his eyes.

“Yes,” Edmund said, willing the spark to grow, with all his might. He knew about hope and he knew about living with it, and though it was at times painful -- even magic couldn’t make some things as they were before -- it was better than no hope at all. “Even if it takes a lifetime.”

Caspian nodded and Edmund, without really meaning to, but carried by the gentle swaying of the ship, fell forward so that his mouth met Caspian’s and even then he felt much like he was still falling. This was different from the cave, different even -- he was rather shocked to discover -- from the half-remembered sensations of his time as a king in Narnia. He was falling and at the end of the fall he would crash and burn, but anything, even that, would be a small price to pay.

The ship reached the crest of the wave and the momentum saw Caspian detach from the wall, toppling Edmund onto the floor beneath his weight. Any other time Edmund would have resented the easy victory Caspian had over him, certainly any other time he would have fought against it. Not so much now.

It was hard, juggling the experience and inexperience in his mind, but there was also something so primal about it that Edmund scarcely needed to think. His hips shifted and his legs parted, so that he could prop one foot against the floor and Caspian’s weight shifted on top of him and Edmund found that he ached for more contact, even when they were already as close as two people could be.

Caspian lifted himself on his elbows to stare at Edmund. His eyes were still moist, but they were once again fierce and determined. “You swore,” he said. “No matter what. No matter how long.”

The words ”how long” caused an unpleasant constriction inside Edmund’s chest, as though a cold hand was closing around his heart. “Caspian,” he started saying. “All my life, I promise. Even… even if--”

“Even if I should die of old age,” Caspian finished firmly.

Edmund swallowed. The words stuck in his throat as he remembered the horror that struck him when he stood in the ruins of Cair Paravel and understood just what the broken stones meant, a horror so acute one would think these weren’t broken walls but gravestones. He imagined the horror of returning to Narnia only to find himself standing at Caspian’s deathbed, or worse still, his tombstone. He remembered the vision of silence and death, of Caspian’s horrifying end amidst blood and screams.

His imagination failed him then. Even so, what else was there to say, that wouldn’t have been a lie? “Yes. Even then.”

“Then I shall wait, however long it takes.” Despite the advantage Caspian had, his and Edmund’s lips met again in the middle, and they kissed until they ran out of breath. The back of Edmund’s head hit the floor with a dull thump, but it was hard to wonder at the stars in his vision when Caspian was stealing his breath.

Edmund gripped the shirt on Caspian’s back and his fingertips came into contact with naked skin. Caspian shuddered at the touch, and pressed against Edmund with more insistence when he splayed his palm over the small of his back. It was somewhat shocking, even if it shouldn’t be, when the climate in the east was so warm, to find that Caspian radiated heat like a blazing fireplace.

There was silence in the cabin, save for the noise of the waves and the whistling wind, that Edmund had long since learned to dismiss, for at sea it was always there, just like the sky was blue and the water green.

Edmund opened his eyes and watched with great interest as Caspian’s pupils widened and they both exhaled in unison. It was strangely liberating, he thought, to see his own abandon reflected in another’s eyes, the knowledge that something had been promised and that they would both be held to it, for better or worse.

Presently, Edmund began to laugh, and before long Caspian joined in. Soon they were lying side by side on the floor of the cabin, laughing hysterically as though the ceiling was the best joke either of them had ever heard.

The laughter dwindled slowly, and as it did several things became clearer to Edmund. One, his shaking fingers were white with the effort of gripping Caspian’s hand, two, Caspian’s were equally digging into his, and three, his heart would not stop hammering.

It was hard to disentangle his fingers when Caspian fought him all the way, but even he was placated when Edmund buried them in the fastenings of Caspian’s shirt, which were, all of sudden, ridiculously complicated.

“Bloody kingdom for a knife,” Edmund managed, having succeeded in hopelessly tangling the fastenings instead of untying them. Caspian laughed, and sat up, slipping the shirt effortlessly over his head. “Or that,” Edmund said as Caspian pulled him to his knees and helped him out of his shirt.

“Do you often resort to weapons when garments get the better of you?” Caspian asked breathlessly as they embraced, and Edmund kissed him, since he had no better response.

Not a single lamp was lit, the only light they had came from the half-opened windows, and that was fine, magnificent even, for in the dusk they could pretend they were alone and never to be parted.

Caspian kissed, it seemed to Edmund, much like he did everything, with mindless determination and utter focus on the task. It was in equal parts elating and horrifying, though at the moment it was mostly arousing. Possibly also a little bit itchy, as Edmund had yet to get used to the feel of hair on his own face, yet alone someone else’s.

“I could shave,” Caspian suggested, when he saw Edmund rub his itching chin in earnest.

“By all means, if you can spare the time,” Edmund told him and was rewarded with yet another fervent kiss, the enthusiasm of which very nearly toppled them over.

There was plenty of fuss to be made still around their boots and breeches, and not for the first time Edmund cursed Narnian fashions, sensible though they might be for insisting on tying every last garment securely, so that they wouldn’t come loose in battle. What a waste of time and what a bother to frantic hands when nudity was required more urgently than the next breath!

As troublesome as the experience was, they conquered it, and were presently kneeling naked, facing each other, with little more than a foot of air between them, air that crackled with enough force to pull planets together. Resistance was the last thing on Edmund’s mind when Caspian reached out of him, though what followed would probably be called a tumble by most people, and there was some fight involved. Caspian came out victorious, or at least as victorious as one can be in a game where there is no loser by definition.

They kissed again, more hungrily now, as time seemed rushed and unmercifully taking from them the scant moments they had together. Caspian’s hand was on Edmund’s thigh, with his thumb working a maddeningly slow patter across the sensitive skin there; Edmund suspected that it was only fair, when his own was stroking the ridges of Caspian’s spine.

Caspian was surprisingly heavy and yet not heavy enough. The frustration of having him this close and yet not close enough was burning, like the heat of a great fire on a cold night, when one is standing so close that it hurts and yet the cold drives one further into the open flame, where there is nothing but a glorious, painful death, worse than in battle, for at least there was something much like a victory, even in defeat. Here, Edmund knew that letting go was to be the end of him, for he would nevermore be without Caspian, even if they were driven apart by their respective worlds and Aslan himself.

Edmund opened his eyes wide and found that Caspian had done the same. They were looking at one another with such joyous wonder as, Edmund imagined, the poets wrote about, and that, he thought later, was his undoing.

There was no telling how much time had passed before they could breathe, or think again. Edmund didn’t much care, until he was forced to, when his back protested about the wooden floors only being covered with a thin rug, on which he lay. There would, perhaps, be more comfort if they were in a bed, or at least on a bunk, but still Edmund felt he wouldn’t have traded the moment for anything. His back ached, and his shoulder blades must have been red and sore, worried by the coarse threads of the rug, but in all honesty neither that, nor the ache and the stickiness could diminish the experience.

Caspian moved to lay beside him, so close that their shoulders touched. Edmund felt a pleasant chill travel through him every time Caspian took a deeper breath than normal and his arm nudged Edmund’s.

“I could have died just now and been content,” Caspian said.

“I could hit you right now and still not be sure you learned a thing.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Neither do you.”

“Edmund,” Caspian started saying, but soon fell silent when Edmund rolled onto his side to press a kiss against his chest. There was a scar there, across the side of Caspian’s ribs and trailing down towards his navel.

“A war with giants?” Edmund asked, and his mouth grazed the mark as he spoke. Most familiar, that kind of wound. Few others, save for centaurs, had the strength to cut through chain-mail with such a clean slice, and through chain-mail it must have been, for there were telltale marks where the severed links had dug into the skin.

Caspian shuddered. “Yes. I was careless towards the end of the battle; we were winning, I started celebrating too soon, and then one caught me with his spear.”

“I trust he was repaid in kind?”

“I cut the tendons in his heel and then speared his head through the eye socket, when I had it in my range.”

“Good.”

There was more to say, more to share. Caspian’s body bore more scars, whose history Edmund wished to know; more stories to be told, more words and caresses to be exchanged than they would ever have time for, he feared. “We should get up,” he said reluctantly.

Caspian muttered something rude into his hair, causing Edmund to laugh, but of course there was nothing for it. His hold on Edmund loosened and without looking at one another much they started to dress again.

“Now I could really do with a bath,” Edmund said as he fastened his breeches. He stiffened when he felt a gentle hand on his back, over the rug burn, then trailing the length of his spine.

“This will hurt later.”

“Mild discomfort, no more. I’m sure we’ve all slept on hard ground before, this can hardly be worse.”

Edmund moved to put his shirt on, but dared not to move, because Caspian’s warm breath moved over his spine, pausing between his shoulder blades to deliver a kiss. He allowed it, letting himself fall back into Caspian’s embrace and sighed.

“You are not marked much,” Caspian said, as his fingers pressed against Edmund’s side, hard enough to elicit a laugh. With his other hand the king reached for the wine Drinian brought them.

“I had my share. The magic that takes us from this world erases any such traces.”

“Were you wounded in battles?”

“More times than I care to count. For every time you’ve heard of Narnia being a thriving country, there was a battle to ensure it, and I have been wounded in a few.” Caspian’s hand paused just short of Edmund’s shoulder, close to his heart. “Here, for instance,” Edmund said without a pause, “I was stabbed by a spy from Calormen, when his treachery became known to me and I foolishly confronted him over it.”

“Was he slaughtered painfully for the crime?”

“Peter wasn’t feeling particularly merciful but unfortunately for him, Lucy wasn’t far from my side that day and so she was the one to take vengeance in my name.”

“I fear to imagine Lucy doing things I would have done then.”

“Thank the lion,” Edmund said, as Caspian bowed to reach his neck with his lips. “No, Lucy had a distaste for torture and I am most grateful. Watching her drive an axe through the assassin was discomforting enough.”

“An axe?”

“Susan is a brilliant archer, but she has a soft heart. It is Lucy you must fear when you cross a line.”

“I cannot say I am greatly surprised,” Caspian said and his hold on Edmund tightened, until Edmund bent his head back so they could kiss languidly, hoping to stave off the return to the world for a few more minutes. For those few minutes, they succeeded.

Chapter Text

Edmund felt for poor Eustace, and yet he resented him a little, irrationally. Yes, there was no wind and yes, they needed to hurry, but they were hardly reasons for such unholy speed. Ramandu’s Island appeared in the distance, signalling to Edmund once and for all that this was if not the end, then the beginning of it.

Caspian was impeding disembarking on land as best he could, though he had the sense to be sneaky about it. All the same, they had to set foot ashore sometime, and when they did it only served to prove Edmund was quite correct and this was, indeed, a beginning of the end.

A star stood before them, as brilliant and beautiful as you might imagine, and Edmund noted with -- he couldn’t quite name the feeling, but it was more pain than relief as he feared it would be -- that Caspian was quite stricken. It was hard not to be, Edmund admitted to himself, for this was easily a creature of such otherworldliness and beauty that all else paled in comparison.

It had taken a not so subtle kick to the shin, to get the king moving again.

The star pointed the way and then, thankfully, they were off, to battle the evil. This, at least, stirred no doubt in Edmund’s mind. All the rest, however…

“Do you know, in our world it is a custom to wish upon a falling star. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but apparently Narnia is more literal when it comes to heavenly bodies,” Edmund said as he and Caspian readied for the battle ahead.

“I ought to consider my words more carefully, it has been said,” Caspian said shortly.

“You are quite lucky.”

“How so?”

“The star has no squint, neither is she freckled. Wouldn’t compare her with Su, as it would have been my duty to side with my sister, and I don’t think I would be able to summon enough arguments for her cause.”

“Susan is the most perfect queen I can imagine for myself,” Caspian said as he meticulously checked the armour they were to don.

“Oh?”

“Remote.”

“Caspian.”

“You are right though. The star is pleasant enough, I suppose.”

Edmund waited.

“I’m sure I could learn to love her as my queen,” Caspian said with a roll of his eyes. “Are you pleased?”

“Extraordinarily,” Edmund said, though his heart sank a little.

“Who better than a star. I imagine she has little cause to care about the people of Narnia, being from so high above, let alone for what is in my heart.”

“You don’t know what she feels.”

“Did she strike you as remarkably concerned for our fate?”

“She struck me as one with a name.”

“Oh, bother the name. We’ve hardly spoken, there’s no reason to break out the royal engagement cheer. In fact, there is a fair chance she will have returned to heavens already, so this discussion is moot.”

“Lilliandil, Caspian,” Edmund said patiently. The little he knew about magic told him that there was no accident in the identity of their guide, and no accident that Caspian’s mind supplied him the image of a fallen star for his bride.

Caspian dropped the arm guard and leaned heavily on the table. “You must know that I would have sold her to the slavers in Calormen, for one more day with you.”

“You mustn’t say that.”

“It is the truth.”

“You mustn’t think it, either.” Edmund dropped his armour on the table and walked forward to grip Caspian’s face. “You must think only that she will be a fine queen, and good for you.”

“How would you propose I do so?”

“That I do not know. I do know that you shall regret it forever if you don’t put me out of your mind after I’ve gone.”

“I might as well put breathing out of my mind, or sleeping, or the sun.”

“You jest, surely.” Edmund smiled weakly, for he wasn’t immune to flattery, however overstated, when its intent was honest.

“I exaggerate, perhaps,” Caspian said with a shrug. “Though really, I stand by the sentiment.”

They were ready for battle then, though neither would move. They stood staring at one another without a word spoken between them, until Edmund thought the silence should break them both and return only broken fragments of who they were. Kingship was long forgotten, as many things are in utter silence, and they were just two hapless boys, staring at one another across a great ravine.

Lucy knocked on the door eventually, breaking the spell, and then it was time to be kings again. Caspian pulled Edmund close for a final, desperately short kiss, and out they went, into the gloom and danger of the Dark Island.

*****

Triumphs, Edmund had long ago found, were often bitter, because with most there were friends to bury and mourn. This, though, was the worst one of all, for when the evil was vanquished he felt that something was finished, and it snapped inside him like a severed tether. He was done. They were done. This was the end.

At least there was still the sea to sail, and who knew, they might yet have days before them, days of sailing the peaceful, flat sea. It was bright, so very bright that no one noticed that there were tears in his eyes more often than not, because everyone had the same blazing sun obscuring their sight.

Edmund spent plenty of the time tucked away from the glare in Caspian’s arms, anywhere they could snatch a moment of peace for themselves. They were frantic with need then, frantic to feel each other’s skin, and breath and heartbeat, and foolishly mindless of others. They cared not for the reports of the sea becoming shallower, or for the promises of land on the horizon, land that had to be Aslan’s country. They barely heard the strange news of snow upon the waters, even less when they were close enough and the snow was discovered to be water lilies.

He and Caspian were on the fighting deck, tucked in tight against one another and quite invisible from below, when Drinian declared the water too shallow to continue, and the boat was lowered.

There were good byes, solemn ones, and Lucy shed a few tears. Edmund found himself quite numb as they descended into the boat and he and Caspian took to the oars.

Exercise was wonderful in the golden sun, surrounded by a white so bright it hurt to think in its presence, feeling Caspian move in unison with him, close enough to touch.

Finally, too soon, the boat hit the sand, scraping across the bottom. Before them there was the great wave and further still, so far that Edmund wasn’t sure if they weren’t just an illusion, mountains in the mist, so high he could hardly believe they were real.

It really wasn’t a surprise to see Aslan, nor was it much of a shock to hear this was the last time he was to be in Narnia. He went through the motions, but if he were to be honest with himself it was a relief, too. Seeing Narnia without Caspian, or even worse with him, would surely break his heart, when it wasn’t even wholly healed. Edmund had very little experience with heartbreak thus far, though he felt he was about to know all there was to know on the subject, but he could still speculate that it could be worse.

“There will be no return,” Aslan said and Edmund hated him then, for a moment, on his own and Caspian’s behalf, for suggesting the choice between following through with the adventure, never to return to the world, and his duty. He was both relieved and disappointed when Caspian chose duty, but in the end he was glad. Though Caspian’s ancestors came from his world, Caspian himself was a Narnian, and therefore any world, but this would eventually cast him out, for one reason or another.

It was hard to stare at his king, then, because Caspian’s eyes were a tragedy to behold, as they separated. Edmund hoped that in time those wounds would heal, as much as he dared to hope that his own would. It was hard to nurse that hope, however, when half his heart felt like it wasn’t even his own, so eager it was to tear from his chest.

Then the waters of the great wave closed over the three of them and they were back in Cambridge, in Lucy’s room, staring at the fallen picture.

Well then, Edmund told himself.

*****

Of course, it was one thing to hold Caspian in his arms and promise him forever and a day of bravery. It was something quite different to find himself back in the cold reality of England, facing a lonely future of dubious grandeur.

Eustace proved, against all expectations, to be delightful company and comfort, never mind his age and past beastliness. Edmund was glad of the support. However, when he found himself back in his parent’s house in Finchley, alone but for the five people who ought to have been his greatest comfort, well, that was something quite different.

No one could possibly think less of him, when, a few days after their return from Cambridge, he closed the door to the room he shared with Peter, curled in his bed like a frightened child and wept until his heart seemed empty and unable to shed more tears. He’d wept for what felt like hours, but the clock on the wall showed that only half an hour had passed.

“Seems long enough,” he said out loud to anyone who would listen. He would mourn no more, he told himself in no uncertain terms. There was nothing to be achieved through tears and despair.

It took him another ten minutes to pick himself up and wash his face in cold water, not that it did him much good, but it was the best he could do at the time. Supper would begin soon and while he would much rather not let himself be seen with his eyes red, it would arouse more suspicion if he were to feign sickness.

As he made his way downstairs, ready to deflect and bluff his way through questions sure to come, he found the family in an uproar, running about like madmen.

“What is going on?” he asked as Susan passed him by, rushing for the kitchen.

“Lucy is making quite the scene, we’ve no idea what’s came over her,” she said a touch peevishly, though the worry shone in her face. “She won’t stop crying, but she says she’s perfectly fine.”

Over Susan’s shoulder, between mother’s and father’s, Edmund caught Lucy’s eye, just as red and puffy as his, and he felt that he had never loved her more than he did in that moment.

“I say, Edmund,” Susan started saying, looking at him curiously, but Lucy chose that moment to let out a wail that would break the heart of a statue and all else was forgotten.

Blessed Lucy.

*****

Edmund had developed a sixth sense over time, partly as a result of, well, everything. The White Witch had certainly helped, but then there was kingship and diplomacy, and the return to England, and subsequent visits to Narnia, so all in all he was quite adept at spotting heinous revelations as they sped his way.

Such were his thoughts when, during the Christmas break, his mother called them all downstairs. “Children, Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta are coming for a visit, along with cousin Eustace. Please do be nice to the poor boy,” she said, and for a moment Edmund thought himself wrong, as Eustace proved to be a splendid chap and he was looking forward to seeing him, no matter the pained groans of both Peter and Susan.

It seemed that here his and Lucy’s words weren’t as easily believed after all, even by people who should know better.

A day later the party arrived and this time Edmund knew -- oh, the blighter, couldn’t he have stayed at home -- that Eustace had the most horrible thing to tell them. The adults naturally kept to their own company and even Peter, who could have stayed, being past his twentieth birthday, fled to the boy’s bedroom, along with their guest. Only Susan had chosen to remain downstairs, citing rudeness as her reason not to follow.

“I was in Narnia again,” Eustace started, and Edmund looked away. There it was, then. He listened as Eustace recounted the tale, glum though it had been, and then…

“The king died,” Eustace said quietly. “Caspian died, practically the minute they have carried him ashore.”

Lucy cried, “Oh, Edmund!” and burst into tears. Edmund could do little but bear her tears wetting his shirt and the death grip she had on his neck. In truth, he wasn’t sure he could move if a wild sea serpent had descended from above, to swallow them whole.

“Don’t cry, Lucy,” Peter said, coming over to lay a hand of her shoulder.

“He was very old,” Eustace added. “It was awful, seeing him that way.”

Lucy still wept, clinging to Edmund, as Eustace brightened visibly. “But then the oddest thing happened. We were back on the mountain, Jill and I, and the music was playing still, it was like the funeral was on even there, and it was, in a way, because Caspian was lying in the stream. Then Aslan made me pierce his paw with a thorn and Caspian just-- he woke, you see, and he was as young as he was on the Dawn Treader, it was quite shocking, I can tell you that!”

Lucy raised her head from Edmund’s shoulder then. “Oh, Ed, I am so very sorry!” she said, hiccupping every other word.

“For what?” Edmund heard himself say. “This is quite the good news.” He stood up, shaking her off as he went, and with her all caution and sense.

“How?”

“Don’t you see? He got to Aslan’s country! He got there in the end, and he will live there, and if Eustace and -- was it, Jill? -- were there too, it means we can get there too!”

“And then you can be together again!” Lucy said clasping her hands. “Oh, Edmund, you are right, this is so wondrous!”

“Wait, what? What do you mean ‘you can be together again’?” Peter rose and Edmund grit his teeth. He loved Lucy dearly, but her tongue was too loose when she was emotional.

“Let’s not do this,” he told Peter.

“No, let’s. You’ve been acting like your house had gone up in flames ever since you returned that last time. Would you mind clearing up why?”

“Yes, I rather think I would.”

“Peter,” Lucy started, but Edmund shushed her with a look.

“I want to know,” Peter said, very slowly, drawing up to his full height, “Just what is going on here.”

“Well, what is going on is my business, and mine alone.”

“If it concerns Narnia, it is my business as well!”

“Not anymore, it isn’t!”

It was odd, how easy it was to pick a fight with Peter, especially when, at the heart of it, was the mortal fear that telling him would turn it from a simple fight into something much more serious, something that could drive them apart. Edmund wasn’t ready for that to happen, not ever, so he backed down. Peter was yelling now, in his most frightful high king voice, and both Lucy and Eustace sat quietly, probably hoping his anger wouldn’t turn to them.

“Peter,” Edmund just said, when his brother paused for breath. “Please. I ask you as your brother, as your fellow king, leave this be. Let me have my little secret and think of it no longer.”

The trick to disarming Peter was to rile him up, let him scream his fill, and then spring words contrary to his expectations. He was likely then to agree to anything within reason. Edmund was gratified to learn that the trick still worked.

“I suppose.” Peter hesitated, anger all gone. “But Ed, are you okay? You haven’t been well, exactly.”

“Trust me,” Edmund said, truthfully, “I am as right now as I will ever be.”

They spoke of it no longer, and if, some time later, Edmund caught Peter giving him the most shocked, speculative look to ever cross his face, Edmund thought nothing of it, but knew that Lucy -- who was never a blabber mouth, but felt that secrets one of them had was a secret the four of them shared, unless asked otherwise -- must have told. Edmund suffered it with good grace, when Peter avoided him for a few weeks, even though they barely saw one another at the time.

To his credit, however, he recovered magnificently. Before the month was up he and Edmund were the best of friends again. Peter was the first to spring to Edmund’s defence when he announced he was going into church service and the outcry was quite unnecessary, for he would not be persuaded otherwise.

“This is one of the things that if you feel you must do it, then you must,” Peter told father some time later. Edmund, having walked through the dark living room for a drink of water to the kitchen, paused and listened.

“I am not opposed,” father replied wearily. “I just do not understand. Neither of you spent any time in church with anything but a long-suffering attitude, and now Edmund wishes to devote his life to it? Not so long ago he was ready to run off to the army!”

“I’m sure Edmund knows what he’s doing,” Peter said. “Trust me. He’s no child.”

“I suppose you must be right.”

Edmund smiled in the darkness. He was lucky to have Peter for a brother, especially when his own motives were not as pristine as might have been expected of one wishing to join the church. Theology itself was of interest, but what Edmund found truly appealing was the pretence of a calling so divine and otherworldly, that his fixation with prayer and, well, other worlds, would surprise no one.

*****

Edmund thrived in his studies. Latin, nor history for that matter, had ever been much of a hardship for him, and, as it turned out, neither was Greek and Hebrew. It was the speculative subjects that caused him trouble, but he wasn’t hailed as one of the finest diplomats of his age for nothing, the fact that this fame stemmed from a world in which trees danced was irrelevant.

He found that, though it was hard to keep the memory of Caspian out of his mind and heart, the latter was not quite as crippled, as he feared it would be. Wedding bells were still far from his thoughts, but there were women, or a woman, to be honest, who’d humoured his drunken ravings about other worlds and the symbolism of large mammals, and who was therefore a welcome companion. They’d laughed about it often, and Edmund had the distinct impression that sometime soon he would have to invite Jane home, to meet his parents, if only to quell their fears about his eternal bachelorhood, no matter how well-founded those fears were.

Then came the night, a few years after the voyage of the Dawn Treader, when they were dining with Digory and Polly, and the dreadful apparition of a silent Narnian came before them, whether to warn or summon, he didn’t know, but it was as though the sun had grown dimmer after his visit. Lucy couldn’t stop shaking ever since, and was deaf to the words of comfort.

“I cannot help but feel as if something dreadful is happening,” she kept saying. “There was such worry in his face, I cannot forget it.”

“We must do something,” Peter said immediately. “He must have been Narnian, and if the need was so strong that a Narnian appeared in our world, if only as a ghost, then something must be awry.”

The following week of frantic research and discussion had culminated with Edmund and Peter sneaking into the garden of an unremarkable house in London, under the most flimsy of pretences.

“These clothes aren’t exactly comfortable,” Edmund told Peter, adjusting the collar around his neck.

“If that collar is bothering you, how bad will the frock will be?”

“There is that. I am bound to complain for a while.” Edmund yawned then. He hadn’t slept well for the past week. Strange shadows would wake him through the night, and this very morning he would have been unable to get up at all, were it not for Peter shaking him.

“A while? Try the rest of your life.”

They got over the low walls with ease. Hopefully, at this house the inhabitants would be asleep and unlikely to disturb them, or otherwise fooled by the work-clothes. Edmund rather hoped he wouldn’t have to put his glib tongue to use and come up with an explanation for why two young men were digging in a stranger’s garden at half four in the morning. He’d tried to come up with a reason good enough prior to their arrival but came up short.

They started their search in two different places, for Digory’s directions were not precise. “We buried them around the tree, in the back of the garden,” he’d said, “but the tree had since been felled, and I don’t know if the stump remains. In any case, it couldn’t have been too deep, we were but children then.”

There is hardly a worse task than searching for small objects, which have been buried half a century previously in the shallow earth of a private garden. They were getting rather disheartened, having gone through a third of the back garden, until finally Edmund cried, “Here, Peter, I think I have it!”

Peter rushed to his side and together they unearthed the rings, yellow and green together, just as Polly had told they would be. Edmund felt his heart leap at the sight of them lying in his gloved palm. What was it they had said? Yellow to take you to the wood between worlds, green to bring you back, or out, should you choose.

“Tempted?” Peter asked, raising a brow.

“Not really, no. I think I’ve had my share of world-hopping.”

“It must have been hard for you.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I kind of envy you,” Peter said. “I missed Narnia after the last time, but I don’t think I lost more than a week of sleep over it. You haven’t slept well since.”

“That’s not true. Even if it were, what is there to envy? My insomnia?”

“Honestly, Reverend, there’s no need to spring Latin on an unsuspecting chap.”

Edmund laughed. They were halfway down the road now, on the way to the post office. “As if you don’t know Latin at least as well as I.”

Peter walked without speaking for a while, whistling through his teeth. “Would you have stayed with… with him? I mean, if Aslan had allowed it?” he asked and Edmund looked away. It was hard for Peter, knowing what he knew, without having seen just how right it was. Edmund appreciated that, and loved his brother all the more for his acceptance.

“Yes,” he said simply.

“Lucy said so, though she found it hard to believe. I think it escapes her that you would choose Caspian over us.”

“You know how she is.”

“Which is why it is all the more surprising you entrusted her with the secret.”

“I don’t think it was much of a secret in the first place. I mean, I would have noticed before it even started, if I wasn’t right in the middle.”

“You’d think both of you would have more sense than that,” Peter said with amusement. “To think that it was you who lectured me on the value of discretion.”

“Trust me, even the little discretion we managed was still almost too hard.” Edmund shook his head and wondered how to explain to his own brother the feeling of standing at the side of someone who made you whole and not being able to touch them. He found he couldn’t find the words.

“Huh,” Peter said simply, with something much like envy in his tone, as though he understood, anyway.

They were at the door to the post office, and Peter had gone in to send the wire to the others, while Edmund waited on the sunny porch. He took the rings out of his pocket one more time. They were quite pretty to behold, in their simplicity. Curiously, they must have been the very first object he saw in his world that he knew on sight was filled with magic. If nothing else, the thrumming he heard coming from them would be convincing. It seemed to him full of foreboding, though the sound itself was quite innocent, peaceful even.

Strange.

“All done. With any luck we shall see them in a couple of days.”

“Great. Fancy breakfast? I know a splendid pub nearby.”

“It’s nine o’clock in the morning.”

“Right, right. No breakfast then.”

“I wasn’t saying no to breakfast, just the setting at this hour.”

“Okay, breakfast it is then. I’m sure there’s a café round here somewhere.”

A day later they were standing at the platform, and the curious thing was, Edmund could swear the humming he’d heard earlier, coming from the rings, was getting louder. Which had to be ridiculous, as they had them wrapped securely in cloth and put in a box, for fear of accidentally activating their magic and falling through to another world.

“Let me just check the timetable,” Peter said.

“Ten twenty-five,” Edmund said, looking out ahead. “Hey, do you know what? I think mother and father are also on this train.”

“What? How?”

“They were going to Bristol today, weren’t they? This one would get them there on time, allowing even a little leeway for traffic.”

“Honestly, where do you put all of this stuff,” Peter said shaking his head. “Shouldn’t your head be bigger by now?”

“Too full beats too empty, I guess,” Edmund said more to himself than Peter. “What time is it?”

“Ten twenty-four.”

In that moment they heard the roar of the oncoming train, though something was off. The box in Edmund’s bag was quite still but he could swear his whole arm started vibrating when he touched it, and the noise was becoming quite overwhelming, and this time he wasn’t sure where it was coming from.

Peter grasped his arm and yelled something alarming, straight in his ear, but Edmund had no idea what it was, over the roar and didn’t have time to ask questions, because then all of it -- the roar, the shaking -- was cut short, and he was sitting on the finest grass he could imagine, clad in royal Narnian garb.

“What just happened,” he started asking when he noticed his sister and brother, along with Digory and Polly. He saw that the sky above was blue as it never was in England and the most terrible and most wonderful feeling came over him; it was hope.

Off to the side there was a closed door, one that looked much like it lead to a stable, except there was nothing behind or around it. They barely had time to wonder about it, though, because a few minutes later the others came through the door: Jill and Eustace and then the strange ghost, only real this time, as real as Edmund himself. There was something distantly familiar about his face, too, but this Edmund dared not mention, even in his thoughts.

Then came the end and darkness enveloped Edmund’s once beloved world. They turned away from the still and dead world then, and as they ran through to what was on the other side of the door, the brightness and life, he couldn’t help but wonder bitterly why were they made to suffer through that.

Then… but he could hardly speak. There was a garden and in it all the people he had come to know in Narnia, and many he didn’t, and what he felt right then was indescribable, pain and wonder and the same time, because as they stood there Caspian came forth and the hush that felt on the company may have been real or imagined, but it was true in a way that Edmund never thought anything so obviously taken from a girly romance novel could be.

“You haven’t changed much,” Edmund said stupidly, for Caspian looked exactly as he had during the days on board the Dawn Treader.

Caspian laughed. “Says you. You look like you haven’t aged a day!”

“Five days since I started talking to you again, at least.”

Off to one side and as though through a foggy glass Edmund saw Lucy laughing, her arm linked through that of the star. Next to them stood a man, or a boy, he was hard-pressed to tell. He looked much like Caspian, and his armed was linked with Lilliandil’s. Further on still was Peter and Trumpkin, Tumnus, and Reepicheep and countless others that Edmund couldn’t care less about at that moment.

“Great job, you did, raising a total of one,” he muttered.

“I don’t see you bringing your progeny along, so forgive me if I don’t stoop in shame.”

They were standing close enough to touch now, and Edmund was quite sure that all around them had ceased to exist and if he was wrong he didn’t want to be right.

“I missed you,” Caspian said, so softly that Edmund would have thought he imagined the words, if, at the same time, he hadn’t heard them ring throughout his whole body. He wondered if that was how it was going to be from now on, that everything Caspian said he would hear.

It would be, he thought as finally, at long last, Caspian and he stepped forth and embraced one another as though they were to never let go again, most annoying.

Then again, even that would be alright.

 

THE END